Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Kidney has run out of excuses and has to quit

Jamie Heaslip did not perform well as captain of Ireland
Jamie Heaslip did not perform well as captain of Ireland

Despite Ireland's desperate showing against Italy, last weekend rescued this season's Six Nations tournament.

The weather has been poor, defences have dominated matches, tries have been in short supply with penalties the main premium, scrums are still a mess, and the action has been limited.

Step up Italy and Wales – the passion and urgency of both, albeit on slightly different levels, were palpable and reaffirmed the credibility of the tournament.

Not only did the wheels of the chariot come off, England was utterly dismantled by a Welsh team full of aggression, passion, but no lack of skill and precision. Sadly Italy's historic win plucked yet another leaf from the Irish shamrock leaving nothing much left other than the stem. The chance of a four leafed clover seems a million miles away at the moment.

Admittedly, there have been high profile injuries but this should not deflect from the lack of shape, organisation and purpose of Ireland's effort – in short, a lack of performance.

But let's deal with the injuries first. Before kickoff last Saturday, a list of 13 injuries was put on the TV screen.

Of these, Reddan, Wallace, McFadden, Fitzpatrick, Strauss and McSharry and Henry were not starting players anyway – the latter did not make Declan Kidney's original selection against Wales.

Moreover, the team has had to operate without Ferris for a long time. This leaves O'Connell and D'Arcy, neither of whom is anyway close to his pomp of a decade ago.

Indeed, the latter's injury allowed Luke Marshall a valuable opportunity to state his credentials. This leaves Bowe, Zebo and Sexton. The first two may have been missed, but there is no shortage of talent on the wings at the moment, so much so that Andrew Trimble, one of Ulster's players of the season, cannot get a look in.

That leaves Jonathan Sexton. Our own Paddy Jackson acquitted himself exceptionally well given his lack of experience at international level, but the overall experience and direction offered by Sexton was the injury that was felt most keenly.

While I do not believe that injuries themselves were the key factor, maybe a lack of experience made the key difference.

Yet, this is where a lack of long-term planning has come back to bite Declan Kidney. We all know that the 'golden generation' is coming to an end, but there has been little if any phasing in.

Observers might make the point that the team is now almost unrecognisable to that of the Grand Slam team. That may well be true but the key reason is enforced change through injury rather than a sense of strategic planning for the future.

Autumn internationals have not been used to blood enough new players and conservative selection has meant that through thick and thin the same players have taken their places. At times, the case has been made that because of world ranking points victories are absolutely imperative.

The end justifies the means and the fact that Ireland have now fallen to ninth spot in the latest IRB World Rankings, which is their lowest ever position, is manifest evidence that the means have not been correct or effective.

What also cost Ireland dearly was the lack of discipline shown by those who should have known better.

Over the course of the campaign there have been far too many cheap penalties at the breakdown, we have seen petulance from players who are normally composed, like Rob Kearney's flash of temper at the end of the first half.

This culminated, of course, in Brian O'Driscoll's sinbinning – it may have been rooted in frustration but it symbolised a more endemic problem.

Much has been made of the captaincy issue.

How ironic that it is such a big deal in Ireland while Wales managed to lift the title with a number of different captains.

When you are in the toughest of situations you need your captain to lead from the front – I experienced it with Keith Wood and Brian O'Driscoll and they gave you inspiration not from what they said but their indomitable spirit.

We have not yet seen this from Jamie Heaslip. Was it the right call? Was it at the right time?

What is clear is that so far it has not been a whirlwind success. Above all, a lack of confidence has undermined Ireland's efforts. The most noticeable aspect of the Italian's play was their exuberance and energy.

There was real clarity and organisation about what they wanted to do, but everything was underpinned by confidence.

Is Declan Kidney capable of restoring this confidence?

Ultimately, he is judged on results. Too many defeats and too much inconsistency – time has run out.

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