Strauss set for Ireland squad call-up
RICHARDT STRAUSS is set to be named in an Ireland squad for the first time today when Declan Kidney unveils a 20-man panel for the forthcoming Guinness Series against South Africa and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.
The 26-year-old Bloemfontein-born converted flanker and Under-19 World Cup winner with South Africa becomes eligible to play for Ireland under the three-year residency rule at the beginning of November and thus is in line to make his debut, most likely off the bench, against his native country on November 10th.
A Currie Cup winner with the Free State Cheetahs, Strauss joined Leinster in the 2009-10 season, arriving in November of that campaign. Although he made only one start that season, his form was sensational in Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning campaign of 2010-11, and while there was less of the sensational carrying last season he was still Leinster’s starting hooker as they retained their trophy. He has rediscovered his best form this season, especially at the breakdown.
As he has now started 56 games for Leinster, and in effect has remained their first-choice hooker ahead of Seán Cronin – Ireland’s back-up hooker to Rory Best for the last two seasons – it is hard to see how he can be overlooked.
As with the September training squad there are liable to be one or two other eyebrow-raising selections. For example, given he was included in that 33-man squad, the uncapped Iain Henderson must be a strong contender after his impressive starts for Ulster in both of their Heineken Cup matches. As a fearless, athletic and footballing 20-year-old who is 6ft 6ins and 116kg (18st 3lbs) and can play at lock or blindside, he looks set to win plenty of caps in the foreseeable future, whatever about next month.
By contrast, the other uncapped players for that September get-together, Munster backrower Dave O’Callaghan and Ulster centre Luke Marshall have been confined to bench duty in the Heineken Cup and therefore may have to bide their time.
A stronger contender now would be David Kilcoyne. The 23-year-old’s performances have more than vindicated Rob Penney’s decision to grant him Munster’s number one jersey. Over at tighthead though, the old problems remain, with three of the four provinces starting overseas players.
Declan Fitzpatrick and Ronan Loughney, both capped in New Zealand, have been confined to bit parts, with Fitzpatrick starting only one game this season.
In stark contrast to his fullback problems, Kidney will be grateful to welcome back summer absentees Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris (both of whom were originally named in that squad) and Tommy Bowe. Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry, both in the September squad, look the likeliest to replace the injured Seán O’Brien, despite the excellent form of Shane Jennings.
The match-day squads for the Springboks and Argentina games will be named from the squad announced today, barring mishaps, with other players called in for the Wolfhounds game at Thomond Park against Fiji in between.
With Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan virtually certain to be the senior scrumhalves, the younger tyros are likely to be rewarded for their progress against Fiji, such as Paul Marshall (albeit he is 27 now) and Kieran Marmion.
Injuries having opened the door for him, last summer’s Under-20 World Cup scrumhalf has grabbed his chance superbly for Connacht, though it also has to be noted that Tomás O’Leary has started every game for London Irish this season and Isaac Boss has just returned to action for Leinster.
How Kidney must wish his options were so plentiful elsewhere.
Likewise, other in-form younger players such as Munster’s Scottish-born ex-Ulster Academy flanker Seán Dougal, Luke Marshall, Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley, may also have to wait until the Fijian game for further recognition.
The importance of the South Africa and Argentina Tests is heightened by the need to maintain a top-eight ranking and with it a second-tier seeding for the 2015 World Cup draw to be made in London at the beginning of December.
In a further example of the changed times, tickets have long since been released to the public via Ticketmaster, with around 40,000 sold for the South African game and 30,000-plus for the game with Los Pumas.
WORLD RANKINGS: And why they matter
Current IRB World Rankings
1 New Zealand (rating 92.91)
2 Australia (86.37)
3 South Africa (84.69)
4 England (83.09)
5 France (83.03)
6 Wales (82.26)
7 Ireland (79.85)
8 Argentina (78.63)
9 Scotland (77.97)
10 Samoa (76.23)
11 Italy (76.03)
12 Tonga (74.79)
13 Canada (72.30)
14 Fiji (70.60)
The draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England will be made in London on Monday December 3rd, directly after the four weeks of Test fixtures which begin on Saturday week, and will be based on the IRB world rankings.
As things stand, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England would be the four top seeds, with Ireland amongst the second tier of seeds.
Victory over teams ranked higher boost a country’s ratings, which means a win over South Africa would go some way to ensuring second seeding, while a defeat to Argentina would seriously imperil those prospects and heighten the risk of a third tier seeding.
This in turn would mean the possibility of being drawn against two higher ranked countries (eg New Zealand and France) with the Irish management also likely to keep an eye on the results of Scotland and Samoa next month.