Cian Healy – Mole at times during the World Cup thought that Healy was the best loosehead in the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the Wales game, the memory of him getting skinned by JJV Davies for the final try of the game, then doubled over by Lions test tighthead, Adam Jones, might tarnish the memories. How many looseheads could be expected to catch an outside centre after over an hour of test rugby? Healy is a freakish athlete who combines ball carrying with effectiveness at set pieces. He’s also only 24 years of age. If he was French, he’d be feted. Healy is set to become one of, if not the best looseheads in the world. Ireland’s scrum is no longer a concern and Healy will set the standard for a number of up and coming props.
Must do better: A few times against the Welsh, Healy ran across the pitch, looking to use his pace. It resulted in a tackle behind the gainline. Blessed with power and quick feet, Healy has the ability to be a bonus ball carrier for Ireland. Developing a rapport with a halfback that creates space for him in close would get the most from Healy’s athletic ability.
Mike Ross – something of a cause celebre during the autumn, Mikey Ross had a solid World Cup and bulwarked Ireland’s scrum. It’d be easy to get used to Mike Ross and the stability he provides to Ireland. For years, Ireland’s scrum was there to be targeted. Against Australia it became a weapon, while the Italians never really threatened to blow it off the park.
Mike Ross didn’t play any of the autumn internationals, as Kidney chose to go with Hayes. It seems astonishing now to think that we would have approached the World Cup with the Bull as first choice. Never the best scrummager at the peak of his powers, Hayes is now old. Ireland’s lineout functioned quite well without Hayes there as an auxiliary forklift. This World Cup provided ample evidence that technical skills are required in certain positions and tighthead is one of them. Ross will be the corner stone of the Irish scrum for a few more seasons.
Must do better: It’s unlikely that Ross is going to further improve his ball carrying. More usefully, he could direct his technical expertise towards creating a more dominant maul. Since the ELVs, mauling around the world has had far less impact. Ross is certain to play a central part in most of Ireland’s attempts in the years to come.
Tom Court – Healy and Ross are so important to Ireland because their cover is so far behind. Tom Court had a fine game against America but just doesn’t convince at the top level. Court covers both sides of the scrum for Ireland but you’re just waiting for it to go wrong when he’s on the tighthead. The role he is asked to play is very difficult. Court was a late starter at rugby and has been asked to cover two technically demanding positions. Neither of Ireland’s first choice props, who are both good scrummagers have proven themselves on the other side of the scrum so it’s a tall order to expect any more from Court.
Must do better: You’d say, learn to play tighthead but that’s a big ask. Court would be better concentrating on developing his loosehead skills further in case Cian Healy is ever injured.
Tony Buckley – Buckley looks like he has the makings of a great prop, and as commented on in this post, he delivered one top notch performance against New Zealand, of all people. It never happened at the top level for Mushy. His clearances of rucks were the highlight of some games for a certain type of spectator, but Mushy always looked like the big kid in a boarding school who played rugby partly in order to get extra helpings at dinner. Unable to ever get his feet in the uncomfortable positions required to leverage his natural bulk, Mushy was something of an experiment that never clicked.
Must do better: what hasn’t been said already? Enjoy his rugby. Buckley is moving from Munster to Sale. While many Munster fringe players would benefit from leaving the province, due to the difficulty of ousting the incumbent starter, Buckley looks like he has been jettisoned. Hopefully he adapts to life without annually tilting for silverware and still enjoys his rugby.
Rory Best – one of the undoubted successes of the World Cup, Best nailed the hooker spot after Jerry Flannery’s injury. Best never seemed to have Flannery’s accuracy at the oche but offered strong scrummaging, a consistent presence around the pitch and leadership. A possible successor to O’Driscoll as captain, Best is coming towards the peak of his career.
Must do better: develop a tactical voice and aspire to the captaincy. Best was the Irish player who admitted that they were disappointed that they “couldn’t figure something out on the run” during the Welsh match. Centrally involved in everything Ireland do, Best is in an ideal position to feel the pulse of a game. Already captain of Ulster, his tactical appreciation and game management could set him apart as he consolidates his position as a senior figure.
Sean Cronin – Cronin came to attention playing for Shannon in the AIL final against Clontarf when he chased down a winger in the corner. Cronin’s carrying ability is coupled with an unfortunate tendency to turn over the ball. He followed in the footsteps of Jerry Flannery and made the trip from Limerick to Galway. He gained exposure to first team rugby and, like Flannery, transferred to one of the big two. Cronin faces stiff competition from Richardt Strauss for a starting spot at the province but the higher standard of the Heineken Cup champions should knock some rough edges from Cronin’s game. You can’t coach pace, and Cronin’s gas and nose for the line is something that might bring him cult status in the international game. He started against Russia and ran a clever line off Leamy only to be ignored with a try line begging.
Must do better: develop more zip and accuracy with his throwing. Cronin reminds me of Kevin Mealamu, who was a dynamic ball carrier in the early days of his test career but an inconsistent thrower. Cronin’s throwing is loopy and looks prone to be picked off.
Jerry Flannery – Unfortunately this looks like the end of the line for Flannery, a fan favourite for both Munster and Ireland. Consistent injury woes have reduced his starting opportunities. Handed out the jersies before the Australia match and made a big emotional impact with his teammates.
Must do better: Keep himself sane if the injuries force him to retire. Flannery showed great determination to rehab so diligently but he has played very little rugby in the last few seasons. Technically an excellent player and valued squad member who got the most from his ability, Flannery seems tailor made for a coaching career.