Over the next few weeks we’ll be keeping a close watch on goings on in the Ireland camp. This week brought the news that Kidney and his management team (bar Gaffney, who is going home to Australia after the RWC) have been rewarded with a new two-year contract on the eve of the World Cup. We can’t help but be reminded of the similar decision in 2007 when Eddie was given a four-year deal, only for a disastrous tournament and subsequent Six Nations to beset the team. So, we are down from four years to two – is this a case of learning by degrees for the IRFU?
In a sense, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Give the contract, and we are all wincing as we recall Eddie’s Four More Years. Don’t give it, and the question of the coaching team’s futures will follow them around the tournament. But casting a glance around the other World Cup hopefuls, it does look as though discretion is considered the better part of valour: of the teams with ambitions of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup (which we claim to have) none of South Africa, France, England or New Zealand have offered their coach a contract beyond the World Cup – only Australia have made the commitment.
One comment from IRFU chief exec Philip Browne did cause us concern: he cited the ‘significant progress in the last two years in terms of results’. Come again? Ireland have won three from five in those two distinctly mediocre Six Nations chamionships and two from four in the November Internationals. Pull the other one – our standards are much higher now – with four 6N wins and a big Southern Hemisphere scalp a minimum requirement.
What’s most worrying is the fear that the 2007 parallels could start to stack up over the coming weeks. There’s more than a touch of Eddie about Deccie’s idiosyncratic team selections and excessive loyalty to certain players, as well as his lack of enthusiasm for using his bench. Throw in a more than likely lopsided squad without a single openside and you might think Eddie was still there, pulling the strings behind the scenes.
But these fears need to be counter-balanced by the fact that Deccie’s management style couldn’t be more different to Eddie’s. He’ll empower the players rather than dictate and, crucially, he looks set to get the physical side of preparation right. Ireland were woefully underooked in 2007, but with five games in August, four against test level opponents, there is no chance of that this time around. He’ll have them almost feral by the time we take the pitch against Australia in Auckland. Let’s try to keep the faith for now.