After doom and gloom, new blood breathes life into Ireland
Fresh faces deliver crucial victory to ease pressure on under fire Kidney, writes Brendan Fanning
One of the headlines last week read as follows; 'Henry feels bubbling Irish set to erupt.' It was an on-line report. The picture with the piece was pretty small and we hardly noticed it. If we had looked closely we would have seen it was Chris Henry and not, eh, Graham. Why would we even think of the former New Zealand coach?
Well, he had been giving the Pumas a dig-out during the Rugby Championship – time well spent and well rewarded – and perhaps this was him stoking the fires a bit.
Of course it wasn't. It was one of those – 'the lads are knocking seven shades out of each other in training so we must be on the right track' lines that you sometimes get from Irish camps when they feel under pressure.
As for its instructiveness in how Ireland would perform when it really mattered, at 2.30 in Lansdowne Road yesterday, it was like one of those weather forecasts that tells you to batten down the hatches because a big storm is coming. Moreover, it narrows its arrival to a window measured in minutes rather than hours. And then right on cue the clouds darken.
The Pumas, the end-of-season tourists who couldn't raise a canter never mind a gallop, were right under the cloud when it burst yesterday. Ireland know just how that feels. Hamilton anyone?
The abiding positive from the afternoon, aside from the fundamental of securing our place in the second tier for the World Cup draw on December 3, was that Ireland sucked every last drop from the free drink. And in the circumstances it was the next best thing to free. If you accept that Ireland's fatigue was a factor in their annihilation in that third Test by the All Blacks, then you also have to acknowledge that Santiago Phelan was using his bench yesterday to relieve wounded warriors, whereas Declan Kidney was using his for fun. Well, as close as the Ireland coach gets to that state when it comes to making replacements.
What made it so painful for the Argentines was that Ireland were making them think – and none of us want to do that when we're tired. We've long wondered why it is that Ireland had arrived at a position where they were so easy to read. Under Eddie O'Sullivan they had a reputation as a team that could do damage off first phase. That was a long time ago, but at last there was a lethal combination of planning and accuracy to the way Ireland opened up the Pumas for the first two tries.
Santiago Phelan will be unhappy that the decoy move used to open the hole for Craig Gilroy was remarkably similar to one that the Wallabies made for Digby Ioane to sucker them in the Rugby Championship two months ago. Its beauty is that it has a few options, and even if you're not tired it's hard to cover them all. As it happens the wing ignored the final option – which was to pass to Sexton – and for safety's sake he should have done it.
And for Sexton's first try, which followed soon after, Ireland played to Gilroy's strength again – acceleration and quick feet – by putting him through a hole off the back of a shortened lineout. No point in picking the man if you're not going to use him, so credit where it's due.
The arrival of Gilroy, Zebo and Chris Henry are positive developments for a squad who were desperate for good news after the Springbok defeat. It would have been useful to see how Iain Henderson might fare over 40 minutes yesterday instead of eight – why does Kidney persist with these bench clearances when the stewards are already in their end of match positions? – and likewise Michael Bent could have done with more game time. It wasn't as if the result was at risk for the homework had been well done pre-match, and Ireland had answered all the Argie questions by half time. The Pumas' scarcely credible end-of-match stat was one line break and one offload.
So Declan Kidney is not that much wiser from the exercise. Relieved? Certainly, just as he was four years ago when he found himself in a similar situation with Argentina soon after he succeeded O'Sullivan, but not much further down the track.
And if the coach hasn't learned that much then neither have his employers. Ireland's opening Six Nations game is away to Wales, and if Kidney is to make a play for another contract renewal, then it will need something special in the Championship.
The future of his coaching team is of equal interest, after what was a strange week. The backdrop was a step-off-the-cliff scenario, given the World Cup implications, but just when you thought the focus would extend no further than 4.30 yesterday, we had jockeying for position off the field.
First there was the story nailing Anthony Foley to the defence coach's job if Declan Kidney survives to a third contract. The suggestion was that Foley is being squeezed at Munster, since the Kiwi combo of Rob Penney and Simon Mannix arrived in the summer.
For sure things are different down there compared to last season. When Tony McGahan was in the hot seat he was pulling it up to a desk in Limerick, alongside Foley. They were cheek by jowl, spoke a lot every day and got on well. The New Zealanders are based in Cork.
That both of them opted for the People's Republic rather than the Munster Heartland, struck a few people as strange. Add in another Cork-based Kiwi in captain Doug Howlett and overnight you have a dramatic power swing south.
When he took the job, Rob Penney said he recognised the challenges of communicating effectively between two camps in two cities – you can expect this crazy situation to continue at least until the Cork elders, Ronan O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan, retire – and maintains the situation is not the way it was presented last week.
It has been said that Anthony Foley's body language isn't great these days. That may well be, but you'd wonder when Munster were at their peak, from 2006-2008, did Foley carry himself any differently? Nobody would ever accuse him of smiling out of turn.
It's likely too that he might still be adjusting to having been passed over for the Munster job in the first place. No sooner had Penney got the gig but he said how he wanted to make a good go of it – this was no drive-by. We understand too that Foley had the hump with Ronan O'Gara for his comments after he was consulted – as a senior player – on who should succeed Tony McGahan. O'Gara said the search should be world wide. Foley wanted him to say it should extend all the way to his front door in Killaloe. How about a world wide search that ended in Killaloe?
Whatever about Munster, Foley is getting lots of love from Declan Kidney. The only problem is that it makes Foley look like he can't wait to get out of Munster, and Kidney look like he's planning for the future which, despite yesterday's result, seems inappropriate.
Les Kiss on the other hand was being fairly explicit about the hereafter. The day after the Foley story we had the one time defence coach, now part defence coach/attack coach, casting his eyes wistfully west.
"Connacht would interest me without a doubt but I haven't put my name forward," he said on radio. "That's based on the fact that, at this stage, my whole focus is about this November series and then I'll reassess from there."
Ya wha? Perhaps if your whole focus was on November Les you wouldn't be thinking of December and beyond? For a bright and well respected man it was a poorly judged comment, 48 hours before a Test that would shape Ireland's chances in England 2015. Even now, we don't know what those prospects are in 2013. A shorter injury list, plus the blood transfusion this month, will brighten the forecast.
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