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Absence of key men can make squad stronger - Kidney

Backed into a corner by the absence of six key front-liners and a wealth of experience that encapsulates the last two Lions captains, Declan Kidney had little option but to accelerate the renewal of his struggling squad.

With less than a year to go on his coaching contract, and mindful of a miserable sequence of Test results since the illusory World Cup high achieved against Australia more than a year ago, the embattled coach has plumped for uncharacteristic upheaval.

By referencing the introduction of six new caps by Warren Gatland against Scotland 12 years ago, Kidney may have over-egged the pudding a tad, but there is certainly a sense of freshness about this squad.

"I remember a few years ago there were six guys that all got their first caps together," says Kidney (right).

"They put their hands up and said they wanted to keep the jersey and they didn't leave it go for a long time. So, who knows? This is the latest opportunity and I know that it won't be for any lack of wanting that they'll strive to hold on to it for as long as they can but let's just see how it goes."

Asked specifically if the unwanted prospect of seeing his key front-liners being felled like trees in the build-up to this game may have engendered an unwitting re-generation, the coach reverted typically to the hypothetical.

"Who's to know that? I'm sure the six guys who are out at the moment will be working their way back in, hoping to be available for the Six Nations.

"I'm not sure of anyone here who wouldn't be thinking of writing them off today. For example, Richardt Strauss isn't going to be making it easy for Rory Best to get back in and the squad can only gain in strength from that. Each player who's getting the opportunity for what you might call a named player being out... it's not like those players are finished.

"They've all been playing well. It's just unfortunate that there's a block of them out injured right now.

"The squad, as a whole, can become stronger as a result. We have a fairly arduous task after South Africa and we have to pick ourselves up after New Zealand. I feel, from talking to some lads, that they've learned a lot from New Zealand. We have to see if we can put that into action on Saturday."

The key elements of replenishment are full-back, where Simon Zebo earns only his second cap in a position foreign to him since school days, naturalised hooker Strauss and reserve props Michael Bent and Dave Kilcoyne.

Added to Keith Earls' latest claim to the absent Brian O'Driscoll's No 13 shirt and the introduction of a new second-row partnership of Donnacha Ryan and Connacht's Mike McCarthy, there is much to be enthused about.

Critics will alight upon the retention of Gordon D'Arcy, Ronan O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan as evidence of the coach's hidebound nature but, presumably, Kidney was keen to balance callowness with experience.

Specifically referring to Zebo, Kidney agreed that his inexperience was a factor but it is more likely that the back three will play as a coherent unit, with Tommy Bowe asked to fill in at times.

"He covers across the pitch quite well. Wingers, these days, have to be a full-back by nature with the amount of covering they have to do. I think he'll bring the same attributes as he's been showing on the wing."

Iain Henderson's potential from the bench promises to be explosive; like Jamie Heaslip, once a nominee as World Junior Player of the Year, he graduated from a sparkling summer display at the U-20 World Cup.

"I suppose I've been lucky to be involved in those groups before," says the coach who won the 1998 U-19 World Cup. "You usually find when they go that well it's very akin to our own set-up in junior and minor GAA. If the minors go well, the seniors benefit down the line. Just ask Kilkenny that.

"We need these teams going well because they're the lifeblood."

They may prove the transfusion of talent Kidney requires.

Irish Independent