Sunday 15 September 2019

Why John Cooney should feel aggrieved at Garry Ringrose getting back-up out-half role

John Cooney was cut from Ireland's World Cup training squad without playing a game. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
John Cooney was cut from Ireland's World Cup training squad without playing a game. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Somewhere in a quiet corner of Belfast, John Cooney looked at Ireland's team announcement and wondered what he did wrong to not even merit a chance to prove himself in a pre-season game.

Back at Ireland's team hotel, Ross Byrne will have been fearful that he is about to suffer the same fate as the make-up of the World Cup squad begins to become a little clearer.

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Seeing Garry Ringrose named as the replacement out-half is bound to rankle with a couple of players, who will feel they could offer much more than someone who has played almost all of his international rugby in midfield.

Byrne did ship a couple of bangs against England, yet given that he was involved in training this week, the Leinster man would have been desperate for a run-out in Cardiff.

Instead, Joe Schmidt has cast his net even further in a bid to ensure that every one of his players can play in a multitude of positions. Will Addison already does that anyway, which is largely why Schmidt is still showing faith in a player who has barely played this year.

The versatile Ulster back was hampered by injury all last season, but there were enough flashes of his quality to suggest that he would be a very useful option to have in a World Cup squad.

Since arriving in Ulster, Addison has predominately been used as an outside centre and while he will start at full-back against Wales tomorrow, it was no surprise to hear Schmidt saying that he could also cover out-half.

It may not be a position that the 27-year old is that familiar with, but he did play there with Sale and also had 10 minutes at out-half for Ulster against Racing.

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"A jack of all trades and a master of a few," is how Schmidt neatly summed up Addison.

Given his lack of fitness, it is unlikely that he will see out the full 80 minutes, which makes Ringrose's selection on the bench all the more interesting.

In explaining his rationale behind the decision to have Ringrose as an option to cover 10, Schmidt said: "Garry has played a bit of out-half as a schoolboy. He has a temperament and a skill base that would allow him to fit in there."

During his Junior Cup year at Blackrock College, Ringrose infamously couldn't force his way into the team as a scrum-half, but the amount of time he played at out-half is unclear.

All going according to plan tomorrow, Jack Carty will likely play the full game, but as Schmidt learned four years ago, plans can quickly be ripped to shreds.

From that end, he may be tempted to give Ringrose a run at out-half, yet if that scenario unfolds in Japan, Ireland will be in serious trouble.

There is no doubting Ringrose's quality as a footballer, but running a game-plan at international level is very different to whatever little time he has played in the position.

When one considers that, had Cooney been selected on the bench Ireland would have had a scrum-half who is comfortable as a 10, that in turn would have enhanced Schmidt's other impact options.

However, he is clearly eager to take players out of their comfort zone now, rather than in the coming weeks.

On one hand it makes sense, but that won't come as much of a consolation to guys like Byrne or Cooney. Worst-case scenario, if Carty goes down early tomorrow, the reshuffling of Ireland's back line will make for very interesting viewing.

Whether that means Addison or Ringrose switching to out-half, a cauldron like the Principality Stadium would be quite the baptism of fire for their first taste of international rugby at 10.

At this late stage, however, Addison will be happy to play anywhere on the pitch if it means that he furthers his push for a place on the plane.

"It's his first run-out in a long time," Schmidt acknowledged. "He didn't play the back end of the season, so for Will it's a really important opportunity. But he has to hit the ground running.

"He's stepped in at very late notice against Argentina last year to play 13 and did a really good job for us. That's the sort of flexibility he offers.

"He's a very capable kicker of the ball, including goal-kicking, so he becomes that jack of all trades that we may well need."

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