Yes, Ireland were punished by a poor decision by the touch judge in yesterday's RBS Six Nations game against Wales, but no it is not the reason that they lost the game.
Ireland continued in the same mistake ridden manor that they had entered the game with. Poor decisions and execution both on and off the field have made this one of the most underwhelming campaigns in recent rugby memory for Irish fans.
Unfortunately the blame falls on one man's shoulders.
In Declan Kidney's current role as Irish head coach, he holds a similar responsibility to his team that Harry Truman held to America when he coined the phrase The Buck stops here.
It's difficult to criticize such a decorated coach like Kidney and especially difficult to criticize him as a fellow Munster man knowing all he has done in the past. It would be ignorant for me not to.
Kidney has been making odd decisions since this Six Nations begun. He has persisted with underperforming players such as Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Paddy Wallace.
D'Arcy showed from day one that he isn't capable of playing at International level anymore. His inclusion in the starting lineup could be seen as a loyalty thing but loyalty should not exist in any sport. Two of the most successful sides in the world come to mind when I think of loyalty; The New Zealand All Blacks and the New England Patriots.
The All Blacks don't give a damn about reputation or what you've done in the past. You can either play rugby and help the team or you can't, simple as that. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have never kept a player who didn't give them the complete value for money that they were paying. Players like Deion Branch(traded) and Tedy Bruschi(cut) come to mind.
D'Arcy has held his place to the detriment of the Irish team. It's not like there weren't other options available to Kidney. Early on Kidney didn't have many other viable options but once Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble returned, he could have vastly improved the team with changes. The one change he did make was bringing back Bowe to the wing which obviously was the right choice. What didn't happen however was the inclusion of Trimble.
Trimble could have solved 1 or even 2 of the Irish teams issues. Had he played in the center he would have been an instant upgrade over Gordon D'Arcy creating a powerful combination with Brian O'Driscoll. In recent years he has played more on the wing which would have meant Keith Earls would move to the center his position for Munster more often than not.
Kidney's persistence to stay loyal to D'Arcy was not in the best interests of the team.
Luke Fitzgerald is one of Ireland's best young rugby players. He has a great rugby mind and runs outstanding lines off the ball. He is not however a reliable fullback. Playing fullback negates any of the good that comes from Fitzgerald's play and he has very little value to the team at that point. One of Gavin Duffy, Earls or Paddy Wallace should have been at least tested ahead of Fitzgerald.
The other major point of contention that has emerged from this campaign is Kidney's substitution method; He doesn't appear to have one.
Firstly, his selection of substitutions was atrocious. Dennis Leamy, who started the first game against Italy, offers nothing to the team that isn't already on the field in abundance. Leamy is a lesser version of Sean O'Brien and David Wallace. A dynamic back row forward like Shane Jennings would have allowed Ireland to change their strategy and actually make an impact on the game rather than just add fresh legs off the bench.
The reasons why Paddy Wallace shouldn't have been in the squad in this article apply throughout every game of the Six Nations.
Secondly, the timing of his substitutions were more often than not puzzling. Most notbaly, the withdrawal of Ronan O'Gara yesterday when Ireland were in the ascendancy for Jonathan Sexton completely backfired on Kidney. Sexton sliced his first kick from hand out of touch before missing a crucial penalty from almost in front of the posts. Leo Cullen's 7 second showing against the French reminded me of the time Arsene Wenger would bring on Ray Parlour a few years ago in order to get him enough appearances to qualify for a medal: forced and pointless.
Ireland's Six Nations campaign is essentially over. Not because of poor officiating or bias from referees but because of poor decisions and execution. This isn't the time to push the panic button and fire Kidney, but he's certainly lost the swagger that came with winning the Grand Slam with this team.
Every Irish fan, including myself, will be hoping that this team can turn things around in time for the World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
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