Monday, 25 March 2013

Declan Kidney's reign

If you were to sum up Declan Kidney's reign as Ireland coach in two words, they are the two I would choose. I started to write this piece directly after the Scotland game. One question kept coming into my mind. Are Ireland as good as I think they are? Their winning percentage under Kidney would suggest not. Neither does their World Ranking.

Every series of matchs include a terrible performance, a game against a higher ranked team where we perform but don't win, and a morale-boosting and usually backs to the wall comprehensive victory. There might be a scrape through victory against a poorer team thrown in for good measure.

Is this good enough for one of the most talented group of players ever to play for Ireland at once? We have had the remains of the "Golden Generation" in Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara and Paul O'Connell, the next almost equally golden generation in Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney, play for us in the last 4 years, and the results haven't changed.

As a nation we have come to expect more. Too often we go from joyous elation to end of the world despair in the space of a week with this team. Only 2009 wasn't like that in Kidney's reign;

Autumn 2008

Canada W 53-12 (Debut -Keith Earls)
New Zealand L 3-22
Argentina W 18-9 (Debut- Donnacha Ryan)

Ireland were in a bad way after not threatening New Zealand at all and losing 22-3. They were in serious threat of dropping to the third tier and missing out on the 2nd band of seeds for the RWC draw later that year. Then the morale boosting victory over Argentina got Ireland into the 2nd seeds into the RWC, and they went on to win the grandslam in 2009.

Six Nations 2009, seems to be an exception rather than a habit. This campaign was won on strong periods just after half time where Ireland outscored the opposition. Tom Court also made his debut in this campaign. Other players like Stephen Ferris were recalled and became fixtures in the squad.

The Summer 2009 wasn't notable for anything other than debuts for Darren Cave, Ian Dowling, Ian Keatley, John Muldoon, Ian Whitten, Ryan Caldwell, Mike Ross and Denis Hurley.

The tour shows that Kidney was at least trying to involve players in the squad, but from the names mentioned, only Mike Ross is still fully trusted by Kidney. Cave, Keatley and Muldoon are just about hanging on for chances to be in an Ireland squad again.

Autumn 2009

Australia D 20-20 (Debut - Cian Healy, Keith Earls started to become a fixture in the squad) Good performance, should have won but didn't.
Fiji W 41-6 (Debuts - Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien, Sean Cronin)
South Africa W 15-10 Uplifting win

Autumn 09 showcased a performance against Australia that we should have won, but didn't (20-20), and two morale boosting victories against Fiji and South Africa. This was incidentally, the series where Kidney seemed to introduce the most players freely into the side, with Keith Earls and Jonathan Sexton coming in.

Six Nations 2010

Italy W 29-11 (Debut Kevin McLaughlin)
France L 10-33
England W 20-16 scrape through win - edit
Wales W 27-12  Uplifting win
Scotland L 20-23 Bad loss

Six Nation 2010 brought a comfortable win against Italy(29-11), a poor defeat to France (33-10), a scrape past (16-20) and a very good performance against Wales(27-12). This set us up for a tilt at the triple crown against Scotland, who beat us in the last game at Croke Park (23-20). This was the start of the demise of the Irish confidences, and the inability to play consistently. There was no way we should have lost this.

Summer 2010

Barbarians L 23-29
New Zealand L 28-66 (Debuts - Dan Tuohy, John Fogarty)
New Zealand Maori L 28-31
Australia L 15-22 (Debuts - Chris Henry, Damien Varley, Rhys Ruddock)

Summer 2010 saw Jamie Heaslip get sent off for assaulting Richie McCaw as New Zealand trounced us 66-28. This followed a loss to the Barbarians and then a defeat to the New Zealand Maori. The tour culminated in a 22-15 loss to Australia.

Autumn 2010

South Africa L 21-23 should have won but didn't
Samoa W 20-10 (Debut Devin Toner) unimpressive victory
New Zealand L 18-38 dispiriting loss

The malaise continued into the Autumn internationals with a 21-23 loss to South Africa in a game we should have won. Ireland ended the losing streak with a less than impressive 20-10 victory over Samoa, before losing to New Zealand again 18-38.

2011 6 Nations

Italy W 13-11 (Debut Fergus McFadden) unimpressive victory
France L 22-25 should have won but didn't
Scotland W 21-18 unimpressive victory
Wales L 13-19 should have won but didnt
England W 24-8 Uplifting victory

As they do in every year, Ireland entered the 6 Nations in positive frame of mind. Leinster and Ulster had qualified for the Heineken Cup quarters in fine form, and the view was that this could be a repeat of 2009's grand slam. There was a rude awakening in the first game against Italy, where the a drop goal from Ronan O'Gara prevented Italy from earning a well-deserved first victory against the Irish.
This was followed by a disappointing loss to France (23-25), where they out-scored the visitors by 3 tries to 1. Indiscipline, which has become a feature of this team, started to become extremely costly with Parra punishing all indiscretions. The following week saw another ill-disciplined performance which nearly let Scotland take the spoils (18-21). The lowest point of the campaign came in the Millenium stadium against Wales where Mike Phillips infamous try stole in for the Welsh. Despite that try, Ireland showcased another feature that was starting to creep into their game, not taking their chances. Ireland should have been a distance clear of Wales by the time Phillips wrongly won the game.
This left the destruction of England's grand slam chasing as the game where with their backs up against the wall they show us that they can perform, and stupidly lift expectations of the fans again.

World Cuip warmup games.

Notable for - debuts to Mike McCarthy, Felix Jones and Conor Murray.

Whatever about having had expectations lifted after the England game, these 4 matchs were not only 4 losses, they were 4 terrible performances which completely dampened the mood in the camp. Not much was expected of Ireland in the World Cup.

World Cup 2011

USA W 22-10
Australia W 15-6
Russia W 62-12
Italy W 36-6
Wales L 10-22

The world cup campaign started off listlessly as they struggled to overcome USA 22-10. Then with their backs against the wall again, they produced possibly the greatest performance of Kidney's reign. Which took the Aussie commentators by surprise.





Of course, this got everyone's expectations raises a huge amount. What is unusual about the next two games in Kidney's reign was that they were both very comfortable and very good performances, leading all to believe that bigger things were to come. I think we all know that didnt happen.

2012 6 Nations

Wales L 21-23
Italy W 42-10 (Debut Peter O'Mahony)
France D 17-17
Scotland W 32-14
England L 9-30

For the second year in a row, and the third time running, the Irish lost to the Welsh, and in this game in particular, Ireland should have been out of sight. However, a last minute kick won it for Wales. Ireland then managed to beat Italy quite comfortably, but expectations weren't raised this time. It took a much improved performance and a draw against France to get the motors behind the Irish rugby public again. A big win against Scotland (32-14) drew up hopes that they could beat England again on Paddy's Day. Alas, as Mike Ross and Tom Court will tell you, the Irish scrum was destroyed, and with it, the obsession over finding a second tighthead began.

Summer 2012

Barbarians L 28-29
New Zealand L 10-42 (Debut Declan Fitzpatrick, Simon Zebo, Ronan Loughney)
New Zealand L 19-22
New Zealand L 0- 60

Ireland once again lost to the Barbarians, which became a habit, but didn't seem to dampen moods at all.
3 Tests against New Zealand in New Zealand are always going to be tough, but the general feeling was that this, eventually, could be the time to beat New Zealand on their own patch. After doing fine in the 1st test yet losing 42-10.
The second test equated to the backs against the wall performance that raises hope exponentially amongst supporters. But unfortunately as it's against New Zealand, they weren't able to cross the finish line. The third test was the now predictable collapse and horrific performance that was becoming a feature of Ireland's rugby.

November 2012

South Africa L 12-16 (Debut - Richardt Strauss, Michael Bent, Iain Henderson, Dave Kilcoyne)
Fiji W 53-0 *uncapped
Argentina W 46-24 (Debut Craig Gilroy)

A narrow loss to South Africa, which they should have won, kicked off the November internationals. This time there was plenty of indiscipline and a new feature, a lack of scoring in the second half.
A Fiji team was dispatched by the youngsters which seem to rejuvenate the full squad, with Gilroy breathing fresh air into the camp that produced the due backs against the wall performance that lifts spirits to extraordinary levels. A comprehensive victory against Argentina kept the wolves off Kidney's back for the time being.

Six Nations 2013

Wales W 30-22
England L 6-12
Scotland L 8-12 (Debut Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall)
France D 13-13 (Debut Ian Madigan)
Italy L 15-22

Bringing us nicely to this 6 Nations, where we've already had the "uplifting" performance against Wales, the close loss to England, the collapse against Scotland, and the should have won against France.
Italy fully deserved their victory meaning that Ireland had more shockers than usual.

Are Ireland really as good as I think they are?