Six Nations 2013: Ireland's lengthening casualty list may yet save Declan Kidney from sack
Coach must rely on excuse of injuries and blooding new players to earn him new deal
The Ireland coach, Declan Kidney, must feel like he is responsible for a MASH tent rather than an international rugby team, but the dire length of the Irish casualty list might actually count in his favour as he seeks a contract extension.
The final 10 minutes of their 13-13 draw with France in Dublin on Saturday was a microcosm of Ireland's frustrating championship campaign. With Fergus McFadden and Donnacha Ryan already on the sidelines nursing respective rib and shoulder injuries, both Irish centres – Luke Marshall and Brian O'Driscoll – were floored as the hosts desperately tried to stem the French fightback.
The pair had wrenched their bodies in the defensive trenches and Marshall is doubtful for the final outing against Italy after he received a concussion that team-mate Keith Earls said left him seeing "birds around his head". While Marshall was replaced, O'Driscoll escaped to the blood bin only to return, however hampered, within minutes.
Then, after Louis Picamoles burst through for the French try, scrum-half Eoin Reddan suffered a broken leg in a sickening blow that pushed the number of first-team players unavailable to Kidney into double figures. Reddan's season is now over and reflecting on the adversity that his squad had been dealt during the Six Nations, Kidney could at least see the benefits for the future.
"Huge. Huge," he agreed. "I've put together enough teams in my lifetime to know that every so often you have to go through something like this. It's not something that you plan to go through, or that you want to go through, but if you look at it, when we won the Slam we had a zero per cent injury rate. [Now] we're working off something like a 40 per cent. I think France were missing [Pascal] Papé, that was it. Sometimes you just have to ride the waves a little bit."
Kidney began this championship without the services of three men who would be Lions contenders if fit – Tommy Bowe, Paul O'Connell and Stephen Ferris – while he lost another in the England game when Jonny Sexton tore his hamstring. Hooker Richardt Strauss was also ruled out before the tournament and Simon Zebo, Gordon D'Arcy and Chris Henry soon followed
At various stages injury and suspension have also sidelined Cian Healy, Mike McCarthy and Craig Gilroy.
Kidney's contract is up in the summer and although Ireland's results have been poor, it could be argued that Scotland and France should have been put to the sword with a young and largely inexperienced team.
While injuries have forced his hand, the coach has brought through new caps and young talent and that has at least earned him support within the dressing room. That could also prove to the Irish Rugby Football Union that he is worth taking this next generation to the 2015 World Cup despite the Irish team's inconsistency since their 2009 Grand Slam victory.
Frustration is still rife within the Irish camp and winger Earls was unhappy that his attempt to touch down Reddan's late kick for the winning try was impeded by French prop Vincent Debaty, unpunished by referee Steve Walsh.
"Definitely, 100 per cent: I have to look at the video again. I don't know whether it is a penalty try but it's definitely a penalty. The word in the dressing room is that the TMO [television match official] gave a penalty but the referee went against it," said Earls, which goes along with the message from the camp that Walsh saw the incident on the big screen as the television match official was still coming to a conclusion – an act which certainly goes against protocol.
For now the Irish medical staff and team of physios will go through the wreckage of tortured bodies and try to present Kidney with some semblance of a fit squad to take to Rome on Saturday, when a win would go a long way towards soothing the bruised Irish collective.
Sexton is due to return from injury to face Italy and the tide may turn. It will be too little, too late for Ireland. Whether that will prove the case for Kidney's future remains to be seen.
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