Wales 15-17 Ireland, Six Nations Championship, March 21
Kidney basks in Grand Slam success
March 22, 2009
Ireland coach Declan Kidney delights in his side's Grand Slam triumph © Getty Images
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has revealed the key to his side's historic Six Nations Grand Slam triumph.
Ireland ended a 61-year wait for only their second Championship clean sweep with a thrilling 17-15 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with Kidney conjuring another second-half fightback from his side to clinch the glory but he refused to take any personal credit for the long-awaited success were the keys to success.
"Honesty. Trust. Hard work," he said when asked the secret to this side's success. "A willingness to go that extra little bit. No-one was blaming anybody. There were no cliques. We just gave it all in the best way possible."
The Grand Slam plan, however, was hatched back in December at a training camp in Enfield, Galway. "That was our opportunity. We sat down and I have a brilliant bunch of team leaders. Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Rog (Ronan O'Gara). Rory Best. We had a frank discussion. We put everything out on the table," explained Kidney. "It was nothing hugely scientific. We were just honest with each other. By talking about it there were suddenly a lot of doors opening. To win a Triple Crown and a Grand Slam makes it exceptional."
Ireland's wealth of experience after coming so close to winning the title three times in the last decade ultimately is what saw them through. "We had a lot of winners out on the pitch," said Kidney. "Fellas who are used to staying the pace and we tried to feed off that. They'll be rattling into each other in a fortnight when Munster take on Leinster. Grand Slam champions having a go at each other. Tickets will be scarce for that one. The lads are just genuinely honoured and proud of being where we are and they have put that much sweat and toil into it."
The dream of a Grand Slam looked to have died when Wales fly-half Stephen Jones slotted a drop goal to give his side the lead with the game drawing to a close but back Ireland came with a drop goal of their own through O'Gara. And then came the final drama when Jones lined up the penalty which, if it had gone over, would have snatched away glory with the last kick of the match. His kick dropped short sparking celebrations in Cardiff and across the Irish Sea.
"I just looked upstairs and said it's not over till it's over," said Kidney, recalling his emotions. "You tell yourself that a lot in sport and 99% of the time it is over. But I knew it was at the maximum of his range. I had told them at half-time 'We need to go after this lads.' And we did. It was a huge team effort."
The victory caps a remarkable year for Kidney that also included a second Heineken Cup title with Munster but the understated coach played down his own contribution, insisting it came down to the players.
"I am a believer in that you never nail down a jersey," he said. "It is yours for that afternoon and that is your chance. You leave your DNA in it and it is what you leave that matters. Hopefully, these lads have filled it so come our next match in May whoever plays will feel the onus is on them."
Kidney rightfully basked in his side's success, asking, "What do we have, 100 professional players? And we have managed to come away with a Grand Slam. It's unbelievable isn't it? Maybe I won't pinch myself because then I'll wake up. But it's a special time. Hopefully we've made Ireland proud of us."
Fly-half Ronan O'Gara has also revealed Ireland began plotting their path to the Grand Slam immediately after dispatching France in their Six Nations opener.
In public, the Irish camp steadfastly refused to look any further than the next match and were reluctant to discuss the clean sweep even during the build-up to Saturday's gripping victory over Wales. But O'Gara admits the greatest prize in European rugby was thrust on to the agenda as soon as they had edged France 30-21 - their first win over Les Bleus since 2003.
"I remember being in a huddle before the Italy game and I told us to go on and win the Grand Slam," said the Munster fly-half. "We started talking about it after the France game. We hadn't beaten them for six years so we knew this was a good opportunity. Once they were out of the way, the boys felt confident.
"We knew it would be tough in Cardiff but the boys were a little bit surprised at how little Wales played. Maybe in Ireland people thought the Munster players didn't commit as much to the Irish jersey as they did to the Munster jersey - but I'm so happy that's gone now," said O'Gara. "The Wales game meant everything - and it's one of the best, if not the best, moment in my career.
"The fellas in this team have massive mental belief in themselves. People go on about skill and physicality but that victory was about mental belief. We were 6-0 down at half-time and under pressure but we tore into them in the second half.
"It was a refusal to lose. Fellas wouldn't have come off the pitch until they'd won."
Head coach Declan Kidney, overseeing his first Six Nations, has stated throughout the championship he was surprised by the players' initial lack of self-belief. But clear-the-air talks over Christmas helped drag Ireland out of a difficult 18 months.
"It took time. But the important thing is to have an open forum to discuss your beliefs and that happened," said O'Gara. "There were a lot of honest and open meetings before Christmas.
"Once we left that camp, fellas began to realise this was a team that was going places. There was a time when we couldn't even pass the ball along the backline.
"There was something wrong there and that needed to be addressed. Declan's massive input is to create a happy environment and get the players to believe in themselves."