Ashton joins the in crowd

David Hughes in Dublin reports on a baptism of fire for Ireland's new coach
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The Independent Online
EMBRACING the new dawn, a full-time professional coach is hired for the first time. But he is saddled with an outmoded five-man selection panel which includes a "hands on" chairman of selectors. When results then go badly, the coach is jettisoned but the other four remain and a new coach is brought into the same structure, literally to be introduced to his new players six days before the Five Nations opener. Only in Ireland?

All of which begs the question as to why Brian Ashton, who himself resigned from Bath 24 hours before the Irish coach Murray Kidd did so last Tuesday, would want the job. As chalices go, this would seem as poisonous as they come. Pat Whelan, the aforementioned chairman of selectors, said Ashton was being consulted by telephone over the composition of the team. Nevertheless, Ashton is merely on nodding acquaintance with the Irish players based in the Courage League and has scarcely any knowledge of the domestic-based players.

This, then, is a mighty mess, largely of the IRFU's making. The first to question Irish clubs' increasing reliance on overseas and primarily New Zealand coaches, the union contracted this inferiority complex when sounding out Australians Bob Dwyer and John Connolly at the start of last season. Rebuffed, they settled for Kidd, a Kiwi with limited coaching achievement in his homeland but some success at Irish club level with Garryowen and Sunday's Well.

Kidd's record of one win in 10 games, culminating in a run of home defeats this season to Western Samoa, Australia and then Italy last Saturday, served to heighten disquiet over his highly technical methods and supposed distance from players. Yet players such as Keith Wood and Nick Popplewell maintained that the buck should stop with them, not just Kidd. But late into last Saturday evening, word was already out: a meeting with union officers, including the president Bob Deasy, Whelan and the election sub- committee of Eddie Coleman, Syd Millar and Noel Murphy, had been arranged for the next morning.

Confirmation that Kidd was out of a job came by way of two Monday papers. Kidd maintained he had been telephoned by Whelan on Sunday night telling him to carry on with preparations for the French game and that his demise was "media speculation". Nevertheless, he brought his legal adviser with him when summoned to a meeting with the union on Tuesday. Six hours later Kidd resigned, his ensuing silence tallying with reports that his compensation was higher than the forecast IRpounds 30,000. Yet Whelan remains, as do the other selectors and the former All Black Mike Brewer, who coached the pack for the last three defeats.

Ireland's forwards said their lack of ruthlessness as much as poor technique undermined their rucking against the spoiling Italians. More aggression is likely on Saturday against the French.

After accepting what he rightly called a "massive task", Ashton drew comparisons with another Englishman who assumed control of an Irish international team, namely Jack Charlton. The manner in which Charlton was warmly embraced by Ireland's football public shows what is possible for an "outsider". But as Kidd's treatment also demonstrated, there can be a hint of xenophobia in the air when the "outsider" does not deliver.