All the latest from the world of rugby
May 6, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/06/2012
What next for Munster?
Canterbury and New Zealand U20 coach Rob Penney is set to take charge of Munster
© Getty Images
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley offers his thoughts on how patience will be required as Munster’s new coach completes his management team and takes charge of a squad in transition.
"The more you hear about Rob Penney the more you like him. He has, apparently, come across as a very solid individual, and an ambitious, innovative and relatively experienced coach who shares Munster’s hunger for success and is willing to leave Canterbury and take up a two-year contract.
"He will also bring a fresh voice and ideally, he won’t be the only fresh voice.
"To begin with, Penney has to complete his management ticket, for apart from Anthony Foley remaining on as forwards’ coach, there could be quite a turnover. Word is that Shaun Payne will be moving on after his low-profile stint as manager and that the likely replacement will be Niall O’Donovan.
"This would be a shrewd choice.
"He brings a wealth of experience and an understanding of the Munster zeitgeist, as well as a winning culture from his days as a Shannon player and coach, and assistant coach for both Munster and Ireland. He’s a good man, well-liked, has had a long relationship with Foley, another former Shannon number eight, and has a network of rugby contacts throughout the province."
May 5, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 05/05/2012
Kidney to run the rule over summer hopefuls
Hugh Farrelly, writing for the Irish Independent, picks over who may get the nod for Ireland on their summer tour to New Zealand.
"There are a couple of things that immediately stand out in the team selections for tonight's Pro12 clash between Munster and Ulster at Thomond Park.
First, there is the welcome sight of Keith Earls on the Munster bench, allaying fears that he had an injury which could have affected his participation in Tony McGahan's bid to round off his tenure with another league title, not to mention Ireland's summer expedition to New Zealand.
Earls is a key figure for that trip, where he could well return to the wing after Brian O'Driscoll's successful recovery and the injuries to Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald.
Second, after all the debate about Ulster's dependence on their overseas contingent, Brian McLaughlin has picked a match-day squad composed entirely of Irish-qualified players."
April 24, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/24/2012
A lasting legacy
The >i>Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly provides a XV from Ulster's overseas contingent.
"Whatever happens from here, the names Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, John Afoa, Pedrie Wannenburg and Stefan Terblanche will be enshrined in Ulster rugby folklore.
To a man, Ulster's 'famous five' have been immense in backboning the march to the Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh and are a major reason why Brian McLaughlin's side have a genuine shot at emulating the province's 1999 European triumph.
As with all the Irish provinces, Ulster have had plenty of overseas players pass through over the years.
Some, such as Ryan Constable, Paul Steinmetz, Adam Larkin and Matt Sexton were notable successes. Others such as Rob Dewey and Joeli Veitayaki had less of an impact but, either way, it has been an intriguing journey."
April 23, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/23/2012
Current system rewards cheats
Writing for the Irish Times, Matt Williams is the latest voice to urge the International Rugby Board to review the powers of the Television Match Official.
"Only two weeks ago at the Stade de France, Toulouse were awarded a match-winning try against Stade Francais. Television replays revealed blatant obstruction to the defending players. The TMO could see the infringement but the IRB do not allow him to communicate this with the referee. The TMO could not tell the referee of the obstruction. The TMO, the TV audience and the crowd in the stadium all knew the try was illegal and should not stand.
"However, rugby will not allow the TMO to rule on incidents that occur in the field of play. The only person who did not know and the only one that really counted was the referee. He awarded the try.
"Rugby League have permitted the TMO to rule on actions in the field of play for years. If the rugby league system, was in use for this match, it would have resulted in Toulouse being penalised for obstruction and Stade, justly would have won. As it stands, justice was not done and Stade may well miss out on the semis and entry into next year’s Heineken Cup because of the injustice of the system.
"Stade’s situation is not unusual. This column does not allow me to list the vast number of matches that have been won by cheating teams because the TMO cannot rule on illegal play in the field of play."
April 19, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/19/2012
Making most of twilight years
Veteran South African fullback Stefan Terblanche tells the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley how he has embraced Belfast, immersing himself in its culture, history and rugby feel-good environment.
"HE’S A big hit in Ulster, on and off the pitch. Team-mates and management have been taken by Stefan Terblanche’s pleasant, easy-going manner and, under three months shy of his 37th birthday, his condition and performances. Thus they were only too happy to extend his original three-month contract until the end of the season, and, as a final swan song to his stellar 15-year career, he is only too happy to enjoy the ride. Terblanche is, indeed, in encore territory.
"...The rugby itself has been so good that he hasn’t had time to contemplate that this will probably be the last few weeks of his career.
“You have to make the right decisions in life sometimes. I’ve been very fortunate in my career with the decisions I’ve made whether through my own knowledge of the game or pure luck, whatever you want to call it. But making the decision to come to Ulster at this time is wonderful,” he explains.
“There’s just a good feeling about the team and people in Belfast and Northern Ireland and great support for the team. If you saw the amount of support we had down in Limerick at Thomond Park and I believe there’s a lot of Ulster supporters coming to this game next weekend. It’s great to be part of something like that.”
April 18, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/18/2012
Schmidt tailor made for Ireland?
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to Leinster back-row Sean O'Brien who gives his immediate backing to Joe Schmidt to lead the nation's backs while on tour.
"Sean O'Brien reckons Joe Schmidt would be a natural if he were asked to be Ireland's backs coach on the summer tour to New Zealand.
There have been a number of calls for the Leinster coach to be co-opted on to the national team's assault on his native land this June, even if the prospect appears remote.
The evidence of the Kiwi's abilities has been clear for all to see this season - particularly in the free-running rout over Cardiff in the Heineken Cup quarter-final - and he would appear to be a logical fit for the Irish set-up, which has not had a specialist backs coach since the World Cup.
Defence coach Les Kiss has deputised, but already has his hands full as he tries to get a handle on stopping the world champions from scoring.
And although the Leinster and Ireland flanker was at pains not to be seen to be calling for Schmidt to get the job - and was fulsome in his praise for the job Kiss did during the Six Nations campaign - he admitted that Schmidt would be up to the task."
April 17, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/17/2012
Another Irish retirement?
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly claims that Munster's Mick O'Driscoll will retire at the end of the season.
"After 14 years and more than 200 caps for his native province, Mick O'Driscoll is set to retire from Munster rugby at the end of the season.
The 33-year-old second-row from Cork made his debut for the side in August 1998 and won his 200th cap last month when he led them out against the Newport-Gwent Dragons in their Rabodirect Pro12 clash at Rodney Parade.
O'Driscoll became the eighth player to hit the 200 mark but has the Munster record for appearances in the league, which now stands at 129, after he led Tony McGahan's side to victory over Glasgow at Musgrave Park last weekend."
April 16, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2012
Time IRFU picked up the ball and ran with sevens
Writing in the Irish Times, Matt Williams urges the Irish Rugby Football Union to join the Sevens party.
"Two weeks ago Australia won the IRB sevens tournament held in Tokyo. No Irish team participated.
"The Australians were one of the youngest to ever feature at an IRB event. Their coach, Michael O’Connor, stated that it was hard to keep cohesion in the group because as soon as they created a winning team the players were contracted into Super Rugby teams. The Australians Sevens budget is also lower than it was three years ago.
"So the Australian sevens programme is cheap. It is creating players for senior provincial teams. It is providing a pathway for talented players under the age of 20. The team is regularly winning tournaments. It is not impinging on Australian club rugby because the numbers for the sevens are so small and the windows of their absence are so infrequent.
"In short, the Australian sevens programme is living, working proof that the official IRFU arguments for not playing international Sevens are false. In the words of “the dissident,” the IRFU are unjust in denying Irish players the opportunity to play international sevens rugby."
April 15, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/15/2012
Wary of the quick fix
The Irish Independent's Neil Francis claims that Munster need to be wary of a knee-jerk reaction as to who they appoint as their next boss.
"I was talking to quite a few Munster supporters throughout the week. Perplexing conundrums. They haven't worked it out yet and the answer to a lot of their vexations lies in the questions that they have been asking. Ulster, they maintained, were on the cynical side of crafty. 'They killed our good ball, wouldn't roll away, hands everywhere. Ref did nuttin' about it.'
Times were when you walked into the junkyard, the junkyard dog sank its teeth into the flabby folds of flesh on your buttocks and wouldn't let go until the owner came out of his cabin. Time was when sticking your arm over the other side of the ruck to slow ball down was like bobbing for piranhas when you played at Thomond. Chris Henry, who had a sensational game, spent 70 minutes plying a retardant buffer on proceedings at the breakdown. He left the field with a clear, unblemished facial complexion and his jersey was neither torn nor pock-marked with a studded impression. He got away with murder -- or more succinctly he was let get away with murder.
Tony McGahan is unquestionably a quality coach -- he knows his stuff, but under his stewardship he has tried to sanitise certain parts of the way Munster play their game. It hasn't worked. The junkyard dog is gone and it is incumbent on the people charged with responsibility for Munster's affairs to bring it back."
April 14, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/14/2012
Web 'warriors' miss point on overseas issue
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes Ulster's success highlights a pressing problem for the Irish Rugby Football Union.
"Internet outrage is a fact of life and last week's assertion in these pages that an Ulster quarter-final win would not necessarily be the best result for Ireland ahead of their summer tour produced a predictably vitriolic response. However, the kernel of the argument has not altered.
"There's no more pressing issue in Irish rugby (as recognised by the IRFU's Player Succession Strategy) and the realisation has to dawn that Heineken Cup success is not an end in itself -- under the assumption that the national team should always take precedence.
"Ulster's overseas contingent formed a third of their starting side in Limerick last weekend and all were hugely influential in fashioning a seminal victory.
"And, while helping the province to reach their first Heineken Cup semi-final since 1999 has to bring on the Irish players making the starting side around them, the fact is that non-Irish qualified players are simultaneously impeding others, and not just in Ulster."
April 12, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/12/2012
Munster's powers waning?
Ronan O'Gara, talking to the Irish Independent's David Kelly, admits that he is concerned over Munster's waning powers.
"Like another famous Cork sportsman, whose response to disappointment was a swift hike with the pet mutt, there are occasions when Ronan O'Gara just needs some time alone with man's best friend.
Just as a brooding Roy Keane would often respond to professional setbacks by hitting the road with his four-legged friend, so too O'Gara.
Last Sunday's Heineken Cup defeat to Ulster was another such instance.
And so boxer bitch Tia, who joined the O'Gara clan when Munster won the first of their two Heineken Cups in 2006, enjoyed another long outing amidst the rain-soaked Douglas streets on Monday morning.
Sadly, such days are becoming painfully familiar for the Irish out-half of late."
April 10, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/10/2012
Heineken Cup doesn't do dull
Gerry Thornley reviews the weekend's Heineken Cup action from an Irish perspective and finds plenty to thrill, in The Irish Times.
"The Heineken Cup doesn’t do dull, does it? It doesn’t do predictable either. Not alone did the weekend’s quarter-finals buck the trend of previous years, and a 77 per cent winning ratio for home teams at that juncture, with Sunday’s brace of away wins, but three of the four games went against the bookies’ favourites.
"The one glorious exception was, of course, Leinster but Edinburgh, Ulster and Clermont were seven, six and three-point underdogs, and between them extinguished the interest of the four and two-time champions in Toulouse and Munster, as well as England’s last hope of reaching the Twickenham finale.
"How the mighty have fallen? On the corresponding weekend three seasons ago, Munster destroyed a Lions- and Grand Slam-studded Ospreys side 43-9 with as clinical a performance as they’ve ever produced."
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/10/2012
Serious material to work with
Tony Ward picks apart Munster's loss to Ulster and puts forward his view of their next move in The Irish Independent.
"Up front, there is some serious material with which to work. Munster will never want for the right stuff from numbers one to eight and, in the likes of Mike Sherry, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell and James Coughlan, a new generation is already in place.
"Behind the scrum, however, there are very real issues to address, extending from half-back out. I admire Ronan O'Gara's self-belief in his assertion that he would continue to play until he is 38 but what does that say about underage/academy back-up in the province? O'Gara is still clearly the main man to nurse the emerging generation through, but he also needs to be pushed."
April 9, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/09/2012
Schmidt's tourist visa
Joe Schmidt has turned Leinster into Europe's most exciting side
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly calls for Ireland to second Leinster coach Joe Schmidt as a specialist backs coach for this summer's tour to New Zealand in The Irish Independent.
"Consider the following ... Ireland do not have a specialist backs coach. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt is a specialist backs coach. Leinster have the most exciting backline in Europe made up of Irish players and Isa Nacewa.
"While Ireland's attack improved in the Six Nations, the same players look far more threatening in blue than they do in green. Ireland have a three-Test tour to New Zealand, where they will have to be at their absolute peak to avoid humiliation. The IRFU are the ultimate paymasters and are tasked with doing what is best for the national team.
"Simple isn't it? Second Schmidt for the summer tour, just as Ireland are prepared to do with Munster's Anthony Foley if Gert Smal cannot travel; just as they have already done with Greg Feek at Leinster; just as Wales do with Shaun Edwards -- bring in the specialist to do the specialist job. It makes sense on every level, even down to the fact that the Schmidt could stay on for a holiday when the tour is over."
April 5, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2012
Ulster win no good for Ireland
Paul Marshall has been forced to make do as an 'impact sub' at Ulster due to the presence of Ruan Pienaar
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly argues that an Ulster victory over Munster in Sunday's Heineken Cup quarter-final would be bad for Irish rugby, given their reliance on overseas players, in The Irish Independent.
"It may not be the most politically correct assertion in a week of Heineken Cup hype, and certainly not the most popular among northern rugby supporters, but the fact is that an Ulster victory on Sunday would be bad news for Ireland and national coach Declan Kidney.
"Having three provinces in the last eight in Europe has created a self-congratulatory undercurrent among Irish supporters and pundits ahead of the weekend's quarter-final action, but this ignores the altered landscape following the World Cup and Six Nations failures.
"The IRFU's much-derided Player Succession Strategy has assumed even greater significance post-Twickenham, which very few have acknowledged, and it is encouraging to see how this policy has already begun to produce positive returns. Tommy Bowe, Roger Wilson and James Downey are all being repatriated after spells abroad, while Leinster's capture of Hurricances prop Michael Bent this week was another step in the right direction."
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2012
Wake up to Sevens
Former Munster and Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan calls for further effort to bring Sevens into the limelight in The Irish Times.
"Obviously, finances are a problem. In some countries, you have full-time sevens players on centralised contracts but I have a feeling people would take a bit of convincing before the IRFU would make moves towards doing something like that here.
"Maybe you could have four or five full-time centrally contracted players in Ireland but I doubt if that day is very close.
"Most of the guys playing in Hong Kong were full-time sevens players but some of them were young guys coming through the academies. I met Ieuan Evans out there who was telling me Alex Cuthbert was one of the big stand-out players in last year’s competition. Eleven months later, he was a revelation in the Six Nations."
April 4, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2012
Leinster are number one
Jerry Flannery, Munster's recently-retired hooker, gives his thoughts on life after rugby and the dominance of Leinster in The Irish Independent.
"My lifestyle now is I get up early about 6.30 and I go in and train before college," he explains, just a week after the bell officially tolled on the two-time Heineken Cup winner's career.
"If I go up for food, I'll meet the lads. I know I said a lot of stuff about not being one of those sad players hanging around, but I had to get something yesterday and I went into the office.
"I walked in and Anthony Foley just saw me and said 'I thought you weren't going to be one of those sad players'. Next thing Paul O'Connell was there 'ah, here he is' and I just ran out of there with my tail between my legs."
April 3, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/03/2012
BOD non-committal on retirement plans
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll about his retirement plans - or lack of them.
"Brian O'Driscoll is refusing to set a date for his retirement from rugby as he prepares for Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Cardiff Blues.
The 33-year-old had previously suggested that next year's Lions tour to Australia would be the ideal time for him to step away from the sport but, having just sat out six months of rugby after undergoing shoulder surgery, the Ireland captain is no longer willing to commit to a date.
Ronan O'Gara said last week that he intends playing until the age of 38, while O'Driscoll's new team-mate Brad Thorn won a World Cup at 36.
Now, having returned to rugby against the Ospreys and gone the full 80 minutes in Saturday's win over Munster at Thomond Park, the centre just wants to keep playing. "I don't know," O'Driscoll said when asked about a retirement date. "I'm not in a place at the moment where I am going to worry about how long I play for."
April 2, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 04/02/2012
Fitzgerald set for exit door?
The Irish Independent's Jim Glennon looks at whether Luke Fitzgerald has a future at Leinster amid rumours of discontent over his new contract.
"That Irish rugby, like the good Lord, sometimes work in mysterious ways is a long-established fact. Last week they reached new levels, however, with the publication of the status of a top player's current contractual negotiations, including existing and proposed salary levels, in a national newspaper.
The word is that the figures quoted in The Irish Times in connection with Luke Fitzgerald's prolonged contract negotiations were correct. It was reported that he had been offered a new deal "which would represent a drop of 30per cent from his current basic".
It's hardly surprising that discussion was generated among rugby folk -- surely professional players are entitled to the same privacy about their employment terms as anyone else?"
April 1, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/01/2012
Jim Glennon looks at the mess Irish rugby has reportedly made of Luke Fitzgerald's contract negotiations, and what in means on a wider stage, in The Sunday Independent.
"That Irish rugby, like the good Lord, sometimes work in mysterious ways is a long-established fact. Last week they reached new levels, however, with the publication of the status of a top player's current contractual negotiations, including existing and proposed salary levels, in a national newspaper.
"The word is that the figures quoted in The Irish Times in connection with Luke Fitzgerald's prolonged contract negotiations were correct. It was reported that he had been offered a new deal "which would represent a drop of 30per cent from his current basic".
"It's hardly surprising that discussion was generated among rugby folk -- surely professional players are entitled to the same privacy about their employment terms as anyone else?"
March 31, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/31/2012
Places up for grabs
Can Jamie Heaslip rediscover his best against Munster?
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly looks at the form of Jamie Heaslip as the No.8 attempts to inspire Leinster to victory at the home of their fierce rivals, Munster, in The Irish Independent.
"It is a powerful statement by Schmidt, considering he has an Ireland and Lions captain lining out at 13, but just as Brian O'Driscoll has frequently been an inspirational figure for his province and country, so too has Heaslip, and he needs a big one tonight.
"The No 8 was the target of concerted criticism through the Six Nations and in the depressing aftermath and, while some of it veered into the realms of hysteria, given his altered role in the Ireland back-row, it is fair to say he was outshone in each of those Tests by his opposite number.
"With Sean O'Brien rested along with Cullen ahead of next week's Heineken Cup quarter-final, there will be a greater ball-carrying onus on the Leinster captain tonight, and it is a duty you would expect him to embrace as he gears up for a powerful end-season, culminating in another shot at the All Blacks in June."
March 30, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/30/2012
Time for a pick me up?
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly previews the RaboDirect PRO12 clash between Munster and Leinster this weekend.
"After Ireland's slow retreat from Twickenham, tomorrow evening's Munster-Leinster clash in Thomond Park has taken on the mantle of an essential pick-me-up.
"And there is a great deal to anticipate. There will be a full house, a throbbing atmosphere, songs, chants, colour and people in antlers walking around on stilts -- not to mention a full-blooded contest between two of the top teams in Europe.
"It is a fixture that carries all the hype, hoopla and high- profile coverage that goes with marquee matches in the modern, professional game.
"That is the way it is now for one of Ireland's biggest growth sports of the past 12 years and it is in stark contrast to what you will find in the sparsely attended grounds and clubhouses around the country a few hours earlier -- now providing a faint echo of the way it used to be."
March 29, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/29/2012
End of an era
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor celebrates the career of Shane Horgan after the former Ireland and Leinster winger was forced to retire from the game with a knee injury.
"Appropriately for a player who soared so high during his career Shane Horgan went out at the top -- even if it took nearly a year to confirm it.
While he did play a week later when Munster ruined Leinster's double dream, the 33-year-old bows out a European champion after starring in the province's remarkable Heineken Cup final comeback against Northampton last May.
Thus, injury has claimed another of Ireland's golden generation and Horgan was as gilt-edged as they come -- perhaps ranking alongside Denis Hickie and just behind Tommy Bowe as one of the greatest wingers of the professional era. His career mirrored the growth of Irish rugby's most successful era and the former Meath minor footballer was one of the first of many stars to emerge, despite not having gone to a 'rugby' school."
March 28, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/28/2012
Red-hot Zebo rising
Munster wing Simon Zebo talks to the Irish Independent ahead of his first-ever game against Leinster.
"I love those big games, that is why I play rugby. I love to play against the Leinsters and Ulsters and all these big teams. It is good to play in these pressure situations, that is how you find out how good you are as a player and how you get better. I can't wait for it," he said.
March 26, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/26/2012
Kidney has lost his nerve
Writing in the Irish Independent, Neil Francis believes that Ireland coach Declan Kidney's innate conservatism is the source of his team's current woes.
"At the post-match press conference in Twickenham last Saturday night, Kidney gave his most undistinguished and uncomfortable performance in front of the media. Under cross-examination, he was lit up like a Christmas decoration and that reassuring air of papal infallibility of yore had diminished into the ether. I never got the sense that the vulnerability exhibited would, in the next two or three months, bring out a hitherto unseen layer of persona that would re-evaluate and reinvent himself. I think he could start digging and running a little bit for cover. If he does he is lost. He needs to face up to and confront his innate conservatism.
"It is true that the retirement of the prescient and efficacious Paul McNaughton and the huge loss of his respected forwards coach Gert Smal has left him a little bit isolated. Kidney in the early term too was happy to have the not unsubstantial presence of O'Driscoll and O'Connell to coalesce with. Who wouldn't feel that a layer of the team's psyche and mental strength had been peeled off without them there. A real-time premonition of the abyss; the Yankees without DiMaggio and Mantle.
"You judge a coach by his actions in adversity. This season, did the coach maximise his playing resources? Did he select prudently? Did he have them prepped and primed to go from the off? Did he pick players he did not have confidence in? Did he get bushwhacked by some members of his coaching team? Did he have a definitive game plan? Did he play the referees, weather and opposition intelligently?"
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/26/2012
How do we turn a problem into a prop?
Following the scrum debacle at Twickenham, former Ireland and Leinster tighthead prop Emmet Byrne attempts to demystify the dark arts of the front row. Read his thoughts in the Irish Times.
"What happen in the front row after the scrum engages?
"The loosehead cannot push forward unless he lifts first; this destabilises the tighthead. The latter must apply downward pressure. If the tighthead only applies forward pressure he’s going to be forced to stand up. He must apply forward and downward pressure simultaneously. This is where the new training regimes of the last seven of eight years in terms of props have changed, with great core strength a priority.
"The core is a link between the upper and lower body and essential to applying downward pressure. If you lock the hips down then the shoulders follow, which is so crucial.
"The understanding of the angles of the hip, knee and ankle will help when dealing with different body types and understanding where the optimal pushing position is for that given body type. Ideally you keep short steps in a scrum as they produce better leverage on going forward.
"The loosehead’s role is to attack the tighthead on opposition ball and stabilise the scrum on their own ball. There is a significant difference in the role of both loosehead and tighthead. The tighthead is doing his job if he holds the scrum and keeps it stable. The loosehead is responsible for taking the opposition tighthead out of the game."
March 24, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/24/2012
Is O'Driscoll's number up?
What does Brian O'Driscoll have left to offer club and country?
© Getty Images
The Irish Independent's David Kelly ponders the international future of Ireland veteran Brian O'Driscoll.
"O'Driscoll may no longer be Ireland's rugby Messiah, but the Life of Brian still has so much to offer club and country; his influence in helping Leinster's bid retain their Heineken Cup crown will be inestimable. Beyond that, Ireland's Call will once more beckon this summer.
"And, after a campaign where his absence was so often hard to quantify, thanks to Keith Earls' belated flourishing in his captain's stead, Declan Kidney must now ponder a career change as his best player enters his twilight years.
"While Earls stamped his authority on the No 13 jersey during the Six Nations, a rare discovery in a campaign utterly devoid of revelation, it has become obvious that Ireland need a replacement for Gordon D'Arcy at inside-centre.
"That O'Driscoll is qualified is manifestly clear. After all, he has done it on so many occasions before in his Ireland career to suit certain attacking moves."
March 23, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/23/2012
The return of the prodigious son
David Kelly reports the hype surrounding the return of Irish rugby's favourite son, Brian O'Driscoll, in the Irish Independent.
"The 'sold out' signs are set to be erected around the RDS tonight for the keenly anticipated comeback of Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll.
Nearly 17,500 tickets have been sold as O'Driscoll prepares to make his first appearance of the season in Leinster colours against the Ospreys after a speedier than expected recovery from his post- World Cup shoulder surgery."
March 22, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/22/2012
Flannery is simply the best
David Kelly hails the career of Jerry Flannery in the Irish Independent following the hooker's retirement from the game.
"Jerry Flannery won't care, now that his career has joined so many others in the history books, but the thought may offer him some solace.
His inevitable retirement after over two years of debilitating, destructive injury has denied Ireland the services of the country's best hooker of the professional era.
Better even than Keith Wood."
March 21, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/21/2012
Just where are Ireland?
David Kelly considers the current standing of Irish rugby in the Irish Independent, weighing in the continued success in the Heineken Cup along with Ireland's disappointing showing in the Six Nations.
"Yesterday morning, the IRFU posted an advertisement on their website which breathlessly announced their search for a "High Performance scrum coach". In other news, authorities are beginning tentative steps to ascertain the circumstances by which Humpty Dumpty came a cropper -- albeit the absence of a tight-head replacement is not believed to have been a factor.
Next, an Irish government minister -- say, Brendan Howlin -- will probably demand a full inquiry into the banking collapse. All around us, one can hear the sound of stable doors being slammed shut, long after horses and the over-worked Bull Hayes have bolted."
March 20, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/20/2012
Time to copy fellow Celts
Hugh Farrelly, writing in the Irish Independent, says Ireland must follow Wales' approach to bringing through world-class talent if they are to fulfill their potential.
"Rugby is the national sport in Wales, which is a huge help, whereas, while it has undergone tremendous growth in Ireland over the last 10 years, rugby still lags behind the GAA and soccer in terms of playing numbers here.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty of young talent in this country; the difference between the two countries is the willingness to give it its head while, in key positions, Ireland's pool has been shown to be worryingly shallow.
The lack of adequate cover at prop was exposed by Saturday's filleting in Twickenham and, while this is not a surprise or breaking news to anyone, the destruction of the Irish scrum has served to highlight the issue once more."
March 15, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/15/2012
Forget your wounds
Hugh Farrelly talks England-Ireland with former Ulster centre Maurice Field in The Irish Independent.
"Maurice Field made his Ireland debut in 1994 at Twickenham against an England side packed with Lions, including his opposite number, Will Carling. However, even in these intimidating circumstances, nerves were never an issue.
"I was 29, a few days away from my 30th birthday, so my age helped but also my work with the fire service gave me perspective," recalled Field.
"All week, people were saying to me 'you must be pretty nervous about making your debut in Twickenham,' but, to be honest, on the Tuesday I had put a boy into a body bag after a car bomb and that gives you reality. Yes, it was a big occasion, but it was just a game, what had happened a few days earlier was real life."
March 14, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/14/2012
Conservative or consistent
Writing in the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly puts the case for and against Declan Kidney's 'consistent', or 'conservative', Irish team selection.
"Is Kidney's consistency the right way to go?
Build for the future -- World Cups tend to draw a line in the sand and, following the disappointment of failing to reach a first semi-final after setting themselves up beautifully, there were calls for a brave new departure (England are now held up as the prime example of change breeding progress).
A further argument is that having signed a contract extension prior to the World Cup, the Ireland coach has the security to make changes, and that a post-World Cup Six Nations is the best time to do so.
Bold is best -- Introducing a flood of younger players is seen as a way of re-energising the team and style of play."
March 7, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/07/2012
Rory Best is a major doubt for Ireland
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly looks at the options available to an injury-ravaged Ireland in this weekend's Six Nations clash with Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"Declan Kidney's selection for the Scotland game was always going to be the most intriguing of this Six Nations but the last few days have turned it into a balancing act of extreme proportions.
"An element of calculated rotation was always likely for this encounter, and that probability increased when Ireland's schedule was rejigged to four games in four weeks after the postponement in Paris, but the Ireland coach could have done without the injury complications that have reared up since Sunday's draw in France.
"Losing Paul O'Connell, excellent again in that game, was never part of the plan and with doubts surrounding the availability of his natural captaincy replacement Rory Best, there are major leadership issues for Kidney to address which mitigate against less-experienced players starting."
March 6, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 03/06/2012
Best favourite to skipper Ireland
Writing in the Irish Independent, Ruaidhri O'Connor argues that Rory Best is the best bet to step in for Paul O'Connell.
"Rory Best is the favourite to lead Ireland out against Scotland on Saturday after their Six Nations campaign received a hammer blow with news that captain Paul O'Connell will miss the rest of the tournament.
Stand-in skipper O'Connell -- who took over the armband after Brian O'Driscoll's shoulder surgery ruled him out of the campaign -- damaged his medial collateral ligaments in Sunday's 17-17 draw against France in Paris. He finished the match, but after undergoing a scan yesterday the extent of the injury was determined and he will miss the next three to six weeks of action."
March 3, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/03/2012
Ireland must make a stand
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly writes that it is time for Ireland to find some consistency on the international stage.
"It is time for Ireland to take a stand.
"Since landing the Grand Slam three years ago, the Irish rugby side has failed to kick on and has been defined by its lack of consistency.
"There have been some truly outstanding performances against quality opponents (South Africa in 2009, England and Australia in 2011) but also matches squandered that should have been won (Scotland 2010, France 2011, the last two Six Nations meetings with Wales), and an IRB ranking of eighth tells its own story."
February 22, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 02/22/2012
Ireland to call on Strauss?
Hugh Farrelly, of the Irish Independent, believes it is only a matter of time until Richardt Strauss gets the call up to the Ireland side.
"Richardt Strauss' participation in Ireland training prior to the cancelled match with France garnered plenty of attention, with the South African due to qualify for Ireland this year after completing his three-year residency.
While Strauss' likely Ireland participation will stick in the craw of those who do not believe national identity can be acquired after a mere 36 months (not to mention the indigenous hookers whom he will leapfrog in the process), there is no doubt a player of his quality could strengthen Ireland."
February 21, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 02/21/2012
Leinster up against the IRFU
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor claims that Leinster are prepared to fight the IRFU over their new quota laws.
"Leinster are prepared to fight the IRFU on their player succession strategy in order to hold on to Isa Nacewa.
The in-form New Zealander expressed a desire to finish out his career with the European champions at the weekend, saying that he considers Ireland to be his home, as his daughters were born here.
His contract expires at the end of next season, but he may have to move on due to the strategy which is planned to be in place by then.
The plan states that non-Irish qualified players cannot be kept on at the end of their contracts and that they must be replaced by an Irish player."
February 10, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/10/2012
Five things Ireland must fix
Brendan Flanning pinpoints five aspects that he says Ireland must improve upon against France in the Guardain.
"Failure to transfer club form to Test arena
"The coach suggests the lesser competition is more forgiving. "The small things will be punished way more at international level than they will be at Heineken Cup level," Kidney said. "But that's the same then between Heineken Cup matches and league matches in any country. There's a step up all along the route. There's a substantial difference and any of the lads who have played the game have gone on record to say that." They've also gone on record to say something slightly different. Last week Jamie Heaslip said that in Leinster they refer to the knockout stages of Europe as their "Test matches," because they see them as being on a par with international rugby.
"Going into their grand slam campaign in 2009, Ireland had two teams – Munster and Leinster – as pool winners in Europe, and it was credited with helping them survive a brilliant running game by France in the first round of the championship. Now that they have the unique achievement of three provinces in the knockouts they slump to Wales on day one. Without a radical shift in performance those provinces will go back to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with players who are hungover from a Six Nations slump."
February 7, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 02/07/2012
Bowe ready to return
The Ospreys' Tommy Bowe looks set to return to Ulster
© Getty Images
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes that Ulster are on the verge of announcing Tommy Bowe's signature.
"Ulster are close to winning the race to sign Tommy Bowe, with the Ireland winger poised to return to his native province next season.
Although no deal is believed to have been signed as yet, sources claim contract talks are at “an advanced stage” with Ulster set to recapture the player who played for them between 2003 and ’08.
Bowe scored a try in Ireland’s 23-21 Six Nations loss to Wales on Sunday last and is due back in the Ireland camp today ahead of this weekend’s trip to Paris to face France."
February 1, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 02/01/2012
Evolution over revolution
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly provides his take on Ireland looking for evolution over revolution.
"It was encouraging to hear Ireland coach Declan Kidney speak so earnestly this week about the need to evolve post-World Cup.
Ireland's scintillating progress through the pool stages, headlined by the win over Australia, ensured there would be no 2007-style evisceration of players or coaches in the aftermath. However, the nature of the quarter-final defeat in Wellington, when Kidney's men were blown away by the vibrancy and fluency of the Welsh, stressed the overwhelming need to kick on.
Backs coach Alan Gaffney has departed and Les Kiss is charged with bringing his innovation to bear on attack as well as defence. This double-jobbing brief is not unique in Kidney coaching units, and Tony McGahan's dual assistant role on Munster's surge to the Heineken Cup title in 2008 provides positive precedent."
January 31, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/31/2012
End of the road for McLaughlin?
Ulster are reportedly looking at replacing Brian McLaughlin at the end of the season
© Getty Images
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports that Ulster are set to give Brian McLaughlin the boot at the end of the season.
"In a move certain to send shockwaves through Irish rugby, Ulster are set to ditch Brian McLaughlin and bring in a new coach for next season.
McLaughlin is widely considered to have made tremendous progress with the province since taking over in 2009, bringing Ulster to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 12 years last season, as well as the Magners League play-offs, before securing another European quarter-final this month.
On the back of these achievements, and the euphoria that followed Ulster's 41-7 thumping of Leicester, it was expected McLaughlin would be offered another extension, but it is understood that he has been told by Ulster bosses that his contract won't be renewed."
January 29, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/29/2012
Are IRFU right to impose restriction on foreigners?
As the IRFU attempt to restructure the game in Ireland, the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley assesses the arguments for and against the proposed move.
"IRUPA were not involved in any consultations, and their CEO Omar Hassenein was away on leave when the IRFU made their announcement on December 21st.
“We feel we’ve worked through that issue,” said a conciliatory Hassenein this week, “and now have a good level of dialogue in which we can express player concerns. Our main priority is to safeguard our membership . . . We respect the governing body’s interest in ensuring that a strong national succession plan is in place. . . Now we’re confident that through further discussions between the game’s stakeholders a solution will be found which promotes success at all levels of Irish rugby . . .”
"Provincial supporters associations have outlined their opposition. David Cahill, the PRO of the Official Leinster Supporters Association (which has 13,500 members) said, “we made a submission to the IRFU which was gratefully received”. Cahill calculates that at least 90 to 95 per cent of their members are opposed to the IRFU’s position judging by their active social media.
"The diktat that the provinces may not re-sign foreign players could also be challenged legally by say, Nacewa and Howlett, who are in their fourth and fifth seasons here, and have five Irish-born children between them, according to Philip Lee of Philip Lee Solicitors, a law firm which specialises in European law."
January 28, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/28/2012
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward picks through Ireland's selection issues ahead of their clash with Wales next weekend and says it is time to unleash Munster winger Simon Zebo.
"If ever a player has grabbed his opportunity and captured the imagination of the nation it is Zebo.
"What immediately impressed me in the Pro12 was his ability to break the gain-line almost every time he touches the ball. His hat-trick against Northampton confirmed the finishing ability insiders knew he had.
"He has that go-forward momentum and off-camera work ethic you cannot buy. It's early days, I know, but the 21-year-old Cork Con flyer looks the real deal.
"He has temperament allied to attitude and, if he maintains his current rate of progress, then promotion to the senior squad ought be a no-brainer. Kidney has gone with gut instinct in the past and I urge him to do so again should Zebo shine with the Wolfhounds."
January 25, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/25/2012
A man in form
The Irish Independent's David Kelly talks to the inform Ronan O'Gara about his Six Nations aspirations.
"It would be trite to suggest that Ronan O'Gara is raging against the dying of the light. He isn't.
For one thing, he will soon ring up his employers and start gently haranguing them for a contract extension beyond 2013.
Secondly, he is no longer raging. Still seething quietly about Ireland's defeat to Wales in the World Cup, perhaps, but certainly not raging.
"Contrary to what certain people think, that I'm difficult if I'm left out of the starting team, that's not true," smiles the man who, technically, still holds the Irish jersey after starting that game in Wellington.
"I would like to think that if my team-mates came in here I'd be seen as the ultimate team man in terms of how I conduct myself. That is so important, that you have their respect, irrespective of what the public think.”
January 24, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/24/2012
The next BOD in waiting
The Irish Independent talks to Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy about who may fill the sizeable boots left by Brian O'Driscoll in the forthcoming Six Nations.
"Gordon D'Arcy considers the statistic. Brian O'Driscoll has missed just five Six Nations matches in his career and never more than one a season since he made his debut against England in the competition in the spring of 2000.
The D'Arcy/O'Driscoll midfield axis has been paired together a world record 47 times at international level, two clear of England's Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling, with their record standing at 31 wins and 16 defeats across the most successful era in the history of Irish rugby.
The origins of this more enduring of partnerships can be traced back to December 2003 when O'Driscoll picked up an injury against Sale.
For the return fixture a week later, Gary Ella shifted D'Arcy to outside centre from the wing as cover at the suggestion of Willie Anderson and that's where he started the Six Nations opener against France the following spring.”
January 22, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/22/2012
A legal minefield
Players unhappy with the new Irish Rugby Football Union limits could well have the law on their side, writes lawyer Niall Collins in the Irish Independent.
"The IRFU's policy change appears designed to provide young Irish players with more opportunities and to ensure that the national team has at least two suitably experienced players in each position. However, the changes raise real, but not novel, questions of EU free movement law and employment and equality law.
"Direct and indirect discrimination -- based on the nationality of workers of EU member states, as regards their employment, remuneration and other conditions of work -- are prohibited under Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
"A directly discriminatory restriction is one which relies on nationality as the basis for disadvantageous treatment. This can only be justified under specific derogations based on considerations of public policy, public security and public health.
"An indirectly discriminatory restriction is one which has the effect of discriminating on the grounds of nationality, as opposed to having the object of so doing. Such measures can only be justified under derogation or where there are objective considerations independent of nationality, which are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued by the rule and are reasonable and necessary. This is evident from EU cases such as Walrave & Koch, Donà v Mantero and Bosman. The issue of discrimination on the grounds of nationality was front and centre in the debate surrounding the legality of FIFA's so-called 6+5 rule, which received a negative assessment from the EU Commission and which was subsequently abandoned, and UEFA's home-grown player rule, which was given the green light by the Commission.
"More recent EU decisions in Kolpak and Simutenkov effectively extend the scope of Article 45 to non-EU nationals, through the existence of international association agreements between the EU and non-EU countries."
January 20, 2012
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/20/2012
Hugh Farrelly rakes through Ireland's Six Nations squad selection and finds cause for concern in The Irish Independent.
"In 1986, Declan Kidney was coaching the PBC Cork Junior team and caused a major surprise when he picked a prop ('Eggy' O'Leary) on the wing - 'Pres' went onto win the Cup.
"In 1996, Kidney was coaching Dolphin in the AIL and got rid of the core of senior forwards, switched the regular, kicking out-half to full-back and transformed a mauling, 10-man rugby outfit into a quick-rucking team that won promotion to Division 1 for the first time.
"In 2008, Kidney selected Tomas O'Leary and Denis Hurley ahead of experienced regulars Peter Stringer and Shaun Payne for Munster's quarter-final against Gloucester in Kingsholm -- Munster went onto to claim their second title in Cardiff, with O'Leary and Hurley starting all the knockout games."
January 19, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/19/2012
In-form players out in the cold
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly talk to a disgruntled Brian McLaughlin after the unveiling of Ireland's squad for the 2012 Six Nations.
"Declan Kidney has come under fire for his conservative Six Nations squad announcement yesterday after the Ireland coach stuck exclusively to the players who last year failed to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time.
Kidney’s 24-man party did not include the in-form trio of Luke Fitzgerald, Chris Henry and Dan Tuohy, who were all selected in the secondary Wolfhounds squad to face England ‘A’ this month, while other impressive performers this season such as Peter O’Mahony, Paul Marshall and Craig Gilroy failed to make either squad. Brian McLaughlin, whose Ulster side are chasing a Heineken Cup quarter-final berth in Clermont this weekend, said he was disappointed by the selections, which he did not feel were a reflection of current form.
“It is disappointing,” said McLaughlin. “Declan has decided he is going to stick with his World Cup squad and give them an opportunity in the Six Nations."
January 17, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/17/2012
A difference between confident and cocky
The Irish Independent previews Ireland naming their squad for the Six Nations by talking to a bullish Jamie Heaslip.
"Tomorrow's Six Nations squad announcement officially marks the start of another four-year cycle and the countdown to Ireland's 2015 World Cup campaign.
By that stage, Jamie Heaslip will be 32 and will be facing into what will almost certainly be his last World Cup, something the Naas man might find hard to fathom seeing as it's only a few months after his first taste of the tournament.
The squad named tomorrow is likely to include everyone from the possibles to the probables and even the probably nots, but Heaslip acknowledges that, come the opening match against Wales on February 5, there are likely to be some new faces around the Ireland camp, at the expense of some old ones."
January 15, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/15/2012
Back on the crest of a wave
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley chats to Leinster's Rob Kearney.
"Not for the first time under either Michael Cheika or Joe Schmidt, Leinster are doing their bit for Ireland’s forthcoming Six Nations campaign. Along with the continuing good form of so many Irish front-liners such as Jonny Sexton and the rejuvenation of Luke Fitzgerald, there’s the rebirth of Rob Kearney into something more, even, than the player who became the standout starting Lions’ full-back three summers ago.
"Where many a coach, unfettered by outside national concerns or even ham-fisted diktats, would have been entitled to continue playing Isa Nacewa at fullback, Schmidt has started Kearney there in all seven of his starts since the World Cup, and Kearney is flourishing.
"With his Gaelic football-honed skills, few were better equipped to cope with the Springboks’ aerial bombardment than Kearney. However, with the increased emphasis on keeping the ball in hand, Kearney has almost reinvented himself since his return from a nine-month injury-enforced sabbatical. His greater awareness in counter-attacking is seeing him link more with team-mates, although as he points out, this is a unit skill as much as it is down to the fullback, and he is also linking better with his sharp intrusions into the line."
January 13, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/13/2012
Kidney the Lionheart
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly looks at Ireland boss Declan Kidney's push to be coach of the Lions.
"'Bold as a lion' is a phrase that has its origin in the bible (Proverbs 28:1), but also one that has significance for Ireland coach Declan Kidney heading into the Six Nations.
The decision on who will lead the Lions to Australia next year is due to be made at the end of the tournament in March, with Wales coach Warren Gatland the clear favourite, followed by Scotland's Andy Robinson and Kidney a distant third.
That pecking order could have been different had Ireland not been flipped over by the Welsh in the World Cup quarter-finals last October, but, either way, the Six Nations will play a major role in deciding who gets the gig.
It is a job made for Kidney -- the ultimate man manager and delegator -- who flourishes in a tour environment (as was proven at the World Cup up until Wales did their thing).
Kidney would surround himself with expertise in every area and take an exhaustive approach to ensuring his players were in the best condition to secure a first series victory in 16 years."
January 12, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/12/2012
Pienaar deal puts spotlight on overseas policy
Ruan Pienaar's two-year contract extension with Ulster has been factored in under the IRFU's new Player Succession Policy, with Munster and Leinster understood to have been aware of the deal. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"Under the Union's recruitment directives to be introduced for the 2013-14 season, the three provinces will only be allowed one non-Irish qualified (NIE) player between them in each of the 15 positions.
"Thus, the South African's recapture by Ulster until the end of that season suggests he will be the designated NIE scrum-half among the three provinces in 2013/14. Leinster, through Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss, and Munster, with Conor Murray and Tomas O'Leary, already have Ireland international scrum-halves on their books and this would have been considered by the IRFU before agreeing Pienaar's contract extension.
"Under the new directive, Pienaar's contract will not be extended after 2014 and a NIE player will not be allowed as his replacement."
January 10, 2012
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/10/2012
Red machine ready to roll
In the Irish Independent Hugh Farrelly talks to Munster hooker Jerry Flannery about the Irish province's prospects in the Heineken Cup this year.
Jerry Flannery, who has been forced to watch his province's progress from the sidelines as he continues his recovery from the calf injury that forced him out of the World Cup, believes the fact that Munster are not being talked up is working in their favour.
"No one is going, 'Munster have this thing wrapped up', even with four wins from four," said the hooker. "People are saying, 'Munster have had a good start but we are still not sure about them', which is a good place for us.
"I look back on past seasons, particularly when we won it in 2006 and '08, and it was never a case of it being there for us to lose.
"We take some criticism every year and most of the time it is deserved, but we just have to look at the bigger picture. It has been a fantastic start and there are so many younger, newer guys coming into the squad too."
January 9, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/09/2012
Irish snub midweek clashes
Ireland have rejected New Zealand's request to play two midweek games on their tour there in June which includes three Tests. The Irish Independent's Brendan Fanning reports.
"The NZ union had hoped Ireland would play midweek games against the Maori -- who beat Ireland in Rotorua on the 2010 tour -- and a Super 15 franchise, in addition to facing the All Blacks on three straight Saturdays.
"It's for logistical as well as playing reasons," an IRFU spokesman said last week. "We would have had to move around to play the midweek games and we want to focus on the Test series."
"Ireland have never played three Tests in New Zealand -- or any other single country -- before and the New Zealanders had hoped they would agree to go all out with top-of-the-range midweek games rather than second division provinces. Super Rugby will be suspended during the June window so it would have been perfect for the Kiwis to give some of those players international opposition."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/09/2012
In-form Heaslip leads by example
The Irish Times' John Harrington reports from Leinster's RaboDirect PRO12 victory over the Cardiff Blues.
"On Saturday night Leinster added some more substance to the sporting truism that the very best teams can play well within themselves and still find a way to chisel out a victory against durable opponents. They could have lost this Rabodirect Pro 12 match against Cardiff, but you somehow always knew in your bones they wouldn’t.
"Had Cardiff’s Leigh Halfpenny kicked a late second-half penalty that would have put his team ahead then maybe the result might have been different, but the probability is Leinster still would have found a way to claim their 10th successive league win. There’s such a deep-rooted sense of self-confidence in this team that they’re utterly convinced of their own ability to persevere no matter what the circumstances.
"We don’t care where we go or where we play,” admitted Jamies Heaslip after Saturday’s victory. “If we bring our own intensity and just worry about the job we have to do rather than the team that we’re playing, I don’t think it really matters where we go to or what the circumstances.”
January 7, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/07/2012
Earls on trial
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor looks at Keith Earls' chances of stepping into the void left by Brian O'Driscoll in the Ireland centres.
"With the festive season done and dusted, the evenings beginning to stretch and the hangovers receding, the collective minds of the rugby world are beginning to switch towards the Six Nations.
Sure, there are two Pro12 games and the final rounds of the Heineken Cup to negotiate for the provinces, but with England, France and Scotland naming their squads this week, an Ireland 'A' international against England at the end of January and the opening game against Wales less than a month away, there's limited opportunity for players to impress Declan Kidney.
Tonight at Thomond Park is one such chance. It remains to be seen whether Kidney will revolutionise his set-up or stick with the tried and tested, gradually introducing change, but there are a few wearing red in Limerick who will be hoping to force their way into contention."
January 6, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/06/2012
Strength in depth
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly casts his eye across the wealth of talent coming through Ireland's ranks.
"Perhaps it stems from the insecurities of our colonial past and existence in the arm-pit of a once global power, but there is a long Irish tradition of cap-doffing when it comes to overseas visitors.
It is a regular feature of chat-show interviews, past and present -- a desperate need to get an answer to the "what do you think of Ireland?" question, the throwaway replies generally revolving around central themes of the greenness of the grass and friendliness of the people.
Rugby is particularly susceptible. It is easy to recall the fawning deputations sent to Cork Airport to cover Jean de Villiers' arrival a few years ago. With his blond hair and easy charm, the South African cut quite the dashing figure, but his worth to the Munster cause was always in question and those doubts were justified over the course of one unfulfilling season."
January 5, 2012
Posted by tom.hamilton on 01/05/2012
The Irish Independents' Hugh Farrelly looks at the worth of Paul O'Connell to Ireland.
"You think back a year and a half, and the doom-mongers were out in force. Rumours have found a natural home online and the internet was throbbing to tales of Paul O'Connell's demise.
The debilitating effects of his groin injury complete with misdiagnoses and false dawns had been stretched out over most of 2010 and there was wild speculation as to whether he would ever return or, if he did, whether he would be the same player as before.
Those doubts have been cast to the wind as, rejuvenated by the extended break, O'Connell grew into 2011 and finished the year restored to his omnipotent best, a key component of Ireland's best World Cup moments and Munster's storming start to the Heineken Cup.
Yesterday's contract announcement -- following on swiftly from his confirmation as stand-in captain for Brian O'Driscoll -- confirms as much and the player, who turned 32 in October, has two years to re-emphasise his ongoing provincial and national importance."
January 4, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/04/2012
McGahan's future to be decided
Despite an impressive season so far and growing support behind his continuing as Munster coach, Tony McGahan says his future with the province is unclear. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"The Australian has placed the province in a commanding position at the mid-point of the season but has told the Irish Independent a decision on his future has yet to be made, with discussions to take place in the near future.
"It is certainly a topic that will come up in the next period of time," said McGahan. "We will just have to wait and see how things pan out for myself and the club."
"McGahan came under pressure at the start of last year after Munster failed to get out of their Heineken Cup pool for the first time in 13 seasons with CEO Garret Fitzgerald issuing a message of support at the time.
"However, McGahan then steered Munster to Magners League glory, before overcoming injury and transition issues to guide his side to four wins from four in this season's Heineken Cup as well as a top-four position in the Pro12."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/04/2012
IRFU's new policy has a lot of merit
Writing in the Irish Times, former Ireland and Munster star Alan Quinlan offers his stake on the Irish Rugby Football Union's controversial overseas player policy.
"Every foreign player who comes to play professional rugby in Ireland has a different kind of story to tell and just as they’re not all Clinton Hupperts, they’re not all Rocky Elsoms either. If the IRFU’s new policy with regard to foreign players guarantees one thing, it’s that the provinces will have to get the process of finding new recruits from overseas down to a fine art over the coming years. They will have no other choice.
"I have to say, I think some of the outrage there’s been since it was announced just before Christmas has been a bit over the top. If you sit down and go through it, there are some very good ideas in the new policy.
"It makes sense from a national point of view. The objective of aiming to have two Irish-qualified players for every position is a worthwhile one and I suppose the IRFU can argue that since it’s not coming in until the end of next season, the provinces have time to think ahead and work out how they’re going to deal with it. It definitely needs tweaking in a couple of areas but overall there’s a lot of merit to it."
January 3, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/03/2012
Player guidelines move would mean no Nacewas
If the IRFU’s foreign player regulations come into existence, then from 2014 onwards the provinces can forget about winning the Heineken Cup again, writes the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"[Isa] Nacewa’s 40-metre sashay through four befuddled Leicester defenders in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final remains arguably the try of the season.
"It was the difference between the sides on the day and, allied to his general excellence, no less than the one-season-wonder that was Rocky, it’s doubtful Leinster would have reached Europe’s promised land without Nacewa.
"Of course, if the IRFU’s proposed new guidelines on foreign players from 2014 onwards had been applied a few seasons ago, Nacewa would not have been allowed to join Leinster in the first place, or at any rate not unless he was decreed “position specific”. What a laugh.
"It was Nacewa’s ability to play anywhere from numbers 10 to 15 which enabled Leinster to most adroitly fill in the gaps when the galacticos were away on Irish duty and which could keep each of them on their toes when Michael Cheika had a full hand to select from.
"This is true of all the versatile players – Paul Warwick, Felipe Contepomi et al – without whom all the Heineken Cups and league titles would probably have never been possible."
January 1, 2012
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/01/2012
Harsh realities and wishful thinking
Could Declan Kidney's Ireland beat the All Blacks in 2012?
© Getty Images
Writing in the Irish Independent, Jim Glennon looks ahead and predicts a year of mixed fortunes for Irish rugby in 2012.
"1. The IRFU's controversial proposals on non-Irish eligible players to be diluted, at the very least.
"...2. France to win the Six Nations. When the Six Nations follows a Lions tour or a World Cup, it tends to stretch the less well-resourced nations and so it's to be expected that Italy, Scotland, ourselves, and even Wales, notwithstanding their exceptional performance in New Zealand, will suffer.
"...3. Leinster to regain the Celtic League
"...4. Leinster not to retain the Heineken Cup. There are several reasons why retaining their European crown may well prove beyond Leinster, notwithstanding all of the above, or indeed the manner in which they are progressing through their pool.
"...5. Ireland to defeat the All Blacks for first time...Ireland will play the recently-crowned world champions three times in the space of a June fortnight. We've never beaten them in 24 encounters since 1905 and, more relevantly, in ten games since the turn of this century, but it's a run which must stop sometime and an early-season All Black combination could be caught on the hop by a full-strength Irish team set on proving to their new-found New Zealand support base that their World Cup performance against Australia is the real benchmark of their ability, rather than that against Wales."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/01/2012
Bond of brothers
One from Ulster and one from Munster, but both sharing a farming background, the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley sits in as Irish internationals Rory Best and Denis Leamy talk about a friendship that stretches back to the all-conquering Irish schools trip to Australia in 2000.
"Best was 17 and Leamy 18 when they toured Australia, winning all nine matches. “The closest game that we won was the Test match, and we won 35-6 or something – stuffed them. We had a decent old team,” chuckled Best, which is putting it mildly given the squad included the likes of Gavin Duffy, Shane Jennings, Roger Wilson, Matt McCullough, Stephen Keogh, Frank Murphy, Ian Humphreys, Scott Young and Andrew Maxwell.
“Almost everyone at one point had been involved in a professional set-up,” said Best. “People like John Lyne was on it and at that stage he and Jodie Danagher were two of the best props I played with. They were unbelievable at underage.”
"Ask them what brought them together and Leamy echoes Fr Jack when he quips: “Drink!” Indeed, they had a few days off in Surfers Paradise, which happened to coincide with Best’s 18th birthday. “I’m not in the same league as Leamy,” says Best, to which Leamy retorts: “He’s a martyr for the cause.”
December 31, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/31/2011
Back the cap
Sean Diffley backs plans in Ireland to cap the number of foreign players in domestic squads in The Irish Independent.
"As Oscar Wilde remarked, "an unbiased opinion is always absolutely valueless" and I am in favour, more or less and on principle, with the latest effusion from the IRFU -- a body of gentlemen who are running the game in this country streets ahead of any of the other major rugby nations.
"As you all will know by now, the IRFU is moving to curtail the number of foreigners in our provincial squads. The move's objective is to nurture promising Irish talent, allowing them 'game time' with the aim of augmenting the Irish team. Players from south of the equator, who are ineligible for Ireland but hold down too many provincial places, clearly upset the IRFU's grand plans for Ireland's progress."
December 30, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/30/2011
Kiss and Tainton to get bigger Ireland roles
Ireland are set to confirm expanded roles for Les Kiss and Mark Tainton in the Six Nations, with no direct replacement for former backs coach Alan Gaffney. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"Defence coach Kiss and kicking coach Tainton will see their working briefs expanded to include responsibility for Ireland's attacking play when the Six Nations gets under way in February, as it was deemed there was not enough time to find a replacement for Gaffney, whose contract expired after the World Cup
"Kiss has been a notable success since coming in as defence coach in 2008 and has displayed an innovative approach, earning widespread credit for his coaching of the 'choke tackle' which was a critical element in Ireland's World Cup victory against Australia and has been introduced as a defensive tactic by other nations."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/30/2011
IRFU need to get balance right
A bit of ball-hopping for a rugby-mad nephew highlights some issues which should concern Eddie Wigglesworth, writes the Irish Times' Liam Toland.
"[IRFU director of rugby, Eddie] Wigglesworth pointed out the IRFU’s priority will always be to the national team because it generates 84 per cent of revenue at 14 per cent of total cost, while the provinces are currently responsible for 41 per cent of overall cost to the union.
"This may be true but the pendulum has swung and my nephews are rooted in their provinces. They will soon become teenagers and men, the future participants and supporters; that’s 84 per cent, if you will.
"Wigglesworth does acknowledge the province: “We have to have provincial rugby and that’s why there is never an issue about funding it. But this is about getting the balance right,” he said.
"I look forward to observing from the safety of the ditch the knock-on effect because the future supporters will become very impatient if their provinces slide in Europe."
December 29, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/29/2011
Leinster's Ica Nacewa would be one player affected by the new laws
© Getty Images
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly looks at the bad blood between Leinster and the IRFU following the introduction of the cap on foreign signings.
"Leinster's war of words with the IRFU over the new policy on player recruitment escalated yesterday, with the province questioning the practicality of the selection process.
The initiative, announced last week and due to come in for the 2013/14 season, is based on the principle of having two quality Irish-qualified players in each position among Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
This means no more than one Non-Irish Eligible (NIE) player in any position, and on position specific deals, with no contract extensions or short-term deals for NIE players.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and his Ulster counterpart Brian McLaughlin raised strong overall objections after their Pro12 clash on Monday, and yesterday Leinster manager Guy Easterby zeroed in on the workability of the selection process to decide which province gets the first pick on position."
December 28, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/28/2011
A year of triumphs, great and small
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reflects an eventful year for Irish rugby.
"This was a good year for Irish rugby, indeed a very good year. Any year that yields a Heineken Cup triumph for Leinster, all the more so as there’s rarely been a comeback in a final quite like it, and a League triumph for Munster, has to be considered good. Lose sight of that and we really have lost it.
"Of course, World Cup years are defined by the World Cup and after trading four warm-up defeats for four pool wins, Ireland also showed up well at the World Cup, perhaps more effectively than at any previous World Cup. The victory over Australia in Eden Park and the astonishing support from a largely ex-pat Blarney Army remain indelible memories.
"Ireland’s first win over a Tri Nations powerhouse in the Southern Hemisphere since 1979, and first of any hue in a World Cup, makes it a stand-out, one-off win.
"It was also a memorable, feel-good World Cup to be at, for as expected the hosts put on quite a show."
December 27, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/27/2011
Writing in the Irish Times
Greg Thornley questions the wisdom of the Irish Rugby Union's new edict over the signing of foreign players.
The recent unveiling of the IRFU’s changes to player contracts, specifically those for non-Irish qualified players, raises one simple question: If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The provinces have won four of the last six Heineken Cups in backboning an Irish side which won its first Grand Slam in 61 years and produced its best World Cup campaign to date in New Zealand this year.
Furthermore, the IRFU’s all-powerful Professional Contracts Review Group (PCRG) already have the power of veto over any players signed by the provinces, so why apply such rigid straitjackets to recruitment of overseas players?
December 24, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/24/2011
Time for Irish pride
Writing in the Irish Independent Sean Diffley hails the way Ireland has taken to professional rugby and insists it's time to show requisite confidence on the international stage.
Before the World Cup I proclaimed that Ireland could win the competition. They had the skills and the only lack, in my view, was in self-esteem.
The players might dismiss that as nonsense, but, I say, think about it.
Remember that ordinary England side winning in 2003, inspired by the self-esteem, or arrogance of their captain Martin Johnson?
And Australia winning it twice, sheer modesty ruling the roost.
A recent professional survey has, not surprisingly, soccer as our favourite sport, with gaelic games at 20.9pc and rugby, the ever progressing sport, at 20.5pc.
Now in a long tenure on this green and misty isle, I've never been approached for my invaluable views, but they say that those polls claim to be accurate up to 2pc either way, so whatever way you view it, rugby is taking a firm hold in Ireland.
And it should foster a much-needed advance in self-esteem.
December 23, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/23/2011
The Irish Independent's John Fallon talks with Munster coach Tony McGahan about the enduring legacy of John Hayes ahead of the prop's impending retirement.
"His general demeanour has always been about the team," said McGahan.
"That has been evident all the way through, but for him to sign up with us after the World Cup to help us out of a situation speaks immeasurably of the man.
"His giving nature was always evident. It didn't matter who you were in the squad, whether it was first team or staff, anyone. It didn't matter, he treated everyone the same.
"His legacy as a person will be one of the remaining features of him in Munster.
December 22, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/22/2011
Change in the tide
The Irish Independent pours over what the IRFU's new stipulation regarding foreign players means for the provinces.
"An hour after Leinster won their first Heineken Cup final in 2009, Jonny Sexton poured his heart out in the mixed zone and told us just how close he had been to packing in his career with the province.
Six months earlier, he'd had a shocker in a league game against Glasgow and was summarily replaced against Castres after an hour of their Heineken Cup pool game by a re-signed veteran out-half, Australian David Holwell.
With two other foreign imports, Felipe Contepomi and Isa Nacewa, due to return to the busy out-half position, Sexton would speak about the "depressing" nature of his position with a club to which he dearly wanted to belong.
Despite his desire to remain with Leinster, he spoke of how he contemplated leaving Ireland in order to seek opportunities. Later, he would credit Declan Kidney's intervention in selecting him for an Ireland 'A' game as a significant springboard to renewing his confidence."
December 21, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/21/2011
BOD reigns supreme
Soccer is proving increasingly popular in Ireland but Brian O'Driscoll reigns supreme according to the Irish Times' Philip Reid.
"It's official. Brian O’Driscoll – by a whisker – is deemed Ireland’s current “greatest” sports star; Stephen Cluxton’s last-gasp point to win the All-Ireland football title for Dublin is considered the most “iconic” sporting moment of 2011; and the Republic of Ireland’s qualification for the Euro 2012 finals has been found to be the “greatest achievement” of the past year.
"Yet, while a comprehensive new survey has found soccer retains its position as the most popular sport, only Robbie Keane has managed to make it into the top-five (and only barely so!) in the list of greatest current sports stars behind O’Driscoll, Rory McIlroy, Katie Taylor and Ronan O’Gara.
"What does it all mean?
"Well, the survey – conducted earlier this month amongst a nationally representative sample in the Republic by research agency AskChili, on behalf of Dublin-based Pembroke Communications – provides an intriguing insight into the sporting sentiments of the public, affirming that almost 80 per cent of the adult population have a genuine interest in sport."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/21/2011
Muldoon battling to save pride - and beard
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly chats to Connacht's John Muldoon as his side bid to stop the rot.
"When you are on a run of 10 straight defeats, you do anything to break the cycle and there are those in Connacht who believe a scissors could be the best way forward.
"John Muldoon has long been an inspirational figure in Connacht and last week the Portumna man signed a deal to keep him at the Sportsground for another two years. However, some supporters are wondering whether the 29-year-old has put a hex on his team's performances or, more specifically, whether his facial hair is the jinx -- Muldoon has been sporting a lumberjack beard for the past couple of months.
"I've been hearing that I'm a jinx," says Muldoon with a wry chuckle. "There are lads saying I need to shave off this beard because since it came in we haven't won a game. I don't know, I would do anything if I thought we could get the win, but I think I've been playing okay, I'm just incredibly frustrated by the run we are on."
December 20, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/20/2011
The new pretender
The Irish Independent reckons that Ian Madigan must be on the verge of a call up to Ireland.
"You sensed it was coming. With 77 minutes on the clock and Leinster pushing hard for a seventh try, replacement out-half Ian Madigan cleared out a ruck after Jamie Heaslip took up the ball and, walking casually back into position, assessed his options.
Realising the demoralised Bath defenders were vulnerable on the far side, Madigan broke into a trot and then accelerated onto a pass from the next ruck -- a quick shimmy and he was over.
It was Madigan's fifth try from 11 appearances this season, a remarkable tally considering his position and the fact he started in only six of those matches. It was especially noteworthy when you consider that Isa Nacewa (recognised as one of Leinster's finest attackers and looking as sharp as ever), has managed only one try from 12 games, all of them over 80 minutes."
December 19, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/19/2011
Plenty for Munster to chew on
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reflects on Munster's latest Heineken Cup success against Scarlets.
"Sunday brunch-time is no time for a Heineken Cup classic and so it came to pass. Munster’s somewhat subdued and laboured 19-13 win over the Scarlets was actually a meat-and-two-veg serving by their standards, although then again Munster tend to save their Euro haute cuisine until January.
"In point of fact though, a fourth win in four pool matches gives Munster a five-point lead in what is an ultra competitive pool and victory in their penultimate pool game at home to Castres could actually secure qualification for the knock-out stages before the last day trek to the stadium.mk against Northampton.
"Compared to the 10-try feast at the Aviva the previous night, events at Thomond Park yesterday almost felt like a different sport, but though something of a slow burner, with the result in doubt until the end, it at least made for a more competitive 80 minutes."
December 17, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/17/2011
Ireland international Rob Kearney, talking to Hugh Farrelly of the Irish Independent, plays down talk of him taking the national side's armband.
"Rob Kearney says he would welcome the "highest honour" of captaining Ireland, but believes Paul O'Connell or Rory Best are the best options heading into the Six Nations.
With Brian O'Driscoll unavailable until the end of the season, Ireland need a new captain for the Six Nations and Kearney's name has been suggested as a candidate alongside existing vice-captains O'Connell and Best.
The full-back does not turn 26 until March and would fit the age profile if Ireland seek a long-term leader to take them towards the World Cup in England in 2015.
However, while Kearney says he was flattered when his name was linked with the role, he believes there are stronger candidates available to coach Declan Kidney."
December 14, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/14/2011
BOD: World Cup was a missed opportunity
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll tells the Irish Independent's David Kelly that his side blew a big chance to make a major impact at this year's Rugby World Cup.
"I kind of look back on just a massive missed opportunity," said O'Driscoll. "I don't really allow myself to think about it too much, because I don't know when again an Irish team could have the same route into a World Cup final.
"But we just didn't do it on the day and I think they peaked. They played their best against us in that quarter-final. And you know that's it in knockout football when you get to that stage.
"It was just a huge, huge anti-climax, because we felt as though during the group stage we had gotten ourselves in a good place to really push hard. And then when you get into a semi-final, I think all bets are off -- it doesn't matter about form, it's just about the teams that turn up. Unfortunately we didn't get to taste that."
December 8, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 12/08/2011
Back to his best
David Kelly, of the Irish Independent', looks at Luke Fitzgerald's return to form.
"And so the revival of Luke Fitzgerald continues apace. For anyone who has been eagerly awaiting the return to form of one of Ireland's most naturally gifted rugby footballers, the bad news is that you may have already missed the greener shoots of his latest rehabilitation.
The good news is that this energising healing is destined to continue on Saturday, when Heineken Cup champions Leinster descend upon the banks of the River Avon, where they will attempt to clinically butcher Bath's dwindling European ambition.
Typical of someone who has spent much of his adult life amidst the burning flashbulbs of media hype and burdensome expectation, Fitzgerald managed to strive so energetically well away from the spotlight earlier this season."
December 7, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/07/2011
Connacht to meet IRFU over financial plight
The Irish Times' Gavin Commiskey reports on Connacht's fight for further financial assistance.
"Connacht chief executive Gerry Kelly is to meet the IRFU management committee today to discuss the ongoing financial plight of the province.
"Their difficulties were further highlighted by the 15-13 home defeat to Benetton Treviso last Saturday, their eighth successive loss and third straight at The Sportsground.
"What was initially greeted as a historic breakthrough season is entering nightmare territory. Qualification for the Heineken Cup, via Leinster winning the competition, only came after four frontline players – Ian Keatley, Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Seán Cronin – had signed for Leinster and Munster (Keatley).
"Of 12 players recruited only two have started more than 50 per cent of the Pro 12 fixtures to date."
December 1, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/01/2011
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly chats to Munster's South African prop Wian du Preez.
"From Greys, he followed the established path through university into the Cheetahs system, where he was blessed with some extraordinary tutelage.
"It was a great learning curve," he recalls. "Myself and Jannie (du Plessis) came up together and we were learning from front-rows like Os du Randt, Ollie le Roux, CJ van der Linde and Naka Drotske. I was blessed to have access to that level of front-row knowledge."
"With international call-ups creating opportunities, Du Preez made steady progress, his best year coming in 2008/09 when he featured on the Cheetahs side that rattled Ian McGeechan's touring Lions (the day Brussow announced himself to a wider audience as a flanker of rare ability).
"However, despite his good form, Du Preez failed to make the Springbok squad for the November tour to Europe so, when he heard Munster were interested in a short-term deal as cover for the injured Marcus Horan, he took the plunge.
"It was a decision that led to his first and, thus far, only cap, as injuries to props in a midweek defeat to Leicester meant Du Preez was in the right place at the right time and was called up for the clash with Italy."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/01/2011
Jennings always eager to be in final mix
Leinster flanker Shane Jennings typically refuses to shy away from chasing his ambition of playing in the province’s bigger games, writes the Irish Times' Johnny Watterson.
"The IRFU player-welfare system. It has a lot to answer for. Shane Jennings gives the impression it’s not an exact science. In some instances it’s saving the players from themselves and in others saving the players from their clubs.
"The Leinster flanker doesn’t know how many games a season he is supposed to play. A round figure would be 25, modest compared to English and French players, who can exceed 30. And people ask why Brian O’Driscoll didn’t go for the big money in Toulouse or Stade Français. But Jennings is unsure. Not bothered either. “I don’t know what the number is but I think it’s something like that,” he says of the figure of 25 matches."
"...Jennings too will feel some heat, with Seán O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Kevin McLaughlin, Leo Auva’a and Rhys Ruddock lurking around the backrow. “I’d like to be in that,” he says, typically putting his own hand up and refusing to shy away from chasing his ambition and often leading others as he goes.
November 27, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/27/2011
International game stinks because it's in the toilet
If the IRB doesn't change its tune, the Heineken Cup will soon be the only game in town, says Neil Francis in the Irish Independent
"I think Lili von Shtupp said it best in Blazing Saddles when she told Hedley Lamarr it was all over. 'You're finished, fertig, verfallen, verlumpt, verblunget, verkackt!' I have no idea what the literal translation is but I feel it says everything about the international version of the game of Rugby Union.
"Anybody who read my synopsis of the recent Rugby World Cup will not be left under any illusion of what I thought of it. The Dublin Corporation Sewage ship could not adequately describe what a crock of shite it was. The last two weekends of Heineken rugby were a stark contrast to the irredeemable gulf in quality and watchability between the very distinct and separate games of union -- namely the moribund, stagnant game of international rugby as it is currently played and the pan-European brand which is flourishing.
"It has already been observed what has happened in soccer. The last three FIFA World Cups have been awful beyond words. Ninety minutes of brain-numbing tedium only occasionally enlivened by the odd penalty shoot-out which is not really soccer."
November 26, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/26/2011
‘I can assure you there was no dwarf throwing our part’
Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien defends the professional rugby player's right to throw off the shackles now and again. The Irish Independent reports.
"On September 17, a tabloid newspaper printed a typically florid account of an international team's booze-filled bonding session in Queenstown's now infamous Altitude bar the previous week.
"Apart from Stephen Ferris becoming an impromptu Page 3 topless model, the story dissipated almost as soon as it hit the news stands.
"Why? Well, aside from the fact that it was the team's only night off in 50 days, or that they all returned home before curfew, or that nobody complained of their behaviour, it was really quite simple.
"The same day the article was published, they beat the pants off Australia when it mattered. Had England managed to combine dwarf tossing with winning rugby, few would have quibbled with their behaviour.
"Results dictate context, especially for punters on bar stools reading about professional athletes on bar stools. And, of course, it's about attitude. Who would you rather have fighting in the trenches beside you, Chris Ashton or Sean O'Brien?"
November 20, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/20/2011
Who is the perfect 10?
Writing for Iol.co.za, Craig Lewis ponders the options for the Springboks' No.10 shirt.
"South Africa is blessed at the moment to have a number of young flyhalves that have immense potential and the ability to ensure that any debate around the No. 10 position before the next World Cup will be a healthy one.
"...At just 21 years of age, [Pat] Lambie has also already built up a fair bit of experience at a provincial and international level and has never looked out of his depth. Lambie needs to improve his goal-kicking consistency and requires the backing to settle at flyhalf, but the youngster would be an excellent long-term investment at 10.
"...The Lions’ star [Elton Jantjes] finished the year with a stunning man-of-the-match performance in the Currie Cup final that underlined just how much the youngster has matured over the last year.
"...The Baby Boks flyhalf [Johan Goosen] burst onto the senior scene during this season’s Currie Cup, cementing himself as the Cheetahs’ first-choice flyhalf.
The talented Sias Ebersohn finished the Super Rugby season as the Cheetahs’ No 10 with a number of impressive performances, but such is the talent of Goosen that he became the preferred choice during the domestic season."
November 19, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/19/2011
O'Driscoll on road to recovery
Brian O'Driscoll is looking forward to beginning his rehabilitation after successful surgery on the shoulder problem that has ruled him out of Leinster's Heineken Cup campaign. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"The Ireland captain announced last week that he was going under the knife to correct a persistent shoulder issue and expected to be sidelined for six months, making him unavailable for Leinster's bid to retain their European crown and the Six Nations.
"Having highlighted a first Ireland win over the All Blacks as a major career goal, the hope is for O'Driscoll to return fully fit in time for the summer tour to New Zealand for a three-Test series.
"And that hope was reinforced after this week's medical procedure, with Leinster confirming that O'Driscoll was eagerly anticipating the start of his rehabilitation.
"The operation was a success," said a Leinster spokesperson. "Brian is at home resting and he is looking forward to beginning his rehabilitation over the coming weeks."
November 13, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 11/13/2011
BOD will be back
Bath prop David Flatman, in his column in the Independent on Sunday, has no doubts that Ireland skipper will return to the rugby pitch following an operation on his shoulder, which has caused others to question his future,
"Brian O'Driscoll is 32, has achieved masses, is regarded as one of the greatest of all time and is seriously injured. Inevitably, news of an operation that will leave him on the sidelines for six months has led to questions over his future. Clearly the two of us are barelycomparable in sporting terms, but one thing we share – because pretty much all rugby players do – is a chemical inability to accept defeat.
"Without being too crass, I suspect his financial position is somewhat more comfortable than mine, so this makes life easier, without question. Mind you, the day he quits I expect a lot of extremely lucrative endorsement deals will also cease, so there are ramifications and, whether it's romantic or not, this is professionalism. But what we know about this man is that he cares. He really cares.
"There have been few more driven men than O'Driscoll in world rugby, and watching him on the field for five minutes tells us all we need to know: he'll be back, and it will be like he was never gone."
November 12, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 11/12/2011
Where next for BOD?
Tony Word, writing for the Irish Independent, reflects on the career of Brian O'Driscoll and looks at where his career is likely to go after his latest injury setback.
"It's all about timing, they say, and if ever that maxim rang true it is to the news that our greatest ever player is having an operation to free up the trapped nerve that has been causing him so much discomfort in his shoulder.
Not that I would expect anything different, given the individual concerned, but what I like about Brian O'Driscoll's decision to undergo this surgery now is the way he factored in his quality of life post-rugby.
He may have wanted more from his four World Cups and he should have won the IRB World Player of the Year award in 2009, which inexplicably went to Richie McCaw, but the most celebrated -- and for me the most talented -- rugby player in our history has nothing left to prove."
November 6, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 11/06/2011
Life after rugby
In the Observer, Kevin Mitchell talks to Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll about life after rugby.
Brian O'Driscoll is terrified. Not of physical pain or even losing. He's petrified of what is to come: the unknown, life after rugby, an existence beyond the one that has made him the ultimate centre of attention.
"When you've done something for more than a third of your life," he says, "your whole adult life, and then all of a sudden you're going to have to switch off and say, no more, you want to grasp as much of it and enjoy the last few years of it as much as you can. Because you can't get those years back."
November 5, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 11/05/2011
Still life in Brian
In the Irish Independent Tony Ward argues that Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll should move to inside centre and give up the captaincy in order to prolong his Test career.
I sincerely believe the time is now right for him to move to inside-centre. It would make for a different playmaking role, but one to which he would be ideally suited at this stage of his career. And what better challenge than helping his outside-channel apprentice learn the ropes alongside the master in the midst of the action?
Think of the benefit to Fergus McFadden, Eoin O'Malley, Nevin Spence, Luke Fitzgerald, Eoin Griffin, Keith Earls or whoever it is to be. Imagine the focus O'Driscoll at inside-centre would demand, thereby creating time and space for the trainee alongside.
There is also the captaincy issue, and here again I would urge that a mature approach should be taken.
The role of captain in the professional age is not as demanding as it once was, but in saying that if passing on the armband lightens the on-field load for O'Driscoll, then it is a decision well worth considering.
November 1, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 11/01/2011
From crib to captain
Hugh Farrelly of the Irish Independent reveals that with Munster blood in his veins, Peter O'Mahony is determined to carve his own name amongst the province's greats.
"For Peter O'Mahony, it started in the crib.
"'From day one, it was always rugby with Peter,' recalls aunt and godmother Fidelma O'Mahony. 'There was always a rugby ball in the cot with him and he was wearing jerseys as a baby and all the way up, either Cork Con or Munster. He was going to games since he was a toddler and playing for those teams was all he ever wanted - it's brilliant to see how far he has come.'
"That journey has been made over a relatively short period of time and included a stand-out showing in Munster's win over Australia a year ago and being appointed the province's youngest captain last month - just as he was turning 22.
"It has been a story of continual progress to this point from underage rugby with Cork Con (where his father, John, played and is now PRO) to a Schools Cup title in PBC Cork, to senior AIL glory back at Temple Hill, to Munster - with representative honours all the way up.
"As the captaincy demonstrated, O'Mahony now has front-line status in Munster, working alongside players he once used to pester for socks and autographs."
October 30, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/30/2011
Rugby in the gutter?
Rugby has slipped into the gutter in the professional era, writes Neil Francis in the Irish Independent
"Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow, the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing - Abraham Lincoln
"What we are about here is charting the slow, imperceptible erosion of standards, the unambiguous degeneracy of the game. Not the game itself but the people who play it.
"When money comes, empirical evidence suggests that the constitutional standards enjoyed and employed by players deteriorate.
"I was quite happy to endure the slow death of a thousand cuts. Events from the 2007 RWC to the one just past suggest that we will be lucky to get 100.
"On balance, most of the players we have seen in that period have been men of character, integrity and honesty possessed of compassion, a grounded conscience and a working moral compass -- all inherently decent men.
"My problem is that the rotten one per cent has grown from a tiny minority to an uncomfortably prominent subsection and show no signs of disappearing any time soon."
October 29, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 10/29/2011
Swift response required for Ireland
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly argues that Ireland must start planning for the future and the 2015 World Cup following the disappointments of New Zealand.
"With the core of the Ireland squad -- the oldest at the World Cup -- unlikely to be around for England 2015, now is the time for younger provincial players to put their hands up.
"The Six Nations is three months away but with Wales and France carrying extra confidence after their World Cup achievements and England driven by the desire to prove their critics wrong, it is shaping up to be one of the most competitive of all.
"Ireland cannot go into that tournament with any World Cup exit residue if they are to prosper in that company.
"The hangover cure starts now -- and it starts with the provinces."
September 19, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/19/2011
Success hasn't always sat easily with Ireland says Peter Bills in the New Zealand Herald
"Ireland, ah Ireland. Instigators of the biggest upset to date in the Rugby World Cup this weekend and the biggest hangovers known to mankind for some of those celebrating.
"Had there ever been a rugby playing nation less suited to the rigours and demands of professional rugby? Was there ever a nation that so epitomised the fun and frivolity of the old amateur era?
"It is 41 years since Irish rugby enacted one of the funniest sights ever witnessed around the international game. Tony O'Reilly, seven years after what he thought had been his final appearance for his country, received a terse message as he entertained guests in a London nightclub, 48 hours before the 1970 England vs Ireland game.
"Injury crisis. Report tomorrow, 10am, training" it said. And so he did, in his own inimitable style. At the appointed hour, a Rolls Royce cruised through the gates. When it stopped, the chauffeur got out, collected a kitbag from the boot and handed it to O'Reilly as he stepped out.
Alas, O'Reilly was no longer the sleek athlete, as his teammates well knew. As he puffed his way around the training ground, lagging at the back with McBride, Willie John produced his great line. "Reilly, there'd be no point in yer doing all this trainin'. Get yer chauffeur to do it for yer."
September 18, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/18/2011
Wallabies should don dunce cap
Australia half-backs Quade Cooper and Will Genia face up to defeat by Ireland © Getty Images
Greg Growden delivers a scathing analysis of Australia's defeat to the Ireland in the Sydney Morning Herald and it's hardly very complimentary to the "also-ran Irish".
"It doesn't get any more embarrassing than this for Australian rugby. The Wallabies were yet again shown to be second-rate by one of the also-rans of world rugby.
"Their World Cup campaign is in tatters following a deplorable performance against Ireland at Eden Park, when they chose the wrong moment to completely fall apart, suffering a 15-6 drubbing.
"In the understatement of the year, a chastened Wallabies captain James Horwill said: ''We played some dumb footy.''
"It wasn't some dumb footy, it was completely dumb footy. For being so dumb, they should be forced to wear World Cup dunces hats for at least the next week."
September 12, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/12/2011
Ireland need inspiration
Writing in the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly implores Declan Kidney to have a tactical overhaul of the Ireland side following their narrow win over the USA.
"Ireland went into their opening World Cup assignment stressing the need to enjoy themselves. This, they said, would see them produce their best rugby and get the campaign off to a positive start.
"There was not a whole lot to enjoy yesterday. Ireland were poor -- worryingly poor when you consider they have produced just one compelling performance (against England in March) to reflect upon from more than 12 months of rugby -- and the echoes of 2007 were sounding loud and clear at Taranaki Stadium.
"This wasn't a warm-up match with nothing at stake; this was the biggest stage of all, with the rugby world watching."
September 10, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 09/10/2011
Attack, attack, attack
In the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly urges Ireland to adopt an all out attack approach in their opening game against the USA.
"It was an American, General George S Patton, who offered the following tactical observation: "No-one ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more."
"Not a bad approach for Ireland to take into their opening World Cup assignment against the US Eagles at Stadium Taranaki. All week, the Irish camp has been stressing that their primary focus is to gain a victory and, of course, that is the case, but they also need to make a statement."
August 30, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/30/2011
Kidney yet to show his real hand
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward refuses to be too downcast on Ireland's Rugby World Cup chances.
"By any standard, it's been a bad four weeks for Declan Kidney. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances and, yes, we now have a fair whack of players with game-time in the tank, but in contrast to that there's a squad with confidence and collective morale diminishing more and more with each successive defeat.
"Ignore all that guff that says winning in August doesn't matter. In the opening two games, selection was such that winning on the road was as unlikely as it would've been expected. Coming second at Murrayfield and Bordeaux could be conceded to the bigger picture. And like almost everybody else, I bought into that. But the last fortnight has seen us drop to levels of performance unacceptable for a team with semi-final aspirations.
"We have gone from fourth to eighth in world rankings and from top team in the northern hemisphere to fifth now, with only Italy of the Six Nations teams below us. Don't tell me that a sudden dip of that magnitude doesn't impact on the overall psyche -- of course it does."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/30/2011
It's not the losses, it's the manner
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reflects on Ireland's worryingly poor World Cup warm-up campaign.
"Yhey're only friendlies, warm-up games, footnotes in history, etc, and at the outset Ireland would have traded four defeats in August for four pool wins.
"Alas and alack, it was grimly evident from a long way out in Saturday’s damp squib of a World Cup send-off that Ireland would be putting that theory to the test.
"But it’s not the losses that have proved so damaging, it’s more the manner of them and the baggage that’s come with them. Ireland haven’t just lost four matches, they’ve lost confidence, they’ve lost their form and, coming on top of losing Felix Jones a week before, even more cruelly, given it would have been his last World Cup and he’s only played in one before, they’ve lost David Wallace. It left a pall of gloom over the ground which must have further affected the squad’s spirits."
August 28, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/28/2011
Time to hit the panic button
Brendan Fanning, writing for the Irish Independent, believes it is crisis time for the Irish following their fourth loss in four.
"If you read somewhere in the aftermath of this, Ireland's sixth defeat in the last eight Tests, that England wanted it more than we did, then you are reading the comments of someone making an excuse for a team in desperate trouble. And they are in desperate trouble.
Ireland came to Lansdowne Road yesterday not just with those mounting losses in the rearview mirror, but around the corner was the marquee, the big top where all the best performers will be on show in a couple of weeks. And they needed to smarten up their act for that.
Immediately ahead of them was England. Beat them for the second time this year, and there was a decent chance of a morale boost that would lighten the load that's been saddled on us this month. It just got heavier, because that win in March has been confirmed now as paper over a crack."
August 27, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/27/2011
No three musketeers
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes Ireland will rue the absence of their key trio ahead of the World Cup warm-up clash with England.
"Don't panic. That was the rather frenetic message from the Ireland camp this week as their torrid bout with World Cup warm-up internationals received another flurry of gut punches, with Sean O'Brien added to the injury list and Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney ruled out of this afternoon's clash with England.
As 2007 proved conclusively, you cannot expect to perform at a World Cup if you go into the tournament minus any sort of momentum and, with three defeats on the bounce and five losses from their last seven outings as well as a succession of injury issues, Ireland have all the momentum of a drunken slug.
Thus, of all their frontline players, Ireland needed O'Driscoll today."
August 26, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/26/2011
Irish injuries cast a dark cloud
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley previews Ireland's clash with England in Dublin.
"All the best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. Declan Kidney had intended heading off to New Zealand next Tuesday with all of his squad having played at least two and a bit games but they’ve inevitably fallen short of that target, with fresh injury clouds hanging over Brian O’Driscoll and Seán O’Brien.
"Discretion being the better part of valour, the captain has not been risked in the line of fire against Mike Tindall, Manu Tuilagi and co after suffering “a stinger” in his shoulder last week, which is probably not unwise.
"As warm-up games go, tomorrow’s latest Anglo-Irish affair – with England in expressed vengeful mode for the events here last March when their Slam was spectacularly derailed – is liable to be on the warm side of roasting, so imagine the furore if O’Driscoll was ruled out of his fourth World Cup three days before departure? Better to have him under-cooked."
August 25, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 08/25/2011
Ferris fighting fit
After a succession of injuries that have interrupted his international career, Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is determined to make the most of his inclusion in Ireland's World Cup campaign. He talks to Niall Crozier in the Irish Independent.
"When Stephen Ferris was awarded a commemorative cap for Ireland's ill-fated 2007 World Cup campaign, it meant nothing to him.
"I didn't earn it, so I gave it to my mum," he says. His rejection of it is understandable, for he never played a minute in the 2007 World Cup. On the plus side, no guilt for Ireland's abject failure could be attached to the barnstorming Ulster flanker.
"Four years on, it looked like Ferris might be in for another gutting World Cup experience, with his fitness following yet more knee surgery making him a major doubt. But not having played since January 22, finally on Saturday against France he got a run-out for the last 20 minutes. That was enough to persuade Ireland coach Declan Kidney to gamble on him being ready for the rigours of the World Cup. On Monday, when the party for New Zealand was unveiled, Ferris was one of the 30."
August 24, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/24/2011
World Cup heartbreak
The Irish Independent's David Kelly looks at the two high profile casualties following the announcement of Ireland's 30-man squad for the World Cup.
"Last Saturday morning, Luke Fitzgerald and Tomas O'Leary collected the last of their personal belongings and checked out of the Shelbourne Hotel before making the short coach journey to Lansdowne Road.
There, they would seek to make one final lasting impression upon Kidney and his coaching staff before the 30 names were appended to an email the next afternoon confirming the final World Cup squad selection.
Those who didn't make the cut would be told personally by Kidney before that.
Both Fitzgerald and O'Leary had experienced the joys of winning the Grand Slam and the Heineken Cup, but this would represent one of the biggest challenges of their professional lives, for the World Cup is the pinnacle of a rugby player's career -- a level to which neither had before managed to ascend."
August 23, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/23/2011
Complacency to blame
The Irish Independent's Tony Ward reflects on the Ireland squad announcement and believes complacency is to blame for the notable omissions.
"In naming his squad for the World Cup, Declan Kidney has acted with the decisiveness sorely lacking from his team at the Aviva last Saturday. The sense had been of a travelling 30 all but set in stone.
Whatever else it may have done, Saturday's no-show against the French put the cat among the pigeons and Kidney, in axing no fewer than six of his Grand Slam-winning squad, has shown little room for sentiment.
He has picked on form and sod reputation, with Luke Fitzgerald, Tomas O'Leary, John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Mick O'Driscoll and Peter Stringer all consigned to a standby place at best.
It is a bold call but the right one. Only in the case of Fitzgerald could I argue with Kidney's selection -- I feel there is potential game-breaking talent being left at home.
Injury has inevitably played its part, with Felix Jones the most unlucky in that regard. It wasn't that he was setting the world on fire, but certainly there was enough evidence to suggest his place alongside Rob Kearney on the flight Down Under was secure."
August 22, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/22/2011
Strong finish can't mask Irish failings
The Irish Times' reports from Ireland's World Cup warm-up defeat to France in Dublin.
"For all the talk of Irish rustiness – five of Saturday’s starting team were making their first appearance of the season – you couldn’t help but remind yourself that 13 of this French side were making their seasonal bow on Saturday, and 15 of them had done so a week before.
"Furthermore, this was, after all, Ireland’s notional first-choice pack bar one enforced change, notional first-choice halfbacks and first-choice midfield, and they were at home and led 8-0 after a bright first 10 minutes. Indeed, they book-ended the contest with a further 14 points in the final eight minutes and so, for what it’s worth, they could take comfort in again finishing the game strongly.
"But the problem was what happened in between. As Ireland lost their way with a surfeit of errors, the French, during one 22-minute spell, scored 26 unanswered points and were strutting around the Aviva Stadium as if they owned it – which they pretty much did."
August 21, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/21/2011
Fitzgerald's number's up?
The Irish Independent's Brendan Fanning believes it is time for Ireland to drop Luke Fitzgerald.
"There won't be any need to worry about having your phone on or off this morning. No one will be dreading a text that gives them bad news, or not getting a text that gives them good news. Rather if you bumped into Declan Kidney in the corridor of Carton House yesterday and he suggested stepping out for a chat, then chances are he wasn't about to make your day.
"It will all be done face to face," says manager Paul McNaughton. "There won't be any texts."
It is ironic that just when Ireland put together the busiest programme of warm-up matches for the World Cup, of any of the European teams, they get through the games in reasonable shape but still end up looking at a van load of players who are behind schedule."
August 19, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/19/2011
Another hurdle negotiated
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reports from Ireland's latest Rugby World Cup warm-up clash with Connacht.
"A bit like the rest of the team, Tony Buckley, at loosehead, and John Hayes were in something of a no-win situation; or at any rate could probably gain little from the night. As it was, the night, and especially the scrums, did not exactly enhance their claims.
There were eight in the first half, five for Connacht and three for Ireland. None reflected well on the Irish scrum, but the ones on their own put-in were a source of embarrassment.
Dylan Rogers, a 27-year-old South African signed from Buccaneers last year, and Rodney Ah You, the 22-year-old Kiwi from Christchurch and a “special project” who ought to qualify for Ireland in under two years, each had Hayes and Buckley in trouble. Ah You, who represented the New Zealand Under-19s against Ireland Under-19s three years ago, also impressed around the pitch."
August 18, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/18/2011
BOD eager to lay down RWC marker
Brian O'Driscoll has called on Ireland to show the type of intensity they hope to bring to the World Cup when they run out to face France at Lansdowne Road on Saturday. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"O'Driscoll leads a side that shows 10 changes from the one that lost 19-12 to the French in Bordeaux and, after missing the first two warm-up internationals through injury, is delighted to be back and keen to lay down a marker for New Zealand.
"It's great to be back," he said. "It's always difficult sitting out Test matches. I never like missing out and this will be a special occasion.
"There is certainly an onus on trying to win, definitely, but it's also about game time and getting up to speed. We have to have the right mentality, so the intensity and physicality has to be there. We need to treat this as anything but a friendly, try to stamp our authority and play the brand of rugby we hope to play at the World Cup."
Ireland have a solitary win from their last 11 matches against the French and O'Driscoll accepted they have found France tough opponents."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/18/2011
One or two slots may be up for grabs
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley previews the clash between an Ireland XV and Connacht this evening.
"Those members of the Irish squad who are being sent to Donnybrook this evening may privately feel they’ve drawn the short straw and one wonders how much they can achieve individually or even collectively. Anything less than a convincing win would be a disappointment, yet the more convincing it is then the more it may look devalued.
Admittedly, at least six or seven of the 22 players on duty here should be on the plane to New Zealand, and it’s possible that one or two spots could conceivably be swayed tonight. For example, Isaac Boss would appear to have every opportunity to cement the third scrumhalf slot ahead of Conor Murray, while if there are to be only four props the last one would appear to rest between Tony Buckley, starting at loose-head, and John Hayes."
August 15, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/15/2011
Positives far outweigh the negatives for Ireland
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reports from Ireland's defeat to France in their Rugby World Cup warm-up clash in Bordeaux.
"To a degree, Ireland’s second-half comeback and the narrow failure to extract something from the game should give them the confidence and the extra desire to avenge the loss next Saturday, all the more so with the likes of Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip likely to start [next weekend's re-match in Dublin] along with Marc Lièvremont’s stated intention to give the rest of his squad game time.
“But it’s France again at home,” countered Kidney. “So there’s easier matches to play, it’s not exactly a confidence-builder you’re going into play, you know? The French lads will change, you don’t know how many. But whether France change nobody, eight or 15, it doesn’t really matter. France can turn out three, four teams like that.”
Yet, allowing for this result, inaccuracy in possession in the first-half, the way Rory Best’s darts were dismantled by an exceptional French line-out and the four penalties at scrum time, the positives outweighed the negatives."
August 14, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 08/14/2011
The importance of Ross
Brendan Fanning highlights the importance of tight-head Mike Ross to Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid in The Sunday Independent.
"In case you weren't tuned into Mike Ross's importance to Ireland, you should be now. Having been ignored for longer than was reasonable, he has become the difference between having a scrum and Ireland not having a scrum. Yes, it's possible to win the odd game without one -- Wales managed it earlier in the day in Cardiff -- but it's not a policy you want to adopt.
"So the chance of a draw in Bordeaux last night, and with it a boost to morale having come back from as bad a 40 minutes as we have seen from Ireland, went south on a five- metre scrum that went back. Ross was on the bench; Tony Buckley was in the cockpit, and the plane crashed. It remains to be seen what effect this has on Buckley's chances of going to New Zealand. You need two tight heads on board, and aside from Ross we have one who is too old -- John Hayes -- and another who is not a good enough scrummager -- Buckley. There is no way out of this for Declan Kidney."
August 13, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 08/13/2011
The return to full fitness of talismanic leader Paul O'Connell is crucial for Ireland's prospects, according to Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times.
"The best of Paul O’Connell comes with game time, so the more we see of him over the next few months, the better. If there was one Irish player who didn’t want last season to end, it was O’Connell.
"The groin problems which plagued him after the 2010 Six Nations, which were compounded by that red card against the Ospreys and his ensuing suspension, have been well documented. The net effect was that he came into last season’s Six Nations virtually cold, and it was no surprise that his best came last up, in the win over England.
"After just 12 starts and the appearances off the bench last season, his mileage count is at least low, and though he’d like to start cranking it up soon, at least this season he also has a pre-season under his belt."
August 11, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/11/2011
Time to move BOD?
David Kelly, of the Irish Independent, talks to former Ireland centre Rob Henderson about who he would have lining up in the centres for the national side during the World Cup.
"Rob Henderson was one of the great jokers of the Irish team but he is deadly serious when he says that Brian O'Driscoll should be stripped of the No 13 jersey.
Henderson is advocating the move to ensure Ireland's greatest player can become a more creative influence and allow the younger talents to cut a dash outside him.
"I'd play Keith Earls there (No 13)," he asserts. "And I'd move Brian in one -- especially if Gordon D'Arcy doesn't make it, and that would be a pity because he's been playing reasonably well over the last two years.
"Fergus McFadden slotting in is reasonable enough, I suppose. I would like Earls to slot into the midfield area. But it can't be something that could be realistically done mid-tournament."
August 9, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/09/2011
Best of friends
The Irish Independent's Tony Ward believes inter-squad harmony is key for Ireland ahead of the forthcoming World Cup.
"Far be it from me to defend that most selfish species, the rugby coach -- most are bold and brash enough to look after themselves -- but how anyone could be critical of what transpired at Murrayfield on Saturday is beyond me.
For all but the final few minutes of the opening game of the season, the Irish shadow line-up -- if it was even that -- went close to beating two-thirds of the Scottish first XV on their own patch.
But where are we going here? In all honesty, does it really matter whether we won 6-3 or lost 10-6? Who cares if the record books now show that on Saturday, August 6 2011, Scotland beat Ireland in a warm-up international in Edinburgh?
Of course those at the heart of it -- the Irish players and management -- will make the appropriate soundings for public consumption, but privately the bottom-line objective was very far removed from adding a 'W' to the ego card in Murrayfield."
August 7, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 08/07/2011
Height of mediocrity
Neil Francis, in the Irish Independent, is similarly disillusioned with the entertainment offered up at Murrayfield.
"Yesterday morning I watched a Test match, a real Test match, a Test match of unquenchable intensity. It was something I had to do. A form of fascination which would fortify me against the unendurable mediocrity that I knew was coming at around 2.30 at Murrayfield.
"How do we classify what took place yesterday afternoon? Bogus? Counterfeit? Certainly there were 30 rugby players, there was a rugby ball, apparently there was even one of the best referees in the world on hand, but any passing resemblance to a Test match was purely coincidental."
August 3, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 08/03/2011
Man on a mission
Hugh Farrelly, writing for the Irish Independent, talks to a bullish Denis Leamy ahead of Scotland's clash with Ireland on Saturday.
"New Zealand - a country where rugby reputations are easily shattered and respect is hard to win.
Paul O'Connell has been down there a few times without ever managing to convince the Kiwis of the quality long evident to northern admirers. Jamie Heaslip was ready to confirm his status as one of the world's finest No 8s last year only to be dismissed - in every sense - as Ireland slumped to a record defeat.
And even Brian O'Driscoll (whose status as one of the finest centres to have ever donned togs is long since assured) still attracts mockery over the 'Speargate' farce on the 2005 Lions tour.
Then there is Denis Leamy. They are not good with names down there - unless you are an All Black -- but the Cashel man's performances over the course of three Tests in New Zealand have certainly registered."
July 31, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011
Brendan Fanning, writing for the Irish Independent, looks ahead to Saturday's clash between Ireland and Scotland.
"World Cup warm-ups are fretful times for players, a mix of trying to play your way into the squad without playing your way out of it through injury. And before Declan Kidney can even announce his side to play Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, in the first of five games in August, Gordon D'Arcy looks like he won't be going anywhere with Ireland until the New Year.
D'Arcy had surgery on an ankle in late June and the six weeks rehab from that leaves him short of any pre-season, which would appear to rule the World Cup out for him altogether. Kidney conceded last week that the timeline was "getting tight" for him. In Kidneyspeak, that sounds like the discomfort a crab experiences at 40 fathoms.
You would imagine that Fergus McFadden was nailed on in any case but the likelihood of D'Arcy's demise promotes further the case of a man whose versatility will be important when September rolls around and we're counting who is left standing and what direction they're facing.
Interestingly, the Scots are taking the low road on this one. Italy will provide their only other opposition before flying south, and relying on just two warm-up games seems unwise, especially when you consider that Andy Robinson took his marquee names out of the closing rounds of the Magners League.''
July 22, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2011
The golden child
Ruaidhri O'Connor analyses the World Cup prospects of Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald in The Irish Independent.
"If being left out of Ireland's 2007 World Cup squad at the age of 19 came as a shock to Luke Fitzgerald, imagine how he felt about being dropped during this year's Six Nations.
"Until recently, Fitzgerald didn't do doubts -- he has always been the most single-minded of young sportsmen. He was simply fulfilling his long anointed promise -- the golden child of the schools scene was checking off achievements along the way to greatness.
"But over the last 18 months Fitzgerald has had cause to question himself as never before. Injury, loss of form and criticism were all new to a rising star who hit a bump in the road."
July 17, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011
Wallace sharpens focus for battles that lie ahead
Veteran flanker David Wallace speaks to the Irish Independent as Ireland begin their World Cup preparations.
"Carton House was a busy place to be last week - especially the gym. The latest stop for the juggernaut that is Ireland's pre-World Cup camp was the luxurious hotel and its gym and, according to David Wallace, there was plenty of competition between the players when it came to the sessions.
"Although the Limerick man refused to divulge the name of the biggest show-off, he did admit that there was lots of peer pressure and plenty of banter too. But that doesn't mean the Ireland squad was not working hard. They divided their time between the gym and the pitch doing a variety of sessions. Plenty of conditioning, weights, skills, and fitness work with a few practice games thrown in too.
"After the conditioning, which takes a lot out of the players, they have down days to rest and gather themselves for the next block of training. The levels of preparation that players put in have pretty much come full circle since Wallace started playing professional rugby."
July 16, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011
Ireland's Rory Best, talking to of the Irish Independent, looks ahead to Ireland's poignant game against the USA on September 11.
"Rory Best has revealed that the Irish squad have already discussed the emotional impact of staging their match against the USA on September 11.
Ireland open their World Cup campaign against Eddie O'Sullivan's Eagles on the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 2001 in New York and the hooker believes the opponents will be intent on commemorating those who suffered by putting in a performance in New Zealand.
With their former coach and keen psychologist O'Sullivan in charge, Best and his colleagues know that the coach will use the significance of the day to get a performance out of his team, who will be massive underdogs."
July 7, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011
Road to recovery
In the Irish IndependentRuaidhri O'Connor talks to Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery about his latest attempt to return to full fitness.
"The Munster and Ireland hooker (32) is in danger of becoming the forgotten man of Irish rugby, appearing in squad announcements and being tipped for comebacks only for another part of his body to break down and revert back to square one.
"The last time he played the full 80 minutes was in April 2010 as his province exited the Heineken Cup at the hands of Biarritz in the San Sebastian sun. It's not even a happy memory to reflect on. He hasn't played an international since earning a six-week ban for an 'attempted kick' on Alexis Palisson as Ireland collapsed to a 33-10 defeat in the Stade de France. Fifteen months and counting."
July 5, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011
O'Brien on a mission
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien who believes he can be his country's secret weapon at the forthcoming World Cup.
"Sean O'Brien reckons he could be Ireland's secret weapon at the World Cup in September, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor.
The Tullow tyro will go to the tournament as European Player of the Year but he is hoping to spring a surprise against Australia in New Zealand. The 24-year-old wants to return from the tournament as one of world rugby's big names.
"That's what you want to do," he said. "Over there I suppose they don't know much about me. Hopefully they will by the end of it."
July 1, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011
Farewell to a legend?
The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor pays tribute to John Hayes as it appears he will not be part of the Munster squad for the 2011-12 season.
"John Hayes could have played his last game for Munster after the province confirmed they have no plans to extend his contract beyond the World Cup.
The legendary prop will turn 38 in November and was left out the 45-man squad published by the province earlier this week, fuelling speculation that he is set to retire after the tournament in New Zealand."
June 21, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/21/2011
Felix Jones' remarkable comeback
Munster flanker David Wallace was full of praise for team-mate Felix Jones when he spoke to the Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor.
"David Wallace yesterday paid tribute to the character of Munster team-mate Felix Jones, who has battled his way back from injury hell to make Ireland's World Cup training squad.
The full-back suffered a bad neck injury that kept him out for most of his first season at Thomond Park. Then, after he had regained fitness, the former Leinster man damaged knee ligaments against the Ospreys last September.
Undeterred, Jones bounced back to make the Munster No 15 jersey his own with a string of impressive performances at the end of the season."
Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/21/2011
Final hurrah for Ireland in JWC?
John Fallon in the The Irish Independent suggests Ireland will withdraw from next year's Junior World Championship.
"The IRFU is poised to withdraw the Ireland U-20 team from the Junior World Championship from next year because of issues over player welfare and finance.
The shock development comes as Ireland bids to achieve their best finish in the fledgling competition, which has been won in each of its three years by New Zealand.
The Baby Blacks have again reached the semi-finals, while Ireland face South Africa tomorrow in Padua in the semi-finals of the mini-competition to decide fifth to eighth places."
June 10, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/10/2011
New challenge, old enemy
Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock faces a daunting opening assignment against England at the World Cup but the Grand Slam-winner is energised by the talented youth around him. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"When it comes to kicking off tournaments as underdogs against England, Ireland U-20 coach Mike Ruddock has decent form.
"Back in February 2005, Ruddock was in charge of a Wales team that went into their opening Six Nations clash against then world champions England as an unproven force, but, on a memorable day at the Millennium Stadium, eked out an unexpected 11-9 victory that would serve as a launchpad for their first Grand Slam in 27 years.
"History does not reflect too kindly on that England side, which was without a clutch of World Cup-winners and contained the likes of Andy Hazell, Chris Jones, Charlie Hodgson and an 18-year-old Mathew Tait, and the challenge facing Ruddock's Irish side tomorrow in Treviso could be said to be more daunting.
"As usual, England's U-20s are physically enormous and go into the tournament as one of the favourites, having scorched to this year's Six Nations title, rounded off with a six-try 46-10 hammering of Ireland in Athlone. The fact Ruddock must then steel his men for the challenge of South Africa four days later, adds to the size of the task, but the Welshman's solitary focus is on upsetting the English."
June 7, 2011
Posted by tom.hamilton on 06/07/2011
Reddan ready for World Cup
Eoin Reddan training in the Ireland camp © Getty Images
Eoin Reddan argues to Ruaidhri O'Connor that Ireland will not flop like 2007 and after experiencing domestic success, they will be a force to be reckoned with come the World cup, in The Irish Independent.
"As a reference point, it's hard to see how Ireland can do much worse than they did in France as the 'best prepared Irish squad in history' from the 'golden generation' failed to deliver in a mad world of rumour, boredom and disbelief.
"Looking back, Eoin Reddan can now see that some of the portents were there for the doom which followed, but after this season's provincial success and the revised build-up, he reckons things have moved on.
"The scrum-half was one of the few shining lights from that tournament, rising from a bit-part player to claiming a starting spot for the key clashes with France and Argentina in an era when changes to the team were almost unheard of."
June 5, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/05/2011
Feeling the love
Eamonn Sweeney charts the rehabilitation of Irish rugby since their Six Nations win over England in The Sunday Independent.
"Irish rugby seems to have been sucked into some kind of strange science fiction-style time warp. Because while in normal life March 12 is less than three months ago, in rugby it seems to belong to a different age altogether.
"March 12 was the day when referee Jonathan Kaplan and touch judge Peter Allan's failure to do their job properly enabled Welsh scrum-half Mike Phillips to score a blatantly illegal match-winning try against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium. Messrs Kaplan and Allan had combined to produce an all-time classic of awful officiating.
"The media consensus held that the illegality of the winning score was largely irrelevant. Ireland's loss was seen as incontrovertible evidence that Declan Kidney had lost the plot, that the team was in decline, that we had fallen far behind an England team motoring inexorably towards the Grand Slam, that our own Grand Slam of 2009 was the glorious finale of a golden era which might not come again for some time."
June 4, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 06/04/2011
30 names for Ireland
In the Irish Independent Tony Ward picks his 30-man Ireland squad for the World Cup.
"Conor Murray has been a revelation at scrum-half for Munster, but this World Cup has come a tad too early for him. On the assumption that Tomas O'Leary is back firing on all cylinders for August, it will be three from O'Leary, Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss and Peter Stringer.
"Cian Healy, Tom Court and Mike Ross are clearly the three leading props, with 'the Bull' Hayes up for one more World Cup as back-up to Ross.
"Tony Buckley has fallen down the pecking order. And good though it was to see Marcus Horan back, I am not a fan of his on-field antics. Assuming Flannery is out, Rory Best, Sean Cronin and Damien Varley make up the hooking triumvirate, with Mike Sherry next in line."
May 31, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 05/31/2011
Irish rugby in rude health
Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley believes Irish rugby is in rude health ahead of the World Cup after the exploits of Leinster and Munster this season.
"As World Cup cycles go, the 2010-11 season took to three the number of Heineken Cups and Magners Leagues won by Leinster and Munster in that timespan, to augment the Grand Slam of 2009. But for a lack of tactical ruthlessness and belief at home to France, and being the victims of the worst officiating decision of the season in Cardiff, the season might even have emulated two years ago.
"Of course, Ireland were reasonably well set in 2007 as well, and we all know what happened, while as the All Blacks’ 24 years of hurt underline, what happens in between World Cups counts for far less than the last four months or so. Still, Irish rugby looks in reasonably rude health"
May 30, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 05/30/2011
Hugh Farrelly writes in the Irish Independent that Munster's Magners League triumph on Saturday against Leinster completed a successful season for Irish rugby.
"Not a bad way to round off a long, tiring but, ultimately, extremely positive season for Irish rugby.
"Irish provinces won both the Magners League and Heineken Cup -- throw in Ulster's resurgence plus Connacht making the elite European competition for the first time and the 2010/11 season must be marked down as a successful campaign.
"When you consider that Ireland had the ability to win the Six Nations, were it not for a touch of self-doubt against France and an inexcusable lapse of officialdom in Wales, the signs are extremely encouraging ahead of the World Cup, now just over three months away."
May 26, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2011
Forward march on three fronts
The Heineken Cup has been ticked off, next up is Munster in Saturday’s Magners League final and then all Leo Cullen has to worry about are his nuptials next week, as he tells the Irish Times Gavin Cummiskey.
"The scrum resurrection is already ingrained in Irish sporting history. But it was dealt with so quickly at half-time, when the pack gathered around scrum coach Greg Feek’s laptop, that Leinster were “ready to go back out nearly five minutes early”.
“Once the talking was done, which was literally a couple of minutes, we were ready to go. We were waiting at the door just dying to get back out there. I was starting to go, in the tunnel, when we said, ‘hold on, hold on’ as the teams were supposed to come out together but we just went on. That was the feeling – we just needed to get out there.”
"Of course, the real challenge now is to summon up enough energy to wrestle the Magners trophy from Munster’s grasp.
"Another 40 minutes worth reviewing is their second-half display in Limerick on April 2nd."
May 25, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/25/2011
Thoughts for the future
David Kelly talks to Leinster's Fergus McFadden as he plots a domestic and European double in The Irish Independent.
"It didn't take long for Leinster's thoughts to drift last Saturday. In fact, they hadn't even left Welsh soil when the prospect of a salivating, wounded, envious Munster intruded momentarily upon their exhilarating celebrations.
"No it wasn't mentioned in the dressing-room," recalls Fergus McFadden when asked did the 'M' word pass anybody's lips. "We just wanted to enjoy the moment."
"His colleagues may have coldly calculated their route back from the precipice of defeat, but some emotions were allowed to run riot. For a while, at least."
May 21, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/21/2011
BOD is best ever
Former England centre Will Greenwood nominates Brian O'Driscoll as the finest Irish rugby player of all time in the Daily Telegraph.
"Over the past 20 years, I have been lucky to go up against, watch or play with some special men. Horan was special, Bunce magnificent, Guscott magical, Tana the leader, Mortlock so brave, Gibbs immense, Jauzion so graceful, Bateman so underrated.
"At international level I missed out on Sella, but saw him at club games. I played a charity match against Dannie Gerber. Of the current crowd, Jaques Fourie is a match winner at the highest level, while Tindall will always be my go to man in the after life because he stood with me in 2003. Sonny Bill scares me. But, no matter what I do, I still keep trying to find the best of the best and I still keep coming back to O’Driscoll."
May 20, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/20/2011
Up for the Cup
The anticipation and expectation surrounding the Heineken Cup final between Northampton Saints and Leinster in Cardiff on Saturday is reaching boiling point, according to Hugh Farrelly in the Irish Independent
"Calm before the storm, breath before the plunge ... take your pick -- Leinster's final media engagement before tomorrow's date with Heineken Cup destiny was a paradoxical mix of reflective excitement.
For players and management, the days, hours and minutes before defining contests such as this clash with Northampton are the best, and worst, part of the job. The sense of anticipation wages war with worry and foreboding as the clock crawls towards kick-off and, while the Leinster contingent painted a pretty relaxed picture yesterday, the Cardiff buzz could not be entirely quelled."
May 14, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/14/2011
Leinster march into final on one leg
In the Irish Independent, David Kelly applauds Leinster for marching into the Magners League final but fears for their walking wounded.
"Leinster entered the citadel with the scent of blood in their nostrils; Ulster, you reckoned, would be content merely to staunch the flow of the scarlet. But Leinster supporters will wear furrowed brows in spite of securing another final; a burgeoning casualty rate will usher in several sleepless nights.
There was a hack theory that Leinster might hold back -- as risible a proposition as asking Jedward to sit still for more than three seconds. That Leinster were utterly at their ease betrayed the immense physicality required to stifle their limited prey; at times in the second half the scene resembled MASH as medics caromed off each other to treat the wounded."
May 13, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/13/2011
Ireland's scrum-half anomaly
The rise of Munster's No.9s could finally provide answer to Ireland's scrum-half anomaly, according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"Munster may have had to rely on overseas recruits (with mixed results) in midfield in recent times, but McGahan is spoiled for choice when it comes to homegrown talent at No 9, with Conor Murray and Duncan Williams two quality players to go with the more experienced international duo of Stringer and O'Leary.
"It is an encouraging development and one that precludes the need to look abroad, as Munster have done in the past with the likes of Dominic Malone and Toby Morland.
"Stringer and O'Leary's qualities are well established, although they have had their individual challenges recently in terms of game-time, while Williams' ability was never in doubt; rather the question of his durability following a desperate run of injuries has been the issue.
"Then there is Murray, the real surprise package this season, whose contribution was recognised last week with the Munster Academy Player Of the Year award and whose performances will be rewarded with a senior contract."
May 12, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/12/2011
Richardt the Lionheart
Hugh Farrelly salutes one of the stars of Leinster's season, hooker Richardt Strauss, in The Irish Independent.
"The tags applied to Richardt Strauss following his phenomenal contribution this season tend to be size-related and rather obvious, along the lines of 'Pocket Rocket' and 'Duracell Bunny.'
"'Tricky Dicky' would be appropriate given opponents' futile attempts to prevent the Leinster hooker's progress in the loose; or maybe 'Mr T' referencing the seemingly superfluous consonant at the end of Strauss' first name as well as the vertically challenged, but immensely powerful actor who wore pumps to make him appear more menacing in 'Rocky 3.'
"'Richardt The Lionheart' would work for Greg Feek, judging by the Leinster scrum coach's extolling of his hooker's capacity to overcome his size deficiency in a world of giants."
May 11, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/11/2011
Them's the rules
Gerry Thornley previews the Magners League play-offs - whether they are fair or not - in The Irish Times.
"For sure, Munster finished 13 points clear of the rest, and there’s an old-school argument that they should be the champions – as Leinster ought to have been 12 months ago after finishing top (a point ahead of eventual winners the Ospreys). But finishing first still earns the added advantage of a home semi-final as well as the knowledge victory would ensure a home final as well.
"As with second over third the difference between a semi-final at the RDS or Ravenhill this Friday, there’s plenty of incentive to achieve the highest place possible and, if a team can’t make home advantage tell in the semi-final or final – as Leinster failed to do a year ago – then so be it. It’s not entirely fair, but them’s the rules, and, besides, it’s not strictly a level playing field during the 22-game programme given so many matches are shoe-horned into the November and Six Nations windows, leaving coaches unable to pick from a full deck."
May 10, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/10/2011
No-one is entitled to anything
Hugh Farrelly talks to Ireland's Jerry Flannery after a season disrupted by injury in The Irish Independent.
"Irish club rugby is frequently referenced when charting the provincial and national successes of the last 12 years, but University College Cork rarely merits a mention.
"Yet, UCC could have a significant role to play in Ireland's World Cup assault in four months' time. Their European Students' Cup success of 1999 tends to be lost in the euphoria that surrounded Ulster's Heineken Cup triumph later the same day but the side that landed College's first significant title since the Munster Senior Cup in 1981 was a seriously talented outfit.
"While the majority of names will be familiar only to keen students of the AIL, four of that team could be playing at the World Cup. Tight-head Mike Ross is certainly one, while Mick O'Driscoll and Peter Stringer are well in the frame. Jerry Flannery is the fourth and, if fit and firing, would be a guaranteed starter at hooker."
May 9, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/09/2011
Time is not on the side of Geordan Murphy
© Getty Images
David Kelly looks at the Rugby World Cup prospects of Ireland's walking wounded in The Irish Independent.
"As the World Cup looms, this is the time of year when the night-sweats start afflicting rugby's hypochondriacs.
"Ireland's injury profile remains a major worry: three of the country's world-class players -- Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery and Rob Kearney -- are currently sidelined.
"Another -- Paul O'Connell -- has had repeated injury problems for a year. Nightly, thousands offer novenas that Brian O'Driscoll's hamstrings will continue to function well beyond September.
"And Ireland's front-liners still face another few weeks of intensive combat. How Declan Kidney sleeps soundly is anyone's guess."
May 8, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/08/2011
Brendan Fanning outlines the differences between Munster and Leinster following a shift of power in Ireland in The Sunday Independent.
"Two images you associate with Munster and the Magners League: the first from when they won it in 2009; the second when they picked up the bronze medal three years earlier.
"The scene in 2009 was post-match against the Ospreys, whom they had beaten without too much fuss to secure the title. You know the ritual: the 'Championays' dance as the victors line up behind the sponsor's hoarding, champagne corks popping and players bobbing up and down like corks on the tide. This one had been preceded by a sort of lap of honour, which was more like a circuit of the graveyard.
"The entertainment value came from a gaggle of kids who had joined in the trot and were infuriating a Munster official who was trying to shoo them away. By the time the players lined up for the snap you had to paint the smile on the faces of Paul O'Connell and Mick O'Driscoll."
May 6, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/06/2011
Ulster’s South African second-row buried his international disappointment before starting a new chapter in Belfast. It proved to be the best decision of his life according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"The ostrich. The world's largest bird, capable of speeds of up to 70km per hour and -- according to Ulster second-row Johann Muller -- damn fine eating.
"Muller should know, hailing from a farm outside Mossel Bay on South Africa's Western Cape where ostriches are big business. The genial giant is an out-and-out farm boy and, although he has become accustomed to city life after 11 years in Durban playing for the Sharks and in his current abode in Belfast, he plans to return to the farming life once his rugby career is over.
"He never had to kill an ostrich, a nearby abattoir took care of that job, nor was there any inclination to adopt one as a pet, but the 30-year-old has eaten plenty of them.
"Yeah, really tasty," he says. "Magnificent fillets for steaks. It's the only animal that you use every single thing on it -- skin, feathers and the meat."
May 3, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/03/2011
Food for thought
Harlequins ruthlessly exposed Munster on Saturday
© Getty Images
Tony Ward comments on the shifting sands in Irish rugby, and Munster's identity crisis, in The Irish Independent.
"I may be in the minority, but the free- running Brive extravaganza is not the Munster way and most certainly not with the line-up as currently constituted. Not alone must this Munster side earn the right to go wide, even more relevant is the acknowledged forward platform from which they are now departing.
"Harlequins couldn't believe their luck in Limerick, where one forward unit dictated in terms of intensity and, quite astonishingly, it wasn't the one in red. If ever the need for old values applied, it is here.
"Munster's run-in could hardly be better mapped, with three successive home games on the cards to secure the Celtic League title. Although, if (and when) it comes to the big one we all crave on the final day, it could be Croke Park -- and not the Aviva Stadium or Thomond Park -- that may be required to satisfy demand."
April 27, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/27/2011
Thierry Dusautoir@ a leading light for Toulouse
© Getty Images
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly warns that Toulouse cannot be underestimated ahead of Leinster's Heineken Cup semi-final clash with the reigning European Champions as he picks a number of the current squad in an all-time Toulouse XV.
"There are various pundits who reckon Leinster are not facing a vintage Toulouse side when they run out for the Heineken Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
There have been accusations of Guy Noves overseeing the gradual demise of an ageing team who are moving away from the breathtaking attacking rugby that fostered their reputation as one of the game's most watchable outfits.
Considering that Toulouse arrive as European champions, are four points clear at the head of the Top 14 championship and had the highest pool points differential of the sides that did not have an Italian side in their group, writing this side off seems particularly imprudent."
April 25, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/25/2011
Ireland youngsters claim U18 crown
Ireland Schoolboys claimed a first FIRA-AER Under-18 European Championship with a 17-8 win over England in Tarbes, France. The Irish Times' John O'Sullivan reports.
"It exacted revenge for a 29-12 defeat to Saturday’s opponents in the qualification process at Donnybrook last Christmas and followed up an impressive semi-final win over France. The Terry McMaster-coached team led 11-3 at the break with two penalties from outstanding scrumhalf and captain Luke McGrath with winger Conor McEllin crossing for a 26th-minute try.
"England’s heavier pack had an advantage in the scrum but Ireland’s decision-making, composure in possession and ability to take the right options helped them maintain their lead in muggy conditions at Stade Maurice Trelut.
"McGrath kicked another brace of penalties to stretch the margin to 14 points and although English prop Alec Hepburn got over for a late unconverted try, it failed to take the gloss off what was an accomplished display. It was Ireland’s fourth time to reach the final (they lost to France in 2007, ’08 and last year), but this was the first year the schools team competed as opposed to an Ireland team comprised of club players."
April 24, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/24/2011
Intelligence, not courage
Neil Francis puts forward his view on what Leinster have to do to beat Toulouse in their massive Heineken Cup semi-final in The Irish Independent.
"The cracker croakers are coming to town. Courage in the face of adversity is always welcome but in this case probably not so necessary. If you want to win the Heineken Cup, more than likely you'll have to beat Toulouse at some stage in the competition. Best to meet them in a home quarter or semi. Courage is a fundamental, particularly in a battle of wills, but intelligence is the prime ingredient.
"I say this because I look back and observe what happened this time last year in Toulouse. Whatever you think about Leinster's dubious heritage before they won the competition in 2009, their pedigree has been honed in the blast furnace of competing in knock-out competition and a benchmark was set for bravery in that semi-final.
"The exchanges at the point of contact in that match were feral. Savagery, where the participants forget themselves and any sense of self-preservation, came five minutes after the final whistle. It is obvious to point to the grizzlies in the Toulouse pack -- Albacete, Dusatoir, Millo-Chluski and Servat are people I would not like to meet in an alley with lots of bright lighting, secure cordons and police protection. They breathe physical malice."
April 22, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/22/2011
IRFU bet on Ireland's progress
The Irish Rugby Football Union has placed bets with a bookmaker on Ireland’s progress at the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand to cover the cost of player and coach win bonuses. The Irish Times' Gavin Cummiskey reports.
"Following the disclosure, in the Guardian newspaper, that the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) placed bets of up to €284,000 to cover England’s progress to the semi-finals and beyond, the union confirmed to The Irish Times that it has laid similar bets at the previous three rugby World Cups.
“The practice of insuring progression of teams in professional sport is as common as insuring private houses,” said an IRFU spokesman yesterday.
“The IRFU, through their relationship with sponsors, Paddy Powers, effectively takes out an insurance policy on the performance of the team during the World Cup to allow the union to offset and minimise the financial outlay during the tournament.
"IRB regulation 6.2 prohibits any “player, referee, touch judge, coach, trainer, selector, health professional (associated with any team or player), member of team or club management, or any match official” from entering “into any wager, bet or any form of financial speculation, directly or indirectly as to the result or any other dimension or aspect of any match, tour, tournament or series of matches (international or otherwise) in which he is participating.
This, however, does not prevent a governing body from doing so."
April 21, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/21/2011
Ignoring Father Time
David Wallace is not planning on hanging up his boots
© Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to Munster flanker David Wallace about his future plans in The Irish Independent.
"As each birthday passes and the big ticking clock moves through the 30s, the phrases 'age is only a number' and 'you're only as old as you feel' become as common as silly birthday cards.
"While you wouldn't know it to look at him, by the time the World Cup rolls around in September, David Wallace will be 35. In the mind of others, Father Time is calling.
"Only three of the 105 players he faced during the recent Six Nations were born before the openside on July 8, 1976 and he is the oldest player Ireland used in the tournament."
April 19, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/19/2011
On path to dream final
Are Joe Schmidt's Leinster on course for a Magners League showdown with Munster?
© Getty Images
Munster and Leinster are setting the scene for a repeat of their historic 2001 Celtic League decider - Tony Ward writes for the Irish Independent.
"Hard to believe it is almost a full decade ago, but it was December 2001 when the inaugural Celtic League final was staged at Lansdowne Road. Over 30,000 fans saw Leinster defeat Munster in an absolute belter of a final.
"In retrospect, it was probably the day rugby became a serious competitor with Gaelic games and soccer in the hearts and minds of Irish sporting folk everywhere on this island.
"Prior to that, we had Munster and Ulster -- the latter successfully in 1999 -- reaching the biggest European stage in the Heineken Cup but once Munster and Leinster fronted up, albeit in the lesser competition, a new point in the game's development had been reached. And the ultimate tribal war was under way.
"Lest Munster need reminding, 14-man Leinster took that final 24-20 having had flanker Eric Miller sent for an early shower (just 25 minutes in) by referee Nigel Whitehouse for a relatively mundane incident involving Anthony Foley."
April 16, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2011
Reluctant nomad from Wagga Wagga
Leinster's Nathan Hines talks to the Irish Times Gerry Thornley ahead of his move to French club Clermont Auvergne.
"The man from Wagga Wagga, a remote marina army base in New South Wales, pitched up in Galashiels with a back pack to see the 1999 World Cup. It was meant to be a six-month Aussie “walkabout” yet, in a sense, he’s still hereabouts.
"Alongside an international career with Scotland which now numbers 72 caps and the ’09 tour to South Africa with the Lions, he’s played almost 200 games in six years with Edinburgh, four with Perpignan and two with Leinster, with two more to come at Clermont Auvergne.
"Yet he doesn’t particularly like the term “nomadic” as it hints at something of a rugby mercenary, with no loyalty. “I don’t see it as derogatory, but as a journeyman, or a rugby player for hire.” He cites his six years at Edinburgh and four at Perpignan as a sign that he’s something of a “serial monogamist, in rugby terms”.
"Indeed, he only left Edinburgh because he had briefly retired from international rugby and thus didn’t fit into Matt Williams’ “Fortress Scotland” philosophy, and had it not been for his decision to accept his Lions call-up and thus miss Perpignan’s French championship final in the summer of ’09, he would probably have stayed there.
"Likewise now, for Joe Schmidt and Jonno Gibbes wanted him to stay, but the IRFU Players’ Advisory Group – perhaps mindful that Hines would be nearly 35 by the time he had finished his World Cup commitments with Scotland – wouldn’t sanction even a one-year deal."
April 15, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/15/2011
Humphreys running in the right direction
Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys talks to the Irish Independent ahead of Saturday's pivotal Magners League meeting with Leinster at the RDS.
"When Sean O'Brien was reminded yesterday that the vast prairies of space into which he was ushered at Ravenhill when Leinster steamrolled to victory earlier this season may not be so inviting at the RDS tomorrow night, the Tullow titan responded forcibly.
"'Well, I suppose I'll just have to create my own space then!' came the verbal hand-off. One would have normally expected a group of grown men to wince in sympathy as we thought of O'Brien seeking out the rather large, imaginary bullseye on Ian Humphreys' midriff.
"Well, once we might have done; these days not so much. That's not to say that Humphreys has transformed himself into a Wilkinson-esque paragon of teak-tough tackling.
"Let's just say that he's escaped from the parody wherein he was ridiculed for his defence as much as he was lauded for his often outlandish, insouciant brilliance with hand and foot."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/15/2011
Curtain draws down on some fine warriors
Liam Toland of the Irish Times argues that Munster’s success from the 1990s has been built on Shannon and co in sourcing and nurturing raw talent.
"Traditionally, Munster have done well in the market: Rob Henderson, John Langford, Doug Howlett and many more have graced the famous red jersey. But it is not their arrival that has created the success that Munster have enjoyed, it is the arrival of country talent from the province that moved somewhat by accident into Thomond Park. Ian Dowling, for one, wasn’t sourced by Munster. Neither were other legends such as John Hayes, Mick Galwey or, dare I suggest, the greatest Munster man of them all, Anthony Foley.
"All four of these Munster heroes where first and foremost Shannon sourced, nurtured and harnessed. When I say harnessed, I mean they were exposed to the realities of rugby, the pecking order and its physicality at club level, and only then were they allowed to play for Munster.
"Or more accurately put, only then did Munster want them. An almost finished product, if you will."
April 14, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/14/2011
A look to the future
Ian Bransfield reports on the future plans of Munster's retiring flanker Alan Quinlan in The Irish Independent.
"Alan Quinlan cut a slightly emotional figure yesterday as he announced his plans to retire at the end of this season, but he hinted that Munster supporters may not have seen the last of him.
"The 36-year-old Tipperary man gave a strong indication that he will remain with the province in a coaching capacity when the curtain comes down on a glorious 15-year playing career.
"A former mechanic, Quinlan laughed when asked whether he might consider a return to the motor industry when his playing days come to an end. "I don't think Pearse Motors will be busting a gut to get me back as a mechanic at this stage," he joked."
April 13, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/13/2011
Alan Quinlan gets to grips with Leicester's Neil Back in 2002
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly salutes Munster flanker Alan Quinlan, who will call time on his career at the end of the season, in The Irish Independent.
""To be a warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one, it is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the very last moment." - Carlos Castaneda
"One by one, they are dropping off. The last links to the All-Ireland League-driven amateur era which forged the success Irish rugby has experienced, and continues to experience, since 2000.
Munster's Keith Wood, Peter Clohessy and Mick Galwey successfully bridged the amateur and professional days, as did Ulster's Paddy Johns and David Humphreys and Eric Elwood with Connacht -- all long since retired.
"In more recent times, Denis Hickie, Malcolm O'Kelly and Girvan Dempsey have moved on, and John Hayes and Ronan O'Gara are on the last laps of glittering careers dating back to Saturday afternoons in the 1990s when thronged clubhouses around the country stood glued to AIL teletext results, pints temporarily forgotten."
April 12, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/12/2011
All to play for
Hugh Farrelly assesses Ireland's options for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in The Irish Independent.
"It's 153 days until Ireland kick off their World Cup 2011 campaign against the US in New Plymouth.
"An eternity for the Chilean miners (who were underground for 69) but for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, it does not seem that long. It will be on us before we know it and speculation on the composition of Kidney's 30-man squad has begun in earnest.
"Injuries cloud the issue; in an ideal scenario Jerry Flannery and Stephen Ferris would be fit and in fine fettle but given how their seasons have been ravaged by repeated setbacks, it does not look good for two of the world-class players at Kidney's disposal."
April 8, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/08/2011
Chris Hewett looks at Ulster's recruitment drive in The Independent.
"Outmuscled financially by the French – the Eurozone may be falling apart in the real world, but on Planet Rugby it goes from strength to strength – the last thing England's beleaguered Premiership clubs need as they attempt to restore their Heineken Cup credibility is a fresh threat from Ireland. Which is precisely what they face.
"Ulster, who take on Northampton in the third of this weekend's quarter-finals, have set their sights on matching their more illustrious provincial rivals, Leinster and Munster, after a decade of playing second fiddle, and while they will start as underdogs on Sunday afternoon, they will not be outsiders for very much longer."
April 6, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/06/2011
Paul O’Connell’s latest injury setback is deeply worrying for Ireland’s World Cup aspirations, so what are the options if the unthinkable happens and Declan Kidney’s forward colossus is ruled out? Hugh Farrelly of the Irish Independent looks at the alternatives.
"When Paul O'Connell was being helped off the pitch after 46 minutes of Munster's pulsating victory over Leinster last weekend, the cameras cut to the crowd and those pictures carried their own narrative.
"A group of supporters gazed upon the scene, their faces a study of concern, and the fact they were wearing Leinster jerseys emphasised the gravity of the situation. In the midst of the latest compelling contest between two of world rugby's greatest rivals, tribal bias was subsumed by national concern in the face of O'Connell's distress.
"He is that important."
April 5, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2011
The big one
Is Munster v Leinster the biggest club game of them all?
© Getty Images
Tony Ward argues that Munster v Leinster is now the biggest club fixture of them all in The Irish Independent.
"The clock was turned back at Thomond Park on Saturday night as Munster and Leinster produced a match of passion in what is now the biggest club fixture in world rugby.
"It would be too simplistic to suggest the half-time interval turned this game around -- but it certainly had a major effect.
"So clinically efficient were Leinster in the first half that the last thing they needed was a break. With the score 20-9, the feeling was of Europe's form team being home and hosed, irrespective of the temporary halt to their gallop. By contrast, Munster couldn't get into the dressing-room quickly enough to regroup, reassess and reinvent themselves. And how."
April 4, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2011
The big one
David Kelly examines the wreckage after Munster's supercharged Magners League win over Leinster in The Irish Independent.
"Something for everyone in a Thomond theatre charged with electricity. The Magners League's superlative clash thus far allowed Munster to exorcise some pressing local issues of concern, while also enabling them to set their sights on foreign fields with renewed confidence.
"Leinster pointed their noses towards north, armed with a coach-load of regret having produced their best 40 minutes of rugby before crumbling beneath a ceaseless red tide inflamed by passion and desire.
"Joe Schmidt's measured tones masked a fury that will not have escaped Leicester as they plot a Heineken Cup away-day upset next weekend; Leinster have a week to apply some make-up to the second-half blotches and not a moment can be wasted."
April 3, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/03/2011
In a business you don't dread anything if you plan properly
After writing a controversial article on the state of Munster rugby in January, Brendan Fanning of the Sunday Independent decides to talk to chief executive Garett Fitzgerald to see where the province is headed.
"BF: There is a perception - perhaps outside Munster - that the organisation got lazy in the good times and are not equipped for a downturn. Is this fair?
"GF: I think it's a harsh criticism and it was written in your article a few weeks ago. I accept though that you based that charge on information coming from within Munster. If you work with Tony McGahan and Paul O'Connell, you certainly don't get lazy because they are two extremely driven men. They have a huge work ethic and demand high standards. We have a very hard-working staff who are focused on achieving what is best for Munster.
"I think at times, small as the island is, the comparisons that are made are not always fair given the geography and demographics involved. Look at Dublin with a population of one-point-something million. As the game has developed in Ireland, Leinster have done well but their whole academy and development is going to be different given the volume of people they have. We haven't changed anything we've been doing over the years but I think that given the success Leinster have enjoyed over the past number of years, what should have been more obvious then is obvious now, given the numbers."
April 1, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/01/2011
Still a huge amount to play for
This season will be registered as a disappointing one because Munster were knocked out of the Heineken Cup. That’s the reality, as Anthony Foley tells the Irish Times Anthony Foley.
"While it must be difficult for the Munster fans to get their heads around not being in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1998, making almost everything else this season seem a little anticlimactic, they still have a huge amount to play for.
"There are still home semi-finals to play for in both the Magners League and Challenge Cup (along with a home League final) and all the financial imperatives such big days entail, not to mention two trophies and further enhancing their status as one of the ERC’s top-tiered seeds. With the best winning ratio this season of any frontline team in Europe, most clubs would bite your hand off for such an “unfulfilled” season.
“And we all recognise that,” says Anthony Foley, “but unfortunately, we’re Munster and it will be registered as a disappointing season because we were knocked out of the Heineken Cup in the group stages and that’s the reality we deal with down here.
“But we’re in the professional game, we need to win games, there’s a big game this weekend and there’s a quarter-final that we need to win, for the financial impact it will have. But as players and coaches you win for your own selfish reasons. You want trophies. You want to win European trophies and your domestic league, and that’s where we’re at in our mindset.”
March 31, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/31/2011
Laying down a marker
Leinster have beaten Munster in their last five meetings, but Paul O'Connell wants to prove that reports of his province's demise are greatly exaggerated. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"In years to come, it could well be logged as a seminal moment in the history of Munster rugby.
"Saturday, January 22, 2011, Thomond Park, 12 minutes left on the clock and Ryan Lamb has just converted Sailosi Tagicakibau's try to push London Irish into a 14-7 lead.
"The Exiles are on fire, smelling the glory that goes with becoming only the second team after Leicester in 2007 to win a Heineken Cup match in that famed Limerick stadium.
"Munster are in free-fall.
"The week has been dominated by post-Toulon fall-out, peppered with disturbing, unfamiliar words like 'crisis', 'revolution' and 'panic' as Irish rugby tried to get its head around Munster not making the last eight of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 13 years.
"Paul O'Connell stood tall as the players gathered behind the posts. Between injury and suspension, Munster's second-row and captain was featuring in only his fourth match of the season, but the gravity of the situation was not lost on him."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/31/2011
Flannery's season at an end
Jerry Flannery looks to be in a race against time for possible World Cup selection after Munster coach Tony McGahan confirmed yesterday his season is now over. The Irish Times reports.
"The 36-times Ireland international underwent an operation on Tuesday to repair a troublesome calf injury which has kept him sidelined since the turn of the year.
"Flannery will now face into a three-month recovery period and will play no part in the remainder of Munster’s season.
"With Declan Kidney due to name his World Cup squad on August 22nd, time is still on Flannery’s side but there remains little margin for error.
"Already this season he has attempted two comebacks (against Toulon and Ulster), both of which ended with the Limerick man breaking down owing to problems with either calf.
"Asked whether this latest procedure represented a last-chance saloon for the 32-yea-old hooker, McGahan refused to speculate, but conceded his immediate future now lies in the hands of the medical team."
March 29, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/29/2011
Crusaders' class another lesson for Europe
Sean Maitland dives over during a Crusaders masterclass at Twickenham on Sunday
© Getty Images
Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times found that watching Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams at Twickenham again underlined the imposing scale of the task facing New Zealand’s World Cup opponents.
"The performance and the game of the weekend, by some considerable distance, was the Crusaders’ five tries to four win over the Sharks at Twickenham in aid of the Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. Coming a week after the conclusion of the Six Nations, this was rubbing Europe’s noses in it.
"Admittedly, it helps when conditions were perfect, they had a top Southern Hemisphere referee in Steve Walsh and the hindmost foot/offside line was obeyed/enforced. (Why don’t European referees and their assistants pay more heed to this?) The Crusaders had their bonus point by the 32nd minute thanks to sublime, yet simple, attacking rugby, target runners invariably coming from deep and ditto support runners (especially their wingers and fullback), who poured through the middle to feed off the best outhalf and inside centre combination in the world, for if Sonny Bill Williams doesn’t open you up, Dan the Man Carter will.
"Williams is almost the perfect amalgam of pace, power, footwork and handling, particularly that bear-like right paw of his with which he confounds conventional coaching by holding the ball out in front of him one-handed. It’s doubtful whether the game has ever seen a better offloader out of the tackle."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/29/2011
We need Sevens involvement far more than they will ever need us
In his weekly column in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward welcomes the arrival of the Shamrock Warriors but casts doubt over the Irish Rugby Football Union's committment to Sevens rugby.
"Yesterday in Dublin saw the launch of the Shamrock Warriors as the first 'recognised' Sevens rugby club in Ireland.
"Former Ulster and Leinster coach Matt Williams will act as its technical director, while former St Mary's out-half Fergal Campion coaches the men's squad and ex-Ireland player Sarah Jane Belton takes charge of the women's team.
"Former Ireland wing Denis Hickie has an honorary chairman role in the new initiative dedicated exclusively -- we are assured -- to the long overdue development of the abbreviated game in this country.
"As someone who believes wholeheartedly in the truncated version of the game and cannot understand why we let IRB Sevens involvement pass us by, I am sceptical about the IRFU's commitment to the Sevens game."
March 28, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/28/2011
Classic encounter goes to Blackrock
The Irish Times' Gavin Cummiskey reports as Blackrock College beat St Michael’s College in the Leinster Junior Cup Final.
"The Battle of the Rock road. An instant classic due to the manner victory was achieved, this captivating match will always be remembered for the heroics on both sides.
"St Michael’s have now lost five successive Junior Cup finals. It is a depressing statistic but merely enhances the quality of player being continually produced by the Dublin 4 rugby nursery.
"Blackrock made it 46 Junior titles yesterday and on this evidence the recent dip in senior success will not continue for much longer. The massive ’Rock pack looked poised to steamroll over their smaller opponents in the opening exchanges. The key for St Michael’s was to hang on in there during those intense opening assaults."
March 27, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/27/2011
In the Irish Independent Neil Francis hails the impact of Miker Ross in stabilising Ireland's previously shaky foundations.
"Mike Ross has this facility to tuck his right shoulder tight to his opponent and at the same time being square and giving his second row ample buttock to work behind. Very often a tighthead might have his opponent where he wants him but the way his arse is positioned might mean that his second row can't get 100 per cent of his weight and thrust behind him and the scrum as a whole might not be as solid as it should be, or might not be able to put forward pressure on.
Ross ticks all the boxes. It means the team can plan. We can think about scoring off scrum ball again. It means Kidney and Smal get to sleep at night and the quid pro quo reduces as they belatedly get to work on Ross's body shape and his tackle count."
March 26, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/26/2011
Hope for Ireland
Tony Ward weighs up Ireland's World Cup options following their impressive win over England last weekend in the Irish Independent.
"We are a long way from being the finished article needed to compete with the Southern Hemisphere three, but as a serious work in progress Ireland have shown enough to offer real hope.
Last Saturday's superb performance against England has raised the bar and, with it, public expectation. The talk now is of a World Cup semi-final slot being the minimum requirement.
You would expect the 22 named for duty against England to travel to New Zealand. To that, add Jerry Flannery (if fit) and Tomas O'Leary alongside Wallace as specialist cover at hooker, scrum-half and out-half respectively.
Should Flannery fail to make it, then it will be Damien Varley next up, with Isaac Boss covering the base of the scrum as well. That leaves just six positions to be filled. Here is where Declan Kidney must earn his corn. Does he go for a 16-14 forward-back split, or is 17-13 the more sensible option, given the guaranteed attritional rate up front?"
March 25, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/25/2011
Murphy sets sights on World Cup
The Irish Times' Johnny Watterson talks to Leicester fullback Geordan Murphy on his recovery from injury and his hopes for the future.
"Geordan Murphy is hoping that highly specialised treatment will have accelerated the healing of his ankle enough to allow him make a claim for a World Cup place with Ireland in September.
"The 32-year-old full-back was carried off on a stretcher near the end of Leicester’s win against Northampton at Welford Road at the start of January and underwent surgery to stabilise a dislocated ankle. The screws and pins that were inserted are to come out early next month.
"The treatment, hyperbaric therapy, is an emerging medical speciality that quickens the healing process by using oxygen under pressure. The procedure, which takes place in a chamber, increases blood and oxygen supply to the wounded areas and promotes the healing process. In 2004 Manchester United’s David Beckham used similar methods when he broke a bone in his foot. “We have a chamber in our training facility at Leicester,” said Murphy. “It’s like a diving chamber where they increase the pressure and you breathe pure oxygen. I was doing that treatment for a month or so, which I think was beneficial. The doctors were happy with the way it went and thought there was improvement. But I won’t know for certain until I get the iron ware out of my ankle. I’ll have another operation on April 12th for the metal work to be taken out.”
March 23, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/23/2011
As thoughts turn to domestic matters, Donnchadh Boyle flags up some players for Declan Kidney to keep an eye on in The Irish Independent.
"With memories of Ireland's epic derailment of England's Grand Slam hopes still burning brightly, the focus switches back to the Magners League this week, with all four provinces in rude health heading into the final stretch.
"Munster, Leinster and Ulster occupy three of the four semi-final positions along with the second-placed Ospreys, while Connacht are well on track to finish off the foot of the table for the first time since the 2006/07 season, when the now defunct Scottish Borders propped up the league.
"Many of the front-line Irish players are not expected to return to action until the Magners League matches on the weekend of April 1-3, which include Leinster's trip to Munster and is a week before the Heineken and Challenge Cup quarter-finals."
March 22, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/22/2011
Tony Ward argues that the IRFU have got it just right in waiting until fter the World Cup to offer Declan Kidney any new deal in The Irish Independent.
"We are an amazing little nation when it comes to extremes. Win and we are the best in the world; lose and we are the worst, devoid of hope and without any possibility of ever finding our way back.
"Both viewpoints are, of course, nonsense, with the truth as ever lying somewhere in between. In 2009 we won a Grand Slam and Championship which we could have lost.
"Two years on and we have fallen short in our bid for the same two titles, which we might well have won. The margins between winning and losing at the highest level are that thin. Whatever your take on Declan Kidney, you can't but admire the humility with which he goes about his business."
March 16, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/16/2011
A change in perception
Hugh Farrelly calls for a change in perception around the Irish outside-half debate in The Irish Independent.
"Someone once noted that perception is strong and sight is weak and that is certainly the case with the Irish rugby team during this confusing Six Nations championship campaign.
"Judging by some of the reaction to last Saturday's defeat in Wales, the perception for many is of a squad in disarray and yet proper viewing reveals encouraging progress in foundation areas such as scrum, line-out, kick-offs, defence and discipline that were previously causes of concern.
"The problem is that, while these aspects of Ireland's play have undeniably come on as the championship has progressed, this is still a team somewhat at odds with itself and time is running out for the "pieces of the jigsaw" to come together."
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/16/2011
In the way of common sense
Peter Bills gives his two cents on the recent refereeing farce that unfolded at the Millennium Stadium in The Independent.
"Two men made serious blunders at Cardiff last Saturday that directly influenced the outcome of the Wales v Ireland match. But neither of them was the referee.
"One was Irish fly half Jonathan Sexton, an undistinguished second half substitute, and the other was Scottish assistant referee Peter Allen. Between them, they brought chaos to an international match.
"Sexton erred by kicking the ball out on the full after 49 minutes. Then Allen made the crass error of losing concentration, failing to follow the flight of the ball so that he would have seen the same ball was clearly not used for the quick throw-in for Mike Phillips’ try that proved the crucial difference in the match."
March 15, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/15/2011
No margin for error
Ireland's loss in Wales was a bitter pill to swallow
© Getty Images
Gerry Thornley, writing in The Irish Times, believes that beating England this weekend has become imperative for Ireland in the wake of their loss to Wales.
"This is all becoming a little tediously repetitive. An Ireland team so close yet so far from tearing up trees, and darned match officials, whose influence on games in this Six Nations has been far, far too pronounced. Ireland have had the rawest deal, and perhaps they are paying for incurring the wrath of the IRB and refereeing fraternity to a degree with their reaction to last season’s law amendments.
"In any event, if you’re an Arsenal fan as well as an Ireland one, two disgraceful decisions by match officials at critical points leave a particularly sour taste. Match officials are human beings. They make mistakes, all the more so when they only have a split second. The key is probably to give themselves a time-out as much as they possibly can."
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/15/2011
Hugh Farrelly reflects on a key moment in England's 2003 Grand Slam in The Irish Independent.
"The infamous 'stand-off' of 2003 might just get some airplay this week. Just a little.
"Martin Johnson's first return to Lansdowne Road; the fact that he has graduated from captain to manager and is poised to land England's first Grand Slam since lifting the trophy that afternoon; Brian O'Driscoll once again standing in his path as Ireland captain; St Patrick's week and a World Cup looming.
"Mash it all together and you have all the elements you could possibly require for another jingoistic, tub-thumping showdown -- the main difference this time around being that pride not silverware is Ireland's primary motivation."
March 11, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/11/2011
A great rugby city
Hugh Farrelly analyses a famous rugby heartland, Cork, and the pros and cons of living in what is 'a big city but still a small town' in The Irish Independent
"It adds up to a pretty sizeable chip ("bigger than your Jackeen chips, boy") on Cork shoulders and, when natives return, there is an accusatory tone to the routine questioning. "So, are you up in Dublin now...the whole time?", "When are you moving home?", "I'd say you miss the Republic?"
"Those are the cons to Cork, but there are plenty of pros. Moving back permanently may not be on the agenda but it is a cracking city to visit. The pints of Beamish represent quality, affordable imbibing; Cork slagging surpasses that available anywhere else in Ireland (including the over-hyped 'Dublin wit') and then there is the sport -- the primary reason to be proud of your Cork roots."
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/11/2011
Don't believe the hype
Keith Wood offers some personal advice to Ireland about how to deal with criticism in The Daily Telegraph.
"In the days of the pomp of the All Ireland League my team, Garryowen, were blazing a trail through all-comers and I was suddenly thrust into the rugby limelight.
"I loved every minute of it and lapped it up. Munster had played and beaten Australia the previous week and although I sat on the bench for that game I leapfrogged the Munster incumbent, Terry Kingston, to gain my place on the national bench.
"Everything was all right in my world as new friends emerged and praise cameg from all angles – I was on the crest of a wave. And worst of all and maybe naturally as a naive youngster, I believed every bit of it, well, the good stuff at least."
March 9, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/09/2011
A bit of fresh air
Gerry Thornley previews Ireland's Cardiff clash with Wales, a game he sees as being 'set reasonably fair', in The Irish Times.
"No changes for Ireland, but two significant ones for Wales; the net effect being that both sides seem intent on putting their best attacking feet forward. Throw in a southern hemisphere referee with two positively inclined teams, and Saturday’s latest meeting between these feisty Celtic rivals looks set reasonably fair.
"The only possible blight on this landscape may be the weather, although Saturday’s forecast for Cardiff is for a fairly nippy evening with little in the way of wind and some light drizzle. Either way, it requires both camps to agree for the Millennium roof to be closed, and Declan Kidney strongly indicated yesterday that Ireland will not be so inclined.
"Asked about the roof, the Irish coach quipped: “It’s open apparently. I wouldn’t mind that, a lot of noise goes out through the roof.” But asked specifically whether he would agree to the roof being closed, he smiled again. “A bit of fresh air never did anyone any harm.”
March 8, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/08/2011
Reserves of strength
Tony Ward of the Irish Independent analyses the difficult job Ireland boss Declan Kidney has in keeping all of his squad members happy.
"There's a temptation to read a lot into the naming of 12 additional players to join an extended Irish squad ahead of next weekend's trek to Cardiff and the final showdown against the steam-rolling English at the Aviva seven days later.
"It makes for an enlarged squad of 34 but if there is any real relevance, it is in the context of the World Cup. It is a difficult balancing act for Declan Kidney in attempting to keep a dozen or so peripheral players happy. When you add Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery and Rob Kearney -- three automatic World Cup selections if fit -- then three of those named for 'guinea pig' duty this week will lose out.
"The players might know it but it doesn't make it any easier for them. In their minds, as it should be, they are the best for their position irrespective of the coach's take. Kidney wouldn't want it any other way.
"The player on the fringe who doesn't believe he is better than the man in possession shouldn't be involved at all. "
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/08/2011
Southern accent might make things clearer
In his weekly column in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley writes that Jonathan Kaplan and his fellow Southern Hemisphere referees are overseeing what at times almost looks like a different sport in the Super 14.
"Interestingly, Saturday’s referee, namely Jonathan Kaplan, will be the first from the Southern Hemisphere Ireland will have encountered in the Six Nations. Kidney and the Irish management don’t always avail of the opportunity to speak to referees on the evening before the game, but they would be well advised to do so this Friday, not least because Warren Gatland will.
"Furthermore, Kaplan and co are refereeing what at times almost looks like a different sport in the Super 14. Last Friday, Kaplan (sporting a new, cropped hairstyle which makes him look even bossier) oversaw the Auckland Blues’ 41-32 – and five tries to four win – over the Lions at Coca Cola Park (ye gods, formerly Ellis Park!).
"It was particularly striking, again, how the defending team rarely committed more than the tackler and next player in, and sometimes not even him, to the ruck. There was still a contest, as such, if the next player in could get his hands on the ball."
March 7, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/07/2011
Munster's new kids on the block
Munster boss Tony McGahan hailed impact of the new kids on block in the wake of their Magners League victory over the Dragons - Ian Bransfield reports for the Irish Independent.
"Veterans Mick O'Driscoll, Doug Howlett and Alan Quinlan were all among the tries for Munster as they powered their way to a bonus-point win over the Dragons on Saturday night, yet it was fledgling rookies like Conor Murray and Simon Zebo who received much of the post-match commendation.
"There was a decidedly youthful look to Tony McGahan's starting XV and especially so at half-back, where 21-year-old Murray was paired with his Garryowen clubmate Declan Cusack, also 21.
"And while Cusack had a solid outing in the No 10 shirt, it was the performance of Murray at nine that really caught the eye.
"Making his first start at senior level, the Limerick tyro looked assured throughout, bossing his forwards around the park and servicing his backs with wonderfully sweet passing."
March 5, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/05/2011
The dreaded game plan
Tony Ward discusses the dreaded 'game plan' and players' rigid adherence to strategy in The Irish Independent.
"While the game has changed dramatically in recent times, not least in terms of skill development and physical conditioning, I'm not too sure it is any more exciting now than in times past.
"I am not of the 'ah but in our day' generation -- far from it; I respect and appreciate scientific advancement, particularly in a sporting context.
"My one fear, and I do witness it first-hand at under-age level, is the robotic adherence to preordained strategies in the dreaded 'game plan'."
March 4, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/04/2011
Hugh Farrelly takes aim at the Twitter hordes following Ireland's narrow win over Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"Twitter - don't use it, don't like it, don't trust it. But it's impossible to ignore as it continues to worm its way into every fissure of existence.
"The election, Ireland beating England at their own game, Usher lowering a few in city centre Dublin, it seems every event from the momentous to the inconsequential now prompts the question: "What's the reaction on Twitter?"
"The journalism business is parasitic by definition: you earn a living charting the achievements of others. That is not about to change any time soon, but it does not mean you have to go over the top."
March 1, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/01/2011
Speak your mind
Jamie Heaslip has not been shy in coming forward
© Getty Images
David Kelly analyses Jamie Heaslip's recent criticism of the Ireland selection policy in The Irish Independent.
"Sometimes perception is everything. As Ireland imploded during the 2007 World Cup, marooned in a soulless warehouse far from the civilised world, not one player from this privileged group sought to question what most on the outside perceived to be a rapidly disintegrating escapade.
"Not one player -- or coach for the matter -- questioned the suitability of the squad's conditioning or the fact that the first-choice XV had been effectively swathed in cotton wool since the conclusion of that year's Six Nations.
"The ultimate result? Ireland performed dismally at the World Cup and yet, astonishingly, few players or coaches sought to intelligently assess a freefall into decline that was only arrested when Eddie O'Sullivan left the head position following the 2008 championship."
February 23, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 02/23/2011
Gerry Thornley looks at the recent treatment of Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer in The Irish Times.
"Undoubtedly, it helps that he and Ronan O’Gara have an intuitive understanding. O’Gara always looks a better player outside Stringer and it was great to watch the two in tandem on Friday night, whipping the ball out to midfield in the minimum time. Sexton, for the time being, can only imagine what it’s like, having heretofore played the grand total of one match on the end of Stringer’s service, against Argentina last autumn.
"One can’t help but feel Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll and the Irish backline would benefit accordingly. Perhaps not entirely unrelated, Lifeimi Mafi looked back to his self-confident best again on Friday. For his outside break in the 13 channel off quick ball from the tail of the lineout in the build-up to Munster’s third and Doug Howlett’s second try, the ball arrived in Mafi’s hands on the gain line in rapid quick time."
February 22, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 02/22/2011
Out of the bubble
Hugh Farrelly talks to injured Ireland fullback Rob Kearney as the debate about the No.15 jersey rages on in The Irish Independent.
"The Irish have long been known as a nation of begrudgers, but also a people that, as recent history testifies, do not appreciate what they have until it is gone. Sport is particularly vulnerable to both traits.
"Former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn, a regular target of terrace abuse in spite of his consistent match-winning displays, is one example.
"Rob Kearney, the full-back currently rehabilitating from a knee injury that has ruled him out of action since November, is another."
February 18, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/18/2011
Irish must target Murrayfield
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes a strong performance against Scotland at Murrayfield will give Ireland a huge lift for the rest of the tournament.
"Confidence would eradicate the fluffed passes and knock-ons currently riddling these Irish players and Murrayfield next weekend is the perfect chance to locate that missing ingredient.
"The Scots drew on the confidence gained from their Croke Park triumph and used it to fashion excellent results in Argentina (twice) and at home to South Africa. However, after a decent showing in Paris, they looked woefully short on confidence (Sean Lamont aside) at home to Wales last time out, incapable of stringing coherent passages of play together and uncertain in defence.
"Now, it is up to Ireland to prey on that insecurity and use Scotland as a springboard for the remainder of the tournament and on to the World Cup."
February 17, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/17/2011
Where have all the Munster props gone?
With Tony Buckley's departure to Sale and the scrum continuing to plague Munster, the question of front-row production has become a live one down south. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports.
"In many ways, Tony Buckley was the great, white hope.
"Since he first caught the eye as Shannon's socks-rolled-down, front-row behemoth at the start of the last decade, 'Mushy' was seen as the long-term future for Munster and Ireland rugby, regularly referred to as 'the new John Hayes'.
"Ten years on and, despite 88 provincial caps and 21 for his country, the 30-year-old has never conclusively proven his worth at the top level in the one area where prop-forwards are defined -- consistency. There is no questioning Buckley's talent, his performance off the bench against Fiji in 2009 stands unchallenged as the most skilful by an Irish prop in the modern era, while there are other displays that readily come to mind."
February 15, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 02/15/2011
Portrait of the artist
David Kelly talks to Ireland prop Cian Healy about rugby, hip-hop and art in The Irish Independent.
"November 15, 2009. It is minutes before Ireland play Australia in Croke Park. The stadium is buzzing. The crowd are cheering. The tannoy is screeching. The Irish dressing-room is bustling.
"Cian Healy hears none of it. His head is throbbing with a rhythmic, pulsating hip-hop beat. The music must imprison him in order for him to liberated from outside distractions, thoughts and needs.
"Jerry Flannery can't believe what he's seeing. This debutant bouncing around, drumming his fingers on his tree-trunk thighs. "Normally fellas would be white with the fear," Flannery reports afterwards."
February 4, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/04/2011
Ireland and Leinster stalwart Brian O'Driscoll chats to the Irish Independent's Vincent Hogan having signed a new deal with the Irish Rugby Football Union.
"Maybe it's taken all this time to strike a contented balance, for there is no drudgery in the discipline now. He says he treats himself occasionally. The night of the recent Heineken Cup defeat of Saracens, he drove down to the Diep noodle bar in Ranelagh to collect dinner for himself and Amy.
"From there, he stepped across the street to a newsagent's and, for a self-confessed "chocaholic", this isn't always wise. "I saw this large bar of Toblerone," he says, laughing now.
"So I'm thinking 'God I love that stuff. We won today. We won well. Maybe I deserve it'. So I come out of the shop, I'm walking across the road and -- of all people to meet -- I see Gordon D'Arcy. He hadn't played that day because of injury and he's like 'Well, well, well, well, well, what do we have here?'
"He's caught me in the act. I'm standing there, with this big bar sticking out from under my oxter -- it's difficult to hide something that size -- and I immediately go on the defensive. I'm like, 'Some of us played 80 minutes today, maybe some of us deserved it!' Sure enough, within 24 hours, that bar of Toblerone was gone. I felt justified. But then you go in that Monday and I think it makes you train harder because you feel you've got to get it out of your system."
February 2, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 02/02/2011
Out with the old
Hugh Farrelly takes a critical eye to a new-look Ireland selection for their Six Nations opener in The Irish Independent.
"One new cap, three players making their first Six Nations starts and a backline set on attack mode -- Ireland's team to take on Italy in Rome on Saturday represents something of a new departure.
"Of course, injuries have been a significant factor in this selection, but it has allowed Ireland coach Declan Kidney to set a fresh template, kicking on from the Grand Slam format of two years ago and pointing the way forward after a relatively disappointing 2010.
"Not least in the front-row where Kidney has, belatedly, turned to the scrummaging power of Mike Ross."
Posted by Huw Baines on 02/02/2011
Sean O’Brien. Remember the name
Gavin Mairs talks to one of Ireland's brightest hopes - Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien - in The Daily Telegraph.
"Sean O’Brien. Remember the name. If the Leinster back-row forward does not yet enjoy a high profile beyond the shores of Ireland, there is a good chance he will be a household name across the home unions by the end of the RBS Six Nations Championship.
"The Carlow-born 23 year-old has, quite simply, been the outstanding player of the Heineken Cup pool stages, one of the main reasons the Irish province finished as the second-best ranked side in the quarter-finals from a pool that contained heavyweight opposition in Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro.
"O’Brien, playing his first full Heineken Cup campaign, scored four tries as Leinster won five out of their six pool matches, with his ball-carrying and phenomenal work rate earning him his first start for Ireland against Samoa last November. The Amlin Opta match statistics for Leinster’s victory over Saracens at the RDS Arena in Dublin in January reveal just what a potent attacker he has become in a side which includes such forces of nature as Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa."
January 28, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/28/2011
Fintan Drury represents a new breed of player agents the IRFU fear as their cosy world of contract negotiations begins to be torn apart by ‘the soccer element'. The Irish Independent's David Kelly reports.
"Where once the IRFU sought to conduct their contract negotiations on their terms and at their pace, at all times assuming the status of something akin to a 19th century benevolent landlord, Drury's tactics have launched a wrecking ball at the comfy establishment.
"And the lords of IRFU are not happy. Chief executive Philip Browne has fulminated publicly at the prospect of "agents" -- we noted how he spat the word out earlier this month -- taking money out of the sport.
"Inside IRFU walls, treasurer Tom Grace and director of human resources Maurice Dowling are digging their heels in as Drury seeks to negotiate the best possible deal available for his players, Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton.
"Outside IRFU walls, much of the negotiations are being conducted via the media -- linen is being washed in the full glare of the public. This the IRFU do not like."
January 27, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/27/2011
Will Jonny Sexton be playing his rugby in Ireland next season?
© Getty Images
Vincent Hogan compares the contract negotiations of Jonny Sexton with those of James Hook, who will join Perpignan next season, in The Irish Independent.
"Jonny Sexton will have been hungry yesterday for the finer detail of James Hook's impending move to France.
"The Wales utility player announced that he will play his rugby with Perpignan for the next three seasons. Sky Sports reported that Hook's salary would be worth "nearly £500,000 per season"; an extraordinary sum, yet not an entirely unbelievable one, given the spending history of some of the plutocrat owners in the Top 14 (French Championship).
"Hook was born exactly two weeks before Sexton in 1985 and would probably be seen as having a roughly similar market value. Both are current internationals, albeit Hook's versatility has enabled him to play for Wales at full-back and centre as well as his preferred fly-half position."
January 26, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/26/2011
Schmidt just the tonic
Gerry Thornley praises the impact of Joe Schmidt at Leinster as the Kiwi coach emerges from the shadow of predecessor Michael Cheika in The Irish Times.
"Michael Cheika was always going to be a tough act to follow, and the affable and honest Kiwi Joe Schmidt unfairly came under the microscope when Leinster lost three of their first four League games in September, all away from home while the Irish front-liners were gradually being re-introduced. But he looks like just what Leinster needed.
"Cheika, one of the brightest young coaches around, laid the foundations of a hardened professionalism and steely desire, but, with the emergence of Mike Ross and arrival of Greg Feek helping to stabilise the scrum, the former Clermont backs’ coach has added a more ambitious running and offloading game. In terms of their approach, they are the nearest thing to the All Blacks in Europe right now.
"He’s been helped, too, by the continuing emergence of more young jewels off the Leinster production line, but 24 points and 21 tries in such a Heineken Cup group was a remarkable effort. Only Leicester and Perpignan scored more, with 14 of the Tigers’ 25 tries and 10 of Perpignan’s 23 tries coming against Treviso."
January 25, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/25/2011
The flying winger
Ospreys winger Tommy Bowe tells Ruaidhri O'Connor about the plusses of his move to Swansea in The Irish Independent.
"It was a sense of adventure that made up Tommy Bowe's mind to up sticks and move to Wales.
"Rather than staying at home in Ulster and going with the status quo, the Monaghan man signed for the Ospreys and hasn't looked back.
"And not only has he developed his on-field abilities since transferring to Swansea, Bowe has become more than just the quintessential flying winger."
January 24, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/24/2011
Munster will be just fine
Munster's Heineken Cup hopes have been dashed by they remain in the hunt for the Amlin Challenge Cup
© Getty Images
Writing in his column for the Irish Times, London Irish's Bob Casey sees no reason for Munster to hit the panic button.
"Only great teams can sustain the consistency of success that Munster have achieved over the last decade. Great clubs find a way to come back when playing personnel changes.That is the challenge facing Munster now.
"Every team goes through down cycles. Just look at the Six Nations. England were the dominant force for a long time, then France and then Ireland had their time. In the English Premier League, Chelsea, and Arsenal before them, took command before inevitably struggling when senior players departed. The trick is to realise and accept you are not as good as you were the previous season and plan for the future. It is about minimising the down period. It requires about two years of planning and development.
"Munster are doing just that. They are out of the Heineken Cup but into the Amlin Challenge Cup. A European trophy remains an aspiration. And they are top of the Magners League. Not bad for a team supposedly on an irreversible downward spiral.
"There remains a great honesty about their leaders. We saw this in the post-match interviews of Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell in Toulon. A clever combination of recruitment and promotion of the next generation (those who are ready, that is) is crucial to regenerating a team as quickly as possible."
January 23, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/23/2011
No fullback, no props, no policy
George Hook in the Irish Independent believes that Declan Kidney has a number of big selection calls ahead of Ireland's Six Nations campaign.
"It is the back division that raised eyebrows. How Kidney can justify the selection of Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls and Andrew Trimble ahead of Fergus McFadden is a mystery. The coach has picked five wings, three centres and one injured full-back, clearly in the belief that Fitzgerald and Earls can also play at full-back or centre. Neither player, partly perhaps because of injury, has demonstrated anything like their early promise, nor is there evidence this season that either can play anywhere other than on the wing. Trimble remains a big, strong, fast young man of adequate defensive abilities and undelivered promise. Meanwhile, McFadden, not to mention Eoin O'Malley, is bang in form.
The forwards too give cause for concern. Finally, Tony Buckley has been exposed and John Hayes, at an age when he should have his feet up in front of a fire, is asked to perform a job that he can no longer accomplish, which seems to indicate that Mike Ross is now the frontrunner for the number three shirt. Ross is no wunderkind at the scrum. He is a journeyman in his 30s who failed to convince Kidney at Munster and Dean Richards at Harlequins.
The evidence of Friday's game in Paris indicates that he is adequate and no more. A Six Nations starting in Rome will be a big step up in class. Ross is one of four prop forwards in the squad, none of whom can perform their primary task at the highest level."
January 22, 2011
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/22/2011
Amlin Cup could do Munster good
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward insists all is not lost for Munster in Europe as participation in the Amlin Cup Challenge can facilitate their recovery.
"The suggestion that the visit of London Irish to Limerick for a European Cup tie represents a dead rubber is very wide of the mark. It's up to the fans to do their bit on the Thomond terraces, but for those centre stage, there's not only a professional job to be done, but there's still a massive incentive in gaining European Challenge Cup qualification.
Tony McGahan will have ample opportunity in the coming weeks (running parallel with the Six Nations) to give youth its fling in mixing and matching his Magners League line-ups. To have the added incentive of Amlin Challenge Cup involvement would add immeasurably to the season from here on in.
The opportunity arises here to blood the likes of Ian Nagle, Duncan Williams, Dave Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Mike Sherry and others in a different playing environment and level of intensity to Magners League."
January 21, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/21/2011
I didn't come for the money
Former Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg tells the Irish Independent's Peter Bills that helping Ulster return to Europe's top table his prime motivation.
"They're an easy target at which to direct your fire, ideal victims of the cheap shot. What on earth are all these South African rugby players doing over here in Ireland, the UK and France? Working hard on their personal pension funds, of course, say the cynics.
"Aren't they creaming it financially, the whole lot of them? Aren't too many playing rubbish rugby? But do they care? Isn't all that matters the dough?
"Well, those are some of the common perceptions in a few people's minds. But Pedrie Wannenburg wishes to offer a case for the defence.
"Ulster's 30-year-old former Blue Bulls and Springboks back-row man puts a very different perspective on the whole overseas slant. He certainly offers a stirring defence of his own motives for playing northern hemisphere rugby.
"Wannenburg, the first player to play 100 Super 14 matches for the Bulls, says flatly: "If you want money, if that is your only interest, you don't come to this part of the world. You go to Japan and don't worry about your rugby career any more."
January 20, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/20/2011
Pecking order remains to be seen
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley analyses the composition of Ireland's squad for the Six Nations.
"The old truism within Munster’s ranks that the better the team performs collectively the more it will be reflected individually in the composition of Irish squads still holds true now, albeit in a reverse way.
"On foot of their first elimination from the Heineken Cup in the pool stages for 13 campaigns, the big losers undoubtedly are Tomás O’Leary and Tony Buckley, neither of whom have made the cut for Ireland’s 32-man squad for the RBS Six Nations Championship.
"Instead, each has to be content with a place in the Irish Wolfhounds squad, whereas Mike Ross, along with Peter Stringer and Eoin Reddan, have apparently jumped ahead of Buckley and O’Leary in the national pecking order.
"For O’Leary it is quite a fall after a couple of years as the clear, first-choice Irish number nine, though this is also a reflection on his struggles to regain form and obtain more game time since suffering a broken hand at the end of November.
"However, the degree to which yesterday’s 32-man Six Nations squad and 22-man Wolfhounds squad – which has one vacancy remaining at fullback and will be supplemented by further players following the weekend games – is a cut and dried pecking order remains to be seen."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/20/2011
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll has given the clearest indication yet that he is willing to finish his career in Ireland with Leinster.The Irish Independent's David Kelly writes.
"O'Driscoll's contract is due to expire following this year's World Cup and, although he said he is not under pressure to make a decision, his glowing tributes to new Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's impact with the province might make him reconsider his options.
"O'Driscoll hinted last year that he might be willing to discuss a move to Stade Francais, where Leinster's Heineken Cup-winning coach of 2009, Michael Cheika, is based.
"With Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton yet to be offered new deals by the IRFU, Leinster could ill-afford to also lose their talismanic midfield star, who turns 32 tomorrow. He had also hinted at retirement in recent times, but ahead of Leinster's trip to Paris to face Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup round six clash tomorrow, O'Driscoll declared that he may shelve talk of retirement.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "Feeling like I'm not ready to go yet, fit; more importantly, I'm really enjoying what I'm doing, more so maybe than I did for many years."
January 19, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/19/2011
Munster under the microscope
The Irish Independent gangs up on Munster in the wake of their euro exit - including the thoughts of David Kelly.
"The alarming increase in indiscipline this season has been simply derived -- when a team's performance dips, the efforts to stem the tide result in increased mistakes and indiscipline. Hence the scrum -- where John Hayes has been unable to live at the highest level of competition -- has been exposed. In turn, David Wallace and Ronan O'Gara have struggled to carry the load, while ridiculous indiscipline from Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan signify a team struggling to maintain its former eminence. Doug Howlett's Christmas shenanigans completed the misery; that senior players allowed such a situation to develop reflected poorly on the group as a whole."
January 17, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2011
Leinster show strength in depth
Leinster's Shane Jennings fends off Saracens' Nils Mordt during their clash at the RDS
© Getty Images
The hotter Leinster perform the more coach Joe Schmidt appears to take down the temperature according to the Irish Times' Johnny Watterson.
"In an open, running game that will have thrilled many around Ballsbridge, Seán O’Brien was again at the centre of the demolition and will force Ireland coach Declan Kidney into that place he loves to be prior to the beginning of a Six Nations Championship, the land of tough backrow decisions.
"The impression was Leinster were rampant. Apart from that 10-minute phase just before half-time, as they cruised towards the break but tuned out as Saracens ran in two tries – through winger James Short, after Luke Fitzgerald misplaced a pass to Isa Nacewa, and backrow Kelly Brown touched down – the rugby was a delight.
"There was quick recycling, some wonderful off-loading and support play but, best of all, confidence in their ability to break from defence with ball in hand and deliver cutting passes under pressure.
"True, Saracens appeared to lose interest, or at least the body language told a story of a defeated outfit midway through the second half. But that crushing dominance was of Leinster’s making in the way they relentlessly took the ball on."
January 16, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/16/2011
Fear of failure harnesses old guard
Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan and Peter Stringer believe the side's experiences of near misses in the past will prove a huge advantage when they face Toulon on Sunday. The Irish Times reports.
"Time was when beating touring sides used to define them, but not any more. While scalping the Wallabies in November was nice, and leading the Magners League with daylight to spare is nicer still, were Munster to exit from the Heineken Cup tomorrow their season would be seen as abject failure.
"To a degree, this is unfair. No other team has ever reached the knock-out stages for a dozen years in a row. If, or more likely when, it comes to an end, this record is unlikely to ever be equalled. In that timespan even the mighty Leicester went out at the pool stages four times, while Toulouse came up short of the last eight on three occasions. No one has a divine right to a place in the last eight. Not even mighty Munster.
"Yet, were Munster eliminated tomorrow, much of the rest of the season would seem anti-climactic, beginning with what would amount to the unthinkable, a dead rubber against London Irish next Saturday at Thomond Park instead of one of those do-or-die Anglo-Irish showdowns in their Limerick citadel."
January 15, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/15/2011
Provincial hat-trick can steady the fleet
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley offers his thoughts on a weekend set to define the Irish season like few others – until next weekend anyway.
"The rugby-mad town of Toulon is, by all accounts, in a tizzy. Toulon club president Mourad Boudjellal admitted yesterday: “There is a huge fever in the city and I’ve got to admit I’m unable to do my business as usual as club president because I’m so excited – I’m in a trance. But there is a big question in my mind, ‘are we not usurpers?’, and my fear is that on Sunday afternoon we might be saying: ‘God, America is so far away’,” he commented, meaning that beating Munster is beyond them.
“We are aware that we are going to be faced by a legend and it’s incredible, even Al Jazeera has asked for the rights to this game. Toulon at the Stade Mayol will be seen by 60 per cent of the universe,” he quipped excitedly.
"Toulon’s thirst for revenge following their 45-18 defeat at Thomond Park last October adds a frisson to the occasion. Boudjellal – who has chided Munster about being owned by the IMF, though he has also endorsed an unlikely appeal on the Toulon website to emulate Thomond Park in ensuring silence for the goalkickers from both sides – applied some pepper to the sauce yesterday."
January 14, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2011
Scent of cordite in the air
Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre is plotting Munster's downfall
© Getty Images
The prospect of knocking out the mighty Munster from this year’s competitiion is stoking the home fires in Toulon, writes the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"As with this entire European campaign, Philippe Saint-André has sought to play down Toulon’s ambitions. The way he describes it, arriving at this stage in proceedings as pool leaders in their debut Heineken Cup campaign has almost been an accident. But a bit like their run to the Amlin Challenge Cup final last season, they seem to have a taste for the European stage.
"Perhaps it’s because of their high quotient of big-name foreign players, Toulon have more of a ready-made understanding and desire for the European competitions than other French sides. Admittedly, the 45-18 defeat in Thomond Park put their Euro pedigree into perspective, but the scent of cordite in the air for Sunday’s return meeting at an eagerly sold-out Stade Felix-Mayol could make them more dangerous.
"As is reflected in his team’s rugby, Saint-André is a very pragmatic man. European rugby is important for him and their litany of overseas’ players, as well as the interim future for the club given it will increase their profile and generate money.
"Affectionately known as le Goret (the pig), there would assuredly be a part of Saint-André that would love to avenge three successive defeats with Sale since they beat Munster in the 2005-06 opener, not to mention two defeats with Bourgoin and the meeting last October."
January 10, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/10/2011
Reds show their warrior spirit
Munster's narrow Magners League victory over Glasgow left boss Tony McGahan with many posers ahead of their European clash with Toulon according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"There are certain occupations that are defined by pressure -- bomb disposal expert and Taoiseach are two that come to mind, but head coach has to be right up there.
Sitting in front of Glasgow's Sean Lineen in Musgrave Park last Saturday night was an instructive experience. Over the course of 80-plus Magners League minutes, the former Grand Slam-winning centre clung on to the rail of a Big Dipper ride of vacillating emotions.
"...If Lineen was feeling the pressure, he should spare a thought for his Munster counterpart Tony McGahan. Glasgow are out of the Heineken Cup and next weekend's meeting with Wasps, essentially, means nothing to them -- Munster's trip to Toulon means everything."
January 9, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/09/2011
Drop in standard of care striking
An independent survey by the Irish Rugby Union Players' Assoacition has revealed an alarming drop in medical care as well as some other worrying trends, writes the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"Furthermore, nearly one in four players also expressed unhappiness with a surgeon or specialist they had been referred to, with the added feeling that the leading players were given preferential treatment. Although a degree of dissatisfaction was to be expected, some of the responses alarmed the IRUPA chief executive Niall Woods.
"The survey is given added credibility due to the high response, almost 75 per cent, of the 150 or so members of IRUPA on either international, provincial or development contracts (academy players were not included). Furthermore, the confidential survey was conducted independently by BDO consultants in Limerick (part of a global chain of chartered accountants), throughout all four provinces in May last year.
"The most striking area where there were problems, which I had been receiving calls on anecdotally throughout last season was the medical area, and the drop in standard of care that the players felt there had been,” explains Woods. “This was backed up then by the stats in the survey."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/09/2011
Older, wiser and revelling in pressure
Paddy Wallace is in a good place right now and he believes that Ulster are too, as he tells Brendan Fanning in the Irish Independent.
"At 31, he is the oldest in the Ulster squad now that Bryn Cunningham has moved on. "Can you actually believe that?" he asks. Well no, at least not without checking first.
"One thing you don't associate Paddy Wallace with is being the grand old man of any group. It doesn't seem that long since Eddie O'Sullivan was giving him his first start in green, against the Pacific Islands in 2006. It was Ireland's last Test at the old ground, and Wallace scored 26 points.
"But, as the most senior of a young squad, old he is. Old and content with what he sees about the place. "I'm enjoying it immensely and I'm encouraged by all the youth around me now. It keeps you going and keeps you invigorated and energetic." You'd swear he was 60.
"It's a feature of Ulster these days that they are not short on fresh blood. And all of it swilling around the midfield where Wallace has been doing a job since 2001. They are the only province this season to have given regular, competitive gametime to -- including Wallace -- five home-grown centres: from the pair who won caps in North America 18 months ago, Ian Whitten and Darren Cave, to the latest and youngest to be transfused, Luke Marshall and Nevin Spence."
January 7, 2011
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/07/2011
A grim start to the year
Can Ireland challenge the big guns at the World Cup?
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly takes a few minutes out from a diet of Christmas take-aways to tip Ireland for the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in The Irish Independent.
"It's been a grim start to the year. The recent water shortage had a calamitous effect on hair hygiene, with the result that this much admired mane has lost its customary lustre.
"Phone pollution has run rampant due to people's misguided notion that everyone in their contact book wants to receive generic New Year's messages riddled with choreographed jollity (note: any man who texts smiley faces should be checked for hidden ovaries).
"And our comfort eating has become so chronic that a recent gargantuan takeaway order had to be supplemented with "and two cans of Diet Coke" to distract the Chinese woman on the end of the phone from our sad, solo gluttony."
January 6, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/06/2011
Getting the hit right
The Irish Times' John O'Sullivan talks to Leinster prop Mike Ross who has his mind set on making up for a penalty try when Leinster meet the Ospreys tomorrow.
"The concession of a penalty try is an abhorrence to a prop so it’s hardly surprising to learn Mike Ross took it personally; the slight invaded his sleep patterns for a few days. The particular moment occurred during Leinster’s 19-15 defeat to the Ospreys in a Magners League clash at the Liberty Stadium earlier this season. The two teams meet again in the same tournament tomorrow night, this time at the RDS.
"There are mitigating circumstances as Leinster had two players in the sin bin at that particular moment when referee David Wilkinson chose to make his value judgment. It offers little succour to Ross, as the Ireland and Leinster tighthead prop, a player renowned for his ability at scrum time, recalled the memory.
“I didn’t sleep well that night or for a couple of days afterwards. It’s something I take very personally, take a lot of pride in. Before that I don’t think I gave away a penalty try in eight years. I was fairly raging afterwards.”
January 5, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/05/2011
McGahan facing his defining moments
Crunch time approaches for Munster boss Tony McGahan
© Getty Images
Munster coach Tony McGahan's reputation rests on ability to clear his side's Heineken Cup hurdle, according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"January, named after the Roman god Janus, has been described as the "gateway to the year".
"Janus appears to have been some sort of bouncer (carrying the dubious title of 'god of doors and gates') but he was still the guy who decided whether you kicked on or had the door slammed in your face -- a lot like January in the Heineken Cup.
"Munster triumphing in must-win pool games against English opposition at a heaving Thomond Park in January has become one of the great traditions of this competition over the last 15 years. This season, London Irish are the side lined up for the treatment handed out to Gloucester, Sale, Wasps and Northampton in previous campaigns and Toby Booth's side will have a fair idea of what to expect when they run out in Limerick on January 22.
"However, the game that is the true gateway to Munster's season takes place the week before in Toulon."
January 4, 2011
Posted by Mark Doyle on 01/04/2011
Hugh Farrelly of the Irish Independent selects his Overseas XV currently plying their trade in Ireland - and casts his eye back over the hits and the flops.
"If 2009 was Rocky's year, then 2010 belonged to Isa. When it comes to overseas signings leaving an impact on Irish rugby, then Rocky Elsom's contribution over the course of one glorious Heineken Cup-winning season with Leinster will be nigh on impossible to top.
"However, Nacewa's consistent excellence for the province in a variety of positions has made him a cult hero among Leinster supporters, while second-row Nathan Hines has also proved to be an excellent signing.
"However one feels about an out-and-out Australian declaring for Scotland and then playing his club rugby in France and Ireland, there is no doubting Hines' commitment to whatever team he togs out for, and his physicality and experience were invaluable in Leinster's recent back-to-back clashes with Clermont.
"Finally, hooker Richardt Strauss, a peripheral figure last season, has been sensational since Joe Schmidt took over, stepping up to the plate in a big way after John Fogarty was forced to retire."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 01/04/2011
Kidney can't ignore O'Brien against Italy
In his weekly column in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward reviews performances of the four provinces over the festive season.
"Leinster travelled to what was once 'Fortress Ravenhill' and bullied the Ulstermen into submission. And here the finger of blame points firmly in the direction of the expensive, much-lauded Springbok imports.
"That feeling of Ulster folk being sold short in the immediate aftermath of that game was added to with Brian McLaughlin's admission as regards his selection for Limerick, that he had told the players prior to Christmas that he would be fielding what would be effectively two separate teams. You would have expected the heavily loaded line-up that faced Leinster to come out firing with all cylinders on their home patch.
"Instead, in the absence of the talismanic Stephen Ferris, it was Sean O'Brien who ruled the Ravenhill roost. The Tullow man simply must run out in Rome for the opening Six Nations joust, with the back-row position his to lose after that. On the simple premise of form, he's a shoo-in. Nor can there be any counter-argument as regards balance, with a Ferris/ O'Brien/Jamie Heaslip trio picking itself, leaving either David Wallace or Denis Leamy as cover for all three positions on the bench."
January 3, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/03/2011
Flannery braced for bad news
Munster hooker Jerry Flannery is bracing himself for bad news today when the details of his latest injury breakdown are disclosed. The Irish Independent's Ian Bransfield reports.
"figure as he was helped from the field 28 minutes into his Munster comeback during Saturday's victory over Ulster at Thomond Park.
The source of concern was once again a calf muscle, although not the same one which has curtailed his involvement for much of this season already.
Flannery was taken for a scan yesterday and the results should be known by today.
Speaking after the match, coach Tony McGahan gave no indication as to the severity of the situation, but confirmed that it was a fresh injury and not a recurrence of his old problem.
"He's quite upset and everybody is feeling for him," said McGahan. "He's worked really hard to get back to where he was, and there's no doubt that he'll get back from this one as well."
January 2, 2011
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/02/2011
Rugby apartheid row
The Irish Government vetoed grants for rugby-playing schools in the wake of the Lions tour to South Africa 30 years ago. The Irish Independent's Marie Crowe reports.
"The Fianna Fáil government feared that making grants available to rugby would be seen as tacit state approval for South Africa's apartheid regime and damage Ireland's chances of becoming a member of the United Nations Security Council.
"The newly-published state papers for 1980 reveal that senior figures within the Fianna Fáil government, including then Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Lenihan and the minister for state with responsibility for sport Jim Tunney, strongly opposed the tour and also made it known that IRFU plans to tour South Africa in 1981 would be frowned upon.
"The Lions tour, which was a highly controversial one, was opposed by the Irish and British governments and also groups against sporting relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
"The Tour manager was Syd Millar, current chairman of the IRB, and coach was Noel Murphy. The Lions lost the series 3-1 in the absence of many of the top players."
December 31, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/31/2010
Hugh Farelly serves up his end-of-year awards following a mixed time for Irish rugby in The Irish Independent.
"It's a tradition as old as the game itself, the end of season awards, and this year is a little tougher than 2009 when Irish rugby swept all before it.
"A hit-and-miss Six Nations was followed by a challenging, injury-ravaged summer tour that produced no victories but did flag the potential of younger players just over a year out from the World Cup."
December 29, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/29/2010
Crisis? What crisis?
Munster have come under pressure in the Heineken Cup and Magners League but remain a force
© Getty Images
Writing in the Irish Independent David Kelly delivers his verdict on the fall out from Munster's Magners League win over Connacht.
"Crisis? What crisis? Munster ease seven points clear in the Magners League after beating Connacht but still the microscopic lights arrow in with all the intensity of a police grilling.
"A crisis!" laughed Tony McGahan, presumably still privately seething at the outbreak of farce that attached itself to his players' Christmas festivities with the worst possible timing.
It is clear that a defeat in Galway would have heaped more pressure on the coaching staff. "Look," said McGahan when asked whether the media coverage of his side's partying was the best preparation for this encounter, "we came back off a defeat against the Ospreys, so it was really important we got a result against a side who've proved very difficult in all the derby matches. That was our priority."
Yet still Munster came under the spotlight for their alleged gamesmanship during the final scrums when Connacht sensed a penalty try against a back-pedalling scrum; a canny substitution as a battalion of Munster backroom staff hurried to the scene left Connacht coach Eric Elwood in little doubt that shenanigans were afoot.
McGahan protested his innocence when he twice offered to display the hapless Dave Ryan's injury for all to see. It all smacks of a team under pressure, compounded by Alan Quinlannow joining back-rowers Peter O'Mahony and James Coughlan on the injury list as a crucial January hovers into view.
But then, the beginning of the new year is the business end for hardened outfits like Munster; soon, their dithery December may seem like a distant memory should they negotiate a safe passage to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for a 13th successive season."
December 28, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/28/2010
O'Brien he's good
Writing in the Irish Independent, Ruaidhri O'Connor praises the impact of backrow Sean O'Brien after another eye-catching performance for Leinster.
"The inspirational Sean O'Brien scored two tries as Leinster pillaged Ravenhill to go fourth in the Magners League and enter the New Year in pristine condition.
Although their Heineken Cup condition looks healthy, Ulster were left reeling from a stunning display by the visiting side that left huge question marks over the performance of their South African imports against a Leinster side shorn of 10 frontline players.
O'Brien and back-row colleagues Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock gave a barnstorming performance in Belfast, as Joe Schmidt's side squeezed Brian McLaughlin's men in every department.
Leinster's only regret was that they didn't pick up a bonus point in their 30-13 win."
December 27, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/27/2010
Ferris is vital
Hugh Farrelly evaluates Ulster's plight without Stephen Ferris in The Irish Independent.
"We are at the halfway point of the season and it has been a case of so far, so acceptable for Ulster rugby.
'Good' would be stretching it a bit due to the less than convincing nature of the province's performances, but the fact Brian McLaughlin's men have managed to win six and draw one out of nine Magners League matches, as well as securing three wins from four in the Heineken Cup, deserves recognition.
"However, reservations stem from the fact that Pool 4 is made up of new Italian outfit Aironi, a distinctly average Bath team performing with a notable lack of confidence and Biarritz, last season's beaten finalists, but notoriously brittle on the road, as they proved when losing in Aironi."
December 26, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/26/2010
Western project facing its biggest threat from within
Brendan Fanning of the Sunday Independent argues that the impending loss of Ian Keatley to Munster sums up Connacht's current dilemma.
"We are about to witness the long goodbye. Less than three seasons since they went to Connacht, Ian Keatley, Sean Cronin and Fionn Carr have embarked on a lap of honour - starting tomorrow at the Sportsground against Munster -- that will take until early May to complete.
"They are a mixed bunch: Carr has proved he can make an impact in the pro game; Cronin is already doing the same thing in the international arena; and Keatley is somewhere between the two. All are keen to kick on. And Connacht are not sure exactly what the future will look like without them.
"Keatley's case is the most pressing. The emergence of Jonny Sexton three years ago, after two seasons finding his way around Donnybrook, gradually and prematurely closed the debate on Ireland's problems at 10. Then the issue became one of who should be picked -- O'Gara, the master, or Sexton, the impatient pupil -- rather than what would we do if anything happened to O'Gara. Because Sexton quickly became so good people forgot that our depth in this position is puddle stuff.”
Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/26/2010
Irish squad rankings all to play for in local derbies
Writing in the Sunday Independent, Jim Glennon reveals that there is always more than pride at stake in the festive season's now traditional inter-provincial clashes.
"I sent a text to one of my former charges in Leinster after their outstanding performance last week. I also wished him an enjoyable Christmas. He immediately replied thanking me, but reminding me too that for professional rugby players there is no such thing as Christmas! In Irish interprovincial rugby, this is derby week.
"These Christmas games are not your run-of-the-mill Magners League games, and while they might not reach the pitch of a Heineken Cup game, they are still a level or two above the routine encounters.”
December 23, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/23/2010
Little luck for the Irish
Munster's fixtures will be tricky but their destiny remains in their hands
© Getty Images
Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley says the scheduling of the final two Heineken Cup rounds gives the Irish sides cause for concern.
"Neither Munster nor Leinster will feel the scheduling for the final two rounds of Heineken Cup pool games has done them any favours. Both have been given six-day turnarounds, while in Leinster’s case their last-day opponents, Racing Metro, will have had an extra day’s rest. Furthermore, they will be among the first results in on the final weekend, which is never particularly helpful.
By contrast, Brian McLaughlin and Ulster will at least be grateful that they have a seven-day turnaround between their games against Biarritz at Ravenhill on Saturday, January 15th, and their trek to Aironi a week later.
Ideally, though, they might have liked one of their traditional Friday night cauldrons in Belfast for the visit of Biarritz, instead of a Saturday afternoon.
At least though, all three provinces have their destiny in their hands."
December 19, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/19/2010
Heineken Cup refereeing at crisis point?
George Hook writes in the Irish Independent that refereeing in the Heineken Cup is ‘reaching crisis point’ and Munster’s must take responsibility for their ill-discipline.
"Munster face a difficult task in qualifying for the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup after a defeat by Ospreys yesterday. With Toulon winning over the London Irish, the trip away for Munster will rank with any in their long and distinguished history. In the past, the possibility of an away win was real but this time the side does not appear to have the armoury up front to take on teams with serious intent.
The most dominant figure in the game was referee Romain Poite. He allowed everything and exerted little or no control. The result was a match of fits and starts that delivered little or no continuity. Refereeing is now reaching crisis point in the Heineken Cup. The Ulster game in Bath was dreadfully refereed and it got worse in the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.
The second most noticeable figure for all the wrong reasons was Tony Buckley whose performance yesterday must surely end his pretence at being an international prop forward. The Munster scrum was awful and improved not a whit with the arrival of John Hayes. However, Hayes is at the end of a career whereas Buckley continues to make a mockery of Declan Kidney's rejection of Mike Ross.
This week has seen Munster's one-eyed reaction at its worst. Ex-players were rolled out on the media to extol the virtues of Paul O'Connell and the dastardly actions of Jonathan Thomas who pulled his shirt. Listening to former international Mick Galway this week, one expected Benedict XVI to come to Limerick to canonise the Young Munster lock. Galwey went further to suggest that the Munster scrum had been outstanding this week. Frankie Sheehan even went so far as to suggest that the Welshman should have been punished rather than the Irishman."
December 16, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/16/2010
Connacht on IRFU collision course
Connacht could be set for a showdown with IRFU bosses, just weeks after a new way forward for the province was agreed, according to the Irish Independent's John Fallon.
"The big surprise will be the linking of out-half Ian Keatley with a move to Munster, while Irish hooker Sean Cronin and top try scorer Fionn Carr could be poised for a move to Leinster. A fourth first-team player is being linked with a possible move to Leinster.
"Part of the new agreement was supposed to be the movement to Connacht of players from Munster, Leinster and Ulster, but now Eric Elwood and his management team look like they could be stripped of four key players. All four are in their third season with Connacht and arrived because they were unable to make the breakthrough in their native provinces, with Cronin going on to win seven Irish caps since moving to the Sportsground."
December 12, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/12/2010
Kyle ... to Gibson ... to Drico ... try!
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley tackles the difficult task of selecting the best Irish XV of all time.
"It says something about the choices at midfield and secondrow that they provoked the least debate amongst us and the entries. Indeed, it says everything about the choice at outside centre that some bloke called O’Driscoll prompted no debate whatsoever and polled the highest (98 per cent).
"The great one was the people’s choice and alongside him Mike Gibson provoked almost as little discussion and polled 81 per cent in what is a mouth-watering midfield combination.
"Similarly, there was little argument over the secondrow pairing of Willie John McBride and Paul O’Connell (second most popular pick at 86 per cent).
"Then it started to get trickier. Surprised as we were about the top five at fullback, and particularly no Jim Staples, we eventually settled on Tom Kiernan. He played on the Irish team almost unbroken for 14 years, and though he only scored his first try in his last international, allowance had to be made for him coming from the era of a non-attacking fullback."
December 10, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/10/2010
Peter Borlase mixes it with Ben Daley on his Munster debut
© Getty Images
David Kelly meets Munster's 'special project', prop Peter Borlase, in The Irish Independent.
"Not even an earthquake could prepare Peter Borlase for Thomond Park.
"After a tremor measuring a ground-shattering 7.1 on the Richter Scale ripped through the 25-year-old's house in Christchurch last September, Borlase could have been forgiven for thinking that such convulsions would become a thing of the past.
"That was before he stepped on to the sacred Limerick turf, a New Zealander defying Australia in the red of Munster, an unforgettable debut highlighted by an outrageous kick-chase and an even more sensational scrap with a gold-shirted opponent."
December 9, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/09/2010
O'Connell champing at the bit
Munster stalwart Paul O'Connell is ready to return to rugby's front line but may not make the the starting XV for this weekend's Heineken Cup clash with the Ospreys. The Irish Times' John Sullivan reports.
"Paul O'Connell has never shied away from a challenge so there was only ever going to be one answer to a query about whether he would be capable of starting Sunday’s Heineken Cup match against the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
"He would feel confident – but he expanded on that assertion by explaining the situation is unlikely to arise this weekend.
"Individually praising Munster’s roster of secondrows by name and singling out attributes he added that half a match for Young Munster and his provincial return to competitive rugby against Cardiff last weekend, again as a replacement, is not a sufficiently compelling argument to muscle his way past other contenders. The bench is his likely starting point."
December 7, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/07/2010
Time for a 'head bin'
John Fogarty was recently forced to retire due to concussion
© Getty Images
Gerry Thornley looks closer at the recent spate of concussions to have affected the game in The Irish Times.
"When rugby historians look back on this era of the game they will hopefully cite John Fogarty and Bernard Jackman as having been saviours of a sort. That their harrowing and cautionary tales of how they and other players have lived in denial about the consequences of concussion prompted the authorities to establish medical protocols which better safeguarded future generations of players.
"Failing that, it will have been due to something far worse. And that doesn’t bear thinking about. Quite simply, all sports have a duty of care to their protagonists. Indeed, that is their first duty. All else is secondary. In talking at length with consultant neurosurgeon Prof Jack Phillips last week, who outlined the protocols which exist in boxing and horse racing, it was no surprise to learn those two sports – arguably the most dangerous sports in the world – were 20 years and counting ahead of other sports."
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/07/2010
Level playing field
Tony Ward believes that Connacht are edging closer to an even playing field with Ireland's big three in The Irish Independent.
"It was a bitingly cold weekend for rugby fans everywhere, except, we suspect, out west. For sure, Connacht's struggle to stay the professional pace has not been fixed through the stroke of an IRFU pen but a big step forward has been made.
"Ireland's fourth proud province now have a fighting chance against the rest. As one who suffered at the hands of Connacht -- being part of a Munster team that passed the 'world champion' mantle to the men from the west the year after we beat the All Blacks -- I know that pride cuts every bit as deep in Connacht rugby as it does elsewhere.
"The demographics may differ but the desire to compete and, on occasion, savour success, is every bit the same as it is with Ireland's big Heineken Cup three. How fitting it is to have Eric Elwood at the helm, a man who epitomises everything positive about Connacht rugby -- a man who wore his heart on his sleeve as a player and continues to do so as head coach."
December 5, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/05/2010
Irish rugby on financial precipice
Ireland’s mixed form on the pitch is of limited concern compared to the financial perils facing clubs at all levels in the country, according to George Hook in the Irish Independent.
"It has been difficult to concentrate on rugby this past week. There was something strange about watching 30 grown men brawling for a pigskin when the country was being reduced to a feudal state of Europe. So far, and it may only be temporary, rugby has partially avoided the worst of the economic calamity. However, the full effects cannot be long in coming.
The IRFU's well-meaning policy of selling tickets through its constituent clubs was laudable and endeavoured to put the tickets in the hands of people who contributed to the game.
However, an ill-advised pricing plan based on the experience of different economic times has created a financial catastrophe for clubs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even junior clubs are carrying losses of up to €50,000 on unsold tickets for the autumn campaign just ended.
There is a suggestion of an indemnity from the IRFU but as yet it remains unclear as to how it will work. Either way, the losses will either appear on the books of the clubs or the parent body.
Rugby, as the IRFU consistently reminded minister Eamon Ryan in the free-to-air debate, is Ireland's only professional sport. With an election on the way, the government will have more important fish to fry than worrying about what television channel hosts international rugby. The powers that be in Lansdowne Road will be able to plan on a continuing revenue stream from broadcasting rights but other revenues will be under pressure.
As of this week, every club contacted by this newspaper was willing to sell its international tickets to the highest bidder. Club officials had simply no faith that members would stump up for even reduced-price tickets, the IRFU's belated reaction to the November shambles. Honorary treasurers up and down the country were frantic to offload a possible financial headache. France may have been exciting opponents in the glory days, but the prospect of a full house for Marc Lievremont's team was deemed unlikely."
December 4, 2010
Posted by Jonny McLeod on 12/04/2010
Time to set a global season?
Tony Ward argues in the Irish Independent that the IRB should reasses summer and winter tours and consider a single global season.
We understand the money-making principle behind the June and November Test Series, but we are recognising a rugby dud for what it is. The swathes of empty seats are a reflection of tough financial times but also a timely reminder to the world governing body and individual Unions that punters will no longer be duped into paying big money to see games. The goose is fast running out of golden eggs.
The fact that the All Blacks, at their exhilarating best this year, failed to fill the 50,000-capacity Aviva Stadium tells you all you need to know about the economic climate and growing apathy.
The time has come for the IRB and its major Unions to rethink the entire touring process. A single global season running concurrently is an impossibility, but more meaningful single-country tours are not.
Those so privileged to be present when Munster again beat the Wallabies on a bitter November night were reminded what touring once was and what it can, with the right vision and planning, again be.
December 3, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/03/2010
Go west, young men and grow with country
The Irish Independent argues that the influx of so many props from overseas of a questionable quality into the provincial scene will have a negative affect on the national team.
"There was this Aussie guy whose brief dalliance with the All-Ireland League 12 years ago encapsulated Irish rugby's ongoing problem with overseas players.
"He arrived over on a sweet, free-rent, match-bonus deal, looking every inch the top-quality centre who was ready to dance across the muddy waters of the AIL. The Aussie's first league match came at a windswept Holmpatrick where, with his first touch, he surged from his own '22' right up to the Skerries try-line only to knock on in contact.
"A wonderful effort, by any standards, but the knock-on told the truer story and, as his lack of ability became woefully apparent over the next few months, the Aussie lost his starting place and his bonus and had to get a job in Xtra-vision to pay his rent.
"He was a pleasant bloke, but quickly turned into a cautionary tale in the AIL, and a sad figure around the club, where he became known as 'One Great Run'. The 'One Great Run' phenomenon has been a feature of Irish rugby for at least 15 years and has persevered into the professional era."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 12/03/2010
Challenges forming on many fronts
In his weekly column in the Irish Times, rugby analyst Liam Toland argues that while the game in Ireland has travelled an unbelievable distance during the Celtic Tiger, many threats are now closing in on the country's fourth most popular sport.
"The threats will come from several quarters. Many of our top players have tasted success at a very young age and no longer have the incentive of winning the European Cup in an Irish provincial jersey. Tommy Bowe has shown that success is not exclusive to the provinces. French rugby will chip away at our best talent. They have the finances to hurt the IRFU funding.
"They also have a real insight into our game with the likes of Michael Cheika at Stade Francais. Will the IRFU follow the English RFU’s lead and their 'absolute intention' not to select overseas players for England following the 2011 World Cup? Considering Ireland’s player base, can we afford to be so strict?
"Accountants appear to be running rugby here, and with them wages get cut. When great wealth awaits, a move can further erode the natural assets. And what will replace these assets? In recent times the provincial cheque has popped out to draft in foreign players, props in particular. This can’t be encouraged and will affect the already limited Irish resources available to Declan Kidney."
November 30, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/30/2010
The work starts here
David Kelly offers his report card following Ireland's mixed November series in The Irish Independent.
"Unlike official Ireland, sport demands accountability. Ireland's November Series started and ended with a whimper; there was a bit of a bang in between, but blink and you missed it. Ireland hit the heights only in defeat to the world's best, and slumped to dispiriting lows when more was expected from them.
"Yet, imperceptibly, there is progress. Thirty players were used this November; 30 players will be required at the World Cup. With Paul O'Connell and Tomas O'Leary to return, the maths seems pretty simple."
November 29, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/29/2010
Gordon D'Arcy says hello to Martin Scelzo
© PA Photos
Vincent Hogan reviews the cooling of hostilities between Ireland and Argentina following a lukewarm Lansdowne Road showdown in The Irish Independent.
"Mario Ledesma looked like just another eccentric, elderly relative, mumbling banal courtesies as he hurried from the cold, a heavy, beige rug pulled across his shoulders.
"At the mouth of the tunnel, Felipe Contepomi wrapped a brotherly arm around Jonny Sexton. In the world's biggest freezer unit, the rogue hormone of friendship was slowly breaking out.
"So much of what these teams understand about one another has generated only boiling antipathy. Somehow, the last decade pushed them ceaselessly into one another's faces and, routinely, they found themselves doing things and saying things that pretty much brought dialogue back to the cave."
November 27, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/27/2010
Quick-fire Stringer holds key for Kidney
Writing for the Irish Independent, Tony Ward sings scrum-half Peter Stringer's praises ahead of Ireland's clash with Argentina.
"Peter Stringer is in alongside Jonny Sexton, not because he is playing a whole lot better than Eoin Reddan, but because he brings a different dynamic to the position and the team. Stringer's undoubted strength is his wrist-driven speed of pass and on a day when moving opposition man-mountains around is the primary concern, it is the most logical way to go.
"Stringer is not back in the scrum-half role to snipe around the edges or act as some sort of extra wing-forward a la Tomas O'Leary. The extra split-second the speed of his passing delivers will enable the likes of Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll to take the Pumas to wider areas they do not want to go.
"...It is a tricky balancing act for the head coach. He knows he must win, but he also recognises he cannot do so by being conservative. That would play 100pc into Puma hands. The key is in meeting the juggernaut early and quickly establishing a platform to go on and win the game."
November 26, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/26/2010
Fully fit and ready to impose himself
The Irish Times' John O'Sullivan talks to the Ireland flanker Denis Leamy who is under no illusions about what to expect from Argentina this weekend.
"Team sport demands a certain selflessness in terms of mind and body but arguably the most difficult compromise is when a player stockpiles injuries but continues to play. Denis Leamy would empathise because, by his own admission, he’s been playing injured for a considerable part of the last two years.
"The pains and aches, strains, pulls and tears aren’t for public consumption so supporters, denied the background evidence, often find it difficult to reconcile reputation and performance.
"In the past 13 months Leamy has played four Test matches for Ireland, starting two and coming on as a replacement twice; a meagre return when held up against his 45 Irish caps.
"Injuries have been a consistent scourge during that period but for the Munster flanker, who celebrates his 29th birthday tomorrow, there are no fitness constraints at present. “I’m probably as good as I’ve been in two or three years. The last two years I played a lot while injured, whether I did admit it or not at the time."
November 23, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/23/2010
We have been warned
Mario Ledesma will not be taking any prisoners on Saturday
© Getty Images
Tony Ward previews a difficult week ahead for Ireland as the Pumas arrive in town in The Irish Independent.
"Motivation is an integral part of the modern-day professional's life. Getting it for the visit of the All Blacks would have taken little effort. Playing New Zealand at any time is special. For some it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for others -- however experienced -- the chance to take performance to another level.
"New Zealand, just like Brazil in football, have that aura of something magical and, aside from the small matter of winning World Cups, they seldom let us down.
"We all celebrate to some degree when the Wallabies, Springboks or, most particularly, the French put one over them at the World Cup, yet when the All Blacks exit the big jamboree, so much goes with them. They are the yardstick by which other teams are measured and yet again on Saturday they delivered."
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/23/2010
Bark is worse than his bite
Peter Bills bemoans the performance of referee Marius Jonker during Ireland's loss to New Zealand in The New Zealand Herald.
"Stephen Ferris did the unthinkable at the weekend. He publicly criticised a referee for his performance, inferring that the official in question, South African Marius Jonker, had been deficient in part of his handling of the Ireland v New Zealand game.
"The Irish and Lions flanker bemoaned Jonker's willingness to allow the New Zealanders to kill or at least slow down Irish ball at the breakdown, especially, in the final quarter of the game. Funny thing, that. Midway through the second half in the media box at Lansdowne Road, I wrote a note in my book. It said simply "Jonker's bark is worse than his bite".
"Jonker, you see, had spent much of the game volubly warning players that he wasn't going to stand for any nonsense. He'd be tough but fair and he wanted both teams to abide by the rules (my words, not his exact ones). Trouble was, he then actually did nothing."
November 22, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/22/2010
Not All Black for Ireland
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes the battling spirit Ireland showed in defeat to the All Blacks is a reason for hope.
"Funny old game, alright, when you can consider how a 20-point beating can put a spring back in the step of Irish rugby a week after a 10-point win left us mildly depressed.
"It's a strange thing to explain how losing by two points to the world champion South Africans and beating a Samoan side that subsequently gave cock-a-hoop England a proper fright in Twickenham cannot compete with a performance that, on paper, looks like a hammering.
"But this was a display that confirmed that Declan Kidney has the players and the capacity to bring Ireland to their first World Cup semi-final next year. The foundation of such an assertion is the recognition of just how good New Zealand are -- this is an awesome rugby team, a level above the competition and one that."
November 21, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/21/2010
All Blacks leave nothing to chance
The Irish Times' John O'Sullivan joins a long line of admirers of the 2010 All Blacks following their clinical win against Ireland.
"The All Blacks have reached a standard in performance to which Ireland must aspire and while there were glimpses that the home side might be capable of negotiating a large tranche of that journey, it will take a little while yet. Ireland produced cameos of sheer excellence but unlike their opponents they didn’t have the precision or ruthless execution to capitalise.
"A flawed decision here, a handling error there denied them probably three excellent try-scoring chances that they could ill afford to spurn. However coach Declan Kidney will be pleased with the creativity of his side. Ireland produced a display in an attacking capacity that was light years ahead of the fare on offer in the two previous matches.
"Adopting a more fluent and expansive approach, the team showed that they are capable of playing the patterns that will be rewarded in the modern game. There is still some distance to travel but at least they have embarked on the journey. Kidney will know more after this match about the individuals who are capable of broaching the requisite levels."
November 20, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/20/2010
All Blacks speed will wear Ireland down
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley fears for the worst when Ireland tackle New Zealand in Dublin.
"Sport's place as a magnificent irrelevance has rarely been more evident, but 80 minutes or so of magnificent irrelevancy could do nicely this evening. Or then again, could it? With the overwhelming weight of history and form in mind, one can rarely recall a more foreboding mood among Irish supporters, who clearly expect the magnificence to be black.
"It’s been a while since Ireland went into a home game as 8 to 1 or 15-point underdogs, yet – this not being a time for fanciful punts – what spare change has been invested on this encounter appears to have been loaded onto the almighty All Blacks.
"A thrashing akin to the last meeting, or even a bloodless coup like a year ago, would make the homecoming month virtually a write-off and the Aviva Stadium synonymous with rip-off Ireland.
"In the circumstances, a win would be remarkable, but, failing that, Irish rugby could certainly do with a restorative performance."
November 19, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/19/2010
Lines are drawn, now for the hard part
Ireland boss Declan Kidney is the latest coach tasked with shackling the All Blacks
© Getty Images
How do Ireland go about tackling the world's best team - New Zealand? The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley previews the clash.
"But picking the team was one thing. Now comes the hard part: specifically, how to go about taking on the best side in the world.
"There’s been speculation Ireland might revert to a conservative, low-risk game, such are the perils of being caught out off turnover ball. The theory goes that, in the All Blacks’ last two European tours, the bolder approach was taken by France in Marseilles last year and Scotland last week, and all it got them were 39-12 and 49-3 pastings. The key, surely, is to combine the two.
"...In making nine changes in personnel from the team which played Samoa, Kidney has reverted to the team which started against South Africa, save Tom Court starting at tighthead in place of the injured Tony Buckley.
As an aside, this lowers Munster’s representation to three, the same as Ulster, along with eight Leinster men and Tommy Bowe. It looks a calculated gamble, not least with the lineout which malfunctioned so badly under intense pressure against the Boks."
November 18, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/18/2010
Five key decisions Kidney needs to get right
The Irish Independent's David Kelly lays it on the line for Ireland coach Declan Kidney ahead of his side's clash with New Zealand.
"If the soundings within the Irish camp are to be believed, the paranoia surrounding one of Declan Kidney's most important team selections ever has reached absurd levels.
The team has already been picked; there have been no training sessions since Tuesday, so no player has had the opportunity to further announce his claims.
Unless, that is, the Irish management decide upon a novel approach by assessing players on how they spent their down day. Would Mike Ross, for example, lose out to Tom Court because he watched a 'Friends' DVD instead of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'? Might Devin Toner take an even bigger leap in the standings by supping coffee in Costa, rather than Starbucks?
Sadly, the Irish management cannot indulge in such flights of fancy; yet, to beat the All Blacks will require as much mental dexterity from the coaches as it will physical durability and psychological strength from the players."
November 16, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 11/16/2010
McGahan talks up the 'Earls factor'
Ian Bransfield of the Irish Independent previews the intriguing clash between Munster and Australia at Thomond Park.
"If it's romance you're after, then Limerick is probably the place to be tonight.
"Sixty-three years on from their first encounter at the Mardyke in Cork, Munster and Australia go at it again this evening in yet another seductive showdown at Thomond Park.
"Close to 26,000 supporters are expected to be tempted along for their own piece in history as Munster bid to do something they have never done before and beat the touring Wallabies in the Treaty County.
"They've beaten them in Cork, of course, three times. The first triumph came in 1967, when they became the first Irish province to beat a major touring nation."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 11/16/2010
It's good to have All Blacks and haka back
In his weekly column in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley looks ahead to Ireland's clash with New Zealand in Dublin.
"The All Blacks are here and, as whenever they are in town, there’s an extra frisson in the air. The levels of anticipation go up a notch more so than when the Springboks and Wallabies are about.
"Of course, economic factors are a consideration, but they will draw a much bigger crowd and a badly needed sense of occasion to the Aviva Stadium this Saturday than South Africa did, in the same way the presence of the Wallabies cannot replicate that full house and unforgettable night in Thomond Park two years ago.
"In the same way that it would be a remarkably duller world without the French in an otherwise Anglicised or entirely English-speaking elite end of the game, so it would be comparatively lacking in colour, as it were, without the All Blacks.
"New Zealand are to rugby what Brazil are to football."
November 15, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/15/2010
Ireland need to find something for ultimate test
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley fears for the worst against the All Blacks having seen Ireland labour to victory over Samoa.
"Ireland, indeed, have much on their plate this week; ie, get their set-pieces right, add much more variety to their attacking game, sharpen up their footwork and off-loading, speed up their ruck ball and fill holes in their defence. Improved work-rate off the ball, not least in offering some scope for counter-attacks, would be nice too.
The entertainment quotient wasn’t helped by the interminable number of collapsed and reset scrums at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday. Kidney estimated that each engagement, from crouch through touch – and not forgetting pause – all the way through to belated engage, took about six seconds. That he felt compelled to time three of the late put-ins tells you everything.
Arising out of IRB chief Paddy O’Brien calling all the officials together last week, Kidney said the feedback from their own sources had warned them. Nor does it explain why Ireland were penalised eight times at scrums. Matters improved after Tom Court switched to tighthead and Cian Healy and Rory Best were introduced, but Kidney intimated that, as with last week, the positive impact of the bench had to be taken into context."
November 14, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/14/2010
When does a slump become a crisis?
Ireland may have beaten Samoa but are not moving in the right direction according to the Irish Times' Noel O'Reilly.
"Ireland may have avoided the ignominy of a seventh straight defeat, at the hands of Samoa of all teams, but the performance failed to convince many that this is a team moving in the right direction.
Granted, there were bright spots for Kidney to salvage ahead of next weekend’s match against the All Blacks. Luke Fitzgerald did all that was asked of him at fullback, and a little bit more besides, Devin Toner provided a much-needed option out of touch, while Seán Cronin proved what a fine player he is in the loose.
But the negatives will weigh heavily on the coach’s shoulders and the reality is that if Manu Samoa had a goalkicker of real quality they could have come a lot closer to Ireland on the scoreboard.
Against game, but limited opponents, Ireland lacked direction. Time and again the scrum was demolished, and you genuinely fear for whatever frontrow Kidney deploys when the Kiwis come to town, passes were misplaced at the crucial moment and attacks fizzled out to nothing."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/14/2010
Appalling Ireland stare down barrel of disaster
After watching Ireland labour to victory over Samoa, the Irish Independent's George Hook is dreading the confrontation with New Zealand.
"What we had to endure yesterday was a terrible performance by Ireland in front of a tiny crowd. The cost of watching this team is totally disproportionate to the entertainment delivered. It is time for an assessment for the management, selection and coaching of this group of players. It was indicative of how low Ireland has gone that Stephen Ferris was reduced to exaggerating an assault by a Samoan in a despicable attempt to get a red card for his opponent.
Ireland go into next week's game against the All Blacks with the unenviable record of being without a win in 23 matches in the 105 years of the fixture. Declan Kidney does not look to have the players at his disposal to break that sequence.
Last week's South African game and June's joust with New Zealand proved that this Irish team is good when the cause is lost. In New Plymouth, Ireland were 45 points in arrears and down to 14 men before they started to play.
The suspicion always lingers about opponents' feet coming off the gas or, as certainly was the case with Peter de Villiers, substitutions weakening the opposition resolve. This time around the prospect of a humiliating defeat concentrated the minds of the Irish who eked out a totally undeserved victory."
November 13, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/13/2010
Ructions over tickets run on
Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley believes the Irish Rugby Football Union have missed a trick - again.
"Although 35,000 tickets were sold for today’s game as part of the package with last week’s match with the Springboks, and 3,000 more tickets have since been bought for today’s encounter, many of those supporters are not expected to travel from around the country.
This is partly because of next week’s game against the All Blacks and a full round of All Ireland League matches today.
Although tickets for today’s game can be purchased from the IRFU offices up until kick-off at the original prices of €50 for adults and €10 for schoolchildren, would-be supporters have been given little additional incentive.
Martin Murphy, the Aviva stadium director, yesterday intimated that tomorrow’s FAI Cup final could conceivably draw a bigger crowd than today’s game."
November 12, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/12/2010
Slapped, raked, thumped, kicked, pulled
Leo Cullen and Alan Quinlan are separated
© Getty Images
In an extract from his book, Munster flanker Alan Quinlan explains the end of his British & Irish Lions dream in The Irish Independent.
"You b*****. What the f*** are you at?" My hand is slapped away.
"I'm looking at Leo Cullen but I'm not paying much attention to him or what he's shouting. Somebody's always shouting in the middle of a game like this. It's another way of saying, "Hello sir, how are you today? Would you like a bang on the ear or a kick in the arse to go with your double moccachino?"
"I should know. I've been slapped, raked, thumped, kicked, pulled, yanked and stamped on enough times to understand how this game is played. Bad language is a helluva nicer way to be insulted than most rugby alternatives."
November 10, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/10/2010
Another feather in the cap for Connacht
Connacht claimed an impressive scalp in the form of Samoa on Tuesday night - the Irish Times Keith Duggan reports from the Sportsground.
"IF ERIC Elwood had the luxury of picking any victory of his fancy from this season’s schedule, it would probably not have been this midweek international.
But on a rare break from the pressure and grind of the competitive season, Connacht delivered a rousing performance in the Sportsground and the club now has another international feather to put in its cap.
The night could hardly have gone more perfectly for the Irish team. To begin with, the evening was bone dry.
John Muldoon, released from international duty for the evening, came into the match with just under half an hour to play and gave a huge forward thrust to a tremendous effort from the pack.
At outhalf, Miah Nikora responded to this start with a flawless kicking exhibition and orchestrated a three-quarters line humming with adventure and confidence all night. Troy Nathan also had a fine time operating at fullback, utterly steady under the high ball and delivering several inch-perfect clearance kicks when Connacht were under pressure.
But it was the younger lights such as Shane Monaghan, Eoin McKeon, Cillian Willis and the outstanding Eoin Griffin – deserved recipient of the after-match bubbly – who made the crowd of 2,300 glad they had turned out on what was a cold night."
November 7, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/07/2010
This team's problems cut deep
George Hook lays into Ireland following their defeat to South Africa in The Sunday Independent
"This was an unmitigated disaster as a hapless Irish team lost to a South African team playing below its best. Victor Matfield won the man-of-the-match award but there probably was not one Irishman in a shortlist of six players.
"Declan Kidney's losing run will probably end against Samoa but the coach faces more occasions like last night as his best players grow old and the replacements are callow.
"The game could have been prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act and caveat emptor certainly would have applied to anybody that paid €100 to watch substandard rugby. Spectators were streaming out of the ground with 20 minutes to go and missed the late flourish that almost delivered a totally undeserved draw."
November 5, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/05/2010
O'Gara's days as leading man far from over
On the eve of his 100th appearance in an Ireland shirt, the Irish Independent insists there is more to come from Ronan O'Gara.
"Throughout 2010, pundits and punters have repeatedly made the assertion that Jonathan Sexton is now the acknowledged first-choice out-half and his selection for tomorrow's clash was widely expected -- but not by O'Gara.
His form for Munster this season has been superb. In the seven games he has featured in, O'Gara has been at his game-controlling best, steering Munster to the top of the Magners League as well as their difficult Heineken Cup pool.
There is not much more that he could have done to force the hand of the Ireland coach but Sexton, despite his relative lack of game time (three starts and 24 minutes off the bench against Munster) and solid rather than spectacular showing against Connacht, still got the nod.
Sexton has come through fantastically well over the past two years, his attitude and all-round game are perfectly attuned to international rugby and Kidney is right when he says he is fortunate to have "two world-class out-halves" to choose from."
November 4, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/04/2010
Look further afield
Ireland take on South Africa on Saturday
© Getty Images
Paul Rees draws the attention of British papers to the fact that there are three games this weekend, not one, in The Guardian.
"A month of international rugby in Europe starts this weekend, although given the nature of media coverage these days you could be forgiven for thinking it was all about England, starting with New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.
"Wales face Australia in Cardiff at the same time, followed by Ireland and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. At least Twickenham will be full: the grand slam winners in 2008 and 2009, Wales and Ireland respectively, ravaged by the recession, will have thousands of tickets unsold.
"Wales have saturated the international market in recent years, arranging an extra Test outside the official window in November as well as June. They need to pay for a deal they reached with their four regions over player release, but the estimated crowd for the Wallabies, in what should be, in terms of attacking intent, the game of the day is 20,000 below capacity."
November 3, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/03/2010
O'Driscoll pleads but game will not sell out
On the day that Irish Rugby Football Union chief executive Philip Browne acknowledged that Saturday's Test against South Africa would not be a sell-out, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll stressed the importance of playing in front of full houses. The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly writes.
"The IRFU's ticketing policy has caused widespread anger and the lack of demand for the November Internationals forced the Union into a climb-down on their sales policy this week, following concerted pressure from the clubs.
"I think it's fair to say we're not going to have a capacity crowd at the opening match on Saturday," said Browne yesterday. "We've put our hands up. We have made a mistake relating to our ticketing strategy."
Not being able to fill the new Aviva Stadium, which has a capacity of just over 50,000, against the world champions is an embarrassing situation for the IRFU given that 75,000 attended last year's fixture at Croke Park. And O'Driscoll, who was yesterday named in the side to face the Springboks after recovering from a hamstring injury, stressed the importance of playing in front of capacity attendances.
"We want, as a team, to be playing in front of as many people as we possibly can," said the Ireland captain.
"We want to be supported by packed houses because that's what you get your buzz from. They can be a worth a score to you at vital times but we're certainly not going to get caught up in the ins and outs of what has been going on with the ticket affair."
November 2, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 11/02/2010
Not one for passing up career chance
In an interview with the Irish Times, Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan talks about competition for places at provincial and international level.
"A vehement, wholehearted Eoin Reddan can sometimes present an intense public side when he speaks about his highly pressurised job.
"The Leinster and Ireland scrumhalf has been subject for most of his career to the philosophy of modern coaching, one that ensures no player should feel at all comfortable in his position. Reddan’s is a life of, work, rest and play and weekly judgment."
November 1, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/01/2010
Clock ticking for Ireland
Writing in the Irish Independent, David Kelly previews Ireland's autumn campaign.
"Today officially marks the first day of winter. The recurring mild temperatures that continue to tip into the teens are refusing to send a bitter chill down Declan Kidney's spine.
It is only a year since we all gathered around the still-glowing, rose-cheeked Corkman after the previous season's weighty deliverance of expectation in the form of a belated Grand Slam triumph.
Success was not his alone, of course, but was undeniably shaped in his image and forged through his good nature and the ability to confer responsibility and authority with a most delicate confection of delegation and deference, through the prism of players and coaches alike.
Twelve months on, the world still turns but his world is, it seems, in a state of flux not seen since he first met with this group of Irish players and found himself scooping their depressed confidence from the floor in the late autumn of 2008."
October 30, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/30/2010
Kidney cannot afford to experiment for World Cup
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward argues that Ireland boss Declan Kidney must field his strongest side in the upcoming clashes with the Springboks and the All Blacks.
"As thoughts now turn towards the Autumn Series and the South African challenge comes sharply into view, it is time to assess the objectives, the options and the likely plan of action for Declan Kidney ahead of a fixture schedule embracing four physically demanding Tests on successive November weekends for the first time.
"Naturally, the Springboks and All Blacks matches, probably in reverse order (with respect to the reigning world champions), leap out but if the Samoans travel with anything close to a full tank then they, along with the Argentinian visit to close the series, will offer little room for physical respite. Whatever else, the November Series is guaranteed to test Irish rugby in intensity and strength in depth.
"The application of the squad game is key in the modern era but Ireland must seize the day and that means fielding the strongest available side at each time of asking. For Kidney, Gert Smal and co, it necessitates balancing physical exertion with knocks and bruises in search of the most effective combination for each successive game. The option of experimentation with a view to New Zealand 2011 simply doesn't exist. Selection for each of the four games must be measured and based on the here and now."
October 27, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 10/27/2010
Smart game plan vital
Writing for the Irish Examiner, Donal Lenihan rubbishes the theory that rugby moves in four year cycles as he looks ahead to the November internationals.
"Exactly one year out from last Sunday night, a new world champion will be crowned in Auckland. Given that the November window of activity present the last chance for Ireland to face Tri Nations sides before they meet pool opponents Australia next September, the next few weeks provide an opportunity and a systems check for the Irish management.
"Firstly let me say that I don’t buy into the concept of the four years cycle. Yes the conclusion of a World Cup tournament can provide a fitting and timely exit strategy for a player who has given his all for club and country and such an approach is understandable. But for those who wish to continue on the international stage the prospect that he could be too long in the tooth by the next tournament should not preclude him from the immediate plans of the national coach.
"Ireland, in particular, does not have the luxury of discarding experience on that basis and it is clear this management has never gone down that road. Sometimes you can over-prepare for a World Cup. Take New Zealand in 2007 when Graham Henry attempted to plan from a year out as to what his squad would be doing every day in competition. This backfired spectacularly when his side crashed out against France in that epic Millennium Stadium quarter-final. New Zealand had expected to be playing Ireland in the Cardiff venue that night. By way of contrast England, in disarray after being hammered 36-0 by South Africa in only their second pool game, somehow re-invented themselves in the midst of a crisis to reach a second successive World Cup final against all the odds."
October 26, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/26/2010
Earls must hit top gear to force Kidney's hand
Writing in the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly reviews the weekend's Magners League action.
"It probably says something about our current status in Celtic and European rugby, but when we get less than a 75pc return from our four professional teams on any given weekend, there is a distinct air of disappointment. The fact that two of those teams were playing against each other is almost irrelevant.
"For Ulster and Connacht, it was a hugely disappointing addition to the losing European experience of the fortnight before (Connacht in Italy, Ulster in France). At least Brian McLaughlin's men returned from Murrayfield with a bonus point for their evening's work. Alas, for Eric Elwood and Connacht, no such luck.
"They deserved better despite coming second to a fired-up Leinster - who dominated possession on the way to a fourth victory on the bounce. Make no mistake, the Joe Schmidt era is well and truly up and running.
"For Munster, too, it made for a fruitful Friday with a five-tries-to-one demolition of under-strength Treviso."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 10/26/2010
Growing injury list suggests something's not right
Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times attempts to get to the bottom of the sudden rise in injuries within Declan Kidney's Ireland squad.
"What has happened to the injury ratio among Irish players? Time was when the IRFU’s medical care and back-up were beyond reproach. Coupled with careful game management, this meant a relatively small pool of outstanding players could regularly pitch up and perform for country and province. But cracks are now appearing in the edifice.
"Remember the 15 Untouchables? Eddie O’Sullivan’s favoured XV went through the entire 2007 Six Nations virtually en bloc, only Brian O’Driscoll and Peter Stringer missing the second game against France at Croke Park. Excused duty from the ensuing summer tour to Argentina, sure enough the Untouchables rolled up for the World Cup opener against Namibia despite O’Driscoll’s scare in the Battle of Bayonne.
"Whatever went wrong in the World Cup, it wasn’t down to injuries, and between 2005 and 2010 only once did Ireland start more than 19 players in any one Six Nations campaign. Indeed, for the ’09 Grand Slam campaign, Declan Kidney could have picked the same 15 players for all five games had he so wanted, instead making three changes for the penultimate match against Scotland."
October 24, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 10/24/2010
Watching the detectives
Writing in Sunday Independent, Brendan Fanning recalls a moment when Matt Williams summed up criticising referees, before assessing their impact on the game.
"One of the better lines from the rollercoaster career of Matt Williams in Ireland came on a crisp January evening back in 2001. Standing outside the changing room at the Bective end of Donnybrook, the Leinster coach was asked would he like to comment on referee Ashley Rowden who had just played a central role in a game that ended 34-34, a result which steepened drastically Leinster's climb out of their Heineken Cup pool.
"His pallor and body language suggested visiting an unspeakable evil on the referee, who had whistled his team off the park in the second half, seeing a comfortable winning lead disappear. "Aw look mate, complaining about the referee is like giving out about your wife to your mother-in-law!" We thought about that one for a minute and reckoned that maybe the best policy would be to open an account with the local florist for the missus and her mammy."
October 19, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 10/19/2010
Picked on form
Ireland face a tough November schedule
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly calls for form to be the key word during Ireland's November international campaign in The Irish Independent.
"All things considered, the first seven weeks of the Irish rugby season have gone pretty well.
"The combined challenges of injury issues, the micro-managing of international players and a couple of horrendous Heineken Cup draws had led to forecasts of a 'holding' season for Irish rugby -- low on trophies, high on World Cup influence.
"However, while all four provinces have had their off-days, they have come through well. Munster top the Magners League, with an unbeaten Ulster a point behind them in third, while Connacht have a five-team buffer between themselves and their customary berth on the basement floor."
October 12, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 10/12/2010
Munster should call on Warwick
Tony Ward believes that Munster should turn to Paul Warwick to get their Heineken Cup camapign off and running in The Irish Independent.
"For Munster, it was in many ways mission accomplished at the Madejski. They did not play particularly well yet, in typically resilient fashion, eked out a bonus point that, in the end, they had every right to. London Irish coach Toby Booth has a bit to learn yet in his take on bonus point relevance.
"However, Tony McGahan does have cause for concern. When Paul O'Connell, Jerry Flannery, David Wallace, Lifeimi Mafi and Tomas O'Leary are fully fit and back in the mix, the two-time winners will be a different proposition but, for now, it's all hands to the pump in a qualifying path they know so well."
October 9, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/09/2010
Moss a true giant of the game
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward reflects on the life and career of the late Moss Keane.
"Moss was an extraordinary athlete, gifted with exceptional natural strength.
"His ability to wrestle the ball free (turnover in modern parlance) when back-pedalling in a retreating maul was uncanny.
"He was solid and as reliable as they come in the line-out. You knew (as an out-half) when the ball was called on Moss (whether at two or four), there was every chance of him taking it (and, remember, this was way before lifting arrived).
"Moss was as natural as his late coming to the game suggests, but it was his inherent honesty at scrum time and bravery in the loose that set him apart -- and I can vouch for that at first-hand, given the number of times he protected me from rogue forward runners."
October 6, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/06/2010
A truly iconic hero of the amateur era
Former Ireland lock Moss Keane has lost a long battle with cancer
© Getty Images
The words “legend” and “larger than life” are perhaps used a little too freely nowadays but in the case of Moss Keane they could hardly be more apt. The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley writes.
"News that he has passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 62 will have saddened everyone in Irish rugby and much further beyond.
A native of Currow, Co Kerry, Keane was a truly iconic Munster, Ireland and Lions hero of the amateur era and yet much more than that too. Innately kind and good-humoured, a liver of life and raconteur with a sharp mind and wit, as Ciarán Fitzgerald observed yesterday, Keane never appeared to be in a bad mood and bore his long illness with typical good humour and remarkable equanimity.
The tributes which poured in yesterday demonstrate that there have been few more popular people in the game or Irish sport."
October 5, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 10/05/2010
Hamlet without the Prince
Munster skipper Paul O'Connell rarely misses a chance to shine in Europe and is eager to return to the top table. Hugh Farrelly talks to the region's missing heart in The Irish Independent.
"For Munster to head into European competition without their captain and totem Paul O'Connell is more than a little disconcerting ... shades of Hamlet without the Prince.
"The Heineken Cup is Munster's stage and O'Connell has been a key cast member since his debut off the bench against Harlequins in October 2001. After playing a central role in Munster's triumph in 2006, O'Connell was the leading man when he lifted their second trophy in 2008 and his absence from the opening rounds of this year's competition creates a considerable void.
"The likes of Mick O'Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan have proved their effectiveness as understudies but O'Connell's return from the groin problem that has ruined his year cannot come soon enough for player, province or national coach Declan Kidney. Thus, it was especially encouraging to hear O'Connell speak in such positive terms about his rehabilitation at the Dublin section of the Heineken Cup launch in the wonderfully appointed Grand Canal Theatre yesterday."
October 3, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 10/03/2010
A renewed sense of optimism
Rory Best admits he might have left Ulster for pastures new if it hadn't been for some new signings - and his herd of cattle - speaking to John O'Brien in <The Sunday Independent.
"Last month Best turned 28 and the years of Ulster mediocrity are beginning to grate. He sees the likes of Stephen Ferris and Darren Cave, the fearlessness and confidence they exude, and imagines he too must have been like that five or six years ago. The years bring knocks and bruises, though, and the wilting doubts that accumulate with them can drag a player under unless he has the mental fortitude to overcome them.
"He recently signed a new two-year deal to stay at Ulster, but there were times he thought his future might lie elsewhere. Because he has been a loyal servant and tends a small herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle on his father's farm on the Armagh border, he feared they might take him for granted and regard him as an easy sell. But he needed to know they were serious about building a winning team. Something formidable. Something lasting.
"I'm at a stage where I want to win something meaningful. Not a one-off like the League title in '06. Win something and then next year threaten to win it again. My dream is to do that with Ulster. But I had to think very carefully and that's why I held off a bit to sign. I sat down with David [Humphreys] and Brian [McLaughlin] and they talked about the calibre of player they wanted to sign. Had those signings not happened it would've been a very difficult decision."
October 2, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 10/02/2010
Happy to be here for the long haul
The Irish Times' talks to Leinster's Isa Nacewa ahead of their high-profile clash with Munster.
"For the most part we’ve no idea what is going on in a player’s life, and often make judgements as pundits or supporters which never take that into account. Yet a happy and contented person makes for a better player, and you can tell from Isa Nacewa’s performances this season that he’s in a good place.
"...Just one bum note. Leinster’s results so far. “I think what’s most frustrating is that we have been completely in the game, either right in it or leading, and then we’ve had say a 15-minute spell in each game, an afternoon snooze as some have called it. And that’s just down to concentration.”
"It’s in these spells especially when their defence becomes passive and porous. “We don’t have a defence coach in place at the moment but that isn’t an excuse. We’ve got foundations in place that we’re just not living up to. Even when we’re getting beaten around the ruck, that’s where we’re meant to be the most solid. That’s our heart defence and when we’re getting beaten in there or soaking tackles or going back and missing them, that’s a huge area we have to look on.”
October 1, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 10/01/2010
Successful provinces fundamental to success
Leinster host Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and writing in The Irish Times a man who played for both sides in this fixture, Liam Toland, explains why the fixture is fundamental to Ireland's success.
"Prof Michael E Porter, based at Harvard Business School, noted competition brought out the best in successful multinational companies. “Porter’s Diamond” from his book The Competitive Advantage of Nations can give us an insight into the tomorrow’s benefits. The value of this derby fixture directly explains why Irish rugby has secured four Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and many Triple Crowns in the professional era.
"BMW and Mercedes have for many years hammered the multinational competition, not because they wanted to better the Japanese or the Americans but because they insisted on beating each other. They achieved such high standards before export through their own competition that on arriving into international waters they were unstoppable. We have already witnessed the value of local competition between Jonny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara, particularly to O’Gara.
"Porter’s determining factors start with the God-given stuff where Irish rugby is comparatively weakest of any rugby nation; factor conditions, the material resources, ie the player, the weather and location. We have small numbers, small frames and poor weather. Consequently the second factor becomes key to surmounting the first negative; related and supported industries. The GAA provides us with a key advantage of footballing skills in our rugby players. Centres of excellence such as UL, through its sports science, is another. The provincial academies and specialised coaching such as around the scrum are relatively new and enormously beneficial."
September 30, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/30/2010
Communication and urgency
Hugh Farrelly gets down to the bare bones of Leinster's defensive problems in The Irish Independent.
"Former Leinster and Ireland prop Emmet Byrne has proven his forensic qualities as an analyst.
"When it comes to rugby, Byrne is a self-acknowledged anorak and not just about his primary area of expertise at scrum-time, but in every facet of the modern game. It's a microscopic attention to detail that is in keeping with a man who is four years into a degree which will end up with qualification as a surgeon.
"Leinster name their team to face Munster today and Byrne highlights the availability of Jonathan Sexton as a major issue. There is a long way to go in the Magners League and, if Sexton's quad muscle injury is still niggling him, there is a chance the out-half will be allowed another week to get ready for the immediate imperatives of the Heineken Cup."
September 29, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/29/2010
Gerry Thornley takes a look at Leinster's defensive structures in The Irish Times.
"So the palindrome opens its doors properly for the first time on Saturday. It ought to be a cracking atmosphere, and both more colourful and noisier than the more expensive November Tests, whatever about the match itself.
"Incredibly, Leinster go into this fixture against Munster already a dozen points adrift of their rivals, not to mention six and eight points behind Connacht and Ulster. Thus, regardless of next weekend’s results, Leinster will be occupying next season’s Amlin Challenge Cup place at the end of the first tranche of matches as this season’s Heineken Cup embarks.
"With Racing Metro, one of the early-season pace-setters in an unpredictable Top 14, first up at the RDS followed by heavy-spending Saracens and their board of millionaires at Wembley, Leinster are facing something of a make-or-break point in their campaign. Lose the next three games and already their season would look somewhat goosed by the third week of October. As the panicky geezer in Dad’s Army used to scream: “Don’t Panic.”
September 28, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 09/28/2010
No time on Schmidt's side
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes Leinster's Joe Schmidt needs to start winning matches as the season hots up.
"Time is "the school in which we learn and the fire in which we burn". Whether it lingers for women has never been properly established but we know that time waits for no man -- and certainly not the professional rugby coach.
"Victor Costello reckons the bedding-in process between players and a new coach takes three months. The problem for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt is that, when his three months are up, Leinster's challenge for Heineken Cup and Magners League silverware could, effectively, be over. In one sense, that would take the pressure off and allow Schmidt, who is on a three-year deal, to entrench systems and build confidence for the future. The problem is that this is World Cup year and Ireland need their top players, a chunk of whom are corralled in Leinster, to be competing in high-intensity knock-out games to prepare for New Zealand 2011."
September 27, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/27/2010
It's like a scene from 'MASH'
Ian Keatley takes one on the chin
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly reports on Connacht's injury problems and the madness of TV-dictated fixtures in The Irish Independent.
"It's like a scene from 'MASH', there's bodies everywhere."
"Eric Elwood's description of the Connacht dressing-room in the aftermath of an unremittingly physical collision with Ulster on Saturday night left no scope for misinterpretation. However, despite the Connacht coach's wryly humourous take, it also emphasised the serious challenge he and his men now face, with their next assignment just three days away.
"Connacht are down to face the Blues in Cardiff on Thursday and, with his squad already stretched paper thin, it is fair to say the scheduling rankles with their coach."
September 26, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/26/2010
Free to air doesn't add up
Brendan Fanning of the Sunday Independent analyses the potential fall-out of the Irish government's proposal to make Heineken Cup games involving the four Irish provinces available on terrestrial television.
"The tail end of last season and into the summer was dominated by an earthquake whose epicentre was Adelaide Road, where communications minister Eamon Ryan hangs his hat of a working day. He gets to decide what is and isn't on the preserved list of sporting events that must be screened free to air, and as such he can define the lives of sporting organisations for whom tv revenue is oxygen.
"No, this topic hasn't gone away. In fact, it's currently on the table of economic consultants hired by Minister Ryan. Later next month, for a fee of €73,787 (inc vat) they will lob their report onto his desk. What he does with it then has everyone in Lansdowne Road transfixed.
"They are petrified that he will park both the Heineken Cup and Six Nations in the free-to-air zone, scuppering the market. As the market itself has already placed the Six Nations in that car park until 2013, the initial point of contact is the Heineken Cup. And if that happens, Sky will reverse with their money."
September 24, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/24/2010
Donkeys get a chance to handle with flair
In his latest column in Irish Times, Liam Toland talks about the way in which the Irish provinces have adapted to the new laws.
"Munster, Ulster and Connacht are in the top four of the Magners League. Clearly, two of the three are vastly improved. The Sportsground tomorrow will be a real barometer. For the first time in the history of the league both Connacht and Ulster will arrive to the fixture with much greater ambition. Pressure for the third Irish provincial slot over past seasons has made this a dogfight cup match. Tomorrow will see a major step in the evolvement of both provinces’ rugby. Especially in this new era of possession rugby.
"Ulster, by virtue of their three from three start, are arguably the most improved. Their use of the ball is a major reason for the improvement. The contest for possession of the ball is one of rugby’s key features. These contests occur throughout the game and in a number of different forms; in contact, in general play and when play is restarted at scrums, lineouts and kick-offs. The contests are balanced in such a way as to reward superior skill displayed in the preceding action."
September 23, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/23/2010
The beast from the east
Promising Connacht prop Jamie Hagan gets the profile treatment from The Irish Independent.
"Jamie Hagan walks in and the first thing that strikes you is his size.
"Six foot three and a well-distributed 19-and-a-half stone, the Connacht prop is not quite in the Tony Buckley bracket, but he's not far off. As well as the more predictable moniker of 'Hago', his team-mates call him 'The Beast From The East,' but not, as you would assume, because he hails from Leinster.
"No, they think I look like a Georgian wrestler," explains the 23-year-old. "I dunno, maybe I do, with the beard and everything."
September 22, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/22/2010
Joe Schmidt has endured a tough introduction to life at Leinster
© Getty Images
David Kelly takes a look at the early-season plight of Magners League heavyweights Leinster following their loss to Treviso in The Irish Independent.
"When news filtered through to Thomond Park last Saturday night that Leinster, 2009's European champions, had been thwarted by Magners League virgins Treviso, guffaws and giggles suffused the Limerick air.
"After the initial shock reverberated throughout European rugby at the humiliation of one of its leading club sides, it was all some could do to simply laugh, especially if one's adherence lies in the red corner of Irish rugby. However, it has been no laughing matter within Leinster rugby. Their supporters are rightly peeved at such a shocking early-season reverse, a second in three games under their new coach Joe Schmidt.
"So too the players, deeply frustrated at what Ulster's Stephen Ferris has euphemistically called "the Irish resting thing", who are also not enamoured at the manner in which the wheels have come off so spectacularly this early in the season."
September 21, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/21/2010
Hugh Farrelly takes a look at the difficult situation facing Irish players and coaches in the build up to the Rugby World Cup in The Irish Independent.
"The World Cup 2011 player management scheme - pragmatic planning or needless meddling?
"There are mixed opinions on the issue - which has dominated the start to the Irish rugby season - and considerable frustration among the affected parties.
"First off, players want to play - otherwise they would be called 'trainers' - and being forced to look on from the sidelines when fit and able is never an easy assignment. Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy, whose return to action was delayed until last weekend's disappointing reverse in Treviso, voiced his frustration a couple of weeks ago when he was not involved in the squad to face Cardiff Blues."
September 16, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/16/2010
View from the grassroots
As the row over the Irish Rugby Football Union's ticket pricing for the upcoming autum internationals rumbles on, the Irish Independent canvasses the opinions of a number of figures from the lower levels of the domestic game.
"JOHN COOKE (Committee member at Connacht Junior club Monivea RFC):
"'They've lost the run of themselves because it's not just the price of the tickets, it's the burger and the pint and everything else that goes with travelling to Dublin for a match. It's just gone bananas. There's not many can afford that these days and €40 quid for a schoolboy ticket is madness, I remember not that long ago getting sent schoolboy tickets for €5.....
"'The regular guy will be left out because he will be priced out of the market. The guy on 60 grand a year can afford that lifestyle but the ordinary guy can't. I mean look at our club, there's guys desperate for work, labourers, tradesmen, who can't find anything. The pub trade is our village is nearly gone because no one can afford to go out, and it's not just Monivea. Look, it may be fine for the better-off rugby follower, and maybe that's who it's aimed at, but there won't be many from Monivea heading across in November.'"
September 15, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/15/2010
Last of the Irish big guns set for action
This weekend should mark the return of the remaining Irish frontliners from delayed pre-seasons, the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley writes.
"Even Andrew Trimble is set to make an earlier return from injury than expected and is included in the Ulster squad to entertain Edinburgh this weekend, and although Leinster have not named a squad for their trip to Treviso, the likelihood is that Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy will be involved.
"The Leinster management are also “optimistic” that the four players who picked up knocks before or during the win over Cardiff – Shane Horgan (back), Shane Jennings (foot), Jonathan Sexton (quad) and Fergus McFadden (cut head) – will be available for the trip to Italy. As with Ulster last week though, they may take the view that the sheer length of the Italian trips may make them opportune games for some to have their requisite rests.
"In addition, some of those involved in the Leinster A defeat to Munster last Sunday may come into the mix, as might possibly Rhys Ruddock after a dual load last summer of Under-20 World Cup and a late replacement on the Irish tour to New Zealand and Australia."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 09/15/2010
Carr making compelling case
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward reflects on the start of the new Magners League season.
"Competition for Declan Kidney's back three going into the November series will be hotting up in the coming weeks but with the versatile Fionn Carr taking up where he finished off last May, there's no reason why he should not be in the frame for selection in the autumn internationals. He's in there alongside Ian Dowling and Johne Murphy banging on the door.
"Granted, Kidney is spoilt for choice, with Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and, when back to full fitness, Keith Earls and Andrew Trimble all pushing for that call, but when such obvious potential is being matched by consistency in form, the case for Carr will surely be there."
September 13, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/13/2010
Avoiding the guillotine
Hugh Farrelly reviews a difficult game for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and a big performance from prop Mike Ross in The Irish Independent.
"After his successful stint as Clermont assistant coach, Joe Schmidt's arrival as Leinster's main man came with the 'French revolution' tag attached and, after 70 minutes of the Magners League clash with the Cardiff Blues at the RDS on Saturday night, the New Zealander had guillotines on his mind.
"Winless in pre-season and having let victory slip away to Glasgow the previous weekend, Leinster found themselves 23-20 behind to the Blues with 10 minutes left, having squandered a 20-6 lead.
"To add to the anxiety, the continuing complication of international player controls and a warm-up injury to out-half Jonathan Sexton meant Leinster's depth was being severely tested again, with Dominic Ryan, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden, Eoin O'Malley and David Kearney all on the park for the end-game."
September 11, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 09/11/2010
The notion that those still inhabiting Ross O'Carroll-Kelly land can afford €40 per child per match is well wide of the mark
Writing in the Irish Independent, former Ireland fly-half Tony Ward attacks the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) over their ticket pricing policy for the Aviva Stadium.
"Whatever criticisms can be levelled at the IRFU, underselling its product is most certainly not one. Few if any sporting bodies have taken to professional sport as well as the governing organisation of the oval code here have done.
"There have been casualties, not least at club level, but in overall terms what we have is an extremely efficient game administered by an extremely efficient organisation.
"The new Lansdowne Road/Aviva Stadium - call it what you will - bears testimony to the foresight and efficiency of the IRFU. That said, they are still capable of the occasional howler. The decision to hike up ticket prices at a time when the country is on its economic knees smacks of arrogance and insensitivity in the extreme.''
September 8, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/08/2010
There's a quiet air of confidence around Munster following a hard-fought win over Aironi. The real season for Irish fans will begin at the Aviva Stadium as the two-time European champions face Leinster however, according to Hugh Farrelly in The Irish Independent.
"The competitive season has barely begun and, in terms of wider appeal, will not really kick in until Munster and Leinster meet in the redeveloped Lansdowne Road in little under a month's time.
"With the GAA championships still a going concern and the national soccer team plotting their path to the European Championships, it has been hard for the Magners League to command broad attention. However, after just one round of the expanded competition, anticipation is building towards that October 2 clash after a largely encouraging opening weekend for Irish rugby.
"Particularly in Munster. After last Saturday's well-constructed bonus-point victory over a dogged Aironi outfit in Cork, the analysis was upbeat among the various groups of supporters and old Munster warriors gathered around Musgrave Park -- although diluted somewhat by the perils of assuming too much, too soon."
September 7, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 09/07/2010
Connacht to the fore
Tony Ward reviews Irish fortunes after round one of the Magners League in The Irish Independent.
"Home comforts proved decisive in an opening series of games which saw all six host sides register success as the revamped Magners League clicked into gear.
"If it is a sign of things to come, then it augurs well for the league, given the nature of the winning performances in Treviso and Galway, in particular. Glasgow and Ulster can take satisfaction, too, while newly-created Aironi provided enough evidence at Musgrave Park to suggest that a long overdue platform is finally being put in place for Italian rugby to kick on.
"From an Irish perspective, three wins from four represented the best percentage return of the four competing nations."
August 27, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/27/2010
Kidney faces anxious wait on Earls
Writing in The Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly expresses concern at the continuing injury woes for Ireland's Keith Earls.
"Earls cannot compete with the leviathans of the game. By normal standards, the Moyross man, at 5ft 11ins and 14 stone, is not small but, in rugby terms, he is slight and it makes him vulnerable, particularly as he is not a player to shirk from any physical challenge.
"With the load going through my body, the (groin) injury was bound to come," said Earls last month. "The physios are telling me that my body is not fully developed yet, my pelvis and core are still developing and my body is not quite strong enough yet for the workload I have been going through."
"There are plenty of examples of prodigiously talented players whose careers were bedevilled by injury. Ireland flanker Eric Miller won 48 caps between 1997 and 2005 and would have won many more -- including Test starts for the Lions -- but for consistent injury problems. Jonny Wilkinson was unavailable to play for England for 1,169 days after steering them to the World Cup in 2003 as he reeled from a succession of blows to his knee, arm, shoulder and kidney.
"It should be the fervent hope of everyone with a vested interest in Irish rugby that Earls' career does not continue to be characterised by time on the treatment table and that this gifted young player is afforded a sustained run of fitness. It starts with a scan on Monday."
August 25, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 08/25/2010
What do we do with Connacht?
Connacht wing Fionn Carr
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly looks at Irish rugby's perennial problem, the continuing development of Connacht, in The Irish Independent.
"New season, same old problem: what do we do with Connacht? Black sheep, Cinderella province, Prodigal son -- the hackneyed descriptions have been constant companions for more than 10 years and seem destined to remain so, with optimism out west continuing to be rooted more in hope than expectation.
"Michael Bradley put in a seven-year shift as Connacht coach which did not receive the credit it deserved and his successor Eric Elwood is now getting to grips with the realities of a daunting challenge, with the on-pitch aspect kicking off against the Dragons at home on Saturday week.
"He expects to be without six front-liners through injury -- notably captain John Muldoon, who broke his arm on Ireland's summer tour -- and aside from No 8 Ezra Taylor, scrum-half Cillian Willis and a handful of promising All-Ireland League recruits, Elwood is working with the same raw materials that saw Connacht finish four points adrift at the bottom of the Magners League table last season."
August 21, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 08/21/2010
Cautous O'Connell edging closer to fitness
Paul O'Connell spoke to The Irish Examiner's Charlie Mulqueen about his long road to recovery from his groin infection.
"The Munster and Lions captain has been sidelined since March due to a mysterious bone infection in the groin area that defied the best efforts of the medics to diagnose and treat. The problem was eventually identified and thus began a lengthy treatment process which kept O’Connell wrapped in cotton wool for much of the summer. But over the last five weeks the Limerick man has made huge strides, to the delight of provincial and national management and fans alike. Understandably after a season of setbacks, he isn’t announcing return dates just yet.
"O’Connell said: "Once we got rid of the infection, things started improving. I have a scan every two weeks and it shows the bone healing. Once the bone heals, I can get back doing most stuff. But then I have to get a pre-season into me.
"I’ve been back doing weights now for five weeks. Prior to that I’d been on antibiotics for a long time and wasn’t able to do that. It’s nice to be back training again even if I’m not doing all the stuff on the pitch that the lads are doing. It’s nice to be working hard in the gym, you feel like you’re earning your wages!
"I’m off all the treatment now but I’ve tried to avoid setting targets for my return. The injury is so unusual that I could make great gains but all of a sudden things could slow down. The improvements over the last two or three weeks have been good and I hope that continues. But I have no doubt there are going to be one or two hiccups along the way. It’s frustrating enough as it is without targeting a game and missing it."
August 20, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/20/2010
O'Connell targets December return
Paul O'Connell will again captain Munster for the coming season but is unlikely to be back on the playing field until December. The Irish Times Ian Bransfield reports.
"The 30-year-old lock has been sidelined since picking up a groin infection last March, and though able to participate in light training, he admits he is almost certain to miss out on Munster’s opening Heineken Cup exchanges as well as Ireland’s autumn international series.
"O’Connell was in Limerick yesterday as Toyota announced the extension of their partnership with Munster, a deal worth €5.75 million over the next three years.
"And the Limerickman has resigned himself to spending another three months on the sidelines. “I’ll be setting my sights around December, and anything else would be a bonus,” said O’Connell. “I went back running 10 days ago, and I’ve had no problems. I need to go about 12 weeks from when I stopped the antibiotics and get back into the heavy stuff, so I’m about eight and a half weeks into that now. It’s flying along at the moment. It was really slow at the start, but it’s getting quicker now and going very well.”
August 19, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 08/19/2010
Schmidt making his mark on Leinster
Leinster under Josef Schmidt is an appreciably different environment to that of the previous coach, Michael Cheika, according to the Irish Times.
"New Zealander Schmidt will begin his reign on Friday night at Donnybrook with a friendly against Wasps. He has named a relatively youthful squad bolstered by a couple of marquee names returning from injury in Luke Fitzgerald and Seán O’Brien, amongst others, but even for those now just training and not playing the coach has already made a positive impression.
Jennings elaborated on one aspect. “I think Michael (Cheika) was quite an intense character, who worked very, very hard and nearly ran the place like a business: he had a business background and that’s the way he was, whereas Joe is probably a bit calmer from first impressions.
“In talking to Isa (Nacewa, who Schmidt coached at Auckland Blues) he just massively loves the game more than everything else and that comes across in training when he’s running around the whole time, reffing games and playing games."
July 31, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/31/2010
Rugby returns to its ancestral home
Gavin Cummiskey of the Irish Times looks forward to the first game to be played at the new Lansdowne Road.
"Come 2.30pm this afternoon rugby returns to its ancestral home. It was December 31st, 2006, that a rugby ball, or any ball for that matter, was last kicked around Lansdowne Road. The ground has since been modernised and rechristened the Aviva Stadium, with today’s O2 Challenge seeing a combined Connacht/Munster selection face a Leinster/Ulster equivalent.
"All the players on show will be under-20, many of them the best talent to come from the schools game in the past 12 months, but it should be pointed out that of the 44, only 10 are presently contracted to provincial academies as pre-season training has prohibited the cream of young Irish talent being showcased on the first historic outing.
"This is a shame and a missed opportunity with this date only really being utilised so the IRFU could ensure that rugby was the first sport in the new stadium, not soccer."
July 25, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/25/2010
Leamy close to Munster return
Denis Leamy feared for his future in rugby as he battled to come back from the devastating injury which sidelined him last season. The Irish Independent's Phil Cadden reports.
"Leamy, who has previously undergone two shoulder operations, is targeting a pre-season return to training and insists he will be raring to go for the Magners League opener against Italian newboys Aironi in six weeks' time.
"I'm not quite 100 per cent but I'm getting there. I only started running six weeks ago but it's good to be back. I'm no stranger to being on the sidelines and it is frustrating. The amount of time and then the boredom of having to stick to a programme made this the most difficult of all the injuries.
"But I've managed to dig it out and all the hard work seems to have paid off. It's a massive lift for me to be back in training. My aim is to start the season."
"Before then, Leamy, along with the injured Irish stars such as Paul O'Connell, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris, who missed the summer tour to Australasia, will meet up with head coach Declan Kidney for a one-day camp in Enfield.
"And the 41-cap star, who hasn't figured for the national side since the convincing victory over Fiji last autumn, believes the call-up is a big boost with the World Cup only 14 months away."
July 5, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 07/05/2010
Little reason to hope
Eamonn Sweeney reflects on Ireland's 1979 tour to Australia and finds little reason for the current crop to hope in The Irish Independent.
"I remember the 1979 Irish rugby tour of Australia very well. It came at a time when I was beginning to take a big interest in rugby, so much so that I kept a scrapbook of the newspaper reports. And my interest was richly rewarded because it was the most dramatic of tours.
"For a start, it saw the extraordinary decision to drop Tony Ward, Ireland's star player and one of the most popular sportsmen in the country, from the Test team and replace him at out-half with Ollie Campbell, who had slipped into obscurity after receiving a single cap for Ireland three years earlier.
"Campbell then proved the decision correct with a record 19 points in Ireland's 27-12 victory in the first Test, that most exciting of scrum-halves Colin Patterson completing the points total with two trademark tries."
July 1, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/01/2010
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Ireland should ideally have at least three players per position and, following the recent tour, they are closer to that goal than ever before, writes the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"Given Ireland play Scotland, France (twice) and England in the August before the 2011 World Cup, casualties are inevitable and Ireland should ideally have at least three players per position, or alternatively a notional base of 45-plus.
"They are a little closer to that now than ever before though it would help if the IRFU took a leaf out of the Australian manual (who are now adding on a fifth ‘Super’ franchise) and allowed Connacht to be competitive rather than use them to prop up the other three. Irish rugby is handicapping itself there.
"Of course the primary purpose of the tour was to register an overdue Tri Nations scalp in the Southern Hemisphere. That’s how it was sold to us and it didn’t happen, and the All Blacks game will remain an embarrassment. It was very unlike a [Declan] Kidney team to appear so tame, a Gert Smal pack so disorganised and a defence under [Les] Kiss which was caught so flat-footed. But one ventures nothing like it will ever happen again; perhaps these past few results have been a step back in order to take a couple forward. We shall see."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/01/2010
O'Driscoll not getting fair crack of whip
Writing in the Irish Independent, Peter Bills fears for the demands on top players like Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll.
"I thought of a player like O'Driscoll when I listened to the words of self-congratulations coming from the IRB when they announced that longer-term tours, something like the old-fashioned variety, were coming back. Great, said most people in the game. Wonderful; another link with tradition restored.
"But it will only be great for the best players, like O'Driscoll, if it means they aren't going to be driven even harder. If some recompense is to be made for the fact that they may need to play in a three-Test series in the southern hemisphere in June, where will the slack be cut in the preceding months?
"The fact is, if the return of so-called 'traditional' tours means loading ever more commitments onto the shoulders of the world's greatest players, all the IRB will be doing is hastening their demise. And from where I sit, that doesn't look a terribly clever idea."
June 30, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/30/2010
Benefit of hindsight
Gerry Thornley, writing in The Irish Times, believes that Ireland must build on the few positives from their recent southern hemisphere tour.
"When Ireland bridged a 61-year gap to win the Grand Slam just over a year ago, they did so with a brand of rugby that was clever, pragmatic and saw Irish rugby reach its holy grail. Of the six teams competing in the Six Nations, Ireland kicked the ball the most, and passed the least. They made a virtue of rolling with the punches for long stretches and then stealthily making the most of their forays upfield. It delivered in spades.
"After years of relative underachievement for team Ireland, marked by Triple Crowns and a continuing succession of World Cup failures, that campaign ensured a golden generation would not retire with an empty feeling of underachievement.
"Even so, the feeling also lurked then that this rugby probably wouldn’t be ambitious enough to make an impact at the World Cup and that the Slam might be the peak for a vintage crop. Little about the intervening 15 months or so have dispelled either view, while perhaps there’s also been evidence of second season syndrome."
June 29, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/29/2010
The good, the bad and New Plymouth
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly assesses a tour on which he incurred Kiwi wrath and watched Ireland lose all three games, but saw promising signs.
"Spirit: The intangible quality that shone through strongly on this trip. It may seem like a straw-clutching exercise to point to good morale and camaraderie when all three matches were lost but, given what transpired in New Plymouth, the Maori and Australia games would have been a lot worse without it.
"...New Plymouth: Nothing to do with the scenery, warmth of welcome or vitriolic response to the piece in these pages questioning the dubious levels of diversion on a wet Thursday night. Rather, it is in terms of facilities for fans that you would question New Plymouth's capabilities of being a proper World Cup venue. Accommodation is relatively sparse and a three-hour wait for a taxi on match night is unacceptable. They have a year to sort it out."
June 28, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/28/2010
Experience comes the hard way
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley reflects on Ireland's loss to Australia in Brisbane.
"The Ireland team which finished this game had five of the side which won the Churchill Cup 12 months ago. From Colorado to Brisbane, Ireland have completed a circuitous journey. The record books will show a 24th successive defeat to the big three below the equator, but to come within a score of a Tri-Nations team in the Southern Hemisphere with what was essentially a Magners League pack, two weeks after shipping 66 points, wasn’t too shabby.
"At one stoppage in the final quarter, Andrew Trimble was hobbling on the far wing, Shane Jennings was down and being treated, while Jonathan Sexton was having his knee strapped, which meant Geordan Murphy took the penalty to touch. For much of a pointless second half, they were running on empty."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/28/2010
Aussies hold no World Cup fears
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward believes Ireland have no reason to fear Australia at the World Cup.
"Both teams were severely depleted so in a sense it was 'even steven'. No Irish redemption on that count. It was in effect the Emerging Wallabies v Ireland 'A' but with full caps on offer. They come with Rice Krispies packs today anyway. That said, and although their scrum has come on leaps and bounds, the Wallaby squad appears a long way short of the big two -- South Africa and New Zealand -- in terms of strength in depth.
"On the plus side for Ireland, there was little hard evidence to suggest that the Wallabies will take top spot in the World Cup pool as a matter of course. They will be favoured, but it is no foregone conclusion. For Declan Kidney, this represented a dogged and fighting end to a difficult tour. They were tired and it showed."
June 27, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/27/2010
Battered, bruised and beaten
Brendan Fanning reflects on a disappointing end to an underwhelming season for Ireland in The Irish Independent.
"In a corporate box next door to our position in Suncorp Stadium last night, there was a TV tuned into the game we were watching. Handy for replays and that sort of thing.
"Long before the finish they had changed the channel. To a rugby league game between South Sydney and Melbourne. You might think this remarkable in a match where the margin was only seven points. It wasn't hard to understand though -- this was awful stuff. Two understrength teams: one of them knackered; the other so far removed from where they want to be as to make the Tri Nations a fearful prospect for them.
"What happens in that competition is for Robbie Deans to worry about. Declan Kidney has enough on his plate. It makes no sense to pan a team for playing so poorly when they are so far removed from a first-choice selection. At one stage in the second half, when Donncha O'Callaghan went to the blood bin and Dan Tuohy came on, you looked at the make-up of the Irish pack and wondered how this group could be on active service in a Test match."
June 26, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/26/2010
Green invasion might not get what they came for
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley fears the team's faithful supporters will not get their wish of win against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
"In keeping with previous treks to Australia, amid the Friday night buzz of downtown Brisbane there was a palpable sense of another impending Green Army invasion. The ex-pats have converged like moths to a flame, from all corners of Australia and even Singapore and no doubt beyond.
"Tricolours not only bedecked plenty of bars around town but apartments too on roads leading to Suncorp Stadium in Milton to the north of the city. Any Irish person living in “Briz” tells of every floor space being taken up. The Irish are coming. It should all make for a cracking sense of occasion.
"Suncorp, home to the Queensland rugby league and lately union sides, has almost sold out to its 52,000 capacity. Yesterday the ground echoed to the Irish kickers familiarising themselves with the steepling stands, which lend weight to Les Kiss’s “lunchbox” description of the stadium.
"Ronan O’Gara appeared more animated than Jonathan Sexton, perhaps as the pressure is off him to a degree, but he must be in a strange place. On 99 caps, he is set to become only the third Irish player to reach a century, yet won’t know if today will be the day."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/26/2010
Wallace recall a statement of creative intent
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward is heartened by a recall for Paddy Wallace for the clash with Australia.
"But the most revealing selection of all is in midfield, where Paddy Wallace's deserved inclusion represents a serious statement of creative intent. Much like Kidney, I am a midfield romantic.
"The desire is clearly there. Provided it is backed for the final 80 minutes of the season by the appropriate level of commitment, then, in spite of the odds being stacked against us, it is not beyond the bounds that Macker's tales of derring-do could finally be laid to rest. Here's hoping."
June 25, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/25/2010
Kiss it better
Hugh Farrelly talks to Ireland's defence coach Les Kiss as his side prepare to play a vital final Test of the season against the Wallabies in Brisbane in The Irish Independent.
"It's been a tough old tour for Les Kiss.Ireland's defence coach has had to put up with being locked in a lift for an hour and a half, a back injury following a training exercise that went wrong and, most painfully, having to watch his system being dismantled 12 times in two matches.
"Nine tries conceded against the All Blacks, three more against the Maori -- it does not make happy reading for a man who masterminded a miserly defensive record that saw Ireland pick up a Grand Slam and travel through 2009 unbeaten. In the 18 internationals prior to the All Blacks Test, Ireland had conceded just 16 tries and then they let in nine in one go."
June 24, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/24/2010
The Boys of '79 upset the Aussies
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley shares Ireland team manager Paul McNaughton's memories of beating the Australia in 1979.
"Admittedly, tours weren’t as commonplace in those days, but even so Ireland have played 23 Tests against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere since then and have lost the lot.
"There hasn’t even been any respite in Argentina, where Ireland also two lost Tests in 2007, as well as one in 2000, not to mention two defeats in Namibia in 1991 prior to the World Cup.
"McNaughton played in seven of the eight matches on that ’79 tour, and reckons Fergus Slattery and Mike Gibson played all eight.
“You have this impression that amateur rugby in those days was just going from one pub to another, and then the match was kind of a weekend addendum. I’ve talked to a lot of guys about this and I’ve certainly never experienced it like that, on this (1979) trip especially.”
June 22, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2010
Backs to the wall
At the last count, of the 36 players to have played for Ireland in nine Tests in the 2009-10 season, 13 have been ruled out of the season finale against the Wallabies at the Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley writes.
"With David Wallace flying home to be with is wife, Aileen, for the birth of their second child, seven of them are backrowers.
"While there’s no accounting for the latter development, or the suspension of Jamie Heaslip, if nothing else one ventures this season and this tour has been a reminder to the Irish coaching staff that the attrition rate is often highest among the loose forwards.
"Accordingly, it ought to have reminded them of the need to include six backrowers in their 30-man squad for next year’s World Cup. In addition to the aforementioned two, Stephen Ferris, Denis Leamy, Seán O’Brien, Kevin McLaughlin, Donncha Ryan and John Muldoon are missing."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/22/2010
Styling a heady brew
Living out of a suitcase for a protracted period of time has certain undesirable consequences, not least for your personal grooming The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly reports from his travel with the Ireland team in Brisbane.
"Elan, Men's Hair And Body boasts a comprehensive male grooming service, far removed from the in-and-out, "have you booked any holidays yet?" dry-cut service we are accustomed to in Ireland.
"According to the flyers, Elan "provides a total solution for men who want to look professional, feel confident and seek a distinct style" -- so far, so alluring. However, it was the next part of Elan's pitch that really grabbed the attention.
"Elan is equipped with televisions to keep the modern man up to date on all the financial news and sport, wireless internet connections for the man on the move and a selection of exclusively roasted coffees, gourmet juices and ... cold beers."
"Who said the Aussies didn't have culture?"
June 21, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/21/2010
I can see clearly now
Wales' hammering by the All Blacks has put things into perspective for Ireland according to The Irish Independent.
"Although the statistics of two defeats, 12 tries conceded, injuries and suspension would suggest otherwise, there have been positive aspects to Ireland's summer trip to the southern hemisphere, which concludes against the Wallabies next weekend.
"The four tries scored with 14 men against the All Blacks was put into perspective by Wales' failure to score one with a full complement, while the Welsh losing margin was only five points better than the Irish.
"Ireland's subsequent performance against the Maori -- overwhelming favourites -- would, but for a shaky start, undoubtedly have brought victory and the Irish again showed their capacity to play high-tempo, heads-up rugby -- vital if they are to make a meaningful impression at the World Cup next year."
June 20, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/20/2010
Brisbane victory would be tragedy
Protection of hurting, brave Irishmen must come before results, writes George Hook in the Irish Independent.
"The tour has been saved, trumpeted the experts. The team had shown the character necessary to fight back against the Maori and the group could now travel to Brisbane in good heart ready to take the fight to the Wallabies. However, it would be a tragedy were Ireland to beat Australia, because it would disguise problems for the game that have not seen the light of day. A victory for Ireland would disprove, the apologists will say, the theory that players are in the grip of fatigue, playing when hurt and risking long-term physical and mental damage.
"Brian O'Driscoll, 24 hours before he was due to line out against the All Blacks in a Test, was not fit to take part in the captain's run. An attack of vertigo we were told was the problem. The symptoms of vertigo -- ringing in the ears and dizziness -- are coincidentally the same for concussion. Ireland's greatest, and indeed the bravest player of all time, has played below his best this season. Not a match has taken place that he has not received on-field treatment. But worryingly, all too often he has looked dazed and not fully aware of his surroundings after yet another trademark hit in defence of his country's sporting honour."
June 19, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/19/2010
Kidney's men dig deep to restore pride
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly believes Ireland's improved performance in defeat to the New Zealand Maori bodes well for their next Test clash against Australia.
"Once again the cards did not fall Ireland's way. Red and yellow cards scuppered their chances against the All Blacks but it was Mark Lawrence's failure to produce yellow that cost them this time around.
"He penalised the Maori five times in succession for breakdown indiscretions yet incredibly no one was sent to the bin. With Ireland dominant, playing against 14 men would have allowed Geordan Murphy's side to go for the jugular.
"They will look at defensive lapses for the tries -- 12 now conceded in two games -- when Hosea Gear and Dwayne Sweeney took advantage of space on the left for the first-half efforts and substitute Karl Lowe rounded off a move that began with a quick throw-in in the Maori half for the third on 64 minutes.
"They will also examine key failures in the last 10 minutes, a kick to touch that went out on the full and a lineout penalty that could have been avoided when they were pushing for a winning score."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/19/2010
Dirt-trackers fail to clean up
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley believes Ireland's narrow defeat to the New Zealand Maori was one that got away.
"Grasping for tackles and trailing 18-3 before the first quarter was over, Ireland’s dirt-trackers played themselves into a winning position, only to let it slip in losing to the Maoris 31-28 in Rotarua yesterday. They move on to Brisbane acutely disappointed, but with a revived spring in their step.
"Save for that slightly scary start, which promised yet more of the usual pain in the land of the long white cloud, the body language, the attitude and the line speed and leg strength in contact, especially in defence, and use of possession was far better than last Saturday’s grim night in New Plymouth against the All Blacks."
June 17, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/17/2010
A centenary Ireland may wish to forget
Friday night's meeting with the New Zealand Maori is possibly the toughest match Ireland could have squeezed into their schedule between facing the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Gerry Thornley writes in the Irish Times.
"Everything about the way the Maoris points to them playing with a high-tempo approach similar to the All Blacks. Ready as they claim to have been for this, Irish players didn’t seem particularly alert to quick throws and taps last week.
"Adapting to the relentless recycling and ball-in-hand rugby which now reins hereabouts is one thing, but Ireland’s defence was also badly exposed. In addition to sharpening their re-alignment and line speed, Ireland also need to sharpen up their breakdown work and what was a messy lineout.
"By right, Ireland should be hurting, and Joseph expects as much. “I’ve played Ireland myself and I know how passionate they are as a rugby team and a rugby nation,” says Joseph. “I’d say they’ll be hurting and we’ll get it. The guys are aware of that, and if they’re not, they will be by tonight, and if they’re still not, they’ll be made aware of it in the first five minutes mate, don’t you worry,” he says with a broad smile."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/17/2010
Henry eager to restore Ireland pride
No one would question that it has been a tough trip to New Zealand, complete with injuries, a suspension and a nine-try hammering by the All Blacks, but Ireland's Chris Henry is relishing every second. Hugh Farrelly writes in the Irish Independent.
"Henry has been one of the most consistent performers in Irish rugby this season, picking up three Ulster awards in May -- the rugby writers' and supporters' player of the year, as well as the personality of the year award. Yet, he could be considered something of a late bloomer, given that he only broke into the Ulster side the previous year. Handed the captaincy when Rory Best was injured, Henry is deeply frustrated by the way the province's season fell off post-Christmas.
"I only got my first cap for Ulster a year and a half ago, so it's been a whirlwind and I've been loving every minute of it. We're ambitious in Ulster and getting selected for Ireland or Ireland 'A' is a big part of that. Maybe there hasn't been a massive representation from Ulster over the past couple of years because we haven't been winning. If you're an Irish coach, you want your team to be full of winners," he says."
June 16, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/16/2010
A mobile forward
Ireland lock Dan Tuohy takes on the All Blacks' defence
© Getty Images
Gerry Thornley talks to Ireland lock Dan Tuohy following his eventful Test debut against the All Blacks last weekend in The Irish Independent.
"There's always been something about debuts and Dan Tuohy, but last Saturday in New Plymouth topped the lot. Less than a minute after replacing the hamstrung Mick O’Driscoll, Tuohy had cleared out a ruck when he followed another side-stepping carry by Andrew Trimble.
"He could hear Ronan O’Gara shouting “they’re not committed to it”, so as Trimble presented the ball Tuohy picked up and went.
“I sometimes get blasted for doing that because I’ve done it before with no support. But I just thought, ‘I have to do something’. When you come on you think you have to do something to get into the game.”
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/16/2010
Murphy's haka history
Hugh Farrelly talks to Ireland's latest skipper, fullback Geordan Murphy, about facing up to the haka prior to Friday's meeting with the New Zealand Maori in The Irish Independent.
"The haka promises to be something special when Ireland line up against the New Zealand Maori on Friday night, but it may come as a surprise to the host team to learn that the Irish captain has been on the other side of the fence when it comes to the Maori war dance, writes Hugh Farrelly.
"When he was a student at Newbridge College in Kildare, Geordan Murphy was part of an exchange scheme with Auckland Grammar, a famed rugby school in New Zealand, and during that time performed his share of hakas.
"He went on to face New Zealand's haka eight times, seven with Ireland and once with the Lions in 2005 and it provides a unique insight into the practice and its importance to the Maori culture."
June 13, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/13/2010
Ireland feel the pain
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip is given his marching orders in New Plymouth
© Getty Images
Ireland's defeat at the hands of New Zealand was "ugly" in many ways according to the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"Not so much a return to the bad old days as a whole brand new one all to itself, the psychological scars from which would have been even worse were it not for a 14-man effort which saw Ireland respond to a nightmare 38-0 deficit after just 33 minutes to thereafter share four converted tries apiece. Even so, this already daunting tour just became a whole lot longer.
"Ill-discipline, primarily a red card for Jamie Heaslip and mistakes cost them from the off, effectively ending the contest from the 15th minute. Heaslip was sent off by referee Wayne Barnes for, according to the Englishman, deliberate knees to the head, although it wasn’t abundantly clear who the recipient was or, if indeed, he didn’t catch a teammate just as much. The pity is that Ireland were hammering away at the All Blacks line at the time, both Andrew Trimble and Gordon D’Arcy having been held up inches short from making the score 10-7. But instead of game on, it was game over."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/13/2010
Sending off should not be used as a smokescreen
Writing in the Irish Independent, Frankie Sheahan believes Jamie Heaslip's sending off should not be used as a smokescreen for Ireland's defeat at the hands of New Zealand.
"You must own the ball and not give it away. Two of the most obvious ones for me though, and which became the biggest problems during the game, were defence and ball retention.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the sending off of Jamie Heaslip and the sin binning of Ronan O'Gara were key moments because New Zealand scored 21 points in that period. However, the main area that really disappointed me was our defence and I would imagine that Les Kiss's defensive video session during the week will be like a scene from The Exorcist."
June 12, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/12/2010
Even the horse has bolted from 'Newtownshambles'
Writing in the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly reports from New Plymouth ahead of Ireland's clash with New Zealand.
"Dutch Gold don't do one-horse towns, but ... Actually, that's a bit unfair, you cannot describe New Plymouth as a one-horse town, given that the horse has long since bolted for a more stimulating existence in the Australian outback.
"It calls itself a city, but New Plymouth (or 'Newtownshambles' as one of the more cynical members of the Irish press corps calls it) is no more than a moderate-sized town and it was a pretty grim place to be on Thursday evening with violent wind and rain coming in off the Tasman Sea.
"The streets are laid out American-style, so your hotel is located "two blocks from the clock tower on the corner of King and Devon, and so on. And the main drag was exactly that, shutters clattering, not a car in sight, and only a few die-hard locals venturing from their homes to ponder their existence over sorrowful pints at various Tumbleweed Arms-type hostelries."
June 11, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/11/2010
Put up or shut up
David Kelly talks to legendary All Black Sean Fitzpatrick about Ireland's need to break their duck against New Zealand in The Irish Independent.
"New Zealand's legendary former captain Sean Fitzpatrick has warned Ireland that it is time to put up or shut up as the tourists seek to end their ignominious 105-year winless streak against the All Blacks tomorrow.
"The prodigious ex-hooker was capped a record 92 times for the All Blacks and was first handed the captaincy during the 1992 campaign when Ireland came agonisingly close to ending their unenviable losing streak in that year's first Dunedin test.
"Before and since then, Ireland have played a good game off the pitch, but rarely looked like converting on it, even when Fitzpatrick's long-time understudy Warren Gatland led his side to a significant lead in the 2002 encounter at Lansdowne Road. "Ireland need to go out and play with enthusiasm and put pressure on the All Blacks," declares Fitzpatrick. "And not just for 60 minutes, but for 80 minutes. It's all very good talking about it. It's a different thing to go out and do it."
June 8, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/08/2010
Hugh Farrelly ponders the ramifications of All Black coach Graham Henry's referee jib in The Irish Independent.
"The weather here may be 'cat' in Irish terms but things are hotting up nicely ahead of Saturday's Test between the All Blacks and Ireland in New Plymouth.
"Despite both camps having to cope with extensive injury lists, allied to a disappointing Super 14 season for the Kiwis and a daunting assignment at the end of a long and arduous season for the Irish, it is fair to say that there is a collective enthusiasm for this encounter.
"New Zealand's first international of the season is always going to excite interest in this oval-obsessed nation, particularly with the clutch of new players in their side, while the prospect of facing the only major international side Ireland have never defeated is a massive incentive for the visitors."
June 7, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/07/2010
No good at it
Paul Ackford believes that a northern hemisphere side must win on tour this summer to keep alive any semblance of pride in The Daily Telegraph.
"Since that visit, which encouraged the self-belief which led to global dominance two months later, England’s record has been execrable: a 51-15 defeat in Brisbane in 2004, followed by two Tests in 2006 which England lost 34-3 in Sydney and 43-18 in Melbourne.
"Yet, incredibly, England are the success story here. Wales have never won a Test match in New Zealand, Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks and last triumphed in Australia way back in 1979, and Scotland’s record against Argentina stands at two victories from 10 outings.
"That’s the reality right there. For all the smug self-congratulation at the commercial success of the Six Nations championship, for all the inflated salaries which the top players earn in this part of the world, when it comes to winning Test matches on the other side of the planet, we’re no bloody good."
June 6, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/06/2010
A chance to break out
Tony Buckley sees the tour of New Zealand as his big chance
© Getty Images
Tony Buckley sees the tour to New Zealand as his big chance to break out of the shadow of John Hayes at the age of 29 in the Irish Independent.
"It's one thing doing all the physical training but it's also tough mentally, like. I think a lot of the lads have had a long season and the bodies are showing the signs of it. I think we've all had injuries this season. I tore my calf in October but luckily only missed three weeks. I played through the [recent] knee and only missed one match. I'm so lucky compared to the likes of Paulie and Earlsy - terrible.
"It's up to me to take the opportunity when I'm given it," he says. "Hopefully I'll get another start out of the three games, which would be great for me. If I do get a start, it's up to me to stake my claim."
June 4, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/04/2010
Take your chances
Tony Ward is excited by the arrival of the Barbarians in Ireland and also by the opportunity for several youngsters to show their worth in The Irish Independent.
"What Eusebio and Pele did in selling the beautiful game to the watching world in 1966 and '70, Gareth Edwards did for rugby in '73.
"To this day, the Welsh scrum-half's third-minute length-of-the-field touch-down for the Barbarians against the All Blacks is still held universally as the greatest try of all time.
"It was the day rugby really registered. Bear in mind that, unlike soccer, there were no four-yearly Rugby World Cups back then. Probably the only equivalent oval-ball event was when the British and Irish Lions went on tour, specifically to New Zealand or South Africa."
June 3, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/03/2010
Ireland have an opportunity against the All Blacks
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly, writing in The Irish Independent, believes that Ireland must be positive as they head off on a daunting tour to New Zealand and Australia.
"When Declan Kidney was cutting his coaching teeth with the U-15s at PBC Cork in the mid-1980s, he would begin each campaign with a squad meeting and a blackboard.
"On it were set out the goals for the season. Number two on the list was always "win the Munster Schools Junior Cup", which one would have assumed deserved top billing, but never got it -- for that was always taken up by the simple instruction to "enjoy yourselves".
"Between 1983 and 1988, Pres won five out of six Junior Cups, at which point Kidney took his blackboard up to the U-18s and, after two semi-final defeats in 1989 and 1990, Kidney won the next three Senior Schools titles in a row.
"It is a simple philosophy and one that Kidney has adhered to throughout his highly successful career -- enjoyment and victory go hand-in-hand -- and one he will employ on Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia over the next month."
June 2, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/02/2010
Time is running out
Brian O'Driscoll reflects on Leinster's defeat to the Ospreys
Gerry Thornley believes that time may be running out for Ireland's 'golden generation' after a barren year in The Irish Times.
"They weren’t that far away, but injuries to key men, even the slightest dilution of desire after reaching so many promised lands in recent years and improvements by others took a toll (and it doesn’t help when, on top of Ireland playing in Paris, both Leinster and Munster were drawn away in France in the semi-finals).
"The future doesn’t look like getting easier any time soon though. French clubs, backed by multi-millionaire benefactors, have strengthened their hand to the point that Biarritz and Stade Français have become mid-table also rans. Leicester have a Munster-like culture and both Northampton and Saracens are coming forces, as are the Welsh, and especially the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues.
"The golden generation, and they truly have been, have a few more big games in them. But this season has perhaps marked the beginning of the end of an era, with the next World Cup and the 2011-12 season marking something of a watershed."
June 1, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 06/01/2010
The perfect reality check
Tony Ward believes that Ireland's barren season is the wake-up call they need prior to next season's World Cup in The Irish Independent.
"From trophy-laden heroes to empty-cabinet zeros. Having swept the boards in a 2009 winning feast, taking the Grand Slam, Six Nations, Triple Crown, Heineken Cup, Magners League and Churchill Cup, 2010 has made for the inevitable hangover -- the famine after the feast.
"Realistically, could it ever have been any other way? Inevitably, when you win everything the only way is down. It took little by way of rocket science to predict that last year's sweep would be a difficult act to follow.
"For such a relatively small but sports-daft nation, we set ourselves some sky high standards. That, as Keith Wood, Roy Keane, Brian O'Driscoll and others of that ilk will tell you, is no bad thing. We do need to set our standards high, but they must be grounded in reality."
May 31, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/31/2010
A sorry end
David Kelly evaluates the painful end to Leinster's season following defeat to the Ospreys in The Irish Independent.
"This wasn't how it was supposed to end. The script of Saturday's season-ending finale was ripped to shreds piece by painful piece, the slow dismantling of Leinster's faltering at their final hurdle an excruciating spectacle to watch from the first spilled ball to coach Michael Cheika's final, dispiriting exit.
"So, unlike last season, only Tommy Bowe and Geordan Murphy will carry medals into the Irish camp; after last season's unsurpassed haul, one suspects the pair won't be dangling the silverware from their necks.
"It was a typical cup final, secured by the side who made the least amount of errors, or at least the side who managed to stem their flow much earlier than the opposition. Leinster were quite simply awful and yet they could have snatched it had Jonathan Sexton not dragged his late kick to the left."
May 29, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/29/2010
Leinster have the strength to make the chances count
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley believes the inaugural Magners League play-offs have been a huge success and thinks Leinster will get the better of the Ospreys in the season finale.
"Even before a ball has been kicked proponents of a play-off system to the Magners League have been belatedly vindicated. Last season, Munster’s success (two nights before the little matter of their Croker Euro semi-final defeat to Leinster) registered at about 0.01 on the rugby Richter scale and scarcely prompted a glass of Babycham.
"This evening, as in domestic finals in France, England and Italy, the champagne is at the ready, and sponsors, organisers, financial secretaries and supporters alike have a climax befitting a major competition.
"Nor could they have asked for a better pairing. First versus second, with the former rightly earning home advantage, not only brings together the most deserving finalists but sides laden with individual talent, much of it indigenous too."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/29/2010
Next stop europe for the golden generation
The Irish Independent's David Kelly thinks some of Ireland's leading names will soon be heading to the continent.
"Perhaps now we know why leading Irish rugby stars like Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara have spoken so endearingly of potentially leaving Ireland to take up lucrative contracts in France following next year's World Cup.
"For, if the recent revelations are correct concerning the IRFU's scything of national contracts for older players coming to the end of existing deals, then the leading lights of the golden generation -- O'Driscoll, O'Gara and Paul O'Connell -- could be in for a rude awakening when they sit down with IRFU top brass to thrash out new playing contracts next year.
"And you can be sure that clubs all over Europe and beyond -- Jamie Heaslip, for example, has spoken of his desire to spend a year in the Super 14 -- from Toulon to Toulouse and Leicester to Wasps, will have their ears pricked should Irish rugby's gravy train jolt to a shuddering halt."
May 27, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/27/2010
He'll take them in the air or on the ground
Will Leinster fullback Rob Kearney prove the star of the show in Saturday's Magners League finale?
© Getty Images
Leinster fullback Rob Kearney is safe under the high ball, but he is also well-versed in Leinster's running game, writes the Irish Times' Johnny Watterson.
"There he is, Rob Kearney down beside the pitch at Old Wesley. He's making the television cameras love him. He's smiling in the sun. Sinéad Kissane from TV3 is grinning. Radio is lined up to the side. Everyone is looking. Kearney stares at the camera directly through heavy eyebrows.
"He stands straight and walks with all of his six feet one inch, 15-stone frame; talks with certainty and plays with a mix of fearlessness and swagger."
May 26, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2010
Cheika aims to leave on a high
The end of an era is nigh, although departing Leinster coach Michael Cheika contends it is merely the start of a new one. Gerry Thornley writes in The Irish Times.
"End-of-season farewells are commonplace nowadays and yesterday the normally redoubtable Bernard Jackman explained how injuries have forced him to concentrate fully on coaching with Clontarf from next season onwards. Leinster also confirmed in addition to Cheika, defensive coach Kurt McQuilkin, consultant coach Alan Gaffney, the retiring Girvan Dempsey, Malcolm O’Kelly and Jackman, Chris Keane is also retiring while CJ van der Linde is returning home.
"Despite all this, typical of Cheika’s ultra professional and highly- rewarding five-year reign, sentiment will play little or no part in the build-up to this final. “I think we’ve been divorced from it. There was certainly no sentiment at the end of training when there were a few errors made. If we fall off against the Ospreys even for a couple of minutes we’ll pay. We can’t train like that at all; this game is about winning a final more than anything else. I don’t want it to be any other way and I don’t think anybody else wants to be any other way,” said Cheika."
May 23, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/23/2010
He'll be good for Leinster
Brendan Fanning recaps the Leinster career of coach Michael Cheika as the Australian prepares to leave the province for Paris in The Irish Independent.
"What started for Michael Cheika against the Ospreys in September 2005 will finish against the same opposition in the RDS on Saturday.
Back then he was in charge for his first competitive game for Leinster, a coach with no experience of that level of rugby, compounded by a fuse that was so short that in time he became the talk of the refereeing fraternity.
He leaves next month for Stade Francais with five years of priceless experience in his kitbag. And after another few seasons in Paris, the Aussies will lure him home for one job or another. Before too long we will come across him at a Test venue, where he will be tuned into a Wallaby headset."
May 21, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 05/21/2010
Rights debate can have huge repercussions
Liam Toland considers the impact of the free to air debate on player welfare, writing in The Irish Times.
"As players are five to nine times more likely to be injured playing a match than at training, the IRFU have managed to keep our best alive and well by restricting games. Allied to this, the Magners League (with top-four format) is manageable for our best provinces while resting key players. The Guinness Premiership and Top 14 are a tad less forgiving.
"It is only looking back at the accumulative effect of pro rugby on our elite players over a decade that a true picture of the stress and strain can be analysed. Malcolm O’Kelly will retire this season after 12 international seasons, with touring each summer, world cups and Lions tours. His body is in reasonable shape. John Hayes, our record-holder, has almost never been injured and is still going at 36. Over his career Hayes will have played half the number of games compared to his equivalent in France. How has this been achieved?
"All this got me thinking about Minister Eamon Ryan. Forget the possible repercussions on winning trophies and titles: what of player welfare, fatigue and future?"
May 20, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 05/20/2010
The Wanted Men
As the free to air debate rages in Ireland, The Irish Independent takes a look at the players the IRFU would struggle to keep.
1 Brian O'Driscoll - A totemic figure not merely of Irish rugby but talismanic in how Irish rugby and money have been inextricably linked during this golden decade for the game. Flirted with France before and may still opt to play there for a year -- but not until after the next World Cup.
2 Jamie Heaslip - As with the majority on this list, Heaslip would never contemplate leaving these shores until after the World Cup in 2011 -- even if Philip Browne donned a 'Save Irish Rugby' cape and attempted to storm the Dail like a left-wing loony. After 2011? Anything goes. Has said he wants to try the Super 14.
3 Keith Earls - The flights of the Earls has been prominently promulgated in recent dispatches emanating from IRFU HQ. The man who painted a picture of O'Driscoll's hat-trick -- gleaned from terrestrial TV -- might take his own artistry elsewhere should his next deal not prove up to scratch.
4 Luke Fitzgerald - The injured Leinster star has unfortunately too much time on his hands to keep up with this prickly debate. As an international star, he will be like a new signing for Leinster next season. Could he be a new signing for someone else the following season though?
5 Rob Kearney - The man from Cooley who exhibits cool on and off the pitch -- but watch events bristle with red-hot energy should he ever declare his intention to leave Leinster. The South Africans, so in awe of his aerial prowess last summer, would be the first to invite him to eat braai.
May 19, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/19/2010
Kidney defends gamble on weary warriors
Has Ireland coach Declan Kidney got the blend right for a testing summer tour?
© Getty Images
If it is possible to be conservative and gamble in one sitting, then Ireland coach Declan Kidney has managed it with his 33-man squad for Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia according to the Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly.
"Conservative in that this is an 'as you were' selection, based around the core of the unbeaten Grand Slam-winning squad from 2009, with the emphasis on hard-headed experience for what promises to be an arduous expedition. And a gamble in that it includes Paul O'Connell and John Hayes.
"With the imperative of making a worthwhile trip to countries where Ireland have not recorded an international victory since 1979, the argument for leaving behind the likes of David Wallace, Brian O'Driscoll and other front-line Lions never held water.
"Ireland need their heavyweights for this trip, to attempt to strike a psychological blow looking down the road to the next World Cup and, not least, because New Zealand and Australia would have been disgruntled if they did not get Ireland's full monty."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/19/2010
Big guns rolled out to derail Von Ryan's Express
Ireland's Minister for Communications has caused uproar among rugby’s heavy hitters over his free-to-air plans, writes the Irish Times' Johnny Watterson.
"Three CEOs, [the IRFU's Philip] Browne, the ERC’s Derek McGrath and the Six Nations CEO, John Feehan, flanked by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the provincial CEOs, settled along the wall like generals in a war cabinet. Granite faced. Tight lipped. Language biblical. This was rugby battle prepared for the first time in 15 years.
"Browne outlined the threat of Minister Ryan on the horizon. Free-to-air rugby and the dismantling with the stroke of a pen a body of IRFU work globally admired.
"Minister Ryan’s green foot print, we were told, would be the biggest of any politician, the one that crushed the professional game in Ireland. For 43 minutes the sound and the fury belted out around Stephen’s Green and at the heart of it a figure of €12 million, the IRFU’s calculated annual loss."
May 18, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/18/2010
Heaslip heroics show he's an Irish captain in waiting
In his weekly column in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward takes a look back at Leinster's Magners League play-off victory over Munster, placing a particular emphasis on the performance of Jamie Heaslip.
"Heaslip's barnstorming second-half runs - stretching Keith Earls to the limit and almost poleaxing the brave Ronan O'Gara - made for the icing but the real leadership is the hard yards and momentum gained in defence allied to the tackle count and groundhog turnovers at the breakdown. Here Heaslip was sublime. He is without doubt the Irish skipper in waiting and already in my view the most complete No 8 forward to wear green.
"Whenever asked over the years to select my best ever Irish back row, it tripped off the tongue: John O'Driscoll, Fergus Slattery and Willie Duggan. The chemistry and balance between the three was so good. But when a player comes along with the athleticism of Ken Goodall, the intellect of Anthony Foley, the dynamism of Victor Costello but, most of all, the Lion-heart bravery in adversity of Duggan, then the call in the middle of the all-time Irish back row becomes a no-brainer. There is an honesty and maturity to Heaslip's game that makes him a certain future Irish captain."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/18/2010
Considerable danger in tinkering with TV coverage
Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley warns of the potentially devastating consequences for Irish rugby if Heineken Cup games involving the country's provincial outfits are reserved solely for free-to-air terrestrial television channels.
"Eamon Ryan is no fool. In seeking to vastly expand the number of sports events to be screened free-to-air on terrestrial television, the Minister for Communications has done his research. He has also identified a problem regarding the exclusivity of television audiences on pay-per-view. Sport should never become too smug about this and sometimes governments need to keep an eye on them.
"Minister Ryan is also on familiar terrain. He attended Gonzaga, played in UCD and his family, including an uncle who played for Munster, is steeped in the game. Thus, when he recently proposed that Ireland’s Six Nations games and Irish Heineken Cup games be ring-fenced on free-to-air television, it was all the more heartfelt.
"Minister Ryan cites audience figures for Leinster quarter-finals which were on terrestrial television and then on pay-per-view, which drew audiences of 250,000 and 70,000 respectively. He points to the Munster-Biarritz final of 2006 which drew 500,000 viewers in Ireland, and the 2008 decider which attracted just 100,000, and countless examples from other sports."
May 17, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/17/2010
Cheika's legacy bad news for red army
Writing in the Irish Independent, Hugh Farrelly reflects on the way in which Michael Cheika has turned Leinster into the dominant side in Irish rugby since his arrival in Dublin five years ago.
"When 14-man Leinster defeated Munster in the titanic 2001 Celtic League final at Lansdowne Road, a yarn, which has never entirely been dismissed, recounts that a member of the then Leinster management team sent a text to his defeated sporting cousins.
"It simply read: 'Leinster 1, Munster 0.'
"The sides' subsequent divergent paths mocked that jibe, Munster's rise to unequivocal pre-eminence in Europe casting a dark shadow over an occasionally soulless Leinster operation.
"When Michael Cheika pitched up on these shores in the season that marked Munster's first Heineken Cup triumph, Irish rugby's ignorance of the Australian was mirrored by his ignorance of some of the intimate foibles of the Irish game.
"That 2006 semi-final embarrassment in Lansdowne Road at the hands of Munster offered him a rude awakening."
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/17/2010
Classic game shows up the need to rebuild
In his column in the Irish Times, Liam Toland argues that there is now a fundamental difference between Leinster and Munster: Munster create a blindside but Leinster create an openside.
"Once again our physically beautiful game has proved the adage right: attack when you have the ball and attack when you don’t have the ball. For long stretches of Saturday night’s semi-final Leinster couldn’t get near the ball but were more than happy to force Munster down cul-de-sacs.
"Munster came to the RDS with a gameplan and a bench to match it. Attack hard around the fringes, and, when the ball was quick, head down the blindside. Tomás O’Leary took responsibility off his captain Ronan O’Gara by channelling wave after wave into the Leinster blindside fringe. Was this the weakness? If so, the Munster bench would then be launched to exploit it.
"Leinster, too, had a gameplan which has evolved over recent seasons. First, stop the opposition from playing by attacking in numbers, attacking the ball and attacking the space, and when the opportunity presents itself ruthlessly exploit the space. Was O’Gara’s 10th-minute crossfield kick to Meathman, King of Fullbacks and Mick Lyons impersonator Shane Horgan a tactical ploy, or the result of Leinster pressure? The latter, I fancy."
May 16, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/16/2010
Hectic schedule puts bodies on the line
Ireland's top players are showing the effects of too many games according to the Irish Independent's Jim Glennon.
"Is it just me or have our leading players looked absolutely knackered recently? Watching last week's final round of Magners League games, admittedly following as they did immediately upon our European disappointments of the previous weekend, it was difficult at times to avoid the impression that at least some of our top players are running on empty.
"When one sits down and thinks about it, the last 12 months for our top internationals have been hectic. The Grand Slam was followed by extended Heineken Cup involvement for two of the provinces; then came the Lions trip to South Africa in the summer, leading into an attritional season in which, coincidentally or otherwise, injuries have seemed far more prevalent than in previous years.
"With the end of the club season now in sight, there is the trip to the southern hemisphere for winter matches against New Zealand, Australia, and the New Zealand Maori. Looking further forward, a marathon World Cup season, in which our relatively shallow playing resources will be stretched to the maximum, begins in early August with the inaugural game in the new Aviva Stadium."
May 13, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/13/2010
Hugh Farrelly hails the emergence of James Coughlan as a late boost to Munster's season, and possibly Ireland, in The Irish Independent.
"He readily acknowledges that Munster have only had an "okay" season, that Leinster have had the upper hand in their recent meetings and expresses the squad's determination to end the campaign on a positive note.
"The low-key affair is over in a matter of minutes and McGahan is getting up to leave when he is detained by a final question on James Coughlan -- the Munster No 8 who has been a huge success story this season and a somewhat unexpected one.
"Denis Leamy's long-term injury was a serious blow to Munster and, with Aucklander Nick Williams never quite stepping up to the plate, No 8 became a problem position. The emergence of Coughlan -- Irish rugby's 'late bloomer' -- has been a considerable boost."
May 12, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/12/2010
Walking tall after so many highs
O'Kelly salutes the Leinster faithful following their 2009 Heineken Cup Final victory over Leicester
© Getty Images
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley talks to Lions, Ireland, Leinster and St Mary's College secondrow Malcolm O'Kelly who has finally decided to call time on his golden career.
"First Girvan and now Mal. A golden generation is coming to an end alright. And Malcolm O’Kelly was very much a key figure in that era. In terms of pure natural talent there has no more gifted lock than O’Kelly, with all due respect to Willie John McBride, Paul O’Connell, Donal Lenihan, Neil Francis and the rest. Big Mal was a total one-off.
"Eric Elwood once told the story of the Irish squad arriving in South Africa in 1998 and, as way of overcoming jetlag, all of them were immediately sent off on a run. O’Kelly returned to the hotel about third or fourth, quicker than all the other forwards and most of the backs, went straight to the team room and declared: “Is there any food, I’m starving.”
"...That heart, that stamina, that work-rate. The bigger the game, the more he busted a gut. Lifting or no lifting, he’d have ruled the skies. Memories will always remain of him dominating the England lineout at Twickenham in 2004, and his try-saving covering tackle by the corner flag on Mark Regan, along with many other virtuoso performances."
May 11, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/11/2010
The Likely Lads
Hugh Farrelly runs the rule over Ireland's selection problems prior to their summer tour in The Irish Independent.
"What this semi-final pairing has done is give Irish rugby a welcome injection of energy after the season appeared deflated from a disappointing end to the Six Nations and a triple European exit. The meetings of Munster and Leinster never want for intensity but with the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia just a matter of weeks away, there will be an added 'final trial' bite to the Ballsbridge atmosphere.
"This expedition appears increasingly hazardous for Ireland coach Declan Kidney. The intention was to gain a first victory in the southern hemisphere in 31 years, which would engender confidence in the squad for their World Cup campaign in 2011. However, with injuries affecting a chunk of Kidney's battle-hardened front-line warriors, there is now the opportunity to test the depth of Ireland's resources."
May 9, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/09/2010
More groan than grunt as scrum collapses around us
Brendan Fanning of the Sunday Independent is warning that the Irish set-piece is in need of serious attention ahead of next year's World Cup.
"A couple of weeks ago, Cian Healy was kicking a ball around on his day off when he was cornered by a group of kids, eager for a few minutes of his time. No problem. He is always helpful in this regard, probably because there is much of the big kid in him still. They asked the usual stuff. Then one of them asked had he enjoyed the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Clermont. Without pausing for a second, Healy responded: "I didn't like sitting on the bench too much."
"At least that night he had come on and got to finish the game. Last weekend in Toulouse, the sight of Healy sitting down well ahead of schedule was one of the enduring images of the weekend. Another came the next afternoon in San Sebastian: John Hayes, typically stoic, in sharp focus, as yet another scrum had been busted with the prospect of more to come.
"Perhaps the most poignant however came in the immediate aftermath of that game, always the most fertile period for getting Ronan O'Gara as he is. He had to abandon the piece with the man from Sky for fear tears might take over. Had Munster been whopped by 30 you reckon O'Gara could have coped with it, but he knew they had been beaten by a team nowhere near as good as the one they had buried in the 2006 final. If you were 23, that would be deeply frustrating. Add 10 years and it's enough to make you weep."
May 8, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 05/08/2010
Behind every great player is a great club
Brian O'Driscoll shows his disappointment at Leinster's Heineken Cup exit
© Getty Images
As the Irish club season reaches its conclusion, Tony Ward laments the growing gap between the amateur game and the successful regions in The Irish Independent.
"The introduction of the Heineken Cup has provided the biggest plus from the game going open. Losing out on Grand Slam and Triple Crown - my, haven't we come a long way - was disappointing, yes, but the gloom hanging over Irish rugby since last weekend's double Heineken Cup defeat sums up where priorities now lie and just what the premier European competition means to rugby folk and, indeed, to folk generally on this island.
"The flip side of the Heineken coin is, of course, the All-Ireland League. As the provincial competition goes from strength to strength, the club game erodes ever further.
"Today the club season reaches its climax with the Division 2 and 3 finals in Anglesea Road and the main event, the Division 1 final in Athlone's Dubarry Park."
May 6, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/06/2010
Modest man who bossed the pitch
Ireland's Girvan Dempsey is set to hang his boot up at the end of the season
© Getty Images
Girvan Dempsey's decision to retire from professional rugby at the end of the season will mark the culmination of an outstanding sporting career according to the Irish Times' Gerry Thornley.
"Celebrated as a player, his qualities as a person will not be overlooked by those who played with and against him. Modest and articulate, he brought quiet, unfussy footballing intelligence to the pitch.
"His career might be defined by his ability to swallow whole towering garryowens without a hiccup but with a strike-rate of just over one try every four matches for Leinster and Ireland it would be churlish to ignore those scoring exploits. Arguably his greatest playing quality was his positional sense, honed by countless hours of video analysis deciphering the facial tics and body language “tells” of hundreds of outhalves: very few found the corners on any pitch upon which he played."
May 5, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/05/2010
Real world can wait a little bit longer
Cork Con's Evan Ryan has the world at his feet as he prepares for Saturday's AIB League Final against St Mary's this weekend. Gerry Thornley writes in the Irish Times.
"The shirt, tie and suit is the giveaway. Evan Ryan has joined the real world. The 24-year-old captain of Cork Constitution has a law degree and three weeks ago joined AL Goodbody Solicitors in Dublin as a trainee solicitor, so realistically this Saturday’s AIB League final in Dubarry Park against St Mary’s will probably be his last game for the club, for three or four years at any rate.
"He will, most likely, join a Dublin club. For the moment though, he can’t see beyond Saturday. Con like to be first in, having won the inaugural AIL title and the inaugural AIB Cup (which they won again this season), and regard this season’s revised format and eight-team Division 1A as a chance to make their mark again by completing a double."
May 4, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/04/2010
World cup alarm bells
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward believes the Heineken Cup semi-final defeats for Leinster and Munster should act as a wake-up call for the national side.
"If you have to experience the lows to truly appreciate the highs, the past few days have certainly cast an even rosier light on Irish rugby's extraordinary achievements of 2009. Short of winning the World Cup, I doubt we will ever witness its like again.
"But one year on, it's the French who are well on top. In the Six Nations showdown in Paris in February, and in both Heineken Cup semi-finals as well as the Amlin Challenge Cup penultimate round, they have reconfirmed their dominance over the Irish in the most emphatic way.
"Even at this distance, France can be underlined as serious contenders for next year's World Cup. Could we have said the same about Ireland a year ago?"
May 2, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 05/02/2010
Set piece shambles spells trouble for our World Cup dreams
Writing in the Sunday Independent, George Hook argues that the manner of Leinster's defeat in Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final clash with Toulouse has highlighted a real crisis in Irish rugby.
"Toulouse, as expected, reached the final of the Heineken Cup in Paris. They stuttered in the process, but it would have been a travesty had they lost a game that they dominated from the off.
"It was a sad way for Leinster to bow out, but their luck was always going to run out away from the heady atmosphere of the RDS.
"It took just 12 minutes for this game to move away from Leinster. The first scrum of the match demonstrated the gulf between the two teams and only Toulouse's conservative and nervy performance allowed the Irish province to survive.
"However, it would be unfair not to credit Leinster's indomitable spirit and organisation. The winning habit is hard to break and this team never gave up against a vastly superior force. But the facts of rugby union are immutable; forwards win games, the backs determine by how much. Michael Cheika may reflect on Eoin Reddan's near-try, but, in truth, his team threatened just twice to break free from the French shackles."
April 28, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/28/2010
The rain in Galway
Hugh Farrelly talks to Connacht's Niva Ta'auso prior to their European Challenge Cup showdown with Toulon at the Sportsground in The Irish Independent.
"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain but in Galway it tends to drop on the Sportsground. There's a different quality to the rain over there, it's the "wet rain" comedian Peter Kay talks about, the sort that seeps into your soul. It certainly takes some adjusting to.
"Oh ... the first two months after I arrived, it was just raining, raining, I couldn't believe it," Niva Ta'auso recalls with a chuckle."I'm a sun boy big time and I remember saying: 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing here?'. But you get used to it; well, you have to."
"The burly midfielder from Samoa via New Zealand was happy with the weather on Monday when he sat down for a chat. The sun was out in earnest and the Sportsground a hive of activity as preparations continue for Friday night's Challenge Cup semi-final showdown with Top 14 pace-setters Toulon."
April 25, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/25/2010
Brendan Fanning salutes the difficult birth of the Heineken Cup final as a stand-alone event in The Sunday Independent.
"It was 2003 and still the early days of the Heineken Cup as a stand-alone affair, where its organisers had taken a leap of faith and nailed down where the final would be played before they had nailed down who would actually play in it. And they needed some local involvement to give the thing a kick-start. Some reassurance if you like.
"With the way the draw had panned out, giving Leinster a home run from the quarters to the final, that reassurance was at hand. Then they went and lost to Perpignan in the semi-final. Oh dear.
"Everyone was shell-shocked afterwards. Not so distraught however that we couldn't mine some black humour from the situation. On the basis that one man's catastrophe is another man's opportunity -- and how we have seen that reinforced over the last eight days -- the prospect of a junket to the South of France presented itself. Perpignan versus Toulouse in a Lansdowne Road final? Now there was a gig that needed selling."
April 24, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/24/2010
Best of the west
Tony Ward is looking forward to a thrilling end to the Magners League season at the top and bottom of the table in The Irish Independent.
"The Magners League is set for a fascinating finale. Ahead of last night's matches, all but three teams -- Ulster, Connacht and Llanelli Scarlets -- were still in with a chance of making the inaugural play-offs, with two rounds of the regular season remaining.
"Not for the first time, Leinster and Munster are strong title contenders, yet it is the battle at the basement, specifically between Connacht and Ulster, that is capturing the imagination. The sub-plot is the possibility of a maiden place at the top table of European rugby for the men from the west.
"For the competition's organisers, Celtic Rugby, the Ulster-Connacht tussle has provided an unexpected bonus on top of the excitement generated by the race for the play-offs -- a format which brings the Magners League in line with most other professional rugby tournaments around the world."
April 23, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/23/2010
Hugh Farrelly takes a look at the impact made by Mick O'Driscoll in place of the iconic Paul O'Connell as Munster saw off Northampton in The Irish Independent.
"How do you replace an icon? Ask Mick O'Driscoll. The build-up to the recent Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton was a head-wrecking exercise for the 31-year-old Munster second-row.
"Paul O'Connell had not played since Ireland's anti-climactic finale against Scotland at the end of March and the media frenzy centred on whether the Munster's captain's groin injury would allow him to face the Saints.
"Northampton were coming to Thomond Park bullish after a run of victories across the water and spoke confidently -- and imprudently -- of how the Limerick ground held 'no fears' for them after their January visit for the pool game they felt they should have won."
April 20, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/20/2010
It's four proud provinces ... not three plus Connacht
Writing in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward insists that Connacht have been forced to operate on an unfair playing field for too long.
"The province is operating on a one-year contractual agreement with the union. What chance with that? With such insecurity, how can they ever have any semblance of continuity in quality going forward?
"...There is money to help Connacht, and the westerners deserve it. John Muldoon typifies what Connacht rugby is all about. The captain is proud to earn his living representing western people -- neighbours, friends and family. It is an identity special, if not unique, to Irish rugby.
"But I struggle to define Connacht as of now. I could latch on to 'development province' but in truth I don't really know what that means nor, I suspect, do the IRFU. It sounds technically cool but is in reality a kop-out, buying time until a decision has to be made either to do Connacht properly or not at all."
April 17, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/17/2010
Sense of unfinished business
The Irish Times' Gerry Thornley talks to Connacht captain John Muldoon who views the Challenge Cup as the best route to their Holy Grail, qualifying for the Heineken Cup.
"At this stage of the season, Connacht are normally counting the days to summer while retaining, at best, an outside mathematical challenge to qualify for the Heineken Cup for the first time ever. Now though, they still have three routes into Europe’s blue-riband competition.
"They can still qualify through the Magners League by dint of finishing above Ulster, whom they trailed by four points going into this weekend’s matches; by winning the Amlin Challenge Cup, or can do so with Ulster should either Leinster or Munster gain an additional place for Ireland by winning the Heineken Cup.
"None of this would have seemed possible when Connacht lost limply by 30-6 to Ulster at the Sportsground last September. They’ve had a few disappointments over the years but the way John Muldoon recalls it, that was a particularly low ebb."
April 15, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/15/2010
Berne set to put boot into French aristocrats
The Irish Independent's Hugh Farrelly talks to the Leinster fly-half Shaun Berne as he prepares to steer his province through a crucial part of the season.
"An early cameo from Shaun Berne's career south of the equator illustrates perfectly just why his forthcoming responsibilities as Leinster's primary place-kicker in the Heineken Cup inflict tranquillity and terror into supporters' hearts in equal measure.
"It is 2003 and the Waratahs are facing down the mighty Crusaders, the New Zealand side that had dished out a 96-19 humiliation to the Sydney side en route to the Super 14 title a year before. With regular kickers Matt Burke and Mat Rogers off injured, Berne has missed four chances to push his side into a commanding position. Seconds remain. 31-31. The Crusaders slip offside.
"That the crime is committed centimetres inside the Australians' half barely registers with Berne. As the Sydney faithful and Crusaders bench join in watching nervously behind their hands, the son of a Belfast man tonks over the three-pointer.
"He is engulfed by team-mates and acclaimed by the crowd. How swiftly his previously errant attempts are forgotten. It is always thus in the lonely life of the place-kicker, for whom the distance between hero and zero can be a matter of mere millimetres."
April 14, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/14/2010
Cullen's spirit key to sinking Toulouse
Hugh Farrelly of the Irish Independent salutes the role Leinster captain Leo Cullen has played in the province's transition from nearly men to giants of the European game.
"It was a Musgrave Park night the locals would describe as "manky" - swirling wind, driving rain and the type of cold that forms ice on the fringes of laptop screens.
Friday, November 30, 2007, did not get a lot of airplay when the feeding frenzy began before the recent Good Friday showdown between Munster and Leinster, nor indeed did it ahead of last year's Heineken Cup, Croke Park semi-final between the same combatants.
"However, when charting the development of Leinster from talented underachievers to their status as one of the most psychologically secure teams in Europe - with the trophy to prove it - that manky Magners League night in Cork stands tall.
"Leinster had not won at Musgrave Park for more than 20 years and - given their established reputation as a dry-ground, running team - a comfortable home victory was predicted, particularly as Munster fielded a pack including the names of Horan, Hayes, Flannery, O'Callaghan, Leamy and Wallace.
"But it was the Leinster grapplers who proved more effective as Michael Cheika's men secured a seminal 10-3 victory. And chief among them was second-row Leo Cullen, at the heart of every collision up front, grabbing team-mates to tighten up mauls, barking orders at fringe defenders and generally revelling in the old-style rugby combat in what was soon to become the ELV era."
April 13, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/13/2010
O'Gara responding in style to Sexton's Irish challenge
In his weekly column in the Irish Independent, Tony Ward salutes the performance of Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara in Saturday's Heineken Cup win over Northampton, arguing that he is currently winning his battle with Leinster's Jonathan Sexton for the Ireland No.10 jersey.
"Leadership in his case is not about getting involved in forward scuffles but in providing sensible and effective game-management. O'Gara was superb, producing his most complete 80 minutes of the season. On current form, he is the better of two very fine game-running out-halves -- were an Ireland team being picked right now, he would be a cert for re-selection.
"Jonathan Sexton's arrival as a very real alternative has provided the Munster maestro with just the type of challenge he needs at this watershed stage in his illustrious career. Against Northampton he was sublime. He is not a natural leader a la O'Connell or, in my view, Jerry Flannery, but when it comes to doing the right things under pressure, his example is inspirational."
April 8, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/08/2010
O'Driscoll may link up with Cheika
Brian O'Driscoll has said he would be willing to consider a move away from Ireland -- but only after his contract expires following the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The Irish Independent's David Kelly reports.
"I don't rule anything out," said O'Driscoll, who in the past has been courted by clubs, notably Biarritz.
With current Leinster coach Michael Cheika due to hook up with Stade Francais from next season, speculation has inevitably linked the pair to a reunion at some time.
"I did have a big interest in moving," he says of his past links with a move abroad. "I was a bit dismayed about Leinster going through three coaches in three years and I wondered were Leinster going anywhere, but Michael Cheika gave us that stability.
"But that doesn't mean you have to stay in one club for your whole career. If the situation arose, I'd certainly be open to the idea of it."
April 6, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/06/2010
Is the bar too high?
There's a big weekend ahead for Leinster and Munster
Gerry Thornley looks ahead to an interesting weekend in Europe for the Irish provinces, and wonders if the bar has been set too high, in The Irish Times.
"So, make or break time again. Three wins out of five in the Six Nations, and just two defeats in eight Tests, along with three Irish quarter-finalists in Europe and two contenders for the Magners League play-offs cannot be deemed a bad season. But, because the bar has been set so high – last season especially – were Irish interest in Europe to end this weekend it might seem an anti-climactic end to a disappointing campaign.
"That will apply to the players as well as the supporters. Victories this weekend would go some way to soothing the disappointment of the defeat to Scotland, especially. This would even help sustain interest in the intriguing run-in to the league (including Connacht’s hard chase of Ulster for the automatic Heineken Cup place) if Leinster, Munster and Connacht could sustain their involvement in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup for another three weeks.
"Helpfully, all three secured home advantage, and much has been made of the preponderance of home wins at this stage of the Heineken Cup, with 39 of 52 quarter-finals being won by the home side. However, while there were only two away wins in the first five years of this format (ie, 18 home wins to two away wins) in the last eight seasons there have been 11 away wins – including at least one each year."
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/06/2010
Tony Ward salutes Michael Cheika's achievement in guiding Leinster to their latest win over Munster in The Irish Independent.
"Hands up those who saw this one coming -- but count me out. Back in October, an astonishing 30 points separated the teams at the death; last Friday, the difference was just a single point.
"But, trust me, for Munster this latest defeat -- the third on the bounce to their great rivals -- was even more crushing than that suffered at the RDS. And, for Leinster to win at Thomond Park in such a manner would have been even more satisfying than that Dublin 4 romp.
"For Michael Cheika and Leinster, this was a massive achievement. The challenge now, and it is significant, is to bring everyone involved back to reality and focus on what lies ahead at the RDS on Friday.In contrast to Leinster, Clermont Auvergne were poor in defeat to Stade Francais in Paris last Saturday. Collective confidence added to home comfort ought to put the reigning Heineken Cup champions clearly in pole position, but rugby doesn't work like that."
April 5, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2010
With the Heineken Cup quarter-finals only a week away, Brendan Fanning evaluates Leinster's win over Munster in The Irish Independent.
"I t was not long at all after the game in January when it dawned on Northampton Saints that they had left something important behind them in Thomond Park. Not the valuables bag under a bench in the dressing-room, rather something more important - out on the pitch. In the history of European competition in Limerick, the home side have only lost once, and to opposition from England's midlands as it happens. Saints, Leicester's neighbours and keenest rivals, had a glorious opportunity to make that a unique English double. The problem was that they hadn't believed.
"Afterwards, their coach Jim Mallinder was positive in his comments about how his team had taken the game to Munster, but he knew they should have taken it away from them as well. And then, when the mist had cleared on the pool stages and Saints had been drawn away to Munster in the quarter-final, the overwhelming feeling was of satisfaction. A chance to go one better.
"With that in mind, Munster needed to send out a message on Good Friday that they were on the right track for next weekend. Jerry Flannery was back, even if Paul O'Connell and Keith Earls were absent, and the atmosphere was at fever pitch. In these circumstances, they needed their out-half to be clear and focused and, with five from five shots on goal, Ronan O'Gara was in the groove. It looked like a personal crusade to win back his Ireland shirt."
April 3, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 04/03/2010
Just what the good Doctor ordered
In a wide ranging interview with Gerry Thornley of the Irish Times, the now retired IRFU director of fitness Dr. Liam Hennessy outlines what went wrong at Ireland's disastrous 2007 World Cup.
“I think simply the Genesis report states the boys couldn’t have been in better shape. That’s not me saying it. That’s an independent body saying it. They did their homework to find that out. We had a 52-week countdown plan where all the guys, all our guys, were involved in making sure the guys were in the best possible shape. There was great harmony in how it worked. Then Eddie (O’Sullivan) who is in my book an outstanding coach, Eddie did put his hands up and by his own admission said he got it wrong on that front."
"By this Hennessy means in terms of match preparation and actual pitch work. “I suppose there was a panic . . . here were a couple of moments I would imagine of realisation that ‘Oh we ain’t ready, rugby wise, for the game’. We’ve gone through it ad nauseam, and it was a huge stressful time for everybody. I know the guys in terms of strength, power, speed, everything they were way up there,” he says, pointing his hand above his head and suggesting their physical endurance for the rest of that season and since underlines the point.
"So they were over-trained, or in Hennessy’s terminology, over-practised.
“I mean, look, it’s a lesson for everybody. You can’t fatten the pig before the fair. You can’t cram in all those hours of extra work on the pitch technically. You can’t keep doing that through the tournament. That only goes one way, down in terms of performance. So that over-concentration on ‘let’s get this right’, ‘let’s do more on the pitch to make up for what’s not being done and to make up for the lack of performances’. So that’s what I mean by mistakes being made and lessons learned.”
April 2, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 04/02/2010
CJ luxury an indulgence we can't afford
Hugh Farrelly believes CJ van der Linde's stint at Leinster was one that came at great cost to Leinster and Ireland's long term planning in The Irish Independent.
"With only four professional outlets in Irish rugby, two overseas props on a province's books is one too many and in the final pool games of the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup in January, we had the situation where, of the eight propping slots available, four were filled by non-Irish-qualified players (BJ Botha, Van der Linde, Wian du Preez and Robbie Morris).
"The Leinster team for tonight's Magners League clash with Munster emphasises the point -- Wright and Van der Linde starting, Healy on the bench, no Mike Ross. One overseas prop per province is permissible, two is self-destructive from an Ireland point of view and must cause considerable mirth in the southern hemisphere as their players benefit (financially and psychologically) at the expense of would-be World Cup challengers.
"Rocky Elsom unquestionably brought Irish rugby forward during his time with Leinster; Van der Linde has, and continues to, hinder its progress."
April 1, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/01/2010
Tackle the problem
David Kelly takes a look at the continued confusion caused by refereeing interpretations of the tackle area in The Irish Independent.
"Rugby's tackle law may not necessarily be an ass, but it's certainly giving more and more of the hard-pressed spectators, coaches and players a significant pain there.
"It is difficult to forget the furore that erupted during the Six Nations, when the normally mild-mannered Irish coach Declan Kidney publicly expressed a rage many others felt privately at IRB referees manager Paddy O'Brien for implementing a new tackle law interpretation during week five of the championship.
"Munster coach Tony McGahan is one of the more cerebral coaches in the game but even he has had inordinate difficulty in maintaining contact with the accelerating developments regarding the interpretation of the new tackle law."
March 31, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/31/2010
David Kelly talks to Marcus Horan about his mixed emotions following his Thomond Park health scare in The Irish Independent.
"Of all the things that went through Marcus Horan's mind when he lay in Limerick's Regional Hospital in the early hours of October 18 last, he would never in a lifetime have countenanced that relief would be the chief emotion coursing through his frazzled senses.
"Less than 12 hours earlier on his beloved Thomond Park turf, his legs had buckled once more beneath the weight of a four-year-long intermittent spell of dizziness and weakness.
"Now, prone on a hospital bed, Horan was forced to confront the possibility that not only his career, but his very quality of life was now at stake as a result of the pursuit of the game he loved. And yet still relief jostled with fear and apprehension as he contemplated this red-letter day in his 32-year existence."
March 30, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/30/2010
Tony Ward reflects on Leinster's last-gasp victory over Connacht in The Irish Independent.
"Whatever else, justice was most certainly not done at the RDS last Saturday. The better team playing the more committed rugby came second to the one playing, as Michael Cheika rightly put it, "within themselves".
"We were lucky. In no way am I going to say a win's a win - that was mediocre at best," said the Leinster head coach.That was a refreshingly honest assessment of a poor performance after a result that takes the Magners League pace-setters four points clear with a match in hand and with just five series of games to go.
"It is a pretty good place for Leinster to be but Cheika knows full well if his side repeat last weekend's performance over the season-defining games in Limerick on Friday or in the RDS against Clermont Auvergne the following week, then the finish (to the successful coaching tenure) he dearly craves could be blown into oblivion."
March 29, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/29/2010
A firing squad
Scotland's Croke Park win will not be quickly forgotten
© Getty Images
Tommy Conlon laments Ireland's over-confidence prior to their Six Nations loss to Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"In space no one can hear you scream, in sport no one can see the shock coming. It is one of the charms and curses of this sporting life that the hit comes when it's least expected. No matter how long one has followed, observed and analysed games, there is still no safeguard against complete and total confoundment.
"We're not talking about run-of-the-mill surprises either, which are ten-a-penny and usually come with some amount of forewarning: the favourites should win but the underdogs have a chance too.
"We're talking about outcomes which in advance have a blanket guarantee and where pundits and punters have reached a state of near-absolute consensus: this team is going to win and the other team is going to lose because there is no other sane way of looking at it."
March 28, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/28/2010
Talent stream flows stronger than we dreamed possible
Writing in the Sunday Independent, Jim Glennon argues that this year's U20s Six Nations has underlined that the future is bright for Irish rugby.
"Enough has been said and written about Ireland's anti-climactic exit from Croke Park last Saturday. But amidst the disappointment, at least we don't have to look too far to find some welcome good news.
"The success of the Ireland U20s in securing their second Six Nations championship in four seasons fits the bill just nicely. While it didn't slip completely under the radar, it has been unduly overshadowed by the exploits of the seniors.
"This success is worthy of attention however, particularly in the context of a certain amount of hype currently surrounding some members of that U20 squad, captain Rhys Ruddock, who started on Leinster's blindside in the Magners League yesterday, and full-back Andrew Conway, who has also made the step up to that level for Leinster in recent weeks, being just two."
March 27, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/27/2010
Time to tackle possession game
Ireland must win in the Southern Hemisphere to climb from ranked fifth on a longer-term basis, Matt Williams writes in the Irish Times.
"That thin line between success and failure was flipped this season, with Ireland missing out on a Triple Crown when Dan Parks’ late penalty sailed over last Saturday. It highlighted several glaring problems that were easily masked by Ireland’s Grand Slam victory in Cardiff 12 months ago, when Stephen Jones’ late penalty fell marginally short.
"Ireland should not be relying on opposing place-kickers to define their season. There is more to this group than that.
"The highly-talented national coaching staff need to see the defeat to Scotland as an opportunity for evaluation. If this team are to climb from fifth in the IRB rankings on a longer-term basis, and this is possible, they must win in the Southern Hemisphere.
"But this cannot be done unless fundamental changes are made in how possession is used. In a nutshell, counter-attacking and phase-play attack, based on continuity and offloading, must be added to the offensive arsenal."
March 26, 2010
Posted by Ruaidhri O'Connor on 03/26/2010
Waiting game to pay off for McFadden
Fergus McFadden has been waiting in the wings - or should that be the centres - for his chance at Leinster and for Ireland, but with injury ruling Brian O'Driscoll out of action Donnchadh Boyle profiles the up and coming centre in The Irish Independent.
"WHAT colour do Leinster play in?" one reporter asked Fergus McFadden earlier this season. The question was qualified. "I only ask because, at the moment, you've played for Ireland across all levels more times than you've played for Leinster."
"Progress over the course of his career has been slow, if steady. Last season represented further progress in his career. He was Leinster's 23rd man for the Heineken Cup final, close enough to the action to appreciate what was going on, but too far away to fully enjoy it. So, he waits, and when given a start, the 23-year-old has a happy knack of reminding both Michael Cheika and Declan Kidney of his capabilities.
"He was the Churchill Cup's player of the tournament last June and landed 36 points, including three tries with the remainder coming from his ever-improving boot, in Leinster's last two matches. That Churchill Cup campaign prompted a number of English club sides to come knocking, dangling the carrot of regular first-team rugby, but McFadden chose to stay at Leinster, saying: "I'm happy where I am at the moment."
March 24, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/24/2010
Niall Crozier predicts some tough decisions ahead for Declan Kidney and Ireland in the wake of their loss to Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"After the high of a Grand Slam in 2009, defeats in two of their five matches in the just-ended Six Nations has left Ireland facing some tough questions and decisions.
"So what now? Where exactly are we in terms of our preparations for next year's World Cup?
Declan Kidney faces some big decisions, specifically with regard to changes he is going to have to make sooner or later. And therein is the quandary, for the timing is going to be as important as the personnel changes.
"In many ways it is unfortunate that Saturday's defeat by hitherto bottom of the table Scotland marked the end of the campaign, for one can only speculate as to what might have happened had Ireland being playing again this or next weekend."
March 22, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/22/2010
A whole store-room of regret
Jim Hamilton beats Donncha O'Callaghan to a lineout throw
© Getty Images
Vincent Hogan analyses the failings of the Irish lineout following their loss to Scotland in The Irish Independent.
"When they come to dismantle Rory Best's calamitous farewell to Croke Park, they needn't bother sending out a posse to track him down. Because he's right here in front of us all this morning, sitting on this page, opening the blinds on a whole store-room of regret.
"Imagine. When so much around is a shabby carnival of denial - banks, church, state - Best stepped before us on Saturday evening, all but volunteering for penance. Didn't anyone tell him about due process?
"Ireland's line-out slipped into virtual meltdown on Saturday and, when a line-out fails, the thrower gets it in the eye. Best certainly over-cooked a few deliveries and a couple of others were penalised by the pedantic Jonathan Kaplan for being 'crooked'. In total, Ireland spilled seven darts off the board. What had been their strongest weapon became a gaping gash in the hull."
March 15, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/15/2010
Keith Earls dives over for his second try at Croke Park
© Getty Images
Vincent Hogan salutes Ireland's economy of effort following their latest Six Nations success in The Irish Independent.
"In Galilee, they'd have put Declan Kidney in charge of weddings. We've no desire to blaspheme here, but that 'Miracle in Cana' business has, of late, been getting plagiarised by 15 men in green. If it's not quite a water-into-wine thing going down, Ireland's redemptive Six Nations charge has still got people checking replays for tricks of the light.
"How do they do it? For two games running now, they've let the opposition have the ball as if it's making a ticking sound. Then, sporadically, they grab it back and serenade us all with lovely little trumpet lines of creation.
"The possession and territory stats tell us that Ireland should be in crisis. On Saturday, Wales spent precisely twice as much time in Irish territory during the second half as we did in theirs. In total, the visitors won twice as much ball in open play and completed 187 passes to Ireland's 109. Yet, from the slew of red advances, what exactly did they reap? Nothing."
March 14, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/14/2010
A special talent
Brian O'Driscoll leads Ireland out for his 100th cap
© Getty Images
Brendan Fanning salutes Brian O'Driscoll following his 100th cap for Ireland and cannot understate his importance in The Irish Independent.
"At 2.32 yesterday, a few minutes behind schedule, Brian O'Driscoll entered the arena a few metres in front of his team-mates and 81,340 people stood to salute him. His 100th cap for Ireland and his 106th Test match - it is a unique achievement in Irish rugby history by a unique player.
"When it was over and Ireland had sorted Wales yet again, O'Driscoll will have been happy that he was able to leave the field in one piece, having made a modest contribution to the win. It's not often you would say that about him. His commitment was typical but his radar was out by a few degrees. And yet had he been forced off before Wales had been put to bed it would have changed the mood of the place. Not because it was his special day, more like it would have been like leaving the house unlocked.
"Last week a Welshman, interested in how Ireland went from being also-rans to a nation that frequently runs over the top of Wales, asked us a pertinent question: "How important was O'Driscoll in Ireland getting to where they are now?"
March 13, 2010
Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/13/2010
The Irish Independent's Vincent Hogan pays tribute to the peerless Brian O'Driscoll, who will make his 100th Test appearance for Ireland on Saturday.
"HIS first cap. He has forgotten many things, but not Ben Tune and how the world seemed to grow small around the big Wallaby that day in Brisbane.
"Brian O'Driscoll had gone to Australia fixated on Tim Horan, the best centre in the world and a guy he would, 11 years later, nominate as the greatest player he ever faced. But Horan all but fluttered compared to his team-mates in '99.
"Maybe he just got sucked into the worry of the day. Now, he can let an occasion float over him like familiar music, but O'Driscoll was 20 that evening in Ballymore; a tough, game kid who had yet to even play for his province.
"And part of him wondered if he might be about to snap like a brittle branch in a gale."
March 8, 2010
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/08/2010
Vincent Hogan prepares himself for the latest bout of mud slinging from Warren Gatland in the build up to Ireland and Wales' Six Nations showdown in The Irish Independent.
”Well. I wonder what gentle incendiaries Warren Gatland has lined up for us this week. All may appear pleasant and tranquil right now, but it wouldn't be Ireland v Wales if Warren wasn't planning to throw his jacket on the ground and invite half the country outside to answer for some imagined slight.
“So, what will it be this time? Or, more pointedly, who? Gatland has a problem with Irish rugby in the way Michael O'Leary has a problem with the Dublin Airport Authority. He feels that business between them has been soured by a toxic, personal agenda which, I'm afraid, makes him snappy as a menopausal warthog.
“And just about as rational. In 2008, he played his 'et tu, Brute' card against Eddie O'Sullivan. Last year, he went after the Irish players with his peaceable "Wales dislike Ireland more than any other team" address.”
March 5, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/05/2010
Six Nations trail is never dull
England manager Martin Johnson holds court with the English media at their palacial Surrey base in 2008
© Getty Images
Hugh Farrelly reflects on his Six Nations travels with his latest piece for the Irish Independent.
"Low points have included the decision to try pork scratchings in London on a 'when in Rome' basis (tooth-crackingly hard on the outside, a stomach-heaving mush of fat on the inside, they are the snack of choice for Hitler, Saddam and the boys in the pub of the damned).
"Earning the howled indignation of a Parisien taxi driver when a tired and emotional colleague insisted on sleeping with his head in your lap was another unpleasant, and misconstrued, moment. (Tipping in these circumstances is not easy, particularly when your man bag adds to the confusion.) However, the high point thus far was unquestionably the Twickenham press box last weekend.
"The English rugby media are, individually, some of the best and friendliest in the business. Collectively, it can be hard to avoid the sense -- from certain quarters -- of being regarded as country bumpkins mixing with the aristocracy. Tug your forelock, snaffle a few leftover pies and take your seat ... happy to be here, sir. It makes victory all the sweeter but, completely outnumbered, you cannot overtly express that sense of satisfaction, so you catch the eyes of your fellow bumpkins and use a wink or a clenched fist to get it across."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/05/2010
Aim is to boost Connacht rather than bury it
Writing in the Irish Times, Gavin Cummiskey discusses the pending Irish Rugby Football Union's governance and operations review into Connacht Rugby.
"A major problem for Connacht is the consistently poor attendance record at their Sportsground stronghold, in contrast to healthy five-figure crowds that the other provinces attract to their home games. The average Magners League attendance for the 2009-10 season at the Sportsground is 1,900, and this was cushioned by the 2,435 who turned up for the comprehensive defeat to Ulster last September.
"...Speaking to The Irish Times last month, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne addressed the concerns surrounding Connacht’s financial situation: “The bottom line is the gate receipts and attendances. That’s where finance comes form – commercial programmes and attendances. Munster are drawing from two cities. Leinster are obviously drawing from the major population centre on the island, Ulster from the second major population centre, so it is difficult.
“The issue is that with professional rugby, ultimately, success is largely depended on having a commercial proposition,” Browne continued."
March 4, 2010
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/04/2010
Elwood has acute vision
There is something symbolic about the appointment of Eric Elwood as Connacht coac