Well, Ireland begins its 3-test November series this Saturday, against South Africa (5.30), and there are already a number of concerns facing the squad, which looks to make it a very interesting series of matches.
INJURY WOES BESET IRELAND
Ireland have been struck with a nightmare scenario of injuries, with more than half the first-choice team unavailable, and many key positions left without a suitable replacement.
Rob Kearney, Rory Best, Brian O’Driscoll and Stephen Ferris have all been ruled out of the series in recent weeks. Added to that are doubts about the fitness of Paul O’Connell and Cian Healy. Also out of action are Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O’Brien.
That’s 6 of our top player’s that will be missing from the 3 matches, and 2 less than 100%. Frankly, considering Ireland’s last match (60-0 against New Zealand anyone?), I didn’t rate our chances too highly before these setbacks.
These losses also highlight our lack of strength in depth in key positions, full-back especially. Never mind not having a full-back as good as Kearney, we don’t actually have any full-back at all! None that are of international standard anyway.
Open-side flanker is another key position where we are severely lacking. Since David Wallace retired there has been no-one to step up into that position. The closest has been Sean O’Brien and he’s injured.
(These injuries also affect the provinces in crucial Heineken Cup games in December. Leinster, especially, will be facing tournament leader’s Clermont and will sorely miss Kearney and O’Driscoll).
PLAYER’S BORN OUTSIDE IRELAND QUALIFY
For the first time in the professional era, 2 players born outside of Ireland have qualified to play for Ireland. South African born Leinster hooker Richard Strauss (who qualifies on residency grounds), and New Zealander Michael Bent (who has an Irish grandmother).
I was initially against both player’s been chosen, especially seen as Bent hasn’t even played for Leinster yet, but considering the current injury crisis, I suppose we need all the player’s we can get.
I don’t really agree with the residency rule, especially for a country like Ireland. Japan and Canada, for example, with a smaller playing numbers can be boosted by overseas player’s. I don’t think we face the same problem (well, not until recently).
WORLD CUP 2015 QUALIFICATION TO BE DECIDED AFTER NOVEMBER SERIES
The IRB will rank the top team’s after the November series (other countries are also playing matches). Only the top team’s will automatically qualify for the next Rugby World Cup (2015), while the rest will have to play matches.
Ireland are currently ranked 7th in the world.
IRELAND V SOUTH AFRICA
It will be a new look Irish side that takes the field on Saturday (the team is picked on Thursday). One positive aspect of the injuries is that it gives new player’s a chance to shine (and let’s hope they do.
Here’s my pick for the team:
15. Tommy Bowe: with Kearney out, Bowe is the only viable contender for the full-back spot in my opinion. Earls I think is too small to play at full-back, and none of the other player’s have much experience at international level.
14. Andrew Trimble: playing well at the moment.
13. Fergus McFadden: I think his size would be better (than Earls) against the big South Africans.
12. Gordon D’Arcy: having an Indian Summer
11. Keith Earls: better on the wing
10. Jonny Sexton: needs to improve but seems to be coach Kidney’s number 1 out-half
09. ? : none of the scrum-halves have really put themselves up for selection. Murray isn’t as good as 2 year’s ago, and Reddan and Boss have never really stood up.
08. Jaimie Heaslip: one of our few remaining stars. My pick for captain as well.
07. ?: there are a few candidates but no stand-out
06. Donncha Ryan: played well in the matches against the All Blacks, can also cover as lock.
05. Paul O’Connell: let’s hope he’s close to full strength.
04. Donncha O’Callaghan:
03. Mike Ross
02. Richard Strauss: it will interesting to see him against his countrymen.
01. Cian Healy: let’s hope he’s fit as well
Luckily for Ireland South Africa aren’t at their best at the moment. They’ve had there own injury problems (they’ll be without star winger Bryan Habana) and haven’t been playing well (they drew with Argentina during the Rugby Championship, and soundly beaten by New Zealand).
Ireland’s performances in the November series (we also play Fiji and Argentina) may also influence Declan Kidney’s job as coach (there have been many people who feel he should go. Let’s hope Ireland can re-capture the form they showed against New Zealand in the 2nd test.
Ireland almost beat New Zealand, eventually losing 22-19. That match featured one of the greatest ever performances by an Irish team and showed that they can stand against the best in the world when they play well.