These November tests have given Ireland’s new coach, Declan Kidney, a chance to stamp his mark on the team, writes Conor Farrell.
November at last, and finally the long awaited test matches have arrived. Obviously New Zealand proved to be the greatest opposition on the 15th, but Argentina could also prove to be very tough opponents. These tests are the foundations of Declan Kidney’s new appointment as head coach and, after Saturday’s crushing defeat, it is time to see if he can redeem himself to bring the same success at international level as he has at provincial status with Munster.
In the opening test against Canada, the new boss did indeed show that he wasn’t afraid to put new faces forward as Keith Earls earned his first number cap as one member of a youthful back three, also including Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe. Kidney’s faith was rewarded as Earls broke down the Canada defence within three minutes to score the opening try and with both Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe touching down twice, his baby-face back three look like a force to be reckoned with.
The final score of 55-0 in Ireland’s favour masks many of the unforced errors that characterised Ireland’s play, with the game play somewhat stagnant in most of the second half. Some players seem to be in peak condition, for instance Ronan O’Gara with a display of kicking masterclass bringing his points tally to thirteen; an impressive tally at test level regardless of opposition.
Big forward performances from Jerry Flannery and Stephen Ferris also gave Kidney hope that this Ireland team could highly improve on the Canadian test and challenge the dominating All Blacks team, who cruised to victory over Scotland in a convincing 32-6 win, even with the second string side they put out.
Unfortunately, Saturday proved that these hopes were, in fact, unfounded. Brian O’Driscoll had been the topic of controversy over the last few seasons after coming back from his horrendous shoulder injury. On Saturday he faced the team that caused it, admittedly without the two incriminated players, and one wondered if this affected the Irish captain’s game further as many feel the former-UCD man has been a shadow of the player he once was since that Lions’ Tour.
Though many say that he is not the powerful player who once excelled for Ireland, common logic dissuades from that thinking. Yes he is different in the sense that now he is not running the pitch and scoring 60 yard tries but is still a world class play maker showing genius in every game creating gaps for other players to exploit and fighting for ball on the ground as well as any back rower. However, after Saturday’s weak performance, at 29, post-injury O’Driscoll will have to work extremely hard to regain his former glory.
From the outset, regarding previous history, the outlook for the Irish in the New Zealand test was bleak. However, Ireland started out the test in high spirits. The Irish side seemed to overcoming the pessimistic outlook that plauged them. However, the team’s spirit appeared to be duly crushed at the end of the first half, with a New Zealand penalty try. The final score of 22-3 reflected the ethos of the second half, where the All Blacks easily defeated the home side.
The final test is on the 22nd November. The Argentine visitors will, as always, prove worthy adversaries if they are on form and Ireland will be tiring, as the games take their physical toll on the squad. Hopefully the squad will have enough strength in depth for them to pull through. Kidney has clearly already thought of this, having brought eleven new players into the squad for the previous game.
Girvan Dempsey, Geordan Murphy, Denis Leamy and Malcolm O’Kelly are a few of the big names to be called up and in keeping with his mantra of trying out new talent. Kidney has also decided to bring young Leinster prop Cian Healy into the fold.
Argentina’s backline boasts talented players across the board and are very hard to contain, from their no. 9 Agustin Pichot, Fly half Hernandez, the Contepomi coupling in the centre (Manuel and Felipe) and the ever dangerous Ignacio Corleto at full back or wing. The pack is also nothing to disregard with Albacete and Leguizamon destroying opposition ball in second and back row and monster hooker, Mario Ledesma, leading the front three.
All of these factors forced France’s outhalf David Skrela to kick for victory against the side who beat them in the 3rd place play-off during the 2007 RWC. Contepomi lead by example kicking all of Argentina’s points, the “magic man” then proceeded to wreak havoc in attack as he does so well with Leinster.
Hernandez kept France on the back foot with his piercing depth kicks pinning them deep in their own 22 and only for Argentina’s ill discipline in the ruck they could have found victory over the home side.
The final score came to 12-6 in favour of the French, laying down a blueprint for the new Irish management structure. The home side must look at this match and try to emulate France in hard defence and clinical execution of taking points when they are available. If they do that, it is more than possible they will at last exorcise the ghosts of the 2007 World Cup, and the downfall that followed so starkly.
As world rankings currently stand Ireland are ranking eighth and Argentina have climbed to fourth after their impressive bronze medal performance at the World Cup, however, Argentina could hopefully restore our rightful place among the best nations of the game.