Thursday 19 September 2019

O'Driscoll says Schmidt's Toner omission 'beggars belief'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The fallout from Joe Schmidt's controversial decision to select Jean Kleyn ahead of Devin Toner for this month's World Cup rumbled into a second day yesterday as former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll expressed his bafflement at the call.

Meanwhile, Schmidt once again fronted the team press conference to explain his selections and hit out at World Rugby power-broker Agustin Pichot who had criticised the laws that allowed Kleyn qualify to play for Ireland on residency after three years in the country.

Toner took to social media to express his disappointment with his omission, to thank those who wished him well, and wish his team-mates the best in Japan.

And, while Schmidt will hope to park the issue now and focus on his final Aviva Stadium game against Wales on Saturday, the debate continues about the 6ft 11ins second-row's absence.

Malfunctioning "There was always going to be a big omission, such is the strength in depth," O'Driscoll said. "I guess no one saw Devin Toner being left out. It kind of beggars belief that if the lineout is malfunctioning you don't include your tallest player and your best lineout operator.

"He's the most-capped player under Joe Schmidt, the go-to guy for big games and only 10 months ago he was dominating the lineout in that big victory against the All Blacks. So it's quite the fall from grace. Obviously Joe Schmidt sees something in Jean Kleyn, a different player from Devin Toner, a big scrummager and maybe a meatier ball-carrier.

"But if I was Devin Toner I'd be feeling very sorry for myself, and wondering whether it was justified."

Schmidt, meanwhile, hit out at Pichot and defended his use of so-called 'project players' recruited by the IRFU to play for the provinces and qualify to play for Ireland after three years.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

During his time as coach, Schmidt has capped 102 players and Kleyn is the ninth of those to have qualified on residency.

World Rugby vice-chairman Pichot  suggested Toner should complain to World Rugby about Kleyn's entry on to the Irish scene and Schmidt was clearly unimpressed.

"What is relevant is that under the laws of the game, as they were, we are entitled to pick guys who have qualified," he said. "Considering he is involved in World Rugby, he could have a look at what the rules were and not have so many things to say because for us it is tough enough to do our job and for me to have a conversation as I did with Dev."

And the coach defended his selection policy. "With Ireland, the qualification involvement is probably six or seven per cent," he said, slightly underestimating the true figure of 8.8 per cent.

"The rest are home-grown guys who are not only home-grown but who are domiciled here apart from when Johnny (Sexton) was used from Paris.

"If there was any question about the number of Irish people involved then I would be surprised. I'm not sure I'm the most qualified to comment as I am a blow-in myself and I'll be blowing out soon enough.

"I would question how much CJ Stander has committed to his local environment, what Bundee (Aki) has done... they have contributed to their community and I'm not sure how long you have to contribute to a community and work hard in that community before you can be accepted."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport