Kidney’s Positive Step

Kidney’s training squad announcements rarely amount to much of a news day; in general everyone is invited to the party, and while it occasionally gives fans a chance to grumble over a stray omission (Paul Marshall and Fionn Carr in the past) the squad is usually intended to give away as little as possible.

In terms of personnel today’s announcement is little different.  Thirty-nine players are named, and while it’s good to see the likes of Ian Madigan and Robbie Henshaw included, given the size of the group, it’s impossible to derive anything meaningful from it.

However, the announcement that Jamie Heaslip will captain the Ireland team is a bit of news.  For the first time in almost a decade, Brian O’Driscoll will be on the Ireland team, but not the captain.  He says he’s ‘hugely disappointed’ and that the captaincy meant a lot to him.  Incidentally, the call was suggested by one of our many astute followers in the comment box recently.

It’s a positive move from Kidney for two reasons.  The first is player succession.  Brian O’Driscoll will not be going to the World Cup in 2015, and with a high degree of probability, won’t be around next season.  He’s yet to fully come back from his current injury layoff and is a doubt for the Exeter match this weekend (although likely to play, we understand).  It’s better to try to establish the next captain now than to wait until BO’D isn’t around.  It’s planning for the future, when he won’t be there; something Kidney’s critics – and that includes us – feel he hasn’t done enough of in his tenure.  Besides, having BO’D around to lean on will do Jamie no harm whatsoever as he grows into what is still a new role for him.

The second is continuity.  Sticking with Heaslip for the job signals a determination to carry forward the positive momentum generated in November, especially in the wins over Fiji and Argentina.  Heaslip is not everyone’s cup of mocha frappucino, and his debut as captain against South Africa did not go very well, but Kidney and Schmidt have only ever shown complete trust in him.  He enters the Six Nations in good form with Leinster and is a keystone of the pack.  It sets a positive tone, and one that we hope will be backed up with the remaining selections; in particular that Gilroy, Zebo and the in-form Fitzgerald will be considered for the wing positions, rather than Earls, who is not playing there and has been vocal about why, and – of huge importance – that the style in which Conor Murray played, and created space for Sexton to exploit in the win over Argentina, will be repeated in the Spring.

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45 Comments

  1. Well done Jamie. Easy to be cynical about the fellow and say he’s a real lad and still a young gun, but the highest tackle count in the Heineken Cup and Highest tackle success rate in the Heineken Cup (100%) is a huge yardstick for any player. That demonstrates commitment and preparation, both physical and mental. The stuff of captaincy.

    • There is no doubting Heaslip’s workrate and his high level of performances, even if a lot of it is unseen and thankless (although criticism from George Hook should be taken as a compliment). Am not sure that is necessarily “the stuff of captaincy” though.

      The great captains are first and foremost leaders, who can motivate a group of players. It helps if they have the propensity to make game-changing plays. Heaslip is a linchpin of both sides he plays for (to plagiarise dementedmole) and a savage string to any team’s bow. I am not convinced he is a leader and a man to lead the troops over the trenches though. Ironically, his high workrate may actually mean he is badly placed to be a captain.

      Definitely good to finally see some succession planning though. It could well be BOD’s last 6 Nations – hopefully not but possibly. If so, it is good to have the succession already underway.

  2. Anonymous

     /  January 17, 2013

    As I said on Twitter I’m sure Heaslip will do a fantastic job as captain and it is great to see that Kidney has seen the light and is now looking to the future. (Still some work to do on this though).
    I also said that Rory Best would most likely be disappointed at the choice of captain as well Kidney singled him out as a leader in the past when both POC and BOD were absent.
    With regard to Heaslip, the impression he gives me, pre-game, is of a very singular person with his propensity for listening to music. Nothing wrong with that but he will have to make himself more approachable going forward so we may see less of the Dr. Dre’s.

    • Maybe a bit presumptuous in the last paragraph? Lots of players step off team coaches with headphones on; I don’t think it’s specific to Jamie Heaslip. I’d be wary of making too many assumptions about his approachability or otherwise. All we can go on are what we see on the pitch, where he is a vocal leader and organiser, always talking in team huddles and such. And I think it’s safe to say he appears massively respected by his peers and is an experienced and commited performer.

    • Xyz

       /  January 17, 2013

      Heaslip really pisses a lot of people off. Part of it is the Hookish droning of him going missing, part of it is the Dr. Dre’s, part of it is his ludicrous photo shoots (the one with him surrounded by meat sticks in my head). But whatever it is it adds up to a vocal set of irish fans who just don’t like him and who it seems he will never please.

      I imagine this doesn’t extend to the players so isn’t really an issue with the captaincy. But still, odd to think of so many fans not getting behind the captain.

      • I think it is only Munster (and maybe Connacht) fans who have issues with Heaslip (I never hear Ulster fans moaning about him). Some of it is down to the bling and some of it is probably down to the fact he is now playing a different game. When he broke through, he was making high-impact plays that got noticed; now he is putting in 80 minute performances and getting through enormous work for the team (but doesn’t make the plays that have commentators screaming out his name). He’s clearly a much better and more essential player now than then but that is easy to overlook if you have an innate prejudice.

  3. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  January 17, 2013

    While I called for it, I’m a little surprised that Kidney went for it.

    Does this mean that he is going to improve in the other areas we’ve been begging for or is this just a blip in the Kidney decision making process? He still included everyone in the training squad so we can’t read into anything other than this captain selection.

    It’s a positive step but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  4. By the by, in our rush to acclaim Kidney’s decision to promote Jamie, we should really have taken the time to acknowledge just what an awesome captain BOD has been for Ireland. We expect he’ll be in the team so it’s not quite time for eulogies yet, but in any case… thanks for all your total awesomeness BOD, you complete ledgemeister!

    • Stevo

       /  January 17, 2013

      It’s interesting to note that the headline writers have been reporting Brian O’Driscoll as “very disappointed” as if he’s upset and angry about the decision. Reads somewhat differently when you see his full quote:

      “The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life over the last number of years, and while I was naturally very disappointed not to be leading the team in the Six Nations, when I talked it through with Declan I accepted the reasons behind the decision,” he said today. “I’ve always known that the Rugby World Cup in 2015 was most likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player, who will most likely be there for the tournament, needs to build that captaincy experience.”

      “Jamie will do a fantastic job and along with the other senior players in the leadership group, I will be giving him all of the support that he needs.”

      Class act, on and off the field.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  January 17, 2013

        A quote that needs to be brought up again and again in the aftermath of this announcement.
        Well pointed out.

        It never fails to frustrate and amaze me how willing certain sections of the media are intent on undermining the support for a given team in an effort to sell. Trying to divide a province (not that it is working) and alienating the rest of the support base for the new captain (which is working) seems to be the order of the day.

        Very little comment on Kidney’s decision or his future performance though. Those are the questions that should be asked.

      • Thanks for including the full quotation Stevo – I’m sure O’Driscoll feels a natural sense of disappointment – who wouldn’t? – but I don’t think anyone doubts that he’ll be as commited as ever on the pitch, and will fully support Jamie in his role as captain. I remember he had a similar reaction to the 2009 Lions captaincy, saying he felt ‘a bit piched’ by being overlooked, but… well, the rest we know.

      • anoonamous

         /  January 18, 2013

        Irish times were particularly bad for this yesterday. When I went to their article at first it was quite tame “heaslip named as Ireland captain” they then obviously decided that they wanted controversy and went with “bod disappointed that not named captain” and rewrote the first paragraph, leaving the body of the article intact.

    • Anonymous

       /  January 17, 2013

      I can’t wait for man crush extravaganza that will be the BOD eulogy. I think I’m going to watch those YouTube highlight videos. Again.

  5. Whatever next? a 6 Nations match squad without ROG? One can but hope!!

    • Chris

       /  January 17, 2013

      One can dream Fergal, one can dream! I just hope that while ROG is still being included he is spending time with the younger 10s and passing on some of his experience.

  6. Leinster68

     /  January 17, 2013

    A good and timely call by Deccie. With BOD coming back from injury and POC out the timing is perfect even if it will send RTE’s lineout throwing expert into apoplexy. Contrary to other comments I hope Jamie puts in the tongue stud back in just for the RTE interviews.

  7. zdm

     /  January 17, 2013

    In basic terms, there are two essential criteria for any sporting captain.

    Firstly, you obviously need the qualities to lead your group – you must have the respect of your team mates and they must want to follow your example and instruction. For me, there are about half a dozen players in and around the squad with such qualities, namely Rory Best, Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Johnny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll. There are other sargent type leaders in the squad, such as Rob Kearney or Tommy Bowe but that group of 6 are proven leaders. Given that we are talking succession planning, lets eliminate POC and BOD to leave 4

    The next criteria is that you must be an automatic pick in your position AND be sure to be on the field for the full 80 (injuries not with standing). Chris Henry is out straight away and Rory Best, as essential as he is, is likely to be hooked off after 60 for at least 2 out of the 4 6 N games, in keeping with the attritional nature of professional front-row rugby.

    That leaves us with Heaslip and Sexton so now you choose the best leader for your group.
    Sexton showed us in the 2011 HC final that he has the qualities to lead a team but most of his leadership qualities come from his ability to control the gain line and marshal the defense, areas where Ireland are reasonably well served by their natural game and the players capabilities. Heaslip’s leadership is more in the mold of Albert Spiers from Band of Brothers – a “Jesus, that crazy bastard is at it again, we better go with him”, body on the line approach which I would argue suits Ireland better – how many times have Ireland gone up against a “better” team and talked themselves in to defeat by conceding a score and dropping the heads? By picking Heaslip as captain and probably Bestie and Sexton as “sargents”, Irelands needs are best served.

    As an aside, it was interesting in the autumn series to see Heaslip defer the captaincy to Chris Henry when he was subbed – could this be a signal of a bigger role for Henry in the squad or is that wishful northern thinking?

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  January 17, 2013

      I agree with everything you’ve said.

      I’d also like to ad the subject of a players “refcraft”. George Gregan and Laurence Dallaglio were masters at it. Now BO’D has been OK at this aspect of his captaincy but it would be one of the weaker areas.
      Heaslip has the potential to make a good impact in this area of his game management. I wouldn’t give international captaincy to a 10 for the fact that there are so many other aspects of a game that they must shoulder themselves. So for me, Sexton will be a squad leader but opportunities for having a word in the refs ear are limited from his position.

      Consider a kick to touch. Sexton takes the ball and lines the kick up. He then executes a kick placing us 40m down-field. In that space of time, Heaslip has had a 10-20sec conversation in reminding the ref about everything he’s been missing. B’OD couldn’t do this because he was too far from the action and Sexton can’t because he’s kicking and once that’s done he’s making the backline calls and looking at the defensive structure for chinks. Backrow, Lock and 9 are the best positions to captain from as they allow so many communication opportunities.

      Heaslip was too mouthy in a repetitive manner v S.Africa but was much better for Fiji and Los Pumas. It is an area that gets overlooked a lot but one of significant importance.

      • Thanks zdm and Chogan, great analysis, some really salient points in there. Kidney always appears to have had a core of ‘team leaders’. In the slam it was BOD, POC, ROG and Best. I wonder who is in it now. BOD and Best, presumably, along with Jamie. I expect Sexton is the other, although Kearney is apparently an influential figure. Any ideas?

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  January 17, 2013

        Whiffofcordite,
        Look at each on-field unit and select the candidate from each with Leadership qualities.

        Back three – Kearney
        Centres – O’Driscoll
        Half Backs – Sexton
        Backrow – Heaslip
        Locks – Ryan
        Front Row – Best

        Kearney and Ryan aren’t needed to step up to the plate yet but it is a comfort to see that they are present should we need them. I would expect them to play significant roles in camp and the decision making process.
        Best and O’Driscoll are present from ’09 and O’Driscoll has as much of a role to play now as he did then with his “captain fantastic” 1m sneaks and match winning defensive plays. Best is less prominent as he will spend less time on-field and may not be a starter.
        Heaslip and Sexton are now the prime responsibility men. They deserve it and will fulfill the requirements of leadership well, while being able to call on more experienced heads.

      • Buccaneer

         /  January 17, 2013

        Watching a documentary about the All Blacks world cup and they had a leadership group of 7, 4 forwards and 3 backs. One thing i thought was very interesting was that after Carter got injured Conrad Smith was said to have taken on more leadership responsibility in running the backline, in particular showing Slade the ropes. Using this as a template I think Church/Seanie (very influential on the pitch) and Bowe/Trimble (both 50 cap territory) should be added to the above 5

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  January 17, 2013

        Buccaneer,
        I hear what you’re saying. Given that so many changes have been made to the leadership structure, I wouldn’t like to build it up too fast. A big change has just been made. It’s now time to let it settle and then you could make additions/tweaks.
        Chris Henry looks more like a leader than O’Brien (in a sort of K.Reid deputy to McCaw) and number of caps should have little bearing on an ability to lead. Wingers by the nature of the position are generally pretty poor in this regard.
        Conrad Smith assumed a very large leadership role as DC and Muliaina were both injured.

      • zdm

         /  January 18, 2013

        After Heaslip, Best and BOD who are the captain & vice captain types, it will come down to where Ireland need leaders.

        This year, Ireland are relatively fresh faced in the pack – compared to the team who started the world cup match against Wales, we will have a new prop, 2 new locks and 1-2 new flankers. Donnacha Ryan will be asked to step up to the plate and give the line-out a leader as Best Will be throwing and line out is not one of Heaslip’s major strengths. If Chris Henry is in the back row, he will have a role to play – I’d expect Best, Ryan and Henry to keep the pack together and take some pressure off to allow the new captain to learn game/ref management.

        The fist choice Irish back line (Kidney’s, not mine) is likely to be: Murray, Sexton, Trimble, D’Arcy, BOD, Bowe and Kearney. Of that group, 4 are lions, all but Murray were in the ’09 grand slam squad and they have 12 HC finals between them with 11 winners medals. All were at the ’11 WC. In short, they have been there and done it. They don’t really need any extra leadership to get on with it.

        It will be interesting to see the squads for the Italy and Scotland games – if the likes of Gilroy, the Marshall’s and Zebo are introduced, Bowe and Kearney will be asked to step up. I would expect that one of Paul Marshall and Luke Marshall will get a shift at some stage with Heaslip, Sexton and BOD asked to baby sit. If Zebo and Gilroy get a run, Bowe and Kearney will be on point.

  8. Rich

     /  January 17, 2013

    This is a positive step towards the next RWC – and although it may take a season to move out some older hands and actually bleed some younger players, this is a good move. OD must have known it was on the cards and who knows, it might be good for him – let him concentrate on getting that majic back. I actually feel that Gilroy has played himself out of a start, form dropped off significantly, Luke Fitz looks to be the form winger now – deserves to start.

    • TERMAGANT

       /  January 17, 2013

      laughable, blue-lensed glasses – Fitz would kill to have Gilroy’s tries against Munster and Argentina on his CV

      • No doubt he would, but Gilroy hasn’t really ripped up any trees for Ulster since then. Competitive spot, and Luke, Zebo, Earls, Gilroy and Trimble will all be in the mix. No guarantees.

  9. TERMAGANT

     /  January 17, 2013

    Guys, guys, guys – it all started out so well. Give Deccie a slagging, give ROG his cards, lose Donkey and blood (yes, the word is blood not bleed) the new talent even when it happens to be from the North.

    Fine, all fine, count me in BUT sacking Captain Fantastic!?? NO WAY. This is absolute madness. Our greatest ever player, the man who almost single-handedly dragged us to our our only Slam of the modern era. For Heasliip?

    In my view, this is pure vindictive spite on DK’s part just because BOD slighted him when naming Schmidt as the best coach he had worked under.

    Stabbed in the ankle by a homunculus unworthy to untie his boots and at a time when we should be giving the great one his final few caps AS CAP for Ireland, not least because this will stand him in good stead for his final swansong as Lions leader par excellence. I just hope Gats will ignore this and let the script have its fairy tale ending.

    A true Irish hero, it should never have ended like this.

    A plague on your house, Kidney and WoC, hang your head in puce-faced shame for backing him up.

    • zdm

       /  January 17, 2013

      If you were picking the squad for a one off match a couple with everyone fit, Heaslip would be maybe 4th in the leadership stakes, behind BOD, POC and Best but consider picking the captain next year with a squad potentially shorn of BOD, POC and ROG who, along with Best, formed the leadership team from the grand slam – suddenly you are not so much up the creek as in it.

      This leaves Best as the only ready made leader to go to and if he is taken off knackered, what then? 5 minutes on the clock against the French, 5 points down, penalty from 40 yards? Leaders are rarely born with all the skills for the job in any setting – sure you can have natural leadership but you gotta learn your craft. None of the provinces are captained by players who are going to be involved in future Irish squads and to my knowledge, of the usual vice captains, only Ulster in Chris Henry have an eligible player and he is not an established squad member at present.

      I would think this will be a problem for years to come – the clubs want their captain available for every match and the player management system means they aren’t – Ulster swapped out Best and then Henry as captain when they became more involved with the Ireland squad and are now captained by an NIQ

      • seiko

         /  January 17, 2013

        In fairness to Muller, I think he is Ulster Captain because of his leadership qualities. Ulster misses him when injured even with Best & Henry in the team. Munster coped for years with first Axel and then POC being club captains with Mick O’Driscoll being a very able assistant captain to keep the show on the road when they were away.

    • Great post, TERMAGRANT, I enjoyed every word! Call us cold hearted nerdish goons if you will, but we can’t quite bring ourselves around to the argument that Deccie is doing this to show BOD who’s boss. Whatever Deccie’s failings, I don’t believe him capable of that.

      Listening to some of the pundits today, there’s a huge amount of emotion out there, and a lot of people are very upset about this. But I think we have to remember the practicalities: BOD is just back from injury, and is in his last Six Nations. We’re always giving out about Deccie not preparing for tomorrow, and here he is finally doing it. Besides, it’s not as if he’s being dropped and cast aside. He’s still going to be hugely important.

      • seiko

         /  January 17, 2013

        I wouldn’t say we’ve seen the last of BOD as Ireland captain anyway. Wasn’t the announcement phrased that Jamie is captain for the 6Ns? The other reason to take the pressure off Brian – isn’t he about to become a father around now?

      • Yossarian

         /  January 18, 2013

        I am in agreement with TERMAGRANT, you don’t treat a player and leader of Brian O’Driscols quality like that. ian mcgeechan practically admitted after last lions tour they made a mistake not making him captain on the last tour. He deserves better treatment than that.Johnson,,Greegan and Smit didn’t bow out without the captains armband and you can be sure McCaw won’t either. These are the final desperate acts from Kidney, a man who knows he is on the way out desperately trying to show he is capable of the tough calls to oversee a transition and hang on to his job. Does he expect o’Driscol to go out and prove him wrong?this is more Kidney amateur pop psychology. Rumour in the tabloid Independent he could be in line to play in the wolfhounds game(highly unlikely i would think) but if he put him in that team it is a disgraceful slap in the face. Any chance of O’Driscol lengthening his career and playing on are reduced by this as well, he is essentially being shown the door.

      • Scrumdog

         /  January 23, 2013

        To be fair, Kidney did infer that BOD could captain Ireland again….it is possible that he wants stability going into the 6N while BOD’s match fitness is in doubt. I don’t see BOD starting in the Wales game as the Ireland coaching team had him earmarked for a run on the Wolfhounds…and suddenly he’s not playing on Friday against the Saxons.

  10. Connachtexile

     /  January 18, 2013

    Firstly I have to take umbrage at Curate’s Egg comment that Connacht fans have a problem with Heaslip. We don’t the lads a workhorse and if the players and Kidney think he’s the man for the job then that’s fine with us.

    As for BOD been out of the picture I don’t see it. For years Ireland worked on a 3 man basis which was POC was pack leader, ROG was game manager and BOD ran the back line and talked to the ref and it worked. All Kidney has done is change two of the personnel. Heaslip is now pack leader and ref talker, Sexton is game manager and BOD will run the back line or failing him Darcy whose been a lot more influential with BOD been out.

    Best is part of the player committee to discuss idea’s and with his own problems with injury the last season or two he relinquished the Ulster captaincy to Mueller. Heaslip rarely gets injured so there’s continuity there game to game which is a big plus.

    • You are misquoting my post – I said that that plenty of Munster fans do have a problem with him, Ulster fans don’t seem to. Maybe some Connacht fans do, maybe they don’t (I simply don’t know). So put your umbrage right back where it came from 😉 Glad you are a believer.

      • L2B2

         /  January 18, 2013

        You’re actually mis-quoting your own post where you say “it is only Munster fans who have issues with Heaslip”. A ridiculous statement.
        It is only those fans who don’t understand the game at all (of which there are enormous amounts in all provinces) who have “issue” with Heaslip.

      • Sorry if you find it ridiculous but it is my experience (based on empirical evidence and I have as many mates who are either Munster or Ulster fans than Leinster fans – sorry Connachtexile but I only know one Connacht fan). Munster fans have issues with Heaslip and fans from other provinces don’t seem to. My own empirical evidence is all I have to go on. If you have MRBI poll research, or your own empircal evidence, I’d be happy to revise the impression I have.

      • zdm

         /  January 18, 2013

        To be fair, we Ulster fans are genuinely baffled when any player who isn’t an Ulster player is picked to play in any position or role for Ireland, Heaslip is nothing special in this regard 😉

  11. Aoife

     /  January 18, 2013

    I’d be in the stick with BOD as captain camp to be honest & let captaincy go to Heaslip if he has to go off in any match (I do like Heaslip & think he’s a good leader). I don’t really buy the building for the future thing – what difference would it make if this change happened next year or whenever O’Driscoll retires? He’s a brilliant captain & I’d be for keeping him as long as possible. Did anyone hear Shane Horgan on the subject on Off the Ball last night by the way? I doubt he intended to sound so menacing “you’ve lost a powerful ally Deccie” at the end but it was kind of funny the way it finished up.

  12. Brian

     /  January 18, 2013

    If you look at BO’D’s position at the moment it’s easy to see why he’s been relieved of the captaincy – in his twilight years, just back after three months out and clearly targeting a starting spot for the Lions. I think DK has done him a massive favour by placing Heaslip as captain and allowing him to concentrate on his rugby. As for the Best argument, retaining Heaslip provides an element of continuity after the strong finish to the Autumn internationals and there seems to be a trend of ensuring there is no more double-jobbing with regard to captaincy, i.e. captaining province and country, as was the case when Leo Cullen took over from BO’D with Leinster, and leading to a serious uptick in BO’D’s form at the time if memory serves. Whether Heaslip is the man for the job depends mainly on what you made of the Autumn internationals but I would say he has the experience, consistency and respect among his peers to do an excellent job up to and including the 2015 World Cup.

  13. I wrote a blog on the subject. As we discovered on Twitter last week, and as in most things, I agree with WOC. In general, everyone just needs to take a breath & calm down http://harpin2.blogspot.ie/2013/01/oh-captain-my-captain.html

    • Great piece Kate, thanks for posting it here. We gave it a tweet there.

    • TERMAGANT

       /  January 22, 2013

      I can save you the trouble – basically, Deccie sacked him because he’s, er, 34 (so that’s alright then).

      Back in the real world, can anyone remind me what age WJB was in ’74 when he seemed, as I recall, to make a decent fist of captaining the Lions?

  14. ArtVandelay

     /  January 25, 2013

    Was anyone else left perplexed by the IRFU PR machine (Gerry Thornley) on the Off the Ball Rugby Show on Wednesday? When discussing Jamie’s captaincy, Thornz says that “Joe Schmidt doesn’t trust Jamie with the captaincy when Leo Cullen isn’t around which tells you plenty about Jamie Heaslip as a player”. Seems a very bizarre thing to say, especially as he generally endorses Heaslip’s captaincy abilities.

    • I think he may have mis-spoke. I think he meant to say that he DOES trust Heaslip when Cullen isn’t around. Makes no sense at all otherwise.

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