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Letter of the week

31st January 2013 11:35

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Planet Rugby readers are never short of an opinion and our mail box is seldom empty. This week, one of our readers questions the wisdom of Declan Kidney's selection policy.

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Win or bust for Kidney?
By Rory McGimpsey

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has at last revealed his hand for Saturday's Six Nations curtain raiser at the Millennium Stadium.

Bearing in mind Ireland's fairly mediocre record in recent championships, this season's campaign is of cataclysmic significance for Kidney's tenure as coach. Put in stark terms: failure during this season's Six Nations would surely signal the end of Kidney's five-year reign as national supremo. And for those of us who follow Ireland's progress with expectation, the early signs are ominous.

In recent seasons, Kidney has developed a reputation as a conservative and pragmatic coach. The overriding feeling within Irish rugby is that in terms of both team selection and performance, the Cork man has tended to err on the side of caution.

While this ethos was initially successful; delivering two Heineken Cups for Munster and Ireland's first Grand Slam in 60 years, it is equally apparent that Kidney's conservative philosophy is now an intrinsic part of the current malaise.

What makes this state of affairs all the more frustrating is that for the first time in a decade, Ireland have unearthed some genuine young superstars who have the potential to enrich European rugby for years to come. In Luke Marshall, Simon Zebo, Cian Healy, and Craig Gilroy, we can witness an emerging generation who possess not only supreme talent, but also a big-game mentality that epitomises the fearlessness of youth.

In this transition season for Irish rugby, which could herald the international retirement of Brian O'Driscoll, the time was surely right for Kidney to roll the dice and give youth its chance. What did we get instead? More of the same: conservatism galore.

Let's start with the backline. While it is fantastic to see the return of Rob Kearney to international rugby, and the merited selection of young tyros Gilroy and Zebo, it is monumentally depressing to see Gordon D'Arcy togging out again at inside-centre. D'Arcy was arguably never a natural in the role in any case, but given his lacklustre performances in recent years, it is utterly depressing to see him occupy the position.

The injured Luke Marshall represents what a dynamic, modern number 12 should typify, but even the experienced Paddy Wallace would have been a better option for this opening encounter. The predicament is even more galling in the replacements, where Ronan O'Gara again provides fly-half cover. ROG has been a magnificent servant to Irish rugby for many years, but how can young starlets such as Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson gain the requisite experience when the ancient O'Gara clings onto his place in the squad?

There are some equally bemusing selections in the forwards. How Peter O'Mahony can keep Chris Henry out of the back row is a source of complete bewilderment. O'Mahony is a promising prospect, but Henry has been an open-side sensation in Europe this season.

Against a poacher as accomplished as Sam Warburton, the expedient route would have been to select Henry alongside Sean O'Brien. Although it is heartening to see Declan FitzPatrick occupy the reserve tighthead spot, I fail to see how Dave Kilcoyne can be chosen ahead of Tom Court.

Court has been one of the most destructive loose-heads in Europe this season, annihilating virtually every prop he has some into contact with. His regal form should, at the very least, have been rewarded with a place on the bench. I would also love to have seen young Iain Henderson or Devin Toner preferred to veteran second-row, Donnacha O'Callaghan among the reserves.

Balancing the twin objectives of Six Nations' competitiveness and building for the World Cup is never an easy task, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that Kidney has got the chemistry wrong.

With his position openly being called into question, the moment was rife for Kidney to experiment. Give youth a chance; is all we are saying. Regain the equilibrium, and Ireland could be embarking on a new era driven by its talented youngsters. Get it wrong, however, and it will definitely be adios for Mr Kidney.

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