Momentum puts a smile on Irish faces as a new team grows
A full hour had passed at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday before the first Mexican Wave was followed by the day’s first rendition of The Fields. Perhaps nothing demonstrates how enthralled the crowd had been by Ireland’s potency; a fair achievement for a 2pm kick-off. “Smiling” rugby had sent all but the most begrudging away with a smile.
For once, Ireland have not finished a campaign on a bum note. For sure, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that, and after a year punctuated by missed opportunities and just two wins in the preceding nine games (at home to Scotland and Italy) Declan Kidney was under considerable pressure from an increasingly impatient media and public alike.
Like all coaches, he deals in a results business, and a strong Six Nations campaign would be no harm. The IRFU hierarchy appear to be taking quite a sanguine, wait-and-see approach to all the speculation about Kidney’s future, but in those circumstances they might well be then of a mind to offer him, Les Kiss and Gert Smal an extension until 2015. Supplemented by Greg Feek (whose work with Leinster and Ireland contributed to five of Saturday’s six frontrowers coming from the province) and Anthony Foley, the thrilling seven-try rout reminded us what a strong coaching ticket this is.
If history has taught us one thing, it is that Declan Kidney knows how to build teams. He’s done it consistently throughout his coaching career with schools, under-age and club sides, as well as Ireland A and Munster. Last Saturday, there was thrilling evidence of a new Irish team coming to fruition.
It hasn’t been without pain, and heaps of credit must go to the new officer corps, Jamie Heaslip, Jonny Sexton, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy, Donnacha Ryan et al. Despite the disappointment of the South African defeat, they backed up their vows to atone for the horrors of Hamilton when the squad first came into camp on Monday, October 29th.
Fearless young players
An infusion of fearless young players rowed in behind them, and it would also have required egos being parked by some of the senior players on the bench.
Hence the willingness, according to one insider, to practice much of the slickly-executed moves of last Saturday almost to the point of boredom.
Lest we forget, Rob Kearney joined Seán O’Brien on the sidelines the day before the November squad was announced, Brian O’Driscoll, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris (six days before the South African game) and Paul O’Connell (three days beforehand) all followed suit.
No wonder Smal said the fortnight before that encounter with the Springboks was the most disrupted he’d known in his four years with Ireland.
But no wonder the lineout worked more efficiently against Argentina under the World Cup-winning forwards coach. Converting Simon Zebo to fullback, promoting Craig Gilroy and Iain Henderson from the Ulster bench, fast-tracking Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent, the backrow combination and persisting with the Conor Murray-Sexton axis, were all vindicated.