Ten Questions

Despite what our learned friends in the print media might say, Ireland have a selection issue at out-half. Jonathan Sexton is unquestioned (except by our unlearned friends in the print media) number one, but is a major doubt for the Scotland game.  Working on the assumption that he will be injured, as seems most likely, who should play in his absence is unclear. Ronan O’Gara has been backup since RWC11, but his performance graph has been going south for province and country since then, culminating in his worst performance in a green shirt last Sunday.

Management have, up to now, eschewed the opportunity to give gametime to any of the promising young out-halves currently playing for the provinces, bar Paddy Jackson getting the chance to mow down Fiji for the “Ireland XV”. This is not just us writing with the benefit of hindsight, and those with memories that stretch as far as nine months ago will recall the clamour for Ian Madigan to travel to New Zealand after a season in which he was arguably the standout 10 in the Pro12.  Now, they have a serious problem, for the only man they have trusted for ten minute cameos for the last 15 months is no longer a Test-level outhalf, and the incumbent is sick. And that problem is entirely and completely of their own making. Games against Scotland and Italy in last year’s Six Nations, or in a summer tour where ranking points were not an issue and a win was never likely anyway, or against Argentina in November, were tailor-made for limited gametime for the youngsters to ease them into Test level.

Now, the choice is to dump them in at the deep end against Scotland, or persist with a legendary, but no longer effective player – not a choice we would like to have.

It’s been a consistent theme in the last three years that the management corps have declined opportunities to blood new players until absolutely forced to (by injury, typically) e.g. Mike Ross or Sean O’Brien – two players who have made a huge impression at this level. And it’s not like this policy has paid off in silver; Ireland haven’t challenged for the Six Nations since 2009, and were rather easily swatted aside by Wales in the World Cup quarter-finals.  Narrow selection policy and short-term goal setting have been the rocks on which the current regime looks to be perishing.

So now we’re in a right old pickle for the game in Murrayfield, with not only a starting place, but a reserve to be chosen from four candidates.  Before we go through the options, we are happy to declare upfront that the sole objective is to win the game, and to select the fly-half to give ourselves the best chance of doing that – not with the best chance of winning the 2015 World Cup, or beating New Zealand in 2036.  Ireland need a win here, pure and simple:

The Safe Option (Or is it?): Ronan O’Gara. One hundred and twenty-seven caps. Let’s repeat: one hundred and twenty-seven – that’s incredible. O’Gara is the only player to have played in all 14 Six Nations tournaments, and, until recently, retained the apple cheeks and innocent look that so endeared him to Mario Ledesma and Rodrigo Roncero. But is he really so safe?  All the caps in the world count for little if the player’s level has fallen over the cliff-edge.  Peter Stringer has many more caps than Conor Murray, but it doesn’t make him a safer selection for next week’s match.  The test rugby arena is no longer a place for slight 35-year olds fly-halves.

ROG’s last start for Ireland was in the World Cup quarter-final – he didn’t have a good day then, and he has slowed down since. His boot is now Arwel Thomas-esque, as is his tackling. He has experience and self-belief, but unfortunately the old magic has gone. You could apply Enoch Powell’s famous political dictum to him and, for that, we are profoundly disappointed. It’s also worth asking how ROG could hurt the opposition. Scotland’s only dangermen are in their back three – loose kicking to them is likely to put Ireland on the back foot, and it’s questionable as to whether Ireland should be kicking much at all in this game.

On the plus side, his place kicking remains reliable.  If pressed into action, at least he is unlikely to play as poorly as against England, and Scotland’s defensive system is probably less likely to put him under the sort of pressure England’s did.  But to turn that question on its head, is he the man to best exploit the weaknesses in that defensive system?

The Nordie Option: Paddy Jackson is three months younger than Owen Farrell, and fully two years younger than O’Gara was when he played his first HEC final, but has seven Heineken Cup starts (including a final) to his name, and has been the Chosen One of Ulster rugby for a long time and looked the part in the uncapped match against Fiji. Alas, he has rather wilted in the last two months, and has yet to prove himself a reliable place-kicker, but has mostly impressed this year.

He has often been babysat through matches by Ruan Pienaar and Pwal, but has begun to take on more responsibility, until his current trough of form. Murray has a similar style to Pienaar, and a combination with Jackson might be a good one.  Jackson was injured last Saturday and is not expected to play this weekend either, which makes it very difficult to see Kidney turning to him.  That said, he has the advantage of being in camp already, which may stand to him.

The Giteau Option: Ian Madigan is the most exciting of the bunch – he has an eye for the tryline, and at his best, moves a backline around with a slickness that has Leinster fans purring. He has yet to come near displacing Johnny Sexton (although we expect he’ll start next season in the 10 shirt), but his distribution and breaking game is ideal for taking on a Scotland side who fall off tackles for fun. England and even a lacklustre Italy punched numerous holes through their pourous midfield.  A fast paced running game is the obvious way to beat this Scotland side, rather than kicking to their solid lineout and giving them the opportunity to bring their back three into play.

Madigan has endured an up-and-down season, having been press-ganged into an unfamiliar role at full-back, but has got back to his best form since returning to fly-half.  His place kicking stats are also strong this year, at over 80%, and he nailed six from six at the weekend in a winning performance in Cardiff.

Counting against him is a loose kicking game and erratic decision making, while his line-kicking from penalties is inconsistent and a lack of big game experience.  He has just one Heineken Cup start at fly-half, against an already-out Montpellier, so test rugby would be a major step up in intesnsity from what he is used to.  He has spent less time in camp than Jackson, having been overlooked in November and returned to Leinster promptly this Spring.  And we don’t get the feeling Deccie is that big a fan.  He has overlooked Madigan for both this year and last year’s Wolfhounds games (for Jackson and Keatley respectively).

You might hear “You can’t throw Madigan into Murrayfield”, but it’s not that strong an argument – the Embra stadium is a library, and Madigan is familiar with it from the Pro12. With serious reservations – there are no perfect solutions to this mess, folks – Madigan would be our choice to start, based on hope that his talent will overcome a lack of experience.

The Help: Ian Keatley has done well when deputising for O’Gara so far this season in Munster, but Rob Penney sees both players every day, and has yet to prefer Keatley for a big game. Piloted Munster to their inevitable five-try win against Racing, but has a tendency to suffer from the yips with his place-kicking.  His skillset looks reasonably well equipped to take on Scotland, with a decent breaking game, and strong defensive credentials, but does he have enough class for test rugby?  Firm outsider, but he is the only one of the youngsters with Test starts on his CV (albeit against the USA and Canada).

The Ray Lewis Option: Johnny Sexton may have damaged his hamstring on Sunday, but maybe he should consult Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – the veteran tore his triceps in October (normal recovery time: 6 months) but was back in 10 weeks to lead his team to the Superbowl. Bill Simmons of Grantland (think Conor George, except American, likeable, respected, intelligent, knowledgeable, well-spoken, a good writer and with good teeth) called him a cheat for it – but if Lewis could sort Sexton out with some deer antler spray, he might be back for Murrayfield. And it’s not like the IRB are serious about PEDs, so he’d probably get away with it too.

So which way is it going to go?  We expect Deccie to stick with ROG, and while Jackson would probably be Decie’s preferred reserve, his injury just might cost him that chance, with the in-form Madigan best placed to be the beneficiary.  Undoubtedly, this weekend’s round of Pro12 games represent something of a beauty parade, and with Leinster at home to Treviso, Madigan has a good opportunity to press his case.  Can he ensure he doesn’t try to do too much on his own?

Each of the four contenders comes with a hazard warning, but given the weakness of the Scottish midfield, we have a preference for Madigan to start with the insurance policy of ROG on the bench.  We know Kidney to be a conservative, but faced with deteriorating performances from the likes of Stringer, O’Leary and Fitzgerald in the past, he has shown an ability to make surprising, seemingly-out-of-nowhere, ruthless decisions.  Could this be one such occasion?  Probably not.  Deccie will most likely stick his chips on ROG to have just enough wiles to sneak a win against pretty ordinary opposition, so long as he knows he has Sexton to return for the more arduous French game.

Whatever fly-half Kidney chooses, we’d like to see a joined-up selection that shows an intent to hurt Scotland, not merely to scrape by.  With that in mind, his choice of loosehead – between Tom Court and David Kilcoyne – is also important.  Scotland’s scrum is no better than average, and Court is the more destructive scrummager of the two.  If Ireland do pick ROG – as we expect them to – they should look to attack the Scottish scrum and milk it for three pointers, giving ROG the platform to work the scoreboard.  If, on l’autre hand, Kidney were to take a risk on Madigan, David Kilcoyne’s energy and pace in the loose would dovetail best, putting an emphasis on playing the game at a high tempo.   Anyone care to wager against ROG and Kilcoyne starting?

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  1. Enlightened Ulsterman

     /  February 13, 2013

    As an Ulsterman I believe PJ is not ready to make this step up and Madigan would be my choice. Kidney has been more adventurous by going with Gilroy ahead of Trimble so he might surprise us and give Madigan a chance which he deserves. I believe ROG’s appalling line kicking betrayed a lack of self belief; he knows he shouldn’t be there. Worry that his (misplaced) ego may get in the way of him doing the honourable thing and calling time on his international career.

  2. Very harsh on old Arwel Thomas!

    He might have been small but he decked Philippe Carbonneau!

  3. The IRFU are calling the shots at the Munster out half position in my view, he is on a central contract, ROG “has to” play the big games. While Keatley hasn’t always been inspiring, he is certainly more functional and useful then ROG for Munster, has a cap or two I think, but he is not the guy to step up.

    I would have Jackson, while some might say Pienaar and Paddy Wallace have been able to protect him somewhat or baby him, at least he has played and started in big games which we cannot say about Madigan unfortunately. Love Madigan and think he could potentially be better than Johnny but Jackson for me, Madigan on the bench of course.

    • I’m not sure the central contract dictates selection. Paddy Wallace, for example, has one and he’s been nowhere near the squad. So you can lay the balme for picking ROG entirely on Kidney if you wish, and not the IRFU contracting system.

      • Giuseppe

         /  February 13, 2013

        I think you’re under valuing Keatley, he plays regularly with Murray and he has been pretty good with the boot this year.

        If it was me I’d start Keatley (ahead of Jackson and Madigan). I’d have no issue with any of the 3 young guys starting really, I would have ROG on the bench though, in case any of the 3 lads have a mare or get a bad dose of the yips.

        Deccie will probably start ROG though, expect Pwal to be promoted to the squad and then the bench over the next week.

      • Leinster68

         /  February 13, 2013

        I agree, there is no evidence that ROG’s selection to date as #2 is based on anything other that Deccie’s belief that he is the second best 10 in the country. In fact, it’s widely speculated that their relationship is cool (at best). The hope is that he may have revised that view based on Sunday. It would be a surprise but not (as you say) without precedent if he went with someone other than ROG.

        The problem is that in truth none of the 3 challengers have exactly made it a “no-brainer” for Kidney to replace ROG (at least until last Sunday). I think Munster’s game on Saturday will be the decider. If ROG can pull together a half-decent performance he’ll start in Murrayfield. With PJ’s injury, Madser may have a chance at the bench.

        I don’t buy into any of this paranoid central contracts stuff (or even the charge of provincial bias). I think the truth is much simpler, we have a very conservative (and limited) coach who is fighting for a new contract. This means that a win is a win is a win….it doesn’t matter how!

      • I can’t see past DK selecting O’Gara. It’ll be interesting enough to see who he selects on the bench.

      • Seko

         /  February 13, 2013

        I think the point he was makig was that the central contract is dictating his starting position in Munster, not his bench spot with Ireland.

      • Leinster68

         /  February 13, 2013

        Sorry, you are correct re the comment regarding central contracts and Munster selection. I guess I’m just tired of all the supposition about selection on the National team being based on central contracts etc. The more I look at Kidney the more he just strikes me as a coach who inherently doesn’t trust players and therefore is truly conservative and will invariably go with the player he knows…until he has NO choice.

        No argument on IRFU meddling in the provinces and no doubt Penney was instructed to play ROG on Saturday. I may be wrong but has Nacewa started a game at 15 this season for Leinster even when RK wasn’t fit?? Strikes me a combo of IRFU rules and instructions.

      • Rava

         /  February 13, 2013

        Good point actually. Paddy Wallace has been third choice 10 for a long time now. About time he was given a shot……

  4. conorphilpott95

     /  February 13, 2013

    You sure about that, I thought paddy lost his a couple of years ago, I don’t see it being a Penney move anyway, the way he wants to play the game having a guy like ROG in there makes no sense for Munster. For Ireland, well I have long since lost faith in Deccie, and I’m a Munster fan.

    • Scrumdog

       /  February 13, 2013

      A nightmare scenario for Irish Rugby fans is very possible, and… that would be……ROG to start with Paddy Wallace as back up..sleepless nights ahead! More slap-stick comedy to endure from DK.

  5. Johnny

     /  February 13, 2013

    Don’t care who’s in on the team and bench as long as neither are ROG. He’s been absolutely awful this year, what message does that send to players around the country trying to break into the team.
    Absolute disgrace that was highlighted to the public again on Sunday, yet seemingly overlooked again by pundits.

  6. Xyz

     /  February 13, 2013

    Would love to see any of the younger trio starting but it will be ROG, we all know that. For the bench it will be Keatley (would think Declan would prefer Jackson but the injury + dip in form is likely to preclude it) who will get the nod ahead of Madigan due to his previous caps.

    If someone other than ROG gets more than 20 minutes against Scotland it will be a miracle.

    • I would see exactly the same as you. There is no point in dreaming: ROG will start and Keatley will sub if Jackson is not fit. Kidney and the IRFU can construct a narrative to back it up – one which the meeja will churn out and the lapdogs will lap up (experience, Heineken Cup starts, bla bla).

      The silver lining is that a new coach will still have two years – starting with this summer tour – to finally develop the players we will need for the world cup. As someone who finds Madigan an exciting talent, I hope he can make the step up to the next level(s).

  7. montigol

     /  February 13, 2013

    0% chance of anyone but O’Gara being picked presuming his match fitness and Sexton’s lack thereof.

    If this is a survey, I’d pick Maddog backed by Jackson and show faith in our talented youngsters.

  8. Agree with your conclusions, aside from having Rog on the bench. Finished is finished is finished. I’d go Madigan starting, Keatley bench.

    As far as I’m concerned, Rog is done and any “experience” arguments are as illegitimate as they would be if calling for Mike Gibson to take the shirt, whether bench or starting, and he should be forgotten about (as an aside, do you think Penney has been selecting Rog because he knows he has to be a bit political about taking the reigns at Munster? Plus, he may consider that his other alterations leave the team with enough upheaval already?).

    Then, why not Jackson? I’m an Ulster fan and have a huge amount of time for Paddy. You are right to question his goalkicking, as he is a confidence slotter, if he starts badly it can snowball. However, the fact he has spent significant time kicking ahead of Pienaar shows he has top drawer ability, it just needs to be harnessed. The same goes for other parts of his game. The reason I, and I suspect the folks at the Ulster Branch and IRFU, rate him so highly is because of his almost preternatural ability to attack the gainline with numerous passing options, make great decisions and execute them beautifully, both with the timing and accuracy of delivery. This was obviously seen against the Fiji XV, and also in some of the bigger Ulster wins this year, but more so than at any other point during the final HEC group game: we started with Marshall and Pienaar, but relatively soon PM (who had played well) was removed and Jackson pushed RP inside. The difference in quality of attacking play between Pienaar and Jackson at first receiver was marked. OK, Ruan’s probably fairly rusty in terms of starting matches at outhalf, but he is a quality footballer by any measure and the fact that Jackson can so improve upon him at the first-among-equals of core aspects of first-receiver play I think is very impressive.

    But, we’re talking Six Nations here, we need an all round game. PJ isn’t ripe yet.

    That leaves the Ians. I would put them at roughly equal levels of experience, some HEC out of position, never first choice. I know IK has started two tests, but they would be sub-Heineken rugby, with limited pressure. As I think Madigan has a bit more stardust I would opt for him, with Keatley on the bench.

    You’re right to say it’s not ideal, but in this case the ‘safe’ option is no such thing and, so, we are only left with a range of different nuclear options. “Choose the method of your destruction”, sort of thing.

  9. I should also add that, IMO, beasting our best outhalf for this one match would be madness. Let him heal properly.

  10. montigol

     /  February 13, 2013

    My boss told me yesterday “Experience is just another word for mistakes.”

  11. Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

     /  February 13, 2013

    Regarding the points about matching Kilcoyne and Madigan or ROG and Court can anyone currently see a defined gameplan or style in the Irish Team? England are based around pressure (both on attack and defence), repeated phases on attack and targeted counter-attacks from the back thee (Brown and Goode dealing with kicks, Ashton to provide a strike threat when its on). Wales focus on line breaks through their big lads and strike runners from there. Against France, Italy seemed to know exactly wanted they wanted to do with the ball and the players were all on the same page in that regard. Personally I’ve not got a clue what Ireland set out to do from one game to the next.

    Obviously ball was slower vs England then the first 40 vs Wales but even when it did come out no-one seemed to know what to do. Did we have a strategy for various scenarios? Line-out in our 22, they’re a player down. What do? Slow ruck ball on our 10, set English defence. What do? In my mind this led to mistakes like O’Gara trying to step his way around a tackler and being eaten, or that horrid pass flung out to Mike Ross which he duly decked. The English pressured us to be sure, but no more so than we pressurised ourselves by not know what we wanted to achieve each time the ball was in hand.

    One thing I noted, which marked a return to the tactics seen vs South Africa in the Autumn was the static, lone player one-out from a ruck. Sweet Zombie Jesus, what is that meant to achieve? I’m fine with forwards taking on slow ball but not like this. Either have them:
    a)coming around the corner in 2s or 3s with the objective of sucking in tacklers and generating quicker ball, preferably for a another pod around the corner. Rinse and repeat until another option presents itself.

    b) if tight to the sidelines, hit a wider, flat pod of 3-odd stout forwards, secure the ball and use the extra kicking angle you now have to test their back three, with a strong kick chase.

    No amount of quick feet from Heaslip, or bashing from Healy/O’Mahoney/O’Brien was going to puncture that smothering English defence on their own.

    • Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

       /  February 13, 2013

      Whoops, kinda went off on a tangent there! Note-to-self; proofread before posting. Back on track I personally don’t see any sense in keeping O’Gara in the squad, even as a sub. His ability to influence games in a positive manner has largely deserted him. Decision making is questionable, ability to challenge the gainline is gone entirely and his kicking from hand is in decline. What’s the point? Triple Crown and GS is gone, World Cup seeding is assured. Start building for the future now and give youth its head. I’d be happy for Deccie to pick any of the young pretenders to see what they can do. Lets experiment now and if needed in the November Internationals, postponing such moves is what got us into this mess in the first place.

      • Xyz

         /  February 13, 2013

        You are absolutely right – from the perspective of the Irish team.

        But there is a misalignment between Deccie’s priorities and that of the Irish team. There is nothing on for the latter but for the former there is a potential contract extension. For this we need to blame the blazers.

      • Johnny

         /  February 13, 2013

        100% agree. Also fans want to see the best players, not the same old tried before and failed option.

  12. Len

     /  February 13, 2013

    Good points on the four options lads and personally I agree with you re Mad Ian to start. I’m going to sound negative here but I expect that there is no real decision to be made for Decci. He will with out any doubt play to his track record and start O’Gara (despite the shell shocked look last Sunday), Earls will continue for Zebo and I expect Kilcoyne to start with Court coming up to the bench (unless Decci can find someone else in the mean time). The more I think about it, there seems to be a recurring theme that if you fall out of Decci’s favour your gone or demoted. Drico probably survives as dropping him would have an angry mob with pitch forks and torches at Decci’s gate screaming for his blood. Court failed him last year in London and is therefore out of favour despite a brilliant run of form. On the bench we may see McFadden come in to take the space vacated by Earls and maybe Jackson. Does anyone know if Paddy Wallace is fit? I don’t really see the question of out half succession being properly address until after Decci goes. Baring injury we’ll start ROG for the remaining 6N matches. I wouldn’t like to see Sexton rushed back to soon.

  13. Stevo

     /  February 13, 2013

    I feel the same as the rest, I’d be very surprised to see anyone other than ROG start in Murrayfield, but I’d be happy to see any of the other three. But you never know, maybe DK will have one of his annual volte-faces after Sunday’s performance and decide ROG is out.

    Alternatively, maybe he’s currently working with the belief that O’Gara is only there now as the perfect man to come on and give us a dig out in the last ten minutes like he did in Rome a couple of years back. He’s a difficult man to judge at the best of times, but he didn’t exactly seem ecstatic when ROG came on in the first half last Sunday. We will see.

    One aspect of the English game that I haven’t seen anyone raise was the possibility of having to stick Murray or Reddan on the wing if BOD hadn’t been able to run off the knock to the knee he picked up. With Madigan and Keatley on the bench you’d have two guys who can not only play 10, but who can also cover centre and full-back. Obviously this wouldn’t have made a difference against England as whoever was selected would have been occupied at out-half, but it’s something which should be considered when Sexton does return.

    • Stevo

       /  February 13, 2013

      That should be Madigan OR Keatley on the bench.

    • paddy

       /  February 13, 2013

      Yeah Kidney had 3 outhalfs on the pitch in the wolfhounds game. If Jackson is injured you could see the 2 Ians on the bench. I think that DK will stick to form and it will be ROG Kilcoyne to start

  14. Don

     /  February 13, 2013

    Some excellent comments from everybody above. I especially agree with what montigol’s boss said. Expereince is grossly over rated. Case in point: Germanys last team to the football world cup. Different sport, but same result; they were incrediable.
    If you are good enough, you are old enough. Experience is nice, but over rated.
    But theres the crux. Deccie will pick IK and say ‘Hes experienced’. Its bullshit, but the man says nothing interesting. Some people (WoC inculded) say its cause he plays his cards close to his chest. Perhaps, hes def had enough success to make a case for that. But I dont believe it myself. Simon Farrell said it above, we have no idea what we are doing from game to game. We dont know cause he doesnt know, and he says nothing solid because he hopes we wont realise that he doesnt know.
    IK will get the nod. Will start on the bench. PERHAPS will get 5 minutes at the end, even if ROG is having a shocker and Kilcoyne will start ahead of Court.
    Both are wrong decisions. Choose PJ or IM, both are exciting attacking options, but Deccie doesnt know what to do with such players, doesnt know what to do with a modern game of rugby.
    I think Scotland will win this match as well, and that will be Curtains for Deccie.
    Good ridance says I.

  15. Personally I’d prefer Keatley to get the nod, if only to shut up all his naysayers around Munster. I’ll be honest enough to say I’ve seen far more of Ulster, & connacht than I have of Leinster this season so I don’t really have a good feel for how Madigan is progressing. I’ve felt all season that Keatley should be the first choice in Munster, ROG has declined too much in the last 2 seasons and his style of play does not work with the gameplace Penney has been trying to implement at Munster. Keatley however suits that gameplan, even when it hasn’t all “clicked” Munster have always looked more threatening this season with Keatley at OH than when ROG was there. ROG still produces the occassional top-notch performance but these days they are the exception rather than the norm, I have huge respect for him as a player and at his peak he was in a class of his own when it came to kicking from hand. Unfortunately like many others I suspect Deccie will stick with ROG, and then the best of the other 3 based on Rabo performances.. which means likely to be Madigan. Penney’s already stated that if team ireland want certain munster players to be given gametime this weekend (aka DOC & ROG) he’ll give it to them and that means Keatley getting shafted again.
    BTW from a team ireland perspective Keatley might be a very very good option on the bench as he’s had to slot into #12 a number of times for Munster this season a position Earls clearly isn’t comfortable with covering, and he has the extra physicality that Madigan & Jackson lack at this stage in their development.

    • Len

       /  February 13, 2013

      Donnybrook Daymo if you follow your point that young players only get a chance when older players get injured then when end up where we are now. JS and ROG have been largely injury free for the last few seasons at international level so no one else has been given a shot. Now JS is injured and ROG is past it but because of this selection policy the other candidates are untested at international level. A coach needs to blood new players or face the potential drop off in performance as a new player is brought in and bedded down. It’s a lot easier to introduce a new player slowly when there’s a more senior player ahead of him. In this case the senior player and junior player just swapped roles and that set up has been found wanting

    • The Burner

       /  February 18, 2013

      Im not sure Keatley has that many Naysayers around Munster. Alot (including myself) think he should start at 10 for Munster

  16. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  February 13, 2013

    Top article as always WOC.
    I Have to say that my enthusiasm for Irish rugby (national team only) is at an all time low. So being able to see Deccie pick anyone other than ROG unfortunately in my eyes, is as plausible as cloning Ollie Campbell and using it as Sexton’s replacement.
    For me I’d have Madigan in there, with bench support from PJ or Keatley but that won’t happen so what’s the point.

    Very much off point but I’m saying it.
    Quinny’s article today in the IT was good in the sense that it’s nice to see someone carry the torch for those who care, but many of the comments following it could drive the will to live from the most enthusiastic optimist.
    Turn off the music, gag the PA guy (I’ll enjoy it because I want to, not because you tell me to), switch off the TV’s from the anthems to half-time and do the same for the second half. Finally and this is a long shot, Get rid of the seats in the Havelock end and give us an old fashioned terrace.

    • I completely agree… I was working at Murrayfield at the Autumn Internationals and the atmosphere was electric from half an hour before the match… People came early to watch Scotland and NZ/SA warm up and even with Grant Stott, the raving lunatic touchline announcer, there’s a good noisy atmosphere… Murrayfield will be bouncing on Sunday week with a good number of Irish supporters, and will more than likely be more like a ‘real’ game than Sunday!

  17. Donnybrook Dynamo

     /  February 13, 2013

    Entirely of Kidneys own doing? How many fans new who Paddy Jackson was before lost May? How many starts do Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan have between them in the Heineken Cup at fly half? In November all we wanted was to secure a top eight position would you risk having a fly half who is barely blooded at the Heineken Cup level? A competent coach would not take such a risk in such important matches. Traditionally youngsters get their chances due to injuries. E.g Henderson in for O Connell, Gilroy for Bowe etc. None of Madigan, Jackson and Keatley are doing anything spectacular for their provinces to dislodge Rog or Johnny from the squad so I really can’t see how this is kidneys fault.

    Oh and given the amount of injuries we had going to New Zealand it would have been lunacy to take jackson or Madigan down under. If they were needed early on in a test we could have a similar story to that English team in 97. #scared4life

    • Buccaneer

       /  February 13, 2013

      im not trying to troll or point out the obvious here but you are aware we lost 60-0 in the third test?

      What did anyone learn from ROG replacing Paddy Wallace on 54 minutes? Or any of ROGs cameos since the WC for that matter?

      I am actually sick of hearing about ‘experience’ in Irish rugby, it is another toxic symptom of the conservatism of the IRFU and the current management regime. Ian Madigan (0 caps) is 30 months older than Owen Farrell (14 caps/139 points).

    • That’s all fine and good Donnybrook Dynamo, but I’d have to ask where that mentailty has got us, and if it’s not worth revising a little. It’s also worth being reminded every now and then that not all coaches place the same premium on experience. It’s a well trodden argument at this stage, but still a relevant one: look at Dingo Deans’ attitude to giving players starts. He put James O’Connor in the national team before he had even played at franchise level. Similarly, Warren Gatland made Rhys Priestland his World Cup fly-half over more experienced candidates based on not a whole lot of pedigree, more a hunch that he had some talent, and made the semi-final and won a grand slam.

      What was really gained in New Zealand by picking O’Gara and leaving Madigan at home? There was so little to lose by blooding him. There were no ranking points at stake, and Ireland were unlikely to win a test in any case. The world would not have imploded had Madigan played 50 minutes of test rugby over the three games, and we’d be in a better position to pitch him in now. Even Goebbels Thornley lent the idea his support!

      • To further debunk your point DD – the English team that was “scarred for life” in 1997 won the RWC 6 years later

      • Donnybrook Dynamo

         /  February 13, 2013

        You didn’t really debunk my point at all. In fact you confirmed everything I said why are we rushing in players who aren’t ready and aren’t doing it at a high standard for their provinces. Gatland could have blooded him long before the world cup but he didn’t he waited for when he was ready which happened to be at the World Cup. No need to rush young lads to international which we did with Tommy Bowe and did set him back about two seasons in my opinion.

        James O Connor is a terible. Mainly because their is mitigating factors. 1) He was able to play for New Zealand and South Africa. B) He is one of the most naturally gifted rugby players and versatile to boat to play the game in the last ten years. None of our fly half back ups are any where near his standard. I have no problem blooding a talent like BOD or an O Connor, a once in a generation talent early but players who haven’t proven consistently to be able to perform on the levels below international standard.

        What has a World Cup six years later to do with England scarring a chunk of good prospects who never really fulfilled their potential? Can’t be sure but I think less then five were around in 03.

      • Donnybrook Dynamo

         /  February 13, 2013

        Meant terrible example sorry on a bus typing.

    • Donnybrook Dynamo, sorry but I have to disagree with you on Madigan and last summer’s NZ tour. Kidney totally missed the boat on that one to bring the stand out No.10 in the Pro12 for the 2011/12 season and recipient of the Leinster young player of the year award. Any amount of game time against NZ would have brought him on immeasurably and would have allowed us a better insight into his capabilities at test level against the best side in the world.
      On the 10 position for the Scotland game, I would have to agree with most commentators above and believe DK will start with ROG. Keatley I think will be his preferred bench (assuming PJ is out injured) replacement because I think he a bit more ‘predictable’ and DK prefers the safe/conservative option.

    • Xyz

       /  February 13, 2013

      “Traditionally youngsters get their chances due to injuries.”

      It doesn’t have to be this way! *Traditionally* in Ireland it has but as others have pointed out that isn’t the way it works in other, you know, more successful countries.

  18. Have it on good authority that Jackson is likely to play some part in the game on Friday, probably 50/30 with Olding, so he’s still in with a chance… Don’t see it happening but he could just make it. Any of Keatley/Madigan/Jackson would please me!!!

  19. conorphilpott95

     /  February 13, 2013

    A few people have talked about our lack of a gameplan something that has annoyed me and the majority of our fans for a long time. On Sunday, we were in the English 22 (or a metre or two outside) 5 times before Sexton went off, we came away with no points, that is inexcusable, Ireland don’t use strike runners in the backs, and we don’t seem to have nay moves as such. We merely hope to keep bashing it up the middle and hope for an overlap or a gap at some point, against a team as disciplined and as organised in defence as England, that was never going to happen. If you look at a lot of scores through the Deccie era, I think a lot of the memorable ones are often down to individual brilliance as opposed to a great planned move, or that’s what it seems like to me anyway, not sure if anyone else agrees (most recent example would be Zebo’s try v Wales and that unbelievable pass from the Great one)

  20. I would also like to add that DK not putting in IM, IK or PJ previously on the basis that you don’t experiment in big games is completely inconsistent with him parachuting in Michael Bent to the senior team before he’d ever proven himself at provincial level but is entirely consistent with the view the DK doesn’t trust players, in the latter case it being Mike ‘scape goat’ Ross

    • Ben M

       /  February 14, 2013

      Incorrect. Bringing Bent in was a necessity. There were no other tight head options that had significant game time under their belt. Hagan seems content to play against the likes of Plymouth Albion and Archer was not in the running at the time.
      Jon Andress didn’t have games under his belt either.

      Bent’s inclusion was not ideal but it was done out of necessity.

      I don’t know DK and nor do you so I think it unwise to trust the meeja when it comes to issues of trust between players and coaches. Only they know what was said between them.

      It was a nice story for those pundits with an anti Kidney agenda to push a ‘rift’.
      What is more likely is that both Ross and Healy at the time were getting an average of 60 minutes a game for Leinster but the coaching staff knew they would need 75 plus because of the lack of viable cover for Ireland and so needed more game time.

      • Xyz

         /  February 14, 2013

        There are pundits in the media with an anti-Kidney agenda? Where are these brave souls so that I might subscribe to their newsletter.

  21. Yossarian

     /  February 13, 2013

    People have a hit on a few things above. A coach has to trust his own judgement on a player. Deans/Gatland see a player and judge them based on their own confidence as a coach on talent identification. Gatland was doing it in Ireland calling up BOD,D’Arcy etc with no previous experience. Does same with wales,sometimes gets it wrong (Tom Prydie) but often gets it right.
    Kidney more often waits for validation from the provincial coach selecting instead of going for calls based on his own judgement. Has shown in the past he can do it (Murray) or out of desperation (Bent) but unfortunately don’t think he will do it with outhalf. If Sexton was out for longer i think he would be more adventurous but if he will be back for the french game he will look for ROG to get him through the scotish game.Depressing.

  22. My own personal preference would be for Kidney to pick Jackson and Luke Marshall in the 10-12 axis, to at least go some way toward replacing the attacking threat of Sexton. ROG/D’Arcy/O’Driscoll the last few seasons has been a bit like the Bee Gees in their latter years: one or two catchy, harmonious tunes amidst a catalogue of blandness.

    Kidney’s selected for speed in the rest of the side. The midfield is bound to feel that selection pressure eventually. As of now, they’re surviving on experience and consistency with the very occasional moment of brilliance, but that can only last so long. Ireland can’t carry on with just the back-row as a running threat. It just makes the side too easy to defend against.

  23. SUFTUM

     /  February 13, 2013

    Personally I think ROG should have retired when he said he would, after his last good game for Ireland against Australia. But then he hit a couple of drop goals in the Heineken, and the pundits started talking about whether he should start again, while I still thought he should retire and let Madigan have a wee go. But he’s stayed around and got progressively worse, at the same time as Jackson’s emergence and the two Ian’s continued development. But despite this, I think he will start against Scotland. I would have either Jackson or Madigan starting, probably Madigan as it seems Jacko’s injured. There’s not much between them, Madigan definitely is more consistent, and less flaky than Jackson, who can be either awful or inspired. At his best, i think he’s a good bit better than Madigan, but his best hasn’t come enough recently, because of his problems with confidence, but I think that’s only because he’s been playing for a shorter time than the others. Madigan is really quite similar to Jackson, but I think his peaks and troughs aren’t as steep, and isn’t as good kicking from hand. It really is a close one, but I think injury will decide it this time. I haven’t mentioned Keatley much, and this is because, in my opinion, while he is probably the most consistent of the three, I don’t think he has the potential to ever be first choice ten for Ireland, which the others do. He’s a solid 10, and I think is well suited to Munster new gameplay, but I don’t think he has another level to go to, which the other two do. Of course, if be delighted if I’m proved wrong and all three take off, but I think Madigan and Jackson have more X-factor. So in summary, ROG will start, he shouldn’t, and I don’t quite know who should haha 🙂

    • Just to point out that Sexton was the starting outhalf vs Aus. ROG’s last good game was against Italy

      • SUFTUM

         /  February 13, 2013

        True, what I’m saying is in the Australia game that was the last time I could remember his overall impact being positive for Ireland, I’d forgotten the Italy match was after that, but since the Wales quarter final, (obviously inclusive) I don’t think he’s made a positive impact for Ireland

  24. Ben M

     /  February 14, 2013

    I’m with DD on this one to a degree. The national team is not a testing ground for Provincial Academy players. Madigan did well in the Pro12 – great, but it is not of the same standard.

    WOC – Ranking points were at stake when we played New Zealand last summer. Had we won that 2nd test it would have seen us move up to about 4th.

    It is not the national coaches job to ‘develop’ players per se. That is the job of the provinces. It is his job to pick the best players (we may all disagree on who they are but that is a different discussion) in his opinion.

    Madigan and Keatley were not being selected as 1st choice by their Provinces in serious pressure games. Why then should they be ‘tried’ against the All Blacks?

    Next up people will be saying it is a disgrace that Kidney doesn’t pick Craig Ronaldson or Barry Keeshan.

    • Rich

       /  February 14, 2013

      I would completely agree DD/Ben – of the tour of hell in 1998, only 2 players, vickery and wilko were involved in rwc win – and hardly developed the careers of sturnham,Benton,ravenscroft, pool-jones (who I hear you say). Once in a generation players like oconnor, medard,Cullen can make debut at a young age, but would disagree with the suggestion that it would do Madigan no harm getting spanked 60-0 away to the abs, ESP at no 10 where sympathy for a poor performance does nt come easy. I would agree with the wider thought that we learned nothing from the tour and should have gone elsewhere for a longer tour against weaker opposition so these young players can come into the team in a positive environment.

      Also must complement the line “narrow selection policy and short term goal setting” – great line. Sums up the lot perfectly

    • Saying ‘Madigan was not being selected for high pressure games’ is not a very strong argument. To get selected for a high pressure game at Leinster he has to be better than Jonny Sexton. Tall order, not too many 10s in the world are. That doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t perform to a good standard in a high pressure game – he’s just not as good as Johnny.

    • Yossarian

       /  February 14, 2013

      I Don’t buy the argument that Madigan and Keatley don’t start for their province and therefore cannot be selected for Irish duty. It’s a selective argument put forward when it suits management. In the past we have seen Ryan/Mick O’Driscoll sub for ireland despite being behind POC + DOC. Murray was put in with minimal pro experience nevermind H-Cup. Even McFadden would arguably struggle to make a fully fit on form leinster side. Kidney will hide behind the argument of lack of top level game time but in reality its a selective argument when it suits him.

  25. @Ben & Donybrook Dynamo – Keith Wood on Monday said no test debutant is ever ready, and that’s why you have to play them. Sir Alex Ferguson said that with young players, you are never certain if they’re going to make it, and the only one he really was 100% on was Ryan Giggs.

    @DD – you make the Preiestland selection sound like Gatland was making a sponge cake, and took it out of the oven at the perfect moment. It doesn’t work like that. Picking young players is not an exact science. Who’s to say Madigan isn’t more ready now than Priestland was before the World Cup? Priestland had a great World Cup, but has been rubbish ever since. What does that say about the whole thing? Was he ready or not ready? Did Gatland get lucky? Hard to say, isnt it?

    ‘No need to rush lads in to international rugby’? Well, if you really believe ROG will somehow roll back the years to produce a performance he hasn’t looked capable of all season, there isn’t. But if you don’t really think that’s going to happen, then yes there is. That’s the whole point. Management have created the need.

    We’re loud and clear that it’s not ideal, we’ve detailed our concerns with it, but right now Ian Madigan is a better player than Ronan O’Gara, so maybe the best team to put out for the Scotland game has Madigan at 10?

    @Ben – Madigan is not a provincial academy player. He’s a fully contracted Leinster player. We know Pro12 is not the same standard as international rugby, but go back to what Keith Wood said. Conor Murray ‘did well in the Pro12’ and magament took a risk on him, and it has worked out.

    ‘It’s not the coach’s job to develop players?’. Yes, it is, on some level anyway. It’s not his job to coach and develop players’ basic skills. But it is his job to create the right environment for players to play their best in test rugby matches, and part of that is nurturing new talent that comes in to the side. If it’s plainly obvious that a player in a key position is heading over the hill, of course it should be in the head coach’s mind that he needs to start looking for a replacement, and that at some stage that replacement is going to need to play in a high-presure scenario. It might help if he has some experience ahead of when that day occurs.

    Ranking points were at stake on the upside, but not on the downside.

  26. Jlo

     /  February 14, 2013

    3 out-halfs PJ IK IM 3 internationals give them a game each and see what happens. Have a clear out and give younger players a chance. Most supporters don’t really care about the Ireland team at the moment and prefer to watch their provinces. get a foreign coach with no provincial ties.

  27. Sexton out for 4-6 weeks, so if Ireland go with ROG against Scotland we’re pretty much sticking with him for the rest of the tournament. Does anyone think that this might encourage the management to select one of the young guns?

  28. Seiko

     /  February 14, 2013

    I can’t see how a second outhalf could have been developed over the last 15 months (11 games – 10 with world cup ranking points at stake, considering that Sexton has only started to turn in consistent performances at the start of the six nations last year, Sexton & Murray had never started a game together. Then Brian O’Driscoll was out for most of the season and then Paul O’Connell got injured.

    Jackson had the horror show in the Heineken Cup final and who knew if he would ever get over it (Ulster even not letting him go to the Junior World Cup). I seem to remember hearing that there was a fairly strict budget for the NZ tour and Kidney wasn’t allowed bring Madigan – but most would argue that this was Sexton’s time to make the position his own and we are now beginning to see the development of a good partnership between himself and Conor Murray.

    The real problem that Ireland has now with regard to outhalf cover rests with the provinces – why wasn’t Sexton brought through quicker? Why is Steenson playing in England? I wonder is that why the IRFU were happy to let Sexton go to France to force an opportunity for Madigan?

    • Manntach

       /  February 15, 2013

      When you put it like that, Seiko, I’m not sure when there is time to ever bring a second out-half into the team. There are always important games and injuries to significant players. While I thank you for clarifying, I don’t think people are confused by Declan’s (conservative) logic that has got us to this point; people understand why he hasn’t brought in another out-half and that’s why they’re really frustrated by it.

      I think in this whole conversation we’re missing a point: Scotland have Ruaridh Jackson at 10. Now, I know the success of a player doesn’t depend on the player wearing the same number in the opposite jersey, but the point just serves to put into context all the worrying we’re doing about Jonny being out for the game. If Scotland can win in spite of Ruaridh Jackson, surely we can do the same in spite of who we have at 10. And, before you say it, this isn’t logic to support the inclusion of ROG.

      While I’m here, it’s nice to see Gerry has been working on his euphemisms in the IT today. ROG was ‘decidedly rusty’ last Sunday, apparently. Decided rustiness must be what did for my grandmother last year – not old age.

  29. I suspect that for DK the primary consideration is that we still have a championship to play for, and France aren’t functioning. Though who’d bet against them winning the rest of their games? Remember GT on Off The Ball guffawing at the thought of France beating England in that World Cup quarter final?

    As long as DK has a hope of keeping his job, he’ll take the safe option. I’d love to be wrong. I don’t think there’s an international coach operating who’d start ROG against France if either Jackson or Madigan were available. Yes, it’s the six nations, but only a fool would suggest that the Italy and Scotland games are not a good opportunity to give younger players international experience. Throw one of them in against Scotland, see what happens! Both have H-Cup experience. Madigan has played Clermont at the SMM – was it Humphreys for Ulster in that group game? I think it might have been – and Jackson has plenty of H-Cup starts.

    Let me quaify what i’m about to say next – I ALWAYS want the Ireland (and indeed any irish provincial) team to win – but I’d take a few defeats in this campaign if it’ll mean starting an internationally inexperienced 10. We have our ranking secured for the next WC, I’d argue ROG is maybe the 5th best OH Ireland have. There’s no reason to start him for any of the remaining games.

  30. The comment about the budget for the NZ tour is fair; the team packed their bags prior to the 60-0 game can checked out of the hotel to save a night’s accomodation. That may have been covered in an earlier post to this blog, come to think of it.

    This got me thinking – is Kidney fully in control of the helm at all? The shrinking of the coaching ticket, the temporary appointees to same… is he working to fairly comprehensive orders from the IRFU blazeratti?

    I’m no fan of Deccie’s but I remember at Munster he could be quite ruthless in regards to player succession when he had to be: Foley and Stringer being culled from the Munster XV in the run-up to the second HEC win in 2008 being just 2 examples.

  31. lumpy

     /  February 15, 2013

    Those suggesting that Madigan or Jackson should not have been given a go (even 20 minutes here or there) for Ireland before now need to have their heads checked.

    Madigan should have gone to New Zealand. If Paddy Wallace could be dismissed by Kidney before that tour and then called up last minute, then why not ROG? In fact, had Madigan travelled, there would have been no need to drag Wallace off a beach.

    Madigan or Jackson should also have been given time in the home matches to Italy and Scotland last year. There was no point in having ROG on the bench for those two matches.

    If the correct selections had been made we would have a clue as to whether they can perform at the higher level. As it stands, we have no idea whether Madigan or Jackson are good enough to start which, handily, leaves the argument for ROG as a very hard to lose.

    To those suggesting that neither are ‘developed’ enough to play test rugby, I’d suggest both are better, more physical tacklers and ball carriers than ROG despite, possibly having some growing to do. You could also argue that ROG never ‘developed’ himself physically into a test rugby player.

    I would never wish an injury on a player but I think a slight knock to ROG on the weekend would be great for Irish rugby and probably a result for ROG himself. A superb player for Ireland but long past it now – his last good game against top quality opposition was Wales in 2009 – almost four years ago. It would be sad to see him dumped out of the squad off the back of humiliation against Scotland and France but that is definitely on the cards.

  32. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  February 17, 2013

    Will that mare from rog have done anything to remove him from the frame.

    Surely a rog-bod-earls midfield is too light and passive (not direct) in attack.
    Is darcy’s injury basically forcing dk to play rOg since there will be a semi-unknown at centre?

    Jackson and madigan both played well so……

    I’d go madigan 10 with Jackson at 22.

    Centre?? Uh oh!

  33. The Burner

     /  February 18, 2013

    Once again WOC’s Leinster bias rears it’s head. Total Lack of respect for Keatley. If the decision was entirely up to Penney I suspect he would pick Keatley at 10. 4 paragraphs on the “new Matt Giteau” give me a a break. Keatley is just as viable an option at 10 as madigan and barely gets a mention. Brings a running game to the 10 channel and is very good defensively. You are very quick to dismiss the game against Metro and yet you build up Madigan based on Rabo performances last year.

    I have nothing against Ian Madigan, i think he is a good player but he is not “action man the greatest hero of them all”. Keatley has as much claim to that position as Madigan.

    In any event I think people are getting a bit too worked up about the whole thing. You’d Swear Sexton was out injured for the rest of his life the way some people are going on. The real test for our 3 would be back up’s will come next season when all 3 will be starting outhalf’s for their respective provinces. Then we will be able to come up with a more balanced point of view on the back up selection

  34. jojo

     /  February 18, 2013

    Keatley (ex-Leinster) is a great player who should be starting for Munster as outhalf. He is suffering from Rogs presence and the fact that he’s not a bad fullback. Having said that, Madigan is better, but Keatley has plenty of potential. Basically Rog’s presence is harming Munster and Ireland. (or, the decisions to play him more accurately)

    • The Burner

       /  February 18, 2013

      My issue wasnt with WOC thinking Madigan was a better, It was with the way they pretty much dismissed Keatley as a viable option. He didnt actually properly discuss the merits in having Keatley at 10. He just gave a few throw away lines. As for the rest of your post, Well I pretty much agree with all of it.

      • We couldn’t agree more – Keatley deserves to be Munster’s starting outhalf. But while he is behind O’Gara at Munster, its hard for him to build a viable body of work to make a case for the Ireland shirt

  35. The Burner

     /  February 18, 2013

    So you can make a body of work for Madigan based on his Rabo performances but cant for Keatley?

    I think Penney’s hands are tied to a certain extend based on ROG position within the Ireland set up. Keatley’s definately suits his style of play better but Im not sure whether Penney feels secure enough within the Munster set up to drop O’Gara.

    You know the way it works WOC, If he drops O Gara for the quins match and they lose every glory hunting Munster fan will be on his case saying he shouldnt have dropped O’Gara. Even though those of us who have watched Munster week in week out this season know the reality of the situation.

    I also feel that we are in danger of orchastrating a witch hunt against an Irish Legend. O’Gara has and always will have my upmost respect as a rugby player and some of the stuff that has been said by certain element has gone way overboard (not directing this at you).

    Is his time as an international outhalf up? Probably. Does he deserve to be castigated and ridiculed across various rugby site and the social media? Absolutely not

    • Again, we are in agreement – but Penney is paid to show leadership, and he needs to show it.

      Non-one is more disappointed that we are that it is going to end like this for O’Gara – one of us has several mutual friends with the great man and we have met him several time, and he’s nothing but a gentleman – its sad to see how its going to pan out.

      • The Burner

         /  February 18, 2013

        Agreed, As far as Im concern we are in a fairly healthy position with regards to outhalfs going forward. If a new coach does replace Kidney he will have Sexton as 1st choice 10 and have Keatley, Madigan and Jackson all getting plenty of exposure as 1st choice 10 for their provinces. Should make for interesting times if you ask me.

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