Twelve by Four

There’s a bit of uncertainty over who exactly will be turning out in the 12 jumpers for the Irish provinces this weekend.  Ulster and Leinster’s coaches both in a pickle, but it’s a different kind of pickle.

Bad Pickle

First to Ulster, whose pickle eased yesterday evening when they revealed that Paddy Wallace should be fit to play.  Phew!  Poor Paddy is something of a punchbag for Irish rugby fans.  There are plenty who will always remember him as the chap who almost gave away the grand slam, or the fellow whose face got mashed into horrible gargoylian shapes earlier in that same tournament.  But here at Cordite Towers we recognise that he’s a superb creative 12 with one of the best passes in the country.  In an age of bosh-‘em-up crash-test-rugby, he’s a proper footballer, y’know, one with like actual skills and stuff.  I know, weird!  Unfashionable he may be, but he’s been Ireland’s form 12 this calendar year.

He’s also crucial to Ulster’s gameplan.  Ulster look to get the ball wide quickly, and use their 9-10-12 axis – smooth passers all – in midfield to work the ball swiftly across the pitch.  Craig Gilroy’s try  vs. Munster was a classic case in point.  Pienaar and iHumph absolutely fling the ball from right to left, getting it across the openside (created by Trimble boshing through O’Gara) in just two passes to take out the narrow defence.  Although Paddy wasn’t involved on this occasion (he was clearing out the ruck (!) after Trimble’s bosh) he is generally central to this sort of attacking ploy.  On Friday night, he threw one such peach of a pass into the onrushing Gilroy’s arms early in the game.  All while suffering a migraine and visual disturbances.

Rewind to Ulster’s 20-9 defeat to Leicester in Welford Road earlier this season.  Shortly afterwards, we were even moved to write this piece.  It might seem strange now, but at the time we were genuinely concerned about Ulster’s season petering out to nothing.  Paddy Wallace was injured back then (so was Pienaar, which wasn’t helping either) and Nevin Spence was playing at 12.  Rather than working the ball wide, Ulster were looking to truck it up the middle at every turn, and with little success.  Tries were hard to come by against good teams.  Not any more – they’re second top scorers in the Pro12, and have been prolific in the H-Cup too.  A fit P-Wal allows Ulster to play their natural wide game; without him they’re narrower and more predictable.  Leinster had plenty of joy getting Dave Kearney around his man on the wing against Edinburgh Friday before last, and while it would be foolhardy to read too much into an eight-try turkey shoot, this is a game made for Paddy’s ball skills to get Gilroy on the front foot.  Take those Hedex tablets, Padser.

Good Pickle

Joe Schmidt is in the sort of pickle you want as a coach – both his international 12s are fit and raring to go.  Who to choose?  I like Gordon D’arcy… but I like Fergus McFadden too… there’s only one way to find out… FIGHT!

Whoever gets the nod will be going up against Wesley Fofana of the winged feet – a little jewel of a player.  D’arcy has looked more like his old self since getting his mainstay back beside him, but he still doesn’t pack the punch of the old D’arcy.  His feet are still quick, and he’s good at tidying up sloppy ball, but the linebreak threat is lacking.

Yet again, Fergus McFadden put his hand up for selection in Ravers on Friday night.  Having made a splendid impact against Munster and smashed all sorts of holes in the Embra defensive line recently, this was another performance full of hard running and gainline successes.  He must surely be closer than ever to passing out D’arcy, and finally getting selected for a knockout game.  However, like Spence, he’s a bit of a bosher.  He’s not short of gas, but loves nothing more than getting the head down and ploughing through contact.  His passing could be described as rough-and-ready.  Is he dynamic enough for the type of game Leinster need to take to Clermont – lightning fast, sleight of both foot and hand?  We suspect the old guard in midfield won’t be broken up just yet.

Wallace, presuming he’s fit, and D’arcy to start, then.  The age of the bosher is getting closer, but it’s still hanging by the telephone.

Advertisements