What is there to say?
I am trying to be unemotional about my response to our match against Scotland on Sunday. There are positives to be taken. But there is also a very big problem with how we are going.
I watched this in a packed Aran Irish pub in Amsterdam.
Firstly, and again, I like Declan Kidney. He is a top coach who has performed at the highest level and should be treated with respect with whatever happens next.
Starting with the selection of Paddy Jackson. It was an interesting choice from the second it was made. Jackson was hopping above the senior player in Ronan O’Gara. Was this the right way to go? I said that it was not good for the team. It destroyed the team dynamic, the working your way through the system to get your shot at starting. With ball in hand Paddy had a competent debut match. His passing and tackling was good. It was when he needed to put the foot through the ball where his problems where. The reason is not a mystery; he does not kick on a regular basis for Ulster. He does not run the back line for Ulster, that is the job that Piennar has been doing. He is one of our future 10’s, but Declan kidney picked him because of the pressure he was feeling and because of this, Jackson may have been scarred for a long time after this. I really hope this is not the case; he is starting Ulster’s next game and is going to be kicking. In time this horrible wrong (Kidney picking Jackson at the wrong time) will be righted and Paddy will be leading the line with confidence in the future.
Keith Earls has also been horrible affected by Declan Kidney. He was told that he was the heir apparent to the 13 jersey. That is a fine idea, but it assumes that the owner of the jersey will be relinquishing his grip on it in the near future. This was never going to happen. O’Driscoll has been vital and on form in 99% of matches since his early 2000’s dip in form. Earls has been shifted all over the pitch, away from his best position which is left wing. The result of this is him trying to score when the right choice, and a choice he would have made if he was confident, was to pass inside to Brian in his first good break. And again later in the game. This is because he wants to score, that is an admirable thing, but he has been shafted so many times that he is aiming for the line instead of making the pass, the big issue is that Earls has less years left in the tank than Jackson does. Hopefully this is something that he can come back from. This is another example of a negative Declan Kidney affect on the team.
Now to switch gears a little bit. It is not Declan Kidneys fault that the hooker was not able to throw straight when we were in the opposition red zone. Best has been consistent in green for the last while. He has been one of our best players. He was told to throw long in each line out. The management team obviously saw a weakness there. Again, this is absolutely fine, but when it does not work, there has to be another option. We didn’t try changing until there were 3 missed lineouts. By the time that happens the whole teams head drops. This is NOT a Kidney issue; this is the captain on the field not making the right call. It is the senior players not stepping up to whisper in his ear.
We all understand stress. No matter what aspect of life you are in, you understand stress. Declan Kidney has not dealt with it well. He brings players in based on media reaction (Madigan in this recent squad and Gilroy against Argentina). He appears to have only 1 game plan per game. He is loathe to change anything until it is too late.
In this 6 Nations he took the captaincy off Irelands best ever player. A man who is still as vital as he has ever been. There was nonsense about the world cup and letting O’Driscoll rediscover his game after coming back from injury. Nonsense! Was this a receipt for O’Driscoll speaking out against the coaches a few months back? We know it was a rash decision because he is still at the centre of all the advertising. Surely making Heaslip (who will be a great captain) the vice captain this year, then captain next year would be a more sensible idea?
Look, let’s be honest. We can all be provincially biased but there is no room for that nonsense here. I am not anti Ulster/Munster/Connacht. If we pick the team on form, Jackson is not there. That is just a fact. Picking on form O’Gara may not have been there, but you have to have a senior player in the 10 role. Starting Rog would have put 6 points on the board very early which would have changed the whole game. I have zero doubt about that. I also think that Madigan was the man to come on after 50 or 60 minutes to get some game time. It was another bad decision from a coach who appears to not be able to handle the pressure.
Speaking of Ronan O’Gara. It was heartbreaking to see him play like I would. He is an absolute legend of the game. He won us the grand slam. He is one of the only Munster players I will gladly buy a pint for. But it looks like the mind and body are misfiring. He has a lot of miles on the clock. He is 36. Class will always be permanent, but sporting prime is not. He should not be put in a place where he can have another game like that. If his form doesn’t improve, then that should be his last game in green.
Writing that last sentence nearly has me in tears. That’s the high esteem I hold him in.
Moving on, what can we do against France? They are in a worse position than we are. St Andre is insane. He took their commanders off against England which cost them the match. The French players will be up for a fight in Lansdowne, they have no fear of the place. They may do it in spite of their coach. As long as St Andre still has his job, we have a chance. He will make a mad decision at some stage. We just have to be close enough on the score board to take advantage. We, on the other hand, need to be up for a serious fight. Selection depending, we need to get up in the French faces. Hopefully Sexton will be back to run the show. If there are kickable penalties in the first 10 minutes he will demand the ball.
Nearing the end this week, a great success for the Ireland women’s team. They won the Triple Crown with a win against Scotland after an amazing win against England. If anyone sees them out and about, say well done and offer to buy them a drink.
And to finish, the Leinster fixture secretary deserves a medal. The blue season is turning around. Leinster is firing hard now and has enough momentum to make them favorites for the league. Madigan ran the show in the rds, Andrew Goodman is a really good signing and hopefully ucd are in the process of offering Joe Schmidt’s kid a full scholarship to keep the family here.
We need to be there for the team in Lansdowne road. We need to be loud and show them the support they need. I wish I could be there (if anyone wants to give me a ticket) so I will be shouting from the couch.
We are too good to be this bad.
As usual feel free to debate/abuse/comment with me @nkeegan.
Until next week…