Sure, Ireland have held a few things in reserve over the course of these warm-up matches. No coach wants to go running through their whole playbook in the weeks before a big tournament just so the opponents’ video analysts can figure out ways to stop you playing.
However, Ireland are not a team that are a few Alan Gaffney pre-set back moves away from a massive about-face in form. The team has lost six of the nine internationals it has played in 2011 [including all three to France], and is on a four-and-counting losing streak. The last two games we have played have been with largely first-choice selections at home, and we’ve been beaten with half an hour left on the clock in both of them.
The idea that Declan Kidney has the aces up his sleeve that can turn Ireland into world-beaters on New Zealand soil belongs alongside the dogma that counts the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as members of its pantheon. Sure, we’ll probably perform better over there than we have been doing over here, but the lack of coherent, intense rugby over the last month – and the lack of wins – has meant that levels of expectation, if not necessarily standards, have been set at a low level.
Kidney is a coach who has had huge success throughout his career, winning every trophy for which he has competed [genuinely every trophy: schools cups, U19 World championships, Celtic leagues and cups, Heineken Cups, the Churchill Cup, the Six Nations championship – he’s won them all. It’s an outstanding record]. However, he’ll very likely only get one pop at the world cup, and given the relative ease of the draw compared to that which O’Sullivan encountered in his two world cups [i.e. no Argentina], getting to a quarter-final isn’t much to write home about. It’ll essentially mean that we’ve beaten Italy at a neutral venue. It’s not exactly success writ large, is it?