Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Never Had It So Good?

So off they went, thirty bold adventurers and true, to acclimatise, presumably due to France being a country with the occasional day without biblical rain-showers.

For most of them, the announcement of the squad on Sunday morning would barely have necessitated a pause in the crunching of corn flakes, so certain were they of their autumnal travel plans. But a few would have dreaded Eddie O'Sullivan's Dear John phone call like the icy finger of the Reaper himself.

Four years ago many of the same players endured a similar Sunday morning in August before embarking on a campaign which ultimately petered out in a quarter-final defeat to France.

Expectations are higher this time, but the challenge ahead seems even greater. So how does Eddie's 2007 squad compare to the 30 of four years ago?

PROPS

2003:
Reggie Corrigan, John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Simon Best.

2007: John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Simon Best, Bryan Young.

HOOKERS

2003: Keith Wood, Shane Byrne, Frankie Sheahan.

2007: Jerry Flannery, Rory Best, Frankie Sheahan.

LOCKS

2003:
Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Malcolm O'Kelly, Gary Longwell.

2007: Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Malcolm O'Kelly.

BACK ROW

2003: Victor Costello, Simon Easterby, Anthony Foley, Keith Gleeson, Alan Quinlan, Eric Miller.

2007:
Simon Easterby, Neil Best, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Stephen Ferris.


SCRUM-HALVES

2003: Peter Stringer, Guy Easterby, Neil Doak.

2007: Peter Stringer, Isaac Boss, Eoin Reddan.

FLY-HALVES

2003: Ronan O'Gara, David Humphreys.

2007: Ronan O'Gara, Paddy Wallace.

CENTRES

2003: Brian O'Driscoll, Kevin Maggs, Jonathan Bell.

2007: Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Gavin Duffy.

WINGERS

2003: Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie, Anthony Horgan, John Kelly.

2007: Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie, Brian Carney, Andrew Trimble.

FULL-BACKS

2003: Girvan Dempsey.

2007: Girvan Dempsey, Geordan Murphy.


Immediately, for all the cribbing over the second-string results in Argentina and Scotland, a greater strength in depth is obvious. Only at fly-half was the 2003 squad actually stronger, although prop, hooker and lock seem much of a muchness.

In some positions cover was embarrassingly light four years ago. Neil Doak? Jonathan Bell? Anthony Horgan? John Kelly (forced into action against France)? Kevin Maggs started every game! No genuine cover at full-back!

The five games in 2003 saw just 21 of the squad featuring in the starting line-ups, with eight starting every game. The back division remained totally unchanged, apart from John Kelly's enforced start against France for the injured Denis Hickie, and David Humphreys getting the nod at fly-half for the Namibia and Argentina games.

2003's final act was the disappointing quarter-final against France, when a plainly exhausted Ireland simply ran out of puff. While the recent friendlies have shown that we don't necessarily have an All Black-style alternative XV, looking at this year's squad, we should at least have viable options both to allow the resting of front-liners, and also to provide impact substitutes in the big matches.

In the outside backs, for example, the trio of Carney, Trimble and Murphy all carry the potential to skewer a tiring opposing defence if needed. What foe would welcome the sight of a bloodthirsty Neil Best charging on for ten minutes of barely controlled mayhem? And the option of Trimble provides a modicum of insurance in the event of the dreaded worst happening to O'Driscoll and D'Arcy.

Sure, we remain utterly dependent on the central core staying fit, but compared to last time out, Ireland look to have packed more than just the bare essentials.




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4 Comments:

Blogger John Cav said...

Very true.

However, the hookers of 2003 shade it in my opinion. Wood Vs Flannery? Obvious winner there. Sheahan is still there and hasn't changed much since. Byrne Vs Best? Much of a muchness indeed.

Pedantic ain't I?

6:40 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Fair call - although Wood of circa 2000/01 yes, no doubt. In 2003, he'd just come off a bad injury, and was at the fag end of his career. And I'm expecting big things from Flannery this time round...

7:25 p.m.  
Anonymous The Swiss Job said...

As you mentioned it's important the core stays together. I missed a few heart beats this morning reading about O'Driscoll, Leamy and to a lesser extent, Wallace coming off injured. But the Bayonne game was a positive and I think we'll give the Italians a good run round next week. The nerves are starting to jangle!

10:06 a.m.  
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