Wednesday 17 January 2018

Denis Leamy: 'I don't expect to see Brian feature in Six Nations'

Brian O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy preparing for international duty back in 2008
Brian O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy preparing for international duty back in 2008

It's understandable that Joe Schmidt has gone for such a strong Leinster presence in his squad for the Autumn Internationals. I know there have been misgivings around the country – especially in the wake of the loss to Australia – that there wasn't more representation from the other provinces in the squad and team selections.

But I think it was only natural that he would lean heavily on Leinster. If you think about it, he has spent the last few years looking at the weaknesses of players in Munster, Ulster and Connacht, trying to plot a way to win against them.

He could tell a lot about their weaknesses and probably not a lot about the positives, but as time goes on he will realise what they can bring to it and there will be a more even split.

The stand-out call was undoubtedly Eoin Reddan ahead of Conor Murray for the Australia match. Schmidt always ran a lot through his nine as well as his 10 and Reddan knew those patterns, especially with forwards around rucks.

Of course, people will say it didn't work but I don't think Eoin had a bad game, although I know he has been singled out.

Dave Kilcoyne will also have been scratching his head at his omission. I have seen him a few times this season and his form has not gone back, and that form was enough for him to get a lot of game time for Ireland last season.

He will be wondering what has gone wrong, but he is young and I have no doubt he will be back in when the squad gets back together again and he will be there for a long time to come.

DILEMMA

The dilemma facing Schmidt is whether he now sticks with lads who have a lot of mileage on the clock or goes with the younger players with a view to the 2015 World Cup. He doesn't have much time on his side.

Brian O'Driscoll is retiring at the end of the season and I don't expect to see him feature in the Six Nations as I think Schmidt will realise he can't afford the luxury of not blooding someone for that position.

Then he has to decide does he stick with Paul O'Connell as captain through to the World Cup? Two years might not seem that long, but when you are 34 and have a lot of mileage, Schmidt will have to wonder if he has the legs to get there.

Johnny Sexton is irreplaceable but, as we saw last weekend, what is the back-up plan if he is injured? Over the years you had Ronan O'Gara backing up David Humphreys before taking over from him, it was the same when Sexton came along with ROG in the position. But who is there to cover and challenge Sexton? That's another major issue that has to be developed.

You would have to question whether Jamie Heaslip will make it through to 2015. His performances over the past year have raised questions and we have not seen enough of him on the ball.

Peter O'Mahony will always man-up but when you need metres covered then we are really relying too much on Sean O'Brien and we need to develop more ball carriers.

If Paul stays, then who will partner him in the second-row? Is Devin Toner international quality? The same could be asked about Mike McCarthy. Then you look at the backs and realise that there is nobody to come in at Test level at 13, let alone try to fill O'Driscoll's boots.

There are a lot of issues there for Schmidt to ponder and don't forget it won't be long until we are referring to the World Cup as being next year.

Time is not on his side and yet the World Cup is a long way off for lads pushing into their 30s.

I would hope we will see an Irish performance on Sunday in response to the Australia match, but while I think they will deliver that I still expect the All Blacks to win by 10 points. They are an unreal team.

We need a big Irish performance and it should not be forgotten that since the win over Australia in the World Cup two years ago, we have not beaten a team we wouldn't have been expected to win against, and at the same time we have lost to a lot of teams we would have expected to beat.

RELIEVED

It just shows the amount of work Schmidt has to do and time is not on his side, but I think he will be relieved to have this segment of games under his belt and start planning for the future. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but we are unlikely to get too many of them sorted on Sunday.

I think any season Munster have won the league, they have done well in the games which take place when the internationals are away on duty.

The reality of it, of course, is that a win picked up during the Autumn Internationals or Six Nations when you are without the internationals carries the same number of points as you would get from beating Leinster in front of a packed Thomond Park with all your front-liners.

Munster face two tricky games before the Heineken Cup resumes with two matches in Wales, starting tomorrow night against Cardiff and then the following week in Newport.

But these are great opportunities for lads to put their hands up. In some instances it will be a case of guys making a claim for Heineken Cup duty against Perpignan, in others it might be their first time to step up to this level and they will want to stay involved. Those lads know that unless you can prove you can survive at this level then you won't cut it.

So, while there might not be packed stadiums with loads of internationals on both sides, these games have an intensity and a value all of their own, not to mention league points which could make all the difference when it comes to the end of the season.

The B&I Cup has served Munster well in the past few seasons and this is now a chance for some of the lads who have come through there to move up to the next level.

Even if a guy just gets a few minutes on the field, he has got to take it and force his way into the minds of the coaches for the coming weeks. It is a huge opportunity for a lot of young players.

They won't get anything easy in Cardiff, but it would be a boost if Munster were still top of the table when the internationals start coming back over the next week or two.

Irish Independent

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