Tuesday 6 December 2016

Johnny O'Connor: Time more of our lads got Ireland's call

O'Halloran a better full-back than Zebo, and Healy can tear up any defence

Johnny O'Connor

Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30

Tiernan O'Halloran deserves an Ireland call-up Photo: Sportsfile
Tiernan O'Halloran deserves an Ireland call-up Photo: Sportsfile
Matt Healy also deserves and Ireland call-up Photo: Sportsfile

It was a fantastic victory for Ireland over Italy last weekend and it lifted a lot of the gloom surrounding the team's performances in the Six Nations.

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Hopefully they can follow that up with a win over Scotland, and it will have been a decent end to the championships.

A lot of people questioned Joe Schmidt's selection prior to the win over Italy, and he proved the doubters wrong to an extent. But I can't help but think Tiernan O'Halloran would be a really good option at full-back in a game like that.

Simon Zebo was brilliant against Italy because he brought that added X-factor, typified by that wonderful off-load for Jamie Heaslip's first try. But O'Halloran is a better player to fill that role.

Solid

He is so solid at full-back and that's something Zebo is not, just yet. There is no question Zebo can do the unexpected and make things happen because he is exciting to watch. I see that in Tiernan too, except I would argue that Tiernan is stronger under a high ball and in the tackle. 

Zebo is a great player, but O'Halloran possess all of the good unpredictability without the uncertainty. I really think he deserves a chance in the Irish set-up and it will come soon.

That game was made up for a guy like him, and of course Matt Healy. These guys have been ripping it up in the Pro12 this season. They have torn defences to shreds, but still haven't got a look-in for the Six Nations. They would have thrived in a game like that last weekend, but they need to bide their time, hopefully it will come in the summer.

Five Connacht guys did get their chances and they really took them. The Connacht management must be really proud when they see Finlay Bealham step up and perform admirably. It's one thing to get your chance on the international stage, but to step up and take it is another thing.

Bealham was great, as were the other four guys, and it's good to see Connacht being recognised. But they should, Connacht are top of the Pro12 and the players deserve to be getting the international jersey now too.

There were too many times in the past when other provinces were being successful and winning European Cups. Players would get into the Irish set-up solely off the back of how their team was doing. They rarely did well for Ireland, and that made it all the sweeter when the Connacht guys showed they weren't there to make up the numbers.

Now as Connacht embark on their final block of games in the Pro12 and Europe, they can look forward to a group of internationals coming back into the squad and hungry for more game-time.

These guys will have all of the experience of working in an international set-up, and they will train harder and drive up the standards around the Sportsground. It really bodes well for the rest of the season, and could push Connacht up those few levels when it matters most in the inter-pro derbies.

For Ireland, the job isn't done yet, and there are still plenty of doubters following their facile win over Italy. Ireland need to put forward an accomplished display against Scotland this weekend, and another win is vital.

Scotland are buoyed after their win over France, so it's crucial Ireland strike early with a couple of tries, or even just a few penalties. Then after half-time Ireland would be able to squeeze the life out of the Scots.

Unearthed

Two wins at the end of the championship, one where they unearthed a number of future stars, and suddenly Schmidt can look forward to a difficult summer tour in a more promising light.

Scotland have some big men like Italy did, but crucially they will have the guys in the wider channels too. They are a good side after all and really are showing improvement.

Vern Cotter is a good coach too, and I'm sure he would love nothing more than to get one over on his old pal from Clermont, Schmidt. But I'd predict an Ireland win, and hopefully another stylish performance to go with it.

Irish Independent

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