'Isn't it a brilliant sporting moment?'
“In your fantasy dreams, you hope for seven tries against Argentina,” said Declan Kidney, summing up both his sense of satisfaction and the utopian thoughts in a coach’s mind. For the Corkman, though, the Christmas holiday post Argentina will be more enjoyable than the summer break in the wake of New Zealand pummelling.
But as Jamie Heaslip pointedly said during the week when he said the players don’t have days off on Wednesdays but have “down days”, you may assume Kidney holds a similar view.
“We’ll assemble again at Christmas. I’ll fight, no I won’t fight, but I’ll try and get whatever time we can together. It’s a new squad,” said the Irish coach.
“When you’re in school, you’re used to having different squads all the time, year on year, but to have so many . . . Like, somebody just counted out that of the 32 we had in training this week, we had 17 new guys compared to the World Cup. That’s a monumental turnover. If you look the bench had three one-cappers.
“I think four of the pack together had 21 caps; two or three years ago if you had 21 caps you were a novice. Now all of a sudden there’s 21 caps between four of them. I think that’s why there’ll be a lot of talk about Craig [Gilroy] but I suppose wingers are a bit like goal scorers in soccer aren’t they? They get all the glory.”
Kidney could afford to treat his position as Irish coach with a lightness, although on that issue too he holds philosophical views. His job now is to, well, make the team stronger and splice information into young minds, make clear what it is he expects of them now that the second seed ranking is secure.
“It’s the work that goes on on the inside. It’s is hugely important,” he says. “It’s like that match in New Zealand. Our inexperience showed there too. We were 14-0 down after 10 minutes, and what we tried to do then was win the match. Sometimes against New Zealand getting to 14-3 at half-time isn’t a bad result. It’s only experience that teaches you that.”
But sport is not all tactics, drills and the play book. When Gilroy scored his try Kidney noticed something he may not have seen for some time. Players made their way far across the pitch to pat the winger on the head. Whether it was the relief of punching through the Argentine defence so early or the natural good feeling that accompanies a first cap scoring a try, the players’ reaction was marked.
“Isn’t it a brilliant sporting moment?” said the coach. “To score a try against them early on was brilliant but just to see their joy in it . . . That spontaneous reaction doesn’t always happen in sport. Then the coaches will come in and say you have 90 seconds to take a conversion.
“When we saw the tries and the jumping, the experienced fellas will say ‘get back to the halfway line. I’m not running another 30 yards and then 50 back’!
“You know I talked about it being infectious in the last couple of weeks, That’s what it’s like. I think it’s the first time I’ve picked a wannabe rapper [Simon Zebo].”
For now the team has settled into an optimistic vein. Heineken Cup, Christmas and the the new year will bring similar issues as Ireland prepare to face Wales away. You may not hear from Kidney for a few months but there is no holiday, or indeed down time.
“All the talk about Michael Bent three weeks ago, what you would not have known was that on the Thursday of camp week when we said he was in the squad, Mike Ross had walked off with a hamstring strain,” explains Kidney.
“Declan Fitzpatrick had gone back up with a bang to the head. Ronan Loughney, who we had invested in, was not getting pitch time. There was no other Irish prop. It was that thin. So that is where the work needs to be done. Not in public, it just needs to be managed properly.”