Horses for Courses

With the shootout for the championship going to come down to points difference, Ireland will need to win by 5 points more than England, and not let Wales put 21 points more than them in the locker. The scarce-tries defensive focused gameplan might suffice, but keeping ball in hand, like the second half of the Wales game, albeit with more accuracy, is probably a better idea.

In the rumoured selection, Joe Schmidt has either thrown the baby out with the bathwater, or he hasn’t, depending on who you listen to. The word on Tara Street and whatever cardboard box passes for the In*o offices is that Schmidt will make two changes – DJ Church and Luke Roysh in for Jack McGrath and Simon Zebo, with Felix Jones retaining his Paddy Wallace 2012 bench role (no, honestly, he covers loads of positions).

Healy for McGrath is a close call – McGrath has played well throughout the tournament, albeit incurring Barnes’ wrath for his green shirt scrummaging angles. Healy has looked an awkward fit as a replacement – he seems to come on super-pumped and eager to make an impression, which didn’t end well against Wales, where he looked wild and off the mental pitch of the game. Based on that, you could make a case for Healy starting and McGrath on the bench as the best use of resources, but it seems odd to reward someone for being rubbish at one role by giving them a better one. More likely is that Ireland will look to play to the second half Welsh gameplan and keep the ball in hand – Healy is a more destructive carrier, and it’s horses for courses in that regard.  He’s a bit lucky to get picked, for sure, but he is unquestionably what Gatland refers to as a ‘test match animal’.

Fitzgerald for Zebo is more controversial. Opinion on Zebo ranges the full spectrum from “he is a show pony who can’t do the basics” to “he has lost a yard of pace and can only do the basics”. We wanted him in the team last season, but can see the logic for picking someone with the footwork and attacking nous of Fitzgerald for this game – where, again, ball in hand seems to be the tactic. While Zebo can also consider himself unlucky, we have to recognize that it’s another horses for courses selection – when there is less need for his aerial skills, there is a natural trade-off.

While you are likely to see headlines about sending the wrong message and such, it doesn’t make much sense for a coach not to maximize his resources to play a particular gameplan – there isn’t much point in keeping the same XV just because. And don’t forget, Fitzgerald might have had an injury-interrupted nightmare this RWC cycle, but he is a Lions test winger – he’ll be up to the job. And you can be sure Schmidt, like he did with Paddy Jackson last year, bringing Zebo along for the ride to recognize his contribution in the championship.

It also appears that strong consideration was given to bringing in NWJMB for Toner, but the presence of defensive line-out guru Big Jim Hamilton, plus Henderson’s relative lack of gametime, swung the debate to the status quo. Toner was anonymous against Wales, but it was his first poor test in a long time.  Big Jim is a wily operator, but when his absurdly long arms get the curly finger, we’ll be unleashing Hendo on .. er .. Tim Swinson. So it’s not all bad.

And Felix Jones is still on the bench despite a starting backline packed with full-time and part-time fullbacks. Sigh. We’d have Earls, but we feel like a long-playing record on that one.

Ireland (probable): Kearney; Bowe, Payne, Henshaw, Fitzgerald; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross; Toner, O’Connell; O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: McGrath, Cronin, Moore, Henderson, Murphy, Reddan, Madigan, Jones

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46 Comments

  1. I’m not the biggest Zebo fan. But when you look at Best and Sexton having absolute mares, Murray, Toner, POM, and Heaslip being pretty much anonymous, and POC going the full John Muldoon captaincy wise (just kick the f***ing points for the love of all that’s holy), it’ll be a bit rich if a winger carries the can. Especially if a corner-back’s-younger-brother pick* from Schmidt puts Jones on the bench ahead of him.

    *Parish rules #1328: The lad who’d not playing is always held in higher esteem that the fella that is.

    • Jimble

       /  March 19, 2015

      Best and Sexton were poor against Wales but they’ve both been on great form for Ireland for quite a long time now, and seem to be considered as leaders within the group. Zebo on the other hand is up and down in terms of form – great in the air against England, well-taken try v Aus but other than that he’s been anonymous for quite a while, despite seeming to get a bit more ball than most of our backs. What probably makes him more drop-able in Schmidt’s eyes is that he’s never really established himself in the Ireland team in the same way as Sexton, Best, Murray, Toner, O’Mahony and Heaslip have. These days Zebo just seems to do the same thing every time he gets the ball – he gives a little shimmy and then weakly jogs into contact with a high body position. He’s any decent defensive line’s dream. You’re right of course, he wasn’t the reason we lost to Wales, but if selection rumours are to be believed then it sounds like Schmidt is picking a team to beat Scotland by as many points as possible rather than punishing people for their performance against Wales (if he did that he’d have to drop half the team…). In which case having Zebo (or better still Earls) on the bench would indeed make much more sense than persisting with Jones.

      • “..he’s been anonymous for quite a while, despite seeming to get a bit more ball than most of our backs.” There’s a contradiction in that.

        Swapping Zebo for Fitz will have no impact whatsoever. The change needs to be at centre. We won the thing last year with bloody Dave Kearney on the wing.

        It is time for Earls to start at 13. Leave Zebo where he is for continuity as it’s not going to change much. If Fitz is brought in then it should be at 13.

        • Jimble

           /  March 19, 2015

          So maybe anonymous wasn’t the right word but you understand what I mean. Gets lots of ball, does nothing with it. Agree with you about the centres, good in defence but this combo doesn’t seem to be working in attack. Might be interesting to see Madigan at 12 and Henshaw at 13. Earls is definitely due a shot but I’m not convinced 13 is his best position, I’d have him on the wing.

          • Agree, Madigan and Henshaw would be my second choice pairing. The lines Earls has been running since he’s been back have been exceptional though. For this particular match I think his perceived failings wouldn’t cause us many problems, Scotland have a weak defence and he’s scoring tries like a madman at the moment.

          • baaanley

             /  March 20, 2015

            No I don’t, I am struggling to remember when he last got the ball in an attacking position, or indeed outside our 22. Surely you judge player on failing to do what they are in the side for rather than when there is no evidence either way.

  2. If Healy gets picked, he’d want to drop this Mister Angry kick he’s on, knuckle down and get on with his business – along the lines of making his team colleagues look good and shunning the limelight, which supposedly is the approach his coach favours. If he does this we might get to see a return to form, because so far this season – in the Glasgow away match and since his return from injury with Leinster he has not been particularly effective. I for one have thus far been singurlarly underwhelmed. C’mon Church!!! You can do it!!!

  3. ORiordan

     /  March 19, 2015

    Yeah, would be tough on Zebo in Fitzgerald comes in given Fitzgerald’s “attacking nous” has produced the grand total of 2 tries in 28 test appearances for Ireland and the Lions, both against Italy 6 years ago. If Fitzgerald’s job on the wing is scoring tries, then where is the evidence he is up to the job? Still, those flashy steps will provide some “x factor” (TM Thornley) even if they hardly ever result in tries.

    If Zebo is to go, then I’d prefer Keet as he actually does have a good try scoring record for Ireland but he probably hasn’t got the Joe seal of approval yet.

    • Donal

       /  March 19, 2015

      Ah Fitz has been playing very well for Leinster, if you don’t rate him as an attacker you just haven’t seen enough of him. He has set up tries for both Ireland and Leinster even if he hasn’t scored a huge number. That I said I probably would have put him on for Bowe who has had an underwhelming season. I don’t think it means Zebo is out with the bathwater, he is simply freshening things up with an in form player.

  4. It seems awfully ironic that Fitzgerald is being brought in for his X-FACTOR with ball in hand, considering that a big part of why Zebo has been picked is that he has toned back his own Z-Factor to be a typical Joe winger. I’m still at the point where I’m flinching any time Luke ends up in a ruck for fear of his abdominals/abductors/groin/little finger giving way.

    I think Healy for McGrath is the right call, and while I agree that McGrath hasn’t done anything wrong, Healy is a force of nature when he can catch the ball, and we’ve been sorely lacking that in the pack this championship. It’s probably the biggest risk Joe has taken this championship, but something needed to be freshened up in the squad to up the ante.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 19, 2015

      Healy has been miles off the pace since his return, how does he deserve to start, let alone keep his place on the bench?

    • osheaf01

       /  March 19, 2015

      If you wanted some X Factor, that’s clearly Earls.

  5. Very hard to believe that sob, sexton or heaslip are close to 100% – I realise players are rarely injury free but playing with too many obviously hamstrung or recently injured players is bound to impact our … Impactfulness.

  6. Roundy

     /  March 19, 2015

    Beware playing Scotland at their own game. England tore the Scots defense apart but they are the leading try scorers in the competition and do create a lot of chances with ball in hand. The Scots were well in that game for a long spell. Personally I think Irelands kick game is made for this fixture. They dont have the quality back three like Wales do (bar Hogg) and would struggle against accurate kick chance from Ireland. Also the main strength of the Scots is (and always has been) their forwards. The pick and go off the base of the ruck to suck in defenders then they send it wide (not a bad attacking side now either). We do have an impact off the bench, why not run the legs off them (with the kick game) and then unleash the hounds with twenty to go. We need to avoid getting suckered into playing too tight!

    • Yes … but! We don’t just need to win, we need to pile on some points

      • curates_egg

         /  March 20, 2015

        The game in which we got our points ratio up last year saw most of the points come at the end of the game against a tiring Italy. If you look at the possible impact we could have from our bench, it is not unreasonable to hope for something similar against Scotland.
        But Felix Jones…

      • Roundy

         /  March 20, 2015

        First things first, lets win the game. I am seriously worried about tomorrows match, do we all forget the last game in Croker when a rubbish Scotland came here for a beating?

  7. Leinsterlion

     /  March 19, 2015

    I never thought I would be clamouring for Earls to start a test for Ireland, but such has been the stodgyness and one paced nature of our attack(and an uptick in fitness and form on Earls part) that its criminal he isnt in the starting fifteen.
    I called for Zebo to be in the team from the start of Joes reign as you cant replace pace, however, that zebo is gone. I would start Fitz at 12 and move Henshaw to thirteen, Earls in on the wing, he looks a faster, sharper player then a chubby Zebo. Whilst Jones has done nothing wrong, the injuries have robbed him of his pace(ironically, as he has improved his running technique out of sight since he first came on the scene, gone is the bobbing head and poor gait), Zebo on the bench for me, maybe presentable Dave, put them in a footrace and see who wins.

    Forwards are disappointing if Healy starts(woeful since his return) Hendo deserves a shot in the row and SOB is clearly our best 6 ditto TODour best seven. Without a fit competent replacement for Best, he keeps his position by default.
    Looks like Schmidt has fallen into the Irish coaches trap and made harder to get out of the tema than in it. Depressing.

    • osheaf01

       /  March 19, 2015

      “Looks like Schmidt has fallen into the Irish coaches trap and made harder to get out of the team, if you’re from his province, than in it. Depressing.”

      Fixed that for you.
      Agree that SOB 6, TOD 7 would be an interesting backrow, but Heaslip is also clearly not fully fit at 8. Murphy should be playing 8.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 19, 2015

        Ha, you can call it provincialism, but Munster are at a low ebb and haven’t produced players of the requisite quality to challenge their Leinster counterparts in position for position, you also ignore the fact that Leinster have been the form team in Ireland for the past 7? odd years. Its only now that we are being MOCified into a poor mans Leicester, that Munster are looking the better side, man for man however, Leinster would shade those positional battles in most cases(especially when you consider injuries and form). There are Munster players unlucky to lose out, but there are Munster players lucky to still be there, same with Leinster. Schmidt is showing conservatism of selection and tactics, not provincialism imo.

        • Peter Daly

           /  March 19, 2015

          Have to agree with Leinsterlion on this one. I don’t see any provincialism with the current selections. When Joe first joined the set up he did seem to favour Leinster players but I think that had more to do with them being comfortable with his systems. There’s a few Munster players unlucky to miss out but those selections are toss ups. Cronin and Kilcoyne were both in the mix at loosehead but have suffered with injuries while McGrath has really put his hand up when given the chance, TOD could be on the bench but i’s a close call and Murphy covers more positions. Madigan offers more, or at least should do, than Keatley off the bench. And while I’d have Earls a least on the bench it’s a toss up between him and Fitzgerald and maybe Fitz has shown more in camp. When things go wrong we have to stop falling back on the crutch of provincialism.

      • curates_egg

         /  March 20, 2015

        Yawn

      • D6W

         /  March 20, 2015

        You call JS picks provincialism, and alternative is to replace a Munster man with a Munster man, and a Leinster man with a Leinster man…What nonsense!

  8. Jimble

     /  March 19, 2015

    This will never happen of course, and in reality it would probably backfire horribly, but if we’re really trying to run up the score against Scotland then I’d like to see a backline of Payne – Bowe – Henshaw – Madigan – Fitzgerald – Sexton – Reddan, with Earls and maybe another outside back (Zebo?) on the bench. Of course Reddan isn’t as good a player as Murray but he gives quick, accurate ball to his outhalf, and with a distributor at 12 we could actually get some of that ball out to the potential try scorers rather than just crashing it up every time. When he’s allowed to pass Henshaw seems to be quite good at it too, particularly from 13. Kearney’s been great defensively and in the air but his idea of counterattacking is just run it back at the opposition until you find contact. Doesn’t seem to have any inclination to pass and never has, so it isn’t tactics-related.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 19, 2015

      This game is crying out for Reddan, England showed to template on how to beat Scotland, and it doesnt consist of your nine kicking away possession.

      • Peter Daly

         /  March 19, 2015

        Can’t knock Murray for playing to game the coach asks him to play. He’s much more than a kicking 9. As all pundits seemed to point out this week a scrum half coming off the bench to implement a change of gameplan is always going to look better. Reddan is great in those 20-30 minute bursts. i don’t think he, or the team for that matter, could play at the frenetic pace for 80 mins. For me Murray 50+ mins to build a lead and wear the Scots out and Reddan in for the close to speed up the game and try get some tries is the way to go

        • Donal

           /  March 19, 2015

          Totally agree, but would like to see Murray give a quicker delivery for the balls we choose to move, he took quite a while over many a ball v Wales.

  9. Peter Daly

     /  March 19, 2015

    I can see what Schmidt is doing with the changes but I’m not sure he’s got the right mix. I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong. Clearly DJ Church has been brought in to add some dynamism and ball carrying to the pack but he hasn’t looked up to the pace since his return. I don’t think dropping one of our most consistent performers sends the right message even if the player is making way for a world class talent. If we need ball carriers in the pack then why not NWJMB for Toner or POM. Or maybe TOD at 7 and move O’Brien to 6. Both NWJMB and TOD have looked in great nick the last few months and would add ball carrying to the pack, TOD’s rangy game would be well suited if the game is loose while NWJMB would provide some great go forward ball around the fringes.

    As for the backs I’m a huge Zebo fan but I can see why he’s been dropped as he’s looked very average aside from under he high ball. Hard to know the reason. I see some saying he’s carrying a few extra pounds but for me he’s always looked a bit out of shape and it hasn’t hindered him before. I wonder is he trying to hard to fit the system and sacrificing his free spirit to avoid making glaring mistakes. Whatever the reason he needed to make way and I can get behind Fitzgerald getting a run. He’s looked great since his latest return from injury but with his selection having Jones on the bench is even more worrying than before. Schmidt clearly doesn’t see him as a game changer or he would’ve made an appearance as we tried to chase down Wales. Surely having Earls pace on the bench would be of benefit if we do have to chase points in the second half. Also if, god forbid, Luke suffers an injury then we’ll be stuck with Jones on the wing.

  10. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 19, 2015

    Does anybody else miss the days when an Ireland team selection actually created a sense of anticipation? What happened to that? Why all this leaking to the press like the Dept. of Finance pre-Budget? Can’t be that difficult to keep a lid on it even in a new media environment – the Lions seemed to manage it pretty well.

    • Stevo

       /  March 19, 2015

      It’s the same reason they hold all those press conferences at the White House. You keep a pack of tame journalists fed on ever-so-slightly exclusive info and don’t have to worry about a pack baying outside your door.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  March 20, 2015

        Indeed and it’s mildly depressing. I don’t know if it’s a new development or if I’ve only noticed it this year but when games end the camera generaly follows the motm and you see what is presumably some IRFU media relations guy rabbiting away in his ear, telling him what to say in the post match interview. Manchurian rugby. Spontaneity is dead!!!

  11. With the WC in mind and no grand slam to play for (and who really cares about winning the 6N Championship without a Grand Slam) maybe this is a good opportunity to give good test-game time to those players who’ll be in the squad come September and how haven’t got much or any gametime so far?

    • So, the tournament that we’ve won a handful of times in our lifetime – who cares about it? Let’s use the Scotland game to test some new combinations?

    • aoifehamill

       /  March 19, 2015

      I’m genuinely not sure are you trolling us? I for one reeeeeallly care. Even without the WC on the horizon, it would mean we are the best team in the northern hemisphere two years in a row. With the WC in the picture, it puts us in a strong position going into the competition.

      • paulhannan

         /  March 19, 2015

        Apologies if that read as trolling, wasn’t meant to be. This is an important game on Saturday don’t get me wrong though depending on the context you look at it. This is probably the last time before the WC to play a full blooded test match. It’s a mute point now that the team is picked but I think Joe might have missed a trick here.
        After all, it’s only Scotland. How hard can beating them by 15 to 20 points be? #I’llgetmycoat

  12. Whatever about the Scotland match, I really hope PJ and Stuart Olding post-injury have a strong end to season, as I reckon we’ll need both of them in the RWC squad.

  13. Fitzgerald is a better centre than a winger in my opinion. He’s more of a playmaker than a finisher and has been excellent for Leinster at 13. It’s harsh to criticise either winger with the current game plan as they’ve gotten no ball (in space). Neither Zebo or Bowe have looked outstanding. To me, the real problem is a lack of creativity in the centre and there are a number of players who could be picked to sort that out. Payne and Henshaw are great players, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t your “x-factor” type playmakers

  14. Gareth

     /  March 20, 2015

    It will probably never happen but Fitz at 12, Henshaw at 13 and Bowe and Earls on the wings looks like a team that could score tries.
    Payne, Reddan and Madigan on the bench are two more who have potential to change this up too.

  15. It’s about 24 hours from the game which means I’m starting to feel quite bolshy about our chances. We have the best defence and discipline in the league while the scots are nowhere near us on either front. Even without intentionally milking them we will be able to run up 12-15 points from penalties alone in the first half.

    Healy might not be an impact sub but class is permanent and he is class. The Scottish front row are barely mediocre, again we should be milking them for penalties here

    And lastly, people are saying that the gloss has been taken off Schmidt, that the gameplan is too restricted, etc, forgetting that there was another team out there last week. The same game plan against any other team would have resulted in a win. Wales had to make 80 more tackles than the six nations record to hang into that game. They were phenomenal in one facet and lucky in others, but play that game again 10 times and Ireland surely would win each time, even with sexton, best and others underperforming.

    You can be sure that rather than moaning about the grand slam missed, Schmidt is reiterating this to the team for the last week. We haven’t become a bad team in a week and we can put up a big score (as long as we keep composure) against an exciting but ultimately inexperienced and often rudderless scotland.

  16. Bkelly39

     /  March 21, 2015

    A potentially wild comment:

    Fitzgerald should have the 13 jersey and payne should be on the bench instead of Jones.
    I checked the stats before the 6 nations.
    For Leinster Fitzgerald had scored 5 tries for Leinster playing at 13.
    Payne scored 1 try playing at full back.
    It feels like payne is just there to defend. I don’t think you’d be losing much in defence by having Fitzgerald in there. Don’t see this happening under Joe’s watch.
    I believe it was whiffofcordite who said luke was the back with most potential to play for Ireland since Brian

    Ps Earls should be on the wing.

  17. Schmidt surely picking Fitzy and Church because he needs fire in the belly. He’s been talking about that first 20 minutes against Wales all week. Ireland afraid to show passion in these clincher games ever since Steady Eddie introduced “management principles”!

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