Friday 17 January 2020

Timing perfect as Kidney’s new kids on the block hit right note

Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson is one of the younger players to have taken his chance to impress Declan Kidney during the November Series
Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson is one of the younger players to have taken his chance to impress Declan Kidney during the November Series
David Kelly

David Kelly

"And I'm so glad I'm not in school, boss. So glad I'm not in school"

The JCB Song

Paddy Jackson's lip-synching version of this dubious festive hit from a few years back, recorded during the Irish rugby's November international camp, is going viral as we write.

Simon Zebo is teaching his Irish team-mates how to dance.

Declan Kidney, the avuncular figurehead of a fresh-faced class now infused with youthful vim and vigour, refers puzzlingly to his selection of Craig Gilroy as "the first time I've picked a wannabe rapper."

They wear brightly-coloured boots and seem uninhibited by fear of failure. And their arrival could not be better timed.

As the IRFU begin the significant task of trying to shift a shed-load of 10-year tickets to hard-pressed and newly discriminating customers, the next generation could not have chosen better circumstances in which to time their breakthrough.

So too, for Kidney, however much one can validly adjudge that he predominantly promoted youth because of a horrendous injury list to some of the key figures of what he confirmed this month are indeed a "golden generation."

Would Kidney have been so bold as to introduce players who cannot even assure themselves of a start for their provinces were it not for the absence of so many of his leading lights? It is a moot point.

Previous evidence plus the circumstances of a pressurised November international series indicate perhaps not. But let us leave that to the realms of hypothesis.

What matters is what actually happened this month and, more crucially, the impact it will have on the immediate future of the Ireland team and its head coach.

As much as Kidney attempted to deflect talk away from his future – his contract expires in just six months' and five matches' time – the opportune emergence of so many different frontline options this past month may prove a boon to his chances of securing a third deal with the IRFU.

So what really matters is what happens when Ireland enter the fray against Wales in Cardiff on February 2.

When Kidney referred to the manic highs and lows of international rugby, he was speaking from gritty personal experience, for few international teams – apart from our predictably overwrought Welsh cousins – have proved to be so frustratingly inconsistent.

The few cynics who were unable to wallow in the joy of Saturday's devastating win against Argentina drily pointed out that they would indeed view the performance as a cause of celebration only were there guarantee of a repeat. Their scepticism is justified.

Since Ireland's Grand Slam success, this has not proved possible under this coaching team, and the often staggering inconsistency has accompanied the turnover in playing personnel – 17 of the 32 who trained last week did not travel to the World Cup a year ago.

Integrating the injured quotient into a squad now suffused with a seemingly insouciant glow will be at once a formidably delicate operation but, presumably for the man responsible, a challenge brimming with opportunity.

For now there can be no excuses.

Indeed, many Irish rugby supporters will query why the national coach prevaricated for so long in allowing youth to finally have its fling; now they will demand that this refreshing policy remains consistently applied.

Young players churn out of academies as ready-made professionals; once afforded the platform, as a clutch of them have proved this past month, not just are they ready to dance and rap and sing, they are fully prepared for the rigours of international rugby.

"I came in 1999 to effectively an amateur game," points out Gordon D'Arcy, one of those players who may, sooner rather than later, find himself on the international scrapheap, such is the nature of the current transformation in the age profile of the national squad.

"The level of professionalism now is incomparable. It's like two different games. But they're ready now. Look at Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson.

"They're 20 and 21, fully developed and ready to go and they would have done just as well against Argentina on Saturday if they were thrown in. The guys coming through now are athletes, and mentally tough.

"They'll have learned a lot from what they've seen. From the South Africa game, having to be mentally tough in a tough environment. And then last Saturday about how pressure, pressure and pressure can create opportunities. Two different learning curves but both very important and hopefully they can combine for us going into the Six Nations."

D'Arcy's most salient message was crushingly simple – they're ready. The young guns are ready to fire.

This month's blood transfusion may yet prompt a significant turning point in Irish rugby – or instead, if the fluctuating pattern of recent results has demonstrated, yet another false dawn.

It is a Kidney transplant that simply cannot afford to fail.

Irish Independent

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