Confusion reigned during a bewildering Ireland team announcement today that centred around the identity of their fly-half for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with France.
Head coach Declan Kidney gave four different answers across three separate media briefings as to who will fill the number 10 jersey at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
Adding yet another twist to a championship that has fallen into disarray, Kidney confirmed that he may be forced to recall Ronan O’Gara just four days after omitting the country’s most capped player from an extended squad.
Ireland’s medical team ruled out Jonathan Sexton this morning, deciding his hamstring needed a further week of rehabilitation, leaving Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan as the alternatives.
However, Jackson sustained a hamstring strain himself in training yesterday and is a slight doubt to continue in the position he filled with mixed success on his debut at Murrayfield.
Should Jackson fail to recover – he is expected to train on Thursday – then Madigan will start with Ireland turning to O’Gara in a remarkable comeback for a player whose Test obituary was only being written at the weekend.
A vast injury list has transformed a critical Six Nations for Kidney, who is out of contract in the summer, into a fire-fighting exercise, but the mixed messages coming from the coach today were baffling.
First he confirmed Jackson would start, but then stated that a decision between who of Jackson and Madigan would be given the nod would be made tonight.
A few minutes later the call had been put back to Thursday and finally he announced that he knew the identity of his fly-half, but he wanted to speak to the two players first before making it public.
The reality is that Jackson will start if fit with the uncapped Madigan on standby should he fail to recover, with the latter scenario resulting in the return of O’Gara.
Ireland were adamant yesterday that O’Gara’s Test career was not over, despite awful substitute displays against England and Scotland that resulted in him being axed from the national set up for the first time in 13 years.
The Munster veteran, who turns 36 on Thursday, might be offered an immediate reprieve, however.
“Absolutely not would I mind asking Ronan back, I’d be delighted. There was no fun whatsoever in leaving him out,” Kidney said
“I’d only be too delighted. It wouldn’t be an awkward conversation from my side, absolutely not.
“I’m sure he’d love to play for Ireland, he’s always loved playing for Ireland and he’d continue to do that.
“Ronan will have been disappointed. You don’t give the type of service that Ronan has given and not be disappointed.
“It’s the role of the coach to make these calls and I felt Ian had been going well and deserved his chance.
“But it’s unfair to put Ronan in that spotlight. Everybody is centrally contracted, so everyone is available to play for Ireland at any stage.
“We have 20 guys on standby. We’d call someone in when needs be. Everyone is alerted.”
The self-generated chaos over who will play fly-half is symptomatic of a Six Nations campaign that started brightly in Cardiff before unravelling amid a host of injuries, poor tactics, erratic leadership and poor play.
And it could deteriorate further with defeat to France – a team they have beaten once in 13 meetings since 2003 – nudging them on a wooden spoon collision course with Italy on the final day of the championship.
In total there are three confirmed changes to the starting XV defeated by Scotland, among them Fergus McFadden’s selection on the right wing after Craig Gilroy failed to recover from his groin strain.
Cian Healy is restored at loosehead prop after completing his suspension for stamping against England on February 10, replacing Tom Court.
Lock Mike McCarthy has recovered from the knee ligament damage sustained in the loss to Stuart Lancaster’s Grand Slam-chasing team, so Donncha O’Callaghan drops down to the bench.
Substitute prop Declan Fitzpatrick has also been ruled out with a calf strain and his replacement has yet to be announced.