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What Declan Kidney made of Farrell's Ireland winning the Grand Slam

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Donall Farmer/PA Images via Getty Images)

Declan Kidney has given his verdict on Ireland clinching just their fourth-ever Grand Slam with last Saturday’s win over England in Dublin. The London Irish director of rugby was the Ireland boss when the first Slam since 1948 was secured in dramatic circumstances in Cardiff in 2009.

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Two more Slams have since been won, Joe Schmidt leading the clean sweep in 2018 and with Andy Farrell’s team now following suit in 2023, it means that the Irish have now secured three Six Nations Grand Slams in 15 seasons after winning just one in the previous 120-plus years in a championship that was first contested in 1883.

It was 10 years ago when Kidney was last in charge of Ireland, his team losing a round five match in Italy in March 2013, and he watched last weekend’s championship finale in Dublin from home in London ahead of his club’s Premiership Rugby Cup final the following day versus Exeter. He lapped up what unfolded at the Aviva.

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“I watched it in my apartment here in London with my brother and my nephew. We enjoyed it and went out for a meal then to celebrate after. But I live right next door to Twickenham, so I had to keep my head down,” he chuckled when talking with RugbyPass on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s St Patrick’s Gallagher Premiership party game at home to Northampton.

Asked for his thoughts on the current Farrell-coached Ireland team joining the classes of 2009 and 2018 on the Grand Slam pedestal, Kidney said: “I can’t speak highly enough of them. The way they have conducted themselves on and off the pitch is brilliant.

“They got on with the injuries during the year. I wouldn’t be putting the jinx on them, but Andy and his coaching team, Paul (O’Connell) and the rest of the lads, I am delighted for them. They conducted themselves really well and the lads on the pitch were excellent. Delighted.”

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It’s an era of riches for Ireland, a hat-trick of Grand Slams in the last decade-and-a-half, and their latest has now generated so much expectation heading to Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. “We have a good set-up at home, we have the feeder systems. Leo (Cullen) does a really good job and maximises everything in Leinster. It is nearly the ultimate system that he has.

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“There are so many schools and each of those schools will produce a good player every year. They bring them through, but they don’t allow bottlenecks to occur. And the other provinces have done really strongly as well then too with that and they all feed into it.

“But I wouldn’t be getting carried away – we need to keep our heads down. There is a big World Cup campaign now and it’s a completely different series. There are four group games that are played over five weeks this time rather than the four weeks that they were before. That will be a little challenging.

“I don’t have the order of games in my head (Romania, Tonga, South Africa and Scotland), but all those things are going to make a difference. Then it’s your luck with injuries then too during that because you must play a few warm-up matches and it depends on how those bangs and knocks come through. But from the celebrations on the pitch and the size of the squad that they had there, it is certainly a great starting base to go into the summer with.”

Ireland were skippered to glory by the soon-to-be 38-year-old Johnny Sexton, the out-half that Kidney handed a Test debut to way back in 2009 versus Fiji at the RDS. The win over England was his 113th appearance and his longevity in the game has been immense. “I’m not surprised,” beamed Kidney, “but there are quite a number of players at that level that have gone on to do that.

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“They have a love of the game, an understanding of what it takes. How they mind themselves, that is the bit that people don’t see, they are good professionals. With most professionals, this job is a way of life, it’s a lifestyle as much as anything, so how disciplined you are with your lifestyle to get yourself ready takes a lot of effort and a lot of due diligence.

“The 80 minutes on the pitch is the showpiece of that but it takes many, many hours of preparation to get to that stage to be able to perform at that level and do that. Johnny is the first to congratulate the fellas around him to allow him to do it, but he has certainly shown himself to be an inspirational leader.”

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