You leave your DNA in the jersey

Honesty, trust, hard work and willingness have seen Ireland coach conjure greatest era

Duncan Bech

Declan Kidney's response to the news that he had been named International Rugby Board coach of the year was typically modest.

"I feel my role is over-stated -- I haven't made a tackle all year," he said, shortly after Ireland had humbled World Cup holders South Africa 15-10 at Croke Park.

Yet despite his admirable determination to play down his influence on Ireland's success, Kidney has had an astonishing impact on the nation's rugby fortunes.

Many coaches wait years before they can transform an underachieving team, but for Kidney it took mere months to turn the 'golden generation' into winners.

November 2008 finished on a disappointing note with a meaningless rout of Canada and an important win over Argentina tempered by a thumping by New Zealand.

Fast forward four months and a team that had endured its share of agonising near misses claimed only Ireland's second Grand Slam -- and their first for 61 years.

That success was recognised, as a record 14 Irishmen were selected for the Lions tour to South Africa.

Many of them endured the heartache of conceding an epic Test series, so last November's muscular victory over the world champions proved sweet revenge for those involved with the Lions.

The bitter-sweet procession of Triple Crowns has made way for Europe's highest honour, reflecting Kidney's ability to transform the players' psyches.

The former Munster coach, who masterminded the province's Heineken Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2008, was surprised at the fragile self-belief of the players he inherited.


After enduring mixed fortunes in November 2008 -- his opening Tests as Ireland coach -- he set about restoring confidence at a succession of squad meetings.

Kidney is a shrewd man-manager and the players responded brilliantly, appreciating his lighter touch after growing weary of the more rigid regime of predecessor Eddie O'Sullivan.

"I value honesty, trust, hard work, the willingness to go the extra little bit. Nobody blames anybody," said Kidney. "We have none of that -- no cliques, no nothing. We give it a go in the best way possible. You cannot overestimate honesty.

"I'd be a believer that you don't ever own a jersey, you don't ever nail down a jersey.

"You have it for one afternoon and that's your chance. You leave your DNA in it."

The key difference on the pitch is that Ireland now have the ability to win tight games against major opposition, with France, England and Wales all succumbing in pressure-cooker situations during last season's Six Nations.

France winger Vincent Clerc's last-gasp try that effectively denied Ireland the Grand Slam in 2007 underlined a once-crippling vulnerability that has since been addressed by Kidney.

Dispatching the Springboks in November and drawing with Australia -- a match they would likely have won had they not been blowing away the cobwebs -- confirmed Ireland's status as genuine global players.

The difficulty facing Kidney now is that the only way is down, at least in Six Nations terms, as anything less than a successful Grand Slam defence is a step backwards.

But perhaps the more crucial games await at the end of the season during the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia, destinations where Ireland will truly indicate whether they are genuine World Cup contenders.

"There's a whole series of things we'll have to learn by dealing with opponents away from home," said 50-year-old Kidney. "There are a lot of away matches coming up now -- England in London, France in Paris.

"Then we'll go to New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then finish off in Brisbane in June."