Field urges Ireland boss Schmidt to show faith in fringe players
Former Ireland centre Maurice Field was already reflecting on a lost opportunity on English soil as he settled down with his family to watch Ireland's Triple Crown showdown with the old enemy last weekend.
A heartbreaking last-minute defeat in the annual fundraising Legends' blowout at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday evening made him feel all of the 50 years he celebrated with so many former comrades.
Events that unfolded less than 24 hours later in the same corner of South West London did little to alleviate bruised bones or egos.
"I thought it was a lost opportunity in so many ways," says the former Malone centre. "Not least because, if Owen Farrell had been binned for his late hit, Ireland could have won the match."
But it was the punishment dished out to Jonny Sexton, who visibly wilted as the game went on, that annoyed Field even more, watching agog as the reserve Ireland out-half, Paddy Jackson, remained benched.
The post-match discussions concerning Sexton have done few favours to those centrally involved. Although most supporters divined that the Racing Metro star was injured, the IRFU and their coaches withheld this information.
It was only yesterday that confirmation belatedly emerged of an injury – we were told he had a gammy hand – prompting inevitable discussion about why, or from whom, this information was deemed unfit for revelation.
For former Belfast fireman Field, who felt that Sexton's injury may have been of a more serious nature – he suggests a knock to the head – it prompted a more obvious inquiry.
Why was Jackson, the nominated and presumably trusted alternative, not produced into the fray when it was clear that Sexton's efforts were exponentially enervating the out-half?
"It seemed to me that Sexton took a knock to the head and was a wee bit groggy and it made you wonder is he that far ahead of Paddy, even in that condition," says Field.
"For so long, there was parity between the Irish competing out-halves, whether it was David Humphries and Ronan O'Gara or Ronan and Jonny.
"Personally, given what was happening to Jonny, I would have thought it was prudent for Joe Schmidt to bring Paddy on.
"Mike Brown was being allowed to have a field day because the kicks weren't good enough to allow the Irish chasers to put pressure on him running back.
"And if it was a hand injury, then that's something you're going to be really conscious of. It affects your ability to distribute.
"Only Joe can answer the question, but it's a 23-man game these days and you have got to have trust in the bench. Otherwise, why have them there?"
The main concern is that Jackson's potential has been undermined by being relegated to second-choice place-kicker at Ulster to Ruan Pienaar.
"Sure, that has to be part of an out-half's weaponry," admits Field. "And maybe Paddy has been stifled by that, although there are other place-kicking options, particularly Rob Kearney from distance."
Field believes that, for all the anguish over last weekend's defeat, the championship is still more of a likelihood than not and, although he demurs at talk of the absence of the 'X-factor,' he feels that Jackson starting against Italy is an option worth exploring.
"Sometimes it needs a player to be honest and say: 'Look, I don't think I'm 100 per cent here'," he says.
"Hopefully, he can come through this injury in time for Saturday week against Italy. But I think it might be a good idea to start Paddy in those circumstances, because you can always bring Jonny in off the bench.
"Italy are fraying at the edges a little bit and they always seem to struggle when it gets to this stage of the championship in terms of their form and strength in depth.
"Ireland didn't play all that badly. I wouldn't be keen on making wholesale changes.
"There's been talk about Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald, but it's all about settled combinations for Ireland now.
"Joe has demonstrated that he will give players a chance. He has done so with Andrew Trimble and he has taken that chance."
Extending that faith to his entire squad, insists the 17-times capped Malone man, will be the key to maintaining their stranglehold on the championship.