Friday 24 February 2017

Passing up the chance to play Stringer a huge mistake

Sean Diffley

Stringer: Omitted
Stringer: Omitted

Criticism, as has been said, is never inhibited by ignorance. Even Shakespeare shipped his fair share. When 'Othello' was first staged one critic, Thomas Rymer, expressed the opinion: "This is plainly nothing other than a bloody farce without salt or savour."

Whatever about his abilities as a drama critic, Mr Rymer was a bit careless in other directions. Some years later he was executed for treason, but things have changed a bit.

I haven't heard -- have you? -- of the more modern critic suffering the supreme penalty?

Though, I must admit, there are one or two that I wouldn't mind giving a helpful hand pushing their tumbrils to the Place de la Concorde.

To tell the truth, I was not so enamoured myself by 'Othello' and now that the death penalty is abolished, I will fearlessly join the lonesome hordes of critics and take on the hitherto unbleached Declan Kidney and question his selection for duty at Twickenham today.

Not, of course, the entire choice. The return of Geordan Murphy --and his skills -- is welcome and I wouldn't quarrel with Jonny Sexton at out-half. Nor the return of Donncha O'Callaghan. But the situation at scrum-half is beyond comprehension.

In nearly half a century observing rugby, I would rate Peter Stringer the best in the position -- and not just in Ireland -- but he's not even on the replacements bench. That is not to infer that Tomas O'Leary, or the No 2 choice Eoin Reddan, are not excellent scrum-halves, but Stringer is the fastest, the most accurate and most effective passer of the ball most of us have ever seen.

Did Kidney happen to notice Stringer against Edinburgh recently? And the Irish coach, when he happens to say anything, stresses that current form is the great criterion.

Before Stringer, the fastest and most effective passer at scrum-half was the Australian Ken Catchpole, who played 27 times for his country in the 1960s and was captain 13 times. Like Stringer he had a lightning pass, but the big difference was that Catchpole's passes were short, which meant his out-half -- unlike Sexton and O'Gara -- had to position themselves much closer.

And what, you may ask, about the great Gareth Edwards? What is probably forgotten by most is that when the young Gareth was capped, he was a dreadfully inaccurate passer.

He ultimately became a great all-round footballer, but remember the famous words of Barry John, his first out-half, when Edwards apologised for some wayward passes. "Gareth, you just fire them out, I'll catch them".

Gareth, in most people's minds, is the immaculate all-round rugby back, but I'm concentrating on the passes the backs receive.

The English will surely concentrate on a physical battle upfront at Twickenham today. But is Kidney happy to allow the outcome to be decided in the forward battle? Ireland have the best backline in the game and the object is to find them as often as possible. And if we gain possession, surely the man to take proper advantage is Peter Stringer.

Irish Independent

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