By any standard, it's been a bad four weeks for Declan Kidney. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances and, yes, we now have a fair whack of players with game-time in the tank, but in contrast to that there's a squad with confidence and collective morale diminishing more and more with each successive defeat.
Ignore all that guff that says winning in August doesn't matter. In the opening two games, selection was such that winning on the road was as unlikely as it would've been expected. Coming second at Murrayfield and Bordeaux could be conceded to the bigger picture. And like almost everybody else, I bought into that. But the last fortnight has seen us drop to levels of performance unacceptable for a team with semi-final aspirations.
We have gone from fourth to eighth in world rankings and from top team in the northern hemisphere to fifth now, with only Italy of the Six Nations teams below us. Don't tell me that a sudden dip of that magnitude doesn't impact on the overall psyche -- of course it does.
I believe Kidney is holding back on showing his attacking hand. For the life of me, I sincerely hope that to be the case such has been the lack of guile and line-breaking innovation behind the scrum.
With the US Eagles and Wallabies in the opening two games -- and given the involvement of Eddie O'Sullivan and Alan Gaffney in both camps in recent times -- I have little doubt that whatever is being done in Carton House behind closed doors is being kept under lock and key for New Plymouth and Auckland respectively. Heaven help us if that proves not to be the case.
Beyond that, there's no issue tactically, although I would like to see Kidney impose his will much more stringently when penalties are awarded in point-scoring range. Here I am 100pc old school. You work for territory, you pressurise for infringements and you take your points. Look no further than New Zealand in that key respect.
Losing four pre-season friendlies on the bounce won't be remembered if we get it right over the next six or so weeks, but lose our way in the pool -- a la France '07 -- and the heat will really be on a coach set to come under ever-increasing pressure irrespective of a recent contract extension.
Declan Kidney -- Rating: 4