Irish rugby will never progress with gifted players like Simon Zebo left out

Irish rugby will never progress with gifted players like Simon Zebo left out

Racing’s Simon Zebo scores his sides first try despite Jack Nowell of Exeter closing in. The Cork man would be a brilliant addition to the Ireland squad. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

NORMALLY, when I pen these articles my mind becomes over-animated with various feelings and opinions.

I find it near on impossible to minimise or curtail what I want to say, so I don’t.

There are times when I could easily fill every page in The Echo with how I feel about team selections and how the team should and shouldn’t play, however, on this occasion I’m just not getting the same vibes.

There are parts of me that are screaming out for the international game to return and parts of me that would rather watch paint dry than watch another monotonous display of players playing the game as if it was designed by mathematicians who never participated in any kind of sporting activity.

The spontaneous game that we all love to watch seems to be a thing of the past and where once there was vision and a willingness to take risks there is now a philosophy that has players thinking; what was I told to do in this part of the field?

Apart from the odd individual where players like Simon Zebo, Sonny Bill Williams or the recently capped All Black Caleb Clarke, decides to think outside the box, rugby union is now infested with products that are manufactured in gyms and spend most of their time in a classroom environment rather than on a training pitch.

Simon Zebo is tackled by Elliot Daly of Saracens. Picture: INPHO/Dave Winter
Simon Zebo is tackled by Elliot Daly of Saracens. Picture: INPHO/Dave Winter

Coaches are just too afraid to lose and while nobody wants to finish second in a two-horse race, there must be a realisation that unless you are prepared to take risks and make mistakes, you will always be viewed as an imitator rather than an innovator.

The best example I could offer of this was Ireland’s performances during the last World Cup.

Every dog on the street knew exactly how Ireland were going to play and how uncompromising Joe Schmidt was when it came to allowing his players to implement a reflexive brand of the game.

It was Joe’s way or the highway.

Why do you think Zebo opted to ply his trade in France?

The question of whether or not Saturday’s re-fixed game should or shouldn’t go ahead for safety reasons is very much open to opinion. However, it’s here now and I just hope and pray that Andy Farrell is looking at it as an opportunity to learn, experiment, and trust in his players' ability to play a brand of rugby that is appropriate to the level of opposition they are facing.

Italy are now ranked 14th on the World ranking table behind sides like Georgia and Tonga and unless Ireland, who are ranked 10 places above them, can wilfully crush a side with the Italians’ pitiful infrastructures, they will always be nothing but a sporting version of the ugly bridesmaid.

Yes, Ireland will always win the odd championship and beat one of the three southern hemisphere giants every now and then, however, consistency and confidence are the two key ingredients that all sporting giants must have and, currently, Ireland have neither.

Farrell and his coaching team have named six uncapped players in their squad and I’d be bitterly disappointed if all of them are not capped over the next two weeks.

Hugo Keenan (24), Shane Daly (23), Jamison Gibson-Park (28), Ed Byrne (27), Ryan Baird (21), and Will Connors (24) have all being rightfully rewarded for their strong form since the resumption of the Guinness Pro 14 season.

Top-flight international sides should be selected on form and nothing else.

For me, age is nothing but a number and if a player is good enough, he should be rewarded accordingly irrespective of whether you think he is too old or too young.

Picking players on previous form has to stop; otherwise the insatiable hunger that all internationals have gushing through their veins will be diminished and standards will deteriorate.

What needs to emerge over the next two weeks is a sense of adventure and creativity.

Ever since Brian O’Driscoll decided to hang up the boots, Ireland have struggled to create a midfield partnership that can question opposing defences. There is absolutely no point in picking two players with similar characteristics and expect favourable outcomes.

Bundee Aki is unquestionably a superb player and has 100% bought into the Irish way of thinking. However, if you put him with another ball-carrier like Chris Farrell all you are doing is reducing your attacking options and making this area of the field a predictable place to defend.

Aki will need to be paired with Gary Ringrose or, dare I say it, move Sexton to 13 and let Ross Byrne or Jack Carty drive the ship. Just remember Sexton won’t be around forever.

The other area that seriously needs to be looked at is scrum-half.

Conor Murray. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Conor Murray. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

As we all know, Conor Murray has only been a shadow of the player he once was, and I was bitterly disappointed to see that Craig Casey was allowed return to the Munster camp ahead of this game.

Casey has been a shining light for Munster over the last 12 months and his presence in the Munster team has allowed the province’s coaching ticket to realise a whole new game structure.

Casey (21) might be small in stature, but I’d rather have someone with his speedy ball distributing capabilities then a box kicking robot.

By the way this is not a dig at Murray because all Murray can do is comply with what his coaches tell him to do.

This game should be a fait accompli by half-time and a bonus point should be the minimum requirement.

Next week’s game away to the French will be a different ball game.

Stay safe.

More in this section

Sponsored Content