Wolverine Out

Ireland’s most indestructible player, Jamie ‘Wolverine Blood’ Heaslip, has finally been broken.  He will miss his second game out of three when England come to the Palindrome for Sunday brunch. Jamie has three cracked vertebrae thanks to the knee of Pascal Papé – we’ll be honest in saying we thought it was a yellow card at worst at the time, but Papé has been cited, and there would be some justice in seeing him having to sit out some games. Seeing it again last night on Against The Head, knowing that it broke three vertebrae in the afflicted man’s back, it did look a hell of a lot worse than on match-day.  Mind you, the old farts would probably be doing Beleaguered French Coach a favour if they forced him to bring in Romain Taofifenua.

This continues a horrendous run of injuries for Ireland in this sector. Luckily we are well-stocked, but of our top 6 backrow players (in our view) at the beginning of 2014, we’ve had to endure:

  • Stephen Ferris – unavailable for all games in 2014 (5) pre retirement
  • Sean O’Brien – unavailable for all games in 2014 (10) and 1 game in 2015
  • Chris Henry – unavailable for 3 games in 2014 and 2 in 2015
  • Rhys Ruddock – unavailable for 3 games in 2014 (we think) and 2 in 2015
  • Jamie Heaslip – unavailable for 1 game in 2015
  • Peter O’Mahony – unscathed! Perhaps it’s down to the singing, the grubber kicks, his sheer manliness – who knows, but maybe there’s a new Mr Indestructible in town

When Schmidt took over, our likely first choice backrow of Fez-SOB-Jamie never got a chance to play together, and the next best combo of POM-SOB-Jamie only 3 times so far (Oz and BNZ in 2013, France in 2015). POM-Henry-Heaslip leads the way with 5 (4 games in last years Six Nations and Samoa in the 2013 AIs) and has much to commend it, and was extremely effective last year.

For the visit of England, however, Henry and Heaslip (and Ferris obviously) won’t be around, O’Brien has just returned from injury, and Ruddock may or may not be back – and even if he was, it’s unlikely Schmidt would consider him. Only Peter O’Mahony is fully fit with lots of games under his belt. The other specialist backrows in the training squad are Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell, both of whom started against Italy and had strong games – Murphy made the bench for France ahead of TOD, much to the OUTRAGE of some.

Joe Schmidt essentially has two options for the England game – drop the natural number 8 (Murphy) straight into the team, or shuffle his deck and move O’Brien or O’Mahony to the back of the scrum, and bring in a flanker. Here are the options:

O’Mahony, O’Brien, Murphy: This is the likely Schmidt choice – everything is sacrificed to the system and in this case you have a natural 8 being dropped into the 8 slot. Murphy has started at 8 twice for Ireland, most recently in Rome, and this has the obvious advantage of not tinkering too much with a unit that has yet to see stability this tournament. On the other hand, is Jordi Murphy a good enough player to drop in against Billy Vunipola and an England unit that is settled and in good form?  Murphy is slightly undersized for a No.8 and very much a tyro at this level, while his season has been afflicted by injury and he has not yet hit last year’s form.

Deep Blue Probability Calculation Factor: Very Likely, with O’Donnell brought back into the squad as first reserve.

Henderson, O’Brien, O’Mahony: The obvious advantage here is bringing in the best player available. Henderson will be a second row going forward, and has had huge impact from the bench this tournament to date. Playing him at flanker might not be everyone’s preference for his career – but needs must and we would get a brilliant player into the team – and one who has international experience wearing 6 in the past, including a start in last year’s tournament. This would involve moving POM to 8, where he looks more natural than SOB – he has three starts there for Ireland, albeit 2 in North America in one in the Game That Never Happened in Hamilton. It might even give him greater scope to try grubber kicks with the outside of his boot.  We were advocates of O’Mahony as a long-term option at No.8 some time ago, but it’s been a while since he played there and has matured as a blindside long since. This selection also raises the question about who would cover second row on the bench – would Schmidt pluck Mike McCarthy from the Leinster bench? Or pick TOD and Murphy on the bench with Henderson covering lock – probably. This selection would be The People’s Choice, because everyone is really, really excited about Henderson, but it looks like something of a pipe dream.

Deep Blue Probability Calculation Factor: Does not compute.  Too jazzy by half.

O’Mahony, O’Donnell, O’Brien: This involves shifting SOB to 8 and bringing in specialist openside TOD. This is essentially a vehicle for getting the most natural 7 into the team, and a reflection on how well O’Donnell played against Italy – it involves moving Sean O’Brien back to number 8, a position he last started for Ireland over 4 years ago in Rome (his only start there). Given tackling machine Chris Robshaw is the opposition seven, we can’t see much point to this – except salving some of the OUTRAGE from last weeks selection.

Deep Blue Probability Calculation Factor: Computer says no. O’Brien has enough on his plate without playing out of position.

O’Mahony, O’Brien, Roger Wilson: In a parallel universe, if Darren Cave was allowed to pick the team, this would be the backrow to face England, and he could pick himself at 13 too.

Deep Blue Probability Calculation Factor: Face doesn’t fit.

In twelve months time the landscape at No.8 could look totally different, with the Jacks O’Donoghue and Conan rapidly emerging.  Both have carrying ballast in spades, but O’Donoghue has just one Pro12 start to his name and Conan is still learning to catch the ball.  Their time will come, but not yet.

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46 Comments

  1. andrew097

     /  February 17, 2015

    Murphy most likely followed by many posts of the unfairness of toddies bench place followed by many lines reminding us how invaluable pommie is to world rugby. Yawn.

  2. Stephen

     /  February 17, 2015

    Get ROG(er Wilson) on!!!

  3. Rava

     /  February 17, 2015

    Come On!!

    Give Darren Cave some credit. Now way he would have POM and SOB.
    Try Robbie Diack at 6 and Willie Faloon at 7 :-))

  4. Das Waderwurst

     /  February 17, 2015

    People’s Choice all the way, though agree JS will almost certainly slot Murphy back in. O’Mahony is capable at 8, and I think we need Henderson in the side to contain the bulk of Haskell and Vunipola, as well as giving us momentum going forward. Murphy is a decent ball carrier, but won’t threaten the gain line in the same way as Henderson would.

    • Jimbob

       /  February 17, 2015

      I think Murphy is enough of a threat to the gain line as he has an impressive ability to slip through tackles and steal extra yards. It’s defensively and at ruck time is where he might struggle in comparison to Henderson due to his lack of bulk.

      • Ollie

         /  February 17, 2015

        Murphy is an impressive carrier at Pro 12 level, a decent one at HEC level but barely worth mentioning against a tier one test nation, he simply doesn’t have the size to impact well organised efficient tackling defences. He’ll make his tackles and hit plenty of rucks though. If Schmidt goes with Murphy which I suspect he will expect to see us revert to our kicking game and try and move the English pack around the field, we won’t be taking them on up front.

  5. No matter who lines up for us, they are going to have some serious work on their hands to compete with what is a very complete looking England backrow.

    Consummate tackler and “quintessential team player”. Check
    Ruck basher/ball slower downer. Check
    Ball carrier/hard yarder. Check

    All they’re really lacking is a turnover master but in fairness, Marler and Cole in the front row do that enough for most teams.

    Even were Heaslip not injured, we’d have a difficult task on our hands. Be it the “King of Spain” [aside, is that a worthy WOC nickname for Jordi?!] or “our only genuine groundhog” [definitely not WOC nickname worthy] – I can’t really see them matching England throughout the game.

    Also, Henderson is too big an impact off the bench, and too fresh back from injury to start in my opinion.

    If it were me I’d plumb for Jordi – he isn’t the biggest but he does have an incredible knack of getting yards where he has no right too – I just worry he’ll be found out in and around the tackle area and ruck at this level.

    • Rava

       /  February 17, 2015

      Henderson has enough minutes played since coming back to start any game so that mustn’t be used as an excuse not to use him from the off.

      Also, I can’t get my head around this “too big an impact off the bench” thing that gets bandied about. If he’s that good a player and makes such an impact then we should be utilizing it from the off.

      That said, I wouldn’t start him this week, I would go for the straight swap – Murphy.

      • Both fair points Rava, I’m sure he wouldn’t be near the national team if he wasn’t fully fit.

        My point about impact off the bench is just that more so than any other player we have he can change a game single handedly when he comes on.

        His physicality and directness is so pronounced when he comes on against players who have toiled for 50 odd minutes.

        It may be a bit of a waste of his talents but we don’t have any other player that can offer that type of game changing ability.

  6. Stephen

     /  February 17, 2015

    Are we ever going to start Iain Henderson? Seriously . . .

    • He’ll be bound to start in the warm-up and minnow pool matches for the World Cup, and then he’ll probably replace POC once the ligind retires.

  7. eatmypoint

     /  February 17, 2015

    James Coughlan’s time is now

  8. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  February 17, 2015

    Will all be moot once we’re at 13 a side. Poor Jamie will be so lonely back there all on his own. He’ll have to break out the Beats.

    • D6W

       /  February 17, 2015

      Ha. Looks like Wardie is getting his ideas from WoC these days!

  9. seiko

     /  February 17, 2015

    Sorry to burst your bubble about Peter O’Mahony’s indistructability, but he got injured in the England game last season, played on, missed the Italian game and was brought back in for France (and presumably played carrying an injury as he had to have an op and missed the tour to Argentina).

  10. Donal

     /  February 17, 2015

    If Ruddock proves his fitness I wouldn’t be THAT surprised to see him included. I like Murphy, he is smart, technically excellent and very quick but I don’t fancy seeing him trying to take down Billy on a 5 yard scrum. Is there any chance he will shake up the rest of his selection? Luke was the 24th man at the weekend I wonder is there any chance he’ll be given a run seen as we are crying out for some creativity?

  11. col

     /  February 17, 2015

    Doubt it will happen but diack, sob, pom is surely a possibility given diack made the bench for italy

  12. Bueller

     /  February 17, 2015

    ‘OUTRAGE’…..Stop perpetuating the provincial bullshit, which you also claim to forsake, with made up nonsense.

    • Joe

       /  February 17, 2015

      Can you really not can’t see the tongue protruding from the cheek in that remark? FFS some people…

  13. D6W

     /  February 17, 2015

    Copeland could also be added to the wistful list of injured backrows. His aggressive style and bulk may well have been just the thing to counter Vunipola.

    • Rava

       /  February 17, 2015

      Unfortunately I haven’t seen much evidence that Copeland has brought the form of last season with him from Cardiff. No doubt he was knocking on Heaslips door a year or so ago.

  14. Leinsterlion

     /  February 17, 2015

    Hendo at six, POM at 8, SOB at openside. To my eyes it looks horribly disjointed but SOB and Hendo’s power should make up for a complete lack of cohesion. Jordi doesnt offer enough lineout and carrying wise(not that POM does either) to play in a backrow of himself, POM and SOB, so could miss out, he could even miss the bench and Diack as a better lineout 8/6 option could jump ahead in the pecking order. Our lack of a specialist international class 8 or dedicated openside really messes up any potential selection. If Conan wasnt MOC’d on sun, I would pick him at 8, but that game has knocked him down a few pegs.

    • osheaf01

       /  February 18, 2015

      “Our lack of a specialist international class 8 or dedicated openside really messes up any potential selection.”

      TOD is a dedicated openside. Just saying.

  15. Rava

     /  February 17, 2015

    WOC, you need to get Red and Green thumbs for the comments section :-))

    • 1 Green Thumb for Rava

    • Amiga500

       /  February 17, 2015

      Much more interesting would be:

      red thumb up, red thumb down.
      green thumb up, green thumb down
      blue thumb up, blue thumb down
      white thumb up, white thumb down

      😀

      • SportingBench

         /  February 17, 2015

        Ah ha! An excellent idea. Then we can measure provincial #OUTRAGE!

  16. garzoo

     /  February 17, 2015

    Am I missing something here..? Jordi Murphy: 1.88m, 106kg. Tommy O’Donnell: 1.85m, 105kg. Peter O’Mahony: 1.91m, 105kg.

    I keep reading on this blog and in the comment section that Murphy is too small and wouldn’t be able to tackle larger players, but he’s made 100% of his tackles so far in the 6N.

    I’d personally pick POM-SOB-TOD, but the size argument is not something I agree with

    • O’Mahony is willowy by modern blindside standards, O’Donnell is an openside, but Murphy is being asked to play No.8. He’s slightly undersized for the position by modern-day standards.

      • but you mentioned the possibility of POM playing 8. For a few N8 examples: Faletau is only 4kg heavier, Heaslip is 3kg, McCalman is 2kg and Beattie is the same weight. I understand that it is a factor, bigger=better and all that, I just don’t think Murphy is that far off the rest. Plus SOB will still be playing, so we do have at least one monster. Will it really affect the game if he plays from 7 or 8?

    • SportingBench

       /  February 17, 2015

      What these statistics tell me is I am about the right weight to play back row for Ireland but might lack a few inches… oh!

      • garzoo

         /  February 18, 2015

        Me too, but the composition of said weight is less than ideal. Lets just say I’m on the jiggly side of things

  17. Surely the biggest change to the no.8 landscape in the next 12 months will be the eligibility of CJ Stander. Unlike most of the other options not just a back up or an eventual successor but a legitimate challenger for his jersey. If only he was available for the England game…

    • Ah don’t know – really? He had a good run in October/November, but fairly disappeared since then.

      • Lop12

         /  February 18, 2015

        100% agree. Might be up to the task, but hasn’t proved so at the required level (i.e. European cup) consistently yet.

  18. andrew097

     /  February 17, 2015

    Also hate the fact that there is no worries in Irish rugby that we don’t have a open side worth the name, nor do we seem to care but many even think its just another number. Depressing really.

    • Xyz

       /  February 17, 2015

      Don’t worry, Leinster Lion really, really cares. Enough for all of us!

  19. There’s really very little between the three back row positions. The only essential difference is where people pack down in the scrum, everything else is fully interchangeable. A balanced and cohesive unit is the key thing (although, given it’s JH who is injured, someone who has packed down at eight and can control the ball at a back of a scrum is desirable).

    Key point is that moving POM to eight and bringing in Henderson or moving SOB to eight and putting in O’Donnell are no more disruptive than dropping Murphy in at 8.

    I’d play Henderson, because I think he’s the best player of the three options. Ruddock’s fitness (or not) is (for me) the big unknown, though. If he’s fully fit then I’d pick him instead.

    • Watching from Sydney

       /  February 18, 2015

      Yep. Joe really likes Ruddock. If he’s fit I’d say he’ll be a real contender for a start

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