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Damage limitation best Ireland can hope for after latest Kidney selection

Ireland have taken two steps back before this weekend’s meeting with the All Blacks, say the boys over at Whiff of Cordite.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Reproduced with permission from Whiff of Cordite.

DECLAN KIDNEY’S TEAM to face New Zealand in the second test in Christchurch bears all the hallmarks of a damage limitation exercise.

The hatches have been well and truly battened down. If the team for the first test looked designed to have a cut and try to play fast and loose, this has the looks of a rainy-day selection designed to muck in in the trenches and keep the score down.

With Earls missing through injury and Mike Ross back fit, two changes were inevitable.  Kidney has made two more, with Andrew Trimble replacing Simon Zebo and Leinster’s Kevin McLaughlin replacing Peter O’Mahony.

Conor Murray wins this week’s Fortunate Starter Hailing From Munster Of The Week Award; presumably his defensive strengths have kept him in the team (in keeping with the theme of keeping the score down) beccause it can’t have been his service to the backline, which hasn’t been good for Ireland since the World Cup match against Italy.  He and Sexton just don’t look like a happy partnership, but Kidney is determined to persist with it.

By contrast, Simon Zebo is a touch unlucky – after being fast-tracked into the squad and team, it’s hardly sensible (or a ringing endorsement) to be dropped after your first cap.  Andrew Trimble takes his place on the left wing, when he’s more used to the right, and was the obvious choice to deal with the threat of Savea.

The Ulster wing is a physical, commited defender and has much more experience on the right wing than McFadden (who has played 11, 12 and 13 more often than 14).  Trimble (14) and Zebo (11) looked a more balanced pairing, and Zebo’s absence – coupled with that of Earls – robs the backline of its only source of top-line speed. Still, as Deccie says:

“We could (switch), but left wing and right are two totally different positions, so if you’re exposed on the right you’re definitely going to be exposed on the left.”

If the positions are so different, why are the players not playing in the roles with which they are most familiar?  Answers on a postcard please.

By all means pick your best defenders, but at some point they will break our line and we’ll have to scramble; pace is an asset in defence as well as attack.  Again, we have a centre playing out of position on the wing while real wings twiddle their thumbs – New Zealand will doubtlessly attack Ferg again, so we have to hope he has learned the harsh lessons from the first test. There was no need to drop him altogether – he could have moved inside, which brings us neatly to ….

Gordon D’arcy, who has a chance to show he’s not done and dusted yet.  Will we see the D’arcy who looked a busted flush in the Six Nations, or the one who took flat ball over the gainline in the Heineken Cup final, and had a double-digit tackle count in the semi-final? Lets hope its the latter, but either way, it’s a retrograde step in the long-term development of the team.

Big Kev. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

McLaughlin looks a good pick, and deserves a chance to show what he can do after an excellent season with Leinster.  He’s one of those who might get caught in between being a great provincial servant, and a test level rugby player, but unfashionable workhorses can surprise on the upside too.  He’s been cast as Leinster’s Jean Bouilhou before – now he has to become Ireland’s Tom Wood.

This is a team that gives Ireland no chance of winning the game, even if everyone plays out of their skin.   With a one-paced backline, the biggest backrow available and mismatched, but robust half-backs, it’s hard to see where Ireland can hurt New Zillund.

Squad development has also taken a back seat, with all four changes significantly increasing the age profile of the team.  The tour has become about avoiding embarrassment, getting the games out of the way and getting home with what little dignity can be salvaged – Deccie will consider a defeat by less than 32 points a moral victory.

Ian Madigan and Craig Gilroy might be better off at home after all.

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