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Committee men the first hurdle in search for world-class coach

The most unsettling aspect of Declan Kidney's removal from the Ireland coaching job last week was that up until the second meeting of the National Team Review Group in Portlaoise a fortnight ago, they were still unsure about whether or not to retain his services.

Consider that for a moment: it was inescapable that Kidney had reached that point in every coach's tenure where the good had gone out of it. He had given it his best shot but it had gotten to the stage where the bullets were so far off target as to be out of bounds. It happens.

It's hard to fathom how it could have taken the NTRG that long to appreciate that change was needed. In turn that gives you an idea of where they are in the search to replace him.

When Kidney was applying for the job five years ago, and the union were looking everywhere else before reluctantly coming back to him, he was not so much the obvious home-grown candidate to replace Eddie O'Sullivan as the only one.

Joe Schmidt is hardly home-grown but at least you could claim he's domestic, and like Kidney before him, that gives him an advantage over the likes of Ewen McKenzie whose interest in the Ireland job is primarily about putting pressure on Robbie Deans to get out of the Australia one.

McKenzie has done the Overseas Experience thing with Stade Francais. That anything doesn't work out in Paris is hardly a huge blot on your copybook, and the World Cup-winning prop forward is focused on staying at home. As the new Wallaby coach. Wait for the first sign of a wrinkle in the Aussie comfort blanket against the Lions this summer and McKenzie will be quick to be quoted about how to iron it out.

He knows nothing of the politics of the Irish system, and if you don't have an inkling on that front then you haven't a chance of surviving. Schmidt not only has the coaching smarts but has been butting heads with union men for nearly three seasons now. This has opened a window for him on how and why decisions are made, or not as the case may be, in the IRFU.

If they offer him a fat financial package and the freedom to pick his own support crew then because it's Test rugby, and he is an ambitious coach, he will find it hard to say no. At that point he will pause and ask to see the bigger picture.

We're back to Plan Ireland again, the union's model to remodel itself in line with the professional game. Ideally, they would be already well down this road and we'd see how it was working. And if it was ticking boxes on making the most of our little system then the likes of Conor O'Shea could easily be its performance director.

Problem is it's not. O'Shea has been busy this past week renewing his marriage vows to Harlequins. In the run-up to a Heineken Cup quarter-final he is hardly going to prevaricate about his commitment to the club, but you would hope that working in Ireland is somewhere not too far down his to-do list.

If so however he will recall what happened to John Steele. In June 2010, the former Saints coach was appointed as CEO in Twickenham with a mandate to reform. That's exactly what he started doing, and within a year he was forced out in a power struggle that made England look like muppets. Steele moved on; England recovered; and the moral is that the reformer sometimes pays a high price for his efforts.

The IRFU may or not be able to secure the best man for their coaching job, but if they want to create an environment that is world-class then they will have to prove they have the appetite for the job. Losing the lads on the NTRG would be a start. Until that happens, the Conor O'Sheas of the world will stay where they are.

Irish Independent