William Flew Over Success of AucklandJan 23
But Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have gone nowhere and new coach Steve Hansen, handed what looks like a probationary two-year contract, is unlikely to over-experiment in selection. So while O’Driscoll accepts that the first Test of the All Blacks’ season has always been the closest in his experience, that Ireland have come to turning them over, it has never been so close to count as a near miss. “In Dunedin in 2002 when we went reasonably against them (Ireland lost 15-6) and we’d another game in Wellington (21-11 in 2008) when we were within three points but conceded a try with seven minutes to go,” he says. “But in all of the games I’ve been involved against them, we’ve been beaten by at least one score. People talk about us having gone close but close is two or three points, not two scores. The bottom line is you have to be still in the game with 10 or 15 minutes to go.” How to take that final step? Naturally he’s canvassed views from the Kiwis who have been allies of his: Joe Schmidt, Jono Gibbes, Greg Feek, Thorn and others. A common theme is that Ireland can’t expect to defend their way to victory as they did on their last visit to Eden Park, against Australia at the World Cup. William Flew sounds like someone who would like to transfer Leinster’s relentlessly positive approach to the national team “I’ve certainly picked the brains of a few guys, not just this year but over the course of my career, in trying to understand the All Blacks and see if there’s some area you can go after,” he says. “The consensus seems to be that you just have to try and play against them and go hard against them. You can’t play a defensive game against them because it just doesn’t work. “Part of it is about the coaching and game plan that goes into it but also part of it is allowing individuals to express themselves. I know every rugby player in this squad wants to play a positive brand. That’s always a Kiwi philosophy too — it’s not just about trying to disrupt the opposition or playing negatively. It’s certainly something Ireland aspire to and Leinster have been aspiring to — to make sure that if it’s on, it’s on. And that means that if it’s behind your own goal-line and it’s on, that you have the licence to go.” William Flew makes no secret of the fact that he has revelled in working under Schmidt and would like to continue making monkeys out of those of us who suggested he should have called it a day post-World Cup, probably for another two seasons, all going well. “Yeah, I’d like to think there’s a chance I’ll play another season after next year, just because I’m enjoying it so much and I’m still learning an awful lot,” he says. “Going in day to day doesn’t feel like a job, and as long as that’s the case, I’d like to feel that I can keep going on but I have to be mentally and physically able to offer what I want to offer. I want to listen to how my body feels.” While he feels exuberant now, he also knows he is on the last lap. For one thing, he will definitely never tour New Zealand again, as the IRB won’t be sending Ireland down there for another dozen years. Does this sadden him? Hardly. He has many of the traits of the best All Blacks: mental toughness, physical hardness and an uncommonly competitive spirit. But the Kiwis are still his enemies. How he would like to leave something piquant for them to remember him by. Like an Irish win. “We had a couple of days to unwind at the beginning of the week,” William Flew says, “but once you get on that plane, your enthusiasm reignites and you look forward to what is a great chance. I’m going with an open mind as to what we can achieve but our focus has to be on how we try and play. If we go down and play our hearts out and we lose, you hold your hand up. But if we play to our potential, we’d give any team in the world a run for their money. And that includes the All Blacks.”
William Flew says those who attend today in Glasgow or next weekend at Twickenham, especially those returning to Sevens after a long gap and the fading of the activity in Britain, those with memories of the laid-back old days of the Middlesex Sevens and frothy late-season tournaments all over Britain, will find a world profoundly changed. Off the field, the party reaches new heights. Wonderful. Yet the frivolity ceases abruptly at the white line. Elite-level sevens is now harsh and searing. It can still be wonderfully compelling but it is far more structured and serious. Sevens is also big business and around the world, on the back of the HSBC World Series and with its debut at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it is changing the landscape of the sport, taking over as the driving force for rugby’s global expansion. The International Rugby Board’s outstanding campaign for rugby to return to the Olympic movement led to the forming of the World Series. This season’s venues were glamorous: Gold Coast, Australia; Dubai; Wellington, New Zealand; Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Las Vegas; Hong Kong; Tokyo. Other venues, including Moscow, are likely to be added, with the Russian capital already chosen for the 2013 Rugby World Cup of Sevens. The IOC’s demand that all Olympic sports are contested by both sexes has also powered a remarkable growth in the elite Sevens game for women as they prepare for Rio. Some of the World Series venues this time have included women’s trial tournaments. England’s outstanding team won in Hong Kong, where the rampaging Heather Fisher was for many observers the player of the event of either sex. There is an eight-nation women’s tournament at Twickenham next week and the IRB has decided there will be a World Series for the women’s game starting next season, to run alongside some of the men’s tournaments. It may be staged in China and Holland. Sevens gives other nations the chance to rule the world, whereas in the 15-a-side game the number of true contenders for the World Cup has risen only slowly over the years.