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'That's out of our hands' - Ireland internationals missing at Thomond Park

The IRFU’s management of their leading internationals meant some high-profile absentees last night.

Peter O'Mahony and Paul O'Connell watched the match with Andy Lee.
Peter O'Mahony and Paul O'Connell watched the match with Andy Lee.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IN THE END, Munster fans went home extremely happy, but pre-match frustrations around the missing names lingered.

The IRFU’s player welfare programme deprived one of the highest-profile inter-provincial fixtures of the season of its biggest stars, while the Ulster v Connacht clash was also shorn of a handful of leading international players.

Anthony Foley stated afterwards that it had been good for the likes of Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony to watch Munster’s meeting with Leinster from the stands, while it turned out the southern province didn’t need them on the pitch.

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor was forced to leave big names such as captain Jamie Heaslip, hooker Sean Cronin, tighthead Mike Ross and fullback Rob Kearney at home for this defeat.

Speaking post-match, the Australian agreed that supporters had some basis for being frustrated.

That’s out of our hands,” said O’Connor. “It’s disappointing for the fans. You’ve got a full house here for a Leinster – Munster game, it would be a shame not to have the biggest names playing, but it was a fantastic occasion out there.

“I think the fans enjoyed themselves and it’s not necessarily in our power to change those things.”

Ireland international Ian Madigan did play for Leinster at out-half, but his performance was only an “adequate” one, according to O’Connor. His lack of game time in the 10 shirt contributed to that, but Leinster’s head coach also indicated that Ireland involvements this week had not been ideal.

Robbie Henshaw Robbie Henshaw helped out at Ravenhill last night. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I thought Mads was ok. You don’t want to be too critical of Mads relative to the amount of time he’s had there. Due to circumstance, it hasn’t been enough. As a result, he was a little bit rusty.

“He hasn’t had a fantastic training week given the nature of where we’re at with Christmas and the national camp, and everything else.”

Clearly, both coaches would have preferred a distraction-free week of training and a full hand in terms of selection for this crucial Guinness Pro12 fixture, but Ireland’s policy of protecting its international players ruled out again.

It’s difficult to accurately assess how valuable these rest weekends are for Ireland’s best players, although strong Six Nations performances would provide some justification for the decision to remove them from such a highly-anticipated Pro12 game.

We can rest assured that Ireland’s strength and conditioning specialist Jason Cowman and the medical team around him have tallied up the physical benefits of holding international players back at this time.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will have been relieved the likes of O’Connell were spared the huge collisions of yesterday evening’s meeting in Thomond Park, particularly with such a taxing 2015 ahead.

Others might argue that those big moments of contact, in a high-pressure derby game, are exactly what is needed by Ireland’s players on a more regular basis.

There was, of course, frustration and disappointment surrounding yesterday’s inter-pro derbies, but continued success for Ireland will justify these decisions to rest their key men at pre-identified points in the season.

What was your take on the absence of some of the top international players yesterday? Was it the right call from the IRFU?

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Murray Kinsella

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