Sunday 17 December 2017

Cronin deserving of trust for Scots start

David Kelly

David Kelly

After a breathtaking finale, Ireland must now take stock of their Six Nations Championship as the competition takes its first weekend off; the pressing need for Declan Kidney's men is now to win at Murrayfield.

But not at all costs.

The World Cup remains the primary focus in the long term and, with Ireland's squad depth arguably an over-rated concept -- see how Kidney once more failed to utilise his bench options -- they have no option but to persist in their desire to expand.

"What we need to do is to keep playing this way and get used to it at Test level," insists Kidney. "Because I believe it is the right way forward for us.

"There is no point in crawling away and trying to play a damage-limitation game; that won't get us anywhere. It's not going to win us anything at the end of the day. We need to get better at doing what we are doing."

The nagging feeling remains though, that as long as the team implode under pressure, their creativity will remain shackled by their own inadequacies and their only profit, as we saw yesterday, will remain within the confines of the traditional territorial-based game.

Are there areas within the limits of Ireland's current playing strength -- far removed from the luxuries of the French, who could bench one of the all-time greats in Yannick Jauzion -- where they can hope to improve their efforts by tinkering with selection?

Kidney remained slightly dubious about this contention yesterday but, with key players underperforming and Brian O'Driscoll dropping none too subtle hints about his thoughts on the situation, change will be required.

Kidney did, however, indicate that there was a balance to be made between retaining consistency in selection and adding something new to the side.

"I would have faith in them," he maintained, when asked directly whether players currently outside the starting line-up can pressurise those players who may be struggling to find good performances currently.

"Two weeks is a long time and there is a whole series of Magners League matches next weekend. It is only fair that we take a look at the lads who didn't start today and see how they go and what they can contribute.

"There's always a trade-off between having the same 15 all the time and the consistency of performance that it can lead to as against bringing in a spark, a new player who can bring in their own ingredients and skill-set to it: maybe put a bit of spark to it."

There certainly options available to Kidney are and, helpfully, the putative return from injury of Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris will further strengthen this Irish side; Ferris' return means that there will be four quality back-rowers available to Kidney.

Bowe's return would seem to be a formality although that may not necessarily mean a swift guillotine for Fergus McFadden; in the light of ongoing concerns about Gordon D'Arcy's palpable lack of form in an Irish shirt -- as opposed to Leinster where he thrives -- his Leinster colleague could form a midfield pairing with the Irish captain.

The elephant in the room is the scrum-half issue. Notwithstanding his try, Tomas O'Leary's efforts seem to be hampering, not enhancing, Ireland's elusive quest for creativity behind the scrum.

The desire to ensure that Jonathan Sexton, whose running game and link-play remain of a high standard, is now paired with his club colleague, Eoin Reddan, must surely heighten.

The fallibility at hooker may need to be addressed; Rory Best was again found wanting when the pressure was on and Sean Cronin, if he is deemed good enough to be a replacement, may have to be given a chance.

The transformation in Ireland's play remains glacial but they must stick to their guns. Changes en masse are not the answer. But the necessary changes are.

"It's not a case of not trusting the guys on the bench it is about trusting the fellas on the pitch," offers Kidney. "I will take a good hard look at it myself and see what I can learn from it."

His senior players must aid him in this deep introspection in the coming days.

DAVID KELLY'S TEAM TO FACE SCOTLAND -- L Fitzgerald; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, K Earls; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

Irish Independent

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