‘STEADY AS SHE goes.’ It’s not difficult to imagine Declan Kidney proclaiming the phrase as one to live his life by.
Every one of his 24-man senior squad played some part in the World Cup so, really, the only surprise was that he didn’t give BOD a call up too.
Still, it’s an extremely harsh call on Luke Fitgerald. Rightly omitted from the World Cup squad, Fitzgerald is well and truly back in form, yet still finds himself left out in the cold with the Wolfhounds.
A grand total of seven players (who can play wing, fullback or outside centre) now lay ahead of the Lions’ tourist in the pecking order, including Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo.
However, the term ‘squad’ is much looser in the Six Nations than in the World Cup. Kidney will be free to chop and change as he pleases. By the time February rolls around, the uncapped “additional” players currently in the fold are likely to find themselves closer to the ‘hounds starting line-up than the senior group. Fitzgerald should be the first in line to fill that gap.
The presence of so many options for the back three mean that Kidney has narrowed his options for the number 13 jersey down to one of; Keith Earls, Fergus McFadden or Tommy Bowe. With the massive absence of Brian O’Driscoll, Kidney will look to retain as much experience as possible behind the scrum. Gordon D’Arcy will remain first choice and his back up will be Paddy Wallace, because tearing up the entire midfield would be a risk too far for the Grand Slam winning coach.
Thanks to a long run of terrific form, two of the back three positions are as good as filled. Rob Kearney is set in stone, as should be Andrew Trimble after his clinical display of finishing against Leicester. That leaves a lot of bodies fighting over two remaining back line jerseys. You can’t please everyone, and you would expect Kidney to start with Bowe and Earls (in some combination) with McFadden holding the last spot on the bench.
Up front, there will be no such selection headache and it is the same old story of relying on a shallow pool of props with little sign of a cavalry. Kidney has called on Paddy McAllister, another loose-head, to be the fourth prop in his training squad. So, while Stephen Archer scrummages with the Wolfhounds, the senior squad must make do with three men covering one position.
Tom Court plays loose-head week in, week out, but remains the only back up option should (god forbid) any injury befall Mike Ross. Sean Cronin has improved greatly since his switch to Leinster so his ongoing competition with, the always excellent, Rory Best will be one to watch throughout the tournament.
‘We know this squad is capable of great things’
The same can be said about the battle of Donncha and Donnacha. Kidney has been loathe to drop O’Callaghan in recent years. Even while Leo Cullen was leading Leinster round Europe and the nicest compliment anyone could pay O’Callaghan related to ‘unseen work’, he was unshakeable. Now though, Ryan has managed to shove him aside at Munster and become the first choice partner to Paul O’Connell. Kidney tends to put great stock in what he sees around Thomond Park.
All-in-all, there is little to criticise about Kidney’s selection, most of the players chosen are the right men for the job. The problem is that when they do perform it is such a majestic force of nature that you wonder how their standard can dip so low. Over the past 12 months we have played 14 tests, and won half of them. Only four performances in 12 months have been genuinely impressive, and that includes the pre-World Cup defeat in Bordeaux.
We know this squad is capable of great things, but we shouldn’t need to be faced with England or Australia to really turn up the heat on opposition. Ireland begin the Six Nations with Wales and France, surely no extra inspiration will be needed for those fixtures?
We know well that Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day will get the blood flowing. But if that is the first blood-thirsty performance 0f 2012, as it was in 2011, then we have a problem. England won’t be sniffing a Grand Slam or a championship this time round.
With or without BOD, better late than never won’t be good enough, nor will ‘steady as she goes’.
Do you agree?