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Kidney legacy safely intact

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16 March 2013; Declan Kidney, head coach, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

16 March 2013; Declan Kidney, head coach, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

16 March 2013; Declan Kidney, head coach, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

THE worst-kept secret in the rugby world is out.

Declan Kidney was bloodlessly removed as Ireland's head coach yesterday following a harrowing Six Nations banjaxed by injury and the Corkman's risky, unrewarding selection decisions.

"We would like to sincerely thank Declan for his commitment to Irish Rugby," said the Irish Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Phillip Browne in a statement yesterday. "His contribution and involvement across the spectrum of Irish rugby delivered Under Age, Provincial, Grand Slam and Triple Crown success, and epitomises his passion, belief and commitment to the game."

Although Kidney's current contract concludes at the end of June, he moves aside to allow interim head coach Les Kiss, defence coach Anthony Foley and forwards coach Gert Smal to take Ireland on the two-test Tour against the USA (Houston, June 8th) and Canada (Toronto, June 15th) in June.

Apparently, the decision not to renew Kidney's contract "was made following an in-depth review process carried out by the IRFU's National Team Review Group (NTRG)", according to the IRFU statement.

In truth, it didn't take "an in-depth review" to gauge where Kidney stood or, indeed, in what direction he should move. There is a well-touted position as Director of Rugby at University College Cork waiting for him.

The merry-go-round that is the insecure life of a professional rugby coach means almost everyone gets the sack sooner or later.

Long after he is gone, Kidney's epitaph will be one of greatness, not as a coach, but for what he masterminded as a man-manager.

It all started, in a global sense, with Ireland's eclipse of all-comers at the FIRA U19 World Championships in France back in 1998 when a certain Brian O'Driscoll, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paddy Wallace led by deed.

It was at the turn of the millennium that Kidney took over the reins as Munster coach, taking them all the way to the Heineken Cup final where heartbreak was their bedfellow in a nerve-shredding 9-8 defeat by Pat Lam's Northampton.

Drenched

And so a European love story was born. It was one drenched in tears and agonising defeat by Leicester Tigers in the Heineken final again in 2002.

The trauma was too much for Kidney. He moved on to a role as assistant coach to Eddie O'Sullivan, a political mistake where O'Sullivan sidelined his fellow Corkman as a bit-part coach. The 2003 World Cup came and went, Kidney quietly surviving.

Kidney's next move was to take his very-Munster methods to Leinster, where the city slickers wanted the technical reasons not Kidney's psychological mind games. It lasted one season.

He was back where he has always belonged in 2006 to guide Munster to their Promised Land, the never-to-be-forgotten, dam-busting, 23-19 domination of Biarritz Olympique in the Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.

In 2008, Munster took the rockiest of roads to their second Heineken in three seasons, winning away from home in the quarter-final at Gloucester and semi-final at Saracens before humbling the mighty Toulouse 16-13 back at the Millennium Stadium.

From there, Kidney replaced the by-then beleaguered O'Sullivan as Ireland's coach in the summer of 2008 and immediately orchestrated the first Grand Slam in 64 years when Stephen Jones' last-gasp penalty fell short in Cardiff.

Since then, he has guided Ireland to second in the Six Nations in 2010, third in 2011, third in 2012 and an unacceptable fifth this season, below Scotland and Italy. It has been a downward spiral.

There have been high points – the victory over Australia in the 2011 World Cup, and almost Ireland's first win over New Zealand last summer.

They have been heavily outweighed by the disappointments, the World Cup quarter-final collapse to Wales, the drubbing by England last season at Twickenham and the 60-point humiliation by the All Blacks in the third test last June.

Untimely

This all served to make this Six Nations a make-or-break tournament. Kidney made too many errors. He started by removing the Ireland captaincy from Brian O'Driscoll in a hasty and untimely manner.

He took a chance on Paddy Jackson over Ronan O'Gara at Murrayfield. He also parachuted Tom Court in over the head of Dave Kilcoyne in a less contentious, but significant decision in terms of his selection inconsistency.

And now the two-time Heineken Cup – and one-time Grand Slam-winning coach – is gone.


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