Irish rugby’s abridged tour of New Zealand and Australia ends this Saturday morning against the Wallabies in Melbourne. I’ve seen complaints about the conservatism of team selection on what could be a great opportunity to blood new players in the most demanding of environments. I’ve seen the counter argument acknowledged; that, with IRB rankings as of December 2008 being used to seed the next World Cup’s pools, there is a premium on results.
I think there is just about enough time to experiment between January 09 and RWC 2011 but I don’t buy that avoiding really fresh faces necessarily gives a better chance of notching some victories. We’ve been touring the Antipodes since 79 without a win and have never taken New Zealand’s scalp (home or away). We’ve been achieving/ not achieving all that with old hands and experienced campaigners. Part of the problem may even be that the experienced players have too much negative experience of failure to these Southern Hemisphere teams. It certainly seemed to me like our fellas froze against the All Blacks (almost literally in O’Driscoll’s case judging by his shivering in the post-match interview). They were trapped by their own lack of belief and produced the knock-ons, fumbles and naive ill-discipline to confirm their own subconscious assessment of themselves as losers.
Maybe only players who really do not understand what is at stake, what a win would mean, can play to their potential in that kind of cauldron. Young players may lack nous but if they have talent and athleticism then they can be very dangerous to any opposition. That’s why it was such a pity to see Luke Fitzgerald ruled out of both tests and for England’s sake Danny Cipriani gone as well from their tour.
Whatever else selection is used for in the near future, we need to wise up to our outhalf problem. ROG is 31. Paddy Wallace is not getting any exposure to Test 10 play and neither is anyone else. At least Johnny Sexton gets a run in the Churchill Cup. At least Wallace got on the field on Saturday and at least he didn’t do so bad, hideous start aside.
Re the team to face Australia, I think Stringer is the right call, he got the ball moving so much faster when he came on and we started stretching the Kiwis. He is just so assured at retrieving the ball from even a mess of a ruck and he does it so quickly as well. I dunno about Best for Flannery, there were a lot of fine throws that were just dropped. Heaslip needs to up it after a disappointing outing and Wallace and Drico might appreciate a chance to actually touch the ball this time, test out some combinations and so on. I’m also going to keep an eye on Kearney’s running threat, it seems to me as if he’s become over-enamoured of an extravagant and momentum-sapping goosestep when appraoching potential contact.