Schmidt’s treatment of Zebo and O’Halloran leaves very bad taste

Connacht prop Finlay Bealham, who is pictured taking on Munster's Dave Kilcoyne at the Sportsground last Friday, is also on Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt's cold list.
Connacht prop Finlay Bealham, who is pictured taking on Munster's Dave Kilcoyne at the Sportsground last Friday, is also on Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt's cold list.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

JOE Schmidt is in the dock on two counts this week. It’s bad enough that the Irish Head Coach has seemingly consigned the French-bound Simon Zebo to the international wilderness, but his exclusion of Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran and Finlay Bealham from his 38-man squad for the upcoming November series smacks of a dismissive attitude to the rugby revolution that’s happening out West.

In Zebo’s case, he now joins the likes of Ian Madigan, Marty Moore and Donnacha Ryan in being deemed surplus to Schmidt’s requirements as a result of the versatile and swashbuckling Munster player deciding to leave his IRFU paymasters at the end of the season. We understand the desire to manage an individual’s workload in advance of internationals and their availability for training camps, etc, but the Irish policy is this area is not consistent.

It seems there’s one rule for internationals who depart these shores for better contracts abroad, but a different one for Johnny Sexton. The out-half was on Racing 92’s books for two seasons, but he continued to be selected for Ireland. Against that background, the sending of Zebo into international exile is impossible to justify. Schmidt had no problem bending his own rules for Sexton, but it’s a different story for everyone else.

Frankly, given Zebo’s omission from the Irish squad, the continued unavailability of Jared Payne due to concussion issues and Rob Kearney’s almost total lack of game-time this season – he only returned to the Leinster team at the weekend – having been out of action for six weeks, it beggars belief that O’Halloran has failed to make the cut given the paucity of fit full backs.

Instead, Schmidt has included Kearney, with his back up options for the position appearing to be the inexperienced pair of Joey Carberry and Andrew Conway. In the circumstances, Clifden-man O’Halloran is entitled to feel gutted, especially given his current form as was highlighted once again in Friday night’s epic Guinness Pro14 win over Munster at the Sportsground.

O’Halloran may have slipped off the tackle for the visitors’ early try, but his fielding, counter-attacking and overall verve was central to a terrific victory in front of a rocking crowd of just over 7,000. The Connacht full back also scored a first-half try, making his exclusion from the November series all the more baffling, and regrettable.

For more, read this week’ Connacht Tribune.