The game against Canada went as well as anyone could have hoped and the Mole has to go back to 1991 for as satisfactory an opening Irish fixture in a World Cup.
It is a more recent RWC that influences the Irish psyche at this tournament and avoiding anything at all to do with 2007 is high on everybody’s priority list. We lost a few warm-up matches and missed a few tackles – man the lifeboats! The ghost of 2007 haunts lots of conversations and no doubt parallels will be drawn between Romania and Georgia over the next week. Truth be told, the fixture list has been kind to Ireland on top of a favourable draw and Romania’s short turnaround after their France fixture will be to our benefit.
One of the lessons taken from 2007 was how peripheral half the squad felt because the same Untouchables were picked for all the games as Fast Eddie baulked and decided more match time was the cure after a listless performance against Namibia. The same story can be taken from Lions tours in 2001 and 2005 when Henry and Woodward seemed to have their first Test team picked in London prior to departure and the dirt-trackers were there to run opposition moves in training. The more players who play and get a chance, the better for a squad on tour and in this light I’d pick the following team for Romania:
Healy-Strauss-Ross; Toner-O’Connell; Henderson-Henry-Murphy; Murray-Jackson; Zebo-Henshaw-Cave-Bowe; Payne.
Healy needs game time so I’d keep him on as long as possible as recommended by the medical staff and the GPS monitor. Ross benefits from games and if Romania will be strong anywhere it’ll be in the scrum. O’Connell starts because he’s captain and will ensure everyone is on the right pitch before and Toner is owed a shot at a starting slot. Henderson has earned his start so it’s only a matter of where and I’d like to see how he does with more freedom to roam. Chris Henry is a nuisance to play against and could put pressure on the back row incumbents if Henderson is chosen in second row. Jordi Murphy is versatile but is a squad player for this tournament as is Darren Cave.
Conor Murray should start in order to provide seniority beside Jackson and as Eoin Reddan will only ever come off the bench in a big game in this tournament. I think there’s a space on the wing up for grabs as Keith Earls doesn’t look to have the physicality so either Zebo or Bowe could leapfrog him here although Luke Fitzgerald went well against Canada and is in the shake-up here. I’ve chosen Payne at fullback based on the Luke Fitz experiment for two reasons. One is that if Rob Kearney is injured then Payne is the next best full back in the squad and the second is that in instance Luke Fitz could do a job at first centre with Henshaw moving out a spot. I’d like to find out what we’d do without Kearney voluntarily rather have it imposed on us and I don’t think Zebo is the answer in a big game.
I’d take off O’Connell, Henderson and Murray at half time and replace them with Donnacha Ryan, Heaslip and Reddan with Heaslip going as captain. I’d also go with Rory Best on the bench for another leadership option in the second half. I’d like to see Tadgh Furlong get a run at tight head with Madigan coming on as the game breaks up and Fitzgerald covering everything else.
Ireland looked cohesive against Canada and the Japanese result puts the display in a favourable light given how each team performed at the recent Pacific Nations Cup. Getting as many players onto the park and rewarding form is an important part of a successful tour and this match offers a good opportunity.