Interview: Alan Quinlan talks Ireland’s chances in New Zealand
Ahead of Ireland’s tour against New Zealand JOE caught up with Ireland and Munster legend Alan Quinlan to talk about Leinster, Conor O’Shea for Ireland, Munster’s transition and the ominous task of facing the All Blacks.
JOE: First of all Alan, let’s talk about a few weekends ago. Leinster losing the Rabodirect Pro 15 final when they really should have had it sewn up. Does that just go to show how difficult it is to do that League-Heineken Cup double?
AQ: Yeah it is very difficult and I suppose the euphoria of the previous week means it is harder to back it up and not many teams have done that – It’s so hard to win the domestic competition and the Heineken Cup, Wasps did it a while back, as did Toulouse a couple of times.
They also met an Ospreys team who have had the focus on the Rabo for a couple weeks, months even, as it’s the only competition they could win.
Speaking to some of the Ospreys players afterwards it was a big motivation for them to beat the Heineken Cup champions in their own patch.
I don’t think Leinster were physically tired but maybe, maybe they were a little drained mentally and the Ospreys just kept coming back.
A few times Leinster got comfortable and I thought they were going to pull away and Nacewa was great as usual, what a player for them, but the Ospreys are a good team too and they got a run at them and the win in the end.
JOE: Who were you talking to from the Ospreys; they seemed very focused …
AQ: Yeah I think so…I was talking to Ryan Jones and he said it was the Osprey’s big focus and you can see how much it meant to them after the final whistle. They have gone through a lot of changes in the past few years and they have got rid of a lot of their higher profile players. They have appointed from within, they’ve appointed Steve Tandy as their coach, a former player of theirs, I’ve played against him and he’s got them believing in themselves.
They also have more of a hard grizzly-edge to them now whereas they only had it in sporadic bursts in the past. They had some great results in the past season particularly against Munster, they destroyed Munster over in Swansea and I think last Sunday could be a big step for them. They have talent, all they need is that consistency and that final could be a big, big day for them beating their own patch and Shane Williams – what a way to go out with two tries! They have a lot of guys playing for Wales – all the Jones’, Dan Biggar, Ashley Beck – the young guy in the centre was very impressive and they just got that bit of the luck to get the victory.
JOE: Does that make this Tour of New Zealand even more difficult now, as we are now coming from a position where Ulster have lost a Heineken Cup final, Munster a semi-final and Leinster the RaboDirect, instead of an Irish team buoyed by its achievements at provincial level this year, will we have demoralized team?
AQ: It’s going to be a tough tour, even though Leinster lost they played some great rugby and were the best team in Europe, Ulster made a lot of strides forward despite the disappointment of the Heineken Cup final and Munster who have shifted a lot of criticism are a team in transition, despite that they won six out of six in the group stages.
By and large this will be a new challenge, sure – there will be a little disappointment but it was a good years for the provinces. They go to New Zealand now and the Leinster players will probably be in the best form. Rob Kearney is player of the year and Brian O’Driscoll is back and absolutely sensational.
As professional players though…I mean I would be absolutely buzzing to be going over and playing New Zealand now –trait’s a great way to test yourself and a great opportunity.
JOE: You mentioned the transition Munster are in… you’re still close to the camp and yet outside it – where are they in the roadmap of getting back to where they once were?
AQ: Well it’s all about winning and when you win all of a sudden people say you are back or if you lose they say you are falling behind. That’s what happened this year Munster won six from six and had a great win away from home against Northampton and the whole place was buzzing for a while, then they got deflated with the result against Ulster.
Of course there’s change, there’s ten or twelve gone from the ’08 Heineken Cup-winning side, finished playing so that’s a lot of experience gone…
JOE: Does that sadden you?
AQ: Yeah of course! Especially the guys gone from injury, that’s sad to see. I was kind of lucky that I got to go on my own terms…
But look Munster are a strong brand, they’re working hard behind the sides, they’ve got a lot of young guys coming through, but sure I had to lose a lot of matches too before we got the breakthrough – you don’t get overnight success!
But they’ll take that hurt and use it next year. They’ve got a couple of signings coming through too – James Downey and Casey Laulala – he’s a very good player and maybe they need a couple more and some players will just have to step up.
JOE: The last big game to be shown in a rugby context on Sky Sports prior to this tournament was the Aviva Premiership final between Harlequins and Leicester Tigers and it was yet another success for an Irishman, this time Conor O’Shea, what did Quinlan think of the job the former Irish boss has done with ‘Quins?
AQ: Yeah, yeah he’s done a great job with them.
He’s highly regarded over in England. They have that hard edge about them now.
‘Quins suffered with that tag that Leinster had a few years ago – that they were a bit fragile, physically and mentally… a bit fragile really… Leinster have dispelled that notion in recent years, they’re a tough, tough team now but ‘Quins are a bit similar. I think they have added some toughness now, I think they were definitely the best team in England this year.
Conor O’Shea, as I’ve said, has done a great job and he gets the best out of players.
JOE: A future Ireland coach perhaps?
AQ: Yeah of course!
It depends what he wants himself though… To do well over in England is a big achievement. It’s very competitive coaching-wise over there and he’s so highly thought of, I think at one stage he had a coaching role with the English Rugby Union, he’s been with London Irish and now Harlequins.
It is a job that he could do and do very well I’d say…
JOE: Finally we’ve never had much luck against New Zealand in terms of getting over that hump and getting that victory, how do you see this tour panning out?
AQ: It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be very tough. Oddly enough though we usually play better in New Zealand than we do when we play them here…
We had a couple of chances against them in 2002 and could have had a victory against them in 2006 as well.
In 2002 we had the controversy with the adidas ball in Dunedin and Ronan O’Gara uncharacteristically missing a few kicks.
In 2006 we were leading with 72minutes gone in Hamilton when New Zealand scored a late try, so there were a couple of close calls.
It’s a massive challenge but if we can play well as a team and bring out some of the form the Leinster lads have – we have a chance then.
There might be a little chance of catching them on the hop with them having a hangover after the World Cup.
Ireland’s three-Test tour to New Zealand and the 2012 Junior World Championships are live in HD on Sky Sports. The New Zealand Test starts on the 9th June, and continues on the 16th and 23rd of June.