Eoin Reddan relishing dogfight as Munster loom into view

Veteran scrumhalf: `All of a sudden it’s about the guy who can pass the ball who gets the job'

Ireland team photo on the Lansdowne pitch and Johnny Sexton is late. The boys clap, hoop and holler. One absolute legend leaps dramatically from his chair. The moment is hilarious to all except the veteran substitute scrumhalf sitting on the edge, poker faced with folded arms.

Eoin Reddan’s refusal to grasp the joke makes it funny. He’s at this an awfully long time now and doesn’t seem to suffer fools.

‘Massive week’

"Other people have to answer that," he said ahead of what will probably not be his last ever Leinster v Munster derby. "In my head that was a massive week, we were playing Scotland and it is all well and good now that we won but I was fully aware if we lost what was going to happen.

“I wasn’t even aware until somebody sent the video to me and I was ‘Oh God . . . ’ but it was certainly playing on my mind that we needed to win that game.”

Ireland, the entire island, is not known for producing scrumhalves.

Ask any knowledgeable rugby person to name 10 genuinely good Irish number nines and they struggle. John Robbie and Colin Patterson, both of them Lions tourists in 1980, get token nods while Michael Bradley's service was hardly bullet-like over 40 caps and 11 years. Peter Stringer's was, and still is, the complete pass but his stature demanded it to be so. A second Lions tour next year would confirm Conor Murray as Ireland's greatest ever scrumhalf. Hands down.

Murray's place has never been under threat from Reddan or anyone else but dropping Reddan has looked equally unlikely. Kieran Marmion has been unable to turn Joe Schmidt's head these past three seasons.

The 35-year-old’s Leinster contract – he never did get a national deal – is up this summer. He knows better than anyone that looks and age can deceive.

"People say things like you can't play in next year's Six Nations because you are too old but they don't say you can't play this weekend because you are too old. You just have to get to Monday and be ready. Coaches have to make short-term decisions, every week, especially at the end of the season as the games get bigger."

An article about the Munster man facing his own province one last time doesn’t really wash either. For two reasons: He will probably be a Leinster player next season and while he is of Crescent stock he was only a Munster player for two seasons – in between Connacht and Wasps – 11 years ago.

“Before I was turfed out,” he laughs.

Four European Cup medals followed over seven years along with two Six Nations titles. Tempo is the Reddan trademark which immediately guarantees a different dimension to Murray and Tomás O’Leary before that.

First choice

“Conor, Tomás and myself didn’t get picked for our under-19 and under-20 teams,” Reddan notes. “And when you don’t get picked as a scrumhalf you go away on your own and practice your passing like no other man on the planet so when you get to 23 the other lads your age can never catch you. You have done four years, because you know you are not good enough, and they have not put the same work in because they have been playing in all these games. All of a sudden it’s about the guy who can pass the ball who gets the job.”

In the beginning there was Stringer then all too briefly Reddan became first-choice Ireland scrumhalf (2007/’08) before O’Leary was Declan Kidney’s chosen nine for the 2009 Grand Slam.

Then came Murray but Reddan kept coming back, fending off Isaac Boss at Leinster while Luke McGrath is snapping at his heals and Jamison Gibson-Park is due over from New Zealand next season.

He is offered the chance to express regret or anger about starting only 26 of his 70 caps.

“It sounds so pathetic when people read it, but the team has to come first. It will be important to me when I look back that that I manage all that selfishness because I don’t think I would have won anything in my career if it had been the other way.

“I wouldn’t change anything. I enjoyed the dogfights with the other nines and working with them. You are in a key position where you can make the team better. So yeah, I hope to continue to be in a dogfight for the rest of my career, if it’s this summer or next summer or the one after.”

Over the course of an engaging 54-minute interview he gives little away, even admitting as much.

“If you interview me in a time when I am getting the rub of the green I am not going to tell you. I will tell you anything and everything. If you interview me the day I feel hard done by I am probably not going to say it either so . . . ”

It's not quite the Joe Schmidt standard of guiding journalists down a garden path and into the wonderful forest of rugby phraseology but it's that same philosophical realm of nothingness.

Schmidt has used Reddan as his chief whip in the changing room to remind others of the party line.

“Sometimes, yeah. There are principles that we all live by that are absolutely bet into us so it’s not hard to talk about them.”

Like what? “Little, tiny common sense things. I have done that a few times. I don’t mind doing that. You can only say something to someone if you are doing it too. It’s far more powerful to be out doing your kicking then telling someone to improve their kicking. We have always lived by that.”

He qualifies this by saying other teams do the same. We ask about Schmidt. He gives us nothing and everything. We suggest they work well together because they are like minded.

“No, that’s a bit of a leap. He is the coach and I am the sub scrumhalf.”

There will be life after being the sub scrumhalf. Reddan is already IRUPA’s representative on the nine-man National Professional Game Board. This is a welcome departure by the IRFU – a player voice in the professional game’s decision-making process which he feels is best served by not talking about it.

Best compliment

The best compliment we can give him is it’s like talking to a coach.

“That’s something I have thought about and would be interested in in the long run. It scares me sometimes, the pressure they are under. It is such a goldfish bowl here. Particularly for Munster this weekend. I remember sitting in the press box before this game last time and thinking whoever loses ye are going to go after. And that’s exactly what happened. It’s tricky. I am much more aware how hard it is to stay on message internally when that’s coming at you externally. Maybe we are at the same stage this weekend for whoever loses. That’s just life in Ireland because we don’t have 12 teams to talk about. We got four so unfortunately you are going to be very good or very bad.”