Trinity College Sports Ambassador Launch: Hugo MacNeill – The Irish Examiner – November 6 2019

Hugo MacNeill reveals why he felt it all unravelled for Ireland at Rugby World Cup

By Daire Walsh

Former international star Hugo MacNeill feels the lack of an established centre partnership denied Joe Schmidt the chance to develop a coherent attacking game for Ireland’s ill-fated World Cup campaign.

MacNeill believes injury and suspension made it difficult for Schmidt to select a consistent midfield pairing leading to an over-reliance on the ‘pick and drive’ formula.

“It has been very hard to develop a coherent back game. After Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy retired you had Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw but they got injured at different times. Garry Ringrose comes in, Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell and as a result Joe wasn’t able to form a platform for a back game.

“We did an amazing job winning the Grand Slam and you’ve got to move on in a sense. People figured out our game after that. They figured out ‘stop Ireland at source, stop them on the gain line. Stop [CJ] Stander, stop [James] Ryan, stop Peter O’Mahony and they don’t have a backline game’. I’m sure Joe wanted to play a more expansive game, but he was just never able to put out the same team.”

Nevertheless — noting the South African display in the World Cup final as the ideal template — the former full-back hopes to see greater variation in Ireland’s play under new coach, Andy Farrell.

“If you don’t have a game that involves incredible forward play, a coherent backline, sound defence, it’s very hard to see how you’re going to win. South Africa, despite all their problems over the last couple of years, got to a stage where they had all of that.

“As always they had a monster pack and terrrific defence but they showed they had that ability at times to actually run the ball and score tries.

“Our barometer has to be to become genuine World Cup contenders. That’s got to be the ambition.”

MacNeill yesterday unveiled as a Trinity College sport brand ambassador. As a TCD student, he was one of three players to boycott Ireland’s 1981 Tour of South Africa (under an apartheid regime at the time) on conscientious grounds.

Fast forward 38 years and MacNeill is thrilled that it has gotten to a point where a black player — Siya Kolisi — was the captain for the Springboks’ latest World Cup triumph.

“If someone had said to me when I was in Trinity — and decided not to go to South Africa — that you’d see a black captain of the Springboks winning the World Cup, I’d have thought there was no chance.”

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