Saturday 10 December 2016

Plenty to occupy Kidney's thoughts

Hugh Farrelly AT THE RDS

Published 05/03/2011 | 05:00

A DECENT rather than spectacular Magners League victory for Joe Schmidt's Leinster at a nippy RDS last night but still plenty to occupy the eyes and thoughts of Ireland coach Declan Kidney ahead of next week's trip to Cardiff.

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The Ireland coach's intentions selection-wise remain, as ever, clouded in mystery and there are no indications as to whether he will opt for 'as you were' or controlled rotation to keep the squad motivated (a la Scotland 2009).

However, there were a clutch of Leinster players on duty here eager to catch the eye of the Ireland management and, while this game might not lead to immediate elevation, it may not be too far down the road.

BIG MAC AND RHYS

Although the penalties have been dominating the analysis, one of the persistent problems for Ireland in this Six Nations has been the lack of options at line-out.

The back-row have been performing very well in many respects, with Sean O'Brien outstanding, but the unit's relative lack of height at line-out time has been a debilitating factor.

Against Scotland, O'Brien was asked to claim ball against Richie Gray (who stands eight inches taller than him at 6'9") while Scotland's other jumpers marked Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan -- predictably Gray won out.

Two potential solutions were on display last night as Rhys Ruddock (6'3") and Kevin McLaughlin (6'4") packed down in the back-row.

The problem for Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal was that when you have a line-out containing the leviathan targets of Devin Toner, Leo Cullen and then Nathan Hines, not too much ball is going to be directed elsewhere, although McLaughlin was used effectively to set up maul possession in the first half.

Both had big games around the park, McLaughlin having a hand in a couple of turnovers as well as carrying and tackling well, and Ruddock producing a fine performance of relentless physicality.

Whether it is enough to promote either man into the match squad for Cardiff is another matter entirely but it would certainly ease line-out worries if that decision was taken.

ANYTHING ROG CAN DO?

This was Jonathan Sexton's night to make a statement, a performance to force the hand of the selectors as Ronan O'Gara had managed to do when usurping him.

Did he do it? Well, the St Mary's man had a good night, with six kicks from six and some confident passing and kicking out of hand.

There were a couple of kicks slid along the ground into touch that seemed to scream: "See, it's not only ROG, I can do it too."

On another occasion, Sexton looked up and saw acres of space in the Scarlets '22' and intelligently opted to tap and go, which allowed Fergus McFadden to find with a good kick ahead -- proof of game-management capabilities right there.

However, given what is at stake there was also possibly an element of Sexton trying to force matters a little bit -- a couple of passes and kicks came a cropper because the option simply wasn't on.

Given the inconsistent showing of Rhys Priestland opposite him, it emphasised once again how fortunate Kidney is to have access to two 10s of this calibre.

O'Gara will, in all probability, hold onto the jersey for Cardiff, as he deserves to do, but having Sexton putting pressure on him is no bad thing.

CENTRAL CASTING

After the first two matches, Fergus McFadden found himself out in the cold despite performing well on the right wing due to the inevitable return of cult hero Tommy Bowe.

At the same time, his Leinster team-mate Gordon D'Arcy was under pressure following an error-strewn display in Rome and a match-deciding missed tackle in the loss to France.

However, D'Arcy then put in an impressive 80 minutes in Murrayfield, which made McFadden's selection at inside centre last night less significant.

Nonetheless, McFadden's eye-catching display will have done him no harm at all, and he looked electric on the ball all evening as well as punishing in the tackle.

Then there was Isaac Boss at scrum-half. If Tomas O'Leary continues to have problems with his back and Kidney still wants a physical No 9 in the his match-squad, then Boss is the man in form.

His try rounded off a pretty complete performance, packed with surety, power on the ball and a couple of exquisite off-loads.

WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS

Leinster gave away a few foolish penalties and had a few dubious ones awarded against them but discipline was never an issue. There was a commendable sense of keeping their heads around the breakdown that has largely deserted the international side.

KIND OF BLUE

It wasn't the complete Leinster performance by any means, there was a soft try conceded at the end when the Scarlets were down to 14, but it wasn't half bad.

Although there were plenty of turnovers to occupy the video analysis this week there was also enough verve and off-loading play to keep the crowd of 11,976 happy along with the customary family atmosphere that has proven so successful at the RDS.

Irish Independent

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