Our Ireland selectors have each had 3 goes this season but now it’s November and the Schmidt just got real. This week Connachtman kicks off round 4…
Click here for his last selection and these links for the most recent ones from Leinster, Ulster & Munster.
After a real sense of excitement leading into the first international of the season, the much anticipated dawning of the Joe Schmidt era was something of a letdown.
There were positives aplenty in the second half but the gaffer himself summed it up pretty well in his post-match interview when he said it was by and large an untidy performance from Ireland.
As it turned out the Samoans looked emotionally drained and physically flat by the second quarter and Ireland were able to build into the game and began to show some sound structure and cohesion.
The analysis, however, has very much centred around the point that a similar shaky first half will cost us dearly against a side like Australia, particularly when you consider the porous nature of our defence in the early stages of the Samoan encounter.
With this in mind, we're bound to see a stronger starting side named and there are a couple of decisions on the bench which could have a really big impact on the game!
1: Jack McGrath
This call may cause some consternation but I believe it would be entirely unfair to drop a guy after a performance like that. In a crunch Championship match you would go for Healy but as things stand McGrath has all the form and momentum and takes nothing from the side in terms of quality, albeit without Healy's ferocious carrying and experience. I think this would be a positive selection and one which would very much suit the Schmidt selection philosophy at the moment.
2: Rory Best
Brilliant around the park when attacking the breakdown, a crucial part of this pack in terms of set-piece precision and in the leadership stakes. Maybe Cronin could be sprung a bit earlier this week as he deserves some recognition for his fine form this season.
3: Mike Ross
I thought Ross had one of his better games for Ireland and is still our number one Tighthead. Having said that, it would be nice to give the chosen understudy a go at some point in the series, but seems unlikely at this stage. I'm a little torn on this one and perhaps Joe will spring a surprise. If he does pick Deccie Fitzpatrick, don't be surprised if we see Healy picked on the other side, all part of some sort of prop-blooding master plan!
4: Devin Toner & 5: Paul O'Connell
Toner gets partnered with Paulie this week and obliges the older man with a jersey swap! I thought Mike McCarthy looked a little off the pace this week, as he has done all season, and will lose out to O'Connell. Indeed, I'm going to pull Macca from the 23 altogether in light of the fact that he doesn't provide enough of an impact off the bench where I'm going to opt for Dan Tuohy. Schmidt may want to give another guy a chance to audition for a spot against BNZ and I'd like to see Tuohy given a shot.
6: Peter O'Mahony, 7: Sean O'Brien and 8: Jamie Heaslip
I thought Chris Henry was exceptional while he was on the pitch, and I'm a big fan of him, but man is he unlucky with injury! As a small consolation I think Joe Schmidt will happily keep him in his plans going forward, but in his absence the backrow pretty much picks itself!
O'Mahony was excellent at the breakdown and we know O'Brien will carry ball and Jamie will fill in in-between. But it still is a bit weird in terms of the balance of the trio, seeing as how our 6 is jackaling over the ball at every other ruck and the 7 is being destructive with ball in hand, but there you go!
On the bench I'm going for Shane Jennings! Schmidt brought him back in from the international wilderness and he can provide that alternative option late in the game when it opens up. Gwan Jenno!
9: Conor Murray & 10: Jonny Sexton
I thought Murray didn't control the tempo of the game as well as he might have but nor did he have a bad game. He was quick to look for and find Sean O'Brien to set up the try after BOD's ridiculous piece of skill. Reddan was great when he came on and upped the tempo considerably. It remains to be seen what Schmidt requires of Murray as the starting Scrum Half and whether he wants a playmaker or a conduit. Regardless of all this, he starts.
Jonny will come back into the fold this week but not because Jackson had a bad game, and that's as pleasing a piece of analysis as I've made all year! The only question really is whether we will see Paddy off the bench and if this will initiate a change to first centre for Sexton. Hmm...
12: Luke Marshall & 13: Brian O'Driscoll
To be honest I think I would have picked Marshall here regardless of whether D'Arcy had a bad game or not, I just think he's the right selection for the game in hand. D'Arcy had some good touches at times, but there's been an erratic side to his game of late that may reflect him coming to terms with what stage he's at in his career. OK I'm just going to say it, he's gone maverick since the beard. Anyways I like Marshall for this particular challenge and Schmidt can decide then whether he wants to go for experience or youth against BNZ.
Sticking with Brian at 13... shock horror!
11: Fergus McFadden, 14: Dave Kearney & 15: Rob Kearney
Tommy Bowe is a doubt for the weekend and I'm taking it that Joe won't risk him as that's been his tactic so far, especially when he has had in-form replacements. And I believe this is the case for Dave Kearney who will be flying with confidence after his two-try debut! Rob had some good touches too and Ferg was as industrious as ever with one lovely little offload in the lead up to D. Kearney's first try. It may not be the very best back-three we could have had, what with the injuries to Gilroy, Zebo and now Bowe, but it's good for continuity and it's solid!
On the bench I'm struggling a bit with the 23 jersey. I would like to go with Henshaw as he deserves a shot during the series but there are a couple of issues there. For one, we know Robbie was carrying a knock and Joe has been reticent to pick guys who weren't ready, as was shown by his benching of O'Connell, Healy and O'Brien at the weekend. He prefers to pick a guy who's fit when the margins are tight clearly. Also, Robbie doesn't really cover the wing and this is the area where we most need back-up, considering that McFadden can cover centre and D. Kearney can cover fullback. With all this in mind I'm going to suggest that he may plump for Luke Fitzgerald on the bench. He's the most versatile and he's got experience and quality, something which we are running out of on the wing at the moments with all the injuries. That's my take on it, but it was a close call!
Final Team Selection:
1: Jack McGrath
2: Rory Best
3: Mike Ross
4: Devin Toner
5: Paul O'Connell (c)
6: Peter O'Mahony
7: Sean O'Brien
8: Jamie Heaslip
9: Conor Murray
10: Jonny Sexton
11: Fergus McFadden
12: Luke Marshall
13: Brian O'Driscoll
14: Dave Kearney
15: Rob Kearney
16: Sean Cronin
17: Cian Healy
18: Declan Fitzpatrick
19: Dan Tuohy
20: Shane Jennings
21: Eoin Reddan
22: Paddy Jackson
23: Luke Fitzgerald
Connachtman [@connachtman87] - sometime blogger, long time reader, avid supporter of Connacht rugby against all odds and in any weather.