O’Mahony the cleanest call from the dirt-trackers
Sunday’s Test side largely picks itself so let’s view Declan Kidney’s 32-man Six Nations squad another way.
Here’s a shadow XV for training in Carton House today: Denis Hurley; Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden/Eoin O’Malley, Paddy Wallace/Fergus McFadden, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Tom Court; Donncha O’Callaghan, Dan Tuohy; Rhys Ruddock, Peter O’Mahony/Shane Jennings, Chris Henry.
The only real debate is Keith Earls or McFadden at 13. Ulster folk want Earls in there so Andrew Trimble’s excellent form can be rewarded while Leinster people naturally want their boy promoted. Either way, Earls plays.
Granted, Kidney is not adverse to the occasional surprise selection, but it looks like Earls will be at outside centre with McFadden benched, and more likely to become the Ireland inside centre once he can shift D’Arcy – but that won’t happen this weekend.
The challenge for Earls will be defending midfield. The presumption is that D’Arcy and the back-field trio won’t allow him to be isolated. Not against Wales anyway. The flooding of his channel is guaranteed in Paris, making this weekend’s bedding-in process essential.
Eoin O’Malley’s inclusion in the squad looks a smart call as he seems a longer term heir to O’Driscoll’s jersey with Earls eventually returning to his best position, left wing. But that’s a 2014 prediction.
The other changing of the guard looks set to occur at number four. Add an “a” after “nn” to Donncha as Ryan has already usurped O’Callaghan in Munster. The benefit will come in the last 20 minutes when a manic, 84-times capped Cork man gallops into the fray.
Same theory applies at 10. Ronan O’Gara remains a valuable alternative steady-hand-at-the-tiller in an end-game scenario. At scrumhalf, Eoin Reddan’s ability to increase the tempo will also prove beneficial if Ireland are chasing a late score.
Otherwise, Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton should be the halfback combination.
But the dirt-trackers are today’s story.
Denis Hurley is the fullback, with Geordan Murphy still an option should Rob Kearney get injured, yet with Felix Jones laid low since August the lack of depth in this position remains a serious concern.
Dave Kearney and Simon Zebo are the in-form wingers at present. Kearney is keeping Fionn Carr at bay in Leinster. This is some feat considering Carr’s prolific try scoring return when he was a Connacht player.
We wouldn’t be discussing Zebo if Dougie Howlett hadn’t got crocked. His three tries against Northampton was a perfect example of how close fringe players are to a Willie Beamen-esque leap to stardom.
Same thing happened Sexton in 2009 when Felipe Contepomi went down. And look at him now.
Seán Cronin has reacted impressively to the challenge of dislodging Richardt Strauss at Leinster but he will struggle to make an impact scrumming down between Tom Court and Brett Wilkinson.
Not exactly breaking news, but the prop cupboard remains fairly bare.
Same applies, to a lesser extent, at lock. Devin Toner has improved but Dan Tuohy is rightfully ahead of him in the pecking order. Big week for Donnacha Ryan.
Backrow continues to produce a rich harvest. Shane Jennings is the only thoroughbred openside but he can’t command a starting place at Leinster, and despite Sam Warburton’s effectiveness on the ground, it is unlikely Kidney will use him off the bench.
The other three contenders – Rhys Ruddock, Chris Henry and Peter O’Mahony – hail from vastly different parts of this island but they have common traits: bulk and toughness. Pity we can’t stretch their likes into locks or squash them into props.
Henry has been impressive for Ulster but O’Mahony should be the match-day squad’s bolter.