Geordan Murphy may have been dropped from the Ireland squad for the forthcoming internationals because he is no longer thought to be cutting the mustard – an unlikely explanation, given his excellent form at club level and the esteem in which he is held by the national coach Declan Kidney.
He may, on the other hand, be an innocent victim of the latest spat over player availability for Test rugby. Either way, it is not good news for the Leicester full-back in what is effectively World Cup season.
Ireland are about to play four matches in Dublin – one more than is covered by the International Rugby Board's regulations on release of players – and Kidney has named a 34-man party in preparation for the opening game with South Africa on 6 November, which is not part of the autumn Test "window". There are a number of notable absentees: the 2009 Lions captain, Paul O'Connell, is still on the list of long-term injured, while the hooker Jerry Flannery and the versatile back Luke Fitzgerald picked up knocks during last weekend's Heineken Cup activity and will not recover in time to face the world champions.
For his part, Murphy is anything but injured. Rather, he is in the best shape of his long career. Yet he has lost out to the Lions full-back Rob Kearney and, rather more surprisingly, Gavin Duffy of Connacht. If the selection was not wholly form-driven, as many in Ireland believe, it must have had something to do with the fact that Leicester are under no obligation to release their captain for the Springbok date.
There was no word from the Midlanders on the subject yesterday, while Premier Rugby, the body representing England's elite clubs, said it had not been contacted by either Leicester or the Irish Rugby Football Union. The folk at Premier Rugby are, however, feeling a little tender on the issue of player release after the hard words spoken by the Welsh hierarchy over the restricted availability of English-based players for the build-up to next year's global gathering in New Zealand.
Even though England are playing four Tests next month, the long-term agreement between Twickenham and the Premiership clubs guarantees player release for the national team. Scotland, who have a far bigger proportion of leading players contracted to English clubs than Ireland or Wales, have only three fixtures in November and are therefore covered.Reuse content