Rugby

It's Fair To Say Neil Francis Isn't Enthusiastic About The 'Worst Ireland Side To Be Named In 15 Years'

It's Fair To Say Neil Francis Isn't Enthusiastic About The 'Worst Ireland Side To Be Named In 15 Years'

Is this classic Franno or does he have a point? Neil Francis is known for expressing some strident opinions in his Sunday Independent column and if you are one of his disciples, then his pre-match thoughts today will likely send you into despair.

Ireland take the field against Wales this afternoon shorn of half their team through injury and retirement and Francis gave a typically frank assessment of the side's quality, in his view.

This is the worst Ireland side to be named for a competitive match in over 15 years. You could argue over one or two of the names but Schmidt has had very little choice left. He went for the most experience that he could put on the field. I don't think it will make a huge amount of difference. Ireland's front five has an AIL look about it.

With injuries to Mike Ross, Marty Moore and Iain Henderson, Francis has a point about tight five. Wales have real quality in that area with Samson Lee, Scott Baldwin, Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones all selected so Nathan White and the returning Mike McCarthy will need to perform at their absolute peak to even gain parity in that area.

The reemergence of McCarthy is justified given his strong spell in the Leinster side over the last 18 months but it is still a little troubling that no viable alternative has come through the ranks to usurp the 34-year-old. That is a point that Francis also honed in on.

It is dispiriting for the prospects of this rugby nation if the best second row we can pick for this vital Test is Mick McCarthy. I suppose the term grafter was coined for players who couldn't do anything especially well. As Leinster went through their annus horribilis in the Heineken Cup, I personally failed to observe the 'fine form' that McCarthy carried through that campaign. Maybe someone in the Leinster camp said it in a statement and people took it for a fact. The season before last, Wales' Luke Charteris made an incredible 37 tackles in one match in the RBS championship. I am open to changing my mind about McCarthy if he gets close to half that number.

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Harsh, but in fairness to Francis, his prose are infused with a bit of panache that make it fun to read even if you think he is way off the mark.

The broader point about the strength of the squad is an important one. Ireland could well lose today and if they do, people will likely point to Joe Schmidt neglecting to go with the Stuart McCloskey (12)/Jared Payne (15) backline as the reason why.

But with so many leaders missing from the squad, Schmidt is already operating from a very reduced base, and the squad's effort should be judged accordingly.

Watch: Sergio Parisse Attempts A Very Polarizing Match-Winning Drop Goal

Read: Eddie Jones Has Already Gone Back On One Key Point With His England Team

Will Slattery

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