Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Kidney call on O’Gara makes sense

“It's not you, it's me.” The classic break-up line is, ordinarily, an attempt to shield the person being dumped from the reality behind their dismissal. However, occasionally it holds true.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney often states how he hates that aspect of the coaching job, dating back to his days coaching schoolboys in PBC Cork. Traditionally, dropping a player used to take place at training, when the squad would be told to do a lap with one unfortunate asked to hang back because the coach wanted to “have a word.”

The coach then delivered the bad news as the player fiddled with his bootlaces or re-tied the string on his shorts before his team-mates completed their circuit and with the whiff of cordite hanging in the air, studiously avoided eye contact.

Though unremittingly awkward, at least that method was preferable to the non-contact approach as experienced by one former Ireland captain who found out that his international career was over when he looked up the Irish squad on Aertel and discovered his services were no longer required.

When it comes to the drop zone, coaches in all codes say the same — always be completely honest with the player, spoofing merely creates confusion and always has repercussions.

Players generally react to the axe in two different ways, they either hang a left to Sulksville or take a right down Stoic Alley, which brings you back onto the main road eventually.

Ronan O'Gara has been untouchable as Munster and Ireland's out-half for so long that being left out for tomorrow's clash with South Africa will have come as a tremendous shock, but you would back the 32-year-old to respond in the correct manner.

After an impressive outing against the Wallabies, it was widely expected that Kidney would start O'Gara against the world champions and continue Jonathan Sexton's international acclimatisation process with a decent spell off the bench.

It made sense on a number of fronts — affording O'Gara the opportunity to boss the game in the early stages and make a statement against South African condescension after his difficult second Test experience for the Lions last summer, while protecting Sexton from the enormity of the occasion until a late cameo role when the pressure is less intense.

However, as ever with Kidney, the flip side made complete sense too. Having proven his quality conclusively for Leinster and in his man-of-the-match debut against Fiji, Sexton is now being asked to demonstrate that he also has the temperament for top-level international rugby in a high-intensity environment.

Kidney has won two Heineken Cups and a Grand Slam with O'Gara as his out-half lynchpin and knows everything he needs to know about the Munster man's attitude, temperament and quality. He cannot say the same about Sexton yet and tomorrow is the 24-year-old's 'let's see what you're made of' test.

That is Sexton's personal battle and one he is more than capable of winning, but Kidney does not want to go to war at the World Cup in 2011 without O'Gara in his ranks and the optimum situation is having two battle-hardened out-halves at the coach's disposal able to handle the greatest occasions.

Informing O'Gara that he was out of the side cannot have been easy for Kidney, but the logic behind the selection is clear and, for once, the 'it's not you, it's me' reasoning makes perfect sense.

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