Ireland become unlikely contenders under Kidd

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The Independent Online

reports from Dublin

The likes of Willie Duggan and Moss Keane must be turning on their bar stools. For the first time in living memory Ireland are not just expected to beat Scotland at Lansdowne Road today but are being backed heavily with Paddy Power, the Dublin bookmaker, to win the Triple Crown.

This is simply not the Irish way. The Irish way was to lose heavily in a friendly against Turkey, approach the Five Nations as the mangiest of underdogs, beat the living daylights out of the favourites and then resort to type to finish last or next to last in the championship table. In other words they were accustomed to playing an 80-minute season.

Duggan, Keane and other lunchtime legends (the former could be witnessed enjoying a pint and a fag outside the Lansdowne club bar after an international while the other players were getting changed) would probably not recognise the revolution that Ireland is now embarked on.

Gone, after the World Cup, are the avuncular Murphys, Gerry and Noel. The IRFU has taken the view that if you can't beat them, employ a New Zealander. Well, if the football team could do it with an Englishman anything is possible. Enter Murray Kidd, a 42-year-old fitness fanatic from Auckland.

Kidd, who is on a one-season contract, was not the first choice, which is not surprising considering his c.v. . He lasted less than a year at King Country partly because that, under his guidance, the players thought they were training for the SAS rather than a rugby match. There is even a rumour that any Irish forward caught dropping a pass in training has to pay a penalty by breaking into a sprint.

Under Kidd's brief influence, Ireland have responded so impressively that they find themselves responsible for doubling Mr Power's business. First they found a scrum-half in England who, despite the name of Saverimutto, or perhaps because of it, is qualified for Ireland.

Then they went out and hammered Fiji, the same Fiji who a week earlier were desperately unlucky not to beat Wales in Cardiff. Ireland completed their preparations with a wet weather victory over the United States.

Beating Fiji and the Eagles, neither of whom qualified for the World Cup, does not suddenly in itself make Ireland a home banker to beat Scotland. Indeed, Terry Kingston is the only member of the side who has experienced success against the Scots. What has also contributed to Paddy's power is the poor form of Scotland.

In drawing with Western Samoa and losing to Italy they have scored one try and conceded six. And, of course, no longer at full-back is the Edinburgh rock, Gavin Hastings. "His absence has not affected us as much as the media make out," Gregor Townsend maintained. "This is the same media who said not so long ago that Gavin should have been dropped because he wasn't playing well."

Much has been made of the choice of Townsend ahead of Craig Chalmers but Ireland have made a questionable move in playing Eric Elwood at stand- off. In terms of natural ability he does not compare to two alternatives, Paul Burke and David Humphreys.

Outside Elwood, Ireland have a threequarter line that looks impressive. Whether they will see that much of the ball depends, as usual, on the battles fought in the line-out and between the back rows. Ireland look to have the edge in the former, Scotland the latter.

Ireland last won their opening match in the Five Nations in 1988, beating Scotland in Dublin. "Losing the first one makes life very difficult," Jim Staples, Ireland's new captain, said. "We all know this is a far bigger match than the two we have played but we have prepared well."

Ireland have never been so professional. For the first time a sponsor, Irish Permanent, will have its logo on the players' jerseys. The chances of it being a permanent fixture will depend, to a certain extent, on whether Kidd's stuff is for real.


at Lansdowne Road, Dublin

J Staples Harlequins, capt 15 R Shepherd Melrose

R Wallace Garryowen 14 C Joyner Melrose

J Bell Northampton 13 S Hastings Watsonians

K McQuilkin Bective Rangers 12 I Jardine Stirling County

S Geoghegan Bath 11 M Dods Northampton

E Elwood Lansdowne 10 G Townsend Northampton

C Saverimutto Sale 9 B Redpath Melrose

N Popplewell Newcastle 1 D Hilton Bath

T Kingston Dolphin 2 K McKenzie Stirling County

P Clohessy Young Munster 3 P Wright Boroughmuir

G Fulcher Constitution 4 S Campbell Dundee HSFP

N Francis Old Belvedere 5 G Weir Melrose

J Davidson Dungannon 6 R Wainwright W Hartlepool, capt

P Johns Dungannon 8 E Peters Bath

D Corkery Constitution 7 I Smith Gloucester

Referee: B Campsall (England). Kick-off: 3.0 (BBC Scotland/N Ireland).