Saturday 21 April 2018

Tony Ward: Kidney must call time on O’Callaghan and D’Arcy

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

WE weren't just beaten at Twickenham, we were obliterated. This was as comprehensive a mauling as Ireland have suffered for some considerable time.

Losing hurts at any time, but the manner of this one cut deeper still. You looked at the scrum retreating at a rate of knots early in the second half, you looked at the bench and you knew we were on a mission impossible.

At best, the goal was now damage limitation. So much for all the loose Irish lip in the build-up.

We talked the talk but 'new' England walked the walk. If nothing else, let this be a lesson: if there's nothing to say, then say nothing at all.

Nobody does that better than Ireland's head coach. Declan Kidney will ship much flak, but he is big enough to take it.

In respect of Ireland's scrummaging problems, specifically the dearth of tight-head talent, I have the greatest sympathy for Kidney, as he cannot invent something that's not there. But beyond that, he does deserve some of the criticism coming his way.

I am no sensationalist. I advocate change only when I believe it's in the best interests of the team -- when there are credible alternatives.

So I have been bitterly disappointed with the near siege mentality concerning team selections since the World Cup.

Kidney chose 18 players to start in this Six Nations, and three -- Eoin Reddan, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O'Mahony -- were forced upon him.

Had Conor Murray, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien been available for selection, then -- irrespective of having to play four matches on successive weekends -- I have no doubt whatsoever that Kidney would have started with the same line-up in every match.

How can you possibly develop the squad principle with selection so blinkered and limited?

Of the three who came in, Ryan should already be a certainty to pack down against the All Blacks in June.

If Kidney reverts to the 'devil he knows' in O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan, then the rest of the squad might as well call it a day now, and Ryan can close the door on a Test career before it even starts in earnest.

Enlightened and informed selection does not tally with blind loyalty. Eventually you will be found out. The tight-head issue was a disaster waiting to happen long before Mike Ross came on the scene.

Quite how John Hayes survived injury-free for as long as he did made for a minor miracle. Hayes' worth has long been appreciated by most rational observers, but perhaps more so now than ever.

Can you imagine the Kiwis watching the Twickenham debacle unfold? It's pretty clear where the All Blacks will be putting the emphasis.

Strange as it may seem, I wish this defeat had come at least one match earlier, because Kidney would then have had to initiate change by design.

As it is, he now has a three-month buffer to manoeuvre the tried and trusted back into place courtesy of the Heineken Cup.

Fitness allowing, the XV to run out for the first Test in the Land of the Long White Cloud will differ little from the team that started when we were last there, in October.

Before then, we have a Barbarian money-making racket in Gloucester and, while normally I would describe this exhibition stuff as Mickey Mouse, the midweek match at Kingsholm prior to the New Zealand tour should matter.

Kidney's options are limited but, on the basis of what we have witnessed in recent weeks, the future of some who have served the cause so well for so long must now be in jeopardy.

Specifically, I am referring to O'Callaghan and Gordon D'Arcy, while there must also be serious question marks over Tomas O'Leary and of Tom Court's role as a multi-tasked replacement (for which he is clearly ill-equipped).

Andrew Trimble is the personification of honesty on the wing but he is not a natural left-sided attacker in the role.


As currently constituted, the Ireland backline lacks attacking balance.

For the Barbarians game, I would be looking closely at Luke Fitzgerald, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall, O'Mahony, John Ryan, Dan Tuohy, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Brett Wilkinson, Jamie Hagan, Jack McGrath and Fionn Carr (if the latter trio can get game time at Leinster).

On the positive side, and yes we are grasping at straws, Keith Earls has shown he can hack it at outside-centre, making a new midfield pairing of Earls and O'Driscoll, wearing No 13 and No 12 respectively, a distinct possibility Down Under.

Jamie Heaslip is suffering a marked dip in form but he is still the right man (on the assumption he ups the ante) to face the All Blacks alongside Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris (our best player again at Twickenham).

If not, O'Mahony is ready and well able and deserves another start in the pre-tour game.

Having been part of a similar conundrum myself in my playing days, I would love to see the Ronan O'Gara/Jonny Sexton experiment develop, but realistically I can't see where it's going beyond stop-gap.

One other point: England took 11 from 12 scrums, Ireland three from six. The scrum was a major problem, but for 18 scrums, with double the number of put-ins to England, it means they were the team exerting the pressure in general play, and Ireland coming up with the errors.

The scrum was central to our demise, but let's not hang all the blame on Cian Healy, Ross and Court. Collectively, we just weren't at the races.

Irish Independent

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