No Place for Young Men

Well, hello everyone. We were sentenced to three weeks solitary confinement on Twitter by The Man for under-use of the phrase “you never know which France will turn up”. In the event, and as expected, we did know, but Ireland lacked the accuracy and gumption to beat them. Every ruck was like a war zone, Ireland were stuck narrow and when they did get wide, there was a paucity of ideas and accuracy.

It’s been a tough start to the series – the scrum has been poor, the lineout average, and the breakdown a lottery. Ireland’s successive championships have been based on strong defence and swift and accurate counter-rucking without over-committing, with the regular supply of fast ball has enabled Schmidt’s men to dictate the terms of engagement. The defence is still excellent, but Ireland have lost the ability to score points, with only three coming in 80 second half minutes.

Under Schmidt, Ireland have frequently been very strong after half-time, scoring tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half against England, France, South Africa (2014) and England, France (RWC), Argentina (2015). That strength hasn’t been present in this tournament, and the bench hasn’t been able to turn the loss in momentum. Without a doubt, injuries have hit us badly – Healy, Ross, Henderson, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Sexton, Payne, Dishy Dave, Earls, Fitzgerald and Zebo have all missed time at some point – that’s the guts of a team. And of course Some Ginger Bloke From Limerick has retired.

We’re not really sure that the much-discussed tactics aren’t working any more as much as Ireland can’t execute. The team feels tired, perhaps in need of new strings, but probably not a complete re-cast.

Now Ross is back, he simply has to come into the team and steady the scrum – and we should really think about giving Furlong some game time at some point. For the home games? Perhaps facing Mako Vunipola for 25 minutes isn’t the right time – or perhaps it is. When we hear ROG say “Twickenham is no place to throw a guy in”, we instinctively get a little suspicious – both Furlong and White are professional rugby players who live for occasions like this, the real question should be: do we think White or Furlong is better equipped to handle Vunipola? If it’s a tie, pick Furlong, he’s younger and will be around for the next number of years. Just like BOD’s Twitter, the messenger shouldn’t be equated with the message.

In the row, it’s simply hands over the eyes and hoping for the best – Ryan hasn’t been playing at all well enough to inspire anything like confidence, but perhaps Ultan Dillane will do well. With England dispensing with the Awesome Power of Courtney Lawes for the much more frightening Awesome Power of Maro Itoje, this is a huge test. The backrow haven’t really gelled yet this tournament, despite the emergence of the passionate one – indeed Stander has emerged as our primary ball carrier, and we’ve been a little over-reliant on him to say the least. There is an element of “give it to the big guy”, Stander is actually effective at carrying but since everyone else just falls over at the first contact, it’s pretty predictable. He made plenty of metres against Wales, but the French got to him and he averaged a second-row-esque 70cm per carry.  And of course when Stander, or anyone else, gets tackled, we haven’t been able to clear out rucks effectively. Perhaps it’s time to pick wingers for their rucking? While we’re on the topic, the selection of McFadden for Paris was predictably ineffective – he missed tackles, passed poorly and the game passed him by. We have legitimate concerns about Craig Gilroy’s tackling and positioning, but it’s no worse than Ferg’s right now – and he know where the try line is. Schmidt bottled that selection, and it hopefully doesn’t happen again. In any case, with Zebo and Earls back in contention for the weekend, McFadden can be safely dispatched to Leinster.

We disgress. A backrow of Stander, O’Donnell and Heaslip should be able to cope with England’s battery of 6.5’s – plenty of #unseenwork in there, and having Rhys Ruddock (still only 25!) to come off the bench feels good to us. The huge hole at second row (Lawes would likely be our number one lock, but can’t make the England 23) means we are unlikely to win the forward battle, but we shouldn’t get completely mauled either. The game feels to us like one of those ones that will be close on the scoreboard, but the result never really in doubt, 16-9 or something, like a (slightly) higher-class version of the Calcutta Cup.

The game might be more notable for it being Choo Choo Stu’s big chance – Jared Payne has been defensively excellent for Ireland, a real lynchpin, but he looks unlikely to make it. The obvious move would be to put Henshaw out one and bring in the big McCloskey. Ironically, bringing in what looks like a classic crash ball merchants is likely to add a new dimension to Ireland’s attack. McCloskey instinctively looks for space and is an intelligent heads-up footballer. We don’t think we’ll lose as much defensively stepping down from Payne to Henshaw as some people think either. Still, probably not the winning/losing of the game.

Once we get Twickenham out of the way, we’d like to see the likes of van der Flier or Ringrose given a look – while they look physically not 100% ready for the likes of England away, are we really saying we don’t think they could cope with Scotland or Italy at home? Equally, it feels like the time to give Paddy Jackson a start. Jackson’s Irish career has never really got going, with an extremely tough baptism in the fag end of the Deccie era – if Sexton thought it tough taking over from ROG and feeling the semi-public opprobrium that came with it, imagine how it was for a 21 year old Jackson with less than a year as Ulster starter – followed by a loss of form in 2014/15 that led to him losing out of both Keatley and Madigan that series. But with Maddog on his way to France, and Sexton seemingly in a state of perma-recovery from a knock, it seems likely he’ll be Ireland’s starting outhalf at some point in the future. Again, Scotland and Italy at home – what’s the real risk to giving him a pick? Now that the chance of a three-peat is virtually gone, and without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let’s try and expand our options

 

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27 Comments

  1. ORiordan

     /  February 24, 2016

    Perhaps a reason why Ireland can’t execute the tactics is the opposition know what the tactics are?

    It is all very well saying Ireland “can’t execute” and look at the personnel but if the opposition have a good idea what you are going to do before you do it, the personnel won’t make much difference.

    • Very pertinent point. Ireland is too narrow in defense and every team since Argentina have been looking to exploit that. Schmidts selection and tactics are being out thought. No better place to see this than at Ulster. First half Ulster played heads up rugby with a narrow defense and scored tries from individual excellence. However in the second half some bad decisions to make half time replacements in the middle and not to kick points. Watching the World club series reveals that the newest trends in rugby will be how much work off the ball teams are willing to do in attack and the variation of kicks to score. While the Ireland team struggles with draw and pass. Farrell will have watched this so he can’t start soon enough.

  2. connachtexile

     /  February 24, 2016

    Nice to have you back. The word coming out in camp is Henshaw at 12 and Luke Marshall at 13 if Payne doesn’t make it. Wouldn’t be worried if Marshall was handed the 13 shirt but wouldn’t be massively excited either. Don’t get me wrong I rate Marshall highly but he’s no McCloskey or Ringrose.

    As for Schmidt while I still rate him highly the glamour has worn off. Firstly everyone says we’re to narrow in attack so instead of bringing Ireland two best attacking wingers at the moment in Gilroy (wonder try last weekend) and Healy (a f**king hat-trick against Zebre) he brings in Fergus ‘two yellow cards in three weeks cause I’ve forgotten how to tackle’ McFadden who is playing like a drain. As for the second rows he has studiously ignored Aly Muldowney and brought in the average Dave Foley. Thanks to this complete ignorance of Muldowney’s form Muldowney has now gone and signed a deal with Grenoble in France. Connacht lose another first XV player and Ireland lose a serious asset in the second row because of Schmidt.

    As for Ireland in the breakdown I want to see the like of JVDF or Henry or some out and out seven in the field instead of another 6.5 like Ruddock. I fell like Ireland are regressing at the moment. Ten years ago we were easy to figure out cause we gave the ball to Keith Woods to truck up and teams would just wait and tackle him. Today all that is changed is we pass it to Stander instead.

    • D6W

       /  February 24, 2016

      Totally agree. It seems that we all focus on Gilroy when looking for wingers outside the usual suspects, but right now Healy lloks to be the winger that is being ignored. Also, I would like to see Conway brought in to the squad as possible FB cover, I would say he is form FB in Ireland at the moment, despite Munsters current troubles.

      • Sligoman

         /  February 25, 2016

        in what way is andrew conway the form FB in ireland?
        you must have been asleep and missed all of TOH’s perfromances for Connacht this season?

    • Lord of the Dance Settee

       /  February 24, 2016

      I find this weird. Marshall is markedly better than Ringrose.

      The age/potential argument is one thing. Ringrose is going to be special. But unless you get in a time machine, go and get an older Garry from two, three, four years hence, the idea that he’d bring anything more exciting than Marshall is baffling.

      Still, I suppose Marshall isn’t represented by IKON management. And everyone is entitled to their opinion.

      • connachtexile

         /  February 24, 2016

        Like I said I rate Marshall highly he just doesn’t get me excited the same way that the likes of Olding, Ringrose or McCloskey does. I’m delighted to see him back in the squad after the injury hell he’s being through.

    • Stevog

       /  February 24, 2016

      Ten years ago…I think we all have a few more years on the clock than you might want to think, Connacthexile.

      • connachtexile

         /  February 24, 2016

        You’re right Stevog where did the years go…

  3. McShane

     /  February 24, 2016

    The “Twickenham is no place to throw a guy in” mentality is something that really bothers me, and it’s not just Ireland that think that way. If you follow the logic that debuting a player against Wales/England/Ireland/France during the 6N is too much pressure, then certainly you can’t cap a player on the summer tour to NZ/Oz/SA/Arg. It gets to the point where people think the only appropriate time to introduce players to the international stage is the 2nd half against Italy or Scotland, or against a Tier 2 nation if you happen to be playing one in the autumn.
    It’s thinking like this that led to Schmidt naming Ferg on the bench in Paris rather than juggling the backline to find a place for players that are actually in some sort of form (McCloskey, Gilroy, Healy).

    • Stephen

       /  February 24, 2016

      I would say that, if one is to take the notion that there is a scenario NOT to throw someone in, it’s more about being away from home than the opposition alone.

      I’d be fine throwing McCloskey in at home to basically anyone, but away to any of SA-NZ-Aus-Eng-Wales would be a consideration against.

      • McShane

         /  February 24, 2016

        I think that’s fair. There’s obviously a fine line that needs to be walked when choosing on form vs. experience, but at some point you have to ask, “Is including Fergus McFadden in the match day 23 instead of McCloskey/Gilroy/Healy/Ringrose really going to help us beat [insert big nation here]?”

  4. scrumdog

     /  February 24, 2016

    There’s obviously plenty of talent about the place, but before playing for Ireland players need awhile in camp to learn the systems so its a gradual introduction to test rugby. An inform Muldowney over the last two seasons should have been brought into the squad as a stop-gap with O’Connell’s retirement imminent. I agree with the comment that Foley is average but add that I don’t believe he’s a test match lock or as capable as Muldowney. Gilroy while a better finisher, is worse than Zebo in defense. I’m not sure how good Healy’s defense is.

    Ireland definitely need to run straight and fix defenders to put the ball into space against England and avoid ‘unnecessary’ collisions if we’re to win. Paddy Jackson should be on the bench. Bringing Henry back in at Seven would be a good move to add bulk and ball winning ability…with O’Donnell on the bench. Looking forward to seeing Dillane make an impact and Ryan raising his game!

    I think Ireland will win using a passing/off-loading game on Saturday because they need to present a different attack (in diamond shaped echelons) to run the ‘fatty England pack’ off the park…while using tactical kicking in the right situations. And..yes..we need to target Ford and have a run at him.

    It will be disappointing if McFadden and Kearney are in the match day squad, they should be left to find form with Leinster and not with Ireland as with any out other form player. This way the opportunity is there to blood a new player every so often and we need to show that confidence in our players.

    In fairness to Schmidt he is missing a lot of seasoned players and he obviously knows more about the players mental and physical readiness and which ones are likely to slot into the team….but going for out of form experience has never worked well.

    • connachtexile

       /  February 24, 2016

      You summarised it quite well there “going for out of form experience has never worked well.” For example I rate Cian Healy highly but there is no way at the moment do I want him in the first 23 based on his current form. We all saw how that worked during the RWC. Schmidt should have kept James Cronin in camp instead of sending him back to Munster and at least compared how the two of them were doing in training before making that call.

    • Daire

       /  February 26, 2016

      This bunkum about Gilroy’s poor defence is just that. It’s of the same style as the continued criticism of Jackson’d goalkicking as a stick to beat him with. Both views may have held some weight 2 or 3 years ago, but they simply do not hold today.
      Having watched most Ulster games this season, I recall Gilroy missing 1 or 2 tackles. As to his positioning, his good positioning and ability to break the line after fielding kicks was effectively what won Ulster the game against Glasgow.
      And he is probably the best attacking winger in Ireland – again see his recent performances against Glasgow (or Scarlets or many others) – already, at the age of 24, 3rd highest try scorer in Ulster history, and would be very surprised if he doesn’t smash that record in the future.
      Personally speaking, with all wingers fit and ready for Ulster, he would definitely start in my team, with Trimble and Bowe competing to fill in the other side.

  5. The good news is the return of Church and Mike Ross. I was paying particular attention to Cian Healy v Cardiff last Saturday and I must say, I thought he put in his best performance for Leinster in a long time. He was really tuned in, clearing out, carrying and making sure to not make any stupid mistakes by over-egging things. I know it’s apples and oranges, Pro 12 v Test, but the Leinster scrum with those two stalwarts on board was dominant, so I don’t think we have to worry about any front row malfunctions in Twickers.

    If we manage to beat England, I’d be not just delighted but amazed. Eddie Jones seems to be getting the most out of his squad – the Nowell try v Scotland with the Mako Vunipola offload behind his back was evidence of excellent coaching. Neither the Scots nor Italy seriously threatened England. I’d wonder if we can put them under the necessary pressure in order to win. Donncha Ryan will need a MOTM performance, I reckon, for us to succeed. I’m intrigued to see what back line Joe sends out. If he puts Earls in at centre, we’re f****ed. Hopefully he’ll give McCloskey a shout. At this stage I think Paddy Jackson deserves a place on the bench. Madigan kicking the restart straight out after the French try with ten minutes to go was unforgiveable.

  6. Declan B

     /  February 24, 2016

    Joe is a rugby genius. This has always and is clear. But the one thing that’s really bugging me is the overt conservatism is selection. It’s reaching Kidney-esq levels at this stage. The trip to twickers and France before are oppertunities to bring in new players. Why not start Ringrose? Why not start Ultan? What’s the downside? We lose? Well at least losing and having bloodied players is better than losing with already established beaten dockets? But more than starting players what’s really the point of putting reddin on the bench? Or even Nathan white? Are in a World Cup cycle or not? If this is all too confusing just ask yourself what are Argentina or even Wales doing at this point? That even before we look at the all blacks…

    • connachtexile

       /  February 24, 2016

      I really think not having an Irish Wolfhounds game during this 6N is hurting us this year. Schmidt could have tried new combinations and brought in guys for a game at a slightly lower level than International rugby. The likes of UItan would have had a Wolfhound cap under his belt and have gained valuable experience coming up to the England game. I understand the reasons but it’s still a shame.

      • scrumdog

         /  February 24, 2016

        There may be a need to bring the Irish Trial back when the provincial derbies are over so combinations can be tested.

    • SportingBench

       /  February 24, 2016

      I agree that Joe is being conservative in selection but disagree in throwing people in just to see. You have to be at the correct level, particularly with the basics of tackling, passing catching etc to play international rugby. If player A is simply better than player b then player A should play regardless of age or excitement value. Otherwise it is a hit and hope approach and Ireland are better than that at the moment.

      My criticism of Schmidt is that he is picking players who are clearly lesser in terms of form or to put it another way, are contributing less at moment, than other options in some situations. In others cases he is sticking with experienced known qualities when we know they are average (or less) international players but there are equally competent less tried options who may have the potential to step up while not offering any determent even if they don’t. If player A and player B are both kind of the same average but player A has 50 caps and player B has none or a sprinkling then there is an argument to at least give player B a shot as they at least retain the prospect of developing (and that is regardless of age)

  7. SportingBench

     /  February 24, 2016

    It seems that Schmidt is picking players on their form from 4 years ago. I wonder if stepping out of the day to day preparations of a Pro12 has meant he isn’t as confident about his ratings of players.
    When he first came into the team he made selections like Henry and Trimble based on his knowledge of their strengths from preparing his teams to play against them. Those selections were a bit left-field at the time. It seems that he simply isn’t updating his judgements as time moves on and this leaves an impression of selecting the old favourites. A few years ago McFadden was promising and definitely a worthy option for Ireland. He actually played pretty well in Schmidt’s first autumn iirc but he hasn’t played as well for a while now.
    Perhaps, without the day to day detailed analysis of the Irish options he undertook as part of prepping Leinster (replaced by detailed analysis of international opposition) he just isn’t as confident in assessing different irish options

    • There is something in that. Think that because the opposition have caught up with his game plan he is trying to build confidence in the players he knows. His system is creaking because the players are not in form to execute. The attacking game plan badly needs augmented and he needs the confidence of in form players to execute.

  8. MaulTeaser

     /  February 24, 2016

    One thing I tired of decades ago is excuses – especially for a country with just 2 GS.
    Injuries, retirements, rain in February, the referee, a bigger player on the other team hit our guy, have all been used in recent weeks and years – as if none of the afromentioned happens to other teams.
    It’s like listening to FF/FG passing the blame to anyone but themselves.

    POC was out of the RWC at half-time v France – that was it for him – a tragic incident but you have to move on immediately. Yet the media coverage in the lead up the Argentina q-f was 50/50 between POC and Ireland’s chances. On the morning of the game – a Sunday paper had 4 rugby pages – the first 2 dedicated for POC. This ill-timed ‘we’ve lost a demigod’ stuff filters through to the players. The focus should be on players available that week, and any week tbh.

  9. We’re so afraid of losing that we can’t do anything remotely connected with Chance. We can’t chance an offload, we can’t chance picking a young lad, we can’t chance a change of tactics. We’re stuck in a rut and we can’t get out of it.

  10. Andrew097

     /  February 24, 2016

    I just feel The World Cup hang over is still in the air and the players look like it. The ones that should be leading have just turned up. the ones in form are the ones who were left at home. The poor decision making and poor skill execution really did us in. When you see the bread and butter stuff badly done it will always count against a team. When you can’t set up a drop goal to unstick the score board for a team that is finding it hard to score for long periods you wonder what sorts of conversations are happening . It’s not to hard to think of several examples over the last few seasons of players taking seriously bad decisions at the worst time in games. it’s almost like the focus is slightly out of focus. It makes grim watching, what will England do ? They will talk a lot about every thing but when the first scrum comes that pack will be thinking of one thing only and Ireland better get that right or we are gone.

  11. Daire

     /  February 26, 2016

    This bunkum about Gilroy’s poor defence is just that. It’s of the same style as the continued criticism of Jackson’d goalkicking as a stick to beat him with. Both views may have held some weight 2 or 3 years ago, but they simply do not hold today.
    Having watched most Ulster games this season, I recall Gilroy missing 1 or 2 tackles. As to his positioning, his good positioning and ability to break the line after fielding kicks was effectively what won Ulster the game against Glasgow.
    And he is probably the best attacking winger in Ireland – again see his recent performances against Glasgow (or Scarlets or many others) – already, at the age of 24, 3rd highest try scorer in Ulster history, and would be very surprised if he doesn’t smash that record in the future.
    Personally speaking, with all wingers fit and ready for Ulster, he would definitely start in my team, with Trimble and Bowe competing to fill in the other side.

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