Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Rugby World Cup: Ireland players' World Cup warm up performances rated

Rob Kearney
THE BACKS
Rob Kearney (2 Starts v Scotland and France away) - 5
Enough conviction to suggest match fitness not too far away but could have done without recurrence of groin niggle. Will have a dog fight with Geordan Murphy for the last line and that in itself is no bad thing. Unlike the Six Nations our two best full backs are in situ for New Zealand.
Geordan Murphy (1 Start v England) - 5
Just Saturday's abysmal defeat to go by but enough evidence to indicate a man on a mission looking to make good the opportunity missed through injury in '03. Appears set for a genuine scrap with Kearney for the No 15 shirt in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Tommy Bowe (1 Start v England) - 5
One of the few in this World Cup squad we simply cannot afford to start without. Little opportunity against England but still enough to remind of the edge we've been missing throughout this labored campaign.
Andrew Trimble (All 4 Starts) - 7
By a distance our most consistent backline performer and by that criterion alone a shoo-in for key Pool games against Australia and Italy. A physical winger who wallows in contact and consistent involvement.
Keith Earls ( 3 Starts v France twice and England) - 3
Despite the clamour to get him back out on the wing, and yes he was caught badly by Manu Tuilagi for the opening English try, the Limerick man DOES have the raw essentials for the outside centre channel .but not just yet. His versatility will be tested down under most likely off the bench.
Fergus McFadden (1 Start v Scotland and 2 replacement appearances) - 5
Played himself into contention through sheer graft and critical versatility. I do not share Kidney's take (even for the shadow XV) on boxing him into the wing where we are more than adequately covered.
Brian O'Driscoll (1 Start v France) - 5
The one who more than any other (Paul O'Connell included) makes us tick. But with due respect to our still greatest ever player that is not how it should be ... and why in his enforced absence there is every need to worry.
Gordon D'Arcy (2 Starts v France and v England) - 3
Worryingly out of sorts in providing the simple ground making momentum and defensive scavenging he does pretty much without peer. Will need an assertive confidence boosting performance against Eddie and the Eagles.
Paddy Wallace
Ronan O'Gara (2 Starts v England and v France plus replacement appearance against the French) - 5
Much like Jonny Wilkinson is doing to Toby Flood in the twilight of a great career O'Gara firmly believes he can do the same to Jonny Sexton... and he can. Sexton is marginally ahead in Kidney's mind but I'm not sure by how much.
Jonny Sexton (2 Starts v Scotland and v France plus replacement appearance against England) - 5
Will travel as the No 1 out-half but with the certain knowledge that his great nemesis will be pushing him all the way. Has the proven big match temperament and attitude to lift it another notch when required.
Eoin Reddan (2 Starts v France and v England plus one replacement appearance against the French) - 5
Will head out to New Zealand as the No 1 scrum half and rightly so after decent displays but will be looking over his shoulder more at the bolter that is Conor Murray than former Ulster star Isaac Boss his great rival at Leinster.
Isaac Boss (1 replacement appearance v Scotland) - 4
This World Cup in the land of his birth means a great deal to the Leinster player but despite Conor Murray's late call up the inexperienced Munster scrum half could turn the pecking order on its head in the coming weeks. For sure Boss will not be found wanting.
Conor Murray (2 replacement appearances v France and v England) - 5
Has the potential to be the most rounded Irish scrum half of the three even at this tentative stage in his career. That said a Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is not the place for experimentation so if and when he gets his chance he must grab it with both hands.
THE FORWARDS
Tom Court (1 Start v Scotland plus two replacement appearances against France and against England) - 4
Now established as emergency back up to Cian Healy and Mike Ross so his welfare is essential but equally a reflection on the dearth of cover either side of the scrum in a crisis.
Cian Healy (3 Starts v France twice and England) - 7
Bear in mind he is only 23 yet already one of the linchpins in the side. He can be over-exuberant at times but alongside Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris provides a different ball carrying tempo to the Irish game.
Tony Buckley (1 Start v Scotland plus one replacement appearance v France) - 3
Without wishing to be overly critical what you see with the Sale bound Munster giant is not what you get. The converted lock is not coming remotely close to fulfilling his vast potential and will regret it in time to come.
Mike Ross (3 Starts v France twice and England) - 6
That stat alone tells you just how important Ross, like Healy, is now to this Irish set up albeit in a slightly different context. He is the anchor of what is now rightly acknowledged as a decent Irish scrum. Much like the Bull in times past we dare not lose him.
Sean Cronin (1 Start v Scotland) - 5
Likely to be number three to Jerry Flannery and Rory Best in New Zealand but with the proven capacity to slot in seamlessly to the front row despite some obvious concerns out of touch. Along with Sean O'Brien our most dynamic forward runner in the loose.
Rory Best (2 Starts v France and one replacement appearance against England) - 5
What you see is what you get with the totally wholehearted Best but where he bows to Flannery is in precision out of touch. If Flannery is declared fit then Best will provide the necessary back up off the bench on the hour.
Jerry Flannery (1 Start v England plus three replacement appearances against France twice and Scotland) - 5
If anyone doubts the importance of the long time injured Munster man to the Ireland set up as perceived by the Head Coach then the hooker's game time illustrates it. Still not motoring at full throttle but getting there.
Leo Cullen (1 Start v Scotland) - 5
Could see service in the Russian game and will not be found wanting not least in pack leadership and line out calling but realistically will play second fiddle to the established duo and to utility forward Donncha Ryan in terms of match day involvement. Delighted to be on board I know but wants to remember the experience for more than that.
Donncha O'Callaghan (3 Starts v France twice and England) - 4
While it is difficult to argue the rationale behind long established and settled combinations coming up to the Rugby World Cup nonetheless so much more must be demanded by the seventy-five times capped lock of himself.
Paul O'Connell (2 Starts v France and v England plus one replacement appearance against France away) - 6
You may question his ball carrying impact at times but never and I mean never can anyone question the honesty of desire or impact on others. Like O'Driscoll he is close to irreplaceable in this dressing room.
Donncha Ryan (2 Starts v Scotland and v France plus one replacement appearance against England) - 5
The fact that each of the Tipperary man's starts were in different lines of the scrum underscores his importance to the match day twenty two. There is too the extra lineout option he brings as a stand in back row allied to the quality of defence around the fringes.
Denis Leamy (2 Starts v Scotland and France plus one replacement appearance v England) - 5
Leamy too brings that element of versatility specifically on the blindside of the scrum as well as the middle of the back row. His form has been adequate rather than earth shattering.
Sean O'Brien (2 Starts against France) - 7
Another one of a handful we simply cannot afford to be without. I do not share the view he cannot play openside. On the contrary I believe it a very viable option in the absence of David Wallace. Shane Jennings will travel as the No 1 scavenger but don't rule out O'Brien as a very real alternative with Stephen Ferris wearing six.
Stephen Ferris (1 Start v England and one replacement appearance v France) - 5
If injury to Wallace was the killer then the apparent good health of the human wrecking ball that is Ferris makes for the bonus. For Kidney that glass will be half full with the dilemma for the main man in consultation with Gert Smal how best to balance the back row.
Shane Jennings (1 Start v France) - 3
One of those players you seldom fail to notice yet in his one opportunity albeit his first run out of the season (against France) the game quite literally passed him by. Unexpectedly opportunity now knocks to build on that plus last Friday's run out for Leinster.
Jamie Heaslip (2 Starts v France and England plus one replacement appearance against the French) - 4
Another of our key cogs and 'go to' players who has failed to hit his straps of late. Enough time to recover from Saturday's concussion and see him back to his dynamic best when hitting the ground running at New Plymouth on Sunday week.

By any standard, it's been a bad four weeks for Declan Kidney.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances and, yes, we now have a fair whack of players with game-time in the tank, but in contrast to that there's a squad with confidence and collective morale leaking more and more with each successive defeat.

Ignore the guff which says winning in August doesn't matter. In the opening two build-up games against Scotland and France, selection was such that winning on the road was as unlikely as it would've been expected.

Coming second at Murrayfield and Bordeaux could be conceded to the bigger picture. And like most everybody else, I bought into that. But the last fortnight has seen us drop to levels of performance unacceptable for a team with semi-final aspirations.

We have gone from fourth to eighth in world rankings and from top team in the northern hemisphere to fifth now, with only Italy of the Six Nations teams below us.

Don't tell me that a sudden dip of that magnitude doesn't impact on the overall psyche — of course it does.

Losing four pre-season friendlies on the bounce won't be remembered if we get it right over the next six or so weeks, but lose our way in the pool, a la France '07, and the heat is on a coach set to come under ever increasing pressure irrespective of recent contracts signed.

I rate Kidney’s performance over the past four matches at 4 out of 10.

And on the basis of form, irrespective of any other factor, here’s how I feel the 30 chosen to travel have delivered over the last four frustrating weeks.

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