Rob Kearney: Blame the players and not Declan Kidney for defeat
IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney insists only the players can be held accountable for a troubled RBS 6 Nations campaign that appears to be doing terminal harm to the reign of head coach Declan Kidney.
A logic-defying 12-8 defeat against Scotland yesterday meant Kidney suffered back-to-back championship setbacks for the first time and his chances of securing a contract extension beyond the summer seem bleak.
Supporters angry at seeing a team that began the Six Nations so brightly in Cardiff implode amid baffling tactics, erratic on-field leadership and general ineptitude have called for Kidney's removal.
But Kearney points to Ireland's complete dominance in virtually every department in Edinburgh - except on the scoreboard - as an explanation as why the players and not Kidney must accept responsibility
"On a day like that when we had so much possession and created so much, the blame has to be on the players," the Leinster full-back said.
"The coaches can't make that final pass for you or make that clinical decision. The players must take responsibility and must bear the brunt.
"The guys were happy with the gameplan and how we were playing the game. We created opportunities
"The stats show that we played the right way. It was just one of those days when you can't really explain things.
"It was very disappointing as we should have won and as a team we have to take responsibility for that."
While there is justification for Kearney's defence of his coach, results alone suggest it is highly implausible that the Irish Rugby Football Union will retain Kidney.
Reports of internal divisions have surfaced and even after mitigation for the number of players lost to injury and suspension, the overall sense of confusion points to a new man being in charge for the summer tour to North America.
Ireland's fortunes could deteriorate further with winless France arriving at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week for a showdown between the tournament's two biggest flops.
There were tentative signs of a French revival in Saturday's defeat by England - despite the best efforts of their meddling coach Philippe Saint-Andre - and it is a fixture that affects the Irish psyche like no other, having triumphed just once in 13 meetings dating back to 2003.
"It's a massive two weeks ahead of us now. We need a big statement against France for ourselves, the jersey and our country. People deserve more," Kearney said.
"It doesn't help that France are zero from three. They will come over as a wounded animal, but we have to be more of one. We really need to fight hard and win that game.
"Losing to England and Scotland has put huge emphasis on this match. A lot is riding on it.
"We're all in this together. We must make a statement for Declan, for ourselves and the country."
The return of Jonathan Sexton is viewed as critical against France, although the hamstring tear suffered against England a fortnight ago could keep him sidelined for longer.
In his absence, Ulster debutant Paddy Marshall showed promise against Scotland, but crucially he missed eight points from the kicking tee in a four-point defeat.
The 21-year-old was replaced for the last 15 minutes by Ronan O'Gara, who then served further notice that his Test career is all but over, but Kearney was encouraged by what he saw.
"Genuinely I thought Paddy did really well. It's not easy for a guy making his debut to kick when he hasn't kicked a huge amount for his province," he said.
"It's a tough ask goalkicking in front of a full stadium at Murrayfield on your debut.
"He will be disappointed with it, but there are a lot more positives to take out of his performance than just his goalkicking.
"You can't hope to win a game on kicks at goal. If we took all the chances we created but still missed our kicks, we would have won."