The Unlucky Irish

Scotland’s victory over Italy on Saturday will have not only encouraged a nation, as Scott Johnson’s charges scored four tries in the Championship for the first time in a decade, it will have increased expectation ahead of Ireland’s visit in a fortnight.

Declan Kidney’s side looked a shadow of the side that brushed away Wales as they succumbed to England and the boot of Owen Farrell in Dublin on Sunday, and they are likely to be without a few first-team regulars as they travel to Murrayfield.

With Paul O’Connell and Stephen Ferris missing from the pack, and Tommy Bowe’s try-scoring exploits also missing out wide, the 2009 winners were always going to be depleted going into this year’s championships but injury and suspension look set to test Kidney’s depth of squad and folksy wisdom to the full.

Simon Zebo, majestic in the win over Wales, is already out with a broken foot, while Jonathan Sexton is struggling with a hamstring injury. Ronan O’Gara’s performance off the bench against England won’t have filled selectors with joy.

The veteran of 127 caps would surely be the favourite though, in spite of his performance in Dublin on Sunday, as the only other option would be uncapped Ulster stand-off Paddy Jackson, who has proved inconsistent on the big stage. Kidney, a man who rarely gambles, would be foolish to do so now.

Zebo’s injury seemingly opens the door for Keith Earls, himself struggling with an injury, to return to the starting line-up, while Leinster’s versatile Fergus McFadden is another option should Kidney opt not to risk the fitness of Munsterman Earls. Zebo’s fearless attitude and blistering pace make up for his lack of size. McFadden on the other hand may be the ideal man to marshal Scotland’s lethal back-three in the tight, but if Visser, Hogg or Maitland get a run on him, they may expose his lack of pace. Earls too can be found wanting when the going gets tough. Rob Kearney will also need to have a big game if he wants to make the plane to Oz with Stuart Hogg arguably the form full-back of the tournament.

Prop Cian Healy will miss the Murrayfield clash, after his stamp on Dan Cole earned him a date with the judicial panel, and lock Mike McCarthy-one of the finds of the November series- is also out. Those two are the top tacklers in the tournament and whoever steps in will have big shoes to fill. Tom Court is no small understudy and will be looking to prove a point having been overlooked thus far – but he could be susceptible if the Scottish pack scrummages as well as they did against Italy.

If last weekend is anything to go by, Scotland will look to pressurise Ireland at the set-piece, and questions could be asked of Healy’s probable replacement, Dave Kilcoyne, at the scrum, while McCarthy’s athleticism would be sorely lost in the line-out, even if Richie Gray could be a bit tired after playing for Sale later today.

With expectation rising after a four-try Scottish win, accomplished in some style, and the Irish casualty list mounting as the week progresses, it will be a tough ask for Kelly Brown and Scott Johnson to keep this young squad firmly on the ground as they look to garner momentum ahead of back-to-back home clashes with injury-ravaged Ireland and Wales.

Probable Ireland team: 1 Dave Kilcoyne, 2 Rory Best, 3 Mike Ross, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Sean O’Brien, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c); 9 Conor Murray, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 11 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 14 Craig Gilroy, 15 Rob Kearney

Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden

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21 comments on “The Unlucky Irish

  1. Allan on

    Irregardless of the Irish team that turns up, we will only win if we play smart and get the ref onside early doors. I make no secret of the fact that i believe the Irish are the biggest bunch of cheats in world rugby. Call them streetwise, clever, whatever. The bottom lin is ….they cheat and we will need a good game and a top ref to win this one.

  2. Nick Ruthven on

    A reasonably optimistic write up Gavin. Unfortunately, every time we go to Murrayfield expecting a win, we get a cold reminder of our lowly IRB ranked status. I fear Scottish over confidence, and a backlash by an Irish squad full of benched talent. We definitely have a better opportunity to beat Ireland than we have done in a while, but the lads have to go out and execute at the very top level.

  3. The Pigeon on

    Add Gordon D’Arcy to the injured list. Almost certain it was mentioned on sky yesterday that Wayne Barnes is the referee.

  4. JL Pagano on

    Only correction I’d make lads is that we probably won’t have two specialist tightheads on our bench – I reckon it will be Tom Court in the 17 jumper.

    And going by the feedback I’m getting there’s a significant number of Munster fans who don’t want ROG to start!

  5. Jamie Payton on

    O’Gara started this weekend whilst Jackson didn’t so I’d imagine the young Ulsterman will start. Not sure if that’s good news or not, given that Jackson is a far more imaginative stand off who is having a better season than O’Gara, and whilst Kidney is conservative, he’s no fool- O’Gara was woeful against the English.

    Also- Gordon D’Arcy is injured, I’d like to see Darren Cave get a run in his place, though as a Scotland fan I’d also like to see someone stuffed in there out of position.

  6. Gavin Harper on

    Of course I wrote this piece before D’Arcy was ruled out, so now it would look like Fergus McFadden will come into the starting XV with the final spot on the bench being a straight battle between Luke Marshall and Luke Fitzgerald.

  7. Matto on

    Don’t think we’ll see too many changes to the starting XV for Ireland. I do wonder if the bench might change a bit though with the big match at Scotstoun on Friday. Wouldn’t be that surprised if we see one of Dunbar/Horne/NDL start at 13.

  8. My two cents on

    Lamont will start at 13, he is a big old head still brimming with passion and a stalwart of the Scottish defence. While perhaps he doesnt distribute the ball so well he is the best suited to address crafty O’driscoll. Either Horne or Dunbar will be on the bench (probably Horne as i suspect Dunbar will play for glasgow).
    Bennett is far too early in his career to start- anyone who is thinking of suggesting that is higher than a kite or ludicrously optimistic at his chances ON A DEBUT.

  9. Phoenix on

    This just in…. Girth is starting! Big call. I would not want to be an Irish supporter right now! We love you Girth. Suprised that there are no changes on the bench (other than MacArthur who must be gutted that he has to wait a little longer to make his debut) but I suppose it is fair enough given that it is not fair to drop guys who have not been given a chance to prove themselves. Would have been good to see Horne or Dunbar given a shot though.

    • Cammy on

      Good selection.

      Nice to reward a good performance with some loyalty.

      Similarly, I cannot wait to see Horne or Dunbar in at 13 (with this back 3) but I’m happy to bide my time while we are winning.

      Once we’re in an unassailable lead (haha!) I’d expect sombody to get an opportunity off the bench.

    • Eoin on

      I’m hoping that we’ll see the Messiah, young Bennett, establish himself in the 13 shirt on the summer tour – I suspect that we might end up with Dunbar, Horne and Scott all competing for the 12 shirt too. Any thoughts?

    • The Pigeon on

      Lets hope for a few more of those rampaging runs. Lots of young props should take note of Girth’s leg drive when he gets his hands on the ball. I may have a flutter this week on a Girth first try scorer #GIRTH

  10. Matto on

    I cannae argue with Johnson for sticking with the same team. I’m also looking forward to the young uns in the midfield joining the fray at some point, though this perhaps is not the time with another must win game. Must win to show progress – Italy was must win to stem the ebbing tide. It’s refreshing to think that we will have Scott, Horne, Dunbar and Bennett scrapping it out for the midfield in the future, which will also pressurise the old(er) guard Lamont, Evans, NDL and Ansbro (who is quality IMO- any news on his injury?) to perform well and consistently too.

  11. Cammy on

    I wouldn’t count on getting Mighty Jo back in a Blue strip anytime soon.

    Last thing I heard about him was here.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/20495238

    Still months before he makes any sort of decision.

    I’d put grove into that ‘young and competing for places’ bracket despite the fact that he appears to have been discarded by the upper echelon of Scottish Rugby.

    Any clue as to why he’s been so outcast?

    • David Dailly on

      Not sure why that is. He is a good player and will continue to come to light by putting in good performances for his AV team. I am just glad we have him as an option. A reason could be that SJ has Dunbar, Scott, Horne, Lamont and Evans on the books at the minute. Two of the above (GW boys) have the benefit of having played together this season while Evans has played along side one or both of them.

  12. Matto on

    Aye I remember reading that at the time – I thought there might be an update on his progress by now. He’s been a big loss to our attacking threat (until the recent renaissance). Hopefully he’ll come good.

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