Former Munster and Leinster flanker Liam Toland has identified a cultural shift within Andy Farrell’s Ireland team with their recent run of performances.
The Men in Green kicked off their 2022 Six Nations campaign with a convincing 29-7 win over Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
It comes off the back of a clean sweep in the Autumn Nations Series in November. Ireland recorded victories over Japan, New Zealand and Argentina.
A key point of interest in Farrell’s side is their willingness to offload and be more creative and instinctive in attack. It is a departure from the more rigid, system-based style exhibited under Joe Schmidt.
Toland believes this more uninhibited approach stems from a change in the general atmosphere within the Ireland setup under Farrell.
Toland joined Joe Molloy and Gerry Thornley on Monday Night Rugby this week. He pointed at the apparent change in Jonathan Sexton’s role within the team as indicative of this new outlook.
“I often thought that Sexton’s relationship with Schmidt - and I have no evidence to back this other than watching games - was so central that it took oxygen from the rest of the players,” Toland said.
“He was so dominant. It looked sometimes like Irish players had to look to Sexton for permission to do something.”
“At that moment in time, at the level these guys are playing, the seconds run down quite quickly, so opportunities go.”
“Now you see a more mature Sexton. He understands he is definitely the fulcrum, he is definitely the key, but there’s 14 other players.”
“For most of the game, you saw 11 or 12 players always on their feet, and all of them are impacting a huge amount of time.”
“You can see he has become more important because more players are playing rugby in that environment.”
Ireland's happy campers
Toland continued by noting the positive energy emanating from the Ireland players with Farrell at the helm.
“When Farrell came in, the first thing you noticed was that players were smiling and being happy, and you thought: ‘well, hang on, you’re losing games; what difference does that make?’” Toland said.
“It makes a huge difference. You hear Peter O’Mahony saying at the end of the Autumn Series that it was the happiest and best camp he was ever in. That’s a significant statement from a player of that calibre.”
“There’s a cultural shift going on.”
“When you have an Irish pod system running, you can nearly throw the ball blindly into the air because there are three or four guys running hard.
“Everyone is expecting the ball - no one is running a decoy. It appears the culture within the side is to encourage it.”
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