IRFU must act quickly on coach issue as Kidney promises thorough post-mortem
Published 18/03/2013 | 05:00
CAN Declan Kidney survive Ireland's first loss to Italy in the Six Nations?
Ireland will tour Canada and North America this summer and the coach's contract covers this period.
The issue for the IRFU, however, is whether he will still be in charge then and whether he is the man to take Ireland on to the World Cup of 2015.
The loss to Italy brought a disastrous Six Nations to a downbeat conclusion for Ireland and raised a whole plethora of issues – not only about the coach.
A first loss to Italy in a competitive match should ensure a root-and-branch inquiry into the whole structure of the game in Ireland and an in-depth analysis of whether Kidney and his staff are the men to bring Ireland into the future.
The spate of injuries sustained in Rome, the alien positions players were forced to take up and the absence of so many tried and proven internationals means that any evaluation of Ireland on Saturday's display is pointless.
It is something Kidney referenced after the game and, even though he has been true to his word about not moaning about the injury situation Ireland have experienced this season, he did crack a little when remembering one particular absentee.
"I have a habit sometimes of looking back over the previous year's matches and if you saw the damage – and this is no disrespect to the lads who played – Stephen Ferris did on his own, it was colossal," said Kidney.
It has been an unprecedented season in that regard and the trend continued, with Luke Fitzgerald (knee), Iain Henderson (foot), Luke Marshall (concussion) and Keith Earls (shoulder) all facing varying stretches on the sidelines.
That Ireland have had to work through a championship with up to 20 players suffering injury is enormously worrying, especially given the much vaunted 'player welfare programme,' and questions, Kidney acknowledged, will have to be asked.
"When you suffer a championship like this, everything will be looked at. Certainly there will be no stone unturned. I'd have a fair idea (of why things went so wrong) and will discuss that over the next couple of weeks."
For those advocating a change in regime, there is plenty of ammunition – from the captaincy issue to the wildly vacillating decisions over the selection policy that prevailed during the championship, which saw senior players being cast aside far too easily.
Those decisions were taken and they certainly cost Ireland in the last three games of the championship.
However, it is more pertinent and only fair, perhaps, to initially focus on whatever positives can be gleaned from the game in Rome and from the championship as a whole.
A large number of extremely promising young players have come to the fore and Ian Madigan showed in a substitute performance on Saturday what an outstanding prospect he is.
Indeed, when he stepped into the No 10 channel for a four-minute cameo in the second half, Ireland were at their most dangerous.
At that stage, the game was not out of reach. Ireland were trailing by four points and under Madigan's urging both Brian O'Driscoll and Peter O'Mahony went close to crossing the line. A few minutes later, Madigan darted through himself, but was unceremoniously dumped on his rump.
He showed that he certainly has the potential to develop into a valuable asset for Ireland.
Also, he, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Henderson have come through their first Six Nations and Ireland can look forward to these players showing the benefits of the experience they gained in the upcoming tour of Canada and North America.
Fractionally above them is another layer of players who have only a handful of caps to their credit and are still cutting their teeth at international level.
This was Peter O'Mahony's first Six Nations campaign as a starter, Conor Murray's second, while having Luke Fitzgerald back in the international scene is hugely encouraging.
Ultimately, however, all this is of cold comfort this morning and it would be irresponsible not to point to the many errors and poor decisions that complicated Ireland's hopes in Rome.
Ireland's set-piece play was far from efficient – the line-out was again a shambles, which was hugely disappointing after Ireland had shown considerable signs of improvement against France in Dublin less than a week ago.
Ireland's performance was also littered with handling errors again, despite the advantage of playing with a dry ball on a beautifully firm pitch.
With so many unscripted changes forced on Ireland's three-quarter line, it was inevitable that something would have to suffer.
"The frustrating part is in all three games that we have lost it has been a score or two that separated us," said disappointed captain Jamie Heaslip afterwards.
"Today we made too many errors and gave too many free shots at goal, turned over too much easy ball at set-pieces, did not convert our own opportunities. It was all quite frustrating and we have got to learn from it."
It is to Ireland's huge credit that they were still in the game past the hour mark, which again highlighted their committed attitude in a tough and demanding contest, despite operating with weakened forces.
This match and result, combined with their win over France, highlights the strides Italy have made in recent years.
Their U-20 team had a creditable draw with their Irish counterparts on Friday night, while, in the senior competition, they have sent out a clear message to two of the teams they will play in the World Cup in 2015.
It is important to acknowledge that when Ireland had a healthier glow, they started the tournament with a hugely encouraging win over Wales, the defending and now current champions, on their own patch at the Millennium Stadium.
The next days, weeks and months will be spent analysing and assessing who the right candidate is to lead the team out of the hole. It's a question that has been repeatedly asked of Kidney throughout the competition.
He was again non-committal on Saturday and he cut a thoroughly despondent figure when raking over the ashes of Ireland's loss. He did give a hint that it's a challenge he would like to take on.
"I know what I can bring to it," said Kidney. "I know what I've brought to it over the years.
"I've been in holes like this before and I know how to get out of them. Now, though, is the time to sit back and reflect."
It is possible, if not probable, though, the coach will be the one to suffer after a season that was bizarre in the way ill-luck haunted Ireland.
A review is certain, change is open to question, but decisions should be made quickly, otherwise the process of building a squad for the World Cup of 2015 will be frustrated. The IRFU should act now, extend the coach's contract or appoint a successor. Whoever leads Ireland on the summer tour should lead them into the World Cup.
ITALY – A Masi (T Benvenuti 66); G Venditti, G Canale, G Garcia, L McLean; L Orquera, E Gori (T Botes 75); A Lo Cicero (M Rizzo 64), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon 75), L Cittadini (A De Marchi 75); Q Geldenhuys (A Pavanello 64), J Furno (F Mento 57); A Zanni, S Favaro (P Derbyshire 57), S Parisse.
IRELAND – R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall (I Madigan 27), K Earls (L Fitzgerald 25 (I Henderson 36)); P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy (D Kilcoyne 70), R Best (S Cronin 70), M Ross (S Archer 65); M McCarthy (D Toner 64), D Ryan (P Marshall 79); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
REF – W Barnes (England).