Adrian O’Farrell takes a look at the extended Ireland squad and makes his predictions for what we can expect from ‘team Ireland’ in the Guinness Series 2008.
Fresh from his stint as the warm up act for Declan and co. at the Supporters Club ‘Meet The Coaches’ evening, Adrian O’Farrell is back with a look at the extended squad, as named last week, and the expectations for the GUINNESS Series 2008.
Declan Kidney did not spring any great surprise in naming an extended squad for the Guinness International Series, perhaps the only surprise being the extent of the squad.
With 41 players attending initially, everyone who had a realistic hope is there (with the possible exception of Johnny O’Connor).
For a new coach, it makes sense not just because ‘we can continue to familiarise a largely new-look backroom staff with a wider group of players’ as Kidney puts it, but also he gets to start off with a positive with his core group of players.
With this squad, Kidney has sent out a signal to English-based players that they are not out of the reckoning.
The inclusion of Bob Casey in particular lets him know that there is renewed hope for his international career under this new dispensation, but the quiet selection of Roger Wilson and Mike Ross also sends a signal.
Ulster’s resurgent win over an admittedly watered-down Munster has given their season the injection that it so badly needed and their representatives in this squad will be walking a little taller into the squad hotel.
Indeed, the form of Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris had been quite good anyway. While Wallace raised the bar with a standout performance on Sunday, Andrew Trimble also found some of the form that has made him a valuable member of the Irish squad.
Ryan Caldwell also put in a good shift, though the brainless yellow card continued a query over his discipline.
Meanwhile, with Munster and Leinster putting in some massive performances over the past few weeks, there are a lot of their players putting their hands up.
It will be interesting to see the level of experimentation that Kidney goes in for. The suspicion is ‘not a lot’, given that it is imperative that Ireland do not lose out in the race for eighth spot in the IRB rankings ahead of the World Cup draw on December 1.
The Scots play two of the same sides that we do – New Zealand and Canada – and also play South Africa.
So it is somewhat reassuring that in theory they have a tougher series than we do.
To get that off to a good start, Ireland need to beat Canada by more than 15 points. Given that the match is at Thomond Park, a spiritual home for Kidney, and that it is his first one as Ireland coach, he will surely eschew tinkering for a solid start.
In terms of the style of play his Irish teams will adopt, Kidney offered some insight to the Supporters Club when the Irish management team of Kidney, Paul McNaughton and Gert Smal held a Q&A session with them.
In essence, he said that he believed that a coach had to look at the strengths and weaknesses of a particular group of players before deciding what way to play as opposed to intending to play a certain way and imposing that style on the group of players.
What does that suggest with regard to this particular group of players, who, in theory, can play it fast and loose as well as tight and controlled?
The likelihood is that we will see it pretty controlled initially with the possibility of opening up later but only when and if the platform has been established up front.
In that sense one could argue that it will be more Munster than Leinster in style terms, but bear in mind that Kidney did show a willingness to expand the Munster game when he felt that the strengths and weaknesses of the players at his disposal warranted it.
The headline decision at this squad announcement, of course, was the retention of the captaincy by Brian O’Driscoll.
The way that Kidney has handled this may have been just good fortune, or it may have been quite brilliant.
For there is a decent argument that in flagging to O’Driscoll that he may be about to lose the captaincy, he gave the latter that incentive to rededicate himself to the game that has directly led to his astonishing turnabout in form in recent weeks.
Crucially, Kidney gave O’Driscoll the time to save himself in terms of the captaincy and for all that he does not enjoy the press side of the captaincy equation, it is something that the captain was not about to jettison lightly.
The player himself puts his extra pep down to losing weight through less muscle mass, but one wonders would this have come about without the promptings of the coach.
It is a shame that O’Driscoll has suffered this knee injury at such a time. Any interruption is never welcome but given what he has achieved in relocating his old zest and running game, and what an ephemeral thing form and confidence is, it could not have come at a worse time for him.
Kidney himself would, of course, downplay his role in this and deny that he held any such motivation, merely calling the situation as he saw it.
But he does that with almost all of his successes and the impression given is that he is just lucky to be involved with the great teams he has been involved with.
The playwright and former member of ‘Beyond the Fringe’, Alan Bennett, wrote that ‘All modesty is false, or else it is not modesty.’
Those present at the Supporters Club meeting with him would surely agree that if Kidney’s modesty is false then he may not be just the most consistently successful coach in Irish rugby history, but also one of Ireland’s greatest ever actors.