Leinster to prevail but it’s Irish angle that really counts
Who plays outhalf for Ireland may become a straight decision between Madigan and Jackson
Rhys Ruddock of Leinster looks primed to come in from the cold. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho
The Irish context is what really interests. A repeat of last season’s Pro12 semi-final this may be but with the potential for enforced change at outhalf, blindside flanker and, heaven forbid, outside centre against Italy all eyes are on these positions tonight.
That Iain Henderson got game time at lock in Belfast last night and Jordi Murphy plays number eight here, Rhys Ruddock looks primed to come in from the cold should Peter O’Mahony’s hamstring “strain” fail to clear up.
There is also a timely start for Ian Madigan after the IRFU communications department got from “no other player sustained any injury of note,” besides O’Mahony and Brian O’Driscoll, last Monday to Jonathan Sexton went to see a “Consultant Hand Specialist” to review the scans of thumb ligaments by Thursday.
So, just like at this juncture last year, who plays outhalf for Ireland may become a straight decision between Madigan and Paddy Jackson.
Ironically it was the return of Fergus McFadden, another from a hand problem, which prompted Joe Schmidt to prefer Jackson over Madigan as Sexton’s understudy. McFadden has been covering slots 12 through 14 – with Dave Kearney the second fullback option – making it a straight decision for outhalf.
On the summer tour of Houston and Toronto Les Kiss nailed his colours firmly to Madigan’s mast. His kicking statistics in the league are also superior to Jackson’s but Jimmy Gopperth’s presence has muddied the waters somewhat.
The always versatile McFadden wears 13 tonight. Word from national camp is that O’Driscoll is “very focused on his recovery and will be further assessed over the coming week”. Robbie Henshaw is named at fullback for Connacht against Treviso. Tommy Bowe returned on the wing for Ulster with Darren Cave at centre.
O’Driscoll will be understandably desperate to play one last time for Ireland in Dublin but everything has to be considered.
It goes on. Andrew Trimble’s “knock to his knee” at training on Thursday could be nothing or it might be something. It means right wing also becomes an area of uncertainty or opportunity if taking Luke Fitzgerald’s perspective.
These weeks were supposed to be Fitzgerald’s welcome back to test rugby but an abductor strain cursed him just as he scaled the zenith of his considerable powers. Simon Zebo appears to be trailing Fitzgerald, Bowe and Craig Gilroy in the pecking order. One thing is sure, a Leinster win tonight at the RDS.