So as the iron curtain falls on us tonight, we look forward a week to the now crucial game versus Italy – But prior to what we thought our destiny in this tournament is in our hands. Things have gone well, we beat the Aussies, we scored tries today and the whole squad is participating in the action. The collective hunger is collective for a change and the sense of belief is shared. That sense of belief is now a sense of purpose. Reflecting on the week that was, that is what i see, a really defined purpose. We fulfilled the “potential” tag and that has lifted a burden that has hung over this crop of players for so long.
Looking at next week we have some really key things in our favour:
- Injuries thus far are minimal
- We have used 99% of the squad
- As I alluded to in the first blog, we are peaking at the right time. We are not yet peaked, for sure but we are hitting the heights at the right time
- 2 number 10’s that can offer us very different approaches to the game and 1 who has yet to find his full confidence.
Areas to watch
- Injuries – is we lose any front row member at this point, we lose alot.
- 2 number 10’s – ill fill this in below.
- Italy’s pack.
Mushy ran to the line as though it were a buffet table made just for him. Maybe it was. In the tight, he did ok all day. When put in at loose, he lost 3 penalties immediately. Not binding was the call. It was all too evident. Italy will just want to scrummage all day long and we cannot afford to get into that type of battle. Not if we want to move into a game that we control.
In the back row we are blessed with 3 exceptional players who are hitting their provincial peaks now and look as strong as any player in the tournament. Parisse for sure will pose a huge threat, arguably the best 8 in the world right now. But if we can nullify him, we will stop alot of their go forward ball. I have a feeling the hold up tackle will feature very strongly this weekend and we will use that to squeeze Italy’s attack.
Sextime will start next week and i think at 10, with Darcy at 12. The option being widely mooted with Sextime at 12 will be held back. We need to attack Italy out wide and not get drawn down the middle into attritional rugby. Sextime will be more comfortable in that role. O Gara will be preferred by many to start but I don’t think he will. Peter o reilly wrote some great stuff in todays times and it backs up some of these assertions. But the most intriguing insights was listening to Alan Quinlan and I always find that lads close to the camps, generally have a great sense of what’s happening. He has been there all week with the squad and management and he seemed confident in his assessment of things.
My call right now – Ireland by 10 this weekend and I see a final beckoning. Early I know, but looking at how things are panning out now with other groups etc and the noises from other camps, I think we have it in our sights. It reminds me of the H Cup season just gone. When I was out on Thursday I chatted with the stalwart Denis HIckie and he said a semi was a massive possibility and then its anyones. Evidence and form suggest the trophy will not travel far. The lines that NZ run are phenomenal, Ma Nonu put serious fear into France and ran the show on every counter attack. Again POR in the times wrote a great piece about the French in his assessment – you cannot beat NZ twice on their own turf – this was not really a crunch match – yet. ” no knives to our throats” … The opening 10 minutes of that match suggests, there is a performance lurking in France. My hope is that when it pans out, that performance is against England and steam runs out for the semi against us !
Looking ahead i have a few assertions – Earls is a wing – not a centre. He looks immeasurably happier and better on the wing.
McFadden is not yet world-class in the centre but needs to be played there ahead of Earls, for gametime as much as anything else. He will learn to defend with certainty and impose himself on games. Only then will he appear comfortable.
Trimble will feel very hard done by but shows he is a player who can do more than just a job when he gets on the park. Earls and Bowe against to start against Italy.
At 9, i would start Murray – he has all the attributes to be a real dictator behind that back and i loved his comment that you are now told to play and back yourself up. Ahead of Reddan and not so much Boss, he looks like he can live with a mistake. Reddans head visibly drops when he makes one. Boss, has not done much wrong and showed great savvy today to take his try. Murray just has the edge for me.
So, a week out it looks good. We are desperately hopeful for a week with no injuries and the lads to keep going as they are. When we reflect on the RWC 2011 in November we have a few lads already putting their hands up to make the team of the tournament, O’Brien, Healy, O Connell to name a few.. I know people will knock my early calls and predictions of a final. What made this group great was the ability to back themselves up when needed. They learned from 07, delivered H Cups and brought some younger players through too in the same mould. Having thrown off the shackles last week, we are now in firm control…
My final note is a tale of 2 Aussies, Matt ” the ladies love” Williams and Tim ” The tool” Horan – How different could we feel about 2 of the most famous proponents of the game from Down Under. Accused of cheating and more, Tim Horan did just about everything to ensure he gets a dig in the ribs in just about any bar he walks into should he go to Sydney. As for Mattie Williams, he is cool, collected and a great analyst. I reckon if he went on the ballot for Aras 11 now, he could win it. Not only does he appear to love Irish Rugby and our players, but he has helped in our transition to professionalism in a way that should not be forgotten. His ability to extract positive and constructive feedback is worth the price of n alone. Im a long time fan of G Hook however his comments are now borderline, vitriolic and obscene. He is obsessed with a game of Rugby that he sees, that game is in the past. Players and the game have evolved and he finds it impossible to take any joys in the positives we are seeing. It is sad, because he clearly loves the game and craves success, that is not in question. But it is sad to see him put himself out there for the level of stick he gets and for him to feel it is unjustified. Mattie Williams is still connected to the game – if you look at the pundits to always offer the best insight, it is those that still remain close to the game at a practical level. Even Ben Kay tonight on the highlights proved balanced and insightful. This game was never going to be 100% fluid, it would be foolish to think so – there were other things to focus on which all by and large confirmed/denied thoughts the coahing staff would have had. Yes it was sloppy at times and slightly forced but the key positions worked. George now is losing his appeal and i find the mornings easier to wake up listening to Matt’s pillow talk rather than George’s.
Signing off folks but a huge get well to the legend that is Jonah Lomu – get outta hospital quick and in some good state of health.