Declan Kidney has picked four second-rows in his squad to tour New Zealand: Donncha O’Callaghan, Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan and AN Other. Paul O’Connell will take that AN Other slot if he recovers from a knee injury as expected. Devin Toner is unlucky to miss out, as is Mike McCarthy. If he is fit, then O’Connell is obviously one of the first names on the team sheet. I’m confident that he won’t miss this tour. So who should pack down alongside POC in that first test on the 9th of June? The battle for the second-row could be one of the tightest calls Kidney has to make.
The continued selection of O’Callaghan during this year’s Six Nations was the foundation of much of the criticism aimed at Kidney. It was certainly justified. The fact that O’Callaghan hasn’t been commanding a starting place at Munster, coupled with the form of Ryan, Tuohy, McCarthy and Toner made it hard to understand. Kidney’s loyalty has been infuriating for Ireland’s supporters, and O’Callaghan is prime evidence for the accusations.
First off, let me say that I’m not a fan of slagging off individual players. Donnacha O’Callaghan has been a legend for Munster and Ireland. He clearly cares passionately about playing for both teams and it’s obvious that he gives 100%. At his peak he was hugely effective. But he’s now 33 and is past that peak. If that’s so obvious the majority of Ireland fans, then why does Kidney keep picking him? There must be something behind this other than blind loyalty.
Trying to get inside the mind of Declan Kidney is not an easy thing to do. Clearly his decision to keep faith in O’Callaghan is swayed by their previous shared successes. Kidney also probably feels that O’Callaghan gives his pack a better balance. With ball-carriers in Healy, O’Brien, Ferris and to a certain extent O’Connell and Heaslip, Kidney probably feels that a workhorse like O’Callaghan is necessary if there’s going to be anyone committing to rucks.
O’Callaghan is probably a good scrummager too, particularly if you judge from his attempts to give Tom Court some helpful advice during the Twickenham Demolition. If that’s the case, and O’Callaghan does give a serious shove from the second-row, then it may go a little further to explaining why Kidney chose him during the Six Nations. But the time has come for O’Callaghan to step aside. The simple fact is that Ryan and Tuohy can do everything that O’Callaghan does, and plenty more.
Ryan will feel that he has earned the starting role alongside O’Connell after his Six Nations displays. He added serious aggression and bite to Ireland’s game each time he played (2 starts, 3 off the bench). Allied to that, the Tipperary man has finally nailed down a definitive starting role at Munster at the age of 28. Ryan surely believes that he has done everything in his power to be named in Ireland’s XV for that first test against the All Blacks.
Ulster lock Tuohy has been excellent for his province for the entire season. His ball carrying has been increasingly dynamic, his lineout work superb, and he can offload too. The Bristol-born second-row would have been aggrieved that Kidney called up Connacht’s Mike McCarthy as bench cover when O’Connell picked up a knee injury during the Six Nations. The fact that McCarthy had the most recent international exposure was the deciding factor, as appears to be be the case very often with Kidney.
Tuohy kept his head down and continued to excel for Ulster as they earned their place in last weekend’s Heineken Cup final. The 26-year-old was one of Ulster’s standout performers in the 42-12 loss. He made his tackles, hit rucks and secured lineout ball without fuss. On top of that he carried powerfully, something O’Callaghan doesn’t do. The manner in which he bounced off a Sean O’Brien tackle was a surprising and welcome highlight. To top off a strong all-round display, Tuohy popped up out wide to finish after Paddy Wallace’s intelligent offload.
Ryan and Tuohy are the men with momentum and confidence behind them. O’Callaghan’s days as a first-choice international lock are surely now at an end, despite his inclusion in the squad to tour NZ. O’Connell’s complete skills mean that whichever of Ryan or Tuohy are picked, Ireland’s second-row will still have balance. Personally, I’d go for Tuohy and O’Connell for the first test, with Ryan giving versatility and a real impact off the bench.
Would you go for Tuohy or Ryan? Are there any O’Callaghan fans out there? If O’Connell doesn’t recover, would a second-row of Tuohy and Ryan work? As always, feel welcome to leave a comment with your views!
Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan.