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.