Irish Rugby After Six Nations 2011

Irish rugby is in an interesting place now at the end of 6 Nations 2011, with some good performances in patches, but overall a shoddy tournament. But those of us who want this group of players to perform to their true potential will inevitably be disappointed, as we were through the Eddie O’Sullivan era.

And yet there is much to be positive about.

The Good

Provincial fan hat on, I’m happy enough that all the international players, from all provinces, are there or thereabouts. Admittedly guys like Sean Cronin (throwing) and Luke Fitz (in general) need to find form, but overall this bunch of players are massively talented, are fit, and are hungry for success. Also, importantly for a 6 Nations campaign, we didn’t see any major injuries, which we can be very thankful for after a few bad Championships on that score.

The Bad

From an Ireland fan’s point of view it’s been a hugely disappointing tournament, particularly when you look at selection and management. I’m firmly in the “blame team management for discipline issues” camp. In any team sport, in any competition, I believe that it is managements job to set the tone of the campaign and stifle discipline issues.

The Ugly

If I am to criticise Declan Kidney, I need to acknowledge his achievements. He has a proven track record of success, with Munster’s HEC wins, and a 2009 Grand Slam with Ireland. You can’t argue with that. Or can you?

A missed kick was the difference between an Ireland winning or losing out on that Grand Slam. Eddie O’Sullivan lost the 6 Nations Championship to France 3 times on points difference, and once losing the Grand Slam because of a single missed tackle in the final seconds of that heart-breaking match in Croke Park in 2007. The margins between winning and losing are minuscule.

Emperor Kidney Has No Clothes?

But it is fair to question some strange decisions from the Irish manager. In my eyes he has made incredibly poor decisions, particularly regarding selection and use of the bench: bringing on Sexton vs Wales, and Ross vs England stand out in particular, but there are many, many others instances. There are allegations that he’s been unjustly favouring Munster players in selection. Looking at the provinces relative performances of late, this does appear to have some element of truth, particularly his persistence with TOL.

We can get over those issues if we get the performances we should be getting. But we’re not.

One of the many criticisms I had of EOS was that he never seemed to learn from his mistakes. I think Kidney is a decent manager, and I don’t think we have a suitable replacement for him waiting in the wings, so I’m not calling for his head – yet. But I’d like to see him learn from his mistakes. More focus on team discipline. Less of the smiley glib answers in interviews, and more transparency about selection issues. And less bloody stupid decisions on how to use the bench.

The Rugby World Cup

We got lucky with a big performance against England, with Kidney’s hand forced on selections by injury, but when it comes to the RWC I see us getting to, and then losing, the Quarter Final to South Africa on 9th October – at least that’s what I’d put my cash on were I a betting man.

The Up-side

I think the best Ireland can hope for this year is Heineken Cup, Magners League and Challenge Cup wins, but the optimistic part of me says we not only could but should win all of these competitions – here’s hoping 🙂