SIMON LEWIS: Kidney believes time on his side at last

Declan Kidney believes an early start to Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations preparations means his players can hit the ground running in Cardiff in nine days for the opening game against Wales.

When Ireland signed off on 2012 with a seven-try victory over Argentina, head coach Kidney spoke of the need for a fast start to the five-game competition, which begins on February 2 at the Millennium Stadium.

His side have been notoriously slow starters in recent years, surviving a scare in Rome against Italy in 2011 and then losing to the Welsh at the Aviva Stadium a year ago.

This time around, Ireland convened at their Carton House training base near Maynooth, Kildare, a full 24 hours early last Sunday night, the Munster players going into camp straight from Thomond Park, where they had sealed Heineken Cup qualification against Racing Metro in a 12:45pm kick-off.

Speaking at the launch of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations in London yesterday, Kidney outlined just how much of a difference a day can make.

“One of the things we’ve changed is that we came in Sunday night, which was tough going on some lads who had played on Sunday morning.

“In previous years we’ve left it until the Monday evening and because today is a full day too, that only gave us Tuesday.

“So we’re already well ahead of where we usually are, by just having Monday and Tuesday together. But it’s easy to call guys to come on Sunday, it all depends on the attitude they come in with.

“I can’t speak highly enough on all the lads because there was excitement, there was disappointment, there was a whole load of emotions and how fellas just linked in, they’re doing exactly what they said they’d do at Christmas.

“That’s why after the last day or two I wouldn’t say you’d be relaxed now, but you’d have the knowledge that we’d be in a better place in terms of other years. We have an extra day’s preparation under our belt and hitting the ground running is all about having time together.”

Kidney still has another nine days to ready his squad for a trip to Cardiff to face the 2012 Grand Slam winners but will be sending some of his players back into action tomorrow night for the Ireland Wolfhounds, who play England Saxons at the Sportsground in Galway. He will name that team today but he warned that the full spectrum of emotions experienced by his players during Heineken Cup duty last weekend may still be lingering.

“Whether we’d have enough time together even in that [time] is another thing. Our guys put a huge amount of stake into the Heineken Cup, that takes its own emotional [and] physical drain on them.

“All the lads, depending on where they were in the competition, they still played all the matches last weekend but emotionally maybe if they weren’t in the running for qualification, it mightn’t have taken as much out of them and they’ll be focusing on the matches coming up from a date further back.”

If new Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip was showing any ill effects from Leinster’s reign as European champions coming to an end last weekend, he was not showing it in London yesterday.

Named last week as captain for the championship, despite the return to fitness of Brian O’Driscoll, Heaslip reiterated the honour he felt at receiving the call from Kidney to continue the leadership role he carried out during the November Tests and paid tribute to many of the captains he has served under for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions.

“When I sit back and think about it, I’ve had Brian as captain, Leo [Cullen], Paul [O’Connell], Rory [Best] and I think Rog [Ronan O’Gara] was captain for a game as well that I was on the field,” Heaslip said.

“It’s great, and it’s great that the majority of them — bar Paul — are all playing right now.

“To call on them — you know I got a text message off Paul when it happened, obviously I saw Leo, I got a text message off Rory and I saw Brian as well so to have the support of all those guys is really quite humbling because these are your peers and it’s great, it’s quite humbling.

“I’ve learned a lot off them.

“Leo is very like me, quite focused on the task in hand while also being aware... he would have been in places like Leicester, very aware of team environment and stuff like that.

“I’ve seen a lot of Paul, in his actions you see his passion coming out and that’s pretty similar enough actually to Brian.

“So you see all these great things and hopefully I’ve picked up some things off them and, to be honest, I’m still a bit wet behind the ears in regards to the captaincy of Ireland and I’ll be looking to go to them again for help and experience, just like all the other leaders in the squad.”

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