Wolfhounds call offers chance to young props
Stephen Archer and Ronan Loughney are set for a breakthrough, writes Brendan Fanning
Never mind the omissions, feel the inclusions. Or rather, ruminate a while on how a man in need of an operation -- and presented accurately as such on the morning of the squad release -- could find himself included in Ireland's Six Nations plans by lunchtime.
So you were confused to see Leo Cullen's name in the squad? Don't be. This was a case of a journalist getting his story straight ahead of the union getting theirs. Yes, as Cullen pointed out several times in his recent book, his Achilles needs fixing. And having seen a surgeon before Christmas to fix a date for fixing, the player reckoned that post-pool in the Heineken Cup was as good as any, not least because that's when it suited the man with the knife.
Cullen told RTÉ News on Thursday that it was "disappointing" the news had got out before he had a chance to assess the situation with Ireland as well as Leinster. You suspect Cullen knows only too well the situation with Ireland: there are no midweek games in the Six Nations so his chances of a run over the five games starting in two weeks were slim.
Perhaps we are reading this wrong. While Donnacha Ryan is unbackable to partner new captain Paul O'Connell, maybe Declan Kidney had Cullen in mind rather than Donncha O'Callaghan to come off the bench. Well, if he has then he'll have talked to him by now and convinced him to look for a later slot to have his surgery.
The area of least attention in Kidney's squads has been the 'A' team, where two rookies will be getting game time in the hardest position on the rugby field. Stephen Archer and Ronan Loughney are the tightheads included in the Wolfhounds squad for the game with the Saxons in Exeter on Saturday.
Under Eddie O'Sullivan the 'A' team became a development ground, and under Kidney there is still some of that -- certainly both of these fit that description. Archer has had just five starts for Munster this season, and had BJ Botha not been injured when things were kicking off nearly five months ago, that tally would be even less. A bit of a jump, then, having made his Heineken Cup debut off the bench in Thomond Park last weekend.
"I wasn't expecting it so it was a really pleasant surprise," he says. "To be honest I've been in and out of the team a fair bit and I hadn't really been thinking about Ireland that much."
Well, when you're one of a handful of props both eligible and fit then Ireland start thinking of you. The IRFU may have made a horlicks of what is basically a sound concept -- getting Ireland-qualified players into the Irish system -- but pressing Archer into service illustrates their need to make changes to how provinces recruit and develop.
Archer has done well and played a positive role in Munster coping when the World Cup stars were away, but this will steepen the incline significantly. Loughney is much further ahead with his programme, having had to switch back to tighthead after abandoning it a long time ago because of Rodney Ah You's virtual disappearance from view. While Archer was coming off the bench in a game Munster were never going to lose, Loughney has been battling from the start in games Connacht were never going to win.
Then came Friday night's performance against Harlequins in Galway. Loughney has suffered a fair bit en route to this point but has stuck to the task incredibly well. It was hard going for him two nights ago as well, made more difficult by having missed the last two weeks with injury.
"Yeah it was tough going but the lads around me worked their socks off and Dan McFarland (scrum coach) is always reminding us that it's about all eight forwards," he says. "It was tough out there and a couple of scrums got away on us in the first half -- Joe Marler's a strong guy -- but we had a chat about it at half-time and worked on a few things."
By the end Loughney could barely walk off the pitch. Along with Archer he fetches up for training with the Wolfhounds in Malahide on Tuesday. The next stage in their development is at hand.
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