We are extremely grateful to Kate McEvoy for bravely taking up the reins for Munster on this project at probably the last time any Irish fan would want to pick a team…
So this is an unexpectedly painful exercise to undertake. That and I don't actually have a fixture to pick for. The next one up is Scotland on February 2 in our 6 Nations opener but there's a lot of rugby to be played twixt this and then. I have no idea what the form and injury list for our potential squad will be, ditto the opposition.
In my fragile mental state, do I pick the best Ireland team in recent memory in its entirety, while weeping copiously? Do I put together something that's a bit abstract, with players we all think are great but haven't darkened a rugby pitch for quite some time – Stephen Ferris, saviour of the Irish back row for instance?
Do I throw together a squad composed entirely of callow youths to try and mutter something about building for 2015? I think I'm just going to attempt to out together a starting squad for the 6 Nations. If someone has a long term injury they're out. Other than that it's a bit of a lottery really. Please don't yell at me. I, and the rest of the rugby-loving nation are fragile right now. So let's bond together and get through this difficult time.
- Cian Healy – Jack McGrath is at the head of the pack of hungry even-younger props snapping at Healy's heels. Kilcoyne's progress seems to have slowed somewhat and James Cronin is another hugely exciting prospect who looks set to overhaul him at provincial level. However Church is a nailed on starter for me if fit. Solid in the scrum and fantastic in the loose this weekend, he's one of the premier looseheads out there right now and he's still only 26 so will hopefully be around for a long time to come, certainly still for the next World Cup. To be honest, I'd put him in there for this alone. Poetry.
- Sean Cronin – Rory Best was desperately unfortunate on Saturday. After a strong start including bagging a try against the Kiwis for the scrapbook he was forced off with a broken arm. It remains to be seen whether he'll be fit for the 6 Nations, and if so, how much rugby he'll have played up until that point. So best wishes for a speedy recovery but it's Nugget who starts at hooker. The front row who thinks he's a centre brings great lines and pace in the loose but his throwing is often his achilles heel. He was solid with the darts on Saturday but if I had my way he and every hooker in Ireland would be relentlessly drilled until February because it's unacceptable that the key skill in a hooker's arsenal is often shaky from Irish proponents of the position. I'm enjoying the return of hooking under the new scrum laws and hope to see more of it as the season continues.
- Marty Moore – This is a tough call on Ross as he was as good as I've seen him in years. However I'm dying to see Moore get tested at this level and despite a fantastic day at the office, Ross seems to have struggled under the new scrum laws and has frankly, been ploughing a playing trough this season, up until this weekend. Declan Fitzpatrick kept the ship steady on his introduction but he's injury prone and not a selection with future building in mind. Plus if I'm totally wrong and it all goes tits up Mike Ross is on the bench to steady the ship. Hopefully this weekend was a sign he's cracked these new scrum laws!
- Paul O'Connell – I think he can call too much ball on himself for a relatively poor return but he is, quite simply, a test-match animal. His work rate and leadership are peerless and those Pinergy ads are hilarious. Word on the street is he was an absolute beast in training this week and we saw the results on the pitch. He dominated the set pieces and showed utter commitment. Henderson is the up and comer for this position and will have a long and hopefully fruitful career with Ireland, if he can remain injury free after tweaking a hamstring on his return from injury for Ulster over the weekend. However I'm not ready for the king to leave the building just yet.
- Dan Tuohy – Toner certainly left Lansdowne Road with his reputation greatly enhanced and I'm delighted for him and I think he's a player who's often judging with unnecessary harshness. However he did fumble one or two restarts and I still do find his carrying occasionally unconvincing for a man of his size, even for taking account his unusual proportions, which must be a nightmare to shop for. This is a bit of a selfish selection to be honest but I really want to see Tuohy get a crack. He's played out of his skin in the past without selection and I admire his ferocity and his carrying. McCarthy has looked unfit for Leinster, like he's carrying a few extra kilos that don't suit him. That will hopefully change by February, and Donnacha Ryan will hopefully be back in the mix as he is due to return from his knee injury by Christmas but as I am not in possession of a crystal ball this is what I'm going with.
- Peter O'Mahony – For a man who keeps a regularly low personal media profile he's all anyone ever seems to talk about. The main complaint is that he's a faux-hardman with puzzles me a bit. Last time I checked it's not ideal to have a player in your squad who goes around throwing haymakers and getting sent off. So do we want him decking people? The world has enough Jamie Cudmores (one is plenty). He's a tough player who gets in his opponents' faces, largely without getting penalized. How is this not a good thing? He evidently has leadership qualities which are needed among the new generation and he's a quality footballer. I dislike Frankie “my client” Sheahan's attitude to pushing his players as much as the next guy but he's good and he's staying. Moving on
- Sean O'Brien – There are not enough superlatives for how good he was against New Zealand. The IRFU should move heaven and earth to keep him in the country. I will start a fund if people are willing to chip in. I'd be open to moving O'Brien to 6 with Henry starting at 7. However, there's Henry's hamstring injury to consider as well as my own personal views on backrow selection, which I had a minor raw with my father about during a prematch brunch. I don't think a traditional back row selection is automatically the best option for any team. It depends on the options you have. O'Brien may have not started out as your typical ground hog style 7 but his jackling and breakdown work is superb. He dominated one of the best opensides of all time at the weekend. Some call our backrow unbalanced. I'd rather go for nontraditional. That doesn't make it bad or wrong it just means using the resources you have to best effect rather than moaning about genuine opensides, which is a phrase that I would happily never hear again. Looking forward to Tommy O'Donnell returning from injury and in the mix too. But O'Brien for president
- Jamie Heaslip – Heaslip is another player who gets a lot of flak – particularly from supporters in red – which is to say Munster, to my chagrin, and the Welsh. Unlike O'Mahony, he does have a high media profile and this seems to rub people up the wrong way. Which is frankly ridiculous because he consistently performs to a high level, is remarkably durable on the injury front and Bear does delicious steaks. He also donated €50 to Daddy's Mc's Movember effort last year which doesn't seem like the actions of “an absolute knob” (© Conor George) to me. To sum up, he gets a great deal of unfair character assassination and is often surprisingly underrated as a player with such a huge list of achievements. He's my number 8
- Conor Murray – In the heat of the moment, I did threaten to leave the upper east stand and go pitchside to break Murray's ankle if he box kicked the ball again. However, on mature reflection, the tactic was largely successful, albeit frustrating for the spectator and was clearly part of Schmidt's game-plan. I'm not interested in giving out to a player for doing what he was told. That aside, Murray had a great game and Reddan, previously his closest competitor for the spot, didn't do himself any favours against the Wallabies. Then again, who did? Hard to believe it was a mere 8 days before the performance that followed. I'm sure Reddan would have upped his game and he and Boss have an incredible degree of experience but I'd like to see the administration looking at Marmion for the bench spot, who urgently needs to be capped lest the Welsh swoop in. Paul Marshall is of course also in the mix.
- Jonny Sexton Overworked, overpaid and over there? Only two out of those three are true. His body has been put through the mill in a high impact season with Racing where he's already played an awful lot of rugby. I've seen an awful lot of Sexton-bashing since the match and his missed kick but that is incredibly unfair. Of any player out there, Sexton will be harder on himself than anyone could imagine and he is our best outhalf. It remains to be seen how he'll come back from this both physically and psychologically. I would have Paddy Jackson as my reserve. Madigan didn't do a lot wrong when he came on, even though he did miss a tackle against Crotty for that decisive try, but Jackson has been the form of the two so far this season and has certainly proven the naysayers wrong both against Samoa and with Ulster.
- Craig Gilroy – Wings are tricky. With Keith Earls and Simon Zebo both due back by Christmas and McFadden hopefully recovered from his hand injury, I hope to have a competitive pool of fit and in form wingers to chose from come February. Gilroy is still somewhat short on game time but with two tries on his debut and a lack of fit competitors I've slotted him in. I would very much like to see more of the Belfast-born speedster in green.
- Luke Marshall – Darcy was immense at the weekend but it did have the feel of a one off performance and I find him frustratingly inconsistent for a player of his experience. Marshall still has a long way to go in my opinion but deserves the slot. Although he was the main source of line breaks against the Wallabies he seems a little short on ideas when he makes a break and more often than not runs into the man in front of him rather than looking to pass or step. Partially inexperience, partially due to lack of support. He's currently the the frame at 12 but I'd like to see more of Munster's Ivan Dineen at Heineken Cup level as I think he's one to consider for the future of the position. Extremely tough on Stuart Olding to be ruled out with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament as he would have certainly challenged among the the young guns.
- Brian O'Driscoll – Part of me would love to drop O'Driscoll for his own personal safety. How many knocks to the head can one man take without serious long term medical consequences? I also feel slightly less anxious about the future of 13 after Luke Fitzgerald's strong display, but of course, that would depend on him being injury free for more than one game at a time! My understanding is that Jared Payne will be Irish qualified in 2014 but not until alter in the year. Robbie Henshaw is undoubtedly a real talent but has looked somewhat out of his depth at this level so far. Brian's still the man to don the jersey he's made his own, despite not having been as his sparkling best this season but no one could accuse him of not putting his body as well as his heart and soul on the line for Ireland.
- Dave Kearney – Again, he'll certainly be challenged by the Munster duo upon their return to fitness but Kearney the younger has done more than enough to oust Bowe from his starting spot at this point. It may seem like sacrilege to drop the Monaghan man, one of Ireland's greatest ever finishers but he was anonymous against both Samoa and Australia and hasn't convinced me he deserves to stay as the nailed on starter he's been for so long. Kearney bragged a brace on his debut and has played out of his skin to deserve his place in the squad on his own merits. Tiernan O'Halloran also worth keeping an eye on.
- Rob Kearney – Utterly majestic this weekend, looking like he's stepped straight out of 2009. Madigan or Henshaw could certainly challenge him but right now it looks like boys against the main man. Hoping this is the start of a renaissance for the IRUPA chairman. His communication with the players around him was excellent and he really stepped forward to take on media duties at what must have surely been a low ebb. A real leader on the team
- Cian Healy
- Sean Cronin
- Martin Moore
- Paul O'Connell
- Dan Tuohy
- Peter O'Mahony
- Sean O'Brien
- Jamie Heaslip
- Conor Murray
- Johnny Sexton
- Craig Gilroy
- Luke Marshall
- Brian O'Driscoll
- Dave Kearney
- Rob Kearney
16. Mike Sherry
17. Mike Ross
18. Jack McGrath
19. Devin Toner
20. Kevin McLaughlin
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Luke Fitzgerald
17. Mike Ross
18. Jack McGrath
19. Devin Toner
20. Kevin McLaughlin
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Luke Fitzgerald
So that's it. If one thing comes out of this weekend I hope it's that we build towards the 6 Nations and are no longer a team of glorious, backs-against-the-wall once-offs and aim for a consistent future.
Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24th2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc