Declan Kidney was all but thrown to the lions in a rugby coliseum as Ireland suffered their first ever Six Nations defeat to Italy, 22-15, and effectively condemned the coach to the dole queue in the process.
The critics have rounded on Kidney, with speculation mounting that his time with Ireland will come to an end after he meets the IRFU’s National Team Review Group this week.
Officially Kidney and his coaching staff are under contract until the end of the summer tour, but already reports have indicated that a new man will be in charge.
His cause hasn’t been helped by a Six Nations campaign that saw Ireland win just one game – away to the champions Wales – and gain just one other point from a draw with France in Dublin.
The defeat to Italy, a fitting result on a day when Ireland’s injury crisis went from bad to worse, is seen as the final straw by many after Ireland’s worst showing in the championship since it was expanded to six teams in 2000.
Les Kiss, Mike Ruddock, Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter are already being touted as successors to Kidney, whose Grand Slam glory in 2009 is now long forgotten.
Kidney knows the writing is on the wall. “I said all along that I’d concentrate on each game as it came and that’s all I did with Italy,” he said.
“I wasn’t thinking that it could be my last match as coach, all I was concentrating on was getting the win. I wanted to get a result, we didn’t manage to do that and we’ll reflect on it over the coming days and weeks.
“I’d have to sit down and think about whether I want a new contract. These guys are a pleasure to work with, but beyond that I’d have to sit back and think about it.
“I know what I can bring to it, I know what I brought to it over the years. I know that I’ve been in holes before like this and I know how to get out of them, but I think now is the time to sit back and reflect and let’s take a look at things.”
Not everyone believes Kidney should go as Ireland coach, with many of his players publicly supporting his right to a new contract.
Flanker Peter O’Mahony said, “The players should take the blame for what’s happened. We’ve been given every opportunity to go out and play for Ireland.
“It has to come down to the players, I don’t know where the stick aimed at the coaches is coming from. We’re the ones who have made decisions on the pitch and have made mistakes at times. It’s on our heads, we’re the ones who are not delivering.”
Italy deserved the win, fashioned by a 49th minute try from winger Venditti, 14 points from the boot of Luciano Orquera and a penalty from Gonzalo Garcia.
All 15 Irish points were kicked by young out-half Paddy Jackson, and captain Jamie Heaslip had to admit it wasn’t good afterwards.
“We gave away too many easy shots at goal and also turned over a lot of ball at the set piece. They cut us off at source,” Heaslip said.
“The set-piece is a big launching platform for any team, so to lose that was frustrating. But we were still in it until the end, despite the injuries.”
Ireland: Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, L Marshall, Earls; Jackson, Murray, Healy, Best, Ross, McCarthy, Ryan, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip, Fitzgerald.
Replacements: Madigan for L. Marshall (28), Fitzgerald for Earls (25), Kilcoyne for Healy (71), Cronin for Best (71), Archer for Ross (67), Toner for McCarthy (64), P. Marshall for Ryan (79), Henderson for Fitzgerald (37).