Sport Rugby

Sunday 26 March 2017

Buckley must wreak havoc consistently

Hugh Farrelly

ANYONE who has been to Heuston or Connolly Station will have noticed the particularly intimidating security guards who patrol those establishments.

They are all big men, dressed head-to-toe in black with what appear to be SWAT-type bullet-proof vests and big chunky belts carrying a variety of threatening looking pouches. A daunting sight, at first glance, as they swagger about with a Wyatt Earp gait but, for all their menacing, police-state apparel, closer scrutiny reveals the truer picture.

Should anyone attempt to hijack the 4.50 to Waterford or hold up Eason's, these station Stasi are not about to produce a .44 Magnum to bring down the perpetrator. Nope, they may strut around as though they are carrying an arsenal but all those pockets are packing are walkie-talkies, mobile phones, biros, notepads and maybe sandwiches made by the wife.

Not exactly Judge Dredd.

There is a big difference between looking threatening and carrying it through. The Neath side of the late 1980s and early 1990s fancied themselves as hardy boys. The 'farming front row' of Bryan Williams, Kevin Phillips and Jeremy Pugh and back-row Rowland Phillips were cutting a swathe through Welsh club rugby and strutted onto the international stage confident of doing the same.

Short cropped hair with collars tucked in, Brian Moore fashion, to indicate that they were tough hombres, they were a fearsome looking bunch, alright. Problem was, they had nothing to back it up and were soon found out.

We are now less than nine months away from the World Cup and while this season has proven that teams who adapt best to the greater fluidity under the new interpretations will prosper, it has also shown that the foundation for fluidity is still brute force and grunt.

Time and again we have seen teams come up short because of deficiencies up front, notably at scrum time, and for all the forensic probings of Munster's failings after they exited the Heineken Cup last weekend, failure to provide a solid platform was the decisive one.

Tony Buckley is the big man of Irish rugby at present. In eras gone by, it was Terry Moore, Sean Lynch and Moss Keane. Now it's Buckley -- an enormous man and a terrifying sight at full tilt. Yet he is not the intimidating brute he could be. Many theories have been proffered as to why, the most regular that he is too nice a man (the archetypal gentle giant) and lacks the bite of dog of a Meads or a Clohessy to be the wrecking ball he could be, while injury has also been a factor.

But Buckley has shown his capacity to wreak havoc on the rugby pitch -- the bulldozing of England and Wasps behemoth Simon Shaw three years ago, his remarkable performance off the bench against Fiji in 2009 -- he has also shown his ability to cut the mustard at scrum time, most recently against the highly rated Rodrigo Roncero in Ireland's win over Argentina in November.

The problem is consistency. Whenever Buckley takes the pitch for Munster or Ireland, there is an element of finger-crossing in the hope that it will be one of his big days and that is not a healthy situation heading into crucial Heineken Cup or World Cup matches.

Class

Gert Smal was in charge of the South African pack that powered the Springboks to the last World Cup and knows a good forward when he sees one -- Smal is on the record as saying that Buckley can be a "world-class" tight-head.

You can see why the Ireland forwards coach would make that statement. When he is good, Buckley is very, very good. He is 6'5" and more than 20 stone but is still able to build up a head of steam that can leave a trail of destruction in his wake, while his handling skills, as he showed against Fiji, are exemplary.

Some have seen Buckley's demotion to the 'A' squad as an indication that the Ireland management have lost patience with his wavering form but that is not necessarily the case.

While it has long seemed obvious that Ireland should start their best scrummager, Mike Ross, at tight-head, a string of consistently effective performances would propel Buckley right back into the mix and he could be a devastating force off the bench when games are hanging in the balance.

But that is down to him. There are not that many matches left to make a convincing argument before New Zealand 2011 and Buckley needs to maximise every opportunity he gets. The fervent hope is that he does exactly that because, at his best, he could be an influential figure in Ireland's bid to reach their first World Cup semi-final.

The train is leaving the station and Buckley needs to get on it.

Irish Independent

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