Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Lack of Experience

It’s not just about who is coach or captain, it’s about planning for RWC2015, writes Ball-Handling Hooker…

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After that performance, the bandwagon for Deccie to leave has gotten bigger and bigger. This isn't a post about whether he should stay or go, but rather, what needs to be done between now and the World Cup. Whenever the World Cup comes around, it's emphasised that it is the be-all and end-all, and that teams should be focusing on it. I, for one, would love to see Ireland finally do well at the World Cup. That Welsh game was the most depressed I've been about sport in my life, and I'd rather not go through it again.

Thus far under Kidney's reign, rightly or wrongly, there has always been an emphasis on the next game. Best players out for winning as many games as possible. This means that players who won't make the world cup are collecting caps, while promising youngsters sit on the bench. This means that when the pressure situation comes, the young players don't have enough experience to know what to do.

Take a look at England. Stuart Lancaster decided last 6 Nations to build a squad for 2015 World Cup. They have been blooding young talented players that will play a huge part in their fortunes over the next few years. Some have even begun to be mentioned as Lions candidates. People like Tom Youngs, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, Tom Johnson, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan, Freddie Burns, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Billy Twelvetrees, Alex Goode and Brad Barritt have all either made their debut or been brought into the squad and started featuring as a regular since Lancaster took over.

Lancaster has managed to bring in these talents while making huge strides and winning matches. That must be the goal for Kidney. Bringing in too much too soon will be bad, but not bringing in enough is detrimental in the long run. I firmly believe that most of Kidney's youthful introductions to the side are forced on him through injury like Marshall and Jackson last weekend or Zebo to fullback last November. If Kearney had been fit, or Sexton and D'Arcy fit now, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that all three talented youngsters might still be waiting for their first caps.

This 6 Nations should be the perfect time to blood inexperience. It's the first chance after the World Cup seeding is settled so there isn't as much pressure. Especially now that the championship has gone for another year, the time to give experience is now. The only way that Kidney can attempt to win another contract is by doing some forward thinking and preparing this side for the challenge in 2 years’ time.

There are a number of talented players on the cusp of the national side that need exposure and will be needed in the next two years. Players like Kilcoyne, Strauss, Sherry, Tuohy, Henderson, Ruddock, O'Donnell, Ryan, Marmion, Paul Marshall, Madigan, Jackson, Luke Marshall, McSharry, Cave, O'Malley, O'Halloran, Felix Jones and Henshaw are going to be in the top two or three in their positions in two years and are ready to make the step up to internationals now. Others like Paddy Butler, Jordi Murphy, Jared Payne and Ian Keatley will be ready soon and need their chance too. While the tight head prop situation needs someone to get some time, whether it's Fitzpatrick, Bent, Archer, John Ryan or someone completely left field like Nathan White.

The overall focus has to be developing a squad of 30-40 quality alternatives for the World Cup cycles. This means that quality youngsters have to be given the chance to show what they can do. We've already seen the uplifting impact they can have on the squad, so why not give those chances. Kidney only blooded Marshall and Jackson because of injuries. And there are many others that are worth having a look at.

Players aren't trusted because they've no experience. Now is the time to give them some of this experience. Whether Cian Healy or Jonathan Sexton are available for France or not, neither should play. Kilcoyne and Jackson need another go. As does Marshall, but I think he's earned it. Kidney needs to help Jackson out by selecting McFadden on the wing in place of Earls, while letting Gilroy continue his acclimatization to this level. Henderson needs to be thrown in at the deep end, while Dan Tuohy and maybe Tommy O'Donnell should be on the bench at least. I would also like to see Reddan replaced on the bench. Not because he's not good enough, but when the world cup comes around he'll be 34, and Marmion or Marshall will be in a better position to challenge Murray.

Speaking of experience, last Autumn Chris Robshaw was lambasted for some poor decision making in defeat to South Africa. Fast forward a few months and its Jamie Heaslip's turn. The decision has been made, Heaslip is captain. It wouldn't have been my choice, but nonetheless, Heaslip will make a great captain. He will learn on the job. It's said leaders are born, but leaders can be made too. And not all born leaders take to it straight away. Heaslip is the man, and keeping him in the captaincy is the right call. Sure there were doubts when O'Driscoll was made captain the first time. And there were concerns about Keith Wood.

My team for France: 1. Kilcoyne 2. Best 3. Ross 4. Ryan 5. Tuohy 6. O'Mahony 7. O'Brien 8. Heaslip 9. Murray 10. Jackson 11. McFadden 12. Marshall 13. O'Driscoll 14. Gilroy 15. Kearney 16. Cronin /Sherry - just as long as they get on this time 17. Tom Court 18. Fitzpatrick 19. Henderson 20. O'Donnell 21. Marmion 22. Madigan 23. Fitzgerald / Darren Cave 

My team for Italy (injury permitting) 1. Kilcoyne 2. Cronin 3. Fitzpatrick 4. Tuohy 5. Ryan 6. Henderson 7. O’Donnell 8. Heaslip 9. Murray 10. Jackson 11. McFadden 12. Marshall 13. Cave 14. Gilroy 15. Kearney 16. Best. 17. Court 18. Bent 19. Stevenson 20. O’Mahony 21. Marmion 22. Madigan 23. Fitzgerald

Follow BallHandling Hooker on Twitter and Facebook, as well as his blog An Irishman’s View on World Rugby

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