Tuesday 20 February 2018

Comment - Italy coming at a perfect time for Cian Healy as Tommy Bowe goes from the bench to the couch

Cian Healy and his Ireland team-mates during squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cian Healy and his Ireland team-mates during squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The higher the pitch of indignation following Ireland’s misfire in Murrayfield last weekend the more likely it was that mostly the same suspects would be put out on parade again.

No one would understand this better than Conor O’Shea, in the blue corner on Saturday. Indeed before the post-match interviewers had even caught up with Joe Schmidt in Edinburgh, O’Shea was framing in his head the Ireland team that would rock up in Rome. And that would have been close enough to what Schmidt announced today.

It’s worth putting this in context. Ireland went well over budget last week on their error count, but had it not been for a Scotland side coming in exactly on the money then the reaction to the defeat would have been different.

The common denominator was that things would have to be better, so what we will get on Saturday is a side acutely focused on not messing up two weeks running.

It’s debatable whether or not Schmidt would have had to articulate this. Perhaps for effect he could have let the pictures do the talking. And then follow it up by sticking the 23 names up on the wall of the team room in Carton House, and going for a nap.

In which case Iain Henderson’s case is interesting. His hamstring has taken him out of the equation but in the process it obviated an awkward decision for the coach. Had Henderson been fit you could easily imagine him acknowledging without surprise that he had been left out of the starting side. The problem with Henderson is that he is such a wrecking ball that when there isn’t a trail of destruction in his wake he looks ordinary.

By comparison Donnacha Ryan is meat and two veg. But it’s a meal that would have worked out nicely last weekend, and will serve well in Rome.

So Jack McGrath is the only one of the starters fit, but shunted to the bench, while Tommy Bowe – a strange choice in the first place – goes from the bench to the couch. Getting the ‘rotation’ message across to players is a hard sell. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the rationale, it’s just that they rather when it’s someone else being given the rest.

For Cian Healy, in a Lions year, it is impeccable timing. When we suggested a while back that Ireland could readily have four props on duty in New Zealand, between original selections and injury call-up, it got a few responses suggesting it was time to change our meds.

One of those four however was Finlay Bealham (along with McGrath, Healy and Tadhg Furlong). Somewhere between Chicago and Edinburgh John Ryan took him on the bend, and is a few metres out front now. Schmidt’s message to all concerned today is that, with one week gone, it’s not too late. A lot of lads will be happy to buy into that one.

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