Sunday 17 December 2017

Axe shows Geordan is a victim of Test fiasco

GEORDAN MURPHY may have been dropped by Ireland for the opening autumn international because he is no longer thought to be cutting the mustard -- an unlikely explanation, given his excellent form at club level and the esteem in which he is held by national coach Declan Kidney -- but, on the other hand, he may be an innocent victim of the latest spat over player availability for Test rugby.

Either way, it is not good news for the Leicester full-back in what is the World Cup season.

Ireland are to play four games in Dublin -- one more than is covered by the International Rugby Board's regulations on release of players -- and Kidney has named a 34-man party in preparation for the opening game with South Africa on November 6, which is not part of the autumn Test window.

There are several notable absentees: the 2009 Lions captain, Paul O'Connell, is still on the long-term injury list, while hooker Jerry Flannery and versatile back Luke Fitzgerald picked up knocks during last weekend's Heineken Cup games and may not recover in time to face the world champions.

For his part, Murphy is anything but injured. Rather, he is in the best shape of his long career. Yet he has lost out to Leinster full-back Rob Kearney and, rather more surprisingly, Gavin Duffy of Connacht. If the selection was not wholly form-driven, as many in Ireland believe, it must have had something to do with the fact that Leicester are under no obligation to release their captain for the Springbok date. However, Murphy could be back for the other Tests with Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina.

There was no word from the Tigers yesterday, while Premier Rugby, the body representing England's elite clubs, said it had not been contacted by either Leicester or the IRFU.

Premier Rugby are, however, feeling tender on the issue of player releases after the hard words spoken by the Welsh hierarchy over the restricted availability of English-based players for their World Cup plans.

Even though England are playing four Tests next month, the agreement between the English Rugby Football Union and the Premiership clubs guarantees player release.

Scotland, who have a far bigger proportion of leading players contracted to English clubs than Ireland or Wales, have only three fixtures and are therefore covered.

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