Ireland’s World Cup 30 – Scrum Halves

Last week we looked at the forwards, and this week we turn our attention to the backs. As per previous posts, we think a 16-14 split is how Deccie is going to go, and we are breaking the forwards down into three scrum halves, five inside backs (fly halves and centres) and six outside backs.

How many will go? Three. We can’t see any deviation here. Ireland tend not to do Pienaar types who can play multiple positions, so we will bring three specialists.

Who is certain to travel? Unless he is struck by lightning, Ponderous Tomás is on the plane, and even if he was, Deccie might bring him anyway. WoC reckons Deccie saw David Pocock in action in November 2009, and pencilled TOL in for the Aus game two years  in advance. 18 months of hot stepping, ugly passing and injuries have not changed a thing – O’Leary is Deccie’s first choice 9.

Eoin Reddan also appears secure, despite being as inconsistent as ever. When Reddan is good, like in the second half of the HEC final, he is the best we have, but when he is bad, like against Toulouse, he is terrible. However despite having neither the best defence (O’Leary), best pass (Stringer, up to recently anyway), best break (Boss) or best kicking (Murray), he is the best composite player, and deserves to be first choice.

O’Leary and Reddan can start learning the words to the second verse of Ireland’s Call.

Who is scrapping out for the last spots? A three-way fight here, between three imperfect candidates. Firstly, the Passer. Peter Stringer is now a veteran, and is beginning to play like one. His pass, when it is on song, still fizzes with dangerous possibility, but it is increasingly erratic and unreliable. Even McGahan doesn’t see Strings as a big game player any more. He is odds-against at this stage.

Next, the Future. Since the time Tony McGahan finally bowed to the clarion calls of the more thoughtful of the Munster faithful and gave Conor Murray his chance after the liginds had bowed out of the HEC, he has been a revelation. Wristy pass, physicality, good game management and great box-kicking. The kid appears to have it all. However, it must be acknowledged he hasn’t played any rugby close to test-level intensity i.e. the HEC or international level. It is a huge risk to take an essentially untested player to the World Cup.

Finally, the Mullet. Hugo “Isaac” Boss has been an effervescent presence at Leinster, with his solidity and experience gelling together Joe Schmidt’s “away” HEC team. However, as the season went on, opportunities seemed to dry up, and given that Deccie hasn’t given him game time this season (although he is named in the extended squad anounced on Friday), Boss is another more possible than probable.

Of the three above, Murray is possibly just about favourite to make the trip now. It’s becoming ever more difficult to make a case for Stringer, and Boss seems to be at the back of the queue. However, Boss should be seriously considered. Not just for his play this season, but also for his partnership with Reddan. At Leinster, the pair have the happy knack of improving the team when they interchange – they offer different threats and dovetail very effectively – they are an off-the-shelf scrum-half team ideal for tournament play.

Were it down to us we would definitely take Murray and Reddan, and have a look at how O’Leary and Boss pitch up in August.  If O’Leary can show something like his 2009 form, he would be on our plane, but it is a long time since he has looked the part – right now we would have Boss in poll position.

Any bolters? Murray, of course. The Munster fan sites have been touting him for a while, and he hasn’t disappointed from the moment he got the red 9 shirt. His Ireland underage colleague Paul Marshall has looked spritely this season, but is a little light – this is a year too soon for him.

Should go: Isaac Boss, Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray
Will go: Tomás O’Leary, Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray

Decisions, decisions…

The injuries situation at Leinster is causing Whiff of Cordite a few butterflies this week. Having rotated the squad so well all season, and having everyone fit and fighting for the final push for silverware, the last thing Joe Schmidt needed was to see His Bodness and Strauss, for whom we have no experienced replacement, go down injured against Ulster. The good news is that Strauss is passed fit, while they’ll wait until the last minute on BOD. Expect him to start. Happily for Joe, he has a few positive selection dilemmas to mull over before friday’s team announcment. Here’s a look at the tight calls and how we see them going.

Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy vs Heinke van der Merwe

The thinking goes that van der Merwe is the stronger scrummaging prop, and after his phenomenal half hour against Toulouse, could be the better option to nullify the scrum, generally accepted to be Northampton’s strongest weapon. That said, witness Daan Human’s comments regarding Healy’s improvement at the coalface. We expect Healy’s dynamism around the park to swing it for him.

Verdict: Healy to start, vd Merwe to finish

Back row: Kevin McLaughlin vs Shane Jennings

Arguably the toughest call of the lot, and one that rather depends on where Joe decides to fight his battles. Locky gives a tail lineout option and is a hard, abrasive player, whereas Jennings does his best work on the ground and is a key leader, especially in defence. We feel the backrow is more balanced with Jenno in the team, and his presence allows the Tullow Tank to cut loose with ball in hand. A sub-plot is that Northampton’s own lineout-tail backrow, Tom Wood, is out, but it’s hard to know which player’s cause that helps.

Verdict: Almost too tough to call, but Jenno may just get the call.

Scrum Half: Eoin Reddan vs Isaac Boss

Two curates eggs go head-to-head for the 9 jumper. Joe has tended to use Reddan at home and Boss away. So what about a neutral ground? Reddan remains frustratingly inconsistent, and played poorly against Toulouse, but looked sharp when he came on against Ulster. Boss’ physicality has given Leinster a great option, but we expect Reddan’s zippier pass (when he’s on song!) to get him the nod. Boss is also carrying a niggle, which may just tip the scales in Reddan’s favour.

Verdict: Reddan to start, but Boss to play at least 20 if fit

Left wing: Luke Fitzgerald vs Fergus McFadden

Another tough call. Luke is still nowhere near his best, and his performance against Ulster was headed for 3/10 until his superb try reminded us of what he can do. Fergus, on the other hand, appears to be willing to run through walls to show Joe he deserves to be a starter. Phenomenal in contact and showing plenty of gas, not to mention his place kicking, he is looking increasingly hard to leave out. However, Fitz remains the greater gambreaking threat and we suspect Joe may persevere with him one more time in the hope that he eventually comes right.

Verdict: Fitz to get the nod, but can consider himself a fortunate starter

The team will be announced at noon on friday. In Joe we trust.