Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

Six Nations: Kidney tells Ireland to march on from Paris

By Hugh Farrelly

The sense of irritation in the wake of last weekend's Paris debacle has not dissipated, far from it, but the Ireland camp is consumed by an overwhelming desire to move on.

Declan Kidney spoke passionately yesterday in support of the Irish fans, the main victims of last weekend's cancelled match with France and unwieldy rescheduling for Sunday, March 4.

Clearly angry at the way the situation has been handled, with the Six Nations kowtowing to the French clubs and television companies at the expense of the Ireland team and supporters, the Ireland coach showed admirable restraint when pressed to vent.

"We should stop now," said Kidney with a smile, after dismissing the Six Nations 'grand' gesture of excusing Ireland from the post-match function, "I have been good so far, I won't break out."

While the last few days have been a public relations disaster for the Six Nations and French Federation as they bungled, blamed and barbed their way around the Paris shambles, Ireland have reacted with commendable dignity, despite being the primary losers in the whole sorry affair.

And, after the turbulence of the defeat to Wales, harsh citing, injury worries and confusion of the game that never was, Kidney is determined to make the best of a bad situation (four matches on successive weekends, a six-day turnaround), and is embracing the chance to step back and build some momentum going into the Italy match.

"That's the way to look upon it," he agreed. "We took a step back and instead of looking and cribbing around this we said, 'right this is what it is and how can we gain out of it?'

"We had a good session today. We had to make up for the fact that we didn't have a match last weekend. We have done that. I can't speak highly enough of the lads who are playing this weekend and the way they rowed in; there was no holding back."

Playing four matches on successive weekends will challenge the players' physical durability and squad resources but, as Kidney pointed out, it is not new territory for this group, and also highlighted the importance of having two Irish players in each position -- the motivation behind the IRFU's controversial player succession strategy.

"You talk about four-in-a-row, but I have said to the players already that we had four matches last August, then five at the World Cup after a break of a week.

"At the end of the season we have the Barbarians and then three Tests against New Zealand. It's vital to have a good panel of at least 30.

"That's why you have to have at least two Irish fellas in each position," stressed Kidney.

"If you look at our 13s going into the Wales match, we had Brian (O'Driscoll) injured, Darren Cave injured, Eoin Griffin injured and Keith Earls was otherwise occupied. So, that was the four 13s (from the four provinces).

"Our provinces take a hit here with the cancellation. We now have an international on a weekend when there are about five or six players less available to them," he said.

"Basically, our replacements bench is usually available on those fallow weeks; it won't be this time. We will probably have to travel with 23 or 24 (players) and that is about nine players out of the system.

"The last two or three days have been hectic enough," added Kidney, who cancelled the two-day Belfast training camp in favour of yesterday's one-day get-together in Carton House.

"In fairness to team services, they had to turn that around quickly when that was the option I went for and then I had to work with the coaches in terms of the content of the rugby sessions.

"It has knock-on effects for everybody. It's a case of just getting on with it. Some guys will go off and play (Pro12) matches, some will do strength and conditioning work and then come in that bit fresher on Sunday night. Then we're into it."

Ireland have come out of this whole fiasco with considerable credit and are adopting a progressive approach to a difficult situation, which could well work out in their favour.

Italy will be tough, but also an ideal opportunity to build up impetus before the game with France, when Ireland will return to Paris with renewed energy and sense of moral righteousness.

Four games back-to-back and a six-day turnaround is not ideal, but Kidney's World Cup reference yesterday was relevant, as Ireland blasted their way through a difficult pool on successive weekends in the autumn.

Bottom line, for all the angst, Ireland's Six Nations prospects look a lot rosier than they did this time last week.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph