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The Hybrid Rower - Part 3

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  • The Hybrid Rower - Part 3, the Irish Hybrid

    by HUGONAUT

    One of the positions of most interest and competition in the Irish world cup squad is that of the fourth second row spot. Is there even a fourth spot? In 2007, O’Sullivan selected three second-rows: O’Connell, O’Callaghan and O’Kelly. Donncha had just wrested the first choice spot alongside O’Connell from Big Mal: O’Callaghan started all 2007 6 Nations matches, having only started one the previous year, whereas O’Kelly had only missed two starts from the previous seven 6 Nations tournaments. O’Kelly turned 33 in July 07, making him roughly the same age that Leo Cullen is as he approaches this world cup, and went on to play a major role in Leinster’s HEC triumph of 09, so it’s fair to say that he still had quite a lot left in the tank. Unfortunately, O’Sullivan’s appalling use of the bench ensured that he never even saw a minute of gametime in four games of RWC07, but maybe that’s another days topic.

    In any case, we used only two second rows through that tournament, leaving the third redundant. It’s fair to say that we were thus very unlikely to press a fourth into use, but Alan Quinlan would nominally have been the hybrid, a backrow-cum-secondrow [and very much in that order].

    I think it’s safe to assume that the three top second rows in Ireland going into this World Cup are Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and Leo Cullen. With the exclusion of Leinster’s Devin Toner and Ulster’s Dan Tuohy from Kidney’s preparatory RWC Squad, two of the twenty-something locks regularly plying their trade in the provinces, the spotlight has turned again to the hybrid ‘rower. Three of them have been selected in this initial squad: Mike McCarthy [Connacht], Donnacha Ryan [Munster] and Kev McLaughlin [Leinster]. At 29, McCarthy is uncapped at test level; Ryan [27] has 7 caps, all from the bench; and McLaughlin [26] has a single cap, a start against Italy in the 2010 6 Nations.

    Physically, they’re cut from similar enough cloth, with Ryan being a little taller and sparer than the other two: McCarthy is 193cm [6’4”] and 110kg [17st1lb]; Ryan 198cm [6’6”] and 108kg [16st13lb] and McLaughlin 193cm [6’4”] and 109kg [17st1lb].

    McCarthy [from what I can tell from a variety of sources, their website being somewhat unco-operative] started all 22 matches of Connacht’s Magner’s League Campaign, and 5 of their 6 games in the Amlin Challenge Cup
    Blindside:
    He made seven starts @ blindside:
    Ulster x2, Dragons, Scarlets, Glasgow, Cardiff, Ospreys [all ML]
    Second Row:
    McCarthy made twenty starts @ second row:
    Leinster x2, Munster x2, Treviso x2, Aironi x2, Edinburgh x2, Dragons, Scarlets, Glasgow, Cardiff,
    Ospreys [all ML]
    Harlequins x2, Bayonne x2, Cavalieri [all ACC]
    That’s a very impressive 27 starts [and he was on the bench for the game against Cavalieri Prato on 9th October] from 28 competitive games that Connacht played this season: 20 of them in the second row, and 7 of them at blindside. If any Connacht fans have more accurate information than that, I’m all ears – I’ve had to trawl a couple of sources and could easily have got some things mixed up.

    Ryan played 26 times for Munster this year, starting 18 games and coming off the bench 8 times.
    Blindside:
    His seven starts @ blindside all came in the ML, against:
    Aironi x2, Dragons, Leinster, Ospreys, Ospreys [MLSF] and Leinster [MLGF].
    He made three appearances off the bench into the backrow:
    vs Brive [AC]; vs Toulon [HEC] and vs Glasgow [ML].
    Second-row:
    Of his eleven starts @ second-row, 1 was in the HEC vs London Irish, and 10 came in the ML:
    Connacht x2, Edinburgh x2, Scarlets, Ulster, Treviso, Leinster, Glasgow, Ospreys
    He made five appearances off the bench into the second row:
    vs Quins [AC]; vs Toulon [HEC] and vs Cardiff, Treviso and the Ospreys [all ML]

    All in all then, he played in 10 games as a blindside, and 16 as a second-rower – an ideal blend.

    McLaughlin only came back to rugby after Christmas, having recovered from the surgery following his injury in the 09-10 ML Grand Final against the Ospreys. He played 15 times for Leinster, starting 12 and coming off the bench 3 times.
    Blindside:
    He made seven starts @ blindside in the ML:
    Connacht, Scarlets, Treviso, Scarlets, Dragons, Munster, Ulster;
    and three in the HEC: Leicester [QF]; Toulouse [SF]; Northampton [F]
    He made three appearances off the bench into the backrow:
    Saracens [HEC], Ulster [MLSF], Munster [MLGF]
    Second Row
    He had two starts @ second row in the ML:
    Aironi, Glasgow
    In all, he played in 13 games as a blindside, and 2 as a second-rower. He may also have switched into second row from flanker in a couple of ML matches when a substitute flanker came on, but literally only one or two games.

    So, if you look at the data assembled there, it’s clear that in that sub-group of hybrids we have one guy who has primarily played in the second row [McCarthy], one guy who has primarily played on the blindside [McLaughlin] and one guy who has split time not quite evenly, but moreso than the other two, down the middle of the two positions [Ryan]. McCarthy has a lot of miles on the clock this season [27 starts!] with Ryan some way behind him at 18 starts and McLaughlin bringing up the rear [or fresher, depending on how you want to see it] at 12 starts.

    Now the beauty of a training camp is that Kidney, Smal and Kiss will see these guys go up against each other on a daily basis out on the pitch, as well as in the gym. On a more holistic level, they’ll see how they interact with the other players around the complex – some guys make better tourists than others, and it’s not to be sniffed at if skill levels and physicality are pick ‘ems. This is all internal stuff within the squad and the management, which the great majority of us won’t ever really know.

    What we’ll get to see is the warm-up matches: five of them. Obviously some units won’t be used to working together [like at lineout time] so it’s worth bearing in mind that we won’t necessarily be seeing incredibly polished performances from these three guys. What will be worth checking out are the basics of their play – their workrate, their tackling, their ferocity at the breakdown/ruck, their handling and [most eye-catchingly] their carrying into contact.

    I’d be surprised if we don’t see one of these guys going, but I’d be pretty shocked if we saw more than one. The one player who I haven’t included [as he hasn’t really played much second row, if any, at senior level] is Stephen Ferris. He has the physique and the aggression to be a genuinely great hybrid, a big hard bruiser who just loves to bash it up into people when he has the ball and to smash them when he doesn’t. Here’s hoping for a dark horse.
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