Tyrone Howe: Kidney failed to come up with any fresh ideas
It is less than a year until the next Rugby World Cup and the recent Autumn internationals gave Ireland and the other Northern hemisphere rugby nations a last chance to test themselves against Southern hemisphere opposition.
The matches provided a temperature check of where we are in our current development and offered the opportunity to develop players.
So, the key question is how much does Declan Kidney know about his Irish players that he didn’t know at the start of the Autumn campaign. The answer is surely very little. In fact, apart from making a decent fist of the game against New Zealand, arguably the slowdown in Ireland’s performance continues unabated.
The first questionable area was in selection. Playing the All Blacks is such a one-off opportunity that you will always tend to raise your game and despite being outgunned, Declan Kidney’s first team showed that they can rise to the occasion and played some decent rugby.
They simply came up against the best team in the world at the moment. Therefore, the final match against Argentina presented a key opportunity to give some youngsters a starting trot.
Instead, selection erred on the side of caution and conservatism. How much more will Kidney have found out about Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace, Geordan Murphy and the BOD/D’Arcy centre partnership? Nothing. How much better will those players be for the experience? Not at all.
Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien and Keith Earls should all have started. Tommy Bowe could easily have moved to full back with someone like Connacht’s Fionn Carr coming in on the wing. How can the players develop if they are not given a starting berth?
It is somewhat ironic that, after this series of internationals, Ireland is the only team that has improved its IRB world ranking. It feels a bit like winning a golf competition when you know that your handicap is too high — the rugby world is littered with golf bandits — somehow, we feel flat and undeserving of the accolade. And what does it matter anyway?
Statistics and world ranking positions will count for nothing come the World Cup. To do well next year, Declan Kidney will need his key men fit and raring to go, and as strong a squad as possible. For this reason, the game against Argentina should have been used far more as a development opportunity.
Think of the series of matches — South Africa, Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina — and the accumulation of physicality. Why did Brian O’Driscoll have to be risked in every single match? Given the level of attrition that Ireland’s captain has had to endure, he needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool and given time to recover.
Instead, BOD shrugged off injury after injury to continually take the pitch and has ended up with a nasty jaw injury. The IRFU player management scheme is applied to the provinces but should be equally applicable in the green jersey.
The Autumn internationals highlighted several areas of worrying deficiency. The issues with the scrum have been known for a long time now and there is no easy answer. At least it seems to be acknowledged
that John Hayes, that magnificent servant to Irish rugby, is no longer the answer.
Some areas that should have been more easily rectified were surprisingly shoddy, for example Ireland’s performance on clearing up restarts. I was surprised that the leadership of Paul O’Connell was so badly missed but this should have been sorted out on the training pitch.
Despite the feeling of anti-climax Ireland still have some time before the 2011 RWC. It does mean that next year’s Six Nations tournament now takes on even greater importance.
While Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris are already leading figures and, to his credit, Kidney has retained Johnny Sexton as his first choice out half, the challenge for Ireland’s coach is to balance the need for success and develop the next generation of young players who can inspire the team.
Despite Ireland’s victory, last weekend was an opportunity missed, and Declan Kidney still has a lot of thinking to do.