Monday 23 October 2017

Ruaidhri O'Connor: Changing of the guard as Eoin Reddan bows out

Ross laments fellow veteran's exit with scrum-half depth emerging as a major challenge for Schmidt

Eoin Reddan is calling time on his professional career. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eoin Reddan is calling time on his professional career. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The news that Saturday's series decider against South Africa would be Eoin Reddan's final act was not surprising, but it was a further sign that the guard is changing in team Ireland.

Seven of the starting XV who start against the Springboks were born in the 1990s, a further two are 1989 babies.

Ross has been restored to the No 3 jersey. Photo:Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ross has been restored to the No 3 jersey. Photo:Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Born in 1980, Reddan was one of the senior statesmen in the dressing-room and on this tour only Mike Ross, the last 1970s player standing, was older.

At 35, Leinster felt their scrum-half still had more to give but he felt the time was right to move on as an offer to move into aircraft finance presented itself.

After a glittering career, he is one of the few who gets to walk away on his own terms and he is likely to be afforded the chance to write one last headline off the bench on Saturday.

For Ross, Reddan's departure is tinged with the reality that he is one of the last men standing for his generation.

"I'm a bit sad about that. I'm looking around the dressing room and a lot of my peers are disappearing," he said yesterday.

"D'Arce (Gordon D'Arcy) retired last year, Jenno (Shane Jennings), now Redser. I said: 'What are you doing to me?' I thought there was a good chance he'd be around next year but he had a tremendous opportunity he couldn't pass up, so I understand.

"It's still a bit sad to see him leave. The opportunity he had was something that wasn't going to come along again. Aircraft leasing is a bit of an odd thing to be getting interested in but Redser is always a good man to find an opportunity - especially at the side of a ruck!

"I think he'll do tremendously well at it. He's a very positive fella to have around the place."

Ross has been restored to the No 3 jersey he has made his own since 2010 for this game having watched with pride as his protégé Tadhg Furlong produced the goods in his absence last weekend.

While he knows and accepts that the Wexford native is out for his job, he welcomes the competition.

Challenge

"It's a good challenge. I'm realistic enough. I don't know when my last cap is coming but it's probably not too far away so I try and take every opportunity I get," he said.

"I was tremendously proud of Tadhg. I said to him before the game, I'm proud to have you wear that jersey because you've earned it. You've played really well and that's all we want - for the guys to wear the jersey to do it proud and I thought he delivered in spades at the weekend.

"I've known him a fair bit of time now and watched him come up through the ranks. I'd like to think I've had a little bit of influence there.

"He's a good young guy. He listens hard, he's very coachable - any of his coaches will tell you that. If you tell him to do something, he'll do it. He's a tremendous talent.

"Between himself and Marty (Moore) and Finlay (Bealham), there's a good crop of young tightheads coming through. I was watching the U-20 World Cup and Ben Betts is doing pretty well so we're in good hands."

Tighthead prop has long been Ireland's problem position, but Reddan's retirement and Isaac Boss's move home to New Zealand has exposed a callow lack of resources at scrum-half.

Conor Murray is a proven talent, but Kieran Marmion has largely been third or fourth choice for Ireland. Ulster's Paul Marshall, who turns 31 this summer, is on stand-by for this tour and beyond that there are no capped options.

Leinster have signed New Zealander Jameson Gibson-Park as a project player, but he won't be available to Joe Schmidt until 2019 and the Ireland coach is hoping to see some development in the near future.

"Kieran is developing all the time and one of the things that he's benefited from I think is having Eoin there," Schmidt said.

"Eoin started as a 71-kilo scrum-half in Connacht, really, because he left Munster to get more game time and more experience, so I think Kieran's already a whole four or five kilos heavier than that, at least. So he'll continue to develop.

"It wasn't really until probably he went away to Wasps and really got recognised and continued to develop as a professional that he came back as the finished product.

"So we've got Kieran there working away, Luke McGrath has been going well, there's John Cooney in behind Kieran in Connacht.

"Paul Marshall is a guy we had on standby to come here if we got short at scrum-half along with Luke McGrath and we've got a couple of younger guys coming through.

"Obviously the 20s are going well and Nick McCarthy captained the 20s recently and is another guy coming through. Are they the finished product? Are they ready to step as replacements for Conor? They're building their way toward that I think."

That is all for next season. Saturday is all about sending Reddan off on a high.

Yet, as he watches the younger man sail off into the Port Elizabethan sun-set, Ross is intent on carrying on as long he's wanted.

"Joe will keep picking me as long as I can do the job and when I can't he won't. It's as simple as that," he said.

"That's all you really require from your coach. I trust his judgement well enough, I've seen him operate over the last five or six years and I have good faith in him."

Irish Independent

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