How many is too many?

Ireland are in the unique position of welcoming back a number of world class players in one go after periods on the sideline of various length. It’s an unusual selection headache for the coaches as they ponder bringing some or all of their best players back into the team. The names themseleves – Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien – would enhance any line up in world rugby (except Bath of course), but with the rustiness and shortage of match-fitness that comes with a lengthy injury layoff, the question is: how many such players can be absorbed in the team at any point?

Word on the ground is Ireland are set to start three of this fab four, with the fourth, Cian Healy, starting on the bench. It looks about right. Jamie Heaslip is back from a relatively short period off the pitch; indeed he has played through his injury in recent weeks and by all accounts could have done so against Italy if he really had to. Heaslip is the glue that binds together any Irish backrow these days; such is his versatility he performs the role that is lacking among the two flankers picked either side of them. Playing alongside O’Brien and O’Mahony, he will probably be asked for a day in the trenches, shoring up the breakdown and clearing rucks.

Jonny Sexton is in a strange situation, where has has been forced to sit out through a build-up of concussion incidents. He hasn’t been ‘injured’ as such, so his fitness probably isn’t in question but he will likely be lacking a bit of his match sharpness, but his presence alone on the pitch is a huge fillip. He’s a must-pick and management will look to keep him on for as long as possible. Madigan looks set to deputise, showing that while Schmidt preferred Keatley’s ‘steady-eddie’ approach from the start, he sees Madigan as his best impact replacement, whose less structured style can be of best use late in matches.

Healy and O’Brien are different cases, having been missing for much longer. The O’Brien situation is complicated somewhat by Heaslip’s injury; having one backrow operating at less than 100% is one thing, but selecting two is surely one too many? It is likely it wouldn’t happen if Schmidt did not feel he could rely on Heaslip to come through 80 minutes. Another possibility is that he can get away with it because his second row replacement, Henderson covers the backrow as well as second row. If he absolutely has to finish with a backrow of Hendo, O’Mahony and Murphy, then it’s not the end of the world.

Murphy you say? Well, yes – O’Donnell is a better like-for-like starter on the openside, but Murphy covers more positions from the bench. Tough gig, but then, this is, as ever, an uber-competitive line. Speaking of the bench, we still can’t say we are fully comfortable with Felix Jones being there – Jones is a specialist full-back, while the alternatives (Earls or Fitzgerald) cover virtually the entire 3/4 line plus full-back. Against Italy, Jared Payne getting injured necessitated moving Tommy Bowe to centre and playing Jones out of position. He’s clearly a player Schmidt fancies, and it’s tough to argue with the results, but it has the whiff of Deccie selecting Paddy Wallace to cover the entire backline.

No other changes are likely – and we still think selecting Mike Ross is short-sighted. Did he justify his selection against Italy? Absolutely. Do we think picking Marty Mooradze is a better bet? Completely, in both the short term (as Leinster have proved) and the long term (looking forward to RWC15 and beyond). France, in their only change, have promoted the huge Racing Metro loosehead Eddy Ben Arous – it’s injury enforced, but Ben Arous for 50 minutes plus Debaty for another 10 or so is going to ensure Ross will need to have an equally effective day at the office.

The real good news for Ireland is that Afrique du Sud’s Rory Kockott and Scott Spedding keep their places – we’d feel a lot less confident if it was Morgan Parra and Brice Dulin in the team, and the arm-flapping Bad Ben Youngs impersonations of Kockott and howitzer boot of Spedding should be easier to deal with for Ireland. The only team to really knock Joe Schmidt’s Ireland out of their comfort zone in 2014 were the ultra-ambitious Wobblies when they kept the game fast and loose  – the intelligent Parra and unstructured Dulin would be much more worrying.

Based on the teamsheets, you’d fancy Ireland, but <insert cliche about France here>.

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55 Comments

  1. Das Waderwurst

     /  February 11, 2015

    Ross had a good day in the scrum last weekend, but have a bad feeling he’s going to be in trouble against France. Even if he does manage to hold his own at scrum time, his lack of mobility around the park is a massive concern, and is going to cause us problems at some stage if he continues to play. Props more than ever need to be able to make tackles and hit rucks, as well as performing in the set piece. An harsh but necessary decision needs to be made here I feel.

  2. Stephen

     /  February 11, 2015

    Haven’t seen the Italy game in full yet – creeping through it in 20-minute windows in work – but in addition to his decent scrum-holding-upping performance, he apparently did a decent amount of rucking work as well: http://www.the42.ie/analysis-ireland-italy-rucks-1931855-Feb2015/.

    That article obviously doesn’t speak to a lack of mobility in the tackling line etc, but worth noting . . .

    • Stephen

       /  February 11, 2015

      Sorry – “he” being Mike Ross.

    • Yossarian

       /  February 11, 2015

      Read article, doesn’t add up when you watch the first 10mins of the second half.

      • I would have tended towards Moore to start against France too, but Murray Kinsella’s analysis of ruck time v Italy (http://www.the42.ie/analysis-ireland-italy-rucks-1931855-Feb2015/) has forced me to reconsider. He describes Ross’ performance as “hugely impressive” and provides the stats to prove his case. Don’t quite understand your objection, Yossarian. Perhaps you could elucidate?

        • if you watch the second half just doing a player cam on Ross the only rucks he gets to are the ones that pretty much arrive at his feet!
          Moore at an appetite to get on the ball and get involved.

        • Donal

           /  February 11, 2015

          On the ruck marks (demented mole patent pending) it can be interesting but I wouldn’t rely on it too heavily. There is definitely an element of lies, damned lies and statistics to it. There are many occasions when not hitting a ruck but either fanning in defence or making yourself an option in attack are the better move. Flopping into a ruck that is already won or lost doesn’t accomplish much. I know Kinsella tried to assign marks but it is very subjective.

          For me Moore is the better player now and the gap will in all likelihood have widened by the RWC. Seen as he is substantially involved anyway, and is first choice at Leinster, he should continue to develop nicely. If Ross calves prior to or at the beginning of the RWC we’ll be left in a very familiar spot, with a single viable tighthead for Ireland, but sure that’s never ended badly!

          • Stephen

             /  February 11, 2015

            I love the expression “calves.”

          • Paddy

             /  February 11, 2015

            He does take into consideration what effect they have at the rucks. Marking them
            Dominant
            Effective
            Guard
            Present
            Ineffective.

            But yeah the stats can lie:
            http://www.therugbysite.com/blog/coaches-corner/the-stats-do-lie-by-wayne-smith

            Personally I think the ruck marks give a good indication of what was happening but you do need to look a bit closer.

          • If you read the article Wayne Smith does use stats, but not the overly simplified stats that we’re used to seeing on TV. He also studies the team to understand the stats (i.e. Stormers vs Chiefs). His complicated defensive chart measuring the effectiveness of a tackle is the exact same as Murray ‘The Mole’ Kinsella’s chart measuring the effectiveness of rucks. It isn’t simply “this lad hit more rucks than that lad”.

  3. Strange considering Schmidt’s love of versatile players in Madigan and Murphy for the bench that he’d continue to go with Jones. He must really rate his kick chase game.

    • curates_egg

       /  February 11, 2015

      He was the one who stuck out last week alright and it was confirmed in the game. If one of the centres goes off, we will again be left disjointed. Seems odd to persist with it, given the options available (Earls and Fitz…or even McFadden) but there you go.

  4. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  February 11, 2015

    As ridiculous as it may sound to think in these terms about a French match, I cannot help but feel that if all four get decent game time on Saturday evening (followed by a run out the week after if it was felt necessary) then we would be ready to have a right cut off England. Especially with a further two weeks in camp.
    Assuming of course that we beat France. Which apparently we have never done at the Aviva you know……..

  5. Mike Ross does what he does well, and I cant see him being dropped now,

    I am strongly of the opinion that we should be building towards a world cup from the year after the last world cup, but unfortunately we normally field the same faces for the six nations year on year and then start looking to depth and blooding players at the last minute,
    In fairness to schmidt he started building towards the world cup since last year, in most positions. But this one is a strange one, Ross started all the november series games, surely that would have been the time to blood players, likewise last week against Italy,
    as it stands Ross should start, because there is no decision to make, but their should be a decision to make,

    I think Earls and Fitzgerald are better attacking options from the bench, but I think it is Jones’ physicallity that is keeping him in the 23.

    Healy and Henderson coming off the bench against tired players is a mouth watering prospect!

    Fingers crossed everyone gets through this one uninjured and we start to gather some momentum for the visit of england.

    • Bill H

       /  February 11, 2015

      Jones’ physicality? He is very un physical and Fitz or McFadden would be more physical. jones seems to get injured quite a lot due to his lack of physicality, his one major weakness. He is a good full back but is quite slight for international level and should not be on the bench with the other options we have.

      • Donal

         /  February 11, 2015

        Agree re: Jone’s physicality. He must be clever or very able to take direction. I imagine these are qualities Joe rates highly. I’d still have Fitz!

        • Mary Hinge

           /  February 11, 2015

          There were no TH props to blood in November Gummi Bears. Moore and White were injured, and Ah You and Archer are not even provincial class.

          • Donal

             /  February 11, 2015

            The Saxons game was an opportunity maybe for Furhlong. Agree on Archer and Ah You.

          • This is a really good point. Moore was being blooded in last year’s 6N but given injuries since it is hard to see what Joe might do differently up to this year even if it looks negligent on first glance.
            There is an argument for swapping round Moore and Ross for the last couple of games but in truth we are taking about which one comes off the bench on 50 minutes nothing more major than that at the moment given that injuries have robbed other options of game time over the last year.

      • Jones is a good player and under many circumstances would be perfectly worthy of a place on the bench. The thing that makes it a bit odd, though, is that the backline is stacked with players who can cover full-back, so it appears to be crying out for either Earls or Fitzgerald.

        • Jones is excellent and very tough in my opinion. Agree with WOC it’s a strange choice given the positions he covers.

        • garzoo

           /  February 12, 2015

          I would also pick Earls/Fitz, but the team can still manage with 1 injury in any position. 10-Madigan, 12-Madigan, 13-Henshaw(with Madigan at 12), 11/14-Kearney(with Jones at 15), 15-Jones

  6. Your right Mary, I had forgotten about the injuries in november, also agree on Ah you and Furhlong,

  7. As for Jones, I think he brings alot of aggression and physicality to the tackle area, and I would argue that he get injured from poor tecnique (usually tackling with his head instead of his shoulder),
    Fitz has good tackling tecnique, he would be my choice for the bench, but cant see schmidt changing,
    Would not like to see Earls trying to stop Bastareaud again.

    http://gfycat.com/PersonalShabbyBrant

  8. L.P.O.

     /  February 11, 2015

    Lads, good piece… agreed with the bones of it. Two minor issues… the ‘day at the office’ is the most lazy and widespread cliché in sports journalism around at the moment. Maybe when the 1st cunt said it, somebody somewhere raised a muted chuckle, and it’s been getting progressively less amusing since. Fact is, it’s not an office, it’s a pitch… brilliant. Got it. Could you imagine if he turned up in a suit, like a fellow going to his job? In an OFFICE? Hahahaha sure they wouldn’t let him play at all. Hahahaha. Classic.

    Second, Earls in no dimension known to you or me or anybody will ever be considered by Schmidt as cover for more than one position, and that’s the only position he can play. That position is wing. We have lots of those. Anywhere else he is a disaster. Chances are Joe has noticed.

    The rest is about right. I agree that they must be confident of Heaslip being close to 100% to make that call. Hendo’s versatility is very handy for us (perhaps another case of it lessening a player’s chances of winning the start?).

    Suddenly the massive casualty list that’s plagued Schmidt for most of his reign is looking much more positive. You can’t expect the lads coming back from a long lay-off to hit the ground running, so balance is key, as you say. But O’Brien and Sexton must start- Heaslip won’t be rusty, but hopefully will make the 80. And I think Healy off the bench is a decent call.

    I share your concern about Ross. Got to have faith in Joe, though… it’s no Dickie flogging the ancient Bull to the RWC with Mushy as the other option. Not near. But it’s a worry. Trust in Joe, though. He kno-ows. Dickie knew not.

    • garzoo

       /  February 12, 2015

      Is that why Earls has played 13 in every game since he’s come back from injury and also why he played there for the Wolfhounds. Interesting. I’ll share that one with the lads in the office…

      • Seamaster7

         /  February 12, 2015

        Earls may very well have played 13 since he came back from injury but in my opinion he’s best position is on the wing, and considering who is currently available on the wings and at centre then water boy is the only position.

        • L.P.O.

           /  February 12, 2015

          Seamaster7, calling it as it is, brother. Good man. (Except the Earls starting every game at 13 was a lie). If Earls were actually as versatile as these people with very limited ability to differentiate arse from elbow claim, and covered 11, 12, 13, 14, 15… seems with Luke missing out for medical reasons, and the form of the current competitors, he would be the perfect player to have on the bench. Yet, that hasn’t quite happened, has it? Oh dear. Looks like some people here are talking out of their elbows.

          Wait… arses. I’ve been unfair on you folk. That IS confusing.

    • Peter Daly

       /  February 12, 2015

      Interesting opinion re Schmidt and Earls considering he selected him at 13 ahead of Fitzgerald for the Wolfhounds. While maybe he was thinking of getting Fitzgerald into the Test team on the wing he clearly has no issue with Earls at 13. Can’t see anywhere near the starting XV but it’s a toss up between him at Fitzgerald as better option off the bench.

      Also not entirely sure about the Ross/Hayes analogy. Dickie had no choice but to flog Hayes as Mushy wasn’t much of another option. Joe on the other hand has Moore and Furlong. Their form is better and with the WC a few months away getting them game time must be a priority.

      • L.P.O.

         /  February 12, 2015

        Dickie had the fellow he’d shunned at Munster who the next year became our most vital player, i.e. Ross, ffs.

        And Earls was not started ahead of Fitz for the hounds.

        Seriously.

        • L.P.O.

           /  February 12, 2015

          And as for Earls playing at 13 for every game since he’s been back… muhahahaaa. Classic.

          please… no more informed analysis. My ribs. Haaa.

        • Peter Daly

           /  February 12, 2015

          To be fair to Dickie Ross was hardly pulling up trees while Dickie was sucking the last bit of life out of the corpse of John Hayes. Once Ross became a mainstay at Leinster he was parachuted straight into the Ireland team. In his first season at Leinster (2009-2011) he was primarily a backup behind CJ van der Linde and Stan Wright. If he wasn’t good enough for Joe to start ahead of those two then I can’t see him having been good enough for Dickie to start for Ireland.

          As for Earls and Fitz they were both named to start in the Wolfhounds but with Earls at 13 and Fitz at 11. Maybe it’s because Joe (and I believe this is the case) was hoping Fitz would play himself into the Test XV on the wing. It’s speculation on my part but selecting Earls at 13 would surely imply Joe see’s him as an option there. He may be well down the pecking order but his starting at 13 would seem to make a mockery of your statement that Earls “in no dimension known to you or me or anybody will ever be considered by Schmidt as cover for more than one position, and that’s the only position he can play. That position is wing.”

          • Earls was 24th man in Rome for backs, 25th if you count Diack. Not sure if that signifies much but it is worth noting. I fully expect Jones to be named on the bench again regardless, perhaps his leadership qualities are what gives him an edge over the two obvious alternatives.

          • L.P.O.

             /  February 12, 2015

            The genius of Joe is that he keeps players who aren’t in with a shout positive by praising their attributes and by giving them stuff to work on. He also leads them to believe they are in with a shot. Earls has been eying the 13 jersey, hilariously, and tragically, for years. Starting him for the Wolfhounds was just some of the above, a pat on the head to avoid him having a strop and a sulk, and not, as you were perhaps attempting to suggest, that he was being considered a) for the 13 jersey for Ireland, or b) for any jersey ahead of FitzGerald, or anybody else. Glad we’re dispelling the disinformation above.

            And no, he didn’t start every game since he’s been back on the wing. LOL. And Joe incidentally insists he doesn’t place those kinds of requests on the provinces anyway. So even if he had (NOT THAT HE DID, lol), it wouldn’t be Joe asking to see him there.

            So, that’s another couple of things you’ve misunderstood/misrepresented above about above put right.

            Mike Ross being useless when he was being omitted by Dickie for Ireland? Emmm, no. He was in his prime, and dominating all opponents.

            Seriously, take it back a notch with your opinion quotient and start from a level suited to your level of knowledge on the topic. It’s:

            rug-by

            /ˈrʌɡbi/

          • Peter Daly

             /  February 12, 2015

            @L.P.O Reading your reply I’m trying to work out are you acting the maggot or just plain stupid. At the moment I’m leaning toward to latter. Now to start with I’d just like to clarify that I’ve never made any of the following comments you’ve attributed to me –

            1. I never said Earls has played every game since he’s come back at 13
            2. Nor that Earls’ selection at 13 meant he was being considered for the Test XV
            3. Nor that Fitz started every game since he’s been back on the wing (This got a whole paragraph in reply!!)
            4. Or that Ross was useless when he was being omitted

            Right with that out of the way lets get to the actual points.

            You are totally wrong with regards to Ross. In the season before Ross was called up to the Ireland squad he was a bit part player for Leinster as their 3rd choice tighthead. He had 8 starts all year for with just 2 of those coming in the Heineken Cup (first 2 games while Wright was out injured) and his playing time diminished as the season wore on as only had 2 starts during the second half of the season. That’s hardly a player “in his prime, and dominating all opponents.” The following year he became a mainstay at Leinster and by February of that season he was the bedrock of the Irish scrum.

            As for Earls not being in with a shout I don’t think that’s the case. He’s been selected in every Ireland squad Joe’s picked when fit. As good as Joe is I don’t see him wasting squad places on players he has no interest in. He may be well down the pecking order and it’s unclear whether Joe views him as a winger or at 13 but the facts simply point to him being on the fringes of the team and not a “pat on the head to avoid him having a strop and a sulk”.

          • L.P.O.

             /  February 12, 2015

            Oh dear… huge Opinion Quotient, tiny IQ, and major illiteracy while bemoaning the stupidity of others. Not a great combo.

            You in English is a 2nd person plural. You’re not the only moron who commented with bilge in response, but you’re perhaps the most persistent. I was addressing you as a group… a herd, if you will.

            So, I’m not attributing anything to you incorrectly, as you suggest. Also, I didn’t say you stated Earls was in the hunt for a jersey, but that was your idiotic implication, which it clearly was.

            Now, I’m afraid it is you that is entirely incorrect regarding Ross. He got two meaningless call ups on the 2009 May American tour, not the best sign that he was in the reckoning for a test place. After that he was ignored famously ignored all the way, including in an AI against mighty Fiji, for example, as the coach was all-in on Hayes and Mushy. When he begins getting caps in significant tests is in the Six Nations of 2011, you utter imbecile. So, you’re saying, in effect, that Ross was 3rd choice TH at Leinster in 2010-11? Well played, genius!!!

            And, as moronic as you are, let’s just look and see if you, yes, even you, can work out what Schmidt has actually done. There are perhaps many, MANY players ahead of Earls in the hunt for a bench *note, BENCH, not starting* spot, and those are generally players with versatility. Two that spring to mind at present would be McFadden and FitzGerald. Both of those players have actual versatility. Both have been unlucky recently in trying to nail down that spot with lurgy/knocks etc., so we’ll say they didn’t quite make the cut for that spot.

            Earls is 100% fit at present, is he not? Not recovering from flu or any strains? No? In as good a form as he’s ever really been in? Right… so, if he’s so massively versatile, and covers 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, and maybe TH too, no? So would he not be the perfect #23?

            Hmm… not for Joe in a big test match, it seems, who perhaps is *slightly* better informed to make this judgement than you, no offence, a total eejit. He instead chose Jones, who is, I think, an excellent footballer, but, as has been pointed out by WoC, a specialist 15. So Joe prefers an out-and-out 15 to cover the entire backline, rather than Keet-jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none-Earls. Hmm.

            So, in short, your argument is invalid. Hard luck. Find a new hobby.

          • Peter Daly

             /  February 12, 2015

            @L.P.O Now this is highly entertaining. Commenting on WOC wasn’t a hobby before but it might become now. It was a means of passing time on he DART to and from work but this has made my day. You really have a short fuse. A couple of counter arguements in the spirit of debate and you go straight for the insults.

            Thanks for the heads up on spelling and illiteration. I’ll work on that. Autocorrect can be a fickle companion and I’m not arsed reviewing my posts for spelling and grammatical errors. I’ll leave that to pedant’s like yourself.

            Again I never implied Earls was in the hunt at 13 for a Test shirt. I clearly state he is well down the pecking order. I was just pointing out that Schmidt, by selecting him at 13 for the Wolfhounds, saw him as an option there as a counter to your point that “in no dimension known to you or me or anybody will ever be considered by Schmidt as cover for more than one position, and that’s the only position he can play. That position is wing.” But maybe you know the inner working of Schmidt’s mind and know that’s the case. I can only go by what I can see.

            As for a bench spot I never said he was top of the list for a bench spot. I just said he was in the mix. With everyone fit there could be any number of players ahead of him. DK, Fitz, McFadden, Andrew Trimble, Jones and so on may well be ahead of him but he is, by dint of him being in the 38 man squad, very much in the mix.

            I’m a bit confused about what you are trying to say with regards Mike Ross. What did I say that is entirely incorrect? In his first season 2009-2010 he was third choice. I also would call him not being picked against Fiji as being “famously ignored”. At that stage he was still relatively unknown with just 4 starts under his belt, while Tony Buckley was still being hyped to bejaysus. If you saw the quality back in 2009 then kudos to you because Joe Scmidt and his staff didn’t. He was wrongly ignored in the 2011 AI’s but that’s it.

            I look forward to your reply. It’s been a long week and this is getting me through it.

    • Lop12

       /  February 12, 2015

      Earls, aside from any argument about his ability as a 13, has been excellent at full back on all occasions he has played there for Munster.

      • Lop12

         /  February 12, 2015

        I responded to L.P.O without realizing that he must be winding us up

        Ross, prior to his stint at Quins, was an unfit unrated prop, average player at AIL level for Cork Con. He did unbelievably well to get a contract at Quins and made the very most of it. But he was never an option for Munster prior to leaving.

        • Peter Daly

           /  February 12, 2015

          I thought L.P.O was winding us up but I’m beginning to think it’s not an act.

  9. Jesper

     /  February 12, 2015

    L.P.O. getting his arse kicked around the office again I see!

    It’ll be good to see Heaslip, Sexton and SOB back in the team with Healy to follow from the bench. That team is plenty good enough to beat France and set up a top-of-the-table clash with England on Sun Mar 1 (hate Sunday matches).

    • L.P.O.

       /  February 12, 2015

      Yay. Another genius. Fantastic rugby people, the scandywegians….

    • Peter Daly

       /  February 12, 2015

      Watch yourself. We know that L.P.O doesn’t like office analogies.

  10. Less of the name calling folks, Moderation?

    • Yeah guys – tone it down. Let’s keep it civil. Right now, we see us raising our eyebrows likes Yoann Huget when Scott Spedding flings him an ugly hospital pass. Next we’ll do a Dreamboat and point at the big screen with disappointing face on

  11. seiko

     /  February 12, 2015

    What poor old L.P.O. has forgotten is that back in 2009, there were only 3 props in an international match day squad and poor old Mike Ross was lucky if he could last 40 mins at club level. There was not a hope in hell of him lasting 80 minutes internationally! Stan Wright’s (a Cheika favourite who he brought to Stade) injury also helped progress Ross’s international career.

    Earls’s agent did well to extract a 2-year international contract from the IRFU this time last year if Joe & Nucifora have no intention of playing Earls internationally. Hard enough to get one of those even if they intend using you a lot.

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