Sure Isn’t It Great We Have All Of Them

So here we are – we are entering squeaky bum time in the Six Nations, and Ireland are on top of the table. Sweet, we’d have taken that, even if the England game was ultimately a disappointment. Sure, we probably aren’t favourites – the fine yeomen of Stuart Lancaster’s rosy-cheeked people’s commune probably deserve that honour given their tougher game is in the Cabbage Patch. We have to go to the Stade de France and face those olive-skinned, chisel-jawed, suave and nonchalant bleus  – where with the merest insouciant lean on the goalpost, Gauloise in hand, the Frenchman generally makes the Irish rugger man weak at the knees and porous in defence. Still, we have it in our hands – if we deal with Italy the way we should and win any way in Paree, its unlikely to matter what the rest get up to. Additionally, unlike in 2007, the timing of the fixtures is assuredly in our favour, with our game last on the final day.

So, home to Italy (Six Nations record for this fixture: P7 W7 points difference +143) and away to France (Six Nations record for this fixture: P7 W1 D1 L5 points difference -97) – looks like the second game will be tougher. We’d want to be making sure our players are in tip-top condition for the hair-raising bus ride through the banlieues of Saint-Denis, right? You’d think so. And Ireland haven’t had many ‘on-the-run injuries so far, which has allowed Schmidt to keep personnel changes to a minimum so far.  Much like in 2009, it would appear to be prime time for rotating a few players.

Back then, Deccie gave a rest day to Jirry, Jamie Heaslip, Tomas O’Leary and Paddy Wallace in favour of Besty, Denis Leamy, Strings and Dorce – and the only other semi-convincing rotation option would have been Geordy Murphy for Bob, to which he apparently gave strong consideration but ultimately decided might risk over-rotating. It was a shrewd managerial move; it concentrated minds on Scotland when the temptation for excited minds was to fast-forward to the decider in Cardiff and fostered competition for places and a feeling of involvement for those on the fringes of the team.  Crucially, he did it only where he knew there was little between those coming in and those going out, though on reflection perhaps he got lucky that Denis Leamy got injured, harsh as that may sound.  Heaslip had been Ireland’s best player and it looked borderline foolhardy to leave him out, and in the event he came on early for Leamy, had a stormer and scored the winning try.

Right now, the Milky Bar Kid could conceivably change 10 of team – we’re blessed with many more options, even without Fez, Sean O’Brien and all our wingers. Of course, he’s unlikely to do that, because such a massive scalpel to the team is fraught with risk – just look at this time 12 months ago.  England rotated a couple of names in and out of the team in the exact corresponding fixture last year; home to Italy in round four.  They were looking to win the Championship too – in fact they were looking for a Grand Slam – but the move backfired.  One of those coming in to the team was Danny Care, who had been sensational off the bench in the previous game against France, but starting the match seemed to derail him.  The iconic image of him kicking the ball backwards in his own 22 lingers in the memory.  England found themselves hanging on for a fortuitous victory and they carried the anti-momentum through to the final match where they were thrashed by a rampant Wales.  So, the message is clear: rotate sensibly and respect Italy!

So what can we expect? All three of the front row backups will be hopeful of playing, but we can’t see such wholesale change – Marty Moore looks the only one odds-on to start, and might even be auditioning for the shirt in France. With Besty such a key man on the ground and in the maul, it’s likely Joe will leave him in and let Sean Cronin be content with 30 minutes provided the game is won by then. Jack McGrath for DJ Church is a possible – Schmidt has shown trust in McGrath before and often rotated Healy at Leinster.  But in O’Brien’s absence Healy is our best ball carrier and while McGrath is also strong in this facet of play, it looks like too much of a risk.

In the row, Devin Toner has been one of the success stories of the championship, but it mightn’t be a bad idea to give him a rest here, with either NWJMB or Donnacha Ryan to come in. Ryan/POC is a more established partnership, but Henderson is in better form and has more time in camp – we think he could get the nod, and if he grabs this opportunity the next coach to drop him for Ireland might be Ronan O’Gara for RWC27.  Against all that, Henderson is almost the prototype impact substitute for the modern game, and Schmidt may stick with his first-choice partnership in order to unleash NWJMB against tiring legs.

With Peter O’Mahony an injury doubt, it’s essential someone is practising the anthems angrily in front of a mirror – it’s hard to know where Ireland would be without his unique brand of tuneless pre-game anger. If O’Mahony is in any way doubtful, it would seem foolish indeed to risk him ahead of the Paris match.  He’s become a cornerstone of the team, even if England dealt with his threat impressively, and will be badly needed for the final game in the series. If he’s fit he’ll play, but if not Rhys Ruddock would be a solid deputy.  With Chris Henry possibly Ireland’s player of the series to date (certainly he is the most consistent) and Jamie Heaslip peerless at eight (and Tommy O’Donnell injured in any case), we can’t envisage any more than one backrow change.

For the half-back pairing, the game has probably come too soon for Eoin Reddan, and, at any rate, we think he might make a change at fly-half and better to keep Murray in there for some continuity. Is Johnny Sexton out for up to six weeks, as claimed by Racing Metro? Unlikely. Is he fully fit and 100% ready for an international game? Equally unlikely, given he didn’t play this weekend. O’Reilly in the ST pointed out that Sexton had played 38 games in the last nine months, and he should be managed. Can Ireland beat Italy at home with Wee PJ manning the ship? Of course they can. We’ll need Sexton for France, so let’s be sensible.  We can have him on the bench in case it all goes to pot.

The centres will be the same.  Brian O’Driscoll no longer looks infallible, but he showed against England that he still has the class, but he needs a bit of help from those around him.  This looked a prime opportunity to get Luke Marshall into the team, and Ireland could really do with his strong running and pace, but his old concussion issues have resurfaced with particularly awful timing.  We can’t imagine how frustrating it is for him, and Schmidt.

Out wide, the call for change is most compelling.  For all the honest endeavour of Andrew Trimble and Little Bob, we could do with some pace and penetration, and obviously the internet needs little opportunity to discuss Simon Zebo. Have either of the starters done anything specific to deserve being dropped? No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a change to strengthen the team. Tommy Bowe looked in regal form on his return on Friday night, and although he played just 40 minutes, we thought he’d go straight back in; but he hasn’t made the squad.  Maybe it’s just too early for him, but it must have been really tempting to just go for it.  Luke Fitzgerald’s wretched luck continues, so it means a timely recall for Simon Zebo.  Everyone wants to see the happy-go-lucky flyer in green, and not just because we are all exhausted discussing whether his possible defensive, workrate and celebratory deficiencies are what are keeping him out of the squad.  Internet, you can have a rest now!  A full-scale return to the First XV is probably still unlikely, but he could knock McFadden off the bench.

So we reckon in will come Moore, Henderson, Ruddock and Jackson, with returns to the bench for Ryan, Reddan and Zebo. That should shake it up a little. It worked for Deccie in 2009, no reason to think it isn’t the best approach five long years later.  Ireland should beat Italy, and hopefully at least one or two of those selected can at least make their case for the crucial trip to Paris.

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50 Comments

  1. Barry

     /  March 3, 2014

    Good piece but Henry hasn’t been our man of the Tournament

    • Go on, be a divil and elaborate. As we say he’s been among our most consistent, so he’s certainly up there. O’Mahony obviously had two explosive matches but didn’t really get to the pitch of the England game. Sexton, too, had two great games but didn’t play well in the third. Heaslip has been to the fore, Toner too. Henry there or thereabouts, no?

      • Paddy

         /  March 3, 2014

        Well Zebo has by far and away been the most talked about. Seriously though, as good as Henry has been and Toner has been consistent too without actually hitting the heights of POM I think Rob Kearney sneaks it.

      • Cian

         /  March 3, 2014

        My vote would probably go to D’arcy, and I’ve been far from his biggest fan in the past. I didn’t think Henry was particularly good against England (not bad, mind), and consistency alone wouldn’t be enough for me to elevate him above the truly impressive hard yards D’arcy has made every match or the massive, game-changing moments POM put in for the Wales game. The latter was also our best carrier in the forwards against England (of a bad bunch, admittedly) and I do think he’s actually being judged more harshly because he’d been so good previously. I’d put him and Henry around equal for that match, as I would have for the Scotland one.

      • Sound Steve

         /  March 3, 2014

        On evidence of recent games I don’t think Henry is even international standard. I see him as a poor man’s Robshaw – a likeable bloke shoehorned into a 7 shirt but outside of a very solid work rate does not have any clear, definable skillset. Very consistent but no use if he’s consistently 6.5 out of 10. The defence of him as “one of Ireland’s only natural 7s” is also nonsense as up until 3/4 years ago he was just a small 8. Would be interested to hear other views!

        • Henry gets through a lot more breakdown work in an Ulster jersey than an Ireland one. I reckon this has come from him and POM sharing the “grunt work”, and both have made a number of turnovers, POMs have just been at more critical times (and probably of a “right time, right place” nature, Best, BOD or Henry could all have easily made that turnover).

          I don’t think he reaches the lofty heights of Pocock or McCaw (and probably won’t ever given his age), but I think he does pretty decent job worthy of being in the national setup.

        • Leinsterlion

           /  March 3, 2014

          “Not international standard”, what standard is that? His work in compiling tackles indicates he is at least adept at getting into the right position to have the tackle count of an international back row, though he is callow in “international experience”(despite his age) in comparison to his other more capped compatriots I suppose, plus he is muck at singing Amhrain na bFhiann, eh?

          • Sound Steve

             /  March 3, 2014

            I’m not faulting hsi work rate in the slightest, more the quality of his contributions. On the international standard point, to me, he doesn’t appear to have the tekkers/power to affect ruck/tackle situations the way he can at club level. To Phil’s point above Henry does seem to be working to a different remit with Ireland as opposed to Ulster (less rucking, more fanning).

            It’s a shame Dippy Ryan has stagnated the way he has!

        • ‘Doesn’t have any clear, definable skillset’. I don’t really know what this means. Sounds to me like you’d prefer to see him do more Hollywood carries in the tramlines, but not every backrow can be, or needs to be like Tom Croft. At the very least he delivers a consistently high tackle count and is a hard object to remove from the breakdown. I agree he lacks stardust, thoug I thought he showed good feet to make a few metres on a couple of occasions against England. A poor man’s Robshaw isn’t actually a bad description, I’d say he’s amore of a slightly-lesser-off man’s Robshaw- is that such an awful place to be?

          • JT

             /  March 3, 2014

            Henry is excellent at what he does – superb at the breakdown, very good tackle technique, great workrate, good leader… He even had to fill in a couple of times at 9 when Murray was dragged into rucks vs the English and showed some decent passes off his left and right… It seems as though you don’t get recognition unless you’re SOB or Ferris 2.0

        • Paddy

           /  March 3, 2014

          I’ve always thought of him as limited going forward but he is definitely showing up more in attack and though not quite as “good” as Robshaw he is showing up more for Ireland in this role. The other parts of his game are top notch. I think you’re being hard calling him a poor mans Robshaw.

  2. Jojo

     /  March 3, 2014

    Heaslip has been very consistent as has rob

  3. All fair nominations, fellas. I don’t think there’s been any one standout (POM obviously after two weeks, but he’s been brought back into the bunch) and Henry is certainly in the lead group, as it were.

    But let’s face it, Paddy’s right: Zebo is the player of the series, and not just for Ireland.

    • hulkinator

       /  March 4, 2014

      I’d have to disagree there. POM is leading the turnover count in the championship with 7. He got 2 more against England and made more metres that anyone else. He got 6 lineouts on top of that.

      England probably adapted their game to nullify POM. Things like that go unnoticed. He still got a few turnovers even with limited opportunity though.

  4. @Completebore

     /  March 3, 2014

    I hope Zebo starts, just to stop the shrieking guess-work as to why he’s been so cruelly over-looked.

  5. I I were coach, I’d be inclined to give Henshaw a start at 13 with BO’D on the bench to come on just after the start of the second-half. Imagine the reception he’d get as Ireland’s greatest ever impact sub! That way he’d still be on the pitch at the final whistle, might’ve gotten a try against a tiring Italian back-line and be fit as fiddle to start in Paris. Is this a crazy idea? What does anybody else think?

    • Stevo

       /  March 3, 2014

      I doubt even Warren Gatland would have the temerity to leave BOD on the bench for his last home international!

  6. Bueller

     /  March 3, 2014

    Henderson at 6 with Ryan in the row? I also agree with the BOD on the bench suggestion above but will that give us enough cover?-probably. A massive cheer on 50 minutes couldn’t harm our chances of a few tries in the last period (or grinding out a narrow win, as will be a significant possibility).

  7. JT

     /  March 3, 2014

    All this clamour for “Zeeeebs” – he is very overrated. I don’t think he’s done enough to shift DK or Trimble. Ireland’s gameplan in the three games thus far hasn’t exactly been playing to the strengths of our outside backs. All Zeeeebs has done is get a couple of tries vs the minnows of the Pro12, not enough to warrant a starting place in my opinion.

    • Kelly Peters

       /  March 3, 2014

      Overrated in what regard? No one denies his inadequacies. He’s arrogant, isn’t a great defender and his work rate isn’t up there with our other wingers. Nobody, other than the odd myopic Munster fan, denies that. Since his return from injury he’s bagged 5 tries in his last 5 games, looking dangerous whenever he has ball in hand. I’m not sure what else he could’ve done to force his way into the set up.

      Given how Trimble and DK have played I wouldn’t parachute him into the XV but surely he warrants a spot on the bench. In his career he’s shown a nose for the try line that, Tommy Bowe aside, is unmatched by our current wingers and has also shown up in big games. He has the ability to beat a man and has pace to burn which neither Trimble or DK. If we’re chasing a try against either France or Italy I’d much rather see Zebo coming in that McFadden.

      • I reckon McFadden could win a start with Zebo taking the bench slot. McFadden can probably go the 80 and cover for BOD if necessary, and I think he has a bit more zip about him than Kearney or Trimble, which could work in his favour.

      • As the proverbial “odd myopic Munster fan”, or, alternatively, someone who watches him week in week out, I can testify that he absolutely does not lack in work rate. He’s constantly working to get on the ball, popping up all over the pitch running intelligent lines off his team-mates’ shoulders, as well as at first receiver and tests the close-in defence, and he chases restarts, garryowens and box kicks as assiduously as anyone else in the country. I also don’t give a shit that he is supposedly arrogant, nor do I expect anyone else should, given how massively irrelevant it is. Lastly, while he’s not a particularly great defender, and has a particularly unwelcome tendency to grapple with players rather than chop them down, I can’t actually remember more than a couple of glaring defensive errors he’s made in his career. I’d prefer a winger in my team to be scintillating attacker and a competent defender than the other way around, thanks.

        • Kelly Peters

           /  March 3, 2014

          I’m another Munster fan who watches him week in, week out. Wasn’t meant as an insult to Munster fans just the few who watch the big games, check the try scorers for Rabo games and worship the ground he walks on. A few moments stood out for me this weekend. 1. In the passage of play where GVDH dropped Laulala’s kick he was involved three times. He was the first man in the initial ruck to secure possession and twice received the ball in the ensuing passage of play. This shows his work rate in attack. He is always looking for the ball and runs great support lines. 2. He received the ball from a standing start, beat his man one-on-one and created space where there wasn’t any. Our current wingers can’t do that. My point about his work rate was more about his defence where he stands off ruck and is a passive defender. Granted I would prefer my wingers to save their energy for ball in hand but Joe appears to have other idea’s.

          That wasn’t my own opinion of the guy, rather an opinion based on what has been passed off as what Joe wants from his wingers. Guys who hit rucks, work their socks off in defence and do things by the numbers. If I was picking the Irish team I’d have Zebo in it if fit. He is arrogant but it never gets the way of his play. I’d have an issue with it if it did but he’s not swan diving or showing off. The Z celebration comes after the try is scored

        • Leinsterlion

           /  March 3, 2014

          Pretty much agree with most of this, the whole arrogance thing is a canard, whats wrong with a player being self confident.

          • Jojo

             /  March 3, 2014

            He never appears arrogant, he’s open about his confidence. I like thAt. I think his work rate on field is usually good. I think it’s Ireland’s innate conservatism that causes the criticism. ( Leinster fan who hates the bashing of him cos he has a bit of personality)

          • Ciano

             /  March 4, 2014

            As in a duck like?

          • JT

             /  March 5, 2014

            These are all good points, perhaps he does deserve the start. In any case, injury permitting, still don’t think he’s as good as Fitz and Bowe, who are our two best wingers.

    • Cian

       /  March 3, 2014

      Our gameplan in the England match did in fact attempt to use our outside backs, but they didn’t have the pace to do anything much when they got the ball in space, despite their other laudable attributes. And if we’re trying to run up a score against Italy without using the outside backs we might as well give up now – and we won’t do that, because Schmidt is known for match-specific tactics. I agree Zebo’s not earned a start, but as Kelly and Phil say he could be a good bench option.

      • JT

         /  March 3, 2014

        All fair points above, I meant not to include the England game in the ones mentioned – we were unfortunate that Sexton had one of his poorer performances in green, thus limiting the impact of the outside backs. I just think it’s harsh on Trimble/DK given the fact that they haven’t really had an opportunity to try and play due to limited possession of the ball thus far. DK I think is very underrated by fans, he’s been immense with the kick chase, fielded very impressively and has made a lot of extra metres by wriggling out of tackles. Id like to see him get this game to have a go with ball in hand then we’d be in a better position to judge whether Zebo should be starting. I certainly don’t think that we would have won as impressively as we did against Wales if we had Zebo on the wing ahead of the work rates of Kearnage Junior and Trimble.

    • JT, you can only play who shows up and Zebo has at the very least done well in the games he’s played since returning from injury. What more do you want of him? It’s often all too easy to focus on what everyone’s weaknesses are and often more constructive to focus on what they are good at. Whatever you think of Zebo’s personality, there’s no doubt his running, skill and pace are a threat to defences.

  8. Stephen

     /  March 3, 2014

    I sincerely hope Zebo doesn’t start (doubt he will). Bring him on after 60, let him score a try and then sub him immediately so Schmidt can give him a firm slap when he does that feckin cretin-moronic ‘Z’ celebration.

    • Cian

       /  March 3, 2014

      Yes, and while Schmidt’s at it he can give Jamie Heaslip an atomic wedgie, making sure his trousers never again descend below the waist, and take the entire squad for Ludovico technique sessions interspersing images of each of their tries with those of war crimes, squalling babies etc so we can a) send a warning to all our players about the dangers of varying personalities and b) make sure they have no fun whatsoever during or after scoring.

      Alternatively we could discuss things that have even a slight relevance to the quality and efficiency of Ireland’s play, but why bother with that really.

      • I simply cannot understand why anyone has any issue whatsoever with Zebo’s utterly hamless, ultimately pretty bland celebration. Somebody somewhere mentioned that Schmidt in his time at Leinster brought in a motion of not celebrating tries for a while, and some peole have put two and two together and decided that Schmidt isn’t picking Zebo because he does a funny z-thing when he scores. The whole thing has gone a bit mad.

        • toro toro

           /  March 3, 2014

          Indeed, the point was not celebrating them in training, in particular – Schmidt’s Leinster certainly celebrated during matches.

          I admit I’ve never seen him train, but it would amaze me if Zebo has a camera set up at the in-goal area in Carton House to flash his Zs at…

        • The celebration thing is a strawman. The more convincing rumours include: (a) he showed up to camp without having done the homework Schmidt sends players; (b) the movie incident and the alleged fact that Murray called the IRFU and Schmidt directly to apologise for the home movie, whereas Zebo didn’t; (c) his behaviour on the North America tour, which left him in severe bad books with the alickadoos…one or a combination together with the defense point sounds relatively plausible.

          Regardless, he is the only Irish player left standing with any pace; he is a great fielder; and he has decent welly to boot. It is easy to share the clamour for his return. Hopefully, the hatchet on whichever one of a, b or c it is can be buried. If defense were the only issue, Bob would have got the chop long ago.

      • Stephen

         /  March 4, 2014

        Thanks for that measured response Cian.

        The first part of my comment above was meant seriously; Zebo on for Trimble/either Kearney at the 55-60 mark would run rings around an Italy defense, and his defensive issues (he is a good fielder in the back 3, but tackling less so) presumably won’t be that much of a risk.

        The second part of my comment was intended to recognise that, just in terms of his maturity (to the extent that we can judge it from various public “mishaps”), he has a bit of growing up to do. I’d imagine Joe will remedy that . . .

    • Personally, I’d like to travel back in time and whip O’Driscoll off the pitch in Paris 2000 when he did that ridiculous triangle celebration after the first try. You can’t overstate how much the game of Jonah Lomu Rugby corrupted that generation of children’s minds, telling them that they could potentially enjoy sport rather than stoically endure it. and the man was arrogantly, recklessly reinforcing that. I’ve never forgiven him.

    • Jojo

       /  March 3, 2014

      Bod=triangle=ledge

      It’s not an Ashton dive he’s doing

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 4, 2014

        Nothing is more cringeworthy then DJ Churchs bird sign flappy hand thing. Worst celebration ever.

  9. B

     /  March 3, 2014

    Kearney Sr is the obvious man to lead any and all anthems from now on, he has been a bundle of simmering synaptic energy before every game this year so far.
    On the flipside however I think the question must be asked at what point do you overdo your POMness? Pape cried before the Welsh game and was pretty poor imo. Couldn’t keep those emotions under check? One for the video analysis the Monday afterwards?

  10. Shapes

     /  March 3, 2014

    Did we not draw with France in 2012 and 2013, your stats say our record against France is W1 D1 L5…

  11. Mary Hinge

     /  March 3, 2014

    In Luke Marshall’s absence, might it be time to give Henshaw or McFadden a run at 12 inside BOD?

    • Do we have a big enough shoehorn for Henshaw at 12?! Henshaw might become a great 13…but let him try there first before throwing him in a new position in the middle of a 6 Nations we are still in the hunt for.

      • B

         /  March 4, 2014

        Would it take that much extra planning or effort to give Henshaw the 12 jersey and play him primarily in the 13 position? It has been stated in the past that Bod and Darce frequently traded positions despite the numbers on the back.

  12. Ro

     /  March 4, 2014

    POC wrote an article a fewe weeks back stating how frustrated he initially became with JS’s training methods. Specifically how he was so technical with how a player should stand, where his feet shoud be in certain situations and how a player should enter rucks etc. etc. etc. He also said that the more the players adopted JS’s style the better they became. We are all puzzled as to why Zebo has been left out of the team but maybe, just maybe he does not buy into the JS style. Maybe as a ‘flair’ player who tends to act on instinct more than most he is unable (or unwilling) to adapt his style to ‘fit’ the coaches demands. Trimble and Kearney jnr do what is asked of them and do it well. I wonder is there a place for a heads up, play it as you see it type of player in this Irish team. Would it be an asset or a hinderence? I suppose there is only one way to find out.

  13. zdm

     /  March 5, 2014

    We aren’t happy with a backrow in Ireland unless there’s a touch of the madness about the man. I can tell you one thing, as a full back of more “nimble” build, my favourite team mate was the backrow who loved to snout about in the muck.

    At the breakdown especially, Henry is a huge pain in the proverbials for the opposition, whether in our ball or theirs which the backrow combos of yesteryore lacked. At the risk if playing cliche bingo, he does the “unseen” (read unglamorous) so that POM et al can run around dropping bombs. If you want to see his worth to the team, watch his interactions with his team mates, especially Heaslip who treats him like a long list brother.

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