A LOT OF the focus of the final two weeks of the Six Nations was on Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement so it was fitting that he went out in style and contributed so much to a great away win.
The bench players, I feel, made a winning impact again but in the end it came to a reversal in fortunes with the All Blacks game. We lost to the world champions as Jonathan Sexton missed a penalty and won last weekend as Jean Marc Doussain shanked his for France.
The Dimitri Szarzewski try should never have been awarded as he lost it forward. Thankfully, it did not end up costing us although there were nervy moments for that Damien Chouly TMO replay at the death. The final pass was clearly forward but there were so many replays. Perhaps referee Steve Walsh was enjoying the sight of himself too much in all those replays.
Looking ahead to the upcoming Tests and next year’s Six Nations, Ireland and England are the two best placed [northern hemisphere] countries. England, for most of the championship, were missing guys like Manu Tuilagi, Ben Foden, Billy Vunipola and Geoff Parling. Ireland, too, had some big players absent. Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and a couple of Lions wingers sat out the show but are all, bar O’Brien, back in action.
The hole Ireland have to fill is the obvious one — No.13. Fergus McFadden is a decent option as he can cover a range of positions but, if you are looking for an out-and-out thirteen, then you have Robbie Henshaw, Darren Cave and Jared Payne. Payne has earned his stripes with Ulster but will have to start from scratch with Ireland. Cave is a big guy with good offloading ability and nice feet but, I feel, the heir apparent is Robbie Henshaw.
Henshaw is big, athletic, fast, has good skills and he reads the game well. From a defensive point of view, as an outside centre, you have to stick your tackles. You can’t be a pushover but the days of the big guys trucking the ball up the field are slowly winding down. You still need that strength — lads like Cave, Tuilagi and Luther Burrell have that — but you need that attacking nous; the ability to be a game-breaker.
Joe Schmidt has obviously seen something he likes in Henshaw and so has O’Driscoll. The ask, however, is a big one. “You’re stepping in for the best player in the world. No pressure bud.”
Source: Robbie Henshaw
The tour to Argentina is next on the agenda and Schmidt has a decision to make about what players to take and who to rest at home. I suspect he will take a strong squad with a few fringe lads hoping to get their chance. You can look at it two ways. If you have missed out, or played a bit part, in the Six Nations you will be desperate for a chance to show what you can do. On the other hand, the established guys will not want to give that jersey up. I would expect every player to make themselves available for that Argentinean tour. We’ve seen with the Six Nations and Simon Zebo, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Regardless of what team Joe goes with, the standards and attention to detail will remain incredibly high. He expects a lot of his players and you can imagine that he does not suffer fools gladly or people who are not performing the roles he wants them too.
28 players were used over the last two months but Schmidt will want to introduce several more players to his squad, whether that is on the tour or by inviting them to extended training camps. We have seen with the last three World Cups that there are a rake of injuries before and during the event. Ireland lost Felix Jones and David Wallace before the 2011 [RWC] and Jerry Flannery had to fly home during it. I would imagine that Kieran Marmion will be called up for that tour and Schmidt will want to look at other tight-heads are there are no outstanding candidates behind Mike Ross and Marty Moore.
Revisiting the Six Nations, the greatest pleasure I took from the tournament was Ireland’s ability to adapt their game-plan to win their four games. Wales, for example, had their Plan A and a Plan B that was not too different. Ireland’s ease at adapting on the pitch, to the opponent and the occasion, was the main reason they won the title. They were not just bosh merchants, they could grind it out for large parts of the game, spin it wide, kick tactically when they needed and use their set-piece to set up scores. They were fantastic and I’m sure there is more to come.
@adrianflavin played 159 times for Connacht between 2006 and 2013 and earned two Ireland Wolfhounds caps.