The World Cup Starts Here…ish

With the 2014 Six Nations out of the way, the 2015 World Cup suddenly comes into distant view.  It’s not on tomorrow, we don’t need to have our 30 man squad pencilled in today, but the process of building towards this giant of a tournament begins now; or at least, it begins with a pretty-much optimal summer tour of two tests in Argentina. After that, it’s three tests in November (South Africa, Georgia and the Wobblies), then the Six Nations, then … er … that’s pretty much it. So that’s 10 tests between now and then, and 20% of them are in June (and, at the risk of underestimating Georgia 2007 style, that’s counting them as a full test). For those who will say “ah, but, what about our warm-up games?”, we say that its surely impossible that Joe Schmidt will still be looking to play some favourites into form a month before the tournament.  Those will be about battle-hardening the players.

This summer schedule is perfect because the games are hard but winnable.  By the summer, the Irish players are pretty fatigued and often injured, especially if the provinces end up fighting it out for silverware, which they usually do.  Anyone fancy two or even three games against a box-fresh New Zealand team?  Or muscling it out against the Springboks?  Us neither.  Argentina will be using these games as the springboard for their Rugby Championship, so they’ll mean business, but all said and done, they’re a decent team but no world-beaters.  Ireland can have justifiable hopes of winning the series as well as furthering the development of a handful of options with an eye on 2015.

Much has been made of Schmidt’s unchanging teamsheet over the course of the Six Nations.  He mentioned a target of starting over 20 players but in the end only started 18. He did play 28, which, when you include extra front rows and so forth means we are already getting pretty competitive in terms of the RWC15 squad.  We suspected a ‘loss of nerve’ in the lack of rotation before the Italy game, but such assumptions proved a mile off the mark.  And while the likes of Denis Leamy appear to have a bee in their bonnet over World Cup development, the truth is that a number of the next wave of players have seen their development furthered over the course of the championship and winning the Six Nations is the best development the players could possibly have got.

Both Marty Moore and Jack McGrath played in all five matches, and were entrusted with finishing the match in Paris, a huge responsibility. Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy both experienced test rugby, Iain Henderson started a test match and Sean Cronin was used as a valuable impact replacement, and not a reserve only to be brought on when a wing gets injured.  It feels about 100 years ago now, but Dan Tuohy made a belated impact at test level when given a start against Scotland.

Looking through the playing squad, there is only one player who will definitely not be going to the World Cup, and we all know who it is.  The search for O’Driscoll’s successor starts now and while none of the options are equal to the great man, nor do they have to be.  Remember, this is Schmidt’s Ireland where cohesion and attention to the minutiae are king.  Someone like Darren Cave or Fergus McFadden, apparently solid but unspectacular (remind you of perceptions of a certain Ulster wing currently revising opinions?), could excel under Schmidt’s tutelage.  Robbie Henshaw is seen as the coming man by many, and could well be the long term successor, but it’s not clear he’s ready just yet.  Jared Payne is the wild card, but he doesn’t qualify as Irish until the November series. Joe name-dropped Cave and Henshaw in his post-game France interview and maybe they will get one start each in Argentina.

Two other players should be strongly considering devoting themselves to playing outside centre: Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls. “Keith Earls, haven’t we been over that?”, you say.  Well, yes, it hasn’t always worked but those with working memories will remember that Earls has had more good days than bad at 13. Indeed, he played a whole Six Nations in the position in 2012 and had a good series in a bad team.  With Casey Laulala leaving Munster and no replacement signed, and with the wings hugely competitive at national level, Anthony Foley should be trying to persuade Earls to make a huge push to play outside centre full time.  Meanwhile, up the M7 (or the M9, depending on how you see it), BOD’s retirement leaves Leinster with as big a hole to fill as Ireland, and Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden are the two men most likely to do so.  Again, with such stiff competition for places on the wing, both should be persuadable to give it a go.

The age profile of the rest of the team looks good, and there is no need to panic and pick an inexperienced team which will lose to Argentina.  That said, options need to be developed at tighthead prop and inside centre, starting this summer.  Gordon D’arcy and Mike Ross should be in the World Cup party, but Ireland need to be ready for a scenario where they aren’t.  Ageing players’ levels can fall away quicker than you expect once they go over the hill.  Both were excellent this Six Nations, but in 18 months who knows?  The IRFU pleaded with John Hayes to stay on until the World Cup, only for his game to collapse in the twelve months before it and he ended up not even making the squad.  Better to plan for being without them and if we still have them, all the better.

Fortunately, options are available and the summer tour is the time to use them.  Marty Moore’s development has been rapid and he should start at least one match in the summer tour. It was a little frightening how Vincent Debaty, experienced but not a renowned scrummager, shunted him all around Le Stade, but he is a young man and will learn from the harrowing experience.  On the next rung is the vastly improved Stephen Archer, who should tour and get at least one runout off the bench.  At inside centre, a cloud hangs over Luke Marshall’s future due to his recent concussion; if he can overcome this issue, it is obvious that he should start at least one match in Argentina and he would be a short odds bet to be first choice for next year’s Six Nations.  If he doesn’t it leaves Ireland in a bit of a pickle, at least until his provincial team-mate Stuart Olding recovers from serious injury.  Olding looks the real deal, a natural footballer, but it will be next season before we get to see him again.

Schmidt will also have to decide if it makes sense to bring a possibly exhausted Johnny Sexton to Argentina.  In all likelihood, and judging on Schmidt’s recent coments, this will depend on Racing Metro’s involvement in the Top 14 playoffs.  Sexton has had a huge workload over the last 24 months and may be best off being allowed a proper recovery period, which would afford Schmidt the opportunity to see how Jackson and Madigan cope with the pressure of starting a hard away game.

The summer also looks a good opportunity to rehabilitate a few names who were absent from this Six Nations. Donnacha Ryan and Stephen Ferris are two forgotten men, but both are back from injury and if they can stay fit and recover their best form, they are among our best players.  Ferris would bring a ying to O’Mahony’s yang as they are almost the polar opposite of each other, in as much as two blindside flankers can be.  It would give Ireland serious options in the backrow, essential in a World Cup where the intensity scales up week after week.  Needless to say, Earls, Fitzgerald and Bowe are in the same camp and all three should be pretty fresh going into the summer tour, while others will be starting to fatigue.  And hopefully Simon Zebo can put his head down and get himself in the frame, because the rugby world is a brighter place when he’s playing.

Ireland are in a splendid position; starting the World Cup run-in as Six Nations champions, with renewed vigour and a sense of clarity.  It’s always better to adapt and change from a strong position rather than leaving it until it’s out of necessity, but such things are easier said than done.  In 2009, Kidney was in a similar place, but was a little too reticent to expand Ireland’s game and playing panel, and momentum was squandered; it was a game of catch up until the World Cup and he was lucky Mike Ross fell into his lap.  Wales, in this year’s Six Nations, have missed the same opportunity and now find themselves on the back foot.  There’s always a good reason to keep things as they are, but often a better one to change.

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  1. Rava

     /  March 19, 2014

    It would be great if Declan (sicknote) Fitzpatrick could get a decent injury free run. He proved in November he has the ability to play at Test level and I doubt if Debaty would have shunted him the way he did Moore.

    • Deccie isn’t ‘injured’ at the moment, rather he is suffering from migraines. I think he’ll be back soon. Poor fecker. Migraines are pure hell.

      • curates_egg

         /  March 19, 2014

        I can think of a lot of Irish rugby players who were recently forced to retire due to concussion induced migraines, so hope it is not that.

  2. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  March 19, 2014

    The warm-up games will still likely decide the fate of a few people. Schmidt will want to have a panel bigger than the RWC squad with everyone knowing their role so it is possible the warm-up games may be the deciding factor in some positions. And sadly, someone always seems to get injured in a warm-up game and lose out on the tournament.

    • Hopefully it doesn’t decide anything for the worse, such as in the case of David Wallace. Such a tough way to end a career.

      • It really was. I was in shreds watching it and given Tuilagi didn’t sprint up to the nose bleeds and end my stellar rugby career I can only imagine how he felt. It was one where you knew it was serious from the get go, possibly all that punching the ground.

        I got pilloried on Twitter by someone when I suggested our baby props came of age in Paris. As well as royally harshing my buzz, they missed my point.It was far from the performance of Moore’s nascent career but as pointed out by WOC, the young guns closed out a game and in fact won in Paris, an experience players like Paul O’Connell for instance have never had. That winning mentality is vital, particularly if there’s a chance we’ve broken the hoodoo our suave Gallic cousin before we face them in our world cup group.

        • Yeah that was awful, a really rubbish way for a great player to (effctively) have his career ended. As Patrick says, there’s always the chance of something freakishly terrible happening in the warm-up games as well as possibly the odd marginal call to be decided.

          But the general point we were making was that we don’t envisage a situation like in 2011 where the coach has to make a sudden about-turn on a pivotal thing like his first choice scrum-half just weeks out from the tournament. Those sorts of major issues will be nailed down.

  3. Hard to criticise Schidmt too much after winning a championship but as Wales proved this year squad development is key if you want to deal with injuries. Pretty sure of the 18 starters Henderson and Touhy only got in because of injury? It is far too early to judge Schidmt but 8 matches into his era and not to have tried another 13 seems like poor planning in my opnion but again that is a minor issue.

    On a side note do people actually think Payne is BOD’s successor? He has barely a Heineken Cup game at 13 and as Rog points out there is another massive step up to international level. Wonderful 15 mind.

    • The Six Nations is our biggest annual tournament. The best possible thing we could have done was win it. Who would you have picked at 13, and for what games? Not sure what you’re advocating regarding squad development in the Six Nations, but we had few on-the-run injuries and elected to keep the team largely unchanged. Guess what, we’re champions! What are you looking for exactly?

      As for Wales, their poor championship is nothing to do with squad development or lack of it. They just looked tired and uninspired after giving so much to the Lions tour, and their gameplan was just too rigid. Liam Williams came in for Leigh Halfpenny when he got injured and was one of their better players. Alun Wyn Jones, normally one of their best players, was listless and uninspired. Not everything can be put in a box marked ‘squad development’.

      • Not advocating anything just pointing two players started due to injury. I don’t really mind that we kept it to a small number but some people are praising Schidmt for enlarging our squad when that isn’t really true yet. Tour to Argentina will tell a lot.

        I would have definitely tried Henshaw in one of the games v Samoa, Scotland or Italy. I know that was tricky when Bam Bam started two of those games if I remember correctly but still it was worth a shot. Or even have Henshaw on the bench v Italy and bring him on at 13. I think it is extremely unlikely McFadds will be 13 @ Leinster next year.

        Can’t agree, if Gatland had tried a few more players in November I think it would have revitalised them. They did look v tired but had very few options to change it up b/c of lack experience of squad members so I think definitely that a little more squad rotation would have helped. Even more so when the championship was all but gone after the Irish game.

        • I think it’s a bit of a punt that more games would have revitalised the Welsh to be honest. I know it’s 6 Nations received wisdom that the Welsh start slowly but it looked to me that this was finally the season that the patchy form and political trench warfare of their domestic game caught up on them.

        • I thought people were prasinsing Schmidt for winning the Six Nations and bringing some clarity to Ireland’s game. But anyway.

          Every single point and try scored against Scotland and Italy turned out to be vital in winning the championship. Against Italy, O’Driscoll had a huge hand in no less than three of those tries. Would Henshaw have been able to do those things? Who knows, maybe. “Worth a shot?” Sure, why not? A better, wiser move to stick with the man whose invaluable skill, experience and bloody-mindedness were a key factor in winning the championship? Almost certainly.

          • As per usual ye go straight on the defensive Whiff I’m very happy with Schidmt but still the summer tour and November will tell us how much an improved side Ireland are and have they learned their lessons from the past. All I said was I had one or two small gripes with Schidmt. Winning a championship on points difference when the opposition through a forward last in the last minute to allow you to win a game hardly means Schidmt is above criticism?! My two gripes are he didn’t try anyone else at 13 over his first 8 games and we pretty much had the same game plan v Eng last year which didn’t work again this year. My second is the previously inability to close out tight games. We had other scare v France but I hope this changes and POCs comments after wards were incredibly refreshing.

            I agree but schidmt stated how he is now looking to the world cup….BOD won’t be their…..surely Henshaw should have got the last 20 v Italy at least which Fergus did. During his first 8 games only McFadden got minutes at 13 which seems like poor planning to me. I think only 15 and 13 are the only two positions on the field where two players haven’t got at least 80 minutes under their belt.

            @ Kate *More game time for squad players. A lot of their inexperienced but undoubtedly talented squad member’s would have definitely changed the dynamic if they had a little more experience over the last season. Even one or two players can completely change the mood of a team. Ala Gilroy v the Argies in November 13. Gatty seems to have a pool of about 19-20 players and really doesn’t like dipping outside of it which got up with them in this championship as so many of their first team starters looked tired and out of form.

          • Amazed at people suggesting the 6 nations become a place for experimentation. No nation does it.Some rotate equally capable players(as we did in2009) or rest key players when they are not real contenders(Scots,Italy) We made the least changes=most settled side and finished top. English made second fewest-finished second.The teams that rotate are generally injury related. It’s like suggesting Leinster/munster/Ulster try out someone in the quarters of the H-Cup just to see if they are good enough for next years H-Cup!
            The Autumn internaitonals and Summer tours are essentially friendlies. They are the place to experiment, not your show piece tournament of the year.

        • I could be wrong but I doubt Toner would have started every game if Tuohy had remained fit. He was playing some great rugby until he broke his arm. Likewise I’m fairly certain Marshall would have started more games had it not been for his concussion.

          There’s also the balance to be struck between short and long-term gains. By the time the Italy game came around, we were in control of the championship, so Schmidt sacrificed some squad depth for a championship. He now has tons of goodwill in terms of selection going forward.

          Not only that, but Joe has shown that building a squad isn’t just about how many matches you play, but learning the systems. A lot of the players who weren’t involved in matches were still involved in the training camps, so they’re not as behind as you’d think. Whether they should have been tested against the Italians is another question, and goes back to short vs long term gains.

          As for your question above on Payne: He did play 13 for the Blues in Super Rugby, so I wouldn’t be too worried about how he steps up to international level. I do think (as Patrick calls out below) that he’ll probably first come in at 15 though, much like Henshaw could (and I forgot he was a 15 first when I put together my post below!).

          • Thank you Phil, I think this is a really good post. Your middle paragraph is particularly pertinent, and I think Tommy above should take note. Whatever about the number of minutes played by each player, every player who trained will now be familiar with the Schmidt way. The entire ethos of the squad has been changed, and as Paul O’Connell menioned, Schmidt has brought a huge clarity to Ireland’s game. Andrew Trimble also alluded to every player knowing exactly what Schmidt is looking for from them.

            Tommy, I think you just need to relax a little bit on your certainty that doing X would result in Y. Rugby is full of grey areas and what works in one scenario doesn’t transfer to another. Gilroy scoring a try v Argentina doesn’t mean that playing some other players for Wales would ‘definitely have changed the dynamic’. It might have, it might not. We can only judge things on how they pan out, not how they might have panned out in a parallel universe that didn’t occur. If Ireland had left BOD out of the Italy game, which you appear to be advocating, we MIGHT still have won by 40 points, or we might have won by 10 points and not be Six Nations champions. Schmidt turned Ireland from one win in last year’s competition to champions in this. It seems a little churlish to be droning on that we should have tried more players at centre, especially when BOD was a key member of the team up until the final whistle. The short term is important too, and winning the Six Nations is more important than Robbie Henshaw getting 20 minutes against Italy.

          • Bowe Gathers

             /  March 19, 2014

            In terms of Payne, I think he is an infinitely better 15 than 13. From deep he’s a clinical reader of the game, and his rolls royce speed allows him to ghost into gaps as if he were out for a stroll.

            On the gain line this changes dramatically. He’s a penchant for grubbers to nowhere and throwing million dollar passes out across a flat line and allowing some poor sod (usually Trimble) to get man and balled as reward.

            He’s just a bit too much of a luxury player for 13: I don’t trust him to deal with Basteraud et al down his channel. This Payne for 13 narrative annoys me, particularly because we have an admirable 13 in Cave. Payne looks great, but when Ulster play best Cave is the pivotal man in midfield.

          • Fair points Bowe Gathers, I think I’d be happy to see him in either jersey, he’s a class act all round. Always nice to see him ghost through a gap!

            I think he had a penchant for grubbers for a good while whether he was playing at 13 or 15, especially in the first half of this season. He’s seemed to have toned it down a little though. I don’t have an issue with it if it comes off though, I’d say BOD was a little grubber-happy himself this season.

        • Paddy

           /  March 19, 2014

          Gatland has used loads of players in the AIs last season and in particular the one before. Wales have depth issues, probably more than us because the regions/clubs are so poorly coached and have been for years. Gatlands used a couple of different props to varying degrees of success. I think the problem is more that he only has a certain number of players to carry out his game plan.

          • B

             /  March 19, 2014

            In a way I was actually more impressed with what Gatland has done in the past with Wales than when they were winning. They have often been criticised for being too obvious and one dimensional in the way their team and game plan is structured but this comes from the fact Gatland doesn’t have much to chose from. In the second row for instance with Evans out they were struggling before the six nations kicked off. Charteris is an inferior player but could at least fill the hole, when he got injured it was all over for them in the second row. Contrast with Ireland or England or even Scotland where two missing players would not have constituted a crisis at all.

            Its pretty much true across the board with Wales, they have roughly 28 players that Gatland trusts and are up to the necessary quality, and they got lucky the past two-three seasons with very few injuries to those 28. But with a few injuries Wales do not have the depth to cope. My main gripe with Gatland would be picking Priestland in general, I think Biggar is a better player, and also not trusting Hook. That is the negative side of this structured game plan, it seems that he cannot handle having a player who will be unpredictable.

  4. Nails on heads as usual lads. I’m sure that Schmidt is probably looking even beyond the guys mentioned and trying to get at least two names listed beneath an incumbent’s in terms of depth with Test match experience by the time we get the boat to ol’ Blighty, and he’s well on the way (I’ve probably forgotten a load, but ah sure):

    LH: Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne
    Hooker: Best, Cronin, Strauss (plus Munster’s glass hookers once they’re back from injury)
    TH: Ross, Moore, Archer, Fitzpatrick
    Lock: POC, Toner, Tuohy, Henderson, McCarthy, Ryan, O’Callaghan
    Back Row (because there’s some overlap and tweaking which can be done): Heaslip, POM, Henry, SOB, Ferris, Murphy, TOD, Henderson, McLaughlin, Ruddock, with Copeland and Coughlan not far off
    SH: Murray, Reddan, Boss, with Marmion sure to come along shortly
    OH: Sexton, Jackson, Madigan with Keatley and Hanrahan snapping at the heels
    IC: D’Arcy, Marshall, Olding (Madigan in a pinch?)
    OC: McFadden, Cave, Earls, Henshaw, Fitzgerald
    Wings: (Deep breath) Trimble, Kearney, Bowe, Earls, McFadden, Zebo, Gilroy, Fitzgerald
    FB: Kearney, er… A few of the more utility-ish lads maybe? Payne when he’s eligible certainly

    So FB is the only place where we lack a decent bit of depth, and while we can generally paper over the cracks with wingers inside, I’m fairly sure Schmidt won’t want to be taking that sort of chance for the Webb-Ellis.

    First on the list I think for Joe will be to work on getting a bit more cutting edge into the side. As great as Leinster wraparounds are, we don’t have BOD to just instictively put Sexton through a gap with his tongue-out-pokerface anymore, and we definitely need a bit of thrust.

    • Felix Jones should probably be on that list given he was in the 30 man squad for most of the tournament.

      • Ah yeah, my bad! To be fair Kearney has been largely unchallenged for so long it’s hard to remember Felix.

        • Jimbob

           /  March 19, 2014

          I’d also include Niall Morris. Not to mention Henshaw, Zebo and Kearney Junior are all able deputies at FB.

    • You meant Dave O’Callaghan, not Dunsha, right?

      • Ah Donncha hasn’t been *that* bad recently actually, if we needed him in a pinch I’d be OK with him coming on. Dave is someone who could come through the ranks too, but I haven’t seen enough of him to comment unfortunately.

    • Phil, I was just scrolling down thinking “what these comments need is a depth chart,” and you’ve beaten me to it. Injuries are a near-constant (a squad being injury free is hallelujah time) and depth is the word. We need to take a squad of 30 capable hands no-one will baulk at seeing on the teamsheet to the World Cup. If we can do that, we’ve a shot, and no-one goes there with anything better than a shot (though some shots are bigger than others).

      I’d add James Cronin onto the tail of the LH section, put Payne at first place at OC (though I’m not sure your chart is strictly ordered) and otherwise agree entirely. You’re spot on about full back but Payne is as ready as anyone can be without international rugby behind him, then there’s Henshaw, plus a plethora of other versatile options (Madigan, Olding, half the wingers – if not more).

      It’s all about depth and, while we’re not there, it looks like we have the raw tools to maybe get there.

      I’d be resting Sexton this summer, plus anyone else who’s played a full season after the Lions (Atlas Heaslip aside, perhaps, as he’s a special case).

      • Thanks Larry! It’s not strictly ordered other than starting with incumbents. it was essentially a brain-dumping procrastination session! Yeah, as others have mentioned and I clean forgot, Payne and Henshaw are currently fullbacks first (especially in Payne’s case). I actually think Cave or one of the Leinster lads will be further up the pecking order, as I think Joe will put a lot of emphasis on provincial/international form.

      • @eoinredahan

         /  March 20, 2014

        What about James Hart – an excellent scrum half and a goal kicker.

  5. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  March 19, 2014

    The lack of depth at FB is why I think we’ll see Payne primarily tried out there rather than 13

  6. SportingBench

     /  March 19, 2014

    As I’ve said before, winning largely trumps “squad development” but Argentina should see a few guys rested to ensure they stay fit helping development. As is pointed out above, Payne has hardly played 13 for Ulster so find it hard to believe he’ll come into the reckoning for Ireland. Can’t see Earls as an international 13 either as his defence is not physical enough sadly for the modern game. I’d also question his awareness of colleagues positioning for a 13. Earls is a better wing and good finisher in my opinion but probably not Schmidt’s cup of tea out there.
    Interestingly do think Payne will put pressure on R Kearney once qualified as for all the magnificent high fielding R Kearney makes consistently bad decisions under pressure, not just the garryown on Saturday but often running away from support (and being pinged for holding on) at critical moments such as Scotland last season and he appears to switch off at times, missing tackles or dropping the ball. At his best he is world class but I think in recent seasons he has not played up to that level but the highlight film catching has masked this somewhat. I suspect Joe will be actively looking at other options for FB now the 6N is over.

    • Yes, put him on the wing, where Earls can be opposite the likes of Sivivatu, Nalaga, North, Cuthbert, Esposito, Sarto, Venditti, Savea, Bowe, Trimble, Huget, Malzieu, Banahan, Alesana Tuilagi, Nikki Walker, Visser… You know, small fellows, like himself.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 19, 2014

        I’m sure he’d do a better job at thirteen, where renowned defender Drico was pretty poor in dealing with Basteraud and missed what 3/4 tackles on the weekend?..

        At wing you have a man inside and the touchline outside, much easier proposition for a positionally bad defender, especially a light framed one, even if you are facing a monster, a poor defender such as Earls only has to be a speedbump and wait for the cover or shepard into touch and go low and expect the 13 to cover any offload. Earls is a wing, we are truly up shit creek if he ever lines out in an important game at 13 for Ireland.

      • toro toro

         /  March 19, 2014

        He probably wouldn’t be opposite Bowe or Trimble, in fairness.

      • @toro toro, Very true for Ireland obviously. I was referring to his defensive play on the wing for Munster as well, of course, which is eminently relevant to the discussion.

        @LL, Drico missed buckets of tackles over the course of the Championship alright. 13 is a difficult position to defend, and it’s made more difficult if you’re constantly shifting positions, which Earls has been. I, along with any Ireland fans who have watched him play more than a handful of games, have seen him have plenty of good games defensively at 13 (for Ireland, he completely shut down Manu Tuilagi and Aurelien Rougerie, two monsters, during the 2012 6 Nations), as well as make massive howlers in defence (Tuilagi in 2011, a few others which aren’t springing to mind for whatever reason). In a sense, we’re on common ground; the general point I was making was that if your defence isn’t physical enough for 13, it isn’t physical enough for the wing given the monsters that play there now. Thankfully, Earls’ defence doesn’t suffer from that deficiency, it suffers from positional uncertainty, something which exacerbated by switching positions all the time. If he settles into 13 for Munster and finds some form, he’ll be a live option, although far from favourite for the position. You’re also overestimating how easy wing defence is by a long chalk, given how often wingers find themselves in differing positions in broken play, say by virtue of tracking across the pitch to make a cover tackle, or because the full-back has come into the line outside of them, or where they’re faced with an opposition overlap and have to decide whether to shoot or drift… But it’s still not as difficult as 13, of course.

        Lastly, I’m not sure why in the original comment to which I replied Earls was described as “not Schmidt’s cup of tea” even on the wing. I would have thought the fact that he’s been called up to train with the squad straight after injury is a good indicator that Schmidt wants him to be familiar with The System TM.

        • SportingBench

           /  March 19, 2014

          I would differentiate actual size from physicality in defence. A small guy can tackle and defend much bigger than they are (BOD for example though the France match wasn’t the best example) but in my opinion Earls tackles as smaller than he actually is. This is why I made the original comment on his physicality being lacking for number 13. On the wing you are less exposed as simply the ball goes there less frequently and as LL mentions simply holding up the man for a bit can be enough with cover arriving.
          The comment about Earls maybe not being Schmidt’s type of winger is based solely on my interpretation of Trimble’s comments quoted in yesterday’s blog post, Schmidt’s selections and use of wingers compared to how I view Earls. I think he is a talented winger but I wouldn’t put his attributes as doing the simple things well but rather he is better at breaking the gain line and scoring breakaway tries. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t perform the aspects Schmidt appears to emphasize so definitely not writing Earls off at all.

  7. Bobby T

     /  March 19, 2014

    In essence we got some great experience for a number of fringe players in this tournament considering the number of highly experienced internationals who missed the entire show through injury. Nailed on starters such as Ryan, Ferris, SOB and Bowe have watched as Toner, POM, Henry and Kearney ably replaced them and then there are the likes of Earls, Zebo and Gilroy who have already experienced the 6NS. That is 28 + 7 and I’m sure a few more such as Fitzpatrick etc.

    I would have liked to see Henshaw get some time at 13 also (even if off the bench) but its hard to see where he could have fit him in.

    I don’t want to run down Moore because he is very young and new but I haven’t been impressed by him at all – his scrummaging was certainly suspect when it mattered and to me he looks less than competent around the pitch at international level (and provincially but I have only seen very little of him there in fairness).

    We have brilliant options all over the pack bar 3 and 8. Obviously Ross does OK but as pointed out he could easily not be around. Heaslip is one of the best 8s around but there are no specialist 8s behind him with any international experience whatsoever-again if he gets injured we are relying on flankers who can play a bit of 8.

    In the backs as you mentioned 12 and 13 are in need of thought (12 is possibly more worrying with Darcy getting on in years and Marshall constantly injured we havent got a single other internationally capped 12 in the country bar Downey who is probably not up to it). But what about 9 and 15…Murray and Kearney are great but Reddan and Boss are going to be 34 and 35 respectively and there doesn’t seem to be any specialist 15 behind Kearney. Jones is not world class IMO but Payne will be an option next year (what if Joe takes the same approach to the 6Ns though-he migtnt get a look in then either). We cant rely on utility wingers and outhalves in Madigans case to start in a WC semi-final for example.

    • I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure Olding got capped in the summer tour last year, I think if Henshaw is our long term option then Olding is the guy who’s going to put him into space. Noel Reid seems to be coming along nicely in Leinster too, could be a bolter for the summer tour. I wouldn’t have a problem with Madigan running out at 12 either, given how often he did it for Leinster last season.

      As for scrum half, Paul Marshall has had a wee bit of international experience, and he’s 29 so hardly a spring chicken but can cover ably enough in my opinion, plus we have Marmion coming along nicely.

      • I think Paul Marshall’s chance has passed. He might have been worth a look when he was in great form a couple of seasons ago, but he hasn’t looked very good at all this year. Ulster used to bring him on as a high-octane impact replacement to up the tempo in games, but they have barely used him this year. Marmion is definitely coming up the rails, but Eoin Reddan is arguably playing better than at any point in the last five years, and is stil by miles our second best scrum half.

        • Yep, I’d agree with all the above WoC, I just wanted to point out that it isn’t all doom and gloom in the SH world. I definitely agree that Marshall’s struggled this season, but I suspect that it’s as much to do with his lack of any gametime (and probably, therefore, confidence), which concerns me a little in terms of if Pienaar gets crocked (I have monks hired to be chanting for his shoulder as we speak), but I think I’ve gone on enough about Ulster’s halfback situation in your comments sections!

    • Good points, Bobby T. Without wanting to take anything away from Eoin Reddan’s excellent performances in the 6 Nations, the age profile of himself and Boss is something that also concerns me re WC2015. In that regard I was pleased to read somewhere yesterday, that there has been an approach by Guy Easterby to bring James Hart back from Grenoble to Leinster for next season.

      • It’d be mighty interesting to see if they can tempt him away, didn’t he sign something ridiculous like a 5-year contract recently enough? Money vs International caps methinks!

    • therealspratt

       /  March 19, 2014

      Now at 8, what about bringing Wilson back into the fold? He’s probably the 2nd best IQ 8 around, while next year he’s going to be 33, that’s not a ridiculous age and he seems to be in fine fitness. It’s not building towards the future but we need another quality 8.

      • I think Wilson’s probably in the same place for Ireland as Nick Easter is for England right now: Bloody great player, but won’t be considered due to the age gap.

        I certainly wouldn’t say no to him being in the squad, but I think there are other younger options which are probably being looked at first, such as Coughlan and Copeland.

        • connachtexile

           /  March 19, 2014

          What would people think of Dave McSharry of Connacht as a future Irish 12? He played great last season and is just coming back from injury but seems to be doing the job for us. I don’t think he’ll out-pass Marshall or Olding but Marshall has me worried with his concussions, so much so that I could see him retiring young. We also have Nathan White IE next year who could do a job for us ahead of Archer and possibly Moore.

          • Confess I have only ever seen him play a handful of full games, plus various highlights, but in his favour are some good performances in big games for Connacht, plus the fact he’s one of our very few midfield backs who is a real unit. If he can get back fit and playing well that will stand to him.

            Olding, though… well, he’s almost been too impressive, don’t want to start believing just yet.

          • He was in and around the training squads last year I believe, but he’s constantly injured. If he can get over that, he might provide a useful big man option at 12.

          • So a backline of Kearney(R)-Trimble-Hensaw-McSharry-Bowe-Sexton-Murray? Could work, but what I really want to know is are you Gatland in disguise, Exile? That looks borderline Warrenball.

        • therealspratt

           /  March 20, 2014

          Wait a second, isn’t Wilson actually younger than Coughlan?

          • curates_egg

             /  March 20, 2014

            Was just about to point that out…they are both 33. Time to move on.

            If you want a bolter at 8 that isn’t Copeland, Jack Conan could be the one.

          • In the slightly longer term, Jack O’Donoghue looked like a massive prospect for the u20s over the course of their Six Nations. Very much looking forward to seeing how he goes at the JRWC.

  8. Mary Hinge

     /  March 19, 2014

    Wonder if JS will give our Lions from last summer this tour off? That might mean Sexton, Heaslip and perhaps Kearney not travelling.

    If it’s to be a 30 man squad, wonder will he go with a 13/17 backs to forwards split?

  9. Paddy o

     /  March 19, 2014

    I’d like to know the exact rules of when you are allowed to bring in injury replacements. That would dictate a lot about those decisions, Mary. Could you potentially have an extended training squad in England so that if there were injuries you could immediately integrate them to the official squad? What I would say is that I don’t particularly see the need to name three scrum halves, would much prefer an additional hooker or prop.

    • Don’t know the rules on training with the squad but as far as i know the IRFU would have to finance his accomodation and it wouldn’t be covered by World Cup(so penny pinching by irfu would rule that out!). If you rule a player out with injury you can replace him but he is gone for the tournament. Think England in 03 carried an injured players to knock outs in hope of progressing or something to that effect.
      Generally take an extra hooker and ony 5 back row, likewise an extra 9 and drop an outside back(as opposed to two full 1-15 in the squads)

      • Paddy o

         /  March 19, 2014

        Cheers Yossarian, they flew PJ out to Paris – in a very decent and clever gesture by JS – so you never know! They could do a Geordan Murphy and live in johnno’s house to cut cost :). Please note I’m not getting ahead of myself here, but what I’m interested in knowing and throwing out there….can you bring in an injury replacement right up to the week of the final, or is there a cut off date? It is England/Wales in October (although presumably wembley, Olympic stadium and the millennium will be good surfaces) so I’d be inclined to stack the squad with forwards and have a few extra “specialist” backs training with the squad in the event of injury, if that was the case.

        Interesting to hear how prescriptive Lancaster was about what he wants from his squad…”you need 3 centres, one of whom can play wing.” I’m not sure you can be so definite about these things, but it is an interesting discussion to go with the whole ideal number of caps thing which he mentioned before. I believe coaching to be a substantial amount art as much as it is a science, but that’s just a personal philosiphy and I find myself intruiged by what Lancaster is doing. He has found an attacking game based of superb fitness levels (rather than guile) which has really suited them and they looked impressive at the back end of this championship. And Joe Launchbury…wow.

  10. Nice summary of the likely lads to feature above. Moore will improve in the country that prides itself on scrumaging in the summer. I don’t think we can go to Argentina and rest too many front liners. With a view to getting him to the world cup Ross could maybe use a summer off and it gives us a chance to look for back up in a traditional problem position. Schmidt has already discussed the idea of giving Sexton the summer off depending on Racings end run to the season. Considering the games he has played and how he is our key man heading to a World Cup it could be good to give him a rest. Other than that i’m not sure he can afford to leave to many front liners behind. If we got established back up at 3, a replacement in at 13 and game time to a back up 10 we wil have got a lot from the tour.

    Any thoughts on proper bolters before the World Cup?(i.e currently uncapped players) Furlong and Cronin could kick on at prop, JJ at 10 is another. The two Tom’s (Daly and Farrell)from last years 20’s could come into the fold at Leinster in another years time in the centre where we currently lack depth.

    • Jojo

       /  March 20, 2014

      Noel Reid

    • Olding is the main man to watch for me. There was a really interesting interview with him in the Belfast Telegraph a while back where he talked about the strength and conditioning work and the video analysis he’s been doing while undergoing rehab for his current injury, and he comes across incredibly determined to come back better than he was when he got injured. And he was pretty damn good then.

      • Olding is quality,capped for the full team instead of going to 20’s world cup indicates how highly he is rated. I think he would have played in November games if he hadn’t been injured and possibly played 6 Nations. Will he be back for Argentina tour? Always impresses when he gets on the field.

  11. abitofshoepie

     /  March 19, 2014

    The summer tour is very important for squad development, given the Pumas could be our quarter final opponents if all goes to plan. Also, I’m sure Trimble used to play centre……

  12. littlejohn

     /  March 21, 2014

    Whiff, while a Leinster for fan I’ve always thought Earls as a natural sucessor to BOD. IF (and its a big if) he gets gametime at 13 with Munster it will open the door to be nurtured by Schmidt. Hes a class footballer and could be world class if he is managed correctly.

    For those nerdy enough to read ROGs latest biography he talks a lot about how good Earls could be if his confidence was sorted.

    13 is one of the key positions as they are so exposed (away from the forwards) and in a lot more frequent traffic than wings. Look at all the great teams – Abs with Conrad Smith, Australia with AAC, Ireland with BOD. In teams without a strong 13 teams are more exposed.

    Hard to call this early but Earls s still my favorite for this position.

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