Wednesday 13 December 2017

Tony Ward: Kidney making right calls -- with the exception of Ryan

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Given the enlarged squad named by Declan Kidney after Saturday's disappointing performance from the Wolfhounds at Exeter, this is as strong a line-up as the head coach could have declared.

Only in one position -- second- row -- could there be any grounds for complaint, on the basis that Donnacha Ryan has been the best-performing Irish lock apart from Paul O'Connell this season.

On the grounds of that consistent form not being acknowledged here, the versatile Munster man has genuine reason for feeling aggrieved.

However, it's not in Ryan's nature to mope, so his reaction to this decision will be for him to knuckle down and give it the full lash when his second-half moment comes.

In reverting to Donncha O'Callaghan, Kidney has put it up to the hugely experienced lock to deliver an all-action 'Duracell hour'.

Nominating O'Callaghan ahead of Ryan is hardly a shock of seismic proportions, but it does put reputation before form in this instance. But expect O'Callaghan to deliver the type of performance appropriate to the opportunity -- he owes his mentor one.

Beyond that, much attention focused on who would wear the No 13 shirt in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll, and to Keith Earls the honour falls -- rightly so, with Fergus McFadden set to step in mid-match should he be needed.

Despite Kidney's claim that he had many different centre options, the reality was a choice between Earls and McFadden.

Such has been Andrew Trimble's ultra-consistent form for Ulster, and indeed for Ireland, before and in limited game-time during the World Cup, that his recall to the left-wing berth was inevitable, as well as deserved.

Earls shaded that wing call in New Zealand but now, in the absence of O'Driscoll, Kidney can maximise the skill sets of both players. I back Kidney's call here, and it's the same at out-half.

With Jonathan Sexton to get everything under way and Ronan O'Gara to close it out, it's a pretty good place for Kidney to be. What would almost any other international coach in the world give for that luxury?

Even with the best in the world (Dan Carter) on board, the fact that Graham Henry didn't have two world-class playmakers at his disposal nearly cost New Zealand another World Cup.

While I would have liked a little more daring in the preliminary panel, it's difficult to question this first-up selection against Wales, with the exception of Ryan.

That said, none of us are privy to what the coach expects of his various combinations, leaving Sunday's showing -- and result -- as the sole arbiter of that.

And let credit be given where credit is due in the selection of Peter O'Mahony for his maiden match-day involvement.

This is a move in the right direction, and this is a 22-man panel armed with the right stuff to do the business on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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