The 2015 Rugby World Cup is a period where all English rugby fans want to vanish from their memories. In a home World Cup that held so much promise it was nothing short of a disaster as they failed to make it out of the group stage. The coaching staff were all held responsible for the failure and in turn they lost their jobs in what was a World Cup campaign that left turmoil in its path for the RFU.
Fast-forward almost four years to the present day and the guts of that English coaching panel of 2015 have all made the trip over the Irish sea to take up posts in Irish Rugby. Andy Farrell who was England’s defence coach from 2011-2015 was the first of the English contingent to make the move. The former dual star league and union player was an advisor in Munster for a short period before he became Ireland defence coach in 2016, he will become Ireland’s Head Coach following Joe Schmidt’s departure after the World Cup. Stuart Lancaster who was England’s Head Coach from 2011-2015 received a lot of blame following the fall-out from the 2015 World Cup. He has spent the last three seasons as a Senior Coach with Leinster Rugby and as of last week Graham Rowntree became the Munster forwards coach for the upcoming season. He was the English forwards coach for eight years.
It would be unfair not to begin with Farrell as the former English player has achieved so much in this short period, in what has been arguably the most successful period in Irish rugby’s history. Farrell has got two victories over the All-Blacks, a Grand Slam and he helped Ireland get the team of the year award in 2018, in what was the most sensational year in Irish Rugby. Ireland were almost unbeatable in this period, winning 11 games out of 12. Ireland were arguably the best team in the world, with a persistent defence and strong discipline never giving away many penalties to their opponents. The defensive structures implemented by Farrell have made the Irish a more solid outfit, as they’re able to withstand long periods of pressure, defending phase after phase without conceding points which was clearly evident in November against the All-Blacks. Any team can be good with the ball although it is the team that can be most efficient without the ball that will win matches.
Following the mess left by former Leinster Head Coach Matt O’Connor, Leo Cullen was very much thrown in at the deep end when he took over in 2015. In the 2015/16 season Cullen struggled as Leinster had a woeful European campaign, finishing bottom of their group, only managing to win one game as they were overshadowed by an amazing Connacht team. The 2016/17 season saw the introduction of Stuart Lancaster as he replaced Kùrt McQuilkin who had to return to New Zealand for family reasons. Since his appointment Lancaster has aided Cullen in making Leinster one of the dominant forces in European and World Rugby. Winning the last two Pro14 titles, winning the Champions Cup in 2018 and finishing as runners-up in 2019. One could believe that the job and recognition for Leinster’s success is shared between both these coaches as Cullen is no doubt the face of the management, but Lancaster would be doing massive work, pulling the strings behind the scenes as he has a wealth of experience of his own. Leinster and Ireland’s successes are always closely correlated as Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009 and 2018, years where Leinster won European Cups. This shows they work as blueprints for each other.
Graham Rowntree is the latest member of the 2015 English management to start coaching in Ireland. Unlike his former colleagues Farrell and Lancaster, he is yet to have proven success in Ireland as he has yet to start. Although, we can expect big things from Munster forwards next season as Rowntree is one of the best forward coaches around, with loads of international experience with both England and Georgia and with the British and Irish Lions.. He’ll get the opportunity to work with the like of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Tadhg Beirne. With players of that calibre and with Rowntree’s experience Munster rugby can only improve.
Its obvious that the trio are all top quality coaches but we ask ourselves, how did it go so wrong with England and that World Cup? Truthfully, they didn’t do much wrong. Some might question certain decisions before that World Cup, Robshaw’s credentials as Captain or the fact Sam Burgess was picked ahead of Luther Burrell, as Burgess subsequently returned to Rugby League showing very little regard for the union game. We have to remember that Lancaster built that team back up after they were virtually broken following the reign of Martin Johnson. England had a 61% winning ratio under Lancaster and his team, beating the All-Blacks during that period. They were runners-up in the Six nations for consecutive seasons. It was a team that was positively building for a home World Cup, where things just didn’t go to plan.
It was a tough group that included Wales and Australia. If a few of the bounces of the ball went in their favour things could have been very different, especially against Wales. The luck just wasn’t with them and it ultimately was their final act as English coaches. It was a sad ending to a period where I personally think English rugby was heading in the right direction, every coaching panel has a tough period, that’s rugby. The next season Eddie Jones won the Grand Slam with England, there’s no doubt Jones is a great coach but some might say he enjoyed the successful fruits because of the foundations left by his predecessors.
Things didn’t end perfectly for the trio in their native country but they’ve brought their expertise to Irish soil and had some successful periods since. Farrell heads to the World Cup with Schmidt hoping for a successful tournament before he takes over as the main man. Rowntree will hope to bring back some good Munster flair to their forward pack and Lancaster will hopefully continue what he’s doing in Leinster. England’s loss is Ireland’s gain.
Image: Daily Mail
By Ciaron Noble