Tony Ward: Case for Reddan and Sexton is compelling
IF there was one of Eddie O'Sullivan's frequently quoted expressions I used to loathe, it was the one following defeat -- which, to be fair, wasn't that often -- about getting back up on the horse.
The head coach would say it in flash interviews post-match. And then his players and back-up staff would repeat it ad nauseam.
Well, if the performance in Paris took us back to dim times past, then I must take a leaf out of O'Sullivan's book and state that it is, indeed, time to get back on the horse.
There is no other option. A good team did not become bad on the back of one under-par performance, but, nonetheless, a winning team has had its confidence severely dented by Saturday's French fall.
The same applies to Declan Kidney -- a good coach does not become a bad one on the back of a single, albeit comprehensive, defeat. Ignore this melodramatic talk about coaching honeymoons coming to an end and all that shallow nonsense.
Kidney knows the heat is on him as much as his squad to elicit the appropriate response in Twickenham on Saturday week. There is no guarantee it will happen, but whatever it takes to get Paris out of the system will be done.
Besides, I am convinced that there are a few more twists in this championship yet.
The understandably cock-a-hoop French go to Cardiff on Friday week and I wouldn't bet against Wales, who might well have been two defeats from two going into this massive game, turning them over? Not on your nelly.
I am not a fan of the Welsh head coach, but I do admire the way he sets out his stall and the way his team goes about their playing business.
They play the game in the right way and when they click, the end-product can be irresistible, even in these suffocating rugby times.
On Saturday, Ireland looked to play the right way and that took the game to France in the opening quarter, but failed to reap the return their opening salvo deserved.
Everyone agreed that a strong opening was the key to success in Paris. The players delivered what was required early on, but came away with nothing to show for it, bar a yellow card and a 10-point deficit.
What followed was another French caning, but we did stand up. Some high-profile commentators were dismissive of Ireland's resilience late in the game -- when France might have really ripped them apart -- but I feel it does count for something, because what it shows is a desire that still runs deep within this squad, even in extreme adversity.
Twickenham will present a true test of Ireland's spirit and their powers of recovery.
There is plenty of time to assess what went wrong, and I believe they should make key changes, both in terms of immediate needs and longer-term aspirations. Kidney will never be duped into making changes for change's sake, but all logic suggests that there should be some alterations to the side.
Rob Kearney, whose form has dipped of late, has been ruled out for at least a month with a sprain to his medial knee ligament. Keith Earls is the obvious alternative at full-back.
Ignore the extraordinary, ill-informed comment as to his input on Saturday -- it's amazing what a fumbled quickly-taken penalty can do -- the versatile Munster back contributed so much in a less familiar defensive mode in Paris.
Switching Earls to full-back would allow Andrew Trimble to return to the left wing, if he's fit. If the rejuvenated Ulsterman does not come through -- and much though I wish it could be avoided -- there would probably have to be another positional switch, with Tommy Bowe moving from right to left and Shane Horgan (the next in line by a mile) coming in on the right.
I have no issue whatsoever with Horgan's return -- he has been the epitome of consistency for Leinster all season -- but switching Bowe removes our most potent finisher from the position where he offers most attacking threat. It would also mean Ireland fielding a completely different back-three.
The centres will remain the same, but there is substantial grounds for surgery at half-back.
Both Tomas O'Leary and Ronan O'Gara endured a torrid time in Paris. The case for bringing in the Leinster pair of Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton is compelling. Testing both in the pressure cauldron of Twickenham could be a critical part of Ireland's build-up to next year's World Cup.
In the front-row, Cian Healy should continue his education at this level. Unfortunately it is a sad fact of the modern game that the 'real' crime of what he did in Paris (necessitating the yellow card) wasn't the act itself, but in getting caught. It is a dark art still to be learnt by the young buck -- and no, I am not advocating foul play, but simply acknowledging it as part and parcel of the professional game.
Jerry Flannery could well be banned, paving the way for Rory Best's full re-introduction at hooker. Alongside him, Kidney faces a difficult call between the ever-present John Hayes and the fast-developing Tom Court. Operating the same rationale as at half-back, I would pick Court ahead of the veteran as we look to 2011.
In the second-row, Leo Cullen has been a revelation and it would be a travesty were he to lose out, irrespective of Donncha O'Callaghan's availability.
The back-row will return en bloc, with Stephen Ferris set to be much the better for Saturday's blow-out (bear in mind he was in doubt right up to the captain's run last Friday) and with David Wallace motivated by a desire to atone for his least effective contribution for some time.
Beyond that, the need in the ongoing absence of Geordan Murphy for a specialist replacement full-back is essential. Either Gavin Duffy or Girvan Dempsey could fill that void meaning either Paddy Wallace or Ronan O'Gara would be left out of the 22.
Kidney has never shirked the tough call, but he has some serious homework to do and decisions to make ahead of next Tuesday's squad announcement.
The horse is fit and ready to be remounted.
- On behalf of rugby and sports fans everywhere, we wish former Ireland lock Richard Costello all the very best as he recuperates in the Limerick Regional Hospital -- the man who invented the original line-out grunt (way ahead of the tennis girls) is on dialysis.