Andy Farrell should break up the ‘cozy group’ of players in the Irish leadership core ahead of his first Six Nations in charge as head coach, according to Rúaidhrí O'Connor.
The Irish Independent rugby correspondent was speaking on Friday's OTB AM and touched on some of the major decisions Farrell now faces after a disappointing World Cup.
One of the most pressing issues is the choice of scrum-half, with John Cooney in far better form than the incumbent Conor Murray.
“I think it’s one of the major talking points and it’s one of the major barometers of what he’s going to do.
“He’s been involved in a set up where Conor Murray has been an automatic choice since 2016 and has been one of the best players - if not the best player - in the Irish team during most of that time, prior to that neck injury.
“Farrell wants to win the Six Nations and what better start could he get than taking Leinster’s form and putting it into a Six nations and getting a trophy in his first one?
“[Winning the Six Nations would] basically move on from the World Cup and eradicate some of the bad smell that’s been hanging around.
“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Cooney and Carbery - let’s go for it.’ Let’s face it, my head is not on the line. So it’s a difficult call for him,” O’Connor said.
The choice at number nine is not the only conundrum for the new head coach, with decisions to be made at fly-half as a result of Sexton’s potential absence due to injury, as well as in the back row.
“Who’s at 12? Who’s at eight? Does he go for Caelan Doris as the young player at number 8? Which means he probably wants an experienced nine and 10 outside him for his international debut.
“So there’s all different types of scenarios. But if we’re picking an Irish 15 on the season so far, Conor Murray’s not in it. It’s John Cooney. He’s outstanding.
“He’s making some of the same mistakes as Murray - but the next thing he does is almost always a try or a game-saving tackle. His highlights reel is incredible this season.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be picking on highlight reels but we can only see what we see and I think he deserves his chance,” O’Connor said.
While wholesale changes in the Irish team certainly doesn’t guarantee instant success, O’Connor felt that it was imperative to shake things up in an effort to prevent further lethargic performances.
“I think there is a cozy group of Irish players who have been the trusted leadership core of that Ireland set-up for so long and that needs to be broken up a bit.
“There needs to be a bit of fresh life brought into it,” O’Connor commented.