Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 HoR posts of 2015

HoR pro logo blue

This content-producing lark isn’t exactly an exact science.  If someobdy knows the formula that tells you what’s going to be popular and what’s going to receive tumbleweeds, they certainly haven’t shared it with us here at Harpin Manor.

We could spend ages carefully crafting a 2000-word writeup with rugby analysis, a theme, pop culture references and everything and it could only get a fraction of the hits a 9-second video of an Ulster fan smoking a cigarette after his team got a winning try.  But such is the blogging game, and that’s part of what makes it such an interesting one.

As it’s New Year’s Eve and all, we thought we’d share the ten posts you thought were the most clickable in 2015.  We’ll start you off with numbers 10 through 6 for now then count down the top five from 4pm until 9pm.

So without any further ado (assuming what I’ve done so far qualifies as “ado”) here we go…


#10

IRELAND-20 ARGENTINA-43 : “Blindsided”

If this count down was based on the toughest content to produce, this would definitely be number one.  We post our writups on Monday but as this particular match took place on the Sunday I seriously considered putting it off for an extra day as the emotions were still raw.  I’m glad I didn’t though.  No point in running a site about a sports team if you’re not willing to harp on the disappoinments as well as the successes.


#9

Leinster-8 Ulster-3 : “Snooze Button”

Saw a lot of online discontent after this match yet after all that had gone before in Europe, I took great heart in our defensive organization so I tried to bring people round to seeing the positives despite the low scoring.  Since it cracked the top 10 posts of the year, I guess it must have made something of an impression.


#8

Ireland now a world leader in wearable sports technology

We normally cross the street to avoid content with political undertones on the site but in this case we were honoured to be asked by Brian Hayes MEP to publish a guest post by himself on the GPS technology worn by the players.  We were genuinely interested to learn more about how those gizmos worked.


#7

80 words on Leinster's preseason by Big Joe Shep

Our new feature for 2015 was a format we call the “8-0-review”, a “mini-writeup” where you only have 80 words to describe what happened in 80 minutes.  One commenter on Facebook described as “Star length with broadsheet eyes”.   Big Joe Shep adapted it to describe Leinster’s pre-season and it turned out to be our most popular guest post of the year.


#6

Leinster-18 Bath-15 : "Missing The Points"

Leinster were a tad lucky to get past Bath in the Champions Cup quarterfinal at the Aviva, but the way BT Sport banged on about the penalty award at the end of the match pissed me off and I made that known in the piece.  Whether or not they read it, we’ll never know, but in the next episode of Rugby Tonight Brian O’Driscoll and Lawrence Dallaglio to their credit went back over the incident and seemed  to agree with my take on it.


#5

Judgement Day III - An Irish verdict

I had the nerve to offer an opinion on the goings on in Welsh rugby, and boy did I pay for it.  The twitterati from across the water came at me after this post on my thoughts over the concept of their “Judgement Day” occasion where all four regions take part in a double header of Pro12 matches at the national stadium.  How dare someone Irish say anything about Welsh rugby!  It’s not as though our fortunes are intertwined in any way, right?


#4

Ian Madigan & The Catch 22

Might be higher up the list if there were a few more days left in the year.  ICYMI the post only went up a few days ago after the news of Ian Madigan’s imminent departure for France broke.  He had us well chuffed here at Harpin Manor when he tweeted his own approval.


#3

Leo Cullen, Lengthy Contracts & Leinster Culture

I had intended to wait until the appointment was made official but so many online commentators were trying to say it would be a mistake on Steve Staunton levels that I couldn’t wait any longer to set the record straight.  Got a decent amount of positive feedback from a lot of Leinster fans.


#2

A statement from HoR on the 'Wayne Barnes Cheats' video

Any defeat to Wales is frustrating as is any match where you feel hard done by Wayne Barnes, so when the two happen at once, sparks can fly.  Yet someone went a tad too far by producing a YouTube video with cherry-picked hightlights that “proved” that Barnes was somehow cheating.  Given how some Welsh fans like to lump all Irish fans opinions into one box and people who dpn’t use social media do similar to those who do, we felt moved to comment.


#1

Time up! Time up!

Sure, there was a depressing result or two in the latter half of 2015 for both Leinster and Ireland.  But why should that be the most lasting memory of the year?  Maybe we can remember it for this instead.  As I say at the start of this post, not every piece of content needs a lengthy essay full of the latest rugby terminology.  Sometimes just a few words to go along with a video sent in by a reader can beat all the others for the most popular post of the year.  And this one did just that.


As always, many thanks to all who have read, liked, shared & commented on our posts throughout the year,  Special thanks to all guest contributors like Big Joe Shep, Ciarán Duffy, Emma McGarry & Kristian Ross.

Enjoy yourselves tonight and have a great 2016!!! JLP

8-0 Review of 2015 (And then a Few More Words)

By Ciarán Duffy

Still not sure if its White and Gold or Blue and Black?

Ciaran Duffy logo

Grandslam?  No?  Right get out the Calculator again.  Heaslips tackle.  Eh Christopher?!?  Kick it out!!!!!!  Habanas interception of dejection.  In Leo we trust.  Just the two scrumhalves?  Japan!!!!!!!!!!!  Thank you Kevin.  Just blame it on Burgess then?  Thank you Paul.  Savea refuses to acknowledge the French defence.  We all need to learn how to offload.  Thank you Felix.  All Blacks from a different planet.  Connacht are great aren’t they.  Never forget Lomu.  Don’t worry about Europe sure we beat Munster. 


Is that all?  80 words to sum up a pretty eventful year of rugby, that wouldn’t even cover the last day of the 6 Nations.  2015 was unforgettable as far as rugby goes, legends retiring, the best World Cup of all time, and a lot of changes throughout the provinces (managerial, ‘transitional’, and the incredible shot in the arm Connacht got).  Cheikas Australia took it to the All Blacks, and managed to beat them to the Rugby Championship but New Zealand took the spoils on the biggest stage.  We had the biggest shock of all time with Japan beating the Springboks, and beating them by playing some world class rugby.  Georgia forced their way into a discussion about the Six Nations after several gutsy showings at the World Cup.  We saw Wales come through the group of death at the expense of the hosts despite  having about 6 players fit at the end of it.  As for Ireland, after proving they were the best in the Northern Hemisphere, and putting in the mother and father of second half performances against France, they were met with a Puma side that had improved immensely.  2015 was the year when we learned that there is no replacement for playing quality opposition, and a versatile game plan is needed. 

We said goodbye to some legends.  Some greats played their final international test, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Jean De Villiers, Victor Matfield to name a few.  Unfortunately we said goodbye to one legend for good.  The impact Jonah Lomu had on rugby will never be forgotten, and through the game he lives on.  From an Irish point of view, we saw Paul O’Connells Ireland career end a few games too early, as well as Felix Jones and Kevin McLaughlin being forced to retire.  Losses like these remind us to enjoy watching the great players we have while we have them. 

As for 2016, there’s uncertainty ahead for the provinces.  Can Connacht keep it up?  Can Ulster progress in Europe?  Can Munster recover?  And are Leinster going to get back to the glory days?  As Sexton returned Madigan is set to depart, and although that is the absolute right move for him, it does raise questions of whether we’ll see more Irish players go the way of Madigan and JJ Hanrahan.  It’s going to be some year for the national team as well.  Legends have to be replaced, game plans have to be reviewed, and new faces are forcing themselves into the picture, all while trying to achieve what would be an incredible 3rd Six Nations title in a row.  A new era, a new four-year cycle, Joes the man to get us on the right track. 

To finish off, I want to thank everyone involved in Harpin on Rugby.  It’s extremely easy to write about rugby when everyone else is equally as passionate about it.  On top of that, thanks to everyone who reads and interacts with the content, wouldn’t be any point Harpin on if ye weren’t paying attention. 

One final plug of the year, remember to like Post to Post on MarsFM on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Post-to-Post-on-Mars-FM-1657605334517271/). 

We’ll be back on early in the year 

Happy New Year, see ye in 2016.

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 – New Year’s Eve 2015

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
 
Later today we’ll be counting down
the top posts here on HoR throughout 2015
 
 

…the disciplinary chiefs decided that they would revert to their attempt to charge the Irish international with 'striking' - the very charge which they already confirmed could "not be proven"
 
 
David Kelly - Irish Independent

"I would like to see him in the squad," said Keith of a player he has that something "special".
 
 
Raf Diallo - Newstalk's Off The Ball

Just a word of warning: many All Blacks feature.
 
 
Will Slattery - The42.ie

“Obviously, it has been a tough few weeks because we haven’t executed on the pitch. It is about us accepting that responsibility as players and trying to correct it.”
 
 
John Fallon - Irish Times

(The) attempt for Exeter didn’t quite go to plan after the wind took hold of the ball as it headed between the sticks…
 
 
InTheLoose.com

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Front Five – 30.12.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
 
 
 

The comparisons to Sexton are obvious; he is a supreme goal-kicker, can take the ball to the line at risk of physical punishment in a quest to find runners to break open holes in opposing defences and he is unerringly accurate with his touch-finders.
 
 
David Kelly - Irish Independent

“There is a possibility of maybe the Scarlets game but it may be the Challenge Cup. Obviously you don’t want to take any risks until that’s firmly healed."
 
 
Kevin McGillicuddy - SportJOE.ie

“Les has come in and has made a difference, especially in respect of mental toughness."
 
 
Richard Mulligan - Belfast Newsletter

"The only game that I really struggled with was probably the Argentinian game...that’s that one game where you felt, ‘God, I could have been in there’."
 
 
John Fallon - Irish Times

The former Ulster centre is thought to be a long way off an international call-up, but if he keeps on scoring tries like these, Joe Schmidt and Co. may be forced to take note.
 
 
Brian Barry - Pundit Arena

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ian Madigan & The Catch 22

Ian Madigan

logo post blueThe date was September 11, 2010.  Leinster defeated the Cardiff Blues 34-23 at the RDS Arena.  Isa Nacewa was on exhilarating form that day and took home the Man of the Match award, but also catching the eye was a young outhalf named Ian Madigan.

From my seat in the Grandstand I had a perfect view of his first try in senior rugby and as you can see from the video, it was quite an impressive one.  You had to admire the way the youngster backed himself to throw such a step at that stage of the game, when the visitors had fought back from an early deficit to get within touching distance and we had gone a long period without looking like troubling the scorers again.

 

But this was only the second match in the reign of a certain Mr Joe Schmidt at Leinster.  The bonus point win was of course welcome to the RDS faithful, but we were still a bit concerned about how the lads were adapting to a new style of offloading, and when we went on to lose the next two on the bounce to make it just one win from our opening four, that concern naturally grew.

As we all know now, the Schmidt era really took off in earnest when BOD touched down in the closing stages against Munster at the Aviva - but then Isa was our starting number 10 with Johnny Sexton returning from injury on the bench.

By the end of the season however, Madigan had kept in touch with the Leinster matchday squad, and on that monumental day in Cardiff, he wore the number 22 jersey as Sexton led our almighty second half charge to victory over the Northampton Saints.

12 months later, the venue and the opposition were different but it was still Leinster triumphant in the final of Europe’s biggest competition, and once more Madigan wore the number 22.

2013 we did the seemingly unthinkable, failing to get out of our European pool.  But we did get a reprieve of sorts in dropping down into what was then called the Amlin Cup, and at the quarterfinal stage Madigan got to wear his favoured 10 jumper as Leinster blew away Wasps away from home to reach the semifinals.

However, when it came to the final, which was actually in the RDS, while he avoided the number 22 this time around, he had to make do with 12 as Sexton was back to play outhalf, and it was the same a week later back at the same venue as we defeated the Ulstermen to finish off a unique treble of trophies.

That success signalled the end for both Schmidt and (for a couple of years anyway) Sexton at Leinster.  It seemed the time was right for Madigan to step up and lead the line for us as it always appeared he would.

Skip ahead to the last day of May 2014.  Leinster retain their Pro12 crown, but what jersey is Madigan wearing?  22. 

And with Schmidt now heading the Irish coaching set up, despite Ian’s failure to nail down a regular starting role at Leinster as outhalf, he features heavily in Ireland’s matchday squads throughout the victorious 2014 & 2015 Six Nations campaigns.  What jersey number is he wearing against France and Scotland respectively in those decisive final matches?  Do I need to give the answer?

Finally, we have the most ironic fact of this whole bit I’m doing here.  In Ireland’s final test match before his new contract is up for negotiation, Madigan actually gets to wear that 10 jumper for his country, although the circumstances are far, far from ideal. 

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever considered pinning what happened against Argentina on him, but the reason I bring it up is that it signifies what incredible bad luck he has had over the years in the high-profile matches for both province and country.

There isn’t a single serious Leinster supporter who isn’t fully aware of the tremendous skill set at Madigan’s disposal...the consistent place kicking, the tough tackling, the speeding bullet of a miss pass, and we have all seen him display these in spades on numerous occasions.

If we must apportion “blame” for his decision to leave these shores, I don’t believe we can dump it all in one place, but you certainly can’t put any before the man himself. 

It’s not his fault he arrived at senior level just when Johnny Sexton was reaching the peak of his powers.  It’s not his fault he got injured at unfortunate times.  It’s not his fault Joe Schmidt’s long-term plans with Leinster were curtailed, and that his successor was of a mind to give priority to a different style of out half. 

And it is certainly not his fault that the ridiculous nature of the European rugby calendar is such that contract negotiations have to take place slap bang in the middle of the season meaning dozens of players across the continent have to see out a campaign with everyone knowing their future lies elsewhere.

But one thing is an absolute certainty.  Ian “Mad-Dog” Madigan is a Leinster man through and through, and will always be considered as such.  I don’t say that because he is a fellow “Rock boy” either.  The province has worked hard over the years to grow its image as a “12 County Army”, and with stars like Darce, Shaggy, the Kearneys and Sean O’Brien we have seen that quality players can be drawn from all over. 

What that proves most of all is that it’s your talent and attitude that make you a Leinster player, not where you come from nor where you went to school.  And you haven’t heard Ian Madigan complain about his lot at the province over the years despite the misfortune.  When he’s been injured, he has worked hard to come back.  When asked to play 12, he gave everything.  When asked to play 15, he gave everything.  And even on all those massive occasions when asked to wear 22, he most certainly gave everything.

He has earned the right to go where he feels his rugby career will progress the most.  If he feels Bordeaux is that place,  he certainly won’t get anything from me but my full support.  They seem to be an ambitious club in what is already a remarkably competitive league. 

All we can hope for is that he gets the opportunity to take full advantage of his new surroundings, and if he is putting in the quality displays, that he gets the proper recognition when Ireland squads are named. 

Posts similar to this one could have been written about JJ Hanrahan this time last year.  They could soon be written about Simon Zebo or Robbie Henshaw.  We all want our local heroes to play for our local teams, but we also must retain an acceptance of the realities of the modern professional game.

For now, I just have to say best wishes to Ian for the future; it must be a relief that it is all sorted and out in the open.  What say the boys in blue give him the perfect send off in May. JLP

#ThanksMads  #COYBIB

Front Five – 29.01.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
 
 
Later today on HarpinOnRugby…
our own thoughts on the Ian Madigan departure
 
 

"Bordeaux are getting...a guy who likes fast-running rugby, he'll play what he sees"
 
 
BrianODriscoll.com

Leinster won’t make it easy for Ringrose. It’s not their way.
 
 
Gavin Cummiskey – Irish Times

"...there were broader things that we were interested in that led to a performance (v Argentina), or a lack of performance, and that’s where we really started to drill down across all areas over a wider period of time."
 
 
Murray Kinsella - The42.ie

"Rory has come through the Academy and through the Irish underage system as well and he is a talented player and is aggressive and abrasive as well and can also play with the ball in his hand"
 
 
Cian Tracey - Irish Independent

"If he screams at me, I'll send him off"
 
 
Rugby Onslaught

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

Munster-7 Leinster-24

d to the fore

D TO THE FORE

logo post blueWe get an early lead, against a multiple European champion wearing red, only for it to be clawed back before halftime.   Though our defence is as strong as it has ever been, it’s approaching 40 minutes since our last score. 

I didn’t see anyone else mention it on social media at the time but I can’t have been the only Leinster supporter who was thinking that recent history was repeating itself. 

Scoreless second half periods have become the order of the day recently for us and with Munster just three points behind, while they were finding it just as hard to score themselves, much like last week at the Aviva they were enjoying a scary amount of possession and territory and it didn’t seem long before our early 10-point cushion was going to disappear.

What we needed, and both yesterday and in every similar situation before, was the composure to get ourselves into the opposition 22 and come away with points.  And in the 52nd minute after Isa Nacewa tackled Tomas O’Leary forcing a knock on, we had a few phases before the scrum advantage was called over and it was imperative that we made something of this possession.

Full disclosure...I thought a pass from Ian Madigan to Dominic Ryan on the 10th phase of the series may have been a tad forward.  That said there were a couple of Munster passes at other times that went a similar way without being called.  The fact remains, we kept going through the phases, not aimlessly as we have in the past, but with a view to opening up and exploiting space.

And right after that suspect pass Madigan looked up and saw Isa free on the opposite wing, finding him with an inch-perfect crossfield kick.  As he was tackled after the catch I couldn’t help thinking that three years ago he’d have been able to finish.  Then as the phases continued I thought surely one of our lads is going to knockon...Tom Denton took one of the carries and he was on a hat trick in this category. 

But on we rolled right to the Munster line and on phase number 15 of the sequence since that original tackle, Jack McGrath reaches out and gets the ball down.  My mind almost goes blank.  We’ve scored! A try! In the second half! We look like we’re actually going to win this now!

Terrible I know, but such has been my mindset in recent weeks, but in my defence it was only based on fact.  It was up to Leinster to prove me wrong and in that sequence they not only did that but they won this match.

The foundation for such a win was there, thanks to our defence, which somehow seemed to find another level of invincibility this week.  And to show just how deceiving tackle numbers can be, just over a year before on the very same ground, we made 195 tackles on the way to losing 13-28.  This time we made “just” the 175 and all but reversed the scoreline.

Where the difference lies is in the behaviour of the players around the tackler.  The decision of what your role in the next phase is one that needs to be made in a nano second and since the return of Kurt McQuilkin the fifteen-headed blue monster has become ominously close to the force it once was.

Central to any defensive strategy of course is your number 7, and ours deservedly won man of the match.  Of course it was great to see Sean O’Brien not only back on the pitch but performing at his best (though he was caught in possession a couple of times in the first half) but I think we need to take one very important element into consideration … nothing motivates you more than knowing there’s someone more than capable on the bench if you don’t perform and I reckon Sean has Josh van der Flier to thank for his gong as much as anything else.

Others with high tackle counts were Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald but as I say, the credit has to go to the collective group for keeping the home side down to just the 7 points.

And this brings me to a different question...was it just our D which kept Munster at bay or were they simply not good enough?  Tricky one.  They certainly have had things as tough this season as we have, but going on yesterday’s evidence their biggest problem seems to be at the number 10 position.

I have seen comments about the place (from their own fans as well as others) that they were “awful” and other such extremes, but I disagree.  Perhaps they should have gone for three points early in the second half to bring the scores level rather than kick for the corner but this wasn’t top of their list of concerns IMO.

Losing Murray just before kickoff compounded the holes left in the backrow by injuries to O’Mahony and O’Donnell (who returned last night I know but only off the bench).   And there were some excellent performances on the night from the likes of Stander, Zebo, Conway, Scannell, Earls, Saili and Kilcoyne.  They just need someone knitting it all together.

There is no doubt that recent events have left Anthony Foley with a lot of thinking to do.  Does he give the Bleyendaal more time to get up to speed with European rugby?  Not the worst idea given he has had such little game time.  Does he try Rory Scannell?  Missed a shocker of a place kick on the night but played a good enough role as second five-eighth to suggest he could handle the move to 10.  Or does he give Keatley a chance to redeem himself?  Leinster fans will remember he played a role in our downfall just a year ago.

One thing I do know even though I don’t harp on Munster often...there is no point bemoaning the loss of JJ Hanrahan.  It’s a reality of the European game that deals are negotiated in November/December and once those decisions are made, there’s not much that can be done and dwelling on them makes no sense to me.

(Update – the above paragraph was written partly with Ian Madigan’s future in mind…as it turned out the news of his move to Bordeaux broke less than half an hour after this article posted!  We’ll do a post about the move during the week.)

And this brings me nicely back to Leinster’s side of things.  Another decision that has been made mid-season is Ben Te’o’s departure to Worcester at the end of the season.  I was pretty sure he was going somewhere, if not precisely there.  So the question for us was...do we have someone ready to take his place?  Er, yeah!  Mr Garry Ringrose.

This was his first 80-minute stint as Leinster’s outside centre, and what a place to have it.  And the game was just a few minutes old before he showed us all exactly what he can do.

We had just thwarted a 12-phase bout of Munster possession as a bear hug tackle from Jamie Heaslip and a Dominic Ryan steal gave us the ball.  It was great to see our priority was to get it into the wider channels, especially as the home side had much of their front five out there at that moment for the offensive series.

A perfectly timed pass from Sean O’Brien to Ringrose gave him a lot of space it’s true, but he still had to use it.  The young lad has been in a couple of similar situations this season only for technical issues like holding the ball in the wrong arm to stop him making the most of it.

This time, regardless of the importance of the match, regardless of who else has worn the blue 13 jumper before him, regardless of his youth...he knew exactly what to do, taking every inch out of the green grass and mismatches ahead of him before shipping it to his skipper for the opening score of the game.

Ringrose didn’t exactly stand out for the rest of the contest but he was there making his tackles, he was involved in the clearing out, he was fist-pumping with the rest of them for turnovers and other positive outcomes...to put it another way, he looks very much like he belongs, and commentators much more qualified than I reckon he could belong at test level as well.

From Isa’s try we had that barren spell I mentioned at the start, and while we managed to find a way out of it, we can’t afford to ignore this area.  The standards surrounding our offence must be brought to match our D otherwise we won’t get the results on a regular basis.

Tom Denton’s place in the Leinster pecking order going into this Christmas period was correct in my view.  Didn’t get off to the best of starts with us when he arrived from Leeds but he was very impressive with the A side last season so deserved a shot when the likes of Triggs and Mick Kearney were ruled out.

That said, when you get a shot it’s up to you to take it and he was guilty of a couple of no-nos against Toulon and then we had a couple of simple dropped passes in the first half in Thomond, the second of which came right before the break giving everyone time to dwell on it.  Eventually he was replaced by young Ross Molony who went on to be a demon at the lineout without getting so much as a positive nod from the Sky commentary team.  Methinks it’s time for Ross to have his own shot.

Luckily the Marty Moore/Eoin Reddan tackle incident didn’t cost too much because I certainly didn’t see anything in it.  Wasn’t even a penalty the way I saw it – two players going for the tackle saw Conway do a flip but it definitely wasn’t an incident that could slot into any of the protocols for things like tip- no-arms-tackles.

Right at the death we had an interception try from Zane Kirchner which put a gloss on the score that probably didn't reflect how the previous eighty minutes had gone.  But hey...this has been done to us often enough for us to know we were due a slice of luck ourselves.  Can’t blame Munster for going for at least a losing bonus point but unfortunately for them our D was as strong at the end as it had been at the start and they had to force their passes.

So all in all a great way to end what has definitely been an up and down year for Leinster & Ireland rugby.  We many be out of Europe but we are most certainly well poised in the Pro12, and despite all the talk of crisis at the province there is plenty of evidence to suggest we can improve our European seeding and dare I say even challenge for the title itself.

Happy New Year to all HarpinOnRugby readers, here’s to plenty of success for me to harp on in 2016.  JLP

Toulouse end the year on top

By Ciarán Duffy

Ciaran Duffy logo

A round-up of where the money is

For the last two weeks Toulon outmuscled Leinster to keep themselves in Europe.  For the last week two weeks, Toulouse weren’t able to keep up with Ulster, being second best over the course of both games.  This is however the French league, and so the formbook has to be disregarded. 

Gael Fickou opened the scoring, intercepting a loose pass thrown by Ma’a Nonu.  It had been a back and forth opening ten minutes, Nonus uncharacteristic error handed the initiative to Toulouse, and that would be the difference in a tight first half.  Sebastien Bezy converted having missed an earlier penalty.  The game remained tight for the first 40, Tom Taylor slotted a 15 minute penalty to get Toulon on the board, 6 minutes later Bezy restored his sides 7 point lead. 

The game was marred by some bizarre refereeing decisions.  Both Mamuka Gorgodze and Thierry Dusautoir were sin binned in the first half, without prior warning or repeated infringement.  Dusautoirs yellow card was a clear case of the referee feeling the need to level the playing field after making a big decision against one team early on.  Really, neither should have left the field. 

Toulon should have gone in level, Tom Taylor missed two very kickable penalties.  Halftime Toulouse were deservedly 10-3 up. 

Maxime Medard got the second try for Toulouse, but credit has to go to Florian Fritz.  The centre turned on the style to create the opportunity for Medard to touch down.

It was unfortunately a double blow for Toulon.  Duane Vermeulen, who managed to make it to the World Cup despite having had neck surgery in July, suffered another injury.  He took a knock to the head while attempting to stop Medards try.  He was stretchered off and replaced by Juan Smith, hopefully it was not as serious as it looked.  Bezy converted and Toulon were 14 points behind. 

Toulon needed points and they had a ten-minute spell on top.  Toulouse were lucky not to see someone go to the bin for the amount of penalties they were giving away.  Eventually Toulon got the try to get them back in the game. The momentum they had got from James O’Connors score was compromised by Tom Taylors failure to convert, it was still a two score game. 

Just four minutes later Toulouse ended the game as a contest.  Yacouba Camara finished beautifully, storming through the defence.  He was close to the touch line but managed to get the ball down, while at the same time putting himself in the conversation for the French Six Nations squad.  Bezys conversion made it 24-8.  Toulouse wrapped up the bonus point with 5 minutes to go after being awarded a penalty try.  It finished Toulouse 31 – 8 Toulon. 

Toulouse replace Clermont Auvergne at the summit of the top 14.  Clermont went down 20 points to 16 at the hands of Racing 92, it was Racings first win away to Clermont since 1994. 

Next weekend Toulouse face last seasons champions Stade Français.  Stade Français continue their abysmal form, 7 defeats in a row now after losing to fellow relegation candidates Oyonnax.  Stade are becoming increasingly at risk of losing their top flight status in addition to their top 14 title, they’re going to need a result at home to Toulouse on the weekend to keep up any lingering hope they may have of qualifying for the Champions Cup next season. 

Oyannax will travel to Bernard Jackmans Grenoble, who went down 25 – 19 at Bordeaux Begles, keeping their relegation concerns alive and making this tie all the more important. 

Toulon take on the other team in this relegation dog fight.  They’ll host Pau, there’s a potential huge midfield battle in this one, with the possibility of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu coming up against each other.  Pau got a much needed win, beating La Rochelle 15 – 11.  Keep an eye on Pau over the course of the next few weeks, with Simon Zebo being heavily linked with the Top 14 strugglers.

Racing will look to build on their win.  Having gone level on points with Clermont they’ll face high flyers Bordeaux-Begles.  Bordeaux are currently in 5th place, well on their way to ensuring Ian Madigan will still be playing Champions Cup rugby next season.  Clermont will look to regain their momentum when they travel to bottom side Agen.  Agen were beaten 45 – 20 a Montpellier. 

The other two games are all about a quarter final spot.  Montpellier lie sixth at the moment and will take on Connachts Challenge Cup opponents Brive.  Brive remain 7th despite a 23 – 8 loss to Castres. Castres face La Rochelle, who need the win to stay in contention for the play offs, and out of the relegation battle.   

Despite their European form suggesting otherwise, Toulouse go in to 2016 in pole position of the Top 14, with Toulon remaining 4th behind Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92.  Inconsistencies like this can be expected from French teams like Toulouse, but Toulon aren’t exactly a French team are they, more a world team that are based in France.  The second half of the season is shaping up nicely with more twists sure to come.  

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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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Online comments after Munster v Leinster

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


Couldn't help but think about Keatley's intercept last season in the aviva. One word: Revenge.

Cian Ormond



A massively better performance than we've seen in the last number of weeks. World Cup hangover starting to ease it seems. Defending was excellent the whole game and in particular in the second half. Ringrose had a great match and looked like himself and Luke were a good 12/13 partnership. Early days on that one, but I'd go with that for the next number of games to let it gel... After the dodgy start, now third in the table. Not a bad way to end the calendar year and always a nice day when you beat Munster in Thomond Smile

Damian Scott



Well done Leinster .. by far the better team .. Munster are clueless but does not detract from your win...it seems anyone can beat Munster ... our season is over .. just awful ..

Thomondpark Mahon



Great game the young guns really showed they deserve their place in the team

Angela Cassin Jackson



Heaslip my MOTM. Whenever we needed a big turnover he was there making it happen.

When Munster started to get the nudge on in the scrum he was there ensuring we held on to it. He got through so much work.

Tracy and Molony both looked good off the bench. Fitz and Ringrose in the centre looked dangerous. Seanie is back.

A word of caution though, we can't afford teams so much possession and territory. Munster struggled to do anything with it but better teams will hurt us, even with a good defence like we have.

John Molloy



Brilliant finish for Leinster!!! #Proud

Davinia Murray



Lot of problems Munster have! Poor recruitment combine that with our best 10 Hanrahan being pushed out! We have 2 coaches who are both novices (Flannery, Mick O Driscoll) who have never held coaching positions before backing up our only experienced coach Foley! We have serious issues in how we recruit, select and train our underage talent using a system that is grossly inferior to Leinster, Ulster and Connacht's! Our Chairman Garret Fitzgerald needs to address these issues! The Munster supporters are beginning to boo he is taking our loyalty for granted! We will always support Munster but we might not always support HIM!!!! expect more boos until these issues are dealt with! Having said that Leinster were worthy winners and played much better than previously so congrats to them

Darren Whitty



Great impact by Moloney off the bench with two crucial line out steals. He's definitely ahead of Denton in my pecking order!!!!

Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh



Many thanks to all who offered opinions.

Look out later today for our match writeup JLP

Run off your Christmas stuffing at Suttonians RFC

suttonians

Hoping to see everyone at Fat Turkey run / walk today 28th December

Race registration in Suttonians RFC from 10:00 and the race starts at Sutton Church @12:00

If you haven't registered don't worry come along, register on the day and run / walk.

Facepainters for kids U18s Match at 1:30 v Tullamore RFC Golden Oldies Match at 3pm v Coolmine / Ratoath RFC Music by Smalltalk at 3pm

Front Five - 28.12.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Later today on HarpinOnRugby...
our Munster v Leinster writeup 
is titled "D To The Fore"



___________________________________

Leo Cullen tried to temper expectations surrounding Garry Ringrose after Brian O'Driscoll called for the young centre to be thrown into the Ireland side

Brian O'Driscoll urges Ireland to pick Ringrose for Six Nations opener

Cian Tracey - Irish Independent
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...for all the home side’s dominance it was the men in Blue who deserved a victory that leapfrogs them over their rivals into the Guinness Pro12 top four.

Another night of the blues for ragged Munster

Simon Lewis - Irish Examiner
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I can think of no other game that is changing with such rapidity and yet... and yet...some things remain steadfastly unaltered, like Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar, impervious to wind, weather and time itself.

Setpiece excellence gives Edinburgh advantage in 1872 Cup


Iain Morrison - The Scotsman
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It was a night to forget for Toulon's World Cup winner Ma'a Nonu, whose intercepted pass allowed Gael Fickou to score the first try after just 13 minutes.

Toulouse down Toulon to go top

Rugby365 (via AFP)
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In Ulster alone - Sam Arnold, Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, and Jared Payne are all international class - but McCloskey could be the best of them all.

8 Players That Will Prove That 2016 Will Be A Bright Year For Irish Rugby

Conor O'Leary - Balls.ie
___________________________________
Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by emailTwitter,FacebookGoogle+, 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, December 27, 2015

Wasps 16-26 Saracens (8-0-review)


It was a 9-9 defensive kickfest for three quarters before a neat backline move off a scrum saw Duncan Taylor break through for the game’s first try. Farrell got the second after unbeaten Sarries were quickest to react after a lucky ricochet - that ended the contest, though Halai got a late consolation. The right team won, though on this evidence I’m not so sure either would trouble Clermont or Toulon in knockout rugby to end the Premiership’s long Euro drought.
JLP
***
Fancy penning an 8-0-review for HarpinOnRugby?  
Let us know at paganoblog@gmail.com

Preview : Munster v Leinster


***UPDATE : Late changes for Munster....Ryan for Botha (illness), O'Leary for Murray (hip) & RScannell starts 12 with Hurley switching to bench. Williams & Sagario added to squad ***

LEINSTER matchday 23 v Munster : 15. Zane Kirchner 14. Fergus McFadden 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Luke Fitzgerald 11. Isa Nacewa (c) 10. Ian Madigan 9. Eoin Reddan
1. Jack McGrath 2. Sean Cronin 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Devin Toner 5. Tom Denton 6. Dominic Ryan 7. Sean O’Brien 8. Jamie Heaslip
Bench : 16. James Tracy 17. Cian Healy 18. Marty Moore 19. Ross Molony 20. Josh van der Flier 21. Nick McCarthy 22. Cathal Marsh 23. Dave Kearney

If you were to believe the prevailing narrative at the negative end of internet opinion there would be no point in this match taking place at all.  

Both Munster and Leinster are in crisis, their players are under-performing and need a break, their coaches are clueless, they have no hope of ever winning Europe any more because they haven’t the money, and the fans don’t care enough to even bother going.

Why not just call it off today due to lack of interest?  Chalk it up on the Pro12 table as a 0-0 draw and give everyone some extra time to get over the holiday excesses.

You can tell I’m being sarcastic, right?

Never mind the fact that this match is 4th v 5th where the winner will go into 3rd within touching distance of the top two, both of whom lost yesterday.  Never mind the fact this is one of the biggest rivalries in Irish sport.  Never mind the fact that the Six Nations is around the corner and there are places up for grabs.

And even without all of that, for Leinster fans you have the prospect of watching Garry Ringrose play 80 minutes at senior level in the position he was always meant to play, with tons of experience all around him in the back line.  For Munster fans, you have the prospect of watching Anyone Other Than Ian Keatley run the offence (a bit cruel on the lad but he most definitely DOES need the break).

Most of all, there’s a fascinating back row battle in store : Copeland, O’Donoghue & Stander v Ryan, O’Brien & Heaslip ...they have had varying fortunes with form & injury of late but if they can peak today it will be some tussle...and as if that isn’t enough there’s the up and coming van der Flier and the fit-again O’Donnell ready to join the fray.

For me this match will be decided by set pieces.  I’ll be surprised if one team dominates the other in this area but I won’t be if the winner is the one who makes the most hay out of mistakes.

Bookies have the home side by five.  Despite the fact they have been eerily accurate this season, I got pair of maximum-strength blue goggles in my Christmas stocking so I’m flipping that and saying we’ll win by 4-6 pts, with a controversial decision we’ll be debating ad nauseum thrown in for good measure.

Either way, as always, here’s to a top notch sporting occasion with particular emphasis on the word “sporting”.  JLP

#COYBIB

MUNSTER : Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Donnacha Ryan; Robin Copeland, Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander Capt.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell, Tomás O'Leary, Rory Scannell, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Guinness Pro12 2015/16 Pool 5 Round 10
Sunday, December 27, 2015
At Thomond Park, 5.15pm. Live on Sky Sports and TG4 & RTE Radio
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 36th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)


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