Kidney call puts him in make or break territory


We used to look at the decision in 2008 to run with Denis Hurley and Tomas O’Leary ahead of Shaun Payne and Peter Stringer for Munster as the high water mark for Declan Kidney’s capacity to surprise. And then he goes and leaves Ronan O’Gara on the bench for Sunday’s trip to Murrayfield.

While that’s the call that will dominate Irish media for the next few days there are another couple of curve balls in the coach’s selection.

Despite being left out in the cold in November, and for the first two rounds of the Championship, Tom Court is brought back to start at loose head. Which leaves Dave Kilcoyne wondering why he’s not in for the suspended Cian Healy, particularly with Scotland’s first choice Euan Murray not available.

And Devin Toner is also back in the frame with the possibility of his first Six Nations cap, having got three runs back in November 2010. Chances are the only way he’ll be coming on though is if Ulster’s Iain Henderson is coming off having been sprung from the bench.

All in all then, a good day for Ulster. Luke Marshall will make his debut alongside Jackson, giving the province a whopping five starters, plus two on the bench.

Happy days for Luke Fitzgerald as well. He’s had four successful runs for Leinster since recovering from the neck injury that threatened his career, and now suddenly finds himself back in a match day Ireland squad for the first time since the World Cup warm up against France in 2011.

The news for the next few days however will be evenly split between Paddy Jackson and Ronan O’Gara. The only time Jackson will have experienced anything like this attention was in the Heineken Cup final last May when he came close to a meltdown. And he didn’t have to deal with the responsibility of goal kicking, a load carried by Ruan Pienaar.

Interestingly the Springbok did those duties last weekend as well, against Zebre, when we wondered would Jackson have got his eye in seeing as he was sure to be involved in Edinburgh on Sunday. We expected that to be off the bench, if at all. And so did O’Gara, no doubt.

Then Kidney pulled this stunner. I understand completely where he’s coming from, in that O’Gara is a mile off the pace and at this stage in his career may never catch up again. His peak was 2006-2008 when he was the pivotal figure in Munster’s European dominance.

My choice to replace him however would have been Ian Madigan, given his form and confidence, and the fact that he is first choice kicker in the absence of Jonny Sexton. Clearly that was not going to happen, given that he was called in this week only as a bag holder.

For Jackson however the jump from being 10 for Ulster, with Pienaar taking the shots, to 10 for Ireland with a debutant outside him, and the goal-kicking responsibility on his shoulders, is cliff-edge stuff. For the coach as well as the player.


Ireland: Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, Marshall, Earls; Jackson, Murray; Court, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, Ryan, O’Mahony, Heaslip, O’Brien. Reps: Cronin, Kilcoyne, Fitzpatrick, Toner, Henderson; Reddan, O’Gara, Fitzgerald



About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
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6 Responses to Kidney call puts him in make or break territory

  1. Only thing I would add is that if Kidney believes we still have a shot at finishing first, it is one we must win well. So vindication will not come merely with victory IMO…our approach from the outset will be firmly under the spotlight as well. You can take nothing for granted at test level of course, but Ireland need tries and many of them so should at least go for them.

  2. Brian Hand says:

    A 1.19am post. Well impressed Mr Fanning. Above & beyond the call of duty or had the insomnia kicked in?! Seriously a big call from Kidney. If it works he’s a hero but if it backfires will he end up walking the plank or does he know the gig is safe for now?

  3. Its a huge call to go with PJ and Marshall. Clearly Kidney feels its the only way to save his bacon: a dreary win with ROG would not cut it; a knife-edge win or close loss with PJ and Marshall blooded might.

    Would also have gone with Madigan (and maybe Reddan who would suit him more) but I hope for PJ and Marhsall that it works out for them. They will clearly both be in and around the Ireland set up for years to come. The big question now is: will that be with Kidney or someone else.

    Also thought Kilcoyne would have been a more logical starter but there is a lot of logic in starting with our strongest scrummaging front row, and then bringing Kilcoyne and Cronin on as ball carriers (and solid scrumager) to make hay with 30-35 minutes to go (though would fear Cronin’s throws would be targeted).

  4. Brendan, I’d love your thoughts on why McFadden keeps being omitted. Has he fallen out of favour? His form is so good for Leinster, I’m puzzled. Especially as he can cover 11, 14, 12, 13, and is one of the Leinster place kickers with impressive stats.

    • David Hainsworth says:

      Regarding McFadden, personally I am a big fan of his but I think you probably gave the reason why he wasn’t selected in saying he can cover both wings and centre places. That is his problem … he is not a specialist in any position … too versatile for his own good. At international level you need to be a specialist, Earls has a similar problem – I wish Muster would decide to play him at 13 or wing and give him a chance to specialise.

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