THE FIRST WEEKEND of the Heineken Cup has left our trio of Kiwi provincial coaches with a range of interesting selection dilemmas (dilemmae?) – more than one of which will have a knock-on effect on Ireland, as Deccie’s November squad is announced next week. Let’s look at some shirts.
This one is intriguing. On the one hand you have a Springbok multi-talented RWC winner, Ulster’s best player of the last two years.
On the other hand you have an electric young Irishman, developing at pace, and man of the match in Week 1.
Who do you pick? Pienaar isn’t going to sit on the bench for long, but how can you drop Marshall after that performance? An away-day trip to Glasgae is probably, on paper, one for the more experienced man, but Marshall might be the smarter choice. Realistically, Pienaar is going to be the man in May, so why not give Marshall high-pressure exposure when you can?
Also, it sends the wrong message to drop the incumbent when Mr Big Shot comes back. Pienaar will be off again from next week with the Boks – Ulster will need him in December, let him rest his weary bones now before South Africa’s high intensity (and Irish) test assigments.
Leinster second row
Leinster’s second row, as currently configured, looks for the knackers yard. Leo Cullen (2012 version) and Damian Browne is not a combination to strike fear into anyone really — Tom Hayes dealt with them with ease. Looking at the potential replacement, one name springs to mind – the lad on the bench with 100 Leinster caps, Devin Toner.
If Toner cannot step up and claim a shirt now, he’s just not going to – if you see Schmidt stick with last week’s pair, or promote Denton or Roux into the starting XV ahead of Toner, for a game against the only Welsh region without one Lions contender in the engine room, that might be that for Devin Toner at this level. As much as we think that he has done enough, or justified some faith, it’s Joe Schmidt who sees him every day, and we have yet to see Schmidt give him a vote of confidence.
Leinster forwards huddle during training at UCD this week. INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Without James Coughlan, Munster look chronically short of ball-carrying heft in the back row. Last week, they picked Peter O’Mahony at 8 and Donnacha Ryan at 6 – this seemed designed to beef up the pack for an away-day assignment, and keep your best back rower in the side – no harm there.
But it isn’t a viable plan going forward really – Ryan is needed in the second row, and POM isn’t a HEC-level 8. What are the options? How about move O’Mahony back to 6, where he should get a run of games, and bring in young Paddy Butler at the back of the scrum for some better carrying. Sure, it’s callow, but so is any combination we can think of, such as Dave O’Callaghan at 6 and POM at 8. Netani Talei could start for Embra, and, to be truthful, we don’t think POM could deal with him – we would chance Butler.
Pre-season, we had highlighted this line as one of Ulster’s weak spots – beyond Fez/Henry/Wilson, we didn’t see any depth. Well, without 2 of the 3, they did ok on Friday, and Nick Williams has been their best player this season.
New Willie John McBride (henceforth NWJMB) Iain Henderson was a revelation, but if Ferris can start, and with Wilson and Williams back, it’s unlikely he will keep his place, or even get a bench slot. Henderson, of course, is a second row by trade. Should you throw him a bench slot there in Lewis Stevenson (himself starting the season well)? Hard to manage, but he is tomorrow’s man, and there is no need to tear the hole out of him. We’d go Fez-Henry-Williams with Wilson on the bench. We’ll see NWJMB captain the 2021 Lions – no need to see him Friday.
We have talked recently about how Ferg finally looks like getting a firm grip on the inside centre shirt in D4, but he might need to compromise this weekend.
The word is that Dorce will be back, and if that happens, given the patched-up nature of Leinster’s outside backs, you’d think he’ll come in and take the 12 shirt with Fads moving to the wing to
act as George North’s speedbump again try and stop George North. It’s a tough break for McFadden – if Leinster had a full deck, we think Schmidt would keep Ferg in the shirt. The ballsier call, of course, would be put Dorce on the bench and keep Andrew Conway on the wing – but Joe tends to be conservative for HEC away days.
Here is a bullet dodged by Rob Penney. Rog picking up a hamstring has reduced the number of O’Gara-supporting pieces in this weeks Irish media to zero – better to put them in the cupboard and dust them down for the Sarries double-headers. We suspected Keatley was always going to start this game, but now he gets to start it without Chief Ligind warming up on the sideline for the first 60 minutes. In a way, that would be better for Keatley – he needs to be able to deal with the unique pressure that challenging Ronan O’Gara for his shirt generates, but don’t worry – that pressure will come.