At noon today Deccie announced a 31-man squad for the upcoming November internationals. It’s become customary for these affairs to be followed by gnashing of teeth and wild gesticulations. Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot to say about this one that we haven’t said before.
Four uncapped players are included; Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall, newly Irish-ised Richardt Strauss and Munster prop David Kilcoyne. We can only presume that Kilcoyne’s Mr. 15%, Frankie Sheahan will be using his media platform to talk about him an awful lot. Strauss will debut from the bench, and 23-man squads will help Kilcoyne’s chances of a test cap. Marshall and Henderson will be familiar with tackle bags by the end of the month.
Strauss’ call-up will excite a few purists. He’s the first ‘project-player’ to make the international grade, and is certainly the second-best hooker in the country, but of course, has only qualified through residency. Other nations, in particular England, have shown little angst about this approach, and perhaps as a nation we should not be too precious about it. The rules are the rules and we may as well benefit. Strauss’ quality as a player is not in doubt.
Luke Marshall represents something of a wild card, given he is not a starter in the Ulster team. Deccie cited the reason for his selcetion as being that Ireland’s three best centres are all of a similar age profile, so some succession planning is in order. It’s a pity the same logic didn’t extend to other positions, such as fly half, where ROG continues to be very much first reserve and there’s no place for any of the young battalion of 10s currently making waves. Last we checked ROG was pushing 36, injured and not really that good any more. Ireland will be left with only one experienced fly-half in the near future, but investigating a new one is kicked down the road again.
Kidney noted that he would probably add another prop and a back to the panel and is presumably waiting on Declan Fitzpatrick and Felix Jones to come through this weekend’s action with some game-time under their belts. Rob Kearney’s injury leaves Ireland desperately short of specialist full-backs, but throwing an injury-prone and inexperienced player into the test environment before giving him aple opportunity to find his form would be a major risk; Keith Earls would be our preference for full-back, with Jones given a chance to prove himself with his province. Earls’ positional switch would create room for the in-form Simon Zebo on the wing.
In the forwards, there is the usual super-abundance of second rows and blindsides. The trio of Munster locks take their spots and are joined by Mike McCarthy and Dan Tuohy. In the backrow all of Ferris, Henderson, McLoughlin, Muldoon and O’Mahony make the panel, but the only backrow with any experience at openside this season is Chris Henry. He has a good shot at making the test team in O’Brien’s absence, but don’t discount the chance that Kidney will try to shoe-horn O’Mahony in at 7, despite not playing there this season.
Perhaps of more note than the players named was the news that Axel Foley will take over as defence coach, while Kiss will move to attack, but only for this series. Greg Feek will also join the coaching team, again just for the series. It has a cobbled together look, and does little to disprove the theory that this panel trundle from series to series with little forward planning or grand vision. These are the perils of trying to appoint staff when the coaching ticket is in its final year. Kiss was praised for his innovation in improving Ireland’s defence, but now finds himself removed from that role entirely. There’s no new voice in the team, which they seem to be crying out for, as Foley has helped out in the past. Still, it’s something, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the players demanded one coach to specialise in attack, with Brian O’Driscoll recently highlighting the issue in public.
The announcement does little to suggest this series will see anything hugely different from Team Ireland.