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Saturday 23 September 2017

Cautious Kidney is missing a trick

Conservative Six Nations call leaves us in rivals' shadows

IRELAND coach Declan Kidney's conservative nature has once again come to the surface. The message is clear: the four-year cycle to the 2015 World Cup will begin closer to 2014.

At a time when England have been forced to go back to the beginning and Wales have voluntarily embraced the new generation of players, Kidney sees fit to keep grounded and stay with what he knows.

There is not a single uncapped player in his squad of 24 to prepare for the Six Nations opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, February 5.

There is also the strange inclusion of Leinster captain Leo Cullen when it has been confirmed that the 34-year-old is due to have an operation on his Achilles tendons in Sweden next week that will rule him out of combat for six weeks.

Kidney does indicate that there is still room at the inn for players who make the right noise for the Irish Wolfhounds next Saturday week in Esher in London.

"The Wolfhounds game gives myself and the other coaches one final chance to give games to players to see possible options before we settle on our match day 22 for the opening game," he said.

"It also gives us the opportunity to have a closer look in training at some of the younger players, rather than bringing in more experienced players, who are very much still in the frame for selection."

Kidney's most democratic attitude is to somehow include almost every fit Irish professional into his plans between the Ireland and Irish Wolfhounds squads and those accorded the status of 'additional players'.

Here, there is half-a-dozen players, Munster's Ian Nagle, Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony, Leinster's Andrew Conway, Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran and Ulster's Paddy McAllister who do send a shiver of excitement at what the future might hold.

THE WINNERS

PADDY WALLACE

This was deemed the season in which Ireland would be finally confident to move on without the makeweight Wallace given the improvement of Fergus McFadden.

Ulster's timing in Europe has benefited their inside centre (inset). He has been playing resolutely rather than magnificently. The removal of Brian O'Driscoll through injury may well have convinced Kidney that Ireland lack experience behind Gordon D'Arcy.

DONNCHA O'CALLAGHAN

The Munster lock must be breathing a heavy sigh of relief. The rise of Devin Toner at Leinster and the fall of O'Callaghan to third choice lock at Munster looked ominous for him.

There was also the considerable pressure being exerted by Ulster's Dan Tuohy and Connacht's Mike McCarthy. Obviously, Kidney prefers the tried and trusted to a more experimental approach. This cannot be a form decision.

THE LOSERS

LUKE FITZGERALD

The Leinster wing has been in sizzling form this season for Leinster, scoring four tries in 13 matches, the two most recent against Bath in the Heineken Cup.

Perhaps, Kidney is keeping his powder dry given that Fitzgerald has not played since St Stephen's Day and has still not been cleared to play against Montpellier at The RDS in Europe on Saturday, and that there is an indication that those who standout for the Irish Wolfhounds could come into his thoughts.

MIKE McCARTHY

Connacht's two most consistent performers in the Heineken Cup have been their captain Gavin Duffy and the remarkably consistent McCarthy, a World Cup contender right up to deadline day.

McCarthy (inset) does offer flexibility for the back five role. He has been sensational for the westerners in a club side on the receiving end of powerful packs in Harlequins, Gloucester and Toulouse.

McCarthy brings brings an athleticism to the lock position that can only be matched by Ulster's Dan Tuohy.

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