Sunday 23 July 2017

'If we show we are happy to pick people from outside of Ireland, players will be more likely to go overseas'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When he was Ireland football manager, Giovanni Trapattoni used to greet mention of players he had little interest in picking with the response 'we follow, we follow', and for Irish rugby's wild geese there is a sense that they are attracting similar levels of attention from Joe Schmidt.

The coach says he is in touch with Ian Madigan, but that's not much use to the 30-times capped out-half who now finds himself at best fifth choice after deciding that he was done warming the bench at Leinster and taking up a lucrative offer at Bordeaux.

Madigan knew the risks when he left for France, but having spent two years deputising for Racing 92's Johnny Sexton during Schmidt's time in charge, he may have thought he had enough credit in the bank to get the call when he got sick of being second choice at provincial level.

Not so. Instead, Ian Keatley is brought in from the cold and makes a return to the Irish set-up after two years in the international wilderness. It may be his own last hurrah, given he's likely to be off to France next season himself.

Schmidt reckons they've both had similar amounts of game-time at No 10 this season, although neither is first choice at their clubs.

In all, Madigan has put together 750 minutes this season with Keatley amassing 606 minutes; since the November internationals the Bordeaux man has totalled 219 minutes at out-half to Keatley's 179.

The Munster man was left out of Rassie Erasmus' match-day squad entirely for the trip to Racing 92, before replacing Simon Zebo in the wins over Glasgow and the Parisians in rounds five and six, but finds himself the next man on if Paddy Jackson goes down in a pivotal Six Nations game.

"Ian (Keatley)'s time at out-half is not too much different to Ian Madigan's," Schmidt said. "Ian (Madigan) had an injury and was out for four weeks, he has been mixing up starts and coming off the bench. He couldn't train with us last week as he was preparing to come off the bench for Bordeaux-Bégles against Clermont.

"We are incredibly keen to support the provinces. If we demonstrate to players that we are happy to pick players from outside of Ireland, then potentially one of the big draw cards for keeping them here will be lifted and players will more likely go overseas.

"One of the thing that keeps them here is the player management, and another thing is they know they will be closer to the front of the queue to play for their national team.

"I have had some good conversations with Ian (Madigan) recently. He is not off the radar. We know we can whistle him in, but during the Six Nations we play two matches and he would have to go back, we play one match and he would have to go back.

"It allows an opportunity for other people. This time last year nobody was talking about Joey Carbery. Joey has picked up an injury but before that he launched himself into the limelight. I very much doubt that would have happened if Ian Madigan was there.

"There are flip-sides either way. It's not an ideal situation not to have every player who is Irish qualified on the island and immediately available.

"The ones who are playing overseas are available but it is a fluctuating availability."

Amidst all of this, Jackson holds on to the No 10 shirt and makes his sixth start in eight Ireland games. Sexton is unlikely to be back for Italy, and Jamie Heaslip is confident the team can cope.

"I don't think the team has ever relied on one player. It hasn't done for a long time. You can't," he said.

"He's a great player but we've played many a game without Johnny and had success.

"And the same with all different players who have been in and out of the side.

"Johnny would say the same as well, in order for this group to be successful going forward, it needs to be a strong group.

"Jacko has stepped up plenty of times. And, for Keats , if he gets an opportunity, it's a chance to shine."

Irish Independent

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