Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Six Nations: Time for Kidney to swing axe

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Sean O'Brien of Ireland is tackled by Kelly Brown of Scotland during the RBS 6 Nations Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield on February 27, 2011 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathon Sexton celebrates winning the RBS 6 Nations match at Murrayfield
Ireland's Cian Healy tackled by Kelly Brown of Scotland

Substitute a try for a goal and in soccer parlance we won 3-0 away from home.

Just imagine Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle or David Healy and Kyle Lafferty and the rest going to Hampden, romping home three-nil and you get the drift.

Unfortunately for this Irish side in its current frame of mind Rugby doesn't quite work like that. We have become almost profligate in the art of giving away penalties.

It cost us a shot at the Grand Slam in our defeat to the French a fortnight ago (when we also outsmarted the opposition by three tries to one) and it almost resulted in a second Six Nations defeat on the bounce at Murrayfield yesterday.

To put it down to ill-discipline and suggest it’s something simple to be put right in the video room and on the training paddock in the coming weeks (before heading off to Cardiff) is just not good enough.

Perfect practice should go a long way towards perfect execution (or as close as doesn't matter) on match day. Only management and players know if they are getting it right in preparation.

Given the presence of Alain Rolland at official training in between the last two games one can only assume many of the issues and infringements arising from the French match had been addressed.

On the assumption of a unit and collective awareness that therefore narrows the problem to individual error. This is the nub of the issue.

It is time for each and every player to look in the mirror and examine his role in penalty concession. Whether by accident or design Brian O'Driscoll alluded to the only realistic remedy in the immediate aftermath.

If players are being sloppy in giving away penalties — and not just at the breakdown — then they must pay the ultimate price.

As of now we are becoming known within refereeing circles as a team all too easy to penalize. We may scoff at the notion but that is the reality.

Crossing for three tries in any match at this level takes some doing but concede just two more penalties and, against proven goal-kickers of Chris Patterson/ Dan Parks' standard, you're back to square one. So it was again yesterday.

We escaped but it was much too close for comfort against a Scottish team which if it were there yet wouldn't score a try.

For the second time in a fortnight on home soil they looked what they are — a team devoid of guile or any cutting edge behind the scrum. Take away penalty opportunities (which unfortunately we couldn't do) and they are left with precious little else. Pity Andy Robinson his task.

By contrast Declan Kidney must crack the individual whip in a much more meaningful way. Sloppy play should equal the exit door from last chance saloon.

If any player thinks that harsh then he shouldn't be out there with that mindset in the first place. Pride in the jersey means pride in performance and that embodies discipline as much as any other factor.

The best players exude the best self control. People can moan and bitch all they want about Richie McCaw and his ability to play it close to the edge but the bottom line is he does while as of now we have far too many far too often going over that edge.

If it takes the trapdoor, however temporary, to get that message across then the sooner it is brought into play the better.

Call me square and antiquated but does not giving penalties away consistently not tally with letting your team mates down? What appeared an irritable scratch is becoming a festering boil. It needs to be lanced.

On the plus side we won and Ronan O'Gara was superb. Kidney may have been seeking to apply the reverse psychology to Rome and Dublin (when replacing Jonny Sexton with O'Gara on the hour) but on this occasion the delicate balance was crying out to leave well enough alone.

It was as unfair on Sexton as it was on O'Gara given the circumstances. Throw in the trend to a contest so delicately balanced and the Munster man should have been left on board to steer us home.

It smacked of substitution for substitution sake and we cannot afford that luxury irrespective of the skill level of the respective players involved.

Sometimes needs must and yesterday it demanded O'Gara see the game out.

Quite how Kidney views the Welsh game in terms of his playmaker in chief we will leave to him but against the Scots in a scruffy victory his preferred man ticked every conceivable box.

There was good news too, despite a disappointingly poor lineout, in the all round form of Paul O'Connell. And as for Sean O'Brien? ... quite simply electricity on legs.

Put it all together and however damp the squib the reality is of a side still on course for a Triple Crown showdown against Grand Slam chasing England at the Aviva in three weeks time.

In a World Cup year, given where we're now at, I'm not too sure it gets much better than that.

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