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Balls.ie Rugby Nerds Ponder: What Can We Learn From Thrashing Fiji?

Balls.ie Rugby Nerds Ponder: What Can We Learn From Thrashing Fiji?
By Donny Mahoney Updated

Ireland 53. Fiji 0. What does it teach us? Well if nothing else, the future of Irish rugby of Irish rugby looks decidedly brighter and has a distinctly Northern accent. Our rugby nerds considered the match and asked which players may have forced themselves into the side for Saturday's crunch match with the Pumas, which players should be on the bench.

Paddy Logan Ulster fan

Three Who Need to Start Against the Pumas

Iain Henderson. The young flanker continued his excellent form and provided further confirmation, if any were needed, that he is something special. At 6’6” and 18st 3lb, he is 3in taller and over a stone heavier than O’Mahony and would add some much needed bulk to the Irish pack. He is a very dynamic ball carrier, with surprisingly good feet for such a big man. His defence on Saturday was excellent with one especially notable turnover on the Irish line as the Fijians threatened to score in the second half. In the BBC studio, Keith Wood recommended that Henderson start ahead of Henry, with POM moving to the openside. I would prefer to stay with the specialist open-side as we will need to move the ball wide rather than get into an arm wrestle with the excellent Argentinian pack.

Craig Gilroy. Harsh on both Trimble and McFadden who have done little wrong but Gilroy has that extra spark that sets him apart. In addition to Saturday’s man-of-the-match performance, he has put together a portfolio of excellent performances (e.g. Munster in the HC QF in Apr, Edinburgh 2 weeks ago) that demand his elevation to the senior team. His speed, balance and strength enable him to make good ground in heavy traffic but it is his ability to make the most of any chance that should see him get his first cap next Saturday.

Darren Cave. After the great one, the best defender of the outside centre channel and showed on Saturday that he has plenty of silky skills too. The experiment of playing our best players regardless of their best position has not worked. Earls could be our best BOD replacement but he isn’t yet – Cave is and should start.

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Mentions in Despatches. McFadden had an excellent game but in a straight shoot out was just shaded by Gilroy. That said, I would be happy enough if he got the nod. Paul Marshall played well despite a disgracefully late introduction. Paddy Jackson was very assured and should replace ROG on the bench. Luke Marshall was the star of the first half and must have pushed Gilroy for man of the match but probably didn’t do quite enough to dislodge D’Arcy. A couple of good showings for Ulster over the next 6 weeks could see him getting a run in the 6 Nations.

Blew It.

The front row. Against a poor Fiji, the starting front row did not go anywhere near as well as would be expected. Ross in particular had a tough time – was it a hangover from his Herculean efforts of the previous week? Kilcoyne went well in the loose, but the scrum improved immeasurably as soon as Healy entered the fray. And, despite a typically excellent display in the loose, Cronin’s darts do not fill me with any confidence. Strauss looks a much better bet, but we really will miss Rory Best for the Pumas game.

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Connor Murray. His passing was better than it has been, but it’s still laboured and he throws too many poor passes. International rugby is a game of fine margins, and Paul Marshall’s service is much sharper and more accurate, which would enable Sexton to concentrate more on attack and less on avoiding the attentions of Lobbe and Leguizamon. Marshall also showed that it is possible to pass the ball accurately without taking two steps to wind up. Despite this, I would bet my house on Murray starting against the Pumas.

Declan Kidney. It’s been a tough autumn with injuries ravaging his senior squad, but why on earth was Mike Ross asked to play 53 mins a week after he had gone to the well against the Boks? Surely it would have been better to give Michael Bent a half and, all being well, give Archer a run out? Just when you thought Deccie couldn’t get any more eccentric, his first substitution is Healy for Kilcoyne! Granted, I have already said the Irish scrum was below par, but Healy had produced an unbelievable performance against South Africa and fully deserved a week off to return his body to full working order. Then we had to wait until the 61st minute to see what Europe’s form scrum-half can do in a green shirt. Turns out, surprise, surprise, that he’s pretty good, but he had nowhere near enough time to be able to stake a claim to the No9 jersey.

Finally, a word about Thomond Park. What a venue, and what a great crowd! The minute’s silence for Maleli Kunavore was impeccably observed and there was sporting applause for Isimeli Koniferedi as he left the field just before half-time. After my recent visit to Rodney Parade, it’s clear that not all crowds observe rugby’s finest traditions. Limerick deserves more international rugby so let’s hope that the IRFU and Aviva can sort something out to make it happen.

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Ronan Murphy, Munster fan

It's a tricky business trying to read anything into a game against a team as disinterested as Fiji were in Thomond Park. Ireland did what the had to by putting 50+ points on the board and some players advanced their case for involvement against Argentina. It's an Alternative Ulster.

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IN's
Craig Gilroy - No matter the opposition you can't ask much more of a winger than a hat-trick of tries and a man of the match performance. The Ulsterman's gliding, elusive running style and ability to break out of tackles is not dissimilar to the the Argentine backs and, coupled with Andrew Trimble's slightly indifferent form, Gilroy should be starting on Saturday.
Paddy Jackson - The young out-half showed the same slick hands and accurate place-kicking he has all season for Ulster. Considering the extra attention both Irish halfbacks were subjected to by Fijian defenders all evening, his composure was excellent. Time he took his place on the Ireland bench.
Luke Marshall - Gilroy's three tries may have sealed the MOTM award but the inside centre was a contender too for his performance. Marshall put in an all round attacking performance, passing beautifully, beating defenders and scoring a well deserved try. The lack of a serious defensive test may count against him but with Gordan D'Arcy tiring visibly during the latter stages against South Africa, Marshall has every chance of making his Ireland Test debut off the bench.

OUTs
Fergus McFadden - Its tough on a player who bags two tries to say that he lost out because of the game, but with the Ireland management apparently seeing more as a winger than a centre, Gilroy's performance may have seen him leapfrog McFadden. May still make the bench because of versatility.
Denis Hurley - I'm a huge fan of the Munster fullback; he's solid under the highball, an intelligent reader of the game and he hits the line hard. However, his withdrawal on Saturday for another solid Simon Zebo performance at 15 means he won't be seeing any action against Argentina.
Andrew Trimble - With his primary competitors for a spot on the wing getting 5 tries between them, it wasn't a great night for Trimble without even lacing up his boots. He hasn't done anything particularly badly but he hasn't done anything particularly brilliantly this season and with other back 3 players catching the eye more, Trimble could be for the chop.

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Gavin Grace, Connacht fan

I may be the Connacht representative on this panel of nerds, but it's impossible not to doff my hat in the direction of the Ulster contingent aftre Ireland's hammering of Fiji. As a game, we learned little and though the 53 points scored and the duck egg on the other side of the scoreboard are impressive, it shouldn't herald major change in the match-day panel for Argentina Saturday. That notwithstanding, here are three players who I feel earned a second look from Declan Kidney when he picks his team.

Scoring a hat-trick is impressive, and congrats to Craig Gilroy, but it's another Thomond Park performance this year which should already have had him knocking on the door of the national side. His brilliant try against Munster in the Heineken Cup Quarter Final showed his ability, Saturday just underlined that potential. It's Gilroy's provincial team-mate Andrew Trimble who would likely be most threatened, but the more experienced man kept his starting spot in Ulster's Heineken Cup pool games so far this year and will likely do so again against the Pumas, unless Bowe is moved to 15 in place of Simon Zebo.

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The most likely change arising out of Saturday's match, for my mind, is at inside centre. When we all picked our teams for the South Africa game, I omitted Gordon D'Arcy and I'd do so again at the drop of a hat. He hasn't impressed me in some time the cause for keeping him in the team is weakened further by O'Driscoll's absence, with no fluid partnership to build on. Luke Marshall was scintillating on Saturday, thoroughly deserving his try at the end of the night. Yet it was in other passages of play, such as the timing of his pass for Gilroy's first try, where he showed his capability. Yes, it's easy look good on a night like that, and again Marshall hasn't started his province's Heineken Cup pool games this year, but when Ireland's back-line lacked spark against South Africa, this is an area where the Irish coaching team should be thinking long and hard this week.

It would be easy to pick three backs, and Ronan O'Gara should be worried after the consummate display by Paddy Jackson, but in the interests of parity I'll go with a forward for my final choice. On a night where the big lugs were solid but not spectacular, Sean Cronin and in particular Iain Henderson played well. The former Connacht man was lively throughout, and his lineout throwing was spot on, but Henderson was opportunistic on a number of occasions. Nabbing the ball to set up Marshall's final try stands out, but overall he fared well in Limerick. South Africa have shown what a strong back row can do at the Aviva and especially Murrayfield, and while Henderson isn't quite in that calibre yet, it's good to see more options coming through. Injuries opened the door for him to come on as a sub and make his debut against South Africa, and Saturday's display should cement that spot.

Andy McGeady, Leinster fan

The good.
Craig Gilroy Three tries is one thing, but the acceleration and change of direction while at full speed was another. Like all others he was relatively untested by an understrength and undisciplined Fijian team but still managed to show that he has something that no other Irish player can offer right now.

Fergus McFadden McFadden has the edge over Gilroy in terms of possible selection against Argentina as he already has 20 caps to his name. Wearing a head strapping he gave an all-action performance including two tries, generous decision by the TMO notwithstanding. More rounded a player than Trimble and more defensively solid than Earls I'd have no qualms in selecting him at wing or centre against Los Pumas.

Henderson The rangy Ulsterman did what he has been doing this season - causing general chaos in the opposition ranks. WIth the current injuries to Paul O'Connell, the weakening force that is Donncha O'Callaghan and the lack of development of the Devin Toner's of this world one must wonder why Declan Kidney didn't give him a run at lock for the second forty.

Honourable Mentions: Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall.

The not so good.
Selection of First IV. Quite why Donncha O'Callaghan, Conor Murray and Mike Ross were chosen to start this game is still beyond me. To on top of that play them for more than the first 40 minutes was folly, perhaps folly in the extreme in the case of Ross who should not be subjected to any more injury risk than absolutely necessary.

Use of substitutes. See above. Paul Marshall should have been coming to start the second half, along with Michael Bent. Simon Zebo should have been given longer at full back, considering his lack of game time at the position at senior level, and an opportunity could have been given to Iain Henderson in the second row.

Follow our panel on Twitter: @paddylogan13, @gavingrace, @ro_murph, @andymcgeady

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