Thursday 22 February 2018

Tony Ward: Time for Kidney to ask Schmidt to come on board

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

The parallels with the Ireland soccer team's disastrous experience in Poland were scarily obvious. When you're on the same field as the world champions and you fail to perform to the absolute peak of your ability, it's time to run for cover.

But Ireland's abject rugby performance went even deeper than that, and was articulated best by skipper Brian O'Driscoll when he used the word "embarrassment" to sum up the mood in the immediate aftermath.

As a proud member of this small but sports-daft little nation, the defeat and the manner of it really let me down. As a former player, I too played in games I wish I hadn't.

I recall only too vividly being beaten out the gate by Romania when playing for Munster in Limerick in the early '80s -- a day on which we failed to turn up mentally or physically.

professional

On Saturday, as we feared, Ireland arrived in body but not in mind. With due respect to the 'fatigue theory' doing the rounds, these are professional sportsmen who do this job by choice for their daily bread and are well paid for it.

I feel particularly sorry for O'Driscoll; he did not deserve to suffer a hugely embarrassing blot on what has been an otherwise magnificent Test career. We didn't just lose on Saturday; we were obliterated by a team in transition.

Just five of this All Blacks team ran out for the World Cup final back in October. That's 10 changes plus one positional switch (with Richie McCaw moving to No 8), yet it is Ireland who are hiding behind the mask of enforced change since falling to the Welsh in Wellington back in October.

Not for a minute am I downplaying the loss of Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and Tommy Bowe, but whereas New Zealand fielded a new and refreshing core -- from Liam Messam at blindside to replacement Beauden Barrett (on for Aaron Cruden) at out-half -- we, for whatever reason, seem to fear change.

We were out-thought, outfought (a damning indictment) and outclassed in Hamilton, where the All Blacks produced a breathtaking level of offloading in the tackle and quality of support for the ball-carrier.

The decision to summon Paddy Wallace badly backfired. Put simply, Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith looked world class by comparison to the Irish combination.

New Zealand bossed the collisions and breakdown emphatically. After that, they targeted midfield as the increasing tide became a tsunami.

Ireland can now reflect on two embarrassing thumpings which were separated by one heroic effort, but one which was ultimately shown in Hamilton to be a mere blip for the All Blacks.

Declan Kidney is now a coach under pressure. He needs to give youth its fling. The time and effort it has taken Donnacha Ryan (the best Irish player Down Under by a mile) to convince the head coach of his right to a starting place is all too indicative of the fear factor still pervading in Irish rugby.

I have always held the belief that if you're good enough, you're old enough, and rising talent can only gain experience by playing games.

The back-room staff could do with a shake-up too and, with Alan Gaffney long departed, Joe Schmidt could make a hugely positive impact.

The innovative and hugely successful Leinster head coach is the type of tactician we need to set Irish backplay free.

Meanwhile, for the players, the flight home couldn't come quickly enough.

We finish our longest season ever with our Test stock as low as it has been for some time. The tour has gone as badly as we could possibly have feared prior to travelling.

Ireland were not just beaten, they were humiliated.

Irish Independent

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