By Claire Glancy
“IS IT time to go back to the drawing board Declan?” The question posed after so many basic errors saw Ireland defeated by England.
“No” was the simple answer given. He was right too. For Ireland the drawing board is no longer the issue, it’s the architect.
A few months ago people would have said that was harsh for a coach who led Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years but the truth is since the highs of 2009, when Declan Kidney was crowned IRB International Coach of the Year, Ireland have consistently failed to reach their potential.
We always talk about the talented footballers the nation produces. Every year there’s at least one that catapults into the spotlight. In 2012 Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy’s arrival on the international stage caught so much attention they only had to play 80 minutes for people to start talking about them being Lions.
We’re also witnessing the end of the “Golden Generation” who promised so much as they headed to the last Rugby World Cup. Ronan O’Gara suffered the embarrassment of being dropped by his former school teacher, Paul O’Connell is fighting against his rugby body clock, while Brian O’Driscoll is the only one of those veterans guaranteed his place in the green jersey. Even he is not immune though, unceremoniously stripped of his captaincy after a decade. The perception we’re given is he wasn’t happy about it either. Add to that the number of injuries throughout the squad and it’s of little wonder that Ireland are in disarray.
This was glaringly obvious in Rome. When Keith Earls had to go off with an injury, swiftly followed by Luke Marshall and then O’Driscoll who was sidelined for a stamp, panic swept through the side. In fairness all those changes could be unsettling but in the fifth round of a championship players should be able to compose themselves as they will have practiced similar scenarios. One player who managed to keep his cool and subsequently keep Ireland in the game was Paddy Jackson. He was given a hard time after the Scotland match for missing kicks but in Rome the young Ulsterman slotted over five penalties from six attempts.
It summed up Ireland’s tournament when an injury to replacement Luke Fitzgerald forced Peter O’Mahony to switch from the flank to the wing. And to finish they played the latter stages with just thirteen men. It was a terrible end to the tournament and could prove a final act for Kidney whose contract is up in the summer.
For the players hoping to be Lions this summer at least many still have at least one more chance. Warren Gatland is due to announce his squad on 30th April, the week after the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals. Strong performances then are the only way they will be able to oust players who have edged ahead of them in the Six Nations.
Declan Kidney will always be the man who orchestrated one of Irish Rugby’s greatest successes and for that we’ll always be grateful. But now I think it’s time for a new architect, a different design and hopefully an eye-catching finish.
Ireland’s Injured XV: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 2 Richardt Strauss, 4 Dan Tuohy, 5 Paul O’Connell, 6 Stephen Ferris, 7 Chris Henry
Follow Claire Glancy on Twitter @claireglancy