Kidney gives Murray his backing at nine

 

On the premise that some of those who underperformed in the first Test will now be more acquainted with the unremittingly rapid tempo when playing the All Blacks, Declan Kidney has limited changes to the Irish team beaten 42-10 in Auckland last Saturday for this Saturday's second Test in Christchurch.

The fit-again Mike Ross returns at tighthead for Declan Fitzpatrick, while Gordon D'Arcy renews his world record midfield partnership with Brian O'Driscoll, who in turn reverts to his more familiar outside entre role in the absence of Keith Earls. The only other changes see Andrew Trimble recalled, with Simon Zebo dropping to the bench, and Kevin McLaughlin is promoted at the expense of Peter O'Mahony.

Kidney has thus retained Dan Tuohy, a relatively subdued performer in the first Test, on the basis that he is a better player than he showed in Eden Park, Conor Murray (whose service certainly needs to sharpen up) and Fergus McFadden, who also had a difficult night defensively, and whose direct counterpart, Julian Savea, scored a hat-trick on his debut.

The wonder is that with an all-Leinster backrow and a 10-12-13 Leinster axis in midfield, Kidney didn't opt for the Leinster linkman at the hub of that Heineken Cup combination, namely Eoin Reddan. Instead, Kidney has persisted with Murray. Given Ireland's approach was to play almost everything through Jonathan Sexton, it's surprising that he wasn't outside Reddan, with whom he enjoys a familiar and intuitive partnership.

"I suppose, I wasn't looking at where they were from, what I was looking at was how guys are going," said Kidney. "I would be tempted to go with Redser all right. In fairness he's unlucky not to be going. We're giving Conor a backing . . . Redser's unlucky but it never has anything to do with where fellas are from. Sometimes you do get any combinations like that but Conor and Johnny have had a fair few games together under their belt too.

"He has a strong defensive game but Conor will learn. He is in his first year of Test rugby. To be doing what he's doing; he has 10 caps under his belt but it's still the first year of Test rugby and of Heineken Cup. There's been a hell of a lot of learning this year. He's done some good things, he's done some things that at other times you have to see where you're going to go with somebody, and yea, Redser is unlucky. I said that to him."

"Redser came in for 20 minutes the last day. He did a lot of things right, a few things where there was a bit of pressure on him too. There's a balance in everything. There's no point in me giving you one word for it other than saying yea, Conor is getting a bit of backing this week."

Kidney intimated that recalling Trimble had been partially a pre-laid plan. "We gave Simon (Zebo) a run in the Baa Baas match and last week's match, he did some good things and there are some things he has to work on. Andrew played the whole Six Nations for us and is probably one of the highest fellahs in terms of game time during the season so I didn't think it was prudent to play him in all four games so on the back of the Baa Baas match we gave Simon the first Test and now Andrew."

Given the scars of last week, it's surprising McFadden was the one retained, or failing that, that he isn't swapping wings.

"We could (switch), but left wing and right are two totally different positions," said Kidney, "so if you're exposed on the right you're definitely going to be exposed on the left."

McLaughlin's promotion to the starting line-up follows a tight call between himself and O'Mahony last week. "In the first match, it was a real toss-up between Kevin and Peter as to who played six. We gave Peter the first one, you think of where we are now. Kevin will give us real freshness into the team. That freshness is going to help us on Saturday night."

The coach gave the impression that for all the sniping and dismissiveness of much of the New Zealand media, the Irish camp have had such an intense focus on themselves that they are largely immune from the brickbats.

"We took a good look at things on Monday with the players and saw where we went wrong so the focus this week will be 99 per cent on ourselves, we need to get ourselves right and not be concentrating on the others. We know the turnovers, a few areas of the game like kick-offs, both for and against, we can improve in those two areas that will give us so much more ball, percentages of possession and territory if we can start improving them, it's a different game."

(v New Zealand, Christchurch, Saturday, 8.35am)

15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)

14 Fergus McFadden (Leinster)

13 Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt)

12 Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster)

11 Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

10 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

9 Conor Murray (Munster)

1 Cian Healy (Leinster)

2 Rory Best (Ulster)

3 Mike Ross (Leinster)

4 Dan Tuohy (Ulster) (Munster)

5 Donnacha Ryan (Munster)

6 Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster)

7 Sean O'Brien (Leinster)

8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster) or Ronan Loughney (Connacht), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Simon Zebo (Ulster).