Ian Madigan is Joe Schmidt’s clear preference as back-up number 10
While most onlookers expected the two young out-halves to share the starts between them this summer, Les Kiss (with Joe Schmidt never far away) handed Ian Madigan the controls for both fixtures.
Despite Ireland struggling to create openings against the USA, Paddy Jackson was never even summoned from the bench as Madigan’s superior kicking stats held sway.
Madigan’s creative streak was better displayed against Canada last night, particularly for Fergus McFadden’s opening try, but once Jonathan Sexton returns to the fold the Blackrock boy will be the one asked to cover the bench.
Experimentation is not high on the agenda
On the face of things, these quadrennial tours running parallel to the Lions tour and televised in the dead of night are the ideal opportunity to test out options in problem positions. This summer, Mike Ross could have been improved, his resolve reinforced, with a rest.
Instead, he brought his scrummaging roadshow Stateside and left Jamie Hagan and Declan Fitzpatrick with only scraps to feed off from the bench.
While there were new caps handed out in other positions and we don’t know the players struck down by illness in camp this week, scrum-half was another area of little movement. We’re well used to Schmidt favouring 33-year-old Isaac Boss’ physicality in away matches and that certainly looks like what came to pass on this tour.
Kieran Marmion won’t moan too much about being taken along for the spin, but with Conor Murray Down Under and Eoin Reddan injured, he faces a long wait before a chance like this presents itself again.
There’s a time and a place for experimentation and, in the pack, it looks to have passed Joe Schmidt by this year.
Paul Marshall, Mike McCarthy and 50-cap veteran Andrew Trimble. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
O’Mahony a future captain, but not the near future
Against the USA, the flanker led by example. He carried superbly and quickly dusted himself off after getting on the end of some big hits. The only mark against him was an inability to communicate effectively with an extremely fussy referee. He’ll not be the last, but until he manages to converse with a referee rather than plead and gesticulate, it will be a weakness to his claim to the captaincy.
Debutants pass muster
Kiss (or Schmidt, if you prefer) tried out two brand new inside centres and both impressed in very different ways. Stuart Olding was a bright spark in Houston while James Downey’s input was beautifully destructive last night.
Tommy O’Donnell’s dam-busting try in the second half of his full debut ensured his terrific form continued where he left off with Munster. Robbie Henshaw, despite two high profile handling errors in the first Test, confirmed in his general play that he has the ability to be an Ireland international for the next decade or more.
The line-out issues can be fixed
Three scrappy throws in the first six minutes last week threatened to suck all momentum out of the tour. Two were lost and O’Mahony grappled brilliantly to keep hold of the other.
Last night, the malfunctions were almost eradicated as Richardt Strauss continually found Devin Toner. Tellingly, a selection of training ground moves off the top gave rise to Ireland’s more impressive scores in the second half.
The problem in Ireland’s line-out is never down to no one man. Each moving part must be squeaky clean if we are to reclaim the facet of the game that was our greatest strength in the not-so-distant past.