Peter O’Mahony, the Rage Virus and Statistics

Ireland’s backrow is most confusing in its current iteration – it appears unbalanced (what’s new), consisting of an 8, a 6.5 and a 6/7/8 (delete as appropriate), and appears unable to grab a game by the scruff of the neck.  Far from the traditional roles one associates with the 6, 7 and 8, Ireland’s appears to be a jumble of roles.  Now, we’re not against fluidity of systems, but given Ireland’s recent results, it has to be asked – does the current backrow work?  For the record it looks like this:

No.6 Peter O’Mahony

Typical role of number 6: tackle anything that moves, truck dirty slow ball around the corner and try to turn it into quicker ball, add ballast to mauls, possible tail of lineout option

Prototype: Dan Lydiate, Stephen Ferris

Role of O’Mahony (as we understand it). Standing wide between the centres, looking to join up the play and make rangy breaks in midfield by handing off defenders.  Important part of lineout.

No. 7 Sean O’Brien

Typical role of number 7: arrive first at as many rucks as possible, win turnovers, track ball carriers, take and give offloads to bring continuity to play

Prototype: Sir Ruchie, David Pocock, Justin Tipuric

Role of O’Brien (as we understand it): primary ball carrier. Relied upon to repeatedly carry slow ball over the gainline and deliver huge tackle count in defence.

No.8 Jamie Heaslip

Typical role of number 8: set up attacks off the base of scrum, carry ball, usually allowed a little more free reign to stand wide from ruck to get ball in space, should have good hands, often a lineout option

Prototype: Sergio Parisse, Louis Picamoles

Role of Jamie Heaslip (as we understand it): used primarily in tight, where he is depended upon to clear rucks and win turnovers.  Seldom asked to carry the ball.

It’s certainly a far cry from, say, Wales’ uber-traditional backrow where the 6 (Lydiate / Jones), 7 (Warburton / Tipuric) and 8 (Felatau) are outstanding in the traditional primary roles.  As a unit, Ireland’s backrow performed well against Wales, were hopelessly outmuscled against England and did enough against Scotland to deliver sufficient clean ball and go-forward to win the game, which failed to happen for various reasons.  Looking at the individuals, we’d say O’Mahony was good against Wales, ordinary against England and poor against Scotland.  Heaslip was good against Scotland, poor against England and average against Wales.  O’Brien has probably been our best forward, heroically committed and hardworking – with the caveat that he has given away too many penalties.

Any time we try to have a rational debate, it degenerates quickly into bitter provincial bickering – Munster folk will point to Jamie Heaslip’s relative lack of visibility while Leinster and Ulster folk will decry Peter O’Mahony’s lack of impact, and lament the absence of the glorious Fez. Sean O’Brien is largely spared criticism, thankfully, for if we agreed on nothing, this would be a most depressing state of affairs.  The oddly fitting roles probably don’t help here.  We expect our 6 to be a tackling machine, and our 8 to be making big plays, but neither seems to be the case.

The statistics from ESPN Scrum bear out the above thesis.

Carrying: Heaslip has carried for 27 cumulative metres over three matches.  O’Mahony and O’Brien have over 90m each, with O’Mahony averaging over 4m a carry.  He made an eye-catching 65m from nine carries in his best game of the series, against Wales.  Carrying the ball further away from the ruck allows him more space to make metres, while O’Brien is asked to carry slow ball repeatedly.  He has made 44 attempted carries so far.

Tackling: O’Brien appears something of a workaholic, adding a huge tackle count to his carrying ability.  He has 28 successful tackles to his name.  Heaslip, as we’d expect given his responsibility close to the ruck, leads the tackle count on 30.  O’Mahony’s tackle count is somewhat dwarfed by the other two, on 13 over three games, again reflecting his tendency to  play further out from the ruck.

Discipline: O’Mahony has a reputation as a penalty machine, but he’s only cost his team two so far this series.  O’Brien has never shaken off his tendency not to roll away quickly enough in the tackle area, and has coughed up six penalties.  Heaslip – usually a well disciplined player – has cost his team five penalties so far.

Lineout: This has not been a vintage series for the Irish lineout, but O’Mahony’s skills have seen him claim seven catches.  Heaslip gets thrown up reasonably often too – he’s won four, and O’Brien has two.

ESPN doesn’t provide numbers on what Donncha O’Callaghan fans might refer to as the unseen work – clearing rucks, shoving hard in a maul, winning a choke tackle turnover, slowing down opposition ball at a ruck.  Nor do the stats on ESPN tell the whole story of any action.  Keith Earls’ break and non-pass gave him huge metres carried, but many of them were thrown away by failing to the right thing once he’d done the hard bit. 

For this weeks France game, we are going to go through with a fine tooth comb (rather like the Mole did for kicking against England and chart (and, crucially, grade in terms of positive impact) each action of each backrow forward, specifically:

  • Tackles
  • Carries (number and metres)
  • Rucking (clearing out and otherwise)
  • Lineout takes and steals
  • Other good actions: Linebreaks, key passes, turnovers won, tries
  • Other bad actions: Turnovers lost, penalties, free-kicks, missed tackles

We expect that O’Brien will have the most tackles and carries, and Heaslip the most ruck clearances, and we don’t expect to see the same quantity of dog-work from O’Mahony. If he is to stand in wider channels let’s hope he can make his ball skills and rangy carrying ability tell and deliver serious metres in open space and keep the play alive.  In general we’d prefer to see him involved in the action more than he is, but we know he’s capable of coming up with big plays.  We’ve a suspicion his yardage is a little flattered by his standing so wide, so we’ll see if that’s borne out.  One thing’s for sure, he’s a very different player to what his astonishing media profile suggests; we’re far from convinced that he’s a no-backward-step warrior that he’s portrayed as in the press, and we’ve already aired our Good Face theory.

We have to come out and admit that we find O’Mahony to be a most curious player. He can do the hard things brilliantly – zipping passes like Strings in his peak, and taking balls from the air or off his bootlaces with consumate ease. Yet, for a blindside, his tackling is largely absent, his carrying inconsistent, and his breakdown work unseen (to coin a phrase). In short, we think he doesn’t work hard enough.  He’s yet to deliver 10 tackles in a match in any of his eight starts for Ireland, and in four games has combined single digit metres with single digit carries.  On his day, however, he can be impactful, as in this season’s win against Wales. 

He has not yet been forced to nail down a jumper for Munster, never had his attitude and play questioned, and never really been subject to any media criticism whatsoever. The Mole opined that some time at the coalface nailing down a position and learning about himself might be the best thing for him – we feel he just coasts too much, but that seems to be out of tune with a lot of opinions, so we felt this was a puzzle worth delving a little deeper into.

What we’d like to see from Heaslip is an improvement in his carrying, which looked pretty marshmallowy in the first two games of the Six Nations, before improving against Scotland.  And as for O’Brien, well, we’d almost like to see him carry less.  If he’s making over 20 carries in a match it’s a surefire sign that Ireland’s Plan A of Give The Ball to O’Brien has been jettisoned for Plan B: Give the Ball to O’Brien.

More than simply analysing each player’s individual performances, we want to try and gain some understanding as to whether Ireland’s backrow functions as a unit.  It’s highly unconventional in that the role of the players is so at odds with what we traditionally expect from each shirt number.  Are we suffering as a result of that?  Are we getting the best out of the three players?  Do we have the right men selected?  Would we be better off with a more traditional 6 and 7, allowing Heaslip to carry more ball as he did three years ago?  Is his carrying good enough to merit that role?

So on Sunday night we’ll sit down with a bottle of wine and pour over the tape.  By far the biggest issue we expect to have is that O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan look rather similar.  Let’s hope we can tell them apart enough to get some accurate stats.  Results will be up early next week.

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111 Comments

  1. *waits for @overthehillprop*

    • Good piece. The Irish backrow is a total muddle. For a long while now, it has been a case of squeezing round pegs into square holes. Playing players because you like them, rather than for balance. There doesn’t seem to much clarity of roles or unit play (with the exception being that Heaslip has been forced to adapt his game to take on some roles of an openside to compensate for our lack of an openside). It is not a muddle that looks like being resolved under the current regime either…even if all the provinces seem to manage a balance.

  2. Jimbob

     /  March 7, 2013

    Why would you pour wine over the tape? That seems a bit counter-productive.

  3. the distinguishing feature between POM & ryan is that POM usually has one of his forearms well wrapped up… somewhat counter-intuitively as Ryan is the one whose had a broken arm.

  4. Anonymous

     /  March 7, 2013

    Can we get some stats on the number of times O’Mahony goes down/ requires medical attention in a game! He’s right up there with harinordoquoy in this aspect if his game!

  5. abitofshoepie

     /  March 7, 2013

    ..or how many times he rushes into, but then looks extremely inconvincing and uncomfortable in, bouts of fisticuffs/hangbags at three paces

  6. bob

     /  March 7, 2013

    Out of the three, Heaslip has been the most disappointing for me. Remember the grandslam year where he made a number of breaks through the opposition ranks. I’ve said it for years that Heaslip’s drop in performance has coincided with O’Brien’s rise in international career. Heaslip is now carrying out a different job on the pitch and not very effectively. He should go back to what he was doing before and let O’Brien do his own donkey work. This then leads me onto O’Brien who should carry less as it is too obvious to opposition that plan A is give him the ball. Also, he needs a new pair of boots as every time he makes a super break he slips or falls over himself. O’Mahony is solid, but again needs to get involved a bit more closer to the action. Think he has had both good and quiet games. Pity Henry didn’t get a run at 7 to see how the balance would have looked like then.

  7. Mary Hinge

     /  March 7, 2013

    love it abitofshoepie…..if O’Mahony focused less on the snarling faux-hardman image and more on the footballing skills that he undoubtedly has, he’d be a better player.

    • That should be plastered all over the Ireland dressing room – really hope one of his coaches takes him aside and tells him that in no uncertain terms

  8. a 6/7/8 of ferris/henry/SOB would be our best backrow if all were fit. I wouldn’t be as quick to dump on heaslip as most, but I do think he’s been very lucky all his career that he’s never been put into direct competition agaisnt David Wallace or O’Brien for the 8 jersey(O’Briens best position IMO)

    • Don

       /  March 7, 2013

      Hear hear. That is a back row that would make any team worry

  9. buccaner

     /  March 7, 2013

     BEEN THINKING MYSELF THAT COMBO WOULD BE MOST EFFECTIVE KEVIN. NEVER GONA HAPPEN! KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR OFFLOADS LADS! IF ONLY SEANIE AND FEZ COULD OFFLOAD….

  10. Don

     /  March 7, 2013

    O’Mahony? Ah, here is a subject that makes my blood boil. Probably because of his media presence, which is grossly inflated and not an accurate reflection of his skill or presence on the team. Thats not his fault, of course, but that doesnt stop me been very very peeved.
    To quote Monthy Python, ‘Hes not the messia, hes a very naughty boy’.
    People talk about him like he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. These people normally are provincially biased, have a stake in the lad or both (Frankie, Im looking at you).
    But I just dont see it. I just dont. Zebo I can get behind theres class and potential there. Ryan I can get behind, hes served his time and is a damn fine lock. Kilcoyne I…. well, no I cant I think hes sh*t.
    But O’Mahony has done NOTHING to warrent this attention and, putting my neck on the line here, nothing to warrent inclusion in the Irish set up.
    Throwing a stat out there. Its second hand, and if I am wrong PLEASE tell me.
    In the England game, O’Mahony made one tackle in 80 minutes.
    One.
    In eighty.
    That, for a flanker, is a god damn disgrace and he should be ashamed of himself. Forget his great passing (granted, he does have very good hands, like Heaslip) and his speed, if a flanker doesnt tackle or hit rucks, a flankers bread and butter!, then he needs to go back to the academy.
    Some one will say ‘But Best and Heaslip hit the rucks, management have a plan for him to hurt the opposition by running at them’.
    Perhaps.Though I dont this Irish management are nearly smart enough to make a plan like that, especially as pointed out above, they have no idea how to set a back row with balance.
    Am I a little biased because I am annoyed at his media presence? Guilty as charged.
    But I still dont see the reason for the hype. There are far better players in the back row currently playing (Henry?) or trying to break into their provences (DOC 2.0 and Paddy Butler to name two in munster, both I think are far better players) .
    I said before I think he could be a very good 7, hes got a good rugby brain when he uses it but he needs to work at it and stop been distracted by the hollywood show going on around him and stop with the fake hard man act.
    And funnilly enough, Alan Quinlin is one of my all time favourite players and I see simalirities in them both!
    *sigh*
    Ok, rant over. Please be gentle with the kicks to my nether regions.

    And, so I am not accused of been provinically biased myself:
    I cant stand Rob Kearney. God damn, hes an awful counter attacking full back.

    • ESPN had O’Mahony making 2 tackles against the English, not 1

      • Joe

         /  March 7, 2013

        Phew. Thank god for that!

      • Don

         /  March 7, 2013

        ESPN is clearly mistaken, it was only one tackle and one ATTEMPT at a tackle 😀
        Was it really only two? I was hoping the stat was wrong, I actually think I find that more depressing than just one >.<
        I agree with Bob below, Rob was good during the last lions tour but I would much rather Henshaw at FB, I think hes quality.
        RK is a bit over rated I think. Peerless under the high ball, the lad could take a marble in a hailstorm. But tackeling and counter attacking?
        Compare him to Medard, Dagg or even Fodden (who Im a big fan of) and Hogg this 6 nations. I dont think he holds up well under the comparrision.
        Must be the good face argument the WOC boys mentioned before.
        Anyway, sorry for been slightly off topic with Rob BTW

    • bob

       /  March 7, 2013

      Rob Kearney has no counter attacking ability with Ireland, he just likes to get smashed by running straight into bigger men. He was immense during the last lions tour for counter attacking rugby so maybe it is the quality of players around him? He even seems to have lost his ability to catch the high balls, only a mere mortal now. Henshaw at FB anyone?

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  March 7, 2013

        It was rumored to be happening up until RobbieH got concussed last week.

    • Michael

       /  March 7, 2013

      Fez and SoB are both better @ 6, but that’s obvious. For me, you can add, NWJMB, Diack, McLaughlin (did he bang DK’s daughter or something?), and Muldoon to that list.

      Has Nick Williams ‘turned Irish’ yet? I’d have him ahead of PoM any day of the week too.

  11. Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

     /  March 7, 2013

    Is there a consensus at Cordite Towers on what Ireland’s ideal backrow would/should look like. Ignoring injuries would Fez at 6, Henry at 7 and Heaslip at 8 be our most effective unit? SO’B off the bench, or in for Fez, or even start him at 8 over Heaslip?

    • Henry is far and away our most effective 7. Fez is a brute when fit and must play. SOB has been pretty much our most effective player for 2 years. Heaslip is the best 8 in the country, and was sorely missed in the 60-0 (not that the result would have been any different).

      Who do you leave out? Its tough to know. If you play the best in each position, SOB misses out, but that is scarcely deserved. Perhaps we stay unbalanced and have Henry on the bench? I don’t know!

      Don’t make me choose!!!

      • Scrumdog

         /  March 7, 2013

        er…D’Arcy was hugely missed!! Heaslip also because POM was swatted around the park by the AB’s.

      • Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

         /  March 7, 2013

        Tough is the right word. Moving back into reality a little with Fez’s mounting injuries he may be the man for an impact sub role. With Henry at 7 foraging O’Brien may get a bit more space where he can be effective, as opposed to the lone charges into pods of forwards we’ve seen this series so far. As for O’Mahony I agree that the aforementioned period at the coalface may be best for him.

    • Scrumdog

       /  March 7, 2013

      If only we had those backrow options but we don’t!
      O’Mahony and O’Brien need react and be right up in support of Marshall, inside and out, when he breaks the line, with Heaslip trailing for deep support. This failed to occur against Scotland on two fantastic line breaks. The openside should also be on Jackson’s inside shoulder if he breaks and both flankers must remember to keep the shove on their props…all elementary stuff!!

  12. Connachtexile

     /  March 7, 2013

    SOB for me seems to be the problem for me and most of it isn’t his fault. I don’t know how many times I saw him take the ball from a standing start into contact against Scotland. The irritant was there was usually half a pace to far off three forwards waiting to see what would happen. Maybe they expected him to pass the ball instead of running into a wall of Scottish defenders by himself but that was the option he took more often than not. The annoyance was if they had being half a step closer they could have gone in as a pod of four which would have lead to faster ball being recycled. This happened a few times which strikes me as a lack of communication and analysis Heaslip/Smal/Kidney should have seen this and either rectified by having a word in his ear or getting support faster to him. The biggest problem is he’s becoming like Keith Woods the opposition know he’s going to get the ball and target him accordingly. Again a problem easily rectified by Kidney/Smal if they had a word with him.

    POM I would drop for Henderson and have Faloon/Jennings/Diack on the bench as a proper 7 but I’m old-fashioned.

  13. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  March 7, 2013

    INHO wearing 7 on your back gives license to push the boundaries at the breakdown to the point of breaking. If you’re not doing this, slowing ball and being a general nusense while conceding a couple of penalties you’re not doing your job. That being said, 2 a game is as high as it should go and I’d prefer to see the average down to 1.5.

    Interestingly and obviously the fewer tackles/breakdowns a player is involved in the less chances he’s going to infringe the laws and concede a penalty. Our 6,7,8 tackle counts reflect directly with their penalty count.

    A redeeming stat for those with with low tackles would be pilfers (When a defensive player steals the ball from a fully formed ruck) and forced turnovers e.g. choke tackles or forcing the oposition to concede ruck or maul penalties. However, I would guess that Heaslip and O’Brien score higher as they’re involved in more breakdowns and tackles.

    Why has POM modeled himself on a Leamy and not Quinny? Leamy went around looking for fights while Quinny was a master at causing the start of a fight with niggle. BIG difference. Qunniy had a cool head when it’d kick off, not coming to a refs attention while Leamy was the one a ref would remember and subsequently be watching next time.

    In an effort to optimise our players strenghts, start Henry at 7.

  14. Amiga500

     /  March 7, 2013

    Hendo did more in 5 mins against Scotland than the faux Hardman did in 75…

    Given Chris Henry is out, I’d go with Henderson/OBrien/Heaslip

    But, nominally, it’d be O/Brien/Henry/Heaslip

    With mentions for 1F (too many injuries), Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy, who are both
    starting to look the part, at least at Pro12 level.

  15. Pete

     /  March 7, 2013

    Great stuff lads, really looking forward to this one.

    Could I be an absolute divil and ask you to rate tackles as effective, neutral and poor please?

    Effective = driving the opponent back/successful choke tackle
    Neutral = neutral
    Poor = defender loses yards or conceeds an offload that could have be prevented

    yis are liginds

    • Yes, we’ll be doing something like this and not just with tackles, with every action.

      • pete (buachaill on eirne)

         /  March 7, 2013

        Appreciated lads, great stuff

  16. Jaybee965

     /  March 7, 2013

    C’mon lads. O’Mahony is really the 7 and O’Brien the 6. O’Mahony only wears the No. 6 jersey because the props get confused about lifting a 7.

  17. Xyz

     /  March 7, 2013

    So, with the exception of standing at the back of the scrum, POM sounds like your typical 8, no? That was the point the Mole was making in the linked article, indeed.

    Anyway, Heaslip and O’Brien are both a muddle of 6/7/8 – the question is does this matter from the perspective of the over all team? I’d imagine it is organisationally easier if the rest of the team know exactly what each of them is supposed to be doing but as long as they can coordinate between themselves does it matter? I mean, SOB makes the tackle and Heaslip is in over it trying to slow/turn over the ball, or vice versa, does it matter as long as they are clear on who is doing what for each play? It could be argued that it might make defences more uncertain if they weren’t sure who was going to carry the ball forward as well – so really the problem is, as you mention, the subtle distinctions between Ireland’s plan A and plan B.

    I’m kind of meandering here but maybe Heaslip needs to carry more not because he has an 8 on his shirt but because we need some variety in attack? And that isn’t a question of what role each player is taking in the back row but just sensible tactics.

    • Lots of interesting points, and we’ll be trying to get a handle on most of them. The objective will be as much to understand the backrow as a unit and their place in the gameplan as much as the individuals.

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  March 7, 2013

      It’s not just their roles it’s their abilities – yeah SOB can tackle and grind with the best of them, but surely he’s a stand out carrier in the loose, in the midfield. Heaslip’s like a thoroughbred with ball in hand, but he’s a workhorse now as well. It’s not the idea that we can have a tackling 8, but the idea the Heasy’s best off not being that guy. And if he isn’t doing it, we need our 7 to do it, and if not SOB then our 6. Balance is key, and we don’t have any.

  18. Yossarian

     /  March 7, 2013

    Heaslip has reminded me of Lydiate lately. Great tackle count and work rate. I feel captaincy has brought extra expectations on him as well as the fact he isn’t playing like an 8. If he had 6 on his back and wasn’t captain i wonder would people be as critical of him?

  19. Go Ruck Yourself

     /  March 7, 2013

    Firstly, POM was subbed off early in the Wales game, after about 50 mins as memory serves. It was only after BOD’s try, around the same time that Wales got hold of the ball and made us make some tackles. This adds a serious skew to the stats. Likewise against England, POM came off early but it wouldn’t skew the data to the same degree as the Wales game. This oversight is a serious flaw of the statistical element of the analysis.

    Secondly, what most people don’t get is that the way most Northern Hemisphere teams attack doesn’t necessitate a traditional 7. The way nearly every team in the NH plays is not suitably expansive to warrant a 7 who excels at the continuity game. In terms of defence, it shouldn’t just be 7 jackaling (this means competing for the ball on the ground), the entire pack should be capable in this regard. The back row should complement how a team seeks to play. Look at England at the moment playing with three 6s essentially. This suits them perfectly as their game is built on a pressure defence. This doesn’t mean Ireland should do it. In reality, the number on the jersey is largely irrelevant as long as the balance is right and the Irish back row seems quite well balanced, as evidenced by the 70% possession against Scotland. POM’s ability in the lineout is what probably gets him the nod as Mike McCarthy is a competent but not exceptional jumper. Against Scotland we showed that our lineout is a slight weakness so why weaken it further by taking out POM. The one issue which I would have is that Ireland seem to get bogged down in slow ball way too much. Would this be fixed by bringing Henry in for POM? Maybe, maybe not.

    Thirdly, it makes me laugh when people describe Henry as a natural 7, he moved there at the start of last season. He has played 8/6 all his life. He is a million miles from traditional 7. Instead he is a Robshaw-style mobile 6/8 with a remit to disrupt at ruck time. I think he was desperately unlucky not to play against Wales as he was very good in the autumn. However, when he came on against Wales I was disappointed with him. Ireland barely competed with Wales at ruck-time in the second half, ensuring a steady stream of quick ball for Wales and if you are selling yourself as a 7, that should be where you make your money.

    Would be good if you could reply this time WoC, I pretty much shot your last article to pieces.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 7, 2013

      If we need someone who is good at lineouts, NWJMB is better so he should start.

      V Wales we were down to 14 men for 20mins of the 2nd half so Henry had far less free reign to do as he pleased having to hold a solid defensive line.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 7, 2013

        IH is not a better lineout jumper by simple virtue of being taller, especially at the tail where movement and handling are the main qualities required. Also, having a man in the bin shouldn’t mean uncontested rucks

      • Amiga500

         /  March 7, 2013

        You are correct GRY – IH is a better lineout jumper than POM due to all 3 virtues you mention…

        Strange that he still isn’t in the team though. Maybe his mistake was not playing for Cork Con.

    • Yossarian

       /  March 7, 2013

      some people would say the role of the 7 is to slow down opposition ball and win turnovers. Henry does both of these. The turns over ball by executing the choke tackle brilliantly (i feel him and DOC are two of the best at this ploy) He also is excellent at making a nuisance of himself on opposition ball. He may be a converted 8 but he is doing the Traditional role well,if not conventionally. I wrote Henry off a long time back after the OZ game where he played 8 but he has reinvented himself.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 7, 2013

        All professionals at this stage are trained to trained to tackle and then compete for the ball. In the last few English matches I’ve seen Brown and Ashton – two wings – win penalties from this for England in the last two games.

        Ireland have no lack of players who can jackal effectively either. Henry/POM/KMcL is a marginal call in my eyes but each offers something completely different. People forget that POM is only halfway through his second season of frontline rugby and he could (but probably won’t) develop into an excellent player. This is another thing the Kidney detractors forget when they say Kidney has been afraid to blood youth.

        Also, the choke tackle is a collective responsibility. Once the initial choke is in place your body position isn’t exactly ideal for pushing/holding so you’re completely reliant on the next 2/3 joining the maul on your side to ensure you don’t just get shunted.

    • B

       /  March 7, 2013

      The issue with the tackle count statistics could be sorted by working out a tackle per minute type formula no? Which would still not work out in POM’s failure, because 2 into 80 doesn’t go….

      Great piece lads I’ve been wondering about the back row roles for a while, especially how each player seems to have their own role but those roles don’t seem to link up (to me anyways).

      Also if McLaughlin screwed DK’s wife/daughter then POM must be his secret son… a central contract at 23 without having shown form in a full six nations, at a time when the number of central contracts have been drastically curtailed? POM certainly has some skills that could be developed but atm nothing about his game excites me.

      • Len

         /  March 7, 2013

        Eh this comes back to Deci’s biggest selection criteria – injury. If Fez was fit POM wouldn’t get a look in, at best he’d be a bench warmer.

    • Xyz

       /  March 7, 2013

      Interesting points – can you expand on why you think the “natural” 7 isn’t necessarily a complement to the NH style of playing? It is the first time I’ve heard this so interested in your take.

      Your points regarding POM in the Wales game are fair enough, it does skew the (simplistic) stats, though I think that might be a good argument for the more in depth analysis of the back row that WoC are planning.

    • We just can’t bring outselves to reply, you’ve taken our raison d’etre and slaughtered it before our eyes, damn you.

      Seriously though, thanks for the input, always appreciated, and we love to hear different thoughts, and seeing the debate being kept going

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        Fair play WoC, you rose above my cheap jibes!

    • solidalarry

       /  March 7, 2013

      Agree on nearly everything. Especially this:

      “In reality, the number on the jersey is largely irrelevant as long as the balance is right and the Irish back row seems quite well balanced, as evidenced by the 70% possession against Scotland.”

      Amen. One of my enormous bugbears is people talking crazy along the lines of “they have a fetcher (vomit) at seven, so we need one or we’ll get crushed”. It’s like rugby reduced to a cartoon. Personally I think terms like fetcher, jackal, proper/natural seven should all be immolated and communication in such terms should be written into criminal law. It’s nonsense. The broader point, as you say, is balance – primarily the team should have balance, in that context the pack should have balance, this dovetails down into other units, etc.

      Purely as a technical point of order, I will say this: when people talk about having a “proper seven” they mean someone who, a la Pocock, will get over a tackled opponent and steal the ball pre-ruck formation or win a penalty. The best players in Ireland at this skill are, in no particular order, Rory Best, BOD, Chris Henry, and the three players who have made up our starting back row this 6N (again, POM maybe doesn’t do it enough, but when he gets over the ball he doesn’t get moved).

      Now, how can it be that, if your opponents have a “fetcher” (clearly not a word I’d use, but I’m playing devil’s advocate here), your best course to nullify this is to select one of your own? You are talking about dealing with an opponent’s particular skill at taking the ball off your ball-carriers as they are tackled. In no way is one of your own players also having this skill, relevant when the other team has the ball, directly relevant in any way to stopping this Pocock/Brussouw/Spies (joke)/McCaw-style figure. It may bring benefits elsewhere but, as GRY says, breakdown work is a core skill, being the first respondent (as it were) is just part of that; all players should learn and practice this.

      Anyway, sorry if I sound like an old scrote (I’m not the former, I’ll let you judge the latter), but talk of “traditional roles” in the back row is as relevant to modern rugby as the 2-3-5 pyramid formation is to modern football.

      • Amen, Larry. By their possession stats shall ye know them.

        The point that an opposition fetcher is nullified by good clearout and support work should be stamped on Hook or any other bluffer’s forehead. Leinster made Henry an anonymous figure in the H Cup final last season by the quality of their clear-out work. Protecting your own ball is a pack and organisation issue. It has almost nothing to do with the 7 you choose, unless he, like SOB, is a monster ruck-clearer.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 7, 2013

        “Traditional roles” have become tradition for a reason, they work. Every WC winner(SA aside) have used a traditional back row balance. At the last World cup, all four semi finalists played with a traditional 7 if I recall. Its only Ireland and lately England who are ignoring this setup in favor of playing a bunch of grafters who mix and match roles in an adequately satisfactory manner. Only the boks have been able to get away with, and actually win major tournaments without the use of a 7 as they can field a pack of 18stone Fez-esque brutes from a never ending conveyor belt. However, the fact they didnt play a top nation in their 07 win, and the subsequent dismantlings when they play against a proper 7 without Brussouw points to the traditional seven having a role even in the land of the backrow giants.
        Irelands usage or lack of usage of a proper 7 has brought its just rewards a complete lack of success at international level and frequent rapings when we come up against teams fielding top quality opensides. Irelands performance when Tipuric came on against Wales attests to that. The reason for a 7 is that it lessons the breakdown responsibility for the rest of the team, eg Drico. rucking may be a great asset to have, but when you are on the attack the last person you want clambering out of a ruck is one of your most incisive gamechangers. Drico has had very few utterly dominant(on attack) games in an Ireland shirt in recent years and imo thats because of binning of the traditional 7 in favor of three 6/8.
        Its utter ignorance to suggest positions arent highly specialised especially in the back row. Playing 7 requires a different skillset to both 6 and 8, saying ” rucking, oh its a team responsibility etc” is ridiculous, the rest of the team have other responsibilities/ formations and roles, the primary one of the 7 is to secure ball. by sharing out this role, you are messing with positioning and alignment of players all over the park. I’ll use Drico as an example of this, again, how many times on attack has he been bogged down in a ruck and we are left with out best player out of alignment.
        The Irish back row is not balanced and hasnt been since Gleeson/Jennings were retired/ignored. Why we persist in the fallacy that all backrow positions are essentially the same and roles shared when our uneven and downright poor performances for the past 10 years prove that that it isnt the case, specialists are needed in every position .

      • solidalarry

         /  March 8, 2013

        Leinsterlion, it’s fair to say I disagree almost entirely. With your conclusion noting a collective persistance in “the fallacy that all backrow positions are essentially the same”, I will point out that I never said that – assuming your reply was to my post – and further point out that the best own-possession ruck clearance (your own “most important” job for a seven) forward in Ireland is Sean O’Brien. Good thing we pick him at openside, then. And, in that regard, Justin Tipuric isn’t even half the player SOB is (nor is it an enormous strength of Brussouw, who you dropped in there – he is a master of negative play, ie. spoiling when the other side has the pill).

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 8, 2013

        I mean rucking in both an attacking and defensive manner and the tackle area, Irelands breakdown is a mess, SOB is obviously not working at seven, look at the scotland game for example. Tons of posession and territory and no quick ball or cohesion between backs and forwards, SOB carrying loads, our 6 in the backline and our 8 attempting to secure ball. A more traditional set up would have seen us retain possession a lot quicker giving the scottish defence less time to reorganise.
        Tirpuric is obviously more half the player SOB as evinced by his cameo against us, as is Warburton going on past meetings when he has been on form.
        You still havent refuted my claim, you have basically said “the breakdown” and all it entails, is job for the team and therefore there is no need for a specialist seven, implying he is only there to clean out ruck, its not. 7 is a specialists role as much as 13 is, Earls utter failure in comparison to Drico highlights that. Sure you can play guys like Robshaw and SOB in that postion, but what you lose is highlighted by the likes of Pocock and Armitages performances. 7 like 6 and 8 and 9 and 10 all require different skillsets
        Everyone in the back row has different roles, why you chose to ignore that and try to pick a back row that features three similar players and say it works is baffling. Only two teams I can think of have been successful without a 7. Boks in 07( who won playing power based 10 man rugby and didnt play a top team.) Munster HC twice, who won playing pressure, kicking based 10 man rugby. Why are you not clamoring for wingers to play center for utility backs in every position? By your logic Toeava is a great back, he could play all of the backline positions, none of them exceedingly well, much like modern quasi 7’s. Sure Robshaw, Schalk and SOB can play seven, but they are not a patch on Pocock, McCaw, Brussouw and Armitage.

      • solidalarry

         /  March 8, 2013

        It’s fair to say our views diverge wildly. You say Ireland’s breakdown is a mess, I say it’s the best thing about our team right now. We got a tonne of quick ball against Scotland in spite of coming second best in both scrums and line outs. Scott Johnson – not a man I would agree with as a matter of course, but it’s a notable opinion and I don’t understand what he would gain from being disingenuous – said before the game that we are the best breakdown side in the championship. That is also my view. At no point did I ever say we should just pick off the shelf, identikit back rowers: I said that a back row should have balance. Your last post is full of straw men (firstly claiming that I said we should pick utility backrowers – you picked that out of the sky – and then going on to Toeava… just awful, awful logic). Your comment reads like it’s a reply to what you think I said rather than what I actually said.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 8, 2013

        I may have misinterpreted what you said. My understanding of it was “specialisation in the backrow is dead, group upskilling covers any shortcomings”, “Our breakdown against Scotland was great, therefore personell aren’t the problem”. Correct me If im wrong.

        Balance to me implies excelling in the traditional roles, 70 percent possession but only one try and losing to scotland implies we were retaining our ball but not much else. If our breakdown was great we would have overlaps out wide on a constant basis, which we dont have.
        I said indentikit back rowers as you believe our back row is fine when we are fielding indentikit backrowers(imo). All covering for each others shortcomings and its clearly not working as evinced by the Wales(as soon as tipuric came on), Scotland and specifically English game(where 3 indentikits walked all over our similar backrow). Your view of what constitutes sucess and what each positions primary role is vastly differs from mine. I think we are horribly unblanced, and our undoing is our refusal to pick specialists, like we would at tighthead and loosehead lock, 12 and 13 and 9 and 10( even though the French dont differentiate between 9 and 10)
        In summary I think each position on the pitch at the highest level requires a unique skillset allied to excellent core skills, rucking, handling, tackling. I dont think shoehorning players works and certainly not when it involves sticking blindsides and numbers 8s into an opensides role. They cant possibly be world class at it, because if they were they would be opensides in the first place.

    • Don

       /  March 7, 2013

      Go ruck yourself, you clearly do not rate Henry at 7. And thats fair enough, I dont rate O’Mahony and we are all entitled to our respective opinions.
      But then, you expect him to come on with 30 minutes left in a match, when the Welsh are in the acendecy and, quiet frankly, all over us, and expect him to single handedly turn the game around for us?
      That strikes me as a little unfair to the man and unrealisitc on your part.
      “Oh no, the game is going against is. Time to bring on the lad I dont rate, and by golly if he doesnt completly swing the game for us it will just prove I was right all along’?
      Also, hes been outstanding in this years Heineken cup. A converted 6 he may be, but hes doing a damn good job at been a proper old fashioned 7.
      And while IH is not a better line out jumper than POM, he is a better player all round. That lad is something special.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 7, 2013

        I actually do rate Henry, I think he was excellent in the Autumn games but he isn’t a traditional 7 was my main point. As you pointed out he has been consistently strong in the H-Cup. I didn’t expect him to turn the game against Wales but he could have made more of an impact. As an audition for the 7 shirt it was a decent opportunity in my eyes.

        I reckon IH is getting a tad overhyped – unbelievable athlete with serious potential but not really a 6 and a bit young and slight for second row at the moment. If I was KMcL looking at IH in the Ireland set-up I’d feel hard down by (based on current ability)

    • toro toro

       /  March 7, 2013

      “shot to pieces” = “made a load of snarly points using words whose meanings I at best half-understood, before calling the myriad posters who poked holes in my claims idiots and proclaiming myself the winner of the internet.”

      • Amiga500

         /  March 7, 2013

        Shirely its only a matter of time before Godwin’s law is envoked!

        [and don’t call me shirley]

      • Amiga500

         /  March 7, 2013

        few pints… invoked.

    • I’m not convinced by the NH-openside-style-of-play argument. England picked Neil Back there to win RWC03 while Wales picked up 3 Grand Slams with Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton. There’s strong evidence that successful NH sides do select traditional opensides. I am certainly of the opinion that Leinster have been a better team in all three Heineken Cup finals when Shane Jennings has been on the pitch although that is subjective.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 12, 2013

        Hi Mole, thanks for the comment, really enjoy your pieces and I look forward to the next.

        I think there’s issues of definition here. I would see Martyn Williams was a typical openside in terms of his attacking play – superb footballer and outstanding link man. This was absolutely integral to how Wales played at the time. Defensively he was a nuisance around the fringes but I wouldn’t have considered him a groundhog. Likewise I would see Back’s greatest attribute as his defensive work rate rather than being a pure groundhog. I wouldn’t see either as a classic fetcher defensively. Groundhogs are more easily nullified in forward-oriented rugby on slow pitches.

        I guess my main contention (and apologies for changing my argument slightly here) is that the groundhog aspect of 7 play is less relevant in the NH. Generally speaking, having a 7 depends on how they want to play. Wales, with their typical open style, really benefit from having a 7 for continuity to their attacking play but I don’t think it’s any accident that we don’t produce 7s. As an aside, I think Martyn Williams would be fantastic in the current team, picking lines off that big back line.

        Also, I’d agree with your Jennings point, particularly against Northampton, but I would consider this the exception rather than the rule; I prefer Leinster with KMcL at 6 and SOB at 7.

  20. Manga's League

     /  March 7, 2013

    Ah lads will ye leave the statistics to someone who can actually hanlde them like:
    http://www.andymcgeady.com/
    You guys are more comfortable in the ‘opinion piece’ genre similar the the Irish Independent of the blogisphere.

    • Thanks Manga, love the backhanded compliment. It’s not just a statistical; analysis; we’ll be grading every action to build up a performanec review. We wholly endorse the work of Andy McGeady by the way.

  21. Stevo

     /  March 7, 2013

    It’s only a few weeks ago that a lot of people were anticipating a SOB/Henry/Heaslip backrow going into the Six Nations. That straight away has a better balanced look to it than what we’re currently going with, and there was a fair outcry and accusations of anti-Ulster/pro-Munster bias when O’Mahony got the nod. Unfortunately the win against Wales seems to have put to bed any questions about the selection, other than the predictable, perennial calls for the head of Heaslip from down south. Right now I’m of the opinion that O’Mahony’s best position is No. 8, something the Demented Mole blog has been saying for ages and which is borne out in your analysis of his typical positioning. If we want someone at blindside made in the mould of Fez, we should pick Henderson there.

    Regarding O’Brien’s carrying, if by wishing to see him carry less you mean you’d like to see the back row more dynamic about sharing out carrying/clearing out/tackling duties then I agree. Keep the opposition guessing.

  22. Bowe Gathers

     /  March 7, 2013

    Another great article WoC, good to see our back row conundrum brought up. Is it the case that our current line up are doing jobs that a) don’t suit them and b) don’t correlate to the number on their backs. SOB three years ago was a true 6, raging in the loose, offloads everywhere. That’s all gone and he’s been made to dig and scrap at the fringe. Again, three years ago Heaslip was zippin lines in blue and green, stepping Frenchies with an insouciance that irritates or gratifies depending on the colour of your jersey. Gone are those days; he’s lead the HC tackle counter for three weeks (with Henry a tackle off his pace, twice) and he looks a shadow of the player at times. POM does irritate me with his starey eyes no punches routine (either be a hardman or not, don’t look like one) but he is a footballer and an athlete, but he seems so out of the play all the damn time. Why not put SOB where he can really play his game to the best of his ability – 6 – and let Henry play his game at 7, while POM learns to be an 8 for real, rather than this fluid bullshit they’re being subjected to. I think it’s all down to the management’s mania for jack of trades; see Earls, McFadden, Trimble, Zebo, COurt, Henderson – all shifted around instead of giving them a chance to juke it out in their respective best positions. In Trimble’s case being shifted from 13 to 11 to 14 to 12 early in his career really, really stunted his growth as a player, and only now does he look like a winger who loves his game.

  23. solidalarry

     /  March 7, 2013

    Fellas, really looking forward to seeing the analysis, the lack of any meaningful ruck figures makes getting a statistical assessment of a player’s whole performance pretty much impossible.

    I will, however, take issue with your assertion that our backrow got “hopelessly outmuscled” against England. We won a higher percentage of our own rucks than they did (although not by much, and both teams had good scores on this front) despite having a more expansive gameplan with ball in hand on a sodden day. In fact, a look at the stats on their own terms will make you wonder how we lost the match. For instance, England missed one in ten tackles, we missed one in 25; we had two clean breaks and beat 13 defenders, their figures were respectively zero and three; they even conceded more penalties than we did. So, how did we lose? Four reasons, IMO:

    1. Dropsies killing our momentum (early on especially – very important as JS was still on then)
    2. Loss of Sexton (long gone by the time the play-killing butterfingeritis had departed)
    3. (Very important) Stupid concession of penalties – England conceded more penalties, but hardly any were in kickable positions, whereas we handed out cheap points
    4. England defended well, even if we made it much easier for them than it should have been

    The best thing about our play this championship has, without question, been the breakdown. Take a bow Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best and our centres. Also Peter O’Mahony – you’re right to say he maybe doesn’t work hard enough, but when he does he is capable of ferocious rucking.

    Jamie may, from appearances at least, be making a botch of the captaincy but we have been top class at the breakdown so far (I realise I type this before we play France, a game which has “ugly shellacking” written all over it). 9, 10 and 12 lost us the match against Scotland (with a Keith Earls supporting role), while IMO it was the above factors that led to England’s win.

    Anyway, as a while our back row makes loads of tackles, our breakdown work has (thus far) been the best in the championship, and they make metres carrying ball (plus Jamie has cleaned up pretty well, if nothing else, carried a lot of rubbish for us). In my opinion, the problems lie elsewhere.

    • solidalarry

       /  March 7, 2013

      As a whole, Larry, as a whole…

    • I’d agree with you there, Larry. The back-row has been the focus of debate because it’s good for inter-pro squabbling. They’ve been the best unit in the team, by miles, in my opinion. They win a lot of ball, except when Chris Henry’s on the pitch (perhaps coincidentally). They make metres, and they make their tackles.

      I’ve been interested by the tactical measure of having O’Mahony in the wide channels to cover the centres and to potentially turn over ball when the attack is stretched. It seems to be designed to stop the opposition from putting together a succession of wide, quick phases, which was how New Zealand crapped on us in the summer.

      I wouldn’t blame 9,10 and 12 for the loss to the Scots. For my money, the blame for that one rested firmly with the front 5 in the set-piece and around the fringes. They produced no metres in the Scottish 22 and lost a succession of line-outs and scrums when the backs were cutting Scotland to ribbons. Without Healy, they were frighteningly one-paced and ineffective. Kidney must have been livid to have picked a couple of props and a second-row for their scrummaging and then to have them concede 3 scrum penalties while Scotland were under the cosh. Maybe even more so when Irish Heritage Protectee Against Damaging Non-Criticism Mike Ross conceded a 3-pointer in the second-half (which commentators and even the referee bizarrely attributed to the square and stationary Kilcoyne while Ross was ploughing the turf with his nose). It would be unfair to judge Tom Court on one anonymous and ineffectual performance, so let’s just say that his form in this game was consistent with his other performances in the green of Ireland in being forgettable (one disaster aside). O’Callaghan was similarly absent, and looked unsuited to the type of game Ireland are trying to play. He was more involved and effective than Court, but that’s not saying much.

      I think you can boil Ireland’s defeats down to a few things. Poor positional kicking and counter-attacking, some indiscipline, poor link-up play and a front 5 who are just about competitive when they’re good and a liability when they’re not. We badly need the likes of Henderson and Furlong to be a year or two further on in their development, and for Rory Best to recover the consistency he had prior to his neck injury. The team looks pretty good from 6-15, with youth on their side and a lot more to come from most of them (BOD apart). The picture is not so rosy in the front 5.

      • Thanks lads, lots of good points. there Larry and Henry. On reflection ‘hopelessly outmuscled’ might have been a bit OTT, we did more or less get parity in the tight, and the pack in general probably won enough decent ball to keep us in the hunt at least. Dropped ball and an inferior kicking ame were the difference on the day.

      • toro toro

         /  March 7, 2013

        “Maybe even more so when Irish Heritage Protectee Against Damaging Non-Criticism Mike Ross conceded a 3-pointer in the second-half (which commentators and even the referee bizarrely attributed to the square and stationary Kilcoyne while Ross was ploughing the turf with his nose). ”

        I’m sorry, what? It is one thing to say that Ross should have been penalised, and Kilcoyne should not. It is simply incoherent to say that the ref *thought* he was awarding the pen against one player, when in fact he was awarding it against another. If the ref did not whistle and identify Ross, then Ross simply did not concede the penalty, whether or not he *should* have.

      • I am curious. What are you attempting to achieve with your correction?

        Ross collapsed the scrum. The referee felt that he had to give a penalty against the side going backwards, but was on Kilcoyne’s side of the scrum. He invented an offence against Kilcoyne, who was simply trying to stay upright while the scrum collapsed to the other side.

      • toro toro

         /  March 8, 2013

        I’m trying to make sure that points made in the discussion – whether true or false, others can decide that – are at least coherent.

        Yours still isn’t. Whether or not the ref was right to ping Kilcoyne, and wrong not to ping Ross, it is literally impossible for him to penalise Ross without being aware of it. It’s not like his Id blew the whistle for him. So there is no sense in which Ross conceded the penalty, yet you mock the very idea that he might not be criticised for it, alleging some sort of conspiracy not to mention his shortcomings.

        Like I say, make all the true or false points you want, that’s how debates are conducted, people will agree or disagree. But restrict yourself to points which could even possibly be true, yeah?

      • From my perspective, it seems as though you perceived the meaning of my argument, but have chosen to twit me for the carelessness with which I expressed it while dossing off from work. As though you were schoolmaster of the blog. Holding blog comments to the standards of professional or academic discussions strikes me as a fairly quixotic endeavour. A bit like tilting at the unnecessary hyphen in wind-mills. It is not in dispute that you are an intelligent person with excellent parsing skills, toro toro. You don’t have to keep demonstrating it in lieu of expressing your opinion on an opinion blog. The phrase ‘others can decide that’ appears to miss the point of casual internet discussion entirely.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        Don’t sweat it HenryFitz, Toro Toro has a track record of wading into debates on semantics and ultimately being made look like a prize lemon when he gets it wrong!

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        And he can’t be that intelligent – he doesn’t even know what reactionary means

      • solidalarry

         /  March 8, 2013

        Agree broadly with your criticisms of the front five – Ryan is our line out lock and he’s not a line out lock, his strength is loose play, calling Court “forgettable” I might be able to say is harsh but cannot say is incorrect, Ross has his issues (I rate him more highly than you do, I suspect, but there are still plenty of caveats).

        However, despite a disappointing showing in the tight against Scotland, I still think it was 9, 10, 12 who lost the match. Even with the scrum and line out wobbles we still got enough territory and possession to win the game three times over. By half time a two-try return would have been mediocre; we didn’t have any:

        – Murray was just way too ponderous too often (this has been an issue for him, but it’s something at which he has improved a lot, disappointing to see a recidivist match – but this might be because Jackson on debut is a much less imposing guy at first receiver than Sexton or even Rog, neither of whom would be shy to say “give me the ball, now”)
        – Jackson, strangely, might take less of the blame than the other two – the good bits to his showing helped create all those gaps and then other people fucked it up. However, he still was sub-par off the tee, missed touch with a penalty (and dropped the very first ball passed to him, though I’ll forgive him that)
        – Marshall got everyone raving with a boisterous match (and, to be fair, that’s largely justified) but the horror pass that Gilroy could not even touch was an open goal missed, whatever way you look at it (I also include Earls in this general criticism, he missed a sitter too)

        So, while I think you’re right to be less-than-lovestruck by the tight five performance, I think we still got more than enough of a platform for a comfortable victory… and then scored eight points. Unedifying stuff.

      • toro toro

         /  March 8, 2013

        @Henry – I’m not saying that you misphrased your point, I’m saying that even as clarified your point makes no sense. You claim the ref “really” penalised somebody who he was not aware had done anything illegal – and who you have not established had done anything illegal – while thinking he was penalising a different player, on the basis of gigantic unsupported presumptions about the referee’s thought-process, and invoke some kind of conspiracy to explain nobody else’s seeing eye to eye with you on this. it’s just bizarre.

        @Go Ruck Yourself – you are a strange and insecure little man.

      • Ross collapsed the scrum, toro toro. I saw it with my eyes. His head was kissing the turf. The Scottish TH fell away to his left because he was being dragged there by his hooker and LH both going to ground as the scrum collapsed on Ross’s side. The referee curiously chose to penalise Kilcoyne for hinging. I am of course speculating as to his motives. I am not speculating as to who collapsed the scrum. It is so obvious as to be almost self-evident. As I know Barnes to be a poor referee of the scrum in general, having seen upwards of 30 games in which he’s officiated, I feel confident in asserting that he’s a guesser.

        In any event, your cavil against my speculation aside, if Ross had not collapsed the scrum, there would have been no penalty. Ross was therefore at fault for the penalty. And for another penalty in the first half when he also went to ground while retreating. I wouldn’t be so vicious and unprincipled as to suggest in the national press that he needs another run-out, but I do think it needs to be said that he wasn’t great around the park (a given), and he certainly wasn’t great in the scrum either.

      • toro toro

         /  March 8, 2013

        Well, if Wayne Barnes was a competent ref, there might have been no penalty. If Ross hadn’t been fit there might have been no penalty. We can play that game all day.

        You’re saying that Barnes in effect penalised Ross for something that he had no idea that Ross had done, that Ross is therefore to blame, and that it is only unexplained media collusion that prevents this being common knowledge. I’m sorry, but that’s absurd.

    • ‘You’re saying that Barnes in effect penalised Ross for something that he had no idea that Ross had done, that Ross is therefore to blame, and that it is only unexplained media collusion that prevents this being common knowledge.’

      Unexplained media collusion would seem to be your inference. The rest is fairly accurate. Referees often penalise the wrong player in the scrum. Barnes did so in that instance.

      You seem not to have been paying attention when there was an outbreak of preciousness over GT’s mild and uncritical remarks that Ross needed another run-out in the Fiji match. That was the non-criticism to which I was referring, and which Ross is to be protected from.

      • toro toro

         /  March 9, 2013

        No, no, no, WAIT.

        We’re back to a grammar problem here. Yes, referees “penalise the wrong player” all the time.

        What does that mean? It means that a player who did not do anything wrong gets pinged.
        It means, at least potentially, that a player who did something wrong did not get pinged.

        It does not, on any sane construal, mean that a non-pinged player has somehow enticed the pinging. That is madness. There is not “a player out there platonically awaiting the pinging”, as though the ref occasionally fingers the wrong one. Occasionally the ref wrongly thinks that somebody has committed an infraction and penalises them. It does not follow that somebody else was *really* responsible for the – purely imagined, since we agree that Wayne Barnes is an idiot who dind’t know what was going on – infraction.

        “Unexplained media collusion”, meanwhile, is not my inference. It is a perfectly legitimate gloss of “Irish Heritage Protectee Against Damaging Non-Criticism”, and “commentators and even the referee bizarrely attributed”. C’mon, how did you expect that to read?

  24. Peat

     /  March 7, 2013

    Look forwards to the following analysis piece immensely, few points I’d like you guys to consider…

    How many static one-off balls are they taking? Obviously it’s hard to blame a man for not making much of those when you look at them, but over time they just fade into another poo carry. Paul O’Connell suffered a lot of criticism for these. Also, how many of these balls are the tight five taking? Really, no one should take such a ball, but ideally you want the big guys taking these on. If the back-row are taking on too many responsibilities here, then it’d be little wonder if they struggled around the rest of the pitch.

    How many support runs are they making? There’s been a few attacking opportunities that I feel more might have been made of for a back-row on the shoulder – and a few where their presence was vital to a try. Heaslip and O’Mahony’s contributions for Healy’s try against Wales spring to mind. Likewise, how many people are making support runs off of their shoulder? All three men are good offloaders and could be very effective making an initial line-break then finding a back to finish it off. But is anyone offering this option when they break the line? Are they looking for them?

    Where do they stand in defence, both after multiple phases and after a set-piece? I’m thinking of the lineout here. Tom Croft got very unfairly pilloried by English fans for a while because he’d be on the wing after a lineout. The logic was very clear that he was the last to hit the ground, due to catching it, and had the pace to cover outside. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good on a blindside. Also, who’s working to get into the guard positions? Who’s working to get round the corner? My expectation would be Heaslip and O’Brien working hard to stay relevant to the defence as the phases mount, with O’Mahony doing less. Would be interesting to see if that’s actually the case.

    My personal take on Ireland’s back row at the moment is that they are trying to do too much, are missing a few vital skill sets, and aren’t working together – and these might link together. They’re frequently trying to cover a lack of dynamism in the tight five and a lack of big ball carriers in the backs, meaning they take on a huge rake of carrying duties. However, they’re not always best suited to it – only O’Brien is really a big enough mutant for the close in stuff, and none of them seem to have the pace, vision and hands to really make the most of an opportunity out wide. This results in some ineffectual performances and because they’re spread wide, a lack of support, frequently manifesting in a very variable quality of ball. And when it slows down, the cycle repeats.

    • Thanks for the comment Peat, we’re going to do our best to capture everything, including good support runs even if the fellow in question doesn’t get the ball. Certainly the number of static ball-carries will have to be looked at too. As we’ve said we’re going to be grading each action, so hopefully we can incorporate the things you’re looking for into that.

  25. I’ll be interested to read the resulting article, particularly after the liberal application of wine but I have to echo some of the above commentary that, although unorthodox, the make up of our back row isn’t what’s losing us matches in my opinion. Not to say there isn’t something to be learned here and things to improve on but the two biggest issues in my opinion are poor handling (which has me in the odd position of hoping it doesn’t rain while we play the French) & the lack of attacking tactics i.e this insistence of popping the ball to relatively static lone runners.

    Returning to back row matters I’m going to say something that makes me quite unpopular. Ferris is the player the majority of guys I know want to be (with the exception of my father, who has a former hooker, always thought he had wasted potential as a back) but he hasn’t played consistently for a long time and once again, due to injury, is not going to be up for consideration for at least another 3 months. Yet he still remains dominant, particularly in the comments section of articles. He’s wonderful, he’s magnificent and I wish he was here but he’s not. Perhaps it’s time to, without intending to be overly callous, move the conversation on slightly?

    Regarding POM’s media profile, some people are great and some people have greatness thrust upon them. I feel slightly sorry for Mahony as it seems the rugby media have done their best to do the latter. There’s been a few complaints above about his media profile but it seems to me that’s not much of his doing. He hasn’t gone around punching beef carcasses on the front of the weekend supplements a la his backrow colleague. As much as his hard chaw act annoys me (if you continue to have difficulty distinguishing POM & Ryan I suggest you remember that no matter how much the former pulls the crazy eyes, the latter is the one you feel in your bones you wouldn’t cross) POM is a great footballer, good all round athlete and most of all this a young player. A young player who gets put under a massive amount of scrutiny over a profile he didn’t ask for. I think we’d think a lot more of him if we hadn’t already been told he was the second coming

    • Thanks for your insight as always Kate. Hopefully we’ll be able to try and get an understanding of some of the issues around tactics, static runners etc. in the context of the backrow analysis. Whie it has in general been one of our better units, I’m still not convinced it’s performing as well as it could be.

      As for O’Mahony, well, without wanting to come down too hard on him, at the very least it cuts both ways. I’m not sure what there is to feel sorry for! He’s got a media profile to dream of, the national coaches will squeeze him into the backrow in any shirt that they can and he’s lauded as the future of Munster rugby! Personally, I’d have a little more sympathy for the guy who by having the gaul to be out of step with the traditional ‘rugby personality’, is widely lambasted for his ‘attitude’ when in fact he’s as hard working as they come. For all that, I really, really don’t want to turn this into O’Mahony vs. Heaslip, which really is the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

    • paddy

       /  March 8, 2013

      Kate(and many others here and elsewhere) have to take issue with this “it’s not his fault he has a media profile”. You make it sound like it’s just something that happened, and he was like you know, just hanging out and suddenly everyone was talking about him. His media profile is organised by his agent on his behalf. It’s worth a lot of money to him and he did quite well for himself in hawking it to the union. He’s not the first and won’t be the last. Part of the reason for centrally contracting him, is his profile.

      I’ve no problem with this in general like most people (I think – though I have come accross puritans who think its the devils work). They’ve a limited career etc. But I could do without the love letters of Conor George et al(“his hunger undimmed”, “his teamates full of praise for his willingness to put his body on the line”). Really, who gives a shit if he was in the Cork Con dressing room when he was a baby. That has nothing to do with his ability to play rugby(I get the impression you know this), but I feel that he’s being ordained as an Irish rugby great before it’s happened. I think this is the issue people like myself have with him.

      Granted Conor George might be stalking him but he doesn’t have to answer the questions.

      Now the nonense aside. I think he has some skill and potential but in green at least he’s been too anonymous. Look forward to your analysis WOC

  26. SUFTUM

     /  March 7, 2013

    I was hoping for a O’Brien-Henry-Heaslip back row at the start of the championship, but the POM fanboys got him in, as it seems nearly every decision Kidney is making this season is to please the journalists. The amount if man-love for POM is ridiculous, he spends the whole game hoping e can have a run down the wing, which is the only thing I think he is anywhere near world class at. Conor George today in the Indo, when writing what each player had to play for, said OMahony is ‘the real deal’ ‘doesn’t have a reverse gear’ and is ‘immensely brave.’ How can an international rugby player deserve praise for being brave? Maybe it is his hard man image! I just don’t get the yype about him as a player, although he does have potential with basic skills. I’m not doing this just to promote an Ulster player in Henry, I’d honestly rather have McLaughlin ahead of him, who I think is underrated.
    If/When Ferris is back from injury, I’d have a back row of him, Henry and SOB as our first choice. I agree with WoC that Ferris and Henry are our most effective flankers, but Heaslip just needs to worry more about himself, and focus on his carrying which still ought to be the primary role of an eight, even if O’Brien and him mix and match, logically the eight should be a good carrier due to his positioning. I think overall SOB is our best back row, so must start, so that’s my back row.

  27. Rich

     /  March 7, 2013

    Simples- At time of writing – POM plays because

    1. There is no one else
    2. He is from Munster

    Heaslip has no comp whatsoever, and he is capt, so a bit of complacency to a degree although i saw this week he is happy with his form……..

    SOB is having a stormer – too much work for him to carry POM imho

    Henry once again treated poorly – form player in EUROPE – and was in the running for HC player of the tourne – now injured granted – but the selection of POM once again left me thinking “how is that moron our coach”

  28. Amiga500

     /  March 7, 2013

    To me it boils down to this – we are sacrificing the best ball carrying backrow in Europe, possibly the world, to have POM running in a channel outside the 13.

    Well done DeClown.

  29. Marlin

     /  March 8, 2013

    Hi
    Long time reader first time commentor.
    Couldn’t agree more with Solidilarry – these recent terms (and I would add “groundhog” to your list) drive me batsh1t – I even despise this pretty recent development of calling a player a “6” or a “10” – there are named positions for a reason dammit! – but maybe I am just old-fashioned.
    The fact remains though, people try to classify / categorise an open-side flanker far more than any other position on the pitch. Yes, the *standout* (i.e. most noticeable, not necessarily the best) opensides might usually be the pocock / early mccaw / brussow types (and really, george smith was the pioneer of that style of play) but MUST you have that type of player? I would argue not.
    While I cant be bothered, it would be interesting to go through the last few RWC and Heineken Cup winners to see whether they had one of these “traditional” opensides or not (again, I don’t see that that role is in fact “traditional” given the development of the game and the breakdown in particular has only recently meant it was a real part of play).
    For example –
    RWC 2011 NZ – Yes they had Rutchie, but I would argue he has developed his game over the last 5 years into far more of a ball carrier – and yes he can make a nuisance of himself and win the odd turnover but its no longer the defining part of his game.
    RWC 2007 SA – Schalk Burger – enough said.
    RWC 2003 Eng – Neil Back, fair enough but his primary value to that England team was always his link play.
    RWC 1999 Aus – David Wilson – Now this might be controversial but here, and for the period beforehand, I would argue that this “fetching/jackaling/groudhogging” role wasnt really a key part fo the game then – the ruck has moved on so much since then.

    For Heineken Cup – Leinster as we know don’t always play a “traditional” openside (although acknowledge that Jennings, who is as close as there is in Ireland in my opinion, post injury to Pollock) turned around the Northampton game.
    Munster played with Wallace who was a ball carrier and heavy tackler first and foremost
    The French generally seem far less concerned with distinguishing between roles in the backrow – most decent French backrowers in my memory were regularly swapped around – nyanga, dusatoir, oudreago, remy martin, etc (Magne being the exception to the rule).

    Anyway, I am not suggesting that the “classic” openside position is not useful – its my own position (and frankly, probable the only position I can continue to play at any decent level because of my size and (lack of) speed) – I just don’t think the skills sometimes associated with the position need to be carried out by the person wearing the number 7 (or at all, in some cases).
    As for how to combat it – do what all the teams listed above do, SA being the easiest example, brutalise anyone trying to “jackal” your ball with sheer power (or pull their dreadlocks off if they try it).

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 8, 2013

      Wrong Wrong Wrong. All the semi finaists at the last WC had a “traditional” 7. You mentioned Jennings turning the tide against Northhampton, Ritchie McCaw is still the biggest nuisance at the breakdown the world has ever seen and it far outshines every other aspect of his game. SA have been decimated at the breakdown without Broussouw and in winning on 07 did not face a nation with a top 7. All the top teams play with an openside if they play an expansive game. Its easy not to use one if you never play beyond the twelve channel like Ireland and Munster, but teams like Oz and Nzs continued use of the traditional openside for the past twenty years and their double WC wins while doing so points to its validity.
      France with Dusatoir have stereotypical 7, quick, high tackle count, gets turnovers.
      You also mischaracterise the position by lack of speed, the modern opensides game is one based on speed and agility, being able to turn over ball, get up quickly from tackles and have a massive work rate. “having a lack of speed” would hinder your ability to play on the “openside” eg having to cover the widest part of the pitch on all set plays, where speed is of the essence to create pressure. I think you should switch to the blindside.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        Leinsterlion, you are talking utter muck. If you really think the SH dominate because they use a traditional 7 you really don’t have a rashers what you are talking about. It clearly has nothing to do with outstanding skillsets! Firstly, to call Richie McCaw an out and out 7 is to do the guy a serious disservice – he is also a highly effective ball carrier (he was first capped as an 8) and defender as well as being a nuisance at the breakdown. Dusautoir is not a traditional 7 in any way shape or form. SA have been decimated at the breakdown without Brussouw – seriously?

        Firstly the Carlos Spencer nonsense and now this! Seriously, watch a few games, listen to some people who know what they’re talking about, you might learn something

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 8, 2013

        Richie McCaw is a world class openside who can fill in at eight and six. SOB by comparison is a world class 6/8 who can fill in at 7 that does not mean they should be played there. Richie is at his most effective dominating the breakdown, he can do other things but why would you waste his talent in playing him in a different role. Im not arguing about what he cant merely about what makes him an effective player, that is his linking and wide defence and slowing down ball and creating turnovers.
        To gain an outstanding skillset you have specialists, my contention that the SH sides are successful was not that its “only” because they play with opensides that they are so dominant. Its that they understand the need for specialists in every position. Openside being one of those positions. The more specialists you have the better those players will inevitably be.
        We rarely play specialist with defined roles, they do down south. Rokocoko and Sivivatu could only play on one side of the pitch, Mauger could only play 12, conrad smith could only play 13, Collins could play 8 competently but was best as a 6, Sooialo was an out and out 8. Im cherry picking there, but those guys were integral All blacks for the best part of a decade all due to them being specialists and dedicated to one position. McCaw was the same, an utterly immense openside who focused on his core duties. A master of one position is always better then a jack of all. Positions in rugby all have subtle differences and require different skill sets. You are an idiot if you think the difference between a blindside and and openside isnt as different as playing at 12 instead of 13.
        SA have been decimated at the breakdown without Brussouw, look at the November intentional and their games against AUS and NZ in the Tri nations which you obviously didnt watch. They were beaten up on the deck and lost the game from there outwards(allied to HMs kicking tactics).
        You’re an ignoramus talking a load of hoop. Rugby is heading the way of American football, in that roles are clearly defined and positions and tactics and fitness/strength requirements differ all across the park. Maybe at whatever crap level you played at, anyone can fill in at seven, but using actual experience and facts from watching high level rugby indicates that “shock”, “horror”, positions in rugby have a big skillset differential and one type of player is clearly more effective in a role then another. When Robshaw and lumbering grafters occupy the openside position for NZ and AUS i’ll revisit your idiotic arguments.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 8, 2013

        Also Carlos Spencer “nonsense”?.. Yeah I forgot how kicking away all of your possession starving your backline of ball and playing 10 man rugby is the pinnacle of rugby.
        O’Gara never did at the highest level,l all he could do was kick the ball and he got found when that tactic failed, Lions 09 he cost the lions the series in 10 mins. Educate yourself in rugby tactics start watching super rugby and quad nations. You have been watching too much ten man bogger muck fests, and its clouded your mind.
        The Blues won a super rugby title on Spencer back playing the type of rugby you can only dream of, he then led the AB’s to a WC semi final putting together some unbelievable displays, the game against wales being a good example. You obviously know nothing about who you were knocking, he was the best 10 in the world from 99 to 04. The Abs and blues dominated in that period, racking up points and putting up some unbelievable displays.
        Wallow in your ignorance and keep thinking O’Gara was a good player, the guy had only one skill, kicking away possession and kicking points, he was a good provincial player nothing more. We wasted one of the best center partnerships in the world behind O’Gara, hes partly responsible for the utter failure of the golden generation in winning only one trophy in 13 years. O’Gara was a carthorse to Spencers stallion, you know nothing about rugby, your a blind provincialist who probably think the garryowen couples with pick and drive is still a valid gameplan

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        Firstly, for what it’s worth, the ‘crap’ level was AIL Divisions One and Two. Among the coaches at this ‘crap’ level I’ve worked with have included Mike Brewer and Mike Ruddock and I have played in the back-row all my life, including 6,7 and 8 at different periods so I feel reasonably well placed to comment here.

        Rugby is turning into American football with positions becoming increasingly specialised – really? Are you honestly arguing that each position is becoming more limited in scope? So ball-handling props who can get around the park are going to be replaced by automatons whose sole focus will be on the set-piece? Second rows’ focus will be the lineout, right? Backs will be discouraged from rucking, yeah?

        Seriously, you’re an idiot. You have some knowledge but you just don’t have any understanding. If you can’t see that the skillsets of every players from 1-15 is becoming more generalised then there’s absolutely no hope for you. Wingers are expected to ruck, props are expected to be able to carry. Look at the All Blacks, I’m convinced someone like Kieran Read would not look out of his depth if he was thrown onto the wing for a test. Also, Aaron Mauger played a good bit of S12 at 10, SBW and Ma’a Nonu have flitted between centres and Christian Cullen and Leon McDonald both filled in at 13 for the ABs when the required, despite being natural 15s. Let’s not start on Aus, where James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes have all been capped in at least three positions in recent years across the back line.

        I honestly think you’re the only person in the world who believes that rugby is regressing in that manner and it even seems to counter your belief in open, running rugby.

        Carlos Spencer had some great moments in the Super 12 but was always found wanting at the highest level. RWC ’03 – he “led” the ABs past a dreadful Wales team (great game) and then absolutely bottled the semi against a very limited Aus side. He had great skills but he wasn’t a great rugby player. Your assertion that he was the best player in the world for that period is simply laughable, especially for those who remember his stint at Northampton.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 8, 2013

        Specialistion does not mean deskilling or limiting a players ability to play in pther positions, it mean positions are becoming more specialised but players are becoming better skilled and fitter thus they can do more. That doesnt mean they can only play in one position, the tactical requirements are becoming more diverse. The skillsets eg passing tacking rucking are become more generalised, but again this is down to fitness, still specialists are needed.
        Rugby was always a multi skilled game and filling your team with payers who have a good skillset is always a goal, roles have also been interchangeable, but again specialisation lead to excellence. The wide side of the pitch is best covered by a fast player, the openside, being big and powerful like a 6 as well as fit quick athletic enough like a natural 7 to play that role is impossible, we dont play rugby league. We still have well defined requirements that make up your average 7. Jennings is a superior openside to SOB as a many of the opensides fielded by top nations, SOB’s role and skillset mean he isnt a good seven and Ireland stuggles with cohesion reflect this.
        You say you have played all the back row positions, how can you not tell me they all have vastly different roles. I have played 7 since I was a kid, still do I have occasionally filled in at 6/8 and its a different type of game and physical makeup that is required for each position. How can you say they are one and the same. You cant just interchange players like its a computer game.
        You cite a load of utility players, none of whom are world class in one position, hardly an argument for homogenization of rugby positions. Cullen and McDonald hardly excelled at 13, alongside the numerous Aussie utility backs who have collectively achieved nothing and none are close to the best on the world in their position, unlike Pocock, an out and out seven who is among the best in the world at his. Positons require different skillsets, look at lock for example, Bakkies and Matfield are the quintessential locking partnership which diverse roles, body-types and skillsets. Another argument for specialisation.
        If we were playing sevens those Aussie player you mentioned would be right at home, but we aren’t. Its impossible to pick let alone find a team of players who can do everything, so you find a player who does a certain thing stereotypically associated with his position in world class manner and ensure the rest of his skills are at a high level and pick him.
        Kieran Read could play on the wing because rugby is getting better does not mean he should, hes a number 8 with athleticism and skill levels due to professionalism. You are confusing the growing skill and fitness levels with a decline in specialisations. Players can do more because they are fitter, but the core roles for each position still remain if you want to field a balanced team. Specialisations have not declined, the core duties for each position still exist, superior fitness levels just mean each player has more work to do.
        You play “running rugby” by picking players with great skillsets, but also who can do their core duties like scrummaging, lineout etc turnovers. “Running rugby” what I would call attacking outside/at 13 is a tactic in the same way ruck/maul munster rugby is. It just requires a higher basic skill level and different fitness levels, having a homogenised rugby players would not accomplish that as the specialists in the other team would destroy you at the breakdown,scrum and lineout.

        Also Carlos’s stint at Northampton was from 05 onwards, and his stint was laughable as Northampton spent most of their wage budget on Thompson, Spencer, Cohen and Reihana, filling the team up with journeymen. Not a way to succeed in rugby.

      • Go Ruck Yourself

         /  March 8, 2013

        Your point is fair enough with regard to the set piece – there are less props who can work both sides of the scrum these days for example, but I still believe the Brussouw/George Smith type 7 is outmoded and I certainly don’t think they are the future. If anything I see the multifaceted players McCaw and Burger who can carry, ruck and defend with more-or-less equal vigour as the future. I made the point earlier that the traditional 7 is not well suited to NH rugby, as there is less multi-phase rugby and rucks tend to occur closer to the previous ruck than in SH rugby. Because of this, players like Robshaw and SOB can perform the 7 role perfectly well.

        I think the composition of the back-row should reflect the team and the style of rugby they seek to play. England – three 6s against Ireland, pressure defence and territorial kicking game. Wales – continuity game with a lot of their go-forward coming from their massive backline, this probably warrants a traditional 7. Ireland compete exceptionally well at the breakdown but their issue seems to be generating quick ball. Both teams who stood off this season have been destroyed (Wales and Argentina) and both teams who have gotten stuck into us (SA, England and Scotland – 2nd half) have found that we run out of ideas. So DK has POM in at 6 in the hope that having an extra ball carrier can help us generate some more quick ball (as well as a lineout option). Is the lack of quick ball down to a lack of a 7, I don’t think so. If we were making clean line breaks or serious ground out wide before being turned over I’d agree that a traditional 7 would be useful but I think that some innovation in terms of carrying would go a long way. For example, using the static one out runner as a pivot to distribute to a wider runner at pace. The ABs are particularly good at this.

        To be fair, those Aussie players listed would walk into pretty much any backline in the world.

      • toro toro

         /  March 9, 2013

        for Leinsterlion for a fine analytic job here, though I’m unconvinced that “ANYBODY WHO’S EVER PLAYED POSITION Y CAN’T BE A SPECIALIST X, AND ANYONE WHO DISAGREES IS THE WORLD’S BIGGEST MORON BECAUSE I PLAYED DIV 2 RUGBY ONCE” is the *most* formidable of opponents. Still, you can only play what the opposition field…

      • toro toro

         /  March 9, 2013

        Formatting fail: that was “{…applause…} for Leinsterlion…”

  30. Peat

     /  March 8, 2013

    The thing that bugs me most about O’Mahony’s current use is in his first few games he looked really good carrying in traffic. He’s got the step and strength to wriggle through the first tackle and drive on to make metres he has no right doing so. Really thought he might be about to turn into the blindside I never thought he’d be. Instead, Kidney’s got formerly the best linking 8 in Europe taking static pod ball and a good carrier in traffic imitating a really angry seagull, while Sean O’Brien tries to do everything else but instead achieves mainly heroic endeavour, with the odd really good moment and a really substantial looking catalogue of brain farts.

  31. Jlo

     /  March 8, 2013

    Is POM the new ROG sponsored the Mafia? Undroppable unlike the ball

  32. Jlo

     /  March 8, 2013

    Just one interesting stat from the Rabo with regard to wingers
    Keith Earls has scored one try this season
    Fergus McFadden has scored 3 tries (2 against Zebre)
    Luke Fitzgerald has scored none
    Andrew Trimble has scored 6 tries
    Guess who to leave out?

    • Yossarian

       /  March 8, 2013

      How many line breaks doe Trimble cost his side by needlessly operating a blitz when its not on?He picks up a few intercepts but on an international pitch that gets badly exposed (Earls V Wales) He does his own thing in defense and that’s why he isn’t picked.

      • SUFTUM

         /  March 8, 2013

        He does that for ulster this season, but so does every outside back this season under Anscombe, Trimble is actually just the best at it, alongside Cave. He’s only done it regularly this season, I can never think of a time he’s done it and cost a line break, never mind a try. Yes, it is high risk and those who aren’t confident in shooting up get found out sometimes eg Michael Allen, and that’s exactly why Ireland don’t use such a system, as Deccie hates risk, until miraculously, this season! But that is a matter for another time. So basaically your argument is invalid, Trimble’s usually boring attack has seen him left out, but this season he’s actually been the form attacking outside back in Ireland since he’s been left out vs Argentina, it’s just Kidney trying to please the media, to try and cling onto a job

    • Interesting stats. Without Zebo and Bowe we are definitely a bit light in terms of chalk-sniffing out-and-out finishers. One thing I’d say for Earls is that he does have a bit of that about him, and perhaps his try count is a result of him playing centre this season? One try all season is definitely below par for someone who has always looked like a pedigree finisher.

  33. zdm

     /  March 8, 2013

    Lots of good arguments above as to what players make up our best back row so I’m not going to go over it again but on the issue of balance, I’d like to raise another issue I see that hinders us.

    I’m a big fan of the notion that every team needs a couple of arseholes in it – guys who the opposition hate, guys with a bit of niggle who will push the laws to the limit. In short, the kind of guy you would love to punch if he played for the opposition but who you love because he is “our” arsehole. (Note I’m talking about rugby arseholes here, not neccisarily general personality – you can be a rugby arsehole but still a nice non-rugby person)

    As we all know, arseholes come in different shapes and sizes. Ideally, you want the kind of arsehole who is really really annoying without an observer (i.e. the ref) being able to deduce why and so they cannot be punished for their arseholieness – Willie-John McBride, McCaw and Moody spring to mind. Other varieties of arsehole are available – such as guys who are just so annoying that you hate them e.g. Dylan Hartley or guys who are irritatingly cocky such as Danny Cipriani or Henson. The key factor is that they wind the opposition up sufficiently to get in their heads

    Anyway, Ireland currently lack an arsehole and especially the ideal arsehole – Quinny and Donners have served this role in the past but no-one has stepped in to their shoes.

    For me, Henry does this job very well – he is full of niggle, scraps for every ball and is subtly mouthy. Sometimes the limits are pushed too far and he gets binned but for the most part, Henry winds up the opposition sufficiently to put them off their game or take their focus off “must secure the ball/make a good tackle” and on to “must smash that barsteward” which results in penalties, turn overs and general swining of momentum towards the arseholes team.

    Anyway, Ireland lack an arsehole and I think Henry is the man to fill that gap.

    • Ha! We were pondering this issue recently ourselves, that we have a number of hard men in the pack but maybe deep down they’re nice guys. Rory Best and Cian Healy perhaps typify this, although Dan Cole might argue with that.

      O’Mahony appears to be angling for the role you’re talking about, but I’d have to question how he goes about it. I saw it recently written that Henry winds up the opposition, and O’Mahony gets himself wound up, and that’s the diffrence between the two.

      • Anonymous

         /  March 8, 2013

        http://www.irishexaminer.com/sport/rugby/jackson-just-needs-to-believe-says-flanker-224885.html

        Grizzled Ireland elder stateman Peter O’Mahony gives his expert assessment of Paddy Jackson.

      • zdm

         /  March 8, 2013

        I think Best’s problem here is that he doesn’t realise how tough he is and so his strength and hardness is used as a skill, rather than a weapon.

        Hartleys spat with him was almost comedic for the fact that while Hartley was attempting to exert actual bodily harm, Best was protesting to the touch judge about the inconvenience of it all rather than clocking him.

        I’m thinking of someone who would vocally protest to the touch judge while subtely grabbing Hartley by the Desmonds – Vinnie Jones would have made a great flanker.

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