Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Tyrone Howe: Kidney must realise time’s running out

Conor Murray has come in for criticism after losing possession against South Africa on Saturday

Statistics show that victories over South Africa are rare commodities. I played against the Springboks twice, once in an autumn international and again on a summer tour. On both occasions we lost — close but lost nonetheless.

This seems to be the consistent story between the two sides.

Yet, last Saturday’s match felt like a real anti-climax in terms of the manner in which Ireland surrendered their lead and went out with a whimper rather than a bang against what was effectively a South African second team.

Declan Kidney came into the game already under enormous pressure. With consistently inconsistent performances in the last three Six Nations, not to mention the 60-0 drubbing to New Zealand during the summer, his position, as it draws to the end of his contract, is looking increasingly untenable.

There is no doubt that, were Kidney operating within other international set-ups, he would have been moved or removed from his position long ago. If Kidney was within the Springbok system, he would be ancient history.

I do find myself sympathising with his plight. This may sound strange, but it has everything to do with respect.

If you have played under Kidney, generally you have played for Kidney. When I played for him he knew which buttons to press and got the best out of me. While many will point to Ireland’s Grand Slam, for me, his greatest achievements lie with Munster. He played a key role in creating the juggernaut which dominated Europe and subsequently contributed to the success of the Irish team.

I don’t remember him doing a huge amount of coaching, even though he togged out in a tracksuit. He was more of a manager — like an Alex Ferguson-type figure — saying the right things at the right time, getting inside the minds of his players.

I have no doubts that he has not lost any of his wisdom and guile, but as the pressure has mounted, there has been increasing conservatism in his selection and the players seem mentally hamstrung.

Clearly, this is not good enough and the truth is that it hasn’t been good enough for quite a long time now.

Kidney would be a magnificent poker player but his hand last week was weakened by the absence of key players.

The physicality of Ferris and O’Brien may have made a difference, but in O’Driscoll and O’Connell it was leadership that was missed most.

If you are looking to rely on BOD and POC for pure rugby ability then things must be bad elsewhere. Compare them now to ten years ago when they were in their pomp.

Others have to lead on the pitch but one wonders had the pair been on the pitch whether Ireland could somehow have closed out the game.

As it was, scoring 12 points within almost 30 minutes and not scoring a point over the remainder of the game is genuinely cause for concern.

Ireland never looked like scoring and on two occasions when Conor Murray kicked possession away badly rather than keeping the ball in hand, there you had examples of individual indecision and collective lack of confidence.

It is difficult, however, when only one team turns up to play rugby.

Despite lacking any real penetration, at least Ireland aspired to a bit more width and pace.

In the first half South Africa were all over the place, but they rolled up their sleeves at halftime, and stripped their game right back.

What do we know Springbok rugby for most? Some things just do not change and when they turn to power and physicality it is an effective cocktail against most teams.

A return to the driven maul and one-off runners got them going through multi-phases, and it was the sustained strength of this assault that pushed Ireland into losing composure and making mistakes.

Ireland tried to go toe to toe and we are simply not built for that.

Yes, a Ferris-like dump tackle would have lifted spirits and knocked Springbok momentum back but over forty minutes it was simply too much.

Maybe most powerful was the statement that South Africa made early in the second half to kick for the corner and lineout and tapping penalties rather than going for an easier three points.

They said ‘we’re coming for a try’, and these decisions seemed to do substantial damage to Ireland’s mental state and with Jamie Heaslip in the bin the try beckoned.

So now apparently the Argentina game is crucial for World Cup top eight and second tier qualification.

Has there ever been a points system that is so impossibly difficult to understand?

Last week I stated that Ireland needed a win and a performance.

It got neither.

Against Argentina in 10 days time the first may be vital for the bigger picture, but supporters certainly have to see immediate improvement.

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