Simon Easterby defends decision not to pick Ian Madigan
Paddy Jackson has huge responsibility on his shoulders with Johnny Sexton out injured
So much for a low injury profile. Already without Jared Payne and Sean Cronin, Ireland have now lost Johnny Sexton (strained calf) and Peter O’Mahony (hamstring) as well, with Andrew Trimble (groin) a major doubt, for Saturday’s Six Nations opener away to Scotland anyway, without a ball being kicked.
In all these cases there are fairly readymade replacements, in the shape of Garry Ringrose, James Tracy or Niall Scannell, Paddy Jackson, a battery of back-rowers and, say, Keith Earls on the wing. It’s the increasingly bare outhalf cupboard that is the biggest cause for concern.
Joey Carbery had stepped forward as an able understudy to Sexton, first with Leinster at the outset of the season, and then when Jackson was ruled out of the trip to Chicago, for Ireland in their historic win over the All Blacks as well.
Asked if it was an unwritten rule that an Irish-based player will be picked ahead of a more experienced player abroad, assistant coach Simon Easterby said: “I think that’s the way we’re trying to go and, like I said, it’s not perfect. There will be outliers from that rule, but we have to try to support and develop those guys who are within the country. Unfortunately, when players do leave, their time with us is restricted in terms of getting released for camps.”
Tellingly, he also added: “All of those things do have implications for selection and they know that when they leave.”
This had followed an inquiry as to whether Ross Byrne, or for that matter Jack Carty, were now ahead of Madigan in the pecking order. “I suppose that’s an opinion and I wouldn’t be able to give you that decision. If you think he is and there’s an opinion, some people might think he is, some people might not think he is,” said Easterby.
Having started five of Ireland’s last seven tests, Jackson is an altogether more mature out-half in winning his 20th cap on Saturday then when making his debut against the Scots in Murrayfield four seasons ago.
”He has his responsibility, which is big in this team; a responsibility to run the game, to run the plays, to know roughly what field position we want to do certain things,” said Easterby.
“He has been in this system and this group for longer and it allows him to be much more confident. The lads around now look to him when he is speaking and that is the mark of someone who has everyone’s ear and the mark of someone who can take the team forward and be that go-to which most teams want their ‘10’ to be.”
Akin to Easterby in his playing pomp over 65 tests for Ireland, the loss of O’Mahony denies Ireland it’s most proficient back-row line-out operator.
Acknowledging the threat in the air of the Gray brothers, Tim Swinson a
nd John Barclay, Easterby also cited the need to develop depth in the back-row too.
“Even without the excellence of Pete in there, because he is a brilliant line-out forward, he’s proved that over a number of years, when you lose one thing you gain in another area. We have to manage those situations and have to make sure it doesn’t cost us in terms of ball-winning and on the other side with defence against Scotland’s ball.”