Monday 21 October 2013

What to expect from Ireland this November

At a glance, Ireland's opponents this November seem to represent a perfect opportunity for Joe Schmidt to announce his arrival as the saviour of Irish rugby. A deeper look shows that the three teams we face are all ahead of us in the World Rankings, with Samoa (7th), Australia (4th) and New Zealand (1st) ahead of our 8th position. While expectations might be high, a potential victory-less November isn't a million miles away from happening.

First and foremost, the strength of the opponents will be difficult to overcome. As mentioned, all three are ranked ahead of us, and overall, the IRB rankings aren't a bad gauge for the relevant positions of each national team.

Kahn Fotuali'i and Samoa are not to be underestimated this November. Photo: Getty Images
Samoa have named one of their strongest ever squads, and with Ireland being their only match against a tier one nation, they will be targeting this game. Their scrum will be the strongest Ireland face in November, with Census Johnston of Toulouse, Leicester's first choice Logovii  Mulipola and Clermont's Ti'i Paulo in the front row, backed up by Toulouse's Joe Tekori and one of Dan Leo (Perpignan) and Teofilo Paulo of Cardiff in the second row. In the back row, Jack Lam (Hurricanes) will be a handful at the breakdown, while Faifili Levave is showing promise in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes. Kahn Fotuali'i is still one of the best scrumhalves in the world, while Paul Williams, Alpati Leiua (Hurricanes), George Pisi, David Lemi and Tusi Pisi (Hurricanes) are capable of carving up any team. Not the easiest of starting games for Joe to ease into.

Our second opponents, Australia, have been in terrible form recently. Winning only two of their Rugby Championship games after the lost series to the Lions, things were close to a crisis. Ewen McKenzie took control of a chaotic team and it's taken a while for things to improve, but in the last two games, the Wallabies have shown glimpses of potential. This could well spell bad news for Ireland, who might be expecting Australia to roll over.

It took awhile, but new coach Ewen McKenzie was able to turn Wallaby fortunes around. A lesson perhaps for the incoming Irish coach? © Gallo Images
The current situation in Australian rugby also issues a warning for those with high expectations for new coach Joe Schmidt. They've shown that it'll take time for systems to be put in place, and playing three teams ranked higher than Ireland for his first three games doesn't seem like the perfect place to do that. Irish fans need to be patient with Schmidt, and while wins are possible against each side, three losses will not be a failure. Having said that, we'll need something to encourage us for the 6 Nations, and strong performances, fresh players, and attacking promise should hopefully be the order of the day.

With that in mind, and the huge debate created by this article, I've come up with matchday 23's for each game that try to give young players vital experience, and give fringe players get to stake a claim and regulars can get a chance to play into form, all while Ireland remain competitive.

UPDATED: 23/10/2013 Pre Squad Selection

As mentioned, Samoa will have the strongest scrum, and with Mike Ross potentially struggling at the moment, it seems the perfect time to test one of the backups. Declan Fitzpatrick has more experience than Moore, and has started the season scrummaging well, so he starts off the selection. Australia have the weakest scrum of the 3, and Moore deserves a chance, so I've put him in starting, while Mike Ross comes back in for New Zealand where we focus solely on a game similar to a World Cup final.

From there, Dave Kilcoyne is second choice loosehead (for now) and given last seasons improvements, I think he deserves a chance to show what he can do, while James Cronin or Jack McGrath come on early in the second half. Healy will be anxious to finally face Australia, and is clear choice for New Zealand. Whoever plays best from Cronin, McGrath and Kilcoyne is backup on the bench.

Given Richardt Strauss's unfortunate heart problems, Rory Best is a clear choice as hooker. I think his leadership will be key against Samoa, and I think he'll play all three games, with Sean Cronin the most likely backup, even though Damien Varley is perhaps the form choice.

Moving to the back row (as it'll explain the second row choices). Probably the biggest strength in depth that we have, even with a number of injuries. Currently, I would have Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip as the starting backrow for New Zealand. with Chris Henry a close backup. Given how close he is, I would put him in for Australia, moving Sean O'Brien to 6 and keeping Jamie Heaslip at 8, with Peter O'Mahony on the bench. I think this will give Ireland the best approach at the breakdown for the visit of Australia and Michael Hooper. Peter O'Mahony will provide quite an impact from the bench too. Against Samoa, I think Iain Henderson should be unleashed, while Peter O'Mahony should be given some leadership responsibilties from no. 8. Chris Henry is my choice for openside, with Sean O'Brien ably covering from the bench.

Given Paul O'Connell's importance and return injury woes, I don't think he can play all three games. Thus resting him against Samoa will give more responsibility to Rory Best and Peter O'Mahony. Originally I had Devin Toner and Dan Tuohy here, with my intention being that it's a straight fight between them for a potential bench spot in the following games. But I think with Samoa's strength, it would be wise to go with a combination, so I promoted Mike McCarthy, with Tuohy dropping to the bench. If Donnacha Ryan's injury proves to be serious, the fight between himself and McCarthy to partner will be moot, so I'd expect O'Connell and McCarthy, with Tuohy as backup. Or Henderson as an outside chance.

Kieran Marmion is in line for his Irish debut. Photo: inpho photography
So far this season, there have been a number of strong performances from Irish scrumhalves, James Hart from Grenoble springs to mind, and Paul Marshall has done alright for Ulster, but Isaac Boss and especially Kieran Marmion and Conor Murray have been outstanding. Murray is a clear number one, and will face Australia and New Zealand. I would love Marmion to have some exposure, so he gets the starting spot against Samoa, and a bench place against Australia. Boss's form is rewarded with bench spots against Samoa and New Zealand, where his physicality will be needed.

Jonny Sexton is the clear outhalf, while there are finally some contenders for his backup. Ian Madigan was so far ahead of Jackson at the end of last season, and while Jackson has impressed this season, I don't think he's overtaken Madigan yet, and thus my choices for Samoa. 

Gordon D'Arcy's partnership with Brian O'Driscoll will be vital for Ireland against New Zealand. I think Luke Marshall isn't too far behind, and his ability to cover 10, 12 and 13 gets him the bench spot. He's pushing hard for a starting spot, so I'd give him the start against Australia, while O'Driscoll's ability to play all three games is unlikely, giving a chance to see Henshaw and Darren Cave in the thirteen jersey, with the experienced Gordon D'Arcy best placed to guide him through it.

I'm not expecting Niall Morris to make the squad, thus Rob Kearney will be the starting fullback in each game, which will give him some time to build into something close to his top form. Putting someone who can cover outside centre on the bench against Samoa will allow Henshaw to move into fullback at some stage. 

Wingers however I'm completely torn. The only thing I can decide on is Tommy Bowe is a certain starter, so I put him in for New Zealand and Australia, with the two wingers against Samoa in a straight fight for further inclusion. The inclusion of Henshaw on the bench for Australia is also tempting. 

I went for Fitzgerald against New Zealand as I think his defense is the strongest of all the candidates, while I think Trimble's kick chase work ethic is the best and I can foresee a number of Conor Murray boxkicks targeting the Wallabies second and third choice wingers. If Craig Gilroy is back fit in time, he would be my choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment