Stuart Lancaster well aware of Ireland factor in team selection

Leinster coach is well aware of the wishes of Joe Schmidt in resting certain players

Stuart Lancaster knows how the international system dovetails with clubs better than most. He is cute as to how Joe Schmidt thinks in the selfish way that he must about the players he believes can bring a Six Nations Championship to Ireland.

The friction between Schmidt and provincial coaches is common but not apparent in Lancaster's pragmatic view of player welfare, of how Leinster will be allowed to use their elites only sparingly over the next few weeks in the typically tetchy interprovincial series of games.

As in other provinces the Irish players, depending on their mileage throughout the November international series and their injury profiles, are partially out of bounds to play against Munster on Monday and the following weekend.

This week outhalf Ross Byrne was referred to as precious cargo because of the Leinster injury crisis in that position. The phrase though could be usefully applied most of the Leinster side.

"We can't play everyone in both games," said Lancaster. "So do you play Jack McGrath in the first game or Cian Healy, Sean Cronin or James Tracy?

“It’s where you have the depth in you squad. I think that’s what Leinster have done really well. They have not only got a deep squad, but that process gives younger players opportunity to step into the hub. Say Rory O’Loughlin or Garry Ringrose? I’d be confident for Rory to play in the game of this size because he has had experience already.”

Leinster’s way of judiciously using players also touches on the issue of Northampton and whether they should be sanctioned for not fielding a stronger side in their 60 point hammering by Leinster last weekend. In the context of how Leinster and the other Irish teams run their squads, it begs the question of where the authority would come from to slap Northampton for fielding the side they believed could win.

Whatever findings European Rugby come up with and whatever they decide to do, Northampton coach Jim Mallinder, despite resting Tom Wood, Courtney and Ben Foden, has a fighter's chance of making a successful rebuttal.

On rugby’s ‘right to chose’ Mallinder would have the full support of the former England coach.

"If you look at their selection they brought Calum Clark back in, who is someone I capped for England," said Lancaster. "He was in the World Cup training camp. Kieran Brookes came back in, who was the tighthead prop for me during the World Cup .

“The backline had Hanrahan, Pisi (Ken) Pisi (George), the same halfbacks, so I don’t really buy the fact that Northampton did too much  wrong on Saturday. They put out the team they thought was going to be competitive. Let’s be fair, they’d gotten beaten at home. If I was the coach I would have made some changes.

"They hoped it was going to be a competitive team and for 30-40 minutes it was. But we got the momentum as you do sometimes in these games. Jamie Gibson got sin binned and we played well in the second half."

Lancaster does not believe that selection policies that deny teams their strongest sides for Franklin’s Gardens, Aviva or the RDS Arena, take away from the traditional intensity and importance players attach to winning derby matches. On Monday the winning or losing in Thomond Park could make or break a Limerick Christmas. But Lancaster sees no loss in quality.

“I don’t think this game will be diluted,” he says. “It’s no different in England. When Ireland go into camp for the first Six Nations game, we’ve (Leinster) got a week off here. If you’re with Ireland, you don’t get a rest, so I understand the reasons.

“The trick on selection is to make sure, particularly at Leinster where there are so many Ireland internationals, that we are competitive in both games. That is where the selection will unfold. I am pretty sure it will be a competitive team.”

Munster Lancaster believes are no longer playing with Anthony Foley as the 16th man. They have moved on and play with clarity. There lies the danger.

“They are executing that game plan very well so it’s not just emotion that is driving them,” says Lancaster. “It’s quality coaching, quality players who have a clear understanding of their game plan.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times