Will Ireland keep faith in Andrew Trimble for the toughest test of their 6 Nations season?
Can we believe coach Declan Kidney will stand by the Ulster wing for Saturday’s clash against France at Stade de France in Paris?
Out of the mess of Saturday’s unconvincing, scrappy 29-11 win over Italy at Croke Park, Dublin, it is hard to know which way Kidney will lean.
Will he stand by Trimble, who was not exposed during Saturday’s 6 Nations opener?
Or will he opt for Keith Earls, controversially omitted by Kidney in favour of Trimble, but brought onto the field after 55 minutes of Saturday’s Test?
Trying to second guess the intentions of the Irish coach is a mug’s game at the best of times. In this case it is especially difficult.
Trimble let no-one down in Saturday’s opener.
True, it was far from a convincing Irish performance. And Trimble was not quite the all-consuming force he has been of late for Ulster.
He did his best, tried to stay busy. But in a game which was always tight and when Ireland never quite felt far enough ahead and in sufficient control to throw caution to the winds, it was a difficult day for the men out wide.
Then, when Trimble departed, coach Kidney citing “his tight hamstring” as a reason for his early departure, Earls, the Munster man, came on to make an impression. Earls takes the ball at pace and tries to hit the line hard, with real meaning. He can break a half tackle and get through some traffic, an eye-catching trait. But is he the man for Paris?
For me, it all depends on what sort of game Kidney wants his team to play in Paris.
If he intends to go there and attack the French, to run back the ball kicked at full-back Rob Kearney and use his back three to punch holes in the French defence, then it could be he’ll go for Earls.
But if he wants a tougher presence out on the wing, someone to keep things tight, be competitive and search for opportunities even when he isn’t in possession, it may be that Trimble will be the man.
There was certainly no doubting Trimble’s commitment on Saturday. Dumped in a tough, head-on tackle the first time he received the ball, the Ulsterman came back for more.
Ten minutes later, he hit Italian fly half Craig Gower with a shuddering tackle, the impact knocking the Australian off his feet in a dramatic hit.
Trimble played a key role in Ireland’s first try, taking a super, inviting flat pass from Ronan O’Gara and racing into space.
He was caught, just, by Italian full-back Luke McLean but the ball was moved on and a few phases later, thanks to Brian O’Driscoll’s brilliant, instant off-load, No. 8 Jamie Heaslip scored wide out.
Trimble certainly wanted to try things: he went for a little chip over a flat, on-coming defence, although that didn’t work. And when he caught Tito Tebaldi’s kick ahead, he launched an immediate counter attack with a safe catch and clever, swerving run into the Italian defence.
But would it all be enough to convince Declan Kidney of his credentials for Paris, for the highlight of Ireland’s season this coming Saturday?
That’s the $64,000 question and Kidney wasn’t giving anything away on Saturday evening. He wasn’t even sure it had been a decent display.
“Frustrating” he said, several times, and he was right.
But the question remained on everyone’s lips.
Was this some giant con, some outrageous attempt to pull the wool over French eyes and kid them into thinking Ireland won’t have much to offer this weekend?
And then, when they get to Paris and claim a status as underdogs, the Irish attack from deep, counter attack with ball in hand. All the things they didn’t do on Saturday.
This weekend will tell us in so many ways.