Kidney needs to make bold calls
DECLAN Kidney will announce his Six Nations and Wolfhounds squads next Wednesday.
While naming such a large group of players provides unavoidable scope for expansion (accentuated by injury to 'old guard' players such as Brian O'Driscoll, David Wallace, Denis Leamy and Jerry Flannery), there is still the opportunity to make a bold statement
O'Driscoll's absence makes midfield the most intriguing area of selection, in both squads, and there are several promising candidates set to step up.
There is also Paddy Wallace, a seasoned campaigner and long-standing favourite of Kidney's -- dating back to the successful 1998 U19 World Cup.
Wallace, who recently signed a one-year contract extension at Ulster, has been a good servant to the Irish game, never a locked-down starter, but a talented, committed player who has fulfilled a valuable role over the course of 29 caps.
However, given that he is now 32 and unlikely to be around for the next World Cup, selecting him next week would be ultra-conservative with so many candidates coming through.
Wallace's ability to play out-half or first centre has always strengthened his case for involvement, but the progress of Ian Madigan this season gives Kidney a viable, exciting option as back-up to his established 10s of Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton.
Fergus McFadden is a front-runner for O'Driscoll's 13 jersey next to Gordon D'Arcy, but here again there is an opportunity for a bold break with the past. McFadden has shown he can do a decent job in the outside slot, but he looks an exceptional international prospect at 12, ticking all the boxes of distribution, strength in contact, quick feet and kicking ability.
That could open the way for Keith Earls or Luke Fitzgerald at 13, or indeed D'Arcy, while Darren Cave, Eoin Griffin, Eoin O'Malley and David McSharry add to the midfield mix.
Wallace could have a stormer this evening for Ulster, but there is a need to look to the future and this extends to the attacking style, where expanding the briefs of Mark Tainton and Les Kiss, rather than bringing in a specialist attack coach, provides an easy outlet for criticism should Ireland's backs fail to click.
However, the fact that back play was largely stilted under former coach Alan Gaffney works in favour of the new overseers and increases the likelihood of extra invention.
Back-row and second-row are the other areas where Kidney can look to the future, but do not expect an England-style departure from the World Cup when the squad is announced.
Nonetheless, let's hope for a bold approach, and with the Lions job up for grabs, conservatism will not cut it.