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Friday, 25 January 2013

Wolfhounds-10 Saxons-14

[update January 22, 2014] This week’s trip into the HoR archives shows just how much can happen in a year…after this match (though not necessarily because of it) I was convinced we had a serious shot at the Six Nations Championship.


I had a good few tweets on my timeline directed at me this morning with the message : “What highlights?” which baffled me for a moment.

Then I realised that I have my twitter account linked to both the IRFU and Leinster rugby pages so when they post, my account automatically tweets the link. In this case it was a link to the “highlights” from this encounter, which as many people point out, were few and far between from a spectators' viewpoint.

But of course we have to factor in the nature of contests like this one. It's not your standard game of competitive rugby, it's 30+ individuals playing in a shop window to demonstrate their ability to play in the big show.

And another thing we must factor in is the mentality of the Kidney coaching staff. The “conservative” description may have been done to death but that doesn't make it any less of a reality. So when you look at this selection you have to assume that the only way they will get a look-in at Six Nations time will be after injuries no matter how well they shone in Galway.

So rather than do a straight writeup on the match I have chosen to go player-by-player...

  1. Kilcoyne – I have been impressed with him since the B&I Cup semifinal at the RDS last year, he has a great attitude and in many ways the only thing Cian Healy has on him is a couple of extra years' experience. That's still enough for the Leinster man to keep the green number one jersey, but if I were Church I'd be peeking over my shoulder.

  2. Sherry – I admire his confidence but unlike Kilcoyne I'm not sure he has the ability to back it up, certainly not enough to threaten Best or Cronin anyway.

  3. Bent – The last thing Ireland needed right before the 2013 Six Nations was to see an Irish front row dominated by an English one, especially when the tight-head was flown halfway round the world partly due to what happened at Twickenham last March. In fairness he did offer some resistance like at the end of the 1st half but he seems very na├»ve to opposing props playing silly beggars at the hit. Still, it seems we have gone “all-in” with the guy, and since there's no way Mike Ross is going to last 80 minutes for 5 tests, we're just going to have to hope he finds his feet at this level pronto.

  4. Stevenson – very unlucky to be pinged for holding as we pushed for a second try, a call which got the Saxons out of jail big time. Spent the game in Toner's shadow literally and figuratively.

  5. Toner – gave away two first half pens in succession which signalled the end of our purple patch, but though I'm normally hard on him I'm seeing this as a positive. Imposed himself on the game a lot more than he usually does and that's good to see. Needs to be spending time with the Irish set-up as his line-out presence can't be ignored.

  6. McLaughlin – delighted he got his name on the score-sheet and played his part in an impressive back row performance overall, though I can't see the “elite” players being ousted any time soon by anyone who played in Galway.

  7. O'Donnell – Led the team with 12 tackles and he is definitely putting his name forward.

  8. Coughlan – Being named Wolfhounds captain always strikes me as a kiss of death for your chances in the full squad, and of course the naming of the full Test skipper didn't help him much either. He has an amazing work-rate and is a born leader, but were Heaslip to get injured would Coughlan be brought in or would O'Brien move to 8? I'm inclined to think the latter, but it will certainly be a travesty if he is fit in June and doesn't get more than one start on the North American tour.

  9. Marshall – a quiet outing for him but I wonder was this more by design of the coaching staff than his ability. Whenever I have seen him play well for Ulster he has shown creativity and initiative around the base and that's clearly not what Ireland want from a number 9 these days.

  10. Jackson – I'm going to be tough on Paddy. Maybe you'll think that's somehow provincially motivated, but I was tough on Sexton when he was coming through the ranks. Jackson played the conservative 10 role to a T on the night, no doubting that. But looked at another way, he is his club's starting out-half, he has started a Heineken Cup final, and he has captained his country at Under-20 level, yet was still out-performed by George Ford who can say none of those things. Much like Bent, I haven't seen anything that would make me confident to see him come on at any stage of a Six Nations contest, but I hope to be proven wrong.

  11. Fitzgerald – personally I think he would be better served staying with Leinster until the end of the season then play his way back to test level in US & Canada. But unlike players in other positions he's a great option to step up if others are ruled out.

  12. McSharry – The heir apparent to Gordon D'Arcy in my book. I have been a fan of Dave's for a while now, and he has been unlucky with injuries. Tackled like a demon on Friday and to be fair that was pretty much his mission...though he and Cave are well able to bore holes and exploit space it just wasn't in their remit.

  13. Cave – see above.

  14. Trimble – many heads were scratched at the sight of his name in this team. My head was scratched back in December when I saw him ahead of Gilroy on Ulster's Heineken Cup teamsheet so soon after the Autumn Internationals. His reputation as a poacher helped him at one stage in the second half when he stopped a certain England try but it also hindered him earlier as he was tempted out of his defensive position way too soon and was left stranded. Seems to have gotten himself on Kidney's naughty list.

  15. Henshaw – great future ahead for this lad, he seems to have all the makings of a star. Not quite the finished article, of course, as was shown by his leap in the second half which needed the patented “RK-RK” (Rob Kearney's raised knee) treatment but given he has come from schools rugby to take the Connacht 15 jumper from Gavin Duffy in less than a year I think we can afford him the time he needs!

  1. Varley – If he's behind Sherry in Munster's pecking order, only a bizarre series of injuries will see him grace the Six Nations stage.

  2. Court – This guy couldn't be more between a rock and a hard place if he tried. When test rugby had 22-man squads, his ability to play both sides of the scrum made him the ideal man for the 17 jumper. Then Twickenham happened. But now, he's part of the top front row in the Pro12, so that on top of his experience at test level should give him the nod ahead of Kilcoyne, but you never know.

  3. Fitzpatrick – Didn't even grace the pitch for more than ten-odd minutes, which for a tighthead in this type of match should be seen as an insult, surely? If there were doubts over his fitness he shouldn’t have been anywhere near the match.  The message is clearly “Bent or bust”, and the way things stand right now I know where my money is.

  4. Henderson – Was unlucky not to get the try but it was the correct call. Can't fault a guy for backing himself to score, and he certainly should have a long future with the full Irish setup

  5. Ruddock – Good to see him getting Irish game time, albeit brief on this occasion. As a Leinster fan I definitely want to see him for our big Pro12 trip to Cardiff next week and I'm pretty sure I will.

  6. Boss – bit like Ruddock I hope he ISN'T higher than fourth on Kidney's pecking order, and I don't think he is, even though he could start a Six Nations match no problem.

  7. Madigan – just goes to show how cruelly ironic sport can be...on the same day Leinster fans are looking to Mad-dog as next season's starting Heineken Cup out-half, he gets sent on for the Wolfhounds at full-back, though if Ireland was to get a try in the second half it seemed he would have something to do with it.

  8. Keatley – again, didn't get the purpose of him being there at all. I'm a fan of his, I think he should be starting for Munster more often, but since it seems Kidney's mind is made up that Jackson is his third-choice 10, the way Madigan & Keatley were used in Galway seems like a platitude that falls between two stools.

Overall it was a match we could have won had we turned possession, territory & wind advantage in the first half into enough points. But although we failed in that regard there were still many positives, not least the defence...back row & centres were superb which was borne out by England's only try being found on the furthest blade of grass over in the corner.

The referee Ian Davies was shocking. The “Riverdancing & Morris dancing” line was cringeworthy enough, but if you see a player elbow a scrum-half in the adam's apple after a box-kick, to then admit you didn't get a number is downright embarrassing, especially as Joe Gray was wearing a bright turquoise scrum cap! And it was on or around the 30th minute as well...those ten minutes with the extra man AND the wind could have been very useful.

But there's no point dwelling on that – I reckon we learned more about Kidney's plans on Friday night than we did about the actual players. We can only see how they pan out, starting this Saturday lunchtime in Cardiff. JLP

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