Northampton always knew that somewhere along the line, they would have to choose between two contrasting outside-halves who between them cover all the bases. That point has now been reached. Both Shane Geraghty and Stephen Myler will be involved in this weekend's eagerly-awaited Heineken Cup quarter-final with Munster at Thomond Park, just as they were when the two sides played out a tight group match at the same venue in January. But the decision as to who starts will be central to the outcome.
Ronan O'Gara, the ace marksman whose place in the Munster line-up is guaranteed, expects Geraghty to be given first crack on Saturday night. "I respect the both of them, but Shane is electric if he's allowed to be electric," the Irishman said. However, it was the selection of Geraghty in the pool fixture that cost Northampton victory, not least because he was ordered to put the tin lid on his attacking instincts and play the game as Myler would have played it – an odd approach, given that Myler was sitting on the bench.
Jim Mallinder, the director of rugby at Northampton, has been even-handed in his dealing with the two stand-offs thus far. Both men have started 16 matches over three competitions and in terms of scoring, it would be difficult to slip a heavily-ironed fag paper between them: Myler has 158 points to his name from 24 appearances in total, Geraghty 145 from 23. If the former is considered the more reliable marksman, the latter can legitimately claim to be the more dynamic playmaker. As selection calls go, this one is delicate in the extreme.
O'Gara, whose goal-kicking performance in the big Magners League derby with Leinster last Friday night was perfection itself, accepts that the "Thomond Park factor" may have diminished a little just recently. "The fact is, we'll be going into this game with Northampton having lost to Leinster, if only by a point," he said. "There's no getting away from the fact that it was a big win for them and a bad defeat for us." Did he expect Northampton to be more dangerous on Saturday night than they were three months ago? "I hope not," he said. "If they are, they'll win."
O'Gara, however, faces the Midlanders with something to prove, despite his record-breaking scoring for Munster and Ireland. More than a little exasperated by the Dublin media's love-in with his chief rival at international level, Jonathan Sexton of Leinster, he said: "You have one outside-half who has played 100 Tests and the another who has played half a dozen, yet when you read some of this stuff you can't tell which is which." Ouch.
Meanwhile, the only remaining Welsh contenders for Heineken Cup honours have injury hassles they could do without. Ospreys, who face a difficult match at Biarritz on Saturday, fear the hooker Richard Hibbard will miss out after suffering a knee injury in last weekend's Magners League win over Scarlets.Reuse content