Bound for Tiger Bay

“I’ll get you Beer Baron!” “No you won’t!!”

It was only after listing out my predicted squad prior to the announcement/leak when it really hit me; “he’s going to have to take Darren Cave”. And the man he was going to leave behind was Isaac Boss.

The Madigan-as-scrum-half story had been floated a few weeks before so it wasn’t unexpected that Schmidt would leave behind the 35 year old Boss who was only ever going to play because of injury. There’s been some hand wringing in the media about the risk of selecting Madigan to cover that role, mainly from Dexys who appeared to have been kept in the dark and spent a number of column inches decrying the idea prior to the announcement. We floated it  back in 2012 in the aftermath of Twickenham, not because we thought Madigan had missed his calling, but because it was a possible way to get another sub prop on the bench when only seven subs were allowed.

A similar logic applies now and the main beneficiary appears to me to be Darren Cave. I will always associate Cave with having an ill-fitting face but ever since then the gods have smiled on him and he’s taken his chance. Upon final selection I thought that Schmidt had missed a trick with his original training squad in not including Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey or Gary Ringrose. There’s a lot of hindsight there but I definitely thought that Ringrose was worth a shout, he has the goods and it’s a matter of when rather than if. Luke Marshall has suffered with well-publicised concussions so was short of rugby but looked more comfortable at international level than Cave. McCloskey is raw and probably not ready but always goes forward when I watch him play. Instead Noel Reid was sent back to Leinster without a game and the years caught up with the 35-year old Gordon D’Arcy, pilates or not.

Another element of Madigan’s selection that made me a bit uneasy is the lack of passing ability available for selection in the country. Schmidt gets criticised for the conservative nature of his game plan but the Irish squad isn’t overflowing with deft handlers and he can’t be blamed for this, the players are like that by the time they get to him. Our real issue as I see it isn’t if our scrum halves get injured but if our centres do. The twin injuries suffered by Eoin O’Malley (career-ending) and Stuart Olding (hopefully not career-ending) robbed Ireland of ball-handling midfielders but how come we’ve only produced two in a decade since O’Driscoll was in his prime? Pundits often talk about “creativity” and “game management” as a long-form way of saying passing and kicking respectively but that hides the issue by making it sound more complicated than it is.

Iain Henderson’s performance against Wales has seen him land in the wider public consciousness after years of impressing aficionados. The commentary associated with his arrival is whose place he might take with a surfeit of mentions about how Devin Toner must be getting worried and how he needs to produce a big performance. What’s astonished me is that no-one has mentioned dropping O’Mahony. We finished our recent annual Hendy review stating that “I want to see Henderson selected to start in a big game ahead of either of those two (Toner or O’Mahony) just to satisfy my curiosity.” If Henderson starts at blindside then Ireland can field a physically stronger pack, which would be particularly useful against a gargantuan French outfit who don’t  have a specialist ball-snaffler. Does no-one else see this? Is O’Mahony an Untouchable, like Eliot Ness? He has, of course, captained Ireland but Toner has actually started more games under Schmidt than O’Mahony, so each of them seem on a par from the coach’s perspective. As we’ve asked before, what’s with all the Toner hate?

And finally, I was delighted to see Tadhg Furlong getting selected and optimistic about what it meant. We’re long term Furlong boosters in Mole Towers, even shoe-horning in a special edition Five Up so we could write about the new Ross being from New Ross (take a bow, Colm O’Keane!). Michael Bent’s selection made more sense from a risk mitigation perspective so I’m hoping that Furlong’s displays in training camp mean that he is there to reward rich form. Like Ringrose, it is a question of “when rather than if” for this young man and I’ll repeat my belief that he could be this tournament’s Conor Murray for Ireland.

18 thoughts on “Bound for Tiger Bay

  1. I’m not sure who the “no-one” you’re referring to is, I’ve seen no shortage of people advocating Henderson in for O’Mahony, including among Munster fans. In fact, up until the recent game, I would say the comfortable majority of people calling for Hendy’s inclusion were thinking of him at 6! For me, he could potentially come in for either, but I don’t see it as a straightforward call. Both current starters offer things that he doesn’t, and that are important to many of Schmidt’s plans.

    Really there are a number of combinations from him, Toner, Ryan and POM that would probably be very useful on a given day. Also taking into account that it’s not as straightforward as having your best players on the field and your next best on the bench.

    • Was thinking about this a bit more after the English game, but rather in the context of the back three. Bowe looks like he might have lost it and Zebo didn’t look like a full back so better to find out in a warm up game. This tournament came 12 months too late for D’Arcy and if he was in the squad you could consider using Payne at full back which would change the composition of the guys needed in the back three.I think Schmidt had that in his mind’s eye but Father Time had other ideas.
      One thing that caught my attention towards the end of the match was (an admittedly fresh) Donnchadh Ryan haring back into his 22 to tidy up loose ball. Ryan in second row and Hendy at blindside depowers the scrum a bit and changes the lineout options but increases mobility and ball carrying. Really what I’m thinking is that for my entire life there has been the Irish first XV and the “break glass in case of emergency” back up. There now appears to be genuine competition evident. For example, I’d be hard pushed to advocate dropping McGrath for Healy based on anything McGrath has done wrong.
      I’m agreeing with you in a long winded way, I hope that guys get picked on form then produce and if we win I won’t care who was or wasn’t on the pitch.

      • The thought of an Irish pack with Healy, Ryan, Henderson and SOB all playing to their potential as hyper-aggressive carriers is absolutely mouthwatering. I was also very impressed by Ryan’s speed at covering, if he continues on his way back to top form he’ll be another we simply have to use in one way or another.

        There really is some good competition in the pack now. If TOD and Ruddock were fit it would be even more intense. I’m a bit worried by the performance of our outside backs though. I’d currently guess at an 11 to 15 of Zebo, Henshaw, Payne, D Kearney, R Kearney with Earls benching.

  2. I thought everyone was talking about Henderson taking O’Mahoney’s place?? POM’s not a small man at the same time, although Henderson’s a physical boost as you say.

    I had a conspiracy theory about the Wales game: rather than mimicking the likely Australian tactics, did Ireland purposefully play their least good seven, and move O’Mahoney away from the ruck, to avoid helping Wales prepare for Pocock and Hooper?

    • I’d have to ask: what’s in that for ireland? Don’t get me wrong I enjoy my conspiracy theories and without being a sycophant I do think Schmidt is on a whole different level of strategising. Like remember the 6 nations game against Scotland. They picked Fitzgerald over Zebo and gave the reason he is a left footed kick option as part of the selection. I know a few people were thinking ‘what’s this man on about?!’ I think he made those comments to the media as he was trying to lull the scots into stacking the backfield in preparation for a kick when ireland moved the ball wide, whereas in reality ireland were always intending to have a go with ball in hand. Even after the match the line was ‘ah we saw the way wales game went and kind of changed our plans at the last minute.’ I could be way off, but I’d be surprised if that were true. Equally, in the same game ireland used a very similar lineout to one which Scotland had been using (successfully). Only thing was, ireland added a variation and made it an option play because they knew how Scotland had been doing this in training and the scots would be expecting to defend a certain pattern. Over goes Sean o’brien and Schmidt has just used how vern cotter coaches one of his best lineout plays as a weapon against him. Vern cotter looks to me like he is nobody’s fool and he is at a disadvantage with time going into that game, but the lineout is one of his core things and that will have stung. That’s ruthless. And smart.

      But I just don’t see what’s in it for ireland to mess about with wales. I think they are just at a different stage of re-introducing players and drip feeding components of game plans and analysis – that’s why last week was (arguably) disappointing. Incidentally it wasn’t really disappointing to me – I would care little about last week and am pretty non-plussed about this week too. A run out and no injuries – please, thanks and then onto the real thing.

      • That’s a fair point, I think disrupting Wales’ preparation could be seen as a gain in itself, but Ireland will potentially be playing with two sevens (if you see POM and SOB) can carrying out the jackal roles, similar to Aus, so it benefits Ireland to not show that tactic yet. A simpler explanation is to just say that Joe wanted to see if Murphy has improved as a seven, which is a worthwhile endeavor in itself I suppose.

  3. It was interesting to hear Schmidt talk today or yesterday about how teams can sometimes have ‘too many playmakers and they end up going repeatedly side to side and not forward.’ Or words to that effect. I felt he may have been lamenting not including mccloskey. Tonight might have made him a bit more annoyed too! Mccloskey is more than a bosher, but he sure can bosh. He’s played 12 and 13 at provincial level and been able to win the old collisions in a way that few other irish backs can. That’s why I would have him ahead of ringrose – who is an out an out class footballer (and it’s a matter of when, as you say) but who doesn’t quite offer that, yet anyway. It’s why I’d have him ahead of cave and Luke Marshall – both are gutsy as hell, but they won’t physically dominate like that. I must say though, there is something very enjoyable about cave making the plane…..but take the emotion out of it and I’m just not sure. There is perhaps a danger of falling into the trap of paying too much attention to the highlight reel stuff, but when I watch mccloskey I see a good defender, passer, rucker as well as the Hollywood stuff. I don’t get it why Schmidt hasn’t wanted to look more at him. I have a sneak he intended to pick Darcy, but he didn’t come in first of the 3 other centres in camp and cave did, so he got his spot.

    I came to agree with you about Henderson starting a good while ago mole, despite his value as an impact sub. I agree it’s O’Mahony who has to be in the crosshairs more than a little. My notion is that Henderson would start 6 and then go into the second row ‘as the game opens opens up.’ Potentially o’brien could start 7, but be moved to 6 at the same point. That would give you Henderson, Henry and o’brien together for the last 20, with an extra forward sub to use as you see fit. You don’t always have the luxury of choosing when you make subs and it requires major alteration to a successful gameplan. Perhaps it’s easier to have a second row sub for the second row and a back row sub for the backrow. Nonetheless Schmidt has form with these types of moves. I’d love to hear your and others’ opinion on that type of strategy. I’ve seen toner as a massively important part of the ireland team for a while now – he’s nailed on for me, barring something drastic.

    I didn’t want furlong there unless he was the best prop for the next 6 weeks (he clearly is the best option if you’re looking towards the next 6 years). It seems between his scrummaging in training on both sides and moore’s injury he has become that best option. I agree with you that he’ll rise to it and will do a decent job on the loosehead side (if required) and will push very hard for a match day spot on the TH side – be that a single ( as you have predicted before too) or double digit number- by the time of Ireland’s last game of the tournament, though I can’t see Ross being shifted. As an aside on the Irish scrum-the fact that their squeaky clean approach (‘we always scrum straight’) and policy of mimimal public recrimination or complaining on the pitch when they (let’s use the euphemism) ‘haven’t got the reward they deserve’ is really, really starting to bug me. I like to think I’m not one for complaining about referees but when they are rewarding trickery and whining, it doesn’t help the scrum spectacle or your best laid plans. If Ireland’s scrum is losing tomorrow they’ll take their beating and try to make the best of it. Would they be better to throw up smoke screens and bullshit their way out of it? Will their current squeaky clean policy eventually pay dividend at the World Cup and will they ‘get the reward they deserve?’

    • Can’t agree enough about McCloskey. He is an exceptional talent. I could watch that try last night on an endless loop: from Trimble’s line break to McCloskey’s devastating fend to him powering over line whilst carrying three defenders. Just superb. Regarding his ball skills he’s a zippy accurate passer when he isn’t bulldozing all who get in his way and he knows how to offload.

    • Unfortunately I think that Ireland’s reputation as scrummagers is poor (unfairly so with the current pack but historically probably legitimate) that they’re unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing from the ref. Having a second row as captain, particularly one with the stature of O’Connell, no doubt helps with referees seeing as he is always going to be close at breaks in play and aware of the flow of the game.
      Well noted point about the side-to-side play which was a feature of the Marsh-Reid midfield against Edinburgh. I think it’s really important not to become either one or the other and to realise that the game requires physicality and skill. The skill doesn’t need to be extravagant, just consistent. Having said that, given a choice between skill and ticker, I’d always go for ticker.

    • Reid didn’t himself any favours last night. He has been in the squad for a while but he doesn’t play like an international or a leader and you have to wonder that if not now then when? I thought Te’o was Leinster’s best player by a distance against Edinburgh. There’s a tendency to blame imports for a team’s ills but Te’o has been very professional in his displays for the province. I’d love to see Ringrose starting, the young lads need game time to see if they’re capable of performing at that level and to make them aware of the repercussions of not cutting it.

      • Again agree. Just not sure why teo only gets a run at 13. Clearly one needs a balance in the centre between power and skill call it. Most league imports convert to 12, think sonny bill and burgess to a lesser extent. Perhaps I’m wrong but I’ve never seen teo at 12. Hopefully that will change and ring rose gets in. Will be interesting once teo and Aki get nationalised. I really like henshaw but not sure what’s his best position

  4. Plus I think Henderson in the back row makes sense with no Healy in the team as we lack ball carries then. Not sure back row balance works so well but worth the trade. Very different players with different traits so we’d definitely lose at the breakdown without pom. Toner is clearly only there for line outs. certain to miss tackles etc. I’m not sure how well the line out would function with Henderson but would imagine d ryan might be a happy medium between the two if anywhere close to fitness and past form

  5. I am so smart

    Thanks lads!

    Surely Hendo is a must now, SOB hasn’t really gotten going, no Healy so far, Heaslip is deployed to rucks more than carrying and … well that’s about that for ball carriers. Our lack of quick ruck ball, wonderfully demonstrated by my new favourite metric “Ruck Time” on sky, really killed us

    The secret is out on the NWJMB, sky were raving about him and the egg chasers podcast (worth a listen, Welsh and English centric mind) were similarly impressed.

  6. McCloskey used to be a SH until he hit a growth spurt(some spurt!) in his late teens so he knows how to pass a ball. He’s also always looking to get his hands free for an offload, he’s a huge presence in defense too where he has the strength to hold up the ball carrier and try create a maul. He has suberb talents but is still a bit raw in bringing them together and having an impact on big games. I don’t think this WC was a realistic target for him but should be a fixture in Ireland squads from now on with a view to getting him ready for a role in the starting side.

    • ‘m not sure about him not being ready to be honest.

      Yes, no doubt he still has a long way to go to reach his full potential… but what more would he have to do to be at the level of the current centres?


  7. Pingback: Ireland RWC 2015 Report Card: Part 5, Centres | Digging Like a Demented Mole

  8. Pingback: Ireland RWC 2015 Report Card: Part 7, Brains Trust | Digging Like a Demented Mole

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