Sport Rugby

Friday 17 November 2017

Filling Ireland's hot seat

Continuity or freshness, home-grown or import – these are the big questions facing IRFU in hunt for new coach

Former Italy coach Nick Mallett is likely to show interest if Declan Kidney’s tenure ends
Former Italy coach Nick Mallett is likely to show interest if Declan Kidney’s tenure ends
Conor George

Conor George

DECLAN KIDNEY is not expected to survive tomorrow's Six Nations review meeting with the National Team Review Group in Dublin.

Kidney will surely find an audience sympathetic to the many setbacks Ireland suffered during the championship, and he will rightly point out that Ireland were within one score in each of their four losses this season.

But 16 wins from 40 Tests since the end of the 2009 Grand Slam-winning season is a damning statistic and probably an impossible one to come back from.

So with the incumbent on the ropes, thoughts must turn to potential successors. Ideally, the IRFU will have already begun the process of approaching potential candidates. It is, after all, surely ludicrous to suggest the decision on Kidney's future will be made on the basis of Saturday's result.

The IRFU might play for time and a compromise might be to sacrifice Kidney and retain his assistants for the summer tour, with someone like Ireland U-20 coach Mike Ruddock as interim head coach.

That, though, would hardly be an ideal situation, especially as Les Kiss must surely be in the running for the job of head coach on a permanent basis.


Appointing Kiss would ensure continuity, which might not be a bad idea given the number of new faces introduced over the past six months. Such a move would also probably ensure Anthony Foley's continued involvement as defensive coach, one of the few success stories of Ireland's season.

It is also highly possible that an appointment of one or both of Leinster's Joe Schmidt and Clermont's Vern Cotter would allow for Foley to remain. His contract with Munster and the IRFU is, like that of the Ireland senior coaches, up at the end of this season.

If the decision is to cast the net wider than those currently within the Irish structure, an irresistible potential candidate is former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett.

Mallett was one of two serious candidates for England last year, just losing out to Stuart Lancaster, and he was also linked with the vacant Scotland position following Andy Robinson's departure in November.

He led South Africa to a record-equalling 17 consecutive victories and the 1998 Tri-Nations title before a falling-out with the Union over ticket prices saw him resign.

In 2003 and 2004 he led Stade Francais to consecutive French championships before spending four years with Italy, who he inspired to first victories over Argentina and France – he is largely credited with starting the resurgence there.

Mallett has a reputation of being an outspoken and driven personality but with Stade and Italy he didn't insist on bringing in his own back-room team, which will be of interest to the IRFU if they are intent on continuing to develop indigenous coaches like Foley.

Hopefully the IRFU have been planning for the possibility of being in the market for a new coach and the process of identifying a successor is well down the road.

It is only logical for a full-time appointment be made now as it is surely preferable that whoever oversees the tour to America and Canada is also the man to bring the team to the World Cup in 2015.

1. Les Kiss

Well regarded by the squad and would offer continuity. Renowned coach but is he suited to being the head coach? Kiss is favourite but the lesson of Tony McGahan at Munster, when he floundered a little when his elevation took him away from his core strength of coaching, is worth remembering. Odds: 7/2

2. Conor O'Shea

The Harlequins boss remains the outstanding candidate, especially if the IRFU want to keep an Irishman in the top job in the land. He has poured cold water on the suggestion, but should the question be put to him, it's very hard to envisage a situation where O'Shea says no to his country. Odds: 9/1

3. Joe Schmidt

It has been suggested Schmidt wants to return home to New Zealand at the end of next season and that he isn't interested in the job. A compromise might be a contract up until the end of the 2015 World Cup. Has the question been put to him? If a change is inevitable, he must be a candidate. Odds: 9/2

4. Vern Cotter

Part of the Schmidt/Cotter dream team? It has been suggested that the pair will be a future All Black coaching team. Leading Ireland for two years would be an ideal foray into the international arena as preparation and would include a World Cup. Odds: 9/2

5. Jake White

The former World Cup winner would be a bold choice by the IRFU. He is currently contracted to the Brumbies and sources in Australia have also indicated he has his heart set on replacing Robbie Deans as Wallabies boss, which would rule him out. Odds: 9/2

6. Nick Mallett

Has a hugely impressive CV and is available. He hasn't coached since parting company with Italy following the 2011 World Cup. He was favoured to replace Martin Johnson with England only to be pipped at the post by Stuart Lancaster. Crucially, he isn't adverse to having coahes from within appointed to him. Odds: 9/1

Irish Independent

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