Thursday 22 February 2018

Neil Francis: The message from Joe Schmidt is clear - exiles are not wanted

Schmidt's intervention to stop Moore's Wasps move carried a warning that he won't pick exiles

Marty Moore and Joe Schmidt
Marty Moore and Joe Schmidt
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

It probably doesn't merit mention - unless you are a prospective or existing international player - but all of the contenders for the Six Nations Championship, with the unhappy exception of the Welsh, named squads where every single player played in their own domestic league with their domestic clubs.

The RFU may, however, have to relax their stance on foreign-based players playing for England because Mourad Boudjellal will be taking Toulon into the Aviva Premiership next season. We get a brief glimpse of what life could be like with Donald Trump in the Whitehouse!

Wales, our first opponents in this year's championship, have 10 of their 37 players contracted to foreign clubs. Bath RFC will eventually tire and stop bringing them over the Severn and like Ireland, Wales will eventually repatriate everyone who they want under their delayed central contract system. The message is crystal clear for everyone - if you want to play international rugby then play your club rugby at home. It shouldn't need a health warning like on the fag packets. Moving to another foreign club is detrimental to your international prospects.

Joe Schmidt. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

The Marty Moore saga was a strange episode. So Joe Corleone has stepped in again to persuade the player that it would not be in his interests to move to Wasps. Why did it come to that? This was not a bum story - Moore had done the deal with Wasps. Why move when your career is mapped?

The challenge? Certainly the Wasps offer was tasty but what risk factor or premium do you place on your career by forgoing your international place with a foreign move? To Coventry . . . the irony is not lost!

Leinster's stock of props and hookers is impressive. It would only be a matter of time before other teams sniffed around. Munster, with Stephen Archer in injury limbo and BJ Botha out for the season and out the door at the end of the season, sounded out Mike Ross and Moore. Both offers of interest were bounced. Ross was happy where he was, Moore less so apparently, but either way he did not want to go to Munster.

It is always interesting to chart a player's progression to the big time. Moore, always noted as an unyielding scrummager, got thrown into action from nowhere against Castres in the Champions Cup a few seasons ago. The pale held its collective breath as the kid stuck the scrum on the tighthead side. Indeed, when he got to the pace of the game, he went after Mihaita Lazar. It was an uncomfortable victory but Leinster did what they had to do for the 19-7 win. Any misgivings about a scrum inferno lapsed after 20 minutes. Moore acquitted himself very well.

Moore's body shape is a comparative rarity now in international rugby. A devotee to the Adam Jones Cookbook, but also to the author's scrummaging technique. It is the one position on the field where BMIs are not strictly monitored. If you get your 8-10 scrum balls away under no pressure, you tend not to look at what your No 3 can't do. Moore is mid-table when it comes to carrying, clearing and tackling. His low centre of gravity is a benefit at maul time.

15 December 2015; Leinster's Jack McGrath in action during squad training. Leinster Rugby Squad Training. Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Moore came to prominence alongside Jack McGrath (above) as they broke into the scene at about the same time. There is, though, a big difference between the two. McGrath and Iain Henderson's introduction in the last quarter of the game in Paris for Ireland's championship in 2014 effectively ensured they won the game. The pair of them were awesome. McGrath, if he plays his cards right, will follow Henderson to New Zealand as a Lion in 2017.

McGrath is as close to usurping Cian Healy as starter for the No 1e slot as is possible. If the quality of his performances are sustained this will happen.

Mike Ross has, at best, one more productive year left in him, but it is significant that not a huge amount of pressure has come from Moore. Injury has been a factor, but the burgeoning presence of Tadhg Furlong has been more and more a factor. Hard to nail the man you are after if someone is trying to overtake you in the chase.

If the graph continues, Furlong will make the transition next season at the latest. In a recent Leinster squad dust-up, Furlong laid down a marker to Moore. Ross is out for the first game and maybe even longer and so Joe Schmidt has to make a big call at No 3. It would be disheartening if Nathan White is still in the shake-up when the 23 is announced.

Schmidt, after making a Kissinger-like intervention, now has to back that move up. Conventional wisdom says that Moore starts, the proposed move could have strengthened Moore's cause or conversely muddied the water if Schmidt reflects too long on just why Moore decided to amble off to the Premiership.

Dai Young's side romped to victory at the Ricoh Arena

The motive for the move to Wasps is not abundantly clear to me. Dai Young (above) was mentioned as a factor. Young was head coach of the Cardiff Blues from 2003 to 2011. In that time they maintained a position of marvellous mid-table mediocrity.

Cardiff seemed to like finishing sixth and whenever they threatened to do something or were in a position to challenge, they posted an under-performance of such overwhelming and withering apathy you would wonder why they ever played rugby in the first place. Cardiff won nothing while Young was at the helm. Stop Press - Titanic goes down. Germany starts World War II. Kennedy assassinated. Cardiff win EDF Cup - Stop Press.

Young's Wasps currently sit sixth in the Premiership. They finished sixth last year and seventh, eighth and 11th the previous seasons. As a comfort blanket for the off-chance of making the play-offs, think sixth. The Gaylord Focker of the Aviva Premiership - why on earth would anyone want to go to Coventry to be coached by Dai Young?

They were surprisingly competitive in the pool stages of the European Cup but are not going to challenge for honours. Nor is their compass pointing in that direction.

Leinster are, barring a bad season, assured of European Cup action and a play-off position in the Pro12. Wasps got back into the mix last season but are not assured of anything for next season. Challenge Cup? Not good for the international prospects. Challenge Cup in England? Send us a postcard.

It seems the player got cold feet after the deal was done and when Schmidt got involved a deal was organised where the previous two-year offer was presumably lengthened and improved. It could change next week but I doubt it.

Schmidt, it appears, will not countenance having players who are an intrinsic part of the squad outside of his immediate control. That is why he hopped on a plane and brought Johnny Sexton home. I am not privy to the negotiations but I wonder why there was no successful intervention to retain Ian Madigan.

Moore will improve more on this island than on the one next door and he will be driven to a better performance by his Leinster team-mates. May the best man win. No exiles.

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