The Boshers Will Inherit The Earth

When Cornwallis surrended to George Washington at Yorktown, the band played “The World Turned Upside Down” – that’s a little how we feel here after the first two weeks of rugger on “these islands”, as John Hume might say.

In the Premiership, it’s a veritable try fest of exciting and invisive rugby – Quins have scored 11 tries in two games, one of them an absolute cracker against Wasps. Leicester have 10 tries, and there have been 8 try bonus points and 64 tries scored in 12 games – an average of over 5 per game. Even Ooooooooooooooooohh Manu Tuilagi is getting in on of end to end moves with multiple offloads and incisive lines of running.

Meanwhile in the Pro12, two of the most effective players for the Irish provinces have been Nick Williams and James Downey – two men not exactly known for their cultured approach to the game. At the RDS on Saturday, when Palla saw the team-sheets, he turned to Mrs Palla and said the Dragons 12 hadn’t been picked for his soft hands. Yet Andy Tuilagi, who might only be the 4th best player in his family, was highly effective and one of the Dragons main attacking options.  He even threw in a sidestep at one stage (and before you ask, not one of the Samoan variety).

On the stats front, the Pro12 has seen just 45 tries, an average of just under 4 – respectable, but skewed by the 3 teams with try bonus points under their belt: Scarlets, Dragons and Leinster. The other 9 teams have just 21 tries between them. Only one word we can think of for that – Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh!

Low lie the … inspirational centres

It’s odd that right throughout Munster’s period of dominance of Irish (2000-2008) and European (2006-2008) rugby, they never had a top class centre. The partnerships of Halstead-Kelly circa 2006 and Mafi-Tipoki in 2008 probably were the high water marks, but they have never had a really dynamic centre to release their outside backs. Perhaps this is a function of an historical bullock-and-boot ethos, but it remains a curiousity; and with Earls, Howlett and Jones outside, a top centre is crucial.
So for the third summer in a row, Munster are in the market for a chequebook centre. Two years ago, they signed Jean de Villiiers for what ended up to be one (unhappy) year after the Springbok world champion failed to prove himself to Mick O’Driscoll. Then last year we had the utter disaster that was Sam Tuitupoooooooooooooooohh (why oh why would Munster ever sign someone from Worcester?). This summer, again, it’s back to the drawing board.

The three names being mentioned in connection with Munster right now are Conrad Smith, Jacque Fourie and Isa Toeava. Lets look at each one, plus a few others who Ludd and Axel may wish to consider.
Three who are in the hunt:
Conrad Smith: Smith is probably the best outside centre on the planet, and is hot favourite to wear the All Black 13 shirt for the Tri-Nations and RWC. Smith is a marquee player, and if the NZRU can’t talk him into staying, there would be a queue of French teams willing to sign cheques a lot larger than Munster could afford.
Verdict: Pretty unlikely

Jacque Fourie: Jacque is fondly remembered by all biltong-chewing highveldters for the manly way he ran through a concussed Rog in the second Lions test in 2009. A man who was never unsure of his worth to the world, or of the South African man’s rugby superiority, its tough to see him having the necessary humility to fit in at Thomond.
Verdict: Another JdV in the making

Isa Toeava:

Toeava is a versatile and creative player who can play 10, 12, 13 or 15. There is a lot of traffic competing for not very many outisde back slots in NZ, and Toeava could find himself outside the 30 come RWC time without a good Tri-Nations. If that is the case, it may be a good time to head North, especially with Nonu having signed for the Blues. He is only 25 and would be perfect for Munster.

Verdict: Tony, Tony, sign him up
Three that got away:
Ma’a Nonu: was heavily discussed on Munster fan forums, but he has signed for the Blues for next year. The talk in NZ was that if he did head abroad, it would have been to join his mate Mils Muliaina in Japan.

Verdict: Probably a pipe-dream all along

James Downey: agricultural bosher who turned into Sonny Bill Williams after side-stepping Dorce in the HEC final. Unlikely to reach such heights again. Would be a good move for James Downey, Irish rugby, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht .. but not Munster.
Verdict: Ooooooooooooooooohhh

Jean de Villiers: yes, we know he never learned the words to “Stand Up and Fight” first time out. Yes, we know he didn’t impress Micko. No, he didn’t drink in Jirry’s pub. Normally, those are the top 3 criteria. But if we allow for rugby ability, JdV would have fitted the bill. But he has re-signed for the Stormers.
Verdict: Don’t look back in anger, we heard you say

Three from left field:

Paddy Wallace: Stop sniggering at the back! We have been through this before. Paddy is emphatically not an outhalf, but he is experienced and a top-notch distributing centre, which is exactly what Munster need. Granted a 10-12 axis of Rog-Paddy does look a little flimsy, but for 2/3 of Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, it worked, albeit back when O’Leary was good and Wally wasn’t 35. Plus Luke Marshall might be wearing the Ulster 12 shirt very soon.
Verdict: Not likely, but should be considered
Felipe Contepomi: How funny would this be? Who knows, Stade’s finances could collapse again, freeing Conters up for a move back to Ireland.  And Quinny has retired now. Although Rog hasn’t.
Verdict: Ligind in the making

Gavin Henson: Would blend right into the Munster shirt, thus offering invaluable cover for actual rugby players. Not sure how the waxing would go down in Moyross, but Gav will take anything going and if this drags on any longer Munster will get desperate.
Verdict: About as welcome in Limerick as the Orange Order

One thing’s for sure though: whoever arrives had better be a lover of theatre, because Axel has block booked a whole season’s worth of seats for the lucky man to see that play about 1978, so he knows Munster history.

Ireland’s World Cup 30 – Inside Backs

The penultimate post in the series looks at the fly-half and centres quandry.  Egg Chaser will wrap things up on Friday by looking at the back three.

How many will go? Two fly halves, three centres.

Who is certain to travel? It will come as little surprise to Ronan O’Gara, Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy when Deccie informs them that they are going down under.  These four can purchase their copy of Ki Te Whaoiao’s An Introduction to Maori Culture and Society.

Who is scrapping out for the last spots? Dedicated outside centre cover is thin on the ground.  If the unthinkable were to happen to Brian O’Driscoll and he should miss a game it is likely that one of the outside backs, probably Tommy Bowe or Keith Earls would step in to the breach.

One man who is likely to go as cover for Dorce and the two fly-halves is Paddy Wallace.  A couple of high profile mistakes and the images of his face being mashed in the 2009 Six Nations have made Paddy a bit of a punchbag among Irish rugby fans, but the truth is that he is a classy distributing centre, and one of the best passers of the ball in the country.

He was in Eddie’s 2003 and 2007 squads as a reserve out-half (the reserve in 2007), and his ability to cover 10 and 12 and offer an alternative ‘second five-eighth’ option at 12 gives Kidney another way of playing.  So far so good.  But the truth is that he is not even close to being an international 10.  If Sexy and ROG were both to get injured, Ireland may as well pack up and go home – the notion that Wallace should be brought to cover this remote eventuality is a nonsense.  Even more nonsensical is the idea that Wallace covers full-back.  A certain esteemed Irish Times journalist has repeatedly peddled this line, and it has been used to justify Paddy’s selection as half-time orange provider throughout the Six Nations, but it is hard to think of any attributes of a modern 15 that Wallace possesses.

So his value should be measured on his ability at 12.  And we like Wallace as a 12, but he has not had the best of seasons with Ulster or Ireland.  Menwhile, Fergus McFadden offers cover across the three-quarter line and is coming off the back of a superb season with Leinster, even if he is not yet a consistent starter in the big games.  Tigerish in contact, with enough gas to play on the wing, and the ability to place-kick, he should be taking his place on the plane in September.

A final option, and an increasingly fashionable one, is playing a big man at 12 to bosh up the middle.  After all, didn’t BOD mesh wonderfully with Jamie Roberts on the Lions tour?  The man to play this role for Ireland would be Ooooooooooooooohhh James Downey.  WoC was surprised to see Downey show reasonable hands for Northampton in the HEC semi-final, and felt we had perhaps underestimated him.  The feeling remains that he is probably not quite up to international level, though this is one option that would have been worth exploring before now.  Downey didn’t make the 43-man training squad this week, so the ship has probably sailed.

We think Deccie will plump for Wallace, with the fly-half cover working in his favour, but it is possible (particuarly in light of Shaggy’s injury) that Fergus could still make it as a utility back, more of which anon…

Any bolters? Nevin Spence had made a bolt with a string of impressive performances for Ulster, and is unfortunate to be ruled out through injury.  His time will come.

Should go: Ronan O’Gara, Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden
Will go: Ronan O’Gara, Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Paddy Wallace