The Irish radio-listening public can be pretty quick to call Joe on 1850 715 815 ["eighteen fifty, seven-one-five, eight-one-five"] and let rip on Whine Line about how most things in Ireland are “a disgrace” or “nothing short of a disgrace”; he might have had a few extra callers this week.
And with good reason. Ireland’s 60-0 capitulation to New Zealand in Hamilton was an appalling result, fully earned by a beyond-lackluster performance. The Mole highlighted in the preview how the team’s showing in Auckland in the first test handed the All Blacks not just the win, but the big performance … but boy-oh-boy, that was only the overture to the Hamilton concerto. The Mole thought that these sort of score lines were long in the past, that we wouldn’t again see an Irish test team embarrassed by such a huge margin.We took a 15-63 [48pt margin] pasting in Lansdowne Road against the All Blacks in November 1997; were thumped by England 18-50 [32pt margin] in Twickenham in February 2000; collapsed under a 40-8 [32pt margin] barrage in Eden Park against New Zealand in June 2002; endured a 6-42 [36pt margin] brutalizing by the Grand Slamming English in 2003 at Lansdowne Road; suffered a 7-45 [38pt margin] whipping from New Zealand in November 2005 at Lansdowne Road; and invited a 66-28 [38pt margin] drubbing to the same foe in June 2010 in Taranaki when reduced to fourteen men by Jamie Heaslip’s early red card.
Even the worst of those results comes nowhere near the 60 point margin between the teams in Saturday’s test at Hamilton. This was the biggest test defeat in the sixteen-year history of professional rugby in Ireland; it’s a historically bad result that has made an easy joke of Irish rugby amongst our competitors.
Now, Where Does It Hurt?
The Irish U18s Schools team were beaten finalists in the FIRA/AER European Championship this year, and won the tournament last season. The Irish U20s won four out of their five games in the U20 Six Nations [as did England and France] and were denied the championship on points difference; they finished fifth in the IRB Junior World Championship – their only loss being to Six Nations champions England – beating hosts and eventual champions South Africa, revenging themselves on the English and taking care of France in the fifth-place final. Beating England, France and South Africa in one tournament? That’s an excellent achievement by any team’s standards.
Leinster defeated Ulster in Twickenham to clinch back-to-back Heineken Cups, and were a late Shane Williams’ try away from doing a historic double; a rebuilding Munster made it to the knock-out stages of both Heineken Cup and RaboDirect Pro12; Connacht had their highest finish in the Celtic League/Magners League/Pro12 since the Welsh switched to region-based teams in the 2003-04 season.
Could Irish under-age and provincial rugby be in better health? Yes, but not by much. There’s an awful lot right with the structures in Irish rugby …
Does The Buck Stop Here, Or Shit In The Woods?
… and yet the test side have just been beaten by sixty points. Fairly or unfairly, the buck stops with the head coach; that’s just how things go. If you’re the top man, you’re responsible for performances and you’re responsible for results. When you’ve been in charge for forty-five months, there are few other people to blame.
Declan Kidney got plenty of credit for a Grand Slam in 2009 [it's the only thing keeping him in a job, in my opinion], and in fairness to him, he was quick to point out that Eddie O’Sullivan had done a lot of good work in previous years.
The Mole can only imagine the opprobrium that would have been heaped on O’Sullivan had he overseen a performance as miserable as this. The Dagger effortlessly made enemies of the press corps, a mistake that Kidney has avoided with equally surefooted ease. It’s an important part of the coach’s job, and if praise of Kidney’s abilities in this area sound like a back-handed compliment, it’s still a compliment.
Not A Jumper, Except On His Own Terms
Dexy’s wrote in Monday’s Irish Times: “That he would still be the man charged with that onerous task was, he said, a decision for others, namely the IRFU, with whom he, Les Kiss and Gert Smal are contracted until the end of the next Six Nations.”
The Mole is firmly of the opinion that it’s also a decision for himself. He has been in the job for just under four years, and any coach of a top-ten ranked team should consider his position with the utmost degree of seriousness if he has lost four games on the trot by an aggregate score of 38-154. It’s not as though he hasn’t failed to complete a contract before: he walked away from Newport Gwent Dragons after three months and left Leinster to rejoin Munster during the 04-05 season. He had his reasons for doing so, but professionally speaking it’s hardly a blemish-free record. He left two clubs in the lurch mid-contract to move on to greener pastures.
You’re simply not doing a good job as a coach if your team loses 60-0. Like I said before, fairly or unfairly, you’re ultimately responsible for the performance of every single one of your players on the pitch as a head coach … it doesn’t matter if you train them really well and they just don’t have a good game, you’re still responsible. Very well-trained, well-motivated and well-selected teams don’t get beaten by sixty points, even if they’re low on talent. An Italian team who were whitewashed in the 2009 Six Nations went down for a three test tour to Australia and New Zealand in June 2009 and, while they lost all three matches, never got hockeyed out of sight.
Every performance is a reflection on the coach: the good [vs Aus in RWC11 and vs Eng in 6N11] as well as the bad [vs Eng in 6N12, vs NZ in Hamilton]. You can be prouder of some of them than others, but you’re responsible for them all – why else are you there? Coaches know this, and they have to accept it. If they don’t, they’re in the wrong business.
Like Going Back To School In September
The phrase “lost the dressing room” is pretty odious. After all, unless you’re in the dressing room or around the team and have access to unguarded opinion, how can you tell? George Hook famously claimed that Joe Schmidt had lost the dressing room in early October 2010, and we all saw how that turned out: back-to-back Heineken Cups. Good call, George!
As pointed out in yesterday’s post, the players are coming out to defend the coaching set-up. Bully for them. However, anybody can imagine how demoralizing it will be for them to come into international camp next season with their last result a 60-0 drubbing and the same coaches in charge. Ulster and Munster players will be in their first few months of new régimes [under Mark Anscombe and Rob Penney respectively], and Leinster and Connacht players have come off the best seasons in their provinces’ histories [in the professional era] under Joe Schmidt and Eric Elwood. The provinces either have progressive coaching teams already in place or have already changed up their coaching staff. The national team?
The Mole sees no point whatsoever in retaining Kidney as head coach – while the IRFU might find it distasteful to oust the man who coached Ireland to a first Grand Slam in sixty years, someone has got to make the call. He should either resign [preferably] or be sacked. Unfortunately, going from both Thornley’s piece and Peter O’Reilly’s Sunday Times article, Kidney doesn’t seem in resigning mood. His supporters will take this as a sign of self-confidence and faith in his own abilities, but to his critics such a stance must appear delusional.
Look at the downward trend of results in the Six Nations under his tenure:
- 2009 P5 W5 D0 L0;
- 2010 P5 W3 D0 L2;
- 2011 P5 W3 D0 L2;
- 2010 P5 W2 D1 L2
Any logical reading of that information shows that Ireland have become less competitive under Kidney. It hasn’t been all bad. His 2009 saw an impeccable run of results which culminated in a victory over the World, Tri-Nations and Lions series champions South Africa 15-9 in November 2009. Ireland have lost just three players to retirement from the matchday 22 that beat the Boks: Jerry Flannery , John Hayes  and David Wallace . To The Mole’s mind, the three players that have come in for them [Rory Best, Mike Ross and Sean O'Brien] are pretty fine replacements. Mike Ross doesn’t have quite the same iconic status as the Cappamore Collosus, but to give him his due, he’s a better scrummager than Hayes ever was.
Age is age, and you can’t expect even a player as gifted as Brian O’Driscoll to recreate his barely believable 2008-09 form every year [it's mind-blowing that both himself and Fourie du Preez were beaten to the IRB International Player of the Year award that year by a hum-drum effort from Richie McCaw]. Tomás O’Leary’s form has fallen off a cliff, and bar the Christchurch test, D’Arcy has had a poor international season. However, while some players have declined, others have progressed. Cian Healy, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien, Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney are all better players in 2012 than they were in 2009, while players like Paul O’Connell and Tommy Bowe have maintained consistently good performances over that period.
Province Versus Country … Literally
Eddie O’Sullivan used to say that Ireland couldn’t adopt the Munster gameplan because it wouldn’t work at test level; Munster had a test pack at club level, but it was just an ordinary test pack at test level [i.e. not a Springbok 2007-09 era bunch of baby-eating monsters].
There was a resistance to the modus operandi of the then-dominant club team in Europe; The Mole feels that part of the reason was because Ireland’s failures were compared with Munster’s success. Sure enough, when Declan Kidney took over the Ireland, we saw some moves towards the Munster style, allied to parts of what O’Sullivan had brought to the team during his tenure. And what did we get? Wins. Performances.
The historic repetition would be laughable if it wasn’t for the recent calamitous performances. Kidney is at pains to tell everyone that Ireland can’t play like Leinster because test rugby is different that club rugby and, just like O’Sullivan did, he sees his failures with Ireland contrasted with Leinster’s successes no matter which way he turns.
One answer would be to follow the lead given by the RFU appointment of Stuart Lancaster: ask IRFU-contracted Mike Ruddock to step in as interim head coach for the 2012 November Internationals and the 2013 Six Nations [while Joe Schmidt is contracted to Leinster], look at the performances and results at the end of that period and either offer Ruddock or Schmidt the job up to and including RWC15. Brian McLaughlin would be another candidate, either to step in as U20s coach if Ruddock were asked to be interim coach or take on the interim coach role himself.
There’s obviously quite a few moving parts there, but as far as The Mole can tell, all three are contracted either directly or indirectly [i.e. through a province] to the IRFU already. Their stock is high: Ruddock’s U20s won eight games out of ten and beat South Africa, England and France [twice] this season; McLaughlin took Ulster to the Heineken Cup final; and Joe Schmidt has bagged back-to-back Heineken Cups with Leinster.
His Master’s Voice
Sometimes it’s just a new voice that’s needed – any new voice. Mick Bradley came in as a caretaker coach when O’Sullivan’s reign ended, and led a summer tour to NZ and Australia that produced credible performances [if ultimately ended with two defeats, 21-11 to New Zealand and 18-12 to Australia]. Given the context – the last match under O’Sullivan was an 33-10 whipping by a Danny Cipriani-inspired England at Twickenham – that wasn’t so bad.
Ruddock has already proven himself a successful coach at test level, winning a Grand Slam with Wales in 2005. Furthermore, his marshaling of the players available to him at U20s level this year showed a supple, practical and form-based approach to selection. He went into the JWC without four players who had been key components of his Six Nations squad: outhalf and captain Paddy Jackson, fullback Shane Layden, loosehead prop Kyle McCall and second row Dan Qualter. Those four players had started every single game of the Six Nations [bar Qualter, who was on the bench for the Italy game], but like a good marine, Ruddock adapted and overcame.
Ireland 11 – 6 Wales, U20 Six Nations, 3 Feb 2012
15. Shane Layden; 14. Barry Daly; 13. Foster Horan; 12. JJ Hanrahan; 11. Sam Coghlan Murray; 10. Paddy Jackson [capt]; 9. Kieran Marmion; 1. Kyle McCall; 2. Niall Scannell; 3. Peter Reilly; 4. Iain Henderson; 5. Daniel Qualter; 6. Conor Gilsenan; 7. Aaron Conneely; 8. Jack Conan
Ireland 17 – 8 France, Junior World Championships, 22 Jun 2012
15. Peter Nelson; 14. Barry Daly; 13. Stuart Olding; 12. Chris Farrell; 11. Foster Horan; 10. JJ Hanrahan; 9. Kieran Marmion; 1. Des Merrey; 2. Niall Scannell [capt]; 3. Tadhg Furlong; 4. Alan O’Connor; 5. Tadhg Beirne; 6. Iain Henderson; 7. Jordan Coghlan; 8. Jack Conan
There are seven players who started the first and last game of the season, and of them, three made positional switches – and this is at age-group level, where the resources are pretty finite. Ireland have had more than a decade at test level with two relatively conservative selectors at the helm in Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney … maybe it’s time to open up a little bit.
In summation, The Mole thinks that to continue with Kidney as head coach after this series of results [2011-12: P17 W6 D1 L10] and following two seasons of decline would betray an acceptance of mediocrity by the IRFU.