Ireland are in a worrisome place in their front row depth, as the injuries to Jeremy Loughman and Cian Healy highlighted against the Māori All Blacks, according to Liam Toland and Fiona Hayes.
Ireland played their first match of their tour in New Zealand against the Māori on Wednesday morning. Both loosehead props, Healy and Loughman, went off injured before the final whistle.
While Loughman's reported concussion does not appear serious, head coach Andy Farrell admitted that they were sweating over the fitness of Healy.
With the first of the three tests against the All Blacks on Saturday, there is a sudden concern over the total number of front rowers currently in the squad.
Former Leinster and Munster loose forward Toland, and Grand Slam winner Hayes agreed that Ireland's depth in the front row was a concern ahead of the World Cup next year.
Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, Toland expressed his concern over the Irish front row depth.
"This Ireland side, ironically, might have a weaker subs bench on the front row than a Leinster would have," Toland said. "It is about the balance and it's a balance they are not getting right at the moment."
Props need to scrum first
Tadhg Furlong has long been considered one of the best props in world rugby. Similarly, the emergence of Andrew Porter as a loosehead has been a breath of fresh air for Leinster and Ireland.
However, Toland feels that the first-choice Irish props are too focused on silky skills as opposed to their actual jobs on the pitch.
"We in Ireland have lost sight of the importance of the scrum," Toland said. "Maybe because we get fatigued by watching resets.
"One of the things I would have observed in the closing weeks of the competitive season is how well the front five bench are being used.
"I think Leinster erred in the European Cup final in not getting fresh legs on. The importance of having props who can come on with 20 minutes or half an hour, to come on and be able to not just do a mediocre job, but actually add value.
"To eke out that scrum penalty or prevent the penalty. It's an enormous thing. It has an enormous impact on the success or failure of this series and ultimately an enormous impact on the success or failure at the World Cup."
For Toland, particularly come World Cup time, the importance of the Irish bench will be evident.
"We play South Africa, with 10 minutes to go, in a play-off at the World Cup," Toland said. "They are going to go for one thing, and that's to eke out scrum penalties.
"The value of a tighthead and the value of a loosehead is enormous. It's nice that they can play rugby, but we need a scrummaging tightead. We don't necessarily have them."
Now is the time to get players game time
For Hayes, the test matches against the All Blacks, as well as the second match against the Māori All Blacks, is the perfect time to blood in and test the so-far untested options at prop.
"Now is the opportunity to get these guys game time against the big teams," Hayes said. "Against the All Blacks who probably wouldn't be as physical as a French scrum or the South African scrum.
"I do think they are going to have fly over a couple of guys. You might see Josh Wycherly going over. If Loughman is out, you are going to need a front row.
"We can't do what Leinster did with Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong. They need to look fresh going into every game, and that probably means coming off around the 55 mark and hopefully staying injury-free as well.
"I think you are going to have to bite the bullet and have all three of that front row off between the 55 and 60 minute mark."
"If we want to be going into a World Cup with a bench that we are delighted and positive can come on and make a difference, it is these tests and in November, they are going to have to get those minutes," Hayes added.
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