Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23.
This week our Leinster representative Iain O’Connor kicks off the post-BOD era…
Click this link for his last selection and these for the latest from Ulster, Munster & Connacht.
So there it went. This time last year we were in crisis mode and this time this year we are on top of the world, well Europe anyway. What a difference 12 months makes.
I have refrained from doing this as a team of the year as there is a load of them knocking around and they are all the exact same 15 players. I have decided that if there was a game next week, this is what I would pick.
Before I start I want to address something that I feel is very important to get out in the open. A certain former number 8’s musings in a newspaper over the recent past. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure basically Denis Leamy has been listing in a national newspaper Munster players who are aren’t appearing in green too often and claiming that geography is the reason they are not being picked.
Although he is clearly going for the shock factor, questioning selection on the eve of a title decider? It is a sad state that even when we are winning we can’t get over regional bullshit. This may seem to some as a man sticking up for his province, as he is entitled to do, but this can wind up being quite dangerous and result in Keith Earls getting caps. And no one wants that. No one. Anyway, that’s out of my system so let’s move on.
1. Cian Healy – Still the best this side of the world. For the first time in a long time he came under pressure for his spot and came up with the goods. The trio on the bench have gotten some good game time but I would like to see church on for longer. He is not as old as the other 2 and I think can do a 70/80 stretch.
2. Rory Best – The front row unit has not worked this well in a long time so I wouldn’t split it up. Best always gives 100% and is fantastic in the loose. Would like to see Cronin earlier in matches.
3. Mike Ross – Has had a solid season thus far. Not setting the world alight but certainly not doing himself a disservice. Martin Moore is shaping up nicely to replace him in the next year or 2.
4. Paul O’Connell – Still has a lot to offer just in different ways. I wouldn’t have him as captain and before you scream Leinster bias here is why. It is easier, in my opinion to be a new captain with some other leaders on the field. Help ease into the role. POC is going to play like a leader regardless so why not let him blood someone new into the role before he retires. The question of who I will leave for another day. Moving to POC’s performance if we are being honest he has been grand. Couple of good moments, couple of not so good. Would love to see him go forever but the first (second, third? What are we up to now?) signs of him starting to slow down are for all to see.
5. Devin Toner – Levelling out to be quite a handy second row. Benefited from Mc Carthy and Ryan being out and made the slot his early on and has held off Tuohy and Henderson. If you could add a stone to him he would be the dream second row.
6. Peter O’Mahony – Has been good. Has developed beyond the scrapper to a more rounded player. Personally I thought he was anonymous in Paris but was great in the competition to that point. When O’Brien and if Ferris comes back he may drop way down the rankings for me. Also his Irelands Call needs a lot of work.
7. Chris Henry – My player of the tournament. Has been awesome. Early stutters have been long forgotten and he is in great form. First name on the sheet for me.
8. Jamie Heaslip – Has been getting his hands on the ball a bit more without O’Brien, Ferris etc. and has been playing more visibly as a consequence. Still gets through a Trojan amount of work. Nobody comes close to taking his spot at the moment. Ruddock for me provides back row cover until Ferris is fit (he will be fit, if we believe it will happen). Did well every time off the bench and went about it with no nonsense.
9. Conor Murray – I said last month that I think he kicks way too much and way too loose. I stand by that. Ball in hand he is unstoppable, why doesn’t he do that more? As for challengers Marmion and Paul Marshall are the long term options. Argentina could be a chance to get them time.
10. Jonny Sexton – Tired? No chance. Streets ahead in terms of the 10 shirt. I prefer Jackson on the bench for a different style of game. People are critical of his kicking in Paris but the 2 5 pointers tend to outweigh that argument. Lets face it, Carlos Spencer never kicked a goal in his life…
11. Andrew Trimble – If Henry was man of the tournament Trimble was only just behind him. At the start of the season he was seen as a touch of a wild card but I think he is now our number 1 winger.
12. Fergus McFadden – It pains me to say it but by the end of the England game we looked tired in the middle of the park. I hate to say it but I think Darcy looked wrecked and slow. Enough fight in him to get through the championship but I think he should be taking a back seat from here. Mc Fadden is not my first choice as I would run with Luke Marshall but he can do a job. Other options are Bowe in the short term when he is fit or Madigan. I would stump for McFadden.
24. Robbie Henshaw – So here it is. This was the easy part of writing these things. Firstly I am retiring the 13 shirt for the year, it’s only fair, and secondly that is the only bit of nostalgia I will be going for. We need a clean break. Whoever sits into second centre has to be allowed to make it their own and not constantly be compared to BOD. Everybody take a moment to remember that the first time you see someone new in the 13 shirt please.
I am going for Henshaw but that is on the flip of a coin. If Fitzgerald was fit I would probably have gone for him. Cave is another option as is Olding or Bowe again. I would take Henshaw as I like his style. I do think he needs to get out of Conn or Conn need to improve. This position will be problematic and will take some tuning. It is also a massive one to fill.
14. Dave Kearney – Thought it was a bad call to promote him so early at the start of the 6 Nations. I was wrong. I am happy to admit it. As for other back 3 players, Bowe will have a fight to get back in and I think Zebo should be out in the cold for a little longer. With Zebo teams tend to expect a flash of magic from him and let the system suffer due to that. I also just don’t like him or the way he wears his socks. So there.
15. Rob Kearney – Has a maturity about his game now that I never remember being there. A real leader. Also the head popping out of the ruck meme made me laugh at an awkward moment on a bus.
1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best
3. Mike Ross
4. Paul O’Connell
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Chris Henry
8. Jamie Heaslip
9. Conor Murray
10. Jonny Sexton
11. Andrew Trimble
12. Luke Marshall
24. Robbie Henshaw
14. Dave Kearney
15. Rob Kearney
16. Jack McGrath
17. Sean Cronin
18. Martin Moore
19. Iain Henderson
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Tommy Bowe
Iain O’Connor (@iain_not_ian) is a Leinster fan who should have retired from playing bad standard rugby years ago. Part time stand up comedian and full time radio person he is the presenter and creator of Heave, a schools rugby show on Dublin South FM. He also likes rugby league and names Alisona Taumalolo as his hero.
NEXT WEEK ON LET THE SCHMIDT HIT THE FAN - Our Munster blogger Kate McEvoy shares with us her latest Irish matchday 23