Eoin O’Malley didn’t start against either Munster or Montpellier. Fergus McFadden was chosen in the No13 jersey for those games in the absence of Drico, and while he didn’t set the world alight, he certainly had his moments. There’s every likelihood that he would have started the HEC fixture against Glasgow if he hadn’t injured his leg. As it went, O’Malley got the start and grabbed his chance with both hands … and then passed it.
Unlike many of the young pretenders to Drico’s crown, O’Malley recognizes that the game is not just about getting the ball to him so that he can have a cut. According to ESPN Scrum.com in the game against Glasgow he got the ball 19 times, passed 8 times and ran 11 times. In short, he passed almost as often as he ran.
When Keith Earls plays at No13 – certainly on the last couple of occasions The Mole has seen him in the No13 for Ireland – he seems to think that the reason everybody works their bollocks off to win the ball is so that he can have a run with it, even if he’s covered, even if he’s got men outside, even if he’s got runners on his inside shoulder. It doesn’t matter what’s ‘on’, just get the ball to Keet and let him do his thang!
His game against England in the RWC11 warm-ups was a prime example: his K/P/R was 2/4/9 – he got the ball 15 times, ran with it 9 times and kicked it away twice. He only passed the ball four times out of fifteen possessions. Down with the idea that somebody else might be able to do something with it!
That sort of display is symptomatic of an immature footballer, somebody who thinks that he’ll be able to do something at pro level that he was able to do as a schoolboy against a bunch of lads who would go on to be accountants, plasterers, bar-tenders and what have you, not international rugby players. It’s not just Earls, although he’s the prime example I can think of at the moment. Blackrock College schoolboy legend Brendan Macken has a similar take from what the Mole has seen [and heard] of him – he only gives the ball up when he’s taken all he can out of it.
There are a number of issues surrounding this proclivity to take too much out of the ball too often. The No13 channel is generally pretty wide out … if you have a cut, get caught and get isolated, it’s very easy to get turned over – either by the ref [via the penalty] or by the opposition [via a straight steal on the deck].
Another issue is that you become predictable. Good coaches can and will gameplan for you … “Such-and-such always comes in off his right foot when the ball is going left to right, so pretend to drift out and then step in with him and smash him with the covering flanker”. Even very, very talented runners can get shut down if good analysis has nailed their habits and their tells.
In some instances, it’s a sort of coping mechanism to cover up a lack of ability: always going for the break might be a the result of a vicious circle of inadequate skills development. The player always tries to break when the ball is going left-to-right because he doesn’t trust his left-to-right passing … so his passing in pressure situations never improves, so he always goes for the break. It’s not an impossible cycle to break: both Tana Umaga and Ma’a Nonu went from being relatively club-handed wingers to centers who could throw pretty much any sort of pass or pull off any sort of offload off either hand … although Umaga is still a filthy cheat.
The likes of McFadden, Macken and Earls might be more exciting runners than O’Malley, but Chubby has a cannier footballing brain, a more rounded skill set and a better game intelligence than any of them at this stage of their respective careers.