Monday 23 April 2018

Tony Ward: Whatever you think of Kidney call, he did it for right reasons

Jonathan Sexton looks on as his Ireland team-mates go through their paces at Carton House
Jonathan Sexton looks on as his Ireland team-mates go through their paces at Carton House

Whatever you think of the decisions he's made in his time as Ireland coach, to suggest Declan Kidney made the call to omit Ronan O'Gara from his latest squad in an effort to save his job is simply ridiculous.

Kidney has many faults, but his integrity cannot be questioned.

The man has made some strange decisions in the last 12 months. Quite what was to be gained in summoning Paddy Wallace to New Zealand from a beach in Portugal I will never know.

Giving Jamie Heaslip the armband, which I thought may have been in the best interests of Brian O'Driscoll in the long-term, just has not worked.

The one that really caught me on the hop was the decision to opt for Paddy Jackson ahead of O'Gara for the trip to Murrayfield.

I will always hold my council when a coach makes the call to give youth its fling, because I believe that if you're good enough, you're old enough.

And I admire Kidney for having the courage to do what he did, but really it was a decision doomed from the start.

What concerns me now is that Jackson, a young, hugely promising talent, is shipping cruel and unwarranted criticism.


It wasn't Jackson's fault we lost to Scotland and, much though I admire Ian Madigan, who will wear the green No 10 sooner rather than later, it would do further damage to the young Ulster player's confidence were he not to be selected to face the French – unless, of course, our first-choice out-half Jonny Sexton recovers from his hamstring injury.

The announcement that O'Gara had been omitted from the squad of 32 for next Saturday's French Test in Dublin caused jaws to drop all over the country.

I genuinely believe it to be the right decision for the right reason yet, as with the out-half call for Edinburgh, it did surprise me.

People have been asking, 'why now?', but O'Gara is out of sorts and no longer the force he was for so long at this level.

Yes, form is fickle and class permanent, but time takes its toll on even the very best operators in the game.

These days when we hear of the head coach knocking on the bedroom door and explaining to the player involved why he is going to be dropped – ahead of the team announcement – players of my generation produce a wry smile. Let's just say it didn't happen in times past. You were dropped and never told why.

There is never a good time to be told you are no longer wanted, so irrespective of what he has achieved, O'Gara will be hurting right now.

He was the most complete out-half of his or any other generation.

I take issue with those critics who fail to acknowledge the quality of his passing and ability to put outside backs into space. Just ask O'Driscoll.

He has set point-scoring records for province and country that I don't believe will ever be challenged, never mind broken. But on current form he is probably fourth in the pecking order behind Sexton, Jackson and Madigan.

That is why Kidney has made the call he has and he must now weather the inevitable furore and media frenzy that has erupted.

I have no insider information, but I am not so sure Kidney would want to stay in his position given what has transpired over the past 12 months. In my view, only in exceptional circumstances should a head coach's shelf life extend beyond four years.

Kidney is no one's fool, so to suggest this decision (however much out of character) is a belated attempt to ingratiate himself with some paymaster at the IRFU is way off the mark.

He has two games still to go in this Six Nations and could finish with a three-from-five return. Perhaps then the time for discussion as to whether he and this back-room staff lead the summer tour to the US and Canada will be discussed.

For now the focus is very much on France and the team to be announced at lunchtime today.

I would make three changes to the starting 15 and two on the bench – assuming Sexton doesn't make it.

The most contentious would be on the wing where, on the basis that Jackson is reselected, I would opt for Fergus McFadden ahead of Keith Earls on the wing as an alternative goal-kicker, either to start in the role (thereby freeing up Jackson from that onerous task) or as cover, just in case.

After that, I'd bring Cian Healy back in to loosehead and Mike McCarthy to second-row.

Irish Independent

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