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Friday 15 November 2019

Farrell's call on players

Future Irish boss has 'residency rule' decisions to make

Ireland’s Jean Kleyn in actio against Wales last week
Ireland’s Jean Kleyn in actio against Wales last week

Jean Kleyn provided the most recent flashpoint in the ongoing observations around the Irish Rugby Football Union's use of the 'residency rule.'

He is the latest of the out-sourced internationals to come under the spotlight for representing a country other than his own.

The current three-year rule that allowed the Munster second row to make his Ireland debut in the same week he qualified to do so has been ramped up to five years.

The change was announced in May 2017, ahead of the December 31, 2020 cut-off point, thus allowing from May to December of that year for the Irish provinces to make their moves.

The IRFU's stance on the residency rule is not quite the epidemic some would have us believe. Not now anyway.

In fairness, there is a counter argument that one is one too much.

At present, there are just twelve senior players left in Ireland who started out on the project route, just four left to complete the three-year stay.

Munster's Rhys Marshall will qualify before the end of this World Cup and his teammate Chris Cloete will be eligible to declare in October 2020.

Connacht's Jarrad Butler can take his shot from July next year and Leinster's James Lowe will have to wait the longest until November 2020.

Of these, just Lowe and Butler entered the system between May and December 31 2017.

At the moment, there are three overseas men, CJ Stander, Bundee Aki and Jean Kleyn.

Of the 1,600 caps handed out during Joe Schmidt's reign of 71 matches, 120 (7%) have gone to residency qualified players, 62% of those taken up by Jared Payne, Stander and Aki for a combined cap total of 74.

The explosive element to Kleyn's declaration had a lot to do with the fact he was immediately parachuted in over the ahead of Devin Toner.

Understandably, the outrage demonstrated in some quarters sided with the sympathy reserved for Toner, a stalwart and a linchpin lineout savant.

The argument raged over whether Kleyn is even a better player than Toner, the truth lying in the fact that they are completely different in what they bring.

Ultimately, coach Joe Schmidt may have decided that Kleyn offers the muscle in the set-piece and on the edges that can free-up someone like James Ryan to make better use of his elite athleticism rather than be further restricted to the hardcore duty of scrummaging on the tight-head side of the scrum and incessantly hammering away in the trenches.

After the World Cup, Ireland's next head coach Andy Farrell will have to review the individual cases of Gibson-Park, just qualified, Rhys Marshall, Chris Cloete, Jarrad Butler and James Lowe when and as they happen.

In reality, Butler and Cloete will have their hands full breaking into the national squad in an area where there are so many options.

The retirement of Rory Best will open the door to Seán Cronin, Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and Marshall under the new regime.

In this case, Marshall will be aware that none of the other three has been able to take their chances convincingly enough to dislodge Best.

Then again, Marshall has not been able to press his case well enough to unseat Scannell at the lower level.

Gibson-Park played the role of the tempo half-back in behind TJ Perenara for The Hurricanes in Super Rugby.

The queue of nines ahead of him include, Conor Murray, Luke McGrath, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney.

By the time McGrath returns from Japan, Gibson-Park will be able to fight his corner.

Struggle

Gone will be the days when coach Leo Cullen had to struggle with which one of three overseas players to leave out - Scott Fardy, Lowe or Gibson-Park.

In many ways, the intriguing contest between McGrath and Gibson-Park is reminiscent of that between Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan at Leinster.

However, the decision to go for Kleyn over Toner for a seat on the plane could well be superseded by that of Aki over Garry Ringrose for the number thirteen shirt against Scotland.

The difference is Aki has had the time that comes with 20 caps to win the hearts of the Irish public and the minds of the Ireland coaches.

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