McLaughlin Makes Two Interesting Calls


The Ulster game against Aironi is pretty hard to get excited about. Aironi are a fairly brutal team, pinned to the bottom of the Pro 12 table; it’s all so different from last year, when they were pinned to the bottom of the Magners League table. 

However, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made two calls in selection that bring up some talking points: Ruan Pienaar has been introduced at scrum half for Paul Marshall, and Paddy McAllister starts at loosehead instead of Tom Court.

Neither substitution is injury-enforced, and even allowing for the fact that Aironi are a weak team, Ulster badly need the win and the points if they are to progress to the knock-out stages. It’s not a time for experimentation.

Ruan Pienaar can play either scrum-half or outhalf, and has done so for South Africa. Allied to his natural athletic abilities, it’s the sort of versatility that saw him voted as Magners League Player of the Year last season. He played most of his rugby in the No9 jersey in that campaign, but in his absence this season, Paul Marshall has really stepped up to the plate with some cracking performances.

In contrast, Ian Humphreys has blown more hot and cold than ever. That’s not a synonym for rubbish; he’s had great moments, such as the late try against Clermont and the subsequent touchline conversion, but in the absence of Paddy Wallace he has failed to get a talented young backline firing. Craig Gilroy [20], Nevin Spence [21], Darren Cave [24] and Andrew Trimble [27] have the potential to be a much more dangerous outfit than they’ve looked in the recent past. The Mole thinks that Humphreys should have been the man to face the axe – not just because Marshall has been playing better at scrum half than iHumph has been playing at out half, but also because the back line needs something to make it spark.

The emergence of Ian Madigan at Leinster and Ian Keatley’s move to Munster – as well as the fact that the World Cup is in the very recent past – means that there’s not as much of an onus on Ulster to persist with an Irish-born player in the No10 jersey. If O’Gara or Sexton had missed RWC11 due to injury, Humphreys would have been on call. That’s not a big issue anymore.

The other change is a more positive one. The Mole has been fulsome in his praise of Paddy McAllister before, and is delighted to see him get a chance to start at this level. Tom Court was brought in to the Irish set-up to do a job, and he did one. However, he has neither the age profile nor the skills to be a long term solution at prop for Ireland, while McAllister does. He’s a long way behind the current Irish incumbent Cian Healy, but he’s a young [22] prop of prototypical size: 185cm [6’1″] and 117kg [18st 6lbs]. He’s got a great background in underage rugby and brings a lot of aggression and oomph to the pitch.

3 thoughts on “McLaughlin Makes Two Interesting Calls

  1. Yep, fully in agreement earlier, and tweeted as such. There’s a fair bit of hype around Paddy McAllister, but he has shown great promise – I was surprised he hadn’t had more chances this season so far. It’s great to see him start.

    I’d have put Pienaar at 10 too. Ulster’s back play has been mind-bogglingly awful this season, and when you look at the names involved, it’s a reasonably heralded set of players. Spence has been employed as a crash-ball merchant, I understood he had a bit more to his game than that, and they have lacked any creativity whatsoever. Some of the passing and handling has been bog standard. Marshall has been the diamond in the dirt, and there was a bit of hubbub about him making the Ireland squad, or at least the Wolfhounds, for the Six Nations, but his chances have taken a knock here.

  2. That’s not what “fulsome” means, it’s the opposite!

    Sorry, pet pedantic peeve there.

    Both calls are correct, I think, I’ve always been more impressed by Pienaar at 10; he’s an excellent 9, but not really effervescent enough to make the play from there when iHumph is having un jour sans. McAllister is a brave call, as you say; great news in the mid to long-term for Ireland if it works out, and hugely encouraging that they’re even prepared to give it a try at this stage.

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