Monday 24 October 2016

Horgan backs O’Brien to lead

Flanker an "excellent" choice to captain Ireland

Sports analyst and former Ireland and Leinster player Shane Horgan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Sports analyst and former Ireland and Leinster player Shane Horgan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Shane Horgan would narrow his choice of the next Ireland captain down to one forward, Seán O'Brien, and one back, Conor Murray, ultimately tipping O'Brien for the role.

Ireland has been a natural home to great captains through the decades, most recently Toulon-tied Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

Ulster's Rory Best, Leinster's Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton, Munster's Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray and even Connacht's Robbie Henshaw have been mooted as successors.

"We've had some amazing leaders," noted Horgan, on a Second Captains podcast.

"We've seen that because they haven't just been leaders in Ireland.

"They've gone on to lead the Lions stretching all the way back."

Indeed, the history is long and strong of Irish leaders that have taken on the main role for the British & Irish Lions.

Tommy Smyth (1910), Sam Walker (1938), Karl Mullen (1950), Robin Thompson (1955), Ronnie Dawson (1959), Tom Kiernan (1968), Willie John McBride (1974) and Ciarán Fitzgerald (1983) of the 20th century on through to O'Driscoll (2003) and O'Connell (2009) of the 21st have all held the distinction.

"I always prefer a back as a captain, especially with Ireland, because a lot of the big personalities are often in the forwards," he said.

"To get the game-management balance right, it is nice to have somebody further out inputting."

"Now, that's largely because Brian O'Driscoll was my captain for so long.

"It wasn't as if the team wasn't going to be using him if he wasn't a big voice as captain."

The declaration of interest and influence over Ireland's 'modus operandi' is something that could swing the decision one way or the other.

"I don't think it did any harm during that period when Ireland had very strong backs and a very strong voice in every meeting," revealed Horgan.

Full-back Rob Kearney is considered to be located too far from the heart of the action.

"From a backs perspective, that leaves Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Either of them could perform the role, I think, pretty well or very well actually."

Limerickman Murray is an old head on relatively young shoulders.

The 26-year-old scrum-half has racked up 41 caps for his country and earned a big game reputation.

"If you are looking at a longer cycle, Conor is someone who carries himself very well, speaks very well.

The presumption with Sexton is that, as the playmaking general and place-kicker, he has enough to occupy him.

"Would he have too much on his plate? He has the goal-kicking. He has a lot on his plate. The captaincy duties call for extra time.

"Is it necessarily the best thing for Johnny? I don't know.

"If he was offered it, he would probably take it," said his former team-mate.

The former Ireland wing did take a moment to put himself in Sexton's boots.

"It is easy for us to say that it's too much responsibility for him. But, he could be sitting at home crying out to be Irish captain.

However, Horgan's sense is that the appointment will come from the forward pack, making Best and Heaslip the most likely lads in the absence of the injured O'Mahony.

"I think Rory Best is the easiest choice. He would be excellent," supported Horgan.

"He is a very good performer on the pitch and off it. He says the right things very often."

Even the ex-Leinster man acknowledges the shortcomings in Heaslip's public media appearances.

On this point, the grievance has always been of a distinct lack of basic manners, not to journalists, but to fellow human beings.


Heaslip goes a long way out of his way to let jobbing hacks know he doesn't respect the job they do, a job that goes some way towards drumming up the ticket sales that give the IRFU the means to reward him so thoroughly.

"Jamie Heaslip has been captain before," said Horgan.

"His demeanour in interviews isn't great.

"It would be one of the issues that might hold him back.

"I don't think he always gives off a great message post-game. He just hasn't got the hang of that right yet. That is an important consideration."

The communications failure of Heaslip may not be as much a concern for Schmidt as for others.

"It doesn't come easy to everyone," added Horgan.

"There is a case to look at how your captain communicates, what sort of body language they project and what kind of image they present of Irish rugby."

As a counter argument, the details Horgan would look for in the national captain are as close to a definition of 'Heaslip the player' as you can get.

"I think the most important thing for a captain is someone who's playing and training exceptionally well, doesn't make many mistakes, very diligent in the way they work and look after their own game primarily."

Then again, there is the legendary durability of Ireland's number eight and two-tour British & Irish Lion.

This gives Schmidt a degree of certainty over the availability of his priary leader. This is in contrast to the man Horgan would make his Ireland captain.

"My outside shot would be Seán O'Brien," he pushed.

"I think he would be an excellent captain. He is still at an age where he is going to be around for a long time.

"He is very well respected in the squad and outside it as well. His demeanour comes across well in interviews."

The problem here is that the Tullow Tank has become susceptible to the kind of injuries that seriously disturb a season.

He is a mirror of Cian Healy and the retired Stephen Ferris in that the more explosive you are the more you will be targeted as a man to stop.

O'Brien has dished out more punishment than most in his career whether by carrying or by tackling.

It comes with the territory that he has also had to take more than his fair share of contact.

Still, there is something genuine and utterly believable about the way he carries himself into and away from the battlefield.

"If you're not going to go for a back, there is something to be really said for going for a seven as your captain.

"They tend to get in positions where they give away a lot of penalties or where there are a lot of marginal calls.

"It is always more difficult to penalise or, indeed, yellow card a captain playing at seven rather than just a regular seven."

In the Six Nations alone, Wales Sam Warburton, England's Chris Robshaw - he is soon to be deposed by Eddie Jones by all accounts - France's Thierry Dusautoir and Italy's Sergio Parisse have been all found in the back row, three of them at openside.

The fact Schmidt has used Heaslip in this role in the past and that Leo Cullen has named Leinster two captains this season in Kevin McLaughlin and Isa Nacewa hints at Heaslip at the helm.

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