Kidney’s selection for Barbarians game opens a window on future
With 15 changes of personnel to the side which started for Ireland in their last outing — against Scotland in an ill-fated Triple Crown bid at Croke Park on March 20 — there are two interpretations of Declan Kidney’s latest selection for their clash with the Barbarians.
The canny Irish coach may be keeping his powder dry ahead of bigger battles in New Zealand and Australia. Alternatively he is using the occasion of tonight’s non-cap match against opponents famed for their devil-may-care approach to give debutants a dry run and assess afresh a number of those who currently are second-choice.
Everything about Kidney’s past suggests a mixture of both.
Clearly — even if the first of those two options forms the bigger part of the cocktail — no Irish player who produces a decent performance at Thomond Park is going to do his cause any harm.
Kidney’s statement following the announcement of his team at lunchtime on Wednesday — “We have a few new faces, but in this game, if you wait for everything to be right, life will slip you by. You never know when things will pop right” — left observers wondering what exactly he meant.
He delights in keeping the media guessing, of course, for which reason he will have been delighted at their bewilderment on this occasion.
But above all else, Kidney is a pragmatist who knows that certain members of Ireland’s Golden Generation now are a lot closer to the end than to the beginning of their careers. There may not be another World Cup in one or two.
He realises that by the time it comes round, all of his players — past masters and fledglings alike — will be 16 months older.
In some cases those additional miles on the clock will be an asset. In the case of others they most certainly will not be.
With Ulster’s Chris Henry seemingly having emerged as Jamie Heaslip’s understudy, he can do himself — and Kidney — a huge favour this evening in Limerick by underlining his claim at No 8.
Lock Dan Tuohy can promote himself too, as can Leinster’s Ed O’Donoghue who until a couple of weeks ago was the former’s engine-room colleague at Ravenhill.
All three newcomers start in a pack boasting a total of 89 caps — but 66 of those belong to Marcus Horan.
That leaves four men sharing 23 caps, with tighthead Tony Buckley accounting for 17 of them with hooker Sean Cronin and flankers Niall Ronan and John Muldoon having two apiece.
The overall inexperience of that pack confirms just how dependent Ireland have been on a small hard core of forwards and reinforces the fact that change is coming.
Time to push one’s case.
That is true of Andrew Trimble too, who can give the coach a reminder of what he has to offer.
And the versatile and technically excellent Tom Court – who can prop on either side — and Paddy Wallace can nudge Kidney when they enter the fray off the bench.
This time next week, of course, we will have a clearer view of what the coach is thinking for by then he will have named what he considers to be his strongest — available, that is — side for the June 12 All Blacks Test.
With the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes et al set to return, it is unlikely that many of tonight’s starters will be on next weekend’s teamsheet.
Any who are can take that as a very telling nod.
The prospect of advancing in the pecking order is tonight’s incentive. So while there may not be caps on offer, expect to see Irish fire nevertheless — because there’s a lot to be gained by those who show it.