Pick me! Pick me!

Keith Earls really, really, really wants to play outside centre for Munster, and presumably Ireland.  The details are here in Earls’ interiew with Charlie Mulqueen in the Examiner.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/sport/rugby/earls-vows-to-make-13-jersey-his-own-202572.html

It’s not the first time he’s made these sort of noises, and unlike his media-schooled colleagues, Keith Earls is the one Irish player who is something of an open book in interviews, and doesn’t seem to mind coming out with heartfelt, honest comments that could leave him in a tight spot. It’s great to see his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the game as well – makes one smile.

However, we’ve mixed feelings on his latest.  We’ve no problem with him saying he wants to play 13 – that’s fair, so why not come out and say it?  We’re always commenting that he’s been messed around too much in his career, so he’s right to try and nail down a position for himself.

But by saying he “hate[s] playing 11” he is in danger of making a rod for himself, and others.  He’s played the majority of his international career and much of his club games there, and if he hates it so much, he at least appears to have made a decent fist of it.  At some point he’ll be called upon to play there, and it puts unnecessary pressure on his coaches when they do it.

Last year his game improved hugely at 13 and he has surely earned the right to start the season in that position. We would see Earls as one of the players Penney should be looking to build the new Munster team around.  Trouble is as a centrally contracted player he’ll be missing the first few weeks of the season, so Laulala has a headstart in the 13 jumper.  Also, Laulala is an out-and-out 13 with little versatility – Earls can be accommodated elsewhere, but Laulala cannot.  Can Munster afford to leave such talent on the bench? Or can Penney, as a new coach, afford to marginalise one of his best players?

It’s a most interesting quandry for Penney.  Thirteenwatch starts early this year.

Keep Calm and Carry On (Picking Donncha)

Deccie announces his Six Nations squad tomorrow.  It’s his first since the World Cup, in which he made a couple of bold, surprise calls for the squad.  Deccie doesn’t throw too many curveballs, and tends to give as little away as possible until the actual team has to be picked for the first game, so don’t expect to learn too much tomorrow.  Nonetheless, we expect a little culling around the fringes, with ageing tackle-bag holders moving aside for younger, fresher tackle-bag holders.

Last season he announced a 32-man squad as well as a 22 man Wolfhounds squad of players who were ‘still in contention for the first game’.  And sure enough, Tomas O’Leary played so well in the Wolfhounds’ defeat to Scotland that he gazumped all the other scrum halves to start against Italy, where he utterly justified his selection.  He must have, right, why else would they have stuck with him for the France game the week after?

Props
Senior Squad: Cian Healy, Tom Court, Tony Buckley, Mike Ross
Wolfhounds: Brett Wilkinson, Paddy McAllister, Stephen Archer
Thanks for the memories: Marcus Horan, John Hayes
Very much a case of ‘as you were’, with few alternatives emerging.  Lamentably, Tony Buckley, being used mainly as an impact sub by Sale, will make another senior squad, but can expect to be on Eddie Rockets duty.  Court maintains his hold on the No.17 jumper, as he can scrummage badly on both sides.  Paddy McAllister looks the real deal, despite injuries curtailing his impact, but should still make the Wolfhounds.  Brett Wilkinson is a mainstay at that level, and Jamie Hagan and Stephen Archer will fight it out for the last spot.  It could go either way.  Hayes has retired and Horan’s days as a test level prop are long since gone.  There’s little point in calling him up.
Hooker
Senior Squad: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Damian Varley
Wolfhounds: Adrian Flavin
With Flannery still out and Mike Sherry also injured, the cupboard is pretty bare beyond the first three.  Varley might have to play the Wolfhounds game before joining up with the main squad. Are we missing anyone? Except Nigel Brady obviously.
Second Row
Senior Squad: Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callagan, Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner
Wolfhounds: Damian Browne, Ryan Caldwell
Thanks for the memories: Leo Cullen, Mick O’Driscoll
As we’ve already discussed at length, we can expect some change in this division, with Micko and Cullen making way for some bright young things.  Ryan, Toner and Tuohy have all stepped up admirably this season, and each deserve the chance to earn caps this Spring, even if its for 4 seconds.  It’ll be a case of one from the pack to partner the great O’Connell.  O’Callaghan will still make the senior squad, but his place as a mainstay in the team must be under pressure, with Ryan displacing him at Munster.  We suspect one of Tuohy or Toner may be sent down to help out with the Wolfhounds, before joining the main squad.  Failing that, Caldwell deserves to be reminded that he’s in the picture following some abrasive performances for Bath. One hopes Paddy McAllister’s lifting of Johann Muller has given him adequate muscular power to lift Damian the Hutt.
Back row
Senior Squad: Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris, Kevin McLaughlin, Peter O’Mahony, Mike McCarthy
Wolfhounds: Chris Henry, Willie Falloon, James “Cawlin” Coughlan, Rhys Ruddock
Injured: David Wallace, Niall Ronan
Thanks for the memories: Denis Leamy, Shane Jennings
With Denis Leamy hurt, it appears injury has once again been Ireland’s best selector.  It was surely time to cut the Munster reserve flanker loose anyway, as a Deccie mainstay he would probably have been called up again.  Likewise, Jennings’ time has surely passed.  Mike McCarthy has played some great rugby in a poor side, and Kevin McLaughlin is a solid presence and good lineout option.  Peter O’Mahony has had a positive impact with Munster, and should get the call, although whether he has been better than Chris Henry (who won’t make it) is a debate for another day.  All three will be scrapping for a place in the matchday squad.  James Coughlan would be an ideal candidate to captain the Wolfhounds, for whom Henry must be on the verge of breaking some kind of appearance record.
Scrum Half
Senior Squad: Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray, Isaac Boss
Wolfhounds: Paul Marshall, Tomas O’Leary
Thanks for the memories: Peter Stringer
Boss holds on to his squad place by his fingernails.  Paul Marshall has impressed hugely, but until he’s a nailed on starter with Ulster, may find the full breakthrough elusive.  Nonetheless, he deserves a chance to impress with the Wolfhounds.  Tomas O’Leary has started the season where he left off, i.e. playing dreadfully, despite Quinny’s assurances to the contrary on Saturday, and looks to be falling further off the radar. [Aside: while we have been impressed with Quinny’s musings in the IT, would truth-telling about Munster players get him banished from Club Ligind?]
Out Half
Senior Squad: Johnny Sexton, Ronan O’Gara
Wolfhounds: Ewan Madeegan, Ian Keatley
Thanks for the memories, such as they were: iHumph
The senior squad-members pick themselves.  In the Wolfhounds, as we’ve discussed here, it’s time for a look at the exciting talents of try-happy Ian Madigan in green.  iHumph departs the scene – a talented player, but one unlikely to make the step up to test rugby.
Centres & Utility Men
Senior Squad: Gordon D’Arcy, Paddy Wallace, Fergus McFadden, Keet Earls, Darren Cave
Wolfhounds: Ian Whitten, Eoin O’Malley
Injured: Brian O’Driscoll
Yes, Paddy Wallace, but hold on for a sec …. the burning question first.  Just who will play 13?  We’ve been over it many times, and one thing’s for sure: we won’t find out tomorrow.  We’ll come back to this issue before the team announcement, but suffice to say Keet Earls’ awful performance on Saturday didn’t do him any favours.  Eoin O’Malley’s lack of recent gametime is likely to leave him out of contention, but he should get a run with the Wolfhounds.  We think Paddy Wallace will just about squeeze into the squad after a successful comeback on Friday night, where he hilariously dumped Lionheart Croft into touch.
Outside Backs
Senior Squad: Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble
Wolfhounds: Craig Gilroy, Denis Hurley, Dave Kearney, Tiernan O’Halloran
Thanks for the memories: Shane Horgan, Geordan Murphy, possibly Gavin Duffy
A big welcome back to Luke Fitzgerald, whose return to form ensures a return to the squad.  He’ll be duking it out with Trimble to fill the 11 jersey, as we’re still assuming Keet will be picked in centre.  Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney are nailed on starters. Gavin Duffy could make the seniors (he generally does) as a second specialist full-back, probably at the expense of Wallace or Cave.  A number of other good players are knocking on the door, but will have to settle for Wolfhounds action.  O’Halloran has caught the eye, while Simon Zebo hasn’t been included in our list, but could feature.  Hurley will provide security at 15.

Thirteenwatch: Round Deux

If our first Thirteenwatch was a case of ‘plenty of options, but none stand out’, this week there were a few intriguing developments.  Seconds out, round two…
Eoin Griffin (Connacht)

Taken to school by the world class Toulouse backline, and looked more or less what he is – a rookie learning his trade.  Still has a long way to go to get to international class, but we still have high hopes for the future.
BOD Rating: will have learned valuable lessons from the weekend’s mauling. 5/13 (-2)

Eoin O’Malley

Drafted into the Leinster team on the back of McFadden’s dead leg, and grabbed his chance, scoring two tries, and performing well in all facets of the game. A genuine outside centre with distribution skills and a great step, he is also a throwback to the times when centres were small chaps with quick feet and good skills and not 110kg boshing machines – he reminds us a bit of Matthew Tait.  The question is: does he have the physicalty for international rugby?
BOD Rating: the best performer in the shirt at the weekend, albeit against poor opposition.  Needs to maintain that perfromance level and he will get more chances to stake his claim. 9/13

Fergus McFadden (Leinster)

Injured with a dead leg this weekend, his hopes of a run at 13 have receded as O’Malley took his chance
BOD Rating: more likley to feature at 12 or on the wing, we reckon. 5/13 (-1)

Darren Cave (Ulster)

Another fine performance, full of hard running and good lines.  Caused Leicester plenty of problems, but Ulster couldn’t get over the tryline despite the huff and puff. 
BOD Rating: Upward curve continues, though, like McFadden, Cave just lacks that spark of magic.  9/13 (+1)

Danny Barnes (Munster)

An error-stren performance which will have done little for his confidence.  Given the shepherd’s hook very early in the second half, and had to watch Will Chambers take his place to huge effect.  Can expect to be warming the bench for the Scarlets double header.
BOD Rating: a long way off international level on this form 4/13 (-2)

Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster)

Superb performance on the wing, and looks to have his mojo working fully again.  Skills would appear to transfer to centre.  Perhaps a call to Chez Schmidt to gently encourage him to give Luke some gametime at 13 is in order.
BOD Rating: great to see the old Luke back, but we’d need to see him at centre before we get excited 7/13 (unch.)

Notes for Deccie: A visit to the RDS to see young Eoin O’Malley wouldn’t be a bad idea, Deccie.  The RDS, Deccie, it’s in south Dublin.  You know it Deccie, BOD and Jamie play there.  Keith is still injured Deccie.  Telling McGahan you’re still the boss down there and to stick him at centre won’t help, Deccie.  I wouldn’t advise it, Deccie.  No, Deccie, no!

 

Thirteenwatch: Episode 1

With his BODness out for this year’s Six Nations, in the absence of an Ireland backs coach, we’re stepping up our responsibilities and getting on the hunt for Ireland’s next 13, as a favour for Deccie.  We’re not even asking for a reward, it’s just our way of giving a little bit back – that’s the sort of guys we are. 

This week each of the provinces had an Irishman in the 13 shirt.  We were watching closely to see how they got on, and we’ll be back to update episodically over the next few months.

Eoin Griffin (Connacht)

Plenty of promise here.  Griffin made the crucial break for the first Connacht try, before perfectly executing the two-on-one to put O’Halloran in the corner.  He has plenty of gas, but is still a bit raw – witness his killing of the space when put into a wide channel shortly after Duffy’s try.  O’Driscoll would have straightened the line to give his wing the best chance of scoring. 

BOD Rating: not international class yet, but one for the future. 7/13

Fergus McFadden (Leinster)

Made yards in contact, but his partnership with Dorce looks flawed.  Both men want to plough into the nearest defender and neither really has great distribution skills, which makes for a one-dimensional, dare we say it, almost Ooooooooooohhhh! partnership.  Fergus was better than the badly-out-of-form Dorce, but still looks more of a 12 to us.

BOD Rating: needs a more complementary partner if he is to replace BOD. 6/13

Darren Cave (Ulster)

Less heralded than teammate Nevin Spence, but is getting the nod for Ulster at the moment, and is probably the form contender.  It was a day for the fatties in Ravenhill, but Cave put in a good shift against a quality opponent in Rougerie and was involved in the Ulster try.

BOD Rating: Cave is no BOD, but can expect to be in the shake up for caps if he keeps up this vein of form. 8/13

Danny Barnes (Munster)

Munster’s backline never really sparked this weekend, and was largely dominated by Saints’ potent mix of boshers up the middle and Ben Foden’s classy running.  Barnes showed some neat touches on the ball, and played a big part in Munster’s second try, but still has much to learn, particularly in defence where his passive line-speed allowed Foden and Ashton to create a superb try in the first half.

BOD Rating: still learning the position, but will get plenty of game time this year 6/13

Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe (Leinster & Ospreys)

Neither played 13, but both looked sharp as a tack, and will be contenders for the shirt if they get a run there.  Given Leinster’s misfiring centres, Luke could be due a run in the 13 shirt.

BOD Rating: need to see if they get a run in the 13 shirt, but if either or both get a chance, they would be strong contenders 7/13

Notes for Deccie: Early days Deccie, but if you’re starting Dorce you may want to think twice about partnering him with McFadden.  Yes, Deccie, we know Earls will be back in February.  No, Deccie, I don’t think that’s a good idea.  On the wing, Deccie, where he can score tries.  Come back, Deccie…