Rugby Digest: Declan Kidney’s Ronan O’Gara ax could backfire

Declan Kidney’s decision to ax Ronan O’Gara could yet backfire on him ahead of the Six Nations clash with France in Dublin on Saturday.

Kidney all but ended O’Gara’s reign as Ireland’s most capped player when he left him out of the 32 man training squad for the penultimate game of the championship.

Now Jonathon Sexton has been ruled out of the French match with his ongoing hamstring injury, and replacement Paddy Jackson is struggling with a similar problem.

That could leave Leinster’s uncapped youngster Ian Madigan as the only out-half in the squad -- and prompt Kidney to send an SOS for O’Gara less than a week after snubbing him.

Speaking at the press conference to announce his team on Tuesday, Kidney admitted that Jackson or Madigan will start at 10 and confirmed that O’Gara could come into the reckoning if Jackson fails a fitness test.

The Ireland coach, fighting for his future after losses to England and Scotland already this season, said, “I left an opening at 10 and at reserve 10 because just before we came into the training I was told that it was better to give Jonny another week.

“We’ve withdrawn Jonny from consideration and it’s between Paddy and Ian now and we’ll firm that up later in the week.

“Jonny ran out full this morning, reached top speeds but sometimes there’s a balance between what is right for the player and what is right for the team.

“He needs another week of building it up to be right for the following week against Italy.

“Paddy’s chances of pulling through are very good and he should be good to train on Thursday. We’ll make the choice between Paddy and Ian then.”

Craig Gilroy has also been ruled out with a groin injury and is replaced on the wing by Fergus McFadden.

Cian Healy returns in the front row after suspension in place of Tom Court, and Mike McCarthy regains his place in the second row at the expense of Donncha O’Callaghan.

There are two gaps in the replacements with no out-half named, and Stephen Archer or Michael Bent will be chosen as replacement prop with Declan Fitzpatrick ruled out through injury.

Kidney defended his decision to leave the 128 time capped O’Gara out of the initial 32 man squad for the French clash after poor performances from the Munster man when he appeared as a sub in the three championship games so far this season.

Asked if it was a mistake to leave O’Gara out, Kidney said, “No, you can’t be bringing in 45 or 47 to cover each position. It was just Murphy’s law what was going to happen at 10.

“Every IRFU contracted player is available to us and we’ll call in players when and where we deem fit, but at the moment we don’t have the need to call in anybody.

“We’ll call him in if need be but there is no need at the moment. We have 20 guys on notice and they are all on full alert that they are on call to come in.”

Speaking to the press for the first time since the shock announcement to axe O’Gara, Kidney explained his thinking and the player’s reaction to the news.

“He was really disappointed. You don’t give the type of service Ronan has given and not be disappointed,” Kidney said.

“The reason for it is when there is a time of change there will always be a lot of inspection of it and why it needs to happen.

“Sometimes that’s the role of a coach to make these type of calls, and I just felt that Ian had been going well and deserved a chance in the squad.

“Paddy was going well too. He just pulled up in training on Monday with tightness and we’ll look after that. It’s just one of those calls you have to make as a coach.”

Kidney also confirmed that Jackson or Madigan will take responsibility for kicking duties against the French.

“Paddy and Ian will be the front-runners for kicking. He’ll go to kicking practice tomorrow to provide back-up where possible,” Kidney said.

Six Nations Shake Up

IRELAND coach Declan Kidney has made three changes to his team to face France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday – and more could be made before kick-off.

Jonny Sexton is definitely out of the match but no decision has been made at out-half yet as Paddy Jackson, his replacement against Scotland, struggles with a hamstring injury.

Ian Madigan will come into the team if Jackson fails a fitness test on Thursday.

Fergus McFadden is named on the wing in place of the injured Craig Gilroy, while Mike McCarthy returns from injury to replace Donncha O’Callaghan and Cian Healy returns from suspension to replace Tom Court.

Prop Declan Fitzpatrick is definitely out, but no replacement will be named until later this week with Kidney set to choose between Stephen Archer or Michael Bent.

The Ireland team to play France is: Kearney, McFadden, O’Driscoll, Marshall, Earls, AN Other, Murray, Healy, Best, Ross, McCarthy, Ryan, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Cronin, Kilcoyne, O’Callaghan, Henderson, Reddan, Fitzgerald.
Heaslip Warns Teammates

IRELAND captain Jamie Heaslip has warned his teammates to beware the Ronan O’Gara lesson as they prepare to face France on Saturday.

O’Gara was ruthlessly axed by coach Declan Kidney for the match after Ireland lost consecutive games to England and then Scotland.

Heaslip is adamant any player can suffer the same fate if they don’t deliver against the French.

“In terms of who gets in and who gets out that is a decision for the management,” said Heaslip.

“Ronan has been a great player. He’s a great squad guy as well and now there’s an opportunity for someone else to step in.

“We set our standards very high in training and our standards high in the game as well, and when you don’t step up to that level I suppose the coaches have to make a decision then.”

Rugby Shorts - Munster Draws; Leinster Wins

MUNSTER drew 13-13 with the Ospreys in the Rabo 12 League last weekend when Leinster won 26-19 away to Newport Dragons. Connacht won 23-19 against Zebre while Ulster also drew, 29-29 at home to Treviso . . . 

LEINSTER have snapped up out-half Jimmy Gopperth from Newcastle Falcons on a two-year deal as they look to replace Paris bound Jonathon Sexton . ULSTER and Ireland winger Tommy Bowe has admitted it is unlikely that he will recover from knee surgery in time to tour Australia with the Lions this summer . . .

CONNACHT backs coach Billy Millard is to leave his job at the end of the season to move to the United States . . .

FORMER Australian captain and Leinster flanker Rocky Elsom has signed for Toulon.

Irish rugby champ Ronan O'Gara, coach Declan Kidney could have made a major mistake by giving him the axDiarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE