WATCHING TG4’s Rugbaí Beo coverage of Rabo Pro Direct fixtures as well as their Heineken Cup highlights package would have provided plenty of food for thought for armchair rugby fans in helping colour their decision of whether Declan Kidney got his selection of senior squad, additional uncapped players and Wolfhounds squad right, whether or not you are an Irish speaker.
Perhaps, as well as taking guidance from the on-field performances, Ireland coach Declan Kidney could take some inspiration from the Irish language ahead of announcing his 30 man squad next week and starting teams during the Six Nations tournament!
Gaeilge is rich with many proverbs or seanfhoicail (for those of you without the fluency of the ever effervescent Rugbaí Beo presenter Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill, this literally means “old words”) and are phrases of wisdom that have been passed down from generations of Irish speakers.
Some of these wise words, when put in the current context of Irish rugby would seem to give very apt guidance in selecting the correct squad for a successful Six Nations. Tournament.
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí - Praise the young and they will flourish: Blood youthful talent
Ireland’s World Cup exit to Wales was billed as a clash between experience and youth. We all know the youth won out that day but against Australia’s starlets such as Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Will Genia, the experience triumphed.
The English have opted for a youthful squad to counter their recent poor showing both on and off the pitch. However, each of the 24 members of Ireland’s Six Nations senior squad travelled to New Zealand.
In addition to this Kidney named six uncapped players to join the first week of the Irish training camp. Peter O’Mahony is probably the most high profile inclusion in this group and to the dismay of many, did not make the senior squad.
O’Mahony has proved himself both domestically and on the European stage this season should at the very least be included in the 30 man squad next week.
This is a crucial stage to start gradually blooding young players that may become some of the established faces of the squad by the time the Irish make the much shorter trip across the Irish Sea for the next attempt to claim the Webb-Ellis cup in 2015.
Ní neart go cur le chéile - There is not strength until there is unity: Back up this youth with an experienced back bone.
Balance is vital in playing the age game in sport. Fortunately, there is an array of experienced leaders with strong personalities and this needs to be used strategically to make a bridge between the old and new guards.
Conor Murray got his chance in the Irish squad at the Rugby World Cup and emerged from being a fringe contender at scrumhalf without even a Heineken Cup appearance before travelling to New Zealand to being first choice in his position.
He seemed to grow into his role in the team and a new star was born without completely unsettling the overall balance. This gradual approach needs to continue.
O’Mahony realistically would not depose the current favoured back row of Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and Seán O’Brien but gaining the experience in training and then starting from the bench seems a very realistic means of blooding young talent and keeping competition strong within the squad.
Of course it could be argued that with Ireland not having an out and out mobile number seven, the Cork man could be seen a possible “bolter” that would suit starting against the Welsh.
As well as making room for international debutants, younger players such as Devin Toner, who already has a handful of caps needs to be brought into the senior squad from the Wolfhounds on the back of his strong performances for Leinster this season.
Ireland’s second row is aging, and it would look like Donncha O’Callaghan should make way for Donnacha Ryan. With the latter in his late twenties and if Toner is used primarily as a replacement, the lessons learnt will be positive for him and eventually beneficial for the team, when we will no longer have Paul O’Connell to strike the “fear of God” into the opposition.
Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras - Hunger is a good sauce: Why Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald should be considered as starting players
Sometimes not starting a game or even not being included in a squad can add an extra incentive to players. This can set their game on fire in order to warrant their inclusion next time around.
In his man of the match performance against Leicester at Ravenhill, Andrew Trimble made his statement of intent to Kidney. The Ulster man was the probably the best and most consistent player of the disappointing run of World Cup warm-ups and did not hide his disappointment at not starting against Australia, Italy or Wales in New Zealand. He would again be rightfully disappointed to miss out the Six Nations starting line up.
The player that made the headlines when this first configuration of squads was announced was Luke Fitzgerald due to his selection as a Wolfhound. Yet he was another glorious example of proving himself for his province.
You only have to look at his performance in what turned out to be Leinster’s aptly titled “Christmas Cracker” against Bath and in the season thus far. Since not being selected for the trip down under, a spark and intent has returned to the Wicklow native’s style of play.
Perhaps, the fact he has not played since St Stephen’s Day has gone against Fitzgerald but it would seem he will need to show more of this determination against the England Saxons to make a claim to get back into the senior squad.
If Fitzgerald does force his way back as Tomás O’Leary did last year, his hunger to prove himself could serve as an excellent weapon if he were picked to start against Wales. His desire to prove himself mixed with that of his teammates who were knocked out by the same opposition in the World Cup could make for just the right mentality to get their campaign off to the right start.
Many would say Fitzgerald made way for Fergus McFadden to be included in the World Cup plans. However, during the tournament he was a fringe player. By performing solidly and consistently with the added pressure of being compared with the missing O’Driscoll, he has also laid down the gauntlet to both literally and figuratively step into centre stage.
Chíonn beirt rud nach bhfeiceann duine amháin - Two people see a thing that an individual does not see:
The importance of partnerships and flexibility – the centre pairing
In terms of the selection of this squad and then starting fifteens, one of the media talking points or possibly the media talking point will be the selection of the man to fill Brian O’Driscoll’s boots at outside centre.
O’Driscoll will be missed and his particular brand of creativity and talismanic value cannot be replicated. However, instead of focusing just on individual players to step in at 13, the centre pairing as a partnership should be examined.
The rumour mill has it that Kidney has his eye on Tommy Bowe to move from the wing to outside centre. There is still a strong case to explore some of the other options.
McFadden was seen as a strong contender for this role. Many would argue though that defensively he is still not experienced enough for the rigours demanded at outside centre. Perhaps, then fellow ex-Clongowes man Gordon D’Arcy could move from the inside to the outside to start the games alongside McFadden.
The Wexford man would have the experience defensively and with the on-field organisation skills required to play at 13 and then during the game, the two could swap over with the younger player moving to the outside channel for periods of attack.
It should also be noted that wingers such as Bowe (if he is not played in the centre), Fitzgerald and Keith Earls can and probably will step into centre off phase play. As with the Monaghan man, Fitzgerald and Earls have been touted by various pundits as possible starters in the centre.
This leads to the reassuring point that regardless of which backline player is on the bench of the aforementioned trio and also Trimble, all have some experience of playing at outside centre.
Ireland could use the absence of their tried and tested centre pairing as a blessing in disguise as this is the perfect opportunity for experimentation, which may just surprise the opposition.
Is minic a rinne bromach gioblach capall cumasach - A delicate colt often becomes a competent horse:
The argument for the inclusion of Eoin O’Malley as part of the senior squad
Returning to the theme of fostering fresh faces Eoin O’Malley is another young player that it could be argued deserves a promotion from the Wolfhounds to the senior squad on the merit of his performances for Leinster.
There is a dearth of specialist centres at test level due to O’Driscoll’s supremacy and although Paddy Wallace has served Ulster and Irish rugby well, there is not a high likelihood of him starting or even making the match day 22, so perhaps at 32 years of age, his place should be sacrificed to build for the future.
The 23 year-old Dubliner has been enjoyable to watch, running coltishly, socks pulled down, as he makes his attacking dashes through opposing defenses. These attacking skills would be good enough for test level but realistically he still needs time to grow, particularly defensively to be a true contender for a starting position.
However, the centre should be part of Kidney’s senior squad and much would be gained for his future at both provincial and international level from this experience.