Friday 23 February 2018

Kidney must ring changes at half-back

Hugh Farrelly

THERE is a tradition in sports journalism that the Americans refer to as 'Monday morning quarter-backing' which, in essence, means being wise after the event.

Expect a healthy dose today amid the fall-out from Ireland's encouraging, frustrating, energising, infuriating three-tries-to-one defeat to France yesterday.

The biggest selection call facing Declan Kidney heading to Murrayfield is at half-back. There were will be calls for Ronan O'Gara to be reinstated at out-half, and so there should be. What is galling is that much of this kneejerk clamour will come from the same individuals who blithely accepted that the 33-year-old has been destined for a bit-part, back-up role to Jonathan Sexton since November 2009.

That was never going to be acceptable to O'Gara as his form this season has proved. The bottom line is that, although Sexton is a quality operator and is not playing badly, his Munster rival is out-performing him and, like Sean O'Brien going into the tournament, is simply playing too well to leave out. Consider his last three outings. A masterful end-game against London Irish, which lifted Munster spirits and propelled them into the Challenge Cup after their Toulon nightmare, was followed by his victory from the jaws of defeat turn in Rome and then very nearly a repeat yesterday.

Whether it is down to experience or otherwise, there is the issue of Sexton not playing what is in front of him, which is O'Gara's modus operandi. As soon as he came on, the ball was spiralling 50 metres into French territory and into touch, which was in stark contrast to Sexton's failure to exploit the space available up to then.

Then came his threaded kick through which didn't come off but bounced up for David Wallace to put Jamie Heaslip over in the corner. Then came the conversion from the right-hand touchline which clattered off the upright and dropped inches over the bar. And then came the penalty kick to touch which failed to find the line but was turned into an Irish penalty by the stupidity of Jerome Thion.

Put them all together and it adds up to a man who seemingly can do no wrong and, with confidence seemingly still a major issue for this talented squad judging by the error count again yesterday, it is a wave Kidney should surf into Edinburgh.

If O'Gara is in King Midas nick, the same cannot be said for Tomas O'Leary. At his best, the scrum-half is one of the most effective game-changers in Europe but, after a week disrupted by injury, he is clearly out of sorts -- despite doing very well for his try yesterday.

O'Leary has not suddenly become a bad player but the situation demands change and Eoin Reddan, Peter Stringer (as far as we know, since we haven't seen him play since the Wall Street Crash) and Isaac Boss are all playing with more authority than the man in possession.

Last week, Kidney kept faith with the players who came close to calamity in Rome and yesterday's performance also demands its degree of loyalty in selection. However, when the evidence is overwhelming it needs to be acted upon as Kidney did with O'Brien and Mike Ross and as he now needs to do with his half-backs. O'Leary rested, O'Gara reinstated ... so says the evidence.

Irish Independent

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