Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ireland's test matches in 2016

In American TV there is a thing known as a "cold open".  It's when you see a bit of a TV show before the theme tune & opening credits are played.  For example, the "Saturday Night Live" sketches featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump are mostly cold opens.

Every year, the most important tournament on the European rugby calendar begins with a cold open, or at least a lukewarm one.  Between the November internationals and the beginning of the Six Nations, the players' clubs are each mostly involved in four key pool matches in the Rugby Champions Cup as well as domestic fixtures just after Christmas.

So unlike the World Cup there are no warmup matches for coaches to test some combinations or see how fringe players are looking.  It's straight into the deep end with the Grand Slam on the line from the moment their team takes the field.

With this in mind, we're beginning our build up to the 2017 Six Nations by taking a look back at Ireland's performances over the past year, seeing as how this is the only form guide we have.  We are using a similar format to the one from yesterday's look at Leinster's season so far, featuring quotes & links from our match writeups.

Remember...the last game before this series begins was that RWC2015 quarterfinal I keep trying to forget despite repeatedly bringing it up in posts.

Feb 7 @ Aviva Stadium

So to summarize...win the first half?  Check.  Justify the unusual centre pairing?  Check.  Change things enough to bring the win home?  No.   End result - Doom and gloom predictions? Proven wrong.  But also...Grand Slam? Gone.  Triple Crown?  Gone. How about third title in a row?

Feb 13 @ Stade de France

...my problem with the overall strategy is that it seems to rely on both Henshaw and Payne playing 80 minutes in every match?  Even when there’s a 6-day turnaround?  When both are just returning from injury?  Surely if Joe has the ability to “mould” the two fullbacks into a dynamic centre duo performing specific tasks, he can do the same with others to take their place when needed?

Feb 27 @ Twickenham

Just one try and ten points was all we had to show for (our) dominance.  It wasn’t entirely our fault and I’ll get to that, but there is simply no point starting a move, especially at this level, if you’re not able to finish and between dropped balls, misfired passes and that old bugbear - poor lineout technique at key moments, we certainly didn’t help our own cause.

Mar 12 @ Aviva Stadium

...what about Jamie Heaslip?  In a determined run that was reminiscent of All Black Kieran Read’s line that denied Rob Kearney going under the posts at the same end of the ground in 2013, he was there to receive the ball from McFadden with the line a tantalising 12m or so away....the Irish vice captain hadn’t come all this way to be denied at the end and there was quite simply no stopping him getting that ball down as the clock was just about to hit 40.

Mar 19 @ Aviva Stadium

Now that Ireland’s methodical approach under Joe Schmidt has garnered not one but two Six Nations titles in a row, there has been little doubt that the other teams have worked out to knock us off our game in the early stages of matches, which is why we have seen a host of incidents varying in seriousness from prolonged holding at ruck time to full on cheap shots on Johnny Sexton long after he got the ball away.

Jun 11 @ Newlands

Remember...at this stage we were TWO MEN DOWN.  You could have forgiven us for being keen to kill time under those circumstances, yet instead we were keen to get the ball as deep as we possibly could in their territory.  Ye gods, that shows some faith in our defence doesn’t it.  With Payne putting a long grubber through here and Conor Murray taking a quick tap free kick there we did indeed put the pressure right back on to our hosts who mustn’t have known what was hitting them.

Jun 18 @ Ellis Park

Say what you like about the negative aspects of this approach (the Boks’ coach certainly did during the week) but when you’ve already won a test match on foreign soil and you have your hosts fired up to come after you, it really makes a lot of sense to send them back towards their own try line as much as possible, and if it’s working then why stop doing it.

Jun 25 @ Nelson Mandela Bay

When the final whistle blew I saw a lot of comment online suggesting Joe Schmidt didn’t use his bench properly.  This complaint annoyed me greatly.  Not that it wasn’t necessarily justified, but for that to be the first source of grievance after this display, indeed this series, was mind-boggling.

Nov 5 @ Soldier Field

Zebo knew he could put boot to ball because under Joe Schmidt’s guidance, he could be sure there would be a host of green jerseys there to exert pressure, and he was right.  Eventually the ball came to Julian Savea, who could be forgiven for thinking he could nip back over his own tryline before running the ball out on the way to clearing the danger.  Eh, yeah, about that….BOOM!  Meet man of the match Conor Murray.

Nov 12 @ Aviva Stadium

...if you want to throw a bubble around a particular contest and analyse it based on the “ideal” way you feel the game should be played, by all means go ahead, but you are setting yourself up to be wide of the mark most of the time, I’m afraid - and Saturday evening’s match at the Aviva Stadium was a classic example of one that needs the full complement of context before we can harp on it.

Nov 19 @ Aviva Stadium

Chicago might be known as the Windy City but right from the very kickoff the All Blacks came at us like they brought the gusty weather to Dublin with them and had it at their backs.  Beauden Barrett found Sean O’Brien with his drop kick and we were unable to deal with the onrushing pressure...suddenly the World Champions had front foot ball and the game not a minute old.

Nov 26 @ Aviva Stadium

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

Ireland’s 2017 Six Nations Schedule

Sat Feb 4 SCOTLAND v IRELAND Murrayfield
Sat Feb 11 ITALY V IRELAND Stadio Olimpico
Sat Feb 25 IRELAND v FRANCE Aviva Stadium
Fri Mar 10 WALES v IRELAND Principality Stadium
Sat Mar 18 IRELAND v ENGLAND Aviva Stadium

We’ll have a closer look at Ireland’s 2017 chances later in the week.  JLP

Front Five - 31.01.17

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

Click here for yesterday's post
on Leinster's season so far

(Rob Kearney's) presence at yesterday's press conference would indicate that his reign as Ireland's full-back is not quite over yet.

Ruaidhri O'Connor - Irish Independent

"He's into detail, he's very good at coaching the detail and the players have a huge amount of respect for him and play for him. I think he's very special. He's a very special coach."

Tom Hamilton - ESPN.co.uk

"Rugby is about dominating collisions but if we are risking concussions then it's not really worth it."

Pauk Cully - Stuff.co.nz

“(Ireland) is without a doubt as tough an opening match as you could have,”

Duncan Smith - The Scotsman

“I remember getting my first mouthguard when I was two or three, trying to put it in. I’ve always had a rugby ball in my hand."

Murray Kinsella - The42.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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Leinster 2016/17 - the story so far

Hard to believe we’re already at the halfway stage of the season, isn’t it?

Well with an “off week” to provide a break between the end of the Champions Cup pool stage and the start of the Six Nations, we took a few days off here at Harpin Manor and we will be back to “normal” posting Tuesday.

In the meantime here is a summary of how Leinster’s season has gone so far, featuring quotes and links from our match writeups...


13th - Preseason Friendly @ Navan RFC
Leinster 31-14 Ulster : “ACE OF CLUBS”

...what I’ll be looking for more than anything else in this campaign as compared to last is a better sense of organisation with the ball.  No good keeping the other side of the scoreboard low if you can’t get yours higher.  And for the full 80 minutes I have to say the “pill” was well marshalled around the field by both Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery.  

20th - Preseason friendly @ Tallaght Stadium
Leinster 26-24 Gloucester : “SQUARING UP”

It seems that we have finally discovered the art of successive offloading at the point of contact...one brings it in and lays it off in the tackle to a receiver who it turn has someone in support.

26th - Preseason friendly @ Donnybrook Stadium
Leinster 19-39 Bath : “ALTERNATIVES”

Garry Ringrose was on the wing - I wondered in my preview if perhaps this is with a view to his getting an Ireland cap in November.  Whatever the reason, he did ok but personally I don’t like him there.  Even without our having lost so many centres I’d still say that is where he belongs and every minute spent on the park elsewhere is one wasted where he could have gained more top level experience.


2nd - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 20-8 Treviso : “HIGH ON CARBS”

You win a penalty in midfield, you put it into touch, and you run a set play to get the final few yards to the line.  All of that has the “win your own lineout ball” component baked right into it.  It’s an afterthought - an assumption at this level.  Yet over and over we have struggled with it in recent times.  And it doesn’t seem to matter who the hooker is, nor where in the lineout the dart is going.  

10th - Guinness Pro12 @ Scotstoun

...when we packed down for a scrum on our own put-in not far from halfway around the 50th minute mark, we had a deserved 10-point lead in a match we were “supposed to” lose by a similar margin.   It was a lead that was ours to throw away, and unfortunately, we did just that.

16th - Guinness Pro12 @ Murrayfield
Edinburgh 20-33 Leinster : “THE BETTER HALF”

Before the season kicked off I was hoping for 10 points from these opening three matches...we got 9 which isn’t so bad.  Also, compared to the corresponding fixtures from last year, we’re up by a net of two points, so also a positive.

23rd - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 31-19 Ospreys : “OFF TO A FLIER”

...after exploring an exciting new offloading style in recent weeks under the stewardship of the promising Joey Carbery, the return of Johnny Sexton there seemed to come with a return of one out runners and cheeky little territory kicks from the 12 and 13 channels.


1st - Guinness Pro12 @ Cardiff Arms Park
Cardiff Blues 13-16 Leinster : “PUTTING THINGS RIGHT”

Noel Reid...had a solid attacking outing with new centre partner Rory O’Loughlin including a combination that lead to the try, but also between them they made over 20 tackles which included Reid slowing down a rampaging Nick Williams more than once, most importantly right at the end.

8th - Guinness Pro12 @ Aviva Stadium
Leinster 25-14 Munster : “THAT LITTLE BIT HIGHER”

...while Sexton won man of the match I was impressed as well by our starting centres (Henshaw & RIngrose) but personally I was ready to give the gong to Luke McGrath...not the first time this season I went into a match with doubts over a player only to have them dispelled by a quality display.

15th - Rugby Champions Cup @ RDS Arena
Leinster 33-15 Castres : “REMEMBRANCE”

...it’s important that we pay our respects and move on as best as we can.  Let’s just say I’m not really in a mood to be all that analytical this week, but it just so happens this wasn’t really a match fit for too much analysis anyway.  Simply put, Leinster were up for it, Castres weren’t.

23rd - Rugby Champions Cup @ Altrad Stadium
Montpellier 22-16 Leinster : “WHAT’S LEFT IN THE TANK”

What made our late reward a deserved one was an overall sense of belief throughout the team, plus an extra pair of fresh legs in the pack thanks to the prior planning, and last but certainly not least individual displays from the likes of Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, Sean Cronin and ultimately Jamison Gibson-Park…

29th - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 24-13 Connacht : “THE BLUE MONSTER”

...watching back over it a second time, there was something about the way our approach evolved throughout the 80 minutes - almost an organic process whereby we were adapting to what they were trying on us and slowly but surely we were able to squeeze the life out of their attack, while at the same time making the most of our visits to their end of the park.


1st - Guinness Pro12 @ Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Zebre 10-33 Leinster : (Guest writeup by @rhubarbsticks & @brismoirl)

Adam Byrne deservedly received man of the match but academy player Ross Byrne caught the eye with an impressive outing at 10 for the full 80 minutes. A mention also for the irreplaceable Isa who kept talking and communicating throughout to the younger players in front of him…

25th - Guinness Pro12 @ Parc y Scarlets
Scarlets 38-29 Leinster : (Guest writeup by Ciarán Duffy)

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....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.


3rd - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 28-15 Newport-Gwent Dragons : “SEND THE A TEAM”

They clearly had a remit - secure the win as clinically as possible and don’t leave the bonus point behind should the Dragons leave it there for us.  And while it wasn’t exactly pretty, the plan did come together.  And if we are going to find fault with the things that went wrong, we must also applaud what worked and by that I don’t just mean the four tries we scored - the style rugby we were playing to bring them about must also be taken into account.

9th - Rugby Champions Cup @ Franklin’s Gardens
Northampton 10-37 Leinster : “FRANKLIN’S SENSE”

Go back in time to preseason and tell Leinster fans Ross Byrne will send an inch perfect crossfield kick to Rory O’Loughlin who using perfect technique will catch and score on an English ground, they’d assume it was somewhere like Nottingham or Cornish Pirates in the British & Irish Cup.  Yet here they were working some magic and putting a try bonus point very much on the table.

17th - Rugby Champions Cup @ Aviva Stadium
Leinster 60-13 Northampton : “JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT”

Garry Ringrose kicks a grubber deep into their 22 and with Joe Schmidt looking on, he and Adam Byrne apply jut the right amount of pressure on the chase and we turn it over.  Fourteen gruelling yet powerful phases from the pack later, Tadhg Furlong planted the ball down for try number five.  O’Brien, van der Flier and Cronin all deserve honourable mentions for the build up.

26th - Guinness Pro12 @ Thomond Park
Munster 29-17 Leinster : “IT IS WHAT IT IS”

Time and time again JGP was attempting (box kixks) but from his body language it looked as though it was going against everything he had been taught on his way to the professional ranks and they were going way too far handing easy opportunities to Munster.  If he can fix this aspect of his game soon he’ll be doing very well.

31st - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 22-7 Ulster : “LEAVING IT BEHIND”

Rory O’Loughlin finished this game as man of the match - how many Leinster fans knew his name 12 months ago?  When you add to that Adam Byrne, Dan Leavy, James Tracy, Joey Carbery, etc, etc...then the continued improvement of Garry Ringrose (outstanding defensive display alongside Noel Reid in this one) and Josh van der Flier...THEN the more recognised names like Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney who must be wondering how they’ll get back into the side, you have to feel good overall about what 2017 has in store once we can build on this momentum.


6th - Guinness Pro12 @ RDS Arena
Leinster 70-6 Zebre : “THE SPIRIT OF 70-6”

There’s no doubt that the return of Sexton to the lineup played a part in our ability to break through so often...he seems to have lost none of his guile and sound decision-making...but still I have to say it has been awhile since I have seen the boys in blue show such a deep rooted culture of close handling right throughout the fifteen on the park at any given time.

13th - Rugby Champions Cup @ RDS Arena
Leinster 57-3 Montpellier : “PIÈCE DE IRRÉSISTABLE”

An evening like this at the RDS needs to be savoured.  And having been critical of the overall Leinster support in the past, it has to be said that it was absolutely superb this time.  Loud cheering and singing from start to finish and once the fourth try was secure there was even some ironic cheering for things that went right for us and wrong for our opponents before the night was out.

20th - Rugby Champions Cup @ Stade Pierre Antoine
Castres 24-24 Leinster : “NO PLACE LIKE HOME”

Basically that was our biggest failing on the night...individual errors at costly moments.  Making a move a fraction too early.  Grabbing for the ball a fraction too late.  Naturally losing both Sexton and Nacewa so early didn’t help either, but pretty much all of Castres’ points can be put down to simple technical “no-nos” on our side of things

How the Pro12 stands now :


Sun Feb 12 Treviso (a)
Fri Feb 17 Edinburgh (h)
Fri Feb 24 Newport-Gwent Dragons (a)
Mar 3/4/5 Scarlets (h)
Mar 24/25/26 Cardiff Blues (h)
Apr 1 Wasps (h)

When it comes to our challenge for the Pro12 title, as you can see there are several teams in contention so we will need all the points we can get to crack that top four between now and the end of the season, and as I have been saying since the fixtures were released, it is important to be mindful of our final four matches, which could well be the most difficult run of successive matches we have ever faced in this competition.

As for the Champions Cup, well as always we need to see how our squad looks come the end of the Six Nations, but with a full squad we have the ability to beat anyone, especially at home.  Having a couple of home games leading into the visit of Wasps has to be a help as well.

Loads of hard work ahead, but loads to feel good about! Bring it on!!!! JLP

PS - tomorrow we’ll take a similar approach to Ireland’s matches in 2016 ahesad of the Six Nations.


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