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Dublin: 2 °C Wednesday 16 January, 2019
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Opinion: Kidney must dig deep to turn this around

Declan Kidney may be a conservative coach, but he has had some success before. He needs to look within himself to rediscover the courage of his convictions.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

HELL HATH NO fury like a sportsfan scorned.

We were so full of hope going into our new rugby season. There was already talk from some about a Grand Slam, if only we could get over these first two pesky hurdles.

Somehow, we managed to underestimate Wales. It is the first time since 1979 that they have won three times on the trot against us.

In the Six Nations era, France are the only team to have beaten Ireland more than we have beaten them. Now, in the Declan Kidney era, Wales have now won four out of six meetings. How can that be?

Yesterday, Wales played to a level, their fly-half excepted, that we know they are capable of. Ireland looked shell-shocked and only rarely showed faint glimpses of their own ability.

The astonishing thing about this game was not the Welsh quality, not even the Lomu-esque display from George North. No, the most amazing thing was that Ireland, after being pummelled into the ground for about 70 minutes, actually had a late chance of winning the game. If only they could keep Wales in their own half for a handful of phases.

Instead the red jerseys swept forward and Ireland’s tacklers ceded the territory, shifting cross field as if their presence would ward the attackers off.

Not deploying a natural open side was undoubtedly a factor. However, it is by no means the factor. Ireland have not used a ‘natural seven’ since Keith Gleeson was around – and he’s Australian.

by now, Ireland are more than comfortable playing with a pair of blind sides. All the provinces do it, Shane Jennings is never a 100% certain starter, Ulster’s Chris Henry and Munster’s Peter O’Mahoney are converted sixes.

Overused

Few people complained when David Wallace was doing the heavy lifting on that side of the scrum.

What Ireland were missing on Saturday was not a Sam Warburton or a David Pocock (though they would certainly be welcomed if they decided to defect) it was the concerted effort that we have so often used to overcome the missing link.

The kick and chase tactic is effective when it is not overused, yet, for all the talk of a progressive new ball-in-hand style of rugby, Ireland did just that. Wales were never left without the ball for long and they ran back at us at will.

In contact, Ireland were too often out-numbered at the ruck, only the introduction of Donnacha Ryan brought about some true physical competition in that area and he was almost speared tackled by Bradley Davies for his trouble.

Gordon D’Arcy scores against France in 2009. James Crombie / INPHO

The understandable frustration and anger amongst the Irish rugby-loving public is being taken out on various members of the squad. A quick straw poll this morning, brought Gordon D’Arcy and Donncha O’Callaghan in for heavy criticism.

For Kidney to remove D’Arcy would be monumentally out of character. In his eyes a midfield already shorn of Brian O’Driscoll could not cope without it’s other stalwart.

Risks need to be taken

In his first season Kidney got a reaction from the team team by dropping D’Arcy and Peter Stringer in favour of Paddy Wallace and Tomas O’Leary. The Leinster centre raised his game and scored one of only seven international tries as a second half replacement against France.

Eddie O’Sullivan spoke over the weekend about how a major reshuffle wasn’t an option for Kidney. During O’Sullivan’s reign, the Six Nations was the IRFU’s primary source of income and, so says the former coach, little has changed.

In the IRFU’s eyes a risky selection will mean diminished public interest and less bums on seats inside that shiny new Aviva Stadium.

Yet if Kidney can look back to 2009 and the little tweaks in selection that kept players on their toes and made his team great, he will be able to look his IRFU bosses in the eye and convince them that these are risks that will increase interest in the national team, not damage it.

More importantly, he can look the angry fans in the eye and promise things will get better.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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