THE TRAINING HAS been the best ever, there are a lot of leaders in the Ireland squad and the 60-0 reverse against the All Blacks was only a blip. Good, because I was starting to worry.
When asked to weigh up the the upcoming battle between hookers Richardt and Adriaan Strauss on Saturday, Declan Kidney gives a literal answer with a dash of humour.
“Richardt will bring his industry around the place,” he told TheScore.ie. ”His cousin [Adriaan] has a few pounds on him. In fact, the whole South African team have a few pounds on us. It’s going to be a huge challenge for him.”
Kidney’s remarks are best bracketed in the Graham Henry school of comedy but it is encouraging to see him try.
He has made seven changes from the side that were tasered into early paralysis by the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium and there are some daring selections.
New combinations, he admits, are risky but exciting.
Kidney commented, “The analysis can work in your favour too because it’s harder for them to analyse what we’re going to do and we probably don’t know it ourselves.”
Great, because I was starting to worry.
A new captain and then some
Kidney may never truly escape the accusation that he favours Munster players but he countered the promotion of Simon Zebo to fullback by making Leinster forward Jamie Heaslip his captain for the foreseeable future.
“Simon has been playing well,” said Kidney. “I see the back three as somewhat of a reversal for the front row, just different ends of the pitch, they need to play off one another they just have a bigger area of ground to cover.
“I felt that the three of them [Zebo, Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe] deserved their chance and I put Simon in the middle.” The Ireland coach added:
We’re fortunate in that we have a number of candidates for it but I think that he has proven that (captaincy) sits easy on his shoulders at Leinster. The one thing with captaincy is that you don’t want to be burdening a player.
“His primary job is to be a player but Jamie has shown that he can do that and captain the side as well.”
Add Mike McCarthy’s ‘right place at the right time’ promotion to the second row and the chance given to Chris Henry to stake a claim for the openside flanker position – as well as Keith Earls at 13 – and there will be enough plots and sub-plots to push RTÉ towards red-button coverage.
Ireland’s new second row: Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
“This is the lads’ opportunity and they know it,” said Kidney. “They’ll strive to hang onto [their jerseys] for as long as they can. I do believe that all of them have the potential to grab it and keep it.”
A couple of grievances
With Kidney revealing the grim task of assigning medical reports to assistant managers for the past five press briefings, Kevin McLaughlin and Eoin Reddan – not to mention in-form Paul Marshall – must consider themselves highly unfortunate to miss out on selection.
Referring to the decision to drop McLaughlin from the matchday 23, Kidney said, “It’s a bit of Sod’s Law sometimes as you’ll have a clutter of guys going for the one position.
It is pretty unusual that you’d have this many senior players out at the one time but it is always exciting to see new guys coming through and see what they add. Six is one of those.
“Kevin did have a good tour [of New Zealand] but I think Peter has been playing well and Chris has started the season really strongly. It is more the way they’ve been going in the last couple of weeks gives them the nod over Kevin.”
He added, “They are all tough decisions but the scrum-half one was definitely tough. We decided it would be better to start with Conor [Murray] this time, knowing we would have Eoin to come in at the right time.”
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has lamented the loss of his Japan-based players and injured stars like Bryan Habana but he has not fooled Kidney.
“They’ve so much to choose from really,” he remarked. “It was just a matter of who was going to get on the pitch at any one time.
“The one thing they’ve done is they’ve picked their strongest side. That is the best compliment you can have so we’re under no illusion of the size of the task we have.
“If you are going to play the best you want them to be at their strongest.”