Now it’s time to think about what’s next – the team isn’t exactly heading for the knackers yard, but the core group of players who have guided Ireland to 3 Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam will be phased out of the team in the next 2 years – Jirry, Wally, Strings and the Bull have already gone, and they will soon be joined by Bod, Rog, Paulie, Donncha and Dorce. We will be getting more familiar with the likes of Dan Tuohy, Dom Ryan, Luke Marshall and Nevin Spence to name but 4.
The next big decision for Deccie and his team is who is going to lead this change on the pitch – Bod will still be around, probably until after the Lions tour in 2013, but, as per the old Liverpool FC adage, better to change from a position of strength and have a captain in situ right the way through to RWC 2015 – we most certainly want to avoid the musical chairs we have seen at England press conferences since Martin Corry retired.
Working on the premise that any potential captain must be certain of their place in the team in the first instance, lets have a look at the contenders to talk to Tracey after the annual defeat to France.
Rory Best: The Ulster hooker has experience of captaining Ulster, is in the form of his career and is already part of the squads informal kitchen cabinet – he offers a smooth succession. On the other side of the ledger, Richardt Strauss is also in the form of his career and is eligible in 12 months, and Niall Annett will be starting MagnersRaboProDirect games next season at the latest – will he be first choice in 4 years?
Jamie Heaslip: Formerly the front-runner and red-hot favourite, Jamie has slipped somewhat. He seems to be considered a “maverick” by the powers that be – the appetite for him has definitely waned. Also, if Deccie pays heed to the important role the open-side flanker has played at this RWC, he may want to fast-track Dom Ryan into the setup. If that is the case, SOB and Fez will wear 8 and 6 and Jamie will be squeezed out of the XV – not ideal for the captain.
Sean O’Brien: The Tullow Tank is now a genuine world star, and is a key man for Ireland less than a year after being unable to get near the squad – an incredible turnaround. He has captained Leinster, and is an inspiration to fans and colleagues alike. On the other hand, he doesn’t have much experience at international level – maybe give him a few years, he’ll still be just 28 after RWC15.
Rob Kearney: Touted by the Sunday Times as the default choice due to his hold on the 15 shirt and his experience at the top level, Bob is still an outside shot as he has never captained Leinster and is unlikely to play full-back for Joe Schmidt in the big HEC games while Nacewa is still around – you want a man who has a lock on his shirt at all times.
Jonny Sexton: Sexto is likely to be wearing the 10 shirt for most of the next 4 years roysh, and is likely to step into Rog’s shoes as a team leader and on-pitch general, judging by what he does for Leinster (see second half of this year’s HEC final). However, he doesn’t seem to produce his top form in a green shirt, and we don’t really see him as a diplomat when dealing with difficult men like Walsh, Barnes and Pearson.
Paul O’Connell: A true giant, and a fearless and proven leader of men for Munster and Ireland. However, he turns 32 next week and would represent an interim solution – we saw how Steve Borthwick worked out in that role for England, it’s better to pick someone who is guaranteed to manage the next 4 year cycle at the coalface. On the other hand, if he is 36 at RWC15, that still makes him younger than Shawsy!
Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey: The man has a phenomenal record as captain and leader at London Irish, but no.
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