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Neil Francis: Andy Farrell must give youth a chance by clearing out Ireland's dead wood like Kleyn and Roux

Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell

Neil Francis

Four new head coaches in the Six Nations this season - Andy Farrell, Wayne Pivac, Fabien Galthie and Franco Smith - none of whom have sparkling Rugby Union CVs. You know that not a lot of wham-a-lang-a-ding-dong occurred on the way to their lofty perches.

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Galthie and Gregor Townsend had their moments as players, but they are all a vanilla lot taking the reins and thank God we still have a pantomime villain in Eddie Jones to keep things interesting.

On the basis that England have the best coach and by the far the best and most balanced squad, they are going to easily win the Championship this year.

They do have two tricky starters in Paris and Edinburgh but you back them to win those games and then go back home for a little bit of swing low.

Whatever about Joe Schmidt, I really am going to miss Warren Gatland.

If the IRFU had forgiven him, what sort of an Ireland squad would he have chosen during the week? Whatever you say about Wazza, he is a realist and a pragmatist and his ability to unearth raw talent when needed was uncanny.

The amount of 20 and 21-year-olds that he picked and then threw into the deep end served to crystallise the sentiment that he was one of the great cultivators of talent as a head coach.

He changed squads - not that he was absolutely convinced about the convincing arguments put forward by these budding debutants but on the basis that a lot of his extended squad were not fit for purpose and would never be good enough for international rugby even if you gave them 50 caps to prove it.

As we approach Christmas, Andy Farrell's first offering is all full of stocking fillers that we almost wish some of them a happy Christmas as he read out their names.

The way I see it is that in that 45-man squad, there are only about 26 players of Six Nations standard and only about 15-16 World Cup standard - less, of course, if you do a stringent audit of the recent showpiece.

Why pick players in a 45-man squad if 20 of them are not good enough to play Test rugby or will not be good enough even in the future?

Why pick players who have already played a number of times and have demonstrated that they were not good enough then and patently won't get any better?

Outside of the half-backs, hooker has become the most important position on the field. The skill and competency levels required to throw and hook at Test level are huge.

As an auxiliary back-rower, a poacher and someone who latches on to the back of driving lineout mauls to score easy tries, it is a position where you have to be a master of all trades. Jacks need not apply.

Rory Best has said it himself when he got capped several times he was more than happy - nobody including himself could ever have foreseen a 100-plus-cap career. He was, though, a very good player. The squad just announced has a glaring deficiency in No 2s.

You have Rob Herring and Niall Scannell in the squad as next in line and both players have played Test rugby. Both are proficient and will do a decent job if they get on the park but they are functionaries and never really look likely to shake that label off.

The different dynamic a ball-carrying type of hooker makes to a team is enormous.

Every last single World Cup winning side had an outstanding hooker who delivered dynamism, punch and aggressive drive and Ireland have to select somebody who can deliver those qualities rather than Andy Farrell just picking the next man up.

Ronan Kelleher will do that job for you. Whether he makes it back in time from injury for the Six Nations will determine how well Ireland will do, particularly in their tight matches.

I argue that you have to think outside the box for your replacement. Dan Sheehan is a powerhouse forward - maybe my memory is failing me but where else do we have a 6ft 3ins 18-stone hooker who has three-quarter pace and who scores tries for fun?

Dave Heffernan is popping up in Connacht's report sheets but at no stage is he an international hooker. What is the point of having him in the squad?

Ultan Dillane made the squad and that is good news but then they go and select the two Saffers, Jean Kleyn and Quinn Roux, to take the good out of it.

I watched the Munster v Saracens game at the Allianz and Kleyn did have his moments - a couple of big hits - but he made 11 tackles all day and was then substituted. His unheralded second-row partner Billy Holland made 21 tackles and then the international standard was set by George Kruis who made 25, carried the ball all day long, cleared twice as many rucks as Kleyn and the difference between the two in terms of quality and work rate was just embarrassing. The only people who made fewer tackles in either pack were Billy Vunipola, who practically won the game for Saracens (9), and Jamie George (8), who probably took a break in the middle of the game to scoff some jelly doughnuts. Eleven tackles!

Neither South African is good enough to play international rugby and they are taking up space in the squad.

During the recent World Cup, Sebastien Vahaamahina of Clermont elbowed the Welsh flanker Aaron Wainwright in the face.

It was a dreadful moment on two counts.

Firstly, in slow motion replay, it just did the game no favours as the watching public looked on slack-jawed. It was an awful moment and, secondly, the big lug was sent from the field and France were reduced to 14 as they were in the lead and as they looked set to steamroll the Welsh.

To me, Vahaamahina was picked because of his size and aggression. He had no ability, no hands, no football, no athleticism and he gave away more penalties in every match than Judge Roy Bean. The next day, aged 28, he retired from international rugby because he was a liability and the plain truth is he just wasn't good enough even after 46 goes at it in Test rugby.

I'm just saying!

If Andy Farrell knew anything about second-row play, he would have Ryan Baird in the squad straight away. Wazza would. Baird has more talent and ability than the two Saffers put together.

Why are we wasting time?

We are pretty sure that Johnny or Joey will get injured again in January, February or March and we know that Ross Byrne, as he has done, will do a decent job - but the bench?

I have kept a close eye on Ciaran Frawley - how good is that guy? If someone, the right person, had faith, we are looking at an 80-cap international star here. Throw him in - do it now.

There are at least 10 other kids waiting to jump the queue - time to clear the dead wood.

Belfast Telegraph


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