Donncha O'Callaghan's days as an Ireland starter could be numbered. INPHO/Billy Stickland

Analysis: Ireland's second row is in need of a shake-up

Donnacha Ryan’s impressive form for Munster deserves to be rewarded with an international starting berth, say our resident rugby columnists.

Reproduced with permission from Whiff of Cordite

Second Row- All Change, All Change!

Ireland’s second row has been a low turnover position over the last decade.  Paul O’Connell and Mal O’Kelly were in situ between 2002 and 2006, bolstered by Donncha O’Callaghan, until the lovable scamp passed Big Mal out, and since then the Munster pair have been untouchable.  Mick O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen have stepped in during injury layoffs, and in the World Cup Donnacha Ryan warmed the bench, but when available The Two OC’s were pretty much, rightly or wrongly, cast in stone in the Irish XV.

Well, no more.  Donners has found himself dropped at Munster following a spell (a four-year long spell, his detractors might argue) of indifferent form.  And indeed, we reckon there’ll be a fairly new look to the panel of second rows in Deccie’s squad.

In Dr Beeching’s cross-hairs:

Cut from the squad: Leo Cullen and Mick O’Driscoll

Still a fine player and captain with Leinster, Leo has achieved plenty in his club career, and can feel a little aggrieved he never got the rub of the green at international level.  Even when he finally got to a World Cup, he was ousted from the matchday squad and his only runout was with the midweek squad against Russia.  That said, at 34, Leo is unlikely to suddenly make an impact in test rugby.  A decidedly old school lock, he’s best served continuing to do his thing for Leinster.

Micko is a long-standing bete-noir for Leinster fans who could never quite see why this decidedly middling player persistently made Deccie’s squad, but is nonetheless a handy, durable fellow who leads the pack well (notably in “that” game where the Kiwis did “that” against their fellow countrymen) and presumably a reliable tackle bag holder.  He can reflect on a fine career, but it’s one that’s starting to fade.  Micko no longer makes the Munster matchday 23, so it’s hard to see how he can still be viewed as an international player.

Demoted from the First Team: Donncha O’Callaghan

A polarising player to say the least.  An invaluable grafter willing to do – yawn – the ‘unseen work’ or an underpowered penalty machine?  Either way, Donners has fallen behind his almost-namesake Ryan in the Munster team, and can expect the same to happen with Ireland.  Inevitably, he’ll still have a place in the panel, and could still make the matchday squad.

TGV service to RWC15 departing from Platform Deccie:

Into the starting team: Donnacha Ryan

With management already in the fanclub, Ryan is likely to find his recent long-overdue breakthrough for Munster mirrored at international level.  He’s a player that grows on you, and brings a real aggression to his play.  Still a rough-edged jewel but getting better all the time.  Also prone to foolish penalties, but, hey, so is O’Callaghan.

On the bench: Dan Tuohy

Ah yes, Dan Tuohy.  The big Ulsterman is strange by Irish second row standards in that he can carry and even run with the ball.  A luxury, surely?!  He’s still a bit up and down in his level, but his performance in the Leicester defeat showcased a player of real quality.  As Ireland’s only really footballing lock he would be worth a place as a replacement capable of offering us something different – he looked very comfortable in the green shirt in his only show to date.

On tackle bag duty: Devin Toner

(INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

The Tall Man played badly last year, but the Leinster coaching staff appear to be getting the message through and Toner has played – whisper it – pretty well this season so far and is using his physique to better effect.  His sheer height will always be a double edged sword, but there is an obvious value having him in the middle of the lineout.  He has only started one of the three HEC games so far, but has performed commendably in all three, and given Joe’s horses for courses selection policy, it would be no surprise to see him start all the remaining three group games.  More likely to feature in place of an injured O’Connell than alongside him.

Worth Keeping an Eye On: Ryan Caldwell

An athletic, talented player, but prone to hot-headed silliness, Ulster lost patience with Caldwell.  But he’s winning rave reviews in Bath and impressed in the encounter with Leinster.  Now in his prime, out of sight will hopefully not be out of mind.

The Fat (well, big) Controller:

Paul O’Connell

The great man will be going nowhere, and the good news for any inexperienced partner is they’ll be playing alongside Europe’s pre-eminent second row.  Playing better than ever it seems, some of his carries have even extended beyond the 70cm mark, while his work at restarts is astonishing.

Leaves on the track:

Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob CaseyThe best lineout operator in the Premiership (TM), except it’s not true anymore and he is in and out of the London Samoa team these days. Bob offered impressive ballast in his peak, which he is way past, but the comically sized small table they make him sit at on TV means we simply have to mention him

Tom Hayes

Deccie, just because the Bull has gone doesn’t mean you need to pick his brother. Come on now. Deccie? Please tell us you aren’t on the phone to Ed O’Donoghue. Oh, Ian Nagle? That’s ok, but Ludd has said he isn’t picking him until 2016…

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