herald

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Kidney's flight of fancy

FEW willing to believe fairytale that we can beat Aussies and Springboks as Irish jet out

Is flight EI176 leaving Dublin for Queenstown this evening one of fantasy? Is it ‘plane’ ludicrous to suggest Ireland can beat either Tri-Nations champions Australia or holders South Africa to find a place in the World Cup semi-final for the first time?

Ireland’s four-game fall has coincided with a tumble from fourth to eighth place in the world rankings released yesterday, behind Wales in sixth and Scotland in seventh.

Coach Declan Kidney has been set more problems than have been answered. The injury to David Wallace leaves him without his preferred openside. Imagine the All Blacks without Richie McCaw; Australia short of David Pocock.

Ireland have just two international class props, in the irreplaceable Mike Ross at tighthead and the superb Cian Healy, who will leave for New Zealand in four days due to an eye injury. He has been listed as a doubt for the USA match.

Standards

The race for the hooker’s jersey is hotting-up, with the injury-prone Jerry Flannery and the incumbent Rory Best not at their best. Paul O’Connell simply cannot fall to injury as the pack leader and the man who sets standards.

So much, too much, is being laid on the shoulders of Sean O’Brien. The remarkably brave Stephen Ferris is one bad bang on his knee away from oblivion.

Shane Jennings is another recovering from injury. Even the bomb-proof Jamie Heaslip is coming around from concussion.

Kidney could not possibly be certain of his number one scrum-half. Eoin Reddan has |been far from totally convincing and Conor Murray is charging hard. There is confusion over his first choice fly-half. It still looks an even race between the slight favourite Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O’Gara.

Brian O’Driscoll is nursing a neck-shoulder injury that delayed his re-introduction to the season. He has played just one game. His partner Gordon D’Arcy has not hit his stride yet.

Worse again, the fact that Kidney played Keith Earls in the centre against 17.5-stone behemoth Manu Tuilagi when the Myross man made it plain he needs the shelter of the wing leaves questions as to the judgment of the coach and management.

In simple terms, the Irish |backline squad is littered with three-quarters, like Andrew |Trimble, Earls and Fergus |McFadden, who are not natural passers of the ball. They prefer |to tuck the ball up and run like |the wind. This is easy to defend.

When O’Driscoll is not on the field, there is precious little in the way of world-class handling skills, besides Tommy Bowe’s no-look feeds and Geordan Murphy’s creative intelligence. Full-back Robert Kearney is nursing a groin strain.

Bullying

An objective observer only has to trail the honest words of England coach Martin Johnson and apply them to Ireland to see that they will have to search for their confidence on the other side of the world.

Johnson said of England’s bullying of Ireland: “We needed to perform, step up from the last two games, convert some chances into points, which we did.”

Obviously, Ireland didn’t.

The statistics dictate that the loss of a player to a yellow card costs the offending team 10 points on average. When Chris Ashton was binned, England scored 10 points. That is a swing of 20 points.

“I thought we adapted really well to what happened,” he said.

Ireland didn’t.

“We’ve got good options from which to choose what we think is best.” Ireland doesn’t.

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