Jackman backs France move for star Leinster duo
As two of Irish rugby's brightest stars, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, consider lucrative Top 14 contract offers, the reputation of French club rugby as some kind of 'wreckers yard' for players was challenged yesterday by Bernard Jackman.
European champions Toulon have made bids for both Irish stars, with many fearing a move to France could result in the players being over-used in a notoriously gruelling championship and susceptible to injury.
But Jackman, who will be head coach at Grenoble next season, believes any Irish player moving to France is likely to be protected by their new employers.
"I'd say you're talking about two or three games a year more," he predicted. "It doesn't make sense for French clubs to invest so heavily in top players and let them get smashed to pieces.
"On top of that, there are fewer collisions here and the most likely area for injury is in a collision. The pace of the game is slower here, with fewer phases. So it's very set-piece, territory orientated, a kicking style of game."
O'Brien is already set to miss Ireland's Six Nations campaign because of a recent shoulder dislocation sustained while on Pro12 duty with Leinster. And, given Johnny Sexton's heavy work-load with Racing Metro since moving to Paris, the popular impression of Top 14 in Ireland is of a league that places unreasonable demands on players. But Sexton's schedule has been a fluke of circumstance, his two understudies at Racing Metro simply being injured at the same time.
Jackman's comments bear out the opinions of Racing coach Ronan O'Gara, expressed in a newspaper column last week, describing Top 14 rugby as being played "at snail's pace."
Cardiff Blues' Munster-bound No 8 Robin Copeland, Connacht's Kieran Marmion and Leinster's Martin Moore are all rewarded for their fine Heineken Cup form with call-ups.
Kevin McLaughlin, Donncha O'Callaghan, Shane Jennings and James Coughlan are all left out, despite their involvement in November, while Leicester's Niall Morris and Grenoble's James Hart were also left disappointed.
"A number of the selections were very tight. There is an experienced core of players in the squad who will offer continuity, as well as some new additions who have been selected with an eye to the future," Schmidt said.
"With Robin Copeland returning to play in Ireland next season it will be an opportunity for him to impress during the training week, while some of the younger or less experienced players such as Rob Herring, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion and Felix Jones have turned in some very positive performances to earn spots in the squad."