Tony Buckley is a player you want to do well. the man they call ‘Mushy’ is universally popular among peers and press and one of the most genial members of the Irish rugby scene, but popularity is not the issue here — the issue is scrummaging.
Last Saturday emphasised the importance of the scrum and how Ireland now can mix it with the best in the business in rugby’s defining set-piece. However, that was with first-choice props Cian Healy and Mike Ross — the situation with back-up duo of Tom Court and Buckley is less certain.
Both have the capacity to play either side of the scrum (vital with international rugby sticking to 22-man squads) with Court stronger at loose-head and Buckley at tight-head. When Ross was forced off with a minor back spasm towards the end of the win over the Wallabies, Court came into the tight-head spot and Ireland conceded a penalty from the five-yard scrum.
In different circumstances — not least in a tight knock-out encounter — that could have been disastrous and Ireland need their back-up boys, both of whom are likely to start against Russia on Sunday, to show they can do the necessary when called upon.
Last season was a struggle for Buckley, who lost his place in the Irish team to Ross and had a torrid time of it for Munster against the Ospreys when the scrum was the key factor in their failure to progress in the Heineken Cup.
He was soon on his way to Sale, with Munster bringing in Ulster’s renowned Springbok scrummager BJ Botha as his replacement.
The comforting aspect to Buckley’s presence in the squad is a loose game that has the capacity to be devastating, the knowledge that he has locked the scrum in testing circumstances in the past and the fact that scrum coach Greg Feek is working night and day to get all of Ireland’s props in the best position to produce.
Feek gave Buckley the task of videoing all of the scrums in Eden Park last Saturday and that responsibility gave the 30-year-old an opportunity to appreciate just how good Ireland’s scrum performed — as well a determination to step up to the mark.
“It was great to watch, I don’t think you can scrum much better than that,” said Buckley. “I had an up close view and it was very, very good. Mike was well in control of every scrum, the whole way through there was a great sense of timing, Cian did a great job.
“Greg does an awful lot of work with all the front rows. He loves home-work. It makes you more hungry to get back on the field and get some games under your belt.”
This weekend Buckley wants to make a point to his detractors.
“The Russians are a big strong side, as are the Americans, they were putting in some big hits, I know because I got absolutely nailed in one of the carries,” added Buckley, who takes encouragement from an impressive showing in difficult circumstances against the All Blacks here last year.
“I enjoyed that game, I had some good touches and shouldered Richie McCaw.”