Declan Kidney to know his fate in next three weeks
Irish head coach to meet National Team Review Group on Wednesday
Brian O’Driscoll in the sin bin on Saturday.
The future of Irish head coach Declan Kidney and the rest of the Irish coaching staff should be resolved in the next three weeks, and in all likelihood a new head coach will be in place for the two-match tour to the Americas in June.
Kidney will meet with the IRFU’s National Team Review Group (NTRG) on Wednesday and although the coaches are under contract up to and including the summer tour, decisions regarding their future will be made before then. If the IRFU are not of a mind to offer Kidney and the rest of the coaching ticket new contracts beyond the summer tour, and all the signs are they won’t be, there would be little merit in having them taking a squad to the Americas; but rather make that the launch pad of a new regime.
The estimated timeframe to reach such a decision is no more than three weeks. It has been a remarkably trying Six Nations for Ireland, with the absence of a dozen injured Test players compounded by the loss of three more in the first half at the Stadio Olimpico; all of them backs.
The NTRG, which comprises the Union’s honorary treasurer Tom Grace, Pat Whelan, Martin O’Sullivan, CEO Philip Browne and Director of Rugby Eddie Wigglesworth, will have sympathy for Kidney’s cruel ill-luck this season.
As an aside the casualty toll has left the provinces, and especially Leinster, shredded. Kidney and his coaches have also built up a degree of corporate knowledge about a much-changed squad which perhaps ought not be entirely jettisoned.
Rewind six weeks and Ireland led Wales by 30-3 five minutes into the second half, as the Welsh were sliding to an eighth defeat in a row and Ireland were backing up their handsome win over Argentina. Four-and-a-half games later Wales were beating England by 30-3 to retain the championship while Ireland were losing to Italy for the first time to finish fifth.
It is a results’ business, and although the margin of France’s 23-16 win over Scotland meant Les Bleus still finished last, Italy’s historic 22-15 win on Saturday condemned Ireland to its worst championship performance since the Five Nations wooden spoon of 1998.
Spell the end
That is likely to spell the end for Kidney, even if the Union – faced by a range of problems unlike anything since the early days of the professional era – would also need to be convinced that a putative replacement would be a better option.
While Joe Schmidt would be the standout choice were he to be interested, promoting defence coach Les Kiss, with Anthony Foley at least part of the new structure, would also offer some continuity. Paddy Power make Kiss the 7 to /2 favourite, ahead of Schmidt on 9 to 2 along with his former Clermont sidekick Vern Cotter and Irish under-21 coach Mike Ruddock.
Kidney hinted that he would consider his own position after Saturday’s defeat although Ireland’s most decorated coach later struck a slightly more defiant note. Asked if it would be unfair to judge him solely on this Six Nations, he said: “I’m not going to try and influence you on that. I know what I can bring to it, I know what I brought to it over the years, I know that I’ve been in holes before like this and I know how to get out of them, but I think now is the time to sit back and reflect and let’s take a look at things.”
That this had been a hugely anti-climactic campaign would, he conceded, “probably be the understatement of a long, long time. Yea, absolutely, to have come so close in the matches then too. If we were being hammered out the gate, I’d say something, but to have gone so close,” he said in itemising three one-score defeats and a draw. “I’m a bit like a broken record there now, but in terms of the doom and gloom, and there’ll be a lot of that, in a strange way over the coming years we’ll benefit from what we’ve gone through here with the fellas coming through, and that’s what we must remember.
“You look at Wales. Rob (Howley) is a good guy but I think Wales were taking seven or eight on the chin when they had all their fellas out injured. All of a sudden they’ve got them back and because of the benefit they’ve got of playing through it when they had injuries they were going for a championship.”
Ah yes, injuries. Luke Fitzgerald (twisted left knee), Keith Earls (injured A/C joint), Ian Henderson’s (ligament damage to his foot) will be scanned and Luke Marshall suffered concussion for the second week running.
Brian O’Driscoll could yet be cited for a stamp on Simone Favore and while not on the scale of Zinedine Zidane’s final act, if it transpires that his career didn’t finish as he would have wished, unfortunately that is very often the case in international sport, even for the greats.