Ulster star Trimble rewarded with recall
Declan Kidney yesterday showed his skills as a tactician, diplomat, motivator and keeper of secrets.
Those are exactly the qualities that the team he selected for Saturday’s opening match in Ireland’s defence of the Six Nations title against Italy at Croke Park will need if they are to successfully retain their crown.
Ulster wing Andrew Trimble was the beneficiary of the Irish coach’s tactical nous, while Paddy Wallace also was buoyed up by Kidney’s know-how in that respect.
Trimble makes the starting line-up after impressive Magners League and Heineken Cup campaigns with Ulster.
And both will have taken encouragement from the words of the motivational guru who has diplomacy to match.
Meanwhile Kidney’s ability to keep a secret threw the assembled pundits a body swerve. No-one had known that Jonny Sexton was suffering from a dead leg and would not play.
Wallace is on the bench and now that the secret of Sexton’s
injury is out, Kidney’s surprising decision to play the Ulsterman at stand-off for Ireland A against England Saxons at Bath last weekend makes sense.
Giving him a run at fly-half at The Rec meant inclusion as O’Gara’s understudy in the event of Sexton failing to recover.
Kidney explained: “He pulled up yesterday in training. He has been carrying a bit of a dead leg for the past number of weeks.
“We sent him for a scan yesterday afternoon and when we got the results he wouldn’t have been available for selection.”
Asked whether a fit Sexton would have been included ahead of O’Gara, Kidney smiled before giving his questioner a body swerve by replying: “I think I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that you don’t make decisions before having to do so.”
His diplomacy shone through again when asked about his selections at 11, 12 and 13, those places having gone to Trimble, Gordon D’Arcy and captain Brian O’Driscoll.
While the latter was a certainty, neither of the other two was.
“I’m not going to talk one player up and talk another player down,” Kidney said, stressing that it is never easy having to leave anyone out, particularly when they have been playing well.
“Sometimes you feel it would be easier if you just had 15 to choose from, but when you have real competition for places — like we do in certain positions, like 12 — there’s always going to be somebody who’s disappointed.”
Lauding Trimble for his return to form following injury and explaining his decision to include the Ulsterman, the coach said: “I think it’s well enough documented that he had been carrying a knock over the course of a year.
“In fairness to Ulster we didn’t bring him on any tour (last summer).
“He had a procedure done on his knee and he has come back and played really well.”
Pointing out that Trimble had shown ability and versatility in a number of positions — “one of them left wing” — Kidney said that was a technical position, adding: “I think he fits the bill for us there.”
Wallace, too, was applauded as a player who had made a very
good case for inclusion at inside centre and acknowledged for his versatility.
Up front the only questions to be answered were those regarding the fitness of blindside Stephen Ferris and Kidney’s choice of loose head where Ulster’s Tom Court was in contention.
Ferris has not recovered from the bone bruising he suffered in Ulster’s Heineken Cup victory over Bath, which means a debut for 25-year-old Leinster star Kevin McLaughlin.
The loose head vote has gone the way of another Leinster player, Cian Healy, which means the unlucky Court having to make do with a seat on the bench.
On the plus side, Court — who can play at one or three — has held off the challenge of vastly experienced Munster player Marcus Horan.
With Rory Best providing the back-up to hooker, Jerry Flannery, who has missed most of the season through injury, that is a situation which could create difficulties.
Best’s on-field time consists of 55 minutes of an All-Ireland League Division Three outing in Banbridge colours, followed by a first-half appearance for Ireland A last weekend.
That’s hardly ideal preparation to face opponents as hard as the Italian front five.