Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Takeaways from the Irish Squad Announcement

For those who haven't seen it, this is the Irish Squad for the November Internationals v South Africa, Australia and Georgia.

Looseheads: Jack McGrath, James Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne.
Hookers: Rory Best, Richardt Strauss, Sean Cronin.
Tightheads: Mike Ross, Nathan White, Rodney Ah You, Stephen Archer.
Loosehead Lock: Devin Toner, Dave Foley.
Tighthead Lock: Paul O'Connell, Mike McCarthy.
Blindside Flanker: Peter O'Mahony (8), Rhys Ruddock, Robbie Diack (8).
Openside Flanker: Chris Henry (8), Tommy O'Donnell, Dominic Ryan
No. 8: Jamie Heaslip.
Scrumhalves: Conor Murray, Kieran Marmion, Eoin Reddan.
Outhalves: Jonathan Sexton, Ian Madigan (12), Ian Keatley.
Wingers: Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy.
Inside Centres: Gordon D'Arcy, Stuart Olding.
Outside Centres: Jared Payne (15), Robbie Henshaw (15).
Fullbacks: Rob Kearney, Felix Jones, Darragh Leader (11-14)

A number of things caught my eye from this announcement, but pre announcement there was a big campaign for the likes of Duncan Casey and Dave Foley to be included over players familar to the squad.


If there is one thing we have learned since Joe Schmidt has taken over, is that he will always favour those familar to his plans and system over those new to it. Form doesn't mean a huge amount when it's comparing a newcomer to a previous fixture in the squad. He's brought players in, and left them on the periphery to learn his ways before giving them a shot, and he will continue to do that.

This most likely spells the end of some players hopes of being included in the World Cup squad, unless they spend time around the squad in the next month.

A 37 man squad is a strange number of players, especially when you look at the lack of player in some positions, notably number 8 and wing, while a plethora of options at blindside and tighthead prop.

What's notable is that there are four tighthead props involved, and that one of them isn't highly rated youngster Tadhg Furlong. I've also decided I am not going to criticise those named in this post, no matter how much I want to.

Ulster losers

The next major talking point revolves around an in form outsider, and an out of form, slightly injured formerly favoured player. I think it's very notable that Ian Keatley has been chosen ahead of Paddy Jackson, one because not many saw it coming, but mostly because the influence of Les Kiss on the Ulster set up would have expected to bring in more Ulster faces. Instead, players like Jackson, Cave, Wilson, McCloskey and Declan Fitzpatrick miss out. Fitzpatrick may be permanently injured, but he was the one time hope of Irish tightheads, and now there are at least 4 options probably ahead of him.

Lucky Thirteen

It's also intriguing to note that the first real squad where a successor to Brian O'Driscoll can be found features a grand total of 0 natural outside centres. Of the players in the squad who have played professional rugby at 13, three are fullbacks - Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne and Darragh Leader, two are wingers - Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy, one is an outhalf - Ian Madigan, and two inside centres - Gordon D'Arcy and Stuart Olding.

Despite this curveball, the announcement of two other fullbacks in the squad, while only three wingers, suggest that Payne and Henshaw are the de facto 13s, Leader is a back 3 cover and the wingers stay out wide.

A final congratulatory note to Darragh Leader's inclusion. He may not get any gametime, but it's clear that his involvement will only benefit him in the long run. A quiet guy that needs to come out of his shell more, will only develop with this confidence boost, and given the improvements Henshaw and Marmion have made to their games since being involved with Schmidt, I've no doubt that Leader will make similar strides which can only benefit the player, his province and maybe Ireland in the future.

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