Declan Kidney’s future is shrouded in grave doubt after Ireland slumped to their first defeat by Italy in the Six Nations and worst performance of the championship since 1999, when they also finished second from bottom, one place above France on points difference.
It has been a trying two months for Kidney, who has been forced to cope with an injury curse that struck yet again in Rome, although this time the match was just 24 minutes old when Keith Earls was escorted off, quickly followed by Luke Marshall and substitute Luke Fitzgerald.
While Kidney deserves sympathy for having to work amid such challenging circumstances and respect for refusing to complain, Ireland’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly during his four-and-a-half years in charge.
It is that bigger picture that may convince the IRFU to allow his contract to expire in the summer, with the loss to Italy perhaps offering final confirmation that change is necessary.
For the first time Kidney himself has hinted a stewardship that peaked with the 2009 Grand Slam might be over.
“I said all along that I’d concentrate on each game as it came and that’s all I did with Italy,” Kidney said.
“I wasn’t thinking that it could be my last match as coach, all I was concentrating on was getting the win.
“I wanted to get a result, we didn’t manage to do that and we’ll reflect on it over the coming days and weeks.
“I’d have to sit down and think about whether I want a new contract. These guys are a pleasure to work with, but beyond that I’d have to sit back and think about it.”
Kidney has received strong support from flanker Peter O’Mahony, who spent much of yesterday’s match on the left wing once Fitzgerald had limped off with a knee problem.
“The players should take the blame for what’s happened. We’ve been given every opportunity to go out and play for Ireland,” O’Mahony said.
“It has to come down to the players, I don’t know where the stick aimed at the coaches is coming from.
“We’re the ones who have made decisions on the pitch and have made mistakes at times. It’s on our heads, we’re the ones who are not delivering.
“All 23 of us in the squad against Italy and everyone in the extended training squad are 100 per cent behind the coaching staff.
“That will be the case until they move on, which hopefully won’t be any time soon.”
Meanwhile, Brian O’Driscoll will learn later today whether he will face disciplinary proceedings for his stamp on Simone Favaro in the 22-15 Six Nations defeat by Italy.
Citing commissioner Aurwel Morgan of the Welsh Rugby Union has until just before midnight (Australian eastern time) to decide if the offence, which saw O’Driscoll sent to the sin-bin on the half-hour mark, warrants further action.
O’Driscoll lifted his right leg and brought it down on to the chest of Favaro, the Italy openside, who yelled out in pain and writhed around on the Stadio Olimpico turf before looking up to the touchline.
It was an act born out of the 34-year-old centre’s frustration as Favaro was lying on the wrong side of the ruck at a time when Ireland were beginning to implode once more.
The incident clouded what was almost certainly O’Driscoll’s final game for Ireland, leading to speculation, led by former international team-mate Paul Wallace, that if he had decided to retire after the summer, he may now delay those plans.
Kidney said he still has plenty to offer at Test level.
“Brian has had a strong Six Nations. He was outstanding against Wales and had a good match against France. I thought he did well against Italy too,” he said.
“He’s earned the space and time to be able to make up his own mind. Players are the only ones who know when the time is right to go.”