Keith Wood was a member of three Irish World Cup squads and he admits that the thoughts of going to the latest tournament with just two specialists in such a specialist position as scrum-half makes him uncomfortable.
Joe Schmidt threw that very curveball earlier this week by naming just Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan in his panel of 31 with that pair relying on the ever more versatile Ian Madigan as back-up for the event that starts in England later this month.
Surprise at news of the scrum-half situation was matched only by eyebrows raised at the omission of Ulster’s Andrew Trimble, with the winger falling foul of injury at the wrong time and thus paying the price in what was the most competitive department, the back three.
“I’m pretty much with everybody else,” said Wood when asked about the squad at TV3’s autumn schedule launch at the Aviva Stadium. “If you are looking at it you would have huge sympathy for Andrew Trimble. He is a guy I would rate very highly.
“(The injury happened at) just such a horrible time, when you are coming up to a World Cup. You could only get one opportunity to play in one. But also knowing the way World Cups pan out, there will be injuries. You don’t want to wish it on anybody, but you could well see him yet.
“The other one of course is the surprise over only having the two scrum-halves. I would be uncomfortable with that. I am. If a guy gets injured he could be out for a couple of weeks. You then have to get somebody else in and (the original player) is gone out of the squad.
“I wouldn’t like that to be the situation.”
Again, like most people, Wood is of the opinion that Schmidt has earned the benefit of the doubt given his CV with Leinster and the national team since arriving in Ireland, especially for a task as complicated and subjective as this has been.
“There was an element of rolling the dice but, you know what, when you look down through the squad… I picked none of them publicly because I hate that stuff, but I picked about seven or eight squads myself on permutations and trying to figure it out.
“Something has to give somewhere, even if I wouldn’t have had it in a technical position,” said Wood who will be one of TV3’s analysts for the tournament. “But they are the decisions that coaches make and they have to deal with it.”
Darren Cave, one of the surprise inclusions, made at least one of those hypothetical squads that Wood kept under lock and key and the pundit understands the logic behind including a recognised centre while infusing versatility elsewhere.
“The idea of having an out-and-out straight centre as cover (is a good one) and Joe said this yesterday at his press conference: his two centres are ‘manufactured’ centres. Now that sounds like a criticism, it is not a criticism.
“Australia are a team I would look at most closely with Ireland, in terms of playing numbers of players and all of that stuff. Their players are ‘interchangeable’. They say ‘interchangeable’ not ‘manufactured’. That is the difference.”
One man who isn’t interchangeable is a successor of Wood’s at hooker: Rory Best. The Ulsterman remains the only front-liner, aside from the recovering Cian Healy, who has yet to feature in any of the three warm-ups as the last trial run approaches against England this Saturday.
Ireland are better served at number two than they are at centre what with Best, Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss available but the absence thus far of Best has not gone unnoticed ahead of today’s team announcement.
“When we look at something we all start becoming conspiracy theorists. We are looking at things and saying ‘why is that decision being made?’ What I would say is that there is a comfort and a discomforture with this idea.
“You expect the coaches to have all the information and, of course, we don’t, about the make-up. You would expect players to be far closer to fitness and the level of protection involved. I wouldn’t be reading anything into that too early.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved