Alan Gaffney on Ireland's plan of attack

With their talented backs short on confidence and production, Ireland have turned to one of the most inspirational attack coaches in the business. IRN chats to the vastly experienced former Saracens boss Alan Gaffney about his return to his old patch
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During a playing and coaching career that has spanned the best part of three decades, Alan Gaffney has always been a proponent of exciting, attacking rugby and, as a teacher, he has always managed to bring the very best out of the backs in his squad.

That, coupled with his experience at Leinster and Munster, makes the former Saracens boss the ideal candidate to get an Ireland back-line that disappointed during the World Cup and Six Nations firing again.

The Australian boasts experience around the world and brings a wealth of fresh ideas to potentially one of the most talented groups of backs in the game. What he also needs to bring to an underachieving unit is a healthy dose of confidence and self-belief.

"Ireland can put together a handy back-line and one that can compete with anybody," the former Wallabies assistant says. "I don't think they are that far away. We need to tweak a couple of things here and there but I think you will see the quality back line that they are and it won't be because of any magic I'll be working.

"These players still have an enormous amount of ability and I think we will see some great performances from them."

Gaffney has tasted success on Irish soil before, guiding Munster to Celtic League and cup success during his spell at the club from 2002-05. He will now be expected to revive the fortunes of Ireland's favourite son, Brian O'Driscoll.

While Gaffney is also serving as a consultant coach at O'Driscoll's Leinster, it is at international level where Irish fans will most hope to see improvement from the man once hailed the best centre in the world.

More than any other player, O'Driscoll took the fall for Ireland's World Cup failures. And not just because he was the captain. There are critics who questioned his ability to control games on the international stage and those who have gone so far as to suggest he is in terminal and irreversible decline as a player.

Gaffney could not disagree more and has long been a fan of Ireland's No.13.

"I still see a class player," Gaffney says. "I sat down with Brian and we spoke about his situation. I think there are just little things that need to be tweaked here and there and I also don't think Brian's form was as bad as people suggested it was.

"There are certain things that happened in games that made things more difficult but Brian being Brian, he has taken responsibility totally on himself, as he always has done, and accepts a lot of the blame.

"I don't think that should be the case at all. About 12 to 18 months ago Ireland were right up there as one of the top three or four in the world. Then they went through a bad period. When that happens, it is often the case where a captain like Brian takes the responsibility upon themselves when it should be shared by other people within the structure."

While Gaffney is excited about working with the likes of O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara, he will also get to mould some relatively fresh talent in the form of Ulster's Tommy Bowe and the Leinster duo of Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney, the latter of whom secured man of the match honours during Ireland's summer tour clash with Australia in Melbourne.

"They are exciting talents to work with," Gaffney admits. "And beyond that there are exciting boys being developed in the Irish system and that's good for Ireland as we look to the future."

As a player and later a coach at the famous Randwick club in Sydney, Gaffney developed a penchant for attacking rugby at an early stage of his career. But there is no great psychological secret to his success - he teaches players how to do things on a physical level but makes no concerted effort to get inside their heads.

"I'm not one who is big on psychology," Gaffney admits. "I like to have a good relationship with my players and I respect them. If they have some degree of respect for you, you're off to a good start.

"I'm more focused on skills and I like everyone in my teams to have the ability and confidence to play with ball in hand. We will kick it when have to - but I like attacking rugby and believe that's the way the game should be played."

Gaffney shares the same philosophy as the head coaches he serves with in Ireland - Declan Kidney at the national team and Michael Cheika at Leinster.

"We're all singing from the same hymn sheet," Gaffney explains. "I have a good relationship with Declan and we go back years from the time I was at Leinster and he was at Munster. We talked then about how we would like to coach together one day and the opportunity has arisen more from Dec giving me the opportunity. And Michael also comes from Randwick so shares a lot of the same philosophies as me."

Gaffney's move away from full-time club rugby saw him replaced as director of rugby at Saracens by Eddie Jones.

But as he prepares for the Celtic League and the international scene, he leaves with plenty of respect for England's top tier.

"The standard in the Guinness Premiership is extremely high," he says. "People might want to say the Super 14 is the premier club competition in the world or point to the French League but the Premiership is an extremely hard competition and the hardest I have ever been involved in.

"It's relentless - it just goes from week to week to week and there's very little respite. Despite the fact people say there are easy games here and there, I would have to say that was not the case.

"Leeds were not that competitive last year but when they got over their injuries and put their top team on the track, they were also tough to beat.

"There are some very tough teams in there and quality players across the board, including many who never even get considered for representative honours. It is a very solid competition and the hard games just keep on coming."


Imports damaging home-grown talent

"There are a lot of imports in the UK but you have to get beyond the perception that they are taking over the game. The reality is that there are some excellent home grown players in the Premiership and England has some fantastic youth coming through.

Saracens have always been viewed as a high-spending side who just go overseas but, for the majority of last year, 12 of our 15 starting players were qualified to play for England."

The ELVs

"I'm pretty pleased to see they haven't adopted all the ELVs at the breakdown. The ones they have implemented such as passing the ball back into your 22 and being five metres from the scrum are huge positives because they keep the ball in play longer and give sides more room to attack. I'm pleased because the game should be about that.

"But there's no doubt there are a few concerns. I don't think the maul should be taken out of the game. I was talking to Andy Farrell the other day and he said it was a sad day if you could just start pulling down the maul because it has been one of the great things of rugby union. It does set a stadium alight when a good mauling side gets on a roll. It brings something to the game.

"I'm not saying we're too league-orientated but we can't go too far down that road. Rugby has to retain some of the things that have been good about the game for a long time."

Club rugby power players

"The power now seems to be with the clubs in the northern hemisphere. The most obvious thing is the money being offered in France - it's enticing people over to this side of the world... guys like Sonny Bill Williams who has changed codes and moved into rugby union. I think because the game is as widespread as it is, it has enormous appeal. Rugby league is confined to the eastern seaboard of Australia, certain areas of England and is hardly played in France now. It's restricted whereas union is a worldwide game that's expanding and enjoying great success."

This story was sourced from International Rugby News