Kevin Maggs has warned Declan Kidney not to dispose of Ireland’s older players for the RBS Six Nations.
The Moseley coach, who won 70 caps for Ireland, believes the nation’s golden generation still have a massive role to play in taking the team forward.
There is pressure on Kidney to start a new World Cup cycle with changes in key areas, especially at fly half where there choice between Jonathan Sexton and the veteran Ronan O’Gara is being portrayed as one betweeen past and future.
Maggs’ former team-mate is 34 and is unlikely to still be playing in 2015 but the ex-Ulster centre insists O’Gara is still an important player, particularly in the absence of the injured Brian O’Driscoll.
Indeed Maggs wants to see Kidney keep faith with most of the thirtysomethings who formed the core of the Irish Grand Slam team of 2009.
“They have most definitely got a role to play,” Maggs said. “When people like Paul O’Connell, Ronan and Brian O’Driscoll are in the squad they really set the benchmark for the other guys because they are so professional and such hard workers.
“They are the first people on the training field and the last people off it – every day.
“It’s unbelievable the time and effort someone like Ronan puts in off the pitch because you can’t perform under pressure like he has for Munster and Ireland all these years without doing that.
“There’s no one else in the world who can do what Ronan does and it’s vital he’s there with Brian missing.
“All of them are outstanding role models, not only for aspiring Ireland young players coming through to the senior squad but for boys in the Under 20s and Wolfhounds.
“They stand as proof that you don’t get to the top of your game without putting the hard work in.”
But Maggs does accept that Kidney has to manage the transition from established to rising stars while maintaining a competitive side capable of winning the tournament.
“The Irish public will expect them to be there or thereabouts, although the bookies have them as fourth favourites which seems harsh to me.
“They have got to go to France and England which will be tough but they will fancy playing Wales, Scotland and Italy at home.
“If you look at how the provinces have been doing in the Heineken Cup, Ireland are going to be fiercely competitive but it’s a question of can Declan get the balance right.
“He’s got some big calls to make, Sexton or O’Gara, Keith Earls or Eoin O’Malley, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble – does he look towards the long term future or go for a few guys who can contribute for the next couple of years?”