Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thoughts on bonus points for the Six Nations


Opinion seems divided across the ruggersphere about today's announcement from the Six Nations "alickadoos" that they will be introducing "bonus points" to the tournament for the 2017 version of the age old competition.

Here are a few random thoughts as the news sinks in...

  • I'm very, very surprised that they have made the change so close to the kickoff of a tournament.  I wouldn't have batted an eyelid if they instead said it wouldn't come into effect until 2018.
  • Overall, I reckon it's a good idea - not in that it will definitely "work", but since it has been mooted and debated for so long at least now we are going to give it a go.  Sure we've seen the method used in other competitions but this is a unique one.  Effectively Six Nations fans are going to be like kids trying broccoli for the first time and it will be hard to tell if it's good for them going by the taste.
  • Many are making arguments about perceived unfairness because of the competition's uneven home and away schedule each year.  I do take that point, but as things stood, with points difference being the primary tiebreaker, that was still the case.  Rugby is built on the fact that it is "perfectly imperfect" - a ball can be dropped several times in the same spot with different results, yet we still play through that unfairness as well as many others.
  • I reckon the swaying factor for Six Nations Ltd was the desire to have eyeballs on the TV screens for all 80 minutes of matches.  The bonus point is normally a "thing" for the final quarter, for when a team has a decent lead but with only two or three tries in or when a team is around 14 points behind.  Many fans would switch off in those cases when it looked like there was nothing to play for.
  • For my taste, I'd prefer the try bonus system used in France and (now) Super Rugby where instead of having to score 4 or more tries, you need to get at least 3 more than your opposition.
  • When it comes to Six Nations reform, I'd be more in favour of moving the competition in the calendar and/or finding a path for Tier Two countries like Georgia and Romania to have a chance at top level competition.  This move has the feel of "well we won't do any of that, but look - at least we're willing to do something different!" about it.
  • That said, at least they're willing to do something different. 
Let's see how it goes, shall we.  If nothing else it will add an extra layer to the public debate when the 2017 tournament rolls around...  

"See?  That match wouldn't have been as exciting without bonus points!"

or 

"See?  If they were away to Italy instead of at home they wouldn't have gotten that fourth try!"

I'm pretty sure everyone will find something to prove themselves right! ;-)  JLP

Canterbury calling for Leinster’s best storytellers

from Canterbury


You were there in the early days. Born into the blue of the jersey, a badge, an identity and a family. You’ve shared the epic highs and shouldered the agonising lows and felt the hits as if you were on the pitch. Leinster supporters are the life blood of the team and Canterbury, official apparel supplier to Leinster Rugby, want to capture the highs, the lows, the passion and the pain and what it means to be a true Leinster supporter.

Whether it’s reliving an encounter with a Leinster legend, first setting eyes on your partner in the Anglesea Stand or pulling on the jersey for a full moon party in Thailand, the best Leinster story will win a one-of-a-kind chair delivered straight to their living room and a behind the scenes tour on match day. The custom built chair is inspired by the Canterbury ‘Uglies’ collection, fabricated from cuttings of the Leinster Home, Away and European match jerseys making it a coveted collector’s item for any Leinster Rugby fan.

Jump into the custom built hot seat and share your Leinster tale at Aviva Stadium on match day on December 17 when Leinster clash with the Northampton Saints. There will be further opportunities to tell your tale at the RDS Arena at Leinster v Ulster on December 31 and Leinster v Montpellier on the weekend of January 14.

Stay tuned to @CanterburyNZ and @LeinsterRugby to relive these tales on social media.

Scarlets-38 Leinster-29

by Ciarán Duffy



Leinster fell off the top of the table with Scarlets moving into the top 4.  In truth Scarlets ran away with the game, with only a brief glimmer of a comeback.  A bonus point provides a silver lining, and it was a learning curve for some young guns.  It also brought some of the new internationals crashing back down to earth.  Now this match was on some strange variation of BBC which I don’t understand and find terrifying, so this review is going to be based on highlights.  

Possession was fairly even, as was territory, which suggests Scarlets just used the ball better when they had it.  The tries suggest the same.  Still they conceded 18 turnovers, and seemed to drop considerably for the last 30 minutes.  If this was a full-strength side, that could have proven to be costly for Scarlets.  However, the lead the Welsh side built in the first 50 minutes was more than enough to win them the game.  

Johnny McNicholl (who it seems will be a massive player this season) scored the opening try 7 minutes in to his Scarlets career.  It was hardly a beauty, as the ball bounced out of the hands of Richardt Strauss, McNicholl had a free run in under the posts.  Patchell converted it, Scarlets were 7 – 0 up.  The second Scarlets try came from a lineout maul.  Leinster were a forward down after Mike McCarthy had been sin binned, Kruger touched down.  Patchell once again added the extras.  Nacewa got Leinster up and running on the 26th minute with a penalty but Scarlets would hit back.  Leinster were still down to 14, and with the Welsh side camped on their line, Evans crossed over despite the efforts of Isa and Strauss, the lead was 21 – 3.  Leinster would have the last say of the half, Dominic Ryan and Noel Reid both made ground, Richardt Strauss and Adam Byrne traded passes, with Strauss touching down.  He couldn’t get in under the posts and the try was not converted.   At halftime, Scarlets were in front 21 – 8.

The second half began with Leinsters hopes of a comeback being shot down, winger Barry Daly received a red card.  Straight from the restart he took out Aled Thomas in the air who landed badly, hardly intentional but a red card nonetheless.  Scarlets made the most out of their extra man immediately.  McNicholl got an offload away to Steff Evans, he linked up with Aled Thomas, who had Will Boyde outside him.  Patchell converted it, Scarlets had a bonus point and a 20-point lead.  Ryan Elias would touch down for Scarlets 5th, another strong drive toward the line from the pack.  Once again Patchell was on hand to convert.  Leinster would respond immediately.  It seemed to be a lack of concentration from Scarlets after having just scored, Adam Byrne ran a good line ducking a soft enough tackle to get his 5th of the season.  Nacewa converted, the score was 35 – 15.  Tom Daly just about caught up with a grubber kick to cut the deficit to 11 points.  He either touched the ball down with his chest, forearm, or elbow, either way Nacewa converted to make the scores 35 – 22.  I can only assume the next 10 minutes were relatively uneventful, with nothing to show from them in the highlights.  One thing of note is that Oisin Heffernan came on for his debut in place of Michael Bent.  Don Jones kicked a penalty which pretty much ended Leinsters hopes of getting a Losing Bonus point.  They would not go home empty handed however, Andrew Porter was awarded a try.  The grounding was unclear, but the ref asked the TMO if there was any reason he couldn’t award it, clearly there was not.  Nacewa converted it with the last kick of the game to leave the final score Scarlets 38 – 29 Leinster.  

A bonus point loss away against difficult opposition doesn’t derail Leinsters season.  In fact, picking up that point where other teams wont will mean a lot at the end of the season.  Nothing really to be too cynical about.  Next up for Leinster is a home game against Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday.  With internationals returning Leinster should be claiming a bonus-point win.  The good news it is at home and televised on TG4 so at least we can see this one.  

As always, leave your thoughts on the game and the season.

Ciarán Duffy (@TheVoiceDepth) 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.  

You can watch the highlights of Scarlets – Leinster here:

Lineups: (replacements in brackets)
SCARLETS: A Thomas (G Owen 56); J McNicholl, S Hughes, H Parkes (capt), S Evans; R Patchell (D Jones 65), J Evans (A Davies 56); W Jones (D Evans 56), R Elias (E Phllips 53), W Kruger (P Edwards 55), T Price (T Beirne 56), D Bulbring (J Macleod 54), A Shingler, J Davies, W Boyde.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne, R O’Loughlin (T Daly 55), N Reid, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park (L McGrath 46); P Dooley (A Porter 55), R Strauss (J Tracey 46), M Bent (O Heffernan 63), M McCarthy (R Moloney 55), I Nagle, D Ryan, D Leavy (P Timmins 52), J Conan (Z Kir

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Front Five - 30.11.16

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

Delighted for CJ
especially after all the disparaging
remarks about project players
around the media recently

Click here for my thoughts
on the project player system


"...when you get older and you get into a team you just want to perform for all the boys and for the team to help them win"


RTÉ Rugby



(Heaslip) remains a vital part of Joe Schmidt's plans and the Ireland coach will be eager to avoid a drawn-out scenario similar to two years ago.


Cian Tracey - Irish Independent



Brookes will miss Saints' Premiership game at Leicester on Saturday and their Champions Cup game with Leinster.


BBC Rugby



Mumm was sin-binned in the second minute of Australia’s 27-24 loss to Ireland after a lifting tackle on Tadhg Furlong at Aviva Stadium and subsequently cited for the offence.


The Roar (via AAP)



He's come a long way in those three short years.


Patrick McCarry - SportsJoe.ie



Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, 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, November 29, 2016

Premiership Week 9 roundup

by Kristian Ross


Northampton 16-22 Newcastle (Fri):

Newcastle produced a stunning performance as they got their second away win of the Premiership season with an upset at Franklin’s Gardens. Joel Hodgson got the Falcons off to a tremendous start, his early try paving the way for a memorable evening. Kieran Brookes was sent off against his former club, but Northampton clawed their way back into a match that saw just a single try from the Saints, coming from Christian Day, whilst academy graduate Will Witty touched down for Dean Richards side. Stephen Myler kept the scoreboard ticking over as he put the home team ahead with ten minutes remaining, but a late score from Vereniki Goneva ensure a massive four points to take back to the North East after a seriously impressive display.

Bristol 16-21 Leicester (Fri):

Bristol got a second losing bonus point in as many weeks as their brave effort wasn’t enough against Leicester on Friday night. The Tigers led at half time through Adam Thompstone’s try as the boot of Adrian Jarvis kept the home outfit within touching distance. However, a cutting edge second half display from Leicester had the game wrapped up when Ellis Genge went over, but Freddie Burns kept up his form with an eleven-point tally. Bristol fans did have something to cheer when former policeman Rob Hawkins got amongst the scoresheet, but it was a case of too little too late, as fans at Ashton Gate saw their sides winless run in the league extend to nine matches.

Exeter 57-22 Worcester (Sat):

Exeter scored over fifty points for the second home match in a row as they smashed Worcester at Sandy Park in the only Premiership fixture on Saturday. The Chiefs, who ran in sixty two points against Cardiff Blues in the Anglo-Welsh Cup two weeks ago were quick out the blocks again, dominating a 24-3 score line at the interval. A penalty try as well as scores from Jack Yeadle and Will Chudley were just reward as a rampant Exeter side made short work of Worcester after the break. Eight tries were scored in all, with James Short, Carl Rimmer, Thomas Waldrom, Olly Woodburn and former Ulster back Ian Whitten all getting in on the act in the second half. Despite the influx of tries from Rob Baxter’s side, Worcester themselves did improve marginally as they crossed the whitewash through Dewald Potgieter, Josh Adams and the reliable Wynand Olivier, however the game was all but over in an afternoon that belonged to clinical Chiefs side.

Saracens 24-20 Gloucester (Sun):

Saracens made it eight wins out of a possible nine in the Aviva Premiership after seeing off an extremely stubborn Gloucester side at Allianz Park on Sunday. The away side, who have improved dramatically in the last few weeks led by two points at half time, thanks to tries from Ben Morgan who opened the account for the Cherry and Whites inside a minute and from Billy Burns as Brad Barrit and Mike Ellery kept Sarries in the hunt. However, despite a first half that produced four tries, the second period belonged to the kickers as James Hook and Alex Lozowski became the stars of the show. Unfortunately for the travelling fans, it was Lozowski who won the duel, with another shrewd performance this season as his four kicks in the match were enough to seal a victory to make sure that once again, Saracens would be top of the pile at the end of another round.

Wasps 34-24 Sale (Sun):

Wasps got back to winning ways after a disappointing round eight as they were too good for Sale at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday afternoon. The match was essentially over as a contest at half time, Danny Cipriani touching down for the home side as Ashley Johnson scored a brace to give Dai Young’s men a commanding lead. Bryn Evans scored after the restart, as American out half AJ MacGinty somehow got Sale in front, but Rob Miller got two tries in as many minutes to kill off any chance of a Sharks fightback. Evans got the third brace of the match along with Mike Haley, but Wasps produced a measured game to see out what may be an important four points in the race for the top spot.

Harlequins 21-20 Bath (Sun):

Harlequins took a big win against Bath as they edged a tough game at the Twickenham Stoop. It was an encounter that was possibly the tightest of the season, with just a one point differential at the break as well as the full-time whistle as Tim Visser and Kane Palma-Newport traded scores in the first forty minutes. Karl Dickson was the man to put Quins in control, but as Bath edged ahead through Nathan Catt, it looked like it was going to be another good day at the office for Todd Blackadder and co. However, if many have argued that Quins may not be quite there in terms of squad depth, it was one for the naysayers this week as young out-half Tim Swiel got the vital kick that meant the away side would have to settle for a losing bonus point as opposed to all four as Harlequins stepped up their intent of breaking into the top four.

THE WINNERS:

  • Newcastle – Before this season, the Falcons hadn’t won an away game in two years. Incredibly, they now have two away wins in nine matches and probably against the most unlikely opposition in Northampton and Gloucester. Either way, this win showed once again the improvement this season from Dean Richards side. The result is now surely the one that sees the Falcons safe, who now could be on to finish in a very good position after three solid years of eleventh place mediocrity.
  • Harlequins – All around, a good performance by Quins and an even better result. Still unlikely they will make the top four, but a good home record and some potential slip ups may just go in their favour. There is still a long way to go, but should they keep chipping away at The Stoop this season, something special may happen.
  • Gloucester – Yes, it’s true. Gloucester make the winners column despite losing. The first team to do so since the opening day of the season when Bristol’s spirited performance over Quins got them in. Glos make it for the same reason. Despite the defeat to Saracens, seemingly it looks like they may have finally got their act together after a poor start, having been the most improved side in the last few weeks. If it wasn’t for Lozowkski, David Humphrey’s team may have just edged it at the weekend at Allianz Park and it’s for that reason they find themselves in the prestigious three team section.

THE LOSERS:

  • Northampton – And just when you thought Northampton had turned a corner…. they go and lose at home to a side that has one away win in two years. That is no disrespect to the Falcons, who thoroughly deserved their win in the Midlands, but after a fantastic few weeks in which Saints had finally started putting a decent set of results together, they get beaten on their home patch at a crucial point of the season. Disappointing for Mallinder and the fans.
  • Bath – Harsh maybe, but this was a Todd Blackadder match that Bath should have won. It may be premature, but the glossiness of the start of the season seems to be losing its shine slightly for Bath and this was a frustrating game to lose. Still in the playoff spots, but a win that could have kept them second. Instead, they’re replaced by Wasps.
  • Worcester – A big defeat for Worcester sees them in the loser’s column and in fairness, it is fully deserved. Whilst winless Bristol probably won’t catch them, they are in a downward spiral and are now eight points behind tenth spot. Fair enough, Exeter on their day are very difficult to play against, but to ship that many points is criminal, having conceded just one converted try less (+7) than the Premiership’s bottom side.

@Kristian7Ross - 22, Geordie, part time journalist and Irish Rugby fan.

*****

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Follow your schools or club rugby team's progress with Ruggo.net


The Wicklow RFC under 13’s play Ashbourne away this weekend, and for many parents of both clubs it will not be possible to travel to the game. Imagine there was a way that these parents could follow the score live on their phones as they would follow the Leinster score online?

Ruggo is a brand new web application that allows clubs and schools to score all their games pitch-side, with the score then immediately available to anyone who visits ruggo.net

Ruggo was built by Brendon Shields, who got tired of chasing people on Whatsapp or drifting about on twitter to try and find the scores of his beloved teams. According to Shields most clubs and school only update their facebook and web pages the Monday after a weeks games, and to the true rugby fan this is simply not good enough.

“I am interested in so many school teams in my region but the process of trying to find out the scores, especially of B teams and younger age group teams is just a nightmare. I wanted there to exist a space where all community rugby scores can be easily found, so I built ruggo!”

Ruggo further offers local business an advertising platform with half of the money being donated to the school or club whose scores are ‘sponsored’. According to Shields. “One of they key challenges facing community rugby is funding. We wanted to make it possible for local businesses to not only advertise to the local community but at the same time support local rugby teams financially.”  Ruggo is therefore a ‘win-win’ project where parents and fans, as well as rugby clubs and local business gets something out of it.

School or clubs who want to start scoring on Ruggo can do so today by entering www.ruggo.net in their browser. From there you simply select your country and region and register your club.

The app was launched this weekend in Ireland and Canada and will soon be available in all rugby-playing countries.

Front Five - 29.11.16

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



Leinster’s needs are more immediate and they are determined to have one of their most influential players back on the park for the pre-Christmas back-to-back matches


Johnny Watterson - Irish Times

**********

It would be highly hypocritical to admonish Kiwi pundits and media members for their cavalier attitude towards player safety in the aftermath of the Ireland game without commenting on Earls' remarks last week.


Will Slattery - Irish Independent

**********

"What if we go into the Six Nations and teams get 50% possession and 50% territory and they don't give up 15 penalties?"


Conal Cahill - Balls.ie

**********

The All Blacks restored order...by beating up the Irish – some would say literally – in Dublin, but they are no longer the sport’s invincibles


The Roar (via AAP)

**********

...barely a half (let alone a game) seems to go by without some kind of controversy or debate about either poor implementation of the TMO by officials


The East South Terrace

**********

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, 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, November 28, 2016

IRELAND-27 AUSTRALIA-24


HarpinOnRugby’s coverage of Ireland v Australia this weekend is brought to you by Dove Men+Care follow them at @DoveMen and #ScrumTogether

THAT'LL DO!!!

One thing I caught myself saying over and over aloud during this particular match (among many other things...apologies to those around me!) was : “That’ll do!”.  

It’s a phrase I use often when a situation looks threatening for us and gets resolved partly because of our actions, but also partly because of errors on the part of our opponents, like when a Wallaby pass would go straight into touch.  

So when I was looking for a headline which summed up how I felt about this topsy-turvy encounter, I reckoned that pretty much nailed it.   Not a perfect performance, but under the circumstances it was a hard-fought and ultimately well-earned win which ended this historic November series on just the positive note we need ahead of the Six Nations.

Looking back at my preview, I had my concerns about our back line before kickoff...if I had known how our injury count was going to increase during the match I probably would have had my eyes closed for the duration!  But a graphic put up by RTÉ around the 13-minute mark told the entire story of how the match began - Ireland 81% possession, and the score still 0-0.

And while our backs were indeed having their yips, like when Trimble put a little too much mustard on his pass to a wide open Keith Earls, all wasn’t rosy in the garden for the forwards either as for the second week in a row we had our first attacking lineout pinched from the grasp of Devin Toner.  He is a brilliant asset for this set piece of that there is no doubt, but at this level the standard of lifting & jumping from the opposition can often negate his height advantage.

But the reason we were having those lineouts in their 22 was that the Wallabies were infringing at the breakdown, several times.  Not rolling away, offside, even the odd high tackle - it looked as though Michael Cheika’s men had chosen to borrow from the All Blacks’ playbook last week and please don’t get me wrong - I’m not necessarily “whinging”, it’s more that it shows how coaches are learning that knocking us off our own gameplan is usually the best way to go up against us.

Eventually a penalty came in a kickable position (though without a warning despite the numerous pings) and we had no choice but to take the three points on offer - at least we were off the mark or as one spectator probably quipped : “That’ll do...for now.”

But as the clock kept ticking it became more and more apparent we’d need a lot more points than that to put away this Australia side wounded by an extremely-distant second finish in the Rugby Championship yet buoyed by three wins from three so far on this “Spring Tour”.  Maybe a first half yellow card rather like the one the All Blacks shipped in Chicago?  That would most certainly do.

Well in many ways, Dean Mumm’s challenge on Tadhg Furlong was every bit as crazy as that of Joe Moody on Henshaw.  Absolutely no need for it...the only explanation I can think of is that of a player taking the predetermined raised levels of aggression too far.

The way he carried out the tip tackle suggested that Mumm’s head was telling him “what the hell are you doing?” as his body went ahead and did it anyway, albeit in slow motion.  Referee Garcès needed a bit of help from his assistant Nigel Owens but they definitely came to the right decision, at least when it came to Mumm.  

Even from my lofty perch (literally and figuratively) I could see on the big screen that as Furlong was being tipped, Rob Simmons was clearly “making contact with his eye area” - I wonder would a ref ever have the stones to yellow card two players at once?

Anyway…”just the one” was off the park for now and it was extremely important that we made the most of it much as we did against the All Blacks.  And the injury count had already begun at this stage as Rob Kearney took a knee to the noggin and was replaced by Simon Zebo.

Up to that point we had been trying to find creative ways around the onrushing Australian defence but they just weren’t coming off for us, that is until a little dink over the top from Zebo fell perfectly for Earls to gather and eventually get a great offload to Iain Henderson who made it the rest of the way and finally we had our try.

This is the point where I should probably brag that I both predicted a 3-5 point win for Ireland AND a Henderson try, though for full disclosure, I thought the Ulsterman would get over as part of a pick and go series among the forwards.

So that made it 10-0 but everyone in the ground knew we couldn’t afford to rest on our laurels and Israel Folau beat a couple of tacklers to show what these Wallabies can do with the ball in hand before putting the ball out of play.  We needed at least another score.

Well we didn’t quite manage one before Mumm returned but as he did, we were about to take a lineout in the 22 off yet another penalty against the visitors.  It wasn’t the cleanest set piece ever still we kept possession and once the ball got away it came to Garry Ringrose.

After he darted over the line for our second try, Messrs Nugent & Keyes in the RTE commentary box said he reminded them of Brian O’Driscoll.  I can see that alright, but his display on the day here reminded me more of Darce playing inside centre in 2004.  All we’d want is a steady performance from someone out of his regular position and instead we got what was (for me anyway, sorry Josh you had a good outing too!) a man of the match performance.

Now...on this try...a bit of controversy that needs addressing...did Devin Toner block a possible tackler?  Garcès took one look and said no.  I took several looks.  Let’s just say I’ve “seen them given” as blocks, but for me, at the time the tackle could have been made, Dev was standing his ground.  When he nudges his opponent, Ringrose is well past them both.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it ;-)

So the conversion gets us to a superb and thoroughly deserved 17-0.  The Wallabies began to come back at us but a touch of luck plus some timely tackles from the likes of centurion skipper Rory Best keep them at bay.  With the clock at 39 minutes, a buddy sitting beside me gets up to go for a couple of pints.

While he was gone, he not only got beer but also visited the loo, got some chips and met a couple of people he knew along the way.  By the time he eventually made it back to his seat, the score was 17-14!!!   Gimme that bloody pint mate - I need it!!!

Accuracy is such a key element of any Joe Schmidt plan that you have to highlight when it is missing.  Paddy Jackson didn’t have a bad half of rugby by any stretch of the imagination but his kick out on the full with just a minute left in the first half cannot be ignored.

Off the lineout the Wallabies finally saw one of their powerful running & offloading moves down the heart of our defence come to fruition as Hooper, Folau and finally Dane Haylett-Petty (their best player on the night I thought) combined for a last gasp first half score that would have definitely had their tails up.

So that made it just a ten-point lead despite all our dominance and things didn’t look much better at the start of the second half when it transpired that as well as Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble, now Jared Payne had been forced from the action - I’m wondering if his back issue had something to do with the tiny gap required for that 39th minute try.

Anyway this meant Marmion had to go on the wing with Carbery at full back...at that stage I reckon Peter O’Mahony wasn’t ruling out another stint on the wing himself!  But the road ahead seemed clear for Ireland...we needed to keep the game in the forwards for as long as we possibly could as we did have plenty of strong options still on our bench.

While it didn’t directly lead to their second try, I still think Jackson’s dink over the top from his own 22 was ill-advised and indirectly led to it.  Like I said, it seemed to make more sense to let the pack handle ball advancement for the immediate future.  Plus the Wallabies could clearly see a way back into the match and thus were switched on.

So although we snuffed out a few chances at first, their second try looked inevitable even after one was called back for a forward pass.  Sure enough, eventually it was Kurindrani in the corner touching down before a beautiful touchline conversion from Bernard Foley cut our lead to just three as I was being handed my pint.

We did have a good response from Ireland after the restart as Earls was able to bat the ball down for us to recover and this finally gave our pack the platform they needed to make something happen.  Yet another breakdown penalty allowed Jackson to pop over three crucial points as well as giving us time to take stock.

But before you could say “didgeridoo” they were back at us...first we had a bizarre moment when Pocock looked like he was a mile offside though he and the ref were the only ones on the pitch who seemed to notice a ruck hadn’t been formed, as Murray Kinsella outlines on 42.ie.  From this Australia really should have scored but Folau butchered a clear overlap.

Yet we were still giving them chances and next it was Zebo kicking out on the full; when they went at us in the wide channels again eventually Carbery couldn’t stop substitute Naivalu from slipping past and getting under the posts allowing Foley a much easier conversion to give his side their first lead of the match. Shortly afterwards we shipped one of just THREE penalties on the day, our only one in a kickable position, which Foley duly chipped over.

While this time we were behind by four as opposed to Chicago where we were worried when our lead was by the same amount, there were only two words that described what Ireland needed for the final quarter - “dig” and “deep”.  Sure, the XV was patchwork, especially the backline - though when Jamie Heaslip leaves the action before full time, you know you’re having a bad day personnel-wise.

The question was...could we have a defining moment similar to Conor Murray’s iconic hit on Julian Savea?  The answer was yes, and this time it was another Munster man to provide it.

Australia possibly got a bit too confident in their abilities to attack out wide and off a restart they went almost all the way back to their own line and when it reached Michael Hooper he was met full force by Simon Zebo; this hit appeared to jolt us back into Chicago mode.  They cleared but only as far as the 22 so we were coming back at them.

To be fair to the Wallabies, their defence was pretty good throughout but now it was our turn to have our tails up and our pack was able to put together a superb series of nine phases, including a monster clearout by Cian Healy on a seemingly-locked-on David Pocock and yet another strong carry from the Lions-beckoning Tadhg Furlong, before it was our turn to have quick hands in the wide channels for Keith Earls to dot down.

Now we had inched in front, which of course was awesome, but we really needed Paddy Jackson to stroke over the extra two from the touchline, which he duly did with an amazing strike under the circumstances.  Those two points were crucial because I very much doubt our visitors were about settling for a draw.

We now had about ten minutes to see the game out and courtesy of a choke tackle by Garry RIngrose, the scrum resulting from it taking about 4 minutes including resets, a big hit from Sean Cronin, a trademark poach from Peter O’Mahony, and finally Bernard Foley seeing yellow for a physics-defying tip tackle on Devin Toner, we managed it very well.

For matches like this, we can be analytical until the cows come home, but the fact remains, they are cup finals.  And the goal is to win cup finals, not look pretty while doing it.  Given all we have gone through on the injury front, and given how we as Irish fans were feeling about test rugby 12 months ago in the aftermath of RWC2015, this was an excellent way to end the test year.

So to summarize, we completed a rare treble of wins over the “Tri-Nations” in 2016, Rory Best celebrated an illustrious ton of caps with another display that clearly puts him in Lions-leading contention, and we showed we can pull through a testing encounter even with a host of “second-string” players (shout out also to Kieran Marmion for a decent shift).

How else can I finish this post but like this - for now until what promises to be another exciting Six Nations...that’ll do!!!  JLP

#COYBIG
#ShoulderToShoulder
#ScrumTogether

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