By Brendan Cole
Eddie O’Sullivan believes Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has taken a risk by dropping Luke Marshall from the Ireland team ahead of Sunday’s clash with New Zealand.
Marshall made a high-profile defensive error against Australia, allowing Quade Cooper to score a try. He was replaced by Gordon D’Arcy when Schmidt announced his starting team this afternoon, and the Ulster centre was instead picked to play for his province in the Pro12.
Eoin Reddan also dropped straight out of the starting XV and into the Rabo, with the scrum-half handed a bench role for Leinster against Treviso on Sunday.
According to O'Sullivan, the Ireland head coach from 2001 to 2007, Ireland do not have the playing depth to make that approach work in the long-term.
Speaking to the RTÉ Rugby Podcast, he said: "It is a very harsh call. It does send a message that you are one mistake away from the trap door. I think it is a strategy that works well when you have great depth in the squad because if a guy does not bounce back from that there is somebody else to step up."
"It does send a message that you are one mistake away from the trap door" - Eddie O'Sullivan
Marshall is the heir apparent to D'Arcy, and there is no way of knowing how the decision to drop him will affect the 22-year-old Ulster centre.
O'Sullivan added: "The question is, how will Luke Marshall deal with it. Will it undermine his confidence or will it make him better? The answer is we won’t know until he suits up (plays for Ireland) next time.”
O’Sullivan, who was himself criticised for creating an "untouchables" culture where players were seen an undroppable from the team during Ireland's inexplicable form slump at RWC 2007, admitted that it is easy to criticise selection decisions as an analyst.
He continued: "My worry is that we do not have the huge depth that other countries have. The bottom line is that Marshall will take it that he is dropped.”
O'Sullivan also believes the uncertainty and limited time on the training pitch created by injuries to Jonathan Sexton, Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney will have hindered Ireland's preperation.
He added: "Even when you train really well as a backline and there are two guys missing, you don’t know if you have trained well. The calibre of the players involved means you want to give them every opportunity, but there is a trade-off for giving them that opportunity."
Overall, O'Sullivan expects Ireland to struggle to contain the All Blacks, who are aiming to complete a perfect calendar year of 14 wins from 14 Test matches.
"We could play out of our skins and still not win the game. I would be inclined to look at the performance and if we can get a big one, we can keep it tight. New Zealand have this mental resolve at the moment and there are so many chips on the table for them."