The dust has settled, the tissues have run out and the crack in the television has been fixed, we can now finally talk about what happened Sunday. Well some of us can. I was lucky enough to catch up with former Munster scrum half Mike Prendergast, now a skills coach with French top 14 side Grenoble, to get his insights into the Ireland and All Blacks game.
What was your feeling at the end of the Ireland vs. New Zealand game?
Like everyone else, I was gutted for the lads, especially for the likes of Paulie [Paul O’Connell], BOD [Brian O’Driscoll] and [Gordon] D’arcy. That was there chance at history, it could be while before we get another chance, although you would hope that’s not the case. But the whole team were immense on Sunday, they gave it all.
What impressed you most of the Irish performance?
The intensity of the breakdown, the willingness of the team to get back up as quick as they did. I know that sounds silly but it sometimes can be hard to get back up after a big tackle, but the lads really went for it. Ireland’s kicking and decision making was very impressive, as well as their accuracy in the pass. It was the best first half performance I have seen from an Ireland side.
The second half was always going to be difficult. You were always waiting for the All Blacks to come at them and they did just that. To be fair New Zealand are an incredible team and that last try proved just that, I think there was 12 phases and 25 passes which is just incredible at that stage of the game. But Ireland gave everything and for 80 minutes they lead the All Blacks, it was just that final minute that took the gloss of it all.
Sean O’Brien was man of the match, but there was a number of standout performers, who impressed you?
I thought Cian Healy had an incredible game. His ball carrying was fantastic not to mention his work in the breakdown. He really emptied the tank. Paulie had a great game, you could see at the final whistle that he had given everything.
I thought Conor Murray was excellent, his decision making, kicking and accuracy in the pass were perfect. But in fairness all 15 that started were excellent, Rob Kearney and D’arcy were two more that stood out. The bench also played their part. Sean Cronin was excellent and it was good to see Luke Fitzgerald back playing in the green of Ireland.
If Jonathan Sexton slots THAT penalty over Ireland are home and dry. Richie McCaw has already said that was the turning point for his side, but do you think Irish heads dropped slightly as a result?
I don’t think Ireland’s heads dropped but as McCaw said, New Zealand went up a level. That’s their mentality, they never give up and their decision making and skills give them the belief they need to finish teams off.
We have proven we are match on our day for anyone but how does Joe Schmidt and his team maintain that consistency? Can Ireland build on this and challenge for the Six Nations?
I know from speaking to lads from home and with Paul that everyone is gutted but once the dust has settled they will look at that performance and take the positives from it. It’s a bit of a cliché to say this but you wish there was a game next week. You would love to see Ireland push on from that and gain momentum but with nothing until February, the provinces will be the main benefactors of that performances. The problem is it’s now 2 ½ months until the start of the 6 Nations and so much can happen between now and then with injuries and form. But I think from the autumn series you could see that Joe Schmidt is building a 30 man squad, he gave the likes of Jack McGrath, Robbie Henshaw, Luke Marshall and Luke Fitzgerald run outs, which is important. Hopefully Ireland can kick on now from this.
Just on your own career, how are you enjoying your coaching role with Grenoble?
I am really enjoying it, I am settling in very well. I am learning the language especially the rugby lingo and I am enjoying working with the boys. The season is going well too. We are currently 8th in the table and but for a last minute penalty defeat to Bayonne last weekend we could have been up to fifth. We don’t have the same budgets as others, two years ago we were playing in the D2 so we have come a lot way since. We are currently playing in the football stadium and are getting 20,000 fans a game so the support has been fantastic. The league is incredibly competitive and every game is a big game.
You’ve played in Ireland, England and France as well as coached in Ireland and France – what are the major differences you’ve noticed?
From a playing point of view there wasn’t a huge difference, just certain areas of the game differed but from a coaching perspective there is more of a focus on the tactical and technical area of the game at home more so than in France. This is one the reasons the French clubs are now starting to employ skills coaches. As a player you are just focused on the game and playing it but when you are coaching you are watching videos, analysing and looking at all aspects of the game so you notice things more. Ireland and England are very similar, the focus is individual skills and attention to detail. There is a lot of work done on defence, attack and in the breakdown. In France it is very much the big picture, with the focus on the end product.
For example, there are not a lot of skills coaches in France, only four or five, ROG (Ronan O’Gara) and I being two of them. The French are naturally skilful so the focus wasn’t fully there but I think a lot of the coaches are coming around to this way of thinking. The coach at Grenoble, Fabrice Landreau is one of those changing the mould, he’s a fantastic coach and has been mentioned as a future national head coach.
James Hart has been garnering headlines with some of his performances, does he deserve an Irish call?
James slipped under the radar a bit in Ireland and has really taken his chance with Grenoble. Bernard Jackman brought him over here and he has learned his trade with the under 23 development team. This season he has kicked on and it’s a testament to the hard work he has put since he arrived here. He is an unbelievable trainer, as a skills coach, and former scrum half, I work closely with him and I can tell you I have never seen someone work so hard. He will often stay back 1-1 ½ hours after training to work on the finer aspects of his game and it’s really paying off.
He is playing regularly, keen to learn and improve and has a big future in the game. He could definitely do something for Ireland, but you have look at who is in front of him at the moment. Conor Murray is playing good consistent rugby at the moment with Eoin Reddan and Issac Boss biting at his heels but I do think if James keeps progressing the way he is that he could be looked at sooner rather than later France could also come calling mind as he will qualify under the residency rules next year.