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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 26 October, 2014

Opinion: Paris beckons, but so does a problem at half back

Pride in the jersey is all well and good, but players should be reminded that it is not theirs to keep, it is only on loan.

Luke Fitzgerald was immovable from the side last year, would he be considered now if fit?
Luke Fitzgerald was immovable from the side last year, would he be considered now if fit?
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

WHATEVER IS IN the material of a modern rugby jersey, it makes it remarkably more difficult to take off than put on.

You stretch and pull and hyperventilate, but it remains gripped tight onto your shoulders and neckline. You’re stuck.

Similarly, it is far more difficult to lose a starting place in the Ireland team than it is to win one.

Before the tournament started, The Score thought it was going slightly mad, imagining that the young up and coming scrum half had transformed into part of the furniture.

Yet, that’s exactly what Conor Murray has become for Ireland and Munster. We’re never happy are we? First, we want the young talent to be blooded and then we decry the same coaches for sticking by them.

There is a balance.

Competition for places, at it’s healthiest, should be just that – competitive. It is based on the ideal that what you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter, it’s about how well you are performing right now or the last time you played a top class match.

Declan Kidney, barring injuries, is today expected to name the same team the third match in a row (counting France twice).  That is a great barometer that the physio and fitness staff are doing a bang up job, but is it cultivating a healthy competition for the jersey.

This is not to slag off Murray, nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to Ireland’s upturn in fortunes, crossing the try line three times after the introduction of Donnacha Ryan and Eoin Reddan. These things happen, fresh legs introduced near the hour mark should always hold an impact like that against inferior opposition.

Conor Murray training today at Carton House, Kildare / ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Murray is a fantastic player with a massive future, but there is a time in every budding career that they must be held back from the limelight. Everything has been experienced, but now is perhaps the time to re-evaluate his game before any more bad habits are picked up.

The quality which Reddan offers should never be underestimated. His are a different set of skills, his extra experience and familiarity in playing alongside Jonathan Sexton gift him an extra assuredness and confidence.

Because Reddan has never been a Kidney favourite: when he has played, he has always been under pressure for his place. Those quick tap penalties, the sudden injections of pace into a stifled game speak of a man who is maximising every appearance in green for fear he may never get another chance.

It takes a very special player to develop that kind of attitude without ever being dropped. Even Brian O’Driscoll was dropped in a Schools Cup semi-final way back when.

Such experiences engender that magical mix of hunger and attention to detail that no amount of face-time with a sports psychologist can replicate. We’re not asking for anyone to be dropped for the sake of it, rather we plead with Kidney that those who are performing very well be promoted and given the opportunity to shine.

The front foot

Reddan has played twice for Ireland at the Stade de France, he is not alone in having a losing record there, but those starts came in 2007 and 2008 when Irish rugby was a at perhaps it’s lowest ebb for a decade.

Reddan puts Ireland on the front foot. It’s not that he can pass, snipe and kick. It’s about knowing when to do which and in the blue flamed pressure of the Stade De France, his advantage in years should be valued enough for a starting berth.

There is argument too, that Ryan should partner Paul O’Connell, that Peter O’Mahoney could come into the back row or that Eoin O’Malley should be give Keith Earls a run for the number 13 jersey.

They are all part of the same principle, bringing in any player, young or old, must not be for the sake of it. They must be selected on merit like everybody else. They must be operating under the same rules and know that: if you under perform, you’re under fire.

Do that, treat them like men and have confidence that if and when a player is dropped: their feelings will be hurt, but not damaged beyond repair.

As things stand, getting cut from the team feels like a personal attack on ones character and everybody starts to feel awkward about it.

It’s difficult enough to take off those wetsuit-like jerseys without feeling like you’re being put in the stocks.

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