The question on Irish Rugby fans lips this week focuses around Paddy Jackson’s place in the Irish rugby match-day squad, should Ian Keatley or Ian Madigan be part of the twenty-two ahead of the Ulster player?
Although it is highly unlikely that Declan Kidney will select Ulster’s Paddy Jackson over Ronan O’ Gara for the upcoming Six Nations clash with Scotland, there are signs that the Ireland national coach holds the Ulsterman in high regard. Kidney has been slow to blood the younger back-up players in the past. and O’ Gara is clearly in the twilight of his career.
However, the recent hamstring injury sustained by Jonathan Sexton has added to Ireland’s woes and it’s clear that there are places up for grabs on the match-day panel. With all due respect to Paddy Jackson, it is hard to understand Kidney’s reasoning regarding the out-half’s pre-determined inclusion in the Ireland squad. Players like Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley have a lot more potential and deserve to be in the match-day squad ahead of Jackson.
The Ulsterman has failed to perform on the big stage time and time again, most notably in the Heineken Cup Final loss to Leinster at Twickenham last year. He has had a very limited amount of competitive kicking this year, with Ulster continuing to favour Ruan Pienaar. It is a problem that many Irish provincial players face, as an increased number of international exports plying their trade in Ireland has restricted the opportunities afforded to younger players.
There is no doubting Jackson’s ability, but he needs to improve and become more consistent with his kicking if he is to merit becoming a full international for Ireland. As mentioned previously, it is likely that O’ Gara will start against Scotland, but it is almost a certainty that he won’t last the full eighty minutes.
This gives Jackson the chance to prove his worth on the biggest stage and one hopes he can snatch at it with both hands. This could be a huge moment for Jackson, as he knows a bad performance could catapult the recently-added Ian Madigan ahead of him in the pecking order.
Craig Gilroy is another exciting prospect for the future, but his attacking qualities appear to paper over his defensive cracks. He was poor in Cardiff and somewhat non-existent against England. One hopes this is just a temporary dip in form and that Gilroy will fill the void left by Simon Zebo and become the attacking flair the Irish team need.
One young player that has caught my eye in particular is J.J. Hanrahan of Munster. He has been very impressive for the Ireland juniors and he is beginning to get his chance with Munster. He is confident kicking the ball from the tee and from his hands, something that is so valuable in modern rugby. He is one for the future, provided he continues his development.
It’s hard to look back on the England game without mentioning Cian Healy. His malicious stamp on Dan Cole was a disgrace and he can count himself lucky that rugby’s governing body handed down a relatively short suspension. Many people were disappointed that the IRFU didn’t sanction the Leinster prop further and reprimand him for bringing the game into disrepute. Their apparent inactivity sent out the wrong message to the cohorts of children that witnessed the incident.
As I reflect on the Six Nations thus far, dreams of a Grand Slam are a distant memory and look to be setting up shop in Twickenham. The Cardiff game gave us too much hope, when in truth it was the proverbial game of two halves. Wales’ ineptitude in the first half allowed the Irish team to play some effective exciting rugby. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the second half, with the highlight being the full-time whistle as Declan Kidney’s men barely held on for a precious win.
It’s difficult to see where Irish rugby goes from here. The ever-increasing amount of foreign players lining out for our provinces is worrying and will no doubt have an effect on developing the Irish rugby stars of tomorrow.