Square Pegs, Round Holes

Yesterday we pored over Ireland’s options in the forward units, decrying a lack of beef available to replace the injured players.  But in the backline, there’s a whole other set of problems.  Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll are injured, robbing the team of its captain and its mainstay at full-back, and best player over the last year.

With Geordan Murphy retired and Luke Fitzgerald and Gavin Duffy injured, Ireland don’t have much in the way of experienced back-ups at full-back.  Meanwhile, replacing BOD in the centre is not a task that comes easily to anyone.  Before looking at what options are available (and we do have some), here are a few important factors that need to be considered when trying to patch together a back division for next week’s test.

  1. South Africa kick a lot.  The Saffers love nothing more than booting the ball into orbit and sending their flying wings (with enormous flankers in hot pursuit) chasing after it.  Whoever is selected at full-back should know they’ll be in for a long day if they are not comfortable fielding high balls.  This does suggest a preference for a specialist at 15, as opposed to shoe-horning someone into the role.
  2. Gordon D’arcy will start.  D’arcy has copped a lot of flak for some less than eye-catching form in green, and he was pretty useless in the Six Nations.  But every time we think it’s safe to strike a line through his name he comes back again.  His form for Leinster since returning from injury has been excellent and merits selection for the first test in the series.
  3. Conor Murray will start.  From Stuart Barnes to the dogs on the street, just about everyone wants to see Sexton paired with his provincial team-mate Eoin Reddan, whose game is tailor made to get Johnny on the front foot and in control.  But Kidney and co., already mindful of a beef-deficiency, will stick with Conor Murray.  Before groaning loudly, it’s worth noting that Murray is playing reasonably well so far this season, his Paris horror-show aside.
  4. The Saffer back-line is big, but not monstrous.  Jean de Villiers is a big fellow but their biggest unit, Frans Steyn, is injured. But the South Africa back-line isn’t quite on the super-sized scale of the Welsh unit.  Nor are they likely to cut Ireland up with dashing moves and outrageous skill.  On top of all this, there’s some talk of experimentation and using the tour to build for the 2015 World Cup.  This is not a South Africa team to be feared.  Kidney and co. should concentrate on getting the best players they can on the pitch and not be too mindful of giving up a few kilos here and there.  The likes of Gordon D’arcy and Keith Earls punch well above their weight.
  5. Experience and players playing in their best position count for a lot.  We’d encourage Kidney to put as few square pegs in round holes as he can.  Against this, he has to balance up a requirement to ensure the backline isn’t too callow.  Darren Cave at 13, Felix Jones at 15 and Simon Zebo at 11 might sound exciting on paper, but it’s very raw, with three novices out of five in the back division.

With all that in mind, the options avilable, as we see them, are as follows.

The Specialists – 15 Jones, 14 Bowe, 13 Earls, 12 D’arcy, 11 Zebo/Trimble

Be Happy: Everyone is playing in their natural position and we’ve a proper full-back on the pitch, and one with an exciting counter-attacking game too.  Earls’ performances at 13 in the last 12 months should have convinced the doubters at this stage that he’s up to task – we were one of them ourselves.

Be Worried: Felix Jones is just back from a(nother) lengthy lay-off and has only had one start with Munster, at home to that European powerhouse Zebre.  He’ll have another this weekend, but it’s a massive risk to throw such an inexperienced and injury-prone player in at the deep end like that.  Earls himself is also recovering from injury and has not played since the Leinster game in Lansdowne Road.

The Strike Runners- 15 Earls, 14 Trimble, 13 Bowe, 12 D’arcy, 11 Zebo

Be Happy: why not just try and get all our best strike runners on to the pitch?  This would necessitate bringing Bowe off the wing, which would create room for both Trimble and Zebo, two wings in a rich vein of form.  Alternatively, Bowe and Earls could switch jumpers, with Bowe more reliable under the high ball.

Be Worried: Bowe may be solid under the high ball but once he catches it, he isn’t the best kicker in the world.  Reverting to Bowe at centre, then, and you’d have two players out of position, and Bowe hasn’t played 13 in a significant game in a long time, with perhaps too much weight being put on a good performance there for the Lions over three years ago.

The Cavemen- 15 Earls, 14 Bowe, 13 Cave, 12 D’arcy, 11 Zebo/Trimble

Be Happy: On the face of it, the most balanced selection, with Darren Cave coming into the centre.  He’s perhaps the most BOD-like 13 available.  That would allow Bowe to stay in his best position, while Earls would have to ready himself for an aerial onslaught.

Be Worried: Earls at 15 and an outside centre making his first test start.  And besides, what if Earls is injured?  Bringing Jones in would leave the backline way too inexperienced.

The Ooooooooooooohhh – 15 Hurley, 14 Bowe, 13 McFadden, 12 Downey, 11 Trimble

Be Happy: Ooooooooooohhh, those Saffers are awfully big chaps.  Let’s fight fire with fire and get our most physical, bosh-tastic backline out on the pitch.  We can almost hear Barnesy gearing up already.

Be Worried: Ireland don’t need to be any more dull to watch than they already are.

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51 Comments

  1. Thomas

     /  November 1, 2012

    Cave at 13, there I said it, don’t know why everyone’s not saying it, singing it even.

    I know we’re all having a laugh here, but if we pick anyone other than the most consistent back in the country over the last season and a half, and possibly the most robust defender we have in our back line, we’ll get massacred.

    We’ll get massacred anyway, but Cave is nothing if not a presence in defense (in addition to a very under rated all round footballer), and as for being inexperienced, he’s been a victim of injury and poor selection (and has around 100 caps for Ulster, most of them the good first team variety), I expect WOC of all the respectable rugby organs to know and espouse as much.

    • Cave ticks plenty of the right boxes alright and we certainly rate him highly. And, yes, he’s not an inexperienced player in absolute terms, but – at the risk of coming over all Declan Kidney! – a test debut is a test debut and he’s a complete rookie in those terms.

      • LarryMilne

         /  November 1, 2012

        Ah, fellas! Come on! You’re being seduced by the succubus logic of our (decade-old) Hellerian selection policy. Enough! Darren Cave is 25, has played in a HEC final, and played very well, has played the All Blacks in New Zealand (for eight minutes, granted) and – as the man above says – has been the best centre in Ireland for 18 months, the best of Brian excepted.

        Surely it’s more than about time to pick the guy?

        • You misunderstand us, I think. We’re all in favour of picking Darren Cave. We’re just standing over our description of him as a test rookie – not saying it means he shouldn’t be picked, just that we’d be wary of stacking the backline with too many test novices. Like we said in the piece, Earls at 15, Cave at 13, Bowe at 14 strikes us as the best balanced of the options described.

      • LarryMilne

         /  November 1, 2012

        Ah, no, I think I have you spot on. However, my own tone may not have been quite as obviously playful as intended.

        Still, that is the first toe in the waters ruled by the Sirens of Experience so I urge you to back away, towel down and dust off with some DDT.

  2. Amiga500

     /  November 1, 2012

    The Cavemen for me.

    [and I’m still grumbling about Robbie Henshaw not even getting into the extended squad.]

  3. Leinsterlion

     /  November 1, 2012

    Actually that Oooooooh! backline looks very tasty. I was set on Cave,but WOC you have completely changed my mind.Completely left field selection,Im totally in favour of it,even though McFads is a 12.I assume since F.Steyn is out, JdV is at 12? which leaves DeJongh at 13? DeJongh isnt great,a bit like Wynad Oliver(good S15,rubbish internationally).
    The last option is by far the most solid and contains the ballast that we dont have in the in forwards,with only Heaslip and our props being big(good) ball cariers(O’Strauss can carry but hes not a big unit.)POC will be doing his usual recieving the all standing,then grinding it up slowly in the face of an onrushing defence so we are going to need big units in the back to give us go forward.Plus with Cave and Earls on the bench we would have options if boshing doesnt work out

  4. Hate the idea of Jones going straight into the starting position after such a long break. Until he gets a good run going he’ll always be an injury concern and you’ll almost certainly need someone on the bench to cover for him since it seems very unlikely he will be able to last a full test game, so its just pushing the fb problem onto the bench.

    Hurley has been good for Munster this season even if he’s never going to be an amazing international there’s nothing wrong with playing some dependable players in the right position rather than shoe horning wingers into positions they have next to zero experience in. And (to continue beating a drum) if we’re going to shoe horn in players, Henshaw has been brilliant at fb and played more games there this season than jones probably has in the last two seasons.

    Also with Healy injured and Fitzpatrick a concussion worry now apparently, it looks increasingly likely that Bent will get a run out. All I can say is I hope he has an amazing game against the Ospreys because apart from all the other controversy surrounding his call up we can’t afford for him to be a slow starter on top of everything else.

  5. Jimbob

     /  November 1, 2012

    I’m unsure why everyone is so iffy about T.Bowe playing anywhere other than right wing. Admittedly, ever since spring 2009 I’ve had a serious man-crush for him but I think he’s more than capable of playing either FB or 13. I agree that his kicking isn’t spectacular, but who’s is when compared to RK? His fielding is excellent and he’s a powerful runner and picks excellent lines. He can offload in the tackle and has a decent pass. When playing 13 for the hairsprays he was the most dangerous attacking runner, breaking tackles and releasing players outside him.

    If the game was tomorrow I’d have 15. Bowe 14. Trimble 13. Cave 12. Darcy/McFadden 11. Earls.

    Zebo should make the bench to provide attacking spark and pace towards the end. Cave starts at 13 because (1) he’s the only true 13 that will realistically be picked and (b) he’s the best man for the job. Earls is an excellent winger, unfortunately not sturdy enough for centre or reliable enough for FB.

    The toughest call is what to do with Fergus; he’s been playing excellently for Leinster at centre (as has Darcy) and will do a very good job at wing if needed. The trouble is, with so many ‘utility backs’ on the field already, is there a space for him in the 23?

  6. Goebbels Thornley & Deccie's master race

     /  November 1, 2012

    Earls ‘natural’ position at 13? Have I woken up in a parallel universe where up is down and down is green and nudity in public no longer ends up with me spending night in the local PSNI station? Earls natural position is picking splinters from his muscular rump. No, that’s unfair. Apart from having average distribution average positional play, less than average defence, no ability to read a game and no rugby brain he has all the tools of a modern day professional. Hurrah for Deccie Kidney! Picking players like Chris Henry or Darren Cave who have been the best Irish players in their position for the better part of 18 months? I blow a raspberry at your suggestion. It’ll never catch on.

    • We’re getting a bit bemused by all the ‘Earls can’t play 13’ stuff going around. It’s something we’re going to specifically address in the blog next week.

      • Goebbels Thornley & Deccie's master race

         /  November 1, 2012

        I wouldn’t say he can’t. I would say he can’t do consistently enough. Earls is great from broken play, but he can’t read the game well enough. Why would you take someone with obvious deficiencies and try and turn him into a 13 when he could be a world class winger? The only thing stupider would be to take the best ball carrying backrow forward in Europe and try and turn him into a fetcher. What do you mean Deccie has done that too?

        You’re title says it all, square pegs and round holes. Earls wouldn’t even get in the Munster team at 13 at present and they are well behind Leinster and Ulster on present form. Cave has been better at 13 for over a season now. A few months older than Earls yet consigned to having a great career behind him. Cave is solid and unspectacular for sure. I’d rather have that than turnstile defence. You either pick a team based on meritocracy or you don’t. Deccie obviously doesn’t and continues to reward failure. D’Arcy is playing well for Leinster but when was he last even at an average level for Ireland? O’Mahony will probably start against South Africa despite being outplayed in practically every match this year. The same could be said about Heaslip as well. Cave and Henry have been in good form for over a year and yet get no reward. It is utterly preposterous that O’Gara is near the squad when the form 10 besides Sexton is Paddy Jackson. There is a guy who was humiliated on the biggest stage in northern hemisphere at the end of last season and look at his fortitude. Rewards? Pah!

      • Amiga500

         /  November 1, 2012

        Oh he can play it… but is he world class (or is more pertinently the best option for Ireland not including Dricco) when doing so?

      • LarryMilne

         /  November 1, 2012

        Keith Earls is a centre who can play wing (IMO). I think it’s his natural position, and I think the efforts to move Laulala (a top player himself) to 12 shows Penney’s feelings on the matter. Schmidt rates him highly. And on and on. His qualities should be blindingly obvious, but it seems he can’t shift the stink from a nightmare first game in Lions colours (a game which was still won, and in which all the Lions not called Lee Byrne were, frankly, shite) and getting out of position for Manu Tuilagi. For someone who’s done very little wrong and plenty right, the consensus (which seems to exist everywhere) of him being rubbish is strange.

        Combining that with my post above: when yer man in number 13 does eventually hang up his boots I would be all for an Earls/Cave axis in midfield; using modern attacking systems as the very basic template, you’d have Cave as a flatter, wider receiver to bring in his vision, close passing and slipperiness, with Earls looking to attack space and use his footwork, whether that be tight to rucks, just inside Cave, or wider than him having gone right round the back – though, in general, such a partnership would increase any need for size on the wings.

      • paddy o

         /  November 1, 2012

        Looking forward to next week’s post lads. I would be someone who likes the thought of him as an attacking weapon from full back and do hope he gets picked there, but to say he is no good at 13 or can’t play it….aye carumba, that’s harsh.

        With bod gone, would be hard to argue with earls at 13 during this series. As well as cave has played this season it would be a fair old leapfrog to get over earls and or mcfadden/bowe in the queue for 13. As a complete aside I would like to see gilroy get some time at 13 in ravers, possibly outside cave. Gilroy’s path is a bit blocked on the wing at the minute, although it looks like they are now gonna use payne at 13, so gametime might be slim there too. Undoubtedly there will be injuries, but he is too good a player to be on the pine so often.

  7. paddy o

     /  November 1, 2012

    That anon is me, apologies.

  8. Bowe Gathers

     /  November 2, 2012

    I’m with the master race on this one, Earls isn’t a natural 13 but he is certainly a natural finisher. I like him at fifteen but I don’t like the idea of him being borne down upon by several tons of pure suth ifrican beef. I genuinely can’t see the argument here; Earls hasn’t really claimed the 13 shirt for province, Cave has and the province he’s with are 8 and 0. He runs beaut lines and in the not too distant future (post regime change) himself and McFads do provide a nice runner/passer combo. On Gilroy at 13 they’ve been looking at Allen there before Gilroy, and Allen did look good. Another pair for the future it seems.

  9. Rich

     /  November 2, 2012

    Bemused woc! – pure and simple. Mafi played there. Then left – natural successor Earls – yes? only they bring in LauLala – a specialised 13,,,,,, so someone at the club does not see him as a 13. Sad for Earls – but they see him every day. And if he isn’t good enough for Munster – he isn’t good enough for Ireland.

    Talented player in attack, razor sharp and superb acceleration, but 50% of the game is defence, and whilst he has improved this area, I personally don t think he has the tenacity to inspire anyone to pick him.

    • The Laulala recruitment was strange, no question, but to say Munster don’t see him as a 13 just doesn’t stack up. For a start, Mafi played most of his rugby at 12, often with Earls outside him, and it’s important to note that the current head coach did not sign Laulala. Earls has played almost all his Heineken Cup rugby at 13 for Munster. And the fact that he played 13 with Laulala at 12 in the Leinster game the week before the HEC match against Racing indicates they had him earmarked for the 13 shirt for the Heineken Cup match, but then he got injured.

  10. Rich

     /  November 2, 2012

    Potentially – yes – they would have played together – but Munster went all out for a crash 12 and got Downey – over the gain line – defend against the big French backs – simples, and to play with him, no question they signed LauLala. As Earls was seen not to be big enough for the modern game. Would Leinster have brought in LauLala?? No chance. Earls is a talented player yes, who has struggled through his versitity – similar to Luke FTZ. I m not saying I m not an earls fan, showed he has flashes of greatness, I m saying that for Ireland at the mo, I think there are players rightly ahead of him.

    • Rich, none of this chimes with the fact that Downey was on the bench for the Leinster game, with Earls picked at 13. Now we can’t know for sure where Earls would have played the following week, but given the only changes Penney made to the team were the injury-enforced Downey-Earls swap and the decision to start Keatley over Hurley at full-back, and given the form Earls was showing in the early season (at 13), and finally, that moving Earls to the wing would have taken the in-form Zebo out of the starting tean, we can only assume he was going to line out at 13 with Laulala at 12.

  11. Can’t believe you too are falling into the trap of putting McFadden at 13. He is a very solid 12, who can fill a gap on the wing. He is not an outside centre. Also, Downey at 12? Can’t believe nobody else has risen to that bait 😉 The Downey lovers told us his return to Ireland would herald his belated international glory – from what I have seen of him at Munster, he is a bit cat to be honest. Solid and bish-bosh but often looks a bit lost positionally: notably at breakdowns.

    Am very much looking forward to your Earls is a 13 post. I hope you will deal with his lack of ballast and tendency to be bounced because that is the key reason why I don’t see him as an international 13. I think he is a great player though.

    • paddy o

       /  November 2, 2012

      The Downey move was a fair enough one for munster. He offers a bit of variety to how they play and they now have a decent mix of attacking and defending options. That’s not just a euphemism! He won’t play every game but there will be games this year that munster will be very glad to have him.

      Saw Allen alright bowe gathers and agree he looked the part, although possibly more a next year project. I’d be thinking how to get gilroy on the pitch a bit more if possible in the present though. In fairness, injuries will prob look after that at some point, but if not then adding him to the Wallace, cave, Marshall mix mightn’t be a bad move for a few games.

      As I said I would like to see earls at 15 personally and back his ability to deal with the high ball. Would expect cave to get time at 13 during the series too, though I would be a bit surprised if it were in the first game.

  12. On 15 – the selection of Dave Kearney there for Leinster today (ahead of Irish u20 fullback Conway) is surely relevant to/influenced by the international scene?

  13. If you pick players based on their form in there best positions it is hard to argue with Jones, Bowe, Earls, Darcy and Zebo. People might are argue Cave is in better form then Earls but in reality both have been excellent and Earls done well in the six nations and OK in New Zealand. Darcy and Bowe pick themselves while Zebo has been Munsters best back this year. Jones is Irelands only option at fullback with Kearney out.

    • Well, actually, its easy to argue with that as a “form” selection, as Jones has no form (yet) and Earls has also been out with injury. Your selection is definitely a balanced looking backline (given Darcy is being picked over McFadden at 12 for Leinster) but putting the injury-prone and just back from injury Jones at 15 against Boks who will kick it to him all day has more than a touch of risk about it – and it is by definition not a form selection.

      Jones is also not Ireland’s only option at fullback! Dave Kearney is explicitly being played there by Leinster this weekend for that reason (but of course is also just back from injury), whilst – even though I think it is wrong – Madigan has won 2 Heineken Cup games and the Munster match at fullback, and Keatley has also been playing ok at times at fulback for Munster (to accomodate sir Radge). Also, I would share the view that Earls is a fullback who has spent too long being played out of position.

      That said – counting form and balance – I would go with Earls, Bowe, Cave, Darcy, Zebo, Sexton, Reddan against Safa and maybe try Jones or Kearney (depending on how they come back from injury) against the Argies, moving Earls to 13 (also depending on how Cave does).

      You would imagine Kidney will certainly go with Murray, Sexton, Darcy, Earls and Bowe – so in reality you are really looking at two from Trimble, McFadden, Zebo, Cave and maybe Jones for the other two places. Kidney being in the bunker, you wold think he would go with what he knows and pick Trimble and McFadden (meaning Earls would play 15). Lets see.

  14. Earls form for Ireland has been good too that counts too many people disregard international form when picking there teams. Remember Earls came up against Fofana and Rougerie and Sonny Bill and COnrad Smith arguably the two best centre partnerships in world rugby so he has to be the favourite for the thirteen shirt. Also re: Earls not being able to play 13. Just because he isn’t in Dricos style doesn’t mean he can’t play 13 he just has different strengths and style.

  15. LaighinPitOperative

     /  November 2, 2012

    I get frustrated enough with Stiddy-Dickie ignoring form and showing a (let’s say) preference for Munster players whenever feasible, and for players that have done a job for him in the past, no matter how remote, but then I wonder: if I were an Ulster supporter, would I have lost my sanity long ago?

    Henry has been the outstanding open-side flank for a season and a half, nobody really near him… yet Dickie’s ideal is shoe-horning O’Brien into the role (and when was the last time you saw Seánie bring his European Player of the year form to the Green 7?).

    Young tyro Gilroy was clearly the form pick of a promising bunch of fresh wings, and despite slicing Munster to pieces in the Vagidome of Toemind, he’s automatically behind Zebo no matter what.

    Once Dickie finally reluctantly admitted the Bull should be sent to pasture, there was the opportunity to give a returning FitzPatrick an opportunity- instead Dickie thanks Leinster ‘sure, fair play’ for finding I.-Q. Bent, never mind bringing back a certain other tight-head whom Dickie refused to call up until it bacame a joke, and upon whom all of our national team’s hopes really rest.

    When derision reached fever-pitch over the woeful form of O’Leary, Dickie dropped him from his squad at the last minute, so form 9s Marshall, Reddan, and Boss prick up their ears… but for once Dickie will give a chance to a young up-and-comer… which sounds like a nice change, but really if you look closely you’ll see he has some kind of Munster man out, Munster man in policy. Murray’s inexperience and poor decision-making cost us, and will continue to cost us. He spends more time trying to start idiotic scraps than getting the bleeding ball away from the ruck.

    Dan Tuohy doesn’t get a look in, never mind the hilarious japes Stakanov gets up to on and off the pitch… Sure, isn’t it all about the craic, anyway? And he’s such a joker!

    Ulster supporters seem to have almost endless patience, when it’s apparent that their players are always near the bottom of Stiddy-Dickie’s list.

    • Pete

       /  November 3, 2012

      A lot of Ulster supporters can take the curse of being ignored when it comes with the blessing of players not being taken – although it looks like we’ll be having the worst of both worlds here.

  16. Dan Tougy was starting in New Zealand. Gilroy sliced Munster pieces there was seven missed tackles and the Gilroy/Zebo argument is possibly the stupidest because Zebo is a left winger and Gilroy is a right winger. Also Gilroy is now a sub for Ulster. Ulster good not great so there subs aren’t quite good enough to make the Irish team

    • LaighinPitOperative

       /  November 4, 2012

      Great argument, there, tommy… your rabid enthusiasm for the regime and lack of grammatical sense would suggest you’re a Neep supporter. Now, let’s deal with the counter- Gliroy -v- Zebo is ‘stupidest’ because Gilroy is a right wing, while Zebo is a left? Well, firstly, both are a little bit too young to be sniffy about which wing they might get a chance to start on for the national side (and one of them should pull his bleedin’ socks up, quite literally, but I digress…), so that’s fairly retarded- but if you were to tune in and watch Ulster play you might notice Gilroy wearing the 11 shirt and all- sure, stretch your wee mind back as far as Friday night. So, Tuohy got some minutes in Dickie’s end-of-season disaster tour of New Zealand due to the injury list, but if you think he’s been given a fair chance based on form then I won’t bother arguing with you, we’ll just agree to differ. No word on the open-side disaster, the tight-head disaster or the scrummy disaster??? Probably wise.

      • Not wishing to rain on your parade of condescension, but Gilroy wore 11 Friday and played on the right wing. Maybe he fancies himself as the new Campese.

      • LPO

         /  November 4, 2012

        My condescension parade marches on, I’m afraid. Good point, though (you did very well!)!
        Gilroy can play either wing, though- whether he’s Campeseing it up with the jerseys or not- and sure, he could have worse role models!

  17. Rich

     /  November 2, 2012

    Interested to see the Earls piece – decent point made above never going to replace Drico like for like – Earls Is Defo a different option so if he gets the jersey hoping we can get him some good go forward. My only point – which seems to have been missed, is that the decision was made by the hierarchy at Munster to bring in 2 specialised centres to play ahead of him.

    There is no way this team will be picked on form, too many guys on debut or 2 sub caps can t start vs Boks, and also, Madigan has more than proved his worth, playing out of position and looking a class act throughout – yet not considered at all. Few token Ulster players picked now as they have a kiwi coach – and kiwi coaches are to be respected – are nt they?

    And also – not to ignore the elephant in the room – we have the most backward coaching setup of he top nations. None of them deserve to be retained after 6N. Fresh voices and ideas needed.

  18. Sam.

     /  November 3, 2012

    I think some Ulster fan questioned SOB at 7?
    He’s outplayed (an admittedly lackluster) McCaw in that position and is adapting to it superbly.
    SOB is better than Henry. FULL STOP. There, that’s two full stops in that line to emphasise my point. That’s four full stops. now five. six! Whatever!

    Henry’s a great player, and in our situation an automatic selection, but don’t kid yourself, he’s a massive step down from O’Brien.

    I’d like to see Earls at 15 and put Bowe at 13.
    Both have experience there at test level. I don’t get all the hooplah about Jones, yes he did some good things at A level and in his brief cameos, but nothing to get in a lather about. His attacking game is alright from what we’ve seen, not enough for him to have the reputation he does though.

  19. No doubt O Brien proved his credentials as a seven in New Zealand.

    RE: Cave at thirteen. He went toe to toe with Drico and Drico made him look foolish in the Heineken Cup final. You can’t base a team over the first nine games of a season when a lot of players were held back due to the IRFU player policy haven’t got the same game time as others.

    I wouldn’t like to see Bowe at thirteen I think he is one of the worlds top wingers.

    Another thing people have to remember international form D.Ryan, Heaslip, Earls and Darcy have all played very well recently for Ireland it would be insane to drop them.

  20. Rich

     /  November 3, 2012

    O’Brien outplayed McCaw…….I m sure that’s news to Ruchie!!! Last I remember SOB got what I would call a schooling. Be great to have SOB available right enough, massive loss. Henry more than deserves a chance tho. Top class this season.

    • O’Brien won the 1st test and 2nd test battle at the breakdown, no question. He was out on his feet by the 3rd test and McCaw and Cane took full revenge, but still, SOB made all the articles about Ireland needing a natural 7 seem like printed arsebiscuits. Anyone watching him without an agenda couldn’t fail to see the improvement in his understanding of the position over the course of the season. By the time of the Heineken final, he was one of the best opensides in Europe. Henry is just one of the best in Ireland.

      • LarryMilne

         /  November 3, 2012

        There are a few dubious claims on this thread, and the ones doubting O’Brien’s ability at seven are the most off kilter. He was fantastic in New Zealand. His strength and also body shape, along with his top class aggression, mean he is a breakdown beast, probably the single finest player in Ireland and, in my opinion, the best option out of a very strong field for the Lions’ openside berth.

        However, as he is injured, I think our second best openside should play in the upcoming series. That’s Chris Henry. With Ferris’ fitness in serious doubt I think an O’Mahony, Henry, Heaslip back row is a no-brainer. However I fear Donnacha Ryan will play at six, which makes no sense to me; I don’t think playing O’Callaghan instead of POM/Henry (as would be the likely effect) prepares us much better for dealing with the biff of either the Boks or Argentina, while making it more likely that we will attack to their strengths.

        Darren Cave has been the best centre in Ireland, aside from the moments when O’Driscoll is fit and firing, for 18 months. He was not made to look stupid in the HEC final and had a strong game despite the superiority of the opposition.

      • I don’t think I’d play O’Mahony or Ryan at 6 for this one. Locky and O’Mahony were horsed out of it down in Hamilton, and Ryan is very much a second-row without the sea legs for blindside. I’d go for Henderson. He’s big, strong, abrasive, fast and a reasonable footballer. He also hits like a car-crusher. He’s odds-on to be Ireland’s next great lock-forward, though he’s probably more suited to blindside at the minute.The 18 stone quoted on his bio seems a bit exaggerated, unless he’s encased in adamantium. (Not that I’d put it past Humphreys to have a secret underground lab somewhere full of chrome and giant screens, doing experiments to produce the next generation of Ulster forwards. Leaves no stone unturned, that fella.) Anyway, with Alberts, Vermeulen, Louw and Etzebeth in their side, Ireland need someone in the back-row who could soften their coughs for them. Absent Ferris and O’Brien, Henderson is that man.

        Henry has done all right. He’s a good, hard-working player and I don’t think he’d let anyone down. With almost no other candidates, he’s fairly certain to get the 7 jersey. South Africa won’t test his athleticism too much with their round the corner boshing and nor will Argentina. A good horse for the courses, I think.

        As far as Darren Cave is concerned, he’s only been back about 13 months, no? Now that he’s had an injury-free run he’s done well, but he has his limitations. Pace being the main one. I thought it was a pity that Michael Allen got injured against Cardiff as I’d have liked to have seen more of Cave at 12, where he’s pacier relative to his opponents. A fine player no doubt, but no dancer or speed-merchant. His footballing ability is the best thing about him, but again, it’s not outstanding.

      • LarryMilne

         /  November 5, 2012

        Henry, that’s my feeling on Ryan as well. It’s interesting you’ve mooted Henderson and it makes me think I’m being a bit dumb to not give him due consideration. It’s hard to get past what you see, and Henderson is a gangly fella who still looks (and plays) like a schoolboy, he clearly has a lot of filling out to do and I can’t help but question whether he could cut it against the Boks. But, what one sees goes further than that – and Henderson has been able to play like a schoolboy in the Pro12 while looking physically dominant, before doing the same in the Heineken Cup. No sign of him hitting the ceiling yet, maybe he should be picked.

        The argument for inclusion is all the more compelling when considering the other options. I like O’Mahony, he’d probably still be my choice, but Ryan’s not a flanker (as discussed), while you’re quite right about McLaughlin getting roasted by the Kiwis (which didn’t shock me).

        On Cave: I rate his footballing ability incredibly highly. He doesn’t move like a dancer but his running lines are fantastic, vision broad, mind quick, close passing well-chosen and all deliveries are right on time. I’d like Ireland to investigate an Earls/Cave partnership, especially with our ongoing lack of any quality midfield krakens.

  21. Sam.

     /  November 3, 2012

    Go watch the second test of the recent tour to NZ Rich.
    He was most certainly not schooled.
    He even did well in the first test.

  22. LPO

     /  November 4, 2012

    I think people misunderstand the objection to having O’Brien at 7. It was one factor that cost us at the World Cup against the taffs, but Seánie was adapting to the role (and perhaps having some of the responsibilities of the role taken up by the other back-rowers). Since then he has improved in that capacity (of course he can adapt and improve at 7- he’s outstanding, so that comes as no surprise to anybody). It’s not a case of him not being able to do the job, it’s more a case of what we sacrifice. O’Brien as a ball-carrier is world class undoubtedly. I think he can be an excellent 7, but as for him getting the nod there for the Lions- not a chance. He’ll be behind Tipuric and Warburton and a rake of other taffs (who seem to produce more open-sides than 6s and 8s together). If he makes the Lions team, and he should, it will be as a no.8 or a blind-side. Him wearing 7 for the Lions must be incredibly unlikely.

    I’d be an advocate of the balanced back line, were that possible- however, Ireland in recent times have generally gone for three ball carriers, and again that’s the chosen route here with Seánie at 7. You’d have to go back to Gleeson for the last traditional open-side who got more than a handful of caps (27). Our other options are Jenno (31, 11 caps) and Henry (29, 2 caps). Could either of these two do a job for us at international level? I realise Jenno didn’t do himself any favours in this regard the last opportunity he was given, but on current form I’d have to say yes- Jennings has been a man possessed this season, and Henry has been in outstanding form for a long while. I’d much prefer to see O’Brien and concentrating on the carrying. Can he play 7? Yes… of course he can- but I see it as a significant sacrifice.

  23. Yes agree on the principle point Cave has been excellent but lacks pace for international rugby. Some players inform for their provinces don’t necessary mean they can make the step up to international rugby. Plus Earls has played thirteen 4 – 5 times for Ireland this year and has done very well. So why drop when we already changing or hooker,elements of our back row and our fullback? Surely keeping some of partnerships together will benefit the team.

    If I was picking the team:
    15 Jones
    14 Bowe
    13 Earls
    12 Darcy
    11 Zebo
    10 Sexton
    9 Murray
    8 Heaslip
    7 Henry
    6 O Mahony
    5 O Connell
    4 Ryan
    3 Ross
    2 Strauss
    1 Healy

    Bench
    Kilcoyne, Cronin, Bent, Touhy, Henderson, Reddan, Jackson and Gilroy.

    You got a big starting team with pace and power and bench that can make a serious impact maybe after fifty minutes bring on Gilroy, Cronin and Reddan. I’d bring on Gilroy for Jones and move Bowe to 13 and Earls to fullback.

  24. One game on the right wing isn’t going to get you into the national team contention. Gilroy was a sub for Ulster in there two Heineken Cup matches. If he is such a good winger why is he not starting on the left wing for Ulster ahead of Trimble? Oh and Trimble is Irish qualified isn’t he? If Gilroy was so good why doesn’t he start in the Ulster first team this season? And LaighinPitOperative that is lovely use of language on a rugby sound not all of us have the same language skills as you

    • LPO

       /  November 4, 2012

      Well, I think most people would agree that Ulster are exceptionally blessed in the wing department. Actually, their back three is outstanding- however, Gilroy (who can play either wing) has some serious international talent ahead of him in Ulster- the chances he’s been given this year he’s made the most of- we’re really talking about who gets the shots in green (let’s say Dickie suddenly started thinking beyond what he’s having for dinner). Zebo’s going to be getting starts in Munster because Munster simply do not have the depth out wide- does that mean he should be ahead of Gilroy in the international pecking order?

      • LPO

         /  November 4, 2012

        For example, traditionally and Ireland XV fixture against Fiji would constitute an opportunity to experiment a little- it’s uncapped, doesn’t count to our ranking and Fiji are not strong at the moment. That said- Dickie started the Bull backed by Buckley v. Samoa in the 2010 A.I. as Ross’s phone sat in silence- so just how much experimentation can we expect? Slightly more, given it’s not a full international, I’d guess, but will he try out any useful combinations, and then, if they work, have the balls to promote individuals? I’d guess not.

  25. The Irish national team isn’t a try out for provincial combinations people want to see. I am not saying Gilroy isn’t a great talent and I have no doubt a future test team play but he is being kept of the Ulster team by two Irish international players so logically he won’t be considered for the Irish Test team for the South Africa game?

    Zebo is starting in an average Munster team and excellling. Zebo’s strike rate is a good bit better then Gilroys who is playing in a good Ulster team. (Zebo 16 in 39) and ( Gilroys 16 in 52) So I think people who criticize his selection are being very unfair. Kidney took a punt which ye all criticise him for not doing in New Zealand by starting Zebo ahead of the unlucky Trimble and he done well so for this test series the battle is between both Trimble and Zebo.

    If Gilroy can play on both wings that is great but before he can expect to get into the national team barring injury he needs to start Ulsters big games on either of the bloody wings!

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  November 4, 2012

      Is it such madness to think that the third best winger in Ulster is better than the second best in Munster? I should hope not. Zebo is still hopelessly underdeveloped in terms of defence, despite him playing with a man who was once arguably the greatest defensive winger in the world (and no slouch with ball in hand either.) Yes Zebo is electric but so is Gilroy on both wings, and in my opinion (admittedly open to bias on this point) better in congested channels. He played with class on Friday and I feel deserves his chance over and ahead of the Cork man in at least one test, maybe not the Saffers.

      • Gilroy isn’t a particularly good defender. In the last number of games he’s started, he’s been stepped by O’Brien in Twickenham, waved Tindall through at Kingsholm, wafted his hands at Tommy Seymour after an evening of caressing Shaun Lamont and he should really have stopped Brown’s first try on Friday night. Zebo hasn’t made any glaring defensive errors yet this season after a couple of howlers at the end of the last one, and is much improved as a defender in general.

  26. Firstly I think most Munster fans would say Zebo is their best winger. He is solid in the air, excellent left book and a good ball carrier. Of course it is not madness but for the Irish test team considering Gilroy is third choice (two Irish wingers ahead of him at his province) and his preferred wing is on the right wing why wouldn’t you start a Zebo who is also very young on the left wing when he has some experience at test level. Gilroy will make a smashing wing soon but as long he is on the bench for Ulster like Marshall they can’t be starting for Ireland that is just my opinion. Pick first choice players in their best positions. Gilroy defiantly deserves a start versus Fiji.

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