Irish coach Declan Kidney has hinted at changes for the Six Nations Championship match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 27.
With the dream of a second Grand Slam in three years now over following Sunday afternoon’s 25-22 defeat by France in Dublin, Kidney appears to have offered others hope that they could be included in Edinburgh a week on Sunday.
As a result this weekend’s Magners League fixtures now have assumed even greater importance for Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht players knocking on the Ireland team’s door.
Asked if he would persist with those who scraped a 13-11 victory over Italy in Rome before losing a match they ought to have won against the French at the weekend, Kidney said: “I would have faith in them.”
However he threw others a lifeline by adding: “But two weeks is going to be a long time.
“There’s a whole series of Magners League matches next weekend; it’s only fair to look at the lads who didn’t start today, see how they go in those and see what they can contribute.”
With Ireland scheduled to play Wales at the Millennium Stadium on March 12, two of the four Irish provinces face Welsh opponents this weekend — Ulster are away to Scarlets, while Leinster travel to Cardiff Blues.
Munster and Connacht have home dates with Scottish opponents, Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively.
“There’s always a trade-off between having the same 15 all the time and consistency of performance as against bringing in a player who can maybe put a bit of a spark in things,” Kidney reasoned.
If he decides to freshen his team up, Ulster’s Andrew Trimble could benefit.
He missed out against Italy after suffering a hairline fracture of a bone in his left hand whilst on Ulster duty against Aironi and although he had recovered, he did not make the match-day 22 for the French game.
Not having played since January 22, Trimble needs game-time, for which reason he is likely to face Scarlets on Friday night.
Ulster midfielder Paddy Wallace is another who would hope to be promoted in Kidney’s pecking order, or — in the event of him continuing in the role of a back three replacement — at least given a little more time on the pitch to make an impact.
Wallace replaced Gordon D’Arcy — who had a nightmare — in the 77th minute against Italy in Rome and then, at the weekend, spent the entire French match watching from the bench.
Sunday saw Kidney make two very late substitutions; Sean Cronin replaced hooker Rory Best with under five minutes remaining, while Leo Cullen’s introduction for Paul O’Connell was made with eight seconds to go.
In the Aviva Stadium stands the second of those decisions, in particular, had patrons questioning the thinking behind making a change with 79:52 minutes on the clock.
In contrast, Kidney’s French counterpart, Marc Lievremont, deployed a trio of replacements around the 50-minute mark and immediately he was rewarded with a try by Maxime Medard, converted by Dimitri Yachvili, one of that trio of newcomers.
That meant Ireland were 22-15 in arrears when Kidney made his first change — Tom Court for Cian Healy in the 56th minute.
Defending his use of the bench Kidney said: “There’s no empirical evidence to say which is the right or the wrong thing to do.
“France emptied their bench, I didn’t. I had a good check on how the players were going through the game. It was a fairly stop-start game in terms of penalties, scrums, injuries. All the lads were going well.
“An obvious one (change) maybe would have been to bring Denis (Leamy) on for Jamie (Heaslip), but then Jamie was up at the goal line with four minutes to go, chasing the ball (and scoring). Leo (Cullen) brings a lot of things into it, but Paul (O’Connell) and Donncha (O’Callaghan) were going well as a pair.
“It’s not a case of not trusting the lads on the bench; it’s a case of trusting the fellas on the pitch.
“Defensively we were very sound, there were aspects of their (France’s) play that we managed to nullify and if you change things around what would the effect on that be?”