THE CALLS FOR Declan Kidney’s head surfaced some time ago from a portion of fans but seemed to reach fever pitch amongst the masses following another disappointing Six Nations campaign this year.
Kidney out! Kidney failure! These were the types of remarks that seemed to circulate the internet when scrolling forums, blogs and social media outlets dedicated to the subject matter of Irish rugby.
The main reasons for the wave of opposition to Kidney, aside from Ireland’s poor results, had been a selection policy based on loyalty rather than form, conservative tactics and a perceived inability to get the best from his players, the majority of whom were performing at higher levels for their provinces.
Well, for one, the Irish performance against the All Blacks on Saturday in Christchurch changed dramatically from the sub-standard showing in Eden Park the previous week. In fact, this was an almost unrecognisable team, operating on a different level to anything they produced in the opening test.
This was a ferocious Irish display, full of quality and heart. The sloppy attacking and soft defending so evident in Eden Park was replaced by an accuracy and aggression in every facet of their game. The mighty All Blacks struggled to find space as they were constantly met by an Irishman looking hungry to hit somebody.
It may be a small thing but it was great to see Cian Healy square up to Sonny Bill Williams at one stage and that moment typified the different attitude that Ireland exuded in this game.
The men in green had being guilty of perhaps showing too much respect in the first test towards New Zealand. By not showing the same awe this time around, Ireland had earned some respect of their own. New Zealand knew that Healy and co had come to play and under no circumstances would they take a backward step.
The much maligned Irish scrum even became a weapon, which is genuinely unheard of in fixtures between these two nations. All of a sudden confidence grew, belief crept in and Ireland looked every inch the better side. It was a game they should have prevailed in, deserved to win and probably would have won if it weren’t for a dubious refereeing call by Nigel Owens but let’s not go there on this occasion.
Back to Kidney. Whether his detractors like it or not, it was he who oversaw this excellent performance, one which almost saw him achieve something which no other Irish coach has managed to do: beat New Zealand. Yes, Ireland ultimately fell just short but the display must be acknowledged as one of the best by Ireland in recent memory.
Just as we criticise Kidney when Ireland are poor, surely he must be afforded praise when his side perform like they did on Saturday?
The standard has been set
One of the most frustrating aspects of this current Irish team has been their inconsistency. It is rare that a team fluctuates so significantly between being so average and so brilliant. The trend for Kidney’s Ireland over the last couple of seasons has been a couple of isolated excellent performances which they struggle to reproduce on a regular basis.
In the season just gone, Ireland were exceptional against Australia in the World Cup and also performed to a very high standard against France in Paris. In the campaign previous to that, Ireland destroyed England at Lansdowne Road in the final game of the Six Nations when the English were hunting a grand slam. Again, Kidney’s side were outstanding.
These performances are too few and far between however and a consistency needs to be achieved. Everyone knows at what level Ireland can operate at and while it is difficult to achieve these standards in every game, there shouldn’t be such drastic shift in performance levels from game to game.
The Irish rugby public simply won’t accept it. They expect better with this group of players.
On the back of an inspiring display against the All Blacks last week, Declan Kidney now has a shot at redemption. His critics will not have dispersed yet, and nor should they on the strength of one match, but if Ireland continue to perform like they did last week, there will be little need for a change at the top.
The key for Kidney is build on what he has delivered on this tour. There has been a shift in his selection policy where form players have been picked and new combinations tested. If Ireland revert to type in the Autumn internationals, the knives will be sharpened once again, and rightly so.
The standard has been set now and in truth, it is pretty damn good. Making sure it was not another one-off performance will determine Declan Kidney’s future.