Monday, August 31, 2015




logo post greenReferee Craig Joubert was very apologetic as he approached Paul O’Connell to tell him he was about to ping the Irish skipper...of course he would have been well aware that this was the Irish legend’s last appearance in green before his home crowd, not to mention the match was delicately poised at 10-10 at the time.

But as he clearly explained, his assistant had noticed that a Welsh player was cleaned out by the neck, and this was one from the “hot list” of infractions that referees were to look out for, or to give the technical term, the “key focus areas”.  And after all the palaver at the World Cup semifinal in 2011, I doubt the Welsh would mind actually being on the right side from this list for once.

Now we can debate whether or not Paulie had his man by the neck until the cows come home, but what I’d much rather do is look closely at the calls the referee made himself on the day, in areas where the focus apparently isn’t quite so key, yet for me played a big part in this result.

Notice I said a “big part”.  I certainly don’t mean the whole part.  Just because two facts exist doesn’t mean one caused the other, so if I say Joubert wasn’t Ireland friend on the day you can’t conclude that I feel he is the reason we lost.  It’s a bit like saying dropping O’Driscoll from the 3rd Lions test guaranteed we’d win it ;-)

The way I saw it, the cocktail that led to this result was part Joubert, part the Welsh wanting the win more and part Ireland’s deficiencies in what should be our own “key focus areas”.  So to properly analyse this match we need to look at all three ingredients, with particular attention of course to the last one given it’s the only one we can control.  But I’ll harp on the other two first, beginning with the ref.

Now I’m generally very reluctant to bring the officials in to writeups, and in the early stages of watching this match live, I tried to shield myself from the tweets I was reading from Irish fans as well as the screams of those around me.  It’s the green goggles, I thought - nothing wrong at all with passion from the faithful, but in all likelihood the Irish players have to be bringing about this whistle attention themselves.


Then came the call in favour of Gethin Jenkins early in the second half, as Ireland were trying to build on the momentum gained from our try after the clock went dead in the first.


I’m sorry but his foot is a mile in the air before Joubert so much as reaches for his whistle.  Maybe, just maybe, he made the decision moments before Jenkins stopped supporting his own body weight (assuming he ever actually was) but if the players are meant to “present a good picture” for the refs then so should the officials and particularly from this camera angle, the decision does not look good for the South African at all.

So then as I re-watched later I looked out for earlier calls and I realised maybe the criticism was warranted at the time after all.  Surely if there’s any area of focus that is key for a ref it’s consistency… and I ask you to consider these two decisions.  In the first, Jordi Murphy gets himself over the ball, which actually disappears from view for a significant amount of time.


For me the ref has three choices… (a) ping Murphy for not supporting his weight (which is what we’d expect from a SH ref) (b) ping the attacking player for not releasing or (c) give the ball every chance to be made available to keep the play going.  In this case, Joubert opts for (c) and actually that’s fine by me, even though the lone Welsh try gets tacked on to the end of this sequence.

Then we go to a point later in the half, and it’s a similar situation though this time the ball spills loose after the tackle and thus is actually available so we can play on. 


Decision this time?  Penalty to Ireland for the attacker not releasing after the tackle.  A good thing at that moment of course for Irish fans, but at the same time baffling to those struggling to be objective.

But that’s enough about the ref.  I’m saying he was both inconsistent and made bad calls that tended to favour red, and I have presented examples to try and back up the statements.  On to the next point, which is the Welsh performance on the day.

Well there is only one starting point - Justin Tipuric.  Actually as I just typed his surname I noticed it’s an anagram for what a Welshman might say when you ask what’s the best thing an openside can do to the ball after making a tackle : “Rip it, U C?”

Seriously though...the guy was everywhere, doing everything, and one of the easiest MotM decisions a pundit will have to make.  Scoring one try, preventing another, selling Jordi Murphy down the river with a block one minute, obstructing mauls the next and of course there was the good old fashioned breakdown one point poor James King forced a good turnover yet the cameraman still went to Tipuric (who in fairness also played a part).

If you ask me, and I know the majority of Welsh fans won’t when it comes to their squad selection, I’d say this performance on foreign soil against such quality opposition (we still are, you know) should put him in the frame for a starting role at RWC2015.  And who says it has to be him OR Sam?  Can you imagine a breakdown battle Tipuric/Warburton v Hooper/Pocock at Twickenham on October 10?  Wowza.

But it wasn’t merely Justin’s display - overall the Welsh were fired up and if nothing else, in our two meetings with them in this series they have presented us with two extremes of opposition performance, both of which we need to experience dealing with at the World Cup.

It wasn’t just the dogged determination on defence that was giving them the edge...there was an extra spring in their step for line speed, there were little extras around the breakdown area like the ball carrier grabbing a jackler’s foot after releasing the ball, all adding up to doing what anyone hoping to take down Schmidt-ball is bound to do...deny by frustrating at every turn.

Yet while of course the Welsh fans, press and coaching staff will be gushing over a second victory over their Celtic cousins in this calendar year, I wonder is the garden necessarily as rosy as it should be? 

Considering the preseason emphasis was put on fitness levels of “ironman” proportions, they certainly didn’t look too clever at the end of either half on Saturday, particularly at lineouts, and could well have lost the match.  But before the fire-breathing dragon keyboard warriors come to get me, let there be no doubt the right team won over the 80 minutes!!!

OK - time to finally look at Ireland’s side of the equation, and here the starting point has to be at halfback.  Pretty much everything we hope to do at the World Cup is set around the Murray/Sexton axis performing to the levels they have shown they can do, which has made them one of the top pairings in the world.

But on this occasion, after a sweet wraparound move in the opening sequence promised so much, what followed for the rest of their shift was flat to say the very least.  Now - that observation needs to come with a massive asterisk...if we plan to kick away as much ball at the World Cup as we did on Saturday then we may as well not show up or the results could well be of 2007 proportions.

Yet we all know that can’t be the case.  It had to be against the very nature of Sexton’s DNA to risk wasting so much possession with his numerous dinks, high balls and crossfield kicks but clearly we are playing the long game from a tactical standpoint and any new set plays by the backline are no doubt still locked in a vault deep under Carton House.

Still, when it came to those very dinks, high balls and crossfield kicks, a bit of aul’ accuracy wouldn’t have gone astray, especially given that is very much one of our “key focus areas” going into the campaign, and in such a low-scoring affair just one of those kicks paying off could have swung the match in our favour.  If nothing else it gives Johnny plenty of footage to pour over so that assuming we go to the kicks more sparingly down the line, when we do he might be better prepared.

I mean it was pretty obvious that the mindset was to kick first and ask questions afterwards.  How else would you explain Paddy Jackson persisting with a DG attempt late in the contest despite two Welsh man-mountains in AWJ and Charteris bearing down on him!!!  I’m happy to give the Ulsterman the benefit of the doubt in that case, though still when you add his cameo to Madigan’s outing last week ,you have to wonder has the Leinster man edged his nose in front in the pecking order.

Elsewhere in the backline we saw the bulk of the positive displays for Ireland...the Kearney brothers did well under the high ball and Dave showed just why his game is pretty much the textbook version for an ideal Schmidt winger.

And when it comes to Schmidt centres, both Henshaw and Fitzgerald did pretty well in their roles with the Connacht man doing the better though both quietly went about their business making a solid 17 tackles between them.

Last but not least in the backs there’s Keith Earls...fingers crossed for him on the injury front; his exit from the action did not look good.  Didn’t have the best of starts to the match with the ball but given one of the biggest marks against him his D he most certainly chipped in with a couple of key tackles before he went off.

In the pack, if it was fitting that Tipuric got the lone Welsh try, it was equally so that ours went to Iain “New Willie John McBride” Henderson.  All you can say after his display is “Devin, look out!”.  The Leinster giant needs a flawless 60+ minutes of lineout calling and no mistakes at Twickers next week to even hope that his starting berth is safe, and even then it won’t be.

What I like most about Henderson is his attitude...whenever he gets involved you don’t just expect the basics, you expect something exceptional.  And as we pummelled the Welsh line after the clock went red at the end of the first half, his carry had the air of “OK enough of this nonsense lads, I’m going over!” about it, and you know what, he did.  Oh, and he was also our top tackler on the day, don’t you know.

Our set pieces had their ups and have to be concerned about two “whip wheel” penalties - Jack McGrath had a decent day about the park in the loose but while rumours of Healy’s fitness persist we can’t be having any issues in our front row so whether it’s something he’s doing wrong or something being done to him, Messrs Easterby & Feek need to sort it pronto.

The back row was a tough area for us on the day given the Welsh 7 was playing out of his skin, yet when we go up against the Dusautoirs and Picamoles of this world we should expect no less so our lads will have to up their game.  This wasn’t Jordi’s best outing and while I know Joe likes him he surely has to be leaning more towards Chris Henry & Donncha Ryan for the bench role and I’d expect the two to feature against the English next week.

So to recap...we were definitely below par from both accuracy and decision-making perspectives, we got some game time against a team that was both fired up and well-prepared to beat us and we were up against a finicky ref who couldn’t seem to make up his mind how to police the breakdown.

Yet despite all of that, had Sean Cronin fallen at a different angle in the last play of the game, we would have won.  If you assume that everything that went wrong on our side of the ledger is very much fixable, then you certainly can’t see this result as a blow to our World Cup chances in any way, shape or form, at least I don’t anyway.

When it comes to the actual selection of the 31 names for “the plane”, I know I said in my preview we need to “trust Joe” and I still feel that is the case, but I couldn’t resist scribbling down my own list anyway.  Then I saw a certain Brian G O’Driscoll had scribbled down the exact same list of names himself!  I considered changing one name but that would have only been for the sake of it.  Let’s say if Keith Earls gets the news he’s dreading, the spot should go to Trimble IMO.

But whatever happens, we can only look for positives from Saturday and they most definitely are there.  When the “Big Show” comes around we have to be ready for dodgy decisions and dogged defending but (beware - very-rarely used cliche by this author approaching) “at the end of the day” it’s about managing what you can control.


I still believe we have the right bunch of lads at the helm to bring us forward, not least of which is Paulie - I sincerely hope he enjoyed his farewell from the home crowd and now he can move on for the big task ahead across the water.


Roll on Twickers next week.  I hear all is not so rosy in their garden either this weather.  Should make for quite the occasion.  JLP

#COYBIG #ShoulderToShoulder #4ProudProvinces #TrustJoe

Paul O'Connell

All a little bit lacklustre

A sluggish performance takes us all back down to earth, writes Ciaran Duffy

Ciaran Duffy logo

I’ll keep this one short because between the sunburn in the first half and getting soaked in the second half, this is a day I’d like to forget.  Craig Joubert did make some questionable decisions, which ultimately did have an impact on the scoreboard, but let’s not get hung up on that.  The last warm-up before the squad announcement is all about the performance. 

Wales were better at the breakdown and their front five dominated proceedings.  It was nothing special by the Welsh, but they did the simple things well and were more efficient with the ball.  Ireland were turned over too often and only had brief moments of attack going forward.  It was hard to judge Irelands attacking performance because they didn’t do it often enough.  It was mostly defensive duties for Ireland, and the defence will need to be worked on.  Wales were able to get through fairly easily without having to resort to anything too creative.  It was a rusty performance, which may have been understandable if it was the first warm-up, but it’s concerning considering this was the third game in four weeks. 

There were some injury concerns for Ireland as well.  Earls didn’t move after putting in a big tackle.  He was eventually stretchered off after a long delay.  With his acceleration and recent performances he had worked his way into contention.  But that injury looked serious and he may be out for the tournament now.  Strauss rolled his ankle in the second half, but he will likely still be in the team as a third hooker.  Luke Fitzgerald also picked up an injury.  This will cast doubt over his selection, not because of the severity of the injury, but because of the frequencies of his injuries.  Schmidt might consider other options because of that risk. 

Another cause of concern was Paddy Jacksons performance.  When he came on for Sexton he was unable to control the game.  Soon after coming on he looked for a drop goal.  It was never on and the ball was charged down, resulting in Ireland losing good attacking territory.  This may have been Jackson trying to take the game by the scruff of the neck and impress the coach, but a cool head is necessary in a tight game and he didn’t show that.  Madigan is surely the number two now, with Jackson likely to be there too. 

Despite the poor overall team performance some players did stake their claim to a seat on the plane.  Henshaw carried the ball well at times.  Dave Kearney always looked threatening on the wing but wasn’t given the opportunity to attack often enough.  Playing well in a game where the overall team performance was poor will really boost his chances.  Above all Iain Henderson put in a big performance which presents an argument for him not just being in the squad, but starting.  Although he does not bring what Devin Toner does to the lineout, the way he charged over the line for a try at a crucial period in the game showed his value to the team. 

A poor performance, but one we will possibly look back on as a blessing in disguise if it proves to be the kick up the backside we may need to get it right for the World Cup.  Teams who win often can get comfortable in their ways, and its better this happen now than on a more important occasion.  I don’t think anyone performed themselves out of the squad, but there were a few who may have gotten themselves a place. 

Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously.  He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field. 


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Front Five - 31.08.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
Later today on HoR…
Our #IRLvWAL feature match writeup
is titled “Key Focus Areas”


...they will see (Joubert) again in four weeks' time when he takes charge of the pool match against Romania at Wembley, so they had better get used to his interpretations.


Joe Schmidt stung by Warren Gatland's narrow taunts

Ruairidh O'Connor - Irish Independent

(There are) Some guys that you would have presumed were certainties seem now to be on the periphery.

Tough Decisions

“This is unfortunately something that is always going to be a part of South African rugby,” - Bryan Habana

South Africa could be barred from Rugby World Cup by court action

Paul Rees - The Guardian

In June, after coming out within the rugby circles, he was signed by the Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club

Cyd Zeigler -

“Awful way to end a game and only one person to blame, the Serbian coach/water carrier” - RL Ireland Facebook page

Irish player allegedly ‘kicked in the head’ after mass rugby league brawl

Neil Treacy -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Leinster-68 Moseley-0

Moseley lead photo


logo post blueFirst, the elephant in the room surrounding this game, meaning a debate both sides of which are best represented by these two comments on the HoR Facebook page shortly after the match…

Alison Moore : Why were we playing this team while the other provinces are playing premiership and Top 14 opposition?

Orla-marie Magan: Every game is worth something. It's about getting the young lads out there gelling with the older players and growing in confidence. It's all about gradual improvement next week we have Edinburgh that's another step up for us. I for one am glad to see the lads scoring that much and not giving anything away. Leinster of last season would have given them a few tries.

Valid points on both sides, though I have to say I’d lean more towards Alison’s.

When the Pro12 kicks off next weekend, nobody is going to remember that we beat Moseley the week before.  And given the match has no actual competitive value, I doubt anyone would remember too well if we had beaten reigning champions from across Europe Glasgow, Sarries, Stade Francais or even Toulon.

But if nothing else, with of course all due respect to our visitors on this occasion, the decision to have Leo’s first home match against the club that finished 11th out of 12 in the second tier of English rugby last season has probably woken us up to the significance of this fixture on the calendar for Leinster fans.
Even though the tickets were free to those STHs who were on the ball responding to emails in time, as good and all as it is to see the boys in blue back in action again after the summer break it should put a serious dent in the public interest if the calibre of opposition isn’t a good bit higher when next year’s fixture is announced.

OK....enough harping on that - there was some “Leo-ball” to ponder, let’s have a look at how it went, putting aside the very obvious one-sided nature of the scoreline and 10-0 try tally.

First, as much as we may want to forget the trevails of last season, it’s hard not to draw comparisons as we get our first look at the 2015/16 vintage, and the differences were there for all to see.

Whereas last season no matter how much pace our wingers may have possessed, the other 13 players were hard wired to make sure the ball took an age to get to them and when it did, it wasn’t always in the wide channels.  Now it would seem that “order” has been restored, and on this occasion Adam Byrne and particularly Mick McGrath were able to reap the rewards.

Now the first try wasn’t in the wide channel, but that wasn’t so much down to our strategy as it was the “swiss cheese” defence of the visitors...a pass of our own went astray and in the broken play it came to McGrath who had nothing on his mind but to plough forward and somehow went straight down the middle making the try look more like one from the sevens code.

The other McGrath on the park for Leinster was Luke at scrum half and he and Cathal Marsh were keeping a lively tempo going throughout the first half which was good to see.  As you’d expect in a preseason encounter, penalties no matter where on the park were kicked to touch and it was Dan Leavy who had the ball at the bottom of the pile of bodies for our second try.

The third was made from a step by Marsh charging into the space before laying it off to Mick McGrath (my MotM even though it was a 40m shift) who this time had the presence of mind to lay off to some chap named Nacewa you may have heard of, who went in for the easy finish - Isa was taking the placekicks while on the park by the way and slotting them every time.

Set pieces worked well at some stages, not so well at others, but nothing less than you’d expect in preseason.  Aaron Dundon did a lot of the heavy lifting around the park and no doubt will get a lot of game time in the weeks to come.

It was “just” 21-0 at halftime, and as the players returned to the 4G surface as I was doing my liveblog I thought the simplest way to check for substitutions (which are always a nightmare to follow at these matches) was to do a quick scan of the numbers on the players’ backs.  1 to 15 all there, I noticed.  Huh, no changes, eh?

Eh, not quite.  They only went and fielded a pretty much completely different XV in the second half while retaining the starting numbers.  I probably should have noticed that Mick McGrath was now in fact Darragh Fanning and Collie O’Shea was now in fact Ben Te’o but hey - what can I say - liveblogging can be a fact paced world and if you snooze you lose ;-)

The announcer at Donnybrook Stadium didn’t bother announcing the changes and to be fair with so much swapping going on I can’t blame him.  Anyway now we had Isaac Boss and Ross Byrne as the halfback pairing and the good thing to see was that the style of play didn’t really change all that much and we played at a pace which had to have its toll on the visitors for the final quarter which is where the score reached cricket proportions.

Two tries in the second half worth mentioning - the pick of the ten was when forwards such as Molony and Beirne combined with strong runs and neat offloads down the middle before the ball was shifted out wide quickly where a nice long pass from Reid was taken by Te’o and quickly gotten to McFadden who finished in the corner.  Ferg took over the kicking duties and actually got the only miss of the night after that try but can be forgiven I reckon!

Later we had Ross Byrne launching a precision crossfield kick into the breadbasket of Darragh Fanning who still had a bit of work to do to get it to the line but managed to make it look easy.

The margin could have been even wider if Josh van der Flier hadn’t dropped it over the line at the final apologies to him for pointing that out but I had to find something negative from the night and besides, he more than made up for it with a five-pointer of his own as the clock was running down.

A quick word on the visitors…as the scoreline suggests they were never really at the races but having said that, Kevin Maggs’ outfit deserve some credit for at least trying to innovate their way through our well drilled D and even towards the end when they had a chance to placekick the “duckegg” off the scoreboard they went to the corner and while it was to no avail it was certainly to their credit in the kudos column.

So did we learn that much about Leo’s Leinster from this?  I reckon we did, at least in what we’re planning to do with the ball as opposed to last year.  The Pro12 opposition over the coming weeks will give us a better sense of how effective it will be and how well the new coaching staff and new (and returning) players to the squad have prepared.

Which leads me to what I consider to be a target for Leinster in the opening weeks of the campaign.  In my preview for this friendly I suggested we treat our first four matches like a World Cup pool and forget about the visit of Glasgow in matchday 5.  For me, we should be aiming to be in the the top four when Gregor Townsend’s men come to town.

Do I have a matchday 23 in mind based on what I’ve seen?  Funny I should pretend that you asked….(in case certain players get called on by Joe I have put alternatives in brackets)

Nacewa, Mick McGrath, Te’o, Darcy (Reid), McFadden (Adam Byrne), Marsh, Luke McGrath.
Bent (Dooley), Dundon, Furlong, Denton, McCarthy, McLoughlin (c), Ryan, Conan.
Bench : Bryan Byrne, Burke-Flynn, Hagan, Molony, van der Flier, Boss, Ross Byrne, (Reid/A Byrne/Fanning).

The World Cup is of course going to be a major distraction from the early rounds of the Pro12 campaign but Leo and the boys have a job to do and the talent to do it.  Come on you boys in blue. JLP

SCO 48-7 ITA (8-0-review)

Take your pick - defence, discipline, breakdown technique; the Italians played like a team who fell behind on preseason prep due to background issues. Still, even the most hardcore Scottish fan would admit over the past decade there’d be no guarantees they could take, thanks to individuals like Barclay and Horne and the influence of Cotter at the helm, they can certainly feel confident of escaping their RWC pool. Italy, the way things look now, not so much.
Fancy penning an 8-0-review for HarpinOnRugby?  
Let us know at

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The rugby match which will provide the winning square for this competition is Ireland’s World Cup "warmup" clash with England on Saturday, September 5, 2015.

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  • Online comments after #IRLvWAL

    In a new regular feature this season we’ll be sharing some of the initial “keyboard warrior” response to our featured match of the weekend ahead of our Monday writeup.

    If you’d like to contribute stay tuned to our Facebook page for our “Feel free to leave your thoughts…” posts which show up around full time after Leinster & Ireland matches.

    Rugby Opinion

    You have to be worried with the lack of physicality, accuracy and game plan. Discipline was paramount during the 6N - was nowhere to be seen today. Failed to adapt when we couldn't run through the brick wall. As for positives, Henderson looks like he'll be another great 2nd row. Kearney is on his way back.

    Seán McDonagh

    The referee did no favours to Ireland especially in the penalty counts. Also some Welsh passes looked a bit dubious especially in the first half. The Welsh defence closed down the Irish back line attack very quickly & could read the play better. The player to stand out for me was Henderson. Rob Kearney was good under the high ball. Hope non of the injuries are serious.

    Gerald Williamson

    Ponderously slow in the main. Welsh had little problem shutting us down as a result. Kicked too much away too. On a positive note Dave Kearney has given himself a good chance on making the squad. Hope Earls is not too bad. Thought Jourbert was disgraceful for allowing play to continue for so long when both team doctors were calling for more medical help.

    Alison Moore

    What can I say? I'm massively disappointed. No pace, no structure in the Irish game. We are now totally reliant on Sexton and without him we can't create anything of substance. We looked really slow and laboured at both the breakdown and set piece, and our attack offers nothing except Jonny's boot. Our skill set leaves a lot to be desired, as does our intensity and line speed in defence.

    Our second place rank is now gone (probably third, too), and if we don't get our heads out of our arses soon enough, we may be in store for ANOTHER disappointing world cup.

    God awful performance...

    Daragh Faughnan

    Poor performance by Ireland. A lot of rustiness on display. The Kearneys & Hendo impressed though. Worrying lack of oomph in possession. Our forwards had difficulty getting over the gainline, while line breaks by our backs were few and far between. The loss in Dublin could psychologically to our advantage however. It lowers the expectations of an Irish victory in Twickenham and increases the pressure on England. Bring on the Charioteers!!!!

    Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

    Some of our key guys looked rusty, which is what you'd expect with the likes of Sexton. I'd expect a massive improvement next Saturday. Wouldn't be surprised if they're being prepared for the Italy game which is still 5 weeks away. Thought Dave Kearney was excellent though.

    Cormac Mannion

    Meh....Joubert didn't help

    Aoibhin Kenny

    Many thanks to all who offered opinions.

    Look out Monday for our feature match writeup JLP

    Front Five - 30.08.15

    Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
    No day of rest here on HoR…
    Online comments after #IRLvWAL
    Leinster v Moseley writeup
    #SCOvITA “8-0-review”
    New “unriggable raffle” competition


    About 13 and a half years ago, an all-action second row thundered onto the pitch at the old Lansdowne Road to begin his Ireland career.


    Looking back at Paul O'Connell

    Will Slattery - Irish Independent

    "Keith just got caught with his head on the wrong side of the tackle," said Schmidt after the Aviva Stadium game.

    Ireland coach Joe Schmidt positive about Keith Earls' fitness

    BBC Rugby

    Vern Cotter’s men managed the happy knack of producing both at the same time to overwhelm and humiliate an ordinary Italian side.

    Scotland romp to victory over Italy

    Iain Morrison - The Scotsman

    Kane Thompson needed to be cooled off, so the sprinklers came on mid match, as fans weren't impressed with the venue that will host five RWC matches.


    “I don't think Ireland play a lot of rugby. Incredibly narrow...we didn't feel troubled at all out wide.”

    Warren Gatland Fires Shots At Ireland's Tactics Like Only He Can

    Conor O'Leary -

    Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
    Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

    When Warm-ups Attack

    The games haven’t always been friendly to us, writes Ciaran Duffy
    Ciaran Duffy logo

    Today is the last world cup warm-up before Joe Schmidt announces his 31-man squad.  Warm-ups are unusual games in the rugby calendar.  Aside from competitions such as the World cup and Six Nations, usually Ireland’s other games are Autumn internationals and summer tours.  And these are by no means ‘friendlies’.  When the Southern Hemisphere big guns come to town it’s a chance to impress and claim a scalp.  Even the less glamorous games against the likes of Georgia or Samoa are a chance to get the squad together after being with their provinces, as well as a chance for some fringe players to break into the team. 

    With warm-ups, there is just less importance on the results, it’s purely about the performance.  Sure the score line does affect the world rankings, but whether Ireland are 1, 2 or 3 places behind New Zealand in the rankings is hardly a priority right now.  It’s about finding out works and what doesn’t, before it’s too late.  It’s about trying new combinations before mistakes become more costly.  It’s all about seeing which players on the periphery of the squad gel at this late stage. 

    Joes rotated well in the warm ups so far.  36 players used in the two games so far with 6 more set to make their first appearance today.  42 players for a 31-man squad shows a very open competition for places.  Add into this Cian Healy, who could still travel even if he’s not fit until one of the later pool games, and possibly even others who featured in pre-season games for their provinces, who may not make the squad, but will push those in contention to perform well.  In terms of trying new combinations, we’ve seen Cave and Earls, we’ve seen D’Arcy and Payne, and I think everyone interested in rugby in Ireland is excited to see Henshaw and Fitzgerald.  The preparations been good so far and nobody got carried away with the victory over a third string Welsh side, because it’s all about the performance, the performance that will win or lose a place on the plain. 

    Unfortunately, there’s another way to lose a place, injury.  We saw one in the first game, with Tommy O’Donnell being ruled out of the tournament.  O’Donnell was a terrific impact sub and surely would have been in contention, he’s a big loss.  Just as David Wallace was a big loss before the 2011 campaign.  He was in the squad until twisting his knee after taking a tackle from Manu Tuilagi.  In a second, that was a key player for Ireland out of the tournament.  Felix Jones had been ruled out after an ankle injury in the previous game against France, his place had not been confirmed, but he was likely to be there.  This is how warm-ups can change the dynamic of a team.  If Ireland lose a key player like Sexton, Heaslip or O’Connell, there will be a void in the squad.  Even losing a fringe player who may have been back up has a negative impact; it takes away the squad depth and reduces the competitiveness for their position.  Warm-ups are necessary to give player game time and there is no way around injuries in a full contact sport, but there is still a danger of having the squad selection simplified through injuries.
    On top of this, sometimes the warm-ups are just plain ugly.  There is nothing about Irelands 2007 world cup campaign that we should remember too fondly.  After narrowly missing out on the Six Nations crown, this was billed as “Irelands best chance to win a world cup”.  Now it does have to be considered in the previous competitions, Ireland didn’t really have any chance at all, but that being said, we had a strong team and although we were in a tough group, qualification was in reach.  But then, between the Italy game on the last day of the Six Nations, and the opening pool game against Namibia, slowly the air was let out of the tires. 

    First Ireland lost two tests against Argentina, in May and June.  And then, two months later, Ireland lost their first warm-up to Scotland.  But the worst part of this run was the Italy game.  Despite it being Irelands only win on this run, it was the most troubling display.  Italy were ahead at half time, and until very late in the game.  It took a Ronan O’Gara try, well past the clock going red, to secure a narrow victory.  There are two important things to note; the first is the try should have been awarded, as O’Gara hadn’t grounded the ball.  The second is, minus Horgan, Wallace and O’Driscoll, this was the expected starting line up.  Those are three key players, but this was an Italian side Ireland had beaten by 27 points months earlier.  This indicated there was a lack of fluidity between the first team and those also in the squad, there was a very definite starting line up.  It’s important that the second string fire, it boosts the performance of the first team as well as making them better replacements when they are needed.  A clinical attitude where under performers are dropped is what makes for a squad of champions.   

    The performances here did take their toll on the world cup.  It was clear during the Namibia game the team wasn’t quite warmed up, allowing them to achieve their best result against a top tier side.  And then there was Georgia.  If Namibia was cause for concern, the Georgia game was cause to start packing the bags.  Not getting the bonus point was bad enough, but after nearly losing the game, things looked desperate.  Two losses to France and Argentina, and Ireland had crashed out of the group stage for the first time. 

    Injuries can’t be avoided in rugby, they happen.  But the performances are controllable.  If Ireland win playing badly because the Welsh played worse that is a meaningless win, and we should not get ahead of ourselves about it.  It’s all about the performance of Ireland.  They need to hit the ground running in the group stages, even the first fixtures are against the weaker opposition, and ensure two try-scoring bonus points, with a high point differential to put France and Italy under pressure (having a better points difference than teams has been a good omen for us recently).  It’s not a 15-man team plus subs that are sent to the world cup, it’s a 31-man squad, all of whom should expect to play a part, and push to play a part.  There’s a squad depth here that Ireland have not had before, reminiscent of the one Leinster had when they were the best team in Europe.  With that squad depth comes the need for everyone to raise their game.  Warm-ups can either provide momentum and chances, or they can derail a campaign before it has had a chance to begin.  Winning the world cup starts with warming up the right way, not necessarily by maintaining a 100% record, but by putting in 100% from the beginning. 

    (Side note: I can’t put into words how difficult it was to write this article without resorting to phrases like “The heat is on” or “Getting fired up”.  We need a support group for avoiding lazy Idioms.  If anyone needs me I’ll be sitting by a radiator)

    Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously.  He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.

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    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    The only way is up for Leo’s Leinster

    by Kevin O’Brien

    KOB column

    It’s a huge year for rugby with the impending World Cup filling all our minds. Excitement is building nicely to what promises to be a memorable competition. Here’s hoping Joe Schmidt can continue to work his magic. However in the midst of all the World Cup (WC) hype there is the small matter of the kick off of the Pro 12 and other domestic leagues. I for one can’t wait for the league to kick start and I have to say it’s good to be looking at the new season in a positive light from a Leinster perspective, especially after the struggles of last year and the resulting upheaval.

    I’ll be honest from the start and say I was very vocal in my dislike of the O’Connor era. I was one of those ‘spoilt’ Leinster fans, a ‘key board warrior’ who dared voice my opinion on the style (or lack thereof) rugby Leinster played under MOC.  Suffice to say I very happy when he & Leinster had their conscious uncoupling. Initially I was excited at thoughts of one of the exotic coaches from down under, whom were linked with the position of Head Coach taking over.  Indeed there were some very exciting names linked like Robbie Deans, Tony Brown etc. But as the closed season stretched into the new season it became apparent that such an appointment wasn’t going to happen. So whether by design or accident we have Leo Cullen as our new Head Coach. He will be ably backed by the very welcome return of Kurt McQuilkin, by John Fogarty and initially anyhow Girvan Dempsey. It probably wasn’t the coaching ticket fans or the Leinster hierarchy had in mind in the immediate aftermath of O’Connor’s sacking but here we are.

    Maybe it is blind faith or wishful thinking but I just think we are in for a positive, all be it very difficult season. Cullen’s lack of coaching experience is a worry and as we know a significant number of the senior squad will be missing for large chunks of the season. So it’s going to be an incredibly difficult start forLeo and his team. However I have a good feeling for this new set up and the future for Leinster rugby.

    Whilst I don’t particularly like the way the mainstream media harp on about the new management knowing the ‘Leinster Way’ all of the coaches understand what is expected by the very demanding & vocal fan base given their long association with the province. They will have their ideas about how the team will play but will also be cognisant of the team’s history & style of play. I’m not naive enough to think that we will suddenly start to throw the ball around like the glob trotters and will start scoring tries for fun. But I do think to think that under the new coaching team and with the return of Sexton we will see a return to a more attacking style of play as opposed to the sterile, dour and unexciting play of last season. Certainly I take encouragement from what I’ve heard and read from Cullen in this regard.

    Alongside Cullen the hiring of McQuilkin was a very astute appointment. He was highly involved as defence coach when Leinster were transformed from a team of ‘Lady Boys’ to European Champions under  Michael Cheika who was then another rookie coach . So he knows exactly what is required to turn around the fortunes of the team. Then there is the return of not one but two prodigal sons with Sexton & Isa back in Blue. This should add an extra dimension to the team’s attacking ability which was sadly lacking last year. It will also greatly improve the on field leadership. Isa, who by all accounts looked extremely sharp last week against Ulster, will be very important for us when the Irish players are away which will be often this season.

    I’m also encouraged that it seems the progression of the younger players appears to be a priority for the management team. Certainly Cullen has indicated that these players are very important to how he sees Leinster developing under his tenure and he has had the players heavily involved with the senior squad in pre season. One of the reasons for this is out of necessity due to Ireland call ups but I genuinely feel this management team will be better disposed to developing and nurturing the talents of the likes of Ringrose, Ross Byrne, Leavy, Kelleher the Byrne brothers and the other very talented players on the fringes and in the academy structure. They will be the next generation of Leinster and hopefully Ireland players and they need to be brought along carefully. I’m very far from an expert on these matters but from what I’ve seen of these guys to date the talent is there for future success and it’s up to the management team (and the players themselves) to ensure these guys come through. I feel that they will get a better chance under the new regime to prove themselves. For me bar the odd exception MOC was reluctant for whatever reason to trust in his younger players. Girvan Dempsey has had a very important role in the careers of these players to date and it’s good to see that he is involved albeit on a short term basis in the new management set up. His presence can help ease the transition from academy / B&I player to senior squad member.

    The new management team will also be very used to the mechanisms of how the players are managed under IRFU protocols so this issue, whilst highly frustrating especially in a WC year, should cause less friction with the IRFU overlords. Even if there are problems it’s hard to see Cullen openly moaning to the press the way his predecessor did. I’m pretty sure all conversations in this regard would be kept in house and  I would imagine Cullen would also have a better working relationship with Schmidt albeit the dynamic will now be different.

    Another factor that gives me cause for optimism is the depth of the squad. Yes there will  be 15 or so players away with Ireland but even taking this into account the squad remains strong with a good mix of youth and experience. We will still be able to field the likes of Isa, McCarthy, McLaughlin, Ryan, Luke McGrath, Conan, McFadden, Darcy, Te’o, Reid & one or 2 more who might be left out by Ireland. Add to this list the previously mentioned very hungry younger players who now have a management team in place who I think has faith in them and I feel we will be very competitive in the early stages of the league. I’ve always enjoyed the 6 nations period when Ireland players have been away to see if any of the young / fringe players can make a name for themselves and the world cup period offers a real chance for guys to put their hands up and put pressure on the Irish contingent when they return. I’m looking forward to seeing just who can take their opportunity..

    It is widely acknowledged that Cullen was a great on field leader. However if the trials and tribulations of Martin Johnson in his time as England coach are anything to go by a great on field leader does not necessarily make for a great coach. At least as Head Coach he will be able to do things his way, put his structures in place and gather his own team around him. He will now be fully responsible for the way the team play strategy is employed etc as opposed to helping deliver another coach’s vision. It’s a steep learning curve having only given up playing 18 months ago. Will he be up to the task? I guess we will know soon enough. But as unscientific as it might sound my gut feeling is that he will be a success. The man has a track record of succeeding in his playing career and whilst this is a far more difficult task he is undertaking it is one I feel he is well capable of. There might be difficult time’s en-route but ultimately I think, and hope we will be judging Leo Cullen’s time in charge as a success.

    Make no mistake about it the season ahead is daunting given the generally  inexperienced coaching set up, the amount of players away with Ireland during both the WC and Six Nations. The Pro 12 last season was probably the most competitive yet and hopefully will continue to improve. The group we are in the European Cup with is incredibly difficult. It will be a baptism of fire for Leo’s Lions (sorry) but I for one am very much looking forward to the new season in a very positive frame of mind & with renewed optimism. Come on you boys in Blue.

    Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.


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