Crunch time: Five selection headaches for Declan Kidney
With Ireland’s Rugby World Cup Squad to be decided on Monday, Declan Kidney and company have some key issues to ponder this weekend.
Boss or Murray?
For all intents and purposes, it would seem as if Peter Stringer will not be on the plane to New Zealand. Despite all he’s done in an Irish jersey and the fact that he is the best passer of all the five scrum halves in the provisional squad, he hasn’t got a look in so far and only an injury crisis or a drastic change of mind from Declan Kidney will see him get a game next month.
With Tomas O’Leary and Eoin Reddan looking like dead certs, it looks like a straight fight between old hand Isaac Boss and young tyro Conor Murray for a seat on the plane. Boss made quite an impact for Leinster last season, whether it was off the bench or in games in which his greater physicality was required. Murray, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air for Munster and showed against France that international rugby doesn’t faze him.
So will the experience of Boss or the precociousness of Murray turn Kidney’s hand? Considering that O’Leary ticks all the boxes that Boss does, we reckon he should give youth its fling.
It’s been nigh on seven months since Stephen Ferris threw a rugby ball in anger and although he’s said to be flying in training, there’s no substitute for competitive rugby, something which the Ulster flanker is sorely lacking with only weeks to go until the big kick-off.
That said, he’s on the bench against France this evening, so all judgement should be reserved until after he gets a chance to show that he’s back to his old self. You’d imagine a decent cameo appearance of around 30 minutes or so would be enough to convince the Irish management.
The fact that they have been so patient with Ferris speaks volumes for his abilities as a player and his importance to the Irish set-up. A major driving force during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign in 2009, a fully-fit Ferris would be a massive boost to Ireland’s prospects in the competition and if selected for the squad, he’ll be keeping the preferred back-row triumvirate of O’Brien, Wallace and Heaslip on their toes.
Sexton or O’Gara?
Ah, the old chestnut. Following his display against England in the Six Nations and his tour-de-force against Northampton in the Heineken Cup Final, Johnny Sexton moved firmly ahead of his once bitter foe in the race for the out-half slot, but O’Gara reopened the debate with a quality showing against France last week.
Sexton's still the preferred choice, but ROG is keeping him on his toes
As he has done so often in the past ROG oozed control in Bordeaux and in what may be the twilight of his career, he seems to be entering the fight for his starting place with renewed vigour rather than being content to warm the pine on a permanent basis.
Although he’s still in pole position, Sexton could do with a decent display against France to remind Kidney what put him there in the first place. On the whole, however, it’s brilliant to see our two out halves in such encouraging form at such a crucial time.
Is there a need to bring Paddy Wallace?
Often the incumbent of the number 22 jersey which Keith Earls has openly declared he is at pains to avoid, Wallace’s versatility has been both a blessing and a curse over the years. It has been a blessing in that it has earned him a place in many a match-day squad when it seemed as if there were better options available, and a curse in that it has denied him the opportunity to nail down any particular position.
At the moment, Ireland look pretty well stocked in every position that Wallace can play in. At out half, you have O’Gara and Sexton. At centre, O’Driscoll and D’Arcy are covered by Earls, McFadden and even Bowe and Trimble if required. At full back, the form of Felix Jones and Rob Kearney’s impressive return from injury would suggest that even the talented Geordan Murphy won’t make the final cut, with Luke Fitzgerald and Earls also available to slot in if needed.
Wallace is a better player than his detractors would suggest but that doesn’t mean he is entitled to a place in the World Cup squad. The need to have a third number ten in case anything happens to Sexton or O’Gara, however, could count in his favour.
Could John Hayes have one last hurrah?
Ireland's first choice front row is no secret, but the need to provide ample cover in a squad of 30 means that there will probably be five props brought to New Zealand, and it is not an area where we are overflowing with options.
Tom Court's ability to play at both loosehead and tighthead means that he is a certainty not only for the squad but for the matchday 22, while Marcus Horan will probably be selected as cover at loosehead after a decent showing from the bench against Connacht.
With Healy and Ross already on the plane, that leaves room for one more tighthead prop, with Tony Buckley and John Hayes battling it out for the last spot. As much as Buckley has flattered to deceive in an Irish jersey, his (questionable) ability to fill in at loosehead and threat as a broken field runner means that he is likely to get the nod.