Friday, January 31, 2014

The Pagano Preview Jan 31-Feb 2

Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond. 

I may joke about it on twitter but truth be told I am at a loss as to what word to upgrade the Welsh rugby crisis to beyond “farce”.

What says it all for me is the slogan of their so-called grass-roots resistance movement “Save Our Game”.  They really do think it’s theirs, don’t they?

Not that I am in any way siding with Roger Lewis and the WRU with the above paragraph, far from it.  It’s just that in all the articles and online discussions I have tried to follow in recent months, one theme seems to shine through…there is a over-arching desire to get him out and the personal nature of that desire is blinding many to what is really at stake - the future of the professional game in Europe.

So as much as I’d like to say we should be looking with bemusement across the Irish Sea at our Celtic cousins, the fact remains that our future very much remains in their hands.

They believe the Pro12 is dead, and as long as they do, then it is. Only thing they have wrong is that it is the Irish who are to blame for it.

I really should be focusing on the Six Nations, shouldn’t I?  Well in a way, I am. 

I believe the Welsh are well poised to make history by recording a 3rd championship in a row (without a slam as I see it) and as wonderful and enviable an achievement as that may be, to do it while they can’t show even a smidgeon of unity for the remainder of the nine-month long northern hemisphere season makes a complete mockery of the whole thing.

OK, got that off my chest.  Time to look ahead to what we should be looking ahead to…the actual rugby on the pitch.  Can’t wait!!!!

Friday, January 31

Women’s Six Nations

Ireland v Scotland, 7:30pm

Click here for Sarah Lennon’s Women’s Six Nations preview on HoR2, including info on travel to and from tonight’s match.

Under 20’s Six Nations

Ireland v Scotland, 7:05pm

Gwan those Wolfpuppies!!!!  I know the name isn’t popular for many, but to be honest when I coined it I was being extremely tongue-in-cheek, that Ryle Nugent used it on air was his decision, not mine!  Guess we’re stuck with it!

Plenty to look out for in this latest crop of Under 20s.  Many appeared in that classic Leinster SCT final back in March, like outhalf Ross Byrne for Michael’s and Gary “I can kick goals from the dressing room” Ringrose, but the one I reckon we should be looking out for is Sean O’Brien.  No, not THAT one, the one who played for Roscrea last year and now lines out for Galwegians & the Connacht Academy.  If he continues to display the talents I saw (albeit briefly) last season, it won’t be long before we’re forced to say “Seanie óg” or something similar.

But anyways…I know nothing of the Scots at this level so no predictions from me for matches like this…doesn’t mean I won’t be watching with keen interest, however.  Best of like as always to Mike Ruddock and his crew.

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

I’m all for “Friday Night Lights” but I reckon these should be on the Saturday to help focus maximum support on both the Under 20s and the Women…their locations are tough enough to get to for fans in and around the Pale but it’s still a doable journey.  Anyway…two Dublin derbies up for decision with 2nd v 3rd at Anglesea Road being the highlight as they try to keep up with Tarf at the top.

St Mary’s v UCD, 7:30pm

Old Belvedere v Lansdowne, 7:30pm

LV= Cup

“Ooooh, I’m so excited for the final round of LV Cup matches!” said absolutely noone during the week.  We’ll see just how much the Welsh are gagging for an Anglo-Welsh league with the attendance figures from Friday night.

Cardiff v Harlequins, 7:05pm

Ospreys v Sale, 7:30pm

Newcastle v NG Dragons, 7:45pm

Leicester Tigers v Bath, 7:45pm

Saturday, February 1

RBS Six Nations

WALES v ITALY, 2:30pm

Warren Gatland leave a Lions captain out of his starting lineup??? Surely not??? (if you think I could let this preview go without a mention of BODgate you mustn’t know me!)

Despite Warburton’s absence (not quite sure why someone who “hasn’t fully recovered from an injury” can be on the bench?)  the Welsh have named a lineup which suggests they have no intentions of taking any prisoners in this opener. 

They know how to win this title on points difference and this could be an excellent chance to make some hay, and with names like North, Roberts, Halfpenny and Cuthbert in their backline the Fantasy team selectors will expect a rich reward.

Yet while it is usually the Italians who tend to take gambles with number 10s, and in the 20-year-old Tommy Allen (just 8 appearances for Perpignan) they are definitely doing just that this time around, Gatland’s selection of Rhys Priestland raised many an eyebrow and it will be interesting to see how he gets on.

Plus, to unleash that powerful backline the Welsh will first have to get the ball out of the forwards and the Italians have several wise heads to make that extremely difficult for them.  Personally, I’m not all so sure the bookies’ 20-point spread is fair on the visitors, though a home victory should still be easily achieved.  Wales by 11


I seem to recall something about not picking your best available players was a bad thing?  Well apparently when you award new caps to wingers in Paris when there are more experienced campaigners available, that means you are “building towards 2015”, which apparently is ok.

So an extremely experimental backline for Stuart Lancaster, but so it also goes for his opposite number PSA…Jules Plisson is the latest to sport the numéro dix, although there is an array of fine talent outside him with Médard, Fofana and Dulin all capable of running up fantasy scores.

But if I thought Wales v Italy was going to be a battle in the forwards, that ain’t got nothing on this.  Monsieur Pape? Meet, Mister Lawes, and his club-mate Dylan. 

Let’s just say Nigel Owens will have his work cut out and then some.

Bookies make this tight and edge the French by 4.  If they show up, I reckon they could blow this England team off the park, but that is an extremely big “if”.

What swings it for me is the home side’s 6/2 split on the bench.  More beef bourguignon for the pack, plus in Gael Fickou they have an outstanding talent to bring on after Bastereaud has worn down the English resistance.  France by 6

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

I’m not exactly Eddie O’Sullivan’s biggest fan, but how he hasn’t landed a top coaching gig baffles me.  He would certainly do his street cred the power of good, at least in Irish circles anyway, by keeping Garryowen in the top flight, which won’t be easy as they have lost their first ten.  Great chance to kick-start a revival this weekend, however, as they host Hinch who are immediately above them on the ladder.

Clontarf v Cork Constitution, 2:30pm

Dolphin v Young Munster, 2:30pm

Garryowen v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm

LV= Cup

Northampton v Saracens, 3pm

Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs, 3pm

Gloucester v London Wasps, 3pm

London Irish v Scarlets, 4pm

Top League

Wild Knights v Brave Lupus, 5am

Sunday, February 2

RBS Six Nations


Despite all the late injuries to the likes of Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald, this is a very impressive matchday 23 that Joe Schmidt has been able to put together.  And what’s more, judging by online reaction anyway, most appear to be happy with it, or at least if they aren’t they are keeping quiet.

The key to our success this weekend will be Jonathan Sexton.  Although the ROG documentary made the former Munster-man out to be some kind of victim during their rivalry for the Ireland jersey, it certainly wasn’t easy for Sexton during that phase and this will be his first competitive opportunity to show what he can do, and he has the ideal man as his coach as well.

It doesn’t hurt that he happens to be coming into some form…a great outing for Racing last week could have been costly injury-wise but thankfully wasn’t.

Who has he with him besides the great BOD?  Although we remain unsure who Joe’s first-choice at 12 was, we can have no complaints about the inclusion of a fully-fit Luke Marshall, and Sexton will be ken to make the most of the devastating lines the Ulsterman can run.

He also won’t mind putting up a few high-balls for his back-three to chase, for despite the dangers that the Scots 11, 14 & 15 can cause, if done with the right degree of accuracy, the Kearney brothers & Andrew Trimble are well able to do some damage.

In fact my point about accuracy can be said about pretty much every aspect of “Schmidt-ball”.  It’s a style of game that demands that you leave no margins for error in what you do, and indeed why should you if you hope to go in search of silverware.  It is a challenging philosophy to bring to the sport but as Leinster fans well know it is one that has reaped rich rewards in recent years.

Of course the accuracy won’t be just needed in the backs…with the tough-tackling Chris Henry starting hopefully Jamie Heaslip will be free to gain some or all of the yards lost with the absence of Sean O’Brien, and of course we also have Cian Healy who has been known to break a gainline or six.

At set-piece time things should be a lot steadier…Paulie and Toner will hopefully be more than enough to secure the lineouts, an area where we badly struggled against the Scots last year.

Another key factor in Schmidt-ball is the bench…an 80-minute performance using the entire 23 names on the teamsheet will be the order of the day and we can fully expect to see Sean Cronin, Tommy O’Donnell and Fergus McFadden in the latter stages, hopefully to help bring victory home rather than bring us back into it!

Should we struggle to trouble the scorers in the early stages, we all know the Scots have plenty to take advantage of our mistakes.  Even the tiniest gap in our defences will no doubt be spotted by the likes of Kelly Brown and Greig Laidlaw so despite the fact that we’re favourites the visitors certainly cannot be taken for granted.

But you won’t get any negative vibes from me going into this opening match.  I think this year’s 6 Nations tournament will be wide open and we can only assess the matches on a week-to-week basis.  For this opener, I’m confident of a reasonable victory.  Let’s get behind them this weekend!  Ireland by 10

Top League

Steelers v Sungoliath, 5am

Be sure and enjoy your Six Nations action this weekend wherever you are. JLP

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Support the Girls in Green!

A look ahead to the Irish Womens’ Grand Slam defence by Sarah Lennon…

Women's Rugby column

Fiona Coughlan RBS Six Nations Launch VwGPaC-8bhslThe Irish women’s rugby team take on Scotland on Friday in a defence of their Grand Slam Crown. Ashbourne is the setting as Ireland takes on their Scottish counterparts under lights. Of course there may not have been a title to defend had things gone differently in the summer. Plans to create a two tier tournament seriously threatened to undermine the women’s game. Thankfully in April an agreement was reached and a commitment given by all unions to the tournament.

Regarding this year’s tournament, it will be no easy feat for Ireland to defend their crown. Fiona Coghlan again captains the team and Philip Doyle remains as head coach. Three home games are helpful including the historic occasion of Ireland V Italy at Aviva stadium. Two very tough away fixtures in England in Twickenham and France will be key. The women return to Pau on the final day and hopefully the travel arrangements go smoother than the last trip.

First up is Scotland. It is tempting to predict an easy win for Ireland as the defending champions taking on last year’s wooden spoon holders, but that would be a disservice to Scotland who gave Ireland a huge test on their way to last season’s maiden 6 Nations victory with the 30-3 scoreline belying a very tough first hour. Ireland will be favourites, of course, but it can be a very difficult ask for the senior women’s team. Unlike their male equivalent, there are no summer tours or November series, the 6 Nations is the be all and end all. This team hasn’t played together since securing the title in Italy last year. Hitting the ground running is key and a good win in a non-test match versus Italy last weekend will have shaken loose a few of the cobwebs.

Mirroring the men’s tournament, the women have another home game the following Friday, again in Ashbourne against Wales. The girls in green will be hoping for some momentum going into a difficult trip to Twickenham. England have a stronger look and feel this year after last season’s focus on the 7s, and in particular the return of Maggie Alphonsi will give an enormous boost to the English side.

The first two home matches in this year’s 6 Nations will be held in Ashbourne and the last vs Italy in the Aviva. The women’s match is free for those in attendance for the men’s match, and a tenner for anyone wishing to attend the women’s match only.

Old Belvedere Ladies are running a supporters bus to and from Ashbourne  and there is an IRFU scheme for supporters buses to the Aviva for Ireland V Italy

Get out and support the girls in green!!

Sarah Lennon (@sarahlennon08) is passionate about all things rugby. A Leinster Season Ticket holder since the Donnybrook days, a supporter of the Irish teams home and abroad and can regularly be seen cheering on Junior Rugby at Stillorgan RFC (a labour of love). As well as spectating, she dabbles in playing a bit and is a member of Old Belvedere RFC and fully paid up member of the front row union.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Leinster Women’s League finals

A summary of last Saturday’s finals at Edenderry Rugby Club by Sarah Lennon…

Women's Rugby column


The Leinster Women’s League finals took place in Edenderry on Saturday in the culmination of the league season in Divisions 1-4. Teams from all across the province were in attendance with Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Westmeath and Carlow all represented. There was a great atmosphere in the Edenderry Rugby Club, despite the weather and copious amounts of mud on display and all four games were played in great competitive spirit.

The Division 4 final was between Old Belvedere J2 and CYM. Both of these teams were in their very first league campaign and they had topped their groups en route to the semi-finals. The teams had won convincingly in their respective semi-finals so a close affair was predicted. The day commenced with this final and ultimately it was CYM who prevailed 12-0 with two early tries proving crucial.

In Division 3, Arklow took on Gorey in a local derby. Arklow were favourites having topped the group but the two previous encounters had been decided by a single score on each occasion and Gorey were out to win the one that mattered. It was the experienced Amazons that won on the day howeve,r completing a hattrick of wins over Gorey for the season.

The Division 2 final saw Mullingar take on Tullow. Both of these teams were very experienced and Mullingar went into the game as favourites having won all 9 of their league matches. Tullow knew that if they wanted to win they would have to do something that they hadn’t managed in the two league games between the teams and score! However, in an extraordinary match, the score was tied 0-0 after 100 minutes of rugby and as there were no cards to break the tie it was a penalty shootout. Tullow held their nerve and were successful with one of their three allocated kicks. It was enough to seal the title for the Carlow ladies.

The last match to kick off was the Leinster Division 1 match between Old Belvedere J1 and Clondalkin. Like the other finals, the teams appeared to be closely matched. In their two previous matches, Belvo had one narrow win and the other match was drawn. A large crowd gathered to enjoy the highlight match of the day and the two teams set off in very competitive fashion right from the outset. A tight affair unfolded, as predicted but it was Belvo’ who took a slender 5-0 lead into half time. Despite dominating possession and territory, Belvo’ couldn’t capitalise in the second half and their lead remained vulnerable. With the clock ticking on towards the 80 minute mark, great work from the forwards saw the Belvo ladies crash over for a second try. MVP Hannah Tyrell couldn’t add the extras from out wide, but it mattered not as it was the final act of the match and Old Belvedere were crowned Division 1 Champions.

Congratulations were due to all who took part, organised, refereed and ‘spectated’ on a day where all seasons were truly on display. Congratulations to all the winners @cymrugby, @arklowrfc, @tullowrfc and @oldbelvoladies

Sarah Lennon (@sarahlennon08) is passionate about all things rugby. A Leinster Season Ticket holder since the Donnybrook days, a supporter of the Irish teams home and abroad and can regularly be seen cheering on Junior Rugby at Stillorgan RFC (a labour of love). As well as spectating, she dabbles in playing a bit and is a member of Old Belvedere RFC and fully paid up member of the front row union.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 6 (MUN)

No pressure on our Munster blogger Kate McEvoy picking her Irish team this week…just one to win a Grand Slam please! Simples!

Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Leinster, Connacht & Ulster.

Remember…the general rule is to select a team based on current fitness for a test match to be played the following weekend.  The contributors are allowed some leeway however, since it’s all to get debate going.  Once it’s friendly debate of course! JLP

LTSHTF avatar

It's a funny fixture to open with in a lot of ways. Despite our loss against the doughty Scots in Murrayfield last year, this would be viewed as one of our more winnable encounters, at home against a team ranked below us, who have not exactly set any competition alight at club level so far this season. So you could view it as a time to give some less experienced players playing time.

On the other, it's Schmidt's first ever 6 Nations game, it's in front of a home crowd hungry to build on the All-Blacks performance with some thus far elusive consistency and it would be a shame to cut a title challenge of an the ankles on the opening weekend. So, I've attempted to combine youth with experience for the start of our title challenge. At least for this selection I have a definite team and up to date injury list to work off so hopefully my third pick for Harpin On Rugby will be the charm!

  1. Cian Healy – Both Ireland and Leinster were lesser teams without Church on the pitch. Given we are shorn of our best ball-carrying option with Sean O'Brien missing for the tournament, the dynamic prop is key to a successful Ireland performance. He also appears to be thriving under the new scrum laws so he combines a steady set piece with an all action display around the park. Always good for a cheeky anytime try scorer bet, Healy is the number 1 choice for the number 1 jersey, with his Leinster colleague Jack McGrath claiming the bench spot.
  2. Rory Best – After leading the charge for a strong Ulster performance which bested the Tigers in their Welford Road den, Rory Best starts with Sean Cronin on the bench. Although Cronin's darts have improved this season, he still has trouble striking the ball even in a dominant scrum, which has become even more key with the aforementioned changes to the scrum. Cronin is also a great impact sub to spring from the bench.
  3. Marty Moore – With the experience of Best and Healy at his side, combined with the fact he's arguably outplaying the veteran Ross this season, I've plumping for Moore to start at tighthead, with Ross's experience available to draw on to steady the ship or close out the game as required.
  4. Paul O'Connell (c) – The right man at the right time for the role of captaincy and in a fine purple patch of form with a renewed commitment to Irish rugby until 2016. After an impressive all-action display for the Wolfhounds, Ulster's Iain Henderson takes his place on the bench as second row cover with added backrow depth. His ferocious tackle technique and rucking efforts could certainly bring the hurt to the Scots in the second half.
  5. Dan Tuohy – Dan has been depreciating about his chances at more caps this spring but he makes my starting squad ahead of McCarthy and Toner, even if Schmidt may not agree. The beauty of this exercise is it's not about trying to second guess the official squad, it's getting to chose mine. So long the nearly man, and well aware of the threat of Henderson to his international ambitions, his ferocity would be an immense boon.
  6. Peter O'Mahony – Led by example for Munster against Gloucester and crossed the whitewash, his wiley footballing brain is a great addition to the squad.
  7. Chris Henry – An incredible tackle count of 23 for his last Ulster outing coupled with his breakdown skills as Ireland's leading traditional openside earns him a place in the starting line up, despite the host of young jacklers snapping at his heels. Prominent in that pack is Tommy O'Donnell, who I've gone with on the bench. The backrow cover was the hardest position in this selection to nail down as we are blessed with options in this area. There is little to chose from O'Donnell's Wolfhounds cohorts Ruddock, Copeland and Murphy in the mix as well as Dougall, Coughlan and McLaughlin to name just a few at provincial level. However given Henderson also offers backrow options I've gone for O'Donnell on the bench for more specialist cover.
  8. Jamie Heaslip – The dog and pony show is over and Heaslip stays. He has done well to get a three year central contact and, from what I understand, an excellent remuneration package, Both seem to be earning him heaps of abuse, which I do find baffling. He's the prominent 8 in the country. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge of Murphy, Copeland et all over the coming months.
  9. Conor Murray – Murray is the best scrum half in the country and was an easy enough pick to start. Again the more difficult decision was who provides his cover, but that decision was made by the recent cull in the squad. I'm still keen to see Marmion capped in this tournament but felt he wavered under pressure during his Wolfhounds cameo, perhaps contributing to him being dropped. Despite a man of the match display from Boss he's gone too so it's Eoin Reddan on the bench.
  10. Jonny Sexton – After playing his best game in some time to steer Racing to victory over Toulouse, Sexton has by all accounts suffered no ill effects from the cheap shot that led to him being subbed off before the game's conclusion. Irish rugby's most high profile export is in fine fettle to steer the ship. Paddy Jackson has had an extremely progressive season for Ulster, as his game management continues to improve. He leads the pack of young outhalfs in the country and take the spot on the bench over the more versatile but still inconsistent Madigan.
  11. Luke Fitzgerald – Wings are also in decent supply leading into the Six Nations. I do think the Simon Zebo effect sometimes means the Cork man receives more of the spotlight than he deserves, most recently at the expense of Johne Murphy in Munster's last pool game. However there's no denying he's an exciting player who can create an attacking threat out of nothing. So I'm surprised at him being cut from the squad, and in an ideal world I'd have him on the wing with Fitzgerald's versatility on the bench. I would also like to see more of Fitzgerald at centre as his autumn cameo there was really quite intriguing. However Fitzgerald is certainly the in-form wing in the country, and was the brightest spot in Leinster's uneven victory over the Ospreys. However I wouldn't be surprised to see Zebo return to the squad before the tournament's end.
  12. Luke Marshall – I'm slightly worried that Gordon D'Arcy's beard is going to come and get me but the midfield torch is in transition and that needs to continue.
  13. Brian O'Driscoll – His form has not been of his uniquely high standard this season (heresy I know) but I would look to start O'Driscoll in this fixture, albeit not for every game in this transitional tournament.
  14. Dave Kearney – With Bowe still not at full fitness, for me Kearney's form and endeavour has him starting ahead of Gilroy, McFadden and Trimble et al. I would go for McFadden on the bench. He was the standout back for me in the opening half against the Saxons and his versatility is a good foil to Paddy Jackson's lack thereof.
  15. Rob Kearney – Still the locked-on started at full back for me. As it stands, the need for Payne at 13 upon Irish qualification seems to be the greatest but fullback is undoubtedly his better position. He seems to be the greatest challenge to Kearney's continuing reign in Ireland's backfield as it seems unlikely Jones will unseat him in the meantime, barring injury.
  1. Cian Healy
  2. Rory Best
  3. Marty Moore
  4. Paul O'Connell
  5. Dan Tuohy
  6. Peter O'Mahony
  7. Chris Henry
  8. Jamie Heaslip
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Jonny Sexton
  11. Luke Fitzgerald
  12. Luke Marshall
  13. Brian O'Driscoll
  14. Dave Kearney
  15. Rob Kearney
  1. Sean Cronin
  2. Mike Ross
  3. Jack McGrath
  4. Iain Henderson
  5. Tommy O'Donnell
  6. Eoin Reddan
  7. Paddy Jackson
  8. Fergus McFadden
Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24, 2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saxons-8 Wolfhounds-14

BeauSol banner

not burns night


I may have joked about it at the time, but I can totally understand why the Sky commentators went to such great lengths to point out the gulf in experience between these two sides, even before kickoff.

Even though officially their coverage was as much for Irish viewers as it was for English, in terms of actual subscriber numbers you’re talking about an even bigger gulf between two groups of people.  So given that a losing England team could possibly trim the ratings down the line, I guess the spin was required.

But if we’re playing by those rules, I would also point out that you can count the number of times Ian Madigan, Felix Jones and Craig Gilroy have played together competitively on the fingers of one finger.  This means that we can easily explain away the English try courtesy of Anthony Watson and write up this match totally based on the two Irish-dot-downs which were backed up by a mesmerizing defensive display credited with a whopping 192 tackles by the stattos.

Obviously I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek with my opening remarks, but only a little bit.  The truth is that “gulf in experience” thing also applied in the same fixture last season, plus it must be noted that a feature of Saxons teams over the years has been an ability to hit the ground running in matches like this one.

One of the differences this time around has been that the whole “hitting the ground running” thing is also a feature of what I guess we will have to call “Schmidt-ball” (as opposed to “Warren-ball”, but “Joe-ball” doesn’t work for me) and on this occasion, it wasn’t perfect, but achieved the desired result.

The basis of this style of play is of course the defence.  But there’s no point in holding out the opposition for 80 minutes if you’re going to score feck all points yourselves, and given that you need players to tackle as hard in the last minute as in the first, the ideal time to put those points on the board is in the opening half hour of play, and that is precisely what the Wolfhounds did at Kingsholm.

It was our first attacking set-piece, a lineout just inside the English 22, where we struck first with just 4 minutes on the clock.  After a routine take by Dan Tuohy and a well-constructed maul, the English halfbacks Simpson and Burns were more Homer & Montgomery than Joe & Freddie in their coverage allowing Isaac Boss to sail past them and over the line.

The score remained 7-0 until the 23rd minute when Watson took full advantage of the interception I mentioned earlier…in reality there really was no excuse for the mixup among the Irish backline - Madigan perhaps put too much on his pass, or perhaps Jones could have been standing deeper, or even with all of that perhaps Gilroy could have done better.  But given how the full match went I’ll take that one error.

Because it was defence that won the day, and although the Saxons did pretty well overall themselves for albeit half the time without the ball, we were far better at cashing in on the slightest of opportunities.  Box-kicks were mostly accurate and backed up by good kick-chasing, our series of pick-and-goes at high speed in the second half would have been highlight-reel stuff if only capped off by a score, and then of course we had the opportunistic Madigan try.

I thought the issue the ref had with his tap-and-(stretch to catch and then)-go was whether or not he was taking it from the mark, but the TMO chose to just look at his touch-down and despite the presence of several defenders a combination of momentum and sheer will gave the Leinster man the score.

Meanwhile the Saxons were finding themselves thwarted again and again and again by mistakes, turnovers and a dreadful night at the office by Freddie Burns at probably the last ground he’d want to playing so poorly in an England shirt given his future club plans.  The slip out of his hands right at the death really could have happened to anyone as the conditions were atrocious, but in other ways it really did look like the script had been written for it not to be his night.

But as I suggested earlier, it wasn’t a perfect display by the Wolfhounds, and much like that match at the end of November I’d rather not have to reference anymore, it really looked like we were doing everything we could to throw it away at the death, and this area of decision-making late in tight matches could well be my biggest concern going into the Six Nations.

Jordi Murphy’s cameo didn’t get off to an ideal start as he gave away two penalties in the space of a minute, but the thing about Ireland’s defence on the day was that it was well able to withstand assaults from regular play all the way up to its own tryline, and despite some impressive carries & offloads by the Saxons late on it was Jordi who forced a key turnover on 76 minutes to allow us to clear our lines.

Maybe I’ll forgive Kieran Marmion for his box-kick at halfway as the clock read 78:30, but when the Saxons came back at us only to knock the ball on, why we didn’t just take the scrum I have absolutely no idea.  Even if we hadn’t been doing well in the tight I would have gone for the chance to kill at least a minute on the clock.

Instead we gave the ball back to them and even though they collected the ball in their own 22 with 30 seconds left, thanks to impressive subs like Miller and Dickinson they got it to a stage where but for Freddie’s butterfingers we could have snatched yet another defeat from the jaws of victory.

Still, it wasn’t to be and overall it was a performance much more full of positives for Joe Schmidt to bring forward.  Here he had a match-day 23 pretty much of all of whom seem to be buying into his brand of the game, and considering how punishing the Six Nations schedule of 5 tests in 7 weeks can be, we could well be counting on many of these guys in the near future.

Other area I disagreed with Sky was in man-of-the-match…it was a good try for Boss and he did some good things around the park, but there was the odd boo-boo that could have cost us and since it was an award that couldn’t be given collectively to our backrow who were superb at the breakdown, I’d have probably plumped for Madigan.

Did Tommy O’Donnell do enough to dislodge Chris Henry from the 7 jumper on the night?  Probably not..though in my preview I spelled out why I think he should get it anyway.  Ruddock was superb at his blindside role, maybe not so much at his captain’s one.  As for Copeland, where although I understand the argument for James Coughlan (who was himself captain for this fixture last season don’t forget) I think it was more important long-term to give the Cardiff Blue this outing and he did well with it.

One very interesting position for the Wolfhounds was 12, with Schmidt (I know technically Foley was coach but I believe he held the true reins about as much as I believe Rob Howley held the Welsh ones in the last Six Nations) trying out two men at inside centre who wouldn’t normally play there.  He is known to be creative around this position, having converted young Jordan Coghlan from flanker while at Leinster, and certainly on the defensive side of things both the 12 and 13 channels were solid throughout despite the chopping and changing.

So there we have it…the build-ups are over and it’s time to start looking ahead to The Big Show which starts next weekend.  Plenty of time for previews during the week…I’m wondering though about the point of this particular fixture down the line.  What if instead the Six Nations put out reserve teams on this weekend against the Six Nations “B” teams like Georgia and Romania? 

Just a thought, though to be thinking like that would suggest the Six Nation Unions had the best interests of pan-European rugby at heart in their “grand scheme of things”. 

Anyway, let’s just say I’m feeling good about our chances in this year’s tournament.  Though I did say pretty much the same this time last year…but don’t worry, I won’t be going all “George Hook” on you just yet.  Let’s get behind em, I say. JLP

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Garbally-43 Rice-6

Connacht Schools Senior Cup from Thursday

Garbally v Rice

With the Elverys Connacht Schools Senior Cup in full flow, Garbally College travelled to Westport RFC to face Rice College in both team's second game of the competition.

Garbally started the stronger, with their pack giving them dominance for what would be the entire game. It was only the intelligent kicking from Rice College's outhalf Tom McHale that kept the game pinned in Garbally's half. The game started out as a scrappy affair, with both teams taking some time to adapt to the referee's interpretation, with Garbally conceding penalties due to backchat towards the ref.

Connacht Under 18 McHale was kicking into space at every opportunity, and the Rice wingers were putting a lot of pressure on the Garbally back three. McHale had an opportunity to open the scoring, but the ball fell off the tee on his run-up and he was forced into a snap dropkick. Garbally attempted to throw the ball around, mixing forwards in with the backs nicely, yet handling errors often proved their downfall.

Seven minutes in however, they finally broke through, with the dangerous Stephen Tierney going over in the corner. Keller was unable to add the extras. From this point it seemed that Garbally would kick on and start to overpower their opposition, yet McHale never panicked and got Rice off the mark with a penalty a few minutes later. Garbally were exterting a lot of pressure on Rice, especially at scrumtime, but McHale was using the wind well. A further penalty for McHale followed bringing Rice to within a point.

From there, Garbally opened up. A series of counterattacks, led in particular by their exciting full back Tierney, brought play into the Rice college half. Tighthead prop Conor Kenny carried through a number of defenders before the ball was spun out to Irish under 19 Peter Claffey to go over in the right corner. Again Keller was unable to add the conversion, and the score at halftime was 10-6 to Garbally.

With the wind advantage now taken from them, Rice opted not to kick anymore, and the power of Garbally's team started to tell. The Garbally back row started breaking through tackles, gaining yards and it was only a matter of time before lock Sam Holland powered his way over under the posts. Keller duly dispatched the kick and the floodgates opened. Garbally were after the bonus point try now, and managed to force a penalty after Rice pulled down a dangerous maul that gained 20 metres. A kick to the corner followed, and after a series of drives, hooker Niall Higgins went over in the corner, with Keller's kick a beauty, sailing through the posts.

It was only to get worse for Rice. From the restart, Dylan Connolly caught the kick and made a linebreak, before offloading to Keller and then Kenny. Garbally kept it alive and Connolly was able to run in under the posts to add to the extending lead.

Peter Claffey was able to add another try, before scrumhalf Donnachadh Reilly was able to show impressive speed going over in the corner. Keller ended the day with 4 from 7 from the boot, with the majority of those from tough angles in tricky conditions.

Tom McHale and Conor Kenny were the standouts of the day, with Kenny dominating in the tight, with a good work rate to get in support of linebreaks, while McHale did what he could to keep Rice in it behind a retreating pack.

For Garbally, a semi final place is in sight, and bigger challenges await. It will be interesting to see if a team could punish some of their handling errors but the signs look good for the school from Ballinasloe.

Rice College: 15. Stephen Staunton, 14. Philip O'Malley, 13. Diarmiud McGrea, 12. Cillian Browne, 11. Ciaran Harrington, 10. Tom McHale, 9. Steven Cawley, 1. Brendan McLoughlin, 2. Sean Southgate, 3. Richard Duffy, 4. Edward Dunning, 5. Jack Cashman, 6. Colm Mannion, 7. Robert Fabby, 8. Michael Bradley; 16. Peter Speilman.

Garbally College: 15. Stephen Tierney, 14. Peter Flannery, 13. Sean Horan, 12. Ian Duffy, 11. Cian Dooley, 10. Simon Keller, 9. Donnachadh Reilly; 1. Darren O'Hara, 2. Niall Higgans, 3. Conor Kenny, 4. Sam Holland, 5. Peter Claffey, 6. Conor Barrett, 7. Dylan Connolly, 8. Jack Codyre; 16. Anthony Curley, 17. Kevin Flynn, 18. Brian Glenavon, 19. Liam Murray, 20. Frankie Hopkins, 21. Robbie Kelly, 22. Frank Donohue.

Match report courtesy of the Connacht Rugby website

The #HeinekenRugby Show 3



Behind the Scenes

The Heineken Rugby Show Hosts & Legends – Will Carling, Scott Quinnell & Matt Dawson return to the Cabbage Patch Pub to discuss last weekend’s Heineken Cup matches. Scott tackles the weekend’s highs & lows in his breathless 30 Second Round-Up and Matt phones another of his famous friends to get their predictions ahead of the Quarter-Finals in April.

You can get involved too by tweeting your predictions using #HeinekenRugby.


The Pagano Preview Jan 24-26

Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond. 

Over the years we Irish rugby fans have gotten used to having at least some provincial action to cheer every weekend throughout the season…with the exception of this one which I call “limbo week” between the end of the HCup pool stages and the start of the Six Nations.

Part of it was one of the busiest news days of the season as on Thursday we learned of things like yet another Irish Lion choosing home over Toulon, while another Welsh Lion doing the exact opposite.  And as for that other Toulon-bound Welshman who put his foot down at the RDS, he got himself a 12-week vacation for his trouble.

What we’re left with this weekend is a patchwork selection of matches, with the Irish highlight being the Wolfhounds’ single outing of the season.  Since they are away in Gloucester, maybe back here we can get ourselves out to a game down at our local club?  Check here to see if there’s an Ulster Bank League game near you.

Elsewhere we have the English and the Welsh continuing their “LV= in” of a competition, while over in France, they put their players through the paces of a round of Top 14 action…all their players except the national squad, that is.

Friday, January 24


Stade Francais v Castres Olympique, 7:30pm

“Second plays third” makes this one appear interesting when you put it like that, but when looking ahead to a match in this league your first task is to wonder if the away side is going to give a damn, and the percentage answer is “non”. Stade by 14

LV= Cup

Scarlets v Gloucester, 7:30pm

Saturday, January 25

International friendly

England Saxons v Irish Wolfhounds, 5pm

Tommy or Chris for the Irish 7 jumper?

I’m a bit giddy as I prepare to give my opinion on the above question, since for once I am free of the shackles of accusations of provincial bias.  If Seanie is fit, he plays.  He’s not, so we have a Munsterman and an Ulsterman vying for the role, so the only way I could make it look like my blue goggles are welded to me head would be if I suggested Jordi should leap-frog the pair of them!  Don’t worry…I ain’t going there.

If the jumper were to be awarded for position in the “queue”, it would have to be Henry.  But if we’re basing our selections on that, we’d be talking about keeping Donncha O’Callaghan in the squad so he could get himself to 100 caps, because we can’t begrudge him reaching that mark either.

But a test side can’t be selected for that reason.  Particularly this test side.  November was a warm-up…this is the first competitive outing for the Joe Schmidt brand of Irish rugby.  For me, it comes down to a question of do we want TOD’s ball-carrying ability to start or do we want CH’s tackling and for me it’s the former.

That’s not to take anything away from Henry - he was outstanding against Leicester and has been unlucky with injury around test time.  It’s just the phrase “deserves his shot” doesn’t wash with me at this level, and I reckon his use to this team, and the way Joe Schmidt likes to play the game, would be better suited to coming on for the final quarter, when we would hope to have a lead we need to defend.

On the negative side while all 7s not named Ruchie tend to attract attention from refs, I fear Chris  would be more likely of the two to do so (particularly someone like Joubert who we have twice this 6N).  Add to this the fact that I love chucking in at least one newbie every year to throw off the opposition, and Tommy’s my guy.

Having said all of that, I still reckon Joe will go with Chris, and TOD would need a man-of-the-match display at Kingsholm to have an actual shot at starting.  But best of luck to the two of them; it’s great to have such great options at our disposal to keep Seanie’s jersey warm! (Sorry, the blue goggles came back for a moment)

That’s a lot to write about one position, and this match certainly isn’t all about our openside flanker.  How about Ian Madigan at outhalf.  He surely can’t hope to get near the test side unless Sexton comes a cropper in Paris, so he’ll be viewing this as a rare opportunity to start at 10 and he’ll need to take it.

There are also opportunities for Ulstermen to impress…in the pack Rob Herring certainly has shown the ability to get ahead of the Munster duo in the pecking order while at lock, both Henderson and Tuohy have what it takes to play at the top though only one has youth on his side.

Interesting call at 12…Darren Cave?  As much as I hate to go there…talk about your face not fitting?  It will be interesting to see how well he links with Madigan though I suspect it will be on the defensive side of things where he and Henshaw will be tested most.

Skippering the side there is Rhys Ruddock, who despite the recent news of SOB & Jamie staying is clearly seen as a long-term option for Ireland, and he his game has certainly gone up a gear this season.  Also of course we get a look at Munster-bound Robin Copeland in Irish green filling out the back-row, as well as Jordi off the bench.

Always hard to make a forecast is matches like this…there’s the shop-window element plus the fear of bans & injuries…I’m taking this to be a low-scoring affair in which the home side will prevail.  Saxons by 6

Ulster Bank League, Division 1A

The second half of the league campaign gets underway on Saturday and tie of the round has to be Young Munster v Tarf, where the Cookies need a win to stay in touch with the leaders and they are the only side with a realistic shout of preventing the title going to Leinster once more.  At the bottom Garryowen won’t find it easy to notch their first win of the campaign as they face the champions on the Aviva back pitch.  Another match with relegation undertones is at Ballymacarn Park where Hinch will want to make home advantage count against Dolphin.

Ballynahinch v Dolphin, 2:30pm

Cork Constitution v UCD, 2:30pm

Lansdowne v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Old Belvedere v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Clontarf, 2:30pm

Top 14

Racing Métro v Toulouse, 1:55pm

I couldn’t give a damn who wins or loses this game.  It’s only significance for Irish rugby fans is that it is the one match on the calendar where we see the true implications of Sexton’s move to the Top14.  Do we blame him and his agent or the IRFU if something happens to him?  Hard to tell.  But for 80 minutes or at least until ROG can persuade his fellow coaches to take him off (he will try, won’t he? or at least “donner un kick in the hole” if they won’t?) we’ll be watching every bit of contact from behind the sofa.

Biarritz v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Bayonne v Clérmont, 5:30pm

Montpellier v Bordeaux-Begles, 5:30pm

Grenoble v Perpignan, 5:30pm

Brive v Toulon, 7:35pm

Challenge Match

Saracens v Natal Sharks, 2:30pm

It’s a shame to see a northern-hemisphere club rely so heavily on South African players for success.  But enough about Ulster…what about Sarries? ;-)

Only messing…this match has been shoe-horned into the calendar by BT Sports and Nigel “My Wray Or The High-wray” and with the club also having a home match on the Sunday, for me it shows just how stubborn the English clubs can be. 

I really, really, do hope the Sarries fans show more support for the youngsters lining out against Newcastle what a powerful statement that would be.

LV= Cup

Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors, 2pm

NG Dragons v Northampton Saints, 2:30pm

Harlequins v Leicester Tigers, 3pm

London Wasps v London Irish, 3pm

Exeter Chiefs v Ospreys, 3pm

Bath v Cardiff Blues, 3pm

Sunday, January 26

LV= Cup

Saracens v Newcastle Falcons. 3pm

Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Succession planning at the centre of attention

Much has been said about Ireland’s post-BOD options, what of Leinster? asks @curates_egg

Curates Egg

Brian O'Driscoll turned 35 this week, following on from his last ever Heineken Cup game at the RDS last weekend.

While the other half of Leinster's dynamic midfield duo - Muhammad D'Arcy - is contracted until the end of next season, it is clear that the moment feared by all Leinster fans is as good as upon us. The old cliché about it being impossible to replace Brian O'Driscoll is certainly valid but what will Leinster's future midfield look like?

Succession planning in the centre must have been on the minds of all in the Leinster establishment for 18 months (when Demented Mole last reviewed the options) but it is hard to decipher what their actual plan is. Based on the season so far, it is far from clear if it has been included as part of Matt O'Connor's remit, as he has continued to rely heavily on the dynamic duo.

Following the premature retirement of Leinster's great white hope Eoin O'Malley, the understudy at outside centre this season (and essentially last season) has been 22 year old Brendan Macken. Macken has stepped-up admirably when called upon, with two Heineken Cup starts this season building on his steady progression since his first senior team start in the 2010-11 season. However, it is not clear whether Matt O'Connor has full confidence in Macken - the eyebrow-raising decision to play Lote Tuqiri at 13 against Munster in October seemed to indicate a desperate attempt to find an alternative ahead of the Heineken Cup. With O'Driscoll's return, Macken's frontline game time has been curtailed.

There has long been talk of Luke Fitzgerald converting to centre to eventually replace his cousin O'Driscoll and he has played at 12 or 13 on numerous occasions over his career: his most recent cameo for Ireland as a replacement for O'Driscoll against New Zealand gained him plaudits. However, Matt O'Connor's selections have given no indication he sees Fitzgerald as a centre. Who could blame him? Fitzgerald has been in sizzling form on the wing, running exciting lines, making serious yards and beating defenders at will.

The situation at inside centre is not much different. Ostensibly, based on minutes played, Noel Reid is understudy to Muhammad. Despite being almost exactly a year older than Macken, Reid's progress is almost exactly a year behind. He has yet to make his way on to a Heineken Cup matchday squad, with outhalf Ian Madigan having played at inside centre a number of times for Leinster both in the Heineken Cup and Rabo Pro12 over the past 2 seasons. 31 year old Kiwi Andrew Goodman has yet to return from a long-term injury.

The other variable at centre is Fergus McFadden, who started out with Leinster as a centre and formed a convincing understudy midfield partnership with Eoin O'Malley on many occasions. However, his stated intention to focus on securing a wing berth last season poured cold water on hopes among the Leinster faithful that McFadden might be part of Leinster's midfield succession planning.

As a Leinster fan, it is very hard to know what to expect. Very little new prospects have been aired since Demented Mole took stock of the situation 18 months ago. Some, like Academy prospects Tom Daly, Colm O'Shea and Jordan Coughlan, have fallen off the radar a little bit under O'Connor. Of the erstwhile anointed ones, O'Malley was sadly forced into early retirement, and McFadden has gone out of his way to rule out his candidacy. Another great white hope, Harrison Brewer, just got called up to the Ireland under-20 squad however.

The messaging coming out of the Leinster set-up on the succession planning has been far from clear. Will some combination of the players above provide the core of the future Leinster midfield? If so, it would be nice to know. If not, who will?

Like St Patrick was to snakes in Ireland, the phenomenally successful and durable dynamic midfield duo at Leinster has for years banished all emerging centre talent from the RDS: who would want to toil away in their shadow with no hope of breaking through? As a result, there is a veritable plethora of Leinster centres (either academy or former schools players) plying their trade elsewhere.

David McSharry left the Leinster Academy for Connacht and has had plenty of exposure, with 13 Heineken Cup starts over the past 3 seasons. Kyle Tonetti left Leinster in 2010 for Sale before being signed by Connacht but he has yet to get a consistent run for Connacht, in part due to injuries. After a season with Leinster, James Downey left Leinster in 2004, subsequently playing for Connacht, Munster, Calvisano and Northampton (gaining rave reviews) before resigning for Munster last year.

Other former Leinster centres following in Downey's footsteps in the English premiership include Eamonn Sheridan at London Irish, who has been getting plaudits for his performances this season. Shane Monahan has also been winning praise at Gloucester but he has played predominantly on the wing.

There are more.

In short, 18 months down the road, Leinster's fans have no more clarity about our midfield succession planning. As we pause for breath in the middle of the season, and with contracts now being finalised for frontline players for next season, now would be as good a time as any for the powers that be to provide some long overdue clarity.

@curates_egg : Expat Irish rugby fan living on the continent but regularly travelling to Leinster and Ireland rugby matches. Strong believer in rugby as a family game and a fair sport.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Co-host your own outside broadcast

Fancy yourself as a sports presenter?  Have a go at this competition run by @GameOn2FM and @RaboDirectIE


Calling all rugby fanatics!

Is your club, town, pub or province the spiritual home of Irish rugby? RaboDirect, the straight talking savings bank, are teaming up with RTE 2fm’s Game On to offer one lucky rugby fan the chance to co-host their own special ‘Rabo Tackles Rugby’ live outside broadcast with Damien O’Meara, ahead of Ireland’s big RBS 6 Nations clash against England on Thursday 20th February.

The lucky winner will get the chance to become part of the Game On broadcasting team. As well as quizzing the pundits on all things rugby, they will also help to choose the venue for the outside broadcast and bring along twenty of their friends and family to help create a special passionate, local rugby atmosphere.

So if you’re a die-hard rugby fan, and reckon your local club, town, pub or province is the true spiritual home of Irish rugby, get involved in this cracking rugby competition and help put on your own Rabo Tackles Rugby show, LIVE on RTE 2fm’s Game On.

How do I win?

To be in with a chance of winning this amazing prize, all you need to do is submit your own 40 second audio clip, telling us why your club, city, town, village, pub or province is the true ‘spiritual home of Irish rugby.’ Is it your deafening decibels on match day? The miles clocked up by your travelling fans? Your legendary local club eccentrics? All you need is a phone, voice-recorder or computer. We’ll be looking for the most original and straight-talking entries from the most dedicated rugby fans, so get creative!

You can enter by either submitting your mp3 clip via email to the show at or phone RTE’s comment line on 1850 715 105 (and don't forget to leave your contact details!).

NOTE :HarpinOnRugby has no involvement in the organisation of this competition and all queries should be directed to RaboDirect or RTE

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 6 (LEIN)

The latest Irish team selection in our season-long project is from Leinster blogger Iain O’Connor…

Click this link for his last selection and these for the latest from Munster, Connacht & Ulster.

Remember…the general rule is to select a team based on current fitness for a test match to be played the following weekend.  The contributors are allowed some leeway however, since it’s all to get debate going.  Once it’s friendly debate of course! JLP

LTSHTF avatar

Count down is on to the 6 Nations and the next era of Irish rugby. For this one there is no more gimmicks or tricks, this is just my team chosen from the extended squad. There are only a few notable absences through injury but all in all this is my team to take to the field against the Scots on February 2nd.

1. Cian Healy – Big time player. We miss him when he is gone so he is most peoples number 1. Jack McGrath gets the understudy spot but would love to see Ah You get a shot to see what the commentators can come up with.

2. Sean Cronin – I bring this on myself I suppose but for me still our best option at hooker with Rory Best the old head to come off the bench. Now let the barrage of anti-Ulster abuse commence.

3. Mike Ross – It is Mike Ross but only just. Still clinging on but I think he is the weak link in the front row. Not having a great season but still better than any other option. Has the added bonus of being familiar to the other 2 front row players but I would see him as under threat.

4. Paul O’Connell – Joe made him captain so he is kind of nailed on. Will see how the body holds up through the 6 Nations but if it fails there is depth in the second row like never before. Tuohy, Henderson and McCarthy all playing well and pushing for game time.

5. Devin Toner – Form has dipped a little bit from the stellar heights he was hitting at the start of the season but I still think he is worth a throw in the big outings. Toss up between him and Henderson for me. I have gone with Toner but depending on opposition and tactics I could easily go for the Ulsterman.

6. Peter O’Mahony– I still think O’Mahony is behind 3 others in the back row pecking order but with injuries in mind he is more than capable of starting. With everyone fit it would be an SOB and Henry combo.

7. Chris Henry – As I said above would like to see him and SOB together. Still relatively untested at this level but sure wasn’t everybody at some point? Hopefully stays fit for the duration. The young duo of Ruddock and Jordi Murphy are also worth squad places and ones to watch in the next few years but the bench spot goes to Robbie Diack. Good performer and gets through the work, fair play to Joe for calling him up but now he has to use him.

8. Jamie Heaslip – Good old Marmite Jamie. There has been a lot talked about him in the last while in the press with his contract up in the air and the whole France but for me he is still the best in the business. People forget there is good reason clubs are chasing him. Tommy O’Donnell is playing well but isn’t at the same standard.

9. Conor Murray – The man who misses out the most in this team is Eoin Redden. Basically I want Marmion on the bench and don’t want a Leinster centric team. Redden is playing fantastically and should get the nod but my messed up logic means he is in the stands. Murray on the other hand, you get what you pay for. He will be solid. Marmion on the bench is exciting and could spark a game when brought on.

10. Jonny Sexton – Not having it all his own way with Racing but still offers the total package. Toss up between Jackson and Madigan for the understudy shirt. Madigan gets it on style for me.

11. Luke Fitzgerald – The starting wingers at the moment is probably the most debatable spot on the pitch. So many players going well and with a vast array of talent. Call it nostalgia or potential but I have gone for Luke Fitzgerald on the left. He is getting back to great form and could potentially be a game changer. Zebo and Gilroy have been brought into the squad so that gives you an indication of what Joe is thinking but I would have neither in the 23.

12. Luke Marshall – D’Arcy and his Pilates beard aside I am sticking with a bit of youth at 12.

13. Brian O’Driscoll – No real point in explaining. Henshaw on the bench covering most of the backline can slot in if needs be.

14. Dave Kearney – Playing well. As said above could be one of a number of players on the wing. Brings a nice balance to the back 3. Could lose his spot if others are fit or impress.

15. Rob Kearney – Solid as always.

1. Cian Healy

2. Sean Cronin

3. Mike Ross

4. Paul O’Connell

5. Devin Toner

6. Peter O’Mahony

7. Chris Henry

8. Jamie Heaslip

9. Conor Murray

10. Jonny Sexton

11. Luke Fitzgerald

12. Luke Marshall

13. Brian O’Driscoll

14. David Kearney

15. Rob Kearney

16. Jack McGrath

17. Rory Best

18. Stephen Archer

19. Iain Henderson

20. Robbie Diack

21. Kieran Marmion

22. Ian Madigan

23. Robbie Henshaw

Iain O’Connor (@iain_not_ian) is a Leinster fan who should have retired from playing bad standard rugby years ago. Part time stand up comedian and full time radio person he is the presenter and creator of Heave, a schools rugby show on Dublin South FM. He also likes rugby league and names Alisona Taumalolo as his hero.

TMO = Too Much Officiating?

While the powers-that-be tinker with the scrums mid-season they could also look at TMOs, writes Ball-Handling Hooker

BHHooker logo

One sporting story that happened to cross the threshold from one sport to another last year was the Luis Suarez biting incident. On 21st April 2013, Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic. The incident was seen by millions around the world on replays within seconds. Suarez was later banned as the disciplinary commission regarded it as more than a red card offense. However, the officials at the game missed the incident, and Suarez stayed on the pitch, later scoring a late equaliser.

This is what the extended powers for the TMO in rugby are trying to address. If an act of foul play has been committed against a team, surely they should get most of the rewards for it (playing against one less man for a period of time) instead of the beneficiaries being the oppositions following opponents when a player is retrospectively banned. In short, the idea behind a TMO looking at foul play is brilliant and I'm all for it; but not in it's current form.

Rugby has become a lot more stop start in it's nature this season, with the primary cause being referees who are becoming too scared to make a call themselves without checking with the TMO. The game is drifting towards the pedestrian pace of American Football, and while that's exciting, a free flowing rugby game is what the audience has come to see.

One feature of the foul play TMO checking that has irritated me most is when the TMO themselves intervene to stop play, and then spend several minutes checking the footage to conclude that nothing happened. If the TMO thinks they have seen something, why not check it BEFORE they tell the referee to stop play and have the right angle ready for the referee should they wish to view it? So instead of taking several minutes to potentially look at something, it takes 30 seconds to view something definitely worth checking.

This could be extended so that the referee tells the TMO to check something while the play continues, just like the referee notices a touch judges flag and plays on, before going back to check.

Referee's are only human, and any way that helps them, like the use of a video referee should be encouraged, but not when it takes away from the spectacle.

Follow BallHandling Hooker on Twitter and Facebook

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#HeinekenRugby Show : Spin The Ball challenge


The Show’s host Will Carling challenges Harlequins’ Danny Care & Nick Evans to see how long they can spin a rugby ball.

The results were very surprising! Heineken are offering fan’s the opportunity tweet their own spins using #HeinekenRugby to @Heineken_UK for a chance to win a pair of tickets plus hospitality to the Heineken Cup Final in Cardiff. So get spinning!

Tweet your spin to @Heineken UK for your chance to win the prize of a pair of tickets to the Heineken Cup Finals in Cardiff on 24 May 2014.

Entry indicates acceptance of terms and conditions. For full Terms and conditions visit

1. Only open to residents in the UK aged 18 or over, excluding employees of any company in the Heineken group.

2. Add the tag #heinekenrugby to your entry. Your standard broadband and/or data roaming rates will apply. Limited to 1 entry per day per person.

3. Entries must be made between 12:00 on 16/01/14 and 23:59 on 04/05/14.

4. The winner’s name will be posted on the @Heineken_UK twitter page on 12/05/2014.

Promoter: Heineken UK Limited, 3-4 Broadway Park, EDINBURGH, EH12 9JZ


Friday, January 17, 2014

Leinster-36 Ospreys-3

six nations comp ad banner

Leinster v Ospreys Jan 2014 lead photo


In our lead photo this week you can see the two number 19s Leo Cullen and James King contesting a lineout.  The reason they were both on the pitch relatively early is pretty much the reason this match fizzled out into an anti-climax from the neutral’s standpoint so I may as well harp on that incident to begin with.

There’s no denying it, rugby is a tough contact sport and no matter how hard the powers that be work to formulate the Laws of the Game there will always be an extremely blurred line between what’s considered acceptable and what isn’t.

Right from the opening kickoff, for example, we had Jamie Heaslip catching the high Dan Biggar drop kick only to be met by a crunching hit from Ian Evans which included his forearm wrapped around the Leinster captain’s throat.  Not a single peep from anyone clad in blue, nor should there have been…not a high dangerous tackle, just a statement of intent from the test lock and you would hope for nothing less to begin what has become an intense rivalry over the past few seasons.

Move the clock along towards the end of the first quarter, with the scores delicately locked at 3 apiece.  The visitors have a lineout at halfway, and Evans takes the catch cleanly.  In the process, Leinster’s Mike McCarthy attempts to disrupt/bring down the maul as he and most other locks in a similar situation would try to do, but he is unsuccessful and finds himself alone on the ground with a well-set-up Ospreys maul marching forward over him.

It’s not exactly a pretty sight to see the Welsh pack’s studs raking across his back as they step over him, but anyone who knows the game understands that it’s part and parcel.  So just that we’re clear, I have no problem with that aspect of what happened, and I’d safely say neither did Mike - once on the ground he pretty much knew what to expect.

The thing about raking, however, is that when done “properly” it is something you can control.  You’re focused on driving forward, and in the process you leave a little calling card for the prone opponent.  Leinster would no doubt do the same if the situation was reversed.

But now we go back to that blurred line.  When something goes well beyond it, that is when we need to step in and take action.

As the lineout catcher, Evans was facing away from the Leinster line with his pack driving the other way.  So as he stepped backwards and felt a body underneath him, he should have done what he could to step over it and let his team-mates apply the “punishment”.  Instead, as the replay clearly shows, he makes a concerted effort to stamp his considerably-sized boot downward.

Although he is looking down, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he couldn’t actually see McCarthy’s head.  If that were the case, we’d surely have to be banning this guy for life.  But that doesn’t mean the fact that the stamp wasn’t directed is all that much better, since there is no way of telling what damage could have been done.

So as you can probably tell, I reckon the red card was absolutely the right call as far as this match was concerned, and longer term I reckon the citing commissioner should go “knock-knockin on Evans’ door” to apply a further ban, if for no other reason than his own safety so he doesn’t come to Dublin in week 2 of the Six Nations!

As a side note I was baffled by Sky’s coverage of the incident…it happened right in front of my seat and McCarthy stood there blood streaming down his face before us - although I understand why TV director wouldn’t wish to show that actual visual, how the commentators didn’t notice I’ll never know - in fact Miles Harrison actually said this during the third or fourth replay… Wasn’t to the head region, which was relevant”.

2014-01-20 10.15.17Thankfully going by the shot of McCarthy towards the end the damage was nowhere near as bad as first feared.  From the looks of him at the time I thought he was doomed to a Joker-type scar!

Look - for the umpteenth time on this blog I feel the need to point out that I’m against ANY type of behaviour that’s over the top, so I’ll first remind you of previous offences by Leinster players (albeit in Ireland jerseys) matches such as Heaslip on McCaw, Healy on Cole, and O’Driscoll on Favaro.  None of them acceptable.

The reason I mention those is to avoid a backlash when I say that this particular incident reminded me more of O’Connell on DKearney (for the recklessness) and Hayes on Healy (similar situation and last red card at the RDS to my knowledge).  Overall point - when the severity of the offence gets to those levels, it shouldn’t matter who the player is or what matches lie around the corner.

But let me take advantage of the mention of Cian Healy’s name to get back to the actual rugby action on the night.  Despite his 52-minute shift he was well worthy of his man-of-the-match award for keeping Adam Jones at bay at scrum time even before the red card, for his usual standard of ball-carrying and of course for crashing over the line for the second try.

That was the score that pretty much broke the ice for Leinster - though we struggled to cross the whitewash no matter how much advantage we had numbers-wise, it has to be said that for the bulk of the contest the Ospreys worked hard to keep us out, forced as they were into making around double the amount of tackles over the 80 minutes.

Of course the Leinster backline wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders and it wasn’t for the first time this season either…by rights given the talent we had on the park and the extra man, the Ospreys should have been served a “fifty-burger” with all the trimmings and a side order of fries.

But in what descended into a scrappy almost farcical contest with players going off & back on, penalty tries, uncontested scrums and blood substitutions (the Saints/Castres match which kicked off at the same time ended with the RDS clock still at 70m), I reckon as a home crowd we should be happy our our lot…this time last year we were coming to terms with an Amlin quarterfinal; now although a trip to the home of the reigning champions certainly won’t be easy, if this tweet from Clérmont’s Nathan Hines is anything to go by, Toulon won’t be relishing our visit either.

None of those three stars over our crest were won with 9, 8, or even 7 perfect performances.  This was by far the toughest of the six pools and Matt O’Connor led his side to the top of it with five points to spare.  We still can’t ignore that there were some decent displays put together on the night…Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald have definitely found form at the right time of the season while Zane Kirchner and Jordi Murphy both looked lively off the bench.

It certainly wasn’t BOD’s best night at the office…I’m a firm believer in playing the match you’re in rather than holding back for ones down the road, but in his case the consequences of a serious injury were more catastrophic than most, particularly for fans hoping to see him in Six Nations action one more time.

And on the subject of injuries, what an amazing sight it was to see Richardt Struass sprinting back onto the field of battle months ahead of expectation.  Full credit to all involved in both his surgery and rehab, definitely a top-notch job and a timely boost for the squad.

As for the Ospreys, more disappointment for them on the European front but for the sake of the game there as well as here I hope the Welsh can sort out their still considerable mess…with 4 Celtic League titles and an EDF Cup (you could almost call them the “head region”? OK, maybe I’m reaching…) they have been the exception to the general rule of regional rugby and I’d love to see our yearly battles continue down the line. 

With the exception of Evans’ moment of madness and despite the final score, there were some good outings from the likes of Sam Davies and Rhys Webb (who might have seen yellow for second pen try but tackled well).  Fingers crossed those pesky birds will grace this great competition once more.

Meanwhile the field of 24 has been whittled down to eight, and what an eight it is.  Full kudos to both Ulster & Munster for also topping their pools, and despite their weekend hammering Connacht certainly did themselves proud overall.  No doubt the presence of three provinces in the quarterfinals will help the momentum of the clearly anti-Irish sentiment looking to pick the competition apart.

But as far as this year’s instalment (ironically ending in Cardiff) goes, despite the away quarterfinal, with the likes of Strauss back and with Sean and (fingers eyes and toes still crossed) Jamie only headed to Toulon to wear blue, anyone who suggests Leinster aren’t in with a decent shout of picking up star number four needs their own head region tested. JLP

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Also this weekend

Northampton Saints 13 - 3 Castres

Saracens 64 - 6 Connacht

Zebre 6 - 16 Toulouse

Cardiff Blues 13 - 19 Exeter Chiefs

Glasgow 8 - 15 Toulon

Leicester Tigers 19 - 22 Ulster

Montpellier 24 - 6 Benetton Treviso

Munster 38 - 6 Edinburgh

Perpignan 18 - 36 Gloucester Rugby

Clermont Auvergne 28 - 3 Racing Metro

Scarlets 20 - 22 Harlequins

LEINSTER 6 5 0 1 152 66 2 22
NORTHAMPTON 6 4 0 2 107 104 1 17
CASTRES 6 2 0 4 78 104 1 9
OSPREYS 6 1 0 5 75 138 1 5

British & Irish Cup

Ealing Trailfinders 13-14 Leinster A

LEINSTER A 6 6 0 0 171 70 3 27
CROSS KEYS 6 3 0 3 105 133 2 14
MOSELEY 6 2 0 4 128 115 4 12
EALING TRAILFINDERS 6 1 0 5 77 163 1 5


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019