What’s this ‘guile’ business all about?

The leaves are starting to turn brown and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for the annual bot of speculating as to what exactly ‘s midfield for the upcoming season will look like. With James Downey and Casey Laulala being moved on this summer, whatever happens this year it will be something new.

In their places arrive Tyler Bleyendaal, an intriguing Kiwi centre and Andrew Smith, a less celebrated signing who has the look of a classic journeyman, but in reality, a player about whom nobody really knows very much.

An interview with Axel Foley has added some intrigue to the mix. He describes Bleyendaal and Smith as adding a little ‘guile’ in midfield. These days coaches rarely talk about guile or skill, preferring to focus on physicality, and the contact warzone. So that’s a good start.

The real bit of interest is his declaration that he is open to the idea of squeezing both Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan into his team, implying a preference for a ‘second five-eighth’ type player at 12. It has been the long held belief of anyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain that Munster have oodles of dangerous runners out wide but lack distributors in midfield to get them moving onto the ball. Rob Penney’s desire to get the ball wide was reasonably well founded, but too often the passing skills weren’t up to it and the ball was just too slow in getting there. Even their better centres in recent times haven’t really had great distribution skills.

Everyone seems to be assuming without really thinking much about it that Foley’s appointment represents a – brace yourselves – ‘return to traditional Munster values’, but we have never really bought that line. This bit of idle chatter encourages us further that he will try to get Munster’s to play a relatively dynamic brand of rugby, hopefully unleashing his fastmen in the wide channels. Matt Giteaus’s brilliance for Toulon and even, erm, Gavin Henson’s fleeting greatness at the tail end of last season reminded us all of the value of the distributing 12. With Stuart ‘I’m Huge’ Olding being primed for a big season for Ulster, the Keatley-Hanrahan-Bleyendaal triumvirate at Munster and – dare we suggest it? – possibly Ian Madigan stepping into the role in Leinster, is the age of the second-five eighth upon us?

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24 Comments

  1. rugbygareth

     /  August 28, 2014

    If Ian Madigan moves into the “distributing” 12 position for Leinster and with the likely return next season of Jonny “All Hail the Return of the King” Sexton, this could signal a new era for Irish rugby!

  2. Cian

     /  August 28, 2014

    This Munster fan would love to see something like that. Keatley and Hanrahan played together effectively at times last season, albeit in unimportant games, and they really seemed enjoy interchanging at first receiver and mixing up the plays. There’s nothing better to watch than players carrying off ambitious plays with enthusiasm.

    From watching Bleyendaal with Canterbury over the past few weeks, I’m quite optimistic about what he can bring to Munster. He’s by no means an all-round top class outhalf, tending to look nervous at times and being a bit wobbly on kicking, but he’s very strong, takes the ball to the line, is creative with his distribution and has good hands. If he fits well into Foley & Co’s defensive system he could be a great option at 12.

  3. hulkinator

     /  August 28, 2014

    “With Stuart ‘I’m Huge’ Olding being primed for a big season for Ulster, the Keatley-Hanrahan-Bleyendaal triumvirate at Munster and – dare we suggest it? – possibly Ian Madigan stepping into the role in Leinster, is the age of the second-five eighth upon us?”

    I think Irish rugby is going in that direction. Kiwi Super rugby sides use second-five eights and they produce some of the best quality attacking rugby. As you say, Giteau has been an underrated cog in Toulons success.

    If you want to play a wide game then you need players who can get the ball wide with precision and pace. Bad passing means theres less space on the outside. In wet weather you’ve an extra kicker to gain territory. So it gives an insight into how wants to play Foley ie traditional fast paced Munster play with a bit more guile, width and the license to try things.

  4. Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

     /  August 28, 2014

    It is very interesting and something I’ve been thinking about a lot especially since England kind of overpowered us in February. With the strength and size of Top 14 squads nowadays it will begin to happend the provinces too. At times Munster/Leinster just couldn’t deal with Toulon’s power with or without the ball. So playing smarter and at a higher tempo is a needs must for Irish sides.

    Leinster did experiment with a second 5/8 2 seasons ago it was more Mads at 12 and Johnny at 10 I recall? Remember the Carlos Spencer and Dan Carter interchanging b/w 10-12 around 2003!

    Makes a lot of sense for Munster to get both Keatley who done very well in replacing Rog last year. I didn’t hear too many “..if only we had Rog…” comments last season which was a huge surprise and a huge complement to Keatley and JJ into the same side but defense maybe an issue?

    I’m a massive fan of JJ Hanrahan. He has mesmeric passing skills but hasn’t got much of a run at ten so far. Foley knows the player well so he’ll do well to have him in the side.

    Up in Ulster I’d love to see Bam Bam at 13 and Olding at 12! Imagine Bam Bams runs and off loads on an outside channel. He always seems isolated at 12 and his distribution isn’t bad but not international class either.

    Keats/JJ
    Jackson/Olding/Bam Bam
    Johnny/Mads

    I’m sure Joe Schidmt would love those combos?

    Those combinations really excite me and could go a long way to solving Munster’s and Ulsters problems of utilizing their back threes to the maximum also.

  5. rugbygareth

     /  August 28, 2014

    As an Ulster fan the one thing I am looking forward to this year is seeing if there is a change in how flat our back line play. Jackson has start to show some great ability when it comes to kicking for touch to walk Ulster up the field but one area I thought that we were let down in was the passing from hand at 10, we were too flat at times and even forward which meant there were numerous times when we looked to have a move on that ended up with us having to defend a scrum.

    Having not watched Munster and Leinster very closely last year I would not want to comment on them. But, from an international point of view, I would love to see a midfield combo of Johnny/Mads/Bam Bam run out in the November Internationals, give us a glimpse of what could happen, especially if you have the back three of Bowe/McFadden/Zebo there to make the runs.

    Just an idea of course!

    • JS, Mads, Olding is the combo I’d personally like to see given a go at some stage.

    • Thanks Gareth – I think it’s fair to say all of the provinces lacked a little creativity at centre last year and a changing of approach and personnel in each case may be no bad thing.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 28, 2014

        “I think it’s fair to say all of the provinces lacked a little creativity at centre last year and a changing of approach and personnel in each case may be no bad thing.”

        And off MOC goes and signs a league bosh merchant to play 12..

        • hulkinator

           /  August 28, 2014

          If Leinster were hoping for another innovative coach like Schmidt they got one who has a big rugby league and English coaching background.

          • Sound Steve

             /  August 29, 2014

            Schmidt of the Clermont three-quarter line of Joubert, Rougerie, Malzieu, Nalaga…? Can we just put the “Schmidt the purist” nonsense to bed once and for all?

          • hulkinator

             /  August 29, 2014

            Sound Steve, its about being innovative. Schmidt wasn’t head coach in Clermont so didnt pick the team. That’s one point. My main point is clermont played good quality attacking rugby under him. Look at all the other teams in France who are stacked with talent but fail to play to any decent standard.

            Nobody is saying Schmidt plays barbarian rugby and if anything he concentrates on the basics of the game mainly, like that ABs. The basics are handling, passing, work rate etc. English rugby has been traditionally about physicality. That’s something MOC might have picked up especially with his rugby league background and if so there’s a danger he is moving away from skill and towards size.

          • It’s not a question of being a purist. Schmidt is indeed the opposite, he’s a pragmatist.

            What he is hailed for is the clarity of his thinking, attention to detail, and ability to challenge his players.

    • Sound Steve

       /  August 29, 2014

      A Madigan/Olding or Madigan/Marshall centre combination is frankly terrifying from a defensive perspective

  6. With Regard to Ulster their new signing Ludik looked very competent last Friday night at 13′, with Cave, Marshall and Olding in contention it is going to be interesting.
    I don’t share the widely held enthusiasm for Payne in the centre , would far rather see him at 15 where he has been most effective for Ulster. There are also Allen and McCloskey hovering in the background too. Or could Scholes possible allow Bowe to be deployed into the centre.
    The permutations are endless at the moment but we will maybe see more after Saturday.
    I also think that Paddy Wallace now retired was unfortunate that they did not really use him at 12 until so late in his career. His early career was frustrating to watch Ashe obviously had talent but often found himself playing in positions that suited Ulster’s needs at the time but did not necessarily develop his talents.
    Having a utility or versatile player is great for a team /coach but can be v much to the detriment of the player.

  7. Sound Steve

     /  August 29, 2014

    Question: can anyone think of a 10 who successfully converted to 12?

    • BO’D’s conversion from 10 to 13 worked out quite well by all accounts.

    • D6W

       /  August 29, 2014

      MIke Gibson

    • Leinsterlion

       /  August 29, 2014

      Aaron Mauger is/was the best ten converted to twelve I can think of, quality player. Outside of that, no unqualified successes imo, but any of; Henson, McAllister, Giteau, Barkley, Flutey, Steyn have had extended runs of good form at 12 during their careers. You could throw Contepomi in there to give some extra numbers, but most players who mess around between 10/12 end up as Staunton/Gegarthy/P.Wallace type of players, ineffective in the long run, at either position.

      • Sound Steve

         /  September 1, 2014

        Agreed. Aaron Mauger is one of my favourite all-time centres but I guess I ‘m talking more about a player who started as a pro at 10 and received some recognition there before converting to 12 and making their name there. I know Mauger played 10 on occasion but to the best of my knowledge he was more a 12 who could slot in at 10 if need be than a converted 10..? Maybe Suttonians can take some credit here!

        Luke McAlister played 12 earlier in his career and to my eye never looks entirely comfortable at 10… I’d consider him a 12 converted to 10 rather than vice versa… Steyn and Giteau certainly aren’t converted 10s. Flutey is a decent shout, as is Contepomi, but even Flutey was more of a utility player who settled at 12… In theory, two 10s provides more width but there is the danger of being much too lateral.

  8. aird02

     /  August 29, 2014

    Mark McCall started his career at school and initially at Bangor as 10 before converting to 12 and playing there for Ireland.

  9. Stephen

     /  August 29, 2014

    Luke Marshall was also a 10 up until he came to Ulster, when he entered the midfield. Different levels though, I’d admit.

    Two playmakers on the pitch induces doubt in the opposition. Can only be a good thing. Jackson-Olding to do it at Ulster, Gopperth-Madigan at Leinster, then Keatley-Hanrahan at Munster. Each of those players is able to land a precise pass, as first receiver, at a moment’s notice (although I wish to feck Madigan would actually employ that ability more of the time).

  10. Lol everyone loves a second 5/8th atm, I even made a short post about the same topic in my preseason ramblings. Its a really attractive and exciting idea until it goes wrong! Defense as noted above will always be an issue, but Munster have in Keatley probably the best tackling and physical flyhalf in Ireland right now so they would seem best poised to try it out.

    • The trouble is the defensive side of things fo’ sho’. Kealtey’s a big strong boy and Madigan’s a good defender but there’s a whole lot of traffic coming down that 12 channel. Bruising No.8s and rampaging flankers, it’s a daunting role for the smaller man.

  11. Amiga500

     /  September 1, 2014

    Mike McComish was a schools cup 10 and he…. erm…. uhhh…. yeah… so… what about Donegal eh?

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