5 eye-catching omissions from Ireland squad to tour South Africa
As is now the status quo, Joe Schmidt’s selection process has been fervently called into question following the announcement of the 32-man Ireland squad for next month’s three-Test tour of South Africa.
It’s exceedingly difficult to recall a time when two calendar seasons have overlapped in such a gruelling manner for an Irish side as it has over the last 18 months.
Starting with the 2015 Six Nations campaign and finishing with the autumn international against Australia at the end of November, the current group will have undertaken 26 Test matches.
First up of the final seven is a trio of showdowns against the Springboks on their home patch, followed by a November series that includes two dates with All Blacks, and a visit from Canada and Michael Cheika’s Australia.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
After a Six Nations campaign that ultimately ended on an encouraging note with victories over Scotland and Italy, Schmidt has decided on the group he believes are best equipped to secure a first test victory of the professional era in the African crucible.
Indeed, even the Kiwi’s most ardent zealous, let alone his detractors, are likely to have taken some exception to certain omissions from the touring party.
We’ve selected five such players
Perhaps the least egregious of the lot. The Bordeaux bound-Madigan was given a decidedly explicit warning from both David Nucifora and Schmidt that the decision to depart for France would adversely affect his international prospects.
Whether one agrees with this particular policy or not, is of little relevance because it is simply now the order of things. However, there is a very credible argument to be made that, even if Madigan was not leaving Ireland, he did not warrant a place in the squad.
Paddy Jackson has been in the form of his life this season, but remained in the role of spectator during the World Cup and Six Nations as Schmidt retained his preference for the more versatile Madigan as Johnny Sexton’s deputy.
It would be interesting to know if it is Jackson’s increasingly assured performances or the departure of ‘Mads’ that has precipitated this change of tack.
In a season of outstanding stories within the overall narrative of Connacht’s unlikely campaign, Healy’s belated emergence in the professional game has been a joy to watch. His third campaign out West has seen the former Lansdowne man score 12 tries in total, including nine in the Pro12, just one behind the league-high Craig Gilroy.
The 27-year-old is replete with pace, thrust and, indeed, an eye for the line, but Schmidt has rarely been enamoured by such attributes in a winger.
Aggressive kick chases, defending and counter-rucking are what the former Leinster boss requires from his wide men. Those of a more mercurial nature, as Simon Zebo so often learned, are seemingly frivolous adornments.
Perhaps Healy can show the Irish brains trust the error of their ways with another bravura display in the Pro 12 final against Leinster on Saturday.
From the Pro 12’s second most prolific finisher to its first. It feels like a lifetime ago since Declan Kidney gave the jet-heeled Ulster tyro his first shot on the international stage.
A hat trick of tries on his debut in November 2012 against Fiji was followed by another impressive touch down against Argentina later that month.
Under Schmidt, however, Gilroy has featured just once. The Ireland coach was front and centre at the RDS as Gilroy crossed over for well-taken brace during Ulster’s loss to Leinster in the Pro 12 semi-final last weekend.
At least one three-quarter with Gilroy’s acceleration and dynamism may have bolstered the group, particularly in light of Zebo’s injury-enforced absence. But Schmidt has thought otherwise.
Exactly why Tommy O’Donnell has been overlooked is a mystery of X-Files proportions. A gruesome hip injury scuppered his World Cup dreams, but the Tipp man did little to dirty his bib during the subsequent Six Nations.
He and Josh van der Flier took turns in deputising for Sean O’Brien over the course of a difficult campaign, and the Munster open side acquitted himself admirably whenever called upon.
With the aforementioned Leinster men both unavailable through injury, the decision is even more perplexing.
O’Donnell’s burst of speed over short distances seems ideal for the hard surfaces Ireland will encounter on their travels. Chris Henry, another stalwart of the Schmidt era, was also likely to be excepting a busier summer.
Jordi Murphy, who has under performed all season, has been handed a shot at redemption, which is likely to breath life into the train of thought that Schmidt innately prefers those from his former stomping ground. The uncapped Ulster back row Sean Reidy will also travel.
Many felt that the imposing midfielder’s debut against England during the Championship was criminally over-due, such were his explosive displays of physicality for Ulster. He had a decent turn in Twickenham but not proficient to warrant another crack of the whip.
A serious specimen with a penchant for an offload, McCloskey, some would argue, is tailor-made to combat the abrasive ‘Boks. Instead, his club colleagues Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding will provide cover for Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.