Wednesday, 21 November 2012

“The Hard Yards “by Podge O’Donnell

Ireland v Argentina – Could this be the changing of the guard?

There is no doubt that we are either currently entering or about to enter a major period of change in the
make-up of the Irish rugby squad. For all that witnessed last Saturday’s game in Thomond Park, it was clear to see that we have a crop of players not really featuring at International level that could/should or at least can, come into the team and do job or possibly a better job!

Ireland did themselves justice against South Africa, but that is no longer good enough. The Irish team looked
stale in attack and could not close off the game, even with a convincing lead at half time. I fear the worst this
Saturday too. The Argentineans are a team on the up. They have performed admirably in the inaugural Rugby Championship against the three best teams in the world. Those matches will add another dimension to a notoriously tough Argentinian pack and with the mercurial former Co. Carlow clubman, Dr Filipe Contepomi out injured, the Pumas will be looking to add to their scalp of the Welsh.

Declan Kidney went with the tried and trusted for the opening game of the series and will probably do similar
on Saturday in Lansdowne Rd (Aviva to the non-purist). I for one hope that last Saturday’s outing against the Fijian’s struck a note with the Irish coaching staff. The freshness that the Irish team played with was a joy to watch. Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Ian Henderson and the slightly older Darren Cave and Paul Marshall held their hands up high for selection this week. If the jury was out on whether these young players are good enough to step up, well the answer has to be yes now.

I am not advocating wholesale changes to the Irish team, this would be foolish. However, I believe form
players need to be included and freshening things up may also add some life to the old guard. I am also not
saying that Kidney is not trying to develop players and bring younger talent through. He is, but I think his hands are tied slightly by HQ. Players like Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Micheál Bent, Zebo and of course Strauss have all been give their chance. It is going to be hard not to include the likes of Gilroy, Henderson, Jackson and the Marshall’s in the coming months. One must also hold their hands up to the work that is being done in developing players up in Ulster. For me Saturday was a tribute to this work. The Leinster Academy is churning out class players too but they seem to grab all the headlines. Ulster is producing fantastic players and I take my hat off to them, as are all the provinces academies it must be said!

Throw into the mix other academy graduates Tiernan O’Halloran in Connacht and Felix Jones in Munster
(if ever fit), Dave Kearney and Ian Madigan of Leinster. I believe these few names are also of international
standard and can step up. The future of the Irish backline looks good to me!

“The New Kids On The Block”

Paddy Jackson looked on Saturday as if he was very capable of backing up Jonny Sexton. Granted that it was only against Fiji, but he couldn’t have done any more than he did. Ronan O’Gara is a sure bet to back up Jonny Sexton in the World Cup, but to me he looks well past his best. The best thing for Irish rugby would be to develop the next Jonny Sexton as he is now well into his prime at 27.

Luke Marshall surprised me, this time last season he was cutting his teeth at AIL level for Ballymena. Even this season he hasn’t cemented a place in the Ulster team. Putting this aside he has all the raw skills to be a class act at 12. Marshall showed a lovely handling skills and awareness for space for a big man; he also has a kicking game that can take the pressure off the out half when required. Without a doubt D’Arcy is on the way down unfortunately and Marshall if he can build on Saturday looks like a real find by Kidney, granted he has gambled on a player who hasn’t nailed down a spot at provincial level as yet. Credit must go to Kidney for taking a punt on this selection!

Craig Gilroy is the real deal! In any other nation he would have 20 caps by now. He reminds me of a young
Corey Jane. This could be both good and a bad thing that he hasn’t 20 caps, but we have on our hands a real talent. Gilroy is blessed with explosive speed and magic feet. Gilroy has been in the Ulster team for almost two full seasons now and his time really is now to play for Ireland. We have as it stands Bowe and Trimble on our wings. This is ok but Trimble is limited and Gilroy would add some real cutting edge. Kidney has decided that Zebo is a full back. This for me is a major gamble as he is expected to learn at the highest level. Gilroy could have stepped in against the South African’s as he was a standout in this position at Irish U20’s level, but this was never likely.

Darren Cave and Paul Marshall are slightly older than the previous mention at 25 & 27 respectively, their
time has to be now if it is ever going to be. Kidney went with Earls against South Africa and will do the same
this Saturday. He has also mentioned Bowe in the 13 slot and has looked at but has drifted away from Fergus McFadden, as the heir to O’Driscoll. Cave showed Saturday and has showed for a long time that he is a natural talent I think he should be in the pole position for the 13 jersey as he is the only player playing in this position week in week out at club level. Marshall is unlucky that Ruan Pienaar is in these parts of the world.

Marshall may have missed the boat at international level at 28 but for me is a serious operator and can really
add impetus and pace to the Irish backline. He has a better pass than Murray and I would say a better break.

What Murray does have is size and presence, but for me this shouldn’t be a decider for Kidney, the man who developed Peter Stringer into an international class number 9 surely knows what the skill set for a scrum half is, with the speed of delivery a key skill requirement.

There are other players too putting their hands up and knocking on the door for international honours. It
looks like these players will have to settle for Wolfhound selection in the coming months. The likes of Tiernan
O’Halloran, Kieran Marmion, Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw are all young and having fine seasons in
Connacht. The problem here seems to be the word Connacht. Excuse my bias. While in Leinster Dave Kearney,

Andrew Conway and Ian Madigan all look like they can make the step up if needed. Munster’s Felix Jones
will feature as soon as fit. While watch out for J.J Hanrahan! He will feature if not this year but certainly
next season in the International mixing pot. Hanrahan can play equally as well at 12 or 10 and will overlap Ian Keatley in Munster before the season is out possibly. The future from 9-15 is safe.

Upfront we learned bits and pieces at the weekend of what we have coming through the ranks.

Ian Henderson the 20 year old blindside flanker/second row also from Ulster was the stand out player in the forwards for me last week. Henderson has the size and skills of the modern player and would add something different to what O’Callaghan is currently offering Ireland of the bench

While players like Dominic Ryan (When fit) and Jordi Murphy in Leinster also look like they have what it takes to step up to full international honours if they can get a clean run in the Leinster back-row. Paddy Butler in Munster is also making good strides in Munster in the number 8 jersey but may need a little more time.

Saturday will be interesting regardless of the result. If Ireland win with the “new kids on the block”or without,
the pressure is still on Kidney. If he wins using the “new kids” on the block, then I think he buys himself some
much needed breathing space! There is a lot on the line this weekend in terms of World Cup ranking points, so don’t be expecting too much in terms of changing of the guard!

Podge’s Ireland Team v Argentina

1. Healy
2. Strauss (Under duress)
3. Ross
4. McCarthy
5. Ryan
6. O’Mahony
7. Henry
8. Heaslip
9. Reddan
10. Sexton (c)
11. Earls
12. D’Arcy
13. Cave
14. Gilroy
15. Bowe

16. Cronin
17. Kilcoyne
18. Bent (Under less duress than Strauss)
19. Henderson
20. Ruddock
21. P Marshall
22. Jackson
23. Zebo

Some Reasoning Behind Selection:
- Bowe at 15 is simply a better bet than Zebo and adds experience-
- Sexton is a natural Captain in my view Heaslip not-
- Earls is best on the wing-
- Reddan & Sexton best half back partnership
- Marshall is better than Murray in my opinion-


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