Declan Kidney gave his first public comments on being appointed Ireland head coach at a Munster press conference on Thursday, with the Corkman admitting that he is looking forward to challenging himself at the highest level.
Kidney was officially confirmed as Eddie O’Sullivan’s successor in the Ireland hotseat on Wednesday and speaking at the Maryborough House Hotel in Douglas, he said it was an offer he could not turn down.
“It’s a huge honour to be asked to coach your national team. I felt that way with (Ireland) Schools and the Under-19s and there were rifts to leave those teams at that particular time.
“It was a rift to leave Munster six years ago and it will be a rift now too (when I leave), but when you look at the honour that’s being bestowed on me, you can’t say no.”
Keen to point out that it will be far from a one-man show when he takes charge of the Ireland senior squad, Kidney paid tribute to the calibre of backroom staff he has worked with at provincial and national levels.
“I’ve only ever wanted to coach sides that wanted me to coach them. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked with some smashing people. If you have that kind of support behind you, the coach is really only a front for everything else that goes on behind you.
“There’s so many people that work behind the scenes in the teams I’ve worked with that have been brilliant. Like Bart Fannin with the Irish Under-19s, Keith Patton with the Schools and Niallo (Niall O’Donovan) and Harry Williams with the (Ireland) ‘A’ side.
“The backroom team at Munster is every bit as good as the one out on the pitch and usually one is a reflection of the other.”
Asked if stepping up to the plate as a national senior coach would be intimidating, he replied: “Yes, you’d have to be intimidated by such a job. Coaching (a national team) with the way sport is now and with so much emotion, you see the kids wearing the jersey and knowing that you have to represent them the best way you can.
“If I stop to think about it, I will be intimidated. So the trick is not to stop and to keep going. That’s the challenge.
?If one of the players came up to me and said he had a chance to play for Ireland but said he was thinking of staying put, I’d tell him, ‘you will in your ear, off you go!’ You have to challenge yourself at the highest level,” he added.
With possibly another Heineken Cup on the way with Munster meeting Toulouse in the May 24 decider, Kidney is already the most successful coach in the history of Irish provincial rugby. So how will he cope with the transition from day-to-day work to that of an international coach?
“It’s a different type of job. I know that from experience from before,” said the 48-year-old, who was Ireland assistant coach between 2002 and 2004.
“There’s about 10 or 11 games in an international season but the preparatory work for that is probably greater than it might be here (Munster).
“My job really is to help the players to play to the best of their abilities. If I try and play it to suit anybody else then I’ll be taking my eye off the ball. It’s about the players and the days they should be looking forward to.
“What you want to do is to make every minute a player plays for his country a special minute. And if I can help to put something in place that allows them to do that, then I think I’ll be doing okay.”
One aspect which Kidney will need to tackle quickly is Ireland’s current position of eighth in the IRB World Rankings, particularly with the rankings will be used to seed teams for the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool draw in December.
Like last year’s tournament, the next World Cup in New Zealand will have four pools of five teams. Each team will be banded according to strength to try and ensure evenly matched pools.
The twelve directly qualified teams, including Ireland and cup holders South Africa, will be allocated into the top three bands for the random draw using the IRB World Rankings as follows:
Band 1: Top four ranked qualified teams (1 to 4 in IRB World Rankings)
Band 2: Next four ranked qualified teams (5 to 8 in IRB World Rankings)
Band 3: Bottom four ranked qualified teams
While Ireland are sitting quite precariously at the moment in eighth position, Kidney was not too concerned.
“Obviously the rankings have an effect on the Rugby World Cup and it is important for that reason to get as high as possible in them.
“But once you get close to a game, you just have to focus in on who you are playing. The fixture list is a challenging and daunting one but if you ask any of the players, they’ll tell you they’d like to be playing the teams that they’re going to be playing,” he said.
An interim management team will be in control for Ireland’s upcoming games against the Barbarians, New Zealand and Australia.
Kidney’s first game in charge will be against Canada in the familiar surroundings of Thomond Park on November 8, with Croke Park clashes with the All Blacks and Argentina over the following two Saturdays.
To listen to Declan Kidney’s interview in full, please click here.