Paul O’Connell: Paulie had a welcome return to fitness and form. He made it his job to go looking for James Horwill in the Australian match and nailed him a few times. As noted here before, second rows have a long shelf life and it’s not unreasonable to expect Paulie to have another World Cup in him. Benefitted from losing a bit of bulk and became more mobile. Still not a great ball carrier although he puts his hand up.
Must Do Better: Work on his hands. Paulie drops a lot of ball, which is surprising because the catches he pulls down from kick offs aren’t easy. Nathan Sharpe added distribution skills late in his career and the threat of what he might do bought him some more time against defences and enabled him to become a better carrier. Maybe Alice could show him.
Donncha O’Callaghan: Mole is not a fan of Donncha O’Callaghan. He’s in the newspapers too often spouting on about whatever and he doesn’t blast rucks or mauls. However, Mole reckons that Donncha had a good World Cup and is a big game player. Numerous coaches have consistently selected him and McGeechan picked him to captain a Lions team so he must be an excellent squad member, which shouldn’t be overlooked as an attribute.
Must Do Better: stop trying to fulfil statistical criteria on some coaching review and blast things. Donncha’s coverage across the pitch against Russia betrayed a high level of fitness and good awareness. A more attritional approach to contact would boost him up the rankings in my estimation.
Donncha Ryan: Ryan’s got a bit of abrasiveness about him but hasn’t managed to dislodge O’Callaghan for either Munster or Ireland. He offered good back five coverage on the bench through the tournament, which made the decision to select Leamy alongside him baffling. Still relatively light, he can’t possibly offer the same scrummaging ability as a Simon Shaw/Millo-Chlusky etc.
Must Do Better: Ryan should probably have left Munster a few seasons ago in order to get regular rugby as a starter rather than as an alternate. Mick O’Driscoll’s sojourn in Perpignan benefitted his career and Ryan has to ask himself if O’Connell or O’Callaghan are going anywhere else for the next few seasons (O’Callaghan signed a three year contract in November 2010). He could be benching for a while yet.
Leo Cullen: Kidney seemed to begrudgingly pick Jennings and Cullen and they both left the province in the aftermath of his sole season at Leinster. Along with former émigré Jennings, Cullen has been at the heart of Leinster’s ascent to European power house. Cullen runs a great lineout for Leinster, look how many different targets they use throughout a game. Those skills aren’t required for Ireland if Paulie plays and Leo is no ball carrier. Led the team well against Russia and would have been a valuable squad member.
Must Do Better: Cullen’s likely to be jettisoned from Irish squads post World Cup but he is a winner and Irish rugby would benefit from his further involvement. He seems cut out for a coaching role, hopefully with more success than Martin Johnson, his predecessor in the Tigers’ second row.