O'Driscoll losing the captaincy isn't the end of the world; we should trust Kidney's decision
From The Blindside:Declan Kidney has always had a great way of surprising people. Like everybody else, the news that Brian O’Driscoll was being stood down as Ireland captain for the Six Nations shocked me the first time I heard it. The idea that he wouldn’t have just captained another campaign, possibly his last one, just hadn’t occurred to me. I hadn’t given it even a minute’s thought. I just presumed he would stay on.
Yet the more I’ve thought about it over the weekend, the more I can see some of Declan’s way of thinking. It’s not as if there aren’t valid reasons behind his decision. Brian is coming off the back of another injury and he hasn’t played very much over the winter. Ireland did well against Argentina in November without him and showed that they can move into the future without needing him to come to their rescue at every turn.
When you reason it out, it’s not the end of the world.
I played with Brian for a long time and had him as captain for nearly half the games I played for Ireland. He’s a very proud guy and I have no doubt this will have hurt him. Personally, I would have liked to have seen him finish out his Ireland career the way he wanted. If anybody deserved to call his own way out, Brian did. But a coach has to to live or die by his decisions. Just because this one came as a shock doesn’t make it wrong.
Brian was captaincy material from the start. I was in Ireland squads with him from 1999 onwards and even from before he was given the role, there was a sense of standards about the way he did everything. It seems strange to even think it now, but it came as a surprise to some people when Eddie O’Sullivan made him captain for the first time in 2002. He was still only 23 at the time and there were fellas in the squad who were a lot more experienced and who had captained Ireland before.
But he took to it like a duck to water. I felt at the time that it was something he wanted, not just something he hoped to do at some stage down the road. He wanted to be Ireland captain, he was driven to have success. Eddie made him captain initially when Keith Wood was injured and then gave it to him full-time when Woody retired.
I thought it was a shrewd move by Eddie, giving him a taste of it so that he could take it on when the time came. I know Declan has said that this isn’t his motivation for making Jamie Heaslip captain now but you can see the similarities.
Nothing about being captain fazed Brian. He loved the responsibility, he was very natural with the media and he enjoyed the idea of it being on his shoulders to go out and set standards for everybody else. It’s his way to keep pushing and improving and to keep delivering performances. People talk a lot about captains setting example – well, that was the way Brian treated captaincy. Never stop trying to get better, never take a performance for granted.
I’ve seen captains over the years who lost confidence in their game when they became captain. Colin Charvis had a terrible time as Wales captain and got completely unfairly abused for his loss of form. That loss of form came from a loss of confidence because of the huge pressures involved.
You would never have known it to look at Brian O’Driscoll though. He has always had such belief in himself. Brian is a confident guy, not just because he’s so talented but because he knew what could happen when you put the work in. That belief radiated out from him as captain and players picked up on it. He always believed that there was a win on the cards, no matter if our backs were against the wall.
It wasn’t wishful thinking or hoping that things would come right. It was a confidence that came from his maturity and it was something that he tried to instil in other players.
That drive and desire to keep achieving and keep succeeding is at the heart of why he’s so disappointed at what’s happened here. I’ve seen enough of him in dressingrooms and in training camps to know what leading Ireland means to him.
It always stuck out for me how proud he was about playing and captaining his country. It was something he rammed home to anyone who was playing under him, to never forget that playing for Ireland is something you have to take so seriously.
So although I was surprised to hear the news, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Brian didn’t exactly welcome it.
Was it the right thing to do? We won’t know that for a while yet. The one thing you’d have to say for Declan is that he’s never been afraid of the big decision. Declan has always been liable to pull something out of the hat when people weren’t expecting it. The obvious example was when he put Tomás O’Leary and Denis Hurley into the Munster team for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Gloucester in 2008.
That came out of nowhere as far as most people were concerned because Peter Stringer and Shaun Payne were seen as key parts of that Munster team.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by this. Declan does think outside the box a bit, he does try to occasionally do something different that might inspire people. He knows that it’s never good for a team to get stuck in a rut. If he can change the direction of a team, if he can change the morale of a team, he will go for it.
Maybe he saw the dynamic of the team as something that needed altering slightly and so he took a bold decision.
That’s all this is, a bold decision. It’s not earth-shattering, it’s not even really that big a deal unless you’re Brian himself. I don’t see it having an adverse effect on the team’s performance and it surely won’t mean that Brian will bring any less to the team.
That’s why I was flabbergasted by the some of the criticism Declan got last week. It went over and above the normal level I thought. And, to be honest about it, it felt like people divided up along provincial lines. I thought we were past that at this stage.
I heard people question Declan’s loyalty, which is crazy. I heard it said that this was an insult aimed at Brian, which is crazier again.
Every coach has his faults and I had lots of rows with Declan but the one thing I would never have said about him was that he’d do anything for a reason other than the good of the team. I don’t see how anybody who has played for him or been around him or even just watched him from the outside could think that.
The plain truth is that this team was in big trouble before the Argentina game. They won that day and they looked very good doing so but one result doesn’t change everything. Declan has obviously decided that the dynamics of the squad need shaking up. Ireland can’t rely on the Brian O’Driscolls, Paul O’Connells and Ronan O’Garas forever. Declan might well have looked at how the Munster thing went on a bit too long relying on too many of the same lads and figured he didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
Whatever the reason, he has decided that this is the time to change it up. He might be right and he might be wrong. But you can’t hold trying something new against him.
That’s why I thought some of what was said about him last week was out of order. I’d have hated to have seen what would have been said if he’d chosen somebody who wasn’t a Leinster player to pass the captaincy on to. This might come across as a Munster player defending his old boss but I don’t want it to sound like that. We should be above that sort of thing.
I think it’s a shame that Brian O’Driscoll won’t be captain. If it was up to me, I would have left things as they were. But making big, brave decisions is what has got Declan Kidney to where he is.
Maybe we should trust a bit more that he knows what he’s doing.