Denis Leamy: Munster players harshly treated
Zebo, Ryan and O'Donnell omissions still puzzling
Published 14/03/2014 | 02:30
Ireland have a dreadful record in Paris, but I think they will win tomorrow. To be honest, I think we are 10-12 points a better team than France and, if this match was taking place at a neutral venue that is the sort of margin which would be between them.
But the match is in Paris and for some reason Ireland struggle to perform there, and even poor French teams raise their game. That's why I think it will be tight, but I expect Ireland to win it.
You have to presume Joe Schmidt knows what he is doing and if they win the Championship tomorrow, there can't be much argument about it. He has gone with players he has worked with and is familiar with, guys he believes can execute the game plan he wants.
Nevertheless, I thought he would have widened the options for the Italian game – and you don't have to go far in this region to hear people's dissatisfaction that there are so few Munster players involved.
The argument is that Munster are in a rich vein of form, they have been near the top of the Pro12 all season and have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, yet only a handful of players are involved with the national team.
Of course, Leinster have also been near the top of the league all season and have also qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.
Yet, I think what rankles with Munster people – and I suspect a similar view might be held by some folk up in Ulster – is that guys who aren't first choice in Leinster are still good enough for the national squad.
In fairness, that may also reflect the strength that Leinster have at the moment. However, I would have to disagree with some of the calls.
It is one thing losing your place on the team to a player coming back from injury or something like that, but Tommy O'Donnell lost his place on the bench. I can't see what he did wrong in the short roles that he had against Scotland and Wales and, in any event, I think he is a better player than Jordi Murphy.
Also, I would argue that Donnacha Ryan brings more to the table than Rhys Ruddock, and you just have to wonder what Simon Zebo – a Lion last summer, let's not forget – has to do to get back into a squad where the likes of Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald have been out injured all through.
You can see where Munster supporters feel there is too much of an emphasis on Leinster players, and I also think that Paddy Jackson has a more rounded game at the moment than Ian Madigan.
Schmidt has gone with players he is very familiar with and victory in Paris would justify those tight calls.
However, with South Africa and Australia coming here for the November games and then only the Six Nations this time next year before the World Cup – which is just 18 months away – the two-match summer tour to Argentina is going to take on a new level of importance.
After all, for example, there is going to be a gaping hole at No 13 and nobody has been groomed to fill it. It is testimony to Brian O'Driscoll that he has managed to remain so injury-free – after encountering a lot of difficulties early in his career – that opportunities have been far and few between for others to stake a claim to that position.
But the circle will need to be widened and having not done that in this Six Nations campaign, it narrows the opportunities.
Yet, you can understand the reasoning behind a lot of Schmidt's calls and at the outset of the competition it would have been a goal to be heading to Paris on the final weekend still in contention for the Championship.
The fact that they are is testimony to a lot and victory tomorrow would be a great way to round off O'Driscoll's career in a city where he announced his arrival on the big stage.
It would also be a perfect start to Schmidt's reign. He has an unique insight into the French game having worked with Clermont Auvergne.
The Irish defence has been superb – just two tries conceded – and I think that will provide the platform for a rare success in Paris tomorrow.
It's long overdue, but I think their superiority will win through despite all the psychological baggage.