What’s the point of doing one of these things now? Aren’t they normally a space-filler in the lead up to the world cup, tacked together once the squads are announced but before a tackle is missed in anger?
True and true … and, in the best traditions of Irish rugby writing, the Mole certainly loves a good space-filler.
However, sometimes it’s worth looking back after the first round of matches, giving a once-over analysis of the performances to date and picking out the weaknesses that have cropped up. This selection – and indeed, this article – was really prompted by the disappearance of Victor Vito from the Kiwi No8 jersey in the first match, and the rough night that Ben Franks had with Tongan substitute loosehead Taumalolo. Since then, we’ve seen Pierre Spies once more have absolutely no effect in a serious test match, as well as the unholy sight of Ben McCalman on the openside flank for the Wallabies.
An important point regarding the Mole’s selection: there are no injured players included. Anybody can get injured … that’s the nature of sport. This selection is not just about players who aren’t at the world cup; more specifically, it’s about players who have been left behind.
Down to business.
Thomas Domingo [26, France & Clermont Auvergne]
Domingo is a huge omission from the French squad, but unlike Yannick Jauzion, there’s method to Lievremont’s madness in this call. Jean-Baptiste Poux could well be the best loosehead scrummager in the world, and Fabien Barcella has been on his day the best prop in the world, fullstop.
Still, Domingo would very likely strut his way into most squads in the competition, with the exception of the ludicrously well-off South Africans, who have Tendai Mtawarira and Gurthro Steenkamp fighting for the No1 jersey.
[Check out the enormous hand-off on camera-shy Bonponsiero O’Callaghan at 1:46. Out of the road, you gentle, gentle, gentle giant]
Wyatt Crockett [28, NZ and Crusaders] will always have his rock-solid wild-west name, even if the Franks brothers have more or less closed the book on his international career.
Sylvain Marconnet [35, France & Biarritz] is probably always going to regret going ski-ing in February 2007. He missed almost exactly two full years of international rugby, including a home World Cup, and won just 13 of his 84 caps after the injury. Still, he had done enough to make him a viable contender at 35 for Lievremont’s squads, and was last season named as the best loosehead in the history of the Heineken Cup.
Schalk Brits [30, SA & Saracens]
The South Africans are extremely well-stocked at hooker already – they’ve got the best one in the world in Bismarck and the squad captain in John Smit – so it’s doubtful they’ll miss Brits. That’s a pretty remarkable thing to say, because he’d stroll into most other teams in the World Cup. As the good people at Whiff of Cordite have said in the past, he makes watching the Aviva Premiership bearable. He’s a real human highlight reel, a guy who takes great pleasure in showing that he can do it all. The World Cup is worse off without him.
Man of the Match performance in the Saracens vs Leicester Premiership final. Jesus, those ESPN commentators really love him.
With most coaches picking three hookers in their squads, there are not too many players of real quality left lying about. Aled de Malanche feels a little short-changed in Waikato, but he never started a game for New Zealand. Any Welsh hooker with a professional contract has made their squad, so badly have they been affected by injuries. George Chuter is 35 and has always been a bit-part player for England, if a valuable member of the team for Leicester. Richardt Strauss [25, Leinster] would certainly have made the Irish squad were he qualified, but he’s two years into a three year process. The French pair of Sebastian Bruno [37, Toulon] and Benoit August [34, Biarritz] are seriously long in the tooth.
Carl Hayman [31, NZ & Toulon]
The big ‘un. Graham Henry has said himself that Hayman is one of a couple of players that tempted him to go outside those players playing in New Zealand for the squad. While the thousandth All Black isn’t the player that he was in his mid-decade prime, he’s still a magnificent animal on the tighthead side.
He made a decision to take a huge heap of money from first Newcastle and then Toulon [he was just 27 when he signed for Newcastle in 2007] rather than continue a serious rugby career – maybe that’s a bit harsh, but realistically Newcastle were nowhere near European rugby, or even the business end of the premiership. Taking Boudjellal’s money and going to Toulon rather than returning home to New Zealand for a shot at making the world cup squad reinforced that impression in any doubters’/believers’ minds. Still, Zarg used to take apart scrums for fun with Newcastle, and was quite clearly the best prop in the world for a good number of years when he played for New Zealand. I doubt he’d have turned down the call if Henry had got in touch.
The big lad has a good line in finishing quality tries as well:
Northampton’s Brian Mujati [26, Northampton and South Africa] might have wished himself involved with South Africa; it would have stopped him getting into some Twitter-related acrimony at home. Munster’s new signing Brendan James Botha [31, Munster and South Africa] is another experienced Springbok prop who plays at a high level … or used to.
Anybody we’ve left out? Suggestions in comments, please!