Ireland’s World Cup 30 – Second Row

This week and next, we’ll be looking at the likely runners and riders for Ireland’s World Cup 30, taking it unit-by-unit. On Monday we studied the front row, now we look at the second row.

How many will go? In 2003, Ireland took four and in 2007 three. We think three plus one back row/second row option is likely this time around.

Who is certain to travel? Ireland’s first choice second row partnership has been set in stone since 2004. Paul O’Connell is a key man and the pack leader – Ireland will need him at his best to progress beyond the quarter-finals. Beside him will be Donncha O’Callaghan. WoC is sick of seeing Donners perform impressively in good team performances and anonymously in bad ones – his leadership skills are non-existent for a man of his experience (Devin Toner calling the lineouts on his debut?) and as for his penalty count… With a string of nondescript performances preceding a few swashbuckling ones, he reminds us of the role Paul Collingwood played for the England cricket team in his latter days. We would love to have seen some variety in the 4 shirt recently, but twas not to be. These 2 are already past security at Dublin Airport.

Who is scrapping out for the last spots? Firstly, lets discuss the owner of the number 18 shirt. The contenders here are Leo Cullen and Mick O’Driscoll. In November, Micko was probably a nose in front, and deservedly so – he added real get-around-the-park dynamism to his game in the first half of last season. But after Christmas, when Paulie came back, Micko fell out of favour and lost momentum. At the same time, Leo Cullen improved on a rather scrappy and lumbering first half of season, and personified solidity and, rather surprisingly, showed no little skill in a storming last month of the season.

Deccie has also had a look at Devin Toner and Biiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey (Go Irish!), but neither has any chance of making the squad, due to being tall-but-not-very-good and an immobile Premiership lump respectively. Cullen is 90% certain to take his place on the bench and play 8 seconds against Italy.

The second row cum back row slot is a straight fight between Donnacha Ryan and Kevin McLaughlin. In Ryan’s favour is the fact he has played second row before for Ireland and that he is more of a 4 than a 6 – McLaughlin is definitely more of a 6. For Locky, its that he has played in bigger and higher intensity games this season than anything Ireland are likely to face in this World Cup, unless they come across NZ. Locky is being pencilled in by some as the future for Leinster and Ireland at lock, more due to a lack of options than anything else, but we think Deccie will go with Ryan’s experience and greater suitability for the position.

However, WoC has a better idea. What about bringing an in-form lock forward who offers something different to all the names previously mentioned. Someone who can bring Richie Gray / Sam Whitelock-esque ball-playing skills to the party. Dan Tuohy has been far more effective than Ryan this season, and has excelled playing alongside Johann Muller, which is very similar to playing with Paulie or Leo. Second row could soon be a bit of a problem position for Ireland, and we see little to lose by bringing a man who has done it in the HEC this season, and who could be an Ireland regular very soon.

Any bolters? McLaughlin is probably the most obvious one – in January the idea of him even being in contention at second row was rather fantastical. Tuohy has picked up injuries at unfortunate times.

Should go: Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Leo Cullen, Dan Tuohy
Will go: Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Leo Cullen, Donnacha Ryan



  1. Another interesting article Woc! I totally agree regarding Dan Tuohy, I would go as far as saying if he had of been fit all season he should be the man in the number 4 jersey. Interesting comment re Cullen's meagre substitute appearances. Surely it is time Declan Kidney looked at how every other international coach used their bench and took note. Cullen for all his lineout prowess and experience isn’t the kind of guy that the Wallabies would be weary of coming into a game with 20 minutes to go, Tuohy is the man for an impact I think! However given Kidneys inevitable selection surely Donnacha Ryan should be in pole position for the 18 jersey? Or dare I say is it a role a fully fit Ferris could do? Imagine having Ferris and Jennings coming on for the last half an hour of a game! Now that would be a serious prospect and might even the cock sure Aussies worried!

  2. Cheers JSRF.I agree on Tuohy – he has been pretty unlucky with when he broke down. I would imagine Deccie would pick Donncha anyway, but Tuohy would definitely be pushing him.Re the bench, who knows what Deccie will do … His bench selections can be mystifying at times – we still haven't got our heads round 22 man rugby at national level. We tend to pick the 3rd best lock (for example), rather than the best lock to have on the bench as part of a 55 minutes substitution strategy. I have a funny feeling this will bite us on the ass eventually.Re Fez, he's a good option at the tail, but he is the best we have at the breakdown – we need him in the back row to add real physicality – would his impact be the same in the second row? Plus he has never played there!

  3. Against the Aussies where given their exceptional ball handling skills scrums will be a premium, would it not be worth a punt playing Ferris as a lock/additional back row. He would given more dynamism and raw physicality as opposed to Cullen meandering on with a minute to go. I certainly wouldn’t have this tactic against Italy but to beat Australia, which really will define our World Cup, should we not at least think outside the box?I recall Ferris played lock in some of DK's early games in charge? Would it not be worth half an hour in warm up games?In fairness this arguement could be rendered meaningless by the next edition of your series. It all boils down the question which 2 out of SOB/Ferris/Wally?

  4. Best blog on the web.Agreed re: O'Connell.I'm interested to understand why O'Callahan is the inevitable selection for the starting 4 shirt when on recent form (you nailed it with your comments on his inconsistency, his discipline and leadership) Leo or Touhy would in my opinion be the better option with O'Callahan off the bench.Is it the old conservatism of Irish selection a la Eddie O'Sullivan creeping in? He gets the shirt cause he's always had the shirt.As a Kiwi (with an Irish wife) I still haven't got my head around how certain players are guaranteed spots regardless of form over here (Darcy & Fitzgerald are the others based on form that I would challenge but I'll let you get to the backs when you get there).

  5. @JSRFIf its impact you want, there is no better man than Fez! And its certainly an improvement on our current bench "strategy". Interesting thinking re Aus; Sharpe aside, their second rows aren't up to much, might be a way to incorporate Fez, SOB, Wally and Jamie in the same team. However, with the man working on getting to Test match fitness, maybe learning a new position as well is an ask too far..And without pre-empting Friday, the 4 mentioned MUST travel.@Chris Thanks for the compliment! Sadly, we’re no closer to understanding it ourselves. There’s definitely more than an element of Irish conservatism at work. Kidney is ultimately a conservative coach who remains loyal to his players. People will point out his dropping of Stringer and Payne in the HEC quarter-final in 2008 and the Scottish game in 2009, but such moments are becoming increasingly distant. Deccie has many strengths as a coach, but form selection isn’t one of them – he generally falls back on a bunch of stalwarts that he knows and trusts. He picked DOC for the Six Nations in spite of some horrendous form for Munster coming into it – in fairness, Donners delivered with some improved performances.

  6. I agree largely with the post except I don't think Tuohy should go given his season and the potential which went unfulfilled (to a large degree because of things outside Tuohy's control). Earlier in the season it certainly was a mouthwatering prospect to think that Tuohy could play his way into the Ireland squad but unfortunately he hasn't (or hasn't had the opportunity to). Potential wise he's way ahead of McLoughlin or Ryan for this squad spot but the potential hasn't been realised unfortunately.I don't get the arguments against DOC, sure he has ups and downs like a lot of players but so has Cullen had up and down performances particularly in an Ireland shirt. I'm a Connacht fan who would shout for Leinster in a Leinster – Munster match but there's no way I'd pick Cullen for Ireland ahead of DOC if both are fit and in equal form before the selection. I'd love to know how many games DOC played this year compared to any other Irish locks, I'm guessing it would be much higher than the others with O'Connell's absence for Ireland and Munster DOC got a lot less chance to pace his season correctly than others which inevitably leads to some performances which are below where he'd like himself.Cullen should defo be the third choice lock down in this selection then the contest between McLaughlin/Ryan really I think is the tightest call to be made in the 30 maybe closely followed only by the decision between Buckley and Hayes. It's such a tight call that I couldn't argue with the selection the coaches make either way if both players perform equally well in camp before the WC squad is selected.

  7. Hi Czarak – thanks for commenting. Tuohy's chances certainly haven't been helped by his season rather petering out with injuries – but in spite of that we would love to see him there, given how different he is to our other options. But I agree it's a long shot at this stage.I've always felt DOC is a bit overrated. He's not a great lineout forward, isn't particularly powerful, and is neither a good carrier nor handler of the football. And he looks like little boy lost if POC isn't there beside him. The one thing he does offer is workrate – and to be fair, he offers it in spades. He certainly has a value to Ireland, but there are games, especially against teams with good attacking lineouts, where Cullen would be worth starting ahead of him – but it seems set in stone that he won't.

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