It was a casual conversation between two England fans last November, before the home game against Australia, that underscored the changing attitudes towards Irish rugby.
Why doesn’t Stuart Lancaster go back to England and get a real job in the Premiership? ‘ asked one supporter. His companion objected to that opinion.
“Why would Lancaster want to leave Leinster – he’s basically coaching Ireland?” he replied, pointing to his phone where Ireland’s victory over New Zealand was happening.
He has a point. Irish rugby once peaked in the Alpine professional era but often failed to sustain them: now, it is positioned to be one of the dominant forces in European rugby for many years to come.
Is it an exaggeration to call Ireland the New Zealand of the north? Nothing special. Countries have always had similarities – in terms of their population sizes and attitudes towards larger, bolshier opponents – but those common traits tend to stop when it comes to real rugby.
No more. Participate in talent coaching. English coaches now see Irish rugby as the ideal environment to hone their skills – not just Lancaster, but former assistant Andy Farrell, now leading the national team, and Graham Rowntree at Munster.
Similarly, English clubs are recognizing the Irish talent that can make a difference – from Jerry Flannery, a Munster forward coach before playing a key role as squad coach and defensively in the Harlequins’ Premier League win last season, to Johann van Graan, who will take over at Bath following his stint with Munster. It seems like the current Irish model is producing better coaches, whether they’re Irish or not.
The other notable observation in that conversation at Twickenham was the strength of the depth of the group playing in Ireland.
Irish rugby’s centralized model helps – it’s no different from New Zealand’s – as it encourages players to work towards a collective goal, and concentrates the best facilities and players on Four provincial swimming pools, all provided by schools with facilities not far from a professional setting.
It’s no surprise that Mike Catt has players that look so fluid – there’s so much talent. Hugo Keenan is a great example of a Leinster academy player who has left and is well on his way to becoming one of the stars of the 2023 World Cup.
There is still an argument that the game, especially in Leinster, is still too dependent on private schools and even 15 years ago that is how the Irish rugby fan base is often so limited, with the exception of Notable rate is Limerick. But that hasn’t been the case for a while: Munster’s Heineken Cup wins in 2006 and 2008 proved to the rest of Ireland that the element of comfort can be created from success on the pitch, while Grand Slam 2009 and 2016 won the All. Blacks have taken this sport to the next level.
Slowly but surely, rugby has become an Irish obsession, a sport where national team press conferences make the evening news in the days leading up to a big game, and dealers Big ticket retailers like Aldi are happy to pump up sponsorships.
Of course, not everything is perfect. World Cup success remains elusive and there are significant funding problems for the women’s game. But even that offers a glimpse of the sport’s potential: the consequences of failing to qualify for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup have made headlines. and become part of the national conversation.
This level of access is almost impossible in the UK, where the sports market is much more crowded, especially with the Premier League.
None of this is a guarantee that Ireland will win at Twickenham, or that they will reach the final round of the 2023 World Cup. But whatever happens, Ireland will talk about it – and figure out how they can become even stronger.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/how-ireland-became-new-zealand-of-the-north-in-english-eyes-41438233.html How Ireland became the New Zealand of the north in the eyes of the British