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Irish Rugby: Clouds And Silver Linings

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Close but no cigar.

It was nothing short of heartbreak for the Irish rugby squad at Twickenham last Saturday. It was always going to be a bruising encounter but one felt that Ireland this year under the leadership of Joe Schmidt would just have too much for the young English pretenders. In hindsight, Ireland just didn’t show up, they seemed sluggish from the start and allowed England to dictate the game from the kick off. England however were guilty of leaving more scores out on the pitch than Ireland and going into the tunnel only three points down at half time must have been very encouraging to the Irish players.

Jonathan Sexton had a mediocre game, his kicking was not what it was in the Aviva against Wales but on the flip side of that, credit must be given to Stuart Lancaster and his coaches. They had their homework done as it was more the case that Sexton had little or no options when it came to kicking for field position. The English backs gave him nothing to aim at, both wingers hugged either line and the Racing Metro star was forced into little chips over their centres heads. This ploy failed as Mike Brown, who was in sensational form, continually made ground from loose kicks that ultimately just gave away possession. Ireland turned down chance after chance in the first half to use their most potent weapon, the maul. Maybe it was a tactical decision to suck in the English defence and go wide when they were almost certainly expecting Ireland to try and trundle down the middle. The decision in the second half to use it paid dividends as the English struggled to defend against it, maybe Ireland should have used it from the start. Continue reading

Ireland Set To Power Past England

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Joe Schmidt may have set his stall out at the beginning of this Six Nations Championship as being happy with a top two finish but he and everyone else knows that there is so much more on offer for this Irish team. A win today is very much on the cards for a rejuvenated Ireland team. They have in their ranks the best positional kicker of a rugby ball, they have the better of the two packs and they have experience that money can’t buy. Leaders will be littered around the park in green jerseys. Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and the latest leader by example Peter O’Mahony.

Ireland’s maul has been the weapon of choice for their first two games against Scotland and Wales and what a weapon it has proven to be. How England can stop this marching green machine without giving away penalties must be a severe head scratching exercise for their coaches. The simple answer is, they can’t, Irish body positions when they roll forward have been so close to perfection as to say that this maul is unstoppable. Will they get an opportunity to use it? With Devin Toner, O’Connell and O’Mahony in their line out, it’s difficult to see them not getting ample opportunity to break English hearts here. Ireland were slow off the mark against Scotland but impressively they didn’t panic. They bided their time and eventually broke down the opposition to win out comfortably. There was only ever one winner from the kick off against Wales. The better structure of the Irish game, the better decision making and the continued frustrating of the Welsh by pinning them back in their own half, time and time again reaped dividends. Continue reading

The Ever Changing Word Of Neil Francis

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Former Irish rugby international Neil Francis jumped head first into hot water this week. Speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball, Francis found himself discussing gay people in sport and generalised that, ‘gay people have little interest in sport’, and followed on by saying that’s ‘not a generalisation’. ‘What are their interests?’, he continued, ‘I mean, if you’ve ever sat down with, you know, homosexual people and asked them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport. That’s my experience from sitting down with them; I’ve done it on a regular basis’.

So Neil Francis regularly sits down and discusses issues with gay men. ‘I don’t have an interest in ballet’, he argued when pursued on the matter. Ah well, that’s ok then, why should gay people be allowed to play sport when Neil doesn’t be bothering them at the ballet? When it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, Francis then generalised even further. ‘You do a survey of the hair-dressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that’. Ever heard of women Neil? There’s a few barbers around the country that are pulling their hair out listening to you also. And so it continued, ‘I’m here. I’m going to express an opinion’, he said. That’s fair enough but using phrases like the ‘rugby dressing room is a pretty homophobic environment’, is a bit of backward thinking. Rugby may be a game of passing backwards to go forward but it’s all backwards with Neil on this one. It is just this kind of thinking that prevents young people from expressing themselves and being who they really are. If you’re gay, you’re gay, if you’re heterosexual, you’re heterosexual, who cares anymore? Just get on with it. Continue reading

Irish Rugby: One Direction,Right Direction

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It was a pleasure to be at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday to witness Ireland versus Wales. A major banana skin lay in wait for Joe Schmidt’s rejuvenated side but they stepped over it and did it with some style. There were some huge performances all over the park from the Irish team but as an overall package, they left Wales frustrated and confused. Tactically, Schmidt again got it right. The Welsh were left with no room to run, their big ball carrying backs never got up speed when accepting a pass, they were met with a line of green, each and every time they attempted to make progress. Their frustration eventually boiled over after Paddy Jackson walked through for a late try. The Irish fly-half was followed to the ground and struck with an elbow into his face as he landed, momentum, no, malicious, yes. The follow up handbags and pushing only confirmed the frustration that the Welsh were feeling. If they came to Dublin to fight, they left it too late.

Outplayed and out thought by an Irish side not willing to give any ground, the Welsh must go back to the drawing board and hope that England can stop Irish momentum in two weeks time. If one moment of the early exchanges epitomises the Irish effort that was on display, it was a huge hit on Brian O’Driscoll by Welsh centre Scott Williams, the big screen replay is not one that went down well with the home crowd, as late as a bride at her wedding. The wind was obviously knocked out of the former Irish captain and he received treatment as play continued. The crowd erupted when he got back to his feet, he was shook but glanced forward and offered a wry smile to his assailant. Williams was replaced moments later, a shoulder injury the result of his exchange with O’Driscoll, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Continue reading

Using French As Bargaining Tool May Hinder Irish Stars Of Tomorrow

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‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life’. Muhammad Ali.

Bluff or real deal? We may never know but one thing is for sure, the big money spending French clubs must be getting sick and tired of bringing over Irish internationals for talks, knowing in the back of their minds, the Irish just want to stay at home. As Joe Schmidt gets himself comfortable driving the Irish hopes and dreams into the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he must be greatly heartened by the fact that all bar one of his squad look like being Irish based for the next two years. The only foreign based player just happens to be his playmaker but in a rugby world where the French clubs hold the gold, just one player away from home is a serious result. The I.R.FU. can take credit for keeping the players on home soil but how much intention from the player to play in France actually existed.  Continue reading

Six Nations : Ireland Seek To Banish Welsh Blues

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The Six Nations Championship continues this weekend and Grand Slam hopes are on the line for the three winning teams from last week. If France and England was the pick of the clashes last week, well then undoubtedly, the meeting of Ireland and Wales holds top spot this week. In a year that looks to be very open, even last weekend’s losing sides will feel that the Championship is still up for grabs. England in particular will be looking to get their chariot back on track and will be looking for a big performance against the Scots. The first game of the weekend will see the meeting of Slam hopefuls Ireland and Wales. Continue reading

Six Nations – Grand Slam Candidates Keep Cards Close To Chest

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In a year where four wins may suffice to claim the Six Nations Championship, the three winning sides from last weekend kept their cards very close to their chests. A not too convincing performance from the defending champions in Cardiff saw them limp over the line against Italy. The Italians were up for it from the start but didn’t get the luck that an underdog requires to put it up to the favourites. Wales took advantage of early Italian mistakes and nervousness. Mistakes that the Italians would really regret at the final whistle. Warren Gatland will be delighted that his side managed to take care of the Azzuri without really clicking into third or fourth gear. The second half of that match was all about Italy, two break away tries saw them get to within five points of the hosts at one stage and the whiff of an upset was there momentarily. Wales finally quashed the Italian ambition with yet another Leigh Halfpenny penalty. A two score game for the last few minutes gave the Welsh a cushion as defeat became an impossibility. Not getting out of second gear may have kept future opposition in the dark somewhat as to the what Wales can really offer but this may yet prove to be a double edged sword that they may well regret.

If this year’s championship proves to be as close as it promises then score difference may well be the deciding factor after the final round of games. Only beating Italy by eight points at home could come back to haunt the Welsh yet. The Italians will feel that they had a real chance here. An impressive game from centre Michele Campagnaro which saw him cross the Welsh line twice in the second half is but one of the positives they can take away from this performance. They have the look of a team that will upset one of the Championship hopefuls between now and the finish. Wales know that their first big test is against Ireland this weekend and the one way to make sure that score difference doesn’t come into it, is to win all your games. Continue reading