Monday 23 April 2018

Bull should have been left on farm

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

I understand why Declan Kidney has included John Hayes in his 33-man touring party, but I would have given the Bull a well-earned rest.

The coach wants to bring his strongest available squad -- this golden generation is running out of time in its pursuit of that precious southern hemisphere scalp in their own back yard. Add to that the desire to make a statement ahead of the 2011 World Cup and I think Kidney's motives are, as ever, honourable and easily understood.

Hayes will not have wanted to stay at home, but that's not the issue. Players, irrespective of age or miles on the clock, want to go on tour. Perhaps more accurately, they don't want anyone else to travel in their place.

One man's enforced rest is another's opportunity. As you get older you get craftier and meaner in that regard.

Would Hayes, the widely acknowledged 'quiet man' have made his feelings known about travelling this time round? You can bet your bottom euro the answer is yes.

But I think that the decision could have been taken out of his hands. I believe the rest would have done Hayes the world of good. He will be approaching 38 come the next World Cup. A summer at home on the farm would have given him heaven-sent time to recharge the batteries.

He is still the veritable rock and linchpin of Irish rugby. If fit, he is guaranteed to start every World Cup game of consequence. That is testament to the great man's professionalism and longevity but equally an indictment of the paucity of Irish tight-side scrummagers over the years.

The need for a full-time specialist front-row coaching clinic on the road has never been greater. But we are where we are and for now that means no rest for the over-extended Bull.

Mike Ross and perhaps Brett Wilkinson might have benefited greatly, not just from the touring experience, but to really compete in training with Marcus Horan, Cian Healy, Tony Buckley and Tom Court for both propping positions.

Instead, it will be Healy and Horan contesting for the No 1 shirt in the only propping issue of contention. Hayes will start in both Tests, with Buckley the final-quarter impact replacement.

I feel it's an opportunity missed with the added bonus of a fired-up Cappamore farmer chomping for action back at base. The player himself will hardly agree but sometimes the best decisions should be made by others.

Beyond that it is a panel largely along expected lines, with John Muldoon rewarded for an outstanding season out west and both Chris Henry and Dan Tuohy likewise up north.

The inclusion of Paul O'Connell too is a masterstroke in psychology irrespective of whether he plays.

I agree with the selection of the promising Fergus McFadden, but I would also have taken Fionn Carr. He has still a bit to go but early indications point to exciting attacking similarities with a young and equally free-spirited Simon Geoghegan.

I accept there is only so much room, particularly on a tour limited to three matches, but what might the entire experience have made for the young Kildare man's esteem?

However, when injuries are factored in, this is our strongest available line-up. Whatever else, the SANZAR nations can never accuse the IRFU of not honouring their full touring commitment.

Irish Independent

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