Let’s Get Warmed Up

And so, this weekend, begins Ireland’s World Cup campaign, with what should be a good hit-out away to Wales.

As Gerry outlined to good effect this morning, it’s customary for Ireland to perform dreadfully in these world cup warm-ups, but how much meaning should be attached to that dreadfulness is hard to gauge. Eight years ago, Ireland carried awful form into the World Cup and simply never got going.

Four years ago the same happened, with Kidney forced into the drastic action of dropping entirely the one scrum half he had staked all his chips on playing into form. But Kidney’s team were an emotionally driven side, and seemed to thrive most when they appeared at their lowest ebb, and the sense of looming crisis ultimately played into their favour, in the pool games at least, before the tournament came crashing down in the quarter-finals.

Schmidt’s brood are the opposite, so if absolutely nothing is working well and Ireland conspire to lose all their warm-up games, then it probably is a cause for concern. Joe will be looking for signs that his charges are capable of playing to whatever instruction he has deemed the order of the day for this upcoming, monumental challenge. Just what that is remains to be seen. Schmidt has earned the reputation of a ruthless pragmatist over the course of two Six Nations campaigns, with a strategy high on aerial bombardment and low on offloading, but it’s worth recalling that in the last 120 minutes of the 2015 Six Nations campaign, with Ireland required to chase a Welsh lead, and build a large points haul against Scotland, they kept the ball in hand to great effect. Will he stick to that approach in the World Cup?

Ireland have four warm-up games, but in reality it’s a six (maybe seven depending on Sergio Parisse’s fitness)-match lead-in before the real stuff begins, because the first pool games are against the minnows. So there’s no need to panic if – as seems likely – Ireland play with a total lack of cohesion this weekend. There’s time yet to get the form going.

For all that, though, it’s a nice enough looking team Schmidt has put out; his strongest available props, a spine of experience and plenty of ‘nice to have you back’ uplift from players who missed large chunks of last season. And as usual, there’s plenty of scope for looking out to see who is ‘putting their hands up’ for the last few places in the world cup squad.

Donncha Ryan, Keith Earls, Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden are all welcome returnees. Ryan is in a face-off with Tuohy for the last second row place, so he gets a chance to put down a marker of some sort. Terrific, aggressive players both, but prone to injury, it may be a literal case of survival of the fittest. Tuohy is on the bench.  Keith Earls is selected at 13, which will cause frothing in several quarters (welcome back Leinsterlion), but it’s worth remembering that while he is not the complete outside centre by any means, he’s not bad either; try focussing on what he does well there rather than what he doesn’t. He’s a player Schmidt has referenced a lot while he’s been injured, so this is a welcome opportunity to see him in green.  With a maximum of 14 backs making the final cut, there is a premium on versatility, and if Earls can capably cover centre and wing, it puts him in the box-seat.

Trimble was last seen winning all sorts of awards, and is now an established ‘Schmidt favourite’. If he can get back even a shard of the form he had before injury, he can be a huge player this World Cup. McFadden’s chances of making the touring party look more remote, but it will be nice to see a few head-first charges into Welsh tacklers anyway.

The half-back pairing looks nice: Reddan and Jackson. They’re most likely going to be Ireland’s test-match back-ups so it’s time they got to know each other a little better. Jackson was playing quite beautifully at the end of the season. If he can produce that form again he can not only establish himself as first reserve, but become a player worth introducing from the bench for material impact.

In the pack, the main cause for excitement will be Iain Henderson’s selection. His wild, unrestrained style is a thing to behold and his form towards the back end of last season was astonishing. We’ll talk more on the topic next week, but he could make an unanswerable case for test XV selection. The backrow is light on size, but high on work-rate. Jamie Heaslip is flanked by O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy, who, conventional wisdom has it, are auditioning for the last back-row berth in the squad. Don’t be afraid to pass to each other, boys.

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  1. Looks like the 5 props thing may be happening, or that Bent will be 3rd TH if we bring 6 props. With Moore not yet fit, Bent covers 3 ahead of Furlong, and White is named on the bench for Connacht tomorrow night and so can be considered out of contention.

    • Get the hurls out for a photoshoot, quick! It’s a slight tilt in Michael Bent’s favour for sure. Could this be the rehabilitation to end all rehabilitations?

      • Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Ross, Moore, Bent means if Healy isn’t fit for game 1 we’re still covered both sides if one of the other props takes a short-term knock. I think we can call this one as happening.

  2. ORiordan

     /  August 6, 2015

    Is it last chance saloon for Earls, Cave and McFadden? If they do well, that doesn’t mean they go but if not, I’m not sure if they will get much of a second chance.

    I think Trimble may have a bit more credit with Joe and will get more game time given how little he has had.

    • I’d say it’s probably last chance for at least a couple of the three you mentioned anyway. Then again, the fact that Cave’s face fit more than someone like D’Arcy’s for a match like this could be spun to be a bit of hope (although it looks more likely that Mads will be the utility back unless Wee PJ collapses)

      • Don’t think we have to worry about PJ cracking under the pressure anymore. The Heino final v Leinster is a long time ago now. He’s matured enormously in the meanwhile and has been playing excellently – not just after he got injured v Toulon but also before. I’d have far less reservations about him having to come on for Sexton now than I might have had at the start of last season.

  3. I really hope Jackson has been at kicking practice with Wilkinson style focus this summer – having him as a 60% outhalf isnt good enough for the RWC…

    • ORiordan

       /  August 6, 2015

      According to PJ’s tweets, he has been having coaching sessions with Dave Alred. I was under the impression that Alred was one of those coaches who reconstructed a kicker’s technique in the manner of a golfer reconstructing their swing, so not really a “here are a few tips…” sort of coach, but I could be wrong with this.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 6, 2015

        “kicker’s technique in the manner of a golfer reconstructing their swing, ”

        Which according to the latest experts, unless your technique utter shite and will never be kinetically consistent) does far more harm then good, better of refining what you already have then breaking out the dynamite….

        • Spikes

           /  August 6, 2015

          Generally I’d agree, but Faldo is a counterexample. He worked his a**e off in obscurity for two years overhauling what had been a decent swing before seeing the benefit though. Maybe it’s also down to application.

  4. Interesting to see Cave getting a run. Having Jackson at 10 and the familiarity that will bring could work well for both of them. Then again, I’m not used to “experimental” teams from Schmidt – suddenly confused about what to expect!

  5. Cave and Earls in the centre: what could go wrong? Reckon Williams is already lining up a late shoulder charge.
    Great to see Earls back in an Irish shirt anyway. Definitely not a test centre but if he can follow Schmidt’s instructions he should do no worse than Payne.
    A great asset to have in the squad anyway.

    • seiko

       /  August 7, 2015

      If Earls isn’t a test centre, neither is Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Luke Fitz, Tommy Bowe, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden or Andrew Trimble.

      Thats its settled then. Henshaw & Darce for the centre!

      • curates_egg

         /  August 10, 2015

        I’d agree with most of that actually Seiko. It’s a huge problem still. I would like to see Fitz given a shot over the next few games but it will be a question of a square peg in a round hole whoever we play beside Henshaw (unless Darce was keeping something hidden the past 6 months, I don’t think he’s in the reckoning).
        I’d probably edge towards Henshaw-Fitzgerald. I’d also like Earls at least in the 23, if not on one of the wings. And I would also start Payne at fullback…of course nobody would ever admit that the Payne to 13 experiment hasn’t worked…and nobody seems to be able to admit that Kearney is in a real trough.

  6. Billy

     /  August 6, 2015

    Dunno about the last 40 of the Wales match – 40+ phases in the Wales 22 and only a try from a maul to show. I don’t recall us ever looking so blunt.

    Agreed on all else. Without meaning to go all Kevin Keegan, I would love it if Cave or Earls kicked on and played themselves into real form and gave us some options in the centre.

    No brainer for me on Tuohy-Ryan. Both great athletes, Tuohy has more in terms of carrying, Ryan maybe more on defence. The major diff for me is bottle – I doubt Tuohy’s but Ryan has it in spades.

    • osheaf01

       /  August 6, 2015

      Earls was in real form for the last 3 months of last season…

  7. We’ll be grand lads, Tommy O’ Donnell is in the side. Correct me if I’m wrong (which I may be, I’m too busy with job applications to fact check right now) but he’s the only currently playing Irish capped player with no test losses.

    • There’s a bunch of players (Ah You, James Cronin,, Diack) already eliminated and a couple still in with a chance (Marmion – 3 caps; Herring – 1 cap), but nobody near TOD’s 8 caps over 3 seasons.

    • toro toro

       /  August 6, 2015

      Ha ha. This is an analogue of Spurs failing to win for the first 24 games Gareth Bale played in, isn’t it? Not sure I’d take it as much of an indication of player quality.

  8. Leinsterlion

     /  August 6, 2015

    “Four years ago the same happened, with Kidney forced into the drastic action of dropping entirely the one scrum half he had staked all his chips on playing into form. ”
    Because his outhalf shit the bed formwise and physically wasnt up to it and needed a nine to keep the defence honest as his game had been completely figured out. Strings is unfairly maligned, quality player, quality pass, ROG was shit, yet Strings gets the blame as we had no other viable ten.

    Cant believe Hendo isnt being considered at 6, easily our most physically imposing back row after SOB. ould have loved for him to get the run to the WC at 6, have him really put in a shift, no offense to Jordi and TOD, neither are going to move the incumbents, Hendo on the other hand would offer a genuine competition at 6.
    Hope Earls goes well and provides competition, cant see it tbh mentally and physically he is a liability, but it would be nice, maybe even force Payne into a run at fb, give us another option aside from the “running into contact/(contestable)hoooof” that we currently possess.
    Another big hope would be for Trimble and Ferg to shed their cement boots and display some acceleration, trundling bravely into contact with all the speed of a cement mixer and recycling is not enough for an international winger, who cares that you can field and defend well.

    • Kelly

       /  August 6, 2015

      You sure don’t need an opening for a ROG rant. I’m pretty sure the scrum half they’re referencing is Thomas O’Leary. And the starting outhalf in 2011 was Sexton. but you are correct that Stringer takes a load of unnecessary flak.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 6, 2015

        Ah, I read the “08 things never really got going” and segued it into the next para about the scrum half being out of form, and I asumed WOC had fallen into the spin that it was he who was at fault, such is our lot at WC’s that you can mistake two WC failures for the same WC……

    • Oeuvre

       /  August 6, 2015

      Cough, O’Leary…

    • seiko

       /  August 7, 2015

      Hendo’s day will come, but it won’t be at 6 with SOB at 7. Remember how Ireland got on v. Wales in the last world cup with a backrow of Ferris (streets ahead of Hendo at the moment), SOB & Heislip. Brawn isn’t everything in the backrow.

      Henderson could be the 2007 version of Ferris and POM this world cup’s version of Easterby.

      • I think Hendo’s better than Ferris. Gasp! There, I said it. Based on him going off to study actuarial science or economics I figure Hendo’s a smart dude as well.
        Making a comparison with a team coached very differently that had a novice international scrum-half isn’t really comparing apples with apples. I hope that Hendo gets to start at 6 in this tournament, I believe his physicality will benefit the team.

        • Seiko

           /  August 7, 2015

          Ah here now, Lydiate & Warburton just chopped Ferris and O’Brian down all day long and Ireland would have benefitted with more of a ground hog openside than just two big ball carriers.

          Don’t go blaming Murray for that defeat. Reddan (his 2nd world cup) was on for at least 30 minutes. David Wallace was the big loss in that team.

          • Controversial! Sure wouldn’t it be great to have them both. 🙂 I’m a fan of o’mahony but must admit am coming round to the notion that Ireland’s best team would start with poc, toner, Henderson, obrien, heaslip and finish with poc, Henderson, obrien, Henry (although I’m not sure o’donnell isn’t more suited to impact sub), heaslip. That would still leave a second row (potentially Ryan who could also cover 6) or Murphy or pom on the bench to cover injury.

            Am still inclined to think of Henderson as a lock in the long term, but in Gaelic football you’d say a good player can play anywhere. It’s not normally applicable to rugby and I’m not saying he could prop or kick goals but Henderson definitely is a cut above buttermilk with what he can do.

            One thing Ireland will have more of this time around is not necessarily brawn (although hopefully that too), but variety in how they attack and defend. 4 years ago it just was nowhere near as evolved as it is now. The lightning-strike set plays, when to use the choke tackle, decisions around the ruck, the kicking game, lineout attack and defence….all are becoming more sophisticated and refined. If the injury wolf can be kept from the door – it will be very hard to beat.

          • Seiko

             /  August 7, 2015

            ‘ The lightning-strike set plays, when to use the choke tackle, decisions around the ruck, the kicking game, lineout attack and defence …’

            Yep, thats what POM brings to the table and you want to drop him?

      • O’Mahony is a top player. No argument. Has proven it time and again. I can’t imagine there is an argument from you that Henderson is a good player as well. I would keep an open mind in how best to use the resources, but at the moment as I said above, I would be coming round to the idea of starting with Henderson at 6, yeah. I think he adds a little more bulk for the early part of the game, but by moving him into the row as the game goes on you are able to play a considerably different way and ask some different questions of your opponent. That’s not on the table with o’mahony. O’brien also has history of making the move from 7 to 6 mid-game and I think it worked very well for Schmidt and Leinster. I’d accept others may disagree with that. To have two players able to provide that kind of change-up though (allied to impact subs like Cronin, Moore, Healy or McGrath, and whichever other 2 forwards you pick – I’d go Ryan, o’donnell but I am dubious that o’donnell will make the squad unfortunately) would be a formidable enough proposition to play against.

        Equally, I can understand staying as is and keeping Henderson pretty much solely as an impact sub for the second row, I’ve actually argued for it before, but Henderson changed my mind. Do you not think that it is a position where Schmidt could make a justifiable decision either way?

        • Seiko

           /  August 8, 2015

          There are a couple of things that don’t add up about Henderson. He might be a bit too free-spirited to become the player he could be with all his natural talent. Pursuing academic qualifications at this stage of his career (as mentioned above) and his age seems a bit odd (Paul O’Connell dropped out of college to concenrate on rugby and he was an A student). The mainly sub appearances would also suggest that Schmdit has question marks over him. Peter O’Mahony was captaining Ireland on the US at the same age while Henderson can’t secure a starting spot at either lock or in the backrow.

          • Not sure what point the mole was making with the academia thing. It’s a bit of a rob herring I’d agree. Good move for him but not a whole lot of relevance really and in my experience book smarts isn’t a pre-requisite for pitch smarts anyways. In fact book smarts ain’t a pre-requisite for smart full stop.

            No real argument on the Pom thing again, he got backed for selection (when plenty of people doubted it) and he has backed that selection up. I don’t think Henderson being a free spirit or not being selected as a starter for Ireland means a whole lot either though seiko. I’d disagree that it is an indication of a lack of backing from Schmidt, more of an acknowledgement of toner and pom’s displays in green. When O’Mahony and Henderson lined up against each other….now I know there are plenty of variables and also that it’s not a direct match up, a game of rugby has moving parts, but….if you based selection from that game, I’d be thinking it gives Henderson a nudge. And it’s not like that was an isolated performance. It’s part of an extended body of work. It’s why it is – for me – possibly time to give him that chance. I don’t think either player would disappoint though.

          • I’m going to take the opposite position to most (cause I’m contrary like that). Henderson almost dropped out of rugby completely for a period, and when combined with some long term injuries (obviously not his fault) is probably a decent bit behind the development curve that you would want from a player like him.
            His international peers are the likes of Lawes and Launchbury, Etzebeth, du Toit, de Jager, Retallick, Jake Ball, the Grays and Rob Harley. Take a minute and honestly rank Henderson as he is now – not his potential – along a graph of those players and it becomes a lot easier to see him as unlikely to start against a top tier nation.

      • At u20 I always thought Henderson was comparable to lawes and etzebeth yeah. In fact I thought he had more football than the pair of them who were even more monstrous then than they now appear in the big leagues. He has had injury, but that has hardly held him back-he pretty much walked straight back into the Ireland squad.

        I’ve always liked the way his coaches didn’t flog him and instead gave him a nice steady introduction (have a read of the demented mole’s quite superb ‘age of Aquarius’ article), but when I hear the doubts I almost wish he got the full chieka-style sink or swim treatment. Almost.

        To be honest I look at that list my friend and think if (not an easy if) Ireland can win 3 to 4 big games I’d be happy enough to see Henderson against any of them in a world cup final.

  9. ‘One thing sure to keep a man (or woman) in everlasting ignorance is contempt prior to investigation.’ I always wanted to see earls play more at 15, but he is a quality player and really hope he goes well. It’s a good pack but the back line is very experimental and with wee PJ, cave (a converted 13 playing 12) and reddan in there they will all have to pull their weight defensively. I think earls appears to have done a lot of core strength work over this past year or two. This is the time to show it off if he can. It’s wales, so fair to guess there might be some direct centre play to give him the chance to prove it.

    It does look a nudge forward for bent too. Greg feek has always batted for him pretty vocally in the face of criticism, so i probably should be less surprised than I am. Greek feek as a character reference gives you some decent leverage in my book, so am looking forward to seeing how he goes. I do also remember that very first cameo against South Africa as being solid as fuch too. As much as furlong’s potential is there, really this World Cup is about delivering right now. In those last few available slots, if a player can produce it over the next few weeks – furlong-bent , Ryan-tuhoy, tod-murphy, etc then they’ve earned it.

    • Schmidt said in yesterday’s press conference he’s splitting the squad 17/14. So that almost certainly means 5 props, one of whom needs to prop both sides to cover minor injuries. Looks like The Redemption of Bentlase is upon us.

      • Didn’t catch him saying that-thanks sc. Hard to see how they could take the 17 with more than 5 props alright.

  10. Dave,

    This is the most honest,objective and informed comment on Irish Rugby that there is. If you want to be able to handle conversation with the high priests you would do well to start here. Leinster pretenders totally rely on it.



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