Saturday 24 February 2018

Provincial coaches left to pick up pieces

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE clumsy new name, shiny new trophy and smiling new sponsors meant that the marketing men were keen to talk RaboDirect Pro12 at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin yesterday, but Declan Kidney's World Cup selection, and the omission of Tomas O'Leary and Luke Fitzgerald from Ireland's final 30-man squad, was all the rugby folk had on their mind.

Munster coach Tony McGahan and his Leinster counterpart Joe Schmidt have been left in a difficult place by the selection -- both saw one of their own beat another to the final cut.

Conor Murray and Fergus McFadden were given their big opportunities by the Antipodean coaches last season, but McGahan and Schmidt's pride must be tempered by the knowledge that they now have to try to nurse the bruised egos of two Heineken Cup and Grand Slam winners who were picked for the Lions in 2009.

Instead of taking on England at the Aviva on Saturday, Fitzgerald and O'Leary will face the second teams of Northampton and London Irish respectively in pre-season friendlies for their provinces on Friday night.

It's quite a comedown. Schmidt reckoned Fitzgerald lost out as a result of trying too hard to regain his form and McFadden fitting the bill for the positional cover needed.

"I feel particularly disappointed for Luke," said Schmidt, who reckons he'll have two Ireland squad members available to him on Friday night. "I thought he came on and had a great little cameo last Saturday.

"Luke is still only a kid in rugby terms -- he's only 23. He's already had some great success, he's a Grand Slam winner, a Lion, a Heineken Cup winner a couple of times; it's not a bad list of experiences to build on.


"I think there are dangers of over-thinking things, of trying to find solutions that aren't necessarily there. There are a couple of things we definitely worked on with Luke at the end of last season when things didn't quite happen naturally.

"When he got knocked off his stride and was out for seven weeks and came back, he wasn't quite right with his rhythm.

"Physically he felt fine, but things just weren't quite happening for him, and he almost started trying too hard to make things happen and then you start undoing yourself.

"It's a mark of Fergus' progress, and I think it's also probably the balance of the squad that Declan was looking for.

"Maybe Fergus is seen more as a natural midfielder than Luke at the moment because he's played more there in recent times."

Meanwhile, McGahan is trying to pick up a devastated O'Leary and keep him fit in case injury dictates he is needed in New Zealand.

"We're disappointed for Tomas," McGahan said. "We thought he was going (to the World Cup) for a long period of the campaign.

"I talked to him on Sunday night, he was at training but he didn't train on Monday as his back was a bit sore.

"It's a difficult one. To pick one is difficult. We are delighted for Conor but are extremely disappointed for Tomas.

"He is a great professional; he's very determined to come back -- because you don't know what's going to happen. There is a long tournament and he needs to get back playing.

"That is one of the reasons he wasn't selected -- because of game time -- so it would be remiss of us not to give him the opportunity to play this week if fit."

Irish Independent

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