Monday 18 December 2017

Time to repay Kidney's faith

The spin is 11 changes, the reality is one and that enforced. Tom Court in for the injured Tony Buckley at tight-head represents the only change to the first XV in Declan Kidney's mind.

Clearly it went belly up for an hour or so against the Springboks, in a performance not helped, it must be said, by difficult conditions and an element of rust.

Whether it was the Boks taking the foot off the pedal or Ireland hitting the groove in the final quarter, we will know better later today, but for now we must bow to Kidney's loyalty.

I would, however, pose the question, in mischievous innocence, what about the team that finished against South Africa, as opposed to that which started?

Curiously, this has been Kidney's most straightforward selection of the Autumn Series to date.

Rest assured, he would wish it were otherwise, but not a single Irish player put his hand up with enough conviction against the Samoans for inclusion seven days ago.

Were the call mine, there would have been changes at half-back and second-row, but I recognise the rationale behind Kidney's thinking.

This is an 'over to you' call. The coach has put the ball in the players' court. Kidney has put his faith and his coaching credibility on the line.

He need not be in the room -- indeed, it may be better he's not -- when Brian O'Driscoll has his final collective pow-wow before facing the All Blacks. The theme is simple: this one's for Dec.

Kidney is right when he says the more matches you win the more confidence you have, but the corollary, the more you lose the less the confidence, equally applies.

Bear in mind, we have won only one of our last five Tests and only four players -- O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Donncha O'Callaghan -- experienced that success against the Samoans from the start. So, getting back to winning ways and the accompanying level of confidence is a slow process.

I have no great issue with whether it is the Munster half-backs or Leinster half-backs running the show; it is Kidney's decision, armed with the knowledge of what he wants them to do.

A case could have been made for Devin Toner's inclusion on the basis of doing the line-out basics well, but, in fairness to Kidney and Gert Smal, Samoa out of touch is light years removed from South Africa and New Zealand in that regard.

The focus is on Mick O'Driscoll, but as one who has long felt his presence understated for province and country, I expect him to step up to the mark.

O'Callaghan is one of the genuine nice guys on the team, but today it is his nasty element we need to see.

We are up against the best coached, best organised, best quality team in world rugby, bar none. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are but two of so many totemic leaders in the side.

If the principle of confidence being fuelled by winning consistently applies then this Kiwi team should be on planet arrogance, but they are not, and therein lies the very real danger.

Desire cuts deep in New Zealand rugby. It is part of their DNA. They are what they are not because of any God-given right, but because they work so hard for what they get.

The individuals are brilliant, but the core principle of Graham Henry's coaching is built around the collective.

All the video analysis and technical fine tuning in the world, while important in the build-up, goes out the window on occasions like this.

And for Ireland that is as it should be. This is a day when the most base instinct takes control.

Eoin Reddan is right when he says "it's our job to turn up with a positive attitude and go after them."

Right from the first blast of Marius Jonker's whistle, the onus is on Ireland to set the tempo.

Perhaps a temporary return to the 'Irish way' of old is in order, wherein we hit like a hurricane for the opening hour; only now we are equipped with the fitness to overcome the final quarter fade out.

As Munster showed yet again in midweek, in the most vile playing conditions imaginable, if you want something badly enough you'll do whatever and go wherever it takes to achieve it.

Put everything you've got to give into the performance and the result will almost inevitably look after itself.

All sensible evidence points to a comprehensive New Zealand win, but the beauty of sport is its unpredictability.


If that is the hidden romantic in me, then guilty as charged. As a player you must ALWAYS believe that this is your day. Belief may not be enough to ultimately win out, but it is a pretty good starting point.

The scene is set, the Aviva will be heaving with atmosphere and bodies for the first time in its reinvented history.

It flies in the face of all logical reason that Ireland should win. So, try putting yourself in the away team dressing-room and think of the pressure that brings.

Some day, somewhere, that winless record is going to go. Why today? No logical reason, but provided those decked in green and numbered one to 22 believe in themselves and their cause, then why not?

Can they do it? Yes. Will they do it? With hand on heart, no.

But oh, to eat a massive dollop of humble pie.

Let's leave the last word to Kidney: "It's a chance to make history; if that doesn't excite you, you shouldn't be here."

Irish Independent

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