In the build-up to last week’s game against Fiji, Gerry Thornley mentioned not once, but twice that the selection of Mike Ross was due to managment’s unhappiness with his performance versus South Africa, where he conceded two scrum penalties before being substituted late in the game. The articles are here and here and the quotations are as follows:
The selection is also notable for retaining Mike Ross ahead of Michael Bent, which suggests that management want more from their established tighthead than was shown last week.
The selection of Mike Ross to start again at tighthead rather than have a longer look at Michael Bent suggests the management were less than thrilled with the performance of Ross last week, when he was called ashore after conceding a costly couple of scrum penalties.
Now, we know Gerry Thornley has a direct line to the management, and we know Kidney uses him as a vehicle to get his message through to the public. So it’s pretty safe to assume that this is not just Gerry throwing out a mad opinion, and that he is entirely correct: management were unhappy with Ross’ performance and asked him to prove himself in the Fiji game, and Thornley is to get the message out there. Besides, it’s so left-field a notion that surely no journo, fan or otherwise would even think of it, unless they were told it was the case. Wasn’t Mike Ross the player we were supposed to be having late night vigils for both before and since the Twickenham Debacle?
This being the case, this is some pretty shoddy man management. Mike Ross is being singled out for Ireland’s multiple woes against South Africa. Management are happy to go public, through the media, with criticism of his performance – and his alone. Nice. It’s particularly unedifying because Ross is a player we know Kidney has never been a huge fan of. It was under Kidney’s watch that Ross’ Munster contract was allowed to lapse, and Ross only got into the Ireland team when all other possibilities (Hayes, Buckle and Court) were exhausted. It smacks of hanging him out to dry at the first available opportunity.
Mike Ross has been a one-man bailout to the Irish management. When their only plan for tighthead succession to The Bull (Tony Buckle) was doomed to failure, he came along, through none of management’s doing or planning, and saved their bacon. He has held the Irish scrum up manfully, and occasionally destructively [e.g. England 2010], since the 2010 Six Nations and has become a key player. Think for a moment where we’d be if Mike Ross were not around. And this is how he is treated for giving away a couple of scrum penalties after an exhausting 70 minute shift, and against a Springbok loosehead fresh off the bench. That’s not to say, of course, that he deserves a free ride if he plays rubbish, but have we really reached that stage because of a couple of poor scrums? Incroyable.
Another prop being shabbily treated for his role in performing a thankless task is Tom Court. Court has been Ireland’s unheralded ‘filler-inner’ for four years, taking his place in the number 17 shirt because he can just-about scrummage on the tighthead side, as well as being a fairly competent loosehead. He endured a wretched experience against the English front row in Twickenham, but most right-minded folk would agree he was asked to do a job of which he is not capable. On the loosehead side, he has never let anyone down.
Ever since, his form with Ulster – where a huge emphasis is being placed on the set piece – has been rock solid, and he has played solely at loosehead. And with 23-man squads finally arriving into the international game, he can take his place on the bench solely having to focus on one role – loosehead forward. Except that he’s been instantly demoted for David Kilcoyne, a nipper with literally a handful of starts with Munster. Thanks for the dig-out Tom, but now that you might get a chance to show what you can do in your best position, we’re going to go with this other fella who’s started two Heineken Cup pool matches. Kilcoyne is a decent player and has started the season well enough, but if Healy went off injured after 30 minutes against Argentina, would you prefer him or Court holding up the left-hand side of the scrum against the brutalising Puma front row? I’ll take Tom Court, thanks.
Every coach has his favourites, and against that, every coach has players he only seems to pick out of necessity. Safe to say, Mike Ross and Tom Court are not among Kidney’s favourites.