WE HAD BEEN asking for new faces and Declan Kidney has duly obliged.
The coach that has been consistently maligned for being ultra conservative in his selection policy has only gone and thrown a spanner in the works in New Zealand.
Ok, so some of these changes were required due to injuries, like the hammer blow of losing Mike Rosss, but many of them weren’t. This is a shake-up and it had been required for some time.
That is not saying that this 15 are necessarily better than the tried and tested but what it does mean is that we will soon be in a far better place to judge.
It had become so effortless to accurately predict Declan Kidney’s side before he had announced it that this team selection comes as a genuine surprise.
If the bookies had odds on this Irish team selected for the opening test, then a backline of Murray, Sexton, D’Arcy, O’Driscoll, Earls, Trimble and Kearney would have been odds on. Yet when the squad was announced this morning, neither Andrew Trimble nor Gordon D’Arcy even made the 22.
Keith Earls has been long labelled, somewhat unfortunately, as Brian O’Drisocoll’s long-term replacement. The Moyross man’s outstanding balance and pace had him earmarked for the 13 role for some time. A perceived naivety in defence and lack of authority on occasion have perhaps diluted the claims a touch but Earls remains one of Ireland’s biggest threats with the ball.
Although he will line up at 12, it is likely that Earls will play outside O’Driscoll frequently; certainly in attack. The captain’s superior organisational skills in defence will most likely see the pair switch regularly.
This new Irish centre partnership will need to find an understanding exceedingly quickly as the New Zealand duo of Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith will provide the sternest of tests. Williams has been at his destructive best for the Chiefs this season and Smith’s running lines and hands are a class apart.
Outside the centres, there is a debutant for Ireland in the shape of Simon Zebo. The Munster winger has proven himself to be a fine finisher this season and is without doubt an exciting prospect. Although question marks still remain over his defence (see Craig Gilroy running through him in the Heineken Cup quarter final), he is exactly the type of player who should be given an opportunity on this tour.
Zebo will bring the youthful arrogance into this test match of a man who has enjoyed an excellent season and has no baggage about playing New Zealand. He will simply want to get his hands on the ball and show the world what he can do. This type of exuberance could indeed give the older players a jolt, although if he doesn’t keep a close eye on Zac Guilford, it may be a memorable experience for the wrong reasons.
On the opposite wing, the selection of Fergus McFadden is also a surprise, given Kidney has clearly favoured Andrew Trimble in recent times. McFadden will have been frustrated at the number of times he has been on the bench for both province and country in the big games and must grab this opportunity that has presented itself.
The Leinster man’s opposite number, twenty-one year old Julian Saveat, is a debutant himself who was once described as the next Jonah Lomu. No pressure then.
The Irish pack selected to do the job in Eden Park is curiously both very exciting and incredibly worrying. The second row partnership of Donncha Ryan and Dan Tuohy is the form selection as both are big, brash and hugely physical men who can also carry. A backward step will not be taken here.
Munster dynamo Peter O’Mahony predictably joins Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien in a pretty abrasive Irish back row. Richie McCaw doesn’t represent the easiest of opponents for O’Mahony, in what is just his second start for Ireland, but it is a great challenge for him and will surely benefit the flanker in the long run. The Cork Con man has little to lose.
Now to the front row. It is quite incredible to think that only a couple of years ago Mike Ross was deemed surplus to requirements in Irish rugby. Now, his absence from the Irish team exudes panic and disaster. Any mere mention of the word Twickenham is met with a shudder.
The loss of Ross in that ill fated encounter in Twickenham led to complete chaos in the scrum where the England forwards simply decimated the Irish eight. It was uncomfortable viewing and the concern is that something similar will happen on Saturday.
At least Saturday’s debutant Declan Fitzpatrick is a tight-head by trade, as opposed to Tom Court, who was called into the massacre in London. Even still, it will be a massive test for the Ulster prop. Ireland will surely look to move the ball quickly from the base of the scrum as whatever happens, the Irish eight will not be dominating in this area.
This test match always looked ominous for Ireland, given the timing of it and the injuries. However, it has now taken on a new sense of anticipation with Kidney’s selection.
Yes, it could still get ugly and Ireland could very conceivably be beaten by a big score, but this is a brave team selection that looks set out to attack.
We have been grousing about Declan Kidney’s conservatism for some time and now he has now gone and picked an adventurous team with some exciting selections. It is time to see what these new faces and combinations can do.
Ireland will most likely lose but we may just learn something along the way.