Tomorrow, Deccie names his 30 man squad for the November Internationals against the Boks and the Pumas, plus a Wolfhounds-type panel for the “Ireland XV” against Fiji in Thomond Park. He’ll be holding a press conference, which doesn’t normally happen for a mere squad announcement, but the IRFU is keen to promote the games to boost sluggish ticket sales. Quite what sort of a boost a Deccie squad announcement will provide we’re still trying to figure out, but as far as we know tickets already purchased before the announcmement are non-refundable, so that’s something.
He isn’t one for surprises, so expect plenty of
Munster players famliar names and faces. But outside of Ireland’s key key men (e.g. the front row, POC, Fez, SOB, Heaslip, Sexton, Earls, BOD, Tommy Bowe, Bob), there is actually quite a bit of jockeying for position.
On the one hand you have the familiar Murray/Reddan or Dorce/Ferg debates, but below that, the last 8 or so squad names are still in flux. Here’s five players who have put their hand up this season, and five who have struggled to get teacher’s attention.
Iain Henderson: New Willie John McBride indeed. Henderson was a revelation at last years U-20 World Cup and looked to have the tools to make it. We thought he would get some gametime at blindside this year, but in the Rabo, certainly not in the Heiny. But it’s tantamount ot the impact he has had that Fez has not been missed one iota – Hendo has been a MOTM contender in both games and looks to the manor born. Of course, he is a second row by trade, so some of the names beneath him here should be watching out. He surely isn’t ready for the ‘unforgiving environment of test rugby, but we can’t be sure about that – no harm in bringing him along for the ride, and he might get on the pitch against Fiji.
Chris Henry: Sean O’Brien is still injured, Shane Jennings is not a friend of Deccie and Peter O’Mahony is patently not an openside (more of which anon) – by process of elimination, Chris Henry is the man. More importantly, he was our MOTM against Glasgow and has picked up where he left off in Thomond Park last season (he wasn’t fully fit after that). He only got about five minutes in New Zealand, where his most notable (and funniest) act was to barge over Romain Poite. He’s been the most consistent 7 in Ireland for a year now evne if he is not built in the classic openside mould – in O’Brien’s absence it’s time he got a shot at the green jersey.
Paddy Jackson: Jacko was like a rabbit in the headlights in the HEC final, but it turns out he was staring at Johnny Sexton and learning oodles. It was the type of experience that can haunt a fellow, but his recovery has been impressively swift. He looks like a proper player now, not a youngster out of his depth. He has solid defence and has done a decent job of igniting Ulster’s backs. At his age, he is still one for the future, but as the second best 10 in Ireland right now (Madigan has been playing 15 for the last month) and one who is only going to improve, we think he makes the cut.
Paul Marshall: Eoin Reddan is going strongly for Leinster and despite his costly nightmare in Paris, Conor Murray has in fact started the season well. That leaves the test jerseys more or less locked away, but Marshall should be in line to play against Fiji. His form is terrific, and his only competition for the jersey is Isaac Boss, who is just back from injury. Kidney has been reticent to pick Marshall up to now, but with Tomas O’Leary exiled, the time has come.
Simon Zebo: Still tucks the ball under one arm to carry it, but Simon Zebo looks like the most threatening runner in the Munster backline, perhaps even more so than Earls. The try-count was eye-catching last season, but this year he looks a better all round footballer. Wingers are best picked when young, fast and in form, and Zebo ticks all the boxes. With Keith Earls still injured, Zebo has a real chance of squeezing into the test 11 jersey.
Kevin McLaughlin: Ireland’s Tom Wood finished last season strongly, impressing in the Heineken Cup final and the second test in New Zealand, but he’s yet to get into his stride this season, which has been characterised so far by powder-puff carries and knock-ons in the opposition 22. With Ferris back in contention and any number of potential blindsides in the mix, Locky is likely to have to settle for Ireland XV action.
Peter O’Mahony: We said last season the over-hype from certain corners about O’Mahony would do him no favours, and now his versatility may be working aginst him. After starting his first three games for Ireland in three different positions, he has merely had his flaws highlighted by very tough opponents. He has played 6 and 8 this season, but with Ferris and Heaslip around, he is unlikely to barge his way into the test team. Openside is the position with the word ‘Vacant’ outside the parking lot in neon letters, but not having played there this season hasn’t helped his chances of being picked there. Besides, he hasn’t stamped his authority on the season just yet – though he played well against Embra, Munster looked much more effective with a natural No.8 (Paddy Butler) there.
Ronan O’Gara (WoC ducks for cover): It’s honesty time. An intervention is needed. Despite what Gerry says, the heroic Rog has been largely ineffective this season. He’s also injured. Father Time can’t tick backwards, and not only is Paddy Jackson a better option (see above), but so are Ian Madigan and (whisper it) Ian Keatley. Deccie might like an easy life as much as anyone, but O’Gara simply no longer justifies selection – it’s time to move on.
Donnacha Ryan: Not a criticism of Ryan as such, but he is not playing in his favoured position, as Rob Penney has stuck Stakhanov in the team, apparently for his play on the wing, and is using Ryan to beef up his light-ish back row. If any of the rest of Ireland’s myriad of ok-but-not-amazing second rows were putting their hands up, he might be under pressure for his test place. As it is, with Dan Tuohy more concerned about Lewis Stevenson, Mike McCarthy playing for Connacht (a major negative it seems) and Devin Toner struggling (see below), he should start – but it’s disappointing he hasn’t been able to persuade the coach he is an indispensable member of the Munster second row.
Devin Toner: Huge strides made last season, but still can’t get into the starting team of the provincewith arguably the weakest second row of the four. His work at restarts is excellent, but there are still concerns over his lack of power. Time is still on his side, and Leo Cullen’s legs will eventually grind to a halt, but cannot expect to be in the squad until he finally nails down a place in the Leinster team. Ireland XV action at best.