Friday 19 January 2018

David Kelly: Insipid show backs Kidney into a corner

Declan Kidney
Declan Kidney
David Kelly

David Kelly

The first thing Declan Kidney was asked in the post-match press conference was to assess the damage wrought on Ireland's Grand Slam prospects. It was probably the only time all afternoon that a smile creased the Ireland head coach's face.

As much as he desperately sought to convince that a championship remains attainable, the evidence dictates otherwise.

Ireland's graph since the Grand Slam success of 2009 continues to hurtle downwards and occasional, one-off displays -- like last year's Grand Slam-denying win against England here, or the ultimately pyrrhic World Cup victory against Australia -- merely paper over the cracks.

As Warren Gatland begins to reassess his suit measurements ahead of an expected call to take charge of the Lions next summer, the man who he has now utterly outfoxed on three successive occasions has reached the most vulnerable point of his coaching tenure.

Kidney is now under pressure like at no time before in his role at the helm of this Irish team. And Paris is not the place to begin hunting for the answers to a host of pertinent questions.

All the while, the successes of the Irish provinces in Europe offer a startling counter-weight to the pattern of increasingly sterile displays in green. And Kidney's failure to marshal the Irish resources underpinning those provincial efforts is beginning to reflect badly on his role as supreme commander -- forcing one to question whether he has what it takes to recreate the success of just a few short years ago. Kidney didn't miss the crucial tackle that allowed Ian Evans to begin the long, imperceptible march towards the winning penalty. He didn't miss the shots at goal. He didn't concede the last-minute penalty.

However, his fingerprints are all over a display which offered little evidence to support claims that Ireland had absorbed the stinging lessons of defeat served up so comprehensively in Wellington. If anything, Ireland have regressed because standing still in international rugby means that you are going backwards.

On the evidence of this opening gambit, it also seems clear that, barring a remarkable turnaround, his reshuffling of the coaching personnel has not had the desired effect.


Les Kiss and Mark Tainton will not be pleased when they review their particular areas of expertise, which seem to have been strained by the weight of extra responsibility. The drift defence was all at sea against such a big backline and Ireland's attacking stratagems were undermined by poor kicking.

Paul O'Connell's cutting references to the team's defensive woes make that much clear and, while Kidney may have sought to deflect some attention by highlighting his team's inability to pursue better options, his players are, presumably, following his orders.

The defensive mindset that accompanied the team's attitude yesterday bore little resemblance to an outfit that were attempting to urgently rectify the lack of an alternative to a game plan that had utterly failed to deliver in Wellington.

And given that the defence has now become a major issue, this compounds the problems for Kidney ahead of Paris and a more formidable opponent, particularly as there are no obvious alternatives, save one or two minor changes.

The ironic aspect of yesterday's display, and the better parts of the Wellington performance, was that when Ireland did put Wales through defensive phases, the home team looked reasonably threatening.

Why was this approach so often abandoned in a display where reckless kicking undermined rare glimpses of attacking intent? Surely now the players must be beginning to feel a little dis-satisfied with such a conservative straitjacket, particularly as it seems entirely at odds with what the majority are experiencing at club level.

Kidney has little wriggle room and his late replacement of the half-back pairing will do little to infuse either confidence or cohesion into the group as Paris looms large.

So often the graveyard for Irish rugby teams in previous years, Paris could signal the beginning of a long, drawn-out decline in fortunes for a head coach whose waning influence on this team requires radical surgery.

When individual excellence by so many players is fatally undermined by a collective failure, the spotlight must be focused on the coaching staff. Ireland will need a tad more than manic aggression next week to cast away the growing doubts.

Irish Independent

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