The irony is not lost on Declan Kidney. Beginning his Ireland tenure at Thomond Park, where he enjoyed many great days as coach of Munster. Looking ahead to the GUINNESS Series 2008, the Corkman says Ireland will treat it like ‘a mini World Cup pool.’
“It’s a bit ironic (going back). Just to be with Ireland is a huge honour…the fact that the match happens to be in Thomond Park is great,” Kidney said of next Saturday’s clash with Canada.
“The stadium has looked really well for the matches that have been played there to date, and I think that the people who have built it have done an extraordinarily good job of mixing the new with keeping all the old because it’s like two jaws around the old stadium.
“I’ve enjoyed the matches that I have been there to see so far – I suppose the seat I’ll be sitting in next time will be a little bit warmer, but you will just enjoy being involved in the games. Hopefully the players will enjoy it as well.”
It will be Ireland’s first Test match at Thomond Park since they beat Italy 61-6 in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match in August 2003.
The Limerick venue also played host to a friendly game between Ireland and Romania in September 2002, which the men in green won 39-8.
The GUINNESS Series 2008 opener will be Ireland’s fourth encounter with Canada, following on from meetings in 1987 (Ireland won a RWC pool game 46-19 in Carisbrook), 1997 (Ireland were 33-11 winners of a Lansdowne Road friendly) and 2000 (the sides drew 27-27 in a friendly in Ontario).
That last game at Fletcher’s Field saw the sides share out six tries, with Ronan O’Gara kicking a crucial, late penalty as Ireland came back from being 21-8 down at half-time.
Of the 34-man squad named for next weekend’s Test, O’Gara, Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer, John Hayes and Geordan Murphy are the only survivors from the 2000 tie.
Commenting on team selection for next Saturday, Kidney said: “There’s an onus that any team that we put out there, given the number of people who have played in the jersey before, that you don’t give out a freebie. Anybody that plays in the jersey will have to have earned the right.
“The Canada match is huge, because it’s probably the most important of the three in terms of ranking points and the way the system is done.
“It’s a three-game sequence which is like a mini World Cup pool. We have to look upon it that way.
“This week we just tried to concentrate on ourselves and next week we’ll see what the best team is to go out but that’s next week’s work.”
Kidney has been encouraged by how the younger players are pushing through at provincial level and they have slotted in almost effortlessly at training this week – there are six uncapped players (with an average age of 23) in the 34-man panel.
These are some of the players who will drive Ireland on in the coming seasons. It will be interesting to see how many of them can force their way into the team selection for Canada.
“We have done some preparation on Canada (from their matches in the summer). We’ve parked that away this week because it’s not appropriate to the type of work we’re trying to do this week,” Kidney explained.
“What balance do you get between concentrating on the opposition as against what you want to try and achieve yourself.
“We have a number of new coaches, we want to bring in some ideas. I believe the experience that those coaches are bringing in is that we’re not trying to pour it all out in the one go.”
He added: “It’s not like what the lads were doing before was wrong, we’re just trying to add a small bit to that so that we can move it on.
“What went on before was exceptionally good – to get three Triple Crowns in the last six years was a great achievement.
“Our job now is to try and add onto that. There’ll be some new players coming into it over the coming years, that’ll change the shape of the team, maybe, as a result.
“It will be those new players that will change the way we play as much as anything that we’ll bring into it.”