'If we try and do the same thing again we're only asking for trouble' -- Kidney
Declan Kidney talks exclusively to Hugh Farrelly about the evolution of his Ireland team for the Six Nations
THE Carton House waiter delivers the pot of tea to the table. "Thank you, could I charge that to my room, please?"
"Certainly, sir, what name shall I put down?"
Two Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and a seminal World Cup victory over Australia... it is fair to say Declan Kidney still enjoys a degree of anonymity far beneath his level of achievement. Just the way the he likes it.
Coaching has never been a vanity exercise for Kidney. The motivation has always been the challenge of getting the best out of his players.
Days away from his fourth Six Nations campaign, Kidney is back in camp and plotting the downfall of Wales -- a fixture which carries extra motivation after the World Cup quarter-final defeat in Wellington (not to mention last season's larceny in Cardiff). And, as he discusses the various issues that have arisen in the four months since Ireland's New Zealand exit, it is clear he is buzzing again.
A couple of weeks ago, Kidney was lambasted for a "conservative" Six Nations selection, with 24 names drawn exclusively from the World Cup party and no room for in-form players such as Peter O'Mahony, Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry, while the absence of Luke Fitzgerald, before the extent of his injury problems were made public, was the biggest stick aimed in his direction.
O'Mahony, Tuohy and Henry were all included in yesterday's 32-man Six Nations group and Kidney is keen to explain his selection thought-process.
"I could have showboated at the start -- the easier thing for me to do would have been to name the squad I named today two weeks ago. That would have been looking after myself, but I wanted to look after the Wolfhounds," he said.
"We lost an 'A' game to Scotland a few years ago just before the Six Nations by 50-odd points -- that doesn't do anyone any good. I was making damn sure that didn't happen again. We needed to be competitive the other night against England and, though we lost the game, we were competitive.
"We didn't call a press conference -- people were in provincial mode, it was a big Heineken Cup week -- but this was always the plan. I picked the fellas who were fit from the World Cup in the senior squad, our next best team was picked to play for the 'A' side against England, and the other six guys were brought in to gain experience.
"And now we have the 30 for the Six Nations and there were a few tight calls. You have to manage it very carefully, letting guys out of camp to go and play with their provinces in the Rabo because seven weeks is a long time and you might need them in week six or seven -- so we might do a bit of rotation that way."
"I took a hit by not naming him in the original squad but there is a right way to do it and there was always a good chance of Luke not playing in rounds five and six of the Heineken Cup. He was always going to need a game and I was in touch with him. Naming him in the senior squad would have been looking after myself. Unfortunately, Luke is not fit to train with us this week either."
"Other than young (David) McSharry in Connacht, the two Irish guys playing 12 were Gordon (D'Arcy) and Paddy. Paddy merited his place, I don't think anyone would complain about the way he played for Ulster against Leicester."
"Yeah, but what do you do? The three scrum-halves (Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss) have been going well and you don't throw Tomas away -- he played his best 30 minutes for quite some months for the Wolfhounds. It was hard on Paul but you never rule out any player in the system. If you're playing provincially, you're in the mix, you have to be."
"We got a day wrong at the World Cup and we put our hands up, you get days wrong sometimes and you just have to get on with it. In sport, it is about moving on to the next championship.
"We had a bad day but I have enough of those types of days under my belt, between two Heineken Cup final defeats with Munster, losing to Scotland a couple of years ago when it cost us a Triple Crown, so there is no point sitting around feeling sorry for yourself."
The need to keep up in the rankings ahead of the World Cup seedings later this year has led to several predictions of a win-at-all-costs approach but Kidney is adamant that Ireland will be looking to expand their game from the World Cup.
"There were very good elements to the World Cup but if you try and do the same thing again you are only asking for trouble.
"As a coaching team, we have always tried to move things on, you need to keep evolving all the time. We have been working to bring in nuances, giving ourselves different options.
"Brian (O'Driscoll) isn't there which is change straight away and, whereas at the World Cup there were certain selection criteria such as three scrum-halves, three hookers and so on, a Six Nations squad is different personnel-wise and that brings its own dynamic."
"There are not many fellas who would have put themselves through what Brian did at the World Cup. It is strange to be going into a Six Nations without him but he wouldn't want me approaching this worrying about what are we going to do without him. We are all here for a short while."
"They are going to turn up very powerfully. They were together for two more matches at the World Cup and they would have had two weeks together as well between Heineken Cup rounds two and three because they had another Test against Australia.
"They are the facts, four more weeks together than we have had. Two weeks of that is our own fault, two weeks is down to how Wales run their rugby against how we run our rugby.
"We had to take a look at what happened against them at the World Cup. It was not through lack of effort -- they took the chances that came their way better than we did. They play a tough game. If we both play the same way again, they will win on Sunday."
Lose to Wales on Sunday, with France up six days later in Paris, and this tournament could slip away from Kidney and Ireland very quickly. On the back of the World Cup disappointment, there is the potential for the most pressure he has experienced since taking over nearly four years ago.
However, for Kidney, the greatest pressure comes from within.
"There is pressure on you every day in this job, you just want to give it the best you can. I would never be flippant about it. We are disappointed with the World Cup defeat as much as everyone else, so we want to get it right as much as everyone else does.
"So, what is the meaning of extra pressure? You can't be under more pressure when you are already under so much pressure to win.
"I was honoured to be asked to do this. I have been asked to stay on and, some day, I will be asked to leave but ... I love it."
"Next weekend ... that is all there is."