The Offload: Ireland’s succession issue at 10 on show once more

Six Nations could be a Covid timebomb; The Offload’s Ireland XV to take on Wales

Should Andy Farrell bring Ben Healy into the Ireland fold? Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Should Andy Farrell bring Ben Healy into the Ireland fold? Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Succession disconnect at 10

As Johnny Sexton - the Logan Roy of Irish rugby - tweaks a hamstring on the eve of his 12th Six Nations campaign, Joey Carbery can only muster a tentative pre-match kick-about in Thomond Park.

All told, valid concerns around succession planning at number 10 are exacerbated by a disconnect between national and provincial selection policies. The fourth choice Munster outhalf is good enough to feature for the Top 14 league leaders. So says La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara, who was willing to put the French club’s money where his mouth is and unleash Jack Crowley on the European scene.

Ben Healy, once again, looked the part off the bench on Saturday night.

The problem pursuing Ireland coach Andy Farrell is not what he knows about Ross Byrne, Billy Burns and JJ Hanrahan but what he does not know about Crowley, Healy, Harry Byrne and even Bill Johnston.

The nub of this issue lies with provincial coaches sticking to outhalves that have never looked capable of dislodging a one-legged Sexton. Farrell might decide to reward Jack Carty’s footballing masterclass when Connacht toppled Leinster at the RDS earlier this month.

Ross Byrne (25) and Burns (26) are above average club players but their shortcomings are instantly exposed in the international arena.

Unfortunately, debate around Healy, Crowley and Harry Byrne is mute until they are exposed to a pressure drenched environment. If only Saturday night had not been wasted on Sexton’s twitchy limbs and Hanrahan’s unreliable right boot.

It means that Ireland enter the 2021 Six Nations with hopes pinned once again on a fragile captain who turns 36 this summer. The opportunity to fast track the 21-year-olds, Healy and Harry Byrne, has passed but perhaps Farrell would be best served by promoting one of them anyway. We already know that none of the tried and tested are going to become a worthy successor.

Ready, set...Covid

The gathering of Six Nations squads got off to a shaky start with news that England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot tested positive for Covid-19. The knock on effect put close contacts Eddie Jones and attack coach Simon Amor into 10 days of isolation.

Jones was already planning without skills specialist Jason Ryles as the Rugby League man is stuck in Australia.

10 days - as opposed to 14 across the Irish sea - sounds a lot like the concussion protocol that magically cures stunned professionals inside six days. Surely it is obvious by now that the virus does not adhere to rules that are fast and loose with quarantine.

Anyway, England begin training camp without four coaches. Until Thursday at the earliest, former All Black chief John Mitchell is running the show.

Another outbreak waiting to happen is the English based Welsh players - like Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit and Toby Faletau - being forced to return to their clubs on fallow weekends or if they miss out on selection.

“With Covid you’d like to think there are rules, but common sense might come into play,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac. “With people moving in and out of clubs and back to their communities and from one bubble to another, that’s where the transmission rate is taking off.”

Pivac is probably predicting the future but he did name a 36-player group. England were forced to carry a reduced 28-man squad while the Ireland panel will be ensconced in their Carton enclave until March 20th.

Scotland’s foreign brigade will also be bursting their bubble so don’t be surprised if the Six Nations collapses in on itself between rounds two and three.

Tadhg Beirne should start for Ireland against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Tadhg Beirne should start for Ireland against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

By the numbers

72 - hours before Six Nations matches all players and staff will be tested for a second time in the week.

Word of mouth

“I’ve had friends who have been on good deals, playing well, but suddenly the club might tell them there’s no new contract for them. They’re suddenly on the phone to their dad and their dad’s friends looking for a job.” The recently retired Brendan Macken warns The42.ie about professional rugby’s promotion of nepotism.

“Current evidence supports an association between elite level participation in contact sports and increased risk of neurodegenerative disease, which, on balance of probabilities, is a consequence of exposure to repeated head impacts.” Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart publishes “Sports associated dementia” paper in the British Medical Journal.

Munster ‘match’ Leinster but lose again

A team of Tadhg Beirnes and Damian de Allendes, with Conor Murray directing traffic, might have beaten Leinster in Limerick on Saturday night. The defeat cuts deeper because Munster’s most reliable players both fumbled simple passes at the end of a contest accurately hyped as an Ireland final trial.

Beirne burrowed into enough unformed Leinster rucks to win most games, so you can understand his immediate perspective: “Everyone looks at Leinster as this kind of unbeatable team but I think we’ve proved here today that we’re definitely matching them and I think on another day we would have taken the win.”

“Another day” will not arrive so long as Johann van Graan keeps with certain personnel. This season the South African finally trusted his academy - currently without a manager since Peter Malone was let go late last year - but the wonder is when Thomas Ahern and Keynan Knox or Roman Salanoa will move past limited veterans currently holding down lock and tighthead slots.

In the meantime, Beirne has done more than enough to partner James Ryan against Wales. Same goes for Peter O’Mahony reinventing himself at openside despite a flood of Leinster candidates for the seven jersey.

The way Jordan Larmour evaded Keith Earls for the match winning try should command selection to any back field but his aerial game must improve. Punts on Tadhg Furlong and Dan Leavy are prompted by the alternatives.

The Offload’s team v Wales: Stockdale; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Keenan; Sexton*, Murray; Healy, Kelleher, Porter; Beirne, Ryan; Stander, O’Mahony, Doris. Replacements: Heffernan, Kilcoyne, Furlong, Baird, Leavy, Casey, Ben Healy, Aki.

*pending medical update

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