Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rugby on TV : Feb 28-Mar 7

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THURSDAY,  FEBRUARY 28

8AM - RUGBY TONIGHT (R) - BT SPORT 1
9AM - BENETTON V DRAGONS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
9AM - THE PRO 14 HOUR (R) - EIR SPORT 2
9AM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 1
1:30PM - PRO 14 HIGHLIGHTS - EIR SPORT 2
3:30PM - BENETTON V DRAGONS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
7PM - RUGBY TONIGHT (R) - BT SPORT 1
7PM - SALFORD V ST HELENS (L) - SUPER LEAGUE - SKY SPORTS ARENA
8PM - THE BACK ROW (R) - EIR SPORT 1
8PM - FRANCE V WALES (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
8:30PM - OSPREYS V MUNSTER (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
10PM - ENGLAND V FRANCE (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT

FRIDAY, MARCH 1

6:30AM - HURRICANES V BRUMBIES (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ACTION
7AM - SCARLETS V CHEETAHS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
8:40AM - REBELS V HIGHLANDERS (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ACTION
1:30PM - LEINSTER V SOUTHERN KINGS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
3PM - RUGBY TONIGHT (R) - BT SPORT 2
5PM - THE WORLD RUGBY SHOW - SKY SPORTS ACTION
6PM - THE PRO 14 HOUR (R) - EIR SPORT 1
7PM - SIX NATIONS HIGHLIGHTS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
7PM - LEINSTER V CHEETAHS (L) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
7PM - BRISTOL BEARS V GLOUCESTER (L) - PREMIERSHIP - BT SPORT 1
7PM - EBBW VALE V PONTYPRIDD (L) - WELSH PREM - BBC2 WALES
7PM - LEEDS V WAKEFIELD (L) - SUPER LEAGUE - SKY SPORTS ARENA
10:50PM (TO 5AM SAT) - LAS VEGAS 7S - SKY SPORTS ACTION
11PM - LEINSTER V CHEETAHS (H) - PRO 14 - TG4


SATURDAY, MARCH 2

6:30AM - CHIEFS V SUNWOLVES (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ACTION

8:30AM - BRISTOL V GLOUCESTER (R) - PREMIERSHIP - BT SPORT 3
8:40AM - REDS V CRUSADERS (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ACTION
11:30AM - BRSTOL V GLOUCESTER (R) - PREMIERSHIP - BT SPORT 2
1PM - LIONS V BULLS (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ARENA
1PM - SHOULDER TO SHOULDER - DOCUMENTARY - BT SPORT 2
1:40PM - RACING 92 V LA ROCHELLE (L) - TOP 14 - SKY SPORTS ACTION
2:25PM - CONNACHT V OSPREYS (L) - PRO 14 - TG4
2:30PM - LEICESTER TIGERS V WASPS (L) - PREMIERSHIP - BT SPORT 2
3:10PM - SHARKS V STORMERS (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS ARENA
4:10PM - ZEBRE V GLASGOW (L) - PRO 14- FREE SPORTS
4:45PM - SCARLETS V MUNSTER (L) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1, TG4, S4C
5PM - CATALANS V WARRINGTON (L) - SUPER LEAGUE - SKY SPORTS ARENA
7:20PM - LAS VEGAS 7S (L) - SKY SPORTS MIX
8PM - SCOTLAND V IRELAND (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
9PM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 1
9:35PM - JAGUARES V BLUES (L) - SUPER RUGBY - SKY SPORTS MIX
10PM - ITALY V IRELAND (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
10PM - SCARLETS V MUNSTER (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2


SUNDAY, MARCH 3


7AM - ZEBRE V GLASGOW WARRIORS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2

8AM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 3
9AM - CARDIFF BLUES V SOUTHERN KINGS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
12:30PM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 1
2:30PM - NEWCASTLE V WORCESTER (L) - PREMIERSHIP - BT SPORT 1
3PM - DEWSBURY V TORONTO (L) - RL C'SHIP - SKY SPORTS ARENA
3:45PM - STADE FRANÇAIS V TOULOUSE (L) - TOP 14 - SKY SPORTS ACTION
6PM - SCRUM V - BBC 2 WALES
6:50PM - LAS VEGAS 7S (L) - SKY SPORTS ACTION
7PM - SIX NATIONS HIGHLIGHTS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
8PM - ITALY V WALES (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
9:30PM - PRO 14 ROUND 17 HIGHLIGHTS - EIR SPORT 2
10PM - WALES V ENGLAND (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
11PM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 3

MONDAY, MARCH 4


6AM - BENETTON V EDINBURGH (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2

10AM - DRAGONS V ULSTER (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
10AM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 1
4PM - CARDIFF V SOUTHERN KINGS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
7PM - CONNACHT V OSPREYS - PRO 14 - ER SPORT 1
8PM - AGAINST THE HEAD - RTE TWO
8PM - ENGLAND V FRANCE (R) - SIX NATIONS - VIRGIN MEDIA SPORT
10PM - FRANCE V SCOTLAND (R) - SIX NATIONS - VRGIN MEDIA SPORT
10:45PM - SUPER LEAGUE FULL TIME - SKY SPORTS ACTION


TUESDAY, MARCH 5


6AM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 2

12PM - CARDIFF V SOUTHERN KINGS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR PORT 1
2PM - BENETTON V EDINBURGH (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
4PM - DRAGONS V ULSTER (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
4:30PM - ZEBRE V OSPREYS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
7PM - SCARLETS V MUNSTER (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
7:45PM - PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS - BT SPORT 1


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6


12PM - ZEBRE V GLASGOW (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1
2:55PM - GONZAGA V CLONGOWES (L) - LEINSTER SCHOOLS - EIR SPORT 1
7PM - GONZAGA V CLONGOWES (R) - LEINSTER SCHOOLS - EIR SPORT 1
9PM - THE PRO 14 HOUR - EIR SPORT 1
9:30PM - TOP 14 ROUND UP - SKY SPORTS ACTION
10PM - THE BACK ROW - EIR SPORT 1
10PM - LAS VEGAN 7S (H) - SKY SPORTS ACTION
10:30PM - LEINSTER V CHEETAHS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1


THURSDAY, MARCH 7

10AM - PRO 14 ROUND 17 HIGHLIGHTS - EIR SPORT 2
12PM - THE PRO 14 HOUR - EIR SPORT 1
12:55PM - GONZAGA V CLONGOWES (R) - EIR SPORT 1
2:55PM - BELVEDERE V ST MICHAELS (L) - LEINSTER SCHOOLS - EIR SPORT 1
3:30PM - CONNACHT V OSPREYS (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 2
7PM - BELVEDERE V ST MICHAELS (R) - LEINSTER SCHOOLS - EIR SPORT 1
7PM - WARRINGTON V CASTLEFORD (L) - SUPER LEAGUE - SKY SPORTS ARENA
9PM - THE BACK ROW - EIR SPORT 1
9:30PM - THE PRO 1414 HOUR - EIR SPORT 1
10:30PM - ZEBRE V GLASGOW (R) - PRO 14 - EIR SPORT 1

L = LIVE
R = FULL REPEAT
T = TAPE DELAY
H = HIGHLIGHTS

Times generally refer to beginning of broadcast not kickoff
Check local listings for repeat showings
Feel free to let us know if something is missing! paganoblog@gmail.com



Front Five - 28.02.19

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

ICYMI click here for our latest
batch of Harpin Points


"I'm not saying it's happening, but I think it would be a terrible pity if the provinces lost their identity and fellas were moving for money all the time."


Leinster CEO Mick Dawson against 'forced migration' in Irish rugby

As Schmidt has proceeded with alternative midfield options...O’Loughlin has narrowed his focus and hit key markers.


Ryan Bailey - The42.ie

The 26-year-old prop was born is Johannesburg, South Africa, but qualifies for Ireland through his grandfather


Emerald Rugby

World Rugby is to establish a 12-team World Rugby which sees the USA and Japan joining the existing ten countries who comprise the Six Nations and Rugby Championship tournaments.


Americas Rugby News

Detailed video analysis is now part and parcel of the life of an elite rugby player


Eamon Donoghue - Irish Times

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Harpin Points 30 - Schmidt, Schools, Slapping & more


On Wednesday we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes

(SOME) FANS HIT THE SCHMIDT

He came within minutes of beating the All Blacks then wins the Six Nations Championship at hs first TWO attempts.  Then comes RWC2015 quarterfinal exit then two years of English spring ascendancy and before all of that even happens, we're apparently in a crisis and his job is brought into question.

So we then beat the All Blacks twice, as well as a series win in Australia, a world number two ranking in the world, and oh yeah, a Grand Slam in the year when the fixture list is supposedly against us.

Now we lose badly to England at home before beating both Scotland and Italy away, though the victories only come with several moments that are certainly not up to the expected standard; now all of a sudden the hunt for excuses to explain the ‘crisis’ has surfaced again.

In other words, a narrative seems to be forming whereby there's a reasonably sizeable body of opinion in Irish rugby that will take every opportunity to question Schmidt's stewardship, whether or not he has brought us to heights previous assumed unreachable.

Is he perfect and immune to criticism? Absolutely not, and if you think that's my position then you haven't read much of my harping over the years, even when he was at Leinster.

There's no doubting I have concerns about our reliance on a regimental set of fixed plays, not because it can't work rather because there are days when the desired accuracy might fail you, as they did last Sunday.

However, just because the playbook isn't working doesn't mean a match can't be won, and I do believe the boys in green showed signs in Rome that they can get a winning margin over the line even in self-inflicted adversity.

One thing I am starting to believe is that for all the talk about our need for depth in the squad, it does appear that Joe has his sights set on a particular starting XV for the World Cup, something like this…

R Kearney, K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Stockdale, J Sexton, C Murray
C Healy, R Best, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, CJ Stander.

…and the closer he gets to having this group on the pitch, the more confident he feels.

Of course there are always those pushing their way in like Tadhg Beirne, but my point is that whatever about Ireland's chance for the rest of this Six Nations campaign, Joe's anxiety levels won't really kick in until we're in the period from the end of March and end of May, during which it's very possible all four provinces could have heavy involvement in domestic or European playoffs, possibly even both.

We really won't know the full extent of the hand Ireland will get to play in Japan until we know for sure what cards will be in the deck and until then, I think we as fans need to appreciate Joe's card-playing skills and leave him to it.



BACK TO SCHOOLS

Every year I try to make a point of getting to at least one Leinster Schools match and on Monday I was lucky enough to be able to make it to Energia Park Donnybrook for the senior quarterfinal between Blackrock and St Michaels.

It is a very different type of rugby occasion than those we'd be used to at the RDS; rather than the majority of the spectators cheering for Leinster, we have separate ends of the Grandstand packed with students from either school, pretty much all of who are wearing their jerseys, cheering every good thing and booing every bad.

Over on the opposite terrace where I was based, there was an ‘element’ of so-called ‘support’ which seemed to be (rather ironically I thought) trying to mimic the antics of the infamous ‘ultras’ throughout European football (curse-filled chants, distracting the kicker and what-not), but when the stewards and Gardaí showed a presence around them, they pretty much managed to tone things down.

On the pitch was a much more pleasant story, though maybe not so much for those cheering Blackrock.  It was an enthralling match from start to finish though it was mostly dominated by an outstanding level of organisation in the Michael's defence, particularly their back row.

They slowly built a 16-3 lead going into the final stages and although the Rock bench was able to flex its muscles towards the end to get within a converted try, it was too late which meant their quest for ‘only’ their 70th cup will have to wait until next year.

Meanwhile as Leinster fans we get to look forward to seeing names like Chris Cosgrove, Mark Hernan, Niall Comerford and even another Sean O’Brien to start toggling out in provincial blue.

RUGBY'S NORTHERN BACKSTOP? 

Going on a tangent from my final point above about the next crop of youth bound for the Leinster academy, I am reminded of something I overheard an Ulster fan saying at the RDS when our northern cousins were playing there back at the beginning of January.

“I'm trying to get used to all these young Leinster players names as I'm sure it won't be long before they're lining out for us at the Kingspan!”

According to the Indo, it's very possible that Jack McGrath is set to join Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore, Nick Timoney, Ian Nagle, John Cooney and others who find their way to Ulster after a spell at Leinster.

I didn't take the Ulster fan's comment as meaning he thought that was a bad thing; no doubt he would prefer if there was more local talent available up north, but when the reality is that Leinster are churning out multiple stars at every position, it's only common sense that we should offer some the opportunity to get more game time.

Naturally I can understand the frustration of Leinster fans seeing so many of our players leave, but I really don't see how we can be expected to retain all of them while more and more prospects are breaking through.

As always, I have reservations about making these announcements (assuming there is one in McGrath's case, it seems to be just speculation for now) during the season, especially as we have a big clash with Ulster approaching at the end of March.  But such are the realities of the modern game I suppose.



MERGING AND EMERGING REGIONS? 

Interesting report on the BBC website today about possible major overhaul in Welsh regional rugby.  


Right now all four regions are based in the southern portion of the principality and there have long been calls for some representation for the north - if this pans out as the report suggests, that could happen.


Apparently they want to keep it at just the four clubs so to make way for a new one, two of the current clubs will have to merge; apparently there were rumblings about those being Ospreys an Cardiff Blues though they were quoshed earlier in the year.


No disrespect to those in Newport, but surely the Dragons have to be the ones to make way.  there has been a limited amount of success for them over the year but let's face it, they were always the poor relation results-wise.


Finding the right balance has often been a problem for the WRU as many fans were understandably very loyal to their local clubs which made the creation, and more importantly the marketing, of new professional organisations very difficult.


That process was made easy for us here in Ireland as we have four proud provinces pre-cut to measure when it came time to go pro.


Here's hoping the Welsh can find a format that works, though not too well of course!

SLAP UNHAPPY

Last Friday the Ospreys hosted Munster in arguably the biggest match of the Pro 14 weekend, with the Irish province running out 19-13 winners. 

There was one incident which I found worthy of a Harpin Point; at a critical scrum the Welsh region won a penalty, prompting their flanker Sam Cross to stand up and slap the heads of several of the Munster forwards before he had a chance to un-bind themselves. 

Next came a reaction from Cross’ opposite number Chris Cloete (anyone else think he looks a bit like a young Bono?) and what happened next fell somewhere between handbags and a full on shamozzle. 

The ref Stu Berry did a decent job of separating them, though he needed the TMO in his ear to point out the slapping that kick-started the whole thing. 

I reckon it's high time we put an end to this nonsense. Like in this case, how about if Cross’ action led to a reversal of the penalty altogether? That could very well make players think again before engaging in such blatant provocation. 

And it's not as though Cross even made an effort to disguise what he was doing - had he just slapped one head he could have at least claimed he was aiming for a team-mate to congratulate, but this guys went for the full Munster front row PLUS Cloete! Taking the piss methinks and time for officials to do something IMO. 

I remember the first time I was enraged by this - it was the 2009 Heineken Cup final and Stan Wright had his head patted ironically by Martin Castrogiovanni as he went to the naughty step. There's no need for that in our sport and I don't think it would take much to snuff it out. 



Many thanks for sticking with my latest Harpin Points until the end.  Our focus this weekend is Friday night's visit of the Cheetahs and our preview will appear earlier that day.  Stay tuned!  JLP

Front Five - 27.02.19

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

ICYMI click here for our latest
batch of 80-word reviews


...there are growing fears behind the scenes at his home province that he may be allowed to leave prematurely in search of more game-time at the Kingspan Stadium.


Rúaidhrí O'Connor - Irish Independent

"I’m sorry if I let my frustrations boil over at times but that’s part of me and I care a lot about the team and want it to do well so."


Ryan Bailey - The42.ie

"I think it is a standard injury that takes a certain amount of time before you can make contact."


Colm Kinsella - Limerick Leader

...a short-term deal that could be worth as much as (approx €30,000) a month.


Stuff.co.nz

That would leave the number of regions being potentially reduced from four to three in south Wales with the clubs either merging or one being disbanded


Gareth Griffiths & Gareth Roberts - BBC.co.uk

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, February 26, 2019

80-word reviews from weekend of Feb 22-24



France deserved the win; there were some flashes of brilliance like a chip from Bastareaud that he caught himself and determined push for a late BP, but the Scots will be disappointed for taking 77m to turn one of their numerous chances into seven points. Though the likes of Kinghorn did well, there were clear Hogg- and Russell-shaped holes in their lineup. For the most part it didn't look like either team could finish higher than fourth this year.


Old school blood and thunder test rugby at its bruising best. The Welsh blinked first when an unguarded pillar allowed Curry to dart over the line but stayed in touch with a series of penalties (most by Sinckler) before a 34-phase goal-line siege ended with Cory Hill going over and an amazing feat of late ball-handling by Adams denied England a losing BP. Liam Williams was a well-deserved MotM and this throws the Championship wide open.


There were just 45 seconds on the clock when Glasgow 9 George Horne finished off an amazing move straight from the kickoff. Connacht tried to stay with them but were missing their numerous test absentees more than their hosts. They did scatter three tries throughout the match but young Conor Fitzgerald struggled from the tee and the Warriors were too strong particularly with their back three of Matawalu, Steyn and Jackson. Thankfully the Westerners remain well in the playoff hunt. 


Although the Ospreys got a losing BP, this was as comfortable a win as most teams would hope for at the Liberty Stadium. Munster took an early lead through Sweetnam and while they later added a penalty try and a final quarter score from Haley after 31 gruelling phases, most of the match was played in midfield with the likes of Beirne and Cloete dominating the breakdown area. Munster lead Conference A by 1 from Glasgow with five games left.


It seems everyone at Ulster gets a go at 10 these days; this time Peter Nelson capped a comfortable victory with their 8th try. The Italians held them for 15m before a James Brown yellow had the Kingspan crowd 'feeling good' as the floodgates opened. They simply couldn't handle the Ulster short lineout maul giving Herring an easy hat-trick while Marc Lyttle impressed from the tee with seven from eight. Handy 5pts and points difference boost in their playoff hunt. 

Six Nations Team of Round 3 by Mark Jackson


A French revival ? An overrated England ? Underrated Wales ? Improved Italy ? Scotland flattering to deceive , again ? And finally what's up closer to home ? Many questions still to be answered after round 3 of the 2019 6N , here is the pick of the past weekends performances.

15. Liam Williams (WAL) Covered every blade of grass required in defence negating England's kicking game and always cutting lines and making yards in attack.

14. Jayden Hayward (ITA) Not his usual position but had a fine individual game in Rome as part of a much more fluent Italian attack.

13. Jonathan Davies (WAL) Not as conspicuous in attack as in recent years but a supreme defensive showing from a class player. Basteraud had a good outing for France

12. Gael Fickou (FRA) For me one of his best all around games at this level , has always shown flashes of brilliance , wasted on the wing.

11. Josh Adams (WAL) Great finish for his try , high workrate in defence and always a threat ball in hand.

10. Romain Ntamack (FRA) Good thing he scored ignoring a three man overlap , France need to stick with him for progress , obvious flaws in his kicking game for a top class 10 but such an exciting talent. Tomasso Allen brought his backs into play excellently in Rome too

9. Antoine Dupont (FRA) Brings an energy to the French side , on form , dangerous breaker to add to his scrum half basics. Interests backrows leaving extra space for his outside backs and forward runners.

8. Louis Picamoles (FRA) Reborn this season after a few seasons full of doubt , lack of form and injury. Subtle footwork and offloads to go with obvious power , gets France go foward when they need it most. 

7. Tom Curry (ENG) For the first 60 mins in Cardiff was the obvious MotM candidate , faded a touch in last 20 but another powerful outing. 

6. Peter O'Mahony (IRE) The first Irish represensative in this weeks selection . Came up with vital turnovers on the floor and out of touch , just pips Navidi and Lauret to the 6 jersey.

5. Alun Wyn Jones (WAL) Supreme Leader Jones stamped his authority all over the Principality Stadium , Wales' totem and vital to their continued success. 

4. Cory Hill (WAL) Came of age with an athletic and powerful outing and capped a fine game with an important game turing try. Needs to back this effort up.

3. Demba Bamba (FRA) His performances bely the callowness of youth , he isn't 21 till Paddy's Day. Soft hands and quick feet allied to his power at scrum and in contact zones make him a player to watch iut for , for years to come. 

2. Guilhem Guirado (FRA) Back to somewhat near his best , looked forlorn in opening two fixtures , edges Ghiraldini who also impressed. Will be in Peter Horne's nightmares for a while.

1. Dave Kilcoyne (IRE) A tight decision for the loosehead role with a few contenders , the Munsterman's carrying and gainline successes see him capture the selection. Having a fine season overall.

1 Englishman , 1 Italian ,  2 Irishmen , 5 Welshmen and 6 Frenchmen are the make up of this weeks selection. A fallow week ahead sees time for returning injuries and no doubt some changes for each country heading into round 4.

Mark Jackson (@markusjacksonus) An Irishman in London....lover of rugby, NFL and family n friends not always in that order..consumer of meat, best friend to Wayne Barnes . All views my own and always open for a lively debate . Ireland, Leinster and the New York Giants fanatic.

*****
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Front Five - 26.02.19

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

ICYMI click here for our
Italy v Ireland writeup


"I think he just needs to focus on keeping playing. I'm sure he'll do that, he's a competitor, he wants to get better."


Cian Tracey - Irish Independent

Looking at other managers that have left their respective clubs and performances have dipped shows that this can happen.


Anthony Redmond - SportsNews Ireland

Joe Tomane [hamstring], Will Connors [ACL] and Nick McCarthy [foot] are all making progress on the comeback trail and have all returned to on-field running sessions


Ryan Bailey - The42.ie

“Winning games is enjoyable and I’m enjoying that process."


Christy Doran - FoxSports.com.au

Joey Carbery could be out “for a few weeks”, but he is hopeful that he might be fit for the French and Welsh games


Darragh Small - Irish Times

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, February 25, 2019

ITALY-16 IRELAND-26



“Yeah, but sure they won, didn't they?”

We all have someone in our lives who will ask us this during the week when we see them.  It could be a close relative, it could be a neighbour, it could be that guy Fergus from HR you always seem to meet in the break room. They're not real fans of rugby, but they know you are, so when they see your grumpy demeanour as they bring up the sensitive subject of this match, that's the kind of response you'll get. 

The annoying thing about it is that they're mostly right.  Imagine a company expecting profits of 3 billion Euro over a calendar year moaning about ‘only’ hitting 1 billion.  I dare say a lot of people would be more than happy with that final figure. 

In our case, we were expected to win this match by 30 points.  I actually thought that was an insult to Conor O’Shea and his set up before a ball was even kicked, but given we were starting with our world-class halfbacks while their own talisman was forced to watch from the sidelines, it was certainly realistic. 

What transpired was 80 minutes of Schmidt-ball failing at its most fundamental level.  When you take the match apart and analyse the plays individually, you see enough ‘systems failures’ to warrant a week's worth of DVD sessions, let alone just Monday morning's. 

But when you put them back together, the picture still looks the same as it did when we started… 

“Yeah, but sure they won, didn't they?”

I guess it's a fact of life that just because you don't want to hear something doesn't mean it can't be true.  And the feckers saying things like that probably don't even know about the bonus point we also won!

As far as I'm concerned, if we only want to discuss this match for the negatives, it won't help us at all.  We need to acknowledge them while still looking for silver linings, and I reckon there were a few, if well hidden. 

The biggest incident that gave me hope happened around the 59 minute mark.  We had been groaning since kickoff at all the little niggly errors - even our first touch, Seán O’Brien receiving the kickoff, gave us a sign of things to come in that he dropped it but it fell behind him and thus he was afforded a chance to clean things up. 

By the end of the third quarter, we had managed to edge ourselves back in front but the way this match was going, 3 points was anything but a comfortable cushion.  And at this stage, the groan-worthy incidents were coming even more closely together than before. 

On a day when lineouts were our chief source of anxiety, we actually clicked one on our own throw only for Conor Murray to have it stripped from him.  Then there's another reprieve as we quickly get another lineout, but this time we lost possession altogether. 

Now to be fair, our defence, built around a patchwork on-field XV as it was long before this stage, was holding up pretty well and the Italians were forced to kick, but although Andrew Conway seemed to have a read on the catch and is well capable of doing so, he couldn't grab this one and it was another knock on. 

Enter Tito Tebaldi, who was having the game of his life. Should he have been named man of the match?  I'm really not so sure - although being on the losing team may not automatically disqualify you, being on a team that lost at home by ten might, especially in this competition. 

But it was his quick thinking with the knock on advantage that saw him immediately kick into the space on the far side of the pitch and it found a perfect line putting us in touch in our own 22. 

From everything I have seen from Joe Schmidt-coached Ireland over the years, the decision over our next course of action should have been very simple. Secure the lineout, rumble through a series of exit phases, and if we get a line break well and good but if we get stopped around our own 22, get Murray to clear to half way. 

But what we did instead was something very, very un-Schmidt-like.  Before the Italian line could form we took a quick throw to make the most of the broken play situation that was before us, and although we were putting ourselves under a lot of pressure to produce accuracy on a day when we appeared to leave it behind in Dublin, the plan worked and moments later we won ourselves a penalty at halfway. 

That is what gives me hope.  Having a strategy that is based on high “risk v reward” evaluations is all well and good but the fact remains that players are not robots.  Some of your passes won't stick.  Some of your darts will sail over the jumper. Some of your tackles will be high enough to either get pinged or allow a strong runner to go through you.  And some days, like this day, all of the above will happen in the same match. 

But if you have enough confidence in yourself to look up from the playbook and across at who you're facing on the field of play, it's always possible to find a way through and maybe you won't win by a cricket score, but sometimes even a 1-point ‘football’ score is still enough (especially in a World Cup knockout). 

There were other mitigating factors on the day I thought, like the home side not being properly sanctioned for lack of discipline.  Joe won't be happy about our own total of 9 penalties shipped, but not only did the Italians have a whopping 14, that doesn't include the advantages nor does it take into account the numerous late hits on Johnny Sexton about which he appears to have given up complaining. 

Another thing was the fact that our players were dropping like flies in the first half.  My biggest concern wasn't that Bundee Aki was forced to leave the game, it was that he actually played on and made a carry or two before he did.  It seemed a nasty knock he took off the Stadio Olimpico turf and failing the HIA proves he should have played no further part. 

This already forced us into a major change as Keith Earls had to come off the wing into the centre, and while he had a good showing overall including a try, there were clear timing issues between himself and Sexton once or twice. 

So the last thing we wanted to happen was for our other starting centre Chris Farrell to come a cropper, and sure enough in the latter stages of the half he gets up from a tackle with what looks like a nasty ‘stinger’ which also makes further tackling unwise. 

I'm not suggesting that without the dodgy arm we would have been able to prevent Italy's second try, but it certainly didn't help that Farrell was the last man facing Luca Morisi as he got to the line. 

Let's be clear - I'm not making excuses here.  I just like to keep a safe distance from extreme opinions unless I feel it's absolutely necessary, and with every Irish megabyte of information about the match I've seen so far being negative, I just feel the need to reign it in a bit. 

But now it's time (finally some might say) to start exploring the negatives.  The lineouts are as good a starting point as any.  Whether or not you believe that the hooker is totally responsible when things go wrong, this was a bad time for the set-piece to be going wrong on his watch. 

And for the ones that did stick, he didn't seem able to work his magic for getting on the end of mauls and falling over the line, nor were there the line breaks or bone-crunching hits that have become his trademark for Leinster.  It was as though after missing the mark badly with his first throw, he carried that failure with him the rest of the way. 

But it's not like the issue was rectified the minute Niall Scannell took to the field, which suggests a broader problem around the pack.  While in some way it's OK to take comfort that things will improve when Best, Toner, Ryan and Beirne return to the 23, it is still troubling to be unsure of how we'd do without them. 

Still when it comes to our starting Connacht locks I wouldn't want to be too critical because they both had a pretty good game in the loose, particularly Ultan Dillane.  Neither will have done enough to rule themselves out of contention by a long stretch. 

As I suggested earlier, I agree with the choice Peter O’Mahony as man of the match, on account of a series of much needed contributions throughout.  However, I still have reservations about him as captain.  Maybe I missed it on the ref mic but I reckon a bit more pressure could have been applied on the ref for the amount of Italian no-nos and this is an area where Rory Best tends to shine.

When it comes to our four tries, the first was classic Schmidtball.  One of the reasons Aki stayed on after his head knock was that we were in the midst of a 19-phase series that ended up with Roux crashing over, so to be fair, it wouldn't have been easy to pick up the fact that he had his bell rung. 

The second try was classic Jacob Stockdale.  The Italians had just gotten on the board when they had a major systems failure of their own on the restart which meant it fell perfectly for the Ulsterman and while he makes those finishes look easy they are anything but.  Not every winger even at test level would canter to the line from there as he did. 

But credit to the Italians for not giving up, though while they did impress in patches and had strong outings from the likes of Tebaldi and Hayward, I think it was more a case of them taking the advantages we gave them rather than creating their own.  And seeing how their tails were up having taken the lead before the break, that we prevented them from scoring at all after it cannot be ignored. 

Try number 3 was finished by Earls and came about once more after multiple phases in their 22.  As has been said several times, it's far from pretty but it can still be effective, especially when times are tough and we're virtually relying on muscle memory. 

Once the fourth try was within our reach, we simply had to go for it.  Many question whether or not we should have replaced Murray and/or Sexton when things weren't working but I certainly can't blame Joe for going ‘all-in’ on the notion that his chances of success are better when they're on the pitch. 

We did need another bit of luck for the bonus point score, as when Federico Ruzza climbed to swat down another of our attacking lineouts yet it found its way into touch allowing us a ‘do-over’.  This time everything worked, the maul got us to the line, and Murray applied the finish. 

I was hoping for another score before the end as a 15-point margin at least would maximise our ranking points, but at that stage I knew I was being greedy.  The thinking should have been "take the five match points and get out of dodge to lick the wounds", and you couldn't help having sympathy for Ian McKinley not snatching a losing bonus right at the end. 

So there it was.  Atrocious display by our high standards, but a bonus point win nonetheless and with Wales halting England the day before, it still keeps the Championship alive for us, slim though the chances may be. 

All we can do is let Joe and his staff get on with it in the meantime, even if it is great craic going on line and suggesting we know what the answer is 😉.  So far in this job they have had similar ‘lean’ spells form-wise with his squad (as has every other coach at this level, yes even the All Blacks), but each time they seem to be able to regroup and come back stronger.  

Hopefully as fans we have seen enough to be able accept that while we have been far from our best in this 2019 iteration of “Rugby's Greatest Championship”, we believe that they can sort things out in time for the one in the autumn that is actually even greater.  JLP


Later this week we'll have a guest post from Keego plus the return of Mark Jackson's Six Nations Team Of The Round on Tuesday, Harpin Points on Wednesday, Telly post on Thursday and our Scotland v Ireland preview on Friday.  Plus of course every morning our Front5 quotes & links.  Do stay tuned!

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