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I’ve been following the Team Ireland fitness programme, so expect this article to start off well but to tail off badly towards the end – actually some will probably say it doesn’t start well either. What on earth is going on with Ireland in the second half of matches in this Six Nations Championship? We led against Wales, Scotland and France at half time before losing the second halves 19-7, 12-5 and 13-0, and the last two games entirely. We don’t get many chances to beat France, either home and away, and having outplayed them completely in the first half one would have thought that a 13-3 lead against a team poorly selected, with little or no game plan other than ‘give it to Picamoles’ and coached in what can only be charitably described a mercurial style by Phillipe Saint Andre would be sufficient to push on in the second half and secure the victory.

But it wasn’t. Somehow France realised that as limited as their game plan was, ours was equally so. Touch – line out – maul – Box Kick – chase. That was it. That it was successful in the first half is more an indictment of France’s paucity of effort and preparation than it was of any great tactical insight from Ireland. This was shown to be the case when Conor Murray, who was excellent, was withdrawn to be replaced by Reddan. Eoin Reddan has many virtues, in the recent past when he has played well Ireland have played well and with pace and invention.

Saturday was not a game for pace and invention though, it was a game for doing what Murray was doing well, negotiating his pack around the field, and creating further opportunities for them to cause trouble with well placed box kicks. And they were superbly well placed. Each one was long enough to get his pack moving forward, but not so long as they couldn’t be contested by the chasers, and in this regard his chasers, most regularly McFadden and Earls didn’t let him down. They were supported in this by a much improved performance by the Irish back row both as a unit and individually. But all this ended when Murray was substituted just after the hour with Ireland leading 13-6. Why?

France did as French teams always do, on the hour mark they made changes to their front row. This was not an option for Ireland with Kilcoyne – a player Kidney didn’t trust to start against Scotland despite benching for the two previous fixtures – and Archer – a player who has kept his ability well hidden – on the bench. You get the sense that these positions are just placeholders as far as Kidney is concerned, “we have to have 23 players on the bench, I have no intention of using the bench, sure stick them on it, what harm”. But Kidney knows that its the done thing to make changes on the hour mark, so he did an eeny meeny miny mo and off came Murray. There is no other explanation. After the match Murray came out and said he was tired, but thats the usual Post Hoc rubbish that this coaching team likes to indulge in.

I mentioned PSA’s mercurial coaching style already, his selections make Mad Marc Lievremont the Mad look like a bastion of sanity, but for all that he has weight of numbers behind him. There are enough good players in France that by a process of elimination they usually end up with the right XV on the pitch for at least part of the championship. Kidney doesn’t have that luxury and he and his coaching team are simply out of their depth at this level. Kidneys apologists have two fall back positions they use to defend their man, but neither are consistent. The first is – “Sure didn’t he win the Grand Slam”. Fair enough, but if he takes the credit for the Grand Slam, then he must also take responsibility for the worst set of results from an Irish team in the professional era, therefore he must be disposed of. The second is – “Its not the coaches fault, its the players” in which case the players take the credit for the Grand Slam and Kidney has done nothing since taking the job.

Now neither of those positions are correct, the truth is somewhere in between, but it still adds up to the same thing. Ireland are a poorly coached, poorly motivated and poorly selected side with a limited game plan that is entirely dependent on the starting XV playing at the top of their game constantly because their ability is enough to cover the holes in the strategy and there is no one else available on the bench. Every player in the Irish squad when they cross that white line will give everything they have, of that I have not one iota of doubt, what I question is after a month of Camp Kidney, what do they have to give?

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Posted March 11, 2013 by bluestalktv in Ireland, Leinster, Rugby

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