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Monday 18 December 2017

Kidney must be careful with his risky out-half tactic

A couple of years ago, bench warmers in the Irish team were given a couple of token minutes at the end of the game, when realistically they had no chance of making any discernible difference.

Last weekend, just when it looked as if England was gaining the ascendancy in the last quarter of the match, Declan Kidney's astute use of his replacements paid massive dividends.

Kidney's move in bringing Ronan O'Gara off the bench for the last 10 minutes of the match had a Midas feel to it, and it showed the coach's best possible use of both his No10s' talents. The question remains: is this the best option for the future?

Johnny Sexton, despite being off par with his kicks at goal, was responsible for two of Ireland's three tries, one a perfectly weighted kick for Tommy Bowe to run onto after just three minutes, and then a wide cut-out pass that allowed Keith Earls to get outside his man.

But O'Gara's introduction late in the game by Kidney seemed inspired, especially when the Munster man drilled a perfect kick into the corner to give Ireland a crucial field position so that they could push on for the win.

To have two world-class players in such a pivotal position is a luxury that very few international teams have leading into the next World Cup, which is only 18 months away.

Jonny Wilkinson showed England last week that he is well past his sell-by date, especially as a playmaker, but Martin Johnson persists with him simply because they do not have an adequate back-up, especially after the likes of Danny Cipriani and Shane Geraghty have proved far too inconsistent.

Likewise, the French, who, despite Frédéric Michalak's spasmodic class, also do not have a consistent back-up for the incumbent Francois Trinh-Duc. Even in the Southern Hemisphere, teams are struggling to find two world-class out-halves in their squads, with the All Blacks failing to unearth a player fit to challenge Dan Carter.

Having said all that, neither Sexton nor O'Gara will want to operate on a rotation system for too long, and you could see the disappointment written all over Sexton's face as he was pulled ashore by Kidney. Conversely, O'Gara did not look that comfortable as he stood for the pre-game national anthems in the unaccustomed replacement jersey.



dying

Against England, having a specialist No10 on the bench worked well, but next time out it may not. In the dying minutes of last week's epic game, and with O'Gara and Andrew Trimble already on the field for Sexton and Brian O'Driscoll respectively, Gordon D'Arcy then looked suspect with injury.

Had D'Arcy gone off, it would have meant the likes of Tomás O'Leary being pushed onto the wing. Granted, O'Leary is fast and brave, and he has actually played on the wing for Munster, but at international level it is a serious step-up.

We recently saw a similar situation in the opening match of this year's Six Nations when the Scottish captain and scrum-half Mike Blair was forced to play on the wing against France due to an overwhelming array of injuries.

Straight away the French exposed him, not because Blair did not have the physical capabilities or speed to play on the wing, but he was not used to the defensive positions or high balls.

The Scots were caught out, and France duly attacked down Blair's channel. Carrying two specialist players as your back-up on the bench is a high-risk strategy. Ideally the best composition of the bench, as far as backline cover is concerned, is obviously a specialist back-up scrum-half and then two impact players who are at least versatile, with one of them able to kick goals -- Paddy Wallace being the perfect example, yet he was left out.

In the forwards, the much-maligned Tony Buckley did his part, holding up a vital English scrum close to the Irish line at a key time in the match.

Buckley is a huge man, and his mere presence around the fringes of the rucks and mauls dictates that the teams often try to go around him rather than through him, a bit like John Hayes.

At 20-stone plus and 6ft 5in, Buckley is a good man to have when clearing out the rubble, but how Ireland would love him to get wound-up once in a while -- if only you could transplant Peter Clohessy's raw aggression into Buckley's natural strength.

The jury is still out on Hayes' long-term replacement.

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