Our Friends From The North Pt.1 – Chris Henry’s Coming To Dinner

Chris Henry predicts the number of minutes he’ll get off the bench for Ireland next season.

What looks like having been the sole dog day of the summer fell a month to the day after Ireland’s dismal 60-0 drubbing.

What has changed in a month? While new coaches have recently arrived in Munster and Ulster, the old régime remains intact at the head of the test team. Apparently a 60 point losing margin is acceptable to both Declan Kidney’s employers and to the man himself. There are few other ways to read it: he has neither been sacked nor resigned.

However, beating up Declan Kidney on the interwebs is neither enjoyable nor particularly worthwhile, especially in the midst of a period when there’ve been no fresh outrages against Irish rugby. The Mole has no doubt that Kidney holds the success of his test team dear, and that he’s as disappointed as anybody with the recent run of losses.

In the aftermath of the test series, The Mole has found himself reflecting on two items in particular: Dexy’s “we don’t have 46 test players” article and the selection policies of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. With those twin elements acting as funnels through which to narrow an unruly torrent of ideas, gripes and realizations, I’ve been moved to look at the fortunes of four Ulster players, all four of whom it would be generous to describe as fringe members of Kidney-era squads.

They’re players who’ve been weighed and found wanting, only to return in force some years later; players who’ve reinvented themselves on foreign fields; players who’ve been kept down by circumstance and the decisions of an unsympathetic coach; and players who looked destined for long-running test careers but oddly missed the boat.

Leo Cullen’s Magical Eight Seconds Off The Bench Return To The Collective Consciousness Of Irish Rugby 

Counting players like Chris Henry as one of the forty-six used by Declan Kidney is something of a sophist’s trick. Henry’s sole test action was the last 26 minutes of the season, coming off the bench for a blindside when Ireland were already 41-0 down.

The former Ireland Schools, Sevens, U21 and ‘A’ international had the best provincial season of his career as a 26/27 year old in 2011-12, starting 24 games [for 1827 total minutes of gametime]; he was named Ulster’s Player of the Year at the province’s annual awards dinner ahead of fellow nominees John Afoa and Paddy Wallace.

Chris Henry’s yellow card against Munster in the HEC quarter-final probably stopped him winning the Man of the Match award, but he was the most influential player on the pitch in The Mole’s view. It’s pretty incredible that the only international rugby that he saw was the last 26 minutes of the last game of a 17 test season.

Henry started eight of Ulster’s nine Heineken Cup games on the openside flank, missing the semi-final due to injury, and in his second season in the No7 jersey since switching from No8, he excelled in high intensity games at HEC level against the likes of Leicester, Clermont Auvergne and Munster.

While there was no doubt that his injury limited his impact in the HEC final, he was picked out by Brian O’Driscoll as a player that Leinster had to gameplan around:

“Chris Henry is probably one of their most important players. He upsets a lot of teams and really slows ball down, gets away with it, and pushes things to the letter of the law. Sometimes he gets caught out, as he did in the quarter-final (when sin binned against Munster), but more often than not he does a great job for them. It is important that we identify that he is a big strength and try to nullify him.”

But apparently his face doesn’t fit. When incumbent Ireland No7 Sean O’Brien was forced to miss the match against Scotland in the Six Nations due to a foot injury, Declan Kidney drafted in Peter O’Mahony, a 22-year old blindside who had started three games on the openside in his professional career [vs Aironi in the Pro12 in October 2011, vs Northampton in the HEC in January 2012 and vs Treviso in the Pro12 in February 2012].

Ireland have missed each of their starting backrows for one game or more this year: as mentioned above, openside O’Brien missed the Six Nations game against Scotland, blindside Stephen Ferris missed the entire NZ tour and No8 Jamie Heaslip missed the third test of the tour. In every instance, Declan Kidney’s first option has been to replace the missing player with Peter O’Mahony. Blindside, openside, No8, this 22-year old in his first full season of professional rugby [he only started one competitive match for Munster in the 2010-11 season] is apparently Ireland’s second best player in every backrow position … except of course he’s not.

You can make an argument that O’Mahony has a higher ceiling as a player than Henry, and that giving him the test gametime now will pay off in the long run: it’ll get him over the hump – the hump that is the pace of test rugby – early in his career, a good investment seeing that he’s going to be a long term international.

But what position is he supposed to be? What way is that to introduce a newcomer to test rugby, playing him in three different positions in his first three starts? If you can look beyond the personalities involved and consider the selections in abstract – i.e. the national head coach picks a 22-year old back rower at openside, then blindside, then No8 in his first three test starts – well, nothing about those calls looks particularly convincing.

While it might be great in the short term for O’Mahony to get capped early and to have the experience of playing across the backrow at test level – and that’s a stance you could legitimately take as a defender of the selections, were you so inclined – The Mole sees the constant position switches as poorly thought-through: they overlook specific positional requirements and needlessly narrow the group of ‘test players’ available to Kidney.

When the gametime totals are totted up, it’s revealing to see that Peter O’Mahony got more than ten times as many minutes on the pitch in a test jersey [267 minutes] as Henry did this season. Is that a fair reflection of their form?

The Wolfhounds – A ‘Development’ Team

Henry has played ten games for Ireland ‘A’/Wolfhounds in the last four seasons, starting seven of them and notching up four tries along the way. He was the openside and captain in the Wolfhounds’ sole match of the 2011-12 season, the fixture against England Saxons in Exeter in which Ireland lost 23-17.

Chris Henry: Wolfhounds mainstay, less than a bit-part player at test level. Is the ‘A’ level relevant anymore as a means to introducing players to international rugby, or is it simply a throwback to the amateur era that needs to be knocked on the head? It’s easy to palm off interlocutors in the media by giving some ‘A’/Wolfhounds caps to players and pretending that they count as genuine international recognition, when in reality there doesn’t seem to be any pathway between the ‘A’ and test level in Ireland.

The Wolfhounds set-up has some unlocked potential [and will feature in a DM article some time soon] but at the moment it’s neither fish nor fowl. Is it supposed to be a development team for younger players to experience the novelty of playing in different combinations under a different head coach away from your province, as they would at test level? That’s one idea. The other approach would be that it’s an actual ‘A’ team, a senior team composed of players who are challenging and/or ready to step into the test team. Young players can still force their way into contention, but it’s a shadow test side.

Either way, you’d think that it might be a legitimate route to the international side … or else what’s the point in having a Wolfhounds side?

Who Leads The Way? What’s Best Practice? 

The Mole looked at some of the players who Steve Hansen introduced for the third test, and those selection calls – combined with Thornley’s “we don’t have 46 test players” remark – changed his way of thinking a little.

Liam Messam [28], Hosea Gear [28] and Ben Smith [26] aren’t kids, but nor are they vastly experienced test players. Messam was winning his tenth cap since his debut in 2008, and has only started one Tri-Nations game in his career; Gear was winning his ninth cap since his 2008 debut, but has started more Tri-Nations games. Smith won his fifth cap since debuting in 2009; it was only his second start. All three players had fine performances against Ireland and netted tries, and they earned their spots on the back of some excellent provincial form.

Luke Romano is another interesting case. At 26 years old, he’s only in his second season of Super Rugby. It’s not a huge body of work by anybody’s standards. It’s a particularly interesting selection because he doesn’t have the NZ Schools/U20s pedigree: it’s not as though he was a guy who grew up in the system and was only kept out of the team by the presence of Brad Thorn. He’s arrived pretty much out of nowhere. In contrast, both Hansen and Graham Henry before him have totally overlooked former underage superstar second row Jeremy Thrush, who was the IRB U19 Player of the Year in 2004 and represented his country at Schools [2003], U19 [2004], U21 [2005, 2006] and Junior All Black [2009] level, but has never been capped at test level.

Now, Hansen also picked nippers like Sam Cane [20], Brodie Retallick [21], Julian Savea [21] and Aaron Smith [23] over the series, so it’s not as though he’ll only select guys who have a long body of provincial work behind them. However, he doesn’t freeze players out, either. If they’re going well and New Zealand have a need, they get a shot.

“That guy in the stands is going to get 70+ caps. No, the guy in the red shirt. “

Calling The Shot

Not every test player is going to be an 80-cap, decade-long international; not every selection has to be a home-run. There’s nothing wrong with giving a guy his first cap at 25 or 26 years old if he’s up there as the best player in his position in the country on form. Neil Best debuted at 26 and had a short, successful run at No6 under Eddie O’Sullivan until first Denis Leamy and then Stephen Ferris took over the Irish blindside position. A guy like Gary ‘Boat’ Longwell upped his game, earned selection as a 29-year old under Warren Gatland and did a job for four seasons, up to and including RWC03. If you can get three or four seasons out of a player at international level, that’s a pretty solid investment.

However, that’s not how one member of the coaching staff sees it:

“We need to have our players coming through sooner,” he [Gert Smal] stresses. “In the southern hemisphere when you get to 23 — and this is what I want to get across to young Irish players — you must start asking the question: ‘Am I going to make it internationally or not?’ It is about not just being happy just playing for your provincial side. We need players coming through at an age when they can play for seven to 10 years, not just three or four.”

This is an interesting take on a test rugby career. The best players will typically break through early, purely because they’re so naturally talented; famously, Brian O’Driscoll played for Ireland before he played for Leinster.

There’s plenty of room for argument between the two schools of thought and – as always – we welcome our commenters’ views on the matter. Can Ireland afford to dismiss provincial players as not being up to international standard for the rest of their careers if they’re not setting the world alight at 23 years old?

Learning On The Job

Some players have found it easy to get a second cap; other players have found it well nigh impossible. Kev McLaughlin got a start against Italy in February 2010, played 19 minutes off the bench in August 2011 and didn’t get his next start until June 2012. Chris Henry started against Australia in June 2010, and didn’t play another minute of test rugby for two years.

Conor Murray gets the ball away for Ireland in August 2011. Murray’s international form went backwards this season, and while players always appreciate a selector’s loyalty when it keeps them on the team, loyalty doesn’t necessarily bear any relationship to form. If a player is performing badly and gets dropped, that can just as often act as a motivating factor to improve his performance. Sometimes you need to use the stick rather than the carrot as a coach.

On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter how Conor Murray plays; he can’t get out of the team. The Mole is a Murray fan, but he has been patchy for Ireland this season, and some of his performances have been pretty rubbish. Eoin Reddan has been the best scrum-half in Ireland this season, and while he got a couple of starts during the Six Nations, they only came his way because Murray picked up an injury … you just have to look at Kidney’s selections over the course of the tournament to see the truth in that. He didn’t change his team except to replace injured players.

Everything points to the Declan Kidney having fallen into the classic Eddie O’Sullivan trap of believing that he’s got fifteen undroppable players; that regardless of form, they’re the best players in the country. Even when they’re scraping the barrel in terms of personal performance, they’re still better than the next best guy.

Prime vs Peak 

A guy who’s in his prime can very often be a better performer than a younger, more talented player who has not yet reached his peak. Now, that balance should change as the youngster gets more and more gametime at provincial/club level, but there’s an argument – brought from theory into practice by some of Hansen’s selections – that you should maximize your playing resources and get the prime of the older player at test level, rather than the growing pains of the younger one.

The Kiwis have lost their long-term No6 of the last four seasons, in Victor Kaino, a player who debuted as a 23 year old [against Ireland] in June 2006, but spent two full years in the international wilderness before winning his third cap as a 25 year old. In the recent test series, they experimented with three players to replace him: 25 year old Hurricane Victor Vito, 30 year old Highlander Adam Thomson and 28 year old Chief Liam Messam. They didn’t start Sam Cane at blindside, which would have been the equivalent of starting O’Mahony at openside against Scotland back in the Six Nations.

Peter O’Mahony keeps being used in the argument as a negative, which isn’t fair on the player – he had a breakthrough season, and deserved his call up to the majors. However, O’Mahony as an openside ahead of Chris Henry in March 2012? No dice. The Mole would lay that ‘un quicker than he could even think about buying it.

More Than Just A Number 

Henry had a reasonably good claim to being the best openside in Irish rugby over the course of the season. Sean O’Brien’s best performances came at the very end of the season [the HEC final and the first two tests against New Zealand]; he looked tired and a little out of sorts during the Six Nations and, as we mentioned in a previous article, essentially played as a No6 in the No7’s jersey in the first part of the season. Niall Ronan started brightly but unfortunately suffered a serious knee injury in January.

Openside is a key position in the modern game, and it’s a position where Ireland have little test experience or depth at the moment. In The Mole’s opinion, Henry is a player who’s eminently capable of playing international rugby, and his performances this season for Ulster have earned him the right to do so. He’s one of the very few Irish players for whom Leinster have gone public with their need to specifically gameplan around; Alan Quinlan was another, back in his 2008-09 heyday, a season of performances which earned him a spot on the 2009 Lions. It’s a big compliment to the Ulsterman.

Playing an injured Sean O’Brien for the full eighty minutes of a dead rubber [the Hamilton debacle] when Henry was available for selection was a questionable selection. Obviously Kidney wanted the win, and with Heaslip injured and Ferris already out of contention, he probably didn’t want any more changes in his backrow for fear of a hiding – however, the test series was already gone, and an injured O’Brien had played from kick-off to final whistle for both of the first two games.

Henry was one of Dexy’s forty-six, but what was he allowed contribute? He was given 26 minutes of a dead rubber when Ireland were already 41 points down – the only test rugby he was given the entire 2011-12 season. What can anybody do in that situation? Ireland neither profited from his abilities, nor was he allowed the chance to prove himself as a genuine test calibre No7,

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28 thoughts on “Our Friends From The North Pt.1 – Chris Henry’s Coming To Dinner

  1. Brilliant article again, the lads in Ulster aren’t given much of a look in and it aint fair.

    I have some inside track knowledge on Deccie’s relationship with the players. I met one of the Irish players in a restaurant (won’t say who won’t say where, just in case the info gets in the wrong hands). Had a chat with him about various things and just said to him straight out that I don’t think Kidney’s doing a good job and he flat out agreed with me and said a lot of the players don’t have faith in him.
    This player was fairly high profile, a good few caps under his belt and wouldn’t have the smallest trophy cabinet either.
    I gather he has lost the locker room and the sooner he goes the better.
    This isn’t a disgruntled fan talking, this is one of the guys inside the changing room. It also supports my theory that the 2nd test in NZ was player power and Kidney had little to do with it. I think it explains the one offs we’ve had in general.

      • sorry I wasn’t trying to justify the loss and I don’t think he was. That loss wasn’t specifically mentioned. Apologies if it appears that way

  2. Henry and O’Mahony were competing for different positions on the NZ tour. O’Mahony at 6/8. Henry at 7. Henry hasn’t played much at 6 or 8 for two years now.

    It’s interesting that you mention the Saxons game, when Henry was outshone by the un-luminous Andy Saull. A feature of his performances at Wolfhounds level is that he’s looked decent but not outstanding. If a player is to make the step up to full international level, you would expect him to look that bit better than the standard below. Anyway, it was after that Saxons game that O’Mahony leapfrogged from tyro training fodder to matchday squad contender. And, if we’re being fair to O’Mahony, he showed well in every 6N game he played. Clearly, he’s not up to NZ level yet, but the experience will hopefully do him good.

    NZ brought in players in positions where there’s a state of flux, after retirements, sabbaticals and injuries. Kahui: Savea and Gear. Thorn: Retallick and Romano. Kaino: Vito, Thomson and Messam. Jane: Guildford and Smith. Read: Cane. Weepu: Smith. Perform or you’re out seems to have been the rationale, except for players who’d already established themselves in the side. From tests 1 to 2, Ireland went down the same road, with Trimble for Zebo and McLaughlin for O’Mahony. Tuohy and McFadden got a pass on the grounds that you can’t sack everyone. It worked well enough, but then Hamilton happened.

    Would you genuinely have picked Henry ahead of O’Brien for the Hamilton test? It sounds like a hindsight call to me. The backrow had a poor outing, but it was hardly foreshadowed in Christchurch. If we are reasoning from hindsight, then McLaughlin should have been dropped, as he performed worst on the day, but how could that have been anticipated beforehand?

  3. I’d have had no beef with Henry’s performance for the Wolfhounds against the Saxons, and certainly don’t think he was “outshone” by Andy Saull. Very little shining in that game by anybody; a matt affair. The most effective backrow on the pitch in my memory was Tom Waldrom. It’s a bit of a nothing game in a scratch side, so I wouldn’t put much stock in it in any case – https://dementedmole.com/2012/01/29/match-reaction-saxons-23-17-wolfhounds/

    Again, on O’Mahony’s form in the Six Nations, I can’t agree. He was much quieter than I expected in any of the games in which he came on – vs Italy [23-10 up, 22 minutes to play]; vs France [17-17, 15 minutes to play] or vs England [22-9 down, 11 minutes to play]. Nobody covered themselves in glory against Ongultehra, so that one’s a scratch, but I didn’t feel that he brought an awful lot with him when he came off the bench against Ialty or France either. We wrote about his performance against Scotland here – https://dementedmole.com/2012/03/13/match-reaction-3-all-kinds-of-everything/#more-2274 – and I’d stand by that.

    I think his second half of the season – since he has been moved around in position much more, since he has been exposed to the first long, professional season of his career and since the standard of opposition has gone up – hasn’t been as good as the hagiographers have made out.

    He has struggled or been outplayed in every big game [vs Leinster in Thomond in the Pro12, vs Ulster in HEC QF, vs Ospreys in Pro12 SF, vs NZ in 1st and 3rd Tests] and while there’s no shame in that happening in a player’s first proper pro season, pretending that it didn’t happen or glossing over the fact that it did isn’t accurate.

    I’m probably being overly harsh on him because I feel he has been overly praised.

  4. Saull was the first to a lot of breakdowns in the Saxons game, and slowed or stole a good percentage of Irish possession. I thought he was more effective in what he did than Henry, albeit that he wasn’t up against a physically superior pack. Henry was well-marshalled by a fairly monstrous English front-five and I don’t remember many steals. He carried okay, as you’d expect of a former number 8, but that was it. The players to stand out from an Irish perspective were Dave Kearney and Tomas O’Leary, with Kearney’s performance earning him a bench spot against Wales. Henry, O’Malley, Muldoon, Madigan and McCarthy were decent, and draw a veil over the rest.

    Last season, O’Mahony was notably less effective against teams with an organised attacking game and good breakdown clearing skills. In the Leinster match, Jennings made hay against what was a fairly poor Munster front 5 and a backline containing glue-hands Mafi. O’Mahony was up against Thorn, Cullen, Heaslip et al, who did to him as they did to Bonnaire and Henry. He was instrumental in a couple of counter-rucks over Fitzgerald, but was otherwise quiet. In the QF, he was outplayed by Ferris, but there’s no shame in that. I thought he carried well that day, and did what little he had to do in defence. He certainly didn’t play badly. He was poor against the Ospreys and in the 1st and 3rd tests this summer, but he was not the only one or the worst.

    As far as his 6N performances go, in my opinion Italy was good and Scotland was good. France, he did nothing, but then Pearson had long since ceased to referee the French when he came on. Every ruck he arrived at had already been sealed off. It was hard for anyone in green to look good at that stage, though Heaslip and Ferris were admittedly more prominent. I think he’s not a player who can change the course of a game yet, but he’s promising.

    With regard to Henry, I watched the HEC final again recently and I don’t think he was that unfit. He was in the side and holding on the ground as much as ever, but Leinster had plans and players to deal with him. He showed up well in open play without being especially destructive or elusive. As I’ve long pegged him as a not that, i.e. not that quick, not that powerful, not that skillful, that may be a certain amount of prejudice talking, but it’s how I perceived his performance.

  5. Is Chris Henry the new Shane Jennings of Irish international rugby … the less he plays international rugby, the better he gets.

    Ferris, O’Brien & Heislip are the first choice Irish backrow. O’Mahony is the most versatile bench backrow player available.

    • Could well be exactly that, RF – maybe Henry is a player who can look good/very good/great at Heineken Cup level but struggles at test level. How can you tell when he hasn’t even been given 100 minutes on a test pitch to date, though?

      That’s pretty much the point of the article: you’ve got a player who has been voted as his club’s player of the season [for the second time in three seasons] but whose sole contribution to test rugby in a 17-test season was 26 minutes at the end of the last game when his team were already down by 40+ points. He fits into Thornley’s ’46 test players’ because of those 26 minutes, but what could any player do in that situation?

      *As for the versatility issue, I think it might be a little closer between CH and POM than you make it out to be: Henry has won an Ulster Player of the Year Award as a No8 [2009-10 season – http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/my_club/ulster/8696389.stm ] and as an openside [2011-12 season – as linked to in the above article]. Those are strong credentials in the versatility stakes.

      I’ve no beef with O’Mahony being selected ahead of Henry as a blindside or a No8 [or as a backrow sub] – I just don’t think that he’s a better openside, and I don’t think that DK has husbanded his resources particularly well in that regard.

      • That was Henry’s 2nd tour with Kidney downunder – he played 68 mins against Australia (after Jamie Heaslip got redcarded against NZ). He also started in the loss against the Maori on that tour – its not like Kidney hasn’t had a good look at him as he was also on the tour to Canada & the Churchill Cup (started at No. 8 in the final). Pity he hasn’t been playing No. 8 for Ulster last season as he could have started instead of Heislip. Sean O’Brien is well ahead of him at openside now.

      • Sorry Mole, I didn’t mean it to be ambiguous. I just feel that John Muldoon has gotten the mucky end of the sick in terms of Irish inclusion over the past few years, more so than Chris Henry, who has really only hit the spotlight this year in the HCup. Muldoon has performed and led with unbelievable passion in a decidedly average Connacht team on a consistent basis. He has played across the backrow too and shown at Pro 12 and HCup level to be a good operator. So on the basis of your argument that Hansen picks players on form to do a job rather than up and coming players, i feel that he deserves as much of a shout as anybody.
        Very interesting article though, especially Smals comments. looking forward to the Muldoon article now!

  6. Wolfhounds games only seem to be used as an excuse to keep a player out of the senior side these days, if a player does well in it he meets the usual “only an A game so is irrelevant to test rugby” line and if he fares poorly(and such games are usually dross anyway) its used as an indicator that he cant step up to test rugby.

    The article highlights something which I’ve noticed for a while under Kidney and thats that he applies an almost purely hierarchial approach to selections usually devoid of logic. He seems to lump his 2nd rows, back rows, centers, back 3 players all together and if there’s an injury the next in line comes in. We’ve seen that in the past with Leamy starting at no.7. POC gets injured in the 6N and Ryan comes in to play with DOC, 2 natural 4’s. In the 2010 6N we’d Paddy Wallace as back 3 cover off the bench for every game.

    • Very interesting point there that also explains the need to bring Paddy Wallace over to NZ for the third test rather than play someone who had been in the camp for a while and wouldn’t be jet lagged while on the pitch.

  7. What do you expect Murray, O’Mahony, Zebo and Ryan to do? Turn in their caps and state they will not play until Schmidt, Ruddock or O’Shea takes the post! O’Mahony is 22 years old, playing his first season of competitive Heineken Cup rugby, replacing a ‘ligendary’ Munster back-row trio and is captain of a team rebuilding itself to European standards again and yet he still gets stinging comments from many of these blogs. I mean what more can he do to deserve praise. As I see it the only person over-praising him is Frankie Sheahan, so take your anger to his agent and not himself. Your logic for criticizing him is that he gets too much praise?!? Well I’m sorry but that is ridiculous, Kevin McLaughlin is simply a journeyman player who fulfills a solid role in a excellent team and gets alot of praise for that fact. McLaughlin is in my opinion a good workhorse who wouldn’t look out of place in the many English backrows of the post 2003 period, full of bludgers who work hard but fall short of the requirements of test level. Think Joe Worsley! Just like Jennings, he is overrated by Leinster fanboys and has garned a fanbase from that. Where are your articles and comments criticizing him?

    One additional comment, Henry’s best performance in the 7 jersey this season came in Thomond Park which was after the Six Nations. Kidney nor any coach can be expected to pick a team retrospectively. O’Mahony deserved his call-up ahead of Henry in January/February. As for the summer tour O’Mahony came on at 6 in the 2nd Test and his pass to release Sexton near the end of the game, demonstrate why he gets the praise he gets. McLaughlin could never do that. In the 3rd Test he played 8 and performed poorly, but who admonished themselves that day? Henry may be the better openside, but the evidence for picking him in the Six Nations ahead of O’Mahony is patchy. O’Mahony did not hinder Henry’s chances in the Summer Tour as he didn’t play openside at all. In closing Henry is a good player, there is no need to bash O’Mahony for Henry’s limited opportunities under a conservative and archaic coach.

    • We try and call it more or less objectively, FrontUpRiseUp. Sometimes what we might think is valid criticism is seen as harsh by other people, which is the nature of something like this. It’s the internet! People are going to disagree. However …

      When have we ever said that “Murray, O’Mahony, Zebo and Ryan” should “turn in their caps”? Where are you getting that from? We’ve written before that Murray could be the best Irish scrum half of the professional era, fer f*ck’s sake!

      We’ve criticized them, sure – just like we’ve criticised everybody, even Drico: “…Brian O’Driscoll had a distinctly non-vintage game. His passing wasn’t up to his usual standard … it was an uneven performance that featured more mistakes than he’d usually make in three games.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/11/match-reaction-new-zealand-42-10-ireland/

      If players don’t play that well, we criticize them a bit; when they do play well, we praise them a bit:

      On Ryan:
      “Ryan had a very smart first start in the Six Nations … [his] big performance is little surprise to anybody. He’s looked aggressive, forceful and full of energy in all his substitute appearances to date, and he has shown in provincial colours that he can work well in tandem with Paul O’Connell …” https://dementedmole.com/2012/03/13/match-reaction-3-all-kinds-of-everything/
      “Ryan is a very good handler and a fierce counter-rucker, and was one of Ireland’s better forwards during the Six Nations.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/08/match-preview-new-zealand-vs-ireland-first-test/#comments

      On Murray:
      “Murray has the skills, the physical ability and the temperament to be Ireland’s scrum-half for the next decade, and indeed to be the best Irish scrum-half of the professional era.” https://dementedmole.com/2011/09/07/one-to-watch-conor-murray-ireland/#comments

      On O’Mahony:
      “O’Mahony’s slick flick from the base of a ruck just outside the Irish 22 gave Sexton an untended blindside …” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/11/match-reaction-new-zealand-42-10-ireland/
      “As it is, Munster’s Peter O’Mahony takes on the green No8 shirt. He wore it with distinction captaining the Irish U20s in 2009, and The Mole feels that it’s the position which best suits the strengths in his skillset, namely his good hands, his ability to run with the ball and his pace in the open field.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/22/match-preview-ireland-vs-new-zealand-hamilton/#comments
      “Peter O’Mahony has earned a starting job with his strong performances for Munster this season … his international career is in its early days, and he very clearly has a high ceiling.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/11/match-reaction-new-zealand-42-10-ireland/
      “[O’Mahony] is the young player de jour in Munster, he’s had a cracking start to the season and has been made captain as a 22 year old. In a fairly conservative outfit like Munster, that’s a hell of a compliment.” https://dementedmole.com/2011/10/28/you-hang-up-no-you-hang-up-no-i-mean-it-ive-got-a-restraining-order-against-you/

      On Zebo:
      “Simon Zebo has been in outstanding try-scoring form for Munster, and will look to effortlessly make the jump up to test-match level. C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-C-E … that’s the way you spell success.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/06/08/match-preview-new-zealand-vs-ireland-first-test/#comments
      “… it’d be impossible to drop Simon Zebo after the fantastic season he has had.” https://dementedmole.com/2012/04/25/signing-contracts-and-joined-up-thinking/

      Random mentions that a search for their names throws up:

      “…Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony provide excellent backrow options … Munster have exciting runners in Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Felix Jones …” https://dementedmole.com/2012/05/09/pro12-semi-final-preview-ospreys-vs-munster/
      “Talented nippers like Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo have been introduced into the team and have hit the ground not just running but flat out sprinting …” https://dementedmole.com/2012/01/22/match-reaction-munster-51-36-northampton/
      “Murray and O’Mahony are both huge success stories, each having won a HEC Man of the Match award from Munster’s first four games in that competition …Zebo has great ability – pace, strength and a big boot …” https://dementedmole.com/2012/01/05/m85-86/

      If you want unstinting praise of Munster players, go to Munsterfans.com; If you want unstinting praise of Leinster players, go to Leinsterfans.com. We’ve criticized those players you’ve mentioned [with the exception of Donnacha Ryan, who I don’t think we’ve really criticized at all this season, because he has been consistently good], but we’ve also praised them. I’m not going to deal with the rest of your comment on a point-by-point basis, because arguing on the internet is … arguing on the internet. It can go on forever. However, I’m gonna nitpick one thing to make a point:

      “… O’Mahony came on at 6 in the 2nd Test and his pass to release Sexton near the end of the game, demonstrate why he gets the praise he gets.” Now, as you’ll have read above, we mentioned that in the match review; we called it ‘slick’. By your logic, one good action in a game demonstrates ‘why he gets the praise he gets’ … and we did praise it. So what about the bad stuff? What about when Dave Denton skins him off the back of a scrum? What should that demonstrate? ‘Why he gets the criticism he gets?’

    • “Think Joe Worsley”

      I am, and if we’re thinking about the same guy, he’s got 79 caps (78 for England and 1 for the Lions), he has a World Cup winner’s medal from 2003 (albeit as a squad member), a World Cup runner’s up medal from 2007, an English Premiership medal from 2004 and a Heineken Cup winner’s medal, also from 2004. He’s also a Grand Slam winner from 2003.

      If, at the end of his career, Peter O’Mahony (or Kevin McLaughlin or Shane Jennings for that matter) has achieved as much as Worsley I expect he’d be pretty happy with himself.

      I don’t think even the most ardent of Leinster supporter would compare Joe Worsley in his prime to Kevin McLaughlin but hey, if you think McLaughlin is that good, that’s your perogative.

  8. Our blog is written on WordPress, which offers a good service including a number of stats on page views, top searches, where the readership is based and other variations on these themes. Consequently, we can see which posts have attracted the most views. The Staunton piece is the most read, which is no surprise. However, in fourth place is the One to Watch: Mamuka Gorgodze https://dementedmole.com/2011/08/26/one-to-watch-mamuka-gorgodze-georgia/ piece written in the early days. People can’t get enough of this guy!
    The reason this springs to mind is that it seems Peter O’Mahony has an ‘arc’, to use the Johnny Drama vernacular, in every second article at the moment. Well, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about so poor old Pete must be doing something right!
    For the record. this correspondent thinks O’Mahony’s best position is no 8, although I’ve seen others disagree. I don’t believe he’s an openside at the moment and I think trying to become one is not worth the opportunity cost.
    A few things struck me in the wake of O’Mahony being picked at seven during the Six Nations: 1) his need to proclaim to the press about being considered a seven in future. Earls did the same about second centre. Do Munster not have a PRO that advises against this sort of thing? Does Kidney not talk with his players? Why don’t they say it to him rather than to the hacks? 2) O’Mahony, understandably, wants to play for Ireland and reckoned openside had the fewest competitors. So he put his hand up and said he was a seven; is the opportunity cost worth it? Would it not be better if the coach thought “right, Peter’s 22, he’s got the goods, I want to expose him to international rugby, so he’s going to start against Scotland and Italy.” Now, that means dropping Ferris, but so what? Everyone gets dropped at some stage and no harm to give O’Mahony a run in a position that he’s more familiar with.
    The next issue this raises is Chris Henry’s role. Surely you’re better off picking Henry as openside no 2 until someone better comes along, then dropping him. This gives the Chris Henrys an incentive to specialise, in a game that needs specialists, and gives more talented athletes time to develop in positions that suit them better. Henry doesn’t need to have a 50 cap career, he just needs to be a decent alternative for two seasons. Peter O’Mahony doesn’t need to play out of position to be first alternative at every audition.
    Problem solved, too easy.

    • I don’t see what the problem is with players saying which position they want to play in. Most of their sports psychologists will be telling them to articulate what they want to do and you suggest that some PR person should tell them otherwise (i.e., don’t say you want to play there in case you are not good enough)! They would also be more than likely replying to a direct question when they say things things. The only people who have a problem with it is fans looking to pick holes in them.

      The way it works from what I can see is that the first thing to do is to get into the matchday squad and then await your opportunities. Keith Earls & Peter Peter O’Mahony has got ahead by being versatile.Sean O’Brien was no great shakes in his first few games at 7, but now he is turning into a top one.

  9. Henry isn’t up to test rugby athletically, it is pretty much that simple. You don’t have to see him play a lot of top-level test rugby to appreciate that, but I imagine it is also something very evident in training and testing.

    The same flaw held Jennings back and will hold many other good provincial performers back.

  10. “Henry isn’t up to test rugby athletically, it is pretty much that simple.”

    Wow that simple, from his 24 minutes of test rugby against the all blacks ,while Ireland were 50 points down, you were able to easily make out that he is not up to test rugby. PLease can i have a pair of your magic specs because you seem to be able to see something everyone else apart from you and Kidney cant see.

  11. Pingback: Our Friends From The North, Pt.3 – Ryan Caldwell And The Lessons He Could Teach You | Digging Like a Demented Mole

  12. If Chris Henry isn’t picked at seven against South Africa, it will be a total disgrace and will serve to fan the flames for those who believe there is an anti-Ulster bias within the current coaching set-up (one that I don’t subscribe to – yet!). He has been the best open side flanker in Ireland for well over a season now. He should have won the MOTM award in the HEC match in Glasgow last month, when he was simply brilliant. He played POM off the pitch at Thomond last year. There is simply no was of justifying another selection at seven just now.

  13. Pingback: 5 Up 2012 – Year 2 | Digging Like a Demented Mole

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