Kate Rowan: Speculation on Six Nations selection takes flight with focus on wing
IRISH rugby is rife with speculation this week. There is much talk of Heineken Cup permutations, with particular focus upon the fortunes of Munster and Leinster. Adding to the media mix is the rising conjecture surrounding Jonathan Sexton and his French fanciers.
With the fever surrounding these stories, there is not much hype around Declan Kidney’s announcement of his Six Nations and Irish Wolfhounds squads tomorrow - yet. This could also be due to the fact that much of the young blood that had been called for this time last year has since been infused.
Maybe the make-up of the squads will not provide as many surprises as some but once European destinies have been decided, there is bound to be the usual debate surrounding starting names.
Who will step on to the wing is bound to be a talking point, particularly with the absence of Tommy Bowe through injury. With the arrival of Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy to test level in 2012, many will urge the inclusion of the pair to inject the flair needed for Ireland to evolve. There are also some more experienced names that could put their hands up.
Despite making a glittering statement of intent with a man of the match performance against Scarlets in the Heineken Cup, this campaign may have come too soon for Luke Fitzgerald as to add to the 2012 test debut duo of Zebo and Gilroy. Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden have both proved solid options.
Such are the changes that Kidney has recently rung, McFadden, who earned his first cap against Italy in the Six Nations only two years ago, is considered battle-hardened with 16 caps and four tries at international level.
By comparison, 28-year-old Trimble seems a veteran with 49 caps to his name, making his Ireland debut as a 21-year-old in 2005.
Some could argue despite Ireland humbling Los Pumas in November including tries from debutant Gilroy and Zebo’s first in the green jersey, the near miss in Christchurch against the All Blacks was Ireland’s best performance of 2012.
Who started on the wing on that night? Trimble and McFadden. The week before Trimble had been omitted in favour of Zebo in Auckland and McFadden had experienced something of a nightmare as Julian Savea scored a hat-trick on his debut. Many felt the Leinster back’s woes had been due to positioning difficulties as he had played the bulk of his provincial rugby at centre and that playing on the flank against the world champions was a step too far.
The following week the 26-year-old was at his terrier like abrasive best - making Savea, who had seemed a class apart the week before, appear ordinary.
Trimble played likewise. The Irish duo’s furious work rate along with a terrific team performance no doubt played some part in causing the All Blacks to drop Savea and fellow wing Zac Guildford for the Hamilton test.
Trimble and McFadden both possess resilience. Both have been criticised for defensive errors at times and have had stints coming off the bench for Ireland. Most recently the Ulster man was dropped completely out of the match day 22 against Argentina in favour of Gilroy but has since been in flying form for his province.
Trimble showed similar tenacity after spending most of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand appearing from the bench but put in stellar provincial shifts to secure a starting berth in last year’s Six Nations.
McFadden has also shown an ability to bounce back. As he endured a difficult night in Auckland, he showed great determination in scoring Ireland’s sole try that night. The score may have been only consolation but it shows a willingness to make amends. Let’s not forget the try he scored in the dying seconds against Clermont in the Heineken Cup to salvage a losing bonus point.
This season, as last, Ireland’s Six Nations opener will be against Wales. Last year, playing at outside centre the Kildare man was remembered for being shrugged aside by a rampant George North, despite a solid enough game. McFadden’s determination, if he is selected to start could come into play to atone for that fixture.
His starting chances could be scuppered due to this proficiency at wing and centre this season and could be seen as the perfect player to appear from the bench. Another name that could be added to the wing contenders is Keith Earls, who has played much of his recent at centre.
If Ireland are to build towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup, some will argue that the pizzazz and lack of baggage carried by Zebo and Gilroy could be the perfect antidote to revive Irish fortunes.
Yet Trimble and McFadden will not be out of the game age wise and their experience in coping with past disappointments could be an excellent foil to youthful exuberance.
There should be no speculation that this choice of different skill sets is positive, hopefully this coming Six Nations will see it harnessed with good results.