Saturday 24 March 2018

Ireland must roll the dice

Young players need to be tested against Scots

IRELAND captain Paul O'Connell is out of the rest of the Six Nations. So too is scrum-half Conor Murray. This is not the time to circle the wagons and retreat inside a shell of conservatism. This is the time to put politics into practice.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney talks about how it is easy to know who to put in and difficult to know who to leave out. This is a clever way of saying all the Irish players want to play, deserve to play. But, there are only 15 jerseys.

Time and again, the Irish coach mentions those that are not playing and how he would love to give them all an opportunity. Well, the time has come to give those men their chance, all except Sean Cronin.

The reason for this is that Ulster's Rory Best should be asked to take on the captaincy. He is the form choice, the natural choice, the obvious choice. He should lead Ireland out against Scotland.

Hooker Best is simply world-class, the front runner for the British & Irish Lions test spot in Australia next year.

The Scots at home in Dublin are not New Zealand, France or Wales.

It is a considerable challenge for which Ireland will have to be fully prepared with a coherent game plan.

The remit of the Ireland coach is to stack high wins in the Six Nations, one on top of the other, because international rugby provides 80pc of the Irish Rugby Football Union income. It is the Holy Grail.

Remember when Scotland beat Ireland at Croke Park on March 20 2010. It was a sorry sight to see an inferior Scotland bring the commitment and courage that seemed so foreign to Irish bodies that day.


However, the whole world did not cave in. The Irish supporters did not abandon their team. They never will.

You see, there is a level of understanding that a stagnating team must find new identities in the form of new players or at least unearth worthy options for what is sure to be a trying three test tour to New Zealand in June. Make the general public aware of Ireland's need to build for the 2015 World Cup, of the pre-requisite to develop depth stretching to two international standard players per position.

They will understand. It does not mean the concession of victory. It does mean that the six players ready for battle from the bench on Sunday should be asked to show their worth.

Look how Leinster fly-half Ian Madigan, Munster back rower Peter O'Mahony, already capped, Connacht centre Eoin Griffin and Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall have improved from minutes on the pitch this season.

But, to ask Joe Schmidt, Tony McGahan, Brian McLaughlin and Eric Elwood to go out and win matches, leagues, cups, while not using the very players they send to the international table leaves an empty feeling.

Six of the Irish players sitting on the bench in Paris should be activated from the start against Scotland on Saturday. The Grand Slam is gone. The Championship is gone. The Triple Crown is gone. There is nothing to lose.

Declan Kidney must give this set of six something more than hollow words. It will make them believe they are part of the national project.

The bone bruising to the knee of Murray rules him out of the last two Six Nations matches, making Eoin Reddan an automatic choice at scrum-half.

Ronan O'Gara should be partnered with Reddan as a reward for his improved attitude following the World Cup.

Leinster's Fergus McFadden can slot in anywhere along the three-quarter line. The turn of the clock indicates that Gordon D'Arcy is the obvious choice for bench duty.

McFadden is a direct, quick and committed player, never slow to combat a bigger man. He deserves a start at 12 with Keith Earls making an admirable fist of 13, confronting Aurelian Rougerie at Stade de France.

In the pack, loose-head Cian Healy has taken serious knocks against Italy and France. It would do his body no harm to sit this one out until he is needed in the second-half.

Ulster's Tom Court should be riding a crest of confidence from his try against Italy. The Scottish scrum is respectable, nothing more. He has to be trusted to hold up his end of the argument.

Munster coach Tony McGahan has preferred Donnacha Ryan to Donncha O'Callaghan at club level. Kidney sees it differently. Both of them will surely start now that O'Connell has been ruled out for the last two matches with medial ligament damage.

Peter O'Mahony, just 22, has the leadership qualities and a throwback, hard-edge style of play that makes him appealing at the highest level.

The Irish team will be announced at lunchtime tomorrow. This time, it is easy to know who to put in and who to leave out.

DES BERRY'S IRELAND xv (v Scotland): R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, F McFadden, A Trimble; R O'Gara, E Reddan; T Court, R Best (capt), M Ross, D O'Callaghan, D Ryan, S Ferris, P O'Mahony, J Heaslip.

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