Scotland isn’t exactly the glamour fixture for Ireland or perhaps any other country in the Six Nations. Murrayfield encounters have the knack of mirroring Scotland’s grey jerseys while recently they have annoyingly developed the habit of raising their game for Ireland away from home.
Yesterday's game, coming off the back of a bruising encounter with France six days previously was eyed with trepidation by Declan Kidney. That was before the news that captain Paul O’Connell would play no further part in this year’s Six Nations.
The Munster totem’s absence would ensure Ireland would start a Six Nations tie without him and Brian O’Driscoll for the first time since 2001. Ronan O’Gara remained back-up to Jonny Sexton while Ireland’s player of the World Cup; Sean O’Brien was also absent. All of the big O’s were out and the often cried for change was forced on Ireland.
Those who called for an injection of fresh blood regardless would have felt vindicated by full-time yesterday. Donnacha Ryan was named man of the match for a typically abrasive performance where he ran hard and by and large commanded the line-out. It is amazing to think that Ryan is 28 and is being heralded as Ireland’s next second row regular. He should have tasted action from the start of this tournament but if any positive can be gleamed from the injury to O’Connell it may well be Ryan’s ascension as a force at international level.
Peter O’Mahony stepped into the dreaded green number seven jersey and continued his impressive season. He is not the typical fetcher in the mould of Sam Warburton and David Pollock but as Keith Wood noted during the week; he has a nuisance factor. He hits every ruck like it’s his last and one crouched steal early in the second half hints at a player who could develop into a true seven. His performance opens up a problem for Kidney heading into Twickenham. Sean O’Brien is expected to be fit for the game so presumably Kidney will revert back to his favoured fifteen.
That would be a mistake. The back-row question continues to be asked about Ireland and while the opposition must be factored in, Ireland’s back-row functioned as a unit better than at any stage this year. Stephen Ferris continued his Iron man impersonation and while Jamie Heaslip didn’t shine in broken field, his work-rate was typically high.
Kidney is a coach who likes to say he picks on form. He needs to prove that now. There should be no changes to Ireland’s back-row for next week. Ferris played as a six yesterday, Heaslip played as an eight and O’Mahony played as a six and three quarters. He will get there if given the time. With O’Brien at seven all three of the back-row look to carry a little of all the three position’s work-load with the results being fragmented performances.
England remain eminently beatable and should Ireland attack the line with the ferocity shown against France they could win comfortably. To win at Twickenham without the last two Lions captains may seem a daunting task but a new pride of leaders are emerging and we have injuries to thank for that. So for once Deccie, we’ll be happy with the same again when you announce the team. Barring injuries of course.