Off The Plane

Ireland’s pre-season knockabout against Scotland in front of a half-full Palindrome will probably be forgotten rather quickly – we were ragged and loose and allowed the Scots to have a bit of fun at our expense. Vern Cotter will feel like it was something of a moral victory that his team piloted by Greg Tonks, carried by Mercurial David Denton and containing the first Scot to be capped as both a back and forward in over 100 years forced Ireland to look so vulnerable.

Joe Schmidt, on the other hand, got a look at a few of the faces on the fringes of his squad and some new combinations as well – and the RWC squad situation looks much clearer as a result.  This is the post where you can insert your own use of the well-worn phrases ‘Off The Plane’, ‘Fellas putting their hands up’.

In the forwards, the identity of the second row and back row are set in stone now – Dan Tuohy looked wild and unstructured and nothing like a ‘Schmidt player’ and is likely out of the picture, and the unlikely task for Jack Conan to dislodge Schmidt favourites Chris Henry and Jordi Murphy isn’t going to happen.

If we take five props, as seems likely, the 17 forwards will be:

  • Church, McGrath, Bent, Ross, Moore, Best, Cronin, Strauss
  • O’Connell, Toner, Henderson, Ryan
  • Heaslip, O’Brien, O’Mahony, Henry, Murphy

If we take six, Killer (who had a pretty useful outing, albeit with the traditional three penalties) and Nathan White look like the choices. Either way, they won’t be venturing too far from the training paddock – for if there is an injury to a front line prop, they are likely to be flown over pronto and parachuted straight onto the Test 23 bench.

We didn’t learn a whole lot from the halves – sure, Isaac Boss is slow to the ruck and ponderous when he gets there, but we knew that already. But Boss is going as third choice scrum-half, and the only alternative is Kieron Marmion, who is deemed to raw for the squad this time around. Knowing the premium Schmidt puts on players being in camp and around the group, the odds of Boss being usurped are low.  Boss is going to his third world cup.  Remarkable in many ways, but there you have it.

Madigan gave the traditional curates egg of a performance – flashes of Spencer-esque creativity, good off the tee but always culpable to brain farts. Nonetheless, he tipped the balance in favour of the positive.  His distribution in the lead-up to Zebo’s try was superb.  He appears to relish playing under Schmidty, and Schmidt seems to get the best of him. He’s going to go as bench outhalf, and after a miserable couple of years toiling under O’Connor, the World Cup could be a restorative event for him.

Among the outside backs, it got interesting.

It gave absolutely no-one any pleasure to see Dorce left so comprehensively marooned on the day he overtook the great Mike Gibson as Ireland’s longest serving player. The pace had long gone, the dancing feet have been going for a while, but it was sad to see the defensive reads and positional certainty be exposed by the likes of Tonks and Peter Horne. It felt to us like a waste of a pick (at this stage, Darren Cave can do everything Darce can, and more, so why bother?) before the game, but it’s clear now – there will not be any fairytale and Dorce will not be going to his fourth RWC. He undoubtedly feels he has more to offer, so let’s hope this season turns out to be productive for him – for Leinster.

Zeebs was named as Quinny’s man of the match, which was generous, if not outrageous. We would have gone for O’Brien or the excellent Jared Payne, but there you go. Zebo played well, was solid under the high ball, scored a nice try. He could be ahead of Felix Jones in the reckoning if Schmidt rates his obvious qualities as more relevant than his occasional tendency to error. Either way, you’d imagine he’s ahead of Fitzy, who looked to have reverted to the skittish trying-too-hard Fitzgerald of four years ago, well-taken try aside. While Earls and Zebo have looked assured and confident in this series so far, Fitzgerald was quite the opposite. The sight of Dishy Dave coming off the bench to good effect won’t be making him sleep much easier either. We’ll look at this one in more depth in a few days, but Fitzgerald could well be in a bit of bother.

Peter O’Reilly mentioned last Sunday that Dave Kearney has apparently been outstanding in training, and he certainly appeared tack-sharp in his cameo appearance.  We can expect to see him start the next match.  Kearney was a mainstay of Schmidt’s first season with Ireland but last year never got going with injury ruining his season.  He’s become something of a forgotten man but could be about to burst back on to the scene.

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  1. ruckinhell

     /  August 17, 2015

    Apart from the above summary which is fair and accurate, the big takeaway I have is how sad it is to see Scotland, a country which used to churn out hard rucking hard fighting and hard running backrowers in the 80s and 90s is now fielding two Kiwis and a Zimbo ahead of the World Cup. That’s what you get for putting Chainsaw Laney in charge of the SRU academy structure!

    • Leinsterlion

       /  August 17, 2015

      Thing is Scotland can still wheel out hardened teak tough(slightly aged) native scot backrowers, they just don’t pick them, eg the likes of Kelly Brown. Vern Cotter is taking the piss if he reckons some lad out of the ITM cup is a better player than someone like Brown.

  2. Mary Hinge

     /  August 17, 2015

    Wouldn’t disagree with your analysis of which forwards to go, except I suspect White may travel instead of Moore.

    • Think you could be right there, Mary. After announcing his team v Scotland Joe said something about maybe giving Moore a run out this coming Friday in Ravenhill. His RWC chances may well depend on him coming through that match fit and having a good performance.

  3. D6W

     /  August 17, 2015

    No mention of Bowe? O’Reilly mentioned in the same article that in training Bowe had appeared off the pace. He was pretty anonymous on Saturday, and Kearney’s performance emphasised that.

    • ORiordan

       /  August 17, 2015

      I still think Bowe has too much credit in the bank to be left out of the squad altogether however his position as a first choice pick may be at risk.

      • Yep, we tweeted during the game that Bowe lacked sharpness. He has an awful lot of credit in the bank, genuine world class at his best, but he would want to get motoring quickly.

        • It was certainly worrying that he was nearly as anonymous as D’Arcy in that game, with one nice aerial take and the fact that I don’t remember him missing any glaring tackles being the main things helping him stand out (which isn’t much). Maybe a drop to the bench against England or Wales could give him some a kick up the arse?

          • The thing that worries me is that this isn’t a recent phenomenon. It’s been a while since he’s had a stand out performance in green & his undoubtedly stellar reputation does seem to shield him from the level of criticism meted out to others

          • Yeah, he was solid if unspectacular in the 6N, but I thought he was great against Australia last Nov. His form for Ulster dipped too, the clanger of a no-look switch in latter stages of the Munster game springs to mind.

    • osheaf01

       /  August 17, 2015

      Bowe has been out of form for quite a while. His lack of sharpness compared to, say, Earls or, when he came on, Kearney, was quite noticeable. I can’t imagine he won’t make the squad but he might not make the matchday squad.

      • ORiordan

         /  August 17, 2015

        Bowe’s form for Ulster was decent enough last season with a strike rate of 8 tries from 17 games. In comparison, Earls also had a good strike rate with 7 from 14 for Munster. D Kearney got 3 from 15 and as he does for Ireland, Fitz is bringing up the rear with 1 from 17.

  4. Nothing much to disagree with there, Tuohy and D’Arcy certainly looked like they weren’t up to snuff.

    I’d have had Mads down as a contender for MotM. To be honest I didn’t notice the defensive lapses that people have mentioned in write-ups, but I thought he looked *very* sharp and put pressure on PJ for the “I am *the* backup to Sexton” spot, especially given the lack of armchair ride he got from everyone inside him.

    Considering that full strength sides are to be expected for the remaining warm-ups, it’ll be interesting to see who starts on the wings against Wales. It isn’t inconceivable that Trimble and Kearney could force Bowe out of the squad based on how he went against Scotland.

    Just for fun, I had a thought of who might be Off the Plane for the other countries involved at the weekend:
    – Scotland: Tonks/Jackson. One of them won’t make it, especially since Horne can cover 10 if he’s gotten over the Italy game.
    – England: Billy 36: Henry Slade did in one cap what Billy has been trying to do for pretty much the entire Lancaster reign. The Awesome Power™ did himself no harm either, but probably won’t make it unless Barritt or Burrell get injured.
    – France: Either of the centres, who to be honest I’d never heard of but neither of which showed much promise.
    – Australia: Toomua had a bit of a clanger, setting up two tries for BNZ with some awfully loose kicking. Kepu only lasting a half spells danger for him too, but lack of other backups at 8 might keep him safe.
    – BNZ: SBW is the big loser based on the last few weeks. Hasn’t played well when he’s been picked, Nonu/Fekitoa/Smith have torn it up when he’s been absent.

    As for Argentina/South Africa: Err, not gonna lie, didn’t really follow the game at the weekend. For SA I guess Pollard could be the big loser, even if he’s still probably going to travel? As for Argentina, they’ve already picked their squad so someone who isn’t on there! On a side note, how glorious were Argentina’s throwback jerseys?!

    • For Scotland, Jackson looked better than Tonks. And Big Jim must be getting concerned – Gilchrist was significantly better.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  August 17, 2015

      Any idea where I could pick one of those jerseys up, none of the usual sites for rugby gear seem to have them, definite must buy jersey.

      • Sadly not, I can’t actually find anywhere that sells their RWC jersey, normally I’d go down the Elverys/Lovell route but neither have anything for Argentina sadly.

  5. Gareth

     /  August 17, 2015

    Dave K did look very good when he came on, certainly worth a start against Wales. I thought Bowe was well off the pace. Delighted for Zebo, he has to be ahead of Jones now. I didn’t really notice Payne all match and am still waiting for him to play this potential in green.
    Plenty to work on…

    • Payne put in a good few telling tackles. I was impressed by that. Madigan, according to ESPN Stats, was up there with SO’B and Conan on 13 tackles, the only difference being, they got all their’s and he missed two.

    • I suggest watching the match again and focus on Payne. He had a very very good game. Maybe not in attack, but few did.

      • I think it’s a reasonable question to ask at this stage with Payne….what type of centre is he and how well is it working? I defended his selection at the start when people were going apoplectic a bit (although I thought he would be at 12) and after the 6nations win I was jokingly reminding a friend how he had been dead set against him as a centre. He was defiant enough and said to me ‘aye he’s done nothing wrong, but you tell me one thing you remember that has stood out.’ He kinda had a point. My view is that he has done his job well, with no fuss and – as daveoirl says – defensively good. Does that make him our brad barritt? I had been hoping for a bit more 2nd playmaker style, but to-date I think the gameplans has kept him away from the more flashy attacking aspects. Maybe they just want to keep playmaking duties with sexton (and Murray too I guess), but having Payne as a wider pivot for your back 3…..or giving you a threat to go both sides of the ruck….I think we could do more with him. He is a quality, smart player.

        Generally though I think Ireland are in ticking over mode now. They know they are well prepped and I’d say nearly all the squad is decided. As such the tommy o’donnell thing is bound to have had an impact. People can talk about compartmentalise, nature of the game yada yada, but to see someone’s World Cup end before it starts is terrible. And then think it could be you. I know when Ross got bumped by Denton I was thinking: go easy there mike you could bloody hurt yourself. I would nearly need a session with enda Mcnulty to get in the right frame of mind to watch the games never mind those lads playing in them.

        Other than that I thought madigan was excellent, especially second half, but the most interesting thing was how ferocious the French pack looked and also Argentina. If anyone thought Scotland made a decent job of spoiling the other day, just wait to you see this current Argentina team. There will be no easy path I’m afraid.

        • Argentina keep me awake at night. They have had a full cycle of proper tests against SH biggies – not end of year half-assed efforts. That can only bring you to a much higher level. Plus they have wrapped up a few of their players e.g. Nico Sanchez in preparation for the 2016 SR Buenos Aires franchise.

          • osheaf01

             /  August 19, 2015

            You’d still take Argentina over New Zealand, any day of the week. The team that has the nice schedule is the team due to play Scotland in the quarters. That’s the only “bye” draw.

  6. Red Wolf

     /  August 17, 2015

    Madigan has edged it for me. not only on the performance, but the fact he had to play with a scrum half who never seemed to be in a rush to get the ball away early and help unlock the defense ( compare this with Jackson last week who was getting laser passes from Reddan) and Darcy who gave him no target on which to launch an attack ( unlike Cave last week)

    Darce and Touhy were well below standard. Kilcoyne I feel will lose out from his proclivity to give away cheap penalties, as this does not fit in with Joe’s “aggregation of marginal gains”.
    Fitz and Jones are next in the queue for the chopping block and will both need big games and or injuries to the rest of the squad to make it on. I have to agree with previous commentators, Bowe does seem to be there on credit, only question is how log can it last.

    13 tackles in one match is big (PO’M haters take your lead from that….), 13 on your debut is massive. Conan is showing huge promise and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him.

  7. Red Wolf

     /  August 17, 2015

    Also, the purposeful lack of attacking their rucks at the weekend just has me excited to see what we have up our sleeves.

  8. Xyz

     /  August 17, 2015

    For me SOB was a country mile ahead of everyone else. Some guys, on taking the captain’s armband, seem to freeze and go into them selves. SOB did the opposite, wanting to take on everything. Spectacular performance.

    Zebo, however, did superbly, and I would struggle to say that RK would have have done anything better.

    Madigan had one of his better games, but still seems to bite in early at the worst possible time in defence.

    Disappointed at the lack of leadership from Toner (as I am a huge fan), Conan was laying a claim for the next RWC cycle, much of the rest of the pack had a par outing at best.

    Boss and D’Arcy are toast – can’t see them coming to England/Wales.

  9. Leinsterlion

     /  August 17, 2015

    Boss, Tuhoy and Darce, arrivederci. I’d like to see Mads retained and played with a functioning 9 and 12, see what he can do, he played as good as could be hoped for, considering what he had inside and out, a welcome return to form.

    • Kevin

       /  August 18, 2015

      Do you think Boss will actually be dropped? Marmion seems to be the one player Joe has no interest in. The one gripe I’d have with Joe is the amount of starts Darcy and Boss have been given the past few years, especially in meaningless games

      • To be fair, Marmion got a start for the Wolfhounds and had a chance to usurp Boss, but was poor and got dropped. We know what Boss offers, and no-one has yet come to that level.

        Be concerned in two years when Boss and Reddan have retired. Conor Young up in Ulster seems to be semi-decent, but you’d want to see him getting a few starts this season in the Rabo – Small Paul and Rowley are hardly the future.

        • Reckon Joe’ll be wanting to fast track Ooh Aah Luke McGrath in as Murray’s understudy. Probably the reason he gave him a run out in the Baabaas match in Thomond. Luke gave a good account of himself on the Emerging tour in Georgia also. Big chance for him to establish his credentials in Leinster if Boss travels to the RWC.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  August 18, 2015

        No, I dont reckon Boss will be dropped, he should be though, he has been woeful, completely ineffective, pointless taking him, he offers nothing besides being a 35 year old Issac Boss.

      • Amiga500

         /  August 24, 2015

        I’d have long since dropped Boss and brought in Peter Stringer.

        Yeah, he won’t be around for next world cup, yeah, its not developing youth, but neither is Boss and Stringer is better at everything except his size. Probably less brain-farts than Reddan too.

  10. I concur with the various assessment of SO’B’s sterling performance. IMO however while he played magnificently in his position as an individual, I think he might have lost sight of his job as captain. It’s not enough just to lead from the front, the captain also has to marshal his forces. That part of his game seemed lacking – hardly suprising, as it was his first time to captain the team. In this context one could notice the difference when Paulie came on. He got the team collectively going again. Maybe I’m reading stuff into the game, that wasn’t there. Certainly I’d be interested to hear what anybody else thinks in this regard.

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