Come in Declan, Your Time is Up …
In ‘Deconstructing Declan’ a couple of weeks ago, I noted that barring three consecutive humiliations, Kidney would be safe until the end of his contract. Three weeks later – well, where does two out of three leave us??
Ireland were poor in the first match; much-improved in the second; but sadly this proved to be one of the infrequent one-off elevations above the norm, with the Irish performance in the final test the worst I have ever seen. Maybe even the worst I have ever seen by any international team.
The tour followed a predictable pattern – questionable selections; incoherent, reactive chopping and changing of personnel; complete absence of an effective attacking gameplan, even in the second test; and, unfortunately, an exceptionally porous defence. Over the weekend I dug up something I had written fully two years ago on the UAFC, after another disastrous test defeat in New Zealand (although at least we could point in mitigation to the early red card shown to Heaslip), and it is frightening how little things have changed in the intervening period.
Here’s what I wrote at the time (refers to Ireland’s downturn in fortunes from the 2010 Six Nations campaign onwards): “We never really looked capable of controlling matches, never really dominated possession, looked unimaginative and short of cutting edge, and kicked too much away – depending on our defence to squeeze our way to victory, like the last year, but unfortunately it wasn’t nearly as effective, with France in particular taking it apart time after time. I was uncomfortably reminded of watching Ireland under EOS – over-structured, no plan B, scared rugby..”
In retrospect, 2009 was Ireland’s dead cat bounce under Kidney – going a calendar year undefeated is quite an achievement, but since then Ireland have won just 42% of their games. 42%. That is shocking. By contrast, England have won 57% of their games in the same period – but have sacked Johnson, and even Lancaster is under some pressure following their South Africa tour! Kidney can count himself lucky he has easier taskmasters than the RFU.
Speaking of his taskmasters – the chickens have come home to roost (again!) for the IRFU, following the completely incomprehensible contract extensions awarded pre-World Cup. There are many reasons why they may shy away from making changes prior to Kidney’s contract expiry – loss of face, likely need to pay compensation – but surely enough is enough by now, even for them?
I’ve heard it argued that for ranking purposes, the November tests are extremely important, and that therefore sacking Kidney would be too disruptive. I think the opposite is true – given the sorry state that the Irish rugby team has descended into, the November tests are too important to be entrusted to him!
I have also heard it argued that as a head coach, he is a hands-off man-manager and motivator, so what is needed, rather than sacking him, is to bring in a more technical coach to work under him. I have all kinds of problems with this diagnosis. Firstly, he may be hands-off, but he has a clear infuence on the selections and gameplan, such as it is – and these are the source of most of Ireland’s problems. Secondly, I frankly don’t buy this idea that he’s a great motivator etc – morale doesn’t exist in a vaccuum, and I don’t care how many team-building exercises / pep-talks / heart to hearts / whatever it is he’s supposed to do, if his team is playing crap and losing, morale will not be good, end of story. I would rather have a good technical head coach, who gets Ireland playing well and winning, and let morale sort itself out from there.
Thirdly, I don’t believe that anyone capable of turning things around would be willing to work under him – or for that matter, I don’t think he would agree to it. He would, correctly, view it as a face-saving step towards showing him the exit, with his new ‘Deputy Head Coach’ stepping up in a year’s time. Another problem is that Kidney’s rugby philosophy is so out of step with what the top teams in the world are doing at present, that it’s hard to imagine anything less than wholesale changes having any effect. To take the example of Joe Schmidt, one of the most widely-mentioned potential candidates to replace Kidney – the way Leinster play (fast ball, support play, offloads) is so utterly contrary to the way Kidney tries to make Ireland play (slow ball, one-out carries, kicking), it’s hard to imagine somehow grafting the twain together.
We have been watching a slow motion implosion of the Irish rugby team under these coaches (his coaching team can’t escape criticism here either) for over three years now. Enough is enough. Rather than keeping on fruitlessly rolling the dice, and giving him ‘one more Six Nations campaign’ or ‘one more autumn series’ in the hope that suddenly things will turn around, the IRFU has to finally show some bottle, get a grip of the situation – and bring in a head coach competent of delivering Ireland’s potential.