This time last year we posted a guest article by Kevin O'Brien about a possible Irish Wolfhounds selection going into the Six Nations campaign. He has kindly offered a follow up as we prepare to defend our title in a few weeks...
There is an exciting year ahead for all rugby lovers with the culmination of the new European Cup, the 6 nations and of course the World Cup. But before this all kicks off we have the small matter of a Wolfhounds game against the English Saxons which will take place in the newly refurbished Musgrave Park or as it’s now to be known “Independent Park” in Cork on January 30th. I for one always find myself excited by the prospect of a Wolfhounds game to see what players are knocking on the door of the senior squad. It’s an important fixture to give players a feel for international game and to familiarise themselves with what is expected of them in that, dare I say it, environment. When Joe Schmidt took charge of the international set up he highlighted the fact that he needed to grow the size of the panel and such games are important to allow him achieve that goal.
In the corresponding fixture last year Ruddock, Henshaw, Kilcoyne, Trimble, Moore, Henderson, Tuohy, O’Donnell and McGrath were all involved. These players went on to play important roles in the 6 nations win as well as the successful 2014 Autumn series. Many of these players might not have been considered as close to the match day squad at the same point last year but most went on to have big seasons are now well established in the senior panel and indeed the match day 23.
Given the importance of the year ahead and the seemingly never ending injuries we seem to be dealing with at present this year’s game is an important fixture to allow the coaching staff look at players and allow players put their name in the mix for selection. Given this I now put forward my team for the game. Selection is based purely on current form and I would also note that just because a player might be included does not rule him out for the Six Nations kick off against Italy. Also injured players have not been considered. For the record I offered similar selection for last season with the Irish Management agreeing with 13 of those chosen.
1 James Cronin
The Munster loose head is only back from injury but should have enough game time under his belt to allow his inclusion by game time. As is the case in Munster where he is fighting with Dave Kilcoyne for the number 1 spot a fully fit Cronin will probably be engaged in a similar battle for a spot in the senior squad. This game is a good opportunity for the player to impress the coaching staffs who probably have a good handle on Kilcoyne’s abilities at this stage.
2 Richardt Strauss
After lengthy spells out with injury Strauss is slowly getting back to his best form. He is being pushed hard by Duncan Casey but gets the nod.
3 Martin Moore
Another who is just back from a long-term injury. A run out in this game will be ideal to help build up match fitness before the 6 nations. Given Mike Ross patchy form at scrum time a fit fully fit Moore could push Ross hard for the no. 3 jersey this season for club and country.
4 Dave Foley
Foley is having a very strong season having finally made the breakthrough impressing first in European games and then when used in the Autumn internationals. A game here will help further in familiarising him with international set up. He has become an important part of the squad given injuries to Henderson & now Tuohy.
5 Mike McCarthy
Has been involved in most if not all international squads when fit under JS. His experience will be needed in this game against what is sure to be a strong Saxon team.
6 Robbie Diack
Played well when used in the autumn internationals. Good line out option and very experienced. Will be eager to impress to keep his name in coaches mind.
7 Tommy O’Donnell
Has been playing very well for Munster this year after a difficult end to the season last year. Pushing hard for a place in the Senior match day 23. A strong outing here will only enhance his chances.
8 Jordi Murphy
Common theme here as he is another getting back to fitness after a lengthy injury. He is starting to show his best form which earned him involvement in last year’s 6 nations. Back row positions in the senior squad are going to be very keenly contested through the season. He will need a big game.
9 Kieran Marmion
Continues to impress for Connacht and is surely pushing hard for inclusion in the senior team. Many feel he is already the best back up to Connor Murray but does Joe? A strong performance in this game can only enhance his chances.
10 Ian Keatley
Tough one to call but Keatley has been playing very well all season. Assuming Madigan is the preferred back up to Sexton; Keatley’s form would put him next in line, although Paddy Jackson will push him hard.
11 Craig Gilroy
Has been performing strongly in a stuttering Ulster side this season. He seems to have found his old confidence and finishing ability. Big competition for a spot on the wings in the senior panel.
12 Stuart Olding
Getting plenty of deserved praise for his performances this seasons. Exciting player on the cusp of the senior squad. Could square off against the “messiah” himself Sam Burgess. Would be a good battle.
13 Luke Fitzgerald
Close to his best in recent matches for Leinster playing in this position. The one player in the Leinster backs division who has constantly looked a threat. Worth a run at 13 in this game to provide another option in this position.
14 Dave Kearney
Has fallen down the pecking order a little due to injury and the performances of others. But like many of the others who have just returned from injury he has started to find his best form.
15 Jared Payne
Was tempted to go with Felix Jones but would love to see Payne playing international rugby in what I think is his best position at full back.
Subs: Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Duncan Casey, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Jack Conan, Andrew Conway
I’ve endeavoured to pick players who have a realistic chance of making the 6 nations or World Cup squads. Injuries have been and continue to be a real feature of Irish rugby over the last 12-18 months. We were missing so many front line players from the Autumn internationals that it was hard to feel positive going into those games. Yet the likes of Ruddock, Henshaw, McGrath were star performers. Only 12 months ago these guys were starting their international / careers season on the Wolfhounds team. It just helps highlight how important these games can be for players to put themselves in the frame for selection if and when they might be needed.
I continue to see the Wolfhounds as an important part of the development of test players. I know that there are financial considerations for the IRFU as well as fixture issues but feel that there is serious merit in getting back to playing Wolfhounds fixtures against the other 6 nations teams like we used to do in the past.
As for this years game it should be a belter. It’s World Cup year. Players from both sides will be out to impress. There is good strength and depth in both squads. And if the rumours are true we could be witnessing the international debut of Sam Burgess who is going to be the greatest rugby player ever!! Not to be missed so get along if you can get along. COYBIG!!!!
Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.
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