FOLLOWING A WEEK overflowing with hope and expectation.
Aspirations which Ulster fell just short of and Leinster triple-jumped across, here we are back with the same old Ireland debacle.
At the announcement, Declan Kidney said he would aim to win the series. It’s empty talk.
He says you cannot experiment against the All Blacks. We’d all like to know who he would experiment against.
Despite three new faces and the return of Dan Tuohy and Darren Cave, the squad is stale. With the old heads in situ it is highly unlikely that we will see many changes when 33 is whittled down to a match-day squad of 22.
The four positions left open have already been ear-marked, but here is who we think should have been involved from the outset.
Ulster’s back-up scrum half is the most likely of this quintet to travel, but he is currently on the provisional Barbarians squad.
The 26-year-old has been tremendous this season, only kept out of the first team by the best number nine in Europe. Ireland is well stocked in this position, but Marshall is approaching his prime and needs to be blooded sooner rather than later.
With Ian Humphreys gone from Ulster, Ruan Pienaar will be needed to cover at fly-half more often, so Marshall will get more opportunity to start next season. Will he still be uncapped when the 2013 Six Nations come around?
Player he should replace: Isaac Boss
McLaughlin has been central to Leinster’s success this season. He gets through a Trojan amount of work at the breakdown and has become a line-out leader for the three-time Heineken Cup champions. Were he in the squad, it would allow Donnacha Ryan settle in at second row.
Player he should replace: Donncha O’Callaghan.
This is the most baffling decision. Kearney was in the golden circle, he made it into the 22 when Keith Earls had to opt out to be with his daughter. And now? Vanished again like Keyser Söze.
With Tommy Bowe still out injured there was always going to be an opening on the wing, but Kidney appears to have marked Fergus McFadden, Simon Zebo and Earls – despite the latter saying he is now uncomfortable in that role after playing centre – for the wide berths.
Kearney can cover fullback and either wing, chosen ahead of him are players who can only fill one place in the back-line.
Player he should replace: Darren Cave
Like Kearney, McCarthy can count himself unlucky. Capped twice in the World Cup warm-ups and twice more in the Six Nations the Connacht stalwart must have sensed his time had arrived when he found he had no case to answer for making contact with the eye area of Tom Ryder and Paul O’Connell suffered his knee injury.
Instead, he is on standby with every other centrally contracted Irish player. Kidney has name-checked Leo Cullen to fill O’Connell’s boots. The old dog for the hard road, but McCarthy, 30, isn’t exactly wet behind the ears.
Player he should replace: Donncha O’Callaghan
Given that they’re on the verge on an unprecedented league and Heineken Cup double, you’ll have to forgive three of these five hailing from Leinster. Paddy Wallace has been in tremendous form also and is unfortunate to be shunned, but in the summer we want to see something fresh. And few give rugby more of an enlightened feel than Madigan.
He may not have much consistency off the tee or in controlling a game, but crikey he’s great to watch with ball in hand – seven tries in the Pro12 this season is testament to that.
The sad fact is, Kidney could not countenance playing a player who offers so little to the Kidney game-plan. Cutting loose and playing it as you see it doesn’t wash with Ireland. Ronan O’Gara is not done yet at international level and he would detest being left out, but we can’t see a scenario where he can spring a shock on the World Champions.
Player he should replace: Ronan O’Gara.
Getting dropped should not signal the automatic end of a career. Kidney sees it differently.
New Zealand can see us coming. It’s nothing they haven’t dealt with before.