Monday 18 December 2017

'I want my players to express opinions'

Declan Kidney insists he is not worried by 'player power' in Irish squad
Declan Kidney insists he is not worried by 'player power' in Irish squad
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If' some reports are to be believed, the revolutionary mist that has swept through North Africa and saw Fianna Fail routed at the ballot box has drifted into the Ireland rugby camp over the past week.

With Jamie Heaslip urging his dropped clubmates to question the coach's decisions, leading backs calling out team-mates (mostly in the pack) on the rising penalty count, Ronan O'Gara backing himself in the out-half battle and the squad's Twitteratti taking to the web to address their keyboard critics directly, 'player power' appeared to be in vogue.

But when Declan Kidney met the media at Carton House yesterday there was no sense of upheaval in the air.

Rather, the Corkman struck the tone of a benign leader, happy to delegate and almost proud that his charges have the courage to speak up and make themselves heard.

Assisted by manager Paul McNaughton -- who admitted he had watched Heaslip's controversial RTE interview "a number of times" -- he painted a picture of a camp where dissent is welcomed and discourse encouraged.

Had Kidney a problem with player power?

"No, really, is the answer," the Ireland coach replied.

"Rugby is a game of decisions and players have to make decisions out on the pitch.

"Every time a guy is carrying the ball, every time a fellah is defending, he has to decide what to do.

"You can't expect fellahs to make instant decisions like that if they don't have opinions; they have to make an opinion on what's happening in front of them. So, if they have opinions, that's what has has got them to where they are.

Successful

"A lot of them have been successful over the years and they haven't got that way by having no opinions.

"I'm not going to do anything about that; if they express them, that's fine."

McNaughton chimed in, ensuring no one was left in any doubt that Heaslip's comments have not left any divisions in the camp after he called on Jonny Sexton and Fergus McFadden to speak to Kidney regarding his decision to leave them out against Scotland.

"You can go into it (the interview) with a positive view or a negative view. Going in with a positive view, without looking for anything, we didn't see anything wrong with the interview," said McNaughton.

"Going in to it with a negative view, if you wanted to get something out of it, I'm sure you could get something out of it. But we don't see it as an issue with Jamie."

Kidney agreed: "It was suggested to me that I look at Jamie's thing. Jamie just gave his own experiences, and we chatted about it.

"I didn't like leaving them out any more than they liked it; well, I'm sure as a player you like it even less. They were playing well and that's just the way it is.

"We chat about it and part of a coach's job is that you have to make up your mind as to who plays and who doesn't.

"There's always going to be 15 players pleased with it and there's going to be a lot more than 15 fellahs unhappy with it, that's just the nature of it."

Of course, no chat with the Ireland coach would be complete without a discussion on Ireland's penalty count these days.

The scourge of the Six Nations so far, the frustration over the continuing concession of needless three-pointers was palpable in Maynooth.

Ireland can't get away from the issue that has seen them lose to France, despite outscoring Les Bleus three tries to one and hanging on at Murrayfield, even though Scotland couldn't get over the line.

Kidney was again keen to stress the positive side of the players' honesty on the airwaves, but he warned that the issue could inhibit Ireland against Wales next weekend.

"The thing about the penalties is that the players are incredibly harsh on themselves," Kidney said.

"I suppose that's not in every walk of life where fellahs come out (like that), and I'm all on for putting your hands up if we got something wrong.

"But if you go too far on that you can actually inhibit your next performance, because if we go out and we are afraid to compete, we'll be run over. We know that a lot of that is in our own control and that's what we'll be working on.

"There are a lot of emotions always around in matches. I'm sure other codes are like that, but, in rugby, it's such a physical game, if you're not right in the face of everything...and it takes a good few hours to come down from that.

"I don't play, but it could take me 36 or 48 hours to come down from the emotion of a match.

"I suppose a lot of the comments can come around in that first 48 hours and if they come out, then that's just guys saying who they are."

Irish Independent

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