Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Ireland look to future in skipper search

Jonathan Sexton is a top contender to captain Ireland

Joe Schmidt is faced with a classic dilemma ahead of Ireland's November Internationals: does he gamble on an unproven captain with an eye on the future or does he hedge his bets by relying on a tried and trusted candidate?

It is not a small decision the Ireland coach faces and, allowing for some contentious squad selections, it's the first call on which he and his stewardship will be judged. The choice is not made easier because of doubts about the availability of some of the outstanding contenders for the first international of the season against Samoa.

Schmidt has favoured appointing a captain from among his forwards in the past and it is unlikely he will depart from that policy, and if you look to the forwards then Paul O'Connell is an obvious stand-out.

Schmidt must take a long-term view, however, and World Cup 2015 is clearly a primary target for him.

CANDIDATES

Paul O'Connell

Age: 34 Caps: 85

Pros: He's a galvanising and unifying force. He lends an immediate gravitas to the post. He is also one of Ireland's few truly world-class players.

Cons: Is he fit? O'Connell has spent much of the last two years injured and is currently struggling with a calf strain. The captain needs to be fit and available for at least 80% of Ireland's matches.

Brian O'Driscoll

Age: 34 Caps: 125

Pros: It's O'Driscoll, enough said. He is a legend and still the best player on the team. He is absolutely qualified. He is the brains of the on-field operation and the players still defer to him during matches.

Cons: This is his last season. The new captain should be at least playing to the World Cup.

Jamie Heaslip

Age: 29 Caps: 57

Pros: He will have learned an awful lot about the role last season and should be a better leader as a consequence.

Cons: He seemed burdened and over-awed by the responsibility initially and his form in green was not what it needed to be.

Rory Best

Age: 31 Caps: 67

Pros: He is experienced and immensely popular with the other players. He would be seen as a unifying force by players and supporters.

Cons: He's not guaranteed his place in the team and the captain needs to be playing. There are bigger personalities within the squad who are possibly better suited to the role.

Rob Kearney

Age: 27 Caps: 46

Pros: He's well respected within the squad. When he's in form he's guaranteed his place in the team and is popular among supporters.

Cons: He's a novice when it comes to captaining his country or province. He's had a few issues with injury and form of late and would probably benefit more without the captaincy, which can become a burden for some.

Jonathan Sexton

Age: 28 Caps: 36

Pros: He's already the team's on-field general and has a phenomenal relationship with the head coach. Sexton is a world-class player and is the undisputed first-choice out-half – and he will be for some time to come.

Cons: He's not playing in Ireland. He has enough responsibility as out-half without being landed with the captain's armband as well.

Peter O'Mahony

Age: 24 Caps: 16

Pros: He's part of the up-and-coming generation and is potentially one of the leaders of the side for years to come. He is highly regarded within the squad and has experience of captaincy with Ireland (underage) and Munster.

Cons: Still learning his craft. He would perhaps be a better pick for the armband after the 2015 World Cup.

Other possible candidates: Sean O'Brien (26 years old, 27 caps), Tommy Bowe (29, 51), Conor Murray (24, 19).

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