The Big 46 [Sic] Pt. 1 – I’m Alright, You’re Alright

Name the Boks! All three of these players STARTED against New Zealand in Wellington in the 2011 Tri-Nations Test.

Dexy’s [relatively] recent article in the Irish Times made the point that “… Ireland have used 46 players in their 17 Tests in this unrelenting [2011-12] season. As this tour underlined in abundance, Ireland don’t have 46 Test players.”

Ireland have actually used 47 players in tests over the season. That’s not a particular dig at Dexy’s, it’s just that in looking up who played which games, and which player played the most games in each position, I came up with a different number.

Forwards [28]

  • Looseheads [3]: Healy [15+0]; Court [2+9]; Horan [0+1];
  • Hookers [3]: Best [14+1]; Cronin [2+7]; Flannery [1+4]*;
  • Tightheads [5]: Ross [14+1]; Buckley [2+2]; Fitzpatrick [1+1]; Loughney [0+1]; Hayes [0+1]*;
  • Second-rows [7]: O’Callaghan [13+3]; O’Connell [9+1]; Ryan [8+6]; Tuohy [3+0]; Cullen [3+0]; McCarthy [1+3]; M. O’Driscoll [0+1]*;
  • Backrow [10]: Heaslip [14+1]; O’Brien [13+0]; Ferris [10+1]; O’Mahony [3+4]; Leamy [2+5]*; Jennings [2+2]; McLaughlin [2+2]; D. Wallace [1+0]*; Ronan [1+0]; Henry [0+1]

Backs [19]

  • Scrum-halves [4]: Murray [9+3]; Reddan [5+11]; O’Leary [2+2]; Boss [1+1];
  • Out-halves [2]: Sexton [12+4]; O’Gara [5+11];
  • Centres [5]: Earls [14+0]; D’Arcy [12+0]; B. O’Driscoll [8+0]; P. Wallace [4+0]; Cave [0+1];
  • Wings [5]: Trimble [11+5]; Bowe [10+0]; McFadden [6+6]; Fitzgerald [2+1]; Zebo [1+0]
  • Fullbacks [3]: R. Kearney [14+0]; Murphy [2+1]*; Jones [1+2]

* designates that the player has now retired from test rugby

Wynand “Because I’m Worth It” Oliver: Percy Montgomery’s hair? Check. Percy Montgomery’s talent? Let’s leave that box unchecked. Great hair though.

Very few teams in the world have 46/47 test players. New Zealand probably have; France, maybe … although Irish fans have a tendency to over-rate French players. South Africa? There’s supposedly a queue for the jersey that stretches beyond the horizon in every position of South African rugby, but you look at the results from Tri Nations 2011 [when Crazy Piet rested the bulk of his first-choice players for the first two games in order to concentrate on a World Cup-oriented strength and conditioning program] and you see a team full of pretty ordinary players who took some serious thumpings. Wynand Olivier has 37 Bok caps, and he’s little more than a deftly layered haircut and some platinum blond #6 highlights.

If England had 46 test players, they wouldn’t be sneaking away wins in Scotland and Italy with opportunist tries from Chargedown Charlie Hodgson. Australia’s second string went down to Thomond Park in November 2010, less than 20 months ago, and were beaten by a Munster team who were at best half-strength; Munster were missing O’Connell, O’Callaghan, O’Driscoll, Ryan, Hayes, Horan, Flannery, Wallace, Leamy, Quinlan, O’Leary, Mafi and O’Gara, who were all contracted at the time. A half-strength Aussie team got beaten by Scotland in Newcastle at the beginning of June.

Martin Scelzo, Mario Ledesman and Rodrigo Roncero: they’ve seen eleven World Cup tournaments between them. Despite the calibre of their replacements in terms of ability on the field, those lads have left a gaping hole in the Pumas side.

Argentina have relied on the same spine of players to an even greater degree than Ireland have: Ledesma, Scelzo, Contepomi and Pichot all went to four World Cups – which means twelve years of international rugby, no matter what way you cut it – and Nacho Corleto, Rodrigo Roncera, Pato Albacete, Nacho Fernandez Lobbe, Lucas Ostiglia, Gonzalo Longo and Nico Fernandez Miranda all went to three. Their strength in depth is going to be severely tested by their debut in the augmented Tri Nations [“The Rugby Championship” is a nauseatingly faux-auspicious moniker], and while they’ll add a great deal to the tournament in terms of aggression and bravery and patriotism at anthem time, The Mole is sure that they’ll be in pieces by the end of it.

And Wales? Wales just lost three straight games to Australia, having lost another two earlier in the season: neutral territory, at home, away, tournament, friendly or test series, they haven’t managed even one win in five attempts.

Between their first and second tests in the recent series, they made four changes: the injured Scott Williams [face] and Toby Faletau [thumb] were replaced with Ashley Beck and Ryan Jones respectively, while Matthew Rees replaced Ken Owens at hooker and Alun-Wyn Jones replaced Luke Charteris in the row. They lost the next one as well, but didn’t change a single member of the starting team. Over the whole series, they only made two unforced changes in selection, despite the fact that they eminently fancied a series win before departing for Australia. So, looking at those selections and results, you’d have to say that their coaches don’t necessarily feel that there are plenty of Welsh players around the fringes of the team battering down the door to get in: if there were, why wouldn’t they change some faces after four losses in one season to the same opposition?

Jamie Roberts plows a furrow through the Irish midfield in the RWC11 quarter-final. Take the Big Bopper out of the Welsh line-up and a whole heap of their attacking threat goes up in smoke. Wales faced an Australia side missing captain James Horwill, Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell and [for two out of three tests] Kurtley ‘Curly Bill’ Beale – and that doesn’t include notable scratches from RWC11 like Rocky Elsom and Dan Vickerman, or outstanding players plying their trade in France like George Smith and Matt Giteau [and Luke Burgess, who’s not quite of the same calibre but is still a handy player]. Even then, they couldn’t get a one win from three attempts … and most Australians wouldn’t claim to have 46 test players either. 

The Welsh deserve credit for getting to the semi-final of RWC11 and winning a Grand Slam on the back of that, but take two players out of the team – Jamie Roberts and Shane Williams, but Roberts especially – and their attacking gameplan doesn’t work particularly well. That the Welsh have good depth in a 30-man squad is largely due to Gatland’s belief in competition for places inspiring performances, but they no more have 46 test players than Ireland have. Josh Turnbull? Aaron Shingler? Ken Owens? Rhys Gill? Aled Brew?

Can Ireland match New Zealand for depth? Not a chance. Are all test matches played at the standard that New Zealand set? No.

>> Part 2 [or Pt.2] Tomorrow [-ish]

* For the record, the Boks in the title image are Werner Kruger [tighthead], Alistair Hargreaves [lock] and Gerhard Mostert [lock].


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16 thoughts on “The Big 46 [Sic] Pt. 1 – I’m Alright, You’re Alright

  1. It’s no news that there aren’t 47 Irish-eligible Test class players. It’s worse than that, though. There aren’t more than 22, by my reckoning. One extra prop in Tom Court. One hooker in Sean Cronin. A declining O’Callaghan and an unproven Tuohy might make up 1 extra lock forward between them. O’Mahony is too green to be considered Test class, so there’s no-one extra in the back row. 2 extra half-backs in Reddan and a waning O’Gara. Earls as an extra centre/wing and Fitzgerald as back 3 cover. That’s it. And that’s being generous. Trimble and Ross are Test class by default.

    As far as improving that depth goes and finally divesting Irish rugby of its so-called golden generation, it’s likely that we’ll be waiting until 2013-14, when Drico, Darce, Rog, P Wallace and Paulie will hopefully come under genuine pressure for their provincial places, and filler like Downey, Botha, VD Merwe, Du Preez, Muller and Howlett can start to be replaced.

    • ROG was waning three years ago, he’s gone in everything but Deccie’s heart. Madigan should be considered the incumbent and JJ and Keatly should be there for Munster.

      • At the end of next season, Madigan will be 24. If he’s still not starting in the HEC by then, he should consider moving. Sexton will only be 28 at that stage, and could well go on into his mid-thirties, which will coincide with the prime of Madigan’s playing career. If he wants to start for Ireland or stay ahead of Keatley and Jackson for the backup place, he will more than likely have to make himself first-choice somewhere.

    • That’s a bit harsh I think we don’t have a load of world beaters but we have a number of players who could do a job not necessarily again N.Z. but against your average International side.

    • Have we not dispensed with the poisonous (and frankly misleading) “Golden Generation” tag? Most of the players that term refers to are finished with Test rugby, if not finished with rugby altogether. Once you’ve replaced the majority of a team with a similar or better caliber of players, it’s not a golden generation it’s just a generation. The only players who still trouble the team today are O’Driscoll (the best rugby player this island has produced), O’Connell (a probable Lions starter in less than 12 months) and D’Arcy (playing in a position we’re struggling with).

      To describe Mike Ross as Test class by default is grossly unfair. A tighthead prop who’s held up the scrum against every international opponent he’s come up against (and had the New Zealand scrum in difficulty just a few weeks ago) is Test class.

      • I prepended the compound adjective ‘so-called’ to the golden generation. They were good, but not great. You seem to be arguing with a point I did not make.

        Ross holds his own at scrum-time. That’s it. He excels in no other aspect of the game. I don’t think competent, but not destructive, scrummaging at international level is enough to make him Test class, but that’s only my opinion.

      • You said we need to divest Irish rugby of that generation of players, I’m simply pointing out that we have.

        I claim zero knowledge about propping and srcummaging, so I bow to the excellent Emmett Byrne “The tighthead is doing his job if he holds the scrum and keeps it stable…In a nutshell, a tighthead holds; a loosehead attacks” (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sport/2012/0324/1224313818427.html). If Ross is holding up the scrum consistently in Test matches that makes him a Test class tighthead by Byrne’s description. (I think it was Byrne who also made the point that a tightheads only job is the srcum, anything else he does on the pitch is just a bouns, but I’m open to correction on that)

      • Let’s not argue about the degree of divestment. 6 of the GG were in the original squad for NZ. 6 != 0. If 3 still remain in contention, 3 != 0. Let’s agree that some divestment has taken place, but full nudity has not yet been achieved.

        There are about 160 rucks per match, and maybe 10-15 scrums. It is no longer acceptable for a tighthead to have only one job on the pitch.

      • There is a reason Gethin Jenkins has put Ross as one of his top three hardest opponents to scrum against. I’d hake a tighthead who does his job in the scrum and not much in the loose (though he is improving) over someone who is shocking in the scrum and good in the loose i.e. Tony Buckley.

    • You can enumerate the number of players still there all you want but a mathematical representation of how many players are left in contention fails to represent that those players include Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell. Do you want Irish rugby to divest itself of them?

      In the Test in Christchurch Ross carried for more metres, beat more defenders, made more tackles, missed fewer tackles, created more turnovers and conceded the same number of penalties as his NZ opposite number. He gives plenty of bonuses.

      • I think a little deck-clearing is in order. The recent tests against NZ were the last chance for O’Connell and O’Driscoll to slay the dragon and in view of their declining powers, it’s time to start building a side that can beat the best in the world. It would be to Ireland’s benefit if they were replaced now so that preparations can begin in earnest for the next World Cup. I can’t imagine that will happen, as there’s a Lions tour and I’m sure they’ll both fancy another crack at the 6N. Not to mention that Kidney will be under pressure for his job and therefore even less likely to experiment. So, as I said, 2013-2014 before we see an Irish side resembling the one that will go to the next WC. It will hopefully coincide with the shifting aside of a few old lags and NIQs in favour of Irish players who can play in that tournament.

        Ross wasn’t so hot in the third test, when NZ chose not to take Ireland on at the fringes. The game wasn’t played at his pace, so it was understandable that he struggled. Owen Franks, by contrast, had a whale of a time.

      • So deck clearing for the sake of deck clearing? We should discard the nations top two on-field leaders? It may be unlikely that BOD will make RWC2015 but it’s hardly outrageous to think that O’Connell could still have an influence at the stage at 35.

        If the entire team isn’t at the races it’s hardly a tighthead who’s going turn it around. In a close, competitive game against the best, most progressive team in world rugby Ross more than held his own against his opposite number.

  2. If we’ve learned anythig over the last three seasons, it’s that the ability to hold up the scrum is vitally important. Mike Ross’ consistent ability to keep the irish scrum steady (and let’s be honest, he has had his destructive days too) not only makes him test class, but it makes him indispensible.

  3. So now Mike Ross is part of the problem with Irish Rugby?
    Christ on a bike. He holds the scrum and makes his tackles, give me him over an ultra athletic tight head who’s liable to be shown up in the scrums.
    Remember the furore over the importance of a stable scrum after the debacle against England.
    What happened in the third test can’t be lain at the feet of the tighthead any more than it can the other 14 players who were God awful.

    POC is still very much test class and IS indispensible to the team. His lineout work will serve us excellently for at least another two seasons, should he stay fit.
    I’d say BOD’s on his last legs though, which is a shame.
    D’arcy is our only option is a problem position at the moment.
    We need Fitz to move into the centres asap and keep Earls out on the wings.

    On Trimble, he hasn’t been fantastic at the end of this season, but I’d still rate him as a competant international when he’s on form. He was one of our only highlights but close to a season ago just before the RWC.

  4. Ross has 2 cup medals at tight head; henry please name all these average tight heads around that can boast that haul; bearing in mind that tight head is a specialist position; oh and before you attempt it; hcup finals are prob up there with tests in terms of intensity and skill

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