Former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll joined Off The Ball this week to discuss Ben Healy.
Ireland suddenly have a lot of out halves.
Ben Healy is pushing Joey Carbery for the number 10 jersey in Munster. Ross Byrne and Harry Byrne are pushing each other (when healthy) to be the second starter alongside Jonathan Sexton in Leinster. Billy Burns and Jack Carty remain on the periphery as Connacht and Ulster starters.
The question for Brian O'Driscoll is not if anyone can replace Sexton now. The question is who can be in the squad for the next world cup.
That is how decisions on players need to be made now.
“Is Ben Healy likely to be in the 33-man squad for the rugby world cup?” O'Driscoll asked.
“You've got to work backwards. All coaches have to do that. We're two years out from the Rugby World Cup so there's a huge amount of development can happen in that time. You don't want to be dramatic because players can always limp in just in the rounds beforehand, but ultimately you don't want that happening in key positions.
“It happened with Conor Murray in 2011, that he got into the squad having just been capped in the warm-up game. They're unusual circumstances."
Healy has time so he won't need to limp into the squad. But O'Driscoll compares him to Murray because we're still yet to see enough of him at the provincial level to be certain.
"He's played for his provincial team, he's shown this huge consistency of performance and confidence. But whereas you look at all of the other 10s, they've gone very well for a period of time and then there's a stumbling.
“It creates an uncertainty in all of our minds and no doubt in Andy Farrell and the coaching staff."
In 23 games for Munster, Healy has been very good. But those are mostly domestic games and 23 games is not a lot. The 22-year-old needs to play more, although there may be one argument for picking him right now regardless.
O'Driscoll belives that the Ireland coaching staff are still focused on winning games now over developing for the World Cup.
"They're still thinking short-term victories to make sure they're still in their gig in two years, but ultimately they've got to start working backwards from the World Cup to now.”
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) October 10, 2021
So if Healy is simply a better player right now than a Carty, Burns, Byrne or Byrne, he should be the third out half in the squad. France have shown what trusting youth can do for an international team.
O'Driscoll however would note that France are the exception rather than the rule.
“It's all well and good being a consistent performer at URC level or even European level, but it's just such a huge step up into international level. It's why so many players fall by the wayside...You don't fluke your way to 100 test matches at half back in an international jersey."
Still, with Healy, Carbery and Sexton in the squad, Ireland would have a nice balance. Farrell would have his established starter, an emerging middle-aged talent and a young star who could surprise everyone. Ireland can win now and develop for the future if they handle this correctly.
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