Posts Tagged ‘ Stephen Ferris ’

Summer Internationals – Schmidt Looks To Future Stars


We’ve wanted it for a long time now, we’ve got it in dribs and drabs over the years on tours to the United States and such, but finally tomorrow evening our time, a fairly experimental Irish rugby team will come up against a closer to top tier nation in the first of a two game summer series.  Exciting times indeed, let’s have a look at what Joe Schmidt has put together for us
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Heineken Cup – The French Connection Continues


What is it with Irish teams versus the French? The English have Le Crunch, but with fixtures like Leinster VS Clermont in 2010 at the Aviva, again two years later in Bordeaux, Ulster VS Montpellier and Munster VS Perpignan this year, you’d have to say the Celtic and Gallic head to head has just created a huge buzz in recent years. Good news then that two of the three Irish provinces are of course taking on French opposition this weekend. Pure sporting nectar. Continue reading

Rabo Direct Pro 12: The Leinster-Munster Juggernaut Returns


Ah its back again. Post-Six Nations hangovers are worse when you’re successful, no doubt about that. There’s little to win in the muddling Rabo games that arise between the end of the Six Nations and the Heineken Cup resumption. But then along comes the colossus, the manly Munstermen versus the Leinster ladyboys, a fixture that defies all logic and at times elevates above European standard. Ah yes, it’s good to be back.
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Three Uncapped Players In Ireland Squad For Guinness Series

The Ireland coaching staff have announced a squad of 34 players for the forthcoming GUINNESS Series against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in November.

The make-up of the squad is consistent with recent years. The sole exile included is British & Irish Lions outhalf Jonathan Sexton.

There are three uncapped players included in the squad – David Kearney, who was on the bench for Ireland back in 2012, is included alongside Jack McGrath and James Coughlan. Continue reading

Leinster Travel To Take On An Invigorated Munster – Rabo Preview


Time and time again it’s mentioned, religiously by yours truly, but there is just something that bit extra special about Leinster taking on Munster, an event that is only heightened by the home fixture for Munster given the impenetrable nature of Thomond Park. It takes a serious slug through the books before you get to the days of Munster regularly handing out losses to Leinster, the Donnybrook army have had a near 100 percent success rate against their rivals since 2009.
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Rabo Round Up: Connacht Continue Winning Streak As Leinster Remove Ulster From The League

Rugby is a strange game and leads to even stranger scenarios. Take Edinburgh for example, sitting one from the bottom in the domestic league but approaching a semi-final in European competition. Yet even with this spring in their step, their domestic campaign continued its horrible run of form with a spanking handed out from Cardiff Blues. On the Irish front we are experiencing something similar. Ulster are through to their first semi in over ten years, but now look to have no further part to play in the Rabo after the pools. Munster also continue to surprise by seemingly managing to decrease the quality of their rugby in the season’s business end. And then we have Connacht suddenly springing to life out of nowhere. A strange game indeed.

Speaking of Connacht, we may begin by commending them on their current run of three wins from three. It has been a hit and miss season for Connacht, with many games simply falling away from them in the closing moments. Whilst this weekend’s match against Aironi was nothing resembling a competent performance from the hosts, it is another win and with all the games they should have won but didn’t, maybe the odd game being won when they shouldn’t have is what they deserve. They showed some mettle too given that Aironi led 16 – 3 until Nikora’s boot and Ah You’s 67th minute try put them neck and neck, replacement kicker Jarvis then stepping up to land the monster 55 metre kick for the win. When the big hitters like Leinster and Ulster win by the skin of their teeth, most will tend to go with the old adage of “a win is a win”, so I suppose why not apply it here too. Connacht now enter a race for eighth place and based on the last few weeks it would be just reward. Much like this game required them to get it together and snap back into the place, they’re season required it too and they have done just that. Names like Tiernan O’Halloran and Gavin Duffy must surely be putting their hands up for contention for Ireland’s fixture against the Barbarians at least before the summer tour. Here’s hoping Connacht can finally take a winning streak and actually gain something from it. Connacht 19 – Aironi 16

Also in action on Sunday was Munster, a team seemingly going the opposite direction to Connacht over the last few weeks. I had alluded to this fixture possibly being tricky for Munster last week, but I doubt anyone expected that it would play out with the men in red (or white even) would wrack up a seven point half time lead and finish off with a draw. The first half showed good signs of Munster dominance and the Scarlets weren’t exactly holding back on anything. It looked like Munster were waking up again. The second half however was a far dourer affair. Apart from one early moment where the smallest of measures stopped Keatley from scoring a fine try, Munster were back in the uninspired guise we have seen for a lot of this season. As was the case against Glasgow in Musgrave, the key try that brought Scarlets back into the game was far too soft and easy for a score versus two time Heineken Cup winners. It’s hard to pin point what is wrong with Munster at the minute, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that lack of belief seems to be an issue as well as others. Munster don’t carry the same intimidation factor they once did and now teams see them as more beatable than they ever were, as evidenced in Scarlets ending a 14 match losing streak against the reds with this match. There’s still plenty of rugby to be played and with a new coach next season, be it Foley or Umanga, Munster are not out for the count. But they are definitely in need of something being stirred within the team. What this match has done for Munster in the league too is remove their hopes of a home semi and increases the likelihood that they will face Ospreys in their knock out, not a happy prospect. Scarlets 20 – Munster 20

The final round of action for the provinces was a bitter sweet game to watch. Before the game the maths were in place that a Leinster win would cost Ulster’s playoff chances dearly. With both teams being the last remaining Irish teams in the Heineken however, nobody expected it would be a walk in the park for the All Blues. What this fixture should have produced is a serious battle of attrition between two heavyweights. What we got instead was both teams afraid to show their hand ahead of the semis and taking each team’s tries out of the equation, came down to a war of the kickers. Unfortunately for Ulster, it was not Piennar’s day. Coupled with the amount of penalties they gave away all evening themselves, Sexton was allowed to easily wrack up the points and in the end Leinster came away comfortably with the win. This leaves Ulster using their next Rabo fixture as nothing but hopefully a Heineken Cup Final warm up. Again it is telling of Ulster’s lack of depth that with simply just Best and Ferris excluded from the team, they are vastly under qualified for the task at hand, whereas Leinster proved against Edinburgh that they do not suffer the same issues in any way. Essentially Ulster could be left out in the cold should they make the final as they simply do not have the pool to choose from to make it through two colossal games in a few weeks. The Leinster side of things doesn’t warrant much discussion anymore as their fantastic consistency makes one eventually run out of flattering comments. They have no won both home and away fixtures against all of the provinces and still have only three losses in this competition. They are simply on fire and even when below par as they were on Friday, still stand head and shoulders above most other teams. Leinster 16 – Ulster 8

RaboDirect Pro 12 Table

Leinster   77

Ospreys   67

Munster  62

Glasgow  61

Don’t forget also tickets are still on sale on Ticketmaster for Ulster’s semi-final in the Aviva, some as cheap as €20. Above all else a great day out is guaranteed!

New Threats & Old Enemies – Six Nations Preview Final Week

Here it is then, the final weekend of one of the oldest sporting tournaments. Every year it brings the same, unexpected failure and long anticipated joy. For teams like Italy, Scotland and France, the outcome is unfortunately failure. Italy and Scotland could have been expected to maybe shake things up in the tournament, not based on form but based on history and passion. Alas, they now fight for last place on Saturday. France have gone from World Cup finalists to looking at a third or fourth place finish in a competition of only six. The questions raised about them are numerous. Wales then as expected followed on from their outstanding World Cup form to be the team to beat this year and so far of course, nobody has. A third slam in seven years is all but inevitable. One of the best success stories from the Six Nations this year has been England, though it will be amped up after that astounding victory over the French. England have not come out as a team reinvented in this year’s competition, not by a long shot. They are still playing a somewhat sloppy game that won’t stand up to much scrutiny from a top tier team firing on all cylinders, but they are all the same potentially, in a world where points difference is not relevant, looking towards possibly winning the tournament. Not too shabby a result for a team looking down the barrel of the great beyond only a few months ago. Then we have the perennial bridesmaids, the nearly men yadda yadda. I hate those terms; I hate them even more when directed at Ireland. Ireland is a team that, as clichéd as it is, on their day can beat anyone. The national team is made up of players playing for three of the best club teams in Europe. So it is an insult to be so derogatory as to say the best they can do is come second every year, need I remind anyone that second would actually be an improvement on the last two years. This year, a speculative penalty and forty minutes spent not playing rugby has cost Ireland the title, England match pending. Once again, they find themselves in anticipation of the final game to decide whether the Six Nations has been a success or not. A win on Saturday, or even better a comfortable one, leaves Ireland in a great place.

On then to Saturday’s action well it is going to be a great day. First up is Scotland VS Italy in Rome. I love this game. I know I’ve been blindly backing Italy this year but this fixture is one where Italy nearly always stand a good chance. They don’t seem to have a great fear of Scotland as they do other teams, maybe (please feel free to correct my maths) because they have their best win record against them. Whatever it is, this match tends to be the poor man’s Ireland VS France. Looking at the teams to provide this entertainment we see no changes of note from Robinson and Brunel has continued his experimentation. One decision on his part I’m massively in favour of is the partnering of Canale with Benvneuti in the centre. Benvenuti is a good player, no question, but his inclusion at the expense of Canale and his experience just wasn’t working. Expect a bit more of a game from the Italian midfield this weekend. For the Scots, well had they shown up last weekend this selection would have been a fine opponent for Ireland. So Robinson has lifted a little from Declan Kidney’s play book and, apart from the concussed Lee Jones, has decided that the same team may go out on Saturday and amend the wrongs of the Aviva. Unfortunately for this closet Italy supporter, I think they will. Looking at Scotland’s previous performances, notably the one against France, when they click they can send a shockwave into a team that they may never recover from. Of course they may be a dejected lot that show up and Italy could manage it but more realistically Scotland win

Then the decider, the battle of the giants, the hoping and praying that France have had a lobotomy and actually play some rugby, talking of course about Wales VS France in Cardiff. Potentially this could be a thrilling decider, with fluctuating scores throughout, or it could be one of the most boring deciders ever seen as Wales click and run a dejected France ragged. Based on last games, neither Wales nor France were firing on all cylinders. Neither team sees much change in personnel to inject something into the team, Florian Fritz one of the only notable changes to France and hopefully one who can maybe set a fire after nearly two years away from a test start. Warburton returns for Wales, his captaincy maybe the spark they need. If it happens that both teams find their feet again then we have a cracker on our hands and one that will most likely come down to the last play. As it stands however this looks unlikely. The bigger issue of the two teams is definitely France’s. There is simply no explanation for their decline. Many will try to shift blame to the new coach and the delay in getting back in the tournament but one need only look at Ireland who had the same delay and lost a forwards coach, arguably not as big of a difference but still similar. No something is simply not working for France and needs to be dressed A.S.A.P. As it stands, based as it only can be on form, France don’t look like they’re much up for taking on Wales in this match so the result could only really be Wales win

On then to the old enemy, the team that has beaten us only once in the last 8 attempts in this competition. Ireland VS England is always a special match, if you’re Irish anyway. That it is falling on St.Patrick’s Day this year is all the sweeter. Players can say what they like about distancing themselves from the emotion of the occasion etc. but there is simply no way that these mitigating factors don’t creep in. As mentioned in the beginning of this piece, Stuart Lancaster has to be commended in that he took hold of a tournament that could have been an absolute disaster for England, recorded a famous win over France in Paris, and will be looking for the same against Ireland in Twickers. This is what Ireland need to be wary of. Lancaster is fresh and new and will not have hang ups like his predecessors. All he sees as a possibility is victory. And the players themselves will have their tales up no end after the win over France. Ireland need to keep the shooters and the blitz from the France and Italy matches and for all that is sacred need to give Stephen Ferris as much ball as possible. If they can shut down the power players like Morgan the match is theirs to be won. Either way, it will surely be the highlight of the weekend. On the selection front, both coaches have kept it to a minimum and whilst many will wonder why O’Mahony doesn’t get to stay as a starter after his performance as a “true 7”, which I don’t agree with, O’Brien deserves to come back in and you can rest assured Kidney is no fool, he will take this game as one of the last chances to see if this backrow can do a complete job before the trip down under. Sexton will play a crucial part head to head with Farrell also. Farrell has been one of the most exceptional performers for England, not exactly world class at this point but definitely pulling enough strings to be warranted as a valid threat. Sexton will need to take charge as he did in this fixture last year and as he did, at least in the second half, against Italy. This game will hang on the little things and the battle will hopefully be glorious to watch. Oh, and, there’s competent ref on the pitch for it. Just saying. Ireland win

One final note that the RBS Player of the Tournament nominees are up and you can vote on the RBS 6 Nations website for who you think deserves the nod though be warned, due to the nominees only being picked from those who received Man of the Match awards, Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris are hilariously omitted and somehow Imanol Harinordiquy is included even after a relatively anonymous campaign.

Red Cards & Deja Vu – Six Nations Week Two Preview

Let’s get something out of the way first of all. Ireland were not robbed of anything last Sunday. The decision of the board not to ban Stephen Ferris for his penalty awarding tackle at the death in the Aviva may indeed suggest that it was not dangerous and therefore not a penalty, fair enough. But Ireland should have been out of sight by then and though that was the match winning score for Wales, Ireland cannot be pleading to unfair treatment and loss at the hands of yet another official. It’s over, time to move on. It is still my opinion that Ferris could have possibly done more to control his tackle and that everyone should have been mindful that a dangerous incident occurred earlier and so all should have been alert to the officials being slightly more cautious than usual. But it happened, it is in the past. Next game please.

We are at the stage of the tournament now where we can get a real measure of where teams are in their current incarnations. Is the double jobbing of Ireland’s coaches working? Are England a team transformed? Was getting rid of Nick Malllet the worst decision ever made regarding Italian rugby’s evolution? We’ll start then with one of the more interesting matches of the weekend, England VS Italy. I’ve made no secret of my desires for Italy to have a good campaign this year and after Scotland and England getting off to stuttering starts they surely fancy themselves against both as they play them at home this year. For Italy, Brunel has seen the need for experience, bringing in Mauro Bergamasco and Gonzalo Canale and their combined 100+ caps to beef things up. England and Lancaster however, are traveling unchanged, Lancaster most likely employing a “prove yourselves” mentality in his decision. Italy have long been accused of having it up front but nothing in the backs to finish moves off. Whilst this hasn’t changed a lot in the last few years, it has changed enough to penetrate an English team which, had Scotland been able to produce any sort of skill in finishing, would have been run off the pitch. Italy win

The Wales team to play Scotland is not available at the time of writing but we can expect that Bradley Davies will be one of the few, and of course forced, changes to the lineup. Why wouldn’t he? There was no individual faults in the Welsh performance on Sunday, just a cohesive one in the team needing to brush off the cobwebs. Scotland however only have two changes on the pitch, both forced, when they really should be trying to blood new players. Robinson has seen the sense to have some fresh faces warm the bench however. In Cardiff there really can’t be any question of a Welsh win based on last weekends performances but what we may get from Scotland will at least be a showing from the young up and comers towards the end that may show what the future holds for Scottish rugby. Wales win

And then, the match that always causes the most hype this time of year in Ireland, the one that causes everyone to daydream for just a moment at least once. Ireland travel to Stade de France to play the French, the team that have only been beaten by the men in green once in this location since 1972, and not many more times overall at home. France are the team against which they hold the absolute worst stats of the entire Six Nations. So is this the year that history can be made? Again? No, no it isn’t. The reason for this is that once again, after an irritating defeat, Declan Kidney has put forward his “last chance saloon” approach by fielding, essentially, the exact same 22 for the trip to Paris. The problem is that Kidney has done this so much that it is no longer “last chance”, these players are cementing into their places now and complacency will once again grow from that. What did Dave Kearney do to leave the 22 altogether, considering he didn’t get a run out at all against Wales? McFadden was relatively anonymous, why does he keep his place in the 22? Ryan blew O’ Callaghan off the pitch, why doesn’t he get a start? One would have though that after the World Cup, and after so many players got the opportunity to scratch Australia away from home off their bucket lists, that Kidney would finally start utilizing young talent. Unfortunately, it seems that Kidney is regressing, tricking himself into believing that it is only a matter of time before this method comes together. The French team selection matters little given how beatable Ireland look, but lets just throw out some random names that have caused Ireland concern over the years, Harinordoquy and Parra. Both have been added to the starting line up from the bench where they were last week. Both are huge figures in the French national team. But neither of them were gifted a start last week based on clout or merit. One could argue that Saint – André didn’t see Italy as a viable threat but I don’t believe that, based on their WC performance and that they beat France last year. No to me it would be more that Saint Andre recognizes the importance of letting veteran players know that they are not untouchable, that the bench is always waiting for them. I have not lost faith in Irish rugby, hard as that may be to believe, but I will lose it very soon in Declan Kidney. Something has to change, and I doubt it will be the result on Saturday. France win

Six Nations Round Up – Week One

There’s a lot of confused Irish and Scottish fans this weekend you can rest assured. Both countries saw their respective rugby teams seemingly have a match theirs for the taking and then both watched that match disappear from their grasp by the final whistle. But whereas Scotland and England was two extremely poor teams playing horrible rugby, the match between Ireland and Wales is going to become a serious talking point.

For most of the game, Ireland VS Wales was looking like a match to mirror the Ireland/France fixture last year. Approaching the final whistle it looked like Wales were going to lose even after outscoring Ireland on the try count and looking like the better team for most of the match. Ireland were about to steal an ugly victory and suddenly tails would be up. Ireland by a score I had  said in my preview article well, up until some disgusting final phase defending and an absolutely insane moment from Stephen Ferris, I was right. Ireland’s defense has at times been the stuff of legend, more so it has usually been poor discipline that has thrown away games. But ever since the World Cup quarter final last year there seems to be a fear of committing. The team look as if they are all out on the pitch waiting for that last piece of the plan to be executed but they’ve forgotten who it is that does it. In the meantime, teams are going to waltz in tries whilst Ireland wait around for the next step.

After the first four minutes of the match on Sunday, Ireland were never going to win it. It doesn’t matter how long the lead was held, you cannot play that incoherently and expect to come out the far end as winners. Wales would not, and ultimately did not, have to do much to trump them. What is most painful is how much of Ireland’s failings were down to selection. Gatland threw caution to the wind with youthful players fronting up last year, why couldn’t Kidney see that the same had to be done here? Irish standouts did appear in the Aviva, notably Kearney, Best and Bowe but there was then the faitful selections, who nearly all got a full 80 to boot. D’Arcy hasn’t impressed in green or blue for some months now, so why not allow for something like a Bowe/McFadden or Trimble/Bowe combination in the center? D’Arcy has been poor that long that Kidney had plenty of time to do this. Then the selection of O’Callaghan ahead of his superior provincial teammate Donncha Ryan. It was fairly noticeable how much the forward game from Ireland changed with the changing of only one player, Ryan to start next week or all faith if officially gone. Then there is the half back choices. Why oh why put on Munster’s leading scrum half with Leinster’s leading out half? Furthermore, why sub them both off together. For years, no scrum half could get near selection ahead of Peter Stringer not only due to his own merit as a player but due to the near psychic connection he shared with O’Gara. This bond exists still, as it should do in all pairings, between ROG and Murray/Sexton and Reddan so why force Sexton to adapt? Worse still, Sexton is the playmaker, a running fly half…who had to play 77 minutes with a scrum half who’s biggest strengths are tactical box kicks and taking his own runs. Ireland have an incredibly dangerous ball in hand out half, and make him play with a scrum half who doesn’t pass.

Ultimately though, at any one time there was fifteen capable if not elite rugby players in green on the pitch, and at that point coaching cannot be blamed entirely. Of these fifteen were 8 who were present for the nerve shredding Grand Slam match in 09. They know pressure, they had been on the other side of this situation before. A narrow margin for victory, keep it simple. Hold onto the ball when you have it, defend when you don’t and for the love of all things wonderful in this world, no penalties. As mentioned previously, Ireland’s defense was laughable after the final Welsh try. Ryle Nugent noted that every time Wales got an attack and momentum going, points resulted. So why then were Irish defenders seen holding back and ushering Wales into their half? The match had nearly gone eighty, regardless of what the plan is, execute it in their half, remove all option for a drop or penalty! It’s rugby 101! Then we have the pure moment of lunacy that was Ferris’ tip tackle. There will be debate for the rest of the competition about this and Bradley Davies’ fine effort, which he should and hopefully will be banned for as there is no place for it in the game, but it is pointless. Whether Ferris’ was as severe/illegal/penalty worthy or not is of no consequence, the simple fact is that after the incident fifteen minutes before, he should have know that Barnes would, as all referees try to do, stay consistent and not anger the Welsh by letting a very similar incident slide.

A quick note on the weekends other fixtures:

No big surprise in store from Italy unfortunately although it did look for a time that there might be. The problem is that Italy seem to have regressed slightly, going back to being a sixty minute team who get hammered in the final twenty. France on the other hand looked a little more clinical but it remains to be seen what they will look like up against a more formidable opposition. Should Ireland play on Saturday as they just have, this won’t be the match to show us. France 30 – Italy 12

Scotland’s performance on Saturday deserves special mention alongside Ireland’s for best attempt to self sabotage so far. There came a point where I was only half watching the match as it was that tedious and scrappy but I still stuck it out with this report in mind, oh how I regretted it. Scotland were truly dreadful with England not much better save for having the excuse that they are a team going through a transition. Both teams should be walkovers for their future opposition if they don’t cop themselves on. England 13 – Scotland 6