Saturday saw the end of the domestic season for the four Irish provinces with the conclusion of the Rabo Pro 12, in which Leinster went down to a Shane Williams-inspired Ospreys in what must be one of the games of the season. Despite that result, it’s been an excellent season for the provinces with Leinster retaining their European champions status, Ulster reaching the final for the first time since 1999, and Connacht participating in their first ever Heineken cup. No doubt the victory of Quins will live long in the memory out West. Munster, by contrast, has a somewhat indifferent year by their own lofty standards, yet their undefeated progress through the group stages, coupled with reaching a Celtic League semi-final, makes it a respectable, if not awe inspiring year.
With all of that out of the way, Irish rugby can now turn its attention to the upcoming tour of New Zealand. To sum up the situation, we’re screwed. With the likes of Stephen Ferris and Paul O’Connell unlikely to tour after gruelling seasons in which injury has been a near constant companion, Ireland needed to have all other hands on deck so as to stand a good chance of competing with the newly crowned world champions, however we’ve encountered something of a propping crisis over the last few weeks. Ulster loosehead Tom Court is ruled out of the tour with a broken tumb and in aftermath of Leinster’s loss on the weekend it appears that Mike Ross may be unable to tour, having torn part of his hamstring. This is bad.
Ireland’s propping issues are pretty well known. We have about 3 proven international props at best and with two of them now potentially out, it could be a very long tour for the Irish pack. At loosehead prop we’re still blessed with having an excellent player in Cian Healy. Immense in open field and a passable scrummager, Healy will be likely to start every test. Going off the Barbarians game it appears that his back up will be Brett Wilkinson of Connacht, a naturalised South African. Wilkinson is by no means a bad player, but an international standard prop he isn’t, however all things considered we could do worse. The tighthead side presents a far greater challenge to the Irish selection panel.
Since Mike Ross came to the attention of the Irish media way back in 2010 he’s been the first name on the team sheet. Not because he’s an amazing scrummager, but due to the sheer lack of other options. At that time John Hayes had reached the point where he could no longer lock a scrum (not a slight against the man, he was about a bazillion at the time) and the ineptitude of Tony Buckley was becoming something of a national embarrassment. Step forward Mike Ross and all of a sudden there’s some credibility to the Irish front row again. However there’s been a distinct lack of progress in making sure we don’t end up in a similar situation again and lo and behold, here we are. If Ross can’t tour, it’s likely that Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick will start in the 3 shirt. A passable scrummager who contributes little in open play, Fitzpatrick has had a horrendous time with injury over the past few seasons and is very much second choice up at Ulster behind John Afoa. A decent hour against a poor Edinburgh front row in the Heineken Cup semi-final will provide some hope that he could lock the scrum should he be called upon and were he able to do that for an hour, I’d be bloody delighted. He’ll start against the Barbarians on Tuesday, so we may perhaps have a better grasp of his strengths and weaknesses after that.
Fitzpatrick is, in my opinion, only an option for about 60 minutes however, meaning we’ll need to find another tighthead to sit on the bench. It looks like it’ll be Ronan Loughney at the moment, which is a thought that’s fit to give the Irish fan many sleepless nights. There’s Stephen Archer too, a man who’s played for Ireland A, despite not being worthy of a professional contract. Jamie Hagan would be the most logical choice, having been a starter for 2 seasons for Connacht, but his failure to break into the Leinster 23 ahead of Nathan White this season is certainly a blemish on his record. Then there’s the possibility that Kidney could break with character entirely and pick Michael Bent, Taranaki and Hurricanes prop who can cover both sides of the scrum and has recently declared that he wants to play for Ireland, moving to Leinster after the completion of the ITM cup. Word has it that Bent is a very good scrummager if nothing else, and would have picked up more Super Rugby caps were it not for a falling out with the current Hurricanes management. While the idea of picking a player to play for Ireland before he’s ever set foot in the country is somewhat repugnant, despite teams and all that jazz. But it’s unlikely to happen of course.
To surmise, things are not going to go well when we make the long trip to New Zealand. However, let’s be hopeful that someone steps up to the plate over the three tests and we can finally have another option at 3. But unless Deccie Fitz improves an awful lot, I don't see it happening.
Oh well, we could always recall Buckle
Back to Blog