Spotlight falls on Kidney's reserves
TEN personnel changes, one positional switch, everything to play for.
Saturday's clash with Samoa was the game designated for squad development but, after last weekend's deeply disappointing defeat to South Africa, there are a clutch of players with genuine shots at starting against the All Blacks.
Brian O'Driscoll's selection caused surprise in certain quarters but, short on game time after his four-week hiatus battling a hamstring injury, there is sense to giving him another run before he goes up against the giant New Zealand midfield of Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams.
Donncha O'Callaghan, Jamie Heaslip, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald are the four other survivors from last weekend's starting XV and certainties, injury permitting, to play three games in succession when New Zealand roll into Dublin next week.
The inclusion of such a heavyweight quintet reinforces the assertion that this team means business. Against South Africa, the set-pieces failed to function and the back-line never got a chance to demonstrate the fluid rugby they had shown during the summer. This match is the perfect opportunity to get systems and confidence up and running before the big one.
Samoa are, obviously, not in the same league as the All Blacks or South Africa but if Tom Court, Sean Cronin, John Hayes and debutant Devin Toner can produce quality first-phase possession -- such a rarity against the Springboks -- they have to be in the frame to be retained.
Similarly, if Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara continue their rich vein of form and exert the control from half-back that, due largely to the problems being exerted up front, was missing last weekend, it would be hard to then leave them out.
Denis Leamy and Sean O'Brien are on the flanks either side of Heaslip and that pair will relish the physicality of the Samoans plus the chance to bring their strong provincial form on to the international stage, although David Wallace and, particularly, Stephen Ferris will be hard to budge.
Paddy Wallace's inclusion at inside-centre gives O'Gara a playmaking option outside him and, with Hayes always likely to get the No 3 shirt, the most debated position on what is a powerful selection is left-wing, where Andrew Trimble gets the nod over Keith Earls.
The Limerickman was on the bench against South Africa, replacing Rob Kearney with a few minutes to go, and was expected to get his chance from the start against Samoa but it is hard to quibble with Trimble's selection. The Ulsterman is an impressive physical specimen who relishes contact and had an excellent summer tour despite issues with a broken finger.
As well as his power in close contact, Trimble showed much improved foot-balling skills on that trip, with Declan Kidney singling out his work rate as another impressive facet of his game.
"He has been playing very well this year," said Kidney. "He's very direct, I think his defensive involvements have been very good and his timing coming in off the wing. He has looked for work, which is always what you want your winger to do, not stay out on the touchline waiting for the ball to get to them.
"He has been industrious and he's gone looking for it. In building a panel there's ups and downs and Andrew is a fellah who has had more disappointments in terms of being left out of sides than getting in and the enthusiasm he would bring has resulted in him getting his opportunity. In the two years I have been here, every time he has got an opportunity, he has never left me down."
There were many issues to exercise the minds of Kidney and his management team after last weekend's defeat, but the coach believes that Ireland are more than capable of eradicating the deficiencies exposed by the South Africans.
"The things which went wrong were in our control," said Kidney. "I think we turned over the ball, between errors and set-pieces, something like 29 times to their 16 and if you do that you're going to suffer. We must learn to cherish the ball that little bit more and, credit to South Africa, they put us under a lot of pressure and under the thumb in those situations; but we have to take a look at the parts we can control ourselves."
The Ireland coach is also ready for a tough examination from Samoa who, with players such as Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi and London Irish's Seilala Mapusua in their ranks, possess dangerous individuals.
"Samoa are going to be a different side this year," pointed out Kidney. "Sometimes when you play them in a non-World Cup year they mightn't get the release of all their players, but in a World Cup year the players are released. This is a big test for us but we have a lot of faith in these guys and we believe that they can do a good job."
Apparently, the fire alarm went off in the Ireland hotel on the eve of this team announcement but, despite the overwhelming desire to end the run of six defeats (including two non-Tests), there is no sense of panic in the squad.
The quality is undoubtedly there, as it is in this selection, and Saturday should, hopefully, see it come to the fore.