The waters are muddying. We thought we had it all under control. Michael Bent, 17 forwards, six half-backs leaving a jam to squeeze eight players in to suffieciently cover off all the outside back positions. Done!
Then Isaac Boss goes and plays so badly that Ian Madigan looks set to be required to cover scrum-half in the now-unthinkable scenario where one or both of Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan get injured. It’s a bit of a throwback to 2007 when Geordan Murphy was nominally our third choice fly-half. Madigan has scarcely any experience there, and while Schmidt has no doubt thought this through very carefully, the best we can go on is that Madigan is a really good passer and quick over the ground, so he has some of the constituent parts of the scrum-half’s game. Time was that was probably enough, but given the modern day scum half’s requirement to dig slow ball out of messy rucks, escape the attentions of flailing limbs before getting the ball away and box-kick for territory, it’s not that simple.
Anyway, the hope is that it will simply never come to pass. Madigan might have to fill in there for 20 minutes against Canada, but that’s likely to be as big a deal as it gets. Hopefully. And no, this isn’t like Matt Giteau acting as emergency third scrummie for Oz – Gits is outrageously talented and one of the best players in the world – he has six caps for the Wobblies at scrum half. We would be asking Madigan to do something he hasn’t ever done before – well, almost never.
However, what it would do is allow one extra berth in the back five, which was looking worryingly tight with just eight names, especially with cover at centre and full-back looking like being a mish-mash of players more used to playing in other positions. Ian Madigan was down in most people’s heads as the primary cover at 12, but it would seem to be a peculiar everything-and-nothing workload for the bequiffed one to have to perform the role of back-up for three different positions. Here’s how we saw it:
Centres: Henshaw, Payne, Earls
Wings: Zebo, Bowe, Trimble, Dave Kearney
Full-backs: Rob Kearney
Cover for inside centre would have been provided by Madigan, and Zebo would be primary cover for full-back.
That’s your eight, and excludes Luke Fitzgerald, Felix Jones and Darren Cave, as well as those further down the pecking order, Gordon D’arcy and Craig Gilroy.
The Madigan-to-9 thing would allow room for one more of the above names to squeeze in. A lifeline for Fitzgerald? That might be one’s first assumption, but given the woefully thin cover at centre, it might just be that someone like Darren Cave, more specialised centre cover and comfortable at both 12 and 13, could be drafted in. A further option is to bring Felix Jones, just the type of hard-running, hard-working player Schmidt appears to be a big fan of, could make it, with Zebo allowed to focus solely on the wing. Too much is perhaps made of the ability of Payne and Henshaw to cover full-back. They’re Ireland’s first choice centre partnership, so Schmidt would be loathe to have to break them up in the event of injury to Kearney. It’s too much shuffling around.
The Welsh selection may start to reveal some, or none, of this. The plot thickens, the picture becoming less clear, rather than more clear, by the day.