Lack of bulk could be the reason behind Ireland’s chronic injury crisis
This number of players missing can’t all be down to freakish bad luck
Luke Marshall lies injured in Rome. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie
Keith Earls’ injury is one that might have been avoided if he had a few more kilos of muscle on him. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland's Paddy Jackson tackles France’s Thomas Domingo during the Six Nations match at the Aviva. Photograph: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
Injuries happen all the time. You just don’t expect them to happen to all your players. Or nearly all of them as was the case with Ireland in this Six Nations. Every time you get a raft of serious injuries, there has to be a certain element of bad luck involved.
The Irish players haven’t been missing because of hamstring pulls (with the exception of Johnny Sexton’s first one) or calf pulls, the kind of soft-muscle injuries than can be a sign of fatigue or overload. They’ve been missing because of broken bones, dislocations, ripped tendons and so on. When you look at that, your first instinct is that these are all freakish injuries and for them all to happen at the same time is terrible luck.
Sometimes that luck goes with you, sometimes it goes against you. I remember during the 2009 Grand Slam campaign, we knew very well we were riding our luck with regard to injuries. We knew other teams were missing players and three or four lads being out at any one time would usually be par for the course. Yet we were okay, bumps and bruises aside. Compare that with this campaign and you’re talking a totally different environment.
I was talking to Donegal footballer Karl Lacey earlier in the week and I asked him could he imagine them having a shot at winning the All-Ireland last year if they had undergone the amount of frontline injuries that Ireland have. If, say, they went into August with eight players missing, could they have won the All-Ireland? “No chance,” he said.
It’s not just the fact they’re not playing, it’s the knock-on effect of it all. It’s the weakening of the bench, it’s the harm it does to belief, resilience and confidence. As a player, you will always try to put a positive spin on your situation and you will convince yourself that the guys coming in are every bit as good and that they’ll be able to step up and do a job. But it’s pointless pretending that the frontline guys aren’t missed.
What might be missed most of all is their presence. When it’s senior guys that are out injured, they tend to be the ones who lead the team, who turn the tide when the opposition is having a purple patch, who take it upon themselves to make the big tackle or turnover or carry. Injury doesn’t just take those lads out of the team, it removes them from the squad and leaves it to the generation coming behind them to take up the slack.
Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson are going to be big players for Ireland but with the greatest of respect, they were in the team because Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy and Johnny Sexton were out injured. That not only puts a lot of pressure on them, it also means they have to cope with that pressure without the presence of more experienced players to help them through it. They’re good players but they’re not ready for that environment all at once.