Hawkeye Sidekick

Jan 28th, 2020: Ireland Rugby Team Selection Thoughts

Experience aplenty in Andy Farrell’s first test team selection

Ireland team selection goes with tried and trusted to start Farrell era:

The first Ireland team selection under Andy Farrell is now official. For those who may have thought that this side would contain several debutantes, then they are disappointed. This starting lineup is an experienced selection with the aim of winning a test match to restore confidence and an opening win for the new head coach and rejigged management team. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the test side.

Food for Thought:

There are a number of subplots from this opening test match selection. Caelan Doris gets his debut test cap at eight; reward for an outstanding season thus far with Leinster Rugby. A massive achievement for the player and a massively proud day for his family, friends and everyone connected with Ballina in Co. Mayo. The selection was highlighted by the mass media hordes at the start of the week and it has meant a reshuffle in the back-row unit.

O’Mahony omission:

Doris’ opportunity means that it was a straight shoot out between Stander and O’Mahony for the last back row jersey. Farrell has gone for Stander on the basis of his work load, ball carrying ability and his versatility to switch to eight if the need arises during this test match.

O’Mahony is a massive impact player to come off the bench. The omission should galvanize O’Mahony; his form has been steady this season and with his line out cameo during this test match will provide a timely reminder of his massive worth still to this squad.

Herring inherits Best jersey (for now):

Rob Herring starts as Ireland hooker for this test match. A big opportunity for the Ulster Rugby man to create a marker for the jersey which is wide open. Herring is experienced (despite his cap record) but why do I have nagging concerns on the line out? Ulster Rugby set piece issues seen in recent weeks, not all to do with Herring but rest assured that Scotland will look to test and expose any confidence issues with the Ireland lineup from minute one. Herring knows that a mixed set piece and the jersey is wide open for someone like Ronan Kelleher to take away immediately. All eyes on the hooker jersey on Saturday!

Murray retains the scrum-half jersey:

The social media platforms had their ask on the nine jersey in the weeks presiding this team selection. Nothing that Conor Murray could do in the last few weeks was acceptable in some people’s eyes. Murray’s form has improved steadily in recent weeks. The Ospreys’ performance was really good; prominent throughout, scored a try and bagged the man of the match accolade.

John Cooney has had the ESPN moment game reel moments this season, but this is test match rugby and another level up in standard. When you throw in the fact that there is a debutante at eight, you start to see the selection policy here from Ireland management.

Murray and Sexton at half-back will provide experience and game management for Doris at the back of the Ireland scrum. Cooney has quality, his cameo off the bench with Scottish defenders tiring should provide more evidence of player progression and he should get game time aplenty in this tournament. The selection at scrum-half given those factors for me is solid from Farrell.

Familiarity breeds contempt:

This is very much an experienced Ireland side facing Scotland this weekend. The opening round of this tournament is always dominated by precision and inaccuracy issues. Farrell has looked for familiar combinations to get Ireland off to a solid footing. The front five has experience and quality. Ryan and Henderson looking to establish a pack platform along with the front row at set piece.

The back line has excitement and familiarity. Andrew Conway slots into the back three, could not be left out after his performances with Munster Rugby this season. He has been the standout attacking threat for the province this season. Larmour, Stockdale and Conway back three has pace and attacking threat written all over it.

There was much conjecture on the three quarters. Aki and Ringrose provide the physicality and playmaking ability to potentially unlock the Scottish defense provided quick ruck ball is available. Aki will feel that he has a point to prove after a disappointing end to the RWC 2019. Ringrose’s form has been sensational this year for Leinster Rugby.

Deliver or Else:

First fixture out but the pressure to deliver performances is on for those who have the starting jersey. There is ample competition in the squad for hard calls to be made next week if Ireland deliver a wayward display. Toner, Kelleher, O’Mahony, Cooney, Henshaw will be chomping at the bit to get game time for game day two. Ireland need to hit the ground running. Failure to do so and the malaise of the RWC 2019 will quickly suffocate the side and Andy Farrell’s reign. All eyes on Saturday then!