Declan Kidney yesterday stood down as head coach of Ireland, after the IRFU revealed they would not be renewing his contract this summer. After a tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful Six Nations campaign, it was the decision that most people saw coming.
Kidney paid the price for being over-conservative during his reign as top dog of Irish rugby. For years the likes of Johnny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have provided the backbone of the Ireland team, but where Kidney failed was in making sure that there was a next generation coming through to replace these guys when, in the end, they either ran out of steam or got injured.
The fly-half issue sums it up best. Johnny Sexton is one of the best in the world on his day, but when he got injured in the second game of the championship, they were left with Ronan O’Gara as the only other player with any experience in this position at international level. After a couple of games it was clear he was too old for this level of rugby. That left the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of young Paddy Jackson, and while he did admirably well after being thrust into the limelight, there’s no doubt he would have benefitted from being phased into the team over the passt few years.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. In 2009 Kidney did get it right, and Ireland won their first and only grand slam in the Six Nations era – 61 years after their only other successful clean sweep in the Five Nations. Other highs included the beating of the Wallabies in RWC 2011, and while these successes don’t deserve to be forgotten, it is the more recent failures that Kidney is, sadly, likely to be remembered for.
Now the IRFU have a big decision to make. Do they look for a foreigner, or is someone homegrown the best option? If they decide the former, Ewen McKenzie is hands down the favourite having declared that he will leave the Queensland Reds at the end of the current Super Rugby season to pursue an international coaching career. Joe Schmidt, hugely popular in Ireland after his successes with Leinster, would be another option, although he has recently signed a contract extension with the province. If homegrown is the way to go, the two leading contenders would have been Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea or his Saracens equivalent Mark McCall. The former, however, has ruled himself out of the running, while the latter has also just signed a contract extension. Another option would be a Stuart Lancaster-type deal – if Les Kiss does well he will know that he’s in with a shout.
So it is a tricky decision, but a vitally important one with RWC 2015 looming on the horizon. With plenty of quality options available, who would you like to see take the reigns?