Dave, Tommy and Simon in training in 2012. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Selection headache

Bowe, Kearney and that man Zebo: What Joe Schmidt had to say about Ireland's wing options today

With just four places in the match-day squad up for grabs, the Kiwi coach admits it’s difficult to get the selection balance right.

JOE SCHMIDT TODAY offered little hope, at least publicly, for Simon Zebo’s Six Nations hopes in 2014.

The Munster wing has been in impressive form since returning from injury in January, but was an early absentee from the new coach’s core squad in this international window.

Even with injury to Luke Fitzgerald, Munster’s specialist left wing was omitted in favour of Dave Kearney. And after Ireland managed to force just two scores in Saturday’s defeat to England in Twickenham, the Kiwi’s selection of the back three faced serious questions.

“He’s alongside a number of other players. He’s a player we’re watching really closely,” Schmidt said after being asked where the Corkman featured in his plans.

“I’ve had conversations with Simon, I’ve spoken to him recently. And one of the things about selection is that we believe Dave Kearney has been outstanding so far.

“A couple of his aerial takes at the weekend were outstanding. Some of his ruck work was outstanding. Defensively, his tackle quality’s been good and when there’s been space – or no space – he’s been very elusive.

“Andrew Trimble on the other side continues to be very effective for us as well. He was pretty unlucky, he possibly could have got over [for a try] when the cross-kick came – both wingers have played very, very well.”

Schmidt continued his explanation to take his bench options into account, with the younger Kearney presented as an option to cover fullback despite Simon Zebo’s Test experience (albeit limited) in that role

“One of the other parts of the equation is that, with Paddy Jackson on the bench, Fergus McFadden is carrying 12, 13,11 and 14 because Dave Kearney can shift to fullback. That’s the selection conundrum as openly as I can explain it.”

Of course, were Schmidt to select Ian Madigan among the replacements then the 23rd man could be a player with a different skill-set to McFadden. However, that’s a conversation which is not likely to arise until the Leinster man is consistently viewed as his own side’s first-choice out-half.

One man who – barring a spate of injuries – apparently won’t be handed a recall this month is Tommy Bowe. The Ulster winger suffered a groin injury in the November defeat to New Zealand and, despite, the two-time Lion edging closer to fitness, Schmidt says he won’t risk rushing Bowe into a premature return.


“Tommy is making really good progress. he’s back on the field training now with Ulster. If he could make the game  this weekend, then there would be a possibility [of playing against Italy], but to be honest, we’d rather Tommy got himself 100% right than risk it.

“These groin injuries can be very difficult to get rid of and so we want Tommy to be 100% right before he comes back and certainly Ulster would believe the same because they’ve got some very big games coming up. If it means that he misses the last two Championship games, but is fully fit for our tour in June, then we’d take that.

“It’s disappointing he hasn’t got back in time, because he’s a real quality player. As are a few other players who are now back… and I’ve explained that conundrum.”

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