Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kidney keeps faith for tilt at Crown

Murphy keeps Kearney at bay as Irish set for final taste of 'hallowed soil'

Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy rubs his troublesome knee before being named in the team to face Scotland despite his to injury last weekend against Wales
Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy rubs his troublesome knee before being named in the team to face Scotland despite his to injury last weekend against Wales

Hugh Farrelly

IRELAND'S selection for Saturday's Triple Crown tilt against Scotland was indicative of the team's sense of serenity and calm authority since their defeat to France.

The size and nature of that Paris reverse was a shock to the system but the response has been superb. It began with the dogged, well-conceived defeat of England in Twickenham, grew into last weekend's clinical dismantling of the Welsh at Croke Park and is ready to culminate with a celebratory flourish as rugby bids farewell to GAA HQ after three successful and mutually beneficial years.

In these circumstances, the decision to keep faith with the 15 that performed so impressively against Wales was hardly a surprise. Nor, Declan Kidney revealing that Ulster's Paddy Wallace will come straight in at 12 should Gordon D'Arcy fail a fitness test later this week after the deep bruising he sustained to his left knee last Saturday.

It has been an extremely close call between these two over the past 15 months. Wallace started the first three matches of Ireland's Grand Slam run last year before D'Arcy came in for the Scotland and Wales run-in and both men were used in the November internationals.

"Gordon D'Arcy will do a fitness test and we'll check him out over the coming days. Should he be unavailable, Paddy Wallace will start," said Kidney.

"Paddy has been playing very well at 12. Picking replacements is always a different dynamic to picking your first 15 which is about picking for positions and replacements to provide the best cover," he added when asked whether Rob Kearney was considered, with subsequent reshuffle, after replacing D'Arcy last weekend.


Kearney is on the bench again as Geordan Murphy holds onto the 15 jersey. Murphy got his opportunity following Kearney's injury against France and has taken it superbly. As the man in possession, the Leicester man was favourite to start but the battle between the two full-backs ahead of the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia promises to be fascinating.

In different circumstances, Kidney may have been tempted to have a look at the likes of Tony Buckley, Shane Jennings or Sean Cronin but Scotland, despite one draw and three defeats, are not being taken lightly while the selection also adheres to the twin prerogatives of a fifth Triple Crown in seven seasons and a fitting farewell to Croke Park.

"It's a huge match for us," said Kidney, "not just a Test representing Ireland but also the last match at Croke Park plus the fact that there is a trophy at stake should we get something out of it.

"It wasn't just a case of saying 'we'll go with the same', there was a fair bit of thought put into it. It took a fair bit of time, several lads wanted to give it a go but it just fell this way. It means a huge amount to the players to have been able to play at Croke Park. Most of our lads coming up through the age groups would have tried most of the codes -- hurling, football, soccer.

"Everyone will have taken a good look at finals days when they were growing up. Now we're playing there in front of a full house. It's an exceptional stadium, as good as anything around the world.

"For an amateur organisation to build a stadium like that was a magnificent achievement.

"To have the use of their facilities over the last four years has been a genuine privilege.

He added: "A lot of the lads are looking forward to Saturday because internationals are not going to held there again. The biggest thing was the GAA's generosity and the fact they were willing to share it."

Captain Brian O'Driscoll echoed his coach's sentiments in relation to leaving Irish rugby's temporary home.

"I feel extremely privileged to be allowed onto the hallowed soil of the GAA," said O'Driscoll. "I certainly grew up playing a lot of Gaelic football and supporting the Dubs. Every Irish person is aware of the heritage and it's been an absolute honour to play in Croke Park over the last four seasons."

The issue of the new interpretation law has been to the forefront of Irish minds since the concession of 16 penalties last weekend with another southern hemisphere referee (South African Jonathan Kaplan) set to officiate this weekend. However, both coach and captain agree that there is little point griping and the best option is to get to grips with the interpretation as quickly as possible.

"We never like to have our penalty count in double figures, we'll take a look at what we can control and do our best with that," said Kidney.

"A different emphasis leads to different leanings, we just have to adjust as quickly as we can."

O'Driscoll, while dissatisfied with the change of emphasis halfway through the Six Nations tournament, believes it is up to Ireland to acclimatise as quickly as possible, just as their opponents will be attempting to do.

"There is no point crying about it," said O'Driscoll. "Ideally, we would prefer something not to be changed mid-competition but that is the way it's panned out. Old habits die hard but it's our responsibility as professionals to try to correct the mistakes we made the previous time we took the field.

"We have been practising on it in training this week, looking at the video, trying to understand where we were being penalised. I think this negates the strength of any team. (South African openside) Heinrich Brussow is probably crying as we speak, he's the best (at the breakdown) and now the rules have changed for him and everyone else."

Irish Independent

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