All Blacks hold no fear for the Irish
Consistency in a world gone mad. The slogan belongs to a famous brand of stout, but can equally be applied to Declan Kidney's pragmatic response to the injury problems that have beset his squad ahead of Saturday's Test against New Zealand.
Essentially, Kidney's selection can be boiled down to missing front-liners being replaced on a like-for-like basis and, for all the disruption, the side has a solid look to it. It comes down to four key positions where Ireland have lost their regular starters — hooker, second-row, blindside flanker and left wing — and each has been filled by a specialist.
Thus, Sean Cronin starts for Jerry Flannery, Mick O'Driscoll for Paul O'Connell, John Muldoon for Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble for Keith Earls.
There was scope for experimentation — Dan Tuohy could have been tried in the back-row, Rob Kearney or Geordan Murphy could have switched to the wing — but facing the All Blacks on their own turf is not the time for such manoeuvring and Trimble and Muldoon start in the positions where they have been performing most effectively this season.
Ronan O'Gara wins the latest round of his ongoing battle for the out-half slot with Jonathan Sexton and, although the Leinster man's injury situation has complicated matters, the requirements for this Test always looked set up for |O'Gara to bring his control and experience to bear.
“He's looking forward to it,” said Kidney. “As much as he always did. It is never easy when you have 90-odd caps and you have a younger guy coming in behind you, but he's fought back in the best way you can imagine and he's gone about his business.”
Kearney gets the nod ahead of Murphy at full-back and going with the Leinster man is not hard to justify, given his form and the habit he has fostered of excelling against the southern hemisphere big three.
Kidney acknowledged that Sexton and Murphy could be deemed unlucky to miss out but said |O'Gara and Kearney are the right men for this occasion.
He said: “They (Sexton and Murphy) were going well but two months have passed in between, and Ronan and Rob have gone well too so they are marginal (calls). We're trying to build a squad and if we don't learn something about that on a tour like this then we'll never learn anything.”
The last time Ireland faced New Zealand was only Kidney's second match in charge and his side were beaten out the Croke Park gate. It was an instructive experience and the lessons were well learned.
“We were new into it, there were loads of things we wanted to impart. We're 18 months down the track now,” he said.
A Test win on this tour would be a giant psychological lift with next year's World Cup in mind but Kidney is firm in his belief that Saturday's examination must be viewed in isolation.
He added: “It would be a great lift but the World Cup is a different kind of tournament.”
For all the despondency that has cloaked this tour, all the talk of a crippling injury list and mental tiredness, there is a tangible buzz about the Ireland camp this week.
Whether it will be enough to make history remains to be seen, but it is a stout effort when spirits could have been flagging.