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Should Declan Kidney be feeling hard done by? No...

By Niall Crozier

It is the late Sydney Webb, an economist, to whom is accredited the advice, "Never underestimate the inevitability of gradualness."

It is true of declining health, diminishing physical or mental well-being or a shrinking bank balance. Once it starts, erosion tends to be a one-way process.

So based on Webb's wise words of warning, no-one can be surprised at Declan Kidney's exit. Year upon year he had walked on ever-thinning ice. Yesterday, finally, it split.

Was his demise inevitable a la Webb? Undoubtedly.

Consider Ireland's finishing positions in the five RBS Six Nations during his tenure. After the dizzy heights of the Grand Slam in 2009 we saw a downward slide: second in 2010, third in 2011 and again in 2012 when the Irish finished five points behind Wales – an embarrassingly wide chasm in a five-match programme.

And then, most damning of all, fifth in 2013 – Ireland's lowest position since 1998 when they finished bottom of the old pre-Italy Five Nations pile.

Also underlining the steady decline was the number of matches won in each of the Kidney-era championships; victory in all five in 2009, success in three in 2010 and 2011, two in 2012 and one in the campaign just ended, albeit that Ireland drew with France in each of the past two championships.

Their three losses this season included a first ever defeat by Italy in the Six Nations. In addition, they were beaten by Scotland at Murrayfield for the first time since 2001.

The weight of evidence against the advisability of extending his contract means Kidney really cannot be feeling hard done by at this moment.

He had his day(s) and one of them – March 21, 2009 – quite rightly earned him and his team a place in history. But one cannot live the rest of the year on the memory of a feast at Christmas.

And therein lies the problem of the Kidney reign which amounted to occasional banquets, but interspersed by lengthy periods of hunger.

So at this point there are salient questions to be answered. Has he left Irish rugby in a better state than when he took over from Eddie O'Sullivan in 2008? No.

I say that without hesitating. Why? Because the plain truth is that Ireland now are ninth in the world rankings, the lowest rung of the IRB ladder they have ever occupied.

How could anyone possibly argue that this equates to progress?

Reality is that having inherited the team blooded by Warren Gatland and duly honed by O'Sullivan, Kidney cashed in his predecessor's chips by scooping the Grand Slam prize-money at the first time of asking. And that success continued to carry him, papering over the cracks. Until yesterday.

After completing the Slam four years ago, Kidney's record has been one of on-going decline. Since the euphoria of Cardiff 2009, Ireland have played 40 Test matches. Victories? Just 16. That translates as 40 per cent. Acceptable? Again, no.

The figures in terms of the Six Nations are even worse – five wins in the past 15 championship games.

That is 33.3 per cent. Again I ask – and it is purely rhetorical – is that good enough for a nation which, as recently as 2011, embarked on a World Cup trail in the genuine belief that a place in the semi-finals was a realistic goal.

That didn't materialise either, alas.

So Webb was right: "Never underestimate the inevitability of gradualness."

Belfast Telegraph


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