Sunday 23 November 2014

Schoolmaster Kidney has taught well but lessons still to be learned

Published 07/02/2013 | 04:00

Teachers never stop teaching, it is true. They also never stop learning.

The mantra slips as easily into the world of professional sport as it seeps daily into the classroom.

Declan Kidney has occupied both worlds and such principles have remained lifelong allies.

And so, even as Ireland stood on the cusp of that extraordinary rendition last weekend, he and his delegated staff will already have begun casting eyes towards the challenges facing them in Lansdowne Road this Sunday.

For, on the eve of last weekend's game, the players would have been bequeathed all their systems and analyses with Wales in mind; their plans suitably tailored, the coaching staff would already have been laying down preliminary plans for England.

The weekend's events in Cardiff – and, indeed, London – will have hardened and sharpened this focus.

Kidney (pictured below) would never have deigned to contemplate designing such a narrative but the surreal manner of Ireland's victory last weekend offers the perfect platform for him to navigate this second week of the Six Nations campaign.

For, as satisfied as he will have been with the manner in which the teachings were applied so successfully in the first portion of the game, he will have reeled in the manner that his side were undone later in the piece, notwithstanding the game's lurching switch in emphasis.

The warm glow of victory would have been leavened with concerns at how a better team just might have found a way to punish some glaring weaknesses.

This week in Maynooth, the squad are unlikely to need much physical exercise; at this stage of the season and given last weekend's intensity and the consequent injury concerns, this would be a retrograde step.

Instead, the main body of work will be done in the "classroom"; from Mervyn Murphy's expertly compiled video analysis, thence shifted into the personal arena of each player, who can analyse at his leisure and at any length their own individual requirements.

Any extensive field work will be limited to mere walk-throughs of offensive and defensive scenarios, ruck formations and set-piece drills; mental, rather than physical, tutoring will top the agenda this week.

Ireland can match England, indeed any team, for effort, physicality and intensity; it is the subtle mental challenges that require high-level skills and drills to be executed under pressure which will form the reckoning of this fixture.

Last weekend, even in victory, demonstrated once more to Kidney a lifelong creed indeed – the learning can never stop. And so this week the teaching must continue. He and his staff will have little problem alighting upon certain issues.

1 THE NUMBERS MUST ADD UP

Kidney didn't teach mathematics in PBC, Cork, but even he recognises two irrefutable facts.

Ireland will not create a 30-3 lead against England and they cannot afford to cede every single statistical detail to their opposition.

While their clinical ability to eke out scores despite a deficiency in territory and possession is admirable, a second successive week of being dominated in all facets of the game allows little negotiating room if Ireland seek to come out the right side of the result.

2 KEEPING THE HIGH FLIERS GROUNDED

Simon Zebo not only went viral with his incredible footwork last Saturday, he repeated the trick hours later when he slotted in temporarily as a DJ in his native Cork.

His unabashed enthusiasm on and off the field need not be curbed but Kidney's unwillingness to add fuel to the hype remains a crucial factor in ensuring that his nascent superstar remains wedded to the philosophy of the team.

Maintaining this critical balance – Craig Gilroy's youthful exuberance included – will be a key factor in allowing Ireland to build on the irrepressible sense of adventure that marked all their good attacking work last weekend.

Kidney's sense of humility will be key to striking this balance.

3 DEFENCE OF THE REALM

Ireland won last weekend, baldly speaking, because they scored more points than Wales. Jonathan Sexton's 100pc record of 15 points – from three conversions and three penalty goals – trumped his opposition kicker Leigh Halpenny's total, from two conversions and a penalty, by exactly eight points.

The margin of victory? Eight points.

The skewed nature of the contest imbalances the analysis – it's much easier to swing from the hip when staring abject humiliation in the face – but it's easy to surmise that Anthony Foley would not have planned for his side to concede three tries in this championship, let alone in a half-hour.

A similar concession this week would probably be fatal so, despite some impressive work in forcing Wales into cul de sacs, crowding the midfield and isolating limited carriers, this work needs to be topped up this week and they will be mindful that shoving England down the blindside all day may not reap as much benefits.

4 YELLOW PERIL

Again, the vacillating nature of last week's contest tempers the tantrums Ireland may have about their discipline but the bald facts once more fail to conceal a grim truth that, if repeated, would be fatal against the English.

Playing a full quarter with only 14 men cannot be repeated, particularly when a sin-binning was also so recently costly against South Africa.

Also, conceding a total of 13 penalties – Ireland would always aim to reduce the number to around the seven/eight mark – many of which would have been kickable had the game been tighter, will see punishment meted out by the currently metronomic Owen Farrell.

While much of the indiscipline arose with the scoreboard and clock seemingly in their favour, Kidney will reiterate the point that such figures are unacceptable and he will demand 15 men on the field at all times and a penalty concession rate dipping well below double figures

5 LOOSE KICKS

Again, the exigencies of the match situation somehow lulled Ireland into a game plan which, backboned by their huge winning margin, saw them attempt to obviate a Welsh comeback by deploying a lazy exit strategy from their own territory.

It was an enervating effort, marked by some poorly constructed, aimless kicking which was not eagerly followed up by any semblance of a covering chase to smother the inevitable counter-running of the increasingly buoyant Welsh.

Ireland may have felt they afforded themselves this option by dint of their fine first-half effort, but the extraordinary tackle count and defensive effort required could exact belated retribution this Sunday against a much more consistent opposition.

Rob Kearney has been coveted by so many because of his counter-attacking skills. When it is required, Ireland must use him.

6 TOUCHY SUBJECT

When they won in Dublin last year, although they coughed up half of their own 10 line-outs, Wales restricted Ireland to just four throws.

Last Saturday, Ireland were offered nine first-half line-outs, and Sean O'Brien's powerful running game, in particular, benefited from this most profitable of first-phase possession, albeit some of the presentation was appallingly sloppy, a little-noticed factor during the whirlwind first half.

The backroom staff will have noticed. So too will England, especially as Wales restricted Ireland's line-out throws the longer the game went on, starving Ireland of front-foot possession.

7 BENCH OPTIONS

This is one area where Kidney's teachings cannot influence much this week. Ireland's options are severely limited here; most people will have guessed the first XV last week and this.

Aside from Chris Henry, there is little strength in current available depth and, whether it is midfield or tighthead, Ireland could struggle if the front-liners' fitness falters.

Irish Independent

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