Search icon


19th Dec 2023

Refereeing clamp-down could have made Andy Farrell’s biggest decision much easier

Patrick McCarry

James Ryan

“He’s a good guy, lads. Give him a break!”

Peter O’Mahony, Garry Ringrose and James Ryan look to be the frontrunners, but Tadhg Beirne and Tadhg Furlong are interesting alternatives, and two younger players could also step up.

When he was head coach of the British & Irish Lions for the final time, in 2021, Warren Gatland stressed that he could well select a tour captain and a captain for the Test Series against the Springboks. He ended up going with Alun Wyn Jones – either side of a popped shoulder – but opened the door to a new, fluid form of captaincy.

Look at the Liverpool FC senior squad, today, and you will see Andy Robertson, Alisson Becker and Mo Salah listed, respectively, as third, fourth and fifth captains. Leinster are trialling co-captains, in Ryan and Ringrose, for the season after doing a soft launch involving Johnny Sexton and Rhys Ruddock before. Before that, in 2018, Eddie Jones gave it a spin with Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley.

Captaincy, as well as a massive honour is a widely acknowledged additional burden for those chosen. It is not for everyone. An idea sweeping across sports is to now lighten to load – have more leadership groups and to share out tasks such as press briefings, PR appearances, meetings and planning sessions.

Johnny Sexton was Ireland’s outright captain during Andy Farrell’s four years as Ireland head coach, but players such as Ryan, O’Mahony, Furlong, Iain Henderson and, on the tour to New Zealand, Keith Earls all had turns leading Ireland out for games.

Heading into the 2024 Six Nations, it looked like a three-horse race for the Ireland captaincy – O’Mahony or a pick from two Leinster men [discussed on House of Rugby, from 39:20 below]

A refereeing clamp-down, over the past fortnight, has re-ignited a debate about one of the candidates and may have made Farrell’s next big decision much easier.

Ireland teamIreland players Jack Conan, Garry Ringrose, captain Jonathan Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Furlong pictured during the 2023 World Cup. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Peter O’Mahony leading the way

For the past two weekends, in the Champions Cup, Europe’s leading referees have answered Leinster back by cutting out the noise. The notion of having co-captains to share the weekly workload is fine, in theory, but referees will talk among themselves and clearly don’t want to see it in practice.

Against La Rochelle and Sale Sharks, referees Matthew Carley and Pierre Brousset laid down markers – they would only hear from one of Leinster’s co-captains. Not one at a time, just one of them. Period.

In France, Garry Ringrose was told by Carley any chat would take place between them. Six days later and James Ryan found himself frozen out again. “He’s a good guy, lads,” remarked Lindsay Peat. “Give him a break.”

Ryan, ever since his Ireland U20 captaincy and heroics in 2016, always looked like an Ireland captain in waiting. The next Paul O’Connell. It was not a title ‘Cheese’ was bestowing upon himself. Rather, it was the high expectations of the public experts, and wider public.

Back in February 2022, when he took over the captaincy from the injured Sexton, Ryan made a big call that ultimately swung against his side. Late in the game, with Ireland trailing 27-21, Ryan told Joey Carbery to kick for goal [he succeeded] rather than kicking for touch, and an attacking lineout. France responded with an insurance penalty of their own and ended up winning 30-24. On ITV, Brian O’Driscoll stated:

“Listen, of course it’s not the right call because they haven’t won the game now. It’s easy to look back retrospectively… because they had success from the previous maul, that Josh van der Flier had got his try from, it seemed like the obvious route to go.”

Ryan may have been too gabby in the early stages of the La Rochelle game. He seems to be the victim of circumstance + reputation. The referees refusing to engage with him may be more against Leinster than the big lock, but it does him zero favours as Andy Farrell weighs up his big captaincy call.

A huge plus in Ryan’s column is the no-fluke statistic of his winning record. The only lost game, of 22 he played, last season arrived when he had to go off injured, 29 minutes into the Champions Cup final. He is 10 wins from 10, this season, and was a notable absentee from the Ireland side that lost to New Zealand in the World Cup quarter final.

Peter O’Mahony looks to be the favourite and opening up a bigger gap by not playing. The threat for O’Mahony comes from those that may be circling his No.6 jersey – Ryan Baird and Tom Ahern have logged a couple of decent European outings at blindside. The impact Joe McCarthy is starting to consistently have in the second row means Tadhg Beirne, who is regularly leading Munster out, may shift to blindside for Ireland [many would love to see him there].

Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan look to be on the captaincy fast-track now. Both men are consistent, brilliant members of the first-choice XV and Farrell spots ingrained leadership qualities in both.

Garry Ringrose is the other option, and could yet led Ireland in a couple of Six Nations games. The man for the moment, though, looks to be a man that impressed in France but was (one of many) snuffed out by the All Blacks – Peter O’Mahony.

The IRFU are busy sprinkling happy contract news right now, so don’t expect the official announcement to come until the Six Nations launch event at the Guinness Storehouse, in Dublin, next month.


Related articles:


WATCH: Liverpool BOTTLED the title race 🤬 | Who will win the Premier League?