Devin Toner’s omission from Ireland’s 31 man squad is unfathomable. In replacing Toner with South African born Jean Kleyn, who only qualified for Ireland in August, Joe Schmidt has shown a complete disregard for team morale, as well as a player who has served Ireland so admirably through the last two years.
Having only become eligible on the 8th August Kleyn is one of a growing number of ‘project players’ to be drafted into the Ireland set up. He is a scrummaging specialist tighthead lock – and with Ireland overpowered up front against England, the hope must be that Kleyn’s bulk is the solution. He has been described as Brad Thorn esque – he will need to be to justify his selection over Toner.
“I thought around the pitch his work-rate was excellent,” Schmidt said after Kleyn’s performance against Italy. “A couple of really good impact tackles that certainly stopped the Italian momentum when he got involved. He’s a big man, Jean, pretty close to 6ft 7in / 6ft’8in in height but also about a 120 kgs in size.”
“He’s your genuine stock-standard tighthead lock who gets through a lot of work in the tight. I thought he defended well as I said. It was a good starting point from him.”
Whilst the thinking is that Kleyn will offer more physicality and dynamism in the tight, you cannot help but feel the omission of Toner is a mistake. The Irish lineout misfired badly against England; Toner has proved himself a masterful caller in the past.
Both Keith Wood and Luke Fitzgerald, along with Ronan O’Gara, have expressed their disappointment at Schmidt’s decision, “you feel for Devin Toner,” Wood said, “he’s been the mainstay of that second row for the last couple of years. It all settles down to Toner and Kleyn and the fact that the residency rules are more or less denying us one of our own.” Whilst O’Gara has stated he does not agree with the three year residency situation, and called Schmidt’s decision “strange.”
That sentiment, of the shame that ‘one of our own’ is missing out, was emphasised by Fitzgerald too, who called the residency system ‘broken’. Ireland have brought in a number of oversees players in recent years, Quinn Roux, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss, Nathan White, Rodney Ah You, Bundee Aki, Jared Payne and Robbie Diack for instance. Fitzgerald made his thoughts clear on Twitter.
“Looking like South Africa v South Africa ‘A’ in the World Cup QF…if all goes to plan.”
Bizarrely, rumours in the Irish press suggest that Joe Schmidt has been trying to push Toner out for months – which seems utterly inexplicable. Particularly considering the improvements he has made to his game under Joe Schmidt’s tenure.
Writing in the Irish Times, Matt Williams expressed the panic and disbelief that seems to be seeping through the Irish rugby press and public, little abated by the scratchy win over Wales and Jacob Stockdale’s return to his normal haircut.
“I feel the decision to remove Dev is more a reflection on Joe Schmidt. Joe appears tired and weary of the battle. His time is coming to end and for me, that time cannot come quickly enough. Joe has been a great coach, but his decisions are indicative of a regime out of touch with the team and the people.”
Such pessimism may be extreme, but Schmidt’s Ireland have seemed stale, under powered and devoid of creativity this year. As has the coach himself. World Cup winners elect twelve months ago, another Irish World Cup flop could be inbound.
Written by Joe Ronan