I won’t risk repeating what has already been written here regarding today’s team announcement, as I think the views of SJ, John and Munstermad reflect those of many Irish supporters.
We came to this World Cup with plenty of hope, and indeed expectation. A couple of under-par warm-up matches did little to perturb us, as we all felt that the form Ireland had shown during the Six Nations would come through again to ensure we had a good run in the World Cup. “A good team doesn’t go bad overnight” is the old cliché, but going on Ireland’s performances so far, it looks like that is exactly what has happened to Ireland.
Today’s team selection does little to inspire confidence. On the positive side, Jerry Flannery’s place in the starting XV is long overdue, but we might ask if Rory Best was fit, would he still be starting? It’s good to see Eoin Reddan jump to the top of the pile for the scrum-half position. But in truth will it make much difference if our pack are as ineffective at hitting rucks as they have been so far? We can have the best scrum half in the world, but if the French are slowing up the ball, he’s still going to have difficulty getting it out.
Andrew Trimble’s form hasn’t been what we might have expected from the Ulsterman, but Denis Hickie seems to have hit a brick wall, so I’m not going to argue with this one.
The big issue here is the bench, and what it is for. A good coach can make tactical use of the bench, and his choice of replacements is as critical as his starting fifteen. It’s not just to replace men that are injured or tired, but to also introduce replacements who can mix things up a bit. O’Sullivan has made precious little use of the bench so far. It’s plain to see that Donncha O’Callaghan is well below par, so why hasn’t he tried putting Malcolm O’Kelly on for fifteen or twenty minutes. At 87 or so caps, it’s not as if Big Mal lacks experience in international Test Rugby. Bringing on players for the last minute of a game is pointless, as there is bugger all they can do at that point.
But, as Munstermad has already pointed out, what the hell is Eddie thinking of by putting Gavin Duffy on the bench ahead of Geordan Murphy? Is this further evidence of O’Sullivan’s stubbornness, like when he left David Wallace in the wilderness for so long? I know Murphy has had a couple of mares in games against the French, but he closed the domestic season in England in blistering form, and surely deserves another chance.
And what of Alan Quinlan? Surely a place on the bench was the least he deserved?
George Hook made the point on Newstalk this morning that Ireland have won only once in Paris in the last 35 years. The last time was seven years ago, when several of this squad had just made their breakthrough to the first team. Lest we forget, here are three highlights from that day.
(And yes, I know it was actually in March, and not April, but what would Ella Fitzgerald have known about Irish rugby anyway?) 🙂