Sunday 17 December 2017

Triple Crown 2010 or World Cup 2011

Declan Kidney has a couple of key decisions to make ahead of today's team announcement
Declan Kidney has a couple of key decisions to make ahead of today's team announcement

It boils down to a choice between realism and idealism but if it was my call beating Wales would be-all and end-all of things at the moment

So, Triple Crown 2010 or World Cup 2011? You make your call and take your chance. That, in most simplistic terms, is the decision for Declan Kidney ahead of the two remaining Six Nations games.

Realism v idealism -- we would, of course, prefer the latter but sometimes, and for Irish rugby almost every time, needs must.

Even before the Grand Slam party had begun at the Mansion House less than 24 hours after the final match in Cardiff last year, we knew that this achievement would be almost impossible to replicate.

But three games in and despite being well beaten in Paris, the reality is of an Irish side on the cusp of a fifth Triple Crown in seven years and with it a Six Nations runner-up spot behind the near-unstoppable French.

As come-downs go, that would be as gentle as it gets and would leave us still in the right frame for a genuine lash at that objective of winning at least one of the two Tests on the upcoming tour to New Zealand and Australia in June.

Were the call mine, beating Wales on Saturday would represent the be-all and end-all at this stage in the march towards New Zealand 2011, on the simple premise of 'one step at a time'. Much of what was lost in Paris was re-established at Twickenham, not least in terms of winning momentum and collective confidence.

The manner of the French defeat left little room for doubt as to the jump in standard when facing any one of the southern hemisphere big three or Les Bleus. The most immediate objective ahead of the world assembly in the Land of the Long White Cloud next year is staying at the head of the chasing posse, and only victory in the two remaining games will ensure that.


Therefore, on the assumption that Brian O'Driscoll is fit (and few mend better) it would make for two possible areas of the team line-up in need of discussion, if not necessarily change, to face the Welsh.

Rob Kearney's recuperation will make for a straight call between the Leinster Lion and Geordan Murphy at full-back. Logic would seem to dictate that Kearney retake the No 15 shirt but based on form (or lack of it) against Italy and France, I'm not so sure it's as simple as that.

Declan Kidney has a difficult call to make. Murphy did all that was asked when stepping into the full-back breach against the English. It was a big step, given that it had been 15 months since his previous Test start, never mind four months laid up with injury, yet he brought that trademark air of authority and adventure to the last line of defence and counter-attack.

It is the type of decision the head coach craves in every position, but that won't make it any easier.

While I suspect Kearney will return, my gut feeling would be to run with Murphy on the basis that re-selection would do his confidence the world of good.

It would benefit both players (putting it up to Kearney) and the squad in the longer term, yet would not weaken the team or the likely plan of action against the Welsh one iota.

The second position that will cause the selectors plenty of thought is tight-head prop. John Hayes continues to be the main man but the need for copper-fastened back-up is greater now than it's ever been. Not for a minute am I suggesting that a century of caps is the cut-off point for Hayes -- the World Cup is the Bull's clear target, but whether he still has it in him to make it there is not quite as well defined.

Tony Buckley and Tom Court appear the next two in line and, on recent form, in that order.

On the basis of potential impact, starting Hayes with Buckley springing from the bench on the hour seems the most logical way to go and the route I suspect Kidney will take but here, as at full-back, I would break the recent mould and give Buckley his chance from the start.

I do not buy into the adage of not changing a winning team. If you can deepen the squad through the process of measured change, while strengthening the XV -- or at least without weakening it -- then why not?

That being the case, you bring the players, most particularly those disaffected, with you.

And not a mention in all that of out-half, the selection guaranteed to garner maximum media attention when the team is announced today.

Whether it is Ronan O'Gara to start and Jonathan Sexton to come on, I trust in Kidney to get the call on the meat. Goal-kicking apart, Sexton did almost everything right when stepping up to the plate at Twickenham.

With Eddie O'Sullivan, you could take it almost as read that his most favoured XV would run out almost every time, ie Girvan Dempsey in similar circumstances would return for Murphy at full-back.

Kidney may choose the same path but his record thus far suggests otherwise. He tends to widen the parameters and not only when pressed through injury.

The other factor of course is two tough Six Nations Tests just seven days apart, but here the 'one game at a time' principle can only apply. Concentrate on the Welsh, and the obvious danger they present, and the possible Triple Crown decider against Scotland will then look after itself.

That would make for an Irish XV to face the Welsh along the following lines:

G Murphy (Leicester); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster); D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster); S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Reps: S Cronin (Connacht), J Hayes (Munster), L Cullen (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster).

Irish Independent

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