Opportunity knocks for a variety of players
Ronan O'Gara looked decidedly rusty in his first game since Munster's penultimate Heineken Cup pool match against England last Sunday.
RUGBY:The circumstances are hardly ideal, but rarely has a Rabo PRO12 interregnum midway through the Six Nations had so many implications. Declan Kidney and his fellow coaches will be out and about this weekend before conferring on Sunday as opportunity knocks for a variety of players, due to the injuries which have sidelined Jonny Sexton, Simon Zebo and Mike McCarthy for the Scottish game and beyond.
Sexton’s hamstring has been diagnosed as a grade two tear, sidelining him for an estimated four to six weeks and thus making him highly doubtful for Ireland’s penultimate Six Nations game against France, as well as ruling him out of the Scottish match on Sunday week.
After deputising for him in the 32nd minutes, Ronan O’Gara looked decidedly rusty in his first game since Munster’s penultimate Heineken Cup pool match last Sunday, and remained with Munster this week with a view to obtaining much-needed game time away to the Scarlets tomorrow.
He looks sure to start against the Scots, and judging by the autumnal selection against Fiji and the Wolfhounds’ pre-Six Nations game against the Saxons in Galway, Paddy Jackson is next in line ahead of two other uncapped players, Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley, for a place on the bench.
Furthermore, the Ulsterman was the only outhalf called into the Irish squad’s three-day training camp this week. “Ronan picked up a knock the last day, and wasn’t able to train fully on Tuesday, so if he’s to play on Saturday he needed a good training session under his belt today with Munster,” explained Kidney.
Up to speed
“He already knows what we’re at. Paddy (Jackson) was already with us for the Wolfhounds week and has an appreciation of what we’re at but a training session today will help to bring him up to speed too.”
Jackson will start for Ulster at home to Zebre tonight and barring a calamity has seemingly been pencilled in for the bench in Murrayfield. However, not alone does Madigan seem to be in a more confident vein of form, he would provide more options off the bench, given he has also performed steadfastly for Leinster at fullback this season. As was seen in the Aviva against last Sunday, by opting for specialists at scrumhalf and outhalf as two of the three backs on the bench, this can be very restrictive.
There looks to be more to play for with regard to a position on the left wing or as the third player covering the back line. Keith Earls, along with David Kilcoyne will be rested this weekend, which may be instructive, as might Fergus McFadden’s inclusion in the camp yesterday.
Even so, in addition to McFadden, one imagines the equally versatile Luke Fitzgerald has an opportunity to remind the management of his well-being after three encouraging games since returning for Leinster.
Zebo’s broken metatarsal left the Irish three-quarter line looking a little light against England, compounding the loss of a strong carrier à la Tommy Bowe to get them over the gain line. Just possibly, therefore, Andrew Trimble’s strength might come into the equation, although he would seemingly need a stormer.