Comeback Kid Gamblor can write another chapter in the latest edition of his autobiography after winning selection for Ireland’s final pool game against Italy on Sunday. Paired alongside him is new arrival Conor Murray.
Some of the comment has focused on the risk of Jonny Sexton’s confidence being shattered. It’s something that Kidney would have been mindful of but he probably reckons that Sexton just isn’t that delicate and will be able to handle the competition. Bismarck du Plessis and Jonny Wilkinson have both played second fiddle during their careers and the way both dealt with it adds to their lustre. Mole is reminded of Bren Foley’s advice to Moss Keane after the pair were reunited for Ireland: “Jaysis Mossie, you’d better play well or I’ll be dropped!”
O’Gara doesn’t seem an easy character to manage. Given to speaking his mind in private and in print, Ireland’s record point scorer is no shrinking violet. Rumours about his off field travails have circulated, particularly during the last World Cup. He’s always come bouncing back though. Jonny Sexton has less flamboyant press clippings but showed his mettle in winning two Heineken Cups and filling Felipe Contepomi’s shoes without missing a beat.
Mole believes that O’Gara’s impact of the bench made him a potent weapon to have and is interested to see what Sexton can do in the same role. Murray’s selection is surprising and, because of O’Gara, has garnered less press inches than it warrants. Originally it seems he wasn’t even selected for the squad and now he is due to start Ireland’s biggest game since the last one.
It gives Ireland an exceptionally strong team, possibly the most competitive side in Mole’s memory. The backline has yet to click although the potential is there. Some of the line up seems almost in spite of Kidney’s selection policy. St Deccie seemed reluctant to the point of obstinacy about selecting Mike Ross, who didn’t feature in any of the autumn internationals. Similarly Sean O’Brien, in a rich vein of form at the time, got one start against the Samoans in autumn and looked set for a place on the bench. Now with both ensconced in pivotal roles he gives Murray a start after fleeting cameo roles and a run on against the US. His selection ahead of Boss and Reddan may signify the start of a lengthy run in the 9 jersey. His sidestep of Drew Mitchell for his disallowed try was highlight reel stuff and hints at a threat that Ireland haven’t had from the base of the pack in years.
Ireland have refused to get involved in a war of words with the Italians about scrummaging or anything else. Ross, Healy and Best are a solid unit and well capable of minding their own patch. Elsewhere, Ireland should have too much for an Italian team that played on Tuesday. Hopefully Sexton can make his appearance with a points cushion provided by none other than rival O’Gara.