Late last week and over the weekend, Deccie caught up on his provincial rugby for the last three months and reached some disturbing conclusions, and has made some additions to the Irish squad to reflect the newsflow.
Firstly, it would appear that the news from Frankie and Gerry wasn’t entirely accurate – it turns out it’s Ulster who have won every game this season and who are playing the best rugby. Secondly, there have been injuries to a few of the apostles – notably Rory Best and Drico. On the plus side, Ireland’s Tighthead Crisis showed signs of resolution with Deccie Fitz managed to go an hour without getting injured, and Michael Bent’s plane touching down without incident in Dublin airport. So, to give credit where it is due, even belatedly, the additions to Ireland’s squad give it a much fresher and more form-based look.
In the half backs, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson come into the squad. Marshall has been inventive and snappy from the base this year and his call-up is well-deserved. With Murray and Reddan both playing well, it’s unlikely he will start a game, but he does offer something genuinely different off the bench. Plus, he knows Ruan Pienaar inside out, so a bench slot isn’t completely out of the question, though the Fiji game looks his best chance. One out, Paddy Jackson is the form 10 in Ireland, the peerless Sexton aside, and has 16 years on Rog – a no-brainer for a cap would you say? Clearly, but placating the once-great O’Gara is as important to the coaching set up now as it was three years ago when Johnny Sexton made his debut – if that takes precedence over success at RWC15, Rog will continue as first reserve.
Two exciting young wings get the nod – Tiarnan O’Halloran and Craig Gilroy. Both have started the season well, though Gilroy has had to make do with a role as first reserve to Tommy Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble. However, with the afore-mentioned pair, plus Simon Zebo, Ferg and explosive up-and-coming wing Donncha O’Callaghan ahead on the pecking order, starts for the Ireland XV against Fiji are probably the best they can hope for.
At hooker, Sean Cronin is in to cover Rory Best and his provincial team-mate, Risteard O’Strauss; but it’s the position next to him that has created the most heat. A mere 24 months on from a 4-game series where the starting tightheads were John Hayes, Mushy and Tom Court, Ireland have had to resort to calling up a guy who said last Thursday:
They are not saying that [a callup] is going to happen, I’ve just to get over there and play a bit of footy for Leinster first before they can even look at me. It does sound pretty positive, but obviously I’ve got to prove myself first before they can look at me seriously.
Obviously, indeed. Or not. Let’s just hope he’s no Peter Borlase. By means of comparison, Bent comes over after 11 Super Rugby appearances (5 starts) for the Hurricanes, with a reputation for being slightly ambi-propsterous and a solid scrummager. Tom Court came over at the same age after three Super Rugby appearances for the Reds and a similar ability to play both sides. Court has since specialised as a loose-head, and, to be truthful, if we have resorted to poaching players from New Zealand club rugby, we’d take Test-able substitutes as an outcome. Bent comes straight off the back of a productive ITM Cup, so he is at least battle hardened and match-ready It’s a remarkable call-up, but not necessarily in a bad way; a little creative thinking never hurt. Some commentators may argue that it’s a kick in the teeth to the likes of Jamie Hagan or Stephen Archer, but neither player is anywhere close to the level required for test rugby.
Deccie Fitzpatrick is the other tighthead selected – there has never been any issue with his technical abilities, but staying injury-free has proved a challenge. His stints in New Zealand this summer were solid, and he’s likely to be the bench tighthead for the Springbok game.
Ian Madigan heads the list of those unlucky not to get the call. Earlier this season he seemed to be on the cusp of an international breakthrough, but has been pressed into action at 15, where he’s mixed the good with the bad. It’s not his best position, and it’s allowed Paddy Jackson to get the jump on him. We’ve already posted on the tough decisions that lie ahead for Madigan, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to this non-call. Felix Jones returned to action and must be in the management’s thoughts, but perhaps the South Africa game comes just too soon for him. It would be no surprise to see him later in the series.