Sport Rugby

Thursday 23 November 2017

Striking right chords may not help Kidney find winning tune

There comes a time on every tour -- be it short or long -- when winning becomes essential. A time when the bit and fringe test players have as big a part to play as the main men. For Ireland Down under, that time is now.

They say you learn more in defeat than in victory and that may well be the case, but on tour what you learn most about defeat is that it creates incentive for others.

That is as it should be and tomorrow against the centenary celebrating Maori, the objective is individual and collective. For the chosen 22, it is about winning in order to lift group morale and provide a springboard for the leap to Brisbane.

The alternative doesn't bear thinking about. A second defeat in New Zealand and it's on to Australia to face the reinvigorated Wallabies, but with thoughts turning to home, to holidays, effectively to ABA (Anything But Australia).

This blow out in Rotorua is in must- win territory. It's about restoring confidence and group morale so severely dented in Hamilton.

Declan Kidney knows the score. He will hit all the right chords in terms of pre-match hype, but equally he knows that in the immediate context of this tour and the wider parameter of next year's World Cup, a winning performance is paramount.

This is not a 'throw it about,' southern hemisphere style Barbarians, but a proud centenary-celebrating New Zealand culture steeped in rugby tradition on their own sacred patch. As a follow on to the All Black nightmare, it's about as tough as it gets.

From an Irish perspective, it's all to play for, specifically in the back-row, but also for one second-row, the loose head, the out-half and full-back. With Jamie Heaslip and John Muldoon out of contention, the make-up of the back- row to face the Wallabies is up in the air.

David Wallace could well be switched to No 8 for the Brisbane test, but should Chris Henry reproduce his Ulster form tomorrow, then a start against the Wallabies is a distinct possibility.

I believe he has what it takes, but he needs to deliver against Liam Messam and company first.

For Rhys Ruddock it's a wonderful opportunity to experience the game at a different level of intensity, while for Niall Ronan it's a genuine chance to push Shane Jennings for the No 7 shirt in the event of Wallace moving (of necessity) to No 8.

Dan Tuohy can build on the try-scoring debut of New Plymouth, although if fit, Mick O'Driscoll will assuredly start alongside Donncha O'Callaghan for the test.

Of the front-rows picked, it is Marcus Horan who has most to gain.

A mature delivery and he will certainly put it up to Kidney and Gert Smal for the loose head slot to face the Australians.

Beyond that, it is undoubtedly up to the captain and playmaker in chief to ensure the head coach thinks again.

I did not think Rob Kearney played all that badly (despite the first try

error) against the All Blacks. That said, Geordan Murphy is in a confident and mature groove and one suspects with a real chance of edging the full-back issue for Brisbane pending the Maori outcome.

So, too Jonathan Sexton, but he needs an assured delivery in a match-winning Irish performance.

I hope I am wrong, but, despite all the incentives, I fear this may prove another Kiwi hurdle too high.

Irish Independent

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