Sunday, 20 October 2013

End of Year Tests: Irish Selections

The end of Round 2 of the Heineken Cup is a great time to gauge the status of the Irish squad, all the more so as the squad for the November internationals are named this week. Most of the regulars are a few weeks back, and there are some fresh blood who have stepped up in the early season.

Gilroy was the star of 2012's end of year Tests Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Before I get to the selection, a mention for the provinces, who all won this weekend, and all denied their opposition losing bonus points. However, I think only Ulster can be happy with their performance and result. Leinster played poorly, and were lucky that a better opposition didn't punish them. While they would have been delighted to win and deny Castres a bonus point, they can't have been happy with how they lost control as Kockott scored from the scrum.

Munster and Connacht however will, or should, be even more frustrated. Both teams should have recorded bonus point wins, and both teams, while not playing good enough had many chances. Connacht especially inexplicably chose to take the points from 19-6, all the way to 25-6. If they are to earn the respect of Sunday Times "journalists", they should show that they have the ambition to get out of the group by getting bonus point victories against teams like Zebre. What was more frustrating was on the two occasions that they did go for the corner, tries were scored off first phase.

Anyway, there has been enough promise from Irish players that Joe Schmidt has a few interesting calls to make for his first squad;

At loosehead, I don't think Ireland have ever had as many quality options as before. Cian Healy is a certainty, while James Cronin and Jack McGrath have been impressive with their early season form. I missed the Ulster game at the weekend, but from all accounts, "Angry" Tom Court certainly put his hand up. Dave Kilcoyne is the current understudy to Healy, but I don't think he's started the season in good enough form.

Richardt Strauss's unfortunate health problems weakens Irish options, with presumably three hookers to be included, the big choice will be between Mike Sherry and Damien Varley. Ordinarily, I'm a Sherry fan, and I think that Varley concedes far too many penalties. In the last two weeks, Sherry's throwing has been very poor, while Varley has made positive impacts and performed better. Varley would be the form call.

Martin Moore looks set to ease Ireland's tighthead crisis ©INPHO/James Crombie
On form, Martin Moore looks set for his first call up. On form, he's been a distance ahead of Mike Ross this season. Joe Schmidt needs to try someone other than Ross for the Samoa game as Ross is still showing the affects of being flogged to death. Other options include Declan Fitpatrick, who is impressing as long as he holds together, Jamie Hagan, Stephen Archer, and Ronan Loughney, who scrummaged strongly against Zebre. Ross, Fitzpatrick and Moore are the likely three.

It will be fantastic to have Paul O'Connell back in the Irish fold, and Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy will also be included. Devin Toner has arguably been the best performing Leinster second row, and Schmidt may make a familiar call here. I've been impressed whenever I see Dan Tuohy, and I'd include him in any squad.

The starting backrow will be Peter O'Mahony, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien, with Chris Henry supporting from the bench. Iain Henderson will be in the squad. Schmidt seemed to be a fan of Kevin McLaughlin when in charge of Leinster, and I think Sean Dougall's performance yesterday means he would be worth calling him up to look at in training. Robin Copeland's man of the match performance in Cardiff's shock defeat of Toulon could put him in the reckoning.

Conor Murray's Lions adventure has improved him as a player. Source: Limerick Leader
Dear British Lions, thank you for improving Conor Murray beyond recognition. Isaac Boss seems to be enjoying an Indian summer in his career, and Kieran Marmion is showing no signs of "second season syndrome". I fear he'll be overlooked for either the underperforming Eoin Reddan or Paul Marshall who has blown hot and cold this season. James Hart of Grenoble shouldn't be discounted, and while it's probably too early for him, he might sneak into a Wolfhounds squad soon.

Jonny Sexton has been one of the few Racing players that have played well, and that won't have gone unnoticed by Schmidt. Madigan's end of year form will be enough for him to stay as number 2, while Paddy Jackson has put the first few weeks of this yer behind him and put in some impressive displays. A mention for Gareth Steenson who is still producing for Exeter, and Ian Keatley is improving in Munster.

Dave McSharry's injury problems have come at the wrong time, as there is now at least 3 players ahead of him, with Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding fighting for probably one place beside Gordon D'Arcy.

If Brian O'Driscoll is fit, he starts. Everyone in rugby should know that. Robbie Henshaw's recent move to outside centre means he'll be next in line, and will also cover fullback, leaving Rob Kearney as the likely only 15 in the squad. Niall Morris is an outside bet.

Wing is the most interesting position. Tommy Bowe is the only certainty after Zebo's injury. Gilroy's absence recently probably rules him out, and both Andrew Trimble and Mike Allen have impressed in Ulster, Fergus McFadden is likely, while Luke Fitzgerald looked very bright when coming on against Castres. Munster fans will tell you Earls and Johne Murphy have been in great form. Pick 4 from those names and I guarantee you they'd be different from mine.

Likely squad
Healy, Kilcoyne, McGrath
Best, Cronin, Sherry
Ross, Fitzpatrick, Moore
O'Connell, Ryan, McCarthy, Toner
Henderson, O'Mahony, O'Brien, Henry, Heaslip
Murray, Boss, Reddan,
Sexton, Madigan, Jackson
Marshall, D'Arcy
O'Driscoll, Henshaw
Bowe, Earls, McFadden, Fitgerald

My squad
Healy, Cronin, McGrath.
Best, Cronin, Varley,
Ross, Fitzpatrick, Moore
O'Connell, Ryan, Tuohy, Toner, Henderson
O'Mahony, Henry, O'Brien, Heaslip, Dougall
Murray, Boss, Marmion
Sexton, Madigan
Marshall, D'Arcy
O'Driscoll, Henshaw
Bowe, Trimble, Fitzgerald,
Kearney, Morris

No comments:

Post a Comment