Sometimes you read an interview that makes you question how much you know about rugby.

Declan Kidney’s reputation for gnomic utterances precedes him. Sometimes they’re of the common or garden variety [thank you, Franno]; other times they’re more aphoristic in nature. He can be quite dry when the mood takes him: think of how he responded to the postponement of the game in Stade de France in February, when he noted how Ireland, with all its economic woes, at least had undersoil heating in its national stadium.

Declan Kidney rarely gives anything away in interviews with either the Irish or the foreign media. Being inscrutable has its advantages, but it also means that the Irish rugby public have little idea of how the coach is trying to get his team to play, why certain players are in or out of favour and how small factors affect results. He gives the people whom he’s supposed to be representing – Irish rugby fans – pretty much no information about the team that’s going out on the pitch on their behalf.

You get the feeling that there’s a side to Kidney that only the players who have worked with him get to see, and that it’s probably a lot more varied and engaging than the bland poker-face that he presents to the media, an approach that would appear to be aimed at deadening expectation and not giving the opposition team any mental ammunition.

Inside The Tent Pissing Out

“It will ask a lot of questions of us and if you people want to nit pick …”

It’s a very human and understandable reaction in Kidney’s position to identify the hacks as your persecutors, especially when you see how they operate on a day-to-day basis. Some of them are less than professional, and carry their prejudices and vendettas into their work; Eddie O’Sullivan didn’t make many mates amongst the scribblers, and when results started going against him, they didn’t waste much time in slaughtering poor old Dagger. The major label chaps have a hell of a pulpit from which to sound their trumpets, and the indies never really get a look in when it comes to getting primary source material, so as a coach you have a relatively limited group of people who are your messengers to the outside world.

Kidney’s style would seem to be one message to the group of players, and another message to ‘the meeja’, and thus to the Irish rugby public – and that second message is so bland and compromised that it’s not really a message at all: the “aren’t we lucky to have them both” sort of guff. A message would imply that you’re actually telling somebody something.

Rugby correspondents like Thornley and Farrelly are privy to more than they print, which is an entirely legitimate standpoint: they’re told things in confidence that informs their articles, but they don’t go out blabbing everything they hear in order to keep their source’s confidence and continue to get background information from the horse’s mouth. However, they can at times come across as régime-supporters, rather than disinterested members of the fourth estate.

The Unforgiving Climate That Is Test Rugby … Or A Game Against The Baabaas

“If you look at the turnovers on Tuesday night, it’s an unforgiving climate; it’s getting them to understand that. You heard Ronan talk about it, the difference between Test matches and provincial rugby. Emotionally, there would be similarities at provincial level but the technical and tactical stuff at Test level; the jump is huge.” 

The Mole just don’t understand this. Sure, I get how Ireland playing the All Blacks is an enormous step up from say Leinster playing the Scarlets, or Munster playing Glasgow – but surely Scotland vs Italy or England vs Scotland from this season’s Six Nations isn’t a ‘huge jump [in terms of] technical and tactical stuff’ from a Leinster vs Clermont HEC semi-final, or a Munster vs Ulster HEC quarter-final. And the idea that a Barbarians XV vs an Ireland XV is ‘an unforgiving climate’, or in some way a higher standard than top class club rugby – that’s just bunk. They’re two scratch teams. We saw [or rather didn’t see] Declan Fitzpatrick at tighthead for the Ireland XV scrummaging against Duncan Jones at loosehead for the Barbarians: neither man a first choice player in his position for either of their respective clubs.

Rob Kearney did the business for the Lions in 2009, and he was Ireland’s best player in the 2008 summer tour to New Zealand and Australia. After spending a season out due to injury, he has come back like Crazy Joe Gallo – all guns blazing. His duel with Israel Dagg over the next month will be worth the price of admission alone.

Implying that all test rugby is one level – i.e. New Zealand vs South Africa is the same level as Scotland vs Italy, simply because it’s ‘test rugby’ – and that it’s automatically better than anything that the club game can produce … well, it doesn’t pass the eye test. I don’t think Declan Kidney believes that, but who can tell? Ireland generally field a team that has a number of players who have proved themselves against the best teams in the world – Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris and Paul O’Connell  have all had strong games against Southern Hemisphere opposition on a sufficient number of occasions [for both Ireland and the Lions] to give a decent sample size to use as evidence – so maybe Kidney is referring to ‘test rugby’ as a shorthand for any test in which Ireland are involved.

Self Promoter … Moi?

At this point, it’s impossible to take anything O’Gara says without a grain of salt. It should be pretty obvious at this stage that he has his own agenda when it comes to his statements to the media, and they generally revolve around getting himself back in the Irish No10 jersey. That’s his prerogative, and it’s fair enough. The Mole isn’t a fan of how he does it, and that’s fair too.

It’s Radge time, baby! Open your notebooks and turn on your dictaphones, here comes self-promotion masquerading as ‘honesty’.

It’s handy for him to say that test rugby is a ‘huge’ step up from provincial rugby, because Sexton is absolutely tearing up European club rugby in the Leinster No10 jersey: the subtext is that Sexton can do it at club level, but he can’t do it at international level … and Radge can, baby!

There’s no reason Kidney wouldn’t choose to peddle the line that O’Gara is pushing, because it’s something of a get-out clause that justifies why his team struggled in the Six Nations both this year and last year [Jesus, does anybody remember the turgid brand of shite we produced against Italy in Rome?] when Leinster were winning back-to-back Heineken Cups.

Nathan Hines has gone on record as saying that the Leinster vs Toulouse HEC semi-final of 2011 was the toughest game he ever played. Stephen Ferris, another big beast, said that the 2009 Six Nations match against England was the most physically exhausting game he’d ever played. That suggests that there’s no clear consensus that test rugby is automatically tougher than high-stakes club rugby … nor the other way around.

It’s difficult to watch really high quality knock-out games in the HEC or Super Rugby and think that they’re by necessity a step down from test rugby, especially when you have a player as experienced as Nathan Hines [a 2009 Lion who won 77 Scottish caps, encompassing three Rugby World Cups] saying that the Leinster vs Toulouse Heineken Cup semi-final in May 2011 was the hardest game in which he ever played. He was quoted in the firewalled Sunday Times of Sunday 8th April saying:

‘Leinster’s match against Toulouse last season was the fastest and hardest game I’d ever played. I walked past Clément Poitrenaud [Toulouse full-back] who was looking shattered. “This game is so fast. I’m gone”, he said. I was gone as well, but I wasn’t going to tell him. These big Heineken games are do or die. It’s international rugby without the jersey.’

I could easily imagine that emotionally international games are a bigger deal than Heineken Cup games – after all, you’re carrying the hopes of many more people, you’re representing your country, there’s a long history behind the games, you’re playing in huge stadia crowded out with fans … but to say that it’s technically and tactically a huge step up?

I just don’t understand why that has to be so. If I was the Irish coach, I’d rather face Italy or Scotland than a full strength Clermont or Toulouse. Those French club teams are jammed full of current French internationals and supplemented by hugely decorated test players from other nations [Clermont have Debatty, Pierre, Bonnaire, Lapandry, Parra, Fofana, Rougerie, Malzieu + Hines, Sivivatu, Byrne; Toulouse can field Poux, Servat, Maestri, Dusautoir, Picamoles, Jauzion, Fritz, Clerc, Medard, Poitrenaud + Steenkamp, Albacete, Burgess, McAlister] and are trained by extremely well-respected coaches in Guy Noves and Vern Cotter.

To put it bluntly, I see neither a technical nor tactical step-up from how Leinster play when I watch Ireland play. I see a step down. I see more dropped passes and more aimless kicking when Ireland play. I see less inventive backline moves and less cohesion between backs and forwards. I see a lot of one-out pods that generate slow ball. I see the same players making the same mistakes and still be in the team week after week.

Declan Kidney’s Record Says That He Knows What He’s Talking About 

Kidney has won a lot of important trophies as a coach: the Six Nations [with a Grand Slam, no less], the U19 World Cup, the Churchill Cup, two Heineken Cups and a Celtic League. He’s won his three trophies at international level at different standards – U19, ‘A’ level and test level – and he’s won three trophies at professional club level. You can’t knock the success he has achieved in his career.

Hello Dave. Kidney’s motivational mind-games seem to have reached the extent of their powers, although on the back of an extremely poor warm-up series he took an Irish team down to the World Cup in New Zealand and beat the Tri-Nations champions Australia. Is his voodoo potent enough to conjure a win against the world champion All Blacks? Nah.

However, Ireland haven’t been a successful team by any standard since 2009 turned over and 2010 rolled in. Kidney seems to have lost the motivational voodoo that turned good sides into successful sides, and that was always his magic key. He wasn’t a guy who came in and tuned up the passing game, nor was he a scrum-doctor, nor a technocrat who planned out every game, action-by-action. He focused players’ minds and got them to perform near to the limit of their talents. However, like any exercise, if you stick to the same routine too long you’ll plateau and stop making gains. That looks like what has happened with the Irish squad.

With that said, the little bugger seems in feisty form, in direct contrast to most of the Irish fanbase:

“Yeah. It’s brilliant. It’s like bungee jumping. It’s the best place to go … it’ll show us exactly where we are. You need to be playing those teams. In the provincial land if you said you only play six Heineken Cup matches in three years you’d be worried where your rugby would go. We will look to play these guys as often as possible. So when you say is it daunting? Pity we’re not playing them four times.”

Let’s see if he’s still after that fourth test on the 24th June!

28 thoughts on “Gnomic

  1. I think your right about the mind games he plays. I would like to see a more technical coach. the team look like they don’t know what they’re meant to be doing. Innovation is needed. Someone like Joe Schmidt but not Joe Schmidt because he’d be too cosy with the Leinster lads, but someone like him who hasn’t coached in Ireland. Is there a Joe 2.0 out there??? tell me mole do you agree?

    • yes. i’m tired of kidney and him being in charge for four years and wanting to find out where we stand. pick the same players as usual declan and we’ll be standing underneath the posts a lot while the usual muppets will be standing with tackle bags wondering what they have to do.

      joe 2.0? leaner, faster, more humble? dunno if such a man exists. i’d have conor o’shea for the vision thing with an assortment of technical gurus under his steady eye.

      • O’shea may not be the worlds greatest pundit but he is a good coach. The flipside of the coin is that guys like and Joe and O’Shea spend time with their respective teams week in week out. is a different type of coach needed who can galvanise a team in a short period. The coach has to be able to galvanise the guys coming together as the 3 main teams Leinster Munster and Ulster are usually at the business ends of tournaments so are used to knockin lumps out of each other and then a week later they have to put that aside. You’d need to be a great man manager to deal with that.

  2. I’ve posted this under my nom de plume [tate] on leinsterfans but not everyone here reads there so here’s my “Afternoon Study Break XV and General Tour Selection Philosophy”

    The Baron, FergBurger, BOD, Darce, Keet, J10, Redzer; Church, Nugget, AN Other [assuming Ross is injured], Touhy, Ryan, Kev, SOB, Heaslip. AKA the XV Kidders is afraid to pick.

    Also want to see Cave [@13], FergBurger [@12], Keet [@13] and Marshall start at least one game because why the hell not. We gotta start them sometime, and if it all goes pete tong for the 13’s we can spring BOD from the bench. World rankings be damned, this is a pre-season tour in my head.

    I’ve omitted O’Mahony on the grounds I dont know where is best position is – I’m working under the impression he’s a natural 6 but filled in at 7 following injuries. Kev is an excellent lineout operator and I dont think Ryan and Tuohy are accomplished enough to leave him out. Despite RTE’s proclamations I’m not convinced he’s [POM] our answer to the 7 jersey. The demented mole I believe wrote extensively on the subject. But by all means give him a start in his preferred position too.

    If Stakhanov [aka DOC] or Radge start a single game, or even gets close to the bench I’ll . . . be no more despondent than I already am.

    Come at me bro.

    • i’m in pretty much full agreement but i don’t think you can put drico on the bench unless you make him head of the supreme court. i’d have o’mahony at six ahead of kev but i’ve reservations about his tackling and if kieran read goes storming past his left shoulder off a scrum then it’s crook time and he can either get surgery or be considered as a number eight. he’s no 7.

      as for stakhanov and ronan “it’s the pictures that got small” o’gara, lord chief justice o’driscoll’s first sentence shall be to hand down international retirement. geddoutovit!

    • Trimble deserves a run in his preferred right-wing position, where his one-step is more effective. Fergus hasn’t done anything marvellous to suggest he’s an international winger, though maybe one day he’ll be an international centre.

      Reddan kicks more than Murray for Ireland, and with less effect. He’s no great shakes defensively, and he was poor last time out in Twickers. Whether it’s the game-plan, selection or his own deficiencies, he’s rarely done himself justice at international level. Murray is a running threat, a very good defender and he seems to have overcome his nightmare against Ulster. With Sexton outside him, they are statistically the best defensive half-back pairing in the NH. Reddan’s greater tempo should be effective from the bench.

      Fitzpatrick is the only tight-head candidate worth considering. Ireland just about got away with Tom Court last time out against the Kiwis, but even the dogs on the street would fancy forming a triumvirate and having a crack at the Irish front-row now.

      McLaughlin is okay. I’m sure he wouldn’t let anyone down, but he’s not outstanding in any facet of back-row play. Henry, if fit, is more of a nuisance at the breakdown and O’Mahony is more effective in the loose.

      Is Nugget Rory Best?

      • Nugget is Cronin. And don’t give me Best’s leadership qualities, he’s a very solid hooker but Cronin has an Oomph-factor that we’ll need against Kiwis, Cronin has speed.

        As for Reddan kicking more, I’m sure J10 kicks more too, and that’s because the game plan they are instructed to play tells them to. Murray has been distinctly average for the stretches of this season, and sometimes forgets that he’s the scrummie not a back-rower. Redzer brings a high tempo.

        Trimble played fantastically for Ulster in the Christmas round of games in the HC but [much like Jenno] couldn’t seem to bring that level of performance to Ireland and since the 6N hasn’t exactly set the world alight. McFadden has serious wheels which I think puts him above [Protestant] God’s Own 14. With my two wingers we have speed.

        Henry was seriously outplayed by SOB the last time they went head-to-head, so he loses out in my selection.

        As I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m looking to bring pace to NZ cos we sure as shit won’t beat them in an arm-wrestle or by kicking it in the corners. This is just for a/the first Test btw, I would be looking to bring in a more changes for the next two.

        Tinkerman out.

  3. Couldn’t agree more about ROG’s comments earlier in the week in the aftermath of the Barbarians’ game. They were clearly a shot at Sexton. It’s all becoming a little tedious from ROG as well because he doesn’t have any recent international form to point to and say “this season not only did I do it for Munster but I also did it for Ireland in games X, Y and Z”. In fact, the last time before last Tuesday that ROG started a game for Ireland was against Wales in the RWC Quarter Final when he stank the place out and, not for the first time in his career, Gatland did him like a kipper. Lastly, and perhaps in contrast to his celebration of D’arcy’s try against Munster in Croke Park, Sexton has shown incredible restraint and professionalism in the face of ROG’s attempts to influence selection through the media.

  4. The word of two players is a bit of a small sample-size to deduce anything about the difference between Test rugby and HEC rugby. Hines is the only player that I know of who played both to have suggested that the HEC was an equivalent standard. And he did play for Scotland with Dan Parks at outhalf.

    • Hines played in Scottish teams that beat South Africa [Nov 10] and Australia [Nov 09]. He’s an enormously respected pro in the northern hemisphere – nobody has a bad word to say about him [bar Eddie, who accused him of attempted murder]. Having retired from international rugby when he made the remark about the HEC semi-final and having moved on from Leinster, he didn’t have any reason to spoof.

      I’m sure if you asked Brian O’Driscoll which was the tougher game between the fixture against Italy in the World Cup and the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont, he’d say it was the latter – and Italy are a Six Nations team who were looking at that as a must-win clash.

    • It’s by no means a clear deduction of anything, but Hines’ comment clearly gives credence to the fact the fact that some HEC rugby – the highest standard games that the competition produces at least – are as tough as test match rugby with the added factor that the teams work continuously together unlike test teams.

  5. I actually text in to Newstalk one night when Emmet Byrne and The Thornmeister were on. It was before Autumn Internationals last year I think. I basically asked if Leinster would beat Ireland with clones of the same players, where Ireland are supplemented with the likes of Paulie, Tommy Bowe, Wally and Fla at the time and a few more. Byrne straight away said Leinster and I of course agree 100%. But why? For the most part the Leinster player in their position is being replaced by somebody better in the Irish team (again at the time). By a method of elimination the only real variable is the coaching team and style of play. Warren Gatland picking 13 Ospreys for Wales springs to mind! Thoughts Mole?

    • It’s not necessarily that the teams are better at international level. Who’s better?…France – who Ireland almost (and it would’ve been deservedly) beat in Paris, or clermont – who leinster just about (also deservedly) bettered in le sud de France. For me it’d prob be clermont, with leinster better than them all. The problem though is that for an individual, international rugby does remain a step up in terms of the demands on you. You don’t have the comfort blankets of truly understanding the guys around you. You get a pass which is not where you like it and a good player can be made to look decidedly average. This is especially true when your game is based on ingenuity and skill rather than bosh. Darce spoke about this earlier in the season in a much more coherent way than I. To think leinster’s gameplan is just so easily recreated… does a disservice to Schmidt and his staff. If it were that easy all the teams would be doing it.

      The quickest way to put a team together is to: select big uns, keep it up the jumpa, play a no thinking blitz defence and kick the ball away. As long as you look after the set piece, give everyone a laptop, you will probably do ok. Computer says yes. For a lot of teams this has worked for them, but the success of leinster (and harlequins) has shown a much more formidable way to play. O’shea gets it. Those in the boshership or ping pong 14 who think the (supposed) lack of success of English and French clubs in the erc is down to an unfair rabbo don’t get it.

      In fairness to Ireland, they are (now) trying to play a defensive game which is quite evolved. They mix it up and the provinces use the choke more cleverly than before. The attacking game since the elvs just hasn’t worked out, it has plainly been poor and very unevolved. Just going wide for the sake of it…..they ended up just shovelling the ball laterally. The more evolved gameplans with the variety are worth persevering with.

      Dave, this all kind of suggests that the easiest thing to do is to select all leinster for the Ireland team. Or at least if its 50 50 for one jumper, give it to the leinster guy in the interests of contingency. It’s hard to argue with that really, especially in the short term. Although to truly grow the Ireland team I’m genuinely not sure which is better.

      I don’t agree with all kidney’s selections, I didn’t like the Scottish or Italian selections this year and still believe it hurt us in twickenham. The idea of 4 cup finals was erroneous. I did agree with the French selection. I agree with those who believe he should’ve taken madigan on tour along with sexton and rog. Madigan would be on the bench, but if sexton gets injured o’gara would go straight in to start the next test. For the most part though I certainly can understand what he is trying to do. I have heard the argument made above before, from Tom McGurk, where he says kidney is patronising the people with his interviews. There’s a bit of righteous indignation, “we are the paying public!” Not for me. I just don’t think we are the most important people in all this. It’s the squad and management. I’ll take kidney’s style over a coach who is all hat and no cattle every time.

      Ps its worth noting that game against tolouse last year was indeed amazing. I’ve never seen it back but there was a passage of play that seemed to go on forever. Leinster finished the passage with something positive and you just thought, they have them. At the same time poitrenaud shouldn’t be bloody telling that to the opposing second row, flakey genius that lad. Poitrenaud should be saying nothing and letting on he is still full of running. Maybe that’s a bit of cute hoor, mind bending voodooism, but someone should really be coaching it to clement.

      • France miss fewer tackles than Clermont. They concede fewer penalties. They turn the ball over less often. Clermont are probably a slightly better attacking side than France, but France are a better all round team because they make fewer errors. Only Leinster of the top clubs in Europe are currently turning in the sort of low error-counts you see from the top eight in world rugby. They are also the only club team in Europe who punish mistakes with the same severity. No doubt they are good, but they don’t have to play international-class teams.

  6. There’s almost 3 months between the end of the 6N and the 1st NZ match. For a full time coach, that’s a more significant difference. Kidney et al. have a lot of time to spend thinking and preparing and worrying about how to get their message across effectively in the limited training time available.

    From that perspective is it different. The dropped balls that we’re tending to see aren’t necessarily due to the higher level, it’s more likely due to the increased tactical workload players have. We’re playing a more complicated, more structured game and players sometimes have to spend time thinking about what their role is within the system.

  7. Ps ps, “nobody has a bad word to say about him bar Eddie, who accused him of attempted murder”……..if there is a better line written anywhere this week someone please post it. Top drawer.

  8. first post from meself so go easy on me! All the comments relating to the lack of time the national coach has with the squad surely relate to all the international coaches. So, thinking about the all blacks, how similar is their international game to their club game? Is it of a similar style so when the squad get together it’s just more of the same but with more intensity or are they just a more capable bunch of players who can play different game plans but bring it together on international day when it counts?

    • The teams in NZ tend to play a more broadly similar style stevo. There are differences but less pronounced, at least that’s what I’d argue.

      Henry Fitz, I’ll give you that – France better than clermont (though surely not a lot in it). I just am a big fan of sivivatu – parallels have been drawn with him and his cousin rocokoko, but sivivatu’s game is much more than just about pace, he is a brilliant all round player.

      Anyway….if we say France are better does that not highlight how well Ireland played in Paris this year? What if (…….. “What if Marge, what if I slipped on a bar of soap in the shower……..oh my god i’d be killed!” )………What if Ireland had been refereed competently in the 6 nations this year? They’d have been playing for a slam in twickenham. Talk of the inability to translate performance from blue, white, green or red to green is maybe a touch carried away (myself included). If you look at the general trend of Irish rugby, its up. Since the grand slam of 2009, there have been some brilliant and some poor performances, but the graph is rising. It may not be ready to beat NZ in NZ, but the next time they come to Dublin we will have a hell of a chance.

      If we use the mole’s 25-29 test (I’m not totally sold on this formula, but I’ll go with it) you could put a fair squad together in a few years. I’ve not checked the ages but:
      Props: fitzpatrick, loughney, healy
      Hookers: Strauss, sherry, cronin?
      2nd Row: toner, tuhoy,
      Back row: Ruddock, Ryan, o’mahony,sob
      Half backs: Murray, madigan (to cover both?), sexton, jackson.
      Centre: mcfadden, mcsharry, omalley, griffin, dineen, Barnes
      Wing: kearney, Zebo, gilroy, ohallarin.
      FB: Jones, conway.
      Utility: earls, Fitzgerald.

      A lot can happen in a few years and a lot of those above will not quite be 25,though they should be experienced. Perhaps some inclusions are a bit optimistic,but you’d have to say we do have quantity of high ability players. It needs to go to top class quality, but if you manage to keep some key elder players to add to these kids right through to world cup time……

      • Also Ferris, Rob k, trimble, d Ryan, Marshall would be still more or less qualify to the mole’s criteria

      • Dineen runs every race with a set of blinkers. As I was the kind of player he is for much of my career, I recognise that brief moment of hesitation and fear in possession as he realises he has no clear idea of who’s behind him or in front of him; the usual escape is to run hopefully at the nearest gap. Barnes is just barely provincial class. Cave and Spence are much better players, who I assume you just forgot. Luke Marshall is more talented again, but hasn’t had much of a look-in at Ulster; maybe he should try Connacht. My own preference is that Earls and Fitzgerald should be paired together before their talents get wasted as utility players.

        Other than that, lots to agree with. You’re missing Ferris, if he escapes retirement. Rob Kearney is still young too.

        Another way of looking at it is seeing which players will have to be replaced before 2015. These are: O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, O’Connell and O’Callaghan. The players coming through in these positions are significant downgrades, which is one of the reasons why they’ve lasted so long, I suppose. So far, we’ve got Earls and Ryan as cut-price alternatives to O’Driscoll and O’Connell, with Tuohy as a not-very-scary enforcer. D’Arce is running on fumes, but neither Schmidt nor Kidney think McFadden is up to replacing him. Fitzgerald started out at 12 for Ireland and should go back there. Add in a prop to replace Mike Ross and you’ve got the bones of a squad for 2015.

  9. I know this may be fanciful, but i harbour hope that poc and bod could make the next rwc. It would probably need him to embrace the 4 geansai, but his age is do-able for that position. Regarding bod, I wouldn’t put any restrictions on what he could do. He never ceases to jaw drop.

    Wouldn’t take mcfadden not being 1st choice in blue or green as meaning they don’t rate him. It’s more an indication of the respect for darce. I do remember kidney being grilled in interviews about selecting mcfadden (on wing vs France) before he’d done much for leinster. If I’m right he said “I just happen to think he is a very fine footballer.” His time is surely coming, in some position.

    Take your points on the others, that list was off top of head. Did forget cave and there are others of course, though I’d put L Marshall in with dineen, spence, Barnes and prob conway too as having a bit more to prove at this point. Did not realise either that fitzpatrick is 28, still a pup in tighthead prop terms I guess but is gonna have to make his bones sometime soon you’d think…….no pressure next week like!

    • I absolutely agree that O’Connell could still be around for the next World Cup. If he can steer clear of serious injury, there’s nothing stopping him. Plenty of guys in their mid-30s played in the row at RWC11: Shaw, Thorn, Nallet, Hines, Matfield, Sharpe. It’s a position where you’re in your prime in your late 20s-early 30s.

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