Report Card: Half Back

I'll have a monkey on the jolly at the next in Lingfield.

Conor Murray: It seemed that Murray made the plane only because Tomas O’Leary had one howler too many against France and three scrum halves were needed in the party. Once selected, he continued his meteoric rise and became first choice scrum half before the end of the tour. At times against the Welsh, he seemed a bit off the pace, no doubt a consequence of exposure to a higher pace of game than he was used to. Murray offered a physical presence with a well rounded skill set and was a definite plus from the tournament.

Must Do Better: Murray was under the radar for most of the season. While he has dealt well with every challenge posed to him so far, next year coaches and video analysts will know far more about his game. Comparisons have been made to Mike Phillips, and while Murray is a useful runner, he is unlikely to offer the same threat as the Welshman. A better comparison to aspire to is Nick Farr-Jones, also a big man for a half back but one who varied his options superbly.

Eoin Reddan: He started the Australian game but lost out to Murray for the rest of the tournament, despite not playing badly. His introduction against Wales caused them some problems and he brought his back row into play well. He put in two tackles against the Italians during his short time on the park, showing a defensive solidity that surprised the Mole.

Must Do Better: Reddan seems to thrive on competition. At various stages of his international career he has shared the role with Stringer, O’Leary and Murray without ever nailing the starting slot for a consistent run. Isaac Boss and ‘whochatalkinabout’ Willis will keep Reddan on his toes at Leinster. Nine is a position of strength.

Isaac Boss: Got a run in New Zealand, scored a try, played in a World Cup. It must have been frustrating to be a number three but there’s harder stations.

Must Do Better: Ireland aren’t looking at Boss to solve a positional problem. He plays an unconventional style and provides an alternative sort of scrum half. Not quick enough at the base to consistently start, his physicality and football are ideal, at times, when a game needs closing.

Ronan O’Gara: Where do you start? The comeback kid. Gamblor. Mentally strong. I, me, mine. There’s no half measures with this lad. Great interviews, great line kicking, top quality goal kicking, mediocre running threat, crab sideways passing style, terrible tackling technique, outrageous self confidence. O’Gara looked good as he guided the ship home against the Wobs. He dissected Russia and a lacklustre Italy. He launched a one man PR campaign and placekicked himself onto the team then ran through the full gamut of his limitations against Wales. He’ll be back.

Must Do Better: Come off the bench, close out games. Keep giving interviews. Don’t think you’re kidding anyone at this stage of the game.

Jonny Sexton: He’d start for France or New Zealand were he available for the final but Declan couldn’t leave aul ROG out and Sexton sat on the bench too long against Wales. His place kicking was miserable then seemed to get better, just when it was too late. This was an opportunity missed for Sexton who will really come into his own during the next four years.

Must Do Better: Sexton used run across the pitch but he’s stopped doing that and the improvement has been noticeable. The next step, and it is difficult, is to come onto the ball in attack close to the gain line and do different things when he gets it. If he can start doing that, Ireland’s hopes will rest on his shoulders in four years’ time. It will be very interesting to see how his combination with Murray develops.

3 thoughts on “Report Card: Half Back

  1. Sets a tone for the next ‘major’ Inter-pro at the Palindrome on November 4! Its difficult to move on from what developed with such promise in the antipodes, but such is the nature of professional sport. “Let the season begin!”

  2. I think there is a slight misconception out there that sexton is a flamboyant, running out half. Its because he is a better runner with ball in hand than rog. All due respect to rog, but that aint the toughest criteria in international rugby. I know kidney spoke about not pigeon holing the two, but in truth sexton should be classified ( like o’gara) as very much a “structural” out half – out halficus structuralis if you will. Sexton is clearly working on rounding his game, but he will always be fighting his instincts. maybe we should work on him perfecting his natural game whilst developing another way to play with someone else when we want to have a cut, or change to plan B. Rog and johnny are pretty much like for like at the minute.

    It is great having that put the ball in behind them option and those two are among the best at it on the planet. How and ever, if we want to push back the boundaries we could do with a true running threat at 10. Paddy Wallace was probably under used for this role and I think you are right he is now looking at a father figure role at ulster from here on, whilst still adding depth to national resources.

    Two options which I’ve not heard considered much are
    1. Luke Fitzgerald.
    He is a gain line threat, think try vs ulster as 1st receiver in magners semi last yr. OK, I know nothing about his place kicking, but he has a good kicking skill set from hand (grubbers, round the corner
    kicks etc). He is possibly/probably going to be in a lot of teams with Ferguson mcfadden, so place kicking may not be a huge pre-quisite anyways. The main thing is he has that ability and variety to make things happen. You want those players getting the ball as often as possible. Schmidt is currently looking at him at 12, but that may well condemn him to years of making tough tackles and the martyrdom of that would blunt his attacking instincts. He would be a bonus tackler at 10, a bit more of a struggle at 12.

    2. Fergus McFadden.
    A decent place kicker and would really push teams away from attacking our 10 12 channel. Considering we don’t have a Jamie Roberts type 12, this could be a big help. Would also add to our ball in hand attacking options, stronger but not as unpredictable as Fitzgerald.

    Even if johnny becomes the complete out half, which he isn’t that far away from in truth, we are going to need other options – rog is openly contemplating retirement, paddy jackson is a longer term project, paddy Wallace has been there and not been given much of a run. I don’t see anyone else putting their hand up in a big way.

    In terms of this world cup, both out halves should hold their heads high. My only criticism would be of rog – he tried to do too much against Wales. He was never done getting into breakdowns, mauls, brave hits. It isn’t his natural game and might have been better to step back and read the game on this one. That is admittedly pretty harsh and with the benefit of 3 weeks hindsight.

    • Good stuff Paddy O. Mole likes the thought of Luke Fitz in at first receiver and thinks he’s under used there. That try against Ulster was going to kick Lukey’s world cup comeback after the disaster of having too much time to think at 15. Having said that, he could play first receiver without being picked at ten, particularly as Sexton is quite versatile. Then of course there’s Madser whose run to the gain line and perfect presentation preceded Luke Fitz’s 2011 highlight. I’m particularly fond of the idea of outhalficus structuralis – does he adhere to a structure or give his team a shape to complement the tempo set by nine?

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