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Thursday 14 December 2017

Kidney at crossroads after Scotland defeat

WAS it a good championship for Ireland? The obvious answer would be no. However, if you take into account that the Grand Slam in '09 was won by a solitary drop goal the margins between success and failure can be minuscule.

In a strange way Kidney may have learned a lot more from this year's campaign than he has done since he took his position and there are positives to be taken from the past few games.

The summer tests are now vital for Ireland in the continuing development of certain players and the direction this team wants to go.

For me, the general template for the way forward should be based on how we approached the last match. Obviously there is much to do, but in defeat the players at least know exactly where and how much they will have to improve before the summer.



Stagnant

If we return to the tried and trusted we risk remaining stagnant, as we have done for the past few months.

If we do that we can roll the dice and let the chips fall where they may. We would probably claim the odd big scalp along the way to the World Cup but that would be no different from what we have done before, so ultimately it would serve no purpose.

In the end it would serve to undermine the potential that has not been exploited to its full, despite capturing a Grand Slam and numerous Triple Crowns.

I am not under any illusions about where we stand. The fact remains that we will always have to be close to, or at, our best anytime we take the field against most sides. In that sense we have to become as good as we can be with the ball in hand.

I do believe we have to match the ability to create and score tries that of the best sides in the world and somehow it must come from the ability to play continuously with pace and the ambition to match.

The players must believe that if the five or six dropped passes against the Scots had gone to hand we could have had a totally different game. Hindsight is always wonderful, of course, but the point stands all the same.

At the moment, if our set-piece fails to function on any given day we really struggle to create anything and chasing any game always proves difficult. When we do get to those situations, as we did in Paris, we are then forced to play more football, but that is where we do look our most dangerous.

Such an approach must be harnessed as much as possible. The way we develop to get us out of such predicaments under high pressure will be key.

The World Cup is where such things come under the most scrutiny, so we will have to be prepared.

For the summer tests, with that backdrop, it does give Kidney a bit of a dilemma. Armed with a more enterprising approach he knows that the likes of the All Blacks will welcome that type of game with open arms.



Balance

We will have to box clever about when to unleash our game but in the same breadth it will have to be implemented for longer periods at the right times.

Striking the right balance between what we tried to do against the Scots in the early stages and for brief periods in other games and knowing when to play tight at the right times will be the focus.

From that perspective, what was learned in defeat in the last match could serve us well for the future.

Meanwhile, the likes of Rob Kearney and Jonny Sexton will have the chance to return to winning ways as they are among a number of returning internationals named for Leinster's Magners League clash against Connacht at the RDS tomorrow.

Leinster have been going about their business in convincing fashion over the past number of weeks.

A couple of recent wins have put Michael Cheika's men in pole position at the top of the league and the returning players should get a timely boost from the rest of the squad after the recent disappointment.

Sexton, in particular, will get a chance to regain his confidence before the big matches over the next few weeks.

In one sense I think he has taken giant steps down that road, which he demonstrated before Ronan O'Gara's substitution against Scotland. The kick that he converted knowing he was about to be replaced was probably the most pressure anyone could ever deal with, taking into account what must have been going on in his head at that moment.

That will surely stand to him. Leinster should continue on their winning ways. It's important to keep the momentum going heading into the next two weeks.

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