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Opinion: ROG deserves better than to be patronised by Kidney

“Here we are again at the midpoint between World Cups and we are torn between the agendas of a struggling coach and Irish rugby,” writes former Leinster forward Emmet O’Rafferty.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

HE TURNS 36 tomorrow. He has played for 13 years, won 128 caps, a Grand Slam and two Heineken Cups. He is not playing well and has been omitted from the squad for the French game with just Italy coming after that. The World Cup is two years away, by which time he will be 38.

Having dropped him from the squad there is now a rush to the microphone to assure Ronan O’Gara and the rest of us that he is very much a part of the squad and could easily play a role against Italy.

What planet are these people on? They’re not fooling us and they’re certainly not fooling Ronan O’Gara. If they focused as much attention on the players who are going to be there for the next five or six years and worried about their mental wellbeing, they’d be far better off.

Ronan O’Gara is a strong enough character and experienced enough to handle whatever Declan Kidney or anyone else throws at him. In fact, what they are doing is patronising.  He has been a remarkable and enduring influence on Irish rugby during that period. The record books speak for themselves. But all good things have to end sometime.

The important question for me here is “What is going on with the management? Where are their heads? What is their focus?”

The French game is vital for Declan Kidney and for Irish rugby but for different reasons. If Declan Kidney is to survive he must win. Irish rugby needs to be thinking about the World Cup in terms of this match. These differing agendas are a big problem.

From an Irish rugby perspective,there are not that many games between now and the World Cup against the top four or five nations. These are the ultimate test and every one is an opportunity.

This weekend’s match against France is one such occasion. Should we be bold in our selection with nothing left to play for this season? Definitely.

And then I saw the team.

Indecision at outhalf and tighthead prop. You can’t build towards a big game when the players don’t know who is going to be pulling the strings on Saturday. If Paddy Jackson is struggling with a hamstring I don’t think it wise to risk him. He is trying to find his feet at this level and he needs to be confident and assured without any niggling doubts. If he was an experienced international and key to proceedings, it might be different.

This is not the case. The opposition will be well aware of his hamstring and therefore realise that it brings limitations in terms of threatening the line and particularly the range and accuracy of his kicking. If I were the French backrow, I know where my focus would be.

Paddy Jackson ices his hamstring at training yesterday (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Ian Madigan has developed considerably under Joe Schmidt and in the circumstances I would pick him. Not because he is better than Paddy Jackson but because he is fit. It is also an opportunity to see if he can make the step. If he is in the squad Declan Kidney should be prepared to pick him.

There is no point bemoaning the fact that we haven’t blooded enough of our young talent before this. We must accept the position we are in. Which in fact is the greater risk: playing a fit Ian Madigan or an 80% or 90% fit Paddy Jackson?

I would also like to have seen Devon Toner in a match like this. Donnacha Ryan is an ideal foil for a tall gangly secondrow like Toner. We are struggling at line out time and need options. Our ability to compete on opposition ball is limited. We have a mental block in this country about the Toners of this world. Instead of wanting to use them for their strengths, we prefer to complain that they aren’t as wide as they are long.

Victor Matfield was a tall gangly secondrow until they put him with Bakkies Botha. Toner is an intelligent footballer.  At nearly seven foot tall he should be a major asset in the lineout.  All our throwers have struggled in recent Internationals which tells you that our lineout is just not strong enough.

Am I certain about Toner? No. But I wouldn’t be worried about picking him this weekend. He needs to be given a start, be allowed to approach the game on the basis that the position is his. You won’t find solutions on the training park.

We have traditionally underperformed at World Cups. The problems always started with preparation. So here we are again at the midpoint between World Cups and we are torn between the agendas of a struggling coach and Irish rugby.

Emmet O’Rafferty is a former second row forward for Leinster and chairman of Top Security which operates a security business in Ireland and South Africa.

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About the author:

Emmet O’Rafferty

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