Defeat in Rome surely signalled the end of the Kidney era

Rebuilt Ireland squad could do with new ideas and new energy


That dastardly 2013 Six Nations just won't go away. Even in the fall-out from what was an Irish horror show, yesterday’s various missives contained only more bad news, with an ever-worsening casualty list and Brian O’Driscoll’s citing hitting Leinster especially, while confirmation of Ireland’s lowest ebb since the Six Nations started came with their lowest world ranking (ninth) of all time. Ye Gods, can it get any worse?

Well, yes, possibly. It’s unlikely the IRFU powerbrokers have a succession plan in place. Ideally they would have wanted the current coaching ticket to remain in situ en bloc until the next World Cup, but that clearly cannot happen now.

For all the cursed ill-luck which has been heaped upon Ireland, last Saturday in Rome felt like the end of an era and a rebuilt squad could do with new ideas and new energy. This has been a bad tournament for virtually all of the coaching ticket, the one exception being Anthony Foley, given he was only co-opted from Munster and Ireland conceded only five tries, eclipsed only by Wales, who didn’t leak another try after O’Driscoll’s 45th minute effort in the opening game.

Following on from the decision to haul Paddy Wallace off a Portuguese beach for the third Test last summer, to retaining Jamie Heaslip as captain and his choices at outhalf have conspired to give Declan Kidney’s growing list of critics ample ammunition. The cruellest blow was losing their most important player, Jonny Sexton, half an hour into the second game, but despite an uplifting autumn, ultimately Kidney has presided over four wins in Ireland’s last 16 Tests.

Under pressure
But Gert Smal, Greg Feek, Mark Tainton and even the popular Les Kiss have also been tarred by this campaign. The lineouts were an Achilles heel, the scrum was under pressure, the breakdown work was patchy and the kicking game was profligate.

But which of the realistic candidates to succeed Ireland’s most decorated head coach would necessarily be better or take the team forward? Joe Schmidt, as someone who has worked within the system and is highly regarded by the Leinster players, is the obvious choice, but would he be of a mind to take it?

Despite these straitened times, the IRFU might need to break the bank for someone like Jake White, who has worked wonders with the Brumbies, or Ewan McKenzie, who has stated a desire to leave the Reds at the end of the Super 15.

Admittedly, with expectations now reduced it mightn’t be the worst time to become head coach, but in terms of a World Cup cycle Ireland are lagging behind Wales and England, and even Italy have progressed.

Slightly ominous
And aside from an era ending, another slightly ominous point which Irish rugby has to swallow is the size differential. Ireland were at their best when freshest but dipping ever deeper into shallow resources, ala Twickenham last year, the World Cup in New Zealand, the third Test in New Zealand and now this year’s Six Nations, Ireland have finished campaigns badly. Mirroring this has been the inability to see out 80 minutes.

Tommy Bowe has been one of the least heralded but most damaging absentees, for he had the physicality to be used off his wing and get Ireland over the gain line. Admittedly Rob Kearney is no midget either and Ireland have always been punching above their weight. Nevertheless, not just against Wales especially, and England or France, but even against Scotland and Italy this season, the Irish backline has begun to look like the seven dwarfs.

Home advantage
In rediscovering their mojo for the England showdown, Wales proved themselves deserving winners. True, they had home advantage when hosting their rivals in the shoot-out, but they had played themselves into contention by winning three away games on the bounce. They also scored the tournament’s most tries, (albeit a relatively paltry nine), and had comfortably the best points difference. And they backed up a win at Twickenham last season and a Grand Slam to retain the title – an historically difficult thing to achieve.

Wales drew succour from their second-half fightback against Ireland and perhaps fortunately met France at their most conservative ebb on a Stade de France mudbath. In retrospect, Dan Biggar’s sumptuous chip and George North’s equally dexterous finish for that game’s only try can be viewed as the turning point of an unmemorable championship.

Once again, save for Wales’ second-half display against England, the Six Nations didn’t provide an especially thrilling brand of rugby. Fastidious referees such as Wayne Barnes and Romain Poite don’t help. Nor do poor pitches; neither Stade de France or the Aviva are up to Test rugby standards on wet days. After the false dawn of the opening weekend, with 16 tries, there were only another 21 in the next 12 games and the overall tally of 534 points is the lowest since the Six Nations started. Especially from an Irish standpoint, good riddance to all that then.

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