Kidney must wield axe as indiscipline beginning to fester
Published 28/02/2011 | 05:00
Substitute a try for a goal and, in soccer parlance, we won 3-0 away from home.
Unfortunately for this Irish side in its current frame of mind, rugby doesn't quite work like that. We have become masters in the art of giving away penalties.
It cost us a shot at the Grand Slam in our defeat to the French a fortnight ago (when we outsmarted the opposition by three tries to one) and it almost resulted in a second Six Nations defeat on the bounce at Murrayfield yesterday.
To put it down to ill-discipline and suggest the Irish team's problems can be corrected in the video room or on the training paddock is just not good enough. Perfect practice should go a long way towards perfect execution on match day. Only management and players know if they are getting it right in their preparation.
Given the presence of Alain Rolland at official training in between the last two games, one can only assume many of the issues and infringements arising from the French match had been addressed.
Assuming that the team as a unit were aware of the issues, that therefore suggests the problem is down to individual error. This is the nub of the issue. It is time for each and every player to look at himself in the mirror and examine his role in conceding penalties.
If players are being sloppy in giving away penalties -- and not just at the breakdown -- then they must pay the ultimate price.
As of now we are becoming known within refereeing circles as a team all too easy to penalise. We may scoff at the notion, but that is the reality.
Crossing for three tries in any match at this level takes some doing, but concede five penalties and, against proven goal-kickers of Chris Paterson/Dan Parks' standard, you're back to square one. So it was again yesterday.
We escaped, but it was much too close for comfort against a Scottish team that never looked close to scoring a try. For the second time in a fortnight on home soil they looked like exactly what they are -- a team devoid of guile or any cutting edge behind the scrum.
Without any penalty opportunities (which, unfortunately Ireland coughed up in abundance) they are left with precious little else. It really is a Scottish side as poor in potency and in try-scoring potential as there has been in quite a while. Pity Andy Robinson his task.
By contrast, Declan Kidney must crack the whip in a much more meaningful way. Sloppy play should result in players getting dropped.
Having pride in the jersey should go hand in hand with having pride in your performance and that means showing discipline as much as anything else.
The best players exude self-control. People can moan all they want about Richie McCaw and his ability to play it close to the edge, but the bottom line is he does so effectively, while as of now we have far too many players going over that edge far too often. If it takes the trapdoor, however temporary, to get the message across, then the sooner it is brought into play the better. What appeared to be an irritable scratch is becoming a festering boil. It needs to be lanced.
On the plus side, we won, and Ronan O'Gara was superb. Kidney did exactly the opposite of what he had done in Rome against Italy and in Dublin against the French when replacing Jonny Sexton with O'Gara on the hour, but on this occasion he should have left things as they were.
It was as unfair on Sexton as it was on O'Gara, given the circumstances. In a contest so delicately balanced, the Munster man should have been left on board to steer us home.
It smacked of making a substitution just for the sake of it and we cannot afford that luxury, irrespective of the skill level of the players involved. Sometimes needs must and yesterday the situation demanded that O'Gara should see the game out.
Nobody knows which way Kidney will go for the Welsh game in terms of his playmaker-in-chief, but against the Scots in a scruffy victory, his preferred man ticked every conceivable box.
There was good news too, despite a disappointingly poor line-out, in the all-round form of Paul O'Connell. As for Sean O'Brien, quite simply, he was electricity on legs.
Put it all together and the reality is this Irish side is still on course for a Triple Crown showdown against Grand Slam-chasing England at the Aviva in three weeks' time.
In a World Cup year, given where we're now at, I'm not too sure it gets much better than that.