Match Reaction: Saxons 23 – 17 Wolfhounds

Somebody sort this lad out with a Cotton Traders baggy jersey from the 1990s.

At one stage in this ‘A’ international the Saxons led the Wolfhounds 17-5, despite never having any real dominance. Ireland fought their way back to a more respectable – not to mention reflective – score with well-taken tries from Tomás O’Leary and Simon Zebo, but they had leaked too many soft points to take home the win … in a totally meaningless match.

The Mole has previously questioned the import of games like this. The match was enjoyable enough in its own right while never threatening to combust – spontaneously or otherwise – into a raging inferno of hard-fought, high-skill international rugby; it’s the one-off nature of it that is so unsatisfactory.

Players like Stephen Archer, who was absolutely plowed on the tighthead side at scrum-time, don’t get to make amends or improve their showing the next week, nor do we get to see how another young contender would do. On the other end of the scale, a guy like Dave Kearney, who had an extremely accomplished match, doesn’t have the chance to show that he’s capable of producing that form on a regular basis and really push the coaches to consider him for full international consideration. It’s a game played between two scratch sides, and it relates to nothing else in the season.

It should also be said that it was a game distinctly played below the skill and intensity of HEC rugby. Not that there was a lack of effort or endeavour, but when the final whistle blows, there’s nothing up for grabs. What have you done? Won a trophy? Played well enough to keep your place in the side? Put down a performance for future opponents to worry over?

This was the Wolfhounds only scheduled game this season – is that viable? Is it worthwhile?

The French are playing a full schedule of their Top 14 this weekend, and the English and Welsh clubs are engaged in their Anglo-Welsh/LV Cup. Noted Guardian hack and BBC commentator Eddie Butler has previously written that there’s still a big appetite in Wales for games against English clubs, but to the outside observer the competition has all the appearances of a straggler to the season proper that could do with a good brisk culling.

Maybe there’s something to be said for youngsters getting a competitive game against different opposition, as both teams are generally full of academy graduates – although if a team is struggling in the league and on the lookout for cheap silverware, they may field a strong team and put a whomping on the other crowd’s childrens’ crusade, just like Bath did yesterday against Northampton.

Does their involvement in the Anglo-Welsh/LV Cup explain why the Welsh don’t field an ‘A’ team, and instead have nominated their U20s as their second string for IRB qualification purposes? Or is it that they want to brand every player who plays for Wales at U20 as Welsh for life?

Is there any future for ‘A’ games? If you have any thoughts or comments on the matter, post ‘em below. Feel free to post withering, provincially biased assessments of the participating players as well …

8 thoughts on “Match Reaction: Saxons 23 – 17 Wolfhounds

  1. There’s only one place Zebo is going…and thats into the stratosphere of greatness. He should rejoin the senior squad and get a chance to knock in more tries if Ireland find themselves coasting along against Scotland or Italy.

  2. I actually really enjoy the A internationals games, you do learn a bit about the players, but you are spot on – if there isn’t a series if games and something to play for then its hard to see any tangible benefit.

    What was to learn? O’malley showed he has been listening to your tackling advice which is good news, a few very nice low tackles. Not much of a chance with ball in hand but we already know he can do a bit in that regard. The fella is on a good road, improving well.

    Dave Kearney could have done no more. Has he got the distribution to also be considered as a future 12? He has certainly the boshbackability.

    Zebo is on a high and a talent, but he is also a tough, tough kid. The hit he took from banahan was, well, ooooooh. That’ll teach him to not offload. Ruddock gave a hell of a performance in a tough game for the pack and has Mike Ross now officially overtaken bod as the most valuable player in the Irish rugby team?

  3. As the ‘A’ fixtures currently operate, I don’t see the value in it for the participating players or for the coaches. For the coaches, there isn’t an opportunity to engage with the ‘A’ players on a meaningful level. There isn’t enough time to instigate patterns or combinations between players. How much do they really learn from a one off match?

    It does throw light on a players ability to step up on a once off occasion and perform beyond expectations. However I can’t say that I can recall any player who did that. The main performers IMO, Wilkinson, Kearney, Touhy, Varley, Ruddock, Zebo, are all coming off the back of strong and confident performances for their provinces and it should come as no great surprise that they did well. For exciting combinations like O’ Malley and Spence or Touhy and Toner, we either didn’t get enough of an opportunity to see them or in the case of the former, they never really clicked. Maybe O’ Malley and Spence needed another game together to find some trust or a bit of rhythm. Alas, it may be two or three years before we might see that combination again and by that stage you can expect that form will be different. On the other hand, maybe they needed quicker ball. Boss had an average day at the office, but Keatley had a shocker! His aimless kicking and wayward passing definitely contributed to the lack of punch and pace in the backline. However, the half-back changes made a significant impact on the width of the backline. I was surprised and pleased to see O’ Leary impose a bullish and commanding presence at scrum time and off the back of it. But it was Madigans passing skills, attacking potential and ability to get quick ball out to the centres that the previous half-back combo were missing. A real opportunity missed was the chance to see what a Marshall-Madigan axis could have done for the backline threat.

    I would love to see a parallel tournament for the ‘A’ teams. Bypassing for a moment the feasability issues like provincial protestations, the additional coaching requirements and the reluctant investment, a parallel platform to test out combinations for a future senior team would be a very exciting prospect. It would provide the national coaching structure with a 6N style viewing platform to get accustomed to young and emerging talent and it would relieve a bit of stress from the players who know they have a chance to make it into another squad. As it stands and as the Mole mentioned (regarding Archer), if a player has a shocker, there’s no opportunity to make amends. And what if you play well? It’ll add to the overall frustration and pointlessnes of the occasion when the call up to the senior squad inevitably doesn’t arrive (Kearney).

  4. Leinster players were all perfect and with wonderful passes and offoads, not to mention being incredibly good looking. The Ireland XV should contain as many of them as possible.

    The usual stodgy, turnip-juggling display from Munster players. They were without exception shit.

    Connacht players were tenacious and brave.

    Ulster provided a stern backbone and a strong Protestant work ethic.

  5. Careful Hans, with this SOAP and PIPPA copyright bills becoming all the rage you would want to careful throwing about (TM) and (C) terms like pishun about.

    As for the viability of A games, I think they could serve a useful function to start to blood young guys into the Training Squad, train them to play in with different gameplans, general patterns and tactics than they use with their clubs. I would imagine it is quite difficult to “forget” Leinster’s game plan and think in Ireland’s in the space of a week. Especially the first few times you are called up.

    It would appear that DK feels they need a few experienced hands in these teams but if we do play A games, but really I think that 2 or 3 in the squad is enough. If A games are approached in a more experimental way, with the only result being performances highilighted during training they can be useful. Likewise giving out of favour players a shot in green again to play themselves in is nothing to be sniffed at. Then play a few games, even if it means playing the same teams twice.

    Probably too many if’s there for it to be worthwhile though.

  6. The cliches are good tate, I like em, but you can’t forget the “unseen” work of the other players that allows the leinster players to look good…..although in fairness they maybe made it more difficult for them on Saturday.

    Anyway, that is one patronising cliche that bugs me. If it was good I would’ve seen it! I have eyes! It was oft used about Richard hill, “look at that good unseen work” grrr. Reminds me of a Brian clough line about offside……if he isn’t interfering with play what the bloody ‘ell is he doin on the pitch.

    • Must apologise to any and all ruck inspectors for omitting the unseen work! Untold amounts of it went in (can not working be considered as work done?) at the breakdown and while we’re at it, a shout out to the dark and mysterious front row come scrum time.

      Boshbackability is phenomenal, dála ana scéal. Part of my rugby lexicon from now on.

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