Is this the end for Declan Kidney?

Even if Ireland win in spectacular style against the Italians next week, this has been a Six Nations that Declan Kidney will want to quickly forget. With home ties against both England and France, there was a chance for Kidney to lead Ireland to their second championship of his five year reign. However, bar the first 50 minutes of the tournament against Wales nothing has clicked for Kidney and his team. Such has been the substandard levels of performance that we are left with the very real possibility that this weekend’s game in Rome may be Kidney’s last in the Six Nations.

Kidney’s future first came into question after Ireland’s record 60 – 0 loss against New Zealand during their 2012 summer tour, but emphatic wins over Argentina and Fiji in the autumn and the win in Cardiff on the opening weekend went some way to silencing the doubters. However, a loss at home against the English and the embarrassing manner of defeat at Murrayfield, in a game in which they had over 70% territory and possession, brought the question regarding Kidney’s future back to the fore. Last weekend things hardly improved with the Irish just about managing to hold on for a draw against a disjointed French team, despite once again dominating the statistics.

Admittedly the coach cannot take all the blame. In all three games had a couple of passes gone to hand, or one or two kicks slipped the other side of the post the table might be looking very different. In reality, though, all a couple of wins would have done is to paper over the cracks that have been forming around Kidney’s set up since that famous Grand Slam back in 2009. Since then Ireland have won only 20 of their 44 matches, which is unacceptable for a squad as talented as theirs – after all, for the past three or four years it has been made up of a core group of Leinster players who have ruled the Heineken Cup. That Leinster played some of the most free flowing and attacking rugby in the Northern Hemisphere. Winning became a habit for them. Yet for some reason the national team has failed to replicate this style of play or winning mentality, and for this the blame must lie firmly at Kidney’s door.

o'garaKidney must also be held accountable for the big calls he has got wrong in recent weeks. Firstly the replacing of O’Driscoll as captain with Heaslip has backfired fairly spectacularly. The shadow of O’Driscoll has hung over the number 8 as he struggles to come to terms with the pressures of international captaincy. Against the Scots the big decision over the number 10 jersey again backfired. Although he didn’t look good when he came on, and may well never feature for Ireland again, it is likely that Ronan O’Gara would have nailed the penalties that Jackson missed. In a game as close as that one, it could have made all the difference.

I’m all for the blooding of young players, especially in preparation for the 2015 World Cup. However, to give Jackson a test debut in a must win Six Nations match was an unnecessary risk, and quite frankly surprising given that over the course of his tenure we have rarely seen Kidney blood youngsters. Compounding issues further was Kidney’s bizarre decision last weekend to replace Conor Murray, arguably Ireland’s best player, at the hour mark which had an immediate effect on the course of the game and opened him up to further criticism.

In Kidney’s defence injuries have been a huge factor for Ireland in this year’s Six Nations. Any team that started the tournament without big names such as O’Connell, Ferris and Bowe and then in the following weeks lost the likes of Sexton, Darcy and Zebo would struggle. While I’ll also be the first to admit that as fans we can be a fickle bunch, too many of us seem to have jumped on the bandwagon for the sake of it and forgotten what Kidney has achieved for the Irish team. After all let’s not forget Ireland had been waiting for a Grand Slam since 1948 until Kidney delivered the goods back in 2009.

The fact is, however, we can’t keep living in the past. International rugby is a results driven industry and a new man is needed to rejuvenate this Irish team just like Kidney did when he took over back in 2009. There’s a strong list of possible candidates to fill the vacancy including the likes of Conor O’Shea, Joe Schmidt, Wayne Smith, Mike Ruddock and Nick Mallet, and if the IRFU can act quickly whoever Kidney’s successor might be would still have enough time put their stamp on the squad before the 2015 World Cup. Hopefully at the end of the season when his contract comes to its conclusion both he and the IRFU will realise it’s time to for him to step away and give another man his chance.

If he does this, most Irish fans’ enduring memory of Kidney will be that night in Cardiff back in 2009. However, if he chooses to stay and things continue to deteriorate further his legacy might end up being tarnished beyond repair.

By Guy Michels

14 thoughts on “Is this the end for Declan Kidney?

  1. the question is what are the expectations for this ireland team? with recored numbers of union players, a golden generation of stars gone and some replaced and good prospects for players in the future, we have a right expect more imo. lots of heineken cup success hasnt been translated into the kind of international consistency one would expect. kidney only gets it right sometimes and when he gets it wrong he gets it very wrong. hes a maths teacher that crunches the numbers but doesnt get the nuances. personally, i believe that given the personnel and players at his disposal, he hasnt delivered. also, it was gatland that got ireland (back) to winning ways and excited young people to play the game. not o’sullivan and not kidney. compare to the 3 big provinces, ireland lack consistency and purpose all too often.

  2. This linking of the national team to the provinces is a false indicator of where Ireland should be. The provinces have some fantastic Irish players but they also have a strong core of overseas players that take those provinces to the next level – Howlet, Peinaar, Nacewa, etc. (I could name more). Throw in excellent coaches and you have excellent provincial teams. Over their decade of HC dominance Ireland have achieved relatively little on the national stage. Wales on the other hand have had appalling regions but relatively more success in internationals which further proves my point that club/region performance and national performance are two totally unrelated things. Just look at France for another example.

    One thing Kidney has failed to deal with is Ireland’s continual boom and bust – they rarely follow up a big performance. 1st test and 2nd test in NZ last year. Aus then Wales in the WC. Wales then England in this years 6N. Only 1 slam in over half a century. There’s something odd about that but I do also think that expectations for Ireland are too high, skewed by their provincial performances.

    1. You make some fair points. I would counter however, that the difference in the Weslsh and Irish regions is that the Irish regions have such a strong support base (therefore creating more funding naturally) whereas the Welsh regions are so weak. This is mainly due to trying to rebrand regions under towns and cities. Brighty, you would know better than me, would they be better off moving back to regions based on say Pontypridd,etc?

      With Ireland bringing in the revenue (Ulster rugby is expanding at an alarming rate) they can then bring in these big time players you talk about. However, to say that the Heineken cup success of previous years has been based on foreign imports would be unfair to Munster and Leinster teams that are majoritively (maybe not a word) Irish.

      To your point on playing Leinster is like playing Ireland, why don’t the Scottish regions do better? Their national team is even more concentrated? Also the Welsh team (until the French emigration) was based around Swansea and Cardiff. How is that any different?

      finally, Kidney inherited a quality team, gave them a good bullocking to focus on Ireland and delivered our first grand slam in decades. This was an excellent achievement and not without an element of luck (but every grand slam needs that). Since then, with a plethora of top international players at his disposal, he ahs failed to sustain any type of form. Less than 50% win rate in unforgivable. He has served his country but his coaching style and rugby style is outdated. We will be a force to be reckoned with once again with Conor o Shea or Joe Schimdt. Maybe even Mike Ruddock.

      1. B I agree with a lot of what you are saying and do agree that Kidney isn’t seem the right coach for Ireland. I do however still think that expectations were falsely raised by the HC performances – I have lost count of the num of times it’s referred to at the start of every 6N and yet Ireland don’t have that much relative success in it. So Ireland should have expected more given the players they had, but shouldn’t have let HC performances be a guide to what they can achieve. Different teams, almost a different game given the different nature of the tournaments.

        Regions in Wales … a thorny issue. I remember pre-regional teams e.g. Neath looking like jokes against the likes of Munster. Since we went regional our teams are better (I think though other HC sides have got even better so it wasn’t a stable target) and our national team is better. Crowds are down, I would imagine though that this will take a generation or more to fix. Young Ponty lads are, as far as I can see, happy to support the Blues as their region and Ponty as their club. Older Ponty guys, my age, mostly wouldn’t be seen dead in a Blues shirt.

        Money is one part of it but crowds come with success. I remember Leins and Munster crowds not being so high about 15 years ago – winning things brings them in. We do have money but at the mo it all goes to the WRU. We effectively have a fifth region, Wales, and this mops up most of the money. The regions have to compete with Wales for players and viewers. It’s a messy old thing to sort out.

        1. I see. You issue is not that Ireland should be contenders each year, rather than a parameter of their ability is their Heineken cup success. I think that is fair.

          The regions is interesting. As an ulster fan I have seen crowds rise dramtically and this is due to success. However, that success stems from a very ambitious and talented management team (davd humprhies a big part of this) who set out a plan to rise ulster to the top of european rugbby.

          Am I right in saying ospreys tried something similar a while back with less success? I remember Jerry Collins playing for them.

          The thing that makes me most optomistic for the Ireland team’s future is the emergence of Connaught as a force. Having four provences playing in the Heineken cup can only make Ireland stronger.

          No getting away from one fact, we need a coach without provincial allegiances. Our own Warren Gatland would be preferable.

          1. Well, you did have your own Warren Gatland at one point….

            Yeah, the O’s did try it but as well as going regional they moved to a new stadium out of the town. It’s an awful sod to get to. So they had a big expensive squad but were a new team, new stadium and couldn’t get the success. Wales regions other problem is that we sign(ed) big stars but put coaching novices in charge (the opposite of what Ireland did). So the success never came and eventually the backers money ran out so now they’re down to subsistence living.

            We could sort it by having 1 less region but that’s messy. We could go back a bit and have superclubs that would almost be the same but have the old names – Cardiff, Llanelli, Newport, Swansea. Get the fanbases and the marketing clout of those names back. Or we can keep winning Grand Slams and let others win the HC :-)

  3. I think the provinces are in fact a fair indicator of where the Irish team should be. You mentioned this strong core of overseas players, but if you look at the Leinster starting XV for both the 2011 and 2012 Heineken Cup finals they had only two foreign players, hardly a core. For the past 3 or 4 years if you were to pick the strongest Irish line-up it would comprise predominately of Leinster players, yet the national team seems to play a different style of rugby and has really struggled to pick up any winning momentum. I think this points to points to the fact that something is going wrong in the national set up and I think kidney must take a lot of this blame, as it seems like he doesn’t know how to get the best out of this current crop of players.

    You do raise a fair point that the Welsh team have been relatively successful on the international stage while their provinces have struggled, but I feel this is more down to these provinces underachieving and at the same time they have undergone a relativity large out flux of players to France, a problem Ireland has not previously had, which has made them less competitive.

  4. Guy, I’d also though point out that this concentration of Irish players gives a false impression of the Irish quality. When an Eng/Fra/Wel team play Leinster for example they’re practically playing Ireland. A concentration of 1st or 2nd XV Irish players. The other nations teams only tend to have a smattering of home nations international players. The Irish team wins. At international the Irish team then looks broadly similar to a provincial team but Eng/Wal/Fra are stronger as they’re now pulling in their players e.g. the Welsh ones from France you mention.

    I still stand by my original assertion that the overseas players make a big difference as the Irish provinces are masters at recruiting game changing quality players. No journey men. This pushes their already excellent teams into consistent match winners in the HC.

  5. Ireland started with 40 mins of beautiful rugby that Leinster would have been proud of and have descended into a shambles that couldn’t beat Picamoles. The last 2 games have been more of a golden shower than a golden generation.

    Although the argument is not as simple as “we are good in the HC we should win the 6N” the Ireland team has rarely put in a performance that is as good as the sum of it’s parts let alone better than them.

    If your team is not as good as the sum of it’s parts, you botch your transition of captaincy and fail to have any succession plan to bring through the abundance of promising talent then accountability has to sit with the coaching team.

    If I was Irish I would be livid if he retained his job.

    1. I think a decent test of whether Kidney is to keep his job is to ask fans of opposing teams – as a Welshman I’d love the smug tactically-inept teamsheet-mangler to keep the job. So there’s only really one thing the IRFU should do.

      1. im glad u finally stopped mincing and let your true appraisal cone to the fore brighty. i agree that players like howlett nacewa pienaar and strauss make a big difference but i bet they are the playerd most people think of. isa is a legend. in the munster aus test, munster won through the boot of an aussie as they were excellent in that match. it could just as eaily been the boot of ogara on his good day. part of the ussue is that joe schmidt is so good. he really knows hoe to get the most oit of the irish based players. o’driscoll himself said he’s the best coach he ever worked for. i believe that was the same hsbc interview in which bod said his favorite movie was jerry m’ f#~&ing guire. sorry guys. had a few but i hope he was joking. that alone demoted his legendary status.. lol

  6. Nick Mallet seems to be on every short list when it comes to a Tier 1 nation needing a new coach but he never actually gets the job…

    Maybe Scotland could do with him?

  7. Yes
    Although Italia were fantastic to be fair. At least that’s how I remember it with a thumping head today.

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