Not picking John Cooney as Ireland’s starting scrum-half for the Six Nations opener would be a brave call for new head coach Andy Farrell, according to Brian O’Driscoll.
The Leinster and Ireland legend was speaking to Off The Ball on Friday and stated that Farrell does not have an opportunity to experiment in the upcoming tournament.
“He doesn’t have a freebie this Six Nations. This isn’t a, ‘You know what? Just try your best and see. This is a building phase.’ It’s nonsense. There's no such thing as a building phase in the Six Nations. It just doesn’t exist.
“Because there are finances for each position that you finish in the pool which has a negative or positive knock-on effect on the IRFU and on salaries and everything that comes with it.
“That’s why there’s such huge importance put onto Six Nations and strong finishes within it,” O’Driscoll said.
While Farrell must pick his strongest team against Scotland in a few weeks' time, the former Ireland captain felt that deciding to pick the incumbents would be a mistake.
“Andy Farrell can look at this in a few different ways. He’s definitely under pressure to pick a few in-form players and I’m intrigued to see what happens in that regard.
“Obviously the most talked about position is probably scrum-half. In some ways, it would be a brave call not to pick John Cooney because he’s been a stand-out performer in Europe.
“He knows the tried and tested through Lions tours and through huge success with Ireland what Conor Murray can deliver. But in reality, John Cooney is the form player that warrants selection. That first-up selection will be intriguing,” O’Driscoll said.
While Murray is unlikely to be happy with being dropped, the former Lions captain felt that it could spur on the Munster scrum-half to regain his best form.
“Particularly world-class players tend to do that. They tend to respond. Sometimes you do need a kick up the backside and have the reality check that it’s not just plain sailing for you. It’s not your number nine jersey, or whatever position.
“You don’t just come in and your opposition gets handed the bib and you’re in the team. That’s a bad environment to create. I think this is a great chance to change that up,” O’Driscoll commented.
The Six Nations kicks off with Wales facing Italy on February 1st before Ireland take on Scotland at the Aviva Stadium later that day.
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