Kebabs All Round

The 2015 World Cup is the first one of the eight man bench era, and the All Blacks PR Department World Rugby have awarded everyone an extra squad place (and hopefully a bigger food allowance) to compensate them for the inconvenience. So that’s one extra slot, with Ireland going from four to five based on previous tournaments.

However, this is also going to the the first RWC where Ireland will have a substitution strategy, and backups will have a role to play beyond stepping in when the first choice gets injured. In the last two (ambi-propstrous) tournaments, Ireland have brought the following props along, with minutes played in crucial games (Argentina, France in 2007; Australia, Italy, Wales 2011) noted:

  • 2007: Starters: Marcus Horan (160), John Hayes (155). Backups: Simon Best (5), Bryan Young
  • 2011: Starters: DJ Church (232), Mike Ross (236). Backups: Patsy Court (12), Mushy

Bryan Young.  If you can remember anything about him, consider yourself the proud owner of a brand new hatchback.

Hard to see the bench men playing 17 collective minutes over five games this time around somehow. So if we now have four props that are critical members of the Test 23, of which we will need every man to play his role in the tournament. Best case scenario, we shove against Italy, France and Argentina just to get to a semi-final, so should Ireland be bringing a specialist backup for each side of the scrum?

First things first though – the first four slots on the plane, and jumpers 1, 3, 17 and 18 are locked in place with DJ Church, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross and Marty Moore all certain to travel. There was a flurry of “fears grow” stories started by the Indo about Church’s recovery last week, but there is simply no chance one of our few world class players won’t be given right up to kick off in the France game to get ready – he’ll be picked. And we’ve moaned incessantly about Ross starting ahead of Moore, but Ross’s performance have largely been good, and Schmidt has largely been vindicated, so we’ll park that one for another day.

So – five or six? O’Reilly suggested on Sunday that Schmidt was leaning towards five, and taking Michael Bent as the fifth prop in the squad, but that simply beggars belief – that would mean we are one injury away from pitching Bent in against the French for 20 minutes. Bent has made an admirable stab at nailing down a place in the Leinster squad (something we saw as his ceiling when he came over) but to suggest Leinster’s fourth choice tighthead could somehow play a meaningful role for Ireland in the World Cup is fairly fanciful.

With two props on the bench, the marketable skill that is being able to scrum on both sides is worth a lot less, and, given you are guaranteed to be facing a specialist, it all seems a bit pointless. Some will say “yeah, but if Church was injured, Schmidt would just call up Kilcoyne”, but if that’s the case, why even pick Bent in the first place if we are certain we won’t play him against the better sides? It seems an unnecessary risk.

Surely better to pick specialist backups on each side, and bring one less centre or wing or whatever – to place our World Cup hopes on the ability of Bent to hold up a side against Argentina seems a pointless risk. Tadhg Furlong and Dave Kilcoyne are the obvious choices for those roles – it seems to be too soon for James Cronin and to be fair to Kilcoyne, which we may not always have been, he’s a survivor in the scrum who is good on the ground and weighs in with more tries than you might think.

WoC’s Front Row squad picks: Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne; Ross, Moore, Furlong



  1. Rava

     /  August 5, 2015

    I think 5 back three players would be sufficient, especially as there is cover for FB in Madigan and Payne.
    That would allow for your six props as listed.

    Oh and say what you like about Bryan Young he is well respected up here!!

  2. Rava

     /  August 5, 2015

    When can I collect my new hatchback?

  3. Donal

     /  August 5, 2015

    Picking 6 props will leave us seriously short on personnel in the backs. I don’t see it as a runner myself. Maybe if Healy isn’t available they will be forced to do something like that.

    I would say Nathan White is in with a shot if they are looking for someone to hold up a scrum. Has he ever played LH?

    I would say the break up will be

    5 P
    3 H
    3 +1/2 SR
    5 +1/2 BR
    3 SH
    2 + 1/2 OH
    3 +1/2 C
    3 W
    2 FB

    • jacothelad

       /  August 5, 2015

      Why would you contemplate using a tight head at loosehead when the country is coming down with good loose head props. Buckley, Cronin, Black, Warwick are all pretty good operators.

      • Donal

         /  August 5, 2015

        If you are looking to bring 5 props you need someone to play both sides, and apparently it is a little easier for a tighthead to play loosehead than vice versa.

        Truth be told I wouldn’t have faith in any of the above to hold up a scrum against France or Italy, but if I had to choose one it would be Kilcoyne.

  4. I qualify for one also. Not red though. My neighbours will think I work for a living – maybe a postman or some such occupation. Actually Bryan Young was very good and was unlucky for a number of reasons. Kidney being the main one and injury the other. He actually could and did play both sides and was under rated. Of course with Horan – who could fake it brilliantly – and Reggie about there was no real chance for Young at representative level. Ulster were totally mince for most of his career which didn’t help him. Even Simon Best who was a tight head was often used by both EOS and Squiddley Diddley to replace Horan at loose head on occasion.

  5. ruckinhell

     /  August 5, 2015

    Think it would be madness to bring only 5 props to “save” us an extra outside back position, especially when the props that we should be selecting are all decent quality. Bent is currently a serviceable loosehead but well down the pecking order (would have Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Buckley and Cronin ahead of him), would be worrying if he were to feature though. More important to have our likely front row combos all in camp as you’re more likely to lose a game through a weak scrum than through a mistake by an outside back, especially given that we’ll be able to fly in an experienced outside back from outside the squad to deal with any injuries (safe to assume that Earls, Zebo, McFadden, Kearney jnr, Gilroy, Fitzgerald will all have a suitcase ready if not selected for initial squad and will be keeping up their fitness and playbooks at full readiness).

    Not sure why you throw in a backhanded compliment towards Kilcoyne in your article directly after acknowledging being a bit harsh, he is certainly much more than a “survivor” in the scrums and has shown a very decent rate of improvement since becoming first choice for Munster. If you’re going to hand out such qualified praise why bother trying to present a veneer of equability in the first place?

  6. jacothelad

     /  August 5, 2015

    Bryan Young was a pretty decent prop held back by injury and playing in a poorish Ulster side for a large part of his career. One of the few decent things about Ulster then was the front row. Also when Botha arrived to replace the luckless Simon Best, Tom Court became a loose head and Bryan got moved aside.

  7. John

     /  August 5, 2015

    Great to have you back lads. That said, the piece could use one more editor’s pass. For me, work the word ‘prop’ into the first paragraph somewhere, to make it clear what you’re referring to. Second paragraph, you’ve got “the the” in the first sentence, I presume it should be “be the”. Not to worry, still lots of time before the first warm up game to find the mojo.

    • Thanks, and we appreciate the editing!

      I had to break a few super-long sentences into something more coherent so not surprised I ballsed it up

  8. Stephen

     /  August 5, 2015

    Who are your hookers?

    I know Best-Cronin-Strauss are all but locked down, but I have a sneaking feeling that Herring is closer to Strauss than is presumed . . .

    • Best and Cronin locked down. I agree – I don’t think Strauss is there by any means, but at the same time the OUTRAGE won’t be off the charts no matter who it is

  9. Keith

     /  August 5, 2015

    With the venues less than an hour away, why would you waste valuable slots on players that will never get used. Bring 5 props, keep two others in the camp until the last minute and fly over a proper back up if one of the four gets injured. Surely the stats from the last two world cups prove that.

    • Why bring 5 then? And that means flogging the Test players against Canada – do we really want to do that?

      • More importantly you can only “fly over” a backup if you’re removing an injured player from the squad for the duration of the tournament. So if one of your 5 props is a not quite fit Healy and one of the other 4 picks up a minor injury 2 days before your first game, you now have to dump one of them to be able to field a regulation 23. Can imagine Uncle Joe making such a simplistic error?

        • Unlikely. I just can’t see why you’d bring Bent and potentially end up in a situation where you have to play him against France, like say if someone picked up a minor knock the morning of the game. Whatever about Moore vs Debaty, Bent vs Debaty doesn’t bear thinking about

      • jacothelad

         /  August 5, 2015

        interestingly, it is rumoured that Chris Taylor – who couldn’t get a place in the Ulster Academy is being looked at for the Canadian Squad. He qualifies vis his granny. It is a constant puzzle to many why a pretty decent tight head in the making was never given a look in by the execrable Clarke.

        • Stephen

           /  August 6, 2015

          Because Clarke is execrable. That simple, and that frustrating.

          Re the further above, I can’t see Schmidt banking on a call-up. His level of detail is so intense that it would be a massive challenge for anyone to step in at 2 days notice – even more so than typical. 6 props.

  10. There are 4 props into 1 (or 2) positions – Kilkoyne/Bent and Furlong/White. On a pure scrummaging basis it would be Kilkoyne/White, and I suspect that might be where we go… Those lads would be great against minnows and wouldn’t embarrass themselves being thrust into starts against the larger lads. Hope to see one or both starting in the warmups – Bent is a LH only.

    • If the props were on a pure scrummaging basis, Buckley is streets ahead of both Kilcoyne and Bent, so I doubt that’s the sole, or main, criterion.

      I’d love as a Connacht fan to think otherwise, but just as Buckley is in the wider squad as insurance in case Healy doesn’t come good, White is probably only there to cover Moore’s recovery. Twelve months ago White was (rightly) hot favourite to be the number 2 tighthead in the WC squad, but he’s had repeated and ill-timed injuries and it’s hard to see him as anything other than 4th in line now.

  11. Kevin

     /  August 5, 2015

    I know Nathan White was crocked most of the year but I think he’d be good to spring from the bench for Ross in the France game (the only challenging pool match we have). France will be happy to stay in touch for 50 minutes before bringing on Debaty who has shoved Moore’s head through his arse two years in a row and completely shifted the momentum back to France. It would be a similar situation if a flogged Ross was left on for the 80..I’d like to see lots of White in the upcoming matches. We already know what Healy, Mc Grath, Ross and Moore can do

  12. Billy

     /  August 5, 2015

    Agreed. I think a lot of players could deservedly feel aggrieved if Bent is brought as an ambi-prop, not just Kilcoyne and Furlong but also White, Buckley, Archer, Cronin, Ah You. As many have said, why can’t they just bring Kilcoyne or Furlong and let the other stay match fresh with their province?

    I’d also have some reservations about pitching Furlong into a big game. He was reasonable without being exceptional in the Rabo and seems to be getting pitched in on the back of his under 20s reputation which I’d have two issues with. Firstly, the two under 20 World Cups he played were played under the previous scrummaging laws which favoured monstrous tightheads due to the emphasis on the engagement and Furlong certainly fitted the bill there. Secondly, the under 20s under Ruddock seemed to place a huge emphasis on scrummaging. We were very strong come WCs at the scrum under him. Anyone who saw 14st TH Adam Boland the following year (under current rules) make mincemeat of the oppo could recognise that this was clearly an area of focus. I’d imagine that Furlong was also a beneficiary of this focus.

    • Donal

       /  August 5, 2015

      Furhlong’s around the park play was more than reasonable in my opinion. He has a speed and power that seem out of place with his size. I would still have doubts about his scrimmaging though which I think will stop Joe form selecting him. I’d say he is in camp for the experience as he is almost certainly one for the future.

  13. Kelly

     /  August 5, 2015

    Hard to believe that teams used to only take 4 props to a World Cup while taking a third hooker and nine. For me Ireland should take the 6 listed above, especially with the question marks over Healy. In the Schmidt era we’ve had a number of players fill the outside back slots in the team and camps for extended periods so there’s enough guys out there that they could fly in emergency cover that could get up to speed with systems etc. If we’ve 6 props in the squad we can rest Healy/Ross as required for the smaller games and in training so they’re not flogged to death. Bent was pretty solid last year but god forbid one of the two starters go down and we’ve to get through 80 minutes against France or Argentina with Bent a knock away from getting slaughtered. It’s much easier to hide a under performing wing than an under performing prop.

    • Stephen

       /  August 6, 2015

      “It’s much easier to hide a under performing wing than an under performing prop.”


  14. I don’t think replacing Leinsters fourth choice th with their third choice th is that much of an improvement, even if Furlong could be nailed on for 2019, he’s not there yet by a good bit. None of the first choice four props have so much gametime under the belt since the six nations that you could not play them for 10-20 minutes against Canada without them falling apart – effectively bringing a sixth prop for the purposes of pushing over Romania and Canada seems at least as wasteful as bringing another back to me.

  15. Could McGrath be the ambi-prop with kilcoyne grabbing that 5th spot? That would of course be predicated on McGrath having done some behind the scenes tight head work. It was interesting to hear (I think) paddy Jackson talking about madigan being ‘even able to cover scrum half’ and you wonder what work is quietly being done on squad versatility. Michael bent being name-checked sounds like a bit of Classic Schmidt misdirection, whilst at the same time letting bent know he has done well.

    If it’s 5, then in the event of a short term tight head injury McGrath could potentially cover across. If a tournament ending injury then furlong jumps on the ferry. If they’re not happy with McGrath at 3 then it’s more likely to be the6 props as mentioned by whiff. Thought kilcoyne was excellent at the end of last season. That said, looking at the picture from the open session the other day of bent and Healy….bent looks enormous. It was perhaps a ‘that prop is near, that prop is faaar awaay’ moment mind you.

  16. Bushmills

     /  August 6, 2015

    Bryan Young. Another product of Ballymena Academy. They can’t all be Willie Johns. Relative to the lack of silverware, is there a more productive school for Irish rugby?

  1. The Michael Bent Effect | Whiff of Cordite
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