Munster Centres Post #237 [Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V]

It didn’t take us long.  A post on Munster’s woes at centre.  Stop the clock.  Who said had their money on four weeks?  But yes, here we are. Fresh from Munster’s latest setback, losing at home to Ospreys, we can’t help ourselves.  It’s staring us and everyone else in the face, so we can’t avoid it.

For those who didn’t see the game, Denis Hurley and Ivan Dineen played centre as Munster laboured against a far more canny and penetrative Ospreys team.  Munster’s best player on show was South African wing van den Heever, whose quick feet were causing Ospreys trouble any time he got the ball.  Trouble was, the midfield offered nothing by way of go forward or distribution skills.  Dineen and Hurley are hard to differentiate from one another and have deeply un-complimentary skillset.  Dineen has the look of someone who will struggle to get another contract at Munster – mind you, he’s got an extension before on the back of doing very little. This time, judging by certain leaked documents, Frankie will need all his persuasive skills to justify giving Dineen soft MOTM awards, and will really earn his 15% if he keeps him around Thomond.

Hurley, on the other hand, has been a good servant for the province.  His switch to 12 has been long-mooted and is a worthwhile experiment.  He’s a big strong lad and has good offloading skills, which is a good start.  And his time at 15 means he’s got a decent kicking game too.  Sounds good on paper, but he’s effectively a like for like replacement for James Downey when what Munster are crying out for is someone who can pass the ball.

The first man to be replaced was the hapless Dineen, who got the hook for Will Chambers Andrew Smith.  Smith’s most notable contribution was to ignore a juicy looking overlap on the right wing and to take it into contact instead.  A phase later the ball was turned over.  It would leave a coach tearing his hair out.

Now for the important bit.  The bit you’ve all been waiting for.  The bit where we proclaim JJ Hanrahan the best thing since sliced bread.  Okay, maybe not quite, but we’re at least going to say he should be in the team.  In his staggeringly brief cameo (he came on for the last ten minutes) Munster offered more threat than they had done at any stage prior to this, and plenty of the good stuff was coming through JJ.

We’ve been pretty reticent to jump on the Hanrahan bandwagon, but purely due to realism. The same way we haven’t written Stu Olding into the Ireland RWC15 team yet – he’s got buckets of potential, but until he does something, let’s not be too presumptuous. Plus there’s over-the-top BS that almost forces us into the opposing position. Too much feverish hype from the usual quarters – the same ones that told us Danny Barnes was the best thing since etc.  Too much desire to make him fit a narrative as the next Golden-Thighed ROG.  But let’s face it, the kid is pretty talented.  Raw, for sure, but a real footballer.  Not quite Beauden Barrett; but then who is?  He’s a better player than they have in the team at the minute.

Why are Munster persisting with jobbing tradesmen at centre when they could be giving valuable matchtime to a far more talented player, one who could conceivable be the future of the province? He certainly has much much more to add than Dineen and Smith. Why was it left until the last 10 minutes to bring him on, when the game was crying out for him?  Axel Foley declared himself open to the idea of playing both Keatley and Hanrahan in a pre-season interview; so why hasn’t he given him more time on the pitch?  In his defence, Hanrahan was injured for the first two rounds, but saturday was the perfrct opportunity to give the partnership a look; for twenty minutes at least.

Now he finds himself staring down the barrel of Leinster and Danny Cipriani in the ERCC with the choice between persisting with his tried-ant-tested-but-pretty-moderate or chucking everything behind a second-five-eighth gameplan that’s as yet untried.  He’s a rookie coach, and his backroom team are all pretty rookie-ish too – Axel isn’t a guy who you would expect to shirk a decision, but there is a little extra pressure when the buck stops with you.

That said, Axel was trumpeted (not by himself) as heralding a “return to traditional Munster values” – and having rubbish centres is about as traditional Munster as you can get. Sorry, couldn’t help that.

Irving Chernev wrote that ‘chess is not a game for timid souls’ and the same holds true of rugby.  Axel must grasp the nettle.  Just pick the guy already, at 10, 12, 13 or wherever. Get him involved. Somehow.

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32 Comments

  1. ruckinhell

     /  September 29, 2014

    If I recall correctly both Hanrahan and Keatley are suffering from osteitis pubis which has badly affected their ability to train and play consistently (more below, an old but I still think current overview of their joint issues)

    http://www.thescore.ie/ian-keatley-munster-injury-management-1267930-Jan2014/

    The reticence to play Hanrahan might be linked to this- especially given the new O’Kiwi project player Bleedinhall (which is an apt moniker) got crocked before he even had a chance to kiss the crest and profess his bountiful well of pride and/or passion in the province. It’s probably wise to not overplay both guys so early in the season when we’ll need them both firing come business end of the year.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, Stuart McCloskey come on down. I’m not too proud a Munsterman to admit that I’d bite Nucifora’s hand off if he managed to convince the 3rd choice inside centre in Ulster to come south (which is what I had thought was his main role). He’s got amazing potential but is going to struggle to get gametime behind Marshall and Olding. I’ll happily throw in a Dave O’Callaghan who would add a lot to the Ulster backrow depth. Paging Mr. Nucifora!!!!

    • McCloskey was the only glint of light in an otherwise dire Ulster performance against the Zebras. I can still Ulster hoarding him as McCloskey does offer a bosh-factor they don’t get from their other centres.

    • Amiga500

       /  September 29, 2014

      I would agree to send you Luke Marshall down but keep McCloskey and Olding.

      • ruckinhell

         /  September 29, 2014

        Would take him in a heartbeat! I know he’s got his detractors but he’s still a hugely impressive young man (still only 23) and you’d be mad to get rid of him.

        Ulster has a serious amount of options at the moment in the centre and surely it’s situations like this that David Nucifora is meant to be addressing? Also spotted that Chris Farrell scored a try in Grenoble’s win over Montpellier this weekend, another big, skilful Ulster centre. Something in the water up North?

  2. Yossarian

     /  September 29, 2014

    Dineen at 27 really has to be cut adrift at this stage. I think the whole country is wondering how JJ is not involved every week at this point,i am assuming it has to be injury related because there is such a lack of quality there. There are not many Munster players the other provinces would genuinely fear playing these days. Murray(who had a poor outing)about the only one who started in the backs who Leinster or Ulster would be interested in.
    Munsters problems look to be more than just centre though.
    Anthony Foley to have his “joe schmidt” moment in the aviva?looks unlikely at this stage. A dig deep,whole hearted performance against a Leinster side who look very low on imagination expected on saturday.

    • connachtexile

       /  September 29, 2014

      Leinster haven’t exactly blown me away this season. Neither Fanning or McFadden were exactly world beaters this wknd. My first though when the young lad McGrath went over for his try was ‘Wow a Leinster winger who can score!’. Think MOC should be giving the likes of Adam Byrne or McGrath more gametime then maybe we might see more creative play coming back in. McFadden seems to be very rusty so far this season.

      • D6W

         /  September 29, 2014

        Fanning has had his chances, and has never really impressed. He is a bit like a big 2nd row put out on the wing. He has not demonstrate any pace, although he is a big presence. McFadden looked a bit rusty, but to be fair to him he was not given much ball to work with.

        I would like to see McFadden switched to other wing, and let McGrath, who has been excellent when he has come on, have a run on the left wing. From what I have seen, he has real out and out pace, something which strangely these days does not sem to be a pre-requisite for a winger.

        • connachtexile

           /  September 29, 2014

          Agreed.

          • aoifehamill

             /  September 29, 2014

            I agree. McGrath has been great every time he has come on. Fanning is ok but he never ever backs himself on the outside, always cuts inside. I’d be interested to see McGrath against some tougher opposition i.e. is he a very good Pro 12 winger or would he cut the mustard at heineken cup level?

            I thought McFadden looked pretty good on Friday (and not many of them did – god, they were awful).

      • Leinsterlion

         /  September 29, 2014

        Fanning is barely Pro12 class, an honest carthorse of a player, McFadden looks like he has stepped in cement over the summer, his crash/bang/wallop style of play maybe taking its toll?
        McGrath looks a step above what we have shown so far, he should start, however this is MOC we are talking about, he clearly has “his” men and he is sticking with them

        • Jimbob

           /  September 29, 2014

          Erm… I’m pretty sure it was MOC who brought McGrath in. It’s not like the lad won a raffle or something.

          • Amiga500

             /  September 29, 2014

            Can you give me a better reason for Isaac Boss being selected recently…?

            Must have won a raffle for X appearances per season at last years xmas do!

          • Jimbob

             /  September 29, 2014

            Boss must have pictures of MOC doing something sordid at that christmas party I reckon.

            I wasn’t defending MOC’s selection in any way, I just wanted to point out a flaw in Leinsterlion’s statement.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  September 30, 2014

            He didn’t bring in Gopperth and plays him, my point was, MOC has his men and he will pick them, if McGrath isn’t in the MOC camp, he won’t play. Simple.

    • jacothelad

       /  September 29, 2014

      As an Ulster fan I’d take Murray as a swap for all of Paul Marshall, Heaney, Michael Allen – a very good centre by the way – McComish, Stevenson and a few more. I’d also love to see V.D.H. and J.J.H in the same backs squad as Jackson, Olding, Marshall, Cave, Payne, Trimble, Bowe, McCloskey and O’Hagan.

  3. ShelbourneRd

     /  September 29, 2014

    Can anyone explain why Gerry didn’t mention Van de Heever in his article on Munster? He was the only positive for Munster from that match that I could make out.

    In addition Rhys Ruddock looked pure class on Friday, could play his way into the November internationals

    • Yeah – Ruddock is very close. Major positive from Argentina

      • ShelbourneRd

         /  September 29, 2014

        Ruddock and McGrath were the only two from Leinster who came out well from Friday. I thought Madigan looked ok until his moment of Maddness which you kinda have to expect from him, genius tempered with craziness.

        Gopperth is not offering any more this season that last in terms of breaking the gain line, it’s frustrating to watch.

  4. Sound Steve

     /  September 29, 2014

    I can see why Foley doesn’t want to play Hanrahan at 12.

    1. He only has two 10s at the moment. Playing both risks both getting injured which would be pretty unthinkable with Bleyendaal also out. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to start Jonny Holland at 10 in a big H-Cup game.

    2. Hanrahan is a serious prospect as a 10. Why try to shoehorn him in out of his best of position for the sake of a short term gain? The other school of thought is to do as England did with Wilkinson and Farrell and play him in the centres initially, taking some decision-making pressure off him while giving him top level exposure…

    • Leinster only have two 10s at the minute as well, and yet MOC has played them both for two weeks in a row.

      Again, there’s a lot of players who while initially and ultimately a 10 who have played at the centres, and I think Foley needs to throw caution to the wind (and possibly stop trying to make Dineen feel better after pretty damning feedback being leaked?) and throw JJ in there. Penney did it a few times last season and it worked out pretty well, and (as you mentioned) Messrs Contepomi, Carter, Wilkinson, Farrell and, more recently, Slade at Exeter seem to have survived/are thriving in a stint in the centres.

      • Sound Steve

         /  September 29, 2014

        Fair point re: Leinster and I agree Foley seems to playing Dineen to make amends for the comments in that excel!

      • It’s not really the same as Leinster, who have young talent out their ears in the 10/12 playmaker position in the shape of Cathal Marsh and Steve Crosbie. Munster’s equivalent in the depth chart, Johnny Holland, is injured, so if, say, Keatley went down injured, and then Hanrahan picked up a stinger replacing him, we’d be faced with Murray moving to 10, or one of Rory Scannell or David Johnston making their senior debut.. Hell, even Earls was mooted as an option at 10 at one point over the last couple of seasons. Maybe we could throw Zebo in there, he can kick. You can see why a coach would be hesitant.

        • Marsh and Crosbie are very inexperienced. If Leinster found themselves in a position where both Gopperth and Madigan got injured they’d be in just as much of a spot of bother.

          • No, they obviously wouldn’t be in as much of a spot of bother. Marsh and Crosbie are inexperienced but (a) there are two of them and (b) they’re both fit. Holland is one injured player. Marsh and Crosbie are also both better than Holland, who’s 23 and has less than 30 minutes game time for Munster; both have similarly small numbers of minutes at much younger ages, as well as more success at underage and A level. The equivalent situation would be if Isaac Boss or Eoin Reddan was Leinster’s next player in the depth chart at 10 and both Madigan and Gopperth were suffering from chronic injuries which needed constant management, in which case I suspect MOC might be a little more reticent about fielding both.

          • It’s a lot of hair-splitting really. Whether Boss or Marsh or Mike Ross was at fly-half, you can be assured it is not a position Matt O’Connnor would want to be in for an ERCC match. But is it not a case of balancing up the risk of injury to your best players against the benefit of playing them into form, getting the players used to patterns etc?

          • Yossarian

             /  September 29, 2014

            Big fan of Marsh and would love to see him get some starts this season but i wouldn’t fancy our chances in Europe with him just yet. Would like to see him start a few Rabo games with some decent personnel around him and not some week with all the internationals away as part of a callow side.

    • Point 1. seems a bit lily-livered for my taste. As we say, this is not a game for the timid! While I could tolerate such an argument for the first four games of the season, it would not pass muster for the next few matches. He will be putting what he considers his best team for the Leinster and ERCC games, and we will be disappointed if Hanrahan does not make the starting team for those.

      As for 2., rugby is played in the here and now and important things like winning the league and ERCC cannot be put off into the never-never. See point 1! He needs to get his best team on the pitch, and if that involves Hanrahan at 12 then he should put Hanrahan at 12.

  5. I can understand the reasons that Foley hasn’t yet started both Keatley and Hanrahan, most likely the well-documented struggles of both with osteitis pubis and a fear for our midfield defence. That said, we’ve been terminally lacking in direction in phase play in the games I’ve seen and have only been able to bring in our array of back-three talent on a sporadic basis. The remedy to both those problems would seem to be to have two players who can bring a bit of authority and distribution to the midfield. In the absence of options like Bleyendaal or Earls, shifting Keatley one out seems the most natural solution. It’s a gamble, but you have to gamble sometimes.

    On Hurley, I think he’s worth persisting with at 12, and if he was getting halfway decent ball with Smith or Earls outside him I suspect he’d look a damn sight better than he did on Saturday. Even then, he didn’t really do anything terribly wrong that I can recall, crashing it up well and acting as a useful second distributor for at least one back line move that I can remember offhand. He also got his hands free once in the Ospreys 22 and was just crying out for a support runner; if he can get his excellent offloading game going, he could be lethal with the likes of Earls and Zebo picking lines off him. Game-time in the position should also give him the confidence to exercise a bit more authority during phase play. The defensive problems seemed to arise from the lack of an organising presence at 13, where Dineen is willing but still callow at age 27, a bad sign.

    On Smith, he’s looked good in the last two games, notwithstanding the poor decision to put his head down when he had an overlap outside him (a Munster outside centre failing to pass, where have I read this script before?). Big, strong, fast, seemingly reasonable hands (although it’s early days on that front yet), and experienced enough at 13 to marshal the defensive line. I suspect he’ll do well for us.

    My first preference for Munster’s midfield next weekend would be 10. Hanrahan, 12. Keatley, and 13. Smith. Hurley would take one of the bench spots. My second preference and a more likely selection would be 10. Hanrahan, 12. Hurley, and 13. Smith, with Keatley on the bench to come on at 12 with twenty minutes left. The most likely selection, however, remains 10. Keatley, 12. Hurley, and 13. Smith, and JJ on the bench. And that could work out fine too, especially if Keatley does his now-patented bounce-back from bad form. The frustration is that he too often has bad form to bounce back from.

  6. In unrelated centre news, D’Arcy’s beard has been ruled out of the Leinster/Munster clash at the Aviva: http://www.thescore.ie/gordon-darcy-beard-1697080-Sep2014/

    It’s a dark day (again).

    • Dreadful news for Leinster fans. Darcy’s beard was man of the match on friday, giving a class performance only to be ruled out for the derby. What dastardly fortune!

      The only solution I can see is for Mick McGrath’s beard to be brought in to the team as a replacement.

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