I may have gone over to the “Kidney out” camp since the 2011 World Cup, but I reckon he and I would agree on one thing right now – having Pro12 matches while the Six Nations is in full swing can be a real pain.
Of course, our reasons for thinking that would be different...in my case, it's because for a tournament with a round-robin format it completely skews (screws?) the clubs' abilities to field their best available XVs. Pro12, Premiership & Top14 teams are effectively “punished” for having international players, unless of course you're Italy and your world-class skipper is forced to play risking injury and/or suspension.
Methinks Mr Kidney has other reasons. For someone who more often than not has his starting lineups for test matches picked in his head weeks if not months in advance, provincial contests such as the ones this weekend have the annoying habit of showing the public what kind of form his chosen players are actually in.
So after a Saturday when first Ian Madigan reminded us why he's seen as the natural successor to Jonny Sexton, then Ronan O'Gara reminded us by both his looks & performance of the Lions' second test in Pretoria, Kidney has surprised absolutely no-one with his 29-man squad for Murrayfield.
And in turn he has left a significant amount of Irish fans, even some Munster ones I might add, feeling like little kids who want a puppy.
All of which leaves me on a Monday morning eager to show why it's not so naïve to suggest the 23-year old former Rock boy can start for Ireland when I should be writing about what an enjoyable evening's Leinstertainment I had on a milder-than-expected Saturday evening in the RDS.
I must also make my apologies to the game's hat-trick hero Dominic Ryan...the realities of the European rugby calendar & the Irish coaching ticket force me to leave your memorable achievement until way, way down my write-up. At least I made a pun out of your name for the headline, right?
Now, to Ireland's Six Nations campaign. If we had won last Sunday leaving the Grand Slam on the table and Sexton was still out, I would probably be ok with O'Gara starting next weekend whatever about the way he handled his “much-needed game time” against the Scarlets. Because much like 2009, wins would be “all” we needed from our remaining three matches.
But as Declan Kidney says himself, we must still consider ourselves in contention to finish atop the table. The way the remaining fixtures are scheduled, if England are to win the Grand Slam and Triple Crown, they must do so by defeating the Welsh in Cardiff, much like we did in 2009, so in other words it certainly won't be easy.
The thing is though...when that match kicks off in the Millennium Stadium on March 16, Ireland's campaign will be finished.
So looking ahead from this point in time right now, all we can do is not only win all our matches, but also do so by improving our points difference by as much as we possibly can so that a narrow-ish Welsh victory can give us the title.
Now...if only there was an Irish province out there who recently had to rack up a decent amount of tries to stay alive in a tournament?
Maybe Leinster did fall short in their quest to reach the last eight of the Heineken Cup, but considering how their season was poised on New Year's Day, they certainly came pretty damn close, warming up with four tries in Murrayfield before securing bonus points in their final two pool matches. And they achieved this by adopting a policy of spurning early penalty chances and kicking for the corner.
It's true that the bulk of those go-for-broke displays were quarter-backed by Sexton. But as he has often done this season, Madigan proved against Treviso that he is more than capable of coming on and getting the same job done.
And if there's one description you certainly couldn't pin on him, it's “one-dimensional”. There were wrap-around plays, missile-type passes that often missed three let alone one, and yes, there were even tactical kicks for territory when it seemed appropriate. 4 out of 5 from the tee was a decent return as well, especially when you compare the one he missed from the touchline to the ones that were going awry in Llanelli.
If you had to level criticism at the Leinster back-line in this encounter, it would be for being TOO eager to entertain. Once or twice a fancy move or pass could have been sacrificed for something more basic and the margin may have been even greater. But still, winning by five converted tries against any opposition in professional rugby isn't half bad.
Of course I'm more than aware that a Treviso side stripped of it's key players in the RDS is a far cry from the full Scottish test side at Murrayfield, but were Madigan to start next Sunday, he'd also have a better standard team around him, even with all the injuries.
So I think it's safe to say we can make a decent case to Daddy Kidney that we're well aware a puppy isn't just for Christmas.
And since he has indicated with his choice of Ireland panel that it is O'Gara and Jackson he prefers for the points-difference-padding task, he has put added pressure on the squad to perform next Sunday, especially if “Mad-dog” puts in another virtuoso performance the night before against the Scarlets.
But that is of course the Ireland coach's choice to make. As a true Irish rugby fan who diligently takes his seat fifteen minutes before kickoff in test matches when I can afford the ticket price, I can only hope he can prove his ever-growing amount of doubters wrong.
Finally, I can talk about this match in isolation. You'd think with the few references I have made to it that it was all about the Leinster backs. A glance at the scoresheet would tell you something different...all six tries were by forwards.
Now it's true, there should be an asterisk beside Dominic Ryan's hat-trick. If Leinster were “playing it safe” and taking their three-point opportunities rather than kicking for the corner, he wouldn't have had a single try to his name.
But on the other hand, I don't see too many asterisks beside Simon Zebo's name for his three tries against a disinterested 14-man Racing Métro side, so I guess it must be okay to lavish praise on the young flanker.
Besides...if there are any coaches out there who want videos of the perfect lineout & maul move, they could pick any one of his three tries. Of course there is a case to be made about the Treviso defence in those situations but to be fair, for the third one they did resist the maul a bit before it got back on track for Ryan to go over yet again.
So from slick backline moves to quick front-foot ball to textbook forward set-piece play, Joe Schmidt's men had the bonus point wrapped up after just 27 minutes to send the message out to the rest of the league that they are still well in the hunt for the trophy.
I was expecting something of a fightback from the Italians to give Leinster “haters” something to moan about; thankfully although they certainly didn't give up, our defence, inspired mostly by the efforts of starting centres Andrew Goodman and Eoin O'Malley, was able to restrict their riposte to just the one five-pointer.
Luke Fitzgerald certainly did enough to impress those like myself who raised an eyebrow at his number 15 jersey, with his deeper role allowing him more chances to remind us of his abilities in open play. The ease with which he coasted through to lay on the first of Sean Cronin's brace was just one example.
Even in the closing stages when our bench-emptying forced us into interesting combinations like having Isaac Boss at inside centre, we seemed to have something to counter it...for example Leo Cullen and Devin Toner positioning themselves side by side in the middle of the park like twin towers the Treviso defence just couldn't handle.
To summarize, when it comes to the Pro12 and indeed the remainder of Leinster's season, it seems they have the wherewithal to produce the goods and I see no reason to change anything in the playbook.
When it comes to the Six Nations, it seems Declan Kidney feels he can produce his own goods while allowing the best of our wherewithal to stay at his province. I already said last week that all is not well with the playbook in the Irish camp, so we can only assume he has something up his sleeve.
We'll see where we are next Monday morning. JLP
UPDATE – Monday Feb 18 7pm – Madigan drafted into Ireland squad as injury cover. After all I said above, this could be actually WORSE than not selecting him at all because I doubt he’ll usurp ROG or Jackson, but with match away in Edinburgh I hope he’s just there as a precaution and will still be allowed play for Leinster on Saturday night!
Also this weekend…