Irish Rugby
Cheika: Ireland should have rested stars
August 9, 2010
Leinster coach Michael Cheika offers some instruction, Munster v Leinster, Heineken Cup Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, May 2, 2009
Michael Cheika swapped Leinster for Stade Francais over the course of the summer © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Declan Kidney | Michael Cheika
Tournaments/Tours: Heineken Cup

Former Leinster boss Michael Cheika has questioned the wisdom of Ireland's use of their top players during this summer's disastrous tour of the southern hemisphere.

The Irish suffered a humiliating 66-28 by the All Blacks in New Plymouth before being beaten 22-15 by the Wallabies in Brisbane. Fly-half Ronan O'Gara, who was involved in last year's British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, admitted that he would have preferred to have gone on holiday after a gruelling season and Cheika, now at the helm of Stade Francais, believes that Ireland's finest should have been given the summer off.

"It is hard for the national coaches, these decisions. But if it had been me, I would have thought about resting a few of the guys. Especially the ones that had been on the Lions tour the previous June/July," he told the Irish Independent.

"But it is difficult now because there are contracts saying 'bring your top players or there are penalties'. But no one thinks about that part of it [the players' welfare]. There are other forces at play.

"We are asking too much of the top players. For example, I don't know why Ireland played that Barbarians game. Players know what they need to do now: they are so well prepared, they don't need a game like the Barbarians. Maybe it was arranged by the federation, I don't know. But I don't think they needed that extra game."

In light of the disappointing nature of Ireland's tour, which came on the back of an underwhelming Six Nations campaign, many believe Irish rugby is on the slide. However, Cheika is adamant that Ireland head coach Declan Kidney still has plenty of talent at his disposal.

"I know they didn't have a great World Cup last time and it's not been a great tour this summer," he said. "But that happens and anyway, they have really performed quite consistently on the international stage. What they have also done well is bring more players to the party. A player like John Muldoon will certainly be up to international level: he'll always be up for the battle.

"So, that is something they have done well: they've increased their playing pool. That's partly through provincial rugby getting stronger and partly down to their international set-up getting better."

He continued: "I have seen the younger players coming through in Ireland. If you go back and look at the Irish team that played South Africa last November, when that game finished there were five players on the team that had either just come out of the Leinster Academy from the first year I was there or in the years after that.

"That meant they had to be 25 or under. You had Jamie Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien. Luke Fitzgerald would have been there too if he hadn't been injured.

"I know that Munster have got a lot of young guys coming through too and then there's Ulster. Also, Stephen Ferris is only 24, Tomas O'Leary 26, Keith Earls 22 and Tommy Bowe 26. So I wouldn't be pessimistic about Ireland's future, not at all.

"There is always the fear of the unknown ahead but managed correctly, there is a wealth of talent out there and they now have great role models. The younger players have seen those role models, the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, playing at the top level and doing well and they believe they can do the same.

"So, I still think Irish rugby is in pretty robust health. They are pretty much at the top of the tree in provincial and Six Nations rugby and have been fairly consistent over the last five years."


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