Tag Archives: Declan Kidney

What’s Next For Ireland?

POC is out, leaving a second-row gap and a captaincy gap. (c) Art Widak.

The disappointment of Paris will linger ahead of this weekend and that is where the motivation will come from. Sunday afternoon saw a refreshing aggression, particularly in the first-half. That edge was notably missing against Wales and Italy. As with all of Ireland’s big performances in recent times (think Oz at RWC2011 and England 6Nations 2011), aggression is the key. The challenge now for Kidney is to ensure that his team take to the Aviva pitch on Saturday similarly motivated.

Team selection is an issue again this week. The loss of Conor Murray and Paul O’Connell is obviously a big blow. The scrumhalf was close to his physical best against France before suffering that horrendous-looking knee injury. O’Connell was again magnificent, somehow disguising a pretty bad knee injury from everyone. His level of consistency is remarkable. Reddan in for Murray is a switch that many had called for in the build-up to Paris, and now we will see if his uncomplicated delivery does actually put Johnny Sexton on the front foot.

The selection of Tomas O’Leary as cover at scrumhalf is a baffling one. Surely this was a chance for Kidney to have a look at Ulster’s Paul Marshall, a man whose form has pushed Ruan Pienaar to outhalf. Kidney’s loyalty is hugely frustrating at times and this is one of them. O’Leary has been far from his best this season and hardly deserving of an international call-up. Isaac Boss was the other natural choice, but the word is that the Leinster scrumhalf is back in New Zealand this week and so, unavailable.

Kidney has some big decisions to make this week. (c) Art Widak.

Connacht’s Mike McCarthy has been given the call to cover in the second-row. Dan Tuohy of Ulster had a good chance too, but McCarthy is the more recently capped of the pair and has been more heavily involved in Irish squad training this season. The obvious change to the first 15 would see Donnacha Ryan slot into O’Connell’s vacant position. However, there is a case for McCarthy’s inclusion from the start. He is a natural number 4 jumper and calls the lineout shots for Connacht. Both Ryan and O’Callaghan jump at 2, and neither calls lineouts at Munster. In Declan Kidney’s risk-free mind, McCarthy may look like the safe choice.

Elsewhere, the back-row has once again come under scrutiny. Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris both had big, physical games, particularly in defense with some trademark choke tackles as well as a couple of big hits. O’Brien was crucial to Tommy Bowe’s second try with his intelligent screen pass to Johnny Sexton. Intelligence is probably not associated with O’Brien’s play too often but he deserves more credit in that department. Jamie Heaslip was the quietest of the back-row trio and if Kidney decides to unleash Peter O’Mahony from the off, the Leinster No.8 may be the one to miss out, with SOB moving to the base of the scrum.

The centre partnership put in a good display on Sunday, one mistake each aside. They were very solid in defense, with the one exception being Fofana’s try, when Earls’ wild hack at the ball on the ground was the wrong decision. However, the Munster man did very well for the second Bowe try, straightening the line intelligently after Ferris had eaten up a lot of space with his lateral run. Earls looked comfortable in the 13 jersey. D’Arcy had that one bad knock-on in the French 22 when his intended pass hit his own hip. He worked very hard in defence though, especially at the breakdown.

Is there a captain amongst these men? (c) Art Widak.

It’s hard to see changes anywhere else on the team. Andrew Trimble didn’t enjoy the best of games and there might be a case for Fergus McFadden being included. That’s unlikely though as Kidney will look to build on the impressive first-half showing from his team. The truth is that France had a lot more possession but when we did have the ball we looked to have a bit more attacking shape and confidence. That all stemmed from the early aggression, leading to some big hits and choke tackle turnovers.

The confidence built from those plays was infectious. Seeing Bowe back himself so assertively was exhilarating and exactly what you want from your wide men. Once again, Rob Kearney was the best player on the pitch. The uplifting effect of the kind of fielding game he offers is easy to see. As those who have played the game will know, a big catch in opposition territory is inspirational. Kearney’s confidence, built on the back of a brilliant season for Leinster is becoming so important to this team.

The final issue is the captaincy. Rory Best has been in great form up front, and has experience of captaining Ulster. Jamie Heaslip has captained Leinster, and was once seen as a possible Irish captain in waiting. Stephen Ferris’ form might make him a candidate. And then there’s Rob Kearney. The thought of the fullback captaining Ireland hadn’t really occurred to me until pointed out by a knowledgable friend. But the idea has grown, and his inspirational play and respect within the squad might make him the compelling choice.

Who would your choice of captain be? Who will Kidney go for in your opinion? Would you make any changes to the starting team/squad beyond the two obvious ones for Murray and O’Connell? Comment below with any and all of your opinions/rants/praise for the Irish team ahead of Saturday’s clash with Scotland…

Scout’s Report: Italy

Italia - Irlanda

Jacques Brunel wants Italy to be more than a strong pack. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

Italy have lost both of their opening Six Nations games, going down 30-12 at the Stade de France before a 19-15 loss to England in Stadio Olimpica. No surprises there, and Ireland should be confident in their ability to overcome Jacques Brunel’s team. Since taking over from Nick Mallet at the start of this season, Brunel has admirably underlined his intention to expand the Italian style of play.

Italy’s traditional and well-known strengths up front remain, but Brunel has stressed to his charges the need to develop a more rounded, 15-man style. Long-term, this is certainly a good thing for Italian rugby, and the Six Nations as a tournament. The losses to France and England showed exactly how much work Italy have yet to do in developing their game plan into what Brunel terms “a more fluid style, a sense of spirit”.

The Italian back-line has struggled to create genuine try-scoring chances, with their two tries so far (both against England) coming directly from opposition errors. Despite having only minimally less possession than both France and England, Italy’s attempts to put more width on the ball have actually resulted in them creating very little, and even being to their detriment.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession at the breakdown, fanning out instead of competing on the deck. This allowed them to blitz aggressively on the Italian midfield, forcing them into errors. All four French tries came as a result of Italian mistakes (admittedly one from a turnover scrum). Against the English, long spells of Italian possession again came to very little. The swiftness with which they punished two English mistakes does bode well for Italy but their lack of invention is a worry for Brunel.

Italia - Irlanda

Burton (10) has been dropped for Tobias Botes, mainly for not exploiting gaps like this one! (c) Stefano Delfrate.

The decision to drop Kris Burton in favour of Tobias Botes looks like the coach’s attempt to add a more creative spark to his team. Botes has played much of his rugby at scrumhalf up until this season, but Brunel sees him as a player who can open the game up. His place-kicking after coming on against England was very poor and will have to improve if Italy are to stay close to Ireland.

As expected, the Italians remain strong up front. Martin Castrogiovanni will miss the rest of the competition, but Italy have a long production line of heavyweight props. Lorenzo Cittadini is no spring chicken at 29 and will look to ask questions of Cian Healy at scrum-time. Ireland answered Nick Mallet’s scrum-related taunts at the World Cup and will look for dominance there again tomorrow.

The Italian maul has the look of a potent attacking weapon, showing up particularly well in glimpses against France. However, Brunel’s desire for width often meant that the maul was not utilised to its full extent in Paris. It would suit Ireland if the same applied in Dublin.

So how do Ireland cut this Italian side open? Tempo and width are key. The Italians are weak at scrambling defensively. England showed the way in the 3rd minute of the match two weekends ago. From a turnover, they spread the ball wide to Strettle who carried at pace up the right-hand touchline. Swift recycling at the ruck resulted in a clean line-break for Phil Dowson. The English, utterly lacking in creativity themselves, failed to test the Italians in a similar manner for the remainder of the game.

Italia - Irlanda

Earls' pace will be important for Ireland. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

As mentioned above, the four French tries came about after Italian errors. The French are better than anyone at swift punishment of mistakes. This is not to say that Ireland should let Italy have all the possession and feed off their mistakes though. The key point is that Italy are slow to reorganise in defence when they are stretched.

Their line speed is not as aggressive as the Welsh defence which stifled Ireland three weekends ago. Ireland should look to get around them out wide through the pace of Earls and Bowe, moving them around the pitch in defence, making their big, heavy pack work hard to get back into position. From there, the likes of O’Brien and Ferris will have more opportunity for one-on-one carries and the tries will come.

Italy have actually looked pretty decent at counter-attacking off poor kicking. One of the major points taken from the Ireland vs. Wales game was the apparently aimless, deep Irish kicking. While the Italians are competent in the broken play resulting from loose kicks, they seem entirely less comfortable under a strong kick chase. Early on in the England game there were several dropped balls from the Italians under pressure from the English chase.

Conor Murray’s early box-kick against Wales which allowed Tommy Bowe to win a penalty for Ireland is the template. Murray has to make his kicks down either touchline contestable, particularly against the inexperienced Vendetti on the right wing. Even if it results in less relief in terms of territory, Ireland can reclaim these kicks in the air and immediately put Italy into exactly the type of defensive scramble which they struggle with.

An Ireland win is almost certain, but it is important that we see a clear Irish game plan tomorrow. We have 15 top-class players, some of the best in the world. But simply putting them on the pitch and hoping that they gel is not enough. Brunel has a clear vision for how he wants Italy to play. Kidney and his management team need to come up with their own vision and give these Irish players the platform to excel.


Photos courtesy:  Stefano Delfrate.

McGahan to Leave Munster

Tony McGahan's post match interview

McGahan is set to leave Munster at the end of the season. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

The rumour mill went into full flow last night with speculation that Tony McGahan will leave Munster at the end of the season in order to take up a role as Australia’s defence coach. An official announcement is expected from the Australian Rugby Union on Friday, and Munster curiously withdrew their confirmation of the deal earlier today. It looks like we may have to wait a little longer for concrete details. Munster have offered McGahan a two-year extension to his deal but the Australian’s move home looks to be signed and sealed.

McGahan first arrived at Munster in 2005, taking up the role of Defence Coach. The following season his importance was increased with an expanded brief of Defence/Skills/Backs coach. His subsequent role in helping Munster to win both the 05/06 and 07/08 Heineken Cup titles cannot be understated. Declan Kidney has always been more of a manager/organiser/motivator than an actual coach and McGahan’s ideas and attitude on the training ground were vital.

With Kidney moving on to the Ireland job at the end of that 07/08 season, McGahan was always going to be a smart choice as his successor. He has always been and still is respected and well-liked by the senior players. His appointment has been a relatively successful one, with two Celtic/Magners/PRO12 titles as well as two HC semi-final appearances. Last season’s failure to progress from the pool stages was a well-documented blip.

Leading out copy

The Magners League Final win over Leinster last season was a highlight for McGahan. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

This season, McGahan has done well despite the constant reminder that he is in charge of a side ‘in transition’. Looking at the facts – 6 from 6 in Pool 1 of the HC, 3rd in the PRO12 and Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo all established first-choice players – it’s clear that McGahan has done a good job. His promotion of these Munster Academy graduates is particularly praiseworthy.

Those facts don’t however illustrate some of the poor rugby Munster fans have seen this season. The first half of the season was a slog, with some uninspiring displays in which Munster looked like a side torn between two styles of play. Credit to McGahan though, performances have steadily improved, culminating in the unforgettable dismantling of the Northampton Saints. This improvement has won McGahan plenty of fans in recent months, to the extent that many will be disappointed to see him go.

However, the majority of fans are unlikely to be distraught at the news. Most Munster fans will welcome a change of leadership at the province next season. Everyone will have their own favourite candidate for the job, and there have been some interesting names bandied about. The traditional ‘Munster way’ would point to an internal appointment, but this might be the time for Munster to look elsewhere. Fresh ideas and different approaches could add impetus to a team that will need to identify its own style of play next season, with new faces joining and some old heads moving on.

McGahan will be determined to leave the province on a high. The pressure is in many ways off his shoulders for the remaining months of the season, and hopefully that relief will transfer to his players on the pitch. Munster fans will hope to bid farewell to McGahan on April the 19th at Twickenham.

Will you miss McGahan? Do you think he’s done a good job at Munster? Will the change for next season be welcome? Comment below with your opinion, and your who you would like to see in charge next season!

Keep on eye out for our profiles of some of the candidates to take over at Munster for next season! Coming soon…


Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

Kidney Makes One Change For France

Ireland Earls

Keith Earls returns at outside centre. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Ireland have named their team to take on France on Saturday evening in Stade de France. Coach Declan Kidney has made only one change to the starting fifteen which lost 23-21 to Wales last Sunday.

As expected, the returning Keith Earls takes his pace at outside centre, with Fergus McFadden dropping to the bench. Dave Kearney is the one to drop out of the match day 22 to accomodate Earls’ inclusion. Once again, Donnacha Ryan will be disappointed to start on the bench after his impressive cameo against Wales.

Kidney has once again stayed loyal to this group of players and he will expect to be rewarded with an aggressive performance. Ireland need to step up their levels of desire and urgency greatly from last weekend, especially with Kidney retaining his trust in that team.

What do you make of the team below? Comment at the bottom of this piece with the changes you would have made…

Ireland team to face Wales

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

2. Rory Best (Ulster)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

4. Donnacha O’Callaghan (Munster)

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)

6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)

7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

9. Conor Murray (Munster)

10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)

13. Keith Earls (Munster)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)


16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Tom Court (Ulster), 18. Donnacha Ryan (Munster), 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 20. Eoin Reddan (Leinster), 21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster), 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).



Yachvili has been ruled out with a back injury. (c) Liam Coughlan.

France have had to make a late change to their starting fifteen, after Dimitri Yachvili pulled out with a back injury. Morgan Parra is his more than capable replacement, with Julien Dupuy promoted to the bench.


Photo courtesy:  Liam Coughlan.

Scout’s Report: France

In what will be a regular feature on The Touchline during the Six Nations, Scout’s Report discusses what we can expect from Ireland’s next opponent. We look at France’s performance against Italy and try to pick out their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the game with Ireland on Saturday.



France were the victors in this fixture last season, 25-22 in the Aviva. (c) Liam Coughlan.

France scored four tries as they beat Italy 30-12 in Stade de France last Saturday. However, the scoreline and number of tries is misleading in terms of how the game actually played out. Italy enjoyed a large amount of possession and territory, particularly in the first half when most of the rugby was played inside the French half of the pitch. So why was it that Italy were able to keep their hands on the ball for such long periods?

One of the major reasons was the French defence. Whether it was a tactical decision, or simply the lack of aggression which Philippe Saint-André has highlighted since the game, France rarely competed at the breakdown against Italy. Instead, one-off tacklers made their hits and the rest of the team fanned out in the defensive line. In today’s international game, where we’re used to teams making every effort to steal or slow down opposition ball at ruck time, it was an odd sight.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession. The Italians’ cluelessness in using it justified the French style of defence. With just one tackler on the deck, and often three or four Italians going in to seal the ruck, France usually had numbers up in defence. This allowed them to get up fast on the outside and shut down the Italian options.

So if France employ a similar defensive set up against Ireland, how can we break it down? With the likes of Rougerie and Fofana getting up fast in midfield it can often seem like the only option is kicking the ball away. Last Saturday, the weakness in France’s defence lay close to the rucks. With their line up quickly out wide, the defenders around the fringes were noticeably slower.

Conor Murray could have a key role to play around the fringes of the breakdown. (c) Ken Bohane.

Italy failed to expose this weakness. New coach Jacques Brunel has emphasised his desire for Italy to play a more expansive style of rugby. That’s great, but last Saturday it lost the game for Italy. Brunel’s side consistently sought to move the ball into wide channels, but France’s advantageous numbers in defence forced Italian errors, two of which resulted directly in French tries.

Italy’s scrumhalf Edoardo Gori gave a brief glimpse of what Italy should have been doing early in the second half. He picked quick ball from the base of a ruck and ran at the defensive pillar. Luke McLean came off his wing, ran a lovely line off Gori’s outside shoulder and the scrumhalf slipped McLean through for a clean line-break. Minutes earlier, the Italian forwards had made good yardage through strong, aggressive carries off Gori, close in to the rucks. Late in the game, replacement 9 Fabio Semenzato made plenty of headway with his snipes around the fringes, but it was too late for Italy by then.

With Italy enjoying lots of possession, where did those four French tries come from? This is where the true strength of this French team lies. The first try saw the Italian defence give Aurelien Rougerie too much space and he burst through the line and around fullback Andrea Masi. The second came from an Italian scrum on halfway, as France came up with a huge drive for a turnover. No. 8 Louis Picamoles’ good work was followed by a breathtaking individual run from Julien Malzieu (check the video at the bottom of this piece).

France’s third came after a misdirected Kris Burton pass was intercepted by Wesley Fofana, allowing Francois Trinh-Duc to chip ahead and resulting in Vincent Clerc touching down. The final score by Fofana saw him beat McLean one-on-one with his speed to get outside, then strength to fend him off. All four tries were examples of the brilliance of France’s individuals. They have players who will punish any mistake.

ST vs USAP - Louis Picamoles

Toulouse's Picamoles is one of the danger men for France. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Saturday’s win over Italy didn’t see any fantastic team work or intelligent system of attack from the French. Often, they actually struggled to put together good passages of play and go beyond 6 or 7 phases. They relied on their strong ball carriers to individually get over the gainline. Ireland’s defence will have to be far more aggressive than against Wales. For Wales’ George North, Jonathan Davies and Toby Faletau, France have their own explosive big men in Malzieu, Rougerie and Picamoles. Ireland have to get off the defensive line explosively.

Where else can France be targeted? Their restarts were appalling against Italy, both receiving and taking. The French chase was non-existant on Trinh-Duc’s drop-offs, when he actually got them on the field. Receiving drop-offs, France seemed genuinely uninterested in securing the ball. The likes of Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney excel at retrieving restarts and must be used for this purpose.

France’s lineout stuttered against the Italians too, losing three of their own throw-ins. Saint-Andre has made four changes up front, but Ireland must go after the French here. Defensively, the French maul was very weak. Italy made some great gains there, and should have looked to it more. Again, Brunel’s game plan counted against his team. The French constantly competed in the air on Italy’s throw, often with two pods going up. This meant that Italy’s maul could get a good early rumble forward, and Ireland should look to do the same.

Obviously, we will see a more aggressive and urgent French performance on Saturday, as demanded by Saint-André. Their restarts and lineouts are something that will most likely be improved be a better attitude. If they decide to employ a similar defensive pattern, then Ireland will certainly make better use of the possession than Italy did. Defensively, Ireland cannot afford to give the French individuals space or opportunity. Kidney’s should travel to Paris knowing that this French team is beatable.


Highlights of the four tries from France’s win over Italy:


Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Pierre-Selim, Liam Coughlan.