The mighty Fangio is reporting that captain-elect Rory Best is a significant worry for Ireland’s forthcoming clash against Scotland. Besty had a relatively poor day with the darts against a super-charged French lineout, but the Ulsterman has been in the form of his career for both country and province over the past season and is a well-respected member of the leadership group.
The Banbridge clubman is as tough as they come. He made a remarkable recovery from a serious neck injury in the 2009-10 season, and got back up off the canvas during the World Cup to put in a storming effort against Wales in the quarterfinal, having shipped a serious knock in the final group game against Italy. With the captaincy almost certain to be transferred to him in the fallout of Paul O’Connell’s injury, The Mole is confident that Best will soldier through come hell or high water.
While some might quibble about the pre-emptive overuse of the ‘six day turnaround’ excuse, the Mole thinks it more likely that the real pain will be felt in ten days’ time against England.
England in Twickenham is always a bloody tough game, and with O’Connell and Murray decisively ruled out for the rest of the tournament, we’re not going to be getting any players back for that one … if anything, we’ll probably lose a couple more before the tournament is done. Maybe that’s an excessively downbeat prognosis, but the demands of an über-physical game against the French in Paris, the associated travel, players carrying knocks [the aforementioned Best, Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls and Donncha O'Callaghan] into the week’s training and a Scottish side buoyed by a very encouraging performance ten days ago against the French will all combine to make this a much tougher game than it appeared back in January.
Failing to close out the win against the French will hurt Ireland’s chances as well. Putting away France would have been an enormous shot in the arm and would have got a monkey off the back of a number of players, including the likes of O’Connell, O’Callaghan and Gordon D’Arcy, none of whom have won a game there with Ireland in their heavily medalled careers. Just like winning against Australia in RWC11 [and thereby beating one of the Tri-Nations teams in the southern hemisphere], beating France in Paris is more than just winning an away game … it’s a huge psychological hump to get over.
Ireland will be expected to win this one, but it could turn out to be a tough, tough day at the office. With two opensides in their backrow in Rennie and Barclay, the Scots are well set-up to try and slow or pilfer Ireland’s ruck ball, and with O’Connell out of action, The Mole expects to see Richie Gray have an absolute field-day against the Irish lineout.
The Scottish backs looked far better against France than they’ve looked in the last two seasons – not hard, because they’ve got an absolutely shocking attack coach – with Nick de Luca having the best game of his career and new boy Stuart Hogg [move over Geordan Murphy, this lad is the real George Best of rugby] setting Murrayfield alight. Gordon D’Arcy’s old nemesis Graeme Morrison is back in the No12 jersey, but with Jonathan Sexton’s hyper-aggressive defense at outhalf, the old Clongownian can put all his efforts into his own man on defense rather than having to double-job and watch out for whoever was running down O’Gara’s channel.
This could end up being a cracking game. Paper Tiger Ross Ford has transformed himself into a ball-carrying monster of the first order [a whopping 46m off 14 carries according to ESPN Scrum.com, a statistic with which any No8 would be delighted] and as he nears his twenty-eighth birthday is finally turning into the player his physique always threatened he could be. The captaincy obviously suits him, and though we’re deprived the match-up between O’Connell and Gray, hopefully we get to see a ding-dong battle between himself and Best, two prime Lions candidates.