Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Rugby World Cup call battle hotting up

Ireland flew into a sweltering Bordeaux — 29 degrees at tea-time last night — just in time to hit the Friday evening rush hour at its peak.

Police outriders were to have ensured that they made better progress than most of the indigenous French, but much to coach Declan Kidney’s amusement and amazement the Gendarme proceeded to stop at ever step of traffic lights.

“That was a first,” Kidney smiled when he arrived at the 34,000 capacity Stade Chaban Delmas which has the distinction of housing the longest dressing room to pitch walk of all the sports grounds in Europe — a remarkable 120 metres.

While, in the background fly-half Ronan O’Gara worked on his out of hand and off the tee kicking, Kidney assessed things ahead of tonight’s Test, the second of four Ireland face en-route to the New Zealand World Cup.

In contrast to the French, who named their World Cup squad two months ago, Ireland will not do so until August 22 with that delay suggesting Kidney is doing exactly as he promised — namely giving all 43 of those in his squad every chance to earn themselves a seat on the plane.

His view is that there is not a right or wrong way of doing it. Instead it amounts to a case of countries simply doing things their own way, in keeping with their different approaches, needs and cultures.

Tonight’s team trained with the rest of the Irish squad yesterday morning at Maynooth before flying to France.

Last night Kidney explained: “It’s a strange time of year really. We (tonight’s team and replacements) had a little bit of a run ourselves this morning at 9.30am and then we trained with the rest of the lads.

“They had weights at eight and training at 11 so it was a good session with all the others.”

What was particularly pleasing for him was the fact that three of his key players, working their way back to fitness, were able to participate.

“They all took part to a greater or lesser degree,” he said.

“Tommy Bowe had a good run out this morning, Brian O’Driscoll is getting into more contact, Gordon D’Arcy had a great hit-out; he did everything. So that’s all good and that’s all positive”.

Kidney stopped short of saying that the trio will play against France in next Saturday’s return match at the Aviva Stadium, but certainly the implication was that they will be involved.

First thing’s first, however, and that means facing up to the threat posed by the French tonight in the rugby-daft deep south, with Kidney warning: “The French are formidable right through the different lines.

“The front row obviously is very strong and will present its problems.” For which reason he has countered with his first choice trio of team Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.

He was equally complimentary towards the opposition back row and back line.

Kidney’s overall assessment on the eve of the match was that the French have assembled “a very strong squad, all good players with no perceived weaknesses in any of the positions.”

As for what he is looking for from his own players Kidney said: “Last week we turned the ball over a few times, we had a few dropped passes and we also put a few chips in behind. Some were successful and some were easy turn-overs so at times like that we need to be patient.

“It’s just about playing through a few more phases. We can’t be trying to play set piece and two or three phases. We’re going to need to go seven, eight, nine, 10 phases to break teams down.

“If we lose possession we know that France will pounce on every mistake. There’s probably no better side at that in world rugby — it would be between themselves and New Zealand.”

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