12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
The national team management had earlier announced that certain players were to be made available to the provinces for this weekend, effectively shortening their ten-week pre-season training block. For Munster, John Hayes, David Wallace and Frankie Sheahan are available; for Leinster, Eric Miller and Guy Easterby; for Ulster, David Humphreys and Kevin Maggs; and for Connacht, Bernard Jackman is available.
Paul McNaughton, Leinster Manager, had been reported this morning as saying
"My main concern is I just don't see the logic of what I call the pre-release programme, whereby some players were released last week, such and such the week after, and all the rest will be released for Celtic League (round) Five.
"We're a bit perplexed by the logic of all this. For the Munster game, they have Frankie Sheahan and John Hayes, as well as David Wallace being released, but we won't have Shane Byrne until next week and Reggie Corrigan until the week after. Leinster are not being paranoid that Eddie and the boys would do this to us in the week we're playing Munster. We're just a bit perplexed by the logic of players being phased back in.
In reply to this, the Ireland coach, in an interview with Des Cahill on the Pat Kenny Show on RTE 1, vented his own frustration that the provinces are making an issue of this now, explaining the rationale of the Irish team management.
"We're trying to compete with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England and France every year and in the World Cup. Now for that to happen, we have to prioritise the care of our players. We have a very small pool of professional rugby players and we've made some strategic decisions. One is that the players play 30 games per season or less. That's been in for a while and is accepted. This year we've brought in another stipulation, which is that our international players have a 10-week pre-season fitness training block to make them fitter, faster, stronger. If we're going to compete at the top level over the next three or four years, we have to put that block in. If anyone saw us over the summer against South Africa, you'll have seen how big the South Africans were compared to us, and you'll see it again in the Autumn.
"Our provincial players get a ten-week pre-season training block, which gets them fitter, faster, stronger, so the least we can do is give our international players the same thing. The reason our international players are later back is that they go on summer tours and they don't get back until the end of that. This means that at the start of the season, they haven't got their full ten-week block done and that's why they're held back.
"The thing about this is that this was all laid out months ago, and back in May all the provinces signed off on it. And for that reason they were allowed to extend their squads, knowing they wouldn't have their international players at certain times of the year.
"The other thing is that they were told that certain players would come back early, based on a number of factors. You micro-manage the players through their fitness programmes and they're all not the same, so certain players would come back early based on the progress they had made in their programme, the point they were at in their career, the position they play in and in some cases where they hadn't played a whole lot of rugby in the previous year. So that's where we are at the moment and it's all being micro-managed by out National Fitness Director, Liam Hennessy.
"The unfortunate thing is now that we are on the cusp of this, we have this problem. But at the end of the day, it's a plan that was made out months ago and agreed to by everybody, and all we're doing now is implementing it.
So, in answer to the question, why some and not others, some players are further down the road in their programme and each is operating under different careeer and physical progressions.