The Six Nations is upon us. But who will Joe Schmidt go with at number 10? Here are the talents, contenders and forgotten men.
And so there are no more games left to impress Joe Schmidt. The next time Ireland’s finest run out onto the paddock it will be into Rome’s modern day Coliseum and the Irish Six Nations’ assault will be launched.
In Cork on Friday night, the hopefuls for the Test team performed meekly against a well-drilled, organised but limited English Saxons outfit. Bar Iain Henderson, it would be fair to say that no man representing the Wolfhounds at Independent Park covered himself in glory or furthered their chances of selection for the Italy test.
In this group was flyhalf, Ian Madigan. The Dubliner is almost certain to start with the number ten on his back in Rome as Jonny Sexton and Paddy Jackson are ruled out through injury. But the Leinster man had a night to forget from standoff. Aside from his place kicking, Madigan was worryingly poor. His kicking out of hand was not up to standard and he failed to dictate the pace of the match and assert his control and authority.
As mentioned already Madigan is the presumed starter for the opening match in the Six Nations but are there any options available for Schmidt if he feels that what he saw in Cork was enough to change his mind and pick another flyhalf?
1. The Contender – Ian Keatley
The Dubliner has made the Munster ten jersey his own this season resulting in JJ Hanrahan having to move to pastures new. Keatley, arguably, controls the game better than Madigan but he has been unable to ignite the southern province’s backline during his time in Limerick (although he hasn’t got much to work with). Keatley’s place kicking statistics have improved throughout the term but he can be very erratic from time to time off the tee. The outhalf has now shown he can handle pressure situations with a last gasp winning drop-goal against Sale away and a penalty in the massif central to earn a losing bonus point in Clermont. However, the possibility of a Keatley/ Madigan axis at 10 and 12 is open to Schmidt and should not be discounted.
2. The Talented One – JJ Hanrahan
Hanrahan was nominated for Junior World Player of the Year in 2012 and has already written himself into Munster Rugby folklore with a sidestep that duped the whole of the Stade Aimé Giral, scoring the winning try against Perpignan. But the Kerryman’s development at Thomond Park has stalled as he lost the battle for the red number ten jersey and was relegated to the bench or shifted out to inside centre. Instead of moping about, Hanrahan, an excellent distributor from outhalf and exciting runner, will be plying his trade at Franklin’s Gardens next year. Hopefully his time away will be well spent and he will come back to Ireland as a man who can control a game of rugby.
3. The Forgotten Man – Gareth Steenson
The Dungannon born outhalf has been outstanding for the Exeter Chiefs this season. He may not be as flash as the other men but he does the basics of flyhalf play to a very high standard. Steenson kicks to the corner with great accuracy, has a high percentage in front of goal and is influential in the Chiefs’ adventurous style of play. He is a vital cog in the Sandy Park outfit’s machine; it is inconceivable why Schmidt hasn’t even invited him to a squad get together. But the Kiwi had better hurry up! The Ulster man is now eligible to represent the Red Rose via the residency rule.
4. The Youngster – Jack Carty
Tipped for greater things in the future, this term has been one of learning for the Connacht outhalf. His strengths lie in running the ball and he has played his part in Connacht’s attractive play so far. The 22 year old has great potential but his performances to date have ranged from the very strong to the very bad. The Athlone man must work on his game management and not waste precious possession by aimlessly booting the ball up field.
5. The Maverick – Ian Humphreys
His brother David was a great servant to the Irish cause in the 90s and early 2000s, however, international honours have never found their way to the younger brother. Humphreys is probably Ireland’s best flyhalf for playing off the cuff rugby and his inventiveness was there for all to see in Ulster’s thumping win over the Leicester Tigers a few weeks ago. He can tighten the game up and kick for territory and has a good success rate when attempting to bisect the posts. But the major problem for the Belfast native is that he has only ever made one tackle in his entire career. And there are those that say the ball carrier tripped before Humphreys had effected the tackle.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena