Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ireland XV-53 Fiji-0



My son asked me what the XV stood for just before kick-off.  I honestly think the Roman Numerals 1.01 lesson that followed was the extent of what he learned about the Irish rugby team over the next hour and a half.

Is there really any point in analysing this game?  It was little more than a glorified training exercise.

Of course, as many have pointed out, it was great to see quality youngsters, especially the Ulster lads like Henderson, Gilroy, Jackson and Luke Marshall get a run in an Ireland jersey and do so well, but the fact that wearing said jersey meant as much in international rugby terms as it did to those who were wearing it in the stands really takes much of the sting out of it.

Which means this “contest” can only be viewed in two ways – (1) should a match like this ever be allowed to happen again, and (2) does it give us any clues as to the right selection for next week’s virtual cup final against the Pumas?

First question is easy for me. No way.  I don’t really have a problem with the contractual agreement with the Aviva Stadium – when you take 44 million off someone, you can normally expect them to set a few ground rules (pun intended). 

But if those are the rules, there are still things you can do.  How about play the Fiji match the in Aviva, award full caps and charge just a tenner a ticket?  Maybe the day itself will run as a loss but surely there would be long-term benefits in that it could bring people to Dublin for fully-fledged test rugby that wouldn’t normally go?

Then there’s bringing the international team to different parts of the country.  Again, I’m on board with that idea, but I think the people of Limerick pretty much spoke with their feet when it came to this particular fixture.   What about an Irish Wolfhounds/Under 20s game with a touring side like the NZ Maoris?  Or something like what the Welsh did, having countries like Canada, USA & Tonga over to play each other in full test encounters?

Oh, and what about the lack of respect we showed to the Fijians?  It wasn’t the first time we XVed them, but this time, we threw in the added insult of making them travel more.  There is really no way of spinning the way we set up this fixture in a good light from their side of things.  They may not be a “top-tier” nation, but many of their squad ply their trade at the highest level of European rugby and get little enough opportunity to represent their country as it is.

There are more qualified heads than mine to come up with the answers, but for what it’s worth I really hope this XV nonsense doesn’t happen again, especially on a weekend when everyone else is playing a full international.  I was left feeling like it was Christmas morning and everyone else had gotten the present they wanted while all I got was a pair of socks (yes, I’m looking at you, Aunt Brenda).

Now, to the 23-man squad to face Argentina.  I totally appreciate the calls for Craig Gilroy to start next week.  It would certainly be a bold move, and even though his hat-trick and man-of-the-match award came against a side that couldn’t be arsed, he has certainly shown enough form for Ulster to consider himself in contention.

But we can’t discuss the selection without factoring in the current coaching set-up.  If we’re talking about players who deserve to be “bolters” in the full Ireland side, how about Paul Marshall?  He has been knocking on the door for longer, but barely had it opened for him even in this match. 

We just have to accept for now that Kidney & co are locked in to a way of thinking and there’s no budging them.  No doubt the plan was always to bring Marshall on for the last 20 minutes whether or not the game was still (or indeed ever) a contest. 

Maybe they would attract less criticism and frustration if the master-plan was more apparent?  Why leave Felix Jones play for Munster A at full-back and not this Ireland XV? Why let Conor Murray play for so long when you know he’s going to start next week anyway?  And as for Mike Ross playing at all when Bent is starving for northern hemisphere game time…I have to stop myself asking these questions.  They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.  And they can let themselves be judged by the performances and the results.

However when it comes to Gilroy, I know I’m leaving myself open to accusations of blue-goggle-wearing, but I really don’t think Fergus McFadden, who also scored tries and played well on Saturday let’s not forget, deserves to be overlooked when playing the Pumas.  Do I think he’d serve us better in the centre? Absolutely.  Do I think Declan Kidney will play anyone in the centre next week but D’Arcy and Earls? Hells to the no.

So with Trimble on average form, it would seem to make sense to start McFadden on the wing and have Gilroy on the bench to at least attach SOME value to this match at Thomond Park, while still starting with an experienced lineup in this vital encounter.  Plus the young Ulsterman’s pace could prove vital in the final quarter against a battle-weary Argentinian lineup.

Zebo, Bowe, Earls, D’Arcy, McFadden, Sexton, Murray. Healy, Strauss, Ross, Ryan, McCarthy, O’Mahony, Henry, Heaslip.  Bench : Cronin, Kilcoyne, Bent, Henderson, Reddan, O’Gara, Gilroy.

Not the 23 I’d put on the park next Saturday, but it’s the one I believe falls within Kidney’s parameters and can get the job done.  Does this mean they will?  With the right preparation, absolutely. 

I have crunched the numbers as best as I can and it seems our task is simple…win, and we go in the second pot for the World Cup draw.  Lose, and we fall into the third one.  Should be all the motivation we need, and Kidney-led Irish sides have won in similar circumstances before. 

Borrowing a recent phrase from a Grand Slam hero, “I agree we can beat Argentina, but I don’t accept it”. JLP

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