Ireland’s Six Nations: Tha Playas

We’ve had our rant about the team’s general performance and management’s selection policy, but how about the players themselves, at an individual level.  Unsurprisingly, as with the series itself, it was a pretty mixed bag.  A handful distinguished themselves, a few more weren’t at their best, and the sorry affair in Twickenham looked like the end of the road for a handful of great servants to Irish rugby.

Outstanding achievement in the field of excellence: Rob Kearney, Stephen Ferris

Two players reborn after lengthy injury.  We have a slight man-crush on Ferris, and it predates him taking his top off vs. France.  Rob Keaney looked full of vim and vigour, and arguably topped his 2009 Lions form.  Both look captaincy material in the long term, and are certainties for the Lions squad, and probables for the test team. Both are peerless as ultra-physical blindsides / safe-as-houses fullback in the Northern Hemisphere.

Critics answered: Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton

There were plenty of doubts around Keith Earls’ ability to play centre, and we had our own, in spite of ultimately endorsing the selection.  He showed himself to be mostly up to task, and was Ireland’s most potent line-breaker.  Who knows, paired with an inside centre with a semblance of attacking threat, he might have done either better. His homework is to expand his peripheral vision and watch some videos of Smuddy, BOD and Jacque Fourie – he can do better at bringing his outside backs into play. Jonny Sexton finally took ownership of the shirt.  He wasn’t spectacular, but defended his channel manfully and his form with placed ball was finally up to task – he missed one easy kick in Paris, but otherwise kicked well. He needs to improve his tactical kicking – it’s not his strongest suit, but Ireland demand better.

Solid performers: Tommy Bowe, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan

Tommy Bowe got among the tries, but Ireland need to get him much more involved than he is – to be fair, Bowe knows it as well. He certainly missed BOD and an in-form 12 to pop those little passes to him – he doesn’t yet seem to trust Earls.  Rory Best captained the side manfully, and got himself two tries; he’s now one of the side’s most important figures. The lineout wasn’t up to its usual standards, and Besty needs to takle some of the blame here. Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan had their moments in mixed campaigns – Murray needs to stop over-complicating the game, he looks like he has the early symptoms of O’Leary disease, though unlike his predecessor he has good passing technique. Reddan is a solid performer, but as soon as Paul Marshall is at international level, he’s likely yo be ditched by Deccie (again). Paul O’Connell and Mike Ross’ injuries had a huge impact on the side, and not in a good way – they are, and will be, key men.

We need to see more: Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien, Andrew Trimble

None of the above disgraced themselves, but all four will have designs on making the Lions tour next year, and for one reason or another, weren’t at their best.  Cian Healy was outstanding against Scotland, but fairly quiet by his standards for much of the tournament – we’d like to see him operate at a higher level and start assuming a lieutenant role. Jamie Heaslip got through a fair amount of donkey work and won his share of turnovers but a player of his ability needs to show a bit more.  A number 8 who isn’t getting over the gainline is not a luxury Ireland can afford.  Sean O’Brien suffered from being played out of position and cut a slightly frustrated figure, despite a good tackle count.  Meanwhile Andy Trimble took his two tries brilliantly, but never quite showed the Ulster form that had propelled him into the team.  As with Tommy Bowe, he needs to come off his wing and look for a few more touches of the ball – but stay outside if an overlap looks on! Its a 3/4 line in flux, Trimble still deserves time to show what he can do.

The best is yet to come: Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden

Four players we need to see a bit more of, and all of them knocking pretty hard.  Donncha Ryan belatedly got his chance to start and grabbed it – the pity was he wasn’t given it sooner.  Peter O’Mahony had a solid debut, but was a victim of Deccie’s rigid pecking order, and went back to the bench.  McFadden and Cronin need to be used off the bench earlier by Kidney, at the very least, and it would be nice if McFadden could get some time at 12 – Ryan should now be a mainstay and the other three should be marked for a minimum of a test start in New Zealand, form permitting of course.

End of the line: Donncha O’Callaghan, Tom Court, Gordon D’arcy, Tomas O’Leary, and possibly, maybe, Ronan O’Gara

O’Callaghan and D’arcy we’ve been over already.  O’Leary’s pass is just not up to standard – he needs a fresh start somewhere out of the limelight – his confidence is shot to pieces and he was cruelly exposed against England.  Tom Court was unfortunate to be asked to perform a task for which he is simply not equipped – it is surely time to explore some new options, such as they are.

Now, the last one – ROG.  Controversial for sure, so let us tread carefully here.  ROG is now very much the second choice 10, and we’re slightly baffled by Deccie’s tactic of shunting Sexton to 12 to bring him on.  Truth be told, he didn’t make much of a splash in any of his cameos this Six Nations, though he’s obviously still very much a class player.  We wouldn’t retire a player as great as ROG without careful consideration, but it might be worth just starting to think about the season after next when he will no longer be around to call upon.  It won’t be too long until we’re back in the uncomfortable position of having only one test fly-half, unless we can pre-empt it a bit, and expose someone like Ian Madigan to test rugby.  It could be worth putting ROG in the ‘Break Glass In Case of Emergency’ box, and maybe giving him the summer off – is it really necessary to fly a 35 year old across the world to sit on the bench in three tests?  For now let’s just say we’re putting the idea out there, but not with any real conviction behind it yet.  It’s dependant on a big end-of-season finish from Madigan for starters.

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7 Comments

  1. The New Zealand tour is the perfect time to try new players out – losing there isn't going to impact our IRB ranking and there's nothing to gain by bringing the end of line players.

  2. While I wholeheartedly agree that it is time for more props to be involved in the Irish setup, even if it's just training squads, its very harsh to say it should be the end of the line for TC.Yes he is no TH, but he remains our second best option at LH and unless we unearth a viable TH that can also cover LH, he remains the best option for the 17 shirt.Of course Intl. rugby should move to 23 man squads but until then TC is an incredibly valuable squad member.Also, I'd love both Keatley and Madigan to travel south – nothing like a bit of competition.

  3. Can't help but feeling that in a year or two we'll be saying "Jeez, remember when Sean O'Brien was playing 7-what was that about?". Not to criticise his play (his defense is excellent and he's doing the work on the ground) but we're just not using his strengths. A little like Jamie Roberts playing 13 till the World Cup (when Gats suddenly remembered that he's a huge man) we've taken a player from where he's most effective. At some point we've got to reconcile that playing all our best players together, no matter what, isn't always best and may be detrimental.I can't see any benefit from taking O'Gara to NZ either. He's approaching his last few seasons and there's nothing we don't already know about him. The rest would surely be more beneficial while taking a younger flyhalf down south. (Although, it would be a bitch for him if we squeezed past the Bleks while he sat on his couch in Cork!)Playing the All Blacks is win-win for Ireland. If we don't beat them, well, we never beat them. If we run them close it's like a win. If we actually win, it's like winning a Six Nations. It would be great if we could use some of that freedom to start some turnover of the squad and combinations.

  4. @ DramaticIntro Yep, I see what your saying, but what is your suggested backrow?I'm guessing the choices are as follows:6. Ferris/O'Brien?7. O'Mahony/Henry?8. Heaslip/O'Brien?Or someone else I've missed…?

  5. Any shake-up is obviously going to involve time and/or risk but (colours to the mast) I would like to see6. Ferris7. O'Mahony8. O'BrienI don't think anyone would argue that Ferris is one of the best 6's in Europe right now.I know O'Mahony is not a "Genuine 7" but we have the opportunity to take a young, aggressive, rangy, intelligent back-row and develop him. As he said himself a few weeks ago "I’d like to learn more at seven" and he appreciates that he's physically suited to it. It'll be interesting to see what the rest of season holds at Munster with Ronan out-whether Wally slots back into 7 or they leave it to O'Mahony. We know that O'Brien has the skills to play 8 and it would be great to see him rampaging again with ball in hand. The only question would be whether he has the decision making abilities to do it at Test level and you can't know that till its tried.Leaving Heaslip out would be a big call for any coach to make. He had a solid if unspectacular championship.

  6. @DramaticIntro interesting stuff. I think those sort of selections have to be given a go. We have (at least) four backrows who have the look of top class players about them, and just sticking with a rigid pecking order and keeping the same one on the bench isn't going to cut it. I'd have slight concerns around O'Brien at the base of a retreating scrum (Heaslip is peerless in this aspect) but it's got to be worth a look. I'd like to see a few combos tried out. It'll probably be academic: judging by previous tours, at least one of the four is bound to get injured and open the door for others anyhow. I've high hopes that Dom Ryan can make a late bolt, his season effectively starts tomorrow night.Agree also that playing NZ is win-win (and lose-lose-lose most likely at the same time), and I just hope we can take advantage.

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