Kidney can't get enough of these Tests

 

The Ireland coach is excited about taking on the world’s best team on their own patch, writes JOHN O'SULLIVAN

DECLAN KIDNEY cuts a relaxed figure as he attends to the housekeeping minutiae for Ireland’s touring party to New Zealand; those in, others out, a couple of additions and the ongoing tribulations of London-based Paul O’Connell’s knee ligament issue.

He’ll confirm tomorrow whether the Munster and Lions captain will travel.

Ireland negotiated a tricky fixture against the Barbarians on Tuesday without further injuries, a problem that had hung like a pall over the preparations for a three-Test tussle with the world champions.

There were aspects of Ireland’s performance at Kingsholm with which he was satisfied, other areas that were less edifying to the eye.

The relevance of the Barbarians game is reflected in the statistic that 12 of the Irish starting team will go to the Southern Hemisphere but in real terms only Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony are likely to start against the All Blacks on Saturday week, injuries notwithstanding.

The general consensus is Ireland endured a disappointing Six Nations Championship and now must embrace the toughest examination possible as they seek to restore their playing equilibrium. As he has displayed throughout his coaching career, Kidney doesn’t pander to the perception of others so it’s not a surprise he finds the task ahead energising.

He explained: “Yeah. It’s brilliant. It’s like bungee jumping. It’s the best place to go. It’ll be 12 years before any goes again.

“For some of us it will be the only time we tour New Zealand in our careers. Imagine going through your career without doing that. Simon is the youngest at 21. If he is still there at 33 he’ll be doing well. Gee, not to go down there would like having a hole in your CV.”

It’s a first series for the All Blacks under their new coach, Steve Hansen, and there isn’t a soul in New Zealand who doesn’t expect a 3-0 series triumph.

Kidney smiles: “We can’t do anything about how they see us. We know it will be way different to when we were down there last September . Then we were the second favourite team after we beat Australia.”

He points out that Ireland’s status then won’t be applicable this time. “It’ll be daunting. You look at the England tours there over the last couple of years; everything will be inspected. We will be the news item. The New Zealand rugby brand is very strong and big business.

“It’s great to be going. It will ask a lot of questions of us and if you people want to nit pick . . . it’ll show us exactly where we are. If you look at the squad we’d have about 11 or 12 changes since the World Cup. Some of that will be selection, some of it enforced due to injuries.

“We knew when we won the Grand Slam four years ago that we had to change; of the side that played against Wales , two thirds have changed. Those guys are building up a lot of experience in terms of closing out games.

There has definitely been hurt along the way there: “It has been extremely disappointing at times. I have put sides together before and I know what it takes to put them together. This is the best type of tour to go on to find out exactly where you are.”

When asked whether he felt under pressure, regarding flak that has been directed his way, Kidney shakes his head. “Have I? No, it is just disappointing in terms of results. We judge ourselves by ourselves.

“That’s what we have always had to do. When we were winning stuff, we didn’t think we were God’s gift to anyone. We have lost a few matches so we know that the margins between winning and losing are so small that you don’t get carried away.

“ going belly up and going in the wrong direction; absolutely not. It’s the little things. If you look at the turnovers on Tuesday night, it’s an unforgiving climate; it’s getting them to understand that.

“You heard Ronan talk about it, the difference between Test matches and provincial rugby. Emotionally, there would be similarities at provincial level but the technical and tactical stuff at Test level; the jump is huge.”

He also noted the emphasis will be different when Ireland face the All Blacks in terms of the pressure points of the game, highlighting the fact that in the Northern Hemisphere, the set-piece was a focal point for teams while down south, it is the breakdown.

He maintains the three-Test series will help Ireland to develop in a manner that will ultimately make them more competitive in trying to win fixtures of this ilk.

“We have three matches against New Zealand and I was doing a bit of a count between this tour and the next World Cup, as things stand, there are only six matches against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“You need to be playing those teams. In the provincial land if you said you only play six Heineken Cup matches in three years you’d be worried where your rugby would go. We will look to play these guys as often as possible.

“So when you say is it daunting? Pity we’re not playing them four times.”

The next month promises to be interesting.

Ireland squad: Kidney names extra players as cover

IRELAND COACH Declan Kidney yesterday filled three of the four vacancies on the Ireland squad for the three-Test tour to New Zealand and also made the addition of two further players in 27-year-old Connacht prop Ronan Loughney and his provincial team-mate Mike McCarthy to the travelling party, writes John O’Sullivan.

Ulster flanker Chris Henry and Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson both started Tuesday night’s 29-28 defeat to the Barbarians at Kingsholm – Loughney came on as a replacement – and showed no adverse effects after recent injury problems. They were examined by the Irish medical team after the game and approved for inclusion.

Ulster scrumhalf Paul Marshall will replace the unfortunate Isaac Boss (quad strain).

A decision on whether Paul O’Connell is fit to travel will be made tomorrow. He is in London receiving physiotherapy for a knee ligament problem.

The Ireland squad travel to New Zealand this morning and will arrive tomorrow evening. O’Connell, should he be deemed fit, will travel on his own.

Kidney explained his decision to enlarge the travelling party.

“The extra players are cover. If you talk about props, there would be a small doubt about Mike Ross and you don’t want to wake up the morning of a Test match with three fit props; any illness or injury then and you’re going to be short (of adequate cover).

“So, Ronan (Loughney), as you saw last night, plays both sides and in Mike’s (McCarthy) case, there are three fit secondrows. There might still be a doubt about Paul (O’Connell). So, we have three hookers, so we’re alright there; five backrows, so we’re okay there, and three scrumhalves, so we do the best we can.

“There are tour agreements but the union understood the need for the extra players. So, 30 will travel and Paul (O’Connell) then will travel too.” McCarthy will fly from Dubai and link up with the rest of the squad in New Zealand.

IRELAND SQUAD

Forwards (17) – Rory Best (Ulster),

Seán Cronin (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster)*, Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Ronan Loughney (Connacht)*, Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Seán O’Brien (Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Mike Sherry (Munster)*, Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Brett Wilkinson (Connacht)*.

Backs (13) – Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster)*, Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster)*.

* Denotes uncapped player