Sunday, 24 February 2013
A Time For Change?
There are many uncertain results from Sunday's 12-8 loss to Scotland during which Ireland enjoyed (A poor choice of words maybe) 71% of possession and 77% of territory.
They might include a sizable reduction in the Irish Lions Summer touring party, a fall in the expected revenue made in Edinburgh pubs from Irish punters post match and the notion of a wooden spoon may have entered Irelands players minds for the first time in over a decade. On the other hand two certainties have emerged Declan Kidney's contract will not be renewed by the IRFU when this championship ends and Ireland will not be the winners of this years 6 nations. The former certainty Kidney's future as coach may not be a certainty in the truest sense of the word however as truism's go it must be quite close now.
The Corkman's role has been under scrutiny since last years championship in some quarters due to an uninspiring win ratio which bares no resemblance to the Irish provinces performances in both the Rabodirect and Heineken Cup competitions in recent seasons. That's not to say the players haven't a share of the blame to accept. Today knock-on's, failures at the lineout, poor penalty kicking and a wobbly scrum all combined to cause a loss which should never have happened. Ultimately though in my opinion the failure to plan for placed goal kicking is what caused the defeat and where the coach is most culpable today. With almost 60% of this season's tournament points to date coming from the boot failing to ensure his chosen fly half was on place kicking duty for his club last week in a league game with Zebre combined with the lack of an alternative kicker in the starting fifteen or outside of the replacement fly half meant those points were not ones Ireland or hapless captain Jamie Heaslip could rely on. Paddy Jackson ball in hand actually contributed handsomely to an Irish performance which had more line breaks than in either of the preceding fixtures however stepping up to the kicking tee he looked shaky as he has done recently when put in that position by Ulster. Arming Jackson with a backup kicker like outside back Fergus McFadden may have freed the young Ulsterman from the notion that the winning and losing of the game rested on his shoulders earlier. Even preparing novice kickers like Conor Murray or Rob Kearney for the eventuality that they should take over kicking duties would have been preferable to the events of today. Of course that may have been the case. The hesitancy around kicking for goal in the first half particularly makes me think it wasn't. While kicking points isn't quite everything in rugby, it has added significance in six nations rugby and ultimately scoring those three pointers often creates the gaps in teams struggling to keep up on the scoreboard leading to tries in the second half of games.
Almost every team reaches a point where a new influence is required. The coach to his credit by bravely changing the captain and coaching staff as well as adding a sports psychologist to the staff has tried to keep things fresh in camp. By introducing new players he has also ensured that the team has begun a transition which I believe will ultimately serve them well. Unfortunately results haven't followed quickly enough and change will now be necessary. There should be no shortage of candidates for the top Irish job though a coach may not necessarily need to be in situ until the Autumn internationals. The fact that Kidney only the second grand slam winner in Irish rugby history's contract is due to expire in May will please the money men in the IRFU with current favourites Conor O'Shea having one year remaining on his contract and Mark McCall having two.
Hindsight may well be twenty twenty when throwing the magnifying glass over a one score international defeat. All things considered though Ireland are now suffering from kidney failure.