It was said of Irish rugby long ago that the difference between it and NZ rugby was that in NZ the situation is often serious but never critical while in Ireland it is always critical but never serious. That has changed in recent years as every next game seems to be our most important one.
I’m tired of being told that this autumn series is crucial because of World Cup ranking points. I just feel like I’m being sold an agenda. Those points are calculated after every game and this November is only when the music stops. Being in the second pot is certainly more likely to make life a bit easier but it’s no guarantee of success. I can’t help but feel that the rankings offer an accurate reflection of our standing and we’re setting our sights a bit low by being satisfied with seventh.
The upside of finishing in the second band is that we cannot be drawn in the same group as England, the hosts. Playing the host nation at home is a tall order and the English are the team that the first ranking teams will want to avoid. We could still draw Samoa or Scotland who will both be difficult to beat and the ‘success’ of our RWC15 is more than likely going to be determined by the match for second place in the group. That will be a one off fixture with all the variables associated: injuries, opposition’s form, referee etc.
I’d rather see the autumn series and summer tour used as an opportunity to give younger players the experience of test match rugby in order to ascertain whether they are capable of stepping up to the mark and to create competition for places. For the game against Argentina, I’d like to see Gilroy start on the wing, Henderson to start in second row and Luke Marshall to start at twelve. I would have liked to see JJ Hanrahan at least involved in the training squad for this series.
I felt Gilroy was unlucky not to tour NZ and that his try scoring record marks him out. Henderson has had a number of fortunate breaks this season in terms of selection and has produced performances at each stage that indicate that he has not yet found his ceiling. Injuries in the Ulster back row enabled him to start first Rabo games then Heineken Cup games. I’d have liked to see him get more than 10 minutes against SA and hope that he starts in the second row against Argentina. He has the ability to play for Ireland for years and should be given the opportunity to develop experience now.
Marshall is a different case and presents a greater risk than Henderson or Gilroy. I feel that Marshall makes too many handling errors for a centre who lacks top quality pace and that his kicking game is loose. However, he has a physical presence and a good awareness and it will be worthwhile knowing if he is a viable option at twelve, which is a position that Ireland are skinny at. It is more than likely that his confidence will grow by being selected for Ireland and that as a consequence of that he will develop further.
In what has become a well worn theme during this administration, Ireland’s selection policy and approach are too conservative. Our game appears reactive and slow when it needs to be daring and somewhat hectic. At the moment our sights are set too low and our ranking reflects this lack of ambition.