It’s Only Fiji

‘Only Fiji’ might have been a wash, but at least Ireland looked purposeful and inventive. We suspect less exposure to the coaching staff is a good thing, as it allowed the Ulsters youngsters to do their thang with youthful fearlessness and lack of experience. It’s glib to say we didn’t learn anything – England certainly managed to take things from beating Only Fiji a week ago by less than we did with their full team – but it certainly was less than ideal.

Ireland would have loved a more testing run out to be able to infer a little more into their young team’s performances, but they got what they deserved in one sense – the IRFU’s lamentable decision not to hand out caps for the game was at least partly responsible for Fiji’s decision to take a night off tackling. Another major factor for the opposition, and it’s hard to know how any squad would react, was the untimely passing of one of their members -no doubt the tragic death of Maleli Kunavore was on their minds.

Still, the sight of a natural wing (Craig Gilroy) was exciting on a visceral level. In recent years, Ireland have made a habit of making wings out of centres – Shane Horgan, Luke Fitzgerald and Andrew Trimble for example (Dorce made the opposite journey) – and it’s refreshing to see a born winger in full flight. When you see the silky running and nimble footwork of a genuine wing, you feel your heartrate quickening – think Vinny Clark or Bryan Habana in full flight. Gilroy did enough to push Trimble hard for his slot for the Pumas game.  Given Trimble’s more limited, power-based game, it can only be a matter of time before he finds his Ulster shirt under threat as well.

The biggest loser of the night was, oddly, the other winger, Ferg.  He played well and scored two tries, but in comparison to Gilroy, he looked like what he is – a centre playing out of position. Plus, not only did Gilroy look a better wing, but they way Luke Marshall settled effortlessly in to the scene was another flashing light. Both McFadden and Marshall will likely displace Dorce and PWal in their favoured 12 shirt at the same time at provincial level, but Marshall showed he is a long-term threat to Ferg’s presumed succession to Dorce in green.

Continuing on the Ulster theme., Paddy Jackson did enough to warrant a bench slot against the Pumas – he is a natural talent and chose the right option nearly all the time. The only pity is that his placekicking ran awry after such a confident start.  There is little value in persisting with a tired and disinterested ROG – it may come down to just how cross management are with him for his careless kick-away against South Africa.

On the down side, it was predictable disappointing to see Fiji reverting to dirty high and late tackles (and ball-squeezing) when things weren’t going their way – the tip tackle on Murray could have been disastrous had he not got his hand down and the late hit on Paddy Jackson was horrible. There was quite a bit of niggle in the game at the end, and it would have been disappointing to see a red card flashed… but not surprising.

Also, the actions of the tiny, but vocal, militant minority in booing Jamie Heaslip off the field was needless, small-minded and a timely reminder of the nasty inter-provincial bitterness still bubbling beneath the surface in Ireland. These people do not represent anyone but themselves, and the reaction of the vast majority of fans was warm and proud.  Besides, Heaslip’s skill in putting McFadden away for the first try of the second half showcased his great ability, while his breakdown work was excellent as usual.  He’d a good night as captain.  Next up, Fernandez Lobbe.

Finally, there was some grumbling on Twitter about Ulster fans’ somewhat parochial take on the game.  On this occasion, we [this is the Leinster half of WoC writing this paragraph] can forgive them a somewhat one-eyed view.  Up north there is a strong sense that Ulster’s revival has not been recognised by the national team management, and whether coinidentally or not, a number of their best players persistently come out the wrong side of marginal selection calls against Munster players (think Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy and latterly Tom Court).   It’s been a while since they could celebrate a good Irish performance with so many of their home grown players in the XV (8 by the final whistle) – a little over-exuberance is understandable!

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29 Comments

  1. Gilroy and Marshall were joys to watch. It would have been even better to see how Gilroy would have combined with Zebo at fullback (a truly lost opportunity not to have given Zebo more game time there)…that really looks like the future for Ireland. Do you really think Kidney will put him in against Argentina? The record would suggest no and that, if there is a chance Trimble will be replaced, it will be the tried and trusted centre on the wing (McFadden was one of the best performers after the aforementioned two and starts for Leinster, unlike Gilroy this season).

    You have to feel for McFadden. How much time has he ever been given for Ireland in the 12 shirt – the position he plays best in? He has spent most of his Ireland time on the wing and had one other outing out of position at 13, when he was revealed defensively on one prominent occasion. However, Marshall really did look like the real deal on Saturday.

    As for the other centre spot, I have advocated giving Cave a run. Felt he did pretty well but, given the poor opposition and the standard of performances around him, he maybe impressed less than I hoped. Would still like to see him get the nod for a proper international against proper opposition before making a proper judgement on the 13 shirt (also hope O’Malley rediscovers his form when he comes back).

    Can understand Ulster disgruntlement with being passed over for almost all marginal calls. It is another area in which the management has failed, undermining the full support potential for the national side.

  2. I wasn’t too impressed with the idea of Luke Marshall starting when he doesn’t even start for Ulster. Now I’m entirely unimpressed with Ulster starting Wallace ahead of Marshall. The kid was fantastic.

    I thought Cave played himself into starting next week in the first half, then played himself back out of it in the second by refusing to pass.

    • Yeah, when you saw the way himself and Gilroy played it seems a little odd that they don’t start regularly for Ulster. Surely only a matter of time, though.

      • pedantic pete

         /  November 19, 2012

        Wondering if the only thing keeping Marshall out of the Ulster team at the moment is the need to put experienced heads around Paddy Jackson as he beds in, particularly when Pienaar has been missing for most of the early season.. Can see that changing in the near future.

      • That sounds logical Pete. For Marshall, it has got to be sooner rather than later. For Gilroy, it is disappointing that he got more exposure last season than this in Ulster. Last season, he looked like the best winger in Ireland bar none…on Saturday’s performance, nothing has changed.

    • Len

       /  November 19, 2012

      I’m with ummm on this one. I felt including Marshall thereby making Cave senior man in the centre had the potential to derail both players performances. I’m very happy to be proven wrong. Can’t see what PW offers ahead of Marshall but then I don’t watch all the ulster games.

    • Amiga500

       /  November 19, 2012

      I don’t mind a 13 not passing on occasion.

      As long as they make good yards and the guys outside were looking short of space to do much better. The forward pack will get to the 13 channel quicker (relative to wing) to clear the ruck and get the ball away for the subsequent phase. IMO, when Cave held on, he did make 5, 10, 15 yards on the subsequent run and it was a good base for the next bit of play.

      But Keet seems to pick the wrong option more often than not.

      Be interesting if DK has the balls to go with a backline of Reddan, Sexton, Gilroy, L Marshall, Cave, Bowe, Zebo.

  3. Morton Slumber

     /  November 19, 2012

    Does anyone think that any of the “newbies” will start vs Argentina? As much as some of them probably deserve to, I can’t see it happening.

    • Redhanded

       /  November 19, 2012

      Nope, I don’t think any of the newbies will start. I can see McFadden replacing Trimble in the starting XV, Trimble dropping out the the squad and Gilroy coming onto the bench, but that is the closest a newbie will get.
      If you think of the calls Deccie would need to make to bring in a newbie:
      – L Marshall preferred to D’Arcy
      – Jackson preferred to Radge
      – P Marshall preferred to most likely, Reddan, as Murray appears to be untouchable
      – Cave preferred to Keet at 13 (given Deccie appears to see Keet as BOD’s heir apparent)

      Given what is at stake, I can only see Deccie going for the incumbent. He may surprise us, but I don’t think so.

    • I see there being one change realistically. Trimble will miss out. Those of us who have watched Gilroy for the past year would certainly love it to be him…I see it going to McFadden.

  4. Lets call it as it was please here folks, Fiji were a disgrace pure and simple. When you see how the likes of Tonga & Samoa have progressed yet Fiji despite having a population almost ten times that of either Samoa or Tonga and having lost players in all the top leagues in the world and are yet still a rabble.

    Frankly the IRB should pull it’s XV’s funding and leave them to Sevens and give it to other developing countries who will make proper use of it. They were just about interested when they had the ball and completely disinterested without it, and predictably as the score got higher so did the tackles (and later).

    Absolutely impossible to accurately judge the merit of any of the Irish players performances as it was never really a contest at any point, and with that Kidney will select barring injuries from the same group as played South Africa…

    A real shame we couldn’t have played either Tonga or Samoa, even USA, Canada or Japan would have provide sterner challenges in more areas than the Fijians could be bothered to muster…

    • Morton Slumber

       /  November 19, 2012

      It’s true, Fiji weren’t bothered, but I think a big part of that was down to the IRFU pulling a classic “bait & switch” on them -They’ve every right to feel offended & if not bothering was their way of replying, then we’re in no position to blame them.

      It’s not too often i’d agree with George Hook, but as he said, how would we feel if NZ did the same thing to us (and lets not kid ourselves, we look at Fiji in the same way NZ look at us).

      • Morton, that’d be fine and I might agree with you if it was a once off, but these are genuinely passionately religious and patriotic folk. But this type of Rugby performance has been replicated hundreds of times in the past, in Autumn Internationals, World Cups (the most recent was a classic example) and in Pacific Nations Cup competitions, en-bloc they all to frequently just don’t show or make the commitment as a group. It is all part of the Fijian make up, how often do you hear of a Tongan or Samoan player going awol from their clubs by comparison (rarely if ever)…

  5. I expect to get some complaints for this, while I was impressed with certain aspects of our backplay, how we took it to the gainline, some nice offloading, well timed passes etc, I think our backplay wasn’t incredibly great. We didn’t seem to have many moves or anything like that rather we just found space after a few phases and put it through the hands.

    I may be the only one to think this, but feel free to have a go!

    • Leinsterlion

       /  November 19, 2012

      Factor in the opposition, the renford rejects would have put 50 on those clowns. Complete waste of time.They could have played a combined provinces team and done more to develop Irish rugby.

  6. @Pedantic Pete & Cyrate’s Egg – Egg Chaser said the very same thing today, it does seem like the logical explanation. Paddy Wallace, of course, is 33, so I can see Marshall moving ahead of him before the end of the sesaon. Gilroy, Bowe and Trimble are all there for the long-term, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that pans out. Ulster get good usage from Trimble by using him to bosh over the gainline, but surely Gilroy offers more in attack?

  7. Len

     /  November 19, 2012

    Ok looking at the points raised above I’d have to say that:-

    Yes Fiji were horribly disinterested and the fact that it wasn’t a full international can’t be fully blamed. There is something really wrong in Fijian rugby.

    That fact that this wasn’t a full international was a monetary decision. We’re currently signed into a 20 year deal with Aviva where by all Irish international rugby home games will be played in Lansdowne. Considering that the IRFU had only sold 12,500 tickets by last Thursday their decision seems correct. A half full Thomund cost a lot less than a half full palindrome. This issue also doesn’t effect NZ as their games will always sell enough oh and they didn’t sign a 20 year deal to rename Eden Park (they barely have sponsorship on the jersey and that nearly caused a civil war).

    The Ulster quartet played well against meagre opposition but the important thing here is they played. There over the first hurdle, Luke Marshall will definitely be replacing P Wallace as first choice in Ulster this season but you’ve probably more chance of seeing P Wallace in a green jersey next week.

    The team for Saturdays match will be the exact same as the team for the SA match right down to the bench, baring injuries. I’m afraid that the Fiji game has only improved Deccis stats on blooding new players and will have no lasting effect on the national side until such time as Decci retires.

    • Len

       /  November 19, 2012

      Sorry should have said ‘full internationals’.

    • Xyz

       /  November 19, 2012

      Heh, was thinking something similar regarding Deccie’s stats. Will allow Goebbels Thronley to pull some skewed figures out of his ass in a few months as he did earlier this year.

  8. I think a lot of people here are overlooking the fact that this was Fiji’s third game in a week, that they were missing most of their first choice players and that eight (iirc) of the team that started against Ireland play in the Fijian league, which I’m guessing is a bit of a step down from Top 14 or Rabo or what have you. When you add the fact that this wasn’t even a full international and their former team mate and friend had died in the week, then you have to feel that Fiji should be applauded for turning up at all really, because any hopes of winning any game on this tour would have completely evaporated by Saturday.

  9. LarryMilne

     /  November 19, 2012

    As Sea_point says, Fiji were awful. Worst performance of theirs I’ve ever seen, certainly.

    There should, however, have been enough good signs to shake up selection this week and generally re-energise what I presume is a fairly flat camp. And, from this supporter’s viewpoint, it was great to see an Ireland side go out and play rugby like it’s a sport some people have divined pleasure from in the past.

    I don’t think we should be chucking Luke Marshall in to test match rugby just yet, his time will come (and hopefully Penney gets Hanrahan more and more involved this season – having Paddy Jackson and those two as options for the 10/12 combination over the next decade looks very, very encouraging right now). But I’d certainly make some changes:

    Healy, Strauss, Ross
    Ryan, McCarthy
    Henderson, Heaslip, Henry
    Reddan
    Sexton
    Gilroy, Cave, Earls, Bowe
    Zebo

    B: Cronin, Kilcoyne, Bent, Tuohy, O’Mahony, Marshall, Jackson, McFadden

    I appreciate Conor Murray had a good game at the weekend but, while I feel the grief he gets is sometimes way beyond what’s deserved and is even more personal than technical, I don’t have faith in his ability to consistently produce performances of the requisite quality in the international game, yet – he’s still a kid, the best nines keep improving as they understand the sport more and more.

    The above selection would make me happy. But, of course, I don’t believe we’ll see it. McFadden in for Trimble sounds possible. Otherwise, nada.

    • Larry I’m confident in saying that all the players you listed there are well above Fijian league standard, most of them are first teamers for their respective teams. Its not close to a like for like comparison.

      • Fiji could even afford to leave the Top14 leading tryscorer for last couple of season (Toulouse’s, Matanavu) on the bench for most of the game…

    • zdm

       /  November 19, 2012

      A lot of criticism for a good performance against a Fiji side that weren’t at the races but as Keith Wood said, you can only play what’s in front of you.

      Individual performances have been praised above but what struck me was the hunger for the jersey – many of our big names have spoken about “buying in to the jersey” in a very sterile, unconvincing way (I am always left baffled by the notion that any player of any standing would need inducement to give his all for his country – you didn’t see Rutchie MucCaw and Den Caaata resting on their heals when BNZ were 40+ up against the Scots).

      Anyway, my point was that the young players on display against Fiji gave everything for 80 minutes – Gilroy scored his second try two phases after taking a late broadside from a Fijian forward, Paddy Jackson waited until the very last second before giving the pass that lead to the last try even though he would have known he was going to get battered doing so -at this stage, he would have been forgiven for putting in an early pass to avoid getting hammered and letting his wing do the work but he wanted to make sure, such was his hunger and the defense in the last quarter was strong and aggressive, exemplified by NWJMB ripping the ball free on his own try line and immediately looking for a counter attacking opportunity.

      Most of those who starred will probably not feature against the Argies – a couple might make the bench and McFadden might make the team but I’m not expecting big changes from the Saffa teamsheet, however, hopefully that performance will motivate Ireland to waken up and play the rugby we all know the players on the panel are capable of.

  10. Anybody else disappointed (but not surprised) by how long it took use the bench given that the game was over well before half-time? It seemed like, again, the pre-game plan was to put people on around/after the 60m mark, regardless of what happened up to that point.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  November 19, 2012

      Nothing changes in Irish rugby, a refusal to play a genuine openside, use the bench as a weapon, plan for the world cup, give youth a chance etc.etc…..Im eternally disappointed with the staid international setup.

    • Rich

       /  November 20, 2012

      Yes – very. But that’s the Grand Plan!
      “Ireland – using the same blueprints from 2003”

  11. Rich

     /  November 20, 2012

    Great to see The Paddy Wallace fan club getting stuck in “I never watch ulster play but paddy Wallace Is rubbish…… Jet lagged and up against Sonny Bill. Poor bloke.

    Only comparison is – vs SA Earls makes outside break for right corner , flings a hopeless pass to Bowe, one bounce and straight into touch. Marshall makes an outside break vs fiji, holds his man, perfectly timed pop beating gilroys man to put him in the corner. Test rugby is about execution under pressure, earls has had so many chances and he will continue to get more.

    Re appointing new coaches – we need someone with no ties to the provinces. End of

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