The Brink of Disaster

Ireland’s Six Nations campaign has been described this week as “teetering on the brink of utter failure” (Cummiskey) and that we “need victories against Italy and Scotland to avoid a disastrous campaign” (Dorce). The second point is moot, since any year we lose to Italy it is disastrous anyway, but is the first true?

While missing Ross, Healy, Henderson, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Fitzgerald and Bowe, we drew at home to Wales, a team who we fancied to win the Six Nations, and the only Northern Hemisphere team have a successful RWC. The defeat to France was an awful spectacle and put our inability to score in lights. But then we went to Twickenham, and played quite well – we had three debutants (two starting), all of whom made big impressions – and with a little bit more composure in their 22 it could easily have been closer.

Stu McCloskey was dangerous with ball in hand, van der Flier started quietly, but grew into the game, finished strongly and should really have had a try had Ultan Dillane fixed Anger’s Mike Brown. Dillane himself was like Iain Henderson off the bench, an utter wrecking ball with huge carrying impact  – the English clearly hadn’t seen much of Connacht and were unaware that Irish forwards can occasionally run into space. Three successful debutants and, in reality, only only match point less than we expected at this point in the Championship. The defeat against France was grim, but potentially we could learn some lessons from it. Like the need to expand our attack maybe.

So, utter failure? Well, if we lose to Italy, it sure is, but that’s the case every year. It feels to us that, like a manic depressive, we have swung wildly across the spectrum of “we are going to win the World Cup” in September to “we have to make sure we beat Italy or it’s an UTTER FAILURE” in March. We are talking ourselves into a corner painting Italy as this must-win game – I mean it clearly must be won, but there is no doubt that it will be won. We could rest Ross (the Italy scrum got mullered against Scotland), Ryan (Dillane is hardly much of a step down anyway), Heaslip (Stander to 8 and Ruddock at 6), Sexton (Jackson in) and Payne (on the bench in case of emergencies) and probably still win easily. On the official Irish Rugby YouTube channel, Heaslip tried manfully to talk up Italy, but really didn’t do well, eventually stuttering to allow that it was a “pretty dark changing room” after the 2013 defeat.

In the event, it looks like we are going to revert to Plan A – stout defence and kick-ball – fit-again Jared Payne is likely to come back in at centre, with Henshaw going back to inside centre and Simon Zebo starting his second Six Nations game at full-back. Is this really the correct approach? Sure, McCloskey got panned by Schmidt for his offload in the third quarter, and is undoubtedly raw, particularly in his positioning, but it’s hard to argue he wasn’t effective – without a huge amount of sympathy from some of his teammates (the hospital pass from Kearney for example). We also have to ask about how we are going to score tries – against England we looked at our most effective in the third quarter when McCloskey and Earls were the focal points of our attack, hunting for space and creating go-forward ball – surely it’s worth another look? And we haven’t even got into the Payne-to-15 argument, but apparently, even with Rob Kearney most likely injured it is Simon Zebo and not Jared Payne that is being pencilled in for the 15 shirt.

Zebo’s return to the XV is welcome, because he brings pace that we are in dire need of in the backline, but a better backline might have had Zebo on the wing in place of Andrew Trimble, who has been ineffective in his first three matches, allowing for Payne at 15 and The Big Fella at 12. Admittedly, one of Italy’s few strengths is the Garcia-Campagnaro centre partnership, but if we were happy with McCloskey-Henshaw facing Farrell-Joseph, do we really think they can’t handle the Italians? Italy are a team that you can whack and bag early on, particularly at home – it doesn’t feel like a huge risk to keep the centres and try Payne at full back. One way or another Ireland will win if they play to anything like their potential.

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42 Comments

  1. Roundy

     /  March 9, 2016

    Agree on Payne for fullback and keeping Choo-Choo in the team. Probably even agree with Zebo on the wing instead of Trimble. But wouldnt change the back row. Parisse is one of the better No8’s in the game and doubt CJ would come out on top of that one. Would prefer if Heaslip was in charge of a back row of CJ and VDF. Ruddock on the bench.

  2. D6W

     /  March 9, 2016

    Zebo, really??? How badly does he have to play before he gets dropped from the squad? And I may get vehement disagreement from Munster fans for suggesting that, but what has he done for Munster of late? Surely Healy has to be given his chance as the form winger in Ireland.

    • Or Gilroy

    • Declan

       /  March 9, 2016

      Couldn’t agree more. And he’ll knock on twice.

    • curates_egg

       /  March 9, 2016

      Agree with the first part but not the second. Whiff are right. It’s Gilroy that needs a look. Healy is running in tries but I’m not convinced he has the defence to play test rugby. Gilroy, on the other hand, has already showed up very well in defence at test level…and is two years younger than Healy. In mitigation, Healy is a Leinsterman though 😉

      • Healy was never on the Leinster books though, so he wouldn’t know the Ireland setup.

        • curates_egg

           /  March 9, 2016

          Another reject from Dublin 😮 Given how crap they are at rugby, Gonzaga have produced a decent number of pro players since Kev McLaughlin.

      • D6W

         /  March 9, 2016

        Am I being accused of Leinster biased here? Happy to go with Gilroy over Zebo. Or even leave Trimble in place. If I favour Healy it is only that I have been watching a lot of him lately. Of all the provinces, Connacht games are the only ones one can sit down and watch with the reasonable expectation of seeing an entertaining game of rugby. For all others, there is the sky 30x>> button.

  3. connachtexile

     /  March 9, 2016

    My dream backline versus Italy is 11. Matt Healy 12 McCloskey 13. Henshaw 14. Gilroy 15 Payne with Zebo or Earls as no. 23. Healy or Gilroy may not be the top defenders in the Irish squad but they are not that big a step down either and they just can’t stop scoring trys. Not going to happen but a man can dream…

    • Declan

       /  March 9, 2016

      I know we’re lacking back-line innovation but playing without a 10 is extreme…

      • connachtexile

         /  March 9, 2016

        Fine be orthodox then. 9. Murray and 10. Jackson as I want Sexton to live past 2016 and Madigan would overthink everything with the space Italy would give him.

  4. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 9, 2016

    Zebo on wing is probably a little divisive but I wonder is there anybody out there who DOES NOT think it’s a good try to try Payne @ FB & McCloskey & Henshaw in the centre on Saturday? It seems everybody has come to this conclusion – and not via a media driven bandwagon (like say E. Dunphy – Andy Reid).

    • I usually bow to Joe’s superior knowledge of Rugby and players but I’m firmly jumping on the Payne to fullback bandwagon. Not on the Healy bandwagon yet though. When some youngsters do well people seem to get carried away and start clamouring for more a little too easily.

      • jacothelad

         /  March 9, 2016

        Healy isn’t a youngster. He’s 26/27 or so. So no doubt we’ll see McFadden again….Gilroy just seems to be beneath Schmidt’s contempt. Gilroy is good going forward, (is a pretty handy emergency 15 too) but isn’t any better in defence than Rob Kearney. Having seen the level of criticism of the players against 3 ‘good’? teams, why don’t we see how they get on against Italy and Scotland before dropping those who never got a sniff of a pass.

        Ireland didn’t lose because of the backs, they lost because the forwards aren’t good enough and the backs aren’t given the freedom to play rugby. Trimble and Earls never got any attacking ball. It seems the Ireland game is now concreted into the belief that if you don’t take any chances, you won’t make any mistakes. It’s awful to watch. Schmidt seems to have withdrawn any possibility of players playing what opens up in front of them. Dull. Dull. Dull crap to be honest.

        • Amiga500

           /  March 9, 2016

          “Gilroy is good going forward, (is a pretty handy emergency 15 too) but isn’t any better in defence than Rob Kearney.”

          In which case surely it makes sense to pick the overwhelmingly better attacking player?

          What is the purpose of Rob Kearney’s existence in the Ireland squad right now? Someone who can field 75% of high balls?

          ‘cos it certainly ain’t for his passing, running or tackling.

      • It does seem to me that if the top try scorer for the top team in the Rabo was playing for another province, certainly Leinster or Munster, he might be more likely to get a run out.

        In general, I agree with the article. Look, winning shiny trophies is delightful but it doesn’t happen indefinitely, particularly when we’ve repeatedly had difficulty breaking through at the highest level. We needed to address the way we were playing and adjust to a serious change in personnel and although it’s still a work in progress, the dreaded transitional phase but we’ve started doing it and there are some hopeful signs. In the long term, that kick in the teeth in Paris might be for the best because the Twickers debutants wouldn’t have gotten blooded otherwise.

        I said at the start of the tournament that I wouldn’t really mind when we finished up once there was some sense of development and forward momentum and so far I feel there has been.

        • Healy scored three against Zebre, lost the ball forward on three occasions too. Had a mare against Edinburgh. He’s a player who’d make almost any club/provincial team in the world, but maybe not an international. See also: David Strettle.

          • I’m not disputing that but I think he’d be looked at more. I never said that I think he’s the answer to all our woes

          • Fair point. After the Henshaw debacle this side of the country just wants our lads kept as far away as possible from the goys and their tales of broight loights, actual city.

          • If only you’d kept Ultan Dillane in the broom cupboard. A fairly large broom cupboard

          • Sigh. When he arrived here you could hide him by getting him to turn sideways. No more, as you’ve already pointed out. We’d be more hopeful of holding on to Dillane though, there’s a world of difference between Saint BOD of Clontarf whispering in your ear about riches and opportunity in Laighin and Argos Dunsha doing likewise about Limerick.

          • Careful. I love Donnacha Ryan.

  5. @CompleteBore

     /  March 9, 2016

    Not hugely impressed with a lot of what Eddie Jones has said since he joined England, but the I did like that he said they should go out and batter the Italians. I don’t think it should tip over to trash talk, but this talking up of the Italians always seems patronising to me, patting them on the head but knowing if you lose it’ll be the worst defeat since we last lost to them seems far more insulting to me.

    • Listen completely. And you can say you are going to batter them without being disrespectful. But consider the question Heaslip got asked on Pravda TV: “There is a perception that playing Italy is the easy game of the Six Nations, but you know as a player that that’s not true” – talk about leading the witness

      • And further – without getting all McGregor on it (this is not soccer after all 🙂 ) you can surely say “Ireland expect to beat Italy at home every time” without fear of reprisals

  6. Amiga500

     /  March 9, 2016

    The 6N is a disaster because conservative Joe hasn’t risked any of the kids unless injury forces his hand.

    If we’d played the young guys and got beat in all 3, then at least they’d be getting experience and we’d likely be improving. As it is, we’re stagnating and faced with having to risk winning no games or chucking in guys in new positions/new starts [IMO, risk losing and play the youngsters].

    If Joe were to put Zebo to full back, persist with D. Ryan in the 2nd row, Sexton at 10 and revert to a midfield of Henshaw and Payne… I think I’d be wanting the IRFU to remove him from post. Great tactician, great club coach – but going to leave Ireland in a world of sh1t as we’ll still have dads army playing.

    My team:
    McGrath
    Best
    Furlong
    Dillane
    Toner (Alan O’Connor’s virus struck at a bad time)
    Stander
    VDF
    Heaslip
    Murray
    Jackson
    Gilroy
    McCloskey
    Henshaw
    Healy
    Payne

    Cronin
    Herring
    Ross
    Foley
    Ruddock
    O’Donnell
    Marmion
    Sexton
    Earls

    • D6W

       /  March 9, 2016

      I would like to see Ryan start instead of Toner. It seems that for 2nd rows, we always have a Certain to Start, and an AN Other. Since POC has gone, Toner seems to have assumed the CTS mantle, without really having earned it. I think both 2nd row spots should be up for grabs.

    • Better start your campaign with the IRFU because Joe will probably stick with most of the selection you are concerned about. This will all be reported by the media as a selection to find balance between experience and youth. With combinations being more important than form.  Joe clearly needs help and Farrell can’t start soon enough.

  7. The national team will have to do without me v Italy – whom I’m confident they will overcome anyway – as I’m saving all my psychic powers for the certain matter of revenge needing to be taken on the Sunday in the RDS at 16.00…… Up De North Side……

  8. curates_egg

     /  March 9, 2016

    I fully agree with this post and think Dublin6W’s expansion completes the analysis.

    Payne should have been tried at 15 long ago. But it would be a crying shame if he were not now with Kearney’s injury, combined with the very convincing first time Henshaw-McCloskey combo, providing a watertight argument for getting the excellent Payne on the pitch in his club position.

    Zebo’s effective running lines and line-breaking could be just effectively used by his cutting in from the wing, whereas he looked totally rubbish at all the main aspects of what a fullback has to actually do. That said, he seems to turn over the ball on more than half his line breaks, so you really do have to wonder if they are that effective (beyond the initial aesthetics).

    In addition, as 6W notes, there are other contenders worth a look. None more so than Gilroy for me. Apart from his pace and finish, he has already proved he can defend at test level and is a good pound-for-pound tackler. With Trimble having been average all tournament (and bordering on poor against England), surely Gilroy is worth a look? I’m not on the Healy bandwagon because I don’t think he has the defence to step up…yet.

    • connachtexile

       /  March 9, 2016

      Healy’s defence is probably so-so for international level but he’s a dervish going forward. I wouldn’t put him in against the likes of France or England but against the Italians? Most definitely. He’d score a rake of trys and get some international experience. It would also show the likes of Fergus ‘No hands’ McFadden that his form needs to improve before he can walk back into the squad.

      • curates_egg

         /  March 9, 2016

        Two wrongs don’t make a right. You can drop McFaddens and Kearneys without picking players that also pose problems. Healy is a 26 year old who can be a bit of a doormat. What is the point of picking him? I would much rather see Gilroy and see his form rewarded and have him picked over out of form players.

        • Jimble

           /  March 9, 2016

          Healy is the top try scorer in the pro 12, playing with a team that are trained to run at space and make the most of their scoring opportunities. He’s also got genuine pace. I never would have thought he was international standard before this season but the fact that he’s 26 shouldn’t be a hindrance. Kearney and Trimble are older than that and are playing like dog sh*te (in attack at least), but they’re still getting picked. Gilroy has always looked the business at international level in the few chances he’s had, I’d like to have seen him given another chance. Hopefully he’ll make the summer tour.

          • Keith

             /  March 9, 2016

            Fionn Carr was top try scorer in the league, when Connacht weren’t top of the league

          • curates_egg

             /  March 10, 2016

            Whenever people join the Healy bandwagon, like Keith, I automatically think of Fionn Carr. Healy is a great attacking winger; exactly the type of player who tears it up at various levels. From what I’ve seen of the rest of his game, I’m not sure it is worthwhile picking him for Ireland. There are other players who would be far more worth the investment, like Gilroy (as I mentioned).

          • Fionn Carr- great point. Healy will never be international standard and I’m pretty sure Joe will never pick him for a top test match.

  9. McShane

     /  March 9, 2016

    Listen, anytime Ulster’s 4th choice outside centre is available for selection, you shoehorn him into the midfield any way you can.

    But seriously, if you’re not going to give McCloskey, Dillane, VDF, Gilroy or whomever any gametime in these last 2 dead rubbers, when are you going to play them? I’m sure we’ll be hearing this summer that “a tour to South Africa is not the time to blood youngsters.”

  10. Jimble

     /  March 9, 2016

    I think it’s almost time that we stop listing Healy among our missing “frontliners”. Of course, if by some miracle he ever achieves full fitness and rediscovers his best form he would walk into any Irish team, but for the last few years McGrath has proven himself as our first choice loosie, even when Church is available. I’m sure a lot of it is caused by his lack of consistent playing time, but these days Healy looks either like a liability (against England he was minced in the scrums) or like someone who’s trying too hard to make an individual impact in the short cameos he’s had.

    • I can’t remember the last good game Church had. He has shovels for hands and can’t scrum a damn. I hope it’s in his head and nothing more serious

      • Actually I thought he played his best game in a long time recently for Leinster against Cardiff over there – the match of the howling wind. I was hoping he’d kick on from there, but his brief and somewhat underwhelming cameo in aghaidh na Sasanaigh in Twickers disabused me of that notion, unfortunately. He had an okay 40 plus minutes against the Ospreys in the RDS last weekend and Leo went on record only a few days before as having every confidence that with proper health management there’d be a lot yet to see from Church, so let’s hope for the best.

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