Monday 19 March 2018

Oxygen of victory gives Kidney a breather

David Kelly

David Kelly

Some days it ain't why, it just is.

For all the trendy, pretentious hang-ups about what the Irish game-plan might be and various assorted nonsense trotted out repeatedly on the airwaves, sometimes the beauty of sport is its utter simplicity.

"Listen mate," offered stricken England coach Martin Johnson behind a forest of furrowed eyebrow, "It's all rugby." Declan Kidney expanded, briefly. "The game-plan is about making the right decisions."

Simple, really.

As merciful as it was that Ireland rediscovered their mojo on Saturday evening, the wonder of it all was that they made it seem at times so utterly uncomplicated, masking the disproportionate amount of effort expended to produce such a performance.

From the first tackle-turned-maul, when England's first attack was stifled, through the first scrum success, then Jonny Sexton's quick penalty tap, Ireland announced with authority that they would apply with intelligence and skill all that makes them the quality team everybody knows they are.

"Nothing they did surprised me," offered Kidney. The surprise had been that the team had taken leave of such excellence for so long. "It was a complete performance," mused Brian O'Driscoll. Not quite, but you knew what he meant.

Much of the euphoria which spilled into the sodden streets of Dublin on Saturday evening was leavened with a sense of frustration at what might have been; an angst shared most keenly in the Irish dressing-room.

O'Driscoll reflected on the frustration of recent weeks, of knowing how close his side were to clicking yet how distant the reality appeared; Kidney spoke of over-anxiety and fear jostling together like angst-ridden antlers.

Parsing the theme, O'Driscoll lamented that he didn't want Ireland to be dogged with a feeling they could only produce every four or five matches, unleashing pent-up frustration in passionate bursts.

For amidst all the restraint and control exuding from Saturday's display, there was anger too; when Trevor Brennan says a team have regained their nasty, hard edge, one doesn't need further illustration.

But did Ireland produce because the pressure was off, with England suffering under the burden of a drive for five? Or were Ireland under more pressure to produce than we thought, fearing a winless spring at home and six months of introspection until the World Cup?

That is for the coaches and players to discover. The anxieties that stressed this campaign cannot be repeated next September, the retreat into indiscipline or unforced errors must now be consigned to history. Most importantly, Saturday must mark the beginning of an unnecessarily truncated build-up to the World Cup.

Ireland's self-confessed knowledge that Saturday wasn't the perfect performance, despite the captain's natural elation immediately post-match, will be a crucial aid to this team's progress.

The delight and frustration they will all feel this morning as they reflect on a less than vintage title tilt, which ought to have been within their grasp, must rouse all to push on this autumn.

"There are heaps of things to work on," admitted Kidney, although his stated satisfaction with his squad must be tempered by the accusation that he has failed to adequately deploy all his players.

Faith in the squad is undermined by a lack of trust in all of its members, and an unswerving loyalty to a select few; a situation that must be remedied in the August warm-up matches now that the oxygen of victory has re-invigorated the coach. Saturday proved conclusively that, with discipline and set-piece solidity, both eminently achievable, Ireland are the best team operating in the northern hemisphere and should pose a threat at the World Cup.

O'Driscoll's status as world-class was franked because, unlike Italy when he touched the ball, but three times, his team's energy, tempo and physicality allowed him to shine gloriously in attack on Saturday.

Ireland's pack is capable of competing with the world's best, once all are on form as they were on Saturday, and they possess enough weapons in attack to damage most teams. Defensively, they remain steadfast having ironed out their wide channel defensive flaws from earlier in the season.

All the components are there for Ireland to make a statement in the World Cup.

From this moment on, as was the case on Saturday, it's all about faith and trust. The coach's ability to trust their player's intelligence and the players' cognisance of their own incomparable skills.

Kidney's role is crucial.

He must help to maintain the balance between the fear factor that must prevail at this level and the over-anxiety that can cause that fear to destroy his team's confidence and faith. Kidney's valedictory message on Saturday night was perhaps the most important of the evening. Asked for his over-riding emotion, he replied simply. "Knowing we can get better."

Irish Independent

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