It's Kidney's duty to put the best team possible on the pitch for Ireland
ON RUGBY:The gnashing of teeth which has greeted Michael Bent’s call-up has been surprising
In an ideal world every match-day Irish squad would comprise of nothing but indigenous, native players who are products of a conveyor belt of home-grown talent, who can all sing Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland’s Call, and The Fields of Athenry for that matter, and can perhaps even recite Ulysses backwards. Well, then again, maybe not.
In any event, in an ideal system, Irish rugby would have continued to produce a production line of indigenous props, a la Ray McLaughlin and Des Fitzgerald amongst others, perhaps by not abandoning a club game which facilitates the late development of players in a position where players develop later than most.
But there isn’t and there hasn’t been, and hence imported products from New Zealand and South Africa have been holding down the starting tighthead positions in Ulster, Munster and Connacht this season, with Mike Ross (rejected by the Irish “system” for years until keeping his career alive in English club rugby) the only Irishman doing so at Leinster.
The gnashing of teeth from former internationals which has greeted Michael Bent’s call-up to the Irish squad has been somewhat surprising, less so that it has been used as a stick to beat over the head of Declan Kidney and/or Irish rugby for those looking for any excuse to do so.
For sure there is something less than ideal about the very real possibility of a New Zealand-born, third generation Irish player being selected on the Irish bench less than two weeks after arriving from provincial rugby ostensibly to join Leinster. For sure, too, Ireland should be decidedly careful not to emulate the Italians, and even England latterly, in diluting the nationality of their teams.
But while it’s all very well patriotically waving the Tricolour and maintaining there is something innately wrong about Bent’s inclusion, it’s also worth looking at the facts. For starters, and for the first time at Test level, match-day squads in this autumnal window will be extended from 22 to 23 so as to contain a second prop, thereby negating the need for one notionally versatile prop and instead opting for one specialist on either side of the scrum.
Since the outset of the 2010 Six Nations, the only game for which Mike Ross has been ruled out has been the opening Test in New Zealand, when Declan Fitzpatrick held up the Irish scrum and contributed around the field pretty well. But Fitzpatrick has played just two games this season (totalling 106 minutes) and is currently undergoing the IRB-outlined “return to rugby protocol” after suffering concussion in Ulster’s win away to the Dragons 10 days ago.