Six Nations: Kidney keeps faith in team that nearly blew it in Scotland
Declan Kidney has named the same team that won 21-18 against Scotland at Murrayfield for Saturday’s RBS Six Nations date with Wales in Cardiff.
With the hopes of a second Grand Slam in three years over as a result of last month’s 25-22 defeat by France at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland’s sights are now on a possible Triple Crown and an improbable share of the Championship.
To that end coach Kidney has kept faith with the players who outscored the Scots by three tries to one in escaping from Edinburgh with a three-point victory after handing the hosts five penalties which almost undid them.
Conceding that he is of a generation which recalls barren Irish trips to Cardiff — and one who prefers the stadium’s roof to be keep open rather than closed — Kidney admitted that he is expecting another very tight match at the magnificent new stadium which replaced the old Arms Park.
Two years ago when his team clinched the Grand Slam in Cardiff, a late drop-goal by Ronan O’Gara proved to be the difference between Irish delight and despair. Ireland won 17-15, with Stephen Jones missing a last-kick penalty which, had he landed it, would have given Wales victory by a point.
Whilst O’Gara has played his way back into Kidney’s favour after having had to play second fiddle to Jonathan Sexton during the autumnal Series and in the first two matches of the Championship, Scarlets' Jones has been ousted by Ospreys' James Hook and he will wear the iconic Wales number 10 jersey on Saturday.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s challenge Kidney said: “There’s not a whole lot between us at the minute.”
Drawing on history and the memory of past visits he continued: “Depending on how old you are and depending on the age in which you were reared, Cardiff Arms Park was always a daunting task.
“Myself, I would be more of the JPR Williams, Barry John generation so any time I think of going to Cardiff Arms I know we’re in for a full test and a huge game ahead of us.
“Two years ago there was literally that one kick of the ball between the two sides.
“These lads play against each other now three times a year, at least twice in the domestic (Magners) League and then at this level and the fact that they know one another so well means space has got to be at a premium.
“So it’ll be one of those games that whoever manages to take the chances that arise will come out on top.”
Responding to Wales coach Warren Gatland’s decision to opt for Hook rather than Jones at fly-half Kidney said: “I don’t think it will make a whole lot of difference to their style of play. Obviously it gives them a lot of strength in their centre.
“There’s two strong lads out in the middle of the pitch so there’s a bit of go-forward there, I’d imagine.”
And repeating his earlier insistence that it will be close, Kidney emphasised: “I don’t see a whole lot in the game, really. It will be a tight one.
“I don’t want to be repetitious, but I imagine there’ll be a few chances per side and whoever manages to take them will come out on top.”
His clearly still-vivid recollections of the failure of previous generations of Ireland sides to lay the Cardiff hoodoo notwithstanding, even the ever-cautious Kidney was prepared to concede that in more recent times it has been a happier hunting ground for teams from this side of the Irish Sea.
In addition to it being the stadium in which the 2009 Grand Slam was completed it is where Munster have won two Heineken Cups.
But Kidney diluted those tacit admissions by pointing out that while the Millennium Stadium may indeed hold some very good memories for Irish players, their Welsh counterparts will not lack motivation on Saturday given the outcome of these particular Celtic cousins’ recent battles.
“I’m sure from Wales’ point of view — given how tight the match was two years ago and then we got a win last year in Croke Park — they’d want to be putting one over on us,” said Kidney.
“They’ve won their last two games so they’ve built a bit of momentum and the more continuous wins the more momentum you gather.
“They will be looking to bring that momentum into Saturday’s game.”
Wales v Ireland, 2011 RBS Six Nations Championship, Millennium Stadium, Saturday, March 12, (5pm)
WALES: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Shane Williams (Ospreys); James Hook (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, captain), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys); Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys); Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys). Replacements: Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), John Yapp (Cardiff Blues), Rob McCusker (Scarlets)/Andy Powell (London Wasps)/Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets).
IRELAND: Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster); Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Paul O'Connell (Munster); Sean O'Brien (Leinster), David Wallace (Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: Sean Cronin (Connacht), Tom Court (Ulster), Leo Cullen (Leinster), Denis Leamy (Munster), Peter Stringer (Munster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Paddy Wallace (Ulster).