Kidney now has to give Trimble a chance at Six Nations
The speculation ends today when the Irish team to face Italy is named.
These are heady days for rugby followers in Ireland, of course. As Grand Slam, Churchill Cup, Heineken Cup and Magners League winners in 2009, the time for encores has come.
Coach Declan Kidney’s counterparts will be envious of the array of talent he has at his disposal. He holds a magnificent hand in the form of quality players whose mental and physical strength has been fully tested in the heat of battle on a number of fronts.
They have proved themselves and, having done so, now have the honours and scars to show for it. It’s a highly potent cocktail of ability, success and experience.
It’s a five-game series, of course, which will mean changes along the way. There will be injuries. There may be players who don’t quite measure up and find themselves being left out of the next match as a result. Conversely there are likely to be challenges mounted by others whose appetites and attitudes in training demand recognition. These players are big, proud men. So while the physical pain of injury-enforced omission hurts, exclusion on the grounds of performance is harder to take.
Man-management skills are all-important in an environment of tough decisions and big calls. Only a masochist would envy Kidney at such moments.
There are players whose place in the starting line-up can be taken as read. Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe would start in anyone’s back three. That’s 15 and 14 sorted.
Not quite so clear cut at 11, however, with Leinster’s Shane Horgan and Munster’s Keith Earls presenting strong cases for themselves.
Maybe it’s a subconscious Ulster bias, but the player to whom I would hand that jersey is Andrew Trimble.
Having come through protracted injury and a resultant loss of form and confidence, he has emerged from the long, dark tunnel and now is back to the form that two years ago used to see his name written on the team sheet ahead of Bowe. He’d be my number 11.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll is the best number 13 in world rugby. Indeed, currently he is viewed as being the best player rugby player on the planet. Obviously he plays.
A midfield partner? Fellow-Leinster centre, Gordon D’Arcy. By this stage their understanding is telepathic. Together they form Ireland’s best centre partnership.
My halves? Tomas O’Leary immediately behind the pack, with Jonathan Sexton outside him.
Sexton has it all — pace, great hands, good defence and a superb kicker out of hand and off the tee.
My front three would be Tom Court, Jerry Flannery and John Hayes.
Cian Healy, I know, is the new darling of the Dublin media and I agree that he is a very fine loose head who, at 22, has time on his side and may become a great.
But he is not quite there yet.
In contrast, Court is. He has never played better, for as well as being a better scrummager he is the most improved around-the-park player in the country.
At this point I’d choose Flannery ahead of Rory Best simply because after surgery and a seven-month lay-off the Ulster hooker needs a little more time to regain full fitness.
Hayes selects himself. We aren’t exactly snowed under with emerging tight head props.
Munster and 2009 Lions Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul |O’Connell stand up under any scrutiny; there are no better candidates for the Irish numbers four and five jerseys.
A fit Stephen Ferris would wear six, with David Wallace packing down on the open side and Jamie Heaslip between those flankers in a skilled, mobile and aggressive back row.
Of course, Kidney may not necessarily agree with my starting line-up and in the final analysis it’s his call, not mine. He will have time in the next few weeks to reassess, however!
CROZIER’S TEAM: R Kearney, T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, A Trimble, J Sexton, T O’Leary; T Court, J Flannery, J Hayes, P O’Connell, D |O’Callaghan, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.