exclusive We need to relax rule on foreign-based players to compete for Ireland and lift this stupid embargo
There will be many better days for these Irish rugby players than they had at Twickenham yesterday.
Losing to England is never nice. But we’d a young team, we were short so many seasoned internationals, and you cannot just replace the likes of Johnny Sexton or Tadhg Furlong overnight.
It takes time, and a couple of beatings like this for lads to come to terms with the step up to the highest level.
I’ve written it before and I’ll no doubt write it again. But we are trying to pick a world class rugby team from a small population and off the fruits of four provinces.
I know why the IRFU want to keep control of our players, but would Donnacha Ryan not have brought a bit of serious fight to our pack yesterday and would Simon Zebo not have given us an X-factor from the back?
We cannot compete in Test rugby with one hand tied behind our back.
Maybe it is time the Union looked at relaxing their unwritten rule for a player over the age of, say, 26.
Or set it aside for anyone who has won a certain number of caps.
Then it is up to the player to make his call, knowing that the national coach may choose to go with a younger or more inexperienced player now that you have flown the coop.
But it is not doing Irish rugby any favours – that those who opt to play their club rugby outside Ireland know they will be cast out from the national team.
Let me mention two things that I saw in the game against England which seem contradictory – but they are not.
The first was that I did not like our body language during the early minutes of the match.
The world and his mother knew that England would come out firing and try to overpower Ireland in the early going.
They did it in the last two Six Nations meetings and again in the World Cup warm-up 15 months ago.
We should have been ready to meet fire with fire, but we didn’t and that disappointed me.
Somebody, somewhere, should have put in a monster hit on an English runner to announce ourselves.
But we were very passive, almost waiting for England to roll us over.
By contrast, perhaps after coach Andy Farrell put a bit of fire into the lads at half-time, we were defiant in the second half.
We tackled, we worked hard, we chased and powered into challenges and the team did not give up until Jacob Stockdale got over the English try-line.
We were not coming back from Twickenham with a 0 to our name.
That showed me the spirit in this Ireland camp is good and getting better – for it would have been really easy for this mostly young and inexperienced Ireland team to fold yesterday at 18-0 and we certainly didn’t.
Indeed we ‘won’ the second half 7-6. Not much of a consolation I know, but it is the truth.
But now I have to turn to the really ugly part of the afternoon.
There is no truth in the rumour I’m coming back to play second row against Georgia next Sunday in our next match. But by God we need to do something to stir up our lineout.
It was a shambles yesterday.
I’ve a lot of time for young Ronan Kelleher at hooker – I think he could be a big factor for Ireland over the next decade.
He’s strong, well able to tackle and take on tacklers, yet there is no getting away form it, the Leinster player had a horror show in the line-out yesterday.
He’ll learn from it. If it’s any consolation to Ronan a certain Keith Wood was no William Tell when he first came into the Munster and Ireland teams.
I was lunging after his stray ones.
But Keith worked at it, practised his throwing and went on to have a stellar career.
I’d pick Kelleher against Georgia next weekend. If you take him out of the team now, you could do serious damage to the lad’s confidence.
At least give him a half before bringing Rob Herring in, because he too will be thirsting for a chance to start at hooker after this.
Our jumpers can’t be absolved of blame either.
Kelleher got a couple of throws on the money and James Ryan and the lads didn’t reel them in.
Ryan was up against one of the finest players in the world in Maro Itoje and just couldn’t be the big man for us that he normally us.
But he will have good times as captain and will, I’ve no doubt, be one of the great Ireland captains.
It was a day to store memories for the likes of James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park too.
These lads are used to playing for a Leinster side that dominates matches.
In this one, they found out that top level rugby can be an unforgiving place when you can spend a lot of the game on the back-foot.
Players have to stand up when they are in that situation and indeed it is then that you discover the mettle of the man at your shoulder.
When every hard yard has to be gutted out, when every tackle is going to hurt, that’s when you measure the worth of an international rugby player.
I learned one new thing about James Lowe yesterday – that he has a big boot on him, another string to his bow.
We rarely see the Leinster hit-man having to kick the ball away when playing in Leinster blue – they are always powering forward and looking for tries.
James showed us something else yesterday and that’s what you take out of games such as this one.
Farrell will make lots of changes for next week. We’ve just played Test rugby for four of the last five weekends and it takes a toll.
So I’d give the props a rest, and even though he was solid yesterday, Peter O’Mahony could do with a week off.
Perhaps Bundee Aki is another one who could sit out a weekend as he takes and gives some punishment in every outing.
But with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose out, we’re a bit shy on centres just now.
Maybe Keith Earls, one of our better players at Twickenham, could move in there and thus give Farrell the chance to further experiment with his back three.
Whatever the coach does, we’ve players who’ve been in the Covid bubble now for a long time at Carton House and they will want to start against Georgia.
The older hands could be given a week to rest and recuperate as they will be needed against Scotland, most likely given the way the other group is of this competition is going, on Saturday week.
That will be their chance to put this one behind them.