The David Corkery column: Stale look to Irish rugby team ahead of Scotland visit

The David Corkery column: Stale look to Irish rugby team ahead of Scotland visit
Ulster's John Cooney celebrates scoring a try with Marcell Coetzee. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

YOU only get one chance to make a first impression.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Andy Farrell, the new Irish senior men’s rugby team head coach, announced his first ever starting 15 to play against Scotland on Saturday in Dublin.

Farrell (44), who played rugby league in the UK, with Wigan and Great Britain, for near on 15 years, has already angered quite a few pundits and fans by choosing some players on reputation rather than form.

And by opting for Johnny Sexton as his captain, he looks to be concentrating on the here and now, rather than preparing for the future.

Yet again, after all the lessons we learned from the World Cup, we are determined to fall flat on our faces.

I realise how important it is to try and win every game. However, if Ireland are to have any hopes of reaching a World Cup final, they must accept short-term pain for long-term gain.

Few would argue that Johnny Sexton isn’t Ireland’s greatest fly-half of the modern era and some would even suggest that he could be the greatest ever to play in a green jersey. However, there are zero chances of him being around in 2023, for the next World Cup.

Considering that his body has already clocked up serious mileage and quite a few crashes, he now operates on a week-by-week medical evaluation.

So why in God’s name would you opt for him to be your captain, if your goal is to build for the future?

Head coach Andy Farrell during an Ireland Rugby press conference. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Head coach Andy Farrell during an Ireland Rugby press conference. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The other selection that has caused uproar is the inclusion of Munster’s Conor Murray over Ulster’s John Cooney.

Again, no-one can say that Murray isn’t a world-class scrum-half. However, over the last 12 to 16 months, Murray has not produced the required performance to automatically retain his starting berth.

His inclusion, ahead of Cooney, spits in the face of the up-and-coming players and if our national team is meant to represent all that is right about sport, then Farrell has already failed.

I never coached at a professional level, but I also never selected a player because of who he was, or what he had achieved. My teams were firstly occupied by players who turned up to training, trained hard, acted in the best interest of the team, and were the best in their particular position.

I can only imagine how Cooney must have felt, when all his stellar work and quality performances were rewarded with a spot on the bench.

Normally, I would not be that incensed, but the difference between Murray and Cooney, at this moment, is vast and the best man certainly lost out. I hope that Cooney gets his just reward, at some point during tomorrow’s game and that Murray has a blinder. After that, I just hope the man is picked on merit and merit alone.

The other contentious selection is the relegation of Peter O’Mahony to the bench. However, I believe Farrell to be correct.

O’Mahony, like Murray, has not been firing on all cylinders for some time and the man just looks burnt-out. When you put so much effort into everything you do, it is only a matter of time before your level of performance will drop.

There are times, in games, where the flanker, who wears his heart on his sleeve, seems to be trying to do everything and because of this, his statistics are labelling him as a ‘jack of all and a master of none.’

The modern game demands that all players have the capabilities to pop up in any area of the field and have the skill set to deal with any situation. However, as a wing forward, you have specific duties and they are non-negotiable.

The burden that Munster’s failings are putting on O’Mahony’s shoulders are affecting his game and his efforts to make up for the deficiencies of others have cost him his starting spot in a green jersey. Maybe the rest will do him no harm and when the batteries are fully recharged, we will see the real Peter O’Mahony (who has zero respect for his body), return to being the player he truly is.

Peter O'Mahony at training this week. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony at training this week. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I was delighted for Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris, who, together with CJ Stander, will make up the Irish back-row.

Power, skill, and a formidable understanding of running lines are the key ingredients of an effective backrow and it looks like Farrell has made his selection with consideration of all three principles. I just hope that Stander brings something new to his game, rather than putting his head down and running straight ahead at anyone who appears in his pathway. No-one can question his efforts, but he is just far too predictable when he has the ball in hand.

Scotland will come into this game looking back to their demoralising defeats during the World Cup, when everything that could go wrong for them did and they will view this game as an opportunity to set a few records straight.

The withdrawal from the Scottish squad of Finn Russell, who masterminded Munster’s departure from this year’s Champions Cup, whilst playing for Racing 92, has adorned most of the headlines leading up to this game.

Russell left the squad last week, after being informed by Townsend that he would not be considered for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Ireland.

The fly-half breached “team protocol” during a drinking session and Townsend was left with little option but to exclude him from selection for this game.

Russell then chose to return to France and lined out for Racing, in their win over Castres.

When something like this happens in any team sport, it can either galvanise all that you do or completely disrupt your preparations. The best comparison is the Roy Keane/Saipan fiasco, in the 2002 soccer World Cup, when the Irish lads ended up using it as an excuse for their failings.

Home advantage should give Ireland the edge for this game, but with Scotland not having performed well over the last two years, they are due a turn of fortune.

I just hope that Farrell’s selection process will not be the catalyst that gets his term as top dog off to a losing start, because if he doesn’t record a ‘W’ on the league table, there are wolves just waiting in the long grass to pounce.


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