Lethargy for the grand old tournament has been growing in recent years, with the Heineken Cup more colourful, varied, approachable and enjoyable in an increasing number of fans’ eyes.  But this opening weekend blew the cobwebs away.  We had been told by all comers that the refereeing ws going to be positive, punishing those whose influence at the breakdown was negative.  They seemed to get their message across, because the three games were all fantastic, with all teams looking to attack.  It’s early days, but it’s shaping up to be the best Six Nations since 2007, or perhaps even better yet.

Ireland are up and running

It was a hugely commendable performance from Ireland.  Last year, the team sat off Wales and let them dictate the game.  Not this.  Ireland imposed their game plan on Wales.  Given the bizarrely fluctuating performance level of this team over the last three seasons, backing up the Agentina win with another good performance was absolutely critical.  They have now done that.  It creates a sense of building momentum, underlined by the manner win which Murray and Sexton appear to have developed an understanding of how each other plays.  It has taken them some time, but they are such good players, that it has been worth waiting for.  Now they just have to do it again, against England.

Kidney Casts off the Shackles

We were wrong and Kate McEvoy was right.  Deccie nailed his team selection and tactics this week.  O’Mahony utterly vindicated his selection over 50 minutes of barnstorming rugger.  Gilroy’s kicking was loose at times, but he put in some huge hits in defence.  A year ago, you feel Kidney would have played the ‘we know what he can do’ card and picked Earls on the wing, but he took the risk, and was rewarded.  We still have a preference for Luke Fitzgerald in the back-three, but Gilroy ultimately delivered for his coach.  Kidney has been wilfully conservative at times over the last few seasons, but with his contract renewal hinging on the outcome of this series, he has nothing to lose and appears willing to gamble a bit more.

If Rob Howley had got his own selection right, and picked the in-form Jason Tipuric from the start, perhaps things might have been different.  But he didn’t, and it wasn’t.

Ireland have no bench

It took Deccie years to get the hang of the whole ‘bench’ thing, but in the last 24 months he got the knack for it.  Just don’t expect him to use it much this year; because we don’t really have one.  Ireland did have a good bench over the last couple of season, but that was when Reddan was making a strong case for selection and ROG could still influence a test match; neither is the case this year.  Backrow is the only place where Ireland can bring on somebody to change the dynamic of the game, with Henry bringing something different to either of the starting flankers.  O’Callaghan can replace tiring legs late in games, but he’s not going to really alter the balance of a match.  Let’s not even talk about the front row.

The single biggest threat to Ireland’s hopes of winning the championship is fatigue to the likes of Murray, Sexton, Best, Ryan ,Healy and of course Ross, who will all be required to put in 70-80 minute shifts in all five games.  England, by contrast, have a bench stacked with impact men – Danny Care, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell (whatever you make of them).  Dare Kidney revisit his famous squad rotation in Murrayfield or Rome, and rest one or two of his key men should Ireland be closing in on a possible grand slam?  Let’s cross that bridge when if we come to it.

Kidney does have some options to give more oomph to his bench.  Earls hasn’t impressed recently in green (although we wouldn’t write off his hopes of being a test centre just yet), and Fitzgerald is worth considering for the 23 shirt.  Paul Marshall performs the role of impact sub with gusto at Ulster, and is in far better form than Reddan.  There are other options at 10, with Madigan the most enticing, but none have any test rugby experience, and it’s a safe bet that Sexton will accumulate 400 championship minutes this season, injury permitting.

Simon Zebo – the new Ugo Monye?

Yep, that’s  what we thought a year ago.  Joke’s on us!  Last year Zebo looked exciting, scored lots of tries, but was pretty raw.  We questioned whether he had enough football skills to be the real deal, or was he just a straight-line runner in the Ugo Monye mould.  The extent to which he has improved his game over the last year is remarkable, and that flick will feature on highlights reels for years to come.  Thankfully it got the reward it deserved with Church bashing over the line from close quarters. Zebo could/should/will (delete as appropriate) be the poster boy for Irish rugby for years to come, provided those dastardly Frenchies don’t steal him, as they tried to this year.

Forza Italia

What a win!  What a match!  Italy were simply wonderful.  They offloaded, they ran and they had Parisse.  Their fly-half, Lucky Luciano Orquera, played at a level he has probably never attained in his life, and everything came off.  Their ambition was laudable; they played to win the game and not just to keep the score down, as they have so often in the past.  In the 74th minute, protecting a narrow lead, they won a turnover and guess what? –they counter-attacked again.  They have a chance now to win two or even three matches, but must try and bring the same energy on the road as they do in Rome, which they’ve never really done before, in order to beat Scotland.

The game was brilliantly presided over by Nigel Owens, who communicated clearly and fairly, and with no shortage of his usual wit (‘I could have penalised any of eight of you’, he said at one point).  He looked utterly unflustered throughout, a man clearly enjoying himself in a high-pressure environment.

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  1. Any comments on Poite? I thought he absolutely rode Ireland in the second half, from allowing Wales to hold on for as long as they liked in the tackle, to seal off and go in over the top with impunity, to giving a wrong yellow card for Best, to ignoring blocking for Cuthbert’s try and ignoring his TJ, when he told Poite Sexton had been raked. I don’t buy into the “the game was brilliant, so the ref must have been great” rubbish; it’s not the referee’s job to rebalance the game by donning the home jersey for the second half.
    The only surprise, I suppose, is that I was surprised at how blatantly bad he was.

    • We try to avoid carping about the ref, but we certainly got the brunt of it in the second half. I do agree that Wales were allowed to hold on to the ball in the tackle. At one stage towards the end of the first half, I was sure Healsip had won a ruck penalty, forcing the Welsh carrier to hold on in the tackle for ages, but none came. I was astonished. I also thought there was a fair bit of shoeing of Irish players, even when they were making legitimate attempts to remove themselves. Heaslip, again, got the brunt of this on at least one occasion.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  February 4, 2013

      The Welsh and ourselves are not happy with Poite’s performance, based on viewing He was bad in the first half at pinging the Welsh for slowing our ball leaving the players to take the law into their own hands. If he’d been any good, Ireland would have had a bigger lead by half-time.

      In the second half he was worse at allowing Ireland to slow ball illegally and instead of doing his job, he let the Welsh act as vigilantes with their use of the boots. Had he enforced high standards from the beginning it would have been a clean match.
      *I am not condoning the use of the boot on players on the ground, they’re big boys now and should receive and accept the correct punishments.*

      The stats will say he had a good game because the penalty count was low and the ball was in play for such and such etc… The game was good despite Poite’s performance. Fair play to both sides for not escalating things further.

  2. Johnny

     /  February 4, 2013

    Zebo totally flat footed in defense a couple of times was a concern.

    • Yes, the two boys on the wings missed a couple of tackles each. That’s going to happen when you’ve two Six Nations debutats against a brilliant Welsh backline. Let’s not be too down on them – they both did a lot right.

      • Stevo

         /  February 4, 2013

        They both did a lot right and, as you said, Gilroy put in some huge tackles in the second half. I’d be more concerned about his kicking. The Welsh clearly decided to target his wing and he struggled with his clearances, which you can bet your backside Stuart Lancaster is aware of. Kidney said that they’ll be doing a lot of work in training this week because the same plan that worked against Wales will not work against England. I wonder if he feels the same about the personnel?

      • Thomas

         /  February 4, 2013

        I hate the missed Tackle stat, it wrongly condemns players who could otherwise of had good games, especially wingers. It never takes into account those impossible situations where you need to cover two men and will get beat whatever you decide to do. The wings had good games and were, lets not forget, against probably the best wings in the tournament.

        Having Earls cover all the outside back positions is madness, last time I checked there are two other guys with bona fide credentials at that sort of thing. The mole made the point on his blog that Shingler is a good club player who’s weaknesses get exposed in internationals, i think Earls suffers similarly.

  3. There is an instance, around 60:20 in the second half, where Sexton has his face raked by both Tipuric and North. TJ alerted Poite, who ignored it. Wales scored through Halfpenny shortly afterwards…it will be interesting to see if there’s a citing over it, as that would imply criticism of M.Poite.
    Obviously, when Ireland loses, carping about the ref can be taken as sour grapes. However, given we won, I don’t agree with the view that we should just forget about it, then, as we won anyway. Poite seems to have a problem with Irish teams, and I hate seeing him in charge of any of our games – and the result shouldn’t obscure the fact. We might end up losing the championship on points difference, again, thanks to him.

    • Stevo

       /  February 4, 2013

      The best time to complain about a ref’s performance is after you’ve won, there’s less chance of it being seen as sour grapes.

      • Thomas

         /  February 4, 2013

        Has anybody seen the Rory Best yellow from more than 1 angle. It was given for side entry and the number of infringements that came before, in Poite’s own words. It didnt even look marginal, it looked entirely legal, it came just after Gilroys tackle on Halfpenny, wales got in a bit of trouble and where outnumbered, and Best lifted it. It was the softest i’ve see in ages.

        • I could not work out any reason what Best did was illegal. It certainly was not a side entry to the ruck, that’s for sure.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  February 4, 2013

        @WOC The only thing Best could be pinged for was not releasing the tackled player. But as Jamie asked, there was a very strong case that it was a maul.

        Whatever it was, it was not in at the side.

  4. Connachtexile

     /  February 4, 2013

    I think Earls is to physically slight to be frank and the likes of North and if Kidney keeps him Basteraud will have a field day. He also isn’t a centre no matter how much he wants to be one. The guy is a world class winger though and needs to play his rugby there. Would prefer to have either McFadden or Fitzgerald on the bench ahead of him as they have a little extra omph! in defence.

    • Scrumdog

       /  February 4, 2013

      It would be interesting to see Fitzgerald at 13 and McFadden at 12. It appears we have several inside centres..coming along including the likes of McSharry and Marshall and Fitzgerald is not far off being given the opportunity of run at outside centre at some point for Leinster with a view to the national squad.
      The thinking of pundits now seems to be that Earls is not ’rounded’ enough in his abilities to play at outside centre, or physical enough, and as well as that, there are multiple challenges just on the left wing for him to overcome now to return even to the bench. I don’t think he’s worth a place on the bench at the moment….does DK, if so then why? The selections for Saturday will be very interesting indeed!

  5. jojo

     /  February 4, 2013

    was very concerned when earls came on in centre. unfortunately, he just doesnt offer enough in attack to overlook his defensive frailties, which are mostly positional more so than just his small frame. Ps, still not convinced by POM ,(think he made 5 tackles, granted he wasnt on that long and it was when were on the front foot.), though can say that kidney didnt get the decision wrong per se.

    poite was awful, he became very liberal with the cards in the second half whereas, when we were in the ascendancy in the first half he didnt even warn them (there was a definite card at bout 20mins). it almost gifted them the game.

    on an aside, did anyone watch the saxons game on friday? the irish ref ended up screwing england by sin binning the scottish prop, forcing non contested scrums. begging the question, how does a ref decide when to sin bin a prop instead of awarding a penalty try?
    a yellow card didnt help england, it annulled their main attacking weapon.

  6. Leinsterlion

     /  February 4, 2013

    Eh, lads no need to go all sentimental. True, its the best match and 45-55 odd mins run of good play we have had in about two years so its understandable. However Zebos d is very suspect and we got destroyed at the breakdown when Tirpuric came on and Wales began to get on top. Luckily Enger-lund have an oaf at 7, so a repeat wont be on the cards next week, but the likes of Dusatoir and Rennie must be eying our unbalanced back row in anticipation……..
    Completely agree RE: the bench. Earls is a non runner, he came on and as per usual commited his obligatory massive defensive lapse that allowed Wales to run in a try. Hes not international class cover for any of the back three and is most definitely not cover for the centers with Barritt/Tuilagi/36 coming up. Our bench needs a revamp, espcially with what will be a brusing encounter next week.
    As for Italy……Jaques Brunel, take a bow son, take a bow.

    • Amiga500

       /  February 4, 2013

      Ian Keatley and Luke Fitz for the bench?

      Covers the whole lot much better than Radge and Earls – lets face it – did anyone want to see either of them on the pitch on Saturday?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  February 4, 2013

        Pick 2 of Keatley/Mads and Fitz/McFadden, imo any combo of both would be just as good as the other. I cant take any more Radge and Earls, they are patently not international standard and in Earls case never was.

  7. Anonymous

     /  February 4, 2013

    It was the best weekend of 6n rugby I can remember in a long time (obviously winning the GS was amazing but I couldn’t tell you a thing about either of the other two games that weekend).

    Italy we’re the stand out performance of the weekend for me. This is the first time I’ve seen them attack well for the full 80 minutes and defend solidly for the same. France on the other hand looked lack lustre and uninterested and I can only hope the show up with the same level of enthusiasm when they hit Dublin.

    Would love to see (the rejuvenated) Fitzgerald on to the bench, I think he gives you more in defence without reducing your attacking options. In the forwards I think Tom Court would give you a better option at loose especially for the scrum. I think Decci Fitz did ok but the question is can he stay injury free?

    Next weeks game suddenly looks bigger than it did. Did anyone think that England looked a bit ordinary starting the first half of the game against Scotland? Scotland were holding there own very well and but for some unlucky errors could have been in for another try early on. Don’t get me wrong England look good but I really don’t think their the World beaters that the English media has them built up to be.

    • Ireland had a lot of problems shown up in the second half, and have a lot to work on. England weren’t really tested, so don’t know what their problems are…yet. That’s the plus for Ireland. The minus is our win took a lot more out of our players. Thank God it’s an 8 day turnaround!
      I’d make Ireland very slight favourites, given the game is in Dublin. Let’s hope Garces refs a bit better than he did in the Munster v Sarries game!

    • Jimbob

       /  February 4, 2013

      England weren’t great but they’ll get better as the tournament goes. Tuilagi was a big loss, I can see him and Twelvetrees being a decent partnership for the next few years. They’ll also be a far more potent threat if they play Flood and Care or even if they throw Freddie burns into the mix. They’ll stick with Farrell though and he’ll keep the points ticking along nicely which isn’t always pretty but very effective.

  8. Len

     /  February 4, 2013

    It was the best weekend of 6n rugby I can remember in a long time (obviously winning the GS was amazing but I couldn’t tell you a thing about either of the other two games that weekend).

    Italy we’re the stand out performance of the weekend for me. This is the first time I’ve seen them attack well for the full 80 minutes and defend solidly for the same. France on the other hand looked lack lustre and uninterested and I can only hope the show up with the same level of enthusiasm when they hit Dublin.

    I’d love to see (the rejuvenated) Fitzgerald on to the bench as i think he gives you more in defence without reducing your attacking options. In the forwards I think Tom Court would give you a better option at loose especially for the scrum. I think Decci Fitz did ok but the question is can he stay injury free?

    Next weeks game suddenly looks bigger than it did. Did anyone think that England looked a bit ordinary starting the first half of the game against Scotland? Scotland were holding there own very well and but for some unlucky errors could have been in for another try early on. Don’t get me wrong England look good but I really don’t think their the World beaters that the English media has them built up to be.

  9. mikebrad

     /  February 4, 2013

    The point about the bench is important. The inexperienced players will not become experienced by magic – they need to be given game time. There is a lot of potential that is going untapped. On another note I thought BOD was awesome – his tackle on Ian Evans (I think) was monstrous, his pass to zebo was beautiful and his slap on Philips hand showed what a Wiley aul fox he is.

  10. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  February 4, 2013

    The prospect of two back-line injuries v England is terrifying if we go with the same bench as we did v Wales.

    • Len

       /  February 4, 2013

      Totally agree. There is something to be said for dropping both earls and ROG and maybe even swapping Reddan for Boss. Fitzgerald and Mc Fadden or even Downey would be a better option.

      • Chris

         /  February 6, 2013

        Boss?? And possibly Downey??

        P. Marshall needs to be added to the bench, and I think Luke Fitz definitely deserves a place instead of Earls; ROG just needs to go for pretty much any of the other 10s we have available but agree with WoC that Madigan would be first in line.

  11. Jlo

     /  February 4, 2013

    O’gasra is a wasted place on the bench Madigan is the second best out-half at the moment and has also played in all the back positions. Never much fancied Earls.

  12. Jlo

     /  February 4, 2013

    Reddan & Boss have done nothing this season. They have both got caps and never shone. Give Marshall the experience hes played well for Ulster

  13. L.P.O.

     /  February 4, 2013

    Great posts lately lads- am thrilled with the result, and you’ve covered many of the positives, so sorry for coming in with small negative, but must say am not sure about all this grá you lads say you have for Earls- to the point of claiming before that criticism of him by some folk on here (not me, but the fellow with the username on the topic, I suppose?!) were a tad parochial- are you sure you two aren’t overcompensating in order to highlight your respective impartiality?

    Fact is, in his short contribution to the match, Earls’s comedy superman dive let the Welsh stroll in for what could have been a very costly try. And for someone with ambitions to be the international centre that takes over from the Great One, he amazingly seems to have genuine difficulty at times passing off his left hand, as he’s shown on countless occasions in recent times flinging looping wayward passes to the right that have people in the first few rows reaching protectively for their pints. Are you sure it’s not too early to make a call on it? Go on, be divils..

    • Seiko

       /  February 4, 2013

      Look at the bright side. Think of all the trys Earls 9 tackles saved in the 35 minutes or so he was on!

    • Great comment LPO, on a subject well worth revisiting. Last season and early this year, we felt Earls had made real strides at outside centre and was looking very much at home there, and a real class act in general. The last few months, though, have caused us to pause for thought.

      Demented Mole described Aaron Shingler as a player had his weaknesses exposed at test level, where they may have been masked at club level. Perhaps the same is true of Earls. He looks good there for Munster, but his weaknesses get revealed in test rugby. He didn’t play particularly well in November, or on Saturday and his distribution, which appeared to have improved, has gone backwards a bit.

      Still wouldn’t write him off but he’s not at his best right now, for sure.

  14. I think if Earls is out then Fitzgerald should bench. More of a game changer than McFadden, and BOD knows we need a few more of those. D’Arcy should be fit according to the medical report.

    Henry in for O’Mahony as need to control the breakdown vs England. Annoy Youngs and he will crack… If you look back to the Ulster-Tigers game where he imploded, who was at him all night? Chris Henry!

    Gilroy played excellently considering he was targeted by Wales from kicks and his shooting defence was top class at times. Saved 2 tries.

    Court needs to be on the bench as Cole will have a field day vs Kilcoyne…

  15. Peter

     /  February 4, 2013

    Madigan, Marshall & Fitzgerald (McFadden) should come into the bench, if ROG had to come on to defend in last 30min it could have been ugly. The second half may be a concern but at 30:03 our players were naturally going to relax and the ref came into the Welsh comeback. Gilroy kicking also a concern, he should pass to Kearney when available…..

  16. solidalarry

     /  February 4, 2013

    Lads, good article:

    Bench – yes, ours is shit. Nothing new by now but… Rog? No. I’d take Madigan. Don’t think Earls was that bad but would drop him for Fitzgerald regardless. If D’Arcy is crocked I’d parachute McFadden straight in.

    The front row replacements are all way off the quality of the starters – but in the case of LH and HK, that’s no mark of shame, for Healy and Best (sensational – our second greatest ever hooker?) are right up there.

    DOC isn’t so good but (as you yourselves made the case for so well recently) isn’t rubbish either, though he is a tiredness and injury cover rather than something different tactically. However, with POC injured, Tuohy too (who at least provides something different from our current second rows with his very heavy carrying close in), the only other option is NWJMcB. Now, while Iain has yet to find his ceiling, do we want to find out if he bumps his head on Sunday? I’m a who dares wins man, but that’s still not a call I’d make.

    Henry is a great bench option – although, despite how well O’Mahony played, I would still swap them this week because Henry’s two great strengths – slowing opposition ball down at the ruck and massive defence in the midfield, away from the fringe – look perfect to try and pour some water on England’s rejuvenated rucking, which was the basis for their excellent victory at the weekend, coupled with the near certain return of Tuilagi.

    Otherwise, Marshall ahead of Reddan makes perfect sense. ER’s form has plummeted. Then, to repeat myself, I’d have Madigan and Fitz.

    On Zebo – no shame in getting that wrong. The venerable Neil Francis said several times that he was no prospect and that Danny Barnes was the man to watch at Munster. Even our finest err.

  17. bob

     /  February 4, 2013

    Does anyone here have a memory beyond the current game?? I distinctly remember both Mcfadden and Darcy missing tackles also on big men at international level at center i.e. North and against the french. It happens…

    Earl’s came on in a game where the intensity was higher than most games recently (i.e. reference to Heaslip comment at end of game about nothing being left), it is very hard to instantly get into the game. So I think people are being overly harsh on him. If Darcy doesn’t make it, I would start McSharry in center as he is the only inside center that is fit and in the squad. Solid in defense.

    In relation to the bench, why are people calling for changes to something that wasn’t used? Due to the number of injuries we have, O’Connell, Ferris, Bowe etc, the bench is going to look weak. Funnily enough, you can make a good guess at the province a person is from by the make up of the sub changes being called for.
    1. Madigan wasn’t good enough to start for the Wolfhounds so why have him on the bench? 2. Fitzgerald is a winger who can’t play anywhere else in the backline and is a confidence player who cracks if he makes a mistake during a game. He always worries me. Looks good lately but too early.
    3. Reddan has experience and a similar game to Marshall so not sure about this either
    4. I dislike ROG but no alternative as experience is needed for a young team.
    5. DOC – boring, hard working but no real alternative

    • Paddy Logan

       /  February 4, 2013

      I think Henderson could come i for DOC – more dynamic with ball in hand. Would be very hard on the Munsterman though, as he has been v good this season.

    • Yossarian

       /  February 4, 2013

      ROG Experience?Experience only counts if it reduces your errors/improves decision making both which have been shocking for Ireland against Argentina and SA. He chipped the ball away over the 80min mark to end the contest against SA. Against Argentina he restarted a 22′ into their hands for a late try.(RTE didn’t even discuss these in post match commentry or replay it!) These are the kind of thing we would lambaste a young outhalf for doing and we would all be shouting he was too inexperienced and should never have been on the bench! don’t get me started on the 15m behind the gainline for Munster crack……

  18. jojo

     /  February 4, 2013

    memory beyond current game? yeah, i remember earls being consistently poor in centre, throwin balls away and not having any defensive savvy.
    thou, luke might not be the answer, he could be, and i am certain at this stage that earls isnt the answer.
    no, feel madigan wasnt munster enough to start for the wolfhounds
    ROG, I dont care about his experience considering the fact that he plays poorly and would be absolutely trampled over by England. I’d feel way more comfortable with madigan/keatley or jackson.

    ps, never thought i’d say this, but wallace might actually be the safest option in centre. been impressed with his defensive abilities for ulster (thou, not exactly building for the future)

  19. Coming to this one late today!

    A great weekend of rugby, maybe the reasonable weather conditions played a part but it seems clear that all six teams are comfortable playing rugby…perhaps we will finally hear the end of commentators (mostly Frankie and other RTE contributors) complain about teams playing too much rugby in their own half, I guess the “earning the right to go wide” rubbish will live on.

    I feared some months ago that DK’s Waterloo would come in Rome, I figured it would be the final nail in the coffin of a misfiring team being beaten by an average team. Both of those assessments look wrong but I’d still fear for us in Rome.

    As detailed above, replacements and injuries will determine the rest of this season. Last season we criticized Deccie’s for only replacing injured players. At the moment it would be hard to argue with that approach. The case for PJ or Madser over ROG is strong but hard to see it happening…the wastefulness of ROG’s cameos in the AI’s are hurting now, Like many posters I genuinely don’t like picking on players for missed tackles and very often a missed tackle is simply the end result of a scramble defence that has run out of scramblers. However, Earls just didn’t look sharp on Saturday. Having said that Ferg has missed a few himself. As for TH, I have an old mate who played U21 provincial rugby a long time ago and he fancies his chances of an International cap at this stage. It is truly frightening as to how we are in the position we are in.

    A final work for Monsieur Poite…. Simply impossible to figure out what game he is reffing. I though Best was marginal under our own posts at the end of the first half and I waiting for the penalty against us. Instead he goes the other way. In the second half I thought Best was perfect at that breakdown…but gets a YC. I never thought I’d post such a thought but can we clone Nigel??

  20. Great first 50 minutes alright but it was built entirely on the front 5 – 3 of whom (the front row) are irreplaceable at international level. The second rows were immense but Healy (carrying and squeezing Jones with Best), Best (carrying, breakdown and looseside scrummaging) and Ross (one man scrum machine) were outstanding. If one of them gets injured for a crucial game, it is hard to see us winning it.

    In fact, there are only 2 positions (or 3/4 depending on selection) in which we have real international back up – so a long way to go yet.

    I completely understand your desire to placate as broad a readership as possible but not sure I agree with your POM assessment. He was full of beans and made some barn-storming carries, even if he seemed to go missing at times. Given the need for us to try and hog the ball off this English side though, I would say this weekend’s game is crying out for Henry. Very tough to bench POM after his 55 minute performance though…and it is 100% certain Kidney won’t.

  21. Paddy Logan

     /  February 4, 2013

    Fellas, great blog as ever. I’ve been meaning to say for some time though, that what makes this blog really stand out is the outstanding quality of the comments. It really is the place to come for sustained, high quality, rugby chat. Keep it up and I look forward to hearing more of you on the radio – provided the internet feed works.

    I’m glad we all seem to be in agreement about Rory’s yellow. I was dumbfounded and have watched it back many times and remain none the wiser. Was equally nonplussed by the excellent Heaslip getting his hands on the ball and lifting Warburton, who was clinging on for dear life, clear off the floor yet no pen was awarded. The other comedy moment was the first scrum, where I swear Poite forgot to say ‘set’.

    • Cheers Paddy – we’re equally as grateful for the commenters – without them, we’d be nowhere. You are our raison d’etre!

  22. Anonymous

     /  February 4, 2013

    My pick v England

    Kearney, Gilroy, BOD, McFadden, Zebo, Sexton, Murray, Heaslip, Henry, O’Brien, Ryan, O’Callaghan, Fitzpatrick, Best, Healy.

    Bench: McCourt, Cronin, Ross, McCarthy, Henderson, Marshall, Keatley, D’Arcy.

    Rest, but insert 3 starters from last weekend after 50mins for impact, throw England off balance. O’Mahony replaced by Henderson on bench (fresh legs). Henry starts at 7 brings fresh legs and ready to finish his 80 minutes from the Wales game. O’Callaghan is needed for lineout improvement and fresh bulk at the rucks. English scrum halves always a problem..Henry and O’Brien needed here.

  23. Seko

     /  February 5, 2013

    Earls had a poor game but McFadden-really? Does nobody remember George North running through him like he didn’t exist just last season? Fitzgerald is a class player but only has 2 games behind him and never really got going for Ireland even when he was a starting Lion,,,2 tries from 23 caps has to be one of the worst strike rates of any international winger…

    • Doubters will always remember the standout howlers from players they don’t rate: Earls-Tuilagi, McFadden-North, Murphy-France ’06 (missed tackle vs Rougerie and pass to Heymans). That’s the way it is Seko. However, they all have far more good moments.

      On the McFadden-North: McFadden was playing outside centre, which he hadn’t played much of for Leinster last season (he was 12, EOM was 13 when the diddymen weren’t playing), so an unfamiliar role. North was in fact D’Arcy’s man but D’arcy let him go and he built up a head of steam to steamroll through McFadden. Also, between Trimble and Kearney, they should’ve had Davies covered. Its easy to just pick that moment and base your analysis of McFadden on it but maybe not quite so convincing.

      The reality is that neither Earls nor McFadden has shown they have what it takes to play centre at international level (both have acquitted themselves admirably on the wings) – although Earls has had far more chances than McFadden (who has only played twice?). They are both solid centres at Pro12 and – at times – Heineken Cup level though.

      The real question is just who do you prefer until we have a proper replacement. For me, I am not sure what the answer is but I am pretty sure McFadden would not have made the headless play that Earls made on Saturday for the Wales try.

      • Seko

         /  February 5, 2013

        I see your point about picking out the stand-out errors – that is exactly what I am trying to highlight as everyone seems to be focusing on Earls’ ‘headless play’ (sarcasm doesn’t always come across on here – while we are at it we should probably drop D’Arcy for his schoolgirl attempt on Rougerie in Dublin 2 years ago!)
        It was a good move from Wales which he misread…Roberts ran a strong decoy directly in his direction before jack-knifing towards Zebo…Earls had gone for the shoot up tackle on Roberts, which was obviously a team plan as O’Driscoll and Gilroy had done it a number of times throughout the game. He misread the move, which is pretty understandable as that is exactly what Wales were aiming to achieve. There is also the security system for such an event that the inside defenders are drifting across, which Roberts did very well to block (illegally). It looked bad on Earls’ part as he flailed at the tackle but it was not the man he was expecting to tackle. It may be true that someone of Drico’s standard would have been able to re-adjust and make the hit but I find it hard to believe that McFadden or Fitzgerald would have done any better in the circumstances.

      • The shooter tactic works well but when you are defending on your own try line in a situation like that at the weekend, it is not a prudent option. Put in more simple terms: I cannot imagine that Earls was coached to to shoot like that in such a situation. He did shoot and he shot beyond the offensive line without coming anywhere near anyone. It was a horrible play.

        Anyway, I would not judge him on that one play but rather on repeated errors. He does seem to misread the game defensively at 13 and cannot pass on his blindside. He is not an international 13 right now (and in my opinion will never be). Neither is McFadden. Neither is Fitzgerald (certainly not now).

        Personally, I think McFadden is a better 23 than Earls – but that is open to debate.

        I don’t think any of the three you mention are the future for the Irish midfield. It is just frustrating that we are still auditioning for the role when BOD has said this is his last 6 Nations.

  24. Rich

     /  February 5, 2013

    Great piece guys

    Was glad to see BOD back to his finest – hands for zebo try – magnifique!

    i have been critical of POM on here but the lad put his hand up, plenty of go forward ball in hand and put in a cracking shift. Should keep his place much as i am a Henry fan! Also had a go at Earls a fair bit – that blitz defence can make heroes but can also make fools, Wales had an overlap for Cuthbert try anyway – would nt totally blame KE – plus just after he put in a cracking hit on Roberts.

    Bench def a worry – P Marshall would give us a bit of bite plus will keep a tired defense honest with is gas, redden very predicatble. Mads and Keat no where near is much as i rate them – ROG all the way this tourne. Henry a quality impact optionand lock – who else is there? Toner? Would get melted vs a decent side. Bring on the English!!

  25. Am I the only one who was a little disappointed with Henry’s impact on Saturday?

    Ireland were under the cosh in a big way for the 30mins he was on the field and, as someone who thought he should have started, I would’ve hoped that the form openside in the HCup could have put more pressure on the Welsh ball. I realise that Ireland were a man down for 20 of his 30 mins but 5 tackles seems a low amount considering what was going on around him. Earls only got a few mins more but made twice as many tackles.

    • He had a minimal impact alright. There can be no denying it. However, you correctly point to the fact he played most of his 30 minutes in a side down a man. At that point we were also deliberately not committing to breakdowns, thereby nullifying the main part of his game. Also, arguably, he is a player you need to start to allow him to influence a game (and not someone who will make an impact as a sub). O’Mahony also had a decent shift – although his tackle count was also low.

      All that said, there is surely a big tactical argument for starting Henry this weekend, with a view to trying to hog possession off England. They thrive on the stuff – they also do not use the back of their lineout (so we don’t need 2 options at the back). I would start POM for the Scotland and France games but would go with Henry this weekend. Its not going to happen of course – I know: that is not how Kidney works…and he clearly has a preference for POM. However, it would be nice to think we could mix it up depending on our opponents and not just send out the same 15 every time.

      • Scrumdog

         /  February 5, 2013

        I think we should take a leaf from the All Blacks and use horses for courses against England and start with as many fresh legs and bodies as we can, mainly in the forwards, in this hyper-physical England game and then introduce some of last weekend’s warriors from the bench. Make England have to adjust their plans.

      • Problem with that one Scrumdog is that there are very few positions in which we have players we could bring in that could face up to England. Beyond the wing, scrumhalf, flank, second row, we don’t have international standard players waiting in the wings. In the positions where we might actually ‘need’ to rest players (front row and centres), we don’t have anyone of sufficient standard to replace the incumbents (apart from loosehead at a push).

  26. Scrumdog

     /  February 5, 2013

    Well,I agree on the centers and Luke Fitzgerald needs a run at 13 for Leinster .I would be looking at who played well against the All Blacks in that 2nd test,in Christchurch. Kevin McLaughlin had a stormer against the All Blacks and is a lineout is Donnacha O’Callaghan jumping at 2, Start Fitzpatrick at tighthead (did well against Woodcock) and give Ross a break for as long as is prudent. Court on the bench covering loosehead to make amends!

    Many a new cap has gone in the deep end and played Gilroy and Zebo for us this season. many more in the squad could be exciting players at test level?

    Obviously DK cant make wholesale changes for the good and upset the team balance..but he could make enough changes to rest some of our lads for as long as he can and keep Lancaster and co. guessing. Starting Henry, Heaslip and McLaughlin is an option. I think O’Brien might be a concern with the massive work rate he undertook in Cardiff and it will be difficult for him to replicate that after eight days, its a gamble but maybe one we should consider taking?

    I cant see us winning this one with out being clever with whom we start,..but that’s always possible! We tend to under rate our players in the squad against our proven test players..fear of the unknown…’fear’ is the great inhibitor of progress.

    DK needs to think outside the box….the fresh possibilities…Luke Fitzgerald, Madigan, Marshall, Cronin….on the bench with McCarthy, O’Brien and Ross for impact. or maybe an extra forward on the bench wouldn’t hurt for this game? Provoking Hartley to get him red carded would be a nice option….

  27. Rich

     /  February 6, 2013

    Henry made 5 tackes, missed none in 28 mins, POM made 6 and missed 1 in 52 mins, earls made 9 and missed 2. 2 very different halves of rugby for POM and Henry, I thought Henry put in a good shift – but if it comes down to a good Ulster player vs an average Munster player – there will only be one winner!!!

    • Scrumdog

       /  February 6, 2013

      I hate to go provincial, but under Kidney this seems to be a very strong case of favouritism toward Munster. When EOS was running the show none of the Munster players abilities were in question and they fully deserved their places, not so at the moment.

      • bob

         /  February 6, 2013

        There is one call at flanker and a prop call that is 50 50. Gilroy got the call on wing over a number of more experienced individuals, could have easily stuck McFadden, Fitz or even Earls on the wing. Where is the favoritism on that one? Maybe Gilroy has a mother from Limerick so….

        • Scrumdog

           /  February 7, 2013

          You’ve listed two positions yourself and I think Earls has slid far down the charts at wing let alone center, not to mention O’Gara who shouldn’t be on the bench based on recent performances for Ireland.

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