Posts Tagged ‘ Anthony Foley ’

European Rugby – Munster Face Down Their Biggest Milestone

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New competition, new beginnings and a chance for Munster to reclaim some of their former glory. That is what awaits Anthony Foley’s men on Saturday when they travel to meet Saracens. It is getting tired and it is beyond cliche to say it, but Munster are a backs to the wall team at their finest moments. When all is required and all can be lost, that is when Munster sincerely find their place in European Rugby. There is no better recent example than that exemplary performance against Harlequins in 2013 when Munster were all but written off and came out blazing to send ‘Quins home licking their wounds. Of course, these scenarios don’t always go their way but there seems to just be a little in the air to suggest that won’t be the case this weekend.
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European Rugby – Time To Separate The Men From The Boys

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Round two of the European Rugby Champion’s Cup and already we’re looking at a whole new playing field. Ulster VS Toulon, Munster VS Saracens, Leinster VS Castres and Connacht VS Exeter. Certainly far more fitting and mouth watering challenges for the provinces, and though it may be true that you don’t lose any competition in the first round, the second is where those short fallings and mistakes can be made that haunt you for the rest of the season.

Munster VS Saracens this evening is a fixture that has never failed to thrill. Through the year these sides have fought some of the closest matches in rugby history and one could argue that Saracens have the closest thing to a Munster-esque legacy in England, their embrace of brand establishment and of course they have thrown up some results to justify all of it. Kelly Brown, Billy Vunipola, David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Brad Barrit. It doesn’t need to be emphasised what pedigree Munster find themselves up against this evening. Continue reading

European Rugby – Three From Four Ain’t Bad

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Mixed, is there any other word for that opening weekend? A classic Munster performance, from a new Munster side. A near all time best from Connacht. Gusto without result from Ulster. And such muddling from Leinster. Yep, it’s gonna be a long season.

Munster got the ball rolling early on Sunday with their clash against Sale. Nobody could really call what shape Sale would show up in but in a pool including Clermont and Saracens they should not be classed as the top tier opposition for the Reds. Still an away trip to any English side can be tricky and yet another last minute get out of jail moment from Munster proved that to be the case once more. Continue reading

European Rugby – “Not” The Heineken Cup

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“Four tries at the very least, and a 27 point margin to boot. No team could surely ever pull it off. Watch now, as Ronan O’Gara lines up the most important kick of his Munster career…”

Ok so, except that there’s one less pool (and four less teams as a result), let’s face it, this is the Heineken Cup. To Irish rugby fans in particular, the Heineken Cup even in name alone meant a lot more than just sponsorship. It’s a heritage, a legacy. It’s the reason we all looked forward to October. And the greatest Irish successes, be it winning finals or overcoming huge opponents in knockouts, all came at the peak of the competition’s popularity both with the public and financially. Is it any wonder there were calls for change from outside the country? Continue reading

Pro 12 – Kearney King As The Provinces Nab A Clean Sweep

Rob Kearney dots down the firs of his two tries last Saturday

Rob Kearney dots down the first of his two tries last Saturday

Some of it was simply beautiful, some of it down and dirty nitty gritty, and some of it we’ll just never know as Munster V Treviso was inexplicably not televised. But it’s a clean sweep for the provinces, after an opening round that saw just the one – Connacht – team nab any joy. Ulster and Munster didn’t make it easy over what should have been straight forward enough Italian opposition, but they got the job done. Connacht ground out a win at the death that was just completely unrecognisable from their last two seasons, and Leinster came back to something resembling the defending champions they are. A good weekend indeed. Continue reading

Heineken Cup – Munster Finish Their Heineken Cup History On A Low

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“Not with a bang, but a whimper”. The words of T.S Elliot may seem a somewhat harsh reflection on the weekend’s rugby, but for two teams like Munster and more significantly Clermont to bow out of the competition’s final ever incarnation in such fashion was deflating at best. Munster can take heart from the fact that they lost to the best and that they were at least extremely close to functioning fully, whereas Clermont will only be too happy to close the door on the competition that has caused them such mental anguish over the years, in the hope that the new Championship brings more prosperous times. Continue reading

Munster Announce Foley As New Head Coach

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Munster have confirmed that former Ireland international Anthony Foley will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1st 2014.

Foley will succeed Rob Penney as Head Coach at the start of the 2014/15 season after signing a two-year contract that will see him stay with the province until at least June 2016. Continue reading

RaboDirect Preview: Last Chance For Ulster As The League Finishes

Before looking at this week’s upcoming games, it would be wise to reflect one more  time on the weekend of rugby gone. Leinster find themselves in the final for the third year running with a chance of three trophies in four years. Ulster are finally back to the spot they last saw in 1999 and did so by beating Munster at home along the way. Irish rugby is at this point, for want of a better word, hogging the Heineken Cup. There are many arguments against this and how bad it could be for the European game but in truth, it is fantastic. It is turning Irish teams into the Kiwis of club rugby, the nation to be feared and the nation to beat. All of it means nothing however if it doesn’t eventually translate to the national team. Why is it that by the look of things, Leinster could beat anyone in the world but Ireland can only manage Italy and Scotland so far this year? Is it the coaches, is it the player’s commitment to the green or is it simply the vast gap between club and international? One would think that this summer is going to be the ultimate proof in that the provinces, based on the right team being selected, will be working off immense momentum and the All Blacks make the perfect test.

A few weeks back we observed how funny the twists and turns of rugby can be, in that Ulster are essentially out of the Rabo and yet are Heineken Cup finalists. It hasn’t come about through Ulster looking down on the domestic side of things, not at all; it’s simply the nature of the game. Yet Ulster do still stand a slim chance of qualification. Should both Scarlets and Warriors come away from this weekend with no points and Ulster somehow secure a bonus point win against their southern rivals then they will make it to the final four. Without disrespecting either opposition, it is unlikely that Scarlets and Warriors won’t at least earn a losing bonus point, but at least Ulster will take the field knowing there is still something to play for. With things to play for though, Munster have the monopoly on that this weekend. With no Heineken Cup rugby left for them, they now solely have the retaining of last year’s Magners trophy on their agenda. They cannot improve their table standing but a Glasgow win could affect them just as much as Ulster as it would put them against Leinster in the play off, a team they have only beaten twice in the last nine times of asking. Though the Ospreys at home are by no means a soft touch, but they are definitely the more appealing to Munster one would think. As the HC Quarter Finals showed us, this match has the potential to be a cracker and with all of the added incentives it should be thrilling to watch. Ulster will have a lot in their face however with the likelihood that this is McGahan’s last game coaching Munster in Thomond, potentially the last time in Thomond for some of the older regular starters now that a new coach is inbound and worst of all for the visitors, the impassioned Munster crowd are as behind the Rabo campaign now as the team are, it is the only possible reward of this season and like last year they are fully committed to go hell for leather. If you asked me on form I’d have to say Ulster, but knowing what these men can do with a cause behind them, plus Ulster’s slightly sparse squad means it has to be Munster win

Possibly the most exciting game of the weekend for an Irish fan is the match up of Connacht VS Glasgow. Connacht woke up nearly unexpectedly with their impressive win over Dragons, and kept consistent with a win over Ulster, which may have effectively knocked them out of the Rabo, and then a disputable win over Aironi. But three wins on the trot is big news for the Western province and this final game allows them an opportunity for many things. First of all, they play this game as Heineken Cup qualifiers due to the All-Ireland final. This is a tag if nothing else, and one that they will want to stay proud of and prove right. The second incentive of the match is the more obvious one that is they have the opportunity now to show they deserved those three wins; that it was through their merit and not the opposition’s faults that they are where they are. Based on the form guide, there is more in Connacht’s favour than Glasgow’s at the moment with a narrow win over Treviso and a draw with Scarlets amongst the Scot’s recent results. The danger men are there however and call ups for Scotland’s summer tour can’t be ignored either. If there is one big shining light for Connacht it is their general form against Warriors who haven’t managed to beat them since 2009 and as Treviso showed at the start of the season, they are beatable by any underdog. These stats probably don’t mean much to the players that take the pitch, but it isn’t possible that they aren’t anywhere to be found even in the back of their minds. It is about belief now for Connacht, belief that they can be a team that notched up these wins through expectation, that a win on the road is not always a miracle match and that for the first time since the 02/03 season they can record four on the trot and their best ever domestic finish ahead of their second year of Heineken Cup rugby next year. Connacht win

Rout. It isn’t fair to say it ahead of a match but for the, ridiculously, untelevised fixture on Saturday of Leinster VS Dragons it really is hard to see any other outcome. Dragons are playing for nothing but pride given their third from the bottom table position and their form in the last few weeks has seen a one point loss to Treviso at home and a relative hammering from Connacht also at home. Leinster’s form on the other hand doesn’t really need to be discussed at this point. Aside from one blip in the RDS against Ospreys they have been as good as invincible this season, 14 Heineken Cup games unbeaten, no away losses this season and some ridiculously comprehensive wins such as the recent one over Edinburgh at the RDS. Again, rout; but not without benefits. Leinster have got the benefit of not having any concerns for position in this fixture and so can field a fresh squad from that which faced Clermont. Again it is an opportunity for players to put hands up for European selection. Players like Dave Kearney, Devin Toner, Ian Madigan and more all have this match to their advantage as a platform, given that the Barbarians game is likely to be out of their reach thanks to it coming three days after the Rabo final. I’d like to say that some of these players are competing for spots on the plane to New Zealand, but I don’t like to deal with insane hypotheticals. No this will be a game where Leinster should have these young hopes fielded and as they proved against Edinburgh they are more than capable of putting up cricket scores. To offer some support to Dragons here, it is not to their detriment that they face down this barrel. Their season has been incredibly underwhelming and the Welsh clubs in general are not having the best time of it lately, surprising given the national success. There are financial issues, as evidenced in the Ospreys exodus, but it seems that the clubs could do with more support from WRU. Since 2003 the Welsh clubs have operated on a similar model to Ireland in that they reduced their numbers to four principal clubs. Yet they haven’t seemed to get the hang of it quite as well. They need to tread carefully lest they risk losing some of their biggest names abroad and losing the breeding ground for young talent that is the club game. It is made all the more crucial from the perspective of how much of a force Wales are becoming in world rugby and the four clubs are going to be essential in continuing that success. But back to the weekend at hand, as if you hadn’t guessed it already, Leinster win

Leinster, maybe slightly prematurely, have issued 18 new contracts in the wake of their progression through to the Heineken Cup final. Most worryingly in all of this though is the noticeable absence of Luke Fitzgerald, still, from any confirmations. This needs to be sorted, otherwise should he be lost it will go down as one of the IRFU’s greatest blunders. This should not be how the Irish union treats a Grand Slam hero.

Also of course Munster have finally acquired a new coach after a needlessly long winded search. The surprise however is that they settled for Rob Penney who, apart from trialling for the All Blacks, has Southern Hemisphere ITM rugby to his name and no more. He is joining in July after he coaches the New Zealand U21s in the Junior World Cup and it seems Munster are going for the freshest approach possible in going for a coach who will be forced to spend vast amounts of time at the drawing board in order to figure out what he wishes to do with the team, a team that is in need of reinvention. Anthony Foley is being kept as forwards coach and the general buzz about the camp seems to be that he was deemed too inexperienced for the top job they do eventually want him to take. Once the right person is chosen for the backs position, this could be the shakeup that Munster needs. The forward play is hard to fault and Penney will feel he has a lot to prove, the key is reigniting the spark in the backline.

Six Nations Round Up – Week Three

There it is. Not the complete performance, not by a long shot, but definitely proof that there is life in the current Irish team outfit. The performance on Saturday, at least in the second half, is another to add to the trophy case that includes England 07, France 09, England 11 and Australia 11. Keeping Italy scoreless from just before half time and notching up 32 points in the meantime, Ireland showed a clinical game style that need not take into account the performance of the opposition. The simple fact is that even the worst opposition would be expected to snaffle at least an intercept or some other opportunistic score over 40 minutes. Ireland did not allow this to happen. On a player performance level, Ireland were refreshing. Ferris and Kearney in particular played out of their skin, Ferris seemingly finding himself receiving in ball in areas of the pitch he never has in a green jersey and boy does it work. Earls at thirteen too couldn’t be faulted in any major fashion but a stronger opposition is needed before a full blessing can be given to him in the position. In relation to my preview article on this match however, the same problems persist. Kidney is lucky that there doesn’t seem to have been any major injuries picked up in this match, but his preferred starting 15 was shown up when the alarmingly early substitutions began. Reddan replacing Murray saw an injection of pace into the game and a rousing step up from Sexton. Murray cannot be faulted for his performance, but once again his style of play does not match Sexton’s. He also needs to make up his mind before touching the ball, not whilst it is in his hands. Ryan also made the same difference as before from the bench, that is he played well unlike O’Callaghan who put in another “just about enough” performance. And what about the tinkering around Kidney finished with? Admittedly ten minutes is not nearly enough time to get a real picture of anything but the combination of Bowe and Sexton in midfield, McFadden on the wing and O’Gara at outhalf whilst Sexton still kicks, goes to show that Kidney may have it in him to consider these things. The centres were dictated by D’Arcy’s departure, fair enough, but the more Sexton is seen at 12 the more it seems a realistic option and it would not surprise me to see it at some point next week, particularly if the match is being chased. As for the Italian performances, well, not so much to write home about. Botes, who I should clarify was not receiving his first cap on Saturday as I had mistakenly said last week rather it was his first at 10, was the biggest weak link. His three missed kicks finishing 2 from 5 were a massive factor in the half time score and one does wonder what Italy could have done with a fully functioning out half. Parrise was his usual storming self and it is nearing the point where he can be pitied for having to be on the losing end of games so often. His own words summed up Italy’s closing minutes performance when he said that they “Gave up”, which is exactly what happened. The forwards, as usual, have the lions share of plaudits coming to them for fronting up and causing trouble for the Irish scrum but still not enough. In essence, Italy were not nearly at their worst but nowhere near their best, and Ireland were nearly the same. The difference was that Ireland managed to turn it on, and kept it on. The second half wasn’t a typical Irish 40 minutes of random flares, Ireland controlled for the entire second half. The players will not care whether or not Italy were at their best, they will care that they put 32 unanswered points on them and got back to winning ways. The trip to France next week suddenly seems far less daunting, once the first 40 minutes played by Ireland on Saturday never happens again. Ireland 42 – Italy 10

The next best game of the weekend then was that of France VS Scotland. Passion, simply one of the only words that can be used to describe it. Admittedly France ticked their boxes of old and “didn’t travel” as they have so famously not done in the past, but Scotland showed merit and character that the nation is so famous for and were only too unfortunate to be on the losing end due to many factors, notably France waking up, an incredibly unfortunate injury to Rory Lamont and some debatable work from Wayne Barnes (though in fairness to him, he spotted the pain Lamont was in within seconds and was possibly instrumental in him leaving the pitch with only a broken leg). The opening quarter of the match which resulted in Scotland’s first try against France in Murrayfield since 2006, was some inspiring and scintillating rugby. Scotland, like the wounded dog they were, came out with fire in their eyes and took France completely by surprise. How wonderfully fitting it was that Hogg should score when in the build up it was expected he would be the one to provide the spark to Scotland’s game. Scotland then going on to hold France scoreless until the thirty minute mark, this match was defying all expectations. Even once France came to and got their bearings, Scotland did not retreat and give up. Instead they fought back to take the lead again, only to lose it once more. Then, at 20 – 17 three points down, the Scots looked like they were on course for a third try and would have at least been looking at a penalty to draw level, only for Wayne Barnes to have another of his trademark moments. Barnes, like Italy, seems to only be able to play for 60 minutes. His performance until this point had been on the button, including the keen eyes to spot Lamont’s trouble. But then he manages to miss a blatant high tackle on Weir, moves on to seemingly play advantage to Scotland for an offside from France, then concludes his wonderful work with a scrum awarded to France for a Scottish knock on, moments after sticking out his arm for the advantage with Scotland not gaining any significant ground. Now all this being said, Scotland should have been able to find another way to win this match but it has to be noted now that that is two Six Nations matches so far that Wayne Barnes has been instrumental in the result of, at least in the obvious fashions anyway. There has never been a game of rugby played where the referee was the sole reason for a team winning or losing, but Barnes seems to be keen to try and break this record. From here though, Scotland must press on. They impressed more than they have in a long time last Sunday and let it continue, I have no doubt that they will be serious opponents to Ireland in the Aviva. As for France, next weekend, at home, will tell the full tale. It is possible the extra time off hasn’t benefited them as it seems to have Ireland. Or this could just be one of the days they were only capable of getting the job done, no more no less. Scotland 17 – France 23

Lastly then we have one of the tightest matches of the weekend and, much like the Murrayfield encounter, one where the home team decided to wake up and impress. It is not important that the match was so close up to the last five minutes, what is important is that until then England had Wales for the taking but just weren’t clinical enough to finish the job. Wales did not resemble the team that showed up on the opening weekend in the Aviva, not in any way. England on the other hand did show improvement but not nearly as much as is needed. “We didn’t play well at all today” was Sam Warburton’s thoughts immediately after, clearly Gatland is giving elocution lessons to his players too, and he really was spot on. It was English error, much like England’s two previous opponents, that lead to Wales prevailing.Even with the old enemy it was hard not to urge an England win, of the two teams they did deserve it more. But the match as a whole was only as exciting as it was due to both teams performing equally below the levels they are capable of but evenly matching each other. Wales may now have a Triple Crown secured but the Slam is anything but a given. They may have France at home for the clean sweep after an Italian team they would be expected to handle easily enough, but if they perform anything like what was seen on Saturday in said matches they will be in trouble. England 12 – Wales 19

Just a small note in some more rugby news that Gert Smal has withdrawn from his position as forwards coach to Ireland due to an ongoing eye condition that has flared up during the tournament. Anthony “Axel” Foley of Munster is in to replace him for the remainder and hopefully Smal can make a full recovery from his current predicament and continue on his work for Ireland.