Now begins race for World Cup rugby selection

Dawn broke yesterday morning and with it the realisation there are still up to 10 weeks of club rugby to be negotiated before Ireland’s Six Nations champions and their contemporaries around the provinces can clock off for a summer break.

For those who played only bit parts in Saturday’s defeat of Scotland, this week brings with it the promise of yet more training and, more importantly, more match time as Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht return to PRO12 action next Friday and Saturday.

And then there are those who spent Ireland’s match days on the outside looking in — of which there are many.

Joe Schmidt named an initial 46-man panel for the tournament back in January, but only 28 players saw action across the five games.

A lot of pent-up frustration could be released this weekend. In all four province there are men chomping at the proverbial bit to lay down their own markers ahead of the looming World Cup in England and the four warm-up matches that precede them.

All will have felt frustrated as events unfolded last Saturday, but none more than Richardt Strauss, whose TV vigil was interrupted by a call from his wife whose car window had been smashed and handbag stolen while out walking the dog in a park.

“I obviously had to clear it out and cover up the windows as best I could,” said Strauss who missed most of the Ireland game as a result.

“Yeah, it wasn’t a great Saturday afternoon for me but that happens, I suppose, and you just get over it and move on.”

So many of his fellow players who featured in camp but failed to play a part in the Six Nations will be saying much the same now that the focus has returned to the club scene.

Among them will be Strauss’ Leinster colleague Dave Kearney.

Kearney and Andrew Trimble benefited from the injuries of others to play all five Six Nations games last year before losing out as a result of their own ailments in 2015.

Theirs is a snapshot of the levels of competition in the national squad.

Schmidt’s selection of Luke Fitzgerald last weekend, while harsh on Simon Zebo, only added to the impression of a panel where the walls are permeable and players can drift in as easily as they can out. Hope for everyone, then?

“If anything it’s a great motivation for the players and for guys who have unfortunately missed out on being involved with Ireland,” said Dave Kearney. “It gives great motivation to put your hand up for selection further down the line.”

What this Six Nations triumph doesn’t guarantee is that the next two months and more will see the rising of the provincial tides. Too often in the past, the fortunes of club and country have been chalk and cheese for any such illusions to remain.

Yet, the hope is Ireland’s form will carry over into the PRO12 in the shape of the country’s leading individual players, among them Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy who returned from long-term injuries to power Ireland’s pack in Edinburgh.


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