The debate rages from day to day, week to week, month to month... Ian Keatley or JJ Hanrahan at out-half for Munster? It puts those of us old enough to remember in mind of the Ollie Campbell-Tony Ward argument back in the 1980s.
Based on the evidence of the latter end of the season and what we have seen so far this campaign, Keatley appears to be the preferred option. And, yet, were it not for Hanrahan’s magnificent individual try at Perpignan after coming into last season’s Heineken Cup game as a replacement, there would have been no quarter-final rout of Toulouse and no semi-final thriller against Toulon.
Keatley looks set for further European action against Sale on Saturday week and Saracens on October 25 as Hanrahan doesn’t make his first start until tomorrow against Scarlets.
Nevertheless, some believe both men could be accommodated by naming Hanrahan in the No 12 shirt. Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock considered it his best position during his outstanding Junior World Cup in South Africa a few years back.
When asked this week to name his preference, JJ wasn’t giving too much away: “Centre or out-half? Matt Giteau [Australia and Toulon] is a great player and what would you say he is, a 10 or a 12? I don’t know. I think I know what I am.
“If the coaches want me to play a different role, I’ll just have to fit into the team structure. I know where I want to be but at the end of the day, it’s a team game and you have to fit into the team.”
The 23-year-old Kerryman makes light of the significance of the penalty he landed within minutes of his introduction against Leinster last week.
“It was good to get into a game like that and have a penalty that counts even though we were a good few scores ahead,” he said. “It settled a few nerves because we had two sin bins and they were hammering our line. Everybody on the sideline was itching to get in there. Big decisions were made during the week and guys wanted to really put a stamp on it, especially when you’re ahead by a few scores, you really want to get into a game like that. And then being under the cosh in the last 20 minutes, you want to be in there to try and save the team.
“Sometimes there’s a bit of fear factor. You wonder if I will be able for it but at the same time you want to get on there. One thing I’ve learned is that a game always looks harder on the sideline. We went up there with a job to do.
“A lot of guys had things to prove in terms of Ireland shirts. Munster were once regarded as the best team in Ireland and now that perception might not be out there and with good reason because we haven’t been getting the results. That game is a stepping stone to where the organisation wants to go and where we want to be.”
JJ insists Munster realise that another home loss against Scarlets tomorrow night would undo a lot of what was achieved at the Aviva last week.
“There is always pressure in Thomond Park, a fear I suppose of losing in front of your own fans. It’s a case of trying to turn that fear into a positive thing. You never want three losses at home in Munster.
“The Leinster game is now parked, it has to be with the group of teams we are playing next. It was great for us, put a bit of belief in the squad, prove to ourselves that we could do it and some fellas might have needed that.”
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