Right time for Ireland to call up McCall
WHEN the five Ireland selectors meet in Dublin tomorrow night, they will have the task of selecting two teams. The primary job will be to choose the side to meet Western Samoa under lights at Lansdowne Road this day fortnight. They will also name the A side to meet the Junior Springboks at Donnybrook on the afternoon of the international.
The selectors will go into that meeting well informed after watching the Interprovincial series, quite a few matches in the English League, and matches in the European Cup.
"I have made it clear from the outset that I saw the European matches as being of great importance and significance," said Ireland manager Whelan. "We have found them very informative in many respects and some players who are not contracted members of the national squad did especially well." While he did not elaborate in that regard he was surely referring to players such as Ben Cronin and Mark McCall, and perhaps a few others.
He sees the two matches this day fortnight "as being particularly helpful" in the context of preparation and information for the match against Australia on November 23rd. He was always anxious that the match against Western Samoa should go ahead. There were some difficulties about the game and fitting it into a crowded schedule, but those were overcome.
"Our priority is obviously the Championship and we have three internationals before that and that is very good preparation," said Whelan. He sees the matches against Western Samoa and the Junior Springboks as "giving us a very good chance to try things and look at players in a very competitive environment. In saying that there is no way we will underestimate Western Samoa and we will select a side we believe will win. But we will be looking at the two matches in a fortnight's time in a complementary way and bearing ink mind the match against Australia next month."
Will the selectors go outside the contracted players and consider those who have not played for the provinces in the European Cup?
"Every player who is eligible and available will be considered," Whelan said. "But it has not helped the cause of those players who have not played in the European Cup in the context that they have not been exposed to that kind of competition. I have always seen European competition as ideal preparation for the players.
It should be pointed out that the London Irish players who declined to play for their provinces' did have involvement in the European Conference, scarcely the same as the Cup.
There is no doubt that the selectors have some very good options in several positions and European performances have certainly enhanced the claims of some. "I see the A match against the Junior Springboks as being not alone of considerable benefit but of importance to us in the short and long term. A fortnight later we meet one of the best sides in the world, Australia," Whelan pointed out.
One of the factors that will weigh with the selectors is the choice of a captain. Niall Hogan's return to the Leinster side last week certainly helped in his bid to retain his scrum half berth and the captaincy. Hogan may well be chosen against Western Samoa and may lead the team, but the selectors will give a lot of consideration to the claims of Stephen McIvor. And he does have support.
If McIvor is preferred to Hogan the selectors should look no further than Mick Galwey to lead the team, and he certainly deserves to get into the side. Galwey has prospered as few others under the new laws and he is playing the best rugby of his career. Brian O'Meara, Alain Rolland and Andrew Matchett represent the options for the A side.
THE full back berth against the Samoans will probably go to Simon Mason, who has the added advantage of being a very accomplished place kicker. But he has severe defensive limitations. The alternatives are Dominic Crotty, Jim Staples and Conor O'Shea. I am not at all sure that Crotty would not be best employed on the wing. But the selectors are well covered for wingers. The Western Samoan match would be a good one to give Crotty a run at full back. O'Shea has been out of the Irish scene and is not in the national squad; the same applies to Staples.
I have little doubt that David Humphreys will be at out half and Paul Burke looks the likely man to be on the bench. This could mean a chance for Killian Keane on the A team and he has played very well for Munster. Eric Elwood also represents a very viable option for the A side. Despite the fact that he is not in the national squad, which I view as a great shame, I would have no hesitation in picking Mark McCall in the centre against Western Samoa and would like him at inside centre with Jonathan Bell at outside centre.
Richard Wallace and James Topping are the likely choices on the wings. Niall Woods will probably get an A team berth and so could Denis Hickie. Nor should the selectors forget about Justin Bishop, a fine young prospect who is being eyed by England. Robert Henderson, Maurice Field and Brian Walsh represent the centre options for the A side.
Nick Popplewell and Paul Wallace will surely be the props against Western Samoa, with Henry Hurley, Paul Flavin and Angus McKeen also available. One of that trio will be required on the bench for the senior international. Keith Wood and Allan Clarke are the front runners at hooker, and even though Wood is not in the squad - he did attend the last weekend sessions - he is now fully fit and playing well. Paul Cunningham and Shane Byrne are squad members but are injured. Terry Kingston represents a very experienced option in this berth and will surely figure in the A team or replacements.
The selectors have great options in the second row with Galwey, Jeremy Davidson, Gabriel Fulcher and Paddy Johns all playing so very well. Davidson will surely be in the senior team and Galwey should also make it. They may consider him at number eight, playing Johns or Fulcher with Davidson. Alternatively, Johns could play at number eight. Victor Costello will be under severe pressure to retain the number eight berth, and Ben Cronin has shown a return to very good form and his fitness level, never a notable feature of his approach, is now very much better.
I hope Cronin makes it to the A side. I doubt that Davidson will be considered on the blindside flank for the senior side. David Corkery is the likely choice at blind side and Denis McBride on the open. McBride played extremely well in Neath and should get in. Eddie Halvey is ruled out by injury and Eric Miller is also injured and unlikely to be available.
Anthony Foley should win a place in the back row on the A side and Stuart Duncan is a live contender, while Liam Toland may well get the open side open berth. The composition of the two teams is awaited with great interest.