Friday, February 28, 2014

…In The Chariot’s Wake

Some tough decisions ahead for Joe after Twickenham, writes Fergal Nolan…

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I’m not totally dismayed by our loss on Saturday.

We were consistent in areas of importance such as the scrum , line out and maul (when it was finally utilised). We were inconsistent in our decision making. I believe we also lacked that clinical finish which cost us the game. England deserved to win but they were moments where we had them rattled, namely in the first ten minutes of the second half. We failed to build on this and ultimately lost momentum.

As I noted in my preview, pre-planned moves direct from the training camp were clearly evident in the game. They had the Schmidt aurora about them. Great to see. My only qualm – the players were too robotic. All good when the moves materialise but the players have to get a feel for the game, and be spontaneous. This impromptu manner was somewhat lacking in the game. 

When the moves do work they can be a joy to watch. Dummy runs from a line-out provided the backs with room on the outside channels. The English defence stretched like their armed men on the fields of Wytschaete. The Irish armoury built on this in the second half. The well worked Irish try was executed to perfection. Expect to see more of these plays with a more clinical finish under Schmidt.

As in all evenly matched games, decision making is key. I alluded to this in my weekend preview. What I didn’t envisage was the governing to be off in our most important player. Johnny Sexton. If it was psychological, concussion, or tiredness, his kicking was well below par. (If Sexton was tired Jackson should have come on sooner but I believe Schmidt rates Sexton tiers above Jackson – he shouldn’t have over-reliance on one choice out half). A fly half controls the game. The polar opposite of control is chaos. I won’t say Sexton caused chaos – that’s too harsh, but you can understand my point. Cause and effect.

At the time of writing Racing Metro’s medical board have stated that Sexton will be out for ten days to six weeks. The IRFU are saying otherwise. Perhaps this is a ploy by the French to outwit Sexton into not playing against Les Bleus….This is the chance to have Jackson start against Italy (the injury has reinstated him starting) with Madigan as replacement. As I stated above, we cannot solely rely on one player in one position, others must get proper game time at this standard. Blessing in disguise?

Perhaps I’m being too critical, and maybe, just maybe this English team are that good. Evenly matched? A neutral watching the game would have said the same. They did deserve to win but they have areas to improve on just like us. Like our Welsh counterparts, the English have blooded big centres and wingers. They are extremely physical and hard to break down. This was clearly evident in the match.

We are lacking that physical touch and finesse in our back-line. We were lacking that player who can change the game. Albeit we had the upper hand in the bench but not that x-factor. The English have that flair. Mike Brown. He is England’s sweet chariot. Physical, Intelligent, Spontaneous, Skillful. I do admire him. The full back will be the player of the tournament. Conor O’Shea may have weeped as Brown pulled off those classy moves but inside he was smiling…just a little! The Irishman can be grateful to have such a player on his side.

My predictions were off in the Wooden Spoon match up. I did foresee the Welsh-France game to play the way it did although I didn’t see Wales winning by that score. French rugby is a mess and Ireland playing them for a potential Championship decider is not as daunting as it used to be. They lack structure and heart. Sheer talent spreads across the squad board but it’s not being utilised. The potential is there and I’m afraid if they do decide to turn up, they can really turn it on. For the Ireland game, Fofana will take no part. Morgan Parra will be back after his suspension (it would seem this is a regular occurrence in the Top 14 lately). He’s a dangerous half back who could inject some game management into this French side.

Schmidt will have some tough decisions in the run up to the Italian game. With a potential championship decider the week after, we need to fill the scoreboard. The Irish side need to play with ease and iron out the cracks. Schmidt needs to utilise the full squad. He has the weaponry at his disposal. Perhaps a physical Henshaw on the bench to cover 13 and 15? Bowe/Zebo to come in on the wing? Perhaps a talented Marshal in centre, alongside O’Driscoll for his last game in Ireland? Mix the old with the new. If the new generation are given time and experience, the future looks bright. Like the English team, we need to mould these players. Unlike the battle in Twickenham, we will need to provide better governing of the game. Hopefully we bring that added finesse. This time, we will not, be left, in the chariot’s wake…

Fergal is on twitter as @IrishRugbyBlog

The Pagano Preview Feb 28-Mar 2

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So two weeks for Morgan Parra, eh

Wow…what a convenient coincidence in that it allows him to rest next week AND be available for France in what could be a Six Nations championship decider in Paris!!!

I have read some opinion to the tune of “well, we have benefitted from controlling our own discipline in the past (eg Cian Healy) so we can’t really complain”.  For me, if we continue in that mindset then what is clearly a broken system will rumble on.

Obviously we want to look after our own.  If parents get the dreaded call from a school that their child has been getting into trouble, they’d much rather dole out the punishment themselves.  But that’s not always possible.

Much has been said about the slow progression of rugby’s powers-that-be in many areas, and discipline has to be one of the biggest of them, if not THE biggest.  And it all has to do with my biggest pet peeve about the game, the “top tier” unions’ cartel which allows them to effectively run the game as they see fit within their own jurisdictions.

An independent & accountable IRB certainly will have its problems, all beaurocracies do.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed, particularly in areas where justice isn’t just needed to be done, but also SEEN to be done. 

So even if the Parra ruling ticked all the boxes required by the Laws of the Game, there should not have been a Frenchman anywhere near the process.

Oh…and another thing…Phillipe St Andre’s moral stance re : Louis Picamoles was indeed noble, but it reminds me of Ewan Mackenzie’s supposed “zero tolerance” reaction to his players’ drinking in Dublin.  In both cases the players were able to rest against Scotland so they could play against Ireland.  We’ll know for sure when PSA names his squad for Paris.

Allow me to hop down off my high horse and make some predictions for a busy weekend of domestic action…

Click here for TV listings

Friday, February 28


Ulster v Newport-Gwent Dragons, 7:05pm

The Dragons put in a fighting display at the RDS a couple of weeks ago, but sadly for them I can see this one going a similar way for them.

Still though, they did upset the Warriors last week so confidence will be high plus they have the Scarlets in their sights for what could be a crucial sixth-place finish so if I were Mark Anscombe I wouldn’t let the bookies’ 16-point spread go to my head.

But you can’t ignore the return to action of Tommy Bowe.  He & Sean O’Brien are the two names I would absolutely want for Ireland in Paris regardless of gametime and Tommy certainly knows how to score tries in Paris so it’s great to see him back.

Plus with news of Sexton’s thumb injury it’s a chance for Paddy Jackson to show Joe Schmidt he could have had a little more confidence in him back at Twickers.

Add to that the numerous other Ulstermen knocking on the door of the test XV like Henderson and Marshall, and not to mention the quality of Messrs Pienaar & Payne, the Ravenhill fans would be entitled to be disappointed if that spread isn’t at least reached.  Ulster by 18

Edinburgh v Ospreys, 7:35pm

From “Maggotfield” to “Meggetland” is the way the media are spinning Embra’s move away from the evil nematodes at Murrayfield to the home of Boroguhmuir RFC. 

I know nothing about the place but surely if it’s anywhere near the feel of Scotstoun they should look for a permanent move there as playing at the national HQ was nothing short of an embarrassment.

And if the new Euro qualifying rules happen they’ll need a win here to stay in touch with 6th…sadly for them the Ospreys come to town with Mr Tipuric who I reckon will prove the difference.  Ospreys by 6

Lansdowne Premiership

Bath v Saracens, 7:45pm

I have a confession to make.  I ALMOST considered watching this match live instead of Ulster v Dragons!  In fact, should the match at Ravenhill go as expected and be done as a contest early on many Ulster fans may switch over as well to see how their HCup opponents are looking.  What’s more, this is a key battle as Bath are actually good this year and need a win to stay in touch with the top two. 

There’s more Irish interest here as well with Peter Stringer starting for Bath and former Leinster lock Eoin Sherriff on the Sarries bench.  Very close one to call, I’ll go for the home side even if they do have Henson in their 23. Bath by 1

Top 14

Montpellier v Stade Francais, 7:45pm

Super Rugby

Stormers v Hurricanes, 5:10pm

Saturday, March 1


Zebre v Cardiff Blues, 3pm

Hard one the call, this.  It shouldn’t be, really, with the minor Italian franchise rock bottom of the table and the Blues just off a spirited performance against a far superior Leinster squad.  But a win for Zebre means they do the double over the Welsh capital this season.  Something about that makes me feel this could be the Upset Of The Week, so I’m going for it. Zebre by 3

Connacht v Benetton Treviso, 5pm

Apparently there are people who check back on these previews to see how I did with my predictions…always good to know I’m being kept on my toes!  One thing though…hopefully they know about this site’s superstitious tradition of always predicting Connacht to lose!

Though they are weakened in the pack these days, their back line appears to be about as full strength as they can have it with Robbie Henshaw back in the 15 jumper.  That plus the momentum arising from successive victories means my prediction really is based on nothing but superstition. Treviso by 1

Scarlets v Munster, 6:30pm

For the sake of this league’s future, I really, really hope the Scarlets are up for this fixture.

Normally you’d think the visit of a 2-time Heineken Cup winner and current league leaders would be enough for interest, but Edinburgh’s victory over Ospreys last night heats up competition for what could be a crucial 6th place, where the Llanelli-based region now sit.

Of course all Munster need for motivation is Leinster breathing down their necks at the top of the table, and it’s a powerful matchday 23 they’re sending across the Irish Sea.

The most interesting selection is Simon Zebo at full-back, possibly a necessity for Rob Penney but also to further demonstrate to Joe Schmidt the value and versatility of the player.

Bookies have the visitors to win by 4 points…sadly I don’t share their optimism that the Scarlets can get that close, even with what is a fascinating centre pairing of Olly Barkley and Jonathan Davies.  Munster by 9

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, 8:30pm

Back at the beginning of the season it seemed Leinster’s selection policy included Luke Fitzgerald at outside centre when needed, together with Fergus McFadden being always on the wing.  Now that policy seems to have been totally reversed and makes this match fascinating.

Of course the fixture has enough about it to get our interest, what with it being two of the leading contenders for the title, not to mention a rematch of their semifinal last season which the Warriors came close to pinching.

And after defeat to the Dragons last week, Gregor Townsend will know he will need his squad to go one better tonight if they are to make the most of the Ospreys’ slipup at Edinburgh last night.

McFadden partners Noel Reid in the Leinster midfield, and normally it is on defence where Leinster’s 12 & 13 would be most needed to perform.  I’m not so sure that is the case against these Warriors.

In 13 league matches this season the Warriors have conceded a mere 12 tries.  While Leinster for their part have scored over 2 per game themselves and are on the back of three bonus point wins in a row, they certainly won’t have been tested by a defence such as this one.

Ian Madigan gets the nod at outhalf and if he can find ways to crack open the Glasgow resistance tonight, it surely must catch the eye of Joe Schmidt who may need both him and Paddy Jackson next weekend.

Meanwhile in the Leinster pack the most amazing thing about it is that based on form this season, the weakest link is actually skipper Leo Cullen! 

I don’t share the bookies’ optimism of a 12-point win for the reigning champs but I do reckon we’ll do enough to get the four points in a low-scoring contest. Leinster by 6

Ulster Bank League Div 1A

It’s Round 12 of 18for the AIL title and the focus will be on the two-horse races at both top and bottom of the table.  Ballynahinch will certainly feel they have a chance to pull away from Garryowen as they host Marys while the Limerick outfit travel to UCD.  meanwhile at the top Tarf host mid-table Dolphin while Belvedere face an testing trip to face Cork Con who could drag themselves back into contention with a victory.  Much to play for, though I still feel a return to the top-four playoff system would be better for the league.

Ballynahinch v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Clontarf v Dolphin, 2:30pm

Cork Constitution v Old Belvedere, 2:30pm

UCD v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Lansdowne, 2:30pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Exeter Chiefs v London Irish, 3pm

Harlequins v Worcester Warriors, 3pm

London Wasps v Sale Sharks, 3pm

Northampton Saints v Gloucester, 3:15pm

Top 14

Bordeaux-Begles v Clérmont, 1:55pm

Brive v Grenoble, 5:30pm

Racing Métro v Castres, 5:30pm

Toulon v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Toulouse v Perpignan, 7:35pm

Super Rugby

Waratahs v Reds, 8:40am

Western Force v Brumbies, 11am

Bulls v Lions, 3:05pm

Sunday, March 2

Leinster Schools Senior Cup Semifinal

Newbridge v Blackrock, 3pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers, 2pm

Top 14

Biarritz v Bayonne, 2pm

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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

IRSC #IRLvITA competition

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The Irish Rugby Supporters Club (IRSC) have kindly offered two tickets for Ireland v Italy, also known as BOD’s farewell match at headquarters, to a lucky HarpinOnRugby reader.

You want ‘em?  Thought so.  Well, we’d love to just give ‘em to you, but we reckon there may be one or two more interested as well, so what say we have a wee competition?

To be in with a chance of winning, just follow the simple steps below…

  1. Click the Irish Rugby Supporters Club photo at the top of this post to follow the link to their site, have a read, then come back here.
  2. Answer this question : Who sends a birthday card to all Junior Members of the IRSC?
  3. Email your answer, your name and where you’re from to - MAKE SURE YOUR SUBJECT LINE SAYS “IRSC comp” (without quotes) to guarantee your entry is received.
  4. Closing time for entries is 9am (changed to 10am) on Monday, March 3, after which a draw will be made to determine the winner.
  5. Check the main HarpinOnRugby site around midday when the winner’s name will be posted as part of the writeup for Leinster v Glasgow.  They will be contacted shortly afterwards.

Best of luck to all of you and once again many thanks to the IRSC for the prize!  JLP

A few unfortunate but necessary rules…

  • Only one entry per email address allowed
  • By entering the competition we assume you will be able to receive an email on or around 12 midday on Monday, March 3, 2014, after which you will have until 12 midday on Tuesday to reply with your details otherwise the prize may be put back on offer.
  • Use of the “IRSC Comp” (without quotes) in subject line is not compulsory but it does guarantee your entry will be noticed.  Without it the email may be lost among others or worse find it’s way into the Spam folder!
  • Prize is not exchangeable for cash or any other goods
  • All decisions made by the competition organising committee will be final.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Six Of The Best

Ireland can definitely do it but based on what we have seen so far, it’s England in the driving seat.

six of the bestSat Mar 8 - IRELAND v ITALY, 2:30pm

Sat Mar 8 - SCOTLAND V FRANCE, 5pm

Sun Mar 9 - ENGLAND v WALES, 3pm

Sat Mar 15 - ITALY V ENGLAND, 12:30pm

Sat Mar 15 - WALES v SCOTLAND, 2:45pm

Sat Mar 15 - FRANCE v IRELAND, 5pm

You’d be forgiven for thinking my title was to do with the actual Six Nations themselves, but the six I’m referring to is matches, not nations.

Obviously nobody wants to see their side lose, but the fact that Ireland, England, Wales and France are locked together on two wins with two matches remaining each surely must make this the most exciting championship ever, and there is plenty of drama left to come with each of the remaining six tests all set to have a bearing on the outcome.

Basically each of the four teams in contention for title faces one match against the bottom two and one against a fellow challenger.  The key variables, however, are the home & away factors for each country plus the actual order of matches.

So I have decided to take a step back and look at what each team has ahead of them and see if England, who are now favourites to win the Six Nations with Ladbrokes, are worthy of the tag.

Let’s look at them one-by-one, working upwards from the bottom of the table as it stands now…there’s time enough to look in-depth at individual players & formations - here I’m just focusing on the match-ups themselves and the order in which they come.

ITALY - Was never going to be easy to hit the heights of last year but it’s not the 3 defeats out of 3 that will be demoralising for them, more the way that third defeat was inflicted on them in front of their home crowd last weekend at the very end.  Now they find themselves left to play the two teams that have just combined to produced one of the most keenly-fought test matches in the tournament’s history. 

With the Parisse factor (I know I said I wasn’t going to mention players but in Italy's case you can’t avoid chucking his name in somewhere), they will always do well in patches but as always it’s their inability to string together a full 80-minute display that is likely to work against them.

SCOTLAND - Blushes definitely spared by Duncan Weir’s last-gasp heroism in Rome, but of the two sides at the bottom of the table they definitely seem to be best poised to upset the applecart of the top four in their remaining matches.   The French are up next for them at Murrayfield, and after their hapless showing in Cardiff the Scots must fancy their chances.  If they don’t at least come out with a bit of fire in their belly from the kickoff, it will be a massive disappointment for their loyal fans.

FRANCE - Apologies for the soccer analogy, but the French are becoming to rugby what Manchester United have been for the Premiership this season.  I’m still coming to terms with their getting the wooden spoon last season, but to go from that to this season’s efforts, which let’s face it but for a couple of fortunate bounces of the ball could have them with two defeats not one, puts Phillippe St Andre in a seemingly inescapable position.

But although it’s a reasonably-sized “if”, if they do beat Scotland it will mean that whatever happens in the other matches, they will take the field against Ireland with a specific number as a target margin of victory to aim for (likely to be around the 20 mark), and if they can manage an early score or two to get the Parisian crowd behind them, you just never know with the French.

WALES - Given how they lost the opening match of last year’s tournament and went on to take the title, you can hardly blame them for retaining confidence until they are mathematically eliminated.  But I’m wondering if their win over France is as marvellous as many are making it out to be.  I suppose we’ll know for sure once we see how they get on in the Bosh Bowl at Twickenham.  If they win that, then it’s a case of pummelling the Scots into submission in Cardiff and hoping France & Ireland can get the maths right to give us an excuse to use that woeful US sports term “3peat” and get those premature “Gatland for Lions 2017” headlines springing up again.

ENGLAND - I wonder how much longer Stuart Lancaster can keep playing the “humble underdog” card after last Saturday?  Perhaps the Welsh confidence I spoke of earlier can help him in that regard?  If both Ireland and France win the day before, the pressure will be not only to beat the Welsh but beat them well.  That plus the six-day turnaround for an early Rome kickoff could pose a challenge to the coaching staff, but with two weeks to prepare and given they already have two campaigns under their belt, they should be well capable of managing their squad and probably deserve the favourites tag.

IRELAND - I reckon Joe Schmidt has the best possible schedule of the remaining matches.  We play Italy at home first so there won’t be any other results preying on our minds, which means he can simply send his charges out looking for a decent margin of victory.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be out of sight given we go into the final series with a 21-point head-start in the “points difference” column over England, but we definitely want some breathing room for the trip to Paris.  Still, beating Italy any which way guarantees that no matter what happens in the four other matches to follow, Ireland will take the field at the Stade de France knowing we have a shot at the title.  And who doesn’t want that?

So when all is said and done, I reckon the matches against the “bottom two” should go according to form and England will out-last Wales, which leaves it all down to France v Ireland. 

We have seen several amazing things from Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, but the one thing we have been lacking could well be the one thing we need to lift the trophy.  If we have a lead going into the final quarter in Paris, we’ll need our leaders on the pitch to find a simple way to bring it home. 

But of course I am getting way, way ahead of myself there.  These six remaining matches are bound to have at least one wild card in the mix where we see an eyebrow-raising result.  I think it could be Scotland v France but as we have seen in recent campaigns anything is possible.

All we can do is thank the rugby gods for some domestic action next weekend to keep us occupied and then it’s time to hold onto our hats as the mouth-watering six-test series gets underway at the Palindrome on March 8. Bring it on! JLP

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 7 (MUN)

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Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23.

This week our Munster blogger Kate McEvoy gives her thoughts on what Joe should do next…

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

LTSHTF avatar

Well that was a tough auld weekend wasn't it? After an across the board failure to derail the chariot, Monday's Against the Head certainly made for tough watching. However, there are positives.

Although the elusive Grand Slam dream has once again evaporated, there are still two championships to play for in both the men's and the women's competition. Strong performances and narrow losses keep both squads firmly in contention to bring home the silverwear, particularly with Joe Schmidt's team currently still top of the table in a wide open tournament.

The next task at hand is hosting the Azzuri the weekend after next, so that's what I'm keeping in mind for this selection, along with relative weaknesses in the performance against the English. We'll have further updates on injuries etc throughout the coming days so options may change.

1. Cian Healy – I'm keeping the front row unit that started against the English intact so it's Church, and his fashion forward Williams sister style ankle supports in at loosehead, with the ever more explosive McGrath on the bench. The scrum is fast becoming a much more consistent weapon in the Irish arsenal with Healy ever improving under the new laws. I reckon he's due a try too.
  1. Rory Best – one of the sources of the most division in Saturday's post match analysis. Personally, I've been impressed with how he's attacked this tournament after a disappointing and uneven Lions tour which could have broken a lesser man, and his wayward throwing has levelled out. Although the throwing of his closest rival Sean Cronin has also reached a more consistent level, his inability to strike in the scrum, together with Best's leadership is holding him back from progressing beyond his impact sub role
  1. Mike Ross – I thought Ross played one of his most dynamic games in green, with great physicality and dare I even say, a few darting runs, around the park. His scrummaging seems to have come back to an even keel after a slow start to the season. Moore's definitely the coming man in this position but perhaps it was that knowledge that's acted as a spur to Ireland's resident tech whizz.
  1. Paul O'Connell (c)– A relatively quiet game for the big man by his high standards, his lineout face is still a work of art in itself. Particularly in those great slowmo close ups.
  1. Devin Toner– So my front five is unchanged, altho I am anticipating liberal use of the bench. I'm not in favour of underestimating Italy with a championship on the line. There's scope for development but I'm not pushing development for the sake of it. Also, there are considerable changes in my slection behind the front five so some stability there would be beneficial.
Regarding Dev, I'm now chosing to think of him as the big engine who could as he continues to impress with solid performances and surely change the minds of those who still claim he's not an international standard player.
  1. Iain Henderson – As it stands it looks like POM, Ireland's finest anthem singer, could well be fit to start as his hamstring injury isn't believed to be serious. However, as Schmidt eluded to earlier today, given the incredible physical toll placed oh his body, I'd consider resting him either way and would welcome an opportunity to see Henderson's power against the Italians, particularly given that was an element that was somewhat lacking for me at Twickenham
I've got Donnacha Ryan on the bench who I would love to see make a return to the national stage. He can also cover backrow as well as second row but if it came to that I would leave Henderson at 6 and have Ryan at lock.
  1. Tommy O'Donnell – Similarly I would posit Henry could benefit from an extra rest week and would see this as a good opportunity for O'Donnell to show what he can do. Again, no reflection on Henry's performances so far but I would see O'Donnell as needing more test experience and also providing a good ball carrying option.
  1. Jamie Heaslip – With the relative inexperience of his backrow colleagues, Ireland's most reliable machine retains his starting spot. After a patchy season as Ireland captain last year he very much put those demons to bed by stepping in to deputise for O'Connell for the Scotland game and the last half hour of the Welsh.
  1. Eoin Reddan – After coming through Leinster's scrappy but lucrative bonus point win in Wales last week with a try to his name, Eoin Reddan starts to keep the Leinster half back partnership intact. Murray drops to the bench.
  1. Ian Madigan – As with O'Mahony, it appears that Sexton's thumb injury is not serious, but again, he has all the hallmarks of a man who needs a rest. Although it could possibly be psychologically tough for Sexton to be dropped to the bench after one of his weaker performances, this for me is not that type of selection. I'm going with Madigan to start over Jackson as I'm not sure Schmidt trusts him to run a game, based on how slow he was to make the switch at Twickenham, and there are some lingering concerns over his kicking from the tee at this level. It's a risky call given I have not yet been overly impressed with Madigan this season but he's hungry to show what he can do. There's a slight hail Mary to this one but if I've horribly misjudged things, Sexton is on the bench to redeem himself.
  2. Simon Zebo – There's a couple of reasons for this. The main one is entirely selfish, I'm bloody tired of hearing the arguments raging over his non-selection. He's been tapping away on the try front with Munster, time to see if he can once again deliver in green. It should go some way towards settlign the debate one way or another. I also think there are some red herrings doign the rounds about his defense and workrate that I'm yet to see anyone back up with stats. Trimble has had a fine tournament, particularly his overall defense and rucking but Zebo's ability to create something from nothing could be the shot in the arm our slightly lacklustre attack needs
  1. Luke Marshall – I'd like to see Bamm-Bamm bring some of his hard running and line breaks to the cause, hopefully the go forward he can provide will be a good attacking platform
  1. Brian O'Driscoll – For my pre-tournament selection I suggested O'Driscoll shouldn't play every game. However given the backline shakeup here, I'm still going with all his vast experience to start against the Italians and am hoping to see an improvement in communication between himself and Marshall.
  1. Dave Kearney – Bowe is still not at 100% and is very short on game time and McFadden, who I personally would like to have seen on earlier against the English, is once again a victim of his versatility and is on the bench. Which is not to say, of course, that Kearney doesn't fully deserve his start.
  1. Rob Kearney – With a really well taken try to his name at Twickenham and no real competition to match him, Kearney's tenure at fullback continues
  1. Cian Healy
  2. Rory Best
  3. Mike Ross
  4. Paul O'Connell
  5. Devin Toner
  6. Iain Henderson
  7. Tommy O'Donnell
  8. Jamie Heaslip
  9. Eoin Reddan
  10. Ian Madigan
  11. Simon Zebo
  12. Luke Marshall
  13. Brian O'Driscoll
  14. Dave Kearney
  15. Rob Kearney
  1. Sean Cronin
  2. Marty Moore
  3. Jack McGrath
  4. Donnacha Ryan
  5. Jordi Murphy
  6. Conor Murray
  7. Johnny Sexton
  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


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

So close yet…

What can Ireland do differently against Italy & France? asks Ryan Cullen…

Ryan Cullen logo

Full commitment and effort in professional sport are something we justifiably take for granted. Professional athletes are paid well and as such dedication should be taken as a given.

Sometimes, though, the effort put in, particularly in rugby, goes beyond the call of duty. That is what we saw at Twickenham on Saturday and why I know all rugby fans will have the utmost respect for all participants – respect I hope obviously permeates through this piece.

On Saturday Ireland left Twickenham empty handed despite the majority of stats favouring them. 59% of possession, 53% of Territory, a higher percentage of rucks and mauls won, 100% on their own scrum (in comparison to England’s 55.6%), a perfect lineout (although England matched this from half as many throws). (Source: ESPN Scrum)

I am always dubious about stats trotted out in isolation but it’s clear Ireland had a pretty strong grip on the game. And yet they created just one clear try scoring opportunity, off an excellent pre-planned strike move, and a few half chances besides. Why the attacking impotency in open play?

The first question that generally springs to mind in such situations is ‘was the quality of possession poor despite it being plentiful?’. The answer to that has to be no. Whilst perhaps not as quick as against Wales and Scotland, Ireland’s pack certainly produced plenty of quality possession for their half backs.

It was there, I believe, that Ireland’s attack stuttered. Conor Murray has improved immensely over the past 12 months but this was one of his poorest displays in this period. His previously excellent tactical kicking reverted to the aimless, improved in appearance only by Ireland’s consistently excellent kick chase. The sharpness of his passing was also lacking though and he made none of his previously notable line breaks.

Whilst his solidity in defence was laudable, Murray at his best is a nice blend of the physical and tactical. We did not see this on Saturday.

Nor did we see the summer’s Lions fly-half put his best foot forward. Jonathan Sexton is Ireland’s most important player these days. He has the ‘all-court’ game to pick apart any opposition at his best and Ireland is now reliant upon him producing close to his best to compete at the highest level.

Saturday’s performance was far below what the Racing man in capable of. Whilst the botched restart has been given far more coverage than it merited, it did exemplify a performance which was below-par at best. Sexton’s passing wasn’t as sharp and accurate as we have seen from him, his tactical kicking was poor and his punting to touch even worse.

Why Ireland refused to use Rob Kearney’s left foot repeatedly is a mystery given the lack of distance Sexton was achieving down Ireland’s right. An even greater mystery was why Paddy Jackson was on the bench if Schmidt refused to use him. Jackson may not have done anything which changed the game but he deserved 10 or 15 minutes to try given the lacklustre nature of Sexton’s attacking play to that point.

It is somewhat unfair to Sexton that his performance so often determines Ireland’s results but that is the situation in which he finds himself. Ireland’s forwards do not possess the necessary bulk to dominate teams like England up-front. Indeed that is an area Joe Schmidt may want to consider more closely prior to the French test.

Whilst Ireland’s forwards have performed exceptionally well so far there is a distinct lack of ball carrying power without Sean O’Brien. As a unit the backrow have been the match of all so far but their lack of dynamism to truck the ball up is notable. Moreover looking at the stats again, Chris Henry and Peter O’Mahony appear to have swapped roles in certain facets of the game.

Whilst Henry is certainly still the link man, he has made far more tackles to date than O’Mahony (36 v 21), whilst O’Mahony has been much more prominent at the breakdown. Does Ireland have two 7’s rather than open and blindside flankers?

Neither have been capable of making many metres running with the ball either (Henry 20 and O’Mahony 22. For comparison Jamie Heaslip has made 88 and Cian Healy 55), posing the question do Ireland need a better ball carrier at 6?

I’m not suggesting any changes should be made currently but it is surely something Joe Schmidt will be thinking over.

One other area we may see a change is the second row. Whilst I have been massively impressed by Devin Toner’s improvement in the past year, he simply isn’t a ball carrier. From 6 carries he gained 3 metres. When you compare that against Iain Henderson you find that the Ulsterman made more metres (6) from his 3 carries. Further, Toner has made just 14 metres in three games.

Nor is he the lineout option it can be sometimes assumed, trailing behind O’Mahony he received only 5 of Ireland’s 16 lineout completions.

Whilst he puts in a terrific shift (14 tackles and a turnover) it might just be that the likes of Iain Henderson, or Donnacha Ryan for that matter, bring a harder edge which would benefit Ireland more.

It is undoubtedly harsh to single out Toner when O’Connell’s stats don’t read much, if any, better, but O’Connell’s influence cannot simply be measured by post-game stats and is nigh on untouchable anyway.

I doubt at this stage Schmidt is likely to veer away from his settled pack without injuries intervening but there is a case to say others might provide more at this stage. Saturday could’ve gone either way and an Ireland victory may not have stirred such criticism despite a few below-par performances.

It is to be hoped, though, that Joe Schmidt and his team will look beyond the results and realise the areas Ireland need to improve in to make a real dent at next year’s world cup. I certainly would be surprised, given their pedigree, if they weren’t.

My name is Ryan Cullen and I am a 25 year old Ulster season ticket holder. I was introduced to the game around 15 years ago and have loved it ever since. I have an interest in pretty much all sports though so don’t be surprised to see a few football (Liverpool), Golfing and Racing interests (to name but a few) thrown in from time to time.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Marble City 7s

Marble City Sevens returns to Kilkenny for the second year to Kilkenny Rugby Grounds.
MC7s 1


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MC7s 2

Saturday, February 22, 2014


HoR pro logo green
It took me a good 24 hours to get my head into a place where I could watch this match again. 

Naturally no sports fan enjoys watching their team get beaten, but when that defeat is to England AND takes both Triple Crown and Grand Slam off the table, the disappointment increases by a multitude.

But when I finally calmed down and watched it over, the haze caused by my green goggles began to subside and it was like I was watching a different match.

I’m not sure rugby union has seen a test match that embodies what professionalism has brought to the game more than this one - it was mesmerising to watch, fascinating to analyse and ultimately immensely satisfying for the victorious England outfit and rightly so.
The contest brought together two coaching philosophies that were being tested against each other for the first time.  And with the two week gap between this round and the previous one, there was double the amount of time for pundits from all around the game to predict which way each would go.

But the thing about rugby - no scratch that - ANY team sport is that you can do all the preparation you want on training “paddocks” and look at all the DVDs you want…that only gets you to the kickoff.  Once the two strategies come together you then have 80 minutes to adapt on the fly until the day is done, and on this occasion, the team which did that better emerged the winners.

For me it’s not so much that either team did their preparation wrong as such, but it was more the mentality that was instilled in the players, particularly on the offensive side of things.

But first, let’s look at the defence.  The scoreline should tell you everything…it was both disciplined and organised by both teams.  There are many who give out about tackle stats and it’s true, often they are used out of context, but the English made a whopping 164 tackles to our 117, which is about right since Ireland enjoyed 59% of the possession.

It was almost as if despite all the English desire to turn Twickenham into a “fortress”, they were instead performing more like the away team, a zone where it seems Lancaster-led teams tend to find themselves very comfortable.

Still…Ireland were no slouches without the ball either, as the Danny Care try, which I’ll give more detail on later, demonstrated.  When England got themselves into our 22 through conventional phase-play, there was no way past the green lin.

When it comes to individual tackle counts, names like Robshaw (22), Launchbury (18) Twelvetrees (16) and Morgan (14 from the bench) stand out on the England side, with Henry, Toner and (let’s be sure and highlight this before I give out about him) Sexton leading the stats for Ireland.

Yet even with a stalemate between two defences, there are always going to be opportunities, and here is where I feel the mindset came into play.

Simply put, I believe the result came from an offence based on patience winning out against one based on faith. 

That doesn’t mean I’m saying those two coming together will always produce the same result, I’m just saying it did here.

If you study Ireland’s offence not only Saturday, but all throughout this Six Nations campaign, you will see we are still to score a try in the first half an hour of play of any match.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for most sides, but I believe it is for teams orchestrated by Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton.

In the first two rounds, we happened to be up against teams who were either unable to keep up with our game over 80 minutes or unwilling to change their own.  This time, we were faced by an England side who had clearly targeted the areas where we planned to gain superiority and if they couldn’t beat us at them, at least equal us.

Look at the way the match both started and finished, with choke tackles.  What, you mean that method Ireland used to such success against Australia, I hear you say?  Yes, that one, only in both the 1st and 80th minutes, it was England employing it to perfection.

Naturally the Irish coaching staff had been working with Sexton and the entire squad on ways of picking through the England defence, and one of these ways was via a little kick over the top or other times crossfield to the opposite winger.

This is where faith comes in.  By putting together a strict set of plays similar to that used by an NFL quarterback, you are going into a match assuming that not only will you perform every technical aspect of the move perfectly, but so will everyone around you.

Just the once, that faith was rewarded. 

Going into halftime with a duck-egg could be seen as a major blow for the Irish team, though as things turned out, being a mere 3 points down wasn’t so bad with England opting for a lineout in our 22 in the closing stages and failing to add to their early lead.

Well whatever we lacked in offensive preparation at the beginning of the first half certainly wasn’t lacking in the second.  Though not for the first time a Sexton penalty from hand failed to get deep enough into the English 22 for our famed “lineout/maul”, we still had a move up our sleeve and it was a joy to behold.

You really have to watch the try in slow-mo to appreciate everything that is going on, and not just for the try but from the lineout itself.  Orchestrating moves off a set piece is one thing, but to have schemes in place two or three phases down the line (the famed Schmidt “power play”) afterwards is raising the bar of excellence into the clouds.

Yet with Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip blocking off the likes of Launchbury and Marler, Sexton doing a dummy wraparound and Rob Kearney storming into the space and planting his foot just at the right moment, his try under the posts looked all too easy and was clearly a vindication of all the hard work put in.

Now I’m not saying that was the only decent offensive Irish contribution on the day, and it must be noted that Brian O’Driscoll had one of his best ball-carrying outings in a long time.  It’s just that apart from one try and one penalty, those advances were not turned into points.

And so it was 7-3 to Ireland.  A narrow lead it’s true, but one which Ireland’s defence was trained to bring home.  Only thing that could cost us would be our own mistakes.

Well our forwards almost made a fatal one off the restart as Billy Twelvetrees recovered it for his side immediately from Farrell’s boot.  Here is where the English offensive mentality differed to ours. 

They had a chance in the opening minutes I mentioned earlier and it didn’t quite work out.  They had other chances in the first half getting into our 22 all of which were thwarted as well…I’m not so sure if you quite call getting stymied by a well-drilled D as “leaving points on the pitch” as some pundits said, but still, it was patience they needed.

You always get the impression from a Lancaster team that they are expected to be like a coiled spring, not only ready to tackle the opposition into oblivion but also ready to pounce and make maximum hay when they see so much as a sliver of sunshine.

This is why I don’t really think Johnny May belongs in their team.  With more conviction he would have scored in the opening minutes, but that planted more doubt in his mind so that after Twelvetrees’ restart retrieval, I fully believe the corner was at May’s mercy yet after a quick look he cut back inside the the relative safety of the tackle.

A few minutes later, after a rare successful kick through from Sexton dropped in the 22, May panicked and forced it into touch off Brown to give Ireland the lineout throw.  It was our first opportunity to attempt our lineout/maul and although the English couldn’t handle it we still got a pen thanks to Lawes to put us 10-3 to the good with an even bigger lead to bring home.

But May seemed to be the only one who wasn’t signing from Lancaster’s hymnsheet.  A few minutes later, a penalty at halfway could have been kicked to the corner but England were chasing the game so Danny Care took a quick tap and although we got ourselves organised we still conceded a kickable pen under the posts.  6-10, still a good margin for Ireland.

Now here’s the awkward bit.  When you have faith in your offence, you also have faith in your key player’s ability to make the right choice in the right situation.

I’m sure Johnny Sexton had a rationale for going for a restart which his forwards could win back.  No doubt one of those rationales was faith that his boys could get the job done, especially with Devin Toner on the park.  Obviously he also would have had faith in his own ability to put the ball where it needed to be.

But sometimes, we can overthink in situations which really are alarmingly simple.  That restart should have gone deep into England’s 22, end of.  It didn’t, and sugar-coat it all you want but the match-winning try resulted directly from that error of judgement.
Of course England still had to get the try, and it was a case of their patience paying off.  It started with a positively awful scrum (we definitely laid the ghosts of 2012 to rest, for all the good it did us) which they won but saw themselves forced back towards their own 22.

Jack Nowell, who unlike May has impressed greatly in this series after a shaky start in Paris, retrieved the situation and turned it back into front foot ball.  And for just a split second, they saw before them an Irish team who thought they were going to win back the ball and instead had to regroup on defence.  Now was the time for precision, and three of Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins supplied it.

First, there was Robshaw - who quietly won the battle of the breakdown but here he was needed to carry & offload, something he did very well, though Conor Murray, who like his fellow Irish halfback seemed knackered already at this point, certainly could have done better in his challenge to prevent the offload.

Then deserving man of the match Mike Brown took a line every bit as good at Kearney the Elder’s earlier and suddenly they were in open play deep in the Irish backfield.  And not only did he have the space, he also had the support in Danny Care who had time to celebrate and place the ball down under the posts.  13-10 England.

Now we were the ones chasing the game.  And now our faith in our offence was being put to its biggest test in Joe Schmidt’s short reign.  We had a full 20 minutes, but not only did it make a difference that we badly needed a score, it also didn’t help that it was like we were playing ourselves as the defence.

For that entire final quarter, it really did look as though we had nothing left in the tank.  Fancy moves were tried but tired limbs were unable to carry them out, while it seemed England’s were good to the last as borne out by Launchbury’s excellent tap-tackle on Dave Kearney.  One of the reasons Paddy Jackson not Ian Madigan was on the bench was that it was assumed a steady hand was needed to bring home a lead rather than one to fashion something out of nothing, so that wasn’t really an option.

Was the referee a factor?  Well Farrell’s late hit on Murray and Lawes’ foul play at the maul could have been yellows, plus there was an English hand in the scrum missed which could have given us a shot at levelling it.  Also  a Johnny May touch clearance was easily outside his 22.  Of course no doubt the official missed some Irish transgressions, though I did see an Iain Henderson knockon go unnoticed towards the end.

Still, I couldn’t say I saw enough to equate the result with referee Craig Joubert.  We were unable to execute in areas we needed to while England were.  And even then, they only won by three.

Because like I said at the very start of this writeup, a night’s sleep and reflection makes you look at this result in a whole different light.  This was Lancaster’s 12th Six Nations match as coach.  He has done a wonderful job with his players, bringing players like Brown, Launchbury and Nowell from Premiership hopefuls to test regulars.

But…as he and the English media have been at pains to remind us of late, this is a team that’s “building towards RWC2015”.  And I can’t help but think that the England we saw on Saturday is pretty much the same England we’ll see in 2015.  Still a good thing for them, but not much room for change.

As for Joe Schmidt, this was but his 3rd competitive test, and his first away from home in one of the most intimidating atmospheres imaginable.  He too has an amazing squad of players, and on the same weekend he had all four of his provinces achieve impressive wins away from home.  So for a man who recovered from two slippery Septembers and one dodgy December with Leinster to bring silverware home, I can’t think of anyone better equipped to turn things around.

If we want to as Irish fans, we can bitch and moan about who should have been in the team or what they should have done on the day.

OR…we can take a look at the table, see ourselves at the top with a 3-converted try gap in the points difference column, and realise that we play next at home to Italy, and if we win that, whatever happens anywhere else, we will go to Paris with a shot at the title.

Nobody is saying it’s going to be easy, but I definitely still have faith.  JLP

IRSC writeup banner

Also this weekend

1 IRELAND 3 2 0 1 42 4
2 ENGLAND 3 2 0 1 21 4
3 WALES 3 2 0 1 6 4
4 FRANCE 3 2 0 1 1 4
5 SCOTLAND 3 1 0 2 -41 2
6 ITALY 3 0 0 3 -29 0 competition

Our next “unriggable raffle” prize puts the “awwww” in “awwwwesome”…

coolbaby comp final grid







Congrats Brian!

You now have until Fri Mar 7 at midday to claim your prize!  

Send us a private message from our Facebook page using the same account you used to enter and we will arrange it for you!

The Six Nations has another rest next weekend, but do you think our “unriggable raffle” will follow suit? As if…

Speaking of suit, the kind folks at have offered the choice of a free babygrow or kids t-shirt/pair of socks to the winner!

About Cool Baby

Cool Baby is a small family run business set up in 2013. Our mission is to provide you with a range of unique, high quality baby wear at affordable prices.

We have endeavored to associate ourselves with local Irish business in both the development of our business and in the design and production of our range which includes:

  • County GAA colours
  • Design your own Club colours
  • Other sports such as rugby, soccer, golf etc
  • Novelty Babygrows
  • Personalised Babygrows
  • T-Shirts for kids & youths up to sixteen years old

Not sure how our “unriggable raffles” work? Click here to find out.

But to put it simply…follow the instructions on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page at the right times and you could be among the 100 qualifiers, one of whom will win the grand prize next weekend.

Check below to see details on when the competition windows will be open during the coming week.
















The match which will provide the winning square for this week’s competition is Leinster’s Pro12 clash with Glasgow on Saturday, March 1.

The following extra rules are unfortunate but necessary.

  • the winner must provide an address on the island of Ireland

  • the competition winner will only be contacted via the social media account they used to qualify and they MUST respond within 48 hours of the final whistle in the rugby match otherwise the prize could be put back on offer to other entrants in a manner to be determined by the organisers

  • only one entry per separate Facebook account is allowed each day, but it’s ok to enter once on each of the four days

  • each window closes 3 hours after posting – if all of the spots are not taken, the extra ones will be allocated in a manner to be determined by the competition organisers.

  • when you are asked to leave an “exact phrase” this means you can use the phrase with OR without the quotes; also, since speed is a factor in the competition we will make allowances for typos once it is clear a decent attempt has been made to repeat the phrase

  • for some windows “edited” Facebook comments will not be permitted as entries…this will be outlined as part of the post where it applies

  • for transparency purposes your qualifying comment must remain on the social media post until at least two hours after completion of the rugby match that is to determine the competition winner.

  • be aware that Facebook have been known to display comments in a random order on the web; as competition organisers we will do all we can to ensure the timeline is properly followed in each window.

  • entrants’ positions on the grid are set and not open for discussion, nor are any other final decisions made by the competition organisers.

    If you have any questions about the competition and/or its format or indeed would like to sponsor one down the line, feel free to email we'd be happy to help.


  • D4tress

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