Strauss joined by three other new caps
AS EXPECTED, Richardt Strauss is in line to be named on the bench and thus make his debut for Ireland against his native South Africa at the Aviva Stadium on November 8th. He could therefore conceivably come face to face with his cousin Adriaan, who finished the Rugby Championship as the incumbent Springboks hooker when wining his 18th cap against the All Blacks.
The odds on all this coming to pass shortened markedly yesterday when Declan Kidney named the 26-year-old Leinster player as one of only two hookers in his 31-man squad which will come together next week. There are three other uncapped players; Ulster’s 20-year-old blindside Iain Henderson, 21-year-old Ulster centre Luke Marshall and 23-year-old Munster loosehead David Kilcoyne.
They look like longer-term investments, although Kilcoyne must be pushing Tom Court close as back-up to Cian Healy.
In another development, the coaching stuff has a less skeletal look to it, with Leinster scrum coach Greg Feek doubling up again through November, while Munster have released Anthony Foley for the November window to work as defence coach, thereby releasing Les Kiss to focus more on attack.
Parts of the playing squad still require some fleshing out, not least at fullback and at tighthead, with Kidney strongly intimating there may be additions to the squad after this weekend’s Rabo PRO12 games and possibly after the following weekend’s games as well.
With Rob Kearney to undergo an operation on a slipped disc in his back today, and with Geordan Murphy, Luke Fitzgerald and Gavin Duffy all sidelined, there is no specialist fullback in the squad. Keith Earls is the only feasible option of those named, and he has missed Munster’s two Heineken Cup games with a groin injury.
His only cap at fullback since his debut against Canada four years ago was in the 24-8 win which denied England a Grand Slam two seasons ago. His free-running performance brought to mind Christian Cullen, although it’s worth noting Earls didn’t have to make one tackle nor field one high ball that day.
Despite being named in the 33-man squad for the two-day camp in September, Denis Hurley is one of those not to make the cut this time. Seán Cronin, Damien Varley, Declan Fitzpatrick and Dave O’Callaghan also miss out, with Strauss, Kilcoyne and John Muldoon called up.
Kidney named all the remaining fullback contenders yesterday, starting with converted outhalves Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan, as well as Robbie Henshaw, but all eyes are now primarily on Munster, for if they were to name Felix Jones at fullback tomorrow for his first start since early May in tomorrow’s game against Zebre at Thomond Park, it would strongly suggest he’s first in line of those not named yesterday.
The Zebre game will come too soon for Earls, and there remain injury clouds over Stephen Ferris and Ronan O’Gara, though Kidney expects all of them “to train fully next week”.
As Mike Ross is the only tight-head named, Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick, Connacht’s Ronan Loughney, Sale’s Tony Buckley and the ex-Ulster and Exeter 28-year-old John Andress, whose Worcester Warriors host Sale this weekend, will be monitored this weekend.
Strauss arrived in Dublin in early November 2009 (he had his passport stamped on November 4th) and his call-up was simply due to form, according to Kidney.
Others who have played for Ireland through residency include Kurt McQuilkin, who had been playing with Bective Rangers for years and also Leinster before winning the first of his five caps in January 1996, while it would be nothing compared to Warren Gatland plucking Andy Ward from Division Three rugby with Ballynahinch for the first of his 28 caps, against France in Paris in 1998.
“I respect the fact that people will have their views on all of that but our job is to put the best team out for Ireland and if Richardt falls into that it would be narrow-minded to think that we wouldn’t look at every possible option,” said Kidney.
“I don’t think we would be doing our job. If you like, them’s the rules. Everybody is doing it. I saw New Zealand and Australia slagging each other off about it recently.
“Richardt, in fairness to him, he has bought into everything Leinster are doing. He has put his hand up. Attitude is the one thing you can’t coach and that is why we have selected him.”
Kidney spoke of the challenge in facing a match-hardened side ranked third in the world. “We’ve two weeks to prepare for it and as a man said to me one time, the trick is knowing what you can afford to leave out doing, because there’s a heap of stuff we want to get to.”
Forwards coach Gert Smal echoed those views in identifying the strong kicking and territorial game of the Springboks, as well as their maul and general physicality.
“But like Declan says, this is why you want to be in coaching, and why you want to play this game, for these kind of games, especially because it’s South Africa. I want to beat South Africa more than any Irishman wants to beat them,” said Smal.
Kiss also reckoned Ireland will be facing the most physical side in world rugby, while also trying to exorcise Ireland’s 60-0 defeat to New Zealand.
“The one thing that encourages us is that all of the players are absolutely driven to right some wrongs, to make sure that the next time they have the green jersey on here at the Aviva that they do it justice and put that one to bed,” said Kiss.
“It will be about the right amount of plans that we can just be physical and direct, and meet the challenge in that respect. And if we can understand that, and get that right, which I’ve no doubt we will, we’ll be in a good place. It’s going to be a huge challenge but we’re up for it.”
The squad will also be supplemented for the game against Fiji at Thomond Park on November 17th, though as it is an Irish selection per se as opposed to an Irish A/Wolfhounds, that does not rule out some of those who start against the Springboks from playing against the Fijians.
Ireland’s new boys: In the autumn of their lives
Age: 23. Height: 1.83m (6ft 2in). Weight: 112kg (17st 8lbs).
Only owes his sudden elevation to the Munster number one jersey to Wian du Preez’s injury, but has filled it out impressively with irreverently aggressive scrummaging and carrying.
On form, must have a chance of forcing his way on to the Ireland bench. “We like the way he is going with Munster,” says Declan Kidney. “It is always open if guys are making their provincial sides and playing in Heineken Cup matches.
“He has done that and done quite well and that is why he merits inclusion here now You need to be recognising it as these guys are showing it.”
Age: 20. Height: 1.98m (6ft 6in). Weight: 116kg (18st 3lb).
Another young hulk of a lad who owes his place to injury but has grabbed his chance, albeit earmarked for rapid progress after Under-20 World Cup. A huge talent destined to win plenty of caps.
“There are a lot of positives things that I saw in his game and he is a player with great potential,” admitted Gert Smal yesterday, who sees his long-term future more at blindside than lock.
“It all depends on how he is going to develop over the next couple of years. He is a nice size. He has got pace. I see him still as a six. He can do the job there but I think he will develop as a six.”
Age: 21. Height: 1.80m (5ft 11in). Weight: 96kg (15st 1lb). Ulster caps: 8 (+9).
One of those earmarked, along with Dave McSharry, by Les Kiss as a solution to a potential problem in the longer term.
“He can pass the ball well; he can pass short and long,” said Kiss, who added that McSharry and Marshall are two young inside centres showing promise.
“He has good footwork, and as Gert and I recognised often from when we’ve gone up to watch Ulster play or train, he carries his body weight well. He’s a good solid lad, plus his agility is nice. Usually when we talk about agility, it is in attack but his agility in defence is very good too.
“He can actually shape his defence to handle any threat coming in a direct sense but also if the ball shifts wide he can move off that channel and get into a defensive channel wider quite quickly. So across those broad skill sets, he’s shown some promise.”
Age: 26. Height: 1.75m (5ft 9in). Weight: 101kg (15st 12lb). Leinster caps: 56 (+14R).
A former South African Under-19 World Cup winner and a “special project” as part of the province’s reduced number of imports, it’s hard to dispute he is a form selection. Dynamic carrier and superb, ex-flanker’s low centre of gravity.
“He is a different player to the last two years,” says Smal. “He has bulked up quite a bit. His performances speak for themselves. We know what he can do for a pack. For the past two years he has really come through quite strongly.
It is not just because he is South African, we look at all hookers, we dont discount anybody, but what he can bring to a team is his attitude, which is very good; good to pack down and good in the scrums and we will have to work with him in the lineouts and see how he goes .”
– GERRY THORNLEY
IRELAND SQUAD: Autumn internationals
(v South Africa, Fiji and Argentina)
Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).
Rory Best (Ulster), Tom Court (Ulster), Stephen Ferris (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), John Muldoon (Connacht), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Paul O’Connell (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster).