Six Nations: Vive La Revolution!

Pope Benedeccie I announced his team for the opening Six Nations match and there weren’t many surprises. The 22 is picked almost entirely from the World Cup squad, with the only newbie being Peter O’Mahony taking his place on the bench. Good for Frankie’s day job anyway. Not one of those ‘promoted’ from the Wolfhounds game made the final call. Well, what else were you expecting?
This was not a selection to get the pulses racing, but, truth be told, it was never going to be. As we flagged earlier this week, Ireland’s fate this season rests more on their ability to deliver a more potent gameplan in attack than with rafts of new personnel. There were only ever four starting berths where there was uncertainty, and even that was minimal. We knew all along Earls was going to get the nod, and made our peace with this decision. There are some outraged voices out there over this selection, but with no overwhelmingly obvious choice, Earls is a good bet. Yes, his defence is a concern, no, he’s not a natural centre, but those who lament Kidney’s conservatism (count us in) can at least be consoled by the notion that it’s a choice built for attack.
Sexton and Murray starting was pretty well flagged. Great and all as ROG is playing, few expected Kidney to give him a start in this one given his age. It’s in everyone’s interests to give Sexton and Murray an extended run in the side, and hope they can provide Ireland with a stable half-back pairing for years to come. Both undoubtedly have the talent to do so. Reddan can count himself unlucky, but he has been poor on his two most recent outings.
Which bring us to … Donncha … our old friend, selected at 4.. What can we say? It’s clearly a selection based on incumbency rather than form or potential contribution to the team or building for RWC15.
We have moaned about Donncha in the past, but have still advocated his selection, based on his partnership with Paulie and a lack of viable alternatives.
Neither argument now holds water. Donnacha Ryan has usurped him at Munster, started 5 HEC games, 4 alongside Paulie, in a campaign where Munster have gone 100% and earned a home quarter-final. Dan Tuohy started all 6 alongside the very Paulie-esque Johann Muller in a campaign where Ulster demolished Leicester and nearly turned over Clermont in Clermont. Both have earned rave reviews for their performances.
Either is a superior option than Donncha, who is more underpowered than ever, cannot pass, rarely gets across the gainline with ball in hand, and rarely prevents an opponent getting past the gainline. Ok, so he is an expert at “unseen work” (Egg and Palla wish they could trot out that line come appraisal time) and also at the choke tackle, which is clearly top of the list of priorities.
We would argue that if indeed Ireland’s game is to be remodelled around more ball-in-hand attacking, that more players comfortable with handling the ball are required: Ryan and especially Tuohy are vastly superior in this respect. Ryan is playing in the form of life, and at 28 is in or around his prime. Is he going to be 30 by the time he starts a test match?
It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a massively depleted Wales side, and Ireland should win comfortably with or without Donncha. Vexingly, the likelihood is Donncha will be picked for Paris … where he will be shredded. The man has been a loyal servant who has been a part of every triumph this team has had, but his time has gone. Paulie’s provincial partner, Ryan, should have started, with Tuohy on the bench.
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