A case for Kidney must be made

25/02/2013

Manus Lappin writes: I’m sure the headline has grabbed your attention, most likely in fury, but contrary to popular belief, I am of the firm belief that Declan Kidney must remain as Irish coach.

In the light of the last two defeats at the hands of England and Scotland, I’m as angry and disappointed as the next man, woman and child, but I can also see that if we are playing a blame game, the players must shoulder the lions share of responsibility for dismal performances.

Against Scotland we absolutely dominated possession and territory therefore simply put, the gameplan worked. The coach is not responsible for scoring trys, rather he is responsible for developing a plan which, among other things, is designed to maximise the teams scoring opportunities. We had ample scoring opportunities against Scotland, the players butchered them. The fact that we dominated so convincingly also shows that the gameplan is not beyond our players abilities, so the balance is correct in terms of what you are asking the players to do, and their ability to do it. The gameplan was right.

Kidney is also responsible for picking the team and much has been made of entering the Scotland game with a flyhalf who has yet to find his kicking form. The fact is, we don’t have a replica Jonny Sexton bubble-wrapped in Lansdowne Road, so Kidney’s alternatives to Jackson were, go with O’Gara who has been miles off form, or opt for Ian Madigan who is not first choice for his province and therefore lacks the required big game experience. The correct choice was taken and Kidney selected Jackson, fully aware of his kicking stats, it was a calculated risk and totally unavoidable.

The only other contentious call was starting Court before of Kilcoyne. Ahead of the game there was little between the two props and both would have suffered in the early scrums considering Sean O’Brien spent more time looking around him rather than shoving from the flank.

If the gameplan was right and the selection correct how did we lose the game?

Where we came unstuck was in the poor execution of rudimentary rugby skills, shocking discipline and really poor decision making at critical times. Add to that, a malfunctioning lineout, and it becomes increasingly difficult to execute a gameplan based on securing your own set piece whilst limiting the oppositions scoring opportunities. That is not a failing of the coach but a collective failure by the players.

Jackson has also come in for some criticism due to his place kicking. The up side is, place kicking is the easiest part of a flyhalf’s game to fix. It just needs serious practice and good instruction and in Mark Tainton Ireland have one of the best kicking coaches in the business.

What’s much more difficult to develop is the 10’s ability to read the game, distribute fast accurate ball under pressure, compute, evaluate and make the right decisions in real-time. Jackson excelled in these areas, also putting in good tackles and making his own breaks. A few missed kicks is an easy problem to solve, if he had made bad decisions and misread the game, then I would be singing an altogether different song. The combination of Jackson and Marshall worked, both players know each other well and it showed. Marshall for me was the standout Irish player, he was allowed to play thanks to the accuracy of Jackson at 10.

Therefore with one eye on the RWC, it makes no sense to bring in a new head coach, the deadline for that was the end of last season. 2 years in a province is a proverbial lifetime, but in test rugby it really only represents around 10 meaningful games, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. To my mind the only possible successor at this late juncture would be Mike Ruddock, the welsh grand slam winner along with Allen Clarke are the only men who know the next generation of Irish players well enough to bring them through in time for the RWC. My guess is, Ruddock would not touch the gig with a bargepole, he’s been there, done it and is enjoying his life developing players at club and U20 level. Who could blame him.

It remains to be seen how this one will pan out. Will the union buckle under huge public pressure or will they stand by their convictions. History has shown us, the IRFU tend to plot a course and head in that direction no matter what may be. Kidney’s contract is up at the end of the current season. Will he even re-apply or will he say enough it enough? I would not be surprised if the latter was true.

 

Bookmark and Share