Golden regeneration could help kickstart revival
Hence, in contrast to the World Cup which ended with that quarter-final defeat to the Welsh, the scrum-induced collapse in Twickenham when heads dropped, or the Hamilton thrashing when Ireland panicked a week after rattling the All Blacks’ cage, this time the Ireland squad re-assembled with positive vibes from their last stint together.
Co-opting Anthony Foley on to the coaching ticket to oversee the defence, thereby freeing up Les Kiss to focus solely on attack rather than doubling up as he did last season, clearly worked in the autumn, when Gert Smal also resumed his duties. To that mix has now been added the esteemed sports psychologist Enda McNulty.
His work has long been hailed by the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, who might have needed a one-on-one with him in the light of recent events. O’Driscoll might even deduce that those media days weren’t such a high price to pay after all! And you still wouldn’t rule him out of captaining the Lions.
Effectively removing the captaincy from Ireland’s greatest ever player and captain polarised opinion, and didn’t sit right; not least with fellow members of Leinster’s old guard who were not fans of Kidney from his season there in 2004-05. Reggie Corrigan described it as “disgusting” and Shane Horgan as “baffling”.
Apparently, O’Driscoll wasn’t too enamoured with it either, and one ventures it sits uncomfortably with at least some of the squad.
Yet, it had been put up to the officer corps to assume more of the leadership this season, all the more so when O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best were in turn ruled out last November. Not only did Heaslip coolly assume the captaincy, but Ryan, Sexton and co became lieutenants, and to retain such positive energy in the midst of so much negativity swirling around them made the restorative end to November all the better.
With the infectious enthusiasm of the ultra-positive Heaslip as captain, and McNulty in the background, the squad oughtn’t to be carrying too many negative vibes into their opener, and the captaincy bolter apart, the energised training of November has reputedly been reprised.
And yet caveats remain, not least the importance of the opener in Cardiff and the degree to which Wales have had the Indian sign over Ireland in the last three meetings (not to mention France for a good deal longer).
Sure Wales have had seven successive defeats, are seriously de-powered in the engine room of the pack and are temporarily without Warren Gatland.
But they have won the last three meetings, they are at home, you know they’ll become infused with self-belief once they pull on those red jerseys and, as Kidney suspects, one ventures Gatland’s influence won’t be entirely discarded.