The upcoming international tests need to be approached with an open mindset by Irish rugby’s figureheads, and youth is the word, according to Sam Geoghegan
The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ has – finally – delivered on its talent with silverware. Now the question to be posed is whether Ireland can continue in their stride and stand toe to toe with the World Champions in Croke Park on 28th November. Unfortunately, all signs appear to be ominous for Ireland this forthcoming year.
Declan Kidney did a wonderful job during his first year at the helm, especially after the debacle of Eddie O’Sullivan’s tenure. The mediocrity of winning three Triple Crowns in four years was simply not good enough for a team with unlimited capabilities, both internationally and on a provincial level.
O’Sullivan wasted his opportunity with the players he had at his disposal, and one can only imagine what obstacles would have been overcome if Kidney had been appointed in 2001 after Warren Gatland’s dismissal. The emerging youth of Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Cian Healy and Jonathan Sexton are, no doubt, extremely talented. However, they are not yet as competent a grouping as Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, Denis Hickie and Gordon D’Arcy, who would have excelled further under proper guidance from Kidney.
These upcoming internationals are pivotal to the future success of the Irish rugby team. This is an ideal occasion for Kidney to experiment with the talented youth he has at his disposal. Adhering to this, Kidney must be complemented that nine out of his 39-man squad are uncapped, although it is a little baffling why the Ulster fly half, Ian Humphreys, was left out considering the age and deteriorating skills of Ronan O’Gara.
With the World Cup approaching in less than two years, Kidney hopefully is realising that in order to compete with the southern hemisphere sides, he must build his teams with New Zealand 2011 in mind. Ireland now has the taste of success with Heineken Cups and Grand Slams, therefore leaving the Webb Ellis Cup as the one trophy left vacant from this island.
While Munster and Leinster are in decent shape in the Magners League, their Heineken Cup form has been far from impressive. Neither province, having lost one of their opening two pool matches, can afford to drop any more points.
The fact is, that while the Grand Slam was a tremendous achievement for Irish rugby and Ireland as a whole, we were fortunate to play considerably weakened English and French teams at home. England and France are teams which both strive for success in World Cups while Six Nations Championships are mere bonuses.
Now the question is whether Kidney might use the 2010 and 2011 Six Nations’ as a breeding ground for the World Cup in 2011. In order for Irish rugby to evolve, the core of this team in 2011 cannot still be the triumvirate of O’Driscoll, O’Connell and O’Gara.
The IRFU must learn to value long-term prosperity in World Cups, rather than short-term success in the Six Nations. It will be intriguing to see the line-ups for the Australia, South Africa and Fiji test matches, though this writer fears it will be the usual tried and tested.