Saturday 18 November 2017

Brendan Fanning: When it comes to injury news, the first casualty is often truth

Ian Keatley, left, and Paddy Jackson of Ireland during squad training at Carton House
Ian Keatley, left, and Paddy Jackson of Ireland during squad training at Carton House
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The communications age we live in makes the art of surprise a tricky act to pull off. So when Joe Schmidt sits down to read the 23 names to represent Ireland, on any given day, most of the watching world knows pretty much the script that will follow.

Nevertheless he is able to plug enough holes in Carton House for an entire week to keep under wraps that Ian Keatley is on the premises. With his gear. Thus, under no pressure, the Munster outhalf was able to swap a scheduled week off from his province with a reorientation course in Camp Ireland. It helped that the word from inside the camp was that Rory Scannell would be next in line if another number 10 fell over. Scannell will make it to Scotland all right, but with Munster in their Guinness Pro 12 tie with Edinburgh tomorrow night.  Instead, Johnny Sexton falls over and, hey presto, here comes Keatley!

The message here is that when it comes to injury news, and related matters, the first casualty is often the truth. The sole criterion from the coach’s point of view is to do what best suits the squad.

The next message is more of a reaffirmation: overseas experience comes at a price. And this is now deafening for Ian Madigan. And indeed Marty Moore. They have three things in common: they are both abroad; both, in theory, battling it out with three other contenders (Madigan with Sexton, Paddy Jackson and Joey Carbery; Moore with Tadhg Furlong, John Ryan and Finlay Bealham); and both will get the call only when blue lights are flashing and alarm bells are ringing.

On Ireland’s tour to New Zealand and Australia in 2006, Eddie O’Sullivan brought 30 players for the three-test campaign. He used 16 – remarkable in such an attritional sport – as starters, and twice used only four of his seven replacements. That left a quite a handful for whom it could best be described as an active holiday. Madigan and Moore could identify with this life behind glass, to be broken only in case of emergency.

They knew the risks when they signed up to Bordeaux and Wasps respectively. But any lingering hopes have just been dashed.

This selection also highlights Schmidt’s trust of the known, even if it’s a while since the facts have been put on the table in a compelling manner. It’s hard to think of anything lately in Tommy Bowe’s game that suggests his form is good enough for international rugby. 

He will be delighted then to make the bench, as will hooker Niall Scannell. Sean Cronin’s torn hamstring last month had a positive ping about it for his rivals – one man’s injury is another’s opportunity, even if it’s politically incorrect to admit it – and the Munster player is the one to benefit ahead of James Tracy. Which is fair enough – Scannell’s durability and form have been a key factor in Munster’s turnaround this season. 

So too John Ryan. There is a handful of players who have motored on at the same time in Munster and the tight head is another of them. Finlay Bealham might have thought he was nailed on after his run off the bench against the All Blacks in Chicago, but as Tadhg Furlong pointed out – generously in the circumstances – in a recent interview, Ryan is currently the form scrummaging tight head in the country. He signed a three year contract extension just two weeks ago. At times like this, home fires burn brightest.

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