If change occurs, all is not lost for Ireland


But it would be better if Declan Kidney could emulate Wales and do so while still winning, writes LIAM TOLAND

I’VE ALWAYS been intrigued by the nomination of Man of the Match. The recipient should be the player who has the most positive influence over the fixture. In most cases the award is a lazy one where the kicker or the try-scorer tends to get the award.

Paul O’Connell has been at his peerless best until injury but didn’t win a man of the match. How Ireland could have done with him in London. The role of a tighthead prop is to prop and if anything, London proved our tightheads should receive far more awards.

In a week of introspection many theories abound for Ireland’s misfortunes in Twickenham. Graham Rowntree, for one, understands the value of the scrum as a catalyst when stating in the post-match press conference, ‘We’ve been born again as a new team under Stuart’. Born again is one thing but the English have done so while winning.

Meantime Ireland, with not quite the same grounds for rebuilding, have not. If change occurs, however, all is not lost.

I’ve suggested a PhD would be worthwhile in examining the rebirth of Harlequins and England over such a short time. Why does it appear to take so long for Irish rugby to react to the shifts in rugby patterns?

The laws do force a rethink of tactics on a continual basis in other teams. The clear difference between Declan Kidney and the teams above him, represented by Warren Gatland and Stuart Lancaster, is the depths they dig to both tactically and in team selection to keep the ship going rapidly forward.

Kidney must want this and the IRFU must back this process. If not, then what?

It is, of course, a little rich for the bandwagons to demean players and coaches who try their best but stumble as it is unwise to be too sure of one’s own rugby knowledge. Or as Gandhi said, “It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err”.

Kidney has unfortunately erred while his scrum weakened and now faces a monumental triple challenge in New Zealand. Not because the scrum has struggled but because some of his warriors are no longer up to it and the culture he has created (tactics, defence and bench) is slow moving while other rugby nations are flying/experimenting.

The scrum can be fixed; many nations have been there before us, as have our provinces. I’m convinced had Mike Ross stayed injury-free (and with O’Connell onboard) the first five scrums would have been torture but it would have evened out. As there are no mythical tighthead props out there the real worry is the lag time in producing new tightheads could be years (IRFU suits?).

Conscious of the axiom “Don’t talk about the bulls until you’re in the bull ring” I had two magnificent experiences last weekend where on Friday night I found myself “rolling on” for Mick Galwey at the Stoop after 22 minutes in the England v Ireland Legends game.

The wing forwards, Kieran Dawson and David Corkery, were far too talented for me to break into, politics once again at play! So into the frontrow I went and found ample support through Shane Byrne (just back from a 1,110 mile cycle for Sports Relief) and Gary Halpin, the man who scored that famous try against the All Blacks in RWC 1995. I had more than enough power behind me with Malcolm O’Kelly in the engine room.

It didn’t take too long for me to enter my first scrum where Jason Leonard arrived into view. In an international career that began with him being the youngest prop to play for England (1988), he became the first, and so far only, Englishman to play in 100 tests. He finished his playing career with 114 caps and went on three Lions tours .

It was humbling to lock horns with him in the Stoop.

Leonard had major neck surgery on a prolapsed disc in the middle of his career, as did I in 1998, when I had surgery on my prolapsed disc at C5/C6 and I can only imagine the millimetres that saved him and me and allowed me to experience an amazing journey in rugby last Friday night.

It didn’t stop there as afterwards the old school camaraderie kicked in with a buffet dinner and porter.

Martin Corry and Byrne, who straddled both eras, spoke about the value of team ethics and team spirit and the unbelievable good fortune we all had to be still playing when others suffered lesser fates.

Corry, in explaining his motivation for togging out in front of 6,000, didn’t have to refer to Stuart Mangan, whose name adorns the annual trophy up for grabs, nor the IPF, the RPA Benevolent Fund and the IRFU Charitable Trust, as only a few short weeks ago Alex Bennett, a team-mate of Corry’s in the previous two Legends games, fractured his C3 vertebrae in his upper spine playing a club match for Lymm RFC.

Bennett and his family have received immediate support from rugby to aid them through the unspeakable recovery process.

Former SCT Blackrock School backrower David Hackett working in “the City” received a late call up through big Bob Casey. A little nervous, he togged out with Galwey on his left and O’Kelly on his right, a total of 133 international caps between them (Galway 41, O’Kelly 92 and Hackett 0). Understandably Hackett felt a little humbled and was far too slow taking the field when our manager Len Dineen motioned him on.

Coincidentally, Seán Cronin had the same amount of pitch time as Hackett. I enquired from him afterwards how he found it; he replied “the pace was very fast”. What must it have been like the following day in Twickenham? He was so delighted that I must suggest to the organisers there may be more Hacketts out there willing, for charity, to tog out with the Legends.

I leave you with my favourite Gandhi-ism: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes”.

I hope Kidney has the ambition and the freedom to make those mistakes for the betterment of Irish rugby and accept that those new players he trusts will make mistakes and that we the public will forgive him, all the more if, like Wales and England, you do so while winning!

PS. The many scrums I partook in last Friday were, to my disgust, uncontested; we still lost!