Kidney takes the positives

Ireland coach Declan Kidney urged his players not to be too despondent after they endured a frustrating Setanta Challenge Cup encounter with the USA in Santa Clara, California.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney urged his players not to be too despondent after they endured a frustrating Setanta Challenge Cup encounter with the USA in Santa Clara, California.

Not much went right for the Rory Best-captained Irish side, apart from on the scoreboard where a four-try haul helped them to a 27-10 win.

Bidding to improve on last weekend’s forgettable showing against Canada, Kidney retained the same players in his matchday squad. There was one team change with Mike Ross preferred to Tom Court in the front row.

With the scales tipped in their favour in what was Eddie O’Sullivan’s first game in charge of a very inexperienced USA side, Ireland still put in an error-strewn display.

Ian Keatley kicked well out of hand and set up a first-half try for Ian Whitten, while Mick O’Driscoll and another try scorer Bob Casey had solid shifts in the second row and Tony Buckley and replacement Eoin Reddan also had some eye-catching moments.

But, as a collective, Ireland disappointed again and Kidney and his fellow coaches have much work to do if their second-string players are going to feature at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

“It was obviously a very poor game and there were a lot of mistakes in it,” Kidney said.

“We said this tour was part of our World Cup build-up. Really it’s a five-game tour as ourselves, the senior coaches, and a lot of this squad will be involved together at the Churchill Cup.

“The players know themselves that they made some bad errors out there but you do need to start from somewhere and today’s the day.

“We won’t kid anybody, we didn’t improve (the ball retention) and other aspects from last week. They have to get used to fronting up week in, week out for international rugby and they’ll learn from this experience.

“We didn’t get too euphoric during the Six Nations and we won’t get too despondent after these matches.

“Hopefully we’ll get better games in the weeks ahead (in the Churchill Cup).

“It takes time. We need to be at our optimum for the World Cup in 2011. It’s like the Olympics, we’ve two-and-a-half-years’ preparation time for the World Cup.”

Tour captain Best, who scored Ireland’s clinching try 10 minutes from the finish, was staying positive despite the flat all-round performance.

“First and foremost, you have to take a win. Obviously we’re not over the moon with the performance but you have to take it, especially with the slightly younger squad we have,” he said.

“We knew it was going to be tough, the US have a very good back row, they’re good at spoiling ball and working it to their advantage. We didn’t quite get to grips with that.

“Every time we got to six or seven phases we looked dangerous but we just weren’t able to get there enough. It was pretty frustrating.”

Best’s former coach O’Sullivan, who guided Ireland to three Triple Crowns between 2004 and 2007, was very pleased with the efforts of his American players.

Missing a large chunk of the regular senior squad, with last year’s captain Todd Clever and Biarritz flyer Taku Ngwenya amongst the absentees, the Eagles really raised their game.

Indeed, had their out-half Mike Hercus not missed four kickable penalties, the game could have gone either way.

Hercus’ replacement Ata Malifa inspired a second-half revival from the hosts, dropping a goal and then setting up a converted try for centre Roland Suniula.

Focusing on the performance rather than the result, O’Sullivan said: “It was a good hit-out for us. We did well overall, we made some mistakes and got punished for them.

“But for our first day out, I was pleased with the overall performance.

“Our lineout didn’t function a lot of the time but the scrum did well and our defence was pretty strong throughout. Had we kicked our penalties and held out in other defensive situations, it might have been a tighter game.

“It’s a good foundation for us, this is the start of a busy six or seven weeks which culminates with two World Cup qualifiers against Canada.”

Asked what his players can improve on ahead of next weekend’s clash with Wales, he said: “We didn’t take our penalties, they’re the things you learn from.

“If we can tidy up our lineout, take our penalties, we’ll be in good shape for the games ahead.”

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