Glass Half Full

Four years ago, the half-back combination were Ireland’s biggest personnel headache heading into the World Cup – at scrum-half, Tomas O’Leary was the first choice but was playing like a drain – he was being kept out of the Munster team by young tyro (© Gerry) and 4th choice at Ireland Conor Murray and all attempts to play him into form were progressively worse. One out, after 18+ months of prevaricating between Jonny Sexton and RADGE, we still had not decided on our starting outhalf.

Unsurprisingly, this all came back to bite us – while Conor Murray smoothly stepped up and ended the tournament as starter, it was too much to ask of him to play the French petit general role. That one went to Ronan O’Gara Jonny Sexton Ronan O’Gara, which didn’t work out. Not Radge’s fault, but chickens came home to roost.

This time around it’s all so different – bringing Benty (PLEASE – let’s keep him out of this one below the line) means we have space for an extra back, which looks like being Ian Madigan, meaning squad selection dilemmas are virtually nil.

Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton would likely be the Lions starting pair if a tour started tomorrow, and Eoin Reddan is the back-up change-up scrummie on the bench.  Reddan had a poor season for Leinster, but was superb against Wales, albeit with the ball presented on a silver platter.  The only remaining question is who Sexton’s backup is – while he has started 15 games under Schmidt, he has only finished 2, with 1 of those being injury-enforced – so this is a live question.

Under Schmidt, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley have all started one game but Jackson and Madigan have vied for the first reserve position, with Jackson sitting on the bench for the 2014 Six Nations (except, famously, the last game) and Madigan for the other series. The generally accepted pecking order is that Madigan is the bench guy, but if Sexton is injured Jackson or Keatley are preferred. Since Keatley displaced Jackson in the squad for the 2014 November internationals, their form-lines have sharply diverged – Jackson has returned from injury playing heads-up and sharp rugby right on the gainline and is a good defender, while Keatley was a harrowed mess by season end. Madigan, the best goal kicker of the three by a distance, was stuck behind Jimmy Gopperth for most of Matt O’Connor’s Leinster reign, and was playing like Keatley for the tail end of it. When the wider squad was named, Keatley was out and Jackson and Madigan were in.

Jackson started the Wales game, playing well but kicking from the tee again remains a concern, and the received wisdom is that Mad-dog will get a shot at Scotland. And the likelihood is that all three will make the squad – Jackson will be Sexton’s nominal backup if he goes down while Madigan will wear number 22. If Sexton does go down and Jackson starts a Test, the biggest question remains around his place-kicking – while Sexton and Madigan are 80+% men, Jackson is 70%, on a good day (he went 4/7 against Wales and missed one easy kick). Can we trust an outhalf who isn’t a guaranteed kicker? It certainly contributed to Sexton’s demotion in 2011.

This time around, Jacko has been working with Dave Aldred, and Richie Murphy chalked Jackson’s first missed kick in the Millennium down to it being his first of the season coming early in the game, and him not being settled in his breathing yet. Mind you, would you trust Madigan to start a game, even with his kicking? At least it’s better than 2007, when the backups were Paddy Wallace (centre) and Geordy Murphy (fullback).

At least we know both will make the squad. At scrummie, the third slot seems likely to go to Isaac Boss, who, incredibly, will be going to his 3rd World Cup (as will Eoin Reddan) despite just 7 starts for Ireland – which must be some kind of record. At least Boss has been in and around matchday squads under Schmidt. Kieron Marmion looked to have inched ahead of him nine months ago, but a poor performance in the Wolfhounds game and a significant drop in performance in the second half of the season means Boss is back. After that, the dropoff is severe.

The squad, Test 23 and Test XV selections largely pick themselves, which is nice:

  • Test starter: Murray, Sexton
  • Test backups: Reddan, Jackson
  • Test bench: Reddan, Madigan
  • Tackle-bag duty: Boss
Advertisements
Next Post

44 Comments

  1. I think the scrum half selection mirrors the out half one: Murray (as per Sexton) is starter, Reddan (Madigan) is the bench guy but in the event of the big dog going down Boss (Jackson) would start as the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement.

    As for Marmion, he’s looking over his shoulder at Cooney, who was simply superb the back end of last season, at provincial level.

    • Lop12

       /  August 13, 2015

      Agree 100% re Cooney. Form came too late in season for him but was probably the 2nd best 9 in the country last yr. Real livewire.

  2. I’m not religious but I will be praying before every match that Sexton comes through unscathed. Jackson is a decent replacement to start, and Maddog from the bench – but Sexton is so key to our chances it just cannot be underestimated.

    Not as concerned about SH. Yes, Murray is very important – but I feel Reddan (and Boss being truthful) would at least be a “stable” replacement, with their experience.

    If all else fails, then throw Benty in at 10.

    • Donal

       /  August 14, 2015

      God I feel the opposite. Reddan and Boss were pretty awful all year. For me despite Johnny being the better player Murray is the key man due to the monumental drop to the Lenster pair,

  3. You’d think that wee PJ would start at least the Canada game to allow us to cotton wool Sexton. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bench with PJ and Mads on at some point if Kearney was rested for a game either.

    Madigan’s inclusion probably spells the end of Cave/D’Arcy’s RWC hopes though.

  4. A big day beckons for Madigan and D’Arcy against Scotland, if balls.ie is to be believed. Certainly Madigan under Schmidt is a completely different creature than the MO’C version. Zebo supposedly will be playing 15. A good performance and he could make it onto the plane at the expence of Felix Jones.

  5. connachtexile

     /  August 13, 2015

    With regards Marmion he was carrying a knee injury for most of the second half of the season which hindered his mobility and speed. AFAIK he is now completely healed so will be interesting to see how he does. It might be too late for him or he could surprise folks and get in ahead of Boss. Thought he did ok against Wales if nothing spectacular. Depends what Joe sees on the training pitch.

  6. curates_egg

     /  August 13, 2015

    Thought Jackson was disappointing on Saturday. I was hoping he would put in an unequivocally strong performance, so he makes clear he is ready for international rugby and is the clear back-up…as his form this season would suggest he is the only option. He definitely didn’t though. Some poor decision-making and looked like a passenger at times, despite us having lots of great possession.
    Will he get another chance to start before the world cup? He looks like he needs it.

  7. Leinsterlion

     /  August 13, 2015

    I think every back up for ten for a test nation(without another goal kicker elsewhere) is the guy with the most accurate boot. Hansen played Slade on the wing to get that kicking ability into the team in case of Carter and Cruden(now crocked) going down. Unless PJ can prove he’s as efficient from the tee as Dirty Harry is at cleaning up San Fran, it’s Maddog’s job to lose.
    I dont see the point in Boss, if we are down to him starting or coming on to change things we are goosed, far better to bring on pace in the likes of Cooney or Marmion to spark something (not to ignore the long term benefits of giving them exposure at a WC). Boss was a good player who could have garnered more starts at his peak imo, but that is long past, there on reputation/favouritism.

    The ship has sailed on Keatley, nice bloke, but mentally he fell apart once again, Maddog has MOC’s reign of terror to point when people question his inclusion, who can Keatley blame for falling apart, simply not consistent enough.

    • Amiga500

       /  August 13, 2015

      No point being great off the tee if you cannot guide your team into their half to take advantage of penalties.

      Madigan’s numerous no-shows in Wolfhounds matches does not stand to him.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 13, 2015

        Mads has spent the past two years playing mickey mouse rugby, if five months in camp with Schmidt has not ironed out at least some of those faults, I’ll concede, his sucess from the tee would not warrant his inclusion. Would Schmidt think that way though, with Murray in the team he can do a passable impression of Fourie DuPreez on occasion, Mads would be there not to fuck up and kick points, simple really.

      • True. But his good performances at the helm against the Eagles and the Canucks on tour in 2013 plus his helping to close out the 6 Nations decider in Paris in 2014 do.

        • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

           /  August 13, 2015

          Seems to me if you need a stand-out performance in a wolfhounds game, put your shirt on wee PJ. If it’s a clutch situation in a crucial test and Sex-Bomb is walking wounded, only guy I want to see running towards him is Mad Dog. Nothing unusual about this IMHO. All about big game mentality / attitude / swagger and Madigan has it in spades.
          VERY hypothetically, who would Billy Bean sign??

          • Lop12

             /  August 14, 2015

            Billy Bean would be all over the versatility of IM and durability of IM for a start. Milk a whole heap out of him in a season than PJ!

          • SportingBench

             /  August 14, 2015

            Bean is all about value for moeny and Madigan has a higher profile and is therefore likely to be more expensive on the open market. Yes, it is a slightly different point but the whole moneyball thing is about looking behind hyoe and picking up slightly more unfashionable and therefore underrated players. Whatever you think of Madigan as a player, as these comments regularly testify, he is anything but unfashionable.

    • Billy

       /  August 13, 2015

      I can’t believe I’m about to do this but I actually agree with you.

      I have been critical of Madigan from the outset but there’s no doubting he’s one of the best goal-kickers in the world right now. If we are to beat France, England, SA, Aus, NZ it won’t be through extravagant rugby, they will be one score games and having a 90% kicker on the bench would be huge. My one caveat would be that this is dependent on Murray playing 9. I would argue that Murray steers the ship territorially as much if not more than Sexton. Murray 9, Madigan 10 – I could live with that. Much less pressure on Madigan around the pitch. Reddan 9, Madigan 10 – terrifying.

      I believe that Jackson is a superior 10 but not superior to the extent that it compensates for Madigan’s kicking in a knockout rugby situation.

      • SportingBench

         /  August 13, 2015

        i think I would agree with that.

      • ruckinhell

         /  August 13, 2015

        Spot on above, especially re the role that Murray has as a playmaker.

      • D6W

         /  August 13, 2015

        Me too. WoC writes Madigan is best kicker if the 3 replacements, but without stats to hand, is he the best kicker of all 4 10s?

        Much as PJ’s play has greatly improved since return from injury, the 1st kick he missed was a shocker. But I am annoyed at the bogus excuses being peddled by the kicking coach later. How stupid does he think the fans are? Jackson shanked it from nerves, pure and simple.

    • In principle I completely object to your point – why does the 10 have to be the kicker? Why aren’t more teams going the Leinster route with kickers like Nacewa and McFadden across the backline?

      In practice however, the last world cup backs up your pick the goalkicker 10 rule – just 16 tries in the 7 knockout games, and 2 games decided by differences in goal kicking (SA vs. Oz; Wales vs. France).

      • D6W

         /  August 13, 2015

        Interesting question. If I was to guess an answer, I would say it is because the half-backs are the ones who spend the most time with the kicking coaches anyway, so it is natural to that place kicking would also be worked on at same time. But just guess.

        Kearney Snr used to also take long boot place kicks for Leinster and Ireland, but I have not seen him do it in years.

        • Ah you still see Bob line up the odd long range drop goal whenever he’s particularly angry still, no?

          • D6W

             /  August 13, 2015

            Yes, but more often than not he second guesses himself and changes his mind. More MOC instilled self doubt!

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 13, 2015

        I dont agree with it either, lol, I’d pick the best playmaker and let him do the business, give the kicking to someone else, drop a wing if needs be(wing being a fairly rudimentary position, little known fact, POM once played wing in an AIL final). Its a cultural thing, I can see France doing it with the multitude of kicking nines, SA with Pienaar, Aus with Gits or Toouma. Un-Zee have practiced it with Slade on the wing, it just requires unorthodox thinking, and of course, a player who can kick them(Scotland did it with Paterson, but then lost the plot and thought he was a ten because he could kick and played him there, negating the entire exercise).

        • SportingBench

           /  August 13, 2015

          I don’t think that the argument is that Madigan has to be backup because he is the best kicking ten but rather because their aren’t many other kicking options in the squad outside of the 10s. So if Jackson plays but can’t be relied on for the kicks (and I think he has still time to answer that question) who will kick the points? I’d happily have a hooker do it if they are up to the job.

        • If Sexton goes down (or indeed loses his kicking boots), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Madigan at 12 doing his best Piri Weepu RWC11 impression (https://rakiura.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/piri-weepu-i-got-this.jpg)

          • Weepu’s display in the quarter final must still give Kiwis nightmares

            “That’s it – we’ll have to play Beaver”

      • Billy

         /  August 13, 2015

        I guess it’s just tradition. 10 in underage generally kicks and they develop the expertise from there. But if you look across the major nations there aren’t as many kicking 10s as you’d think – Halfpenny, Laidlaw, Giteau, Parra, etc.

        I think the last time Ireland had another position kicking was probably Niall Woods or Simon Mason!

        I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens if Ringrose hits the big time – I think he went an entire successful Schools cup campaign only missing one kick (!?) – which is prodigious. That said, he hasn’t kicked for Ireland under 20s. Interesting.

        • Ferg was an excellent place-kicker in his day. Was never clear why he was relieved of said duties.

          Anyone else reckon Henderson could do a John Eales?

          • I believe under Uncle Joe at Leinster the backup kicker to Sexton was selected based on internal training competitions, so order generally went Ferg, Nacewa, Madigan, Kearnashian the Elder. Eventually Madigan overtook both boys ahead of him. If Madigan plays 12 alongside Sexton for Leinster this season it’ll be interesting to see who kicks goals. I’d imagine Madigan’s %s are ahead of pretty much everyone in Europe, so you’d think he’s be first choice.

        • Spikes

           /  August 13, 2015

          Agreed on spreading the kicking duties around. While we’re at it, why isn’t there a second option for lineout throwing for when your hooker has the yips? Wingers used to do it. O’Brien has thrown in a couple for Ireland. It’d be useful option for when Rory gets his occasional dose of the wobblies

      • Lop12

         /  August 14, 2015

        At club level you can maybe carry a “moderate” winger who can kick. Need your best wingers on the pitch at international level. Different type of player, different temperament etc found in back three players than in the half backs normally.

        id say your blistering fast wingers be minding those hamstrings not sure couple of hours a day kicking practice be much help!!! Although I think the crusaders/NZ wing Naholo does a bit if kicking?

        • Leinsterlion

           /  August 14, 2015

          I dont think Ireland have any(in the squad) blistering fast wingers outside of Earls(at least over 20/30m). Zebo looks like he has another gear in him, but I’ve never seen him hit it in an international jersey. I’ll cite Slade for NZ, albeit they are a team who can stack the deck at FB and on the other wing, and Slade is no slouch.
          Mads could make it into the starting team as a wing, with PJ at ten if Schmidt doesnt reckon he is up to it and Sexton is out, I would rather have him on the wing than at 12(well I’d rather have him at ten, but we are working off the assumption that he has been utterly MOC’d as a frontline ten)

          • Lop12

             /  August 14, 2015

            Suggesting Madigan could survive on the wing against a decent test nation is absolutely ludicrous IMVHO. Throwing Slade into a massively dominant All Blacks side against Scotland is more than a little different.

            Madigan may be quick enough but defending the wing at that level against the likes of North, Savea etc is a different ball game. Madigan be left sittin on his arse very quick!!!

          • Leinsterlion

             /  August 14, 2015

            He is used to defending backrow and bosh merchants in the ten and twelve channel, you can either defend or you cant, simple as, look at Earls for example, he’s a banker on two or three missed tackles a match.
            Defending at twelve is harder then defending on the wing, you have a touchline and inside men covering at wing, twelve you are isolated, its a much tougher position to consistently get into good reads and body positions due to it being so close to the action. Its the hardest position to defend in the backline imo.
            Wing is an easy read unless you are a moron and shoot up(™Luke Fitz) leaving your cover scrambling and exposed if you miss. Plus he has positional ability from playing fb and dropping back as a ten. Wing is the easiest place in the world to hide someone, there are reams of suspect wingers plying their trade, sure look at Cuthbert for Wales, brainless. Plus, its not like we would have to drop any world class wingers if it came to pass, seeing as we haven’t got any.

      • curates_egg

         /  August 14, 2015

        Totally agree. 2 or 3 years ago I wrote a blog for harpin on rugby about our 10 situation and nothing has changed. Why on earth do we not try and have kickers in different positions: it’s not that hard to ensure and a lot of other international sides do. Murray always practises place kicks. He should be properly trained and encouraged to take them for Munster.

        It brings me on to another of my massive annoyances with Irish rugby blind spots: the dropgoal. Since Radge ascended into ligind heaven, we have no outhalf that regularly tries drop goals at provincial level. The result being that when you actually need them (Toulon-Leinster this year), you have no basis for delivering them.
        Even when Radge was playing for Ireland, I can only remember him kicking a couple of dropgoals beyond the obvious one. Why is it frowned upon in Ireland?

    • curates_egg

       /  August 14, 2015

      Here it is. Re-reading it, not that much has changed…sigh. http://harpin2.blogspot.ie/2013/02/10-straw-men.html
      I should try and dig up the one I wrote about the Leinster centres…probably not much has changed there either.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 14, 2015

        Thats depressing reading, “sign an old hand…..to bring Madigan on”…….. Worked out well…. Gops was certainly no Shane Berne.

  8. Kevin

     /  August 13, 2015

    Madigan and Jackson have had plenty of opportunities to impress for Ireland and have shown zero improvement really, as well as there being a good few Leinster Ulster matches where both have played shite. Very disappointing from Jackson last Saturday, armchair ride against dreadful opposition and didn’t really do anything. I much prefer Madigan personally (mainly because he’s a much better goalkicker) but I fear he’s going to do a lot of harm to his chances on Saturday if he’s playing outside Boss, who has been godawful the past year (though a very good player up until then). Completely agree with Murray #1 and Reddan (not far off Aaron Smith playing behind a dominant pack) as #2, but Marmion(and indeed Cooney) offer far more than Boss, especially in terms of impact off the bench.

  9. Gareth

     /  August 13, 2015

    I think Billy is right on the money about Madigan.
    Madigan is a much better player than he has been showing in the last two years under MOC, he was player of the year in Leinster the previous year after all.
    He is also the best place kicker in our squad and points will win us matches.

    • That’s for sure. Primarily due to his kicking Madigan was the top points scorer with 113 in last season’s ERCC. The Castres away match in the group I seem to remember he kicked all Leinster’s points for example.

  10. osheaf01

     /  August 14, 2015

    With the caveat that Madigan is a great kicker, most of the time – I remember thinking, when he missed that penalty in Murrayfield in the 80th minute, “this could end up being critical.” Sure enough, it was…

    I was at the AB’s game in 2013, right in line with Sexton’s penalty and the post it went over. I still have nightmares about that!!

    What I’m trying to say: anyone can miss a kick they should get. Unless a player is missing 2 or 3 of those a match – Jackson last week, Keatley end of season for Munster – then I’d tend to go with the better player, not the better kicker.

%d bloggers like this: