By Ken Fitzgerald, Rugby World reader
Cold November Rain….
Ah it’s good to recognise one’s face again. After a month of looking like the cop from The Village People a shave came as a welcome return to facial normality. As Movember closed I was struck by a gambit of emotions concerning the autumn series. For the first time ever Ireland remain unbeaten in a calendar year. If you’d have offered Declan Kidney two wins and a draw at the start of the month including the scalp of the World and Tri nations champions he’d have bitten your hand off. In a game that saw Ireland’s scrum obliterated and South Africa kick the leather off the ball, Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton stood out in a spectacle marred more by South Africa’s lack of invention then the fog that descended on Croke Park.
November presented Kidney with a real contender and air apparent to Ronan O’Gara for the out half job. It is this blogger’s considered opinion that unless O’Gara undergoes a Pauline conversion to his form of old (which he may well) I believe Johnny Sexton will roll into the six nations as Kidneys first choice. As a Dubliner and life long Leinster supporter the only negative I can take from Saturdays result is Sextons hand injury. His two broken fingers have sidelined him for a month giving Michael Cheika a headache ahead of the upcoming back to back Heineken cup fixtures the European Champions have against the Scarlets; which they must win if they have any chance of getting out of the group. Although the Irish scrum was demolished Kidney will have learned very little. Cian Healy while explosive in the loose is only twenty two and his scrummaging will improve over time. His introduction into test rugby was a huge step and no doubt a massive learning curve for the Clontarf man. He will no doubt become a world class loose head under the tutelage of the former Springboks forwards coach Gert Smal. The real concern for Declan Kidney is at tight head. John Hayes is on borrowed time and there is a real shortage of contenders emerging for this pivotal position. Incidentally it was great to hear how the aforementioned Smal helped deconstruct the Springbok lineout which he helped to become almost indestructible by teaching O’Connell (who had a marvelous game) and co some Afrikaans so they could understand the Springbok lineout calls. Wonderful.
I started my blog three weeks ago trying to examine the gap in skill levels between the two hemispheres. To hear Rob Andrew during the week saying he believed England had closed the gap begged belief. I can see no evidence of progress from England in November and I feel with Martin Johnson it’s starting to look like it’s a case of him being more often treacherous through weakness than through calculation. The Six nations will be his Alamo and just like Davy Crocket I believe he will be gone shortly after its conclusion. For Wales it’s back to the drawing board while Andy Robinson and Scotland will take a lot of positives into 2010. France will target this seasons six nations and will be favourites to take the crown from Ireland. A lot to look forward to then. Roll on February.
France and Ireland beating the world champions, the emergence of Johnny Sexton and some stand out performances from O’Connell Kearney and O’Driscoll. Scotland beating the Wallabies, England’s purple kit, rugby in the San Siro and David Pocock!
Aerial ping pong, The IRB referees manager Paddy O Brien’s public criticism of Australian referee Stuart Dickinson’s handling of the scrum in the dying minutes of the Italy New Zealand game. South Africa accusing Jamie Heaslip of eye gouging, Luke Fitzgerald’s injury, England’s performances and Rob Andrews spin about England’s performances.
Have you heard the one about the famous golfer in Florida who crashed his car when he heard who the IRB awarded the world player of the year to?