As the frustrations of watching Ireland’s rugby team grow, calls for real change seem to be getting louder by the week.
I recall a comment I read recently along the lines of it is harder to get left out of Declan Kidney’s squad than it is to break into it. Basically, if you are one of his chosen few, you will be picked unless you are injured.
While this policy will potentially win more games that it loses between now and the summer, it leaves little room for squad development. With the next World Cup just over two years away, we are well overdue to be rebuilding the squad. Tried and tested some of the players may be, but chances are, several of them will not be playing competitive rugby in two years time, and even if they are, not at international quality.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Brian O’Driscoll – Undoubted inspirational captain in his day, supremely gifted rugby player, Ireland’s record try scorer. One of the true gems that comes around once a generation if we’re lucky. But, currently aged 34 and has spent the majority of the last two years on the injury list. When he is fit he plays, no questions asked. But is this really helping Ireland in the long run? Brian has openly stated that he is unlikely to see the next World Cup, so that leaves us needing to find and bed in a replacement top class centre. Do we really want to be doing that in 12 months before the World Cup?
Gordon D’Arcy – Six Nations player of the tournament in 2004 and many outside of Leinster, and perhaps some inside too, might say he has been dining on and getting picked on that reputation ever since. Occasionally in the right place at the right time to score a try, he receives plaudits for being strong in defence. If he remains off the injury list, he could still be playing come the World Cup. But shouldn’t we be looking to fill his space with a dynamic young centre in his early to mid twenties?
Donncha O’Callaghan – A strong powerful second row that has been a fantastic servant of Irish rugby for 10 years. No longer first choice in Munster due to the performances of Donncha Ryan and the same logic has eventually filtered down to Declan Kidney.
Paul O’Connell – A true giant in every way on the pitch, he was truly one of the best second rows in the world, in his day. Currently on the long term injury list, some might question the wisdom of re-entering the Ireland squad.
Ronan O’Gara – Ireland’s record point scorer, ever. Unlikely to be surpassed for years to come. Currently playing second fiddle to Jonathan Sexton and restricted to substitute appearances from the bench. He will be 38 by the time of the next World Cup so shouldn’t we be covering the bench with the next generation by now?
Isn’t it about time we genuinely celebrated the accomplishments of this generation of Ireland’s best, and respectfully moved on?
Right now, I would much rather be seeing an Ireland team full of youth and energy. OK, they might lose more games than they win, but that’s OK. World Cup seedings have already been decided and Ireland are safely in the second tier for the next World Cup. So why not experiment now with players who not only will be around in the next World Cup, but perhaps the one after that, and the one after that?
But I fear Declan Kidney won’t do it. He is looking after his job. He is trying to please all camps. He is trying to win the games just in front of him by sticking loyally with what he knows. And while he may point to Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo as a breath of fresh air, it’s not enough. Those players have definitely earned their places, but Declan doesn’t really have many options in those positions either, what with Tommy Bowe currently injured and Andrew Trimble seemingly on the fringes, so that breath of fresh air has been somewhat forced on him by circumstances and public opinion.
The real problem comes in the summer. If Declan Kidney is offered and accepts a contract extension, what will happen then? Will we wrap the best and brightest of Ireland’s golden generation in cotton wool and hope to goodness they make it to the World Cup, only to fall short one last time?
Or will we get the opportunity to celebrate them for what they have done and given to us all for a decade, and shuffle them gracefully into retirement? Experiment with a fresh, young squad. OK we will lose some games, but it will be interesting. And that generation can grow to become the backbone of a squad for the next decade?
Or do we play it safe and just keep looking at the next couple of games ahead? And sticking with the same old same old.
Perhaps it’s time for a change.