Peter Bills' World Cup blog: Cautious Kidney must shuffle pack
Declan Kidney is a cautious, conservative coach. Evolution to some would be revolution in Kidney’s mind.
But am I alone in wondering how much longer Ireland can go on without facing the reality staring them in the face? They have serious problems in midfield, and especially in the crucial 10/12 axis.
For me, Kidney has to make some tough decisions ahead of Saturday’s crunch game in Pool C against Australia in Auckland. Firstly, does he accept the midfield badly needs freshening up? If so, how does he propose to do it?
I just don’t believe that continuing to tinker just with the half-backs can be the extent of changes in the Irish back line. For me, I think there is a serious problem at outside half and inside centre and the role of Gordon D’Arcy in particular has to come under scrutiny.
You could say, probably justifiably, that Brian O’Driscoll is no longer the player he was. And in his 33rd year that would be no surprise.
But what O’Driscoll brings to the party, even if he is by no means as quick as he once was, is defensive organisation, repute, respect and the eyes and ears of the whole Irish back line. Quite simply, Brian O’Driscoll is irreplaceable in the Irish team at the present time. But is D’Arcy?
Both have been outstanding servants, for Leinster and Ireland. But neither is any longer in the first flush of youth and D’Arcy in particular is starting to struggle to justify his place.
For a coach, staying loyal to players is an important attribute. But there is a thin dividing line between loyalty and retaining players for too long when they are past their sell-by date.
I suspect D’Arcy may be close to that right now. Ireland’s backline begins to look stale and tepid, and they can’t afford that in a World Cup campaign.
I think it is inevitable that Ronan O’Gara will replace the out-of-sorts Jonathan Sexton in the side to face Australia this weekend. And I also expect a recall for Eoin Reddan at scrum half. Conor Murray performed creditably against the USA at New Plymouth on Sunday. But for me, Reddan’s greater experience and snap at the base of the forwards will be important, not least to try and help shackle Will Genia and Quade Cooper, the dangerous Australian half-backs.
But even if Ireland change their half-backs, will that solve all their problems? I doubt it. I think they need to freshen up their whole back division and I’d bring in Fergus McFadden and Andrew Trimble to do that.
As to whether Rob Kearney is fit enough to return for so vital a game, only Kidney will know. If he is, I’d also bring him in at full-back so that the back line is almost completely revamped.
That would mean major changes from the USA match with the likes of Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien (if fit) all coming back plus a back division like this – Reddan, O’Gara; Bowe, O’Driscoll, McFadden, Trimble; Kearney (or Murphy).
But I’ll finish this blog the way I started it. That’s the back division I would put out against the Wallabies. But Declan Kidney is a cautious, conservative coach. If he chooses anything like so radical a side it will be a major surprise.
But Ireland’s only serious chance of beating the Australians may rest on how far he is prepared to go in re-vamping what has been of late a disappointing back division.