Here we go again.
The Kidney chronicles have taken another interesting/maddening twist this week.
Before we get into this, I want to say again that I like Deccie. I think he is a great coach and a really good manager of players.
This week the big call is the non call he made at 10. Sexton needs another week to get back to full fitness after a hamstring strain. The rest of the team and bench is fairly strong. McCarthy is back in the second row and McFadden is out on the wing in place of an injured Gilroy. I would have thought Kidney would have put Lukey Fitz out on the wing, but he went with Ferg. The caveat (what a word) is that McFadden is also an experienced kicker. He kicked for Madigan when Mads was making his way onto the team, and kicked very well.
This is problem 1 of the selection. How do you think Paddy Jackson feels? He knows that he wasn’t at his best against Scotland. Now when he takes the pitch against a tough, angry French side and he will see another kicker outside him to jump in if he misses. How will he feel when captain Heaslip points to Fergus instead of Paddy? This will be another mental scar that will take a while to get over. If Kidney stuck to the team structure this may have been avoidable.
What I mean is, if you take the running order of 10’s in Ireland coming into the Scottish match as, Sexton, O’Gara, Jackson, Keatly/Madigan. When Sexton got injured that meant everyone moved up a spot. It means that O’Gara should have gotten a week of tough front line training ahead of the Scottish game and I am in no doubt that he would have scored the first 3 kicks. That is just how he is. If (I know the word ‘if’ is not a valuable currency) he had kicked the 3 penalties the team would have been on the front foot and may have scored one or two tries which would have put them out of sight and in line to put a big score on a bad Scottish team. If Kidney had brought on Jackson at THAT stage he would not have been under as much pressure for his first cap. He would have had more freedom to play the game and I would suggest he would have kicked with freedom and scored more points. Then, leading into the French match he would be confident and raring to go, knowing he had the backing of the coach and the team.
I think this is the big point. Whether he does or not, it looks like the Irish starting 10 does not have the confidence of his coach. We can see this with the picking of McFadden. Ferg should have been in many squads, but he hasn’t been. He is here because he is a kicker; he will be at kicking practice with Jackson and Madigan on Thursday.
Another possible spanner in the works is that as of this writing, Jackson has missed a day’s training with a tight hamstring. If he cannot take the pitch on Saturday we may see a return from the abyss for O’Gara. If this was to happen it may be the final nail in the Deccie coffin.
Kidney has had awful luck with injuries. Any team would struggle without the world class players we are missing. I am not saying that I could do his job. I can’t even do my own job, which is a little bit less important that the Ireland coach. It is just the decisions he has made that I struggle to understand. Starting with the naming of Heaslip as captain. Jamie is the future captain, very few people argue with this. But surely the best thing would have been to have him serve as vice captain for this 6 Nations? To have him close to Brian O’Driscoll in his last season as Ireland captain. Learning from our greatest player would have done him a lot of good. Then when O’Driscoll retires, Heaslip knows exactly what would be ahead of him. Instead Kidney threw him into the position cold. The last minute nature of this decision is visible by the advertising. BOD is still front and centre in all of the ads. It is not easy on Jamie; the spotlight is on him along with mounted pressure. His over eagerness has cost him some discipline. He is a relaxed person; maybe the cack handedness of the coach has cost him some self confidence.
For me, and that does not mean a lot to anyone, Kidney has been messing with the structure of the team. This looks to have confused the players. They look handcuffed (not in the good way) on the pitch. Almost afraid to play with freedom. He has ignored the pecking order while under pressure from the media which is worrying. The 2009/10 Kidney would never have done that. He even flew Paddy Wallace away from his holiday to play the all blacks when he had McFadden there in New Zealand ready to play 12.
And the treatment of O’Driscoll and O’Gara in this 6 Nations has not been the best. Both have been told of big decisions via phone calls instead of making the effort to speak to them face to face. To some people that is just how it works, but these two players have been inspirational leaders for the team for decades and deserve more than a phone call.
Finally, there are people on twitter/facebook/rugby blogs who say that it is ok to have a 10 that does not kick goals. Nonsense! There is no number 10 on any team in Ireland who would be happy not to kick. Sure, you do not have to have a kicking 10, but the fact is, that kicking is a huge part of their job. While Jackson is going to be a great player, he does not run the show at Ulster. He will never run the show while Piennar is on the McIlroy payroll. He knows this, we know this. But he is expected to kick under pressure while wearing the green jersey? This is very unfair on the player and another badly thought out decision. St Andre gets pilloried for making bad decisions like this in every France match, why is Kidney different?
Whilst I have been fairly negative towards our coach, I will be cheering louder than anyone when we take the field against France. It will be a big task. Both teams are wounded animals. Our team is strong, it is just the mental barriers that may cost us. Our front row have a big job, and I think they can gain parity in the scrum along with the rest of the pack. In 1-5 we are very strong. Hopefully we can keep it close for 20 minutes then get more width and freedom as the game wares on.
I still have faith believe it or not.
As usual feel free to debate/abuse/discuss this blog with me @nkeegan on twitter.
And also as usual, I mean no malice to any players mentioned above. They represent our country to the best of their abilities under sever media scrutiny and should be applauded for putting their bodies on the line for our amusement. None of us could do what they do.
Until next week.