Decisions, Decisions

The first weekend of the HEC have left our trio of Kiwi provincial coaches with a range of interesting selection dilemmas (dilemmae?) – more than one of which will have a knock-on effect on Ireland, as Deccie’s November squad is announced next week. Let’s look at some shirts.

Ulster Scrummie

This one is intriguing. On the one hand you have a Springbok multi-talented RWC winner, Ulster’s best player of the last two years. On the other hand you have an electric young Irishman, developing at pace, and man of the match in Week 1. Who do you pick? Pienaar isn’t going to sit on the bench for long, but how can you drop Marshall after that performance? An away-day trip to Glasgae is probably, on paper, one for the more experienced man, but Marshall might be the smarter choice. Realistically, Pienaar is going to be the man in May, so why not give Marshall high-pressure exposure when you can? Also, it sends the wrong message to drop the incumbent when Mr Big Shot comes back. Pienaar will be off again from next week with the Boks – Ulster will need him in December, let him rest his weary bones now before South Africa’s high intensity (and Irish) test assigments.

Leinster second row

Leinster’s second row, as currently configured, looks for the knackers yard. Leo Cullen (2012 version) and Damian Browne is not a combination to strike fear into anyone really – Tom Hayes dealt with them with ease. Looking at the potential replacement, one name springs to mind – the lad on the bench with 100 Leinster caps, Devin Toner. If Toner cannot step up and claim a shirt now, he’s just not going to – if you see Schmidt stick with last week’s pair, or promote Denton or Roux into the starting XV ahead of Toner, for a game against the only Welsh region without one Lions contender in the engine room, that might be that for Devin Toner at this level. As much as we think that he has done enough, or justified some faith, it’s Joe Schmidt who sees him every day, and we have yet to see Schmidt give him a vote of confidence.

Munster 6/8

Without James Cawlin, Munster look chronically short of ball-carrying heft in the back row. Last week, they picked POM at 8 and Donnacha Ryan at 6 – this seemed designed to beef up the pack for an away-day assignment, and keep your best back rower in the side – no harm there. But it isn’t a viable plan going forward really – Ryan is needed in the second row, and POM isn’t a HEC-level 8. What are the options? How about move O’Mahony back to 6, where he should get a run of games, and bring in young Paddy Butler at the back of the scrum for some better carrying. Sure, it’s callow, but so is any combination we can think of, such as Dave O’Callaghan at 6 and POM at 8. Netani Talei could start for Embra, and, to be truthful, we don’t think POM could deal with him – we would chance Butler.

Ulster 6/8

Pre-season, we had highlighted this line as one of Ulster’s weak spots – beyond Fez/Henry/Wilson, we didn’t see any depth. Well, without 2 of the 3, they did ok on Friday, and Nick Williams has been their best player this season. New Willie John McBride (henceforth NWJMB) Iain Henderson was a revelation, but if Ferris can start, and with Wilson and Williams back, it’s unlikely he will keep his place, or even get a bench slot. Henderson, of course, is a second row by trade. Should you throw him a bench slot there in Lewis Stevenson (himself starting the season well)? Hard to manage, but he is tomorrow’s man, and there is no need to tear the hole out of him. We’d go Fez-Henry-Williams with Wilson on the bench. We’ll see NWJMB captain the 2021 Lions – no need to see him Friday.

Leinster 12

We have talked recently about how Ferg finally looks like getting a firm grip on the inside centre shirt in D4, but he might need to compromise this weekend. The word is that Dorce will be back, and if that happens, given the patched-up nature of Leinster’s outside backs, you’d think he’ll come in and take the 12 shirt with Fads moving to the wing to act as George North’s speedbump again try and stop George North. It’s a tough break for McFadden – if Leinster had a full deck, we think Schmidt would keep Ferg in the shirt. The ballsier call, of course, would be put Dorce on the bench and keep Andrew Conway on the wing – but Joe tends to be conservative for HEC away days.

Munster 10

Here is a bullet dodged by Rob Penney. Rog picking up a hamstring has reduced the number of O’Gara-supporting pieces in this weeks Irish media to zero – better to put them in the cupboard and dust them down for the Sarries double-headers. We suspected Keatley was always going to start this game, but now he gets to start it without Chief Ligind warming up on the sideline for the first 60 minutes. In a way, that would be better for Keatley – he needs to be able to deal with the unique pressure that challenging Ronan O’Gara for his shirt generates, but don’t worry – that pressure will come.



  1. Amiga500

     /  October 17, 2012

    Another dilemma to add to the dilemmae; Lewis Stevenson or Dan Tuohy in the Ulster 2nd row? Stevenson was a beast when he came on – a great man for rolling up the sleeves and getting on with the hard work.

    A slightly less obvious problem, how to fit Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Tommy Bowe into 2 starting slots?

    • Gilroy is the odd man out right now, but he looks electric when he comes off the bench. Allen might be a centre, but he also started the season looking excellent on the wing.

      • LarryMilne

         /  October 17, 2012

        All sorts of posers for Ulster.

        Re. the back row (in total), from going to a good starting three with no depth last year, we now look really well equipped in the most attritional area of a rugby squad to challenge for two trophies. I agree with your chosen starting trio and bencher (although an injury to Chris Henry would leave it lacking in balance) but Diack was surprisingly brilliant in the games he played early on, far better than I’ve ever seen him, Henderson looks fantastic, Sean Doyle looked a competent Pro12 player straight off (I won’t say any more than that, but he’s only 22) while even the frightening-for-his-own-fans-only McComish has been playing to an acceptable level. It’s not the All Blacks, but it’s miles better than last year.

        Everything else:
        – Marshall has to start, same deal as last week, Ruan has plenty of time to be first choice when he gets back full time
        – Leinster’s second row is terrible compared to the last three years, I agree that it’s now or never for Toner, but I don’t think he and Leo are the solution. I could see Toner/Thorn working, but not Toner/Cullen
        – Munster’s back row is their biggest weakness right now, a world away from the days of Wallace/Quinlan/Foley/Leamy. But, like the Leinster second row, it’s work with what you have time. POM is the one proven performer, Dougall has done OK on the openside so, like you, I’d go for Butler. He’s not polished but he looks to have the traditional Munster hardness that’s lacking
        – Leinster 12: should have been FMcF for the past two years, his development has stalled, and Dorce has done OK for de Loins (as opposed to in green – yet still got a two-year contract extension)
        – Munster 10: Rog throwing intercept tries… Keatley should have the shirt full-time until there’s a compelling case for him not to have it that isn’t based on the all the Heineken games Rog won behind the best pack in Europe, because they don’t have the BPiE any more, or even close.

  2. henryfitz

     /  October 17, 2012

    Munster’s 7 is of more concern to me than the 6 and 8 combination. Dougall is a good pro, but he’s a bit slow. At the ruck, he’s heavy rather than powerful, and irritating but not disruptive. His plus points are his positional play and his tackling, but he doesn’t offer much beyond that. With Ronan being light and an iffy tackler, 7 is an obvious weakness in the side.

  3. Sam.

     /  October 17, 2012

    I’ve raised it on other discussion websites before, but I just can’t see where POM is going to fit at pro level. I haven’t seen the skills that suggest he can adapt his game to a pure 7’s, he lacks the sheer physicality of a to class 6 and he just doesn’t seem dynamic enough for 8. His lineout work can’t be pointed to as a great deciding factor, Butler is just as famed in the young crop of Munster back rowers.
    He’s not like Ryan at Leinster, who I could see developing into a great 7 because he just seems more dynamic around the pitch, despite not being as accomplished as others at the ruck.
    Perhaps I’m going off this season a little too much, I only saw about 3 of POM’s games last season and I understand he got quite a few MOTM awards.

    • henryfitz

       /  October 17, 2012

      Interesting. O’Mahony is a 6 for me, in the Alan Quinlan mould. A player who makes up for his power deficiencies with aggression, bravery and niggle. There are many different templates for 6s, with destructive tacklers like Lydiate and Worsley, ball-carriers and lineout operators like Bonnaire and Juan Smith, game-readers and breakdown merchants like Hill and Quinlan, or the freakish Stephen Ferris, who is a combination of all of the above. I don’t think O’Mahony’s attributes rule him out from being a good 6, given the different combinations of physique and style that successful players in that position have had.

  4. Don

     /  October 18, 2012

    I always though O’Mahony was a great 7 in waiting myself. Clever and aggressive, he is a pure irratent like Quinlin(as henryfitz above stated) but never seemed nearly dynamic enough to be a wrecking ball of a 6. And I have never though of him as an 8, despite what some RTE folk would have us believe.
    But by getting some experience and channelling that aggression, he could be an utter nightmare at the breakdown for the opposition.
    Just a thought, I always thought a O’Callaghan-O’Mahony-Buter combo at 6-7-8 sounded quiet tasty and well balanced.

    As an aside, I also felt the hype Peter got (especially last season) was too much because A: He wasnt THAT good and B: Would do him a dis-service in the long run.
    I would welcome other peoples thoughs about this.

    • Interesting debate chaps. As we see it, POM has some homework
      1. Get a regular run of games in one position. He is an occasional captain and a young man around whom the coach could build – he should have enough clout to ask Penney (nicely) for this. Ironically, Deccie didn’t help him at all here – his first 3 starts for Ireland were at 7, 6 and 8.
      2. If he decides he is a blindside – sort out the ability to tackle on his left shoulder – world class operators simply do not budge, never mind fall off ball carriers like snow on a branch.
      3. Ask the Munster mafia in the media to stop calling him the new Richie McCaw/Stephen Ferris/Jamie Heaslip (all heard last season) – its unfair and stunts his development!
      We rate the lad, he is abrasive and has good ball skills and we think he has a great future.

  5. Sam

     /  October 18, 2012

    His ball skills at 8 are lacking, to put it lightly.
    I don’t think aggression and abrasiveness will make up for his lack of size, technique and power. SOB can learn the techniques of a seven because he has the raw power to withstand resist collisions at rucks, I’m not so sure that POM will have that at international level.
    At 6? It might just be my imagination, but I see the likes of Bonnaire and Dusatoir as just bigger and more powerful. It enables their work rate and effect at international level.

  6. Spot on analysis on Ferg. He should have the 12 spot nailed by now…and is Ireland’s only really viable option for 12 this year (even if he is maybe not the future). However, it is hard to see Schmidt trusting Conway (or god-forbid Carr) away from home defensively (even if North is not their opposing wing (Nacewa played on the left last week). Also, the IRFU dictat of last year that Ferg be played out of position on the right wing is presumably still in place?

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