Friday 17 November 2017

Gatland must resist desire to change for the sake of it

WHO would be in Warren Gatland's shoes? If he had some inkling as to the magnitude of the task in his previous role as advisor to Brian Ashton well he sure as hell is fully au fait with it now. So where to from here?

WHO would be in Warren Gatland's shoes? If he had some inkling as to the magnitude of the task in his previous role as advisor to Brian Ashton well he sure as hell is fully au fait with it now. So where to from here?

England at Twickenham in eleven days time is an horrendous prospect.

Already I have heard it suggested by some, who should know better, that because Irish hearts are yet again low and because backs are firmly to the wall that a typically resilient ``Irish'' type performance will now follow.

For `Operation Paris' a few short weeks ago read `Operation London' now. Unfortunately it no longer works like that.

This is the age of professionalism and Irish `rabbit out of the hat performances' are appearing less and less frequently these days.

More to the point. What we achieved in Paris wasn't just a level of respectability but an accompanying element of confidence totally lacking in this squad up until then.

The bulk of that confidence will have been quickly eroded after Saturday's nightmare. As things stand right now I fear the very worst at Twickenham.

It is in such light that I respectfully suggest to Messrs Gatland, Whelan and Lenihan that changes for London be kept to an absolute minimum and if that means an unchanged team then so be it.

To change now for the sake of change will do even further damage to a squad likely to be low on morale and confidence when they meet up again in Limerick on Sunday evening next to begin preparations for England.

And if that effort at Lansdowne on Saturday was disappointing then what of the shambles in Limerick the previous day? The Irish A team looked not only disjointed but disinterested as well.

A pitiful performance in which we eventually all but chucked in the proverbial towel. Half decent displays from Justin Fitzpatrick, Steve McIvor and Paul Burke plus an inkling that Killian Keane might just have something to offer a currently clueless midfield, the only positives to emerge. Clutching at straws? Sadly and most definitely yes.

IN addition while his club may be playing him at No 8 representative selection in the same position is doing David Wallace no favours whatsoever.

He is a natural born flanker. Only John McWeeney, although still red raw, and Darragh O'Mahony (a most under rated footballer) look possible longer term prospects.

Eddie Halvey continues to exasperate. Brilliant by all accounts in Quimper but largely anonymous again on Friday. Time and opportunities are fast running out for the talented Shannon flanker.

I would make one further point regarding A International rugby also. Treat it with caution.

The concept is good but the gap in pace and intensity between it and the full monty enormous.

Later on Friday evening at Donnybrook I watched a much more meaningful encounter at under 21 level including one of the most extraordinary free for all punch ups I have ever come across. Most if not all thirty players involved in a game without any undercurrent of nastiness.

The all in brawl must have lasted a full minute and finished with Welsh centre Stephen Winn making his way to the line.

WHILE the gap from under 21 to full is still considerable I would make the point that English supremo Clive Woodward, despite his vast reservoir of talent, has shown that he is quite prepared to bring even younger talent still on board.

The 18-year-old Jonny Wilkinson was on the bench for England at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Last Tuesday as I watched the Ulster schools final on television the exciting performance of a young RBAI outside-half had me on the edge of my seat. Remember the name Mark Meenan, a precocious young talent you will be hearing a lot more of in the future.

A comment equally applicable to Clongowes full back Gordon D'Arcy. Not for one moment am I suggesting that either Meenan or D'Arcy be brought into an Irish senior panel now but certainly potential senior talent at under 21 should be quickly identified and brought through.

Leo Cullen, David Watt, Frank Sheahan, Thomas Tierney and Shane Horgan all look players with serious potential right now. I would have no qualms with some if not all of these being introduced to squad training in Limerick or ALSAA or wherever and right now too.

Certainly the likes of Horgan in particular, David Quinlan, Brian Carey and Sheldon Coulter should be at least looked at in a training context. And lest the common denominator here has escaped you ... .all are centres.!

But back to the main men for Twickenham. Ciaran Clarke will be named at full back and rightly so. Much of the criticism fired in his direction at the weekend was unfair and unfounded. The wings will remain in tact but surprise, surprise a serious discussion will take place on the composition of the midfield.

As I said in my ratings yesterday it is not that either centre played badly. They did not. Eric Elwood did have a poor game but his was a blip in form nothing more. The overall problem however is the creative ineptitude in midfield. Serious consideration will be given to bringing Mark McCall back at inside centre.

Rob Henderson for all his physical attributes lacks the subtlety for inside and the pace for outside. Twickenham is not the place for experimentation but what about a look at David Humphreys in the centre at some stage?

Kevin Maggs performs his limited role to the maximum of his ability. Certainly neither Henderson nor Maggs can have a single finger pointed in their direction in terms of commitment.

Conor McGuinness will be at scrum-half feeding a pack likely to remain unchanged. The only position set for discussion is openside and here common sense should dictate that Andy Ward will get the nod over Eric Miller.

It would be most unfair to expect Miller to compete in the open against Neil Back a position now alien to the Leicester No 8. It may mean another start on the bench for our most gifted player but that is the reality of life in the fast lane of professional rugby. Victor Costello will remain in the middle of the backrow and deservedly so.

Despite hearing so called experts state that Paul Wallace's scrummaging is of such a technical quality to warrant automatic inclusion every time I seriously question the overall contribution of our Lions test tight head. Wallace should I feel be leading much more forcibly from the front.

Peter Clohessy's scrummaging may be ``technically inferior'' (whatever that means) but his general contribution around the field is most definitely not. I know which aspect I would place the greater emphasis on for Twickenham.

FINALLY back to Limerick and the A game briefly. Early second half and Paul Burke lines up to take a kick for goal at the Ballynanty end of the ground. He takes two scoops of sand and proceeds to make his ``tee.''

Meanwhile the `sand bucket boy' had toddled off thinking he had supplied enough to meet the fly-half's needs.

The kicker suddely panicked, looked around bewilderedly and signalled the youngster back for more when in typical Thomond Park fashion (popular side of course) came the cry ``Kick the ball outa that Burkey sure we've built extensions down here on less''! Only in Limerick. Only at Thomond.

* The team to play England will be named later this week after the 23-man squad originally selected for Saturday's match against Wales was chosen again.

IRELAND SQUAD Backs: C Clarke (Terenure College), R Wallace (Saracens), D Hickie (St Mary's College), M McCall (London Irish), K Maggs (Bristol), R Henderson (Wasps), D Humphreys (London Irish), E Elwood (Galwegians), C McGuinness (St Mary's College), B O'Meara (Cork Constitution). Forwards: R Corrigan (Greystones), P Wallace (Saracens), N Popplewell (Newcastle), P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Harlequins), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Johns (Saracens), M O'Kelly (London Irish), M Galwey (Shannon), E Miller (Leicester), D Corkery (Bristol), V Costello (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballynahinch).

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