Of course we always want to see our favourite teams win their matches, but for the next few weeks the emphasis must be keeping injuries to a minimum, getting players who have been out for long periods back to test fitness, and of course filling out those last few spots which have kept pundits & bloggers in perpetual debate for the past few weeks.
So for this preview I plan to first go through the starting fifteen and try and assess the status of each player heading into the World Cup.
15 – Rob Kearney : Great to see him back on the field of play after his layoff, and though there are many Leinster fans who wonder if he’ll get his 15 jersey back off Nacewa, the popular opinion is that he is first choice to start against the Wallabies, once he can prove his fitness over the coming weeks. Also returning from a layoff is Geordan Murphy, who togs out for his Leicester Tigers in a friendly next Monday but surely must also be in Kidney’s plans.
14 – Andrew Trimble : he has always done well in the green jersey when called upon, but unfortunately for him he’s playing at a time when we have a wealth of back three talents and will probably need to play out of his skin to make the plane to New Zealand let alone a World Cup 22.
13 – Fergus McFadden : many saw Fergus as a natural replacement for Gordon D’Arcy, and not because he looks a lot like him! Pace to burn & exceptional power after contact. And he can slot a few goals over for you as well if needed! Can’t see him being daunted at all by the 13 jumper on his back on Saturday and this is a perfect chance for him to show Declan he’s not to be ignored.
12 – Paddy Wallace : Here is where many Irish fans just flat-out disagree with Kidney. I have nothing against Paddy’s abilities at all, it’s just I don’t believe that for him to be in the squad as 3rd best outhalf is good enough especially when you consider that there are arguably two players better at all his other positions as well. But of course, if Declan insists on picking him, I hope he proves me wrong!
11 – Luke Fitzgerald : The full-back experiment having failed for him in the spring, Luke must now knuckle down and scrap for a spot on the wing in New Zealand. I reckon he has both Bowe and Earls ahead of him in the pecking order, but a strong August could cement his presence on the bench at least.
10 – Jonathan Sexton : Interesting that he’s starting the opening warm-up; I wonder if Declan is going to alternate his outhalves as starters and let Paddy Wallace play up to 40m in all four matches? We will have to see. But it will be interesting to get an early look at how he plays with O’Leary.
9 – Tomas O’Leary : Another prodigal son returns. Many tip him to be Kidney’s favourite to beat out his considerable competition for the 9 jumper. His physicality certainly stands to him, but sadly if Sexton is to marshal his backline to the required standard, I fear his speed of ball from the base of rucks and mauls do not. Another area where I hope to be proven wrong!
1 – Tom Court : Few will argue that Leinster duo Cian Healy and Mike Ross are the expected starting props, so the race is on for the single spot on the bench, and I reckon Court’s versatility could swing it.
2 – Sean Cronin : Has shown good form in the most part but many will recall his dropped pass late on against the French. I think time is working against him – after a year in the Leinster set-up he could well be ready to challenge Flannery & Best as top Irish hookers.
3 – Tony Buckley : He’s moved to the Sale Sharks, but still being given a shot. Considering the experience of Messrs Horan & Hayes on the bench, however, I would say that is a very, very long shot indeed.
4 – Donnacha Ryan : Raised an eyebrow or two with his selection, but I wish him all the best. Probably wouldn’t get near the team in the backrow, but good that he gets the chance to compete maybe for a 4th lock berth.
5 – Leo Cullen : tremendous honour for him to be named Ireland’s 100th skipper. He has led Leinster out as captain at Murrayfield before, but this occasion will be very special for him. And on the playing side of things, he is in a definite battle with Donncha O’Callaghan for a starting jumper at New Zealand and with a good showing especially in the lineout he could go a long way towards securing it.
6 – Mike McCarthy : Delighted to see him make his Ireland debut at the not-so-tender age of 29, and of course it is also great news for Connacht rugby. He will concede a lot of test experience to his opposite back row but this is a good chance for him to make a statement.
7 – Niall Ronan : Although he has three full caps, they were on summer tours so in many ways he is in the same boat as McCarthy. A key part of Munster’s march to the Magners League title, he will be keen to impress.
8 – Denis Leamy : Has earned a reputation as a penalty-magnet, but still has 50 caps and being the senior man in our backrow will relish his battle with opposite number Johnnie Beattie and will want to show the Ireland set-up he has a role to play in New Zealand.
The bench – The name that jumps out for me is that of Jerry Flannery. Delighted to see him back and hope he gets enough game time in August to get him ready to face the Aussies. Also Issac Boss will be desperate to show what he can do, and at fullback, should either Kearney or Murphy falter with their recoveries, Felix Jones can prove to be a promising outside bet for the plane.
Now – as for Scotland, they are playing their cards very close to their chest, with coach Andy Robinson having wrapped his key players up in cotton wool back in May and scheduling only the two warm up matches. They have a tricky pool with England, Argentina, Romania and the pesky Georgians, and will no doubt be taking things easy in August to prepare.
When it comes to predicting the actual outcome of this match, I reckon it boils down to how well the O’Leary/Sexton axis does because if they click early, they should put enough points on the board to come out on top, though the fourth quarter may well get scrappy to make it close. I reckon the men in green will prevail by 3-5pts.
So there’s my preview – France are the opposition next week and hopefully we’ll have seen enough of the team in action to speak more about how they’re all gelling together over this crucial pre-World Cup period. Enjoy the game wherever you happen to be watching. JLP
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