Sport: Oval Digest – Big Decisions In Preparation For Tough Murrayfield Test
So, a scenario: your national coach is constantly talking about ‘building a squad’, is praised in many areas for ‘giving youth a chance’ and has recently announced a forward-thinking new captain.
A tough decision arises: whether to play the 35-year-old veteran who is in shocking form and has seemingly lost his once cushy media backing, or to move forward with a gun-slinging young 10 in the form of his career, or an even younger northern upstart. Pretty easy decision eh?
I’m being slightly facetious here, of course. The decision to start O’Gara, Madigan or Jackson is far more complicated than that, but it seems fans and media have finally turned on the Kidney regime, and this weekend’s trip to Edinburgh could prove pivotal for the coaching ticket’s future.
Murrayfield isn’t the easiest of places to go at the best of times. With key injuries down the spine of the team and a lack of confidence after a bruising England encounter, Ireland are sitting ducks for a dour but able Scottish side.
The loss of Gordon D’arcy will probably have cemented O’Gara’s place at 10. Starting two greenhorns in the white heat of an away 6 Nations battle is an unlikely one for Declan Kidney.
Of course, the ‘squad building’ policy that the manager has talked about so much over the past few years seems conspicuously absent at inside centre for some reason, with either Luke Marshall set to come in for his major test debut, or Fergus McFadden set to start having not played 12 at anything near this level this season.
Elsewhere, Luke Fitzgerald will be pushing Keith Earls and Craig Gilroy after another excellent provincial showing, while Dave Kilcoyne will likely come in for the suspended Cian Healy. Don’t be surprised if we need Tom Court before the end though, against an abrasive Scot pack.
We’ve seen Ireland struggle against Scotland before, most notably three years ago in Croke Park, and moving away from personnel, it’s tactics that will be heavily analysed come Sunday evening. Ireland can’t expect the forward dominance we’ve enjoyed recently against Wales and Argentina, meaning we’ll need to keep the ball and put pace on it. Getting into an arm wrestle would be the wrong call, but whether O’Gara is the 10 to do just that is up for debate.
Scotland, for their part, will surely be licking their lips at an untried 10/12 combination. Like England, and countless other club and international teams before them, they’ll shoot up out wide when Ireland have the ball, effectively trying to block O’Driscoll and the outside backs, and making O’Gara take on more ball than he’d like. The physicality of Murray and whoever plays 12, likely Marshall, will be key here, as will the speed of Ireland’s ruck ball.
Scotland have some excellent soldiers in Gray and Hamilton, while 6ft+ backs like Visser, Lamont and Maitland will look to attack up the 10 channel. Earls and Gilroy as a win pairing must also be a worry for Kidney.
The beauty of the 6 Nations is that while it might not always be pretty, it’s certainly hard to predict. Come Sunday evening we could be celebrating another vintage O’Gara performance, or, more likely, looking back on a flat, low scoring contest. Let’s hope it’s Ireland ahead on the scoreboard at the 80.