Deccie could be moving on, who can replace him? David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images
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Who will Ireland turn to if Kidney is given Lions job?

There are some top quality Irish coaches out there, we look at those who could take the hot seat

DECLAN KIDNEY WANTS to coach the British and Irish Lions next year. And, because the selection process will be largely based on who achieves what in this year’s Six Nations, we all hope he gets the gig.

His much talked about new contract, signed before the World Cup, has him in the Ireland job until the end of the 2013 season. However, there was never any doubt that the IRFU would allow him to jump ship if the tour of Australia was offered his way.

It is well within reason to imagine Kidney outshining his competitors for the role (Wales coach, Warren Gatland and Scotland’s Andy Robinson) over the upcoming five game tournament. So, with the Lions set to announce their pride leader in early April, now is the time to start mulling over a possible replacement – temporary or otherwise – for our Deccie. Here’s our six candidates:

Michael Bradley

Seven years of hard toil on the infertile Connacht ground is paying off for Michael Bradley. Edinburgh sit proudly on top of their Heineken Cup pool. A win away to Racing Metro this weekend would put them firmly in the driver’s seat to make the quarter final of the competition for only the second time.

On top of that pedigree, Bradley has coached Ireland already: in the interim period between the  Kidney was appointed and eventually took the reins. Of course, the feeling was always that the current coach was pulling the strings, but Bradley’s record stands up to scrutiny after recording narrow defeats in New Zealand and Australia.

Eric Elwood

Like Bradley (not to mention Gatland and Eddie O”Sullivan before them) Elwood is cutting his teeth west of the Shannon and their current run of  13 consecutive defeats is casting a harsh light on the Sportsground. However, this is a season like no other for Connacht; they are in the Heineken Cup.

Previously, the wounds sustained in the Celtic or Magners league, could be licked in the Challenge Cup – no more. Opponents like Olympus Madrid were suddenly replaced by Toulouse and Harlequins, meaning no chance for respite for this incarnation of the fourth province. Elwood’s side will improve as the season wears on, but the call of the big job will come too soon for him.

Conor O’Shea

A familiar face, O’Shea’s easy confidence would certainly be welcome on the end of Tracey Piggot’s microphone after each game. That self assurance is certainly transmitting itself through to his Harlequins side who reside top of the Aviva Premiership.

A Challenge Cup triumph last May followed a commanding victory over Munster in Thomond Park and O’Shea didn’t let up there; Quins’ continued interest in the Heineken Cup is down to an equally memorable victory away to Toulouse. Wins in Galway and at home to Gloucester over the coming weeks may not guarantee progress into the quarter final, but O’Shea is none-the-less a man on an upward curve.

Mark McCall

Lurking only three points behind O’Shea in the Aviva Premiership are Mark McCall and Saracens.  Brendan Venter may have held the top job when Sarries won the Premiership last year but it is testament to McCall’s influence on the training field that they have scarcely missed a beat since. Having been in charge of Ulster from 2004, McCall is one of the more experienced Irish options for the job but might require a little more silverware to his name to compete for the role.

Brian McLaughlin / David Humphreys

Having brought Ulster into the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999, this duo will also be throwing their hat into the ring. Their chances will improve exponentially if Kidney is given the option of taking only a temporary sabbatical to lead the Lions. Overseas candidates will be given much less flexibility than those who hold existing IRFU contracts. Of course that would leave Ulster high and dry unless Neil Doak covered in their absence.

Joe Schmidt

Admit it, this is the guy we all really want. Even the most ardent Leinster fan couldn’t have too much complaint with the Kiwi missing a few Pro12 games to turn some of that blue magic into green. Again though, this would be dependant on Kidney’s absence being only a temporary one.

Schmidt’s mantra is continuous improvement and if the job was to open up permanently then the IRFU should be bending his ear now. The union must put the incentive there for him, a reminder that the Heineken Cup needn’t be the limit of his expectations.

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