Report Card: Back Row

Stephen Ferris: Bueller… anyone, Bueller? The injury plagued Ulster man rivals Luke Fitzgerald and the camera shy Donncha O’Callaghan for media utterances. It was his form in this World Cup that created the headlines. Ferris is a very talented athlete who hasn’t consistently produced at the international level. In this tournament he showed good ball skills as well as some feats of power that few players could match. His tackle on Genia was iconic while his hit on Castrogiovanni brought the battle to the Italians. The Welsh stopped him with some great tackles and stopped Ireland.

Must Do Better: He needs some luck with injuries. Good luck isn’t something that can be practised so what else for Ferris? The second row is an option. Ireland are well served at 6 and selecting Ferris in the row adds more ball carrying dynamism to the pack.

Sean O’Brien: You know you’ve made it when “the dark is afraid of Sean O’Brien” etc. The Tullow Tank hasn’t always been effective at openside but continued his good form of last season into this tournament and captured the imagination of the New Zealand public. Ireland’s inability to launch him over the gain line against Wales proved costly and a lot of Ireland’s attacking play revolves around O’Brien’s barnstorming runs. Its staggering to think that he seemed surplus to requirements last autumn.

Must Do Better: Maintain his form and improve his offloads. O’Brien’s a cracking player who will captain Ireland some day. Opposition are drawn to him because he must be stopped. His ability to attract defenders will create space elsewhere, particularly if he can get over the gain line consistently.

Jamie Heaslip: Heaslip never seemed to recover form after his ankle injury at the end of 2010. There are a number of top quality numbers 8s plying their trade at the moment and Heaslip had the chance to stake a claim as the best of them in this World Cup. Parisse, Harinordoquy and Read are all probably ahead of him in the notional pecking order and Faletau looks the form player from the Lions nations. The question must be asked about the composition of the Irish back row had Wallace been fit. Kidney probably would have picked O’Brien on the bench but his form was better than Heaslip’s and the clamour would have grown to have selected O’Brien to start at 8. All hypothetical of course.

Must Do Better: Bring the old Jamie back.

Denis Leamy: It’d be great to bring the old Leamy back but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Mole was a huge Leamy fan a few years ago. Since then, numerous shoulder and knee injuries have blunted the edge of a combative player who made life difficult for the opposition and was capable of playing in the centre. While Leamy seems perfect for the English midfield, he is a step down from the first choice Irish back row. Did not challenge for a starting spot in NZ.

Must Do Better: stop giving away so many penalties. Concentrate on developing more aerobic fitness and work on getting a bit leaner, with the ultimate aim of recovering some pace.

Shane Jennings: Travelled as a replacement for Wallace and seemed a more obvious choice beside Ryan as bench cover for the Irish back row. Jennings is a true openside and has made huge contributions to Leinster’s cup final wins in recent years. The team perform far better when he is on the pitch.

Must do better: Another who is likely to be surplus to requirements for future squads. Jennings’ role for the international team will be to force Dominic Ryan and other aspiring back rows to raise their game above his.

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