In the wake of an uninspiring performance against Russia as Ireland claimed a 35-0 bonus-point win, Simon Zebo has revealed his frustrations with Ireland’s conservative attacking approach and also offered an insight into how head coach Joe Schmidt deals with players in the wake of a disappointing performance or loss.
Zebo, who was speaking as a Paddy Power Rugby Ambassador, believes that Ireland have had great success in the past with Schmidt’s approach but that defences are now up to speed on how to combat this.
“Yeah, yeah it’s Joe’s way of playing,” Zebo said.
“He has his strike plays and things like that, which he can bring width to. The phase play you’d probably like to see a bit more variety, a bit more freedom for the players to be able to try things.
“There are a lot of one out runners for my liking anyway looking at it from the outside in and from a back’s perspective. You see a lot of balls from nine just to hit it up for the forwards and so on so on. If it doesn’t go forward, you just tend to kick the ball into the air.
“I’d like to change that but it doesn’t seem to be changing so…Ireland have had great success with it but I think team’s defences nowadays, you need more variety and ability to express yourself if you want to break down top quality defences.”
Despite what looked to be a confidence-boosting win over Scotland, Ireland followed that with two very worrying performances and they look a long way from beating either New Zealand or South Africa in a quarter-final.
There are some out there who are still clinging to the hope that Schmidt is holding something back for the last eight clash but unfortunately, Zebo doesn’t believe this to be the case.
“You never know, they could be keeping their cards close to their chest. I don’t really believe that but I’m just trying to see some way they can get confidence because I want them to do well in the tournament.”
“In attack, we just lack the freedom to express ourselves. Joe has his structures and systems and the way he wants to play and put pressure on teams. That’s great and it works really well. Sometimes that something different would go a long way especially with the talent we have in the group.
“The players are definitely there. If they’re given the licence they can be as good as any backs running on to front foot ball. So a little more licence…”
In the squad, the players have very much applied themselves to Schmidt’s style of play but any suggestions to the head coach from the players with regards to any tactical tweaks would have to come from the leadership group rather than a regular player in the squad.
“I wouldn’t have been going asking Joe or anything, neither would a few others. It would just be senior players who would discuss a game-plan. They bounce the ideas off Joe. Joe is his own man and he wants to play his way. It’s very evident, the set-piece moves have his fingerprints all over it.
“But after that, when the game is in phase play, we just lack a bit of freedom. Forwards get used quite a lot and if you’re playing South Africa, a really big pack, you can’t really just do the one-out runners. I hope it will come. I hope it does, and we get a more convincing performance against Samoa leading into a quarter-final.”
Zebo admits he was in a “tricky position” playing under Schmidt but is keen to reiterate that there’s no point in throwing the toys out of the pram if you’re not enjoying the style of rugby.
“You don’t want to start throwing your hands up in the air and saying ‘I want this, I want that’, you’re part of the team and even though (you feel) ‘I could do something different’, you want to play and be a part of the team, so you fit in to the system.
“It was a tricky position when I was playing under Joe. Being on the outside now you see different things but when you are there you just follow along and you give it your everything and you try to win for Ireland.”
Although he hasn’t displayed it to the public when speaking to the media, it is likely that Schmidt will be worried behind the scenes with the performances he has seen thus far. Zebo reveals that the Kiwi doesn’t exactly produce the hairdryer treatment like Alex Ferguson but if you made a mistake, he will certainly make you know about it.
“Directly after the game would have been very quiet, and then come review time, it wouldn’t be hairdryer treatment, but you’ll know what you did wrong, and he’ll make sure you know about it. It will be a lot different to the Joe you see on TV and things like that.”