Sport Rugby

Monday 19 March 2018

Kidney transplant will not be enough

David Kelly

David Kelly

History informs us that when empires fall in Rome, they tend to do so quite spectacularly.

It brought to mind the timeless words of that noted philosopher, Ian Wright: "It's one of those days when you just say, 'It's one of them days'."


Here, as a ragged, injury-plagued and rampantly undisciplined Ireland caved to defeat against the locals for the first time in 17 attempts, it was clear that a sense of history enveloped an extraordinary occasion at Stadio Olimpico.

As the Italians celebrated with gay abandon, Ireland are left to wallow in uncertainty, long after the nervy wait to hear confirmation that, rather than finish rock bottom, they had managed to secure the relative sanctity of fifth place.

While Philip Browne and stern-faced IRFU officials marched glumly from their plush seats to clink glasses with their delirious hosts, their team boss was engaging in an opening gambit of what may be a tedious endgame.

Declan Kidney's employers will have raised collective eyebrows when informed of his carefully chosen response when asked about his future.

"I'd have to sit down and think about whether I want a new contract," Kidney reported.

This could get ugly. After all, Kidney will be the last person consulted as to whether he gets a new contract.


That call will be made within the walls of IRFU HQ on Lansdowne Road.

Kidney's entreaties – though impassioned and coursing with integrity as they will inevitably be – will be heavily outweighed by the grim realities of a downward curve in fortunes since his and this team's finest season in 2009.

"We've got to stick together," pleaded Peter O'Mahony.

But it is not the players' call either and Brian O'Driscoll's reckless stamping indicates the frustration of a man who, perhaps, knows that the future of this Ireland team may not include him in it.

All the while, a hemisphere away, Jake White was once more raising his hemline for any international job offer, even though he already has a gig at the Brumbies, and he'd NEVER walk out on them, you understand. Unless ... And closer to home, you hear whispers that one of the bright sparks with the IRFU blazers has already nabbed Vern Cotter's number and giddy aspirations of perming him with Joe Schmidt are taking shape.

Except the only person in the room that doesn't know all this is Kidney. Or maybe he does. Maybe he's more resigned to his fate than it seems to the rest of us.

For all the injuries, the bravery and commitment, the narrow defeats, the flourishing of talent, Ireland have not been a well-coached side throughout this campaign, from uncertainty in attack to frailties at the set-piece.

Individually, the parts have been predominantly serviceable – few players have stunk the place out. Collectively, however, the sums haven't added up.

That's a coaching problem, which, perhaps, Anthony Foley's emergency secondment in defence apart, consumes the whole ticket.

And yet, the haste in which people want to see Kidney ushered from the premises will only achieve a short-term boost, if even that, given the vast chunk of experience that will have been eaten out of this side when they next congregate.

Kicking Kidney in the pants will only achieve so much and losing him to the game entirely, as has already happened with Eddie O'Sullivan, may placate some punters but a sport that is still a minority one in this country will be the loser.

The IRFU – not a perfect show but the only one in town – need to instigate a root-and-branch reform of the sport in the country, with key questions informing their investigation.

Why have there been so many injuries? If the horrendous list is merely due to luck, then examine the details with a fine toothcomb and establish whether this is indeed so. And re-examine the policy on playing concussed players into the bargain.

Can the often unwieldy and uncompetitive central contracting system continue in its present format?

Where are the next level of indigenous Irish coaches and why wasn't there a succession policy instigated in recent years to develop a pathway of domestic coaches, such that the provinces are overpopulated with overseas voices? Will there be a director of rugby and a wholly Professional Game Board? Oh, and while they're at it, how's that scrum coach coming along?

One of the great cliches tossed about with abandon at times like these is how lessons can be learnt from defeat; if that is the case, Ireland's education has accelerated this spring.

It has been an irredeemably painful – often literally – process.

"Heartbroken, disappointed," mutters O'Mahony after another late, late slump. "You know what it's like, do you know what I mean? I don't have to tell ye what it's like, you can see the faces coming out of the dressing-room. It's the toughest one to take now in a way."

The IRFU's new PR man Stephen McNamara may have shivered when he heard one of his colleagues ally the word GUBU with this campaign, but surely the sight of O'Mahony reprising his one-time Cork Con stint on the wing for Ireland was, at the very least, 'UBU'.

Learning on the run doesn't get any more extreme than this.

"Yeah, look, we're not going to blame anything, it's life and you get on with it," O'Mahony reports sanguinely.

"We blooded a couple of young players who mightn't have got a chance without the injuries. The big thing from this for us is as a squad we've got to take lots of learnings from it. The biggest thing is to take one game at a time. We just have to stick with each other as well now, get behind everyone. No one's dead like, we've got to get on with this.

"We obviously want to be in a better place but there'll be a next time, hopefully."

Ireland's players haven't helped themselves; they rarely have.

When players are dropping like flies, it helps if those remaining do their utmost to ensure that at least the full complement of 15 stay on the pitch at all times. Three yellow cards offered a rampant and reckless rebuffing of such a notion; O'Driscoll's abandonment of composure was by far the most telling representation of a side that has forgotten what it is to win.


And they must clearly know, even if publicly they remain so admirably loyal, that their coaches have forgotten how to guide them to a win as well.

"It's been a tough campaign," is all that O'Mahony will say. "The games we lost have been within a score. We're going to stay positive."

There are positives and, for all the team's obvious failings and frustrations on the pitch, their bond off it can help glue the transition from one era to the next.

How long that transition takes is a moot point.

"We've been a good team," adds O'Mahony. "I mean fellas were saying sometimes it lags on towards the end of a Six Nations in Carton House or whatever, but there was no feeling of that during the eight weeks, it's just flown by in there.

"That can only be said if fellas are enjoying each other's company and playing for each other, so hopefully on another day we'll get a few breaks and things will go our way. But look, we've just got to put up with it for the next few months. There's a super team here in the making."

For that to come to fruition, Irish rugby needs more than just a Kidney transplant.

It will require a fundamental rethink from top to bottom.

Irish Independent

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