Lead us, Captain Heaslip: you demand it of us, and we of you

Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 00:00

Had Ireland scored in the corner when electing to kick for the posts our perception of the fixture and the value contained therein would have changed.

Perception in sport is a real driver, especially as Jamie Heaslip, having been battered by the English till that point, dug deep into his soul. Based on his eyes, ears and awareness of environment he decided to go for the posts. To win, at that point, Ireland needed three three-pointers or a converted try; perception or reality?

For the crowd heavily invested in their seats, perception is also a major driver, for they too judge and become aware of their environment, much like Heaslip at that moment. They witnessed a side being battered in the rain and struggling with the basics.

I, for one, am enthralled by open, running rugby and multiple line-breaks but the fact the scrum was demolished last year in Twickenham and survived in terrible conditions on Sunday had me enthralled. As Enda McNulty states: “Don’t talk about the bulls until you’re in the bull ring.” What must it have been like for Mike Ross revisiting that English scrum and succeeding?

Hardly a Lion contender, James Haskell was intent on imposing his will on the Ireland players through his manic physicality. Courtney Lawes also enthralled me as he sprinted out of the line to smash Ronan O’Gara. Then Owen Farrell swallowed him up. Ben Youngs at scrumhalf impressed in exposing space behind, especially from quick turnovers.

Yes, I was enthralled by England’s application, their maturity, their discipline and their ever-growing belief in negotiating a tough fixture. That’s why I stayed. Remember not so long ago, these guys were throwing dwarfs around.

England deserve credit

Not even the All Blacks caused Ireland such injuries and England deserve credit for their power, pace and, most of all, precision. I was fascinated and still we only lost by one score.

That said, I wonder how Declan Kidney perceives the Scottish threat, both to him and to his team. Losing two in a row would threaten his future and a loss to Scotland would be a serious setback for the players.

No doubt this will focus his mind on his selection at outhalf. What game will he bring to Edinburgh and who will he employ to implement it?

David Kilcoyne is fast becoming a wonderful loosehead prop I’ve enjoyed watching since Munster visited Racing Métro 92 in Paris. If memory serves, his first touch last Sunday was staying upright while bouncing Manu Tuilagi.

Tom Court is having his best season since arriving in Ireland as both a prop and player.

Cian Healy will be sorely missed but we are very lucky to have these two.

Rory Best is an absolute Lion. Watch his work-rate as the ship stuttered. I’ve always enjoyed Mike Sherry’s game in how he utilises his body and hands, especially in open play. He’s not got the power impact of Seán Cronin but his general play and accuracy out of touch is worth a look.

Behind them, the Scottish match will suit Donnacha Ryan’s game much better than England so a Kevin McLaughlin-style player could be brought in for Mike McCarthy. Perception is at its strongest in the backrow where no one can doubt the role and work ethic of Seán O’Brien, a certain starter.

Likewise the talent and nuisance value of Chris Henry, a possible starter. Ditto for Peter O’Mahony.

What perception does the public have of our new captain this week?

I have long been a fan for two reasons: Firstly, he is not the biggest (in a ball-carrying sense) but is extremely athletic. He will never match Stephen Ferris or O’Brien, so has developed his own style. Secondly, without a true openside, he has had to dilute his natural style for the team’s benefit; not unlike Wayne Rooney with Manchester United recently.

True to his team

This must be frustrating his general game and natural talents but he has stayed true to his team by being in the top-two tacklers thus far. Perception: is he imposing himself on each fixture?

Captaining Ireland brings with it major responsibility and burden. He is the representation of us in the stand; those who have made huge sacrifices to be there want our captain to be us, or, more importantly, what we can’t be.

We want our captain to lead us into the corridor of power, where we fear to tread. We want him to bully the opposition, be it through action, word (on pitch or in interview) or even the furrowing of an eyebrow that puts the fear of God in their eyes.

To some degree it is a new era for this team but many of the old values epitomised by Ciarán Fitzgerald, Donal Lenihan, Phillip Matthews, Keith Wood, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll are worth embracing in 2013. Although we want our captain to be true to himself we, the paying public, are desperate to follow him; so lead us, because you demand it of us and we of you.

Finally to Kidney’s big outhalf call. There are four to select from; Ronan O’Gara, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley. All four have strengths, so what does Kidney want to gain from each option as two will be in the squad? Do we require a facilitator or a doer?

Far too often perfection at provincial level is required before promotion to the international side. I’ve seen enough in Keatley and Madigan this season to start in Edinburgh; but with a kicking game, running threat, decent defence and multiple contributions per phase and better game control, Keatley to start?

PS. If it were me I’d like 15 Cian Healys on my team!

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