Memo to Mike McCarthy: ‘Become O’Connell’

Lordy.  Talk about timing.  Obviously there’s never a good time for the premier lock in Europe to get injured, but coming just after Ireland appeared to get their season in motion, already without Brian O’Driscoll, captain and all round supremo Paul O’Connell is ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations through injury.  Just three games into his tenure, playing some of his best rugby ever, it’s desperately unlucky on a personal level, but worse still for Ireland.  Conor Murray will also miss the remainder of the campaign.  Again, it’s bad news, and awful for him personally, but it’s one position where we do have an able replacement, who was knocking hard for selection in any case.

Two vs. Four

Donnacha Ryan, already not so much knocking on the selectorial door as smashing his way through it, finally gets his chance, right?  Wrong!  Himself and Donncha O’Callaghan surely cannot be paired together, despite what Gerry says.  Both are front-jumpers (jumping at ‘2’) and neither has any real experience running the lineout.  The only time they were paired at Munster saw London Irish decimate the set piece and win the game.  In fact, if anything, the luckless Ryan is even more likely to miss out on a test start, because Deccie will baulk at having to change two second rows when he already has to change one.  Stakhanov O’Callaghan’s incredible fortune looks set to continue.

For this reason, the clamour to see Ulster’s impressive Dan Tuohy called up is misplaced (though he should be in the squad already).  He, like Ryan, is a front-jumping tighthead-lock, and it’s Muller that runs the lineout up north.

Ireland need a middle of the lineout jumper (jumping at ‘4’) who has experience calling the lineout. It’s one position we just don’t have that much depth.  Stalwart squad men Leo Cullen and Mick O’Driscoll are either injured and/or winding down towards retirement.  The only two options are Connacht’s Mike McCarthy and Leinster’s skyscraping Devin Toner.  Deccie has opted for McCarthy, and he’s a fine player enjoying another good season.  Athletic and full of aggression, all he has to do now is simply take the step up to becoming Paul O’Connell – easy!  He’ll have O’Callaghan alongside him, who could make anything up to eight tackles to help him out.

There’s always Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey, who at least has the same physique as Big Jim Hamilton, but its hardly fair to deny Mike Ross the title of heaviest forward, and anyway, Big Bob struggles to get in to the London Samoa team these days.

Personally, we would have plumped for Big Dev, given his towering presence in the lineout, vastly improved performances this season, and how he has outperformed Richie Gray on both occasions when they went head-to-head against Glasgow in the HEC this year – but it’s much of a muchness, and every time we’ve seen McCarthy (not enough, perhaps) he has impressed us.  Plus, he’ll up the handsome quotient in the pack.

Verdict: in spite of the morning’s papers anticipating an all-Donn(a)cha, second row, we’re anticipating O’Callaghan and McCarthy starting together, Ryan once again on the bench.

Knock-on Effects .. for the Paddys and the Jocks

If Ryan’s chances of starting have taken a dent, Peter O’Mahony’s have increased.  POM is a light, tall fellow that’s easily thrown in the air, and has done well at the tail of Munster’s lineout this season.  Already probably deserving of a start in this game, Deccie may well see him as a good option to share the lineout burden.  It’s worth noting that Scotland have perhaps the best (maybe second to France) defensive lineout in the tournament, with Richie Gray a phenomenal ball-thief at the front, and Big Jim Hamilton adept in the middle.  A dedicated aerial specialist in the backrow would do no harm.

This would give the Irish pack a very French look, with 2 lumps in the second row and atheletic and talented lineout-enabled forwards in the backrow. Scotland picked 2 genuine opensides (TM) and nullified the French backrow well 2 weeks ago, but Robbo might be tempted to pick a lump at 6 (Kelly Brown and Alasdair strokosh would be ideal, but are injured) to really target the raw Irish lineout.

Verdict: Peter O’Mahony to start.  A somewhat out of form Sean O’Brien to miss out. Robbo to stick with 2 groundhogs, to the delight of Gormless George.

Oh Captain My Captain

The obvious choice here is Rory Best.  Already a longstanding member of the team-leaders panel, he emerged during the World Cup as a key figure in the pack (and a great player).  The only thing that might persuade Deccie to overlook him is the sheer weight already on his shoulders.  He will have the responsibility of throwing to an already struggling lineout now without its main man.  Maybe it’d be asking too much of him.  If that line of thinking did prevail, the armband would fall to one of Rob Kearney, Stephen Ferris or Jamie Heaslip.  Heaslip is usually the most talkative in huddles, but he rarely wears the armband at Leinster, and its unlikely he’ll wear it for Ireland.

Ferris and Kearney’s outstanding form alone makes them compelling, but its our old mate Bob would strikes us as the better option. ‘Twas a 10-cap Kearney who famously spoke up at the Enfield meeting, and by all accounts he is held in high regard by his colleagues.

In truth, any of the group would appear built for the role, and Deccie would do well to empower this group, and probably Sexton as well (like ROG, too cranky for the captaincy, but clearly a leader) with the role of leading the team.

Verdict: Best to captain, with Kearney his able lieutenant

Scrum Half

Little doubt that Reddan will now be the starting nine, but the call-up of Tomas O’Leary raised more than a few eyebrows.  Isaac Boss surely would have got the call, but is in New Zealand for personal reasons.  The folly of not calling up Paul Marshall in the first place has now come back to bite – this is classic stubborn Kidney.

Anyone who has watched Tomas and Paul in action this season will see two players at the opposite ends of the spectrum.  Marshall has been a key figure for Ulster, often coming off the bench, and has pushed his way into the starting line-up in recent weeks.  O’Leary meanwhile, had some reasonable cameos early on, but has reverted to his pre-World Cup form.  He is nowhere near operating at test level.  This is a terrible call by Kidney, which sees him, once again, playing favourites.

Ulster will be delighted that the Marshall-Pienaar axis can continue to develop; at least someone benefits from this deeply wrong-headed decision by Deccie.

Verdict: Unthinkably, O’Leary will be in an Irish matchday 22.  Wowsers.



  1. To be fair, Tuohy is currently calling the lineout at Ulster in the absence of Muller. In about 10 games this season Tuohy has jumped at 4 and called the lineout for Ulster.

  2. He did Andy, but not in any big games, and he didn't look terribly comfortable doing it. His season didn't really kick off until Muller came back from the RWC and he went back to the front. We're big fans here and think he should have a part to play in the national team, but not in the middle of the lineout.

  3. So if Boss wasn't unavailable doesn't that mean any accusations of DK playing favourites wouldn't need to be made?When you're talking about the difference between your forth and fifth choice scrum halves favouritism isn't really as bad a word as it could be.This is, of course, the same TOL who was left at home for the RWC. I'm sure if you asked him what it's like to be on of Deccie's favourites you'd need to be wearing protective gear.

  4. Paul Marshall is unquestionably in better form than TOL, deccie is picking an out of form player which is of no benefit to either Ireland or TOL; just look at last years 6N. He is going with the tried and trusted once more instead of looking to the future.

  5. Why should he look to the future? He's contracted to the end of next years tournament.

  6. Re : captain, the main reason I'd go for Best is that this is a temporary appointment, he's done it before for Ireland plus he's a provincial capt. When BOD and/or POC return, the armband will need to be handed back. I'm actually for "Bob" long-term simply because he has stepped forward and said he wants it (is it too harsh to say I'm not sure Jamie's that pushed?), but personally I'd like a new long-term appointment to be announced before a November series so he can ease into the role.

  7. @ummm TOL has always been something of a favoured son of Deccie's, and they had plenty of success together in 2008 and 2009. Sure, he ditched him on the eve of the World Cup, but only because he absolutely had to after the France game when TOL played himself off the plane (if he'd woken up with a cold that day and been excused he'd have travelled). Deccie rung every inch to get this guy into his team, repeatedly trying to play him into form in test games when he was really struggling badly at Munster. It's a real digging-your-heels-in call. Deccie took some flak for not picking Marshall for the Wolfhounds game, and he sure ain't rowing back on that decision now. @Gerry – I'd say he's going with the tried and can't be trusted, because O'Leary is just not at the required level these days. To hell with looking to the future, I just want the best team on the pitch, and Marshall is a better player right now.

  8. He's looked comfortable doing it Palle. I understand the logic of not entrusting him to do it at test level, but our lineout has been pretty much working like clockwork in the last few weeks.

  9. @PO, I'm not in favour of the TOL call, but this whole "Deccie's favourites" thing is lazy. If Deccie sticks to what he knows, and we know from the RWC selection is doesn't fully trust TOL, then he's accused of favouritism, even if the evidence doesn't support that. And as it stands it's not obvious Marshall is any better than TOL.If Deccie wanted to play favourites there's a certain scrum half who has given a decade of service to Ireland just waiting for the chance to finally break 100 caps. This is the same Deccie that didn't give his forwards coach a HEC final swansong.If Deccie drops someone there's always a handy excuse why it should be discounted and in no way shows why he doesn't play favourites, it's like arguing with a Creationist. No evidence and constantly changing goalposts.

  10. @Andy fair point. We think Tuohy is a 4 primarily, but its obviously a boon that he can call it as well – I think its pretty clear he brings much more to the table than Stakhanov@ummm I think we'll have to agree to disagree here, especially on Marshall not playing at a higher level than TOL. Granted, Deccie didn't bring Tomas to the RWC, but that was after years of favouritism and a complete melt-down.We should state for the record we think TOL has some really good qualities – but he is assuredly not a scrum-half of international quality on his form of the last 2 years. He made his HEC debut for Munster at 13, and we're of the opinion he could do a job there for Munster.Re Strings, we wrote a piece after he moved to Sarries about how coaches (including Deccie) never fully trusted him. We're not saying Deccie isn't ruthless, but we are saying he inordinately favours particular players – TOL is one. Stakhanov is another actually.

  11. Don't think Marshall (or Boss) had much of a game when playing for the wolfhounds against the saxons. O'Leary looked the best SH and scored a try. Marsahll generally looks good with Pienaar beside him which reminds me, has Paul Marshall even met Sexton/ROG or Heaslip, let alone play with them? there is enough experience missing in the backs with BOD out.

  12. JL Pagano – For the record, Muller is the Ulster captain. Not Best.

  13. Thanks @Radgefan good to hear an alternative view. What province did you say you followed again? Only messing…I'm not sure if personal familiarity is a pre-requisite for a successful partnership – Bakkies and Victor famously dislike each other for example.Re Marshall, he was indeeed singularly unimpressive against the Saxons … mostly because he wasn't playing!

  14. @Radgefan – O'Leary did indeed impress in that game but I have to ask, do you really and truly believe the one off low-intensity Wolfhounds v Saxons game to be the main selection criteria, as opposed to, say Heineken Cup games or meaningful league matches? Or is it just that it's the only possible line of argument that leads to the opinion you want to form…As for the experience argument, fair enough, but there aren't too many rookies in the backline either; Earls and Sexton are in the 25+ cap club now, and they're the least experienced there. Also, I assume you're applying the same logic to the pack now that Paulie is out, and are in similar disagreement about our argument for O'Mahony to start.

  15. Looks like Deccie is going to go into the game on Saturday without Toner (and possibly without a middle jumper) and with TOL on the bench. That would surely have to go down as the worst selection of all time. It's hard not to like the man but boy is he trying hard to make it so.

  16. egg chaser – nothing to do with whether they like each other or not – it just takes time to build up a bit of a partnership – you know like the way stringer never had to look up to see where O'Gara was, he just knew where he would Marshall – yea he didn't make saxons squad, but would you not agree that O'Leary looked better than Boss if you are basing it on anything.Marshall started against the Ospreys and he had a very poor game, certainly nothing to suggest he was an international standard scrumhalf. At lease with O'Leary you knew what its about anyway, even if his form is poor.Palla Ovale – no, I don't think the saxons are the b all of everything – but its the only game that both Boss and O'Leary were up against the same opposition so it will give you an indication of their form and game temperement.As for the experience thing – Earls is in a new position which you'd have to expect that he finds challenging. Which Sexton is going to turn up – the confident one or the one whose kicking is all over the shop? I do think the same logic does apply to the pack. I'd be inclinded to leave O'Mahony on the bench with POC missing for this one (though I think O'Mahoney is in a different class to Marshall, who isn't a Heineken Cup starter for Ulster for a start).

  17. Cheers Radge – I understand your argument better now its fleshed out.I just can't agree on Marshall – to me he looks the most dangerous Irish 9 on form – as a bench option you have little to lose. His defence is solid although that isn't a huge concern facing Mike Blair and Wee Greig Laidlaw.To me its not experience that is Sextons issue but belief in the gameplan. In fact the whole team played the third quarter vs France extremely unsure. But Sexton looks uncomfortable in a green shirt – no point in denying it. That said he gave an excellent defensive performance.Re POM, I'd throw him in but you make a point on experience – if Best misses out too you might think twice about having a third player in the pack making their 6N debut…

  18. As much as there is much valid debate over selection for both the matchday team and extended squads, the biggest issue with the Ireland team at the moment is the gameplan, if it can be called such.I can't remember the last time we successfully executed any backline move worthy of the name and our primary attacking weapon seems to be the Garryowen!This lack of direction, and with the largely held opinion that the Irish team is performing less than the sum of its parts, is entirely down to the coaching team.Selection issues are of secondary importance.

  19. @JammyDodger we're with you 100% there Jammy, and I've lost count of the number of posts and tweets where we've said it. But this week, two personnel changes are enforced, and one leaves us in a bit of a quandry so it made sense to put a bit of focus on them.

  20. @RADGEFAN – I think you're reading WAY too much into the Wolfhounds game. It's a meaningless one-off with precisely nothing at stake. Heineken Cup and league games are a far better gauge of 'form and game termperament'. It's all immaterial anyway, Boss is in New Zealand. It was between O'Leary and Marshall, and having not picked Marshall in the initial squad he was nevr going to get the nod – just shows the folly of not picking him in the first place.

  21. Dear Whiff of Cordite: Lads, I think your blog is generally excellent but I'm a little perplexed at this Deccie-bashing mentality that is seeping into your commentary. Please resist the urges to join the modern Irish rugby media (some of whom are simply band-wagon-jumping former football reporters) who are desperate for headlines and column space. I am simply perplexed at how Kidney, with a robust record in both historic and absolute terms, is getting labled with having favourites and "sons of deccie etc". This is not objective, but emotional and hyperbolic stuff that just ignores history. As someone above pointed out (but diluted shortly after), Kidney stopped TOL going to the WC. This was a massive call to make on a player who had played numerous high-quality games for Ireland. Kidney has also stuck with players not because he is "stubborn" but because WE DON'T HAVE THE LUXURY to drop experienced players who will produce X, and replace them with "the next generation" who will produce unknown value now but hopefully, X in the future. We have a small pool of professional players (4 teams, as you know), where there are probably only 15-18 world class players. Contrast this with England. They can drop their entire first 15 and struggle for a couple of seasons, but still produce a fight. If we did the same, we'd be utterly destroyed.Double D

  22. @Double D – thanks for the feedback, we appreciate it.Just to clarify our line on the 'favourites' issue – we're not accusing Deccie of being unprofessional, picking his mates or anything (we have never bought into the perceived Munster bias theory). ALL coaches have their favourites, players they seem to rate a bit higher than everyone else does, and also players they never quite trust – think of Eddie's gra for Simon Eastery and how Jamie Heaslip's face never quite seemed to fit.Deccie has obviously had a huge amount of success with O'Callaghan and O'Leary, and it always seems like we wants these guys in his team. O'Leary's form became so poor that he left Kidney with no choice before the WC. For all Reddan's good days in green, we just get the impression Deccie would prefer to have O'Leary or Murray in the team. I do find it mystifying that O'Leary not only made the squad but was given almost half an hour off the bench when Reddan was having a good game (box kicking aside!).We would argue that he's been excessively loyal to DOC and O'Leary. We haven't called for mass changes at any point, but we did call for Ryan to make the team with O'Callaghan moved aside, and we stand by that.Anyhow, there's plenty of good stuff happening in the team, and we talk about some of it in today's post, which hopefully will redress the balance for you.

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