Kidney retains Heaslip as Ireland captain
This was always going to be a tricky one for Declan Kidney and the Irish management ticket. In the combined absence of Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best last November, a new leadership group, headed by Jamie Heaslip and featuring Jonny Sexton, Donnacha Ryan and others, assumed responsibility.
The infectious enthusiasm which we were informed of on an almost daily basis – one player recently described it as the most enjoyable month of his rugby career – manifested itself in that 46-24 win over Argentina.
The dilemma was to what extent Kidney and co would dip into that new zeitgeist come the Six Nations, and either way it would have to upset the more established or more recent leadership dynamic within the squad. In the event, despite the return of the man who had led Ireland for a decade, Heaslip’s leadership, and that of his lieutenants, has been endorsed.
In all of this we don’t know the inner dynamics of the squad. Kidney would assuredly have consulted his fellow coaches as well. It is a brave call in many ways, for the safer option would probably have been to re-instate O’Driscoll, but ultimately it’s one that will be judged, as ever, primarily on results. If Ireland have a good Six Nations, this decision will be vindicated. If not, then it will be probably another stick with which to beat the coach’s head.
O’Driscoll will be 34 on Monday, but whatever about looking ahead to 2015 and having a longer-term captain in place, another factor has assuredly been O’Driscoll’s injury profile and lack of game time this season. He has started only one match (away to Edinburgh in the Pro 12) since October. A minor injury in training denied him a start against the Scarlets and after coming on he also suffered a slight ankle sprain.
There is even the outside chance that he will play for the Wolfhounds against the Saxons in Galway next Friday, but presuming he is picked from the start and comes through unscathed for Leinster away to Exeter tomorrow, it shouldn’t come to that.
O’Driscoll was, by all accounts, very upset by the decision. Captaining Ireland has come to almost define him.
O’Driscoll’s status as Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player brooks no argument and no player in the history of the game has captained a side in Test rugby more than the great one.
In all, O’Driscoll has led Ireland on 83 occasions, as well as captaining the Lions once. Never say never but, sadly, it would appear that the 60-0 defeat to New Zealand in Hamilton last June may well now be the last time he has led his country.
He captained Ireland for the first time when winning his 31st cap against Australia in November 2002 and took over as skipper of the squad for the 2004 Six Nations after the retirement of Keith Wood, since when he has captained Ireland every time he has played.