IRISH rugby is banking on IRB intervention to avoid a repeat of this week’s debacle when four English-based players were refused permission to train with the national squad in Limerick.
In the build up to Ireland’s opening international against Canada at Thomond Park tomorrow week, Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers), Bob Casey (London Irish), Mike Ross (NEC Harlequins) and Roger Wilson (Northampton) were barred from travelling to Ireland for a week-long training camp by Premier Rugby Limited (PRL), the organisation run by the English clubs for the clubs.
Eoin Reddan, the Ireland scrumhalf, has a clause in a contract with London Wasps that allowed him to be released but the others, including front-line player Murphy, could lose out when the coach Declan Kidney culls the squad from 43 to 30 today.
Kidney admitted they could be disadvantaged as a result of the PRL action.
“It leaves them behind a bit, not having been present does put them at a disadvantage. We’re not going to use the players (as pawns) in that game. We’ll see who the best players are for next week, but this really isn’t a help to anyone,” said Kidney.
Speaking at the Castletroy Park Hotel yesterday, Irish team manager Paul McNaughton said he hoped the matter will be resolved when the International Board meets with the Premiership clubs early next month.
The meeting has been arranged to hammer out a long-term agreement regarding the release of players for the autumn internationals, the Six Nations Championship and other international commitments.
“We thought we had an agreement with the clubs, but the PRL then got involved and they decided not to release the Irish or Welsh players for this period. It was a surprise because we thought we had them available for two or three days this week. Hopefully the IRB can sort out the matter with the PRL next month,” he added.
New coach Kidney was more enthusiastic about other aspects of the week’s work.
“It has been great; we’re getting lots of new ideas from very experienced people,” he said.
Kidney will embark on his international coaching career at a ground that was his second home for almost a decade as Munster boss.
“Going back to Thomond Park will be a huge honour,” he said. “I’m excited about the stadium itself; the people who have built it have done an extraordinary job in terms of mixing the new with the old. I’ve enjoyed watching the matches there so far although I suppose the seat I’ll have the next time will be a little warmer,” he said.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll was equally enthusiastic about the famous ground. “I played there a couple of times before in an Irish jersey, and it’s a lot different than playing there in blue,” said O’Driscoll.
“To have a Thomond crowd cheering for you is a bit of a novelty, but it’s turned into a fantastic stadium now and I’m looking forward to it as much as anyone,” he said.
It’s likely that Kidney will take this opportunity to blood Keith Earls, Ireland’s latest emerging talent, but he indicated he won’t take any wholesale risks in team selection.
“There’s an onus on us not to hand out any freebies. We have to take into consideration the importance of the game; ranking points for the next World Cup are at stake.
“In relation to the three games this autumn, it’s probably the most important because of the way the IRB ranking system works. It really is like a mini World Cup pool because that’s the competition we’re trying to qualify for out of this series of games,” he said.
The positive mood in the camp had, said Kidney, come about on the back of big results in Europe from Munster and Leinster and good work in progress in both Ulster and Connacht.
“We’re well aware of what has been going on in Munster and Leinster, but huge credit must go to the people in the other provinces operating with younger and less experienced players,” added the coach.
Kidney’s long-term goal is to keep Ireland at the coal-face of international rugby. “Ireland won three Triple Crown titles in the last eight seasons; that was a great achievement. Our job is to add to that, our job is to bring new players into the squad, guys that will change the shape of the team and maybe the way we play,” he said.
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