Friday 23 February 2018

Aviva washout leaves Kidney in a quandary

tony ward

God be with the days when you woke up as an Irish player, looked out the hotel window and got down on your knees in praise of the inclement weather. The worse it was, the deeper and more heartfelt the gratitude.

But those are times long past and on Saturday the uncomfortable conditions certainly favoured the visitors.

The Springbok way of playing the game is fairly straightforward: they are relentlessly predictable but extremely difficult to overcome. In order to beat the Boks, you must match their physicality in the basics. Insecurity at the line-out or scrum and an uncomfortable afternoon is guaranteed.

So it proved on Saturday, where a ropey return out of touch allied to what was at best a neutral scrum was added to by a back-line totally out of sorts in the conditions.


It's unfair and untrue to suggest that the rain and greasy ball did not hinder an Irish back-line geared to run. Fingertip-passing a greasy ball is nigh-on impossible in such conditions, which made it a day when numbers one to 10 took overall control.

Afterwards, Declan Kidney conceded: "We probably could have won a bit more ball had we gone to the front of the line-out, but we were trying to play, so we were putting pressure on ourselves to win middle and back ball."

When he says "play" what he means is to play more expansively. Ireland should have attacked the wider channels in which we appeared stronger. But as Kidney knows, there are days when conditions and circumstances mean that the pre-match plan should be thrown in the bin. Saturday, at a mute Lansdowne Road (the final eight minutes apart), was one such day.

What added to this opening Autumn International disappointment, quite apart from the blocks of empty seats, was that it was the visitors, at the end of a long and arduous domestic season, who appeared to have the greater appetite.

Had Ronan O'Gara's final conversion gone over instead of coming back off the post, it would have finished all square.

That would have been a grave injustice. The better team playing the more pragmatic rugby dug out the result they unquestionably deserved.

For Kidney, the negatives far outweigh any positives, but at least he has the Samoa game in five days' time to get back on track for the All Blacks clash.

But I am struggling to identify any real positive from Saturday's loss.

O'Gara's 15-minute tour de force has, if anything, added to the dilemma for the Ireland management because it has re-opened the out-half debate and we all know what that means in terms of media frenzy; it's an inevitable sideshow Kidney could do without. That said, if there was one positive it was the second-half arrival of O'Gara, earning his 100th cap, and his scrum-half partner Peter Stringer. Both should start against the Samoans.

While it would be wrong to say that Kidney was out-thought by his opposite number Peter de Villiers, it is certainly right to say his side was outmuscled. When it came to the hard yards, it was the Boks establishing all the forward momentum.

It was set up for Ireland on our 'homecoming' occasion, but it was the under-fire world champions who seized the moment. Victor Matfield's side won this November game not because they wanted it more, but because they adapted better to the wet, uncompromising grass.

Kidney's selection for Samoa has now become a major issue. Does he field his first-up 15 in search of a morale-boosting win ahead of the big one against the All Blacks? Or does he cut his cloth in terms of rest and hope it comes right on the day?

It's the type of dilemma even someone as canny as Kidney could well have done without.

Put simply, it was a bad day at the newly revamped office.

Irish Independent

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