independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tony Ward: Kidney captaincy call right for O’Driscoll and Ireland

Declan Kidney can be accused of many things, but stupidity sure isn't one of them. The decision to continue with Jamie Heaslip as Ireland captain, regardless of whether Brian O'Driscoll is fit and firing on all cylinders, is the right one, for all the right reasons.

Irrespective of whether you share his view, every decision he takes is carefully thought out.

So many factors would have come into play. Firstly, the manner in which Heaslip took the leadership baton and ran with it back in November (for all three games) was as impressive as was expected of the experienced No 8.

The fuss made over his yellow card against South Africa was beyond belief. So he pulled down a maul, or whatever he did in trying to prevent a try. How dastardly is that? Here, according to some experts, was proof of a leader out of his depth! Heaslip is one of the most honest and selfless back-row forwards ever to wear the green.

If given the support and the time, he has the potential, at 29, to be another in a long line of top-notch Irish captains.

He is following a great leader. But this Kidney decision is as much about the outgoing captain as the captain coming in.

When Eddie O'Sullivan appointed O'Driscoll as skipper, I had my reservations. They were ill-founded, and how. O'Driscoll proved a natural-born leader. Right from day one, the responsibility rested easily on his shoulders. As a captain who leads then talks, he has been the real deal.

On the back of an injury-interrupted season, he deserves the time to which Kidney refers, to get back fully fit. O'Driscoll's focus at his age (he turns 34 on Monday) should be himself. Indeed, the coach sums it best when he says: "We need Brian the player as much as Brian the captain."

We all echo that sentiment. Shifting the armband from centre to No 8 is no slight on the former. On the contrary, it is in the best interests of both players and, most relevantly, in the best interests of the national team going forward.

O'Driscoll has already conceded that the 2015 World Cup is a bridge too far for him.

Kidney, in addressing the captaincy issue, is merely acknowledging that fact and doing all he can so as to give our greatest ever player the space he needs to garner whatever remaining time he can from an extraordinary playing career.

Of course O'Driscoll is disappointed not to be leading the team into the Six Nations, but having him there is the primary concern.

Time stands still for no man – not even the gifted one.

Far from being disrespectful, it is designed to add further distinction to an already illustrious career.

And if Warren Gatland should deem O'Driscoll the man to lead the Lions to Australia, then not being captain of his national team for this campaign won't matter a whit.

O'Driscoll has been given the chance to focus on himself for the coming months, and if that isn't doing the right thing for the right reason, then I don't know what is.

As for the criticism being fired Heaslip's way? Sometimes you really do despair.

This was no rush-of-blood decision, but a carefully thought-out strategy in the best interests of Irish rugby and the players concerned.

Failure to see that defies comprehension.

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