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Aussie Interest In IRFU’s Kidney Transplant?

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Ok so first things first, Declan Kidney, axe wielder extraordinaire this season, hasn’t been “dropped” just yet. But the announcement from the IRFU that he would be brought in for a discussion on his future just ahead of his final tour for which he is contracted would suggest they at least have him at the edge of the plank. Whether they will push or not remains to be seen, remember these are the same suits who renewed both his and O’Sullivan’s contracts at times that it was clear both coaches had given all they could give to Ireland.

Before looking at who might possibly take the mantle after Kidney, let’s have a look at some of the stats from his five years in the job. His tenure began as it would appear to have finished, with a mixed November involving a world rankings clash with Argentina, albeit with a far more satisfactory performance against the Pumas. What happened next is of course history, Ireland achieved what nobody was keeping hope they would, the coveted Grand Slam, sight of Ronan O’Gara’s finest ever display in an Irish jersey. The November games saw Ireland remain unbeaten for the calendar year and spirits were immensely high. The French spoiled the party in the ensuing Six Nations but what stood out was that Ireland did appear to be trying for some inventiveness in their playing style. Then came a summer tour of mediocrity, a hammering from the All Blacks and two flatteringly close games against the Maori’s and Australia. November brought misery, outrageous ticket prices lead to an empty Aviva and dire performances from Ireland against the All Blacks, Samoa, Argentina and South Africa kept the seats empty. An unbeaten year had been followed by only three wins in 2010.

The next year brought a World Cup and marked the first time the knives were unanimously out for Kidney. The Six Nations was an extremely mixed bag, a near loss to Italy, a controversial loss to Wales and a defeat snatched from victory against France. But it was the final game, where Ireland wiped the floor with an English team in incredible form and on the hunt for a Grand Slam that Ireland were arguably at their peak under Kidney. Appetites where whetted for the World Cup a few months ahead. And the World Cup is arguably where Kidney gained and subsequently lost the majority of his defenders. Starting off with an extremely unconvincing win against USA, Ireland then had the mammoth task of beating Australia in their back garden, 1978 being the last time Ireland had beaten a Southern Hemisphere on their own turf. Nobody gave them any chance, but the incredible efforts of Ferris and O’Brien, coupled with the boots of O’Gara and Sexton saw Ireland run out victors and Kidney it seemed had got it all tactically spot on. An emphatic win against Italy and Ireland topped the pool for the first time ever, on to a Six Nations round of knockouts against Wales and England/France and Ireland could’ve been looking at the final. But then it all came crashing down.

Kidney had to beat Wales to see a first ever semi final. Ireland had not lost to the Welsh in three years before that controversial 2011 Six Nations and for the most part looked relatively comfortable against them. But Kidney was outsmarted by Gatland on the day and Ireland’s back row behemoths were outplayed all over the pitch. Couple that with the bizarre reintroduction of O’Gara as starting out half and the rest is turgid history, Ireland bowing out and the nation being left deflated. Kidney was in serious trouble. Things did not fair better in Spring of last year when Ireland began their current trend of not having anything beyond the Plan A game plan. Against Wales in the opening game they looked as though they were shocked by the fightback. Scotland and Italy flattered to deceive and the draw with France was nothing short of painful. But it was Twickenham where Kidney and the IRFU really showed their lack of competence. That Ireland found themselves relying on Tom Court for both sides of the front row and the ensuing scrum carnage that it led to that fateful Paddy’s Day has truly cemented the need for massive change all the way to the top. This year’s Six Nations saw Ireland’s worst finish since 1998 and four matches where the men in green had no Plan B for the various disasters thrown their way. But who is the man to roll in and execute these changes?

The first choice for most fans would be the one and only Conor O’Shea. Having joined Harlequins as director of rugby after their lowest ebb in the Bloodgate scandal he has resurrected them to emphatic wins in Amlin finals, a first ever Premiership title, a thrilling victory over Munster in Thomond Park, one of the few, and now they are looking like the team to beat in the Heineken Cup knock outs. The problem with all of this? Well apart from him stating he wasn’t interested, why would he want the job? It is more likely his future lies with RFU than taking on the slightly poisoned chalice that is the Irish national team at present.

Next in line in order of preference is of course Joe Schmidt. Many are quick to instantly rule him out as he has been quite open about how his family dictate his career and should he choose to go home when his son enters college then his time in Ireland will end. He is however contracted another year with Leinster and even if his only purpose were to guide the team until next year and allow the IRFU time to source a permanent replacement, a year of his input would be invaluable.

There is foreign rumour too in the form of Ewen McKenzie who is leaving his position with the Queensland Reds after having found them massive success and a Super title to boot. There is also Jake White who has obvious credit from his time with the Boks. But one would have to say that after the Sexton negotiations, as well as Ireland’s dismal campaign hardly raking in the big bucks, that the IRFU would likely lose the battle for either of these candidates to a French side.

The rest of the list is filled with quite the mish mash but few hold much hope or likelihood for yours truly, Anthony Foley, Brian McLaughlin, Michael Bradley, Les Kiss (!), Nick Mallet and Mike Ruddock). Foley has no proper head coach experience, same for Kiss and Mallet and Bradley really only have Flash moments of promise with poor teams to their names. As for Ruddock, he would simply leave too much of a void in the U20s setup, harsh as that may seem.

Whoever takes over from Kidney, should his time be at an end, the problem doesn’t stop there. The IRFU needs a shake up, and mind sets need to change or he rejigged. Only then can Ireland truly rebuild.

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