Sunday 21 April 2019

It is easy to blame selection but the players also have to take some responsibility

Joe Schmidt’s decisions have come into sharp focus. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt’s decisions have come into sharp focus. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Under normal circumstances, after spending eight weeks below the radar, the Leinster management would welcome the limelight back - the problem this time is that it is now stronger than ever.

With the nation watching Joe Schmidt's next moves, Leinster will eagerly await Leo Cullen's.

Never before has selection been so crucial as the balance between form and experienced players will have to be delicately juggled for what is to come over the coming weeks.

So while Ireland's fallout volcano is erupting, back in the day job both coaches have pledged their allegiance to the province for another two years.

The mutual and beneficial relationship of Leo and Stuart Lancaster continues to be productive and successful, and the longevity of this relationship should test records down the track.

In recent seasons, Leinster players have left for Irish squads repeatedly during the season. This has become part of the norm in HQ.

In 2015, after the World Cup, Leo Cullen, as a fledgling coach, faced a similar conundrum to this season - bruised and battered players retuning to the province.

Quality

The difference back then however, was that he didn't have the quality and deep playing resources that he can call on today.

As a player in the past, he has had a foot in both camps, being part of an Irish squad returning, and sometimes part of a Leinster squad welcoming back the Irish contingent, so there's no doubt his current decision-making process will come from deep within.

At his stage of the season, it will be a decision for the player and provincial coach more than the player management gurus or Irish management.

With the elder players, the likelihood is that they would like to keep their old engine running rather than laying it up for a week, while the younger players are happy to take time to regenerate.

For most, this is uncharted territory.

At Irish level, belief in themselves, their coaches and their supporters becomes questioned and the need for cleaning the slate and starting again becomes crucial to getting back to winning ways.

This week we will see players applying the rugby version of 'getting back on the horse', so tonight's game in Edinburgh cannot come quick enough.

With all of this in mind, there is a good chance that the management might have to make some hard choices in selection months before Schmidt does the same for Ireland.

Leo is not one to shy away from big decisions and Lancaster has spent some time in the land of huge expectation followed by utter disappointment, so both coaches will have this chance to shape Irish rugby over the next six months and will recognise this from the off.

Compared to Leinster, Irish selection was inconsistent.

There were different rules for different players with Sean Cronin being a perfect example of the inconsistency.

He was cruelly disregarded for a couple of wayward throws against Italy with no credit for his Leinster form this season or his ability around the pitch.

Roll on a couple of games and he and others should feel vindicated and rejuvenated.

Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien were two other world-class players who I believe were not fully utilised during the Irish campaign, with Kearney's non-selection in the first game against England being the catalyst for Ireland's Six Nations demise.

It is easy to blame selection, which is always vital for momentum and confidence, but the players also have to take responsibility for their performances.

Because of this there are certain players who will be lucky to don the Leinster jersey over the next few weeks. This is not a punishment but also for rehabilitation purposes.

For those who are fatigued or carrying injuries - which covers most of them - they will be rested this weekend.

Addition

The addition of Luke McGrath, Fergus McFadden and Dan Leavy will give a great boost to the province; all of these players, with the addition of the injured Rhys Ruddock, have been the backbone of the Leinster side over previous seasons and could do the same for Ireland later this year.

The big-name players will always expect to be on the teamsheet but the Edinburgh clash will provide an opportunity for players to state their respective cases for inclusion in the following week's clash with Ulster.

You might even say that for one time only the result away to Edinburgh does not matter but the individual and collective performance does.

Leinster will need to gain momentum and confidence for provincial and Irish rugby and with this in mind a couple of days spent in the Leo Cullen school of referee diplomacy and communication wouldn't go amiss for Johnny Sexton.

Irish Rugby's 'bouncebackability' remains in the hands of the Leinster players, management and fans and the time it takes to recover is up to all involved.

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