This game was always going to be a case of ‘Last Men Standing’, and with the rejuvenated Heaslip and D’arcy adding to the list of those unable to take part, that has come to pass. With that in mind Deccie has done pretty much all he can to get his best side on the pitch.
The tight five – hugely impressive so far – remains the same and in the back row Peter O’Mahony replaces Jamie Heaslip directly. It’s the right call. There are plenty who would have liked to have seen Sean O’Brien move to 8, but he has little experience there, and has never looked comfortable at the back of the scrum. Besides, he’s come of age as a Genuine Openside (that’s one phrase we’ll be hearing a lot less of from now on) on this tour. Peter O’Mahony played a reasonable amount at No.8 towards the back end of this season, and looked the part. His innate footballing ability lends itself well to the role, and it could be his best position.
D’arcy is replaced by Paddy Wallace. No doubt Kidney thought hard about giving the ROG-Sexton axis a go from the start, or giving the tantalising, if flawed, Earls-BOD partnership another go after a more-miss-than-hit showing in the first test. It looks like he made the best choice by picking a natural 12 playing in a position he’s most comfortable rather than shoe-horning
Rog into the team players into unfamiliar roles.
That said, it does rather show up the folly of leaving Wallace at home in the first place. Paddy arrives fresh off the Mediterranean beaches, so it’s asking a lot of him to replicate his brilliant end-of-season form. His last competitive action was when he played (superbly) in the Heineken Cup final, which is over a month ago now – though he did play the full game against the Barbarians - so to expect him to bound off the long haul flight and pick up where he left off seems a tall order. Why Kidney brought Darren Cave when he had cover at 13 in the form of Earls, and left his only natural alternative to D’arcy (excluding McFadden, who he obviously does not see as a 12) is anybody’s guess. It looked a strange call at the time, and looks stranger again now.
The good news is that Keet Earls is back. With Tommy Bowe injured and Earls missing in the last test, Ireland have lacked cutting edge out wide. Earls, of course, has made no secret of his desire to play centre. It would be nice to have given him the chance to further his claims to the outside centre berth in this match, but with our best wingers injured, needs must. Trimble and McFadden are honest, hard-working players, but they don’t have the strike running or finishing ability Earls does. His presence out wide will make a difference.
New Zillund have injury concerns of their own. Kieran Read and Deeeen Cadah are injured, and McCaw has been moved to No.8, where he is notably less effective. If (big if) Ireland can reproduce the breakdown intensity of last week and bring a little more dynamism out wide (I’m looking at you, Keet) they can once again be in the shake-up at the business end of the match.