DECLAN KIDNEY WILL not be the only anxious Irish rugby supporter this weekend as the Irish provinces lay it all on the table in the pursuit of a Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Following his Six Nations squad announcement on Thursday, the Ireland squad lamented the fact that so many of the named players would be going flat-out to reach the last eight, while the Welsh sides make up the numbers.
Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff have all failed to mount a serious quarter-final challenge this season despite, collectively, boasting a myriad of Welsh Grand Slam winners.
Kidney told TheScore.ie, “The emotional tax on the players coming into this weekend is going to be quite high.
“The Welsh lads,” he added, “they’re out of Europe now. Some of them might be trying to qualify for the Amlin [Challenge Cup] but they not have that mental toll on them at the moment.”
Ireland go into the Six Nations with the winds of optimism in their green sails following a 46-24 thrashing of Argentina in November. Donnacha Ryan was man-of-the-match in the game while Jonathan Sexton ran in two excellent tries.
Kidney argues that ‘morale was never low’ after their three-match tour of New Zealand ended with a 60-0 hiding.
He said, “There was just frustration and disappointment with the way the last match finished, especially after how the second-last match went. Sometimes you go through that with a team that are learning their trade, if you like.” He added:
If you look at what Jonny and Donnacha, and a few of the other decision-makers, learned out on the pitch over there, we got the merits of that on the pitch last November.
The Ireland coach baulked at the suggestion that the Welsh squad was injury-ravaged but missed Rhys Priestland when he declared their backline was fighting fit.
“The thing about injury-ravaged,” he said, “I talked about the amount of injured frontliners we have.
“If you look at the Welsh pack, they’ll be down Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Lydiate. We’re down Stephen Ferris and Paul O’Connell. They look as if they are going to have the rest of their pack and I don’t think they are going to be missing anyone in their backline.
“What’s the perception and what’s the truth? I think like all teams, they will have their bangs and knocks. We’re pretty much in the same situation.”