Selection Bias

The news that Joe Schmidt had to field questions about selection bias left us more than a little surprised.  The issue appears to have sprouted from ill-advised and certainly ill-timed comments from Denis Leamy in the lead-up to the France match.  The questions were dispatched consummately by Schmidt, who effectively put the accusations of provincialism back on those asking the questions.  Too right!

Certainly, Joe Schmidt picked a lot of players from Leinster over the championship, including some who aren’t consistently first choice for their province.  There is certainly an argument that he picked players he could trust to enact his gameplan, which may have given those familiar with his methods a head-start, but to say he picked based on the colour of the players’ provincial jerseys is a nonsense.

Besides, Ireland are champions, so the head coach’s decisions are vindicated, whether or not they were popular beforehand.  We ourselves made some negative noises around the selection for the Italy game, but after Ireland won handsomely we were put back in our box, and we acknowledged as such.  Same goes for Denis Leamy.  One has to ask what those asking the questions are looking for exactly.  Ireland have won precious few Six Nations championships, and while it would be nice to think we could win them with exactly equal allocations from each province, or by ‘rotating’ in up-and-coming players in a variety of positions to develop them for the World Cup, it’s almost certainly an impossibility.  Others have said that the margins of victory were so tight that the coach should still be criticised.  Again, it would be nice to have won more comfortably in Paris, but given how seldom we have done it, insisting we should dish out a hammering seems a bit unrealistic.  It’s pretty churlish stuff altogether.

There have been some protests that those defending Schmidt’s selections are the same as those who bemoaned Gatland’s Welsh bias on the Lions tour.  Maybe so, but they are totally missing the point. To them we say this: who really, besides the players, gives two hoots about whether the Lions won or lost?  We’d gladly sell you 20 Lions tour wins for one victorious Six Nations.  The most important thing about the Lions tour is the team selection and how many Irish get into it; the matches are mostly putrid and boring.  Anyone out there buy the commemroative DVD to re-live the glory of the 2-1 win over the worst Australia team in 30 years this Christmas?  Can anyone even remember anything from the first two tests, apart from some chap falling when taking a kick in the last minute?  Us neither.  So, sure, we raged against Gatland and are still bitter over his dropping of O’Driscoll, but that’s because it’s more important that O’Driscoll’s feelings aren’t hurt than the Lions winning the series.  For Ireland things are different; winning is the be all and end all.

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  1. Joe

     /  March 20, 2014

    Overly harsh on the Lions as usual gents (I think we can all recall North’s try), but that aside no quibbles.

  2. Hear, hear! Ireland first, province (in my case Leinster) second. Anyone who has their priorities any different needs their head examined, IMO.

  3. F

     /  March 20, 2014

    Yeah, personally I love the Lions and it matters a lot to me that they win.

    • We don’t want to trash the Lions. The Lions tour is lots of fun and while the media hype can grate, it can be a fantastic event. The 2009 series had a lot to enjoy. But, does it really get you in the gut if the Lions lose the same way as if Ireland get beaten??

  4. Bobby T

     /  March 20, 2014

    To a certain extent I don’t get why people get so worked up about ‘their’ players not getting selected. For example in Munster players like Kilcoyne and Zebo got good experience being drafted in and out of the squad but were still available to play in the Rabo at a time when wins are important.
    The provincialist/nationalist debate is completely nonsensical. Schmidt, Gatland and wait for it….Kidney only ever had one agenda and that was winning – they chose the players they felt could accomplish that by whatever means were in place.
    You don’t have to agree with their selections but I sincerely doubt they care.
    Personally I think Zebo is a better winger than Kearney for example but I couldn’t care less that he didn’t get picked…I got to watch him piss in tries for Munster week in week out instead while Kearney was helping Schmidt’s ‘inches’ game-plan.

  5. Mark

     /  March 20, 2014

    It is precisely churlish to be questioning Schmidt’s selection policy. To throw the cat among the pigeons… We have to ask whether Schmidt’s does not rectify the opportunity that was squandered following the 2009 Grand Slam win. During those years, Leinster, on the back of the changing of the guard they effected in the semi-final H cup win over Munster, and sealed with H cup victories were the all-conquering team in Europe. Deccie’s style of play clung rigidly to a fundamentally Munster style game, rather than embracing the skillful style of play that Leinster had added to the their game following the newfound grunt developed under Cheika. An opportunity was missed in those years… Who is to say that Schmidt has not re-seized that opportunity, and with much of the old guard beyond their 2009 peak, and a lot of all-round young Leinster players coming through ?

  6. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 20, 2014

    On an early flight yesterday & picked up the old Thornley Gazette to pass the short trip. I read Joe’s comments re provincial bias & I thought they summed him up perfectly – polite, logical, but with that steeliness coming through that we all know is there. Then I read Rob Penney’s comments about how Munster will be playing the 6 N’s champions in the Palindrome on the 29th and it really, really p*ssed me off. Just thought it was in very bad taste. Also more than a little insulting to O’Connell as captain in particular, but also to the rest of the Ulster / Munster lads.
    To me the biggest statement about Joe’s Ireland was the quote from Trimble from last November that you guys published on Tuesday. He gets it. He buys into it. He prospered. He’s not from Leinster. That’s the template for anybody who wants to make it in this team.
    Finally – UTTER disagreement on the old Lions there gents. Going on a Lions tour as a rugby fan is magnificent. It’s not just the about Irish players. It’s about the challenge of getting a team together in a ridiculously short space of time. Sure it can go horribly wrong (2005) but it’s such a unique sporting occasion. I buy into it 100%. Won’t hear a word said against them!!!

    • Don’t get us wrong, the Lions is lots of fun and I’m sure following the tour is about as much enjoyment as a person could have, but I couldn’t for even a moment say I’m as emotionally invested in whether the Lions win or lose as I am with Ireland.

  7. ruckinhell

     /  March 20, 2014

    So a Championship win means that all criticisms of Schimdt are invalidated and suddenly “churlish”? I think he is the best coach in the NH at present and has done a very good job since his arrival but such an attitude by commentators does him no favours. He is finding his feet as a coach and we are nowhere near the finished article. One thing that is constantly raised as a plus point for him is his forensic analysis of his players performance. Why should he be exempt from analysis and/or criticism because of victory? It’s pretty certain that his players are still justifiably scrutinised win/lose or draw.

    While Leamy’s comments were ill advised and ill timed, they do reflect the views of “some” Irish rugby supporters. Schmidt addressed these and you can at least say that he is now aware of the issue and made his views clear. The media do have a role to play as conduit of information to the public and at times a soapbox for discontent, however misguided or ill informed. I’d rather these things were raised and addressed when we were winning than to build up under the surface and become a huge stick to beat Schmidt over the head with when we lose.

    • contraflow

       /  March 20, 2014

      … “some” Irish rugby supporters… could you possibly mean Munster supporters? I think it is a tough experience for Munster fans to see every 50-50 call go against them. They are now losing out to Ulster players as well as Leinster players. This is a new world for them and quite reasonably they are not happy, much as we Leinster fans and Ulster fans weren’t happy during the Kidney era. The fact that Donnacha O’Callaghan isn’t first name on the team sheet takes a bit of getting used to I suppose.

    • SportingBench

       /  March 20, 2014

      Yep a championship, particularly for a country that doesn’t win many, does mean the coach gets a free pass. For a rugby coach it is purely a results game. You are great if you win and terrible if you lose. Look at Andy Robinson over in Scotland. Clearly he did a good job in coaching terms, as Scott Johnson has demonstrated but he had to go as the results weren’t there. Tempted to pull out the old Napoleon quote on lucky generals but just like in war you win or you lose. Schmidt can pick 100 Leinster players next year and if we win the WC then he is right and if we lose he is wrong (actually, given our history he’ll qualify as “right” by making the semi-finals I suppose)

      • To listen to some commentators you would swear championships were as easy to come by as picking apples from a tree. Last year we were fifth, this year we won. That’s a hell of a turnaround in a short space of time. Nobody’s saying anything about us being the finished article, but to turn around and accuse a coach who has just delivered us an all too rare Six Nations win of something as serious and foolish as selecting players because they play for Leinster is, to my mind, utterly ridiculous.

      • Of course, four more points in England, we would have also had a Triple Crown and another Grand Slam, so if he made a mistake in his selection, it may have cost us those. Grand Slams are even harder to come by, so it’s worth trying to figure out if we could have won it with better team selection.

    • The point is that calling some of the comments aimed at Schmidt “criticism and analysis” is very kind, when it’s boneheaded moaning from idiots. “He’s not picked a player I like from Munster/Ulster/Connacht, therefore he is biased towards Leinster” – you don’t need any qualifications in logic to disregard that.

  8. Perhaps it’s selective memory, but I don’t recall this level of churlishness after the 2009 Grand Slam. Maybe it’s an indication of how high our standards have become, but it seems outrageous to me that a coach who won us the 6 Nations in an even-numbered year (i.e. with France and England both away) is being presented with these sorts of accusations already.

    The Ireland XV that started against Wales in the 2013 6 Nations had 8 Leinster players, 4 Munster, 2 Ulster and 1 Connacht. The XV that started against France last weekend? 8 Leinster, 3 Munster, 3 Ulster, 1 Racing Metro. Nobody was accusing Kidney of ‘Leinster bias’ when he played with a team that was really quite similar in terms of its provincial makeup.

    The major difference is on the bench, where 2013 had 4 Munster, 2 Leinster and 2 Ulster players as opposed to 2014’s 7 Leinster, 1 Ulster (though for the other 4 games Jackson had been in place instead of Madigan). I guess a lot of the criticism has been focused on that. However, of those Munster players, 2 were no longer available due to retirement and injury (ROG & Earls), one was DOC who was at the end of his international career, and McGrath is ahead of Kilcoyne to all but the most red-tinted of glasses. The reality is that when you break it down to that level, every argument boils down to fine margins and individual preferences.

    There’s apparently a great deal of unity within the camp, and Schmidt has gone out of his way to bring in players who weren’t selected and to praise their contributions to the team. It should be clear to everyone by now that he picks guys to execute his plans, and if the Leinster players are maybe a bit ahead of the rest in terms of knowing how to give Schmidt what he wants, that advantage will fade away very fast. I’m pretty disappointed at comments like Leamy’s when Irish rugby is in the most positive place it’s been for five years.

    • “The Ireland XV that started against Wales in the 2013 6 Nations had 8 Leinster players, 4 Munster, 2 Ulster and 1 Connacht. The XV that started against France last weekend? 8 Leinster, 3 Munster, 3 Ulster, 1 Racing Metro. Nobody was accusing Kidney of ‘Leinster bias’ when he played with a team that was really quite similar in terms of its provincial makeup.”

      Woah, woah, woah – you’re letting facts get in the way of a good story here!!

      In other words – great point.

    • Stevo

       /  March 21, 2014

      It’s amazing how often a calm view at the actual statistics can tear through an argument based on flawed perceptions. Excellent post, rachel685.

    • Rachel, thanks for sharing this analysis. Nail on the head again.

    • “The Ireland XV that started against Wales in the 2013 6 Nations had 8 Leinster players, 4 Munster, 2 Ulster and 1 Connacht. The XV that started against France last weekend? 8 Leinster, 3 Munster, 3 Ulster, 1 Racing Metro. Nobody was accusing Kidney of ‘Leinster bias’ when he played with a team that was really quite similar in terms of its provincial makeup.”

      No indeed. They were too busy accusing him of Munster bias.

  9. Junior

     /  March 20, 2014

    The selection bias argument is valid – as in folks call it as they see it – and understandably (or not) perceive bias based on whichever province they support.
    But it cuts both ways – you can’t on the one hand be a Connacht supporter and expect Robbie Henshaw to be given a start, and on the other bemoan his non-selection by some guy called Brian, who’s kind of a big deal, I hear. And you know, like, wins things.
    In the age of professional rugby, you can be assured (©GT) that Joe has attended some provincial sessions, talked to the coaches and has maybe even, you know, watched the videos. He’s not picking from a blank canvas. While guys like McSharry, Cave, McLoughlin, hell even Tom Court are all good players, Joe thinks they’re just not good enough (yet/anymore) to warrant selection. Joe was chosen by the IRFU blazers to select the squad, win matches, series and tournaments. I’m delighted they did.
    I’m all for him selecting guys from the Province I support, but I don’t think it’s really fair to tar him with the brush of bias. He picks guys that, on paper at least, he is comfortable with, can get the job done, who look like they have a chance of backing up his faith in them. We then also have to factor in the quality of the opposition those players are playing against – so if, for example, Henshaw is togging out at 13 versus Zebre and scores 4 tries, well, how does that compare say to Cave scoring zero against the Ospreys, but creating 3, preventing 5 and sending both his opposite number and his replacement to hospital for suspected concussion. Which one is better? Which one would you pick? I guess what I’m trying to say it that Joe and his backroom team have asked those questions for each and every position – from the full deck of available, and fit IQ players . And that’s good enough for me.

    I would however rank things slightly differently > Ireland first, club second, province third. I’m kind of weird like that.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 20, 2014

      I’d rank them all the same, Ireland=Province=Club. None of them play at the same time so they aren’t in competition with one another, no reason you cant have your cake and eat it.

  10. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  March 20, 2014

    I’m not sure I understand your logic. Are you saying:
    – it is ok to accuse Gatland of being biased in favour of Welsh players because it doesn’t matter if the Lions win or not
    – it isn’t ok to accuse Schmidt of being biased in favour of Leinster players because it does matter if Ireland win or not

    In both cases I think the approach of the coaches has been exactly the same. They wanted to win, and would pick however they thought would give them the best chance of winning. If that meant favouring players with whom they were familiar and who they believed could best execute their gameplan, then so be it.

    A fans perception of the importance of the game, or if a player will be upset if left out doesn’t change the attitude of coach.

    I think trying to come up with a convoluted justification of why Munster whining about Schmidt is silly but Irish whining about Gatland wasn’t silly really just shows how silly the Irish whining actually was.

    Anyway, from my Ulster perspective I’ve always disliked the whining from the north about the number of Ulster players selected for Ireland, so my attitude is “oh the ironing…” when the noise appears to have shifted to the south .

    I’m just waiting for the first comment about a quota system to justify the Munster players who have been selected. 😉

    • It’s more to do with outcomes. I think it’s ok to give out about a selection before a match, but if it produces the desired outcome you have to say ‘fair enough’. But it’s ok to still be annoyed with Gatland, because even though the outcome was a good one, we don’t really care as much!

  11. curates_egg

     /  March 20, 2014

    Leamy is one thing but it is Penney’s snide digging away since the outset of Schmidt’s Ireland tenure (actually before) that has been really petty and pointless. Stirring unnecessary crap, which a certain type of fan loves. While I think he is a good coach, who Munster are losing, Penney seems like a petty, spiteful man. Sayonara brah. Don’t let the door hit you.

    It is sad that there seem to be plenty of joyless Munster fans out there that are now seeking every opportunity not to enjoy our success. If you have a chip on your shoulder that big that it prevents you enjoying Ireland winning a championship in Paris, I would suggest you would probably get more enjoyment out of NOT following the sport.

    Thankfully, the players who have been involved in the squad don’t seem to be buying into the guff at all.

    PS Can you please stop talking about the Lions. The last tour is only just over. Can we please enjoy some real, meaningful rugby for a couple of years before that annoyance again?

    • Hansie Macdermot

       /  March 20, 2014

      Agree 100% – Well said.

    • connachtexile

       /  March 20, 2014


    • “It is sad that there seem to be plenty of joyless Munster fans out there that are now seeking every opportunity not to enjoy our success. If you have a chip on your shoulder that big that it prevents you enjoying Ireland winning a championship in Paris, I would suggest you would probably get more enjoyment out of NOT following the sport.”

      If that is true of anyone – and I can’t say I’ve met anyone who does feel that way, though I live in Belfast, where everyone seems pretty happy about things – then they are not a rugby fan, not a sports fan, not a fan necessarily of anything other than having something to crow at their neighbours about.

    • Vin Scott

       /  March 21, 2014

      Jesus Curates, precious much? 14 of the winning 23 last Saturday were from Leinster and 11 or so of those are likely starters in the Aviva. Big bloody deal.

      Penney’s never been shy to press the case for his players getting selected and in that interview said while some might be hurting not being involved it’s no good being bitter about it, just have to go out and prove themselves in front of Joe. How very dare he…..

      I think you’d find most genuine Munster fans recognise we’ve only halted the slide very recently and are some way off being bullish about national selection. Joe’s won us a 6N and poor Denis made a fool of himself but don’t get too joyless over it. Always Ireland first, province second for me but with Europe coming back from the brink it looks like we’re all on the up and up at the moment. Chillax!

      • I’m pretty sure the internet reached peak levels of precious with that comment from Curate’s Egg alright.

      • curates_egg

         /  March 24, 2014

        Vin, it’s a pity that you aren’t representative of all Munster fans. Although, no doubt, and I hope, you are representative of the majority. There are plenty out there though, whether in the pub on comment forums or wherever that just want to dump on, what is, a massive achievement…because “their players” weren’t picked. Really sad for them.

        I note that the ever-increasingly unedifying and petty Penney trotted out the same line again at the weekend by the way.

        • Vin Scott

           /  March 26, 2014

          Pheck em, we all have our own version of the in laws to deal with.(insert cousin-related joke here). Anyone who’s a true fan can see out of both eyes and it’s not like we were overflowing with grievences anyway. Squabbling over a bench spot doesn’t really get the blood up for me.

          Re Penney, honestly believe he’s on the wind up there so wouldn’t take it seriously. Can’t ever say the guy struck me as petty despite all the political sh&te he’s endured down under (and partially up here). Sad to see him go but such is life.

  12. TJ Hooker

     /  March 20, 2014

    From Munster’s point of view this seems to come down to three players – D. Ryan, O’Donnell, and Zebo.

    Ryan is not long back from injury and Toner has done a good job, making our lineout foolproof and being involved around the park. Ryan offers a decent option, but is a bit POC-lite. And did Tuohy not deserve his place before his injury? And is Henderson not a better bench option with his whole career ahead of him (Ryan being 30 or so)?

    O’Donnell has had injury troubles too this season, and I don’t think anyone is claiming he should have got in ahead of Henry. So again, it is a bench issue; he did feature as a sub in at least one of the matches, and for others he dropped out in favour of fringe Leinster players. Maybe this was Schmidt’s way of widening his options in a Championship where he rarely deviated from the same starting team.

    And then there was Zeebs, definitely Munster’s best claim on a starting place. Since his return from injury he has been scoring tries and looking lively as ever. Personally I was a bit surprised that he wasn’t brought into the squad for the last couple of games, having proved fitness and form, but obviously Schmidt sees something that gives him pause. Is it discipline-related, attitude, or a genuine belief that Zeebs is lacking some characteristic that Schmidt likes in a winger? We don’t know at this stage. Zebo needs to cut out the off-field nonsense that he engaged in last year if he is serious about playing for Ireland (perhaps he already has). After that, he needs to continue turning in top-class performances (he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the next few weeks) so that Schmidt can’t continue to ignore him.

    • Schmidt made a point of praising Donncha Ryan’s contribution to squad training in the highest terms. As far as I am aware of, Zebo and Luke Fitz were among those asked to put our backline defence through their paces in the run-up to the Paris match. That would indicate, that Munster’s golden boy is in the mix and will get his chance eventually. Certainly he has talent to burn and I for one would love to see him turn it on in the green jersey.

      • rachel685

         /  March 20, 2014

        Schmidt also brought Earls and Johne Murphy in to train with the squad before France – Murphy was interviewed on Brian Moore’s TalkSport programme about it. He actually told Moore that when he and Earls got into the car to go home, they remarked that as much as they hate to say it, they understand now why Leinster were so successful when he was the coach.

        I think what’s especially odd about the accusations against Schmidt is that he himself is so open about his thought processes – much, much more so than previous coaches have been. Of course he is not going to say to the press exactly what homework he’s given players like Zebo – quite rightly – but he is as honest as he can/should be about why he’s made certain choices and by all accounts is very direct with players about what they need to do to compete for starting places. The coaches have said they’ve looked at 50-60 different players in great detail, for example, so it’s pretty safe to assuming they’re not ignoring anyone. And yet these conspiracy theories keep flourishing…

        • Great post Rachel, the second paragraph is a really pertinent point.

          • Junior

             /  March 20, 2014

            Totally agree. Put much more eloquently than me, but same idea

        • Very well said. And the Trimble selection is clear evidence of this approach. Schmidt has even spoken with DOC. That would never have happened before. Whilst I think the selection of Madigan ahead of PJ was questionable, I am certain that Joe had all the facts (injuries, niggles etc) and no way do I believe that it had anything to do with provincial bias.

  13. While I completely agree with the just of the piece, I’d have a lot of reservations about saying ‘Besides, Ireland are champions, so the head coach’s decisions are vindicated, whether or not they were popular beforehand.’

    Does winning vindicate any selection? Not for me certainly.
    Just because we won the 6N doesn’t mean every selection Schmidt made was correct, just like because the Lions won the tour, means every selection Gatland made was vindicated.

    Sport is not a zero sum game, and coaches should be critiqued fairly.

    To take that the nth degree, and obviously I’m being facetious here before anyone starts, but it’s similar to saying ‘well I drove home drunk, but I got home ok, so my decision was vindicated!’

    • Well, the issue is more this: we can only judge Schmidt on the outcomes of his selections, and they were good enough to win the championship. Had he picked Zebo, or O’Donnell, or whoever, we might have won the championship, or we might not. It’s pointless to say, because we only have the evidence of the five matches, not a parallel universe in which O’Donnell was picked ahead of Murphy.

      If he was showing bias towards certain players, he must have made some calls that were logically wrong. So either he got things wrong or he didn’t. We don’t have a history of winning many Six Nations championships, so in order to win one I’d argue that the coach has to get a lot of things right. The thought process of ‘Oh, we only scraped the cahmpionship on points difference, we still could have done better by selecting x or y’ doesn’t really hold up, because winning the championship is really hard. Heck, we won one match last year!

      • Bobby T

         /  March 20, 2014

        Have you guys ever read a comment and said….fair enough maybe we didn’t think about it that way?
        Did Schmidt get it ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ in the three games v Scotland, Wales and England so?..because we didn’t win the triple crown (which even EOS used to win with relative ease).

      • No sorry that’s just a way too simplistic view of things for me, bordering on disingenuous. Saying either his selections were correct because he won, or wrong because we lost is just plainly incorrect. These two things are related, but still mutually exclusive.

        Are you of the opinion then that all selections that win are just blanket correct?

        Or are you purposely not understanding my fairly obvious point?

        Basically, you can get things right and lose, or get your selection wrong and win.
        Winning, however, does not fully vindicate the choices made.

        For a rugby blog based on analysis to say ‘it’s pointless to speculate’ on selection and the outcomes from selection is a bit rich no?!

        • I think you misunderstand us a little. I think if you disagree with the coach on some issues that’s fine, but if the caoch’s decisions result in our second championship in, what, 40 years, then you have to take it on the chin and say ‘well, I thought that looked a dodgy call, but turns out to have worked’.

          • No, no misunderstanding as far as I’m concerned!
            You’ve said ‘Ireland are champions, so the head coach’s decisions are vindicated’.

            That, for me, is incorrect.

            You’re outlook is far too rigid for a nuanced issue. Again, just because we’ve won the championship, doesn’t mean the selections were correct, just like if we had lost on Sat, it didn’t mean the selection was wrong. They’re related, but not mutually exclusive entities!

            Selection vindication is based more on the specific merits of the players involved, not a blanket issue defined by whether or not the team wins.

          • Sure, I take that point. I mean, we could go over every single selection call, and argue the merits of each. And sure, who knows – because we will never know – if Simon Zebo or whoever was picked, maybe we’d have beaten France by two scores and been able to enjoy the last 10 minutes.

            But to look at things somewhat broadly, we have to say that Schmidt’s style of selection – picking players he trusted to implement his gameplan, in some cases ahead of more celebrateed players – was vindicated. If we’re going to accuse him of showing something as cackhanded and destructive as provincial bias, the onus is on the accusers to point out where he got it wrong.

    • Junior

       /  March 20, 2014

      Debate is certainly healthy, and in the specific case of instant success vs. player development, entirely warranted . It’s one that could go either way. I think what’s important to note in all of this that the issue is not whether Joe has bias or not, it’s whether we do? So what if he does? He cannot, and should not, concern himself with the “perceptions” of his selections. His single concern is to develop a squad of players that can get the best out of their collective selves, irrespective of the Province or Club they play for. Our concern, as Ireland rugby supporters, is to get behind his squad – provincial bias or not.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 20, 2014

      I agree with Oval here, sport is not a zero sum game and while Leamys point was pure provincialism, there are still legitimate questions to be directed Schmidts way, in spite of the win. Did we get the full use of our player base in the way say Lancaster has(look at how he has utterly transformed that team whilst still remaining competitive). Was our style of play anything to write home about etc etc. Performance review has to be constant, the 6 nations win is in the rear view mirror, I’m sure Schmidt was the first one to analyse his and his teams performance, there is no reason for everyone else not to.

      • ruckinhell

         /  March 20, 2014

        A big plus one to both Oval Digest and LL on the above comments.

        Interesting that the first reaction of POC when interviewed on Saturday was not to go all gushy over victory but to criticise his side for their lack of intensity and killer instinct in the last ten minutes. If the players have that kind of self analysis, even minutes after winning the Championship, why shouldn’t the rugby public?

        • Absolutely. And did we not raise that very issue ourselves? Schmidt made the very point last night on Second Captains that they would have to continually improve. But analysing how we could have done better is a far cry from accusing the head coach of naked provincialism, is it not? It’s a pretty destructive thing to accuse him of, no?

          • Just to be 100% clear, I’m not accusing Schmidt of anything like that. In fact the opposite, but my issue is that there’s middle ground between criticising the coach for ‘naked provincialism’ and saying all of his selections were vindicated merely because they won/not vindicated because they lost!

      • I thought our style of play was incredibly intelligent (e.g. v Wales) hugely effective and was better to watch than any of the other teams. The Kearney and Sexton tries were the 2 best of the championship – how often do you see scores like those these days?

        • Leinsterlion

           /  March 21, 2014

          Far too much aimless or poor kicking imo. Cost us against England and nearly cost us against France, repeat that against any of the SH teams or a well coached French team for that matter and we would get murdered.

  14. contraflow

     /  March 20, 2014

    Agree WOC on your Lions sentiments. It has lost its gloss for sure. I didn’t watch any of the tests live this summer. This is the first time since 1992 that this has been the case. Many for my die hard rugby friends also didn’t bother with it.

    This is a generalisation but I have noticed the more hardcore fans have drifted away from the Lions while more social fans remain hooked on the Lions. Don’t know if anyone else has noticed or agrees with this?

    Why the Lions needs to go:
    1. Massive financial hand-out to SH country every 12 yrs, thereby we fund their domination of NH *facepalm*
    2. Players crocked for season following tour meaning France generally win the title e.g. this yr’s French rabble almost won it again.
    3. Media hype surrounding tour is suffocating and irritating.
    4. Result of tour already a foregone conclusion, will BNZ win 3 – 0 or 2 – 1? Lions just about beat a really crap Aussie team and have no chance of beating SA or BNZ. Marrying 4 countries into 1 in 6 wks is asking for miracles, so once again the NH organises itself in such a way as to maximise the chance of defeat thereby solidifying the status quo of SH superiority to NH inferiority.

    All of the above will ensure the Lions will ultimately come to an end.

    • LumberingForward

       /  March 20, 2014

      I agree with most of the above points but don’t think any of them mean the lions will come to an end. As you say, the social fans love it, and there’s many more of them than there are jaded die hards. Also South Africa were absolutely beatable in 2009, a few selections and individual performances ended up tipping the balance but the first two tests were close.

      While the deal whereby the Southern Hemisphere hosts get the lions’ share of the profits, despite spending far less, has been a big source of frustration I think it’s up for renewal soon and I would have thought the Lions and the NH unions will be pretty aggressive come negotiation time. SANZAR need the lions and their money much more than the lions nations themselves do.

      I lost most of the enthusiasm I had for the lions after last summer, but it’s still in its infancy as a commercial product, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

  15. I really don’t like this idea that victory vindicates the coach’s every decision – because it doesn’t. I said it back after the third Lions test last year, and it’s still true now. If Schmidt had decided to play Barney the dinosaur at full back against France, and we won – not taking Barney’s performance into account – does that vindicate his decision? Of course it doesn’t. It’d be an idiotic decision regardless of the victory.

    Much like I thought that picking Davies of O’Driscoll wasn’t the right call, perhaps many fans (Munster or not) think that picking Trimble over Zebo wasn’t the correct call, for example. As it happens, Trimble played a blinder. That vindicates Schmidt’s decision. Victory doesn’t – which is an important distinction that sometimes gets lost.

    • Trimble played a blinder vindicates his decision, but winning doesn’t? I don’t really get that. Is winning not the overall objective and the players having blinders feeds into that? If enough of his selection calls play blinders, Ireland will win.

      • It all adds up, that’s true – it’s a team game after all (nothing like this Irish 6N to prove that). I’m just not comfortable with this idea that victory means that every decision is correct. Players are liable for individual mistakes or brain farts – and their mistakes after a game are no doubt still held up for analysis – even if the team won the game. Kearney’s decision late in the French game was a poor decision – but we got away with it and won. That doesn’t mean it was the right decision. In the same way, I think coaches are also liable for individual mistakes as well – and selection of players in individual positions is an example of that. If they don’t make the right call – we shouldn’t simply accept that “we won” means it’s ok.

        It’s not quite the same for a coach as the players, but it’s similar enough to warrant questions even in victory.

        • Yeah, I think you make some good points. Schmidt admitted that he doubts his decisions every day, and that’s part of rugby, and that there are lots of things you can’t necssarily control. But if you’re going to accuse him of naked provincial bias, I think the onus is there to show how this manifested itself in him getting something wrong.

          • Completely agree. Most of the provincial stuff at the moment simply comes from people wanting “their own” players involved, not logic or reasonable debate. I personally don’t think he’s biased, myself.

      • I should probably qualify – I don’t disagree with Schmidt’s decisions. Merely Devil’s Advocate that applies to all coaches, not just this specific instance.

  16. Declan

     /  March 20, 2014

    Friends, gather around and hear my shame. Oh province over country. Oh how we look down on those poor afflicted souls who dare to question a selection call. Tut tut to those who cannot see how a coach would pick a player over a player we ‘knew’ was better.
    Yes I am one of those. True this was before the ‘enlightenment’ (joe schmidt’s Ireland’s reign). I suffered, like all Leinster supporters (well not really but stay with me) over decie kidney’s Irish traveling Munster show. But that’s all changed now.
    Oh yes I was the gonshite screaming at off the ball on the radio and asking why Gerry T won’t/can’t critique kidney, why won’t anyone anywhere in Munster call POC for kicking a guy in the head and then as if by magic no citing after ? All the times that Peter o Mahony played Leinster and he never got the better of Jenno? Not once! Jenno!
    But those things arnt the issue. No. What’s the issue here is that as an Ireland and Leinster fan I miss being wronged. I miss the I told you so looks at the pub when there’s a match on the telly and Keet ignores another two man overlap. I miss offering my munster friends a bet on how many times Paul o Connell will knock on this game. I miss cheering loudly when ROG flies backwards out of a tackle.
    So when it comes to provincial bias please let me be the one to launch the ‘Bring back KIDNEY’ campaign.
    Basically unless your downtrodden you cannot rise.
    By the way this is what professional rugby is. A local team with local guys you want to do well. Yes pour scorn if you must, it only makes us stronger…

  17. Munstermicko

     /  March 20, 2014

    Listen here ye

    The recent piece by Former Ligind is credible with regard to the selection bias.

    This was the same man who declared in the same piece of text cover toilet paper before Christmas that his gangsta trouser wearing former rival for the Green number 8 jersey and 5 time test lion should be left out of Irelands plans for the 2015 world cup only before Christmas.

  18. Mike

     /  March 20, 2014

    JS does have a Leinster bias. No doubt. But…. Its not a bad thing. In fact, its a good thing. He seen them succeed and knows what they are capable of and can sculpt a game plan around them in the most efficient manor. As time passes and he learns a bit more about the other players, they will integrate more and more into the squad. That’s just natural human behavior and good management. How many times does a new football manager buy players he has managed before?

    Munster fans just need to stop taking it personally. It isn’t a sleight on them, or the reenactment of some historical injustice. JS just thinks that Kearney will do a better job for the team (note the word team).

    As for Zebo. I’m expecting a lot of grief here, but is he really THAT good? Not saying he is a bad player (he is definitely a good player), but the way some of the chat goes, you’d think he is Christian Cullen.

    He has a bit of gas, a reasonable left peg and is a decent finisher, but other than that? He has always struck me as being a bit skinny for starters. Doesn’t make the hard yards, and is unlikely to stop someone from a couple of yards out as Trimble/Bowe/Fitzy would. He’s not much use in a ruck situation and i cant recall him holding up a player to start a maul. His alleged off the pitch antics also strike me as the sort of thing that JS would hate.

    Again, not a bad player, but personally speaking, id take Bowe/Fitzgerald/Trimble and possibly Earls ahead of him.

    • KM

       /  March 20, 2014

      I have to agree Mike. While talented, Zeebs is competing against top class wingers for that irish jersey. So assuming they have roughly equal talent, his antics definitely relegate him behind Bowe/Fitzgerald/Trimble for sure. I get the feeling that JS is trying to enact a “no dick-heads policy” that is working well for Larkham’s Brumbies.

      I’m sure he will get his business in order but he would want to get his skates on. The guy just LOVES scoring tries and that predatory instinct would be nice to have around.

      • Paddy o

         /  March 20, 2014

        That policy was first seen by me with Paul Roos’ Sydney Swans, during kennely’s afl stint. They also had a term for a short period in the game during which they ramped up to there best stuff – Bloods footy. Worked well for them. Winning helps gimmicky things to get legs too though!

      • Capable and all as Dave Kearney is, he has at no point in his entire career earned the distinction of being a top class winger.

  19. Derek

     /  March 20, 2014

    In praising the turnaround from last year, we need to bear in mind there was an almost similar turnaround from O’Sullivan to Kidney in 2008/09. Comparing the last 6N for both: EOS was 2/5, 4 table points, game points +9. Kidney was 1/5, 3 table points, game points -9. Not a huge difference I’d argue.

    The arrival of a new coach, boss, chief, whatever, will always give a bounce as (s)he brings more excitement, knowledge, ideas etc to a jaded bunch. I think Joe Schmidt’s big 6N test will be next 2015. And I actually believe he will pass it with flying colours because he has proved he can deliver sustained quality.

    Meanwhile, it’s everyone’s right to be able to disagree with selections, regardless of the ultimate result. It’s part of the game.

    As for the Munster thing, I like to think most Munster fans are Irish fans first. Not all of us, in fact the minority, think like Leamy. I would have liked to see Zebo on the bench, but would he have been as effective as McFadden in the Paris endgame? I doubt it. Ryan wasn’t match fit, but anyway, Toner was a revelation and was almost undroppable. The only jarring one was O’Donnell being dropped for Murphy, but probably because that one was never really explained. Apart from that, we have little to moan about and much to celebrate.

    Roll on Argentina, I say!

  20. Junior

     /  March 20, 2014

    This is not the 1980s lads. The days of the provincially-skewed selection committees are gone. We have a professional game, where coaches live and die by their selections (and ultimately results). It clear that over his career, Joe has got a lot more of his selections right than he has wrong. Here’s one for you – he could have picked Bowe over Trimble for the France game. But…but….. provincial bias I hear you say….nonsense. He picks the best man for the job. End. Of. Story.

  21. TJ Hooker

     /  March 20, 2014

    All the Munster folk are missing the point. Schmidt doesn’t have an anti-Munster bias, but he most definitely has a marked and despicable anti-Tipperary bias (Ryan, O’Donnell, Leamy).

    • Derek

       /  March 20, 2014

      Hah! He must have some Cork blood in him 😉

  22. By the way I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we hate the Lions or some such. We really enjoy the Lions, even if the coverage can be hyperbolic and exhausting, but for us anyway, it doesn’t have the same emotional investment as watching Ireland, or our provincial teams.

    This is a personal thing, and we understand that not everybody shares that. But if you – and be honest – experienced the same sense of elation when the Welsh Lions won the third test this summer as on saturday’s Six Nation’s win, well, we’d be very surprised, and we’d like to hear from you.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  March 20, 2014

      I’d be amazed if anybody who follows this blog takes issue with that statement. I think the issue was more the ‘who gives two hoots if the Lions won or lost’ from the original post – which I suspect was meant to be taken in context & not quite so literally. I don’t necessarily agree with the ‘real rugby men don’t like the Lions any more’ argument but I can see that there are challenges ahead. The lack of respect shown by the Aussies in their early tour selections last year (basically treating the tour as one big ATM) discredited the whole concept greatly. And 2005 was a catastrophe. And we lost in 2009 too!! But for all that….

      BTW is it only me or does everybody here seem a little exercised & irritable again – five days after glory!! Dread to think what might have been ;-(0)

    • Stop it. Bap, bap, bap. Stop it now.

      Please no more talk of lions until after the world cup at the very earliest.

      I left your blog for a couple of months because of it and it is only just over. Leave the zombie go and focus on the meaningful 18 months ahead.

      • Curates, just while you’re here, curious to know who do you think would be on the Lions team if the squad was picked right now? I think it’s REALLY IMPORTANT we decide on a theoretical LIONS TEAM. Or should that be TEAM LIONS. I’d have O’Driscoll as my 13. You?

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  March 21, 2014

        And the coach Curates? Has to be Schmidt no? Surely not Gatland? Do you think there’s a risk Schmidt would bring 45 Leinster players? Drico as player / backs coach? Dr. James Robson has to go though. By which I mean dropped. So really I mean Dr James Robson has to not go. IMHO.

  23. Hansie Macdermot

     /  March 20, 2014

    Very fair point WOC.

  24. On the Lions issue, waited 16 years to see a second lions series win,happy but not emotional. waited 5 years for another championship-seriously emotional day!

    On Leamy, i often felt Ireland under performed for years on the international stage and worried the provincial bias was a factor. When a key member of the squad comes out with that i feel it was possibly/probably true. Kearney ’09 airing session hopefully has ended all that. But the “Golden Generation”(GT TM) missed out because of it.

    On Penney: trying to motivate his players for a big one off performance, old school munster early AIL style when they felt they weren’t getting a fair crack internationally.

    On schmidt: his self deprecating manner on second captains where he admits how much he doubts himself indicates how much he thinks about every game plan and every selection. Provincialism not entering his head. You can be sure that Zebo has been clearly told what he needs to do to be selected as i’m sure Trimble was told in November when he wasn’t picked.

  25. Greg Slattz

     /  March 20, 2014

    There was years (06-08) under Eddie O’Sullivan when we had 7 Munster forwards and Simon Easterby as our pack. Did Connacht/Leinster/Ulster fans bemoan the fact that maybe Muldoon/Jennings/Best were deserving of a start, of course they did but if they were honest they would also admit that the best Irish pack was being picked by the coach. Provincial bias can often be cyclical and the coach is picking a team to win. Nothing more. To suggest otherwise is a 9 sinister and very foolish. Trimble’s game at the minute is on a different level to Zebos/Gilroys/Earls

  26. topsy turvy

     /  March 20, 2014

    There’s two things going on really isn’t there?
    1 – A loud minority seemingly led by Leamy are questioning selections based on provincialism. Well…so what. Let them off. There’s always one.
    2 – Some people are genuinely questioning selections based on personal beliefs of who our best players are. This is perfectly acceptable and is part of the enjoyment of being a fan. Everyone has an opinion and they are perfectly entitled to voice it.

    I thought at the time (as did others) that JS had made one or two safe selections for our “easier games” where there might have been a chance to build a bigger playing squad. I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong but not necessarily because we won the championship and more because of JS’s comments post 6N where he has given very good reasons for all of his selections and explained how he too thought they would use a bigger group of players but it just didn’t happen that way. I think most of his selections if not all of them were individually vindicated by performance in the end but I can see why people might want to question one or two of them too.

    Basically, I would listen to anyone who has an opinion until they start talking about provincial bias as I think that’s just a fools way of stirring the pot.

  27. …and the All-Ireland love-in of a successful 6N campaign is thrown out right on schedule: hours before a return to the Provinces!

    I have to say I’m delighted, the rest of the year would be mind-bendingly boring without a bit of interprovincial banter. The idea of a united front between now and October 2015 is all well and good, but let’s leave in the appropriate November/February-March windows where it belongs!

  28. Jlo

     /  March 21, 2014

    Something different Are Ulster playing in the Bermuda triangle ? cant find it tv or radio. Typical scottish rugby

  29. Jesper

     /  March 24, 2014

    What was the point of Jordi Murphy on the bench in Paris? It turned out that Henderson was covering both lock and back-row.

    The initial selection of Murphy on the bench for the English match was a strange one. Schmidt said that Murphy was rotated in because TOD needed game-time despite the fact that of the 2, TOD and started more matches and played more minutes in 2014. Fair enough, rotate the squad, broaden the player base, but it was a one-way street. Why not rotate Kilcoyne for McGrath? Is McGrath that much better?

  30. Jesper

     /  March 24, 2014

    And in relation to Zebo, my issue was how could he not make a 34 man squad that was already missing Luke, Earls, Gilroy and Bowe? The only time he was called up was as injury replacement for Felix Jones. Maybe JS sees him as full back cover only?

    • curates_egg

       /  March 25, 2014

      Your first question here is a good one…and one you should ask Zebo, who only has himself to blame by all accounts. It’s a pity, as he is depriving Irish rugby from his undeniable talents as a result.

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