In a shock development, Peter O’Mahony was yesterday released from the Irish camp preparing for Saturday’s clash with Australia and will now lead Munster against Treviso in the Guinness PRO12 at Thomond Park on the same day.
There was general expectation that O’Mahony would, at the very least, be a member of the 23-strong Irish squad for the Wallabies game, all the more so because of a doubt about the fitness of CJ Stander who suffered a concussion in last week’s game against New Zealand. It now looks as if Stander will be available to face the Aussies and that Josh Van Der Flier will either start that game or come in off the bench as he did so effectively against the All Blacks.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt obviously believes that O’Mahony, who captained Ireland to a big win over Canada a couple of weeks ago and looked in outstanding fettle in doing so, would benefit from more game-time as he fights his way back to full match fitness. However, one can only imagine the frustration the Cork Constitution man is enduring given the brave, 12-month long battle he had to wage to shake off the effects of a serious knee injury. A PRO12 encounter with Treviso in front of a sparsely attended Thomond Park is a long way short of an all-out Test match against the Grand Slam-seeking Wallabies at a sold-out Aviva Stadium.
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus wasn’t complaining on hearing the news: “Peter will be available against Treviso and also John Ryan, Jack O’Donoghue, Billy Holland, Dave Kilcoyne, Rory Scannell, and Darren Sweetnam. We will still miss a few but it’s nice to have senior players back. Obviously, they get confidence from training with the national side and being coached by Joe and playing with and against world-class players. When they come back to our set-up, it helps the younger guys to rub shoulders with them and learn from them.
“Every player wants to play for Ireland. When you get a call-up, even if it’s just for a training camp, it makes you feel you must be close, otherwise they wouldn’t invite you. So I think what Joe is doing is great, in starting guys in training sessions and video sessions. And the more Munster boys, the better.”
Further good news for Munster facing into Saturday’s game is the return to full fitness of the South African Jean Kleyn and Clonmel’s Dave Foley, who may comprise a new second-row partnership against the Italians having recovered from ankle and shoulder injuries. It will be some time, though, before James Cronin, Dave O’Callaghan, Francis Saili, Duncan Casey and Mike Sherry can be considered.
Erasmus was hugely impressed at how a number of those who could be considered fringe players performed in the recent victory over the touring Maori All Blacks.
Given that he has a whole host of outstanding back-row forwards at his disposal and accommodating them all promises to be a bit of a headache, you sense Erasmus is waiting somewhat impatiently for Robin Copeland, man of the match against the Maori, to demonstrate his outstanding qualities on a weekly basis.
“When I came here, everyone told me Copey was a great athlete which he is,”said Erasmus. “When he puts his head down and does what he’s great at, he’s a fantastic rugby player. What we as coaches must get right is to let him do what he’s really good at which is running with the ball in open space, making good decisions in defence and being really physical when he’s got the ball. With that speed, power and size, he should really be a devastating player, not every now and then, but consistently. I think that’s his challenge now, to be consistent. If he can do it against the Maori, he should be able to do it against most teams.”
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