U Mad Bro?

It’s only a matter of time before the word ‘embattled’ becomes synonymous with Irish coach Declan Kidney. He’s coming off the back of Ireland’s least successful Six Nations since the 2008 edition that caused Eddie O’Sullivan to hand in his resignation. Bringing an outgunned squad down to New Zealand for an end of season [well, end of the Northern Hemisphere season] three test tour against the world champion All Blacks is hard enough, but when you take into account the injury problems that are already mounting up – Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Luke Fitzgerald, Tom Court and Isaac Boss are all out and would certainly have made the flight were they fit, and Munster’s Felix Jones would probably have travelled – then it looks like a ‘Tour From Hell’ scenario.

His recent squad announcement conjured the image of an old general clinging on to power, surrounding himself with the most loyal members of his once-proud junta and the too-few whelps of the new generation on which he hoped to build his dynasty. All very Downfall.

Four Pillars Of The World

When looking at the squad selection itself, there are some important background points to restate.

The four provincial captains with the Heineken Cup outside the National Conference Centre. That’s four very big men right there … but posing in runners? It turns a two-metre tall international into the gawky lamper of a kid who forgot his boots on the day the school XV photos were being taken.

Firstly, all four provinces were competing in the Heineken Cup for the first time. That means that all Irish-qualified players playing with the provinces are competing in the same competitions; no longer do Connacht players have an asterisk beside their ERC appearances, signifying that their opposition were the likes of I Cavalieri Estra and Olympus Madrid XV in the Challenge Cup. In fact the western province – as is liable to happen to a fourth–seeded team – were drawn in a brute of a group that included the regular-season table toppers of both the English Premiership [Harlequins] and French Top14 [Toulouse].

Secondly, with three of those provinces making it into the knock-out stages of the competition, and those three sporting a combined record of P18 W15 D1 L2 from the group stages [including Connacht’s results, it would read P24 W16 D1 L5, still a 66% winning percentage], it’s difficult to see how anybody could argue against the fact that professional rugby in Ireland is in ruder health than it has ever been. Wales is set up along the same lines as Ireland in professional rugby terms, with their four regions mirroring our four provinces, and just one Welsh region qualified for the knock-out stages. Before anybody reaches for that tired old canard, the Welsh outfits employ just as many – if not more – foreign players as the Irish ones. Cardiff, the lone Welsh qualifier, had Paul Tito, Casey Laulala, Xavier Rush, Ben Blair, Ma’ama Molitika, Mike Patterson and Tau Filise on their books at the time of their quarter-final against Leinster.

Leinster have been widely hailed as the best club team in the history of professional European rugby, Ulster got to the final of the HEC and Munster won every single game in their pool. Eddie O’Sullivan never had three strong provinces during his tenure, and Connacht were weaker then than they are now as well. So where’s the beef?

Thirdly, with three Heineken Cups in four years [and the missing year accounted for by a semi-final defeat on French soil to eventual winners Toulouse] and appearances in all Magners League/Pro12 Grand Finals since the playoff phase has been instituted, Leinster have established themselves as a historically great European club team. It’s not just the ‘Dublin meeja’ who are proclaiming it: they say the same thing in the UK and France.

Fourthly, by advancing all the way to the Heineken Cup final, and beating Clermont Auvergne, Leicester and Munster en route, Ulster have, at least for this season, pushed ahead of Munster as the second strongest province in Ireland. The Mole has written before  about why he thinks that this is a structural situation based on the age profile of the squads rather than a one-off blip – maybe I’m wrong, but maybe I’m not.

The Case Against 

When the squad was initially announced, it generated a lot of online heat. Laptop fans were running at thousands of revs per minute. It was contentious.

Firstly, naming a twenty-nine strong squad was an odd move. Twenty-nine. Who ever heard of a twenty-nine strong squad? World Cup squads include thirty players. Thirty players is double the number of a starting fifteen. The All Blacks named a thirty-five strong training squad for the three test series, and they’re at home: if somebody goes down injured, they don’t have to call up a replacement from eighteen thousand kilometres away.

While Kidney and his coaches were widely deemed to have made the right moves in calling time on the tournament hopes of Luke Fitzgerald and Tomás O’Leary in August of last year due to their poor form, those sort of tough calls haven’t been made this time out. Donncha O’Callaghan and Gordon D’Arcy both started all five games of the Six Nations and showed the worst form of their international careers; while D’Arcy’s picked up pretty spectacularly for Leinster once he was back in provincial blue [culminating in one of his finest displays for the province in the last three seasons in the Heineken Cup final], O’Callaghan’s slumped even further.

He missed out on selection for the team to face Ulster in the HEC quarter-final loss at Thomond Park, with Donnacha Ryan selected beside Paul O’Connell in the second row, and then slipped even further down the ranks when selected on the bench behind Mick O’Driscoll and O’Connell [with Ryan playing on the blindside] in the key Pro12 shootout against the Scarlets in Llanelli.

The recurrence of O’Connell’s injury meant that O’Callaghan started the Pro12 semi-final in The Liberty Stadium alongside O’Driscoll, but he turned in a very, very poor performance. Munster’s forwards were played off the park, and it’s when things are going against you that you need your experienced players and your leaders to stand up and rally the troops. He didn’t get the job done. You expect more from a guy with 85 caps.

Donncha O’Callaghan – lovely fellah, shame about the form. When certain players keep on getting selected late in their careers and they’re clearly not performing, the fans can get very tetchy and the criticism at best pointed and at worst personal.

Having a cut off players is no craic, but O’Callaghan is playing like yesterday’s man and has been the beneficiary of more leeway than anybody else. He’s already the most frequently capped test player of Kidney’s tenure by some distance: he’s played 38 games [starting 37 times] since the Corkman took over, with captain Brian O’Driscoll next behind him on 32 games [all starts]. It’s not a like-for-like comparison, either. While O’Driscoll is revered worldwide as one of the greatest players in the history of the game, O’Callaghan is widely seen as a hard-working but limited role-player or [in more jaundiced eyes] merely Paul O’Connell’s sidekick.

Furthermore, over those four years there have been plenty of viable contenders to the Irish No4 jersey: three-time Heineken Cup-winning Leinster captain, Leo Cullen; O’Callaghan’s provincial team-mate Donnacha Ryan [who totally outstripped him this year when given the chance]; and Ulster’s hard-charging Dan Tuohy. Connacht’s Mike McCarthy has been toiling away in relative obscurity compared to the above three, and while playing beside Michael Swift in provincial colours makes the comparison a little less direct – Swift being the more heavyweight of the two by some distance – The Mole reckons that McCarthy could definitely function as the front-jumping, tighthead-scrummaging lock in another partnership.

Instead of promoting competition for the jersey in a position in which we have seemingly good depth [imagine if we had four or five No12s of that standard, or four or five fullbacks, nevermind four or five tightheads!], O’Callaghan has been a bolted-on selection. Has he been so good in the last four years that none of those guys could get a run for more than two matches in a row?

Specialist Positions

Generally a head coach will feel the need to bring three players to cover each of three ‘specialist’ positions: hooker, scrum-half and outhalf. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pick three players who only play those positions, but it’s generally felt that if a guy in one of those positions goes down injured in the warm-up, you need position-specific cover on the bench.

This was always given as one of the reasons for Paddy Wallace’s inclusion in Irish World Cup squads: he could cover outhalf. He was at various times primarily considered an outhalf, a fullback or a first centre, but he could cover outhalf. For the tour to New Zealand, after the best provincial season of his career, Paddy Wallace finds himself omitted from the touring party.

Declan Kidney has named two outhalves in his touring party: Jonny Sexton [26] and Ronan O’Gara [35]. He has named three hookers [the 29-year old Rory Best, the 26-year old Sean Cronin and the 23-year old Mike Sherry] and three scrum-halves [the 31-year old Eoin Reddan, the 23-year old Conor Murray and 26-year old Paul Marshall of Ulster].

Paul Marshall – can he get the job done as a change-of-pace scrum-half at international level? Maybe he can, maybe he can’t … but it’s a better idea to test the theory rather than just rubbish it out of hand.

Scrum-half

Marshall has had a very reasonable season, playing in twenty-seven games for his province and scoring five tries. He and Peter Stringer share a sharp passing game and are similar in build – Marshall is 173cm [5’8”] and 79kg [12st6lbs], while Stringer is 170cm [5’7”] and 71kg [11st3lbs]. The kicker is that while Strings turns 35 in December, Marshall turns 27 in July; Marshall is eight years younger than him.

He has taken some flak for not playing more Heineken Cup rugby, but the lad has actually played in seven games in the competition this season, starting two of them … and he’s behind a genuinely world class scrum-half in the brilliant South African Ruan Pienaar. That’s two more starts than Tomás O’Leary has seen this year in the HEC, and his competition is a 22/23 year old neophyte having some form problems of his own.

Marshall’s record of 16 starts + 11 sub appearance for 1225 minutes of total gametime compares well with Eoin Reddan’s [13+7/1028] and Isaac Boss’ [13+10/1030], and his über-snappy pass and turn of pace offers something like the option that Stringer provided in his prime. The size thing is relatively inconsequential. There are plenty of small scrum-halves out there: England’s Danny Care is 172cm [5’8”] and 84kg [13st2lbs] and gets along pretty well at international level, and Will Genia is 174cm [just under 5’9″] and 85kg [13st 4lbs] and he’s one of the best in the world.

Outhalf

Outside of his exciting performances for Leinster in the No10 jersey, Ian Madigan has shown some useful versatility this season, coming off the bench to play inside centre for an hour in the Pro12 semi-final against Glasgow [going head to head with 39-times capped Scottish centre Graeme Morrison, who has 15cm on him in height and 11kg in weight], as well as stepping in at scrum-half against Connacht in the Sportsground.

He has previously lined out at fullback for both Leinster against Glasgow in April 2010 and Ireland U20s in the 2009 Six Nations against Wales and France; in the latter he kicked an injury time penalty to win the game for Ireland 9-6.

Ian Madigan, obviously lining up a placekick for somebody else to take. No, it was actually the game in which he knocked over 17 points against Aironi. The Mole has read the argument that asks who we’d want on the pitch for a kick at goal to win the game versus the All Blacks in the last minute … please. When have we ever been in that scenario against New Zealand? You might as well ask who we want to pile on the points when we’re leading by fifteen with two minutes to play.

Critics of the young outhalf often bring up the fact that he’s not Leinster’s first-choice goal kicker, nor even their second choice [nor their third choice, for that matter]. That’s fair enough – he’s not. However, Leinster have three players ahead of him who are kicking at an 80% success ratio in Johnny Sexton, Isa Nacewa and Fergus McFadden. When Madigan has been asked to do the job, he’s stepped up: he kicked six goals for seventeen points in his two games this season as front-line goalkicker, against Newport Gwent Dragons in Rodney Parade earlier this month and against Aironi in early March. He has also knocked over late drop goals to take losing bonus points away from both Connacht and Munster this season.

Put it this way: where’s the value in not bringing Madigan? His fellow professionals nominated him as one of the three best young players in Irish rugby. He’s had a sparkling season, playing twenty-six games [starting sixteen of them], and notching a remarkable eight tries from the outhalf position. He made his starting debut in the Heineken Cup as a 22-year old, directly in opposition to the incumbent French No10, Francois Trinh-Duc, a match that Leinster won 25-3. He has shown good versatility when asked, he’s made a hell of a lot of tackles, and he’s brim full of confidence.

Having been at pains to tell the assembled media that this might be the last time in twelve years that Ireland play the All Blacks in New Zealand, Kidney has just gone and left behind one of the most talented young players in Ireland, who coincidentally covers two positions where the squad is short-staffed. A ‘small eye’ on the future indeed.

Fullback

Oh, didn’t it come up? We’re only going to bring one fullback. F*ck it, if Rob Kearney gets hurt, we’ll just move Earlsy back. Earls’ performances in the No13 jersey for both Ireland and Munster this season have proved a lot of critics wrong – including this one. He has spoken before about how he wants to throw off the ‘utility back’ tag, and selecting him at fullback against the Barbarians seems a retrograde step. By the few accounts that have emerged it seems that he went well, but is fullback really a viable future for him when Rob Kearney has just been announced as the ERC and IRUPA Player of the Season, and Munster have both Felix Jones and Denis Hurley in harness?

It seems that once Jones was ruled out through injury [again], Kidney decided against picking another fullback in the squad.

In The Mole’s eyes, picking Earls at No15 against the Baabaas was not a progressive selection. Craig Gilroy, whom alongside eventual winner Peter O’Mahony and Madigan was nominated by his fellow professionals as one of the three best young players in Ireland this year, played fullback for Ireland U20s vs Italy in the 2011 Junior Six Nations and against England in the Junior World Championships later that year. He shone as a winger in Gloucester, scoring two tries and putting further pressure on Kidney’s selection of Simon Zebo as a tourist.

Zebo has never played professional rugby at fullback, either at senior or age-group level. He’s a winger [and one with a lot of potential], but it’s a luxury selection to choose a player who can only play one position in the back three when you’re only including one fullback in your squad.

What about the 21-year old Tiernan O’Halloran? He started 27 games for Connacht this year, bagging two tries in the Heineken Cup and a further five in the Pro12.  O’Halloran played fullback for the Irish U20s against South Africa and Scotland in last year’s Junior World Championship, less than twelve months ago. He played fullback for Connacht against Ulster earlier this season in Ravenhill.

Dave Kearney played fullback for Ireland A last season against the England Saxons and fullback for Leinster four weeks ago against Newport Gwent Dragons. He’s played a lot of rugby there for Ireland U20s, both as an U19 during the Junior Six Nations of 2008 [versus Scotland, Wales and England], during the 2009 Junior Six Nations and during the 2009 Junior World Championships, where he shared the No15 jersey with Ian Madigan. While he mightn’t have been available for selection for the Barbarians match because he was sitting on the bench for Leinster in the Pro12 final, he ended up only coming on at the end of that game for two minutes.

Irish By Birth, Munster By The Grace Of God

This is a squad whose fringe selections are open to accusations of whimsy and bias.  Kidney has included two uncapped players in Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo, both of them from Munster. He included one uncapped player in the 2012 Six Nations squad: Peter O’Mahony of Munster. He included one uncapped player in the RWC11 squad: Conor Murray. Guess who he plays for? Are Munster the only team producing good young players or giving them a run?

The Mole was impressed with Dave Kilcoyne for Munster ‘A’ in the cracking British & Irish Cup semi-final against Leinster ‘A’ at the RDS on Good Friday. Does that mean he should be in contention for an Ireland cap? No. Is that even a serious question? He’s only made one Pro12 start in his entire career!

Even in passing, Kidney brings up vastly underqualified Munster players. When asked who the possible replacements for Tom Court were, Connacht’s naturalized South African Brett Wilkinson was the first name out of his mouth – Wilkinson is 28 years old and has made 94 starts for the province in the Magners League/Pro12 and 34 starts in ERC competition for the western province; he’s also started five times in three seasons for the Wolfhounds.  The next name out of Kidney’s lips as the first of the other players in contention? Dave Kilcoyne. On the back of a whopping 84 minutes of professional rugby in his career, Munster Academy loosehead Dave Kilcoyne was somehow presented as being in consideration to travel to New Zealand.

Before mentioning Ulster’s Paddy McAllister – who played almost eight hundred minutes of rugby as a 22-year old loosehead this season, and almost seven hundred as a 21-year old last season [in total a mere seventeen times as much gametime as the older Kilcoyne has seen] – or Leinster’s Jack McGrath – who [again] is younger than Kilcoyne and has seen a huge amount more rugby than the Munster man – the second name out of Kidney’s mouth when it came to a loosehead to replace Tom Court was a Munster player who has started one Pro12 game in his entire career.

Let me put that into context: “Isaac Boss is out, but we’ve got some good backup there: Tomás O’Leary, John Cooney, Peter Stringer, Paul Marshall …” or “Stephen Ferris has failed a fitness test, but we’ve got some fine blindside cover in Kev McLaughlin, Iain Henderson, John Muldoon, Rhys Ruddock …”

It’s incongruous. Cooney, Henderson and Kilcoyne have one thing in common – they’re all young players who have only started a single Pro12 match this season, and have logged fewer than ninety minutes of first-grade pro rugby since September.

Is it just Munster who are producing young players at the moment? Kidney still seems to be operating under the belief that if you’re good enough for Munster, you’re good enough for Ireland. Of course, this sort of thing isn’t anything new.

“Sorry Fionn, I only give cheap caps to Munster players. You know how it is, I have my boss too.”
“But Deccie –”
“Alright, off you go. We know what you can do.”

Free-scoring Wingers In Their Early Twenties Have Always Got A Shot 

Fionn Carr banged in 8 tries in 17 games in the ML/Pro12 and 3 tries in 6 games in the Challenge Cup in 2008-09 as a 22/23 year old; a total of 11 tries in 23 matches for the season*. Despite that impressive scoring record, he was overlooked for that season’s end of term summer tour to North America in favour of Munster winger Ian Dowling and Munster sub-fullback Denis Hurley, both of whom were subsequently capped.

Dowling played the same number of games as Carr, but scored just 3 tries in his 23 games. Denis Hurley was more of a bit-part player, starting only nine competitive games that year [all of them in the then Magners League], and coming off the bench in eight others. He failed to score a single try as a fullback/winger for Munster over the entire season … but sure Deccie took him on tour anyway, ahead of Carr.

Now Simon Zebo has had a cracker of a season, scoring 12 tries in 23 games as a 21/22 year old. Just like Fionn Carr back in 2008-09, he’s an exciting runner but an extremely inconsistent defender. However, while Carr couldn’t make a tour of North America with no fewer than four Irish back three players [Kearney, Bowe, Fitzgerald and Earls] away with the Lions, Zebo is drafted in for a tour of New Zealand with just two wingers [Bowe and Fitzgerald] missing.

Selection isn’t a science. It’s an art. Some players are selected for a team on form, others are selected because of loyalty to past accomplishments and specific strengths they bring to the team. While form is readily apparent to most rugby fans, those other qualities can be less evident but no less important. However, ignoring good form from some players and rewarding it in others is a situation that is always going to generate heat … and despite the wintry conditions in New Zealand, a poor tour will see the heat turned up on Declan Kidney again.

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* Next season Carr did even better, bagging 7 tries in 15 Magners League games and 7 tries in 8 Challenge Cup games for a whopping 14 tries in 23 games. Still no tour though!

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40 thoughts on “U Mad Bro?

  1. The official line is that Ireland can take 46 players, coaches and officials to NZ, whose costs are to be covered by the host union. This was the reason offered for the selection of a 29 man squad. With extra cover required at prop after Ross’s injury, that number rises to 30. It’s probable that the 29 man squad was an IRFU decision, and had little to do with Kidney.

    Unless we’re expecting a run on full-backs, two should be enough for a three-match tour. Zebo or Gilroy is not an easy choice, and I don’t see why it should be the cause of so much protest. They’re both good players, but because it’s the Munster man, there are the inevitable accusations of bias. Fitzgerald got the call ahead of Earls in 2009 in a similar scenario.

    Sherry is about the only fit Irish-qualified hooker available for the third hooking spot, unless you count Nigel Brady. It is hard to believe Sherry was even mentioned.

    Dowling or Carr was an irrelevance on a nothing tour. Neither of them were international standard, and Carr still isn’t.

    • By the end of the 07-08 season, Fitzgerald had played 39 games for Leinster [27 starts] scoring 9 tries; Earls had played 5 games [0 starts] for Munster, scoring no tries. Fitzgerald had four caps for Ireland at that stage as well, starting against the Pacific Islanders in Lansdowne as a 19 years old, touring Argentina pre-RWC07 and coming off the bench twice in the 2008 Six Nations. Going into the 08-09 season, there was a pretty obvious gap in gametime experience between the two players. Both players performed excellently in the 08-09 season.

      As Fanning pointed out in his recent article [ http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/brendan-fanning-facing-into-yet-another-bleak-winter-3126481.html ], you can pick more players and cover them out of your own union’s pocket. DK has made quite a big noise in the media about the fact that it’s the last trip in twelve years to New Zealand – it’s a pity that more young players [specifically Madigan and Gilroy, both of whom their fellow pros rate as amongst the three best young players in the country] won’t get the chance to see it. The idea that the IRFU can’t afford to fly three more players out to New Zealand is ludicrous.

      If the North America 09 tour was a nothing tour [and it pretty much was], why didn’t he pick the younger guy [Carr] who was scoring tries for fun and had more attacking potential? It was jobs for the boys stuff for two players whom he had brought through at Munster.

  2. Good arguments….i’ll try to challenge a few. Don’t like using the provinces’ success as a stick. 1. The provinces do play quite different styles. Particularly leinster and munster, with ulster having stated they want to emulate them both(?), or at least their success. 2. NIQ players have made enormous contributions to this success. Certainly the provinces have recruited better than the Welsh (who arent that much weaker than the Irish teams anyway). If you look at the big 3 Irish teams and list the best 5 players in each, I’d count 7 to 8 who are NIQ. That isn’t the case in Wales. Please note that is not an argument in favour of the irfu’s new rules but merely an observation that the provinces have (for the most part) recruited very, very well. Good on them. Still I can’t argue with you – it is certainly true that the thing is in a healthy state.

    Regarding Carr’s non selection, I have totally sympathy. There should be a more pro active effort to give a guy from connacht a game at this level. That is not intended as patronising, nor should it mean cheap caps, but it is just a progressive thing to do. Having said that….I think it’d fair to say he isn’t getting the game time he’d like at the minute. Again please note that ain’t a dig, he is a good player within a good team. I’m not sure that can be pinned on kidney, unless we are gonna start putting him on the hook for the Kennedy assassination too (headshot!!!?). I reckon you’re reading a bit too much into the kilcoyne thing, though I accept, I could be totally wrong. I’m just trying to present a different case.

    Regarding earls, it ain’t great when a player starts telling where he should be played. There should definitely be lines of communication about it, between player and coach, but to come out like earls did….it already pits penny and kidney in a tricky position. He has played good games at wing, centre and fullback. Similar thing has happened with Fitzgerald in the past obviously. Being good enough to play 3 positions internationally is a rare enough gift and guys in that position need reassuring, but they can’t be picking themselves.

    I agree its good Marshall is there, as the obvious heir apparent to reddan at some stage in the future. I’ve already said to you about madigan and I couldn’t agree more about the criticism of him as a kicker. It reminds me of an all Ireland football semi I watched a few years ago. It was tyrone who had a free to win it, Owen mulligan was to take it, but said to Peter canavan “I don’t mind.” Canavan took it and scored. People were critical of mulligan afterwards for not going himself, but it is more selfless to give it to someone else if you think they are better for it. Madigan contributes plenty more which others cannot.

    On o’callaghan, criticism has been over the top, but yep its wrong that he has pretty much had sole possession of the 4 jersey over the years. Cullen should have seen more of it, no question. I reckon kidney must feel he has got a very raw deal with munster this past while (I’d agree) and there is clear loyalty there. You would have to accept that loyalty could be viewed as bias when others aren’t getting a look in. It is up to o’callaghan to prove people wrong I guess. Truthfully I’m not sure the others are ready to play 4 themselves, bar poc. Tuhoy plays with muller, mccarthy with swift, Ryan with oconnell mostly. I accept though, we’ll never know unless they get a shot.

  3. Any word on Mike Ruddock’s more obvious Leinster-bias for the U20s? Even Kidney wouldn’t be so brazen as to select only one player from the best province in the country.

    • I didn’t see any of the U20 inter pros, so I couldn’t make any accurate comments on omitted players. Seeing as Connacht won the tournament, it’s curious that they don’t have a greater representation in the JWC squad.

      I was very surprised to see Daniel Qualter not even make the squad for the tournament. He played in last year’s U20 Six Nations and JWC as an U19 and is a big solid lump of a fellah in the second row – would have thought he’d be a valuable asset against South African and English teams.

      Haven’t seen any reason why he wasn’t included in the squad in the first place, and why Shane Layden dropped out.

      • …its all about the angles. When you can’t see the angles, you in trouble baby, you in trouble……

        We all have our biases, or at least open to accusation of bias, whether we be picking the team or trying to analyse it. Any coach tends to trust guys who have done it for him before, but I seriously doubt that kidney or Ruddock are sitting in smoke-filled rooms plotting how to keep the other provinces down.

        I wouldn’t want to be a mindless, cheerleader, but no coach is gonna do it exactly how I’d like it done.

      • in fairness Ruddock got it right against SA and away to France.having a welsh man in charge would suggest he is coming in without the same provincial bias an indigineous coach will have.

  4. Really giving Kidney a right vivisection here, I didn’t know about the Kilcoyne comment, bejaysus.

    Is Paddy MacAlister not injured again though?
    I have a feeling he, like fez, has bones made of fibre glass. It’s a shame as he’s a serious talent.

  5. The Irish coaching attitude to wingers, particularly fast ones, seems to be along the lines of “Yes, he’ll score tries but his defense is a bit sketchy”. It’s an attitude that lead to Hickie spending a few years in the international wilderness and one that I think still exists today. The likes of Carr might not be the best defenders but there at least worth taking a punt on, given the huge upside that a fast winger can potentially have (Ashton, Jane, Habana etc).

    PS-You may want to have a look at Kidney winning stats, they dont make for pretty reading http://laymansnews.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/warren-gatlands-grand-slam-success-despite-mediocre-record/

  6. The Kilcoyne comment was a stunning admission from someone who’s normally so inscrutable. You’re guaranteed Kidney’s attention if you turn out in a red shirt. That single start wasn’t what got Kilcoyne a mention, it was the fact that he got 6 minutes against the Ospreys. He was picked on the bench ahead of Marcus Horan in a big match. In doing so he’s in line to start next season as 2nd choice loosehead for Munster and the leading Irish loosehead there. Because it’s Munster, he’s automatically in the mix, QED.

    A curious side benefit is that Munster fans aren’t complaining about international selection, even the most bias ones can’t point out anyone with a case for selection who hasn’t been looked at. No Munster player gets ignored, ever, at things stand. There isn’t a single young player who’s broken through to become an important member of the Munster team that hasn’t been promptly rewarded with an international call-up. If anything they’re complaining about DOC still being in the squad.

    • I’d be more inclined to give credence to the kilcoyne thing if he’d ever been selected over anyone for Ireland. It could just as easily be interpreted that kidney was using the media to put a bit of pressure on munster to give this guy some game time and stop out-sourcing the two prop positions! Depends on the angle you want to view it I guess.

      The second point is a better one. I can certainly see it from that point of view. In mitigation, I thought hurley was unfortunate not to get some kind of a look in around 6 nations time, though in fairness he hasn’t been handled brilliantly and his game has struggled since. Gilroy would certainly be ahead of him on my list now and should really have been taken on tour, though he is still a light guy.

      It’s hard to make a case against any of the young, munster players in the squad at the moment though, without sounding a bit confrontational. There are arguments with merit about giving rog the summer off this time, but its hardly crazy to take him either. O’Callaghan hasn’t been particularly well handled by his province (in my opinion anyway) and kidney is very clearly backing him where munster have not. I think kidney is right actually to take him, though i accept I’m in a minority and O’Callaghan couldn’t say at this stage he isn’t really sure if kidney trusts him!

      • Game time for Kilcoyne? That argument would have worked just as effectively if he mentioned McGrath, who’s behind van der Merwe, or even Archer (though a tighthead). McGrath is in more immediate need of gametime to develop, in that he has further to go to become 2nd choice loosehead. Kidney went out of his way to mention Kilcoyne.

        This was at a potentially very controversial time, Wilkinson is still uncapped. If he plays, he’ll become the first project player capped. With Court and Ross out for the first test, it would appear that he’s due to bench, though Loughney may get the nod due to versatility.

        Kidney also talked about how it would have been a shame for Zebo to miss out on the NZ tour because there wouldn’t be another one for 12 years and he might not be around. Must have been very discouraging to the guys who’ve been ignored, like Gilroy.

        I don’t want to make a case against any young Munster players, I’ve watched them and I’m excited about many of them. What I object to is making a case only for Munster players, especially when it’s the guy who’s actually picking the team.

        It’s hard to fault Zebo, he’s been good with ball in hand and has been on a good run of scoring. But those sorts of scoring runs don’t necessarily mean anything. Carr at Connacht was better, Johne Murphy at Leicester had one too, same with Brian Tuohy last year. By all means give him a chance in an Ireland shirt, but on an equal footing with other provincial players.

  7. Surely Carr is proof that Kidney got the selection right. Not good to start for Leinster in the Heineken Cup, not good enough to tour with Ireland. He can obviously spot talent.

    As for Zebo’s selection probably has a lot more to do with his familiarity with Earls who could be moved to either 13 or 15. Zebo’s excellence at re-claiming restarts might also be a factor in his selection over Gilroy as well as having a decent boot. Seems the only real flaw he has is his defence which will get better with games. Gilroy isn’t an option at fullback either and from what I’ve seen of Darren Cave, I don’t think he will be featuring too much on this tour after his defensie display against the Ba-Baas.

    The fact that you pick on Kidney for mentioning Kilcoyne SECOND in a list says a heck of a lot more about you than it does about Kidney’s bias. More than likely just running through the lists of the props at each province rather than the pecking order of the props.

    You guys need to stop looking for reds under the bed !

    • “Surely Carr is proof that Kidney got the selection right. Not good to start for Leinster in the Heineken Cup, not good enough to tour with Ireland. He can obviously spot talent.”

      “Surely Hurley is proof that Kidney got the selection right. Not good to start for Munster in the Heineken Cup in 2008-09, but good enough to tour with Ireland that summer. He can obviously spot talent.”

      D’you see what I did there?

      • Hurley and Duffy were the chosen fullbacks. There was no-one else after Murphy declined to tour.

  8. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s the Munster bias in selection that’s causing all Ireland’s problems. The 3 or 4 Munster players involved destroyed Ireland’s 6N campaign. Zebo or Gilroy, is it even important to the outcome of the tests? This bias argument is becoming ever more tedious. Diatribes on selection are the principal noise of empty vessels, and debates on bias are often little more than parochial special pleading with a dash of paranoia.

    Lads who got their break early under Kidney for Ireland: Earls after 8 weeks. Fitzgerald after 6 or 7 games as an inside centre. Ferris ahead of Leamy. Darren Cave. Ian Whitten. Healy after 8 weeks as first choice. Devin Toner. Jonny Sexton. McLaughlin after half a season. Chris Henry. Dan Tuohy. McFadden after a few HC games. Conor Murray after half a season. D. Kearney after a few HC games and an A international. Peter O’Mahony. That may not be everyone.

    Ireland’s problems are primarily tactical and are fairly obvious. The players chosen for the national side are the best in the country, by and large. The only absolute clanger Kidney has dropped is the selection of ROG ahead of Sexton in the World Cup, which was occasioned by Sexton’s inability to hit a barn door. Other than that, his debatable choices have had little material effect on the outcome of matches.

    • Sure, we could be beating Kidney with a bigger stick. Doesn’t change the fact that there are issues with his selection too.

      Lads who got their break early:
      Earls (Rob Kearney moved to the wing for Earls’ debut at fullback)
      Fitzgerald (4 caps for Ireland before Kidney was appointed and on his way into the team anyway).
      Ferris (2007 RWC squad member, on his way anyway)
      Cave (one tour during the Lions until now)
      Whitten (ditto)
      Healy (starter for a HC winning season and the start of the following season, Horan’s illness forced his selection anyway. It was up in the air until then)
      Toner (looked at during injuries, then ignored, not on this tour)
      Sexton (obvious)
      McLaughlin (emergency injury cover in 6N, not many choices. Called again for the Scotland RWC warm up game to sub for the 2nd string side that included Horan)
      Henry (one cap during the walking wounded tour where Ruddock was on the bench having been pulled from the U20s and Niall Ronan was starting. Ignored despite captaining worlfhounds and being in top form before the 6N. Only in now because of injuries)
      Tuohy (capped during Henry’s tour)
      McFadden (massive injury crisis on the wing, no choice)
      Murray (1st choice for Munster, automatic selection)
      Dave Kearney (still uncapped, now dropped)
      O’Mahony (1st choice for Munster, automatic selection)

      Over an extended period of time poor selection has a continuing effect on the team. Players like O’Brien and Ross forced their way in/got lucky with injuries and all was eventually well. It was easy to casually dismiss them until they got an extended run.

      • We could cavil like this all day. Ferris ahead of Kidney ‘favourite’ Leamy. Whitten for no obvious reason. Cave has been injured forever, and he has not had many opportunities with Drico in the team; he is not versatile. Going on his international appearances to date, Toner is a taller, less effective version of Mick O’Driscoll. When McLaughlin was called up, Quinlan and Ryan were available. Henry had a less impressive HC campaign than O’Mahony, and was coming off a disappointing previous season; he was also rubbish in his only cap. McFadden was chosen ahead of Hurley, the more experienced player. We will see on Murray; he hasn’t thrown a stupid intercept yet which makes him superior to the alternatives in my opinion. Dave Kearney didn’t provide much Leinstertainment this year, and remains a full-back in theory while Big Bruv and Nacewa are ahead of him. O’Mahony has had his opportunity early because of injuries, but has not looked out of place at the highest level.

        I am bored now, as I’m sure you must be. This is a tedious debate.

      • A series of hand-waving false equivalences in favour of Munster players, bookended by admonitions not to examine your points in any detail because that would be tedious.

        Nobody can accuse you of taking too long to find your distinctive voice…

      • Ryan was still trying to break into the Munster starting team and didn’t have a set position when McLaughlin was called up. He’s come on a huge amount since. For a proven temporary blindside needed immediately, McLaughlin was a good option. Quinlan too old, too slow, too controversial. McLaughlin had been doing a lot of good work.

        Toner is playing well, but you’re the one who brought him up HF.

        Henry hasn’t been unimpressive. He’s been brilliant and a key player for Ulster. He’s been harshly treated at international level and it’s unfortunate because he’s the kind of guy who make the jump if given a few games. He stood up well in the big games this season.

        McFadden is a different class from Hurley, a lot faster too and his versatility is very important for the Ireland team in the absence of Paddy Wallace.

        Being behind Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa at fullback is hardly a damning indictment, it could scarcely be milder. How do you compare being behind Fitzgerald, Nacewa and McFadden on the wing (let still getting 19 starts for the season) to being ahead of Dineen, O’Dea and Johne Murphy?

      • To be clear, I am not disputing the selections. I am disputing the idea that Munster players have been favoured ahead of more-deserving players from other provinces.

        McLaughlin deserved his shot. I would have had O’Brien in there myself, but McLaughlin was first-choice at Leinster at the time. If Kidney were as biased as advertised, he would surely have picked Quinlan.

        Toner got a chance against Fiji, early in his career. He was not impressive. Against Fiji. Did he deserve more caps in the intervening period? I don’t think so. Has he been one of the top five locks in Ireland?

        I said Henry was less impressive. In the pool games, O’Mahony was very, very good from the first game. Henry didn’t hit his stride until the Leicester match.

        McFadden ahead of Hurley is not a selection I dispute. Again, Kidney could have picked one of his favourites. He didn’t. McFadden is a decent international, and definitely much better than Hurley on the wing.

        If Dave Kearney does not play say, half a season, or a run of 3 or 4 games, or a HC game, at full-back, then I find the idea of him as an international full-back option to be unconvincing. The question then is: could he be a better winger than Zebo? Is Zebo’s choice ahead of Kearney at wing an instance of evident bias? I think not.

  9. “We will see on Murray; he hasn’t thrown a stupid intercept yet which makes him superior to the alternatives in my opinion.”

    he hasnt thrown anything yet, all he does is stand over ruck’s like a dog taking a crap; he needs to pass the ball sometime this year.

  10. “Going on his international appearances to date, Toner is a taller, less effective version of Mick O’Driscoll.”

    Toner’s last international cap was a year and a half ago, in which he was on the pitch for a total of eight minutes. He managed thirty in another of his three caps, and managed a whole 68 in the other. Are you seriously judging a 25-year-old lock on one and a half games of evidence played a year and a half ago?

    • No, not really, I didn’t want to waste time, but as you asked. The long list of Toner’s deficiencies include lack of grunt, lack of speed, lack of aggression, indifferent tackle technique, poor impact at ruck, ineffectual ball-carrying and a passing resemblance to the giraffe. Like I said, he’s Mick O’Driscoll, only taller, and to be fair to him, less likely to be exposed while hanging out on the wing. Doubtless he’ll get some caps in injury crises when someone is needed to call the lineout, but hopefully he won’t approach MOD’s scarcely credible figure of 23.

      • I can’t agree with much of that. You’ve tried to make a big list to make Toner seem like an incapable novice with deficiencies throughout his game but in reality, lack of grunt, lack of aggression and poor impact at ruck time are pretty much the same thing (the first two certainly are – not that that would excuse a deficiency in that area) and lack of speed is totally irrelevant to a 6’10” second row. Richie Gray may have it, but he’s a one-in-a-million.

        Toner’s game has come on steadily since his international debut by virtue of a large amount of playing time with Leinster especially in the Rabo, including his ball-carrying, rucking and handling. Moreover as he begins to fill out with age, the physical side of his game should improve if he continues to avoid injury. His “passing resemblance to a giraffe” is totally irrelevant. His supposed lack of physicality/grunt/ruck impact should at least be measured today at international level, rather than presupposed based on performances from 2010 when he was 23 (I think) given the standards of his performances at provincial level over the last two seasons.

      • We should be working out which was more impressive a priori?

        Even for a one-note troll, this is… less than persuasive.

      • What’s your beef, toro toro?

        The selection referred to was the 6N selection, to which the QF was posthumous.

        Call me more names. It’s very impressive.

      • looking at everything now and reading this comment; the irony of it all makes me laugh; why dont we deal with the here and now and not the yester year; oh thats right because if we were the only thing you could mention of note about Munster is that Murty there Mascot has retired as well; says it all really

    • Is it just possible that others less blinkered saw more in Henry than you did before that game made his dominance obvious?

      • In the 6Ns, which finished in mid-March, O’Mahony was picked as a 7 on the back of a handful of appearances for Munster at 7.

        On the last Saturday of March against Leinster, while playing at 7, he was taken to school by Shane Jennings who is now nowhere near international selection. The Leinster backrow on the night comprised Heaslip, Jennings and McLaughlin.

        On the next weekend O’Mahony was part of a Munster backrow, this time palying at six, that was taken to the cleaners by another Irish province, this time Ulster. The Ulster backrow on the day comprised Wannenburg, Ferris (on one leg) and Henry.

        In spite of this, the pecking order in Kidney’s mind amongst the Irish backrows who played over those two weekends seems to go something like: Ferris and Heaslip (as starters) and then O’Mahony. That’s pretty extraordinary.

        Don’t get me wrong, O’Mahony is great prospect and performed well in the group stages of this year’s HEC. However, to my mind he performed no better or worse than Dominic Ryan did in the group stages of last year’s HEC but yet you don’t see Dominic Ryan anywhere near Kidney’s plans.

        Whatever about those performances against Leinster and Munster not being relevant for the purposes of discussing Kidney’s selection for this year’s 6Ns (although they do tend to suggest that Kidney’s idea of playing O’Mahony at 7 in the 6Ns was incredibly ill-conceived) they sure as hell are relevant for discussing Kidney’s selection for the tour to NZ.

  11. For a fuller rebuttal. Zebo’s defensive deficiencies have been overemphasised. Unlike Carr, he is a good tackler and does not shirk the physical stuff. He started to come in for pointed criticism the day a palpably unfit Luke Fitzgerald turned over possession five times against Munster down in Thomond Park. Prior to that, the nebulous quality of rawness was considered to be his principal deficiency. His positioning was off once in that game, when he was hanging around in midfield while Nacewa sauntered down the right wing. The other time Nacewa broke clear was from a turnover in midfield where Zebo was trying to secure possession. To date, he has shown too much eagerness to get involved in rucks when he should be fanning out, a fault of Fitzgerald’s early in his career, but one that can be rectified.

    Criticism ramped up in the aftermath of Ulster’s defeat of Munster a week later, when some chose harshly to blame him for Hurley’s lack of pace and Jones’s evident favouring of his right shoulder in the tackle during Gilroy’s try. He scored a try himself and kept Trimble quiet, as he did a few weeks later in what was a nothing fixture for Ulster. He slipped once against Ospreys in the semi, which led to a try, and was slow to cover across from full-back for Dirksen’s try in the second half. He has otherwise made a few minor errors in defence, but no critical ones that I recall. His defensive nous is not the strongest quality of his game, but nor is it particularly weak. The equivalence with Carr is a false one in that respect, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a hand-waving one.

    In attack, his most obvious quality is his sheer speed. However, it is his changes of pace that are most effective in helping him to break tackles. As someone who obviously played a lot of soccer in his youth, he draws defenders towards him by slowing down a little before stepping and sprinting through the flailing arms. He breaks far more tackles than Craig Gilroy because of his greater power and acceleration, though they are equally proficient at the step and fend.

    The hierarchy of back 3 talent from the 2010 and 2011 U20s teams went:

    Conway
    Zebo
    O’Halloran
    Gilroy
    Boyle
    Hudson

    To say that Gilroy was disappointing in the JWC of last year would be flattery. His performances at fullback were brainless, and he was merely adequate on the wing. O’Halloran and Boyle did more justice to their talents while Conway was nothing short of sensational. Zebo was excellent in the championship-winning side of 2010, and highly effective at the JWC, as was Conway. This is by way of restating Zebo’s greater pedigree. He has not been plucked from obscurity. He has been marked out for senior honours.

    Furthermore, there is a distinct possibility that Gilroy will not be first-choice for Ulster next year. The other back 3 contenders are Trimble, Bowe and Payne. He could turn himself into a fullback, but that will take some time and I think it’s more than likely he’ll lose out. Added to that, when Conway and Fitzgerald are fit and O’Halloran regains his form, Gilroy may find himself out of the international reckoning altogether. Is he not good enough for Ulster, but good enough for Ireland? I have my doubts.

    For reasons stated already, the idea that Gilroy is a fullback is fanciful. He has shown no form in the position, and I was less than impressed by his untackle on Tommy O’Donnell in Thomond recently. He’s had limited gametime in the position and has not impressed.

    Of course, it could be just Kidney’s Munster bias. There remains that possibility.

    • Gilroy and Zebo were different years, they didn’t play together so a hierarchy is purely subjective and it’s very difficult to directly compare different years because so much changes.

      Gilroy was being used for Ulster games at the time, so U20s was more of a sideline. Not much relevance in dropping Gilroy now in anticipation of him maybe losing his place later. There are questions over Gilroy, as there are questions over Zebo. It would be best to answer them by giving the players a chance. Gilroy got a half-shot against the Baa-Baas and he could hardly have done more.

  12. “lack of grunt, lack of aggression and poor impact at ruck time are pretty much the same thing”

    To clarify, grunt refers to his work in the tight. Lack of aggression is more intangible, and some players are good enough not to require it, like Eales; Toner is not that good. Unless a lock is good enough to have technical dominance, he should fight very hard to gain physical or mental dominance. Toner doesn’t. I’ve seen a lot of him over the last two years since he played against the All Blacks, and I remain unconvinced of his credentials. He is better, but that’s a step-up from inadequacy to adequacy, which is about the level of Mick O’Driscoll. When he outplays a credible opponent in the HC, he’ll be worth another look.

    • Having lost his place to Brad Thorn for much of the close season, one of the world’s greatest and most decorated rugby players, the argument for Toner does indeed grow weaker. In the plus column he has a hell of a lot of time on his side (aged 26, he could have arguably have 10 years left in pro rugby), a large wealth of provincial experience on which to build and a natural talent that no other prospect can replicate – he’s 6’10”.

      In terms of outplaying credible opponents, he has regularly been used to counteract the lineout prowess of Richie Gray, bagging another start in the Rabo semi as well as both group wins against Glasgow. I guess I’d have a higher opinion of his all round game than yourself and moreover think he displays far greater potential and skill around the park than O’Driscoll or comparable lock forwards.

      Perhaps this tour is another year too early for him. With Ryan settling as a second row rather than a blindside, he has even more competition in front of him. Even so I think you under-rate him.

      • Ryan and Toner could make a good partnership but they’d need a few games together. If the rumours are true and it’s Ryan and Tuohy, well that’s a partnership in as much need of development.

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