Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Rugby World Cup: Ireland players' World Cup warm up performances rated

Rob Kearney (2 Starts v Scotland and France away) - 5
Enough conviction to suggest match fitness not too far away but could have done without recurrence of groin niggle. Will have a dog fight with Geordan Murphy for the last line and that in itself is no bad thing. Unlike the Six Nations our two best full backs are in situ for New Zealand.
Geordan Murphy (1 Start v England) - 5
Just Saturday's abysmal defeat to go by but enough evidence to indicate a man on a mission looking to make good the opportunity missed through injury in '03. Appears set for a genuine scrap with Kearney for the No 15 shirt in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Jamie Heaslip (2 Starts v France and England plus one replacement appearance against the French) - 4
Another of our key cogs and 'go to' players who has failed to hit his straps of late. Enough time to recover from Saturday's concussion and see him back to his dynamic best when hitting the ground running at New Plymouth on Sunday week.

By any standard, it's been a bad four weeks for Declan Kidney.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances and, yes, we now have a fair whack of players with game-time in the tank, but in contrast to that there's a squad with confidence and collective morale leaking more and more with each successive defeat.

Ignore the guff which says winning in August doesn't matter. In the opening two build-up games against Scotland and France, selection was such that winning on the road was as unlikely as it would've been expected.

Coming second at Murrayfield and Bordeaux could be conceded to the bigger picture. And like most everybody else, I bought into that. But the last fortnight has seen us drop to levels of performance unacceptable for a team with semi-final aspirations.

We have gone from fourth to eighth in world rankings and from top team in the northern hemisphere to fifth now, with only Italy of the Six Nations teams below us.

Don't tell me that a sudden dip of that magnitude doesn't impact on the overall psyche — of course it does.

Losing four pre-season friendlies on the bounce won't be remembered if we get it right over the next six or so weeks, but lose our way in the pool, a la France '07, and the heat is on a coach set to come under ever increasing pressure irrespective of recent contracts signed.

I rate Kidney’s performance over the past four matches at 4 out of 10.

And on the basis of form, irrespective of any other factor, here’s how I feel the 30 chosen to travel have delivered over the last four frustrating weeks.

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