Declan Kidney will have the task of reducing the original 43 man training squad to 30 after the August test series ends with the game against England on August 27 and he will undoubtedly be criticised irrespective of who he chooses for that plane journey to New Zealand in September.
It goes without saying that some are absolute certainties (barring illness or injury) to be on board. It is ‘unthinkable’ that he would leave behind any of O’Driscoll, Bowe,D’Arcy,Sexton,O’Gara,O’Connell,O’Callaghan,O’Brien,Heaslip,or Ferris . Certainly Ferris and D’Arcy must prove their fitness for there can be no room for anyone less than 100 per cent fit.
Let us look at the original 43 man training squad for the Summer camp and August test series. The players involved (and those not involved due injury) :-
Backs (19): Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht), Keith Earls (Thomond/Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster), Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster), Robert Kearney (UCD/Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Geordan Murphy (Leicester), Conor Murray (Cork Constitution/Munster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (St.Mary’s College/Leinster), Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster), Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster)
Forwards (24): Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Tony Buckley (Sale Sharks), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster), John Hayes (Bruff/Munster), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster), Marcus Horan (Shannon/Munster), Shane Jennings (St.Mary’s College/Leinster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster), Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers/Connacht), Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster), Michael Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Damien Varley (Garryown/Munster), David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), Brett Wilkinson (Galwegians/Connacht)
Not considered due to injury:
Shane Horgan (Boyne/Leinster) – Knee
Ian Humphries (Ballymena/Ulster) – Shoulder
Nevin Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster) – shoulder
So if there are 10 ‘certs’ who else should join them?
Well Ronan Kearney for one – and again there is a fitness issue here – is too valuable an asset to leave behind though there are those among his detractors who believe that Leinster would not have won the Heineken Cup if he had been full back in the final.
The versatile Keith Earls is another “must go” choice. I am a firm believer that this NZ bound team must also include some of the younger players including if necessary those who have not yet made their Irish debut at this point though they will do so in the August series. Felix Jones is one such player, who has progressed considerably and is certainly one for the future. Scrum half Conor Murray is another in that category though his inclusion would mean no place for Ivan Boss. With an eye to the future Murray should go. Centre is a worry especially if D’Arcy is not fully recovered. McFadden is likely to be in the 30 and Earls is another option if we are stretched.
There are those who will say that Paddy Wallace is another certainty as he is usually chosen by Declan Kidney despite his many critics south of the border. To be honest Wallace is nowhere nearly as good as he was a few years back and there are other equally good options for backup support. I can see no reason why Wallace – on his 2010/11 form should be one of the chosen 30. And despite the inevitable wrath that will follow from his numerous admirers and from Leinster Rugby fans in general I can see nothing that suggests that Luke Fitzgerald offers anything to the Irish team at this level. Good in Club and domestic international matches but not a top class World Cup player.
It will be a close call between Tomas O’Leary and Murray for a scrum half spot but I’d go with the younger Murray unless O’Leary can turn on the magic in the August tests. Murray is “in form” – O’Leary has not been though admittedly hampered by injury. Sexton and O’Gara are musts as out halves .
Upfront the position of hooker is one of the most worrying of all. One can but hope that last Flannery has made a full recovery and remains fit. If not Ireland is in big, big trouble as not one of Best,Cronin or Varley is a quality International, hard though they try. Healy,Ross and Court are also near certainties and though it may seem mad to some, I’d also take Hayes, albeit 37 years young. In such a cauldron, Hayes has much to offer for 20/25 mins if/when the going gets tough.
O’Connell and O’Callaghan are certainties, and Leo Cullen a near cert. For the fourth lock position I’d certainly opt for Donncha Ryan, versatile and another one for the future.
And finally to the back row where I believe six will make the plane – Jennings and Leamy will be subject of much debate . Each has his detractors – Leamy is, like Hayes and also David Wallace, one who has the ability to make a huge impact as a sub. Jennings is a “terrier” snapping at the heels of the opposition and just gets my vote – O’Brien and Heaslip must surely go which only leaves a question mark against Ferris, his physical and mental state.If he proves himself in August he too must go.
Overall a pretty decent team, who ever is chosen. Any other possible surprise choices? I can see a place for Trimble if Darcy is not fit.
And now, dear reader, what say you? Name YOUR 30 for the Road to Rotorua?
My Final 30:-
FULL BACK & WINGS: (5) R Kearney, T Bowe, K Earls, F.Jones , G Murphy
CENTRES: (3) B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, F McFadden
OUTHALVES (2) – J Sexton, R O’Gara.
SCRUM HALVES (3)– E Reddan, P Stringer, C Murray
PROPS (4)– C Healy, M Ross, T Court, J Hayes
HOOKERS (3) – J Flannery, R Best, S Cronin
LOCKS (4)– P O’Connell, D O’Callaghan, L Cullen, Donncha Ryan
BACKROWS (6)– D Wallace, S O’Brien, J Heaslip, S Ferris, D Leamy, S Jennings
On call Reserves:
15 L.Fitzgerald 14 A Trimble 13 P Wallace, 10: I.Humphries 9 T O’Leary
2 D Varley 3 B Wilkinson 4 M. O’Driscoll 8 J Coughlan
Sportsnewsireland.com will have live score updates on all GAA Championship matches over the summer.