Daddy, or Chips? Or Both?

With our swollen injury list and a lack of convincing cause celebre in the provinces (who are largely playing like drains), there is a dearth of the traditional interprovincial bickering selection dilemmas. Ross vs Moore – Moore injured. Toner vs Henderson – Henderson injured. O’Brien vs Henry vs O’Mahony (a potentially delicious dilemma) – O’Brien injured. Sexton vs O’Connor – O’Connor injured. Zeebs vs Dave Kearney – Dave Kearney injured, Zeebs qualifies for next round of the bicker-off vs Craig Gilroy.

Which leaves us with but one biggun – centre. It looked like a straight shootout to wear the ICONIC NUMBER 13 JERSEY ™, but rumours are circulating that with Darcy sort-of carrying a knock, and Ireland already looking at fielding several players who are only recently recovered or less than 100% fit (Henry, Kearney and Ross spring to mid) that D’arcy won’t be risked and the possibility of both Henshaw and Payne playing together has been raised.

If so, it’s an unusual call.  Debuting one player in the midfield would be one thing; two at the same time, and possibly putting both into positions with which they are unfamiliar (if it is to be 12 Henshaw, 13 Payne) would be asking a lot of both.  Surely better to have Darcy’s experience alongside whichever is to be the chosen one?  If Payne were to play inside centre presumably it would to be to benefit from his distribution, with Henshaw outside him.  But that would be equally odd because Ireland have two options who are both playing well in that very role this season; Stuart Olding and Ian Madigan.  Why shoehorn Payne into the role when specialists are available?

Henshaw is a big chap whose best attributes are his athleticism. The bludgeon, they say. But it’s not that simple – it rarely is. Henshaw is skillful enough in space to have spent time at full-back and plenty of big centres have been more piano players than shifters – Yannick Jauzion or Shontayne Hape for example. Sorry, not the last one – but someone like Manu Tuilagi is less of a bosh merchant than Barnesy will have you believe.  We’ve no idea how Henshaw’s skills would transfer to 12, but he’s a strong tackler and a hard runner, so he has at least some of the attributes.

The outside centre is the key defensive link in the backline, and the reality is that both are relative newcomers to Ireland’s defensive system.  Schmidt will have some knowledge of how Payne fits in from Agent Kiss’ undercover role at Ravers and from recent training camps – the fact Payne is still in contention likely speaks to some degree of confidence from the brains trust (© Gerry) that he can do the job to some degree.

That said, it’s pretty obvious Payne has not fitted in easily at 13 for Ulster – if he had, there is probably a good chance he would be inked in already for Ireland. Peter O’Reilly made the point this weekend that playing outside Stuart McCloskey is hardly conducive to making much of an impact – we aren’t quite buying that one, but we do recognise that, without Ruan Pienaar, an already half-injured Wee PJ is standing miles behind Paul Marshall (to catch errant passes?) and the space outside is getting compressed. Payne outside Murray/Sexton is a much tastier proposition – and if Payne gets the space he routinely exploits from 15 for Ulster at 13, that’s excellent news. But will he?  Playing the Boks can be a suffocating experience.

One thing’s for sure, Payne’s birthplace won’t come into it.  Schmidt got visibly annoyed in the spring about having to field questions about picking naturalized foreigners like Robbie Diack and Rodney Ah Here  – he rightfully says that naturalization rules are what they are, and he will pick the best players available for Ireland. If it comes down to a cigarette paper between Payne and Henshaw, accent will not come into it. While a bias of commentators and fans towards the “real” Irishman are understandable, and as a nation we are still a bit queasy about the naturalisation laws, it won’t be a factor for the Milky Bar Kid.

We have been wavering all week – on Saturday, we were slightly in the Henshaw camp, but O’Reilly wrote a good piece extolling what Payne could bring to Ireland – it’s easy to forget in the blizzard of negative coverage of his Ulster 13 experience, possibly coloured by his sending off against Saracens, that he is a fantastic footballer, good enough to play underage for BNZ and shine as an attacking threat in Ulster teams containing Tommy Bowe, Paddy Wallace and Ruan Pienaar.

The first game is against the mighty Springboks, who have selected a centre partnership of Jean de Villiers (not his twin, who showed up at Munster) and Jan Serfontein – two excellent footballers and two big men. Are we going to bludgeon through them? Unlikely – we are waifs in comparison. Are we going to play around them? Possibly – but more likely with Payne. Can they bludgeon through us? Definitely – Henshaw minimises this risk. Can they play around us? Definitely – Serfontein is an excellent footballer with an eye for a gap who has long been tipped for Bok caps – that’s a risk no matter who plays.  Whatever way we set up the midfield, it’s a bloody hard game.  Are we about to get a curveball and find Henshaw and Payne thrown in together?  From this vantage point, it would make it all the harder.

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  1. O’Connor’s injury should bode well for Madigan I guess?

  2. Declan

     /  November 5, 2014

    ok I’ll bite- sexton v o’conner?

    • I think they’re jocularly referring to a certain ex-Ulster, Connacht and Jersey outhalf, known in the north as NOC and in the west as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

  3. curates_egg

     /  November 5, 2014

    The Boks have selected a full team. Our front row is hanging by a thread, we have no ball carriers and we are toying with starting a rookie midfield? It is hard to see how Paddy Power has the spread at under one score. Will be really interesting to see how this game is approached tactically, as we are clearly going to have to try and keep the Boks at bay by playing the game the way we want.

  4. The thoughts of playing 2 unproven centres together is pretty terrifying really. I hope the rumours about D’arcy are inaccurate. To build on curates post above, we have no ball carriers, but we also have no truly destructive tackler in the team either, we have plenty of jackals/ruck poachers but are we just going to leave it to Heaslip to rack up 20 odd tackles? Whilst I think POM is the more complete player I think we need to have a specialist 6 against SA – Ruddock or Diack should play for me. Both enjoy the tackle – Ruddock probably the more physical of the two so I’d plumb with him.

    Whatever about D’arcy’s attacking skills, he’s usually a very good tackler and reader of the game. A midfield that has never played together before, and hasn’t experienced test level intensity to any great degree is a recipe for disaster.

    If it were me I’d go with D’arcy and Henshaw – we need Henshaw’s physicality against SA. If D’arcy isn’t fit, then stick Madigan in at 12 – yes he’s a bit unpredictable but he’s a very solid tackler and at least has experience of playing outside Sexton and is a bit lippy so communication shouldn’t be a problem.

    Finally, Payne seems to prefer to soak tackles rather hit into them, thus giving away the gainline and getting stuck on the wrong side (if he manages to hang on – if he plays you can chalk him up for 3-4 missed tackles against SA in my opinion). I wouldn’t have him anywhere near the centre but that’s been discussed at length already!

    • Leinsterlion

       /  November 5, 2014

      Its games like this where you make your mark, Pauline has to step and be counted in the tackle and carry stakes, tight hard carries, none of this workshy Tom Croft shite. People say he does X, well do your job as a 6 and the rest will come, look at a prime Elsom or Ferris, they would relish this game, I hope he makes me eat my words, because if he doesnt we are going to struggle massively down a backrow(an area we are struggling for bulk in, as it is).

      • How does “Pauline” even make sense as a nickname? Surely you’d go with something closer to Peter. Patricia, maybe.

      • Kaboom! Bang to rights! Nailed it! We’re talking about the midfield but have a cut at the blindside anyway! And get in a needless dig at Tom Croft, who isn’t even playing because he’s English and injured while you’re at it! Kapow!

        In fact, if Ireland lose I say we pin it all on O’Mahony for simply not being Stephen Ferris. How dare he?!

        • Leinsterlion

           /  November 5, 2014

          In fairness I didnt bring it up, I merely saw my opportunity and grasped it.

          Digs at Tom Croft are never needless, and always warranted, when you are a blindside, and the first thing people think of when they hear your name isn’t someone getting cut in half, you know something is wrong 😉

      • osheaf01

         /  November 6, 2014

        I’m hoping Captain Fantastic makes me eat my words too, but I’m less hopeful of that…more “unseen work”, I’d say.

  5. Fetcher

     /  November 5, 2014

    Didn’t see O’Reilly’s comment about McCloskey, think that it’s quite unfair (much like his tweet about Duncan Williams recently) and your explanation of Marshall and PJ playing too deep as to why Payne hasn’t looked great makes sense.

    Any time I’ve seen McCloskey he’s looked excellent, nice hands and never seems to rush the pass; was hopeful he might be in the Irish squad but this season is probably one too soon for him.

  6. Due to injuries the team picks itself. The Henshaw-Payne-midfield-axis thing is a misleading IRFU plant swallowed by the Indo. This completely invented selectorial “option” will allow Gerry appear omniscient/the-inside-man when he announces the correct team in tomorrow morning’s Pravda. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, what?! 😉

  7. ArtVandelay

     /  November 5, 2014

    We need to get Oulding on the pitch as much as possible. If that means pushing Darse to 13, so be it.

    • Lop12

       /  November 6, 2014

      im a big fan of Olding but I think Toulon game showed up a potential defensive weak link. Next to another untested centre Id hold off on playing him for now, like to see him getting a cap in either or both the next two games though.

  8. Cian

     /  November 5, 2014

    Joe is a big fan of both D’Arcy and Madigan. I find it hard to imagine that he’s going to pass over one or both of them to select someone out of position at 12. I also find it hard to believe Payne or Henshaw could do a better job than the dependable D’arcy or the exciting, natural 2nd 5/8th Madigan. Even if Joe sees Madigan as the clear 2nd choice outhalf and needs him in reserve in case of injury to Sexton, Olding is another excellent player who actually knows how to be a 12. I think salmsonconnacht may be on the money about the mislead to the indo, or they could just be talking absolute shite, as they’re given to do.

    With Rory Best out, though, it could all be academic. That monstrous Bok pack could eat us alive at the set piece and in the tight. All of this actually makes me more excited about the game, as it’s the perfect opportunity for Schmidt to pull off a tactical masterclass.

  9. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  November 5, 2014

    Where injuries permit I think Joe needs to vary things a bit in this series. RWC a year away & this is last real opportunity. At centre I’d be happy if he tried:
    SA 12 D’Arcy (Madigan if injured), 13 Henshaw.
    Georgia 12 Olding, 13 Payne
    Aus. 12 Olding 13 Henshaw
    Madigan coming off bench in all three games at 10 or 12 as required.
    BTW I’d also consider starting Payne at FB against Australia.

  10. I agree, that without Best we’re in big trouble. Strauss is undercooked, while Nugget’s deficiencies in the throwing and hooking department mean for me that he is just not up to Test standard. If we win this match it’ll be a miracle. I actually expect us to lose, while hoping of course the opposite. The manner in which we lose, to what degree we actually compete in the various facets of the game, will probably the most interesting aspect, what with the Wallabies up in two weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cheika’s Oz are Schmidt’s real target this Autumn series, similar to how Rutchie’s ABs were last year. I also tend towards the opinion that the Payne/Henshaw smoke signals are spoofology. Ideally I’d go for Darce/Henshaw and if the former’s not available Olding at 12, ‘cos he is unquestionably Irelands in form player at the moment. I’d keep Madigan in reserve as cover for Sexbomb.

    • The smart money is on Darce/Henshaw. The talk out fo camp just leans me that little bit towards thinking they’re going to pick him. Payne alongside him just doesn’t make much sense, It doesn’t seem a very Joe selection at all.

      I too simply cannot see how we can win this game. The injury list is just too deep; even with everyone fir it would be a really hard game.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  November 6, 2014

        Gerry has spoken. Henshaw / Payne it is. First ‘eccentric’ selection of Joe’s international career? Hard to see the logic – although interesting nugget from GT about Henshaw playing at 12 for Connacht two weeks ago. Hope it works out obviously but doesn’t do much for the nerves!!

        • Unlike Gerry, I was at the Exeter game. Henshaw played at 12 because the all-too-regularly-crocked Dave McSharry was a late withdrawal. Henshaw did ok (most of the team played like drains), and was taken off after 40 minutes of what i would describe as Argos D’arcy. Bizarre selection, can’t decide which of Henshaw and Payne is being set up to fail.

  11. hulkinator

     /  November 5, 2014

    I would agree about Payne. If he can get a split second more time on the ball he could create some magic. Henshaw should be looking to run lines off him and vice versa because Henshaw is good at offloading too.

  12. Not a hope , Kearney weould need to be there to counter Israel folaus athleticism.

  13. A Darcy, Henshaw/Payne centre partnership is terrribly depressing. Darcy made his debut in 1999 and has scored a whopping 7 tries in 79 caps since. Great defender but spent as an attacking force since about 2008. Having said that I’d start him as a bit of solidity will be required seeing as his partner will be a guaranteed rookie. I’m a Connacht supporter and just don’t see the hype over Henshaw at centre…Like Payne he’s a much better 15. A decent defender at Pro 12 level but again he very rarely breaks the line and has quite a poor try record for such a hyped up and comer. I’ve seen nearly every Connacht match this year and the real success stories are Dennis Buckley, Marmion, and White..Robbie hasn’t stood out by any means. More than a touch of the David Moyes ‘I reckon he’ll be good because his predecessor said he’ll be good’ about this one. Hopefully he proves me wrong. Payne is a class act full back (far superior to RK in my opinion) but he hasn’t impressed me once (or anyone else in Ulster judging by the Whiff comment sections) in the centre, whoever has been inside him.

    Apart from Bowe, we’re a team chronically short on game breakers who can turn nothing into something (Luke Fitz, Healy, SOB, Ferris, Wallace, BOD). Full of honest players but not enough stardust. That’s why I’d like to accommodate Olding or Madigan, Payne at FB, and would be happy seeing Zebo/Gilroy at wing

    • Basically, it will be a bit like playing Heskey and Kevin Davies up front. Two good lads with certain qualities who’ll do you a job…but you’ll score sweet fuck all!

    • D’arcy’s try scoring rate is poor but surely he deserves credit for the fact that the guy outside him for most of those 79 caps is our record try scorer.

      • Yeah, I wouldn’t be too concerned by try scoring rates for inside centres. D’arcy is a different player to the autumn 2006 vintage but I think he’s still pretty good. I see no reason to be depressed as such, though as a nation we can always do with a bit more pace in the side for sure. Zebo and Bowe on the wings though, it’s not too shabby is it?

      • @eatmypoint No, Darcy deserves immense credit for incredible defence and hard yards over a 15 year career but I don’t think he deserves credit for Brian’s tries. It’s not as if he was a great distributing Mike Catt style 12 constantly putting BOD under the posts, or a Nonu/Jamie Roberts/Tuilagi 12 that bashed their way through giving BOD juicy offloads.

        Word is of a Henshaw Payne partnership. We’ve had a year to prepare for new centres and we get a 12 who’s played there once ever against Exeter, and a class 15 playing out of position at 13…jesus!

  14. Billy

     /  November 5, 2014

    Not quite sure where all the pessimism is coming from. Let’s not forget that we are 6N champions with much the same pack. I would argue that Best is a much greater loss than Healy as Cronin – due to his ability in the tight, where Cronin has never convinced me. Using the game two years ago as a yardstick, on paper we were in much worse shape; especially considering many now established names, such as Murray, Trimble, POM, Henderson, Henry, Zebo were very green at this point and we pushed them very hard.

    15-Simon Zebo, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Keith Earls, 12-Gordon D’Arcy (Ronan O’Gara 75), 11-Andrew Trimble (Fergus McFadden 58 mins), 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan 61); 1-Cian Healy (David Kilcoyne 45), 2-Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin 75), 3-Mike Ross (Michael Bent 70), 4-Mike McCarthy (Donncha O’Callaghan 70), 5-Donnacha Ryan, 6-Peter O’Mahony (Iain Henderson 70), 7-Chris Henry, 8-Jamie Heaslip (captain).

    South Africa have their injury issues too and are missing the outstanding Willem Alberts (MoM last time out, if memory serves) and Francois Louw in the back row among others. They have come on a lot in the last two years, particularly as an attacking force but then again, so have we, particularly in terms of set piece and tactics.

    In my opinion we have a decent shot if our set piece and tactical kicking game holds up as it did in the 6N (expect Hendricks to be targeted) and they show a bit of end-of-season fatigue as they have done in the past. There’s certainly no need to fear them.

  15. If the rumour is true I would imagine they’d be more likely to go Payne – Henshaw, no? Payne’s best moments for ulster come when he plays as a second pivot. Possibly joe could see him as the enabler from 12 rather than the breaker.

    If darcy is dodgy then no way should they risk him here. As much as I am an olding fan, the way Toulon were able to bounce him has me worried about his suitability for this particular game just yet. It really did feel like ulster got their selections at 12 for their 2 games a bit arseways or head over biscuit to quote the honey badger. Madigan is needed to cover from the bench, so all in all I’m not so sure this is a bluff selection.

    Would be a gamble, but alternatives are thin or not in camp. The much bigger worry is this tight head crisis or something which I hear we are having.

    • Stephen

       /  November 6, 2014

      Payne vs. de Villiers = a Volkswagen hippy van vs. a WW2 Tiger tank.

      I went to see Fury last week.

  16. curates_egg

     /  November 5, 2014

    Best out. Paddy Power spread looking even more tempting.
    In Cronin, we gain a decent carrier but lose all pretense of a set-piece. Can’t hook, won’t hook. Speaking of Hook, his 4 year old assessment of Cronin’s throwing and barn doors still sadly applies.

  17. I think your crazy about Cronins throwing , hes had good spells too , throwing is something thats judged way too harshly , people critisize best (who can be dodgy) without referencing the loss of Muller Tuohy and Henderson , thats a huge factor , Dunan casey has a great record for his throwing , but Paulie is calling the lineout there , and hes the the worl at that.
    I think it should all be talking with a pinch of salt , Cronin could very well throw superb on Saturday and he adds a ball carrying option that we’ll want and pace,The pessimism is strange I think , Ireland look in decent shape apart from the centres although If Henshaw and Payne start then there will be a huge injection in pace that hasnt been in our centres for a long time , I think Ireland will win, were at home were brilliant happy days

    • curates_egg

       /  November 5, 2014

      Missing your man is one thing; the problem with Cronin’s throwing is that it is very often crooked and that is only down to him (and not jumpers or callers). I obviously hope he sorts the throwing and hooking out for Saturday though. The throwing is all about concentration; the hooking about technique, so more difficult to just control.

      I think he is a great player though and love seeing him play for Leinster. If there are games where we don’t need to rely on the setpiece (or where the opposition doesn’t have one), he should start, as he brings so much around the pitch. If we need parity in the setpiece though, he is maybe not the best option (for Leinster or Ireland).

      • Pretty much in total agreement here curates, although the crooked throws are also sometimes the symptom of feeling heat from the opposition too. This is not what you would call the stereotypical game for wanting to start Cronin in. Not one bit. Especially when Ross is not seemingly at 100% either so the confidence in locking the scrum on your own ball is not what it would normally be. I know it was a poor Edinburgh performance at the RDS last week and you can’t particularly use it as a bench mark, but I did think Strauss looked in superb nick. Muscles on top of muscles. They could potentially do the typical Schmidt rotation and Cronin would start vs the wallabies. Maybe I’m not giving Cronin enough credit here-he has arguably been leinster’s best man this season and perhaps that is very unfair on Strauss to expect him to get up to this level so quickly. I do repeat though, the man is in serious shape, even beyond what he was before.

    • Seán Cronin is probably the in form centre in Irish rugby!!

  18. Hed be terrible in the centre in fairness , that call shouldve been made 7 or 8 years ago

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