EVEN WERE IT not for injuries to several of his competitors, Tommy O’Donnell would have been strongly in contention to wear seven for Ireland in the Six Nations opener against Italy in two weekends’ time.
Sean O’Brien and Rhys Ruddock remain on the comeback trail, while Chris Henry is targetting a return before the end of the season, meaning O’Donnell looks a strong possibility to start at openside in Joe Schmidt’s first team of 2015.
The recent form of Leinster’s Jordi Murphy provides the major roadblock.
The Munster flanker has delivered in the areas where Schmidt and the Ireland coaching team have asked for more, spoiling and stealing at defensive rucks, hammering bodies off the ball at the attacking breakdown and chipping in with powerful carries and tackles.
At 27, O’Donnell is looking like a complete openside and having won just six caps up until this point, the Cahir man is keen to add to that figure in the coming months.
“I want to play,” said O’Donnell after Munster’s win over Sale on Sunday.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to play. Whatever way selection goes, I’m going to go with it and go full-heartedly, give it the best I can give it.”
O’Donnell played off the bench twice in last year’s Six Nations.
O’Donnell featured twice off the bench in last year’s Six Nations triumph, those two appearances coming in the opening games against Scotland and Wales. Thereafter, he was involved at Carton House, but missed out to Murphy for that back row bench slot.
This year, O’Donnell is content that his form has him in a good place heading into the international block, even if he feels there is more to come.
Heading directly for Ireland camp at Carton House following Munster’s win over Sale was exciting rather than testing, although O’Donnell says that immediately “switching all the terminology, getting that back into your head,” is important.
Schmidt accepts no errors on the traning pitch.
O’Donnell touched down for a try against Sale on Sunday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Though the quality of Sale’s second-half effort against Munster was a disappointment, the flow of the game did afford O’Donnell a welcome chance to be heavily involved. The Tipp man got through 15 carries and 10 tackles in an impressive workload, providing Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby with plenty of food for thought.
Indeed, in a general sense the hammering of Sale allowed the likes of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and James Cronin to demonstrate qualities that are possibly not always so apparent when they play for Munster.
“It’s great to see lads putting up their hands, and scoring tries. Different lads turned up and showed very positive things heading into camp.”
O’Donnell would love to see his Munster teammates excel this month too, but priority number one is nailing down that green seven shirt.
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