Ireland are in a better place than two years ago - Kidney
Published 21/03/2011 | 05:00
Declan Kidney believes Ireland are in a better position to launch a meaningful World Cup challenge than they were as Grand Slam champions two years ago.
Kidney's side denied England their first Grand Slam since 2003 with an emphatic 24-8 victory at Lansdowne Road on Saturday and, despite losing to France and Wales, the manager says the development of players such as Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls and Mike Ross during this Six Nations has strengthened the squad for New Zealand 2011.
"We won two years ago with not a whole lot of players," said Kidney. "Now, we have a broader base. We can cope with a few bangs and knocks. We need match practice to get us right for the World Cup, and that is where the four (warm-up) matches in August are important.
"It can't be fair: everybody would love to play all four matches, but it won't be like that. But we have a broader base so if somebody doesn't turn up for work, we are better equipped to carry that.
"If the boys do well with the provinces, that puts more pep in their step."
And, while praising the contribution of the newer breed, Kidney took time out to acknowledge the value of Paul O'Connell, who returned to the Six Nations after nine months out following the groin injury he picked up against Scotland this time last year.
"I can't speak highly enough of Paul," said Kidney. "He's played seven games, and to try and regain your match fitness in Heineken Cup and Test rugby, and be a leader in the pack? That's a monumental achievement. Paul is still giving out he's not match fit. You know there is more to come."
O'Connell's fellow Lions captain, Brian O'Driscoll, became the tournament's all-time leading try-scorer when picking up his 25th on Saturday and Kidney emphasised the centre's importance to the Irish cause for the challenges ahead.
"I'd be delighted for him. I know he doesn't feed into the accolade, but he has been a very good captain over some difficult matches in the last 12 months.
"He has stayed steadfast to the team and he has left them in no doubt what this team means to him. Some of the players have fed off that.
"He is playing very well. If he gives another 10 scoring passes or gets another 10, he'll look at that when he retires. There are another few tries in him."
Kidney's counterpart Martin Johnson could not mask his disappointment at coughing up the Grand Slam, but said his England side could use the experience to improve, just as the England teams he captained did before landing the Grand Slam and World Cup in 2003.
"This is a scar and we'll have to wear that scar," said Johnson. "Do you have to get your scars and bruises in before you win something? You hope not, but Ireland had theirs before they won the Grand Slam in 2009. I told the players we'll take this on the chin. We were beaten by a good team, an experienced team.
"Ireland are very good at what they do. They have a lot of caps, we don't. We hoped we'd do better.
"We knew at the start of the championship it would take one heck of a team to win five and we were in with a shot. The boys are very disappointed because they wanted to win a Test match and we know what was at the end of it. It summed up our day up when two of our players ended up passing straight back to them.
"When you're in a fight you want to feel like you've landed a few blows, but we didn't. They kept on taking shots at us."