Ou Est Le Boeuf?

Ireland’s November tour is starting to take on a nightmarish hue.  News broke yesterday afternoon that Rory Best and Brian O’Driscoll are out of the series.  It robs the team of two of its core leadership group, two of its best players and, crucially, two of its most physical assets ahead of what’s going to be an unflinchingly bruising round of games.  At the end of last summer we said that Kidney needed three wins out of three to declare a successful series.  He can be cut a bit of slack on that requirement, because the task just got a whole lot tougher.

To compete against the Springboks (and the Pumas), at a very minimum, you need a mean, bruising, beefy pack. Without this, you’ll be shunted aside like a Scarlets scrum [Exhibit A: First Lions Test 2009]. And with that in mind, Ireland are worryingly short of the necessary grizzled brawn in advance of next weekend’s Test, especially after yesterday’s injury news. Rory Best and Brian O’Driscoll join a treatment table already populated by Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien.  Stephen Ferris must be a major doubt at this stage, too.  That’s five of Ireland’s best players right there; and five – mancrush alert – supreme physical specimens to boot.  Given that Ireland don’t naturally produce gentlemen of a Bok-like carriage, we simply don’t have the replacements.

In the front-row, hardman Nordie farmer Besty is a grievous loss. His deputy Risteard O’Ostrais can slot in to an all-Leinster front row, but the reason he has become Irish in the first place is due to the lack of Seth Efrican respect for non-chunky hookers – he’s a fabulous player, but we’re down some major grunt.

Taking the second row, while Paul O’Connell is peerless and as influential as ever in full flow, he is effectively just back from injury – it’s asking a lot to expect the kind of towering match-bending performance that we have become used to.  But given it’s Paulie, Ireland will expect.

Alongside him, Ireland have a selection issue. Donnacha Ryan has started the season in lacklustre and anonymous fashion… and on the blindside. Matches seem to be passing him by, and he is playing out of his favoured position, and even if he is selected, he has always been short of Bakkies/Shawsie-type oof in the tight.

It’s Stakhanov who has partnered POC in the Heineken Cup, and he has looked somewhat revitalised after last season’s sustained mediocrity.  But again, he was never quite at the highest level physically in any case – his main asset was his always his nuisance factor rather than his bulk. That said, his experience is in his favour given the absentee list.  Dan Tuohy is coming to the boil nicely, but hasn’t reached the performance level that got him selected in New Zealand last year.  We’d like to see Mike McCarthy get the nod for this assignment – he’s a tough and abrasive natural 4 and might be the horse for the Springbok course.  O’Callaghan is probably favourite to get the nod.  But whatever way you look at it, it’s a four-horse race and all of the options are a little bit ho-hum.

The picture doesn’t improve much on the flanks – of the first-choice pair, Fez is surely out of consideration now after sitting out three games, and SOB is still weeks from a comeback. It’s the same problem as in the second row: there are decent players available, but are they of the necessary physicality to face the Bok monsters?

POM has been first deputy of late, but he is another who hasn’t started the season that well.  He has been shunted back and forth across the row and, skilful player though he is, isn’t quite of the required bulk at this stage in his career.  Kevin McLoughlin is probably the most natural fit for the role, but – recurring theme! – has started the season at such a fairly sluggish pace.

Chris Henry should be locked down at 7, and is in splendid form, but he is another who’s not a particularly beefy build and is more of a ‘nuisance value’ player.  Perhaps his provincial team-mate, NWJMB Iain Henderson should be considered on the blindside.  He is the one option you’d trust to have the physicality for the task. Huge step-up, sure, and maybe he isn’t ready, but he has passed every test with flying colours to date.  It’s a wild card worth giving some serious thought to.

At the back of the scrum, thankfully, Jamie Heaslip looks like he is approaching something like his best form.  The four men in front of him are likely to be low on the type of prime beef that South Africa trade on, so he’ll need to show some serious leadership – it’s time to audition for that Lion No.8 jersey.  Without him playing well, we cannot see Ireland coming close to breaking even up front.

Whatever way you slice up the back-five, the team sheet is not going to put the frighteners up South Africa, or Argentina for that matter.  Kidney’s first task in camp should be to kindly ask his three remaining world class forwards, Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy to perform with the ferocity of rabid wolves.  Forget the plush environs of Carton House; lock them into a cage together for the next week and throw them bits of raw horsemeat to fight over, then let them loose on the Boks…

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31 Comments

  1. Kidney is deep in the bunker and will be scared to lose any of them by a big margin. I would expect him to select a very experienced, Munster-heavy side for the tests. Healy, O’Ostrais, Ross, DOC, POC, Ryan, POM, Heaslip, Murray, Sexton, Zebo, D’Arcy, Earls, Trimble, Bowe.
    The Kidney clock continues to tick.

    • Paddy Logan

       /  October 31, 2012

      That would be right – Deccie to pick a side consisting mostly of players from Ireland’s 3rd (just) best province.

  2. Morton Slumber

     /  October 31, 2012

    I wonder would Jones get the call if he plays well (or even makes it through) this weeks game.

    Bowe at 15 would be a huge risk.

    • I would totally agree with you. Bowe at 13 would be an even bigger risk though. With BOD gone, the onus will be on who to fill in for him – therefore Deccie will pick Earls at 13. If Jones looks even half fit, you would hope he would start. I just have no faith in this regime.

  3. The most ridiculous part of this whole series is it has become so important because of the RWC draw. A series of internationals that could otherwise be used to try new things are given more credence than the results of the next 6 nations tournament.

    Apparently it needs to be be done early to allow the host nation to plan accordingly, as they need to know which nations will be in which pools. Do they my shapely and pert backside. They don’t even know their own venues yet. They know each pool will have two big teams. That’s all you need to know.

    Grumble, mumble….

  4. Jimbob

     /  October 31, 2012

    I’d really like to see NWJMB thrown in at the deep end. A young player like him who already has the physical attributes will go and give it everything he has. He’s probably the form 6 at the moment.

    Concerned about Earls and Zebo, I can see the saffers targeting them in contact, D’arcy and McFadden too for that matter (although I think they’re slightly better off). Dave Kearney and Felix Jones haven’t had enough game time post-injury and the other options don’t have any caps.

    I’d have to go; Healy, O’Ostrais, Ross, Ryan, POC, NWJMB, Henry, Heaslip, Murray (purely for size, Marshall on form), Sexy, Trimble, D’Arcy, Cave, Bowe/Earls, Earls/Bowe.

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about our backs physically. South Africa aren’t bringing a particularly big (or experienced) set of backs with them. They don’t have anything of the size of a Welsh backline even.

      When Kidney is picking the provincial teams this week, he might wanna get Dave Kearney 80mins at fullback.

      • Jimbob

         /  October 31, 2012

        Yeah,it’ll prob be the case anyway as madders will be returning to 10. I imagine Jones will be starting at 15 for munster too but it’s highly unlikely Deccy will call in either player for the SA game.

        SA backs might not be massive but they do run hard aggressive lines when the ball isn’t 60m up in the air. For that reason I don’t like Earls or Zebo for most games. If they can find space and attack like we know they can, I have no problem with them on the field.

      • Only three teams have conceded less tries than Munster in the PRO12 and they’ve only conceded 1 in the HCup (opposition notwithstanding) so defensively they’ve done fine this season.

        South Africa scored 12 tries in the Rugby Championship and Habana got 6 of those. They’re very dependent on him and he won’t be in Dublin. Their back play isn’t exactly all-singing-all-dancing.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  October 31, 2012

        SA do have big backs, well big centers at any rate. F.Steyn is 6’3 18stone. JdV is same height and 16 stone.Both are straight running big tackling centers…..something Ireland havent had in a while

      • Frans Steyn is injured, not going on tour.

        de Villiers is, by a couple of stone, their biggest back. Check out their squad http://www.sarugby.net/article.aspx?category=sarugby/springboks&id=1647474

        And besides JdV and Peterson, none of the rest of the backs are particularly experienced Springboks.

  5. In the second row, I’d like to see a Touhy/O’Connell partnership developed (provided Paulie makes it too). I like Mike McCarthy as a player and Touhy may not have reproduced his form of last season yet but he has played to a higher level (away in Clermont, HCup knockouts, three tests in NZ) and should be coming to terms with whats required in Test rugby. He can be Paulie’s new Donnacha and Paulie his Muller.

    Munster’s lack of heft (at least Ireland have the Nordies to go to) has been really detrimental to Ryan especially-pressing him into service on the flank to beef up the bakrow. It is worth baring in mind the manic intensity he does bring to 4 and he was one of our players to come away from Kiwiland with most credit.

    • Yes, it’s been tough on Ryan. He has a long overdue breakthrough season, gets into the Ireland team, dines out on rave reviews, can realistically have had the Lions on his list of targets for the season… and then he has to muck in on the flank, where he’s pretty ordinary.

      Would have no problem with Tuohy being picked, and you may be surprised to hear, no big problem with O’Callaghan in the team. Yes, you read correctly! He’s playing well, so why not? We’d see it as much of a muchness between the four of them, but given the requirement for beef, have a slight preference for McCarthy. Plus, as Zoolander would say, he’s really really good-looking!

  6. Amiga500

     /  October 31, 2012

    Henry not beefy?!? His arms might not look that big, only cos his chest is bloomin massive!!

    I’d have no fear of him taking on the bokke heaar.

  7. Kenny

     /  October 31, 2012

    Word on the street is Healy is broken and wont be fixed in time for this one either; enter mr kilcoyne

    • Kenny you’re killing us. And someone else tells me O’Connell has a niggle. This could be the weakest pack we put out in years.

      • Kenny

         /  October 31, 2012

        come on WOC, you cant get worse than 60-0

      • zdm

         /  October 31, 2012

        What’s all this miserly talk of DOC in the 2nd row? Next thing you know, you’ll be trumpeting for ROG at 10!

        Why take on the Boks at what they do best? Lets say it was the current Leinster squad up against the Saffa’s – we’d be praying that they keep it out of the scrum and in the hands.
        What Strauss, Henry et al lack in brawn, they make up for in ball skills and it was only 2 days ago that we were salivating over Caves running lines and Sexton’s distribution skills.

        We should target their line out with POC and Big Dan T. In any case, with those two in the 2nd row, we should be able to hold our own scrums.

        Out back, we know that after option 1 (pound it up the middle), the Boks will go for option 2 (bash it in to the sky) so stick on Earls – of all the options, I think he would be safest under the high ball and as a counter-attacking unit, Bowe/Trimble/Earls has the most potency.

        Time to shoot the moon methinks.

  8. Len

     /  October 31, 2012

    At this rate of going the non-linear one will be getting his first game in an Irish jersey quicker than he thought. I’d agree that Henry would be the best choice at 7 but will DK make that call? Don’t be surprised to see POM at seven and a fifty fifty Fez at 6. Also not ruling out a Sexy Darce centre partnership with Earls at FB and Rodge on crutches at 10. Think I got out of bed on the pessimistic side this morning.

  9. LarryMilne

     /  October 31, 2012

    Working on the premise that Ferris is out and Kenny’s warnings of doom (above) play out, I think I’d pick the following:

    Kilcoyne, O’Strais, Ross
    Ryan, POC
    O’Mahony, Heaslip, Henry
    Reddan
    Sexton
    Zebo, D’Arcy, Cave, Bowe
    Earls

    BENCH: Cronin, Court, Fitzpatrick, Tuohy, McCarthy, Marshall, Jackson, McFadden

    Gameplan:

    Prayer, lots of it. Murray’s extra physicality loses out to his ponderous moments. If we’re playing the Boks with that pack we have to play at speed. McLaughlin has never convinced me at international level and, with our two best flankers out, I’ve gone for McCarthy (who I admire very much) as the back row replacement, for added boeuf off le pine.

  10. Leinsterlion

     /  October 31, 2012

    Going through the teams there is not much difference between Ireland and SA,both have crap coaches who play limited 10 man rugby,the main difference is SA have the bulk to pull it off,we dont. SA will win but only because they have more heft.I’ll wager this will mimic the Argentina game in that it’ll probably be boring rubbish.
    The only consolation is that Penelope Spies is possibly the worst 8 playing inside the top 10 international teams so we have an edge there as Heaslip is world class.They have the edge in the tight five though.
    The boks haven’t been the best without Brussouw and if hes not playing they will be even more one dimensional then usual.Henry could shade the battle of the breakdown if SA continue selecting two blindsides as per usual
    They also have an outhalf controversy in that Goosen is out and all their other options are Aviva Premiership standard.And then there’s Morne Steyn who actually hates the rugby ball so much he trys his level best to get it as far away as possible if someone puts it in his general direction.So Sexton is head and shoulders above any option they have
    Hougarrd is spiky,but again hasnt been great.Murray though is crap so I’ll expect they’ll win the battle of the nines.
    Both backlines look mediocre.I’d favour Kearney at FB and Cave at 13 as JDV is looking washed up,Ireland should look to attack him.
    Francois Steyn is a big unit and could make mincemeat of Darce if Darce doesnt bring his A game.
    Wings and FB is a draw.The Boks have literally no one at 15…but then neither do we…..Bowe/Habana is a draw.Trimble is solid and can bring any wing down to his level and he rarely gets burned.

  11. NiDave

     /  October 31, 2012

    Zebo over trimble!? not a chance

  12. Rava

     /  October 31, 2012

    A pound to a penny, Ferris will be fit!

  13. Rich

     /  November 1, 2012

    Trying to stay positive…..Really trying……..But……

    I reckon we ll win 1 Aut test and beat Italy/France in 6 nations.

    But what pains me most is that when Wales beat us, which they will, I know the very next week we ll see Leinster/Ulster/Munster tearing up the best clubs in Europe, almost like watching different players – “was that really Heaslip playing last week” etc etc etc.

    We are victims of a regime, instead of giving all the fringe players game time in the past LIKE EVERY OTHER NATION DOES, we insist on playing the tried and tested – all very well if a team is winning winning winning, but we got hammered by Wales in RWC in a scoreline that flattered us and got hammered in NZ – yet we still doddle along our typical, complacent way – to where we are. Of course we are going to have an inexperienced team – with 4-5 injuries we re calling in players for debut??

    We are the only country in the world who will opening accept failure as its the easiest option, i will never have a go at the young players as they never had a chance. Some will play then be tossed away for 6 nations, i have no idea why Kid has called Jackson in, i am sure he has never even seen him play.

  14. Rich

     /  November 1, 2012

    MEANT TO BE ITALY/SCOTLAND – TYPO….haha

  15. Finally WoC throw some positivity Stankhanov’s way. The sky must be falling!

    And it really cannot be overstated how eally, really, ridiculously good looking Mike McCarthy is.

    Regarding the 2nd row, I’d play Ryan there or not start him. Which is harsh because I like him very much as a player, and by all accounts, he’s a lovely chap but it would seem to me the strongest back row we have is POM, Henry & Heaslip. Realistially I can’t see Ferris being fit, as much as I would like him to be.

    Paulie’s pretty much a lock at lock if he’s fit, or mostly so. The team is ridiculously shorn of leaders so he’s badly needed in that regard. His partner’s between Touhy & DOC. Normally I’d go for Tuohy but Donners has started the season like a train so I’m really in two minds about that one.

    Full-back I think I’d have Jones but it really depends how he goes this weekend. It’s between him & Earls

    Centres probably Ferg/D’arcy & Cave. Wings Bowe & Trimble, springing Zebo on in the last 20.

    For scrum-half, I think I would pick Murray over Reddan for bulk reasons. Besides the howlers in Paris he hasn’t had a bad season.

    It’s a question of tactics tho. We’re not going to be able to outmuscle the Boks so should we be running around them? We will most likely have the better backline so would Reddan do a better job of igniting that?

    So many questions & variables. Most days I wouldn’t mind a go of running the Irish rugby team. Frankly you could do worse. This week I’m pretty happy not to be in Kidney’s shoes

    • Agreed Kate, normally when we post our own pre-game ‘selection’ we have a pretty iron-clad idea of who we’d like to see in the team, and what we’d like to see them do, but this week there are so many variables in play it’s hard to have a huge amount of conviction in any one particular idea.

  16. Colin O'Reilly

     /  November 1, 2012

    if Jones lasts the match this weekend he will start. If fez can walk he will play and i think he will. same goes for DJ church. Paulie is also nursing a knock but will also definitely play. the fact that so many of our starting 15 will be well short of peak fitness is a major concern for me.
    Im really surprised by all the optimism going around that kidney might actually put the best 15 available on the . DK will definitely pick Murray who would be the third best coice in my opinion. If ferris starts then POM will start at 7 and while he a is very good 6/8 he is not a 7. He has only occasionally played there and that’s generally at kidneys request. While Henry isn’t a natural 7 he has basically been converted in to an exteremly good one, one who theoretically could free up Jamie from some grunt work, but I would be shocked to see him picked ahead of POM. DOC will start. Cave won’t get picked at 13 despite being the most qualified to step in for god. And what on earth has Madigan done to offend kidney? What else could he have possibly done in the last 15 months to warrant a call up to at least the training squad?

    For what its worth here is the team I would pick: Healy Strauss ross
    poc tuohy
    fez heaslip henry
    reddan
    johnny
    Zebo Darcy cave bowe
    earls
    Cronin court bent Ryan o mahony Marshall Madigan McFadden

    And here is the team that will play assuming there are no more injuries
    Healy Strauss bent
    DOC POC
    Fez heaslip POM
    Murray
    Johnny
    Zebo Darcy earls bowe
    Jones
    Cronin kilcoyne bent Ryan henry reddan ROG ferg

    Kidney out!

    • Colin O'Reilly

       /  November 1, 2012

      A few mistakes in there. Damn phone.
      Meant to say Ross will start with bent on the bench

  17. Pete

     /  November 3, 2012

    Henry mightn’t be the biggest man on the international circuit, but by the standards of most 7s he’s pretty sodding huge!

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