Tuesday 16 January 2018

Predictable Irish need more from their bench

International rugby is a 23-man game but Declan Kidney is refusing to play it, says Jim Glennon

Jim Glennon

Ireland's curate's egg of a post-Grand Slam and pre-World Cup period saw another instalment at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.

And one area of significant discussion was Declan Kidney's strategy in relation to substitutions. It was very much brought to a head in the closing seconds of the French game when Leo Cullen was "sprung" from the bench.

Afterwards, Kidney seemed annoyed with himself for having done so. Actually, it's debatable whether that was annoyance at leaving it so late or an annoyance at the obvious embarrassment for Cullen.

Kidney's frustration was clear for all to see and hear in his post-match TV interview; to the extent that he was almost frank with the interviewer.

It would be an interesting exercise for any follower to examine the reports on next week's games and study the substitution "schedule" of the respective coaches.

A very discernable pattern has emerged over the first two rounds of the championship. The other five coaches have invariably used their entire bench before the 73rd minute or so, and that includes keeping one in reserve for possible injury cover. By contrast, the majority of Ireland's substitutions have come after the 73rd minute.

There is a definite pattern there and it's one which I find difficult to understand. Even allowing for an individual's innate conservatism, the simple fact is that Six Nations rugby is now a 23-man game, our competitors are all playing it that way but we're not.

In our failure to do so we are handing an advantage to our opponents. And in having established a pattern of doing so we are allowing our opponents plan and strategise on the basis of our policy of seemingly reluctant substitution.

Maybe Kidney's obvious frustration and possible embarrassment over the Cullen issue will bring about a change next week, but regardless of the reasoning behind it a change is necessary. We simply can't afford to continue as we are.

On further examination of our last outing, it's very difficult to know whether Ireland were very good and France likewise or whether it was just that France had a traditional 'away' day and Ireland again fell short.

My own view is that this is a really good French side; they are obvious contenders for the Grand Slam and also in my view for the Rugby World Cup in the autumn. Having said that, they didn't bring their A game last week and frustratingly were very much there for the taking -- one would be hard pressed to find an Irish/French game where the Irish outscored them by three tries to one.

But there is no point in talking about should haves and could haves, the simple fact is that we lost fair and square.

Ireland's inconsistencies are frustrating for the follower but even more so for the squad and coaching team.

They need to be put right over the next three games for the sake of the collective. That won't be easy though. Scotland, England and Wales are no soft touches and some inspiration will be required that hasn't been immediately apparent to date.

As far as Murrayfield is concerned, it has been to some extent a happy hunting ground for us but Andy Robinson is getting the most from a very limited squad of players and they will be very determined not to concede a second home defeat in successive games.

A difficult day is expected and the curate's egg may even be slightly more palatable than a force-fed Scotch egg.


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