Saturday, February 25, 2012

IRELAND-42 ITALY-10

belonging main

BELONGING

There's a ancient medical process called trepanation, which involves drilling into the skull to relieve pressure on the brain.

Bet you didn't see too many rugby write-ups last weekend start with a sentence like THAT, did you? Well trust me, I'm going somewhere with it.

As every Irish fan will know, Jonathan Sexton has had his struggles with the Irish jersey in his 25 tests before this clash at the Aviva Stadium. Reproducing the excellent form he repeatedly shows in a Leinster jersey has somehow eluded him.

Yet nobody can deny he is the future for the Irish rugby team, so faith must be shown in him. But of course, with that faith comes a great deal of pressure. And every time he pulls on that green number 10 jersey, he only needs glance across the dressing room to see who is pulling on number 21 to remind himself of that very pressure.

And believe me, I'm not suggesting he has been some kind of “victim” when it comes to playing for his country. Such are the challenges that must be overcome at this level, and if it is to be a heat he cannot stand then he should high-tail it out of the proverbial kitchen.

But for this match, I felt the pressure more than usual for the lad. And I felt it particularly surrounding his opening place kick. Of course, going into the match you don't know when or where on the field it's going to be, I just prayed that it was going to be a relatively easy one so he could settle down. Well as it turned out, it WAS to be a relatively easy one, but fate had another obstacle to throw in his path.

belonging 1With 8:30 gone and Ireland already 0-3 down, Sexton tried a little diagonal grubber through to get a bit of much needed territory. Just as it neared the line Sergio Parisse managed to keep it in play and run back at the now scrambling Irish defence. Unhindered by his failure to find touch, the Irish outhalf got involved in bringing the inspirational Italian skipper down, and got the knee of lock Quentin Gildenhuys to the head for his trouble.

Just a few seconds later, the Italian backs were penalised for crossing and Ireland finally had their first chance to get the scoreboard moving. Sadly, their place kicker was down on one knee being treated for a bleeding wound just above his hairline which no doubt had the physio concerned of a concussion.

Before you could say “Fields of Athenry”, O'Gara had his substitute's coat whipped off and was actually on the pitch ready to take the kick for what looked like would be a blood substitution. Little did he know the magic gel had been applied to Sexton's cut and he wasn't even entertaining the thought of giving up responsibility to his “mentor”. And so with a wry smile the Munster legend trotted back to his seat and started struggling to zip back up his coat.

So here we had it – Sexton insisted he wanted to take the kick despite a major blow to the bonce, and added to that was all the pressure from the Welsh match a few weeks prior in the same stadium. It was in a reasonable position for a right-footed kicker, about 18m in from the touchline and 10m in the Italian half. Definitely one he'd be expected to make.

He drilled it with conviction and it started to the left of the posts before falling perfectly between them and over the bar.

Ireland may have only pulled level and had much work still left to do, but for me, that was the moment when Jonathan Sexton proved to himself more than anyone else that he belongs in that green Number 10 jersey.

And we all know what was to come from the rest of the match once that pressure was relieved. He made all of his first seven kicks, with his second and third proving just as challenging as the first, both coming as they did from close to the sideline.

Not to mention his key involvement in all five Irish tries. The piece de resistance was his pass that set up Bowe's second. Not only did it have to be accurate, it had to be fizzed across to the Ospreys winger otherwise Luke McLean was primed to intercept and return with interest and Sexton threaded the needle to perfection.

Of course I'm not suggesting it was a flawless performance from our stand-off, not at all. He was a key figure in that bizarre ten-minute spell towards the end of the first half after Botes' second missed placekick came off the crossbar and Ireland couldn't buy their way out of their own half.

Given the chance to clear with a penalty, Sexton couldn't even kick it out of his own 22, then Rory Best couldn't even find a player in green. Italy may a team in transition, and they may be a long way from seriously being able to compete for Six Nations honours, but at least they're at a stage whereby they can take full advantage of a series of blunders like that and thus we had Parisse touching down to make the score 10-10 which no doubt had George Hook reaching for his Curmudgeon's Phrase Book to fuel his half-time rant.

belonging 3Yet much like his earlier set-back, Sexton was able to respond. Awarded a penalty in a similar position to that he had before Keith Earls' opening try, he chose to kick for touch again. The RTE commentary team thought that was crazy. I thought it made perfect sense because we had already shown that we could score with decent red zone possession.

And with that, Sexton fired another quick accurate pass to Ferris who could have gone himself but had the presence of mind to pass it on to Bowe and thus boost my fantasy points even more.

I think I've written enough about the Irish out-half, don't you? Well he WAS the Man of the Match, but of course he wasn't the only good performer on the day.

Paul O'Connell was his rampaging self, more so than usual, taking to the captain's role like a fish to water like we all knew he would. Ferris played like he had a point to prove and he very much did so. As a team, we were employing the choke tackle in the right areas of the pitch and the Italians had no idea how to handle it. 

On the downside, several players were quiet, most of all two thirds of our backrow in O'Brien and Heaslip. Perhaps they weren't needed this time, but you can be sure they will next week and it won't just be the one player of the calibre of Parisse they'll be dealing with then. Another who won't be thrilled with the DVD sessions is Gordon D'Arcy – though he had an early break and made some tackles he played his part in that nightmare ten-minute spell.  Earls had a good finish for his score but neither Irish centre did much to show they’ll be able to withstand Fofana and Rougerie running at them next Sunday.

But special mention has to go to Rob Kearney. 13 carries for 124 yards (113m) are stats any NFL running back would be delighted with, and that's what our full-back managed in a display actually surpassing that against Wales. There were many question marks about the Louth man after his long term injury last year especially when it came to usurping Isa Nacewa for the Leinster 15 jersey, but Kearney has come up trumps and put himself right back in the running for the starting Lions role.

belonging 2Finally with all the prevailing talk in the Irish media (and admittedly also this writeup so far) being about the Sexton/O'Gara and Leinster/Munster sagas, it mustn't be ignored how much of a part was played by the Ulstermen on the day, not just Ferris and Bowe either. Though they were late in the day, Court and Trimble each provided tries their respective positions live for.

So there we have it. A few bumps along the road, and the opposition wasn't exactly top drawer (Botes actually showed a few decent touches despite his placekicking woes and deserves to be on the pitch but perhaps with a slightly smaller number on his back), but the Italians were there to be put away and it has to be said Declan Kidney's men did so.

Would I make changes to this team for next Sunday? Probably. For Sexton to orchestrate his offence properly he craves a steady supply of front-foot phases and for all his abilities I'm really not sure that Conor Murray is the man to provide it. Things definitely moved more smoothly when Reddan was calling the shots. Plus of course there's the “Ryan over O'Callaghan” argument which will never go away.

But do I think Kidney will make any changes to this team for next Sunday? Definitely not, even if he did make the interesting move of slotting Bowe at 13 when McFadden came on. I have to resign myself to his conservative leanings now so as not to be disappointed when it is announced which will mean I can focus on getting behind them much as I was at kickoff last Saturday.

Because this Irish 22 still have a point or two to prove. The pressure of years upon years of failure in Paris will no doubt be on their minds as they walk out on the Stade de France turf once more. It's up to them to ignore it and show us all they belong. JLP

ALSO THIS WEEKEND

IRELAND U20S 27-8 ITALY U20S

It took the Wolfpuppies over 70m to score a try courtesy of man of the match lock Iain Henderson, yet though it wasn't the first of the match they were worthy of their victory. The Italians came to compete at the breakdown but not always legally and Paddy Jackson was on form with the boot enough to establish an unassailable lead. Fullback Layden added a 2nd before the end. Slam still on!

IRELAND 40-10 ITALY (Women)

Click here for full report on IRFU site

ENGLAND 12-19 WALES

75 minutes of bish bash bosh from these two sides but apart from England's by now customary block-down in the 22 only Wales ever looked like getting a try and it took sub Scott Williams ripping the ball from Lawes at halfway, kicking through and getting the bounce to do it. Strettle came micrometres close to touching down at the end but the TMO said no and the Triple Crown is off to Cardiff.

SCOTLAND 17-23 FRANCE

The Irish still have to play these two sides, and there were equal amounts of positives and negatives from both. Two rare Scottish tries from Hogg & Jones were each pegged back by Fofana & Médard and Wayne Barnes seemed to think the home side gave away more penalties. One thing is for sure...the Irish centres will have their hands full with Fofana & Rougerie in Paris next week.

 

Glasgow-10 Leinster-10

 

Though we remain unbeaten since September 17, one streak did come to an end last Saturday.

I had been able to watch every second of Leinster rugby live either broadcast or in person this season so far - just couldn't make it home from the Aviva/family stuff in time so the DVR had to be deployed. Looks like it would have happened anyway this coming Friday as no broadcaster seems willing to show their trip to Aironi.

But having seen so much of the boys in blue this season, I feel like I'm in a good position to outline what exactly is required to topple them. For me, it comes down to two things (1) take full advantage of their mistakes, and (2) be on top of your defensive game once you have the lead because they are guaranteed to come straight back at you.

Those points may sound incredibly obvious, but the fact remains that nobody has been able to do that for 19 matches now. And while Glasgow were good at the first one at Firhill, they were extremely poor at the second and as a result it cost them two Pro12 points they may well rue in the final shakeup.

That the score remained 0-0 for 27 minutes wasn't totally down to the atrocious conditions...the two sides asked questions of each other but for the most part answers were found.

First off, having already gushed today over one Leinster outhalf,I must continue for another. Ian Madigan had a fine outing in Glasgow, and it was a shame he had only the two points on the scoreboard to show for it.

And what made it a success was something I have slated him for in the past – his kicking from hand. I counted ten occasions where he achieved a positive result and he saved the best till last...an improbably improvised punt from behind his own line in the final minutes which somehow found touch outside the 22.

On the downside, there was Dominic Ryan. Great to see him back in the starting lineup, but although he got a few key tackles in also gave away needless penalties which could have cost us dear. One where he lost his bearings off a maul led to Glasgow breaking the deadlock while another at the start of the third quarter could have put the home side out of reach. Luckily that resulting penalty saw Jackson kick to the same posts where both Madigan and Nacewa had problems in the first half and it too fell short.

But it wasn't penalties that settled this match, rather it was the two tries. Like I said, to beat us you have to make the most of our mistakes, and when Devin Toner knocked down his own throw at a lineout to nobody, Ryan Harley was quickest to react and himself and his hooker Pat McArthur combined well to drive a stake into Leinster's heart.

Now...as for the awarding of the penalty try...was it correct? Absolutely. I don't actually blame Nacewa for the tackle he made. Ryan got in his way and Isa was so determined to get to the diving Glasgow player that he could only contort his body in such a way as to knock him out of bounds with his shoulder. Still, that's an illegal tackle and the full-back rightly went to the bin for it.

But here we come to the second part of my plan to beat Leinster. With a 10-0 lead and an extra man on the park, you'd expect a side in contention for the top 4 to at least keep the score the same for those ten minutes. Yet as it turned out it was our man Devin who proved to be a perfect (please forgive me) a-Toner for his earlier lineout blunder with a series of influential plays.

First, at midfield he collected the ball and charged straight ahead for a huge gain, knocking Ruaridh Jackson flat on his back with his thighbone in the process. I'll say it again, it has been great to see the big man adding such aggression to his game this year.

Next, he made good at the lineout by wrecking a Glasgow four-man effort in their own 22 which got us back the ball and on the front foot. That possession got us to the line where he eventually helped Heinke van der Merwe over from a few yards out and there we are back in the match.

Now, for a bit of rare criticism of the Leinster coaching setup. Just 10-7down, and the clock approaching the 60-minute mark, our front row asserted their authority at the scrum and forced an excellent turnover. The result? Another scrum. What do we do? Send out the hook for Nathan White and chuck in Jamie Hagan in his pristine Leinster kit. The result? Penalty to Glasgow.

I totally get the need for scheduled substitutions but there HAS to be leeway for the match situation, and that call was just plain wrong.  Let the scrums play themselves out THEN chuck on Hagan if you must.  The prop struggled for the rest of the match, in fact I think Irish ref John Lacy did us a favour when Glasgow had their 5m scrums on our line towards the end. Having already pinged Hagan once,Lacy chose to stand on the other side of the resulting scrum and thus“couldn't see” that Hagan's side went down again, which was straying into at least yellow card territory if not another penalty try.

But ironically it was Dominic Ryan's replacement Jordi Murphy who helped us into a position to equalise. He won the ball back from a Glasgow slip and a couple of phases later Brendan Macken wasn't released after a tackle and Isa gratefully took the chance to level things.

So as it turned out with Ulster narrowly turning over the Ospreys we actually moved a point further clear at the top with the gap now at eleven, although Munster should make full use of their game in hand to jump into second, making the big derby down in Thomond all the more spicy. Hopefully Tony McGahan and co won't read this post and end up being rewarded for following my suggestions! JLP

ALSO IN THIS ROUND

Scarlets 34-20 Treviso
Munster 16-13 Cardiff Blues
Ulster 15-14 Ospreys
Connacht 26-13 Edinburgh
Aironi 9-10 Newport GD

Friday, February 17, 2012

Leinster-16 Scarlets-13

skybet.com

[Update November 27, 2013] Archive time here at HoR…this Saturday’s meeting with the Scarlets will be Leinster’s SIXTH time facing the boys from Llanelli in the last 15 months, so I have gone a bit further afield to find a previous meeting.  This one came less than a week after that Six Nations match in Paris was frozen off at the last minute, and it was when I finally decided to use my website to highlight my biggest pet peeve at Leinster matches.

fads scarlets

VALUE

I totally get that not everyone is into sports. What I don't get is why you would take the time to actually go to a sporting fixture without staying to the very end.

Yet there it was yet again at the RDS on Friday night. When there was as much as ten minutes left on the clock, people started making their way towards the exits. This baffles me every time, but even more so when the scores are deadlocked as they were.

I'm not just talking one or two people either, yet annoying as it is to see, at least there was some consolation for those of us who stayed in that they missed the pivotal moment of the match right at the end.

The exodus wasn't the only thing that happened before full-time that perhaps shouldn't have. For every Pro12 contest there is a “Man of the Match” award but clearly one of our national banks isn't happy with merely having its name on the Leinster jersey as well as all over the RDS hoardings – they'd also like their name called out over the loudspeaker towards the end of every match, whether or not the entire crowd is there to hear it!

Thus we also have The Bank Of Ireland Most Valuable Player Award, and for this match it was awarded to Devin Toner around the 75-minute mark. Now I reckon the big lad is having a good season, not enough to get him ahead of Donnacha Ryan in the Irish pecking order, but still good.

But since Leinster's main problem in the first half, and in turn the reason this game remained so close, was an inability to turn trips to the Scarlet 22 into points on the scoreboard, the fact that Toner had one glaring knockon plus a ball lost in contact towards halftime, surely should have put him out of the running.

And as it happened the “official” man-of-the-match was Leinster skipper on the night Kevin McLaughlin. It's true, he made some telling contributions throughout including a key turnover or two, but even in his case I'd wonder was it right to go for tries rather than points on the board early on with kickable penalties, plus the glaring (yet admittedly rare) gap in our defence which led to Daniel Newton's try stands to him in part. Though he had just made a tackle he still raised his hand declaring himself “pillar” of the next ruck even though (a) his back was turned towards the opposition and (b) there was clearly nobody guarding the crucial centre area, a fact the experienced Fijian World Cup captain Deacon Manu exploited to the full.

Maybe I'm being hard on Messrs Toner & McLaughlin especially as both featured in the buildup to the Leinster try right at the very start of the second half, but then again, such must be the standards at a club that's been so succesful of late.

For me, when you're talking about a teams most “valuable” player, you're talking about the one without whom you wouldn't have won. And while it doesn't always follow in rugby that the player who scores the actual points fits this bill, it certainly does in this case.

And whatever about the attacking momentum Leinster had when he received the ball, Fergus McFadden certainly had a lot of work to do to get over the line from where he was, yet with a shuffle of the feet and a determined drive to the line he gave his side the a second-half start that was reminiscent of last May in Cardiff.

But though his contribution there was important it was nothing compared to what happened at the end of the match while so many fans were shuffling down the Simmonscourt and Anglesea Roads.

Though going into the contest McFadden led the Pro12 in place-kicking with a 95% record, he had already missed a couple on the night and was by no means guaranteed making the penalty awarded by Nigel Owens on 79:41 for his pet peeve all night, playing the ball off your feet, with sub Scarlet prop Phil John the culprit this time.

So he had it all to do yet he made no alteration to his routine and stroked it clean over the bar to keep his side's impressive winning streak in the competition going. That, for me, was value for money.

Overall as a contest it wasn't exactly the most exciting one ever seen in Ballsbridge – as I have already said Leinster couldn't get things going with the ball in the first half though the Scarlets came to defend and for the most part made a good job of it – they certainly would have been delighted with the draw.

Players like Ian Madigan and even Isa Nacewa were quiet by their own recent standards. Leo Auva'a was his usual rampaging self when he came on at halftime and as for the scrum-half position it wasn't so much that Reddan had a bad outing, it just wasn't his style of game. What was needed was a 9 who was willing to steal yards off the fringes and Eoin didn't start really doing that until he spotted Boss on the sideline ready to come on at the 60-minute mark. I have a feeling if Isaac had started we could have gotten more on the board in the first half.

But that's enough of my nit-picking! If I'm not careful you'll stop reading this post before I get to the end!

Perhaps it wasn't perfect but when all was said and done Leinster got the win and with the Ospreys failing to get themselves a bonus point at home to Aironi, we maintain that impressive ten-point cushion at the top of the table.

With so many away matches left on the schedule for Joe Schmidt's men, including trips to both Thomond Park and Ravenhill, we might well find ourselves in May looking back and appreciating just how valuable Fergus' contribution really was. JLP

ALSO IN THIS ROUND

Cardiff Blues 21-14 Ulster

Ospreys 23-7 Aironi

Treviso 14-35 Munster

Dragons 21-10 Edinburgh

Connacht 13-13 Glasgow

Saturday, February 11, 2012

FRANCE v IRELAND - OFF

LE SHAMBLES

It's almost 20 years since France were awarded the 1998 World Cup finals by FIFA. Part of their bid was a promise to build a “state-of-the-art” stadium in Paris.

You don't need me to tell you that the French, particularly the Parisians, take pride in their architecture. So it would be safe to say that those in charge of getting the stadium built were not only rewarded handsomely for the project, the kudos from it also surely led to plenty of future work.

A bit of weekend online research has led me to believe that somewhere along the line in the planning of the stadium, it must have been brought to the attention of the “brains trust” that since the chosen site lay on the grounds of an old gasworks, it would be extremely dangerous to install undersoil heating.

Please note that the words “grounds of an old gasworks” makes me sorely tempted to go reaching for Scooby Doo references...if you knew me you'd appreciate how hard it is for me to stay on the serious subject matter!

Although I'm not an architect, I've still been at many a meeting and I'm pretty sure that at some stage in 1992 there was one where the decision was taken to go ahead and build the thing without the heating or alternatively, find a site with less explosive issues. Somebody had to actually make that call.

Ultimately, THAT is the person to blame for what happened on Saturday night in Paris. Because if there had been undersoil heating, there would have been a match, and I'd have actual rugby to write about this morning.  In actual fact, they had a similar scare for one of the first games played in the stadium though that eventually went ahead.

But of course I live in the real world, and despite the fact that so many Irish fans were put out of pocket by the late decision, the decision-maker I refer to will never be named, let alone sought after for recompense.

Of course we must look at those involved when we place blame, but I just wanted to illustrate who is actually behind it all. And ok, fine, I also wanted the novelty of using the name of a cartoon character on my rugby blog.

So...who were the principal culprits in this Stade de Farce?
  • The IRB – the sport's overall governing body. By rights, they should be responsible for anything and everything to do with the sport, but although they “came out in support” of the decision to postpone, that's a lot different to actually taking responsibility.
  • Dave Pearson – Irish fans would of course love to take a pop at him! The man seems to be colour blind – not only could he not distinguish between red and yellow in the Aviva Stadium, seemingly white and green are hard to tell apart when it comes to a pitch! But seriously...I make him merely a bit player in this drama.
  • Kidney & St Andre – Much like the committee meeting from two decades ago I refer to above, we can only speculate what was said at that on-pitch conflab between the two coaches and the officials, though the word seems to be that Kidney wanted it called off while his French counterpart was leaning the other way. Whether player safety was the true consideration of either coach we'll never know.
  • France Télévisions – the French answer to Auntie Beeb, who have the rights to the Six Nations all the way to 2017, must surely have had a hand in the decision to play this match at the ludicrous local time of 9pm in February.
  • Six Nations Ltd – now we're getting closer to the top of the responsibility pyramid. This practically-masonic organisation is based in Dublin yet puts very little information about itself online, even on the official RBS Six Nations website. Perhaps their aim is to adjudicate over the tournament itself without being anywhere to be seen when serious answers are sought? Now they did put out an official statement shifting the blame to both the FFR and Pearson but in my book it raised as many questions as it answered.
  • FFR – I used to manage a sports shop. Whenever a customer bought a pair of runners there and they turned out to be faulty, they brought them back to me. And that made sense. Maybe the real folks to blame were Nike, or the manufacturers of the glue that held on the sole or maybe even the poorly-paid factory workers in South-East Asia who did the stitching. But from the customers' point of view, they bought them in my shop so it was up to me to deal with them and pass on the blame on my own time, not theirs. Same goes for the FFR with this match. The home union must be held responsible when it comes to compensating fans, and I would expect no less of the IRFU if the same thing happened in Dublin.
Now...we are clear that it's the fans who are the ones to be considered here as hard done by, right?

Because I wouldn't be so sure when I look at the media over the weekend. There seemed to be a lot of concern over the perceived tragedy of professional sportsmen playing – wait for it – FOUR MATCHES IN FOUR WEEKS!!!! To use a uniquely Irish phrase : “would ye get away outta that!!!”

Another misconception people seem to have is that the fans wanted the match to go ahead even with the frozen pitch. Many have gleefully posted gory pictures of their own various injuries incurred by playing in such conditions. Eh, nobody with an ounce of common sense is suggesting the match should ever have gone ahead.

No...what went wrong in Paris was the protocols in place, or should I say the lack thereof.

See, we mere mortals don't think about such things until after they happen, and now that they have, all I can ask myself is this : Why not inspect the pitch at least 48 hrs before the match AT THE PLANNED KICKOFF TIME (not 4pm the day before and 7pm the day of the match as what happened) then make a definitive decision that also takes weather forecasts into account? Plus – shouldn't EVERY major sporting fixture have a sensible alternative date scheduled in advance just in case?

But instead, it came down to a last-minute decision - the match was called off as the brass band were on the pitch ready to no doubt make an absolute hames of Ireland's Call like every other country does.

And it's not like there isn't recent precedent. Originally, the alternative date for the fixture was Friday, March 2nd. This was even more bizarre for two reasons...one, it was yet another night-time kickoff, and two, Leinster were already scheduled to play in Aironi that night and some fans would have had tickets for both matches (it was pointed out to me that these travelling numbers are relatively small, though I'm not sure what that has to do with anything).

But with an almost sinister irony, Aironi were due to play Munster, also in Viadana, last Sunday. Guess what – they found themselves with a frozen pitch during the week. And guess what – they actually HAD the stones to postpone the fixture.

Of course, the numbers to attend the Pro12 fixture were nothing compared to those attending the Six Nations one. But that's my point. The delay in the Paris decision was clearly down to fear of losing money. So rather than employ basic logic they let the fans travel, spend their hard-earned Euros in Paris, then feck off home without having seen a match. But at “least” they have the “re-assurance” that once they retained their ticket (and though many were at pains to tell me they always keep theirs, we're talking about 80,000 people here and even if only a handful chucked their ticket, in my book they're still entitled to a refund due to the late announcement), they won't have to pay for a new one for the rematch whenever it may be (though at least it won't be a Friday night now by all accounts).

There's not only the Irish travelling fans to consider. Rugby in France, as we all know, is primarily popular around the southern coast, so no doubt many made the not-insignificant journey north to see the match and will be equally pissed off by their more metropolitan fellow countrymen.

So to summarise...this blog will always consider the fans' well-being as of the utmost importance in rugby matters like these. It's a professional game now, and this means that it can be nothing without those same fans. And the ones who are willing to shell out good money to follow their heroes from Ireland to Paris and/or Viadana should be treated like royalty, yet by the events of the past week, they have been barely treated like peasants.

I'll be waiting for some kind of assurance that not only will the fans from Saturday night be properly looked after, but also that plans will be put in place for “Le Shambles” not to happen again. I have a feeling there are rugby pitches in hell which will freeze over first. JLP

ALSO LAST WEEKEND...

FRANCE U20s 12-13 IRELAND U20s
Didn’t see all of it, but what I did see was a monumental display from Mike Ruddock's men, particularly on defence. Lansdowne's Foster Horan got the game's only try early in the 2nd half and it was down to JJ Hanrahan to kick the winning pen. The French seem to have crossed at the death but the ref went upstairs and the TMO found it inconclusive. Super result for the Wolfpuppies!

ITALY 15-19 ENGLAND 
For the 2nd week in a row the reigning champions go into a Six Nations match with little more than Owen Farrell's boot and a solid defence and come out narrowly on top. Italy went into the break 15-6 to the good after two fine tries but their lack of a decent 10 cost them dear and once again Hodgson got a try back from a blocked clearance. I doubt the Twickenham crowd would welcome this display.

FRANCE 8-7 IRELAND (Women)

WALES 27-13 SCOTLAND
For me this match was decided either side of half time. The valiant Scots had 20+ phases to snap a 3-3 deadlock to no avail before the break. Then a horrible error by Cusiter off 2nd half kickoff gave Wales attacking ball which they punished with a Cuthbert try. Then came a couple of Scottish yellows, followed by a couple of Halfpenny tries. Rennie & Hogg impressed for Scots but it wasn’t to be.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Leinster-42 Treviso-8


Novelty : A Concise Eleven-Word Article

Isa, awesome. 
Madigan, enterprising. 
Youngsters, eager. 
Bench, overpowering. 
Fourteen points clear. 

PS - In case you think this brief post was done out of laziness I also did a 700+word piece on the match for BlueMagic.ie - follow this link to read it

ALSO IN THIS ROUND
Thursday
Glasgow 19-14 Scarlets
Friday
Ulster 30-12 NG Dragons
Cardiff Blues 22-15 Connacht
Edinburgh 14-15 Ospreys
Sunday
Aironi v Munster - POSTPONED TO SUNDAY, MARCH 11

Sunday, February 05, 2012

IRELAND-21 WALES-23

F5Lbanner
 
[Update February 5, 2014 : In this week’s trip into the HoR archives we go back 2 years to the day and re-live the last Welsh visit to Dublin.  Sorry!  One of the leading lowlights of the Declan Kidney reign as Irish coach was the fact that after a good start he was eventually bettered by Warren Gatland.  Now it’s Joe Schmidt’s turn to have a go - will he fare better? Note - the article I link to in the first line seems to have been taken down; shame, because if I remember it correctly it gave many pointers to the civil war in Welsh rugby today.  JLP]
 
 
HoR pro logo greenDuring the week I read an article written by Welsh MP Owen Smith entitled “Regional rugby – time for change”.
 
Overall I felt it was a piece of populist pandering by a politician looking to draw easy attention to himself and his agenda. But behind it all, I was fascinated by the idea that a nation so steeped in tradition with the oval ball could consider anything less than offering full support to its teams on the international stage whatever the level.
 
Yet when you look at the comparative performances of the Irish and Welsh teams at Pro12 and Heineken Cup level, it suggests a massive gulf in talent between the respective pools of players.
 
And not even that...you could also suggest that since the IRFU moves mountains to keep players at home while their Welsh counterparts virtually put them on the plane to France, there should theoretically be a greater understanding and camaraderie in the Irish camp.
 
So with all those factors taken into account, it should be a given that when the two countries pick sides to play each other, especially in Dublin, Ireland should be in the ascendancy. Since that didn't come anywhere near happening on Sunday, questions have to be asked.
 
First, though, we must eliminate the irrelevant questions.
 
  • Should O'Gara have started instead of Sexton? I know a large portion of the HarpinOnRugby ethos has been built via twitter, but every time either Leinster & Ireland are playing I tell myself I'll stay away from it while the match is actually on, yet every time I get sucked in. And sure enough even from the very first miss by Sexton the tweets were pouring in “Get ROG on!” People obviously forget who started in Wellington. But I must admit even I allow myself to be drawn into the pettiness...after a later miss the RTE director cut straight to O'Gara sitting on the bench and I reckon he knew he could be seen on the big screen as he said “that's a fucking waste”. Not that it wasn't of course, but my annoyance stems from the fact the same people who stick up for him go incredibly silent when he himself is less than perfect, which he can be, even in Sunday's cameo. Still, the fact remains, recent results against the Welsh prove the selection at outhalf makes absolutely no difference and we must look deeper.
  • Did the officials make the difference? Again with the social media, there was a worry that an “I Hate Wayne Barnes” Facebook page would have been set up much like the one against Alain Rolland. Thankfully while there were a few anti-Barnes pages already there, nothing new sprung up after Sunday, though there was plenty of blame being flung at him from individuals. As for the tip tackles, if he was guilty of anything it was trying too hard to be fair. Remember – he didn't see the first one by Davies, and Dave Pearson didn't see the second from Ferris. Had they both been called by the same official perhaps the massive difference between them would have been obvious and then reflected in the two punishments. But to actually answer the question, I have to say no. The way we were allowing the Welsh run onto us so easily we were giving them every chance to get the winning score even without that penalty. Barnes is far from my favourite man in the middle, but I could only blame him if I thought we took care of our own business when it counted and we certainly didn't.
  • Are Ireland lost without Brian O'Driscoll? For this I point to the Welsh display. They were missing a huge slice of their pack from the start, lost their inspirational skipper at halftime, and were a man short with ten minutes to go, yet still deservedly won. BOD is a legend of the Irish game, and has won test matches all on his own, but no team in any sport can put all their faith in one player and hope to achieve anything.
For me, we lost this match because we failed to perform in both the first ten minutes and the last. 
 
It was all fire and passion from Ireland after the actual kickoff and we won a penalty which if you'll recall, wasn't a million miles away from where we got one early on in Wellington. Then, we kicked for the corner but couldn't ram home the advantage. This time we couldn't even get the bloody ball into touch! But should we have been going for it at all? Not so sure in either case.
 
Then came that quick lineout. What is it about us with that set-piece against this lot? I'm thinking the Welsh studied DVDs and noticed that our players are getting too focused on their rehearsed drills and calls, no matter who is throwing the ball in. Sure, we all know what happened back in Cardiff but the fact remains we should have been wide to it. Same applied Sunday. Though I'm not totally sold the ball went the full 5 metres, still Conor Murray and Mike Ross were caught napping big time, and for me it's only thanks to a couple of luckily-positioned Irish arses that the TMO couldn't see that a try was scored as a result.
 
Finally on the 9-minute mark, even though we were 3 points to the good, Ireland got their first decent attacking position at midfield. No matter how a match is going I can't feel like I can make a proper judgement on how the sides are shaping up until I've seen both sides have some good possession. Often I have seen Leinster not get any for up to 20 minutes yet still come out on top come full time, for example.
 
In this case, the Welsh flung themselves at us in the breakdown, straight through the middle as well. Conor Murray got sucked in to one ruck when he should have been distributing the ball, then McFadden went to play scrum-half before getting sucked in himself, then we just lost it. I'm sorry but if you hope to win at Test level, I reckon you must at very least be able to advance the ball with a decent series of phases on your first possession. We had no answer to the Welsh pack's questions.
 
But for the middle portion of the match, we were able to dig deep and get some points on the board thanks to some good individual performances. I couldn't write this article without acknowledging that it wasn't all bad on the day. Jamie Heaslip and Paul O'Connell were strong themselves at the breakdown. Andrew Trimble got key tackles in on his flank. Rob Kearney has seamlessly carried his Leinster form through to this Six Nations and has the 15 jumper nailed down for the foreseeable future.
 
And by God, what an attitude shown by Donnacha Ryan when he came on. If only he could have bottled it and passed it around the matchday 22. O'Callaghan wasn't exactly a disaster, but for his sheer enthusiasm and focus alone Ryan has to start in Paris the way I see it.
 
As for our two tries themselves they were impressive, with our backs creating overlaps and exploiting them in each case. Yet even there I must ask...were they the result of pre-match tactics or rather experienced professionals reacting to opportunities that presented themselves in the heat of battle? I'm leaning towards the latter.
 
Finally, we have the last ten minutes. Let's set the stage, shall we? As the clock ticked to 70, Ireland led by 6 points, had an extra man on the park, and won themselves a penalty a shade inside their own half. This time, they chose to kick for the points.
 
OK – Sexton missed it by a mile, but come on...would the lineout not have been the better option? We showed we could find a way to work try scoring positions, and besides...the penalty was tricky for any kicker and all it did was take time off the Bradley sin-binning, whereas the lineout could have taken a decent chunk off the overall time remaining. I personally think we got two key penalty calls arseways.
 
And then came a senseless penalty. No, I don't mean that of Stephen Ferris. I mean that of Sean O'Brien not releasing in the tackle. That allowed the Welsh come straight back at us to get their third try – no mean feat on any away Six Nations outing - and if anyone in red deserved to get one it was the enigma that is George North...what a future that 19-year-old has ahead of him.
 
Yet STILL, even after that try, we had the lead as Halfpenny couldn't quite add the conversion. It was still ours to lose, and with comparative ease the Welsh marched all the way from within their own 22 to the edge of ours.
 
As much as I hate to say it, Ryle Nugent put it best when he said “Ireland are inviting Wales on by stepping back from the tackles”. Why on earth would anyone do this? The visitors had shown throughout that they had yards in them AFTER the tackle, so why give them yards before it?
 
All of which adds up to one conclusion. The one thing Ireland needed for this vital Six Nations opener was the correct preparation, and they were found extremely wanting. There is only one door at which the blame can be laid, and it's a name I have yet to use in this piece.
 
Declan Kidney has masterminded some great results as a coach in his day, many of them for Ireland. But rugby is an ever-evolving sport, and since he has been at Test level he has found a nemesis in Warren Gatland and after being out-strategized in yet another battle, has surely now lost the war.
 
Is it Kidney's inherent conservatism that's to blame? Partly. For all the hype and hoopla over rookies Peter O'Mahony and Dave Kearney being on the bench they never came within a sniff of getting on the park.
 
But I believe it goes beyond that. Since we're not privy to what exactly is going on behind the scenes, we can only call it an “X-factor” that's lacking in our coaching brains trust, but let's just say this...Poland is looking like a much better destination for preparation than Carton House right now.
 
So as Gatland plans for the next stage of his march towards a second personal Grand Slam (not to mention the 2013 Lions tour as well), the Irish coach needs to realise his is never going to come if things continue as they are. We will see how much he recognises this need with his selection for next Saturday evening at the Stade de France.
 
As much as I try to find a positive spin where Leinster and Ireland are concerned, I have a feeling I'll need to stay far away from twitter while that particular match is on. Keeping sorrow-drowning potions close to hand, of course. JLP

ALSO LAST WEEKEND

IRELAND U20s 11-6 WALES U20s
A deserved victory for Mike Ruddock's men but despite having the edge in possession and territory throughout, needed two quick 2nd half DGs from Jackson & McGrath to see it home. Irish try came after strong break by JJ Hanrahan and fizzed pass to MotM Shane Layden for easy finish in 1st half. Jackson struggled from the kicking tee in the wind.

FRANCE 30-12 ITALY
Neither team ever really got out of 2nd gear yet the gulf in class was there for all to see. Clermont Auvergne provided most of the offence with Rougerie, Malzieu and debutante Fofana all crossing with Clerc adding his gazillionth 6Nations try. Truth be told most entertaining movement on the Stade de France pitch came from the pigeons. Still, France can only improve before next Saturday.

SCOTLAND 6-13 ENGLAND
If the French and Italians didnt get beyond 2nd gear, these two barely had their keys in the ignition. Never before has a reigning champion been more there for the taking in their opening match, yet the Scots just couldn't capitalize despite the valiant efforts of Cusiter & Denton. Dan Parks' shocker culminated in a blocked clearance which Charlie Hodgson turned into the winning try.

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