When the Music Stops

There are doubts about Marshall’s pace and his error count but he is an astute footballer who creates space.

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.

17 thoughts on “When the Music Stops

  1. I agree with the general thrust of the article and there is no doubt that the Kidney selection policy is generally very conservative. He could of course point to the selection of Murray for the World Cup, despite having precisely zero Heineken Cup appearances,. However, Murray is by definition a hugely conservative selection and his continued preference to Reddan and Marshall would be exhibit A for the prosecution.

    That said, and despite my increasing frustration at the retention of former greats as they freewheel downhill towards the hall of fame, one must credit Kidney for the selection of Luke Marshall for the Fiji match. He has been elevated ahead of Downey, Keatley, McSharry, Madigan or, just for my Munster friends, Paddy Wallace, all of whom have many more starts for their Province than the young Ulsterman. The Ireland set up has clearly identified Marshall as a prospect and were prepared to give him a run despite Anscombe regarding as his 2nd choice, for now.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the Fiji selection was highly eccentric. What value 53 mins for Mike Ross, or giving Healy a run? What did we learn about O’Callaghan that we didn’t already know? And why not give Paul Marshall at least a half to state his case, which is compelling?

  2. Agree with the need to blood youth, and I think it ties back to a comment you made in the prior article about Ryan Caldwell potentially putting the wind up DOC. Nothing like giving youth a shot to spice up training, and some hunger and ambition and to shake some of the lethargy off a few of the old guard. Nothing like knowing your job is on the line to bring out the mongrel in a player

  3. Gilroy should definitely start, he scores at every level he plays, which is the benefit of picking a natural wing compared to a converted centre. Shame Marshall didn’t get enough time at scrumhalf to make an impression, agree his namesake made a few too many errors for consideration this time but he tried a lot and most of it came off, which is a good sign for the future. Thought the main highlight was Henderson and Jackson’s performances. Jackson’s decision making, albeit against weak opposition, was spot on and his passing so close to the gain line opens up a lot outside. Henderson looks a natural, might end up back in the second row but surely did enough for consideration for a starting spot in the backrow. Can’t see that Murray’s reputation for slow service of late is justified, have watched him closely and he’s as quick as the rest, kicks well and is strongest defensively. Hopefully Henderson, Bent, O’Callaghan and the rest are sprung early enough to make a difference Saturday and maybe the A team’s performance will force the test team to up the tempo.

    • Sorry Buj but if you really had watched Murray closely you could not say that he kicks well. His box kicking has been atrocious. Of course, it is not his fault that he is being instructed to do something (box kicking) regularly, which he cannot do well. On his distribution, it is also difficult to see how you think it is “as quick as the rest” – he has an annoying habit of taking a step back from the ruck, setting the ball and then passing (not always accurately). Look at Reddan (or Stringer) and you will notice they do neither.

      That said, I thought Murray played the team against him well on Saturday. His fringe attacking was good (something he has not be allowed to do for Ireland before) and he was defensively strong – as ever.

      If the management (and blazers) think Murray is the best we have, then surely they should be managing him properly. That means encouraging him to use his strengths (sniping) and discouraging him from overusing weak aspects of his game (box kicking). They should also get someone to hone his distribution skills.

      The problem for me – and I suspect a lot of others – is that the management is just persisting to pick Murray (when there are other form scrum halfs), without adapting its gameplan accordingly. I think this will do Murray no good (it is a strategy that utterly failed with O’Leary).

      If Murray is the man at 9 for years to come (something I would be fine with), then he should be invested in properly – not just being picked for every game regardless.

      • We’ll have to agree to disagree. Having watched Murray and the rest live, his kicking and passing are as good as his competitors for the Irish shirt.
        Murray’s service is not as quick as Stringer’s, who passes quicker and more accurately than Reddan or Boss, Marshall has the quickest service of those involved in the squad at present, which makes his brief cameo against Fiji all the more lamentable.
        As for taking a step taking passing, Murray and Reddan have a very similar passinh style and Reddan often crabs across from the base of the scrum/ruck before passing, as evidenced against South Africa.
        No scrumhalf will pass accurately every time but Murray’s service is not comparable to O’Leary’s, who, like Boss, is a more direct, running scrumhalf than a traditional passing scrumhalf. Murray is a mix of both.
        I agree his overdoing the box kicking on international duty, which unfortunately can only be tactical, has not served him well, but he kicks well for his province, and there is little in the kicking either way to separate either Murray or Reddan, the next most likely starter.
        This comes down to opinion and is difficult to quantify. It seems as if an idea gets spread in the media or online regarding apparent weaknesses in a player’s game and sticks as truth. Murray’s basics are sound and, as a young player, should hopefully improve and add both a defensive and offensive threat.
        Stringer similarly was unfairly labelled for years as not having a break, until he won a Heineken Cup with a blind side break. At 5’7, he needed to be pragmatic about running with the ball. Players will have a slight advantage in some areas than others. At the time, Stringer represented the best overall package, as Murray does at present.
        Hopefully he doesn’t have a nightmare now on Saturday but if he does, Reddan is a great option from the bench.

      • Just to clarify: my beef is with the way the Irish management is managing Murray. He clearly is a good player who is worth the investment for Ireland’s future (and Reddan is not). My point is just that continuing to select him regardless of performance (or the opposition) is not good for him and certainly not good for the squad. Forcing a gameplan on him that doesn’t suit his game is also not good for him.

        He has a long future for Ireland BUT he cannot be untouchable. If he has a bad game – and there are 3 other scrum halves doing well in the country – they should get a look in. He should also not be treated as the finished article: his distribution could certainly be improved for the international game, ditto his box kicking. This can be coached – however, just glossing over these weaknesses by refusing to drop him will not help him.

        Murray is a great player with a great future – and it is the duty of the management to ensure this potential is delivered on.

  4. I agree with most of the article as usual but I’d like to know in which games Luke Marshall suddenly developed ‘questions’ around his handling and loose kicking. As for his pace, he certainly would show Darcy a clean pair of heels and he’s done o.k. for himself Leinster and Ireland. You can of course say there are questions about anyone in an effort to denigrate them. There are a lot more questions that need answers before we start to make a list of the flaws of a young guy who has started 8 games for his Province. There are questions about the coach’s flagrant partiality for Munster players, young and old. There are certainly serious questions about Kilcoyne’s scrummaging. There should be questions about dropping Court in favour of a guy with 5 starts no matter how good he looked against Edinburgh and Zebre. There are huge questions about Murray. It’s a pity no one bothered to check if he was any good before he became Ireland’s No.1 scrum half after 9 starts in the Rabo. There are questions about the form and physicality now about Darcy, About Sexton at 12 to accommodate an over the hill ROG, about the archaic ‘kick and rush’ game plan. Should I continue? I haven’t got all night I’m afraid.

  5. But what about Ireland’s most controversial position, that of fly half. When Madigan wasn’t even named to tour middle earth, there was more than a little exasperation (even from the print propagandists). After the better part of a season demonstrating some of the most natural attacking flair in Europe (would that be an exaggeration) he looked like the highest rising young lad of them all.

    I seem to remember the mole failing to be convinced by Jackson, and saying that Hanrahan led better from 10 than Jackson could (at least during the South Africa u20 wc). Do you think more games at the top level has made him a changed man. I gotta say I think today he’s twice (yes two times) the player he was at the beginning of last year.

    So when Deccie took on Jackson rather than Madigan was it due to a more rounded skill set, at the price of some flair, or was he opting for a robust place kicking 10 who would make him look smart, or was Madigan’s form going down hill so fast he played himself out of contention. Or was it just the usual Kidney non decision. I find it bizarre this is getting lost in all official and unofficial dispatches. Surely the question of who plays 10, who sits on the bench and who sits at home waiting for the other lad to get crocked and what style of player they all are is a question that’s getting avoided these days.

    • Good questions Thomas but only Madigan deserves an answer from Kidney in private I think. Playing at 15 had done him a disservice. Yet he is most likely a better 15 than Hurley who is worthy but no more.

      • Yup. That’s the kernel of the matter I think. Jackson is first choice ten (being picked for H-Cup) for the form side in the country. Personally, I think Madigan is having another super season but he is not the first choice ten and is being done a disservice by being played at 15 (much like Jeremy Staunton, who mole wrote an excellent piece about earlier in the year).

  6. Madigan may be the best Irish no. 10 in the Rabo in the opponents half of the field but he’s not ready to step up to international level yet. I’d guess he’s been the starting 10 in all of Leinster’s defeats this year – I know that’s unfair as these were weaker teams but he didn’t distinguish himself and his overall game is still a work in progress. Playing him at 15 does him no favours but he needs more time in blue at 10 and/or 12 at least. Let’s put in this way, I don’t think Madigan is as far advanced as Sexton was when he had to step into the breach at Croke Park when Felipe was crocked. I’d be happier to see either Jackson or Keatley step in to such a situation for Ireland.

    • Leinster are 1-3 with Madigan starting at 10 this season and 6-0 with Sexton starting at 10. That tells its own story but I wouldn’t read too much into it. All of Madigan’s games have had Leo Auva’a and Brendan Macken at 8 and 13 while all Sexton’s games have had Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll in the same positions. Madigan is 5-0 at full back this season.
      His decision to sign a two year deal with Leinster was interesting and one we touched on in Mad Men https://dementedmole.com/2012/08/13/mad-men/.
      Given the choice between playing full back and starting on the bench behind the Lions’ front runner, he is better served at full back. The question that is more apt is whether he should have stayed in Leinster. (I feel that he should have, by the way.)

  7. Until we get a radical overhaul of the rugby calendar then my interest in international rugby will remain rock bottom. IMHO there are two choices to revitalise the international game up here, and by revitalise, I mean give the up and coming players a chance:
    1. Do away with the cumbersome, meaningless Autumn series and replace with the 6 Nations home and away format, the second instalment to be played during the traditional slot
    2. Come up with an international calendar and work with that

    Without any attempt to overhaul the current boring, turgid set-up, international rugby will continue down the slippery slope it’s been on for some time

  8. It just may be that this season has seen the first realistic shot at reforming the International calendar. If the IRB follow through on their threats against French, English (and some) Japanese clubs regarding player release during the international windows, the world of rugby will change for the Pacific Island countries and Argentina. Furthermore, the reality now is that the Championship extension into late September / October means that those four nations have had their internationals teams together within 5 weeks of the Autumn Series whilst the NH teams have been 4/5 months without an international game.

    The Samoa result against Wales, regardless of how bad Wales looked in part, may be a harbinger of things to come. Tonga will hardly beat Scotland with the current team available, but they could well do so with the full list of players eligible to play for them. With the possible exception of France, there is the potential that every NH hemisphere team could face at least one Autumn international against a team not ranked in the top 5 who present a real prospect of defeat.

    If Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Argentina get their first cloice players from around the world every Autumn and Georgia get their players from France (and some fixtures against the countries in the top 8) the international rankings might look a little different come RWC2015.

    When you review what has happened over the past fortnight, it’s fascinating to see that 13, yes thirteen, international games were played a fortnight ago and 11 games last weekend. Some those games involved US, Canada and Russia in Welsh or English venues. Each of these teams will benefit from these games and some will progress faster than others, but progress they will!

    • International rugby is primarily an entertainment sport now – I’ll always watch Ireland play rugby because I love Ireland and I love rugby but as a (rubbish) player myself and something of a rugby geek, I’d much rather watch a Pro12, Top 14 or GP match from a rugby perspective. Most people watching international matches haven’t got a notion what is going on half the time and watch the match for the spectacle, not the sport.

      Bearing that in mind, I can’t see how the likes of Canada, Russia and Georgia will progress very far – they would have next to zero TV audiences in their own country and unlike the Pacific Islands, people in countries with an established rugby audience aren’t that interested in watching them play.

      Fiji are at a low point at the minute, largely due to financial exploitation of their big names by the franchise clubs in England and France but they will always be a rugby playing nation and they will always have an audience because everybody loves watching them chuck the ball around like the Harlem Globe trotters and evferybody has a fascination with watching a huge hit (late or not).

    • Interesting that Tonga did beat Scotland now, helps your point really. You’re also helped by the abject Welsh performances, when they miss a few front-liners who ply their trade in france they struggle too.

  9. Pingback: Oh, Them Again « Whiff of Cordite

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