Barnes: Irish may rue national priority

SKY SPORTS pundit Stuart Barnes yesterday questioned Ireland’s philosophy of country above province as the 2011 World Cup looms.

Former England and Lions out-half Barnes said he has a problem with rugby being run just for the benefit of international teams and suggested if Ireland had a poor World Cup in New Zealand next year, the support base could be compromised.

“I would worry Munster and Leinster start to struggle because Declan (Kidney) and his team were making decisions that aren’t (still) going to take Ireland beyond a quarter-final. Long term, and in the same way you might take footballers out of the Premiership clubs before a World Cup because England put all the resources into that competition and then cock up as they always do, it mightn’t be the best way to go about it.

“What sustains sport is the week-by-week sport; it’s not what happens every four years. I can understand what Declan (and Ireland) are doing. God knows, Martin Johnson and all the previous English coaches would have loved it but, as anyone will tell you, the more England seem to get their players, the worse they seem to be.

“England demanded it (of the clubs) and they seem to have them for hours and hours but it doesn’t make any difference.

“If there is a weakness in this plan, you ask the question whether it’s better to go in under-cooked or to go in slightly battered? My personal view is on the side of game time for the players.” The always outspoken Barnes was present alongside fellow Sky presenters Dewi Morris and Paul Wallace at a function where the television giant outlined plans for 3D rugby programming.

Munster’s away Heineken Cup game to London Irish will have a 3D viewing option, the first rugby match to be so featured.

Wallace added his views and suggested to Kidney that the matter of country before province be monitored over the season rather than making hard and fast rules on the issue. He said it was the provinces and the players at that level that provided the impetus for Ireland’s recent elevation into the top rankings of the sport.

“For instance,” he said: “I think Brian O’Driscoll plays better when he plays a lot of games; but if guys have been carrying injuries then the rule is not to push them too quickly. I think, though, that guys need to get back playing and when they probably need to be rested is later in the year.

“There’s a lot of catch-up to do this season because the game has changed a lot over the summer and they (players) need to get up to speed with that. The success of Irish rugby came largely through the success of Irish provinces and we should remember there is a loyalty there to the provinces.

“Leinster, for instance, are going to have one game now when they will have a full side, and that’s if they have actually got a full side, before the Heineken Cup. That’s no way to be going into a Heineken Cup campaign.”


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