George Hook: Kidney calls hard to decipher -- both on and off the pitch
Declan Kidney is heading into a career-defining season and his first act was to announce a 31-man squad for the November Internationals against Argentina and South Africa.
This time around, seasoned Kidney-watchers were surprised by the make-up of the squad and management for what promises to be to an exceedingly difficult series of Test matches. The management changes hardly indicate a group with a national focus. Anthony Foley is drafted in as defence coach to allow Les Kiss to concentrate on the back-line attack. Another national part-timer, Greg Feek, will oversee scrum operations.
Ireland's back play has been predictable for two years -- a product, we were told, of Kiss' dual responsibilities for defence and attack. So far this season only Leinster have shown any invention in the backline, but the same players have invariably failed to replicate that for Ireland.
Meanwhile Foley, for all his intelligence, is going to find it difficult to organise a system that caters for the very different styles of the players at his disposal. Brian O'Driscoll shoots out of the line and it works because he is 'Drico', but if Keith Earls does the same, it fails because he is not good enough.
Illogically, with the scrum as Ireland's biggest failing, Greg Feek continues in a part-time capacity and there is still no sign of a national coach for the set-piece. All this and in the Pumas and the Springboks, we will face two of the strongest scrummaging units in the world.
Kidney has picked the four usual suspects at half-back, demonstrating the lack of alternatives.
More surprising is the omission of a full-back in the 31 players named.
Either Earls is a shoo-in or there is a so-far-unmentioned Plan B. Why no Ian Madigan, who could cover at fly-half as well? Why no Felix Jones, who has a sight more experience than Iain Henderson has in the back-row?
The back-row choices are equally inexplicable -- tons of blindsides and no openside. The logic is once more in defiance of everything the rest of the world is trying to achieve. The matches in November could be lost before they start should Ireland run out without an accomplished full-back or quick flanker.
The good news is the arrival of David Kilcoyne in the front-row. The coach would be well advised to pick two props on the bench in November -- we do not need another humiliation . Richardt Strauss looks set to win his first cap as hooker, probably from the bench to replace Rory Best.
The evidence of two 10s, two 9s, two hookers and no full-backs demonstrates that this is a squad selected with revision in mind. Why does it have to be so? The workings of the Kidney mind have never been easy to decipher.
Finally, whither Paddy Wallace? A player that just a few short months ago was deemed important enough to be whisked from under his holiday beach parasol to go to New Zealand, is now deemed to be surplus to requirements.
The players of the amateur era used to hear about being dropped from the newspapers, but the treatment of Wallace is infinitely more cruel.