Irish rugby fans will already know which players are on the first plane to Japan and which ones will be sitting at home, moping, and hoping for minor injuries to their positional rivals. Top of the list are Devon Toner, Kieran Marmion and Will Addison, while others will need several injuries to go their way (Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tommy O’Donnell, Jordi Murphy, Ross Byrne, Dave Kearney and Mike Haley).
Looking back at the selections over the three games, we can see some very clear patterns and potentially understand what Joe Schmidt et al. were thinking. Eight of the twenty-three players selected against Italy did not make the cut, and these players are marked in red in graph above. Only two others did not make the cut — Ross Byrne (10 v England) and Will Addison (15 v Wales). All other players in red were on a second chance, or third in the case of Toner (19 v England AND Wales).
Use it or lose it: the selection v Italy
Our pack against Italy seems, in particular, to have been a chance for fringe players to get a proper bite of the cherry . In the front row, Jack McGrath and Rob Herring couldn’t take their opportunity, with Herring coming off injured after just twenty minutes, replaced by Niall Scannell whose aggression at the breakdown showed his delight at being on so soon.
The second-row selection, in retrospect, seems to have been a straight shoot out between Klein and Toner, with Klein winning and getting chosen for the England match where Toner was benched.
In the back row, Tommy O’Donnell got his only chance but got the chop, despite making 17 tackles, and making 46m for 8 carries and two defenders beaten. Jordi Murphy began at Number 8, a test of his versatility, and made just 13m for 12 carries, although he did dot down a maul try. One could easily harp on about Murphy’s lack of ballast but Ruddock, who did get selected for Japan, had similar numbers with the ball: 14m for 15 carries.
It seems that the backs took their chances more. Carbery (10) had a stormer, Conway (14) and Larmour (15) passed their tests, as did Farrell (12) and Ringrose (13) who tends to be picked in these kind of matches as a babysitter for the backline (c.f. Italy 2018 in Chicago). Dave Kearney (11) didn’t do enough but he did sit on the bench against Wales, while Mike Haley (23) was not seen again. Kieran Marmion replaced Luke McGrath in their first shootout, a reversal of their selection against Wales.
All is forgiven: England
It seems that Joe had pencilled in this game as a big one from a long way out because all the front-line players lined out and the whole pack made the cut. Kleyn was the only forward to feature against Italy so, in hindsight, we can imagine that Toner had been pencilled in here but was no longer considered good enough to start.
Several of these frontliners had their one and only game so we can expect to see them back in the final hit out against Wales: van der Flier (7), Stander (8), Murray (9), Rob Kearney (15). Rumour has it that Tadhg Furlong and Rory Best wanted extra game time so they featured off the bench against Wales.
The half-backs were the most interesting positions against England. Carbery and Sexton have both been injured so that meant Byrne (10) and Carty (22) would both get game time. Byrne made it to 55 mins of his first start and Carty could take the momentum of two substitute appearances into his first international start a week later. Meanwhile, Luke McGrath deputised for Conor Murray which, to me, suggests that he was already a notch ahead of Marmion.
Other casualties from this game were Jack McGrath (17) and Toner (19). Winners seem to have included Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne who had his second cameo before starting against Wales.
Last Chance Saloon: Wales
Of the starters, Marmion (9) and Will Addison (15) missed out. There were several last chances on the bench: Toner (19) and Jordi Murphy (20) clocked up over twenty tackles between them but didn’t do enough. Dave Kearney also lost out, but Luke McGrath seems to have done enough on the day.
All in all, it seems that the Italy matched was useful in deleting players from the equation. Herring got injured, Haley was not seen again and Dave Kearney was always a long shot. Toner lost out to Klein and Marmion to McGrath. O’Donnell’s numbers were huge but his lack of game time during the entire four-year cycle meant that Nordi Murphy was the one to get a second, albeit fruitless, opportunity.
Other winners against Italy included Niall Scannell, Tadhg Beirne, Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour, with these backs all getting earlier game time than Will Addison, whose calf niggle was something Schmidt mentioned when explaining his omission from the squad.
Post script: Who will play in the Wales rematch?
Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls haven’t played a rugby match since May and all of them need a game. Those who only played against England will surely feature again (van der Flier, Stander, Murray, Kearney) although they may not all merit a start.
1. If Healy is fit, he starts, with Kilcoyne on the bench.
2. There are four hookers and should be four starters. That would leave the door open for Sean Cronin to stake a final claim. Schmidt rotated all three hookers in Australia 2018 in similar fashion, with each getting one start and one bench spot. Best then to get another shot but off the bench. Scannell is grand.
3. Furlong and John Ryan.
4 / 5. Henderson and James Ryan are now the incumbents while Kleyn needs international game time. Beirne hasn’t played here yet and Schmidt seems to see him as a backrower.
6. O’Mahony played the last two games and Ruddock only against Italy. Joe might like to give Stander a run-out here though.
7. Van der Flier or POM again perhaps.
8. Conan has to be the man.
9. Murray and McGrath.
10. Sexton and Carty.
11/14. Earls could play on either wing. Stockdale is warmed up in attack but not defense.
12/13. Henshaw and any one of three who have all played a lot. Ringrose ought to be first choice.
14. Conway, if Earls starts at 11.
I don’t think Larmour will make it.
|6||Rhys||Ruddock||Selected||Back Row||1. Italy|
|7||Tommy||O’Donnell||Dropped||Back Row||1. Italy|
|8||Jordi||Murphy||Dropped||Back Row||1. Italy|
|9||Luke||McGrath||Selected||Scrum Half||1. Italy|
|10||Joey||Carbery||Selected||Out Half||1. Italy|
|15||Jordan||Larmour||Selected||Full Back||1. Italy|
|6||Peter||O’Mahony||Selected||Back Row||2. England|
|7||Josh||van der Flier||Selected||Back Row||2. England|
|8||CJ||Stander||Selected||Back Row||2. England|
|9||Conor||Murray||Selected||Scrum Half||2. England|
|10||Ross||Byrne||Dropped||Out Half||2. England|
|15||Rob||Kearney||Selected||Full Back||2. England|
|6||Tadhg||Beirne||Selected||Back Row||3. Wales|
|7||Peter||O’Mahony||Selected||Back Row||3. Wales|
|8||Jack||Conan||Selected||Back Row||3. Wales|
|9||Kieran||Marmion||Dropped||Scrum Half||3. Wales|
|10||Jack||Carty||Selected||Out Half||3. Wales|
|15||Will||Addison||Dropped||Full Back||3. Wales|