Kidney sticking to gameplan
If it isn’t broken, Declan Kidney sees no need to fix it.
So with his side chasing a second successive Triple Crown, the Irish coach has named an unchanged 22 for Saturday evening’s game against Scotland at Croke Park.
It’s the third match in a row in which he has selected the same 15 starters and the second where the bench also is unchanged.
The Scots, in contrast, opted to hold fire for 24 hours, suggesting that they wanted to see Kidney’s choice before deciding how best to counter it or that they have injury concerns and are giving any in the ‘doubtful’ category an extra day in which to recover.
Ireland’s decision to publish their starting line-up included the proviso that in the unlikely event of Gordon D’Arcy not having fully recovered from the deep bruising to his knee suffered early in the second quarter of Saturday’s 27-12 romp against Wales, Ulster’s Paddy Wallace will start at 12.
With his players having seen off England and Wales after picking themselves up off the canvas of Paris, Kidney’s vote of confidence in the status quo is both reasonable and understandable.
Jonathan Sexton’s feet appear to be comfortably under the table, albeit not been in his kicking boots which appear to have been lost somewhere in transit between the autumn friendlies and the now-ending Six Nations series.
But the off-key off-tee displays by the Leinster fly-half have not blinded Kidney to the fact that Sexton’s all-round game has been good.
He has not been found wanting in defence, this in marked contrast to Ronan O’Gara’s frailty in that regard in Paris where the French productively targeted 10 as a channel.
In addition, Sexton’s running game makes Ireland’s backs more potent going forward.
Last season there was a suggestion that they had ground out a Grand Slam rather than winning it by virtue of played attractive rugby. In the circumstances, one of Ireland’s pre-season targets was to play with greater freedom and flair.
And they have, witness three fine tries in each of their past two outing with Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls scoring a brace apiece against England and Wales respectively.
Sexton and his half-back partner, Tomas O’Leary, who produced a man of the match performance against Wales, have emerged as the new O’Gara-Peter Stringer double act, a fact confirmed by Kidney’s decision to deploy them as a pair once again.
D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll is his first-choice centre partnership, too. Indeed, six of the seven positions behind the scrum now effectively pick themselves, the only debate being about full-back where once again Kidney has given Geordan Murphy the nod ahead of Rob Kearney.
Against England, that decision was injury-enforced. Since then, however, Murphy has got the vote on merit rather than out of necessity.
The situation up front is not dissimilar with seven of the eight decisions — based on availability — currently of the take-it-as-read variety. Tight head is the exception, with 101 times-capped John Hayes, 36, increasingly said to be a weakness in the scrum.
That’s something that has been alleged for the past decade and still Hayes continues to defy his detractors, most recently against Wales when, forced to scrum on their own line, he and his forward colleagues dug deep and took a crucial ball against the head.
Yesterday Kidney said the selection process had not been a rubber-stamping formality.
“It took a fair bit of time really, not so much due to the quality of the lads who were picked but because of the quality of the lads we haven’t been able to give a start to in this particular game,” he said.
Explaining his rationale with regard to Wallace starting in the event of D’Arcy not coming through a series of checks and tests, Kidney said: “Paddy has been playing very well at 12 and when you pick replacements it’s always a different dynamic than when you pick your starting 15.
“With your starting 15 it’s easy; it’s position by position. But with replacements you have to try and get best cover for the positions that you can around the place.
“Sometimes it works out exactly how you want it; sometimes there’s a little bit of adjustment required.”