Tuesday 12 December 2017

Continuity is the order of the month for Kidney

The Irish coach will have to walk a tightrope with his teams for the November Tests, writes Brendan Fanning

The arrival of Samoa in Galway for Tuesday's game with Connacht is not so much an opportunity for Eric Elwood to transfuse his team with fresh blood -- rather it's his only option.

The Connacht coach has been relying on a hardcore of players to get him through the first phase of the Magners League and Amlin Challenge Cup. And then he suffered two further injury setbacks last week with the loss of his own Samoans, Ray Ofisa and Niva Ta'uso, in a double whammy you couldn't make up even if you were so inclined.

Declan Kidney's situation is a little different. Despite his own injury restrictions, which are minor compared to the circumstances in which he led the tour Down Under last summer, he is obliged to get out the tightrope and start walking before the Samoans come to Aviva.

And the journey takes him between catering for the medium term -- the World Cup next autumn -- and the here and now, which requires putting a team out against New Zealand that has enough gas in the tank to last the trip. Munster's experience in this regard is instructive.

At various points over the past few seasons, when they were navel-gazing and lamenting the gap between their first-choice and second-string players, privately those in the latter category pointed out that getting a run under lights wasn't all it was cracked up to be if you were one of a raft of changes. In other words, you wanted to get your chance alongside the core of the achievers, not as one of the fillers.

Kidney makes much of fairness so take it that he is alive to this. And that on a rough piece of paper somewhere in his room at the team hotel are four line-ups for four games in November, none of which is so different to the next as to imply firsts and seconds. Of course events will overtake him, but while in public he will refuse to look around the next corner, in private he has covered the course in his head.

So what does he do first? Pick his captain for the first three games. Brian O'Driscoll hadn't played for a month before yesterday, which was only his fifth outing of the season. If Kidney wants to play Paddy Wallace at 12, or indeed Johne Murphy, then doing so alongside O'Driscoll would be the optimum way to go.

Having Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer in the squad gives Kidney comfort in this regard. Whoever he chooses at 12 over the course of the month will have a decent set of half-backs inside him. Similarly, when he drafts Geordan Murphy into the squad at full-back he's bringing a veteran to the field, allowing him to tweak elsewhere. The reality is though that all of his backs know their way around by now, aside from the uncapped Johne Murphy.

Things are greener up front where you wouldn't expect Kidney to put out Damian Varley as part of a completely revised eight. Donncha O'Callaghan's name has to be on the sheet before either Devin Toner or Donnacha Ryan can start. And equally John Muldoon and Sean O'Brien is a flanker combination that won't see action from the off.

So while Kidney has to spread the caps around, he won't be doing it as part of a job lot. Trying that on with Samoa would be asking for trouble.

Sunday Independent

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