WHAT HAVE DECLAN KIDNEY and Joe Schmidt got in common? They have both won two Heineken Cups within a couple of years of each other with an Irish province. However, the current perceptions of the two coaches amongst the Irish rugby public could not be more different.
Schmidt has just guided Leinster to consecutive Heineken Cups and you get the distinct feeling that his side will dispose of the Ospreys on Sunday to mark an impressive double this season, certainly if the determined talk coming out of the camp is anything to go by.
However, it is not just the trophies that have elevated the New Zealander’s status to such heights. It is the manner of them. Very good teams win trophies but truly great ones do it with style.
Under the tutelage of Schmidt, this Leinster side have developed an incredibly inventive and attractive style of play. They look to be truly constructive in their use of the ball and there is nothing passive about any part of their game. It is all about putting people into space, linking with each other and scoring tries.
There are other aspects to their play obviously, but it is their intelligent running game that stands out.
Furthermore, the former Clermont coach has rotated his squad to optimum effect this season, empowering many of the younger players, who have in turn flourished. The likes of Ian Madigan and David Kearney now look completely at home when thrust into the first fifteen.
It doesn’t end there either. Schmidt’s easy going and good humoured manner has endeared him to not only Leinster fans, but also to rugby supporters across Ireland. He tends to talk sense.
Now to Kidney. Since a dream start in the Irish job where he guided Ireland to a first grand slam in 60 years, it has been a very mixed bag. Performances have been erratic with the merit of some excellent displays diluted by a number of poor ones.
The pressure has increased on Kidney each year since the grand slam for a number of reasons, but mainly due to the fact that he is seemingly not getting the best from the group of players at his disposal.
The recent successes of the provinces in Europe haven’t translated to the international stage and everyone seems to have an opinion on why this is. Some suggest that space is more limited at international level. Others intimate that the provinces have the benefit of playing together week-in, week-out and this is the main basis for which they have such well defined styles of playing.
More increasingly, people are looking at the coaching ticket. And why not? It is a natural juncture to arrive at. Ireland possess players of a very high quality, who are not performing with the same confidence, accuracy or conviction for their country as they are for their provinces. This is something that needs be addressed.
Kidney is not as bad as some are currently making out but he doesn’t exactly help himself either, in my book. His conservatism in his selection is a source of frustration, as loyalty to certain players will only get you so far.
Ireland need to embrace the young talent coming through, as they are clearly capable. Surely he could have found a place for an Ian Madigan, a Craig Gilroy or a Dave Kearney in his squad to go to New Zealand? It would have been a beneficial move for all involved; exposing the fledglings to a test match environment in New Zealand, keeping the current occupants of the jerseys on their toes and providing more options for the coaching ticket.
The retort from the Irish coach is that they are going all out and winning is top of the agenda. That is fine in itself but he won’t know if these players are good enough at this level unless he actually gives them some game time.
In general, Kidney’s manner in front of the media seems to have become become more defiant as the years have passed too. Questions concerning selection and tactics are often met with very broad answers, leaving a perturbed rugby public unsure as to logic behind his decisions.
Connecting the dots
The good of Joe Schmidt represents all the failings of Kidney in recent years; he is innovative, creative in his selection and is ultimately getting the best out of the squad at his disposal.
Kidney has his strengths too, of course. He wouldn’t have gotten to where he is today otherwise. Perhaps, however, his relationship with this team has become a little stale. He has been there almost four years, after all.
Declan Kidney’s deal with the IRFU runs out in a year’s time as does Joe Schmidt’s contract with Leinster. There have been mutterings of Schmidt returning home but it would surely make sense for the IRFU to make a play?
Ask yourself this: Would Joe Schmidt be doing a better job with this Irish team than Declan Kidney?