It seems like only yesterday when I was giving out about team selection, game plans and tactics……
Wait, it was yesterday!
Here we are in the next chapter of the Kidney Chronicles.
Before I get into what may look like a roasting, I need to make some things clear. I like Declan Kidney, believe it or not. I think he is a great rugby coach. He handles himself well in all facets of the game and, most of the time, has the cunning, guile and wit to outsmart opposing coaches. These are all traits that we want in an Irish coach.
Recently the wheels have fallen off the jolly green fun bus. I thought I would take a look at what (in my opinion) is causing the up and down performances from the team.
Starting from the beginning.
Declan Kidney began as Ireland manager in the summer of 2008. The team he inherited from Eddie O’Sullivan was high on talent but very low in confidence. His first tests where the autumn international of the same year. A rollicking of Canada was not surprising, losing to the All Blacks was also not surprising, but the Argentina game in Croke Park was surprising. I was at this match with the aul fella. It was horrible to watch. Usually the matches against Argentina are, but this was fugly (teenagers reference there). We looked like a sinking ship. George Hook had a famous rant about this match in the rte studios which was one of the catalysts of what was to come.
An Ireland get together weekend in Enfield, which would make someone moody in any case, leads Rob Kearney to question the heart of the Munster players when they are wearing the green jersey. The significance of this has been downplayed by the players, but the team that emerged from Enfield was different to the team that went in. a lot of whiteboard work was done; everyone was on the same page.
And then it happened. On the same day that Bernard Dunne won the world title, Ireland won its first grand slam in 60 odd years. I do not remember much of that day; nervous drinking had me imbibing far too much vitamin G. I do remember every game being close. I remember being behind at half time in most games and not worrying. I remember being confident in the team .they looked strong, aggressive and ready for anything. This was new and invigorating for the Irish rugby fan..
That year was a great year for Irish rugby. To go with the grand slam there was the Heineken cup, the Churchill cup and the Magners league.
We peaked there.
Since that time the game plans have only changed when absolutely necessary, the squad only changed when absolutely necessary and the results have been a rollercoaster of emotions. We had the highs like the game against Australia in the world cup, but we have also lost to Scotland.
Why is this happening? Why haven’t we evolved with the game?
Declan Kidney is an Irishman and as an Irish man he is loathe to change. I still order the same thing in McDonalds every time because I know what I like and I will only change my order if they run out of chicken nuggets. Kidney appears to be the same with the Irish team. The reason the squad changed against Argentina in November last year was injuries, if we had a full squad the team would have been the same throughout. Once that team got a couple of good wins, Kidney did not want to change. Just like when I discovered the McRib, I did not want to go back to the nuggets.
We had a thundering start to this year’s 6 nations, against the defending champions. We had the best first half I have ever seen, I would wager the best first half against a top team ever. Then in the second half we defended like demons. Tackles everywhere, discipline was questionable, but when under the cosh like that there will always be a yellow or two.
Against England kidney chose not only the same squad, but what appeared to be the exact same game plan. The squad is less of a worry; it is only small things like McFadden and Trimble being left out. (How can Gilroy be getting the spot on the wing ahead of Trimble when he can’t get his game for Ulster because of the same man?). We tried to be slick and play sexy rugby like we did in the first half against Wales when everyone could see this was never on, the weather and a pitch that was cutting up AGAIN made this difficult. There appeared to be only one game plan. Every Sunday league team has more plans than that. The players are not at fault, they were putting themselves on the line all day. But there should always be a plan b, in sport not in music.
For us there has rarely been a plan ‘b’ in any game we have played since 2009.
Should Declan go? Who would take the job? Eric Elwood is the only Irish coach out of contract. He has the potential to be Ireland coach, but might need a few more years honing his experience. The fighting spirit he instilled in Connacht during his time there is definitely something that we could use. Conor O’Shea is locked into Harlequins for another season and Anthony Foley is also in need of experience but is being groomed for the job by the IRFU. So the options are fairly low on the ground.
There are very few Alex Fergusons who can be in charge for hundreds of years, while I think Kidney is a great manager, he is not Alex Ferguson.
Moving on to the training squad announced for the Scotland game this coming Sunday in murryfield. It was a run of the mill squad being named, injuries considered, until the name Ian Madigan was omitted. Twitter then went on to lose its mind. It was like Kidney went into people’s houses and stole their dog with the amount of vitriol fired in his direction. Then, just like with Gilroy in November, Kidney then called him up after more injuries piled up.
Let’s face it, O’Gara will start against Scotland and this is the right call. He is the senior player in the first choice player’s absence. It is the back up 10 that is in question. Paddy Jackson appears to be next in line. For me, he has not handled pressure well. He was anonymous in the semi and final of the Heineken cup last year. He is in the shadow of piennar every week at Ulster. Madigan has been improving week on week, and is never second fiddle on the pitch.
This has nothing to do with me wearing the blue jersey every other weekend ;).
I’ll finish with picking my team for Sunday:
1 D Kilcoyne – Playing belters when called upon
2 R Best – Our most consistent player in green for the last while
3 M Ross – Name printed on jersey
4 D O’Callaghan – Playing well this year, deserves a shot.
5 D Ryan – Ireland’s enforcer.
6 P O’Mahony – Would rather McLaughlin, but O’Mahony is best for 6 in the squad
7 J Heaslip – Captain will be on fire against the Scots
8 S O’Brien – Bigger than my couch and destroys defensive lines
9 Murray – Improving week on week, Redden should start ….
10 O’Gara – Zero debate, he is the senior player to step in for Sexton
11 K Earls – Plays well on the wing should stay there.
12 F McFadden – Should start after a good season in blue. Keeps Earls on the wing
13 B O’Driscoll – Unbreakable, unshakeable and name printed on jersey for as long as he wants it.
14 C Gilroy – Needs a big game before Trimble takes his jersey back.
15 R Kearney – Leader and constant line breaker.
This is a mixture of what I think Kidney will select and who I would like to see playing.
As usual if you would like to debate/abuse/comment then I can be found @nkeegan.
Until next week….