It looks increasingly like Kidney will be forced to name a new captain, with Paul O’Connell struggling to be fit for the Springboks match with a back injury and both Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best already ruled out of the Guinness Test series.
[removed]ton’s main rival appears to be his provincial team-mate Jamie Heaslip, who has deputised as Leinster captain when Leo Cullen has been unavailable. However, Kidney said that he was not necessarily looking for a leader who had captaincy experience at provincial level.
[removed]ton, who has seen off the challenge of Munster’s Ronan O’Gara for the out-half starting position since the World Cup last year, is in many ways regarded as Ireland’s heartbeat, such is his importance to the side’s attacking prowess.
“I think what you always want is a player that the other players will respect, on and off the pitch,” Kidney said. “A player that they will listen to, who has a good tactical appreciation of what’s needed out on the pitch. Usually the captain has to have a relationship with the referee. So there’s quite a number of things.
“It’s easy to just announce somebody, to ask a guy to carry it. I rarely go up to a guy and say ‘will you just captain the side?’, because it is another load on him and first and foremost you want to make sure that he’s comfortable with it. We’ve a few lads that could step in.”
Outside the captaincy question, Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris also looks a major doubt having hobbled off with a knee injury during his side’s victory over Edinburgh on Friday night, after a month on the sidelines.
With Munster’s Keith Earls set to replace O’Driscoll at outside centre, Felix Jones is in contention to fill the fullback berth vacated by Rob Kearney, who has undergone back surgery.
Kidney will also be eager for Leinster prop Cian Healy, who sat out training last week with a shoulder injury to prove his fitness this week.
Almost a year since Ireland's famous victory over Australia in the World Cup, Kidney has never been under such scrutiny.
Remarkably, given the success of the provincial sides in the Heineken Cup, Ireland have won only two of their last eight games, beating only Scotland and Italy.
Leinster’s back-to-back Heineken Cup wins, the second last season coming in an all-Irish final against Ulster, has only added to the growing sense that the national side is not getting the best out of the resources available.
If the embarrassment of losing 66-0 to New Zealand in Hamilton in June is still fresh in the memory of many Ireland supporters, there is also the serious matter of the team’s world ranking ahead of the 2015 World Cup draw in December.
After the Springboks on Saturday, Ireland play Fiji in Limerick before another crucial match in Dublin when they taken on Argentina, currently ranked eight in the world, one place below Ireland.
A poor autumn could see Ireland struggling to stay in the second tier of seeds, making their World Cup path potentially extremely difficult.
It is a position similar to the one Kidney inherited when he took over from Eddie O’Sullivan four years ago. For now, the Cork man, who guided Ireland to the Six Nations title in his first year in charge, shows no sign of letting the pressure affect him.
“Different team, different time, similar cir[removed]stances but, no, you just back yourself and you back the players,” he said. “Just give them full reign to go out and express themselves and enjoy themselves.
“Because if you don’t enjoy yourself you won’t play to the best of your ability. I always believe if we play to the best of our ability we are a match for anybody.”