Paul O’Connell’s injury deprives Ireland of their captain at the same time that Brian O’Driscoll is missing. Under Eddie O’Sullivan, this was an absolute disaster – the team relied hugely on its two main men. While the injuries almost certainly make Mike Ross the most important man on the Irish team, they also provide others with a chance to stake a claim.
Second rows used be distinguishable by whether they jumped at two or four…or whether they wore tape. The demands of the ‘modern game’ have led to intricate calculations based on whether the second row plays ‘tighthead’ or not, can he lift and jump within his own team’s variations and against the opposition and his ability to run a lineout. Geoff Parling admitted that he was a lineout nerd after his selection against Wales. It’s a long way from Wade Dooley and further indication that Lancaster does not want exciting players.
While all the technical specifications may be correct, ultimately the second row’s job is to go around hitting things for 80 minutes, provide a lineout option and show a willingness to carry the ball hard when the opportunity presents itself. This simple little Mole can’t see past Donncha Ryan as the man for the job and thinks that Devin Toner is growing into the role admirably. Hopefully O’Connell’s absence will provide Ryan with the opportunity to overshadow DOC and finally nail down a starting spot. With Rory Best also possibly missing, Sean Cronin is likely to get game time in a serious international. Cronin reminds the Mole a little of Kevin Mealamu – a small, dynamic ball carrier with question marks over his throwing. Kidney has viewed Cronin with suspicion and Cronin has coughed up a number of high profile turnovers in his cameo roles. With Richardt Strauss coming on stream next October and Damien Varley getting a run for Munster, this is a window of opportunity for Cronin to show that his move to Leinster helped his career…although the Mole expects Best to start.
Also missing this weekend is Sam Warburton. His replacement, Justin Tipuric, captained a callow Ospreys team in the RDS last season and made life very difficult for the Heineken champions elect. Tipuric has been a bit under the radar so far but don’t be surprised to see him put his hand up this weekend and encourage pundits to wonder about playing him at 6, ahead of Lydiate. It looks to me like he’s too good to leave out and Warby’s misfortune is Tipuric’s opportunity.
Finally, Tom Wood has been missing all championship and England’s next ‘unsung hero’ has not been mentioned at all. Richard Hill was quite possibly the most frequently named unsung hero in the history of rugby it wouldn’t surprise the Mole if Wood took over Hill’s mantle before assuming the captaincy of England next season, fitness permitting. Robshaw has done a fine job in the role, in the manner of Phil de Glanville, but Wood seems to offer a bit more graft and football than either him or Tom Croft. Injury is often the best selector!