Injury was the curtailing factor late last year when the tighthead returned to lock down Joe Schmidt’s scrum but it is a dip in form that may have him turning his attention towards the Six Nations opener against Italy with cobwebs to shift from his feet. Leinster opted for Marty Moore to start against Castres on Saturday and then selected Tadhg Furlong as cover. Neither did anything to reopen the door for the senior man.
It makes for a sudden and dramatic plunge down the pecking order for a man who has been so integral to club and country since moving home from Harlequins just when John Hayes was retiring to his farm in Cappamore.
“There’s a little bit of that and there’s a little bit of needing Marty to play,” said O’Connor. “Because of his injury, he hasn’t had the ability to play minutes this season so the feeling was this week would be a good opportunity to get some minutes. From that end he was pretty accurate. He did a pretty good job for us.
“So, we’ll sit down and work out next week.”
If Ross is overlooked again it will make for an interesting situation for Joe Schmidt who will be asking himself whether it is time to ape Leinster’s promotion of the younger brigade or stick with the nous of the elder statesman.
Not that O’Connor is factoring that in. “It’s probably not a major concern for me. Unfortunately, Joe can pick whoever he likes and he’ll have to make that assessment, but we’ll sit down and assess the situation.
There were countless other Irish subplots at the RDS: Ian Madigan’s return to 12, Gordon D’Arcy’s demotion to the bench, Devin Toner’s towering performance, Rob Kearney’s seamless shift at full-back. Chief maybe among them was another fizzing shift at 13 from Luke Fitzgerald who seems to have put his chronic injury issues behind him with a series of superb displays in the midfield. Same again for Ireland, maybe?
“I keep telling Joe that he’s not good enough to play for Ireland,” joked O’Connor who will lose half his squad to Six Nations duties as of this day next week, “but I don’t know whether he’s going to, believe me or not.”