Tag Archives: Ireland tour to New Zealand

Backward Step for Kidney

Does this man have a grand plan for Ireland? (c) Art Widak.

Declan Kidney has made four changes to the Ireland team for Saturday’s 2nd test against the All Blacks. While that’s not even a third of the team, the impression is that Kidney is looking for what the Whiff of Cordite calls “damage limitation” on Saturday. I’d love to be proven wrong, but these changes are a backward step for Ireland in my opinion. After including Zebo, Fitzpatrick and O’Mahony last week, the impression I had was that Kidney was finally looking to develop this team. It was belated, but I was encouraged.

As highlighted in that excellent Whiff of Cordite piece, this looks like a “rainy-day selection”, with the focus being on keeping the score down. So why did Kidney send out a fresh-faced team last week and look to move the ball around the pitch at pace? I may be proven wrong, but it looks as though it was a one-off experiment. So what was the point? As head coach of the national team, is Kidney not supposed to have a grand vision of how he wants his team to develop? Frankly, this ‘back to basics’ selection gives the impression that Deccie doesn’t have any concrete idea of where Ireland are going.

I for one refused to castigate the Irish performance last weekend. The opening 20 minutes encouraged me and I was hoping for more of that, done more accurately and with quicker ball. The likes of Zebo, O’Mahony and Fitzpatrick learned valuable lessons and I was hoping they could learn even more this weekend. But they’re dropped, and Trimble, D’Arcy and Ross return, with Kevin McLaughlin also included. The inclusions of D’Arcy and Trimble are the most defensive changes and are certainly a backward step. I understand that there are ‘horses for courses’ and that rain is predicted for Saturday, but does that mean the All Blacks drop Aaron Smith for the experience of Weepu, or Retallick for the solidity of Ali Williams? Not a chance.

Simon Zebo heads for the line copy

Zebo drops to the bench, with Trimble replacing him. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

D’Arcy comes in because of the injury to Earls but it’s still not the right selection for me. D’Arcy was impressive in Leinster’s run to the Heineken Cup, but his form for Ireland for at least a year now has been poor. He’ll make his tackles and he’ll grind out a few metres in contact. But what about Darren Cave? He had a disastrous cameo at the end of the 1st test, lucky not to be yellow-carded and partly at fault for Conrad Smith’s try. Now he’s out of the squad completely, after 8 minutes of action. Why not give him another chance, send him out with a more relaxed attitude and tell him to play his game?

Kidney knows exactly what D’Arcy offers to the team. This tour had to be about developing the Irish squad. While I’m not saying Kidney should be sending out teams to get beaten, we need to give these guys experience. Cave’s confidence will surely now be crushed and he’ll question whether he’s up to this level at all. Or what about playing McFadden in his best position at 12? Simon Zebo, one missed tackle aside, did just fine on his debut, showing a glimpse of his attacking thrust. Now he’s dropped to the bench to accomodate Trimble, another player who Kidney knows all about.

Fitzpatrick was the personification of the word ‘solid’ on his first cap. He never went backwards in the scrum and he contributed a few tackles around the pitch. I would’ve allowed him to keep the starting tighthead role, even if he were to come off at half-time. It might well work out that he plays 40 minutes anyway, but let him have the opening half, when Tony Woodcock really wants to prove his point. A second consecutive start for the Ulster prop would have been great experience for Fitzpatrick, especially after Deccie complained about the lack of that exact attribute.

McLaughlin

Kevin McLaughlin is in at blindside. (c) Ken Bohane.

The inclusion of Kevin McLaughlin at blindside is at least a positive. I would temper that by suggesting that the Leinster back-row has been selected for his prowess at the lineout and his defensive hunger. He’s an excellent player and I’m a huge fan, but McLaughlin’s selection again alludes to a defensive game plan. The major plus to including him is that Sean O’Brien may be spared the mountain of defensive work he got through last Saturday. But will we see O’Brien in the right places to use his strength and power on the ball? I don’t think we have yet this season.

I always make a big effort to look at the positives before each Ireland game. Kidney hasn’t done a good job with Ireland in the last few years, but I’m always willing to believe that coaches, just as players and people in general, can change. However, it looks like that just isn’t the case in this situation. Even if Ireland make it scrappy and limit New Zealand to just a few scores in the rain, what value is there in that? I want to see an Irish team that is confident and skillful enough to go out and look to beat every team they face.  I believe we have the players to do that, if we can develop the team in the right way.

What do you think of the changes Kidney has made? Can Ireland stay close to the All Blacks on Saturday or will it only get worse? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve written? Please leave a comment with your views.

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Photos courtesy: Art Widak, Ivan O’Riordan, Ken Bohane.

All Blacks Watch: 1st Test Reaction

ALL BLACKS

The New Zealand press have understandably put the All Blacks on a high, high pedestal. (c) Chris Zielecki.

So we’ve all had time to digest and dissect the Irish performance, listen to a few excuses from Kidney and suggest where Ireland can improve. So what’s the reaction been to that 1st test in New Zealand? Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on the excellence of the All Blacks. While the Irish press have been quick to laud the clinical world champions, the New Zealanders haven’t spent too much time looking at the Irish display.

There has been a general and widespread satisfaction with the All Blacks’ performance. The impact of debutants Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick has been repeatedly highlighted. Savea’s hattrick made him an obvious inclusion in the headlines, with even his own mother reckoning he “did really well.” Smith’s mum “cried her eyes out” as he ran out to win his first cap. Meanwhile, the Otago Daily Times felt that “it all seemed a bit easy” for the beastly Savea.

Toby Robson pointed out that most players “struggle to adjust to the increased speed and physicality of test match rugby”. While most of Ireland’s new faces certainly struggled to catch their breath at times, Robson felt that the new All Blacks had no such problems. Aaron Smith solidified Robson’s suggestion when he claimed that “I’ll definitely be keen for faster ball. It would be cool to speed the game up even more.”

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The thought of Smith firing even quicker ball out to the imperious Dan Carter is a scary thought for Irish fans. One potential saviour may be the poor weather predicted for Christchurch this weekend. Tony Smith wrote that the possible cold and wet could “come to Ireland’s aid”. Ireland competed aggressively at the breakdown last Saturday and did well to slow the All Blacks’ ball at certain stages. In the same piece, All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster admitted, “We had trouble in certain parts of the game at getting rid of their tackler at their first arrival.” He was clearly referring to Sean O’Brien, and the Tullow man will need to put in a similar performance on Saturday.

The display of Dan Carter at outhalf was hard to ignore, and the New Zealand media did nothing of the sort. Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald wrote that Carter had “taunted the Irish with his array of skills” and that’s hard to argue with. At times it appeared that Ireland couldn’t even get a hand on Carter as he floated around the pitch. Apparently the outhalf feels that he wasn’t really part of last year’s World Cup success. Writing for stuff.co.nzMarc Hinton claimed that this was sad, “but not bad.” Ominously for Ireland, Hinton feels that Carter is now “a man on a mission”.

Let’s be honest, the All Blacks were a joy to watch, regardless of the fact that they were hammering Ireland. It’s a joy that the players themselves say is starting to come through within the squad. Ali Williams has pointed out that the squad have a “refreshing new mindset” after winning the World Cup. He admitted that having that monkey off their backs meant the All Blacks could be more focused on the “here and now, rather than in front.” Meanwhile, Isreal Dagg spoke about how much “fun” the All Blacks backline had against Ireland.

Dan Carter with The Cup

Carter came in for plenty of well-deserved praise. (c) Geof Wilson.

The critics agree. Toby Robson feels that this New Zealand side “could be fun.” He also made the valid point that while “Ireland’s players were tense and poker faced, the All Blacks, including those on debut, were relaxed and smiling, even early in the test.” It’s difficult to disagree with that. While the New Zealanders looked chilled, the Irish were uptight, particularly the new additions to the side. As the Whiff of Cordite lads pointed out, Darren Cave “looked like he had seen a ghost”.

So what are the New Zealanders predicting for the 2nd test? Well, it’s not good news. Steve Hansen has indicated he won’t be making big changes to the starting team (Although Nonu looks set to start ahead of SBW). In the NZ Herald, Chris Rattue thinks Declan Kidney’s side “are in for one helluva hiding in the second test, and heaven help them in the third.” While many of us Irish supporters were encouraged by certain aspects of the Irish display in the 1st test, Rattue thought Ireland were a  “decidedly inferior team playing wild rugby”. Finally, assistant coach Ian Foster is promising more from the All Blacks in the 2nd test. None of this bodes well for Ireland, but at least we’re having the craic!

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Photos courtesy: Chris Zielecki, Geof Wilson.