With November getting closer our provincial bloggers are now in their 3rd round of Ireland selections - this week it’s Connachtman…
After a great weekend of Rugby action I was thrilled to be the one picking the Ireland team this week! That was, until I actually sat down to do it! Boy was this selection tough, and still is as I type! There have been a number of injuries to key men who were nailed-on starters such as BOD, POM (whom I am disregarding due to concussion), Zebo and Mike Ross, meaning that there is plenty of experimentation in my line-up. With this in mind, and with the great weekend of European Rugby we enjoyed, I've gone for a few marginal decisions largely based on the first round of the Heineken Cup and little else. Not everyone's going to agree with every selection - what else is new! - but I think it's a fun team none the less. Let me know what you think!
Jersey 1: Cian Healy
Part of a dominant Leinster pack in Swansea, DJ CHURCH keeps his place, but the competition is coming strong.
Rob Penney selected Dave Kilcoyne to start on Saturday, but The Killer is yet to find any real form this season, he hasn't really had a chance. Just pipping him to the bench spot then is the very promising James Cronin, who has impressed and surely has potential.
Working his way back into contention, and even unlucky to lose out, is Tommy Court, who put in a fine performance against Leicester's Dan Cole. He may be out in the wilderness at the moment, but the guy has some rugby left, good on him! Brett Wilkinson appears to have rediscovered the form of earlier days for Connacht on Friday night, and deserves a mention.
Jersey 2: Rory Best
Sean Cronin was incredible on Saturday and only really loses out because of the type of game he plays, being better suited to coming off the bench. Rory was good enough on Friday to barely keep him out, however, and will show experience and accuracy around the park for sixty minutes before Nugget gets unleashed. Cronin is playing the best rugby of his life at the moment and will nab the jersey outright if he keeps this up!
Sherry was pretty pedestrian for Munster, a backwards step! Special mention for Straussy here, lest we forget him, here's hoping he returns in good health!
Jersey 3: Martin Moore
Stephen Archer had worked his way into my plans with some assured performances of late, and would have probably been handed the start had Munster gotten over the line against Edinburgh. He's been impressive around the park in the early stages of the season and has shored up prior scrum deficiencies. Having said that, I couldn't not have picked Moore after what he's done so far this season! The blogosphere were rightly worried about the long-term state of Mike Ross's body it seems, but Moore has shown himself an able replacement so far. He may be inexperienced, but so is everyone else in contention so get him in. Could be a divisive selection though, and understandably so...
Special mention for Deccie Fitzpatrick who also put in a good shift for Ulster on Friday, but I want to see if he can stay fit first.
Jersey 4: Iain Henderson
Donnacha Ryan was holding on to his place based on reputation, experience and the knowledge that he would put in a hard and aggressive shift around the park, but again we've dropped him based on the Murrayfield game. Dropping players based on one performance may be a little harsh, but Hendo has been incredible so far this season, carrying like a man possessed and improving on last seasons form. He sneaks it.
Dan Tuohy was also impressive, starting ahead of Henderson, and has done enough to get back into contention. Meanwhile, Mike McCarthy is getting stuck in and will definitely be considered for the 'donkey work' role down the line.
Jersey 5: Paul O'Connell
Some players can be dropped for not following through on their reputation, some can't. While it is worrying to see a forward performance not lifted by Paulie's presence, he will always get another chance.
Toner has been impressive enough, but I want to see more.
Jersey 6: Kevin McLaughlin
Since I'm not considering O'Mahony this week, Locky gets in based on his ability to get through the hard graft and win ball at the tail of the lineout, complimenting his Leinster mates in the backrow and adding balance to the pack as a whole. Doesn't sound like a resounding pick I know, but I think he'll get the job done, and allow others such as Healy, Hendo and O'Brien to go for a rampage.
Also in contention was Roger Wilson who had a good game. I'm a little unsure of this guys reliability though and I'll be looking for some consistency first. He certainly has the physicality.
Jersey 7: Sean O'Brien
There can be no doubt about this one, he was immense and getting back to his best. Just looked comfortable. Well, until Will Greenwood got hold of him anyways...
Chris Henry waits in the wings but will continue to put in manful performances for his beloved Ulster. Both players should continue to get better in the coming months.
Jersey 8: Jamie Heaslip
Completing an all-Leinster unit this guy really did look comfortable at the weekend! There's very little you can say here, he's gonna work hard, organise the troops, lead from the front when allowed to and just...perform! Why did people doubt him last season? Haters gonna hate...
Jersey 9: Conor Murray
Upped his team's performance when sprung from the bench last week in Thomond and has just looked imperious ever since. Untouchable really.
The reserve scrum-half has caused me some consternation this week I have to say. I was quite impressed with Paul Marshall for Ulster, a player who I've doubted in the past, but he was hauled off all too early. Isaac Boss proved why he should be starting for Leinster, he's in good form and has buckets of experience at this stage. Eoin Reddan drops out of contention altogether with no real form. I've gone with a home-town decision on this one and picked Kieran Marmion on the back of his try-scoring performance on Friday night. He dragged his pack around the park with more control than he's shown so far this season and has a heck of a lot of potential. Go on!
Jersey 10: Johnny Sexton
Not going to dwell on this one, the closing match of the weekend was poor and best forgotten, we all know Johnny's the man.
Ian Madigan is a hapless victim of the player welfare programme at the moment and can't be selected on the back of a non-performance this week and a non-performance last, if for different reasons. I'll be honest, I wanted to pick Keatley here as an old Connacht favourite and as a guy who deserves a break after his hard work has paid off with a rich vein of form. His inability to close out the game on Saturday could be ascribed more to his shackling at the hands of Greig Laidlaw as through any fault of his own but, for whatever reason, he loses out. Step up Paddy Jackson! I watched the guy put in a shoddy first half performance in Galway a few weeks back, but he's come on a bit since then. Deserves his spot on the bench and a chance to show why he's rated so highly.
Jersey 11: Tommy Bowe
Not Tommy's favourite jersey in the past but he loved it on Friday! One wayward pass early on aside, he was a class act, and great to watch too!
There aren't a whole lot of options left here so sturdy and reliable Dave Kearney will be in contention, although we've yet to see him really shine so far this season.
Jersey 12: Luke Marshall
Stuart Olding hasn't had much of a chance yet, but Marshall has looked pretty assured in midfield for Ulster. His passing game is superb and you'd have to say Joe Schmidt will like this about him.
Jersey 13: Robbie Henshaw
I have to admit, I like the guy as a fullback, but he put in a really good performance in defence the other night, with 13 tackles. It's a good omen. I was really tempted to put McFadden in here, as the international coach will be too no doubt, but again I've let my heart rule after the weekend we've had. Alternatively, could be sprung from the bench, still has a lot to learn...
Jersey 14: Fergus McFadden
Gets selected on the wing where he's played so much rugby. Has pace, a work-ethic in defence and an all-round reliability that will always see him considered. With all the injuries, it's good to have someone like Ferg to step up.
Jersey 15: Rob Kearney
Looks to be returning to something near good form, although don't ask him to tackle too much! Seriously though, his form and tackling deficiencies are cause for concern, but this is offset by his fielding, his tactical kicking and his ballast on the counter-attack. Let's hope he continues to improve.
I'm a little suspicious of the Felix Jones praise sometimes as I think he can be quite ordinary, but I'm going to give him credit for some decent performances. The younger Kearney will again provide cover from the bench, however.
1: Cian Healy
2: Rory Best
3: Martin Moore
4: Iain Henderson
5: Paul O'Connell
6: Kevin McLaughlin
7: Sean O'Brien
8: Jamie Heaslip
9: Conor Murray
10: Johnny Sexton
11: Tommy Bowe
12: Luke Marshall
13: Robbie Henshaw
14: Fergus McFadden
15: Rob Kearney
16: Sean Cronin
17: James Cronin
18: Stephen Archer
19: Donnacha Ryan
20: Chris Henry
21: Kieran Marmion
22: Paddy Jackson
23: Dave Kearney