Connacht Rugby: Round Three Starting XV Stats

Connacht Rugby tackle count speaks volumes

The Irish provinces apart from Connacht Rugby had big blowout wins last weekend in Guinness Pro 14 action; spotlight this week is on the starting player statistics for Connacht Rugby who lost 17-10 away to Edinburgh Rugby.

A game where indiscipline surfaced (16 penalties leaked, 11 of which in the opening period) and a yellow card for Jarrad Butler. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews some of the key number for the starting lineup which tell the tale on the game.

Tackle Count

This statistic out of the rest shows how under the cosh Connacht Rugby were particularly in this contest. All starting lineup players put in a massive effort defensively and the tackle count (121) really does show in spades in this statistic.

Paul Boyle led the way with a whooping fifteen tackles during the contest; his work rate and performance levels have being a key positive for the province this season. 

Tackle Count Stat

Meters Gained 

Connacht Rugby were on the back foot until the final quarter when field position started to improve due to improved discipline around the breakdown thus not coughing up needless penalties. As a result, the danger runners for Connacht Rugby got in on the action but it was too little too late in terms of salvaging the result.

Matt Healy topped the chart with sixty meters coming off only five carries; impressive stats. Paul Boyle again prominent in this statistic along with players you would expect to be up in this category such as Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adelokun and Eoin Griffin. 

Meters Gained

Passes Made

This is a compelling statistic as it shows from a team dynamic how expansive the side were, whether the side struggled to create the platform required to execute a fluid, efficient passing game throughout the team. The half backs numbers are low; indication of the dominance that Edinburgh Rugby enjoyed in the first hour of this contest. The back line emergence in the last quarter seen with the numbers of O’Halloran, Godwin and Griffin to make things happen for the outside backs late on. 

Passing Statistics

If Connacht Rugby lose the territory battle like they did against Edinburgh Rugby last week, it is going to be a tough afternoon tomorrow against the Scarlets. Solid discipline, pack cohesion on the set piece are required. Defensive improvements certainly with only the concession of seventeen points last week in the midst of waves of Edinburgh Rugby attacks but there are areas that need to be worked on and hopefully Connacht Rugby will deliver a far more accurate performance in the Sportsgrounds tomorrow. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 3 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Connacht lose on the road as other Irish provinces win

A weekend fixture round which will be quickly forgotten about. Round 3 saw several keynote one sided victories for Glasgow Warriors, Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby and Ulster Rugby. This posting is going to be focused on the Irish provinces; three wins and one loss from the weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Promise shown in one sided rout

The official opening of Irish Independent Park (still refer to it as Musgrave Park for the record). An occasion which before team news looked destined to be a fitting occasion to christen the 3G pitch. Ospreys’ team selection put pay to that as Munster Rugby strolled to an emphatic 49-13 win. 

There is precious little to conclude from the Munster Rugby performance only that the key marquee signings if they remain fit will play an integral role to the team’s success this season. Carbery showed sublime skill set but also inconsistent game management decisions. His debut try was classic Carbery; playing what was in front of him and the finish was superb. 

Tadhg Beirne bullied Ospreys’ front five throughout. His steal from Ospreys line out ball in the opening period summed up the contest. Munster Rugby’s pack completely bossed their opponent missing several keynote starters. His mobility and physicality was shown to all in attendance and a second row slot looks nailed on even at this early stage. 

Arno Botha is a cult hero already with the Munster Rugby faithful and it is throwing an intriguing selection scenario for van Graan and Munster Rugby management. Botha’s numbers again on Friday night were sensational; eleven carries for thirty-nine meters gained and then nine tackles to boot. Botha is providing stiff competition in the back row unit. CJ Stander will relish the competition and it can only improve the side. 

The only negative was a couple of late injuries. John Ryan limped off; had the protective boot on post game so it will be interesting to see how long he is sidelined for. Archer as well went down late and another prop injury is not what van Graan requires with Cardiff Blues next. 

Darren Sweetnam was again at sensational. The opposition and personnel on show is one thing but his meters gained oozed class, another one hundred meters gained game and another try to seal the performance. Much tougher games will be presented to Munster Rugby this season but this fixture was about restoring confidence and giving key personnel game minutes; mission accomplished. 

Pack endured tough night in Edinburgh

First road trip of the season. A free hit for Connacht Rugby against a side with massive pressure to get their first win. The performance produced was defiant but the pack unit were dominated for long stretches by Edinburgh Rugby who got their first win of the Guinness Pro 14 season. 

Jaco  van der Walt impressed on his seasonal bow. The South African fly-half who slotted in as a late replacement for Simon Hickey impressed with his fluid passing and game management. His performance was helped in no small measure by the Edinburgh Rugby pack who bullied Connacht Rugby upfront; they set a terrific platform for the side to launch attacks deep in Connacht territory. 80% territory in the opening quarter. The set piece exchanges were won by a more abrasive Edinburgh where Toolis and Gilchrist shone. 

Credit to Connacht Rugby, their defense (much maligned) last season stood to attack after attack in that opening period. The fact that they only leaked a Duhan van der Merwe opening period half was testament to the Connacht Rugby defensive structure progression. It could also be said that Edinburgh Rugby left scores behind them and Duhan van der Merwe somehow botched a try from close range; video analysis room 101 moment tomorrow. 

In the podcast last Friday prior to the contest: – my sense was that if Connacht Rugby could ride out the storm, they could come on strong in the last quarter and so it proved.

The pack started to finally make gain line yards and Carty started to orchestrate good attacking moves. His looping pass finding Niki Adeolokun to score a try. Carty then slotted a penalty to close the margin to seven points and try as they might, Edinburgh Rugby defense held out for a win which prompted Richard Cockerill to have a dig at the Guinness Pro 14 officiating standard calling out the number of pens between the two sides on show and only one yellow card for the visitors.

Nothing new there Richard but the officiating crews have the tendency to strike karma against their detractors in subtle fashion at key stages. Connacht Rugby with a loser point, pack improvements required ahead of a crucial home game stand against Scarlets and Leinster Rugby.

Training ground exercise for Leinster Rugby

A perfect strike out for a first home game of the season. Yes, there were cohesion issues in attack in the opening period but the 52-10 demolition of a woefully outclassed Dragons has issued a serious statement of intent to all challengers to Leinster Rugby’s crown this year. 

A bit like Munster Rugby, the opposition was not up to much. Bernard Jackman has a serious challenge to increase his side’s performance levels to compete this season on the back of this showing. You would fear for his role with the Dragons come the end of the season. 

The good news for Leinster Rugby is that the players starting their first games of the season were on point. Sean Cronin was his marauding best with ball in hand. Robbie Henshaw likewise and his ability to break Dragons first up tackles setup consistent good attacking platform. Sexton was proficient in his game management; composure seen with a couple of late hits. 

The squad depth for Leinster Rugby was scarily seen when Andrew Porter who had a decent game was replaced by no other than Tadhg Furlong, felt for the Dragons front row when that switch took place. Jamison Gibson-Park this season has looked really sharp and his two tries were just reward for a dynamic display at half-back. His kick in behind for Larmour’s try was a video reel highlight. Luke McGrath has serious competition for the nine jersey! 

Kudos to Dragons full back Jordan Williams with an early contender for try of the season. An incredible run from deep in his own half, superb change of running lines and instinct to score a sensational try. Dragons have some genuinely excellent young talent but it is a school of hard knocks at present, the pack got beat up in the individual exchanges and the set piece started to falter after an encouraging opening period. A promising back line unit but the cohesion levels are not at the level required at present; a tough season beckons for the Welsh region on the back of the last two league fixtures. 

Key final quarter secures victory

Three league wins from three. A 28-7 win over a resilient if limited Isuzu Southern Kings starts the South African road trip for Ulster Rugby in good fashion. The positives was the composure shown by the side when the Kings secured their try just after half-time. 

Kings were growing into the contest and Ulster Rugby defensively needed to be strong to quell and kill off the home side enthusiasm. Mission accomplished and the final quarter saw Ulster Rugby break out with three well worked tries. 

The Ulster Rugby pack on the scrum was dominant throughout and the set piece platform was pivotal in Marcel Coetzee going over. Further late tries from Kernohan and Curtis cemented the win; no bonus point try but the manner in which Ulster Rugby finished the game emphasized the conditioning of the team. 

The negatives were the head injury sustained to John Cooney, the scrum-half has being sensational for the team this season with his kicking, game management and try scoring exploits. Shanahan ably deputized today but tougher tests lie ahead and the nine channel depth chart looks vulnerable if Cooney is absent for any significant time. 

The discipline issue perhaps needs to be reviewed. Alan O’Connor clear out in the first half saw yellow and then Rob Herring saw another yellow card on forty minutes. The yellow card of Herring in particular gave the Southern Kings a way into the contest. Last season saw several disciplinary lapses so it is time for Ulster Rugby management to address now. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 3 (Friday Night Fixtures)

Crunch playoff fixture at Independent Park

It might be only the third round of the tournament but a couple of key fixtures are up for decision tomorrow night. Munster Rugby play host to Conference A table toppers Ospreys while Connacht make their first road trip of the season to Edinburgh Rugby who will be desperate to secure their first win of the season. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Must win game for Munster Rugby? 

Munster call some of the big guns to the lineup

Fans of this blog (I know there is a few of ye out there) will wonder on the headline but it is a key fixture for Munster Rugby. A loss to Ospreys this weekend will see the Irish province at a minimum nine points or a maximum ten points behind Ospreys after three rounds. In a conference where Glasgow Warriors look destined to make the early season pace, it is imperative for Munster Rugby to reduce the gap to Ospreys, a key rival in the playoff race this season.

Ospreys come into this game with a 100% record. An opening day fixture win at home to Edinburgh Rugby was thoroughly deserved, a game which exploded in the last quarter and saw George North return to the Guinness Pro 14 with a debut try; some things never change. They backed this result with an emphatic dismantling of Cheetahs last weekend; the side were expansive with ball in hand throughout and the pack dominated throughout. 

Munster Rugby come into this fixture looking to redeem themselves after a torrid league loss to Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Glasgow Warriors were well deserving of their victory and will rue not adding a bonus point to the 25-10 win late on. Munster Rugby struggled in all facets of the game, struggled with game tempo and cohesion particularly in the opening period and unforced errors were plentiful for video analysis sessions in Limerick at the start of this week. 

I was eagerly looking forward to this game; podcast which will appear later tonight predicted a standout fixture but I cannot but feel short changed by the Ospreys team selection. I wanted to see Ospreys have a real cut off Munster Rugby but leaving Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Dan Lydiate, Aled Davies, Owen Watkin, Bradley Davies, Dan Evans, Scott Williams or captain Justin Tipuric is a kick in the solar plexes for the tournament organizers and the crowd which will assemble in Cork tomorrow. 

Munster Rugby’s team selection is interesting in stark contrast. A seasonal bow for the likes of Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Chris Cleote and Peter O’Mahony. Darren O’Shea gets the opportunity to stake a claim in the second row along with Tadhg Beirne; a second row partnership full of physicality and mobility. A solid back line containing Goggin and Arnold which should see plenty of ball considering the Ospreys lineup provided that Duncan Williams is quick with his distribution. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby

A fixture which looks a home win banker considering the personnel changes in the Ospreys side. Disappointing not to see the likes of Tipuric, Jones and North feature but what can you do. Ospreys obviously identifying other fixtures to use these players. Stuart Berry officiating may add an unpredictable element to proceedings particularly at the set piece but Munster Rugby should have more than enough to win this contest. If not and the alarm bells will start to ring loud and clear for van Graan. BP win. 

Edinburgh Rugby in must win fixture territory

Win vital for Edinburgh Rugby

A late heartbreaking loss to Ulster Rugby last weekend has left Richard Cockerill and his side backed into the corner. The penalty award at the death from Stuart Berry was debatable and Cooney’s penalty was the final act in a game which Edinburgh conspired to lose after being 13 and 15 points up at two different periods of the contest. 

This fixture will reveal the resiliency in this Edinburgh Rugby side. There were standout phases of play last week; superbly worked tries and Simon Hickey was on point off the tee throughout. The issues were the defensive and disciplinary lapses which allowed Ulster Rugby back into the contest. Edinburgh Rugby could not handle the attacking threat of Addison last weekend; his running coming into the line caused havoc and provided superb platform for the rest of the Ulster Rugby back line unit to flourish. 

It will be interesting to see the adjustments (if any) have being made this weekend by Edinburgh Rugby. Watson, van der Merwe and Johnstone come back into the first team lineup with Bennett and Mata out of the squad entirely due to injury. Hamilton switches to eight to compensate for the loss of Mata. An abrasive pack on show which will look to dominate and look at the line out as a source of success. Connacht beware!

Connacht Rugby head into their first road trip fixture on the back of an excellent win over Zebre Rugby last weekend. Five tries scored with defensive improvements seen. Paul Boyle was a standout performer along with Blade. The set piece was decent even though the line out misfired particularly in the opening period (inclement weather a factor). 

The Connacht Rugby team sees a seasonal debut for Kieran Marmion and bench impact is assured from Bundee Aki on his opening cameo too. The front five is rotated with O’Donnell and Dillane coming in. Niyi Adeolokun slots onto the wing for Cian Kelleher. 

Verdict: Edinburgh Rugby

Nothing better to focus the mind than an opening home fixture, a must win to get the season back on the road. Murrayfield is a tough venue to get a result and I worry for Connacht Rugby in the pack exchanges as I expect Edinburgh Rugby to attack the line out and scrum from minute one. Connacht Rugby will look for the game to be expansive as possible but I think the result is the objective for Edinburgh Rugby and Cockerill will instruct his side to keep it tight until the game is secured in the final quarter when an explosive back line will express themselves. Connacht Rugby to have good moments and after a few nervy moments, Edinburgh Rugby to win by seven points.

Connacht Rugby: Starting XV Statistics So Far…

Two home games so far for Connacht Rugby and the new managerial era of Andy Friend, one loss (narrowly) and one emphatic win has shown the potential and the scope of improvement required from the West of Ireland province to get to the next level this season. Hawkeye Sidekick has being number crunching the starting lineup statistics for Connacht Rugby in the first two rounds and some interesting statistics have emerged.

Meters Gained

Connacht Rugby’s ethos to run the rugby ball is well known and this particular statistic showcases the talent on show in the side. 

Meters Gained (Rounds 1 / 2) 

Cian Kelleher tops the chart with his opening round cameo; a game where he received the ball thirteen times and made 141 meters; a whopping 10.85 meters per carry which is indicative of how the wingers has gone during preseason. Tiernan O’Halloran produced solid numbers with ball in band; his meters per carry will above 6.5 which is impressive. Tom Farrell looks primed for a superb second season if his opening statistics with ball in hand against Glasgow Warriors are anything to go by. Jarrad Butler has led from the front; his work load against Glasgow exceptional. 

Tackles Made

The tackle count tallies for the opening round fixtures show a contrasting level of tackles from the starting fifteens. Glasgow Warriors tackle count was high and seen with Butler, Heffernan and Boyle charting highest. The Zebre Rugby game saw the hosts very dominant during proceedings with Gavin Thornbury topping the tackles made chart with twelve. Butler has being outstanding in this facet of play (24 tackles so far), great captaincy choice and leading by example. 

Tackles Made (Rounds 1 / 2) 


A statistic which threw up a couple of interesting numbers. Caolin Blade at scrum-half as you would expect leads the chart with a whopping eighty-one passes against Glasgow but look at the passing statistics for round two, just twenty-seven passes during his cameo; evident in the fact that the scrum-half was deployed out wide to create attacking opportunities for his side at different intervals. Blade’s direct running has being a success for the side this season. Carty’s statistics are strong too; playing conditions dictating the number of passes in the second round fixture. Farrell and Boyle impressed with ball in hand as well as passing to team colleagues looking to create in around the fringes.

Passes (Round 1 / 2)

Line Out / Restarts

The good, the bad on both set pieces. Line out during round two in the opening period was a lottery given the slick weather conditions with a couple of Zebre Rugby steals when Connacht Rugby were in the red zone. Heffernan has grown into the starting role so far and with Delahunt for competition, both players should evaluate their game to the next level. 

The restarts are very much a work in progress; it was ruthlessly exposed last season by various teams and Glasgow Warriors benefited from unclear restart strategy in round one; a facet of play which needs Connacht Rugby to improve upon and will look to collate numbers on this as the season progresses. A solid start to the season but a key three game stand looms large starting with Edinburgh (A), Scarlets and Leinster Rugby (H). 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 2 Reflections (Saturday)

Round Two. This is not the time for any teams to panic but there are grounds for concern particularly for the Cheetahs who shipped yet another heavy loss; hopefully they can bounce back in the upcoming rounds. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Benetton Rugby Renaissance

You have to start with the story of the weekend. Benetton are top of Conference B and what a dramatic way for the Italian side to do so. It looked like so near, yet so far hitting eighty minutes. Cardiff Blues down to thirteen players with Benetton Rugby deep in the visitors half; the composure shown to setup the scrum and timing the pass out wide to perfection for Ioane to score the try is a sign of the progression in the ranks, last year they would have botched the chance. Allan’s conversion was sweetly struck; the crowd roar was enough. An incredible result for Benetton Rugby and Cardiff Blues are left to rue more woe in the final quarter. 

Ospreys impress but big concerns for Cheetahs

Ospreys needed a hit out this weekend and Cheetahs were the perfect opposition to increase confidence in their creativity and line breaking ability. The performance was professional and this game was done well before half-time. Jones and Tipuric were the standouts with George North continuing to impress with ball in hand (another try for the winger). 

The pace of the Ospreys was all too much for Cheetahs in the third and fourth quarters with points leaked at an alarming rate. All facets of play looked sharp (despite the opposition) but Aled Davies at nine is a key squad addition.

The departure of Rhys Webb was a big position to fill but Aled Davies has provided speed in distribution around the ruck area. Ospreys will enter the fixture with Munster Rugby with good confidence. North’s threat out wide is providing a x-factor for the Welsh region; great to see the player back in the Pro 14 league. 

Connacht Rugby off the mark

32-13. Andy Friend and management enjoyed their first win in the league with a convincing victory over an ill-disciplined Zebre Rugby outfit. Played in slippery conditions, Connacht Rugby started on the front foot and after an early Carty penalty started to vary their attacking game plan. 

Blade was particularly impressive; sharp in passing distribution but his ability to pop up out wide to pick up attacking breaks was prominent in the early try scores. Paul Boyle continues his early season promise with two good tries, a player who has emerged well in preseason.

Zebre Rugby’s discipline was at times erratic at best; four quick penalties in the first thirteen minutes of this contest told the tale and it was no surprise that two of their team were sent to the sin early in the second half when the referee finally lost patience. 

Connacht Rugby won the sin bin period (15 vs. 13) by only 7-3; another moment where the hosts let their opposition off the hook but Zebre Rugby fatigue from this period was seen in the tries scored by Griffin and Adelokun. 

The set piece at times was a mixed bag in the opening period; a couple of poorly executed line outs in good attacking positions will be reviewed by the hosts but this fixture was to get a win on the board; mission accomplished and next up is a road trip to Edinburgh Rugby who are under the gun to get their first win of the season next weekend. 

Dragons but only just

The good, the bad and the ugly was seen with the Dragons in their 27-22 win over Isuzu Southern Kings at Rodney Parade. A great opening period saw two good tries scored and all looked good; the back three pace and speed causing Southern Kings massive issues. Griffiths and Moriarty looking the part in the back row. 

There is a good young talent in this side but the lack of composure in this side is never too far away. Rhodri Williams’ yellow card saw the visitors score two quick fire tries as Dragons defensive organization went to pieces; the half-time whistle could not come quick enough. From a position of dominance, the hosts were only 17-10 up and was quickly chalked in the third quarter. 

The contest in the balance saw the experienced squad players come to the fore thankfully for Bernard Jackman and management and Lewis’ cameo in the third quarter was instrumental to victory; a good try and conversion giving the breathing room required as the Southern Kings again probed at the death. 

An opening season win for Dragons but there are plenty of improvement areas to address. Southern Kings were resilient but better teams will rip through their pack and ten channel as the season progresses. A match which exposed both sides’ weak points. 

Scarlets win but Leinster Rugby close

It was a close call for Scarlets as the Leinster Rugby juggernaut started to gain momentum in the last quarter. Scarlets had to summon all their defensive and breakdown nous to secure their opening league win. 

Ken Owens was inspired for Scarlets; the early try should have set the platform but McFadden / Lowe responded with excellent tries. The game ebbed and flowed throughout but Gareth Davies try looked to open game for the hosts but back came Leinster Rugby with Ruddock crashing over for Leinster’s third try. Cue frantic closing exchanges. 

No disaster for Leinster Rugby; a loss yes but the fight and spirit of the team again spoke volumes. The Irish international players who were in the team got quality game minutes; the only issue is the second row options. Toner, Ryan, Fardy and then you are looking at the options. Nagle, Kearney, Molony need to push on this season for Leinster Rugby. 

Guinness Pro 14 Round 1 Irish Provincial Reflections

An interesting opening round of the Guinness Pro 14 competition for the Irish provinces who had three wins and one loss, a loss which will hurt the Connacht Rugby management and playing staff. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects. 

Munster win in a canter

38-0. Munster opened their account with an emphatic victory over a Cheetahs side who looked like a side which had their playing squad ripped away in the off-season. 

Twenty players left the Cheetahs since their playoff loss to the Scarlets with numerous key players from last season leading the exodus. Venter, Marais, Cassiem and Blommetjies have gone to pastures new this season and unfortunately you cannot replace players of this caliber overnight. Cheetahs were primed for the taking and Munster Rugby were not going to be asked twice.

The game was a preseason friendly for all intensive purposes. Munster Rugby having to defend their line on a couple of occasions but it was an exercise for the side in ball handling, line break creation and getting minutes in the legs of the players. Mission accomplished.

The Munster Rugby player to the fore this preseason has being Darren Sweetnam. The Cork native produced more quality numbers during this contest. Eight carries for 134 meters gained; his line break for Rory Scannell’s try was excellent as he identified the defensive misread from the Cheetahs; his burst of pace was devastating and his offload to Scannell on point. 

The good news for Munster Rugby was that no injuries were sustained and newcomers to the squad this season showed well. Haley from full back showed his ability hitting the line albeit his passing will need to sharpen up. Neil Cronin provided an excellent cameo from nine; quick distribution to Hanrahan who also had a keynote performance with seventy-seven meters gained.

Joey Carbery even got his debut and the potential from his second half cameo from ten was there for all to see; quick decision making, looking to orchestrate and launch runners with fast distribution. His game management and line break creation will be a key asset for Munster this season. 

Arno Botha has already become a cult hero with the Thomond Park faithful. Physicality with and without the ball. His sixteen tackles and ninety-three meters gained from fifteen carries was an excellent cameo and provided Botha remains fit will be an invaluable asset to the province during the international breaks. 

A solid win. Yes, there were blotched passes to hand, blotched try scoring opportunities but the expectation is that the skill set will improve with each passing week. The game in effect was a free hit; the season starts this weekend with a trip to the Glasgow Warriors where a stern test awaits. 

I feel like a broken record with regards to Connacht Rugby. I have read many respected fans blogs on the narrow 27-26 loss to Glasgow Warriors; positive sentiments on the attacking side of the ball but the Achilles heel from last season made its trademark arrival. 

Disastrous start to the contest with an early try concession to the dangerous Tommy Seymour, Connacht Rugby climbed off the floor to launch their response; a ten point salvo showcasing fast uptempo possession, excellent game management from Carty to setup Kelleher’s try.

10-5 in front, time to consolidate but the side’s sheer inability to execute their restarts saw a second Glasgow try conceded soon after. The try from Turner was a defensive coaches nightmare, misreads aplenty as Turner ran untouched.

This game was in Connacht’s hands in the third quarter but when they had Glasgow Warriors by the throat, they lacked the clinical conviction to get the job. The period when Adam Hastings was sin binned was the opportunity to close the fixture out but instead Connacht Rugby surrendered territory and allowed their visitors to score a bonus point fourth try.

For Connacht Rugby to be considered a serious Pro 14 contender again, the game management and leadership on the pitch during these key game moment situations has to improve. Blade was energetic but at times played his side into trouble with quick tap and goes once too often. Carty was on point with the tee but faded in the third quarter to be replaced by Ronaldson who despite being solid was on the max of his skill set limits when he attempted the last minute conversion. Horowitz is required to step up the competition at ten pronto. 

The preceding drop goal attempt as well from Connacht Rugby was ambitious at best. Andy Friend has learned more in this eighty minutes than the whole preseason fixture schedule. The old failings of last season were in full effect and need to be addressed as soon as possible but with home games against Scarlets and Leinster Rugby, there is a fear of Connacht Rugby being cast adrift early doors in conference play.

I still remain hopeful for Connacht Rugby this season. Andy Friend is an ambitious head coach, his playing ethos fits well with the side and with the likes of Kelleher continuing to produce big numbers (one try, 131 meters from thirteen carries), the attacking side of the ball is going to take care of itself. The defensive and restart sides of the game are a different story.

I feared for Ulster Rugby ahead of this fixture but the side and the fan base produced a stirring performance to defeat Guinness Pro 14 finalists Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium. 

The work rate, the application, the ability to absorb Scarlets attacking threat was exceptional from Ulster Rugby. Nick Timoney’s tackle count emphasized this point; thirteen tackles throughout the eighty minutes, one of which was a timely contribution at the death when Scarlets looked destined to score.

The half back partnership of Cooney and Burns has the potential to gel into an effective duo. Burns looking to play off the cuff and the unit’s kicking game was on point. Cooney has continued from last season, his leadership in the final quarter when the game was in the balance was superb and has to be a serious contender for November series game time for Ireland. McPhilips is also a viable option, good headache for McFarland to have!

The back line looked exciting. Speight’s movement and ability to win the gain line battle was on point. Craig Gilroy’s stealth and speed was to the fore in an eyecatching performance with a 100+ meters gained performance. Will Addison’s cameo at full back suggests a nice option for Ulster Rugby hitting the line. 

After the nightmare of last season, Ulster Rugby needed to start the league in positive fashion. This result will work wonders for the morale of the squad and fan base ahead of another home fixture to Edinburgh Rugby, a key fixture in the context of conference play already. 

I questioned Leinster’s leadership and nous during a recent podcast. I got my answer last Friday with a superb come from behind victory over a Cardiff Blues side who will be struggling to come up with an explanation as to how they blew a fifteen point lead. 

This was a rip roaring contest from minute one and Cardiff Blues’ performance is a warning for league opponents of their potency with ball in hand. Evans at ten is such a talent and with an exceptionally pacy back three, opposition will struggle to contain the threat. Harries in particular caught the eye on his league debut for Cardiff Blues. 

What makes this Leinster Rugby side so special? Their ability to develop players, constantly improving their basic skill set fundamentals coupled with exceptional endurance levels. This game got away from Cardiff Blues in the last quarter when fitness started to come to the fore.

Leinster Rugby’s bench made a massive impact to the outcome of this game. The front row replacements were excellent. Andrew Porters started to torment in the set piece and Byran Byrne / Ed Byrne provided work rate and try scoring prowess to proceedings. Gibson-Park at nine provided fresh impetus with good distribution. Ross Byrne’s conversion at death was ice cool clinical. 

Leinster Rugby are well primed for another successful season; Nacewa / Heaslip / Murphy and Strauss et al. may have departed but the new kids in the squad are ready to step up, provide leadership. Exciting times for the reigning European Champions Cup kingpins!

Guinness Pro 14: Irish Province Squad Preseason Review

The preseason drills have started weeks ago and playing squads (for the most part) are thick in the middle of preseason preparations. For Connacht and Ulster, it is an opportunity for players to impress new head coaching appointments to secure sufficient game time this season. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule on the squads.

Irish Province Squad Transfers: 

Guinness Pro 14: Ireland Provinces Transfers (2018 – 2019)

The standard bearers last season in European Club Rugby have lost several legendary players in the off-season. Given the talent in the academy ranks which have graduated to the senior contract ranks, it would be remiss to say that the side will not miss the presence and stature of players such as Jamie Heaslip, Richardt Strauss and the legend that is Isa Nacewa.

Nacewa’s leadership at the business end of the season was incredible; he took over the kicking tee responsibility in the European Rugby Champions Cup final. Three guys whose presence, work ethos and professionalism is beyond reproach.

The other transfer departures saw notable exits for Jordi Murphy and Joey Carbery to Ulster and Munster respectively; with a RWC 2019 fast approaching, players will need sufficient game time and this was a key factor for their departures from the club. Yet again, two players whose talent will be missed in the squad depth of the side which will be tested again given the international contingent at the club.

It is not all doom and gloom from a Leinster Rugby perspective. The academy talent has being immense and it is rewarded with several keynote contracts to the senior team. Jordan Larmour had a superb debut season in the first team; capped at international level and his try scoring exploits had rugby writers in euphoric tone.

Doris and Murphy signings are incredibly exciting for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster; two players who will play senior international test matches soon and when you consider the likes of Max Deegan with another preseason under his belt, the talent pool still remains strong.

Joe Tomane is the marquee signing for the province; a powerhouse back line option to have. If Tomane is half as good as Nacewa, Leinster Rugby are in a good place. Interesting start to the season given the international players unavailability at different parts of next season but if Leinster Rugby can negotiate the opening Welsh road trip fixtures, they are well set for another good season.

A coaching era has arrived in Galway. Andy Friend has being appointed the new head coach of Connacht Rugby, a coach with an excellent resume, experience aplenty in SH / NH rugby as well as spending times in the Sevens game. His mantra will be for the players to express themselves with ball in hand, promote creativity while providing teamwork and defensive organization without the ball.

Andy Friend replaces Kieran Keane who was dismissed after only a season in June; seven Pro 14 wins from twenty-one fixtures last season is the baseline for Friend to surpass for the upcoming season and the personnel brought into the club should help get past this miserable mark given the existing talent pool in the squad.

The recruitment had already commenced by the time Kieran Keane walked the Lough Atalia plank. Connacht Rugby had already secured the services of versatile centre Godwin and a potential astute move for Horowitz from Australian rugby.

The back line has being boosted by the signing of Reece who is a speed merchant with ball in hand. Robin Copeland comes from Munster looking to prove a point; personally thought that Munster Rugby did not see the most of the player. Copeland was versatile in filling second row and back row positions but it is at eight where the player excels; look at his performances when with Cardiff Blues is enough.

The academy continues to deliver aplenty and no surprise that a couple of players move to the senior contract ranks. Claffey if he continues his progression looks an excellent lock in the making. Gallagher and O’Donnell will need to mature and work hard this season to secure any significant game minutes.

The side saw numerous departures with several players released from their contracts while also paying an emotional farewell to Galway native John Muldoon who retired from the game to join Pat Lam at Bristol Bears as a coach. Huge void left in the dressing room but it is up to the senior players and Copeland to provide the experience and leadership in the ranks.

The fixture sees a colossal opening five game stand; four of which are at home. Connacht Rugby will need to be on point for the visits of Leinster Rugby and Glasgow Warriors. If they can secure a couple of early home wins, confidence should soar and the Connacht fan base will look forward to the season; otherwise, it may be a season of attrition with European Challenge Cup Pool of Death to look forward to. Friend will demand high standards from minute one this season, an interesting team to watch this season given the dynamic style of play that the Westerners execute.

After a season of near misses at the business end of the season, it is fair to say that Munster Rugby are a side that need to get over the hump and win a competition. The squad personnel has seen several keynote departures and arrivals.

The arrivals are spearheaded by the acquisition of Joey Carbery for this season; a player who has the potential but needs the game time to develop at the ten channel. The prospect of Carbery and Murray in the half back pairing is something to whet the appetite at Munster. Carbery is not a lock for ten though as the likes of Keatley, Bleyendaal and Hanrahan will look to impress Johann van Graan in early preseason to secure vital preseason friendly game minutes.

The scrum-half position has being bolstered by the signing of Neil Cronin. Cronin was an UBL standout in recent seasons with Garryowen and the Limerick native gets another opportunity to stake a claim at the professional ranks. Cronin has an excellent all round game, excellent pass, good kicking game as well and should complement the competition in the squad depth charts. Murray is number one but the battle for the backup will intensify with Hart, Williams and now Cronin vying for this spot. Training ground competition should see improvement off the bench in this position on game day.

Mike Haley comes to Munster Rugby with an excellent reputation from Sale Sharks; versatile player whose line break skills are a key facet will be a good replacement for the departed Simon Zebo who moves to Racing 92. Zebo’s talent cannot be replicated but what Haley will bring is an overall solid game who will contribute to attack when hitting the line. Stephen Fitzgerald and Andrew Conway look like viable full back options too so the depth chart yet again is bolstered in this position.

Arno Botha for me is the dark horse signing for Munster this season. The player is a specimen; his mobility allows the player to play in either second row or back row. Botha will be required particularly when the likes of O’Mahony and Stander are away on international duty. Botha’s ball carrying is abrasive and I think the Munster Rugby fan base will love his style of play. His discipline though at times can be an issue but something to watch out for.

Academy players such as Calvin Nash and Liam O’Connor are rewarded with encouraging cameos last season with senior contracts. O’Connor if he is fully recovered from injury is a key prop asset. Nash is a player with tremendous upside; pace, power and ability to spot a line break. Two exciting homegrown talents for Munster Rugby to nurture further this season along with Fineen Wycherley, a player who has being part of the senior squad for a couple of seasons now, amazing that he is now only getting a senior contract!

A season of expectation but the keyword will be patience for the Munster Rugby fans. The new signings will take time to bed in but when they do, it will be an interesting season. The business end of the season is where Munster need to prove themselves so judgement on the squad will ultimately take place there.

If any side were happy to see the back of 2017-2018 season, it was Ulster Rugby. Turmoil off the pitch with legal proceedings of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, a head coach who jumped ship midway through the season and incumbent who did not want to take on the position long term. Turmoil on the playing side with Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have to move to France to resurrect their careers and then a plethora of retirements. The names who bide farewell to Kingspan Stadium are massive; Bowe, Payne, Trimble and then you throw other players who departed like Piatau, Diack and Black and it has being a tough off season of departures.

Hope springs eternal. Dan McFarland takes over the head coaching role and several signings look interesting early doors. Jordi Murphy’s arrival will boost the physicality and work rate of the back row. Murphy was an unsung hero for Leinster Rugby and Ireland last season; his tackle count was high consistently and his breakdown support work while continuing to be a threat with ball in hand set the foundation for all that was good in both sides Murphy represented last season.

Marty Moore arrives back to Ireland with a point to prove after an indifferent playing spell with Wasps; some good cameos but some frustrating times sidelined with injury. Moore if on form should get game minutes to increase his profile back with Joe Schmidt and the national side. A nice signing for Ulster if the coaching team can get the best out of Moore.

Billy Burns is an interesting fly-half signing. The Gloucester Rugby arrival is a player with plenty of skill set to offer the side; good kicking game, astute game management to launch his runners. The key issue with Burns is performance consistency at times. The ten jersey needed competition given the departure of Jackson and with McPhilips starting to emerge late last season, the battle for the ten jersey can only benefit the side long term.

Several academy players make the jump to the senior contract ranks. The key guy to look out for if given game time is Johnny Stewart. The scrum-half is being tipped even at this early stage as a player of promise, words comparing the player to Ruan Pienaar have being bandied around. It will remain to be seen how the player will evolve this season with Cooney the incumbent first choice at the position. If Stewart were to impress, could Cooney’s versatility see a switch to ten?

A season which Ulster Rugby will need everyone rowing in the same direction. Last season was a disaster for the club both on and off the pitch, this season has to be the platform for better things to come. The back line and half back options have being depleted but it is down to the senior players in the squad to lead by example. The core talent in the squad and academy is impressive; the question is whether the pack and half back recruits can provide the extra impetus to get the team over the line in key match-ups this season. A question to be answered in due course.

Guinness Pro 14: Ireland Provinces Transfers (2018 – 2019)

Guinness Pro 14 Irish Rugby preseason is well underway for the players not involved in the June international series. As like any off season, there has being comings and goings within the four provincial sides. This blog posting looks at the arrivals and departures for the upcoming season for Connacht Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby.

End of Season Term Report: Irish Provinces

Grade: A+

High Point:

Quite obvious really with winning both the European Rugby Champions Cup and Guinness Pro 14 crowns this month. The triumphs are just rewards for a side whose squad depth and game management were to the fore this season. The European Cup triumph emphasized why Leinster Rugby are the kingpins of European Club rugby.

Racing 92 tried to win this encounter with their pack; close exchanges with precious little opportunity for back lines to shine. Leinster Rugby’s composure to adapt their game plan and keep their nerve in the last quarter was to the fore while Racing 92 lose theirs. A true hallmark of an exceptional side is their ability to win matches in different ways. Leinster Rugby ticked all the boxes in this regard.

Low Point:

Nothing significant of note on the pitch. If you want to be critical, then the Guinness Pro 14 end of regular season run-in which saw a couple of noteworthy losses to Ospreys (A), Benetton Rugby (H) and Connacht Rugby (A) to conclude the regular season was disappointing.

The fringe squad members who performed so well struggled for form and cohesion in those encounters and there was a hint of end of season exertions in those performances. These squad players played significant minutes in the league while their first team colleagues were on international duty, understandable that performances waned at the end of the regular season.

The other low point was the injury problems experienced by Sean O’Brien this season. The Carlow native endured a frustrating season with shoulder and leg injuries to the fore. It is hoped that O’Brien is fit and raring to go for preseason in order to provide both province and national team with more squad depth options in the back row next season.

Off Season Rumor Mill:

With the departures of legendary Isa Nacewa and Richard Strauss from the playing setup as well as the departure of the excellent Jordi Murphy to Ulster Rugby next term, Leinster Rugby have a couple of personnel issues to contend with this close season. Nacewa’s departure cannot be underestimated.

The New Zealander was an inspirational leader in the playing group, he set the tone and work ethic for which other followed and evaluated their game as a result. No doubt, Leinster Rugby will already have identified their replacement to fill the big shoes of Nacewa but his presence and high level of performance will be missed.

Strauss was a player whose ability to create gain line breaks, his assured set piece execution was to the fore. Jordi Murphy will be a big loss to the group as well. His performances this season for province and country have being excellent. The Murphy departure is a loss but look at the back row options in the Leinster Rugby squad. O’Brien,  Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan chomping at the bit to make an impact.

The drama of where Joey Carbery will be plying his trade next season has loomed large in recent weeks. Carbery is a tricky situation. Leinster Rugby is an exceptional club and will get the opportunity to secure silverware. However, his game time at ten has being low given the cameos of Ross Byrne as well as Johnny Sexton. Does Carbery take the decision to move away from the RDS to improve his RWC 2019 chances or does he stay patient and hope to make a move up the depth chart at Leinster? Intriguing subplot.

Player of the Season:

Several standout candidates come to mind. Furlong was immense this season for province and national side. His scrummaging and work rate with / without ball was outstanding. Sean Cronin had an excellent season, rid of injury and his performances provided stability in set piece. Healy was his abrasive best in all areas of play. James Ryan was incredible and his game evaluated Devin Toner to new performance levels.

The back line unit had massive cameo moments as well with Lowe, Ringrose, Henshaw and Kearney having keynote seasons. Joint award winners for me. Dan Leavy and Scott Fardy were simply sensational this season. Leavy’s ability to control the breakdown area, his ability with ball in hand was outstanding all year, the proverbial tackling machine.

Fardy was such an astute signing from Leinster Rugby. Fardy’s versatility to fill multiple back row positions along with his ability to slot into the second row provided massive flexibility in Leinster Rugby’s squad selection. Fardy was one of the first names on the team sheet and to say that in such a star studded team speaks volumes. If you were twisting my arm, it would be Scott Fardy for the consistency in performance and appearances with the province this season.

Grade: B

High Point:

The ability of the team to continue to produce winning performances despite the departure of Erasmus, Niebaner and Aled Walters midway through the season. The Erasmus departure was poorly managed but the players and backroom staff which remained have to be applauded for keeping focused and providing van Graan with a seamless transition.

The backs to the wall performance against Toulon in Thomond Park. The French outfit dominated the ball and how Munster Rugby won this contest will be the stuff of folklore for years to come. Two superb individual efforts from Conor Murray and Andrew Conway secured the victory. Incredible performance.

The emergence of young talent in the squad to offset injuries to key personnel during the season. Sam Arnold was excellent at thirteen, a position which looked problematic when Chris Farrell and Jaco Taute had gone down with season ending injuries. Alex Wootton in the back line came to the fore; excellent try scoring and will learn massively from the season just gone.

Low Point:

Playoff woe continues for this pool of players. Another frustrating European Rugby Cup semi-final loss, a defeat to Racing 92 where Munster Rugby failed to deliver a telling blow. Racing 92 exposed a passive Munster Rugby opening quarter and three tries followed to seal the contest. Playoff mentality questions abound.

The Guinness Pro 14 semi-final playoff performance against Leinster Rugby was encouraging but when you consider the Leinster Rugby first team players who did not feature, to lose this contest was a disappointment. A slow start to the contest again punished by Leinster Rugby and when Munster Rugby did score, they let Leinster Rugby off the hook with some miserable penalty concessions.

The team has progressed from last season but the scope of improvement is there for all to see. The ability of the side to execute at the business end of the season was exposed yet again; the ability of players to execute the basics at a high level was inconsistent at the business end of the season.

Grobler saga. The media attention on the player and the decision to bring the player into the setup knowing that this was only for a season was a mistake in hindsight, surely there was a homegrown talent which could have filled the squad berth. The Erasmus saga was embarrassing. Enough said.

Off Season Rumor Mill:

A couple of positions are up for grabs. With Simon Zebo departing for Racing 92, the full back slot is up for grabs. Haley, Fitzgerald and Conway come into the equation to fill this position. Zebo’s ability to play off the cuff and create try scoring opportunities from nothing was seen to full effect in the Edinburgh Rugby playoff win.

There is speculation on the ten jersey. Bleyendaal endured another torrid season with injury and his absence provided the opportunity for Keatley to impress. Keatley was excellent until the playoffs and then his form and confidence fell apart. Hanrahan attempted to fill the jersey in the Guinness Pro 14 playoff and it was a mixed bag. Johnston needs to be given game time in the preseason to see if the undoubted potential of the player can flourish next season. Joey Carbery’s name has being bandied around in the media circles. If Carbery arrives, then it means that at least one fly-half will need to leave to make squad depth space.

The prop position as well was exposed in the last couple of weeks of the season. Archer played through the pain barrier to give valuable game time minutes down the stretch. Loughman and O’Connor should come back into the fray next season but both players still are inexperienced at this level.

Player of the Season:

Three standout performers this season. Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Peter O’Mahony. All were colossal figures in Munster’s most prominent moments this season. Murray for me was the standout player for Munster Rugby this season. His game management, defensive nous and ability to score tries from nothing were to the fore. Earls and O’Mahony provided massive leadership and inspirational moments for the side too but I cannot look past Murray this season. He was superb.

Grade: C-

High Point:

Gain line breaks aplenty for the province this season and the back line when supplied with fast ball were dangerous. Piutau was a menace with ball in hand. McCloskey and Ludik also prominent in the attacking side of the game.

The emergence of John Cooney at the nine position was the highlight; an unenviable scenario to fill the boots of Ruan Pienaar but Cooney’s performance were of high quality throughout. His kicking game to the fore and his ability to score tries impressive to earn a call up to the Ireland national side tour to Australia.

Securing European Rugby Champions Cup rugby next season. Their defeat of Ospreys with a depleted side was a standout moment. The side were vulnerable, backs against the wall but each player on duty performed excellently. There is massive potential in this Ulster Rugby club, the fan base is superb. The new head coach with a couple of shrewd signings can have an immediate positive impact.

Low Point: 

Jackson and Olding trial dominated news reels for months. The trial regardless of what was said by the province had to have had a negative morale impact. The trial verdict did not stifle opposition to the retention of Jackson and Olding and both players were forced out due to sponsors reservations. A sorry saga for everyone involved and the decision of Les Kiss to jump ship during the trial did little to stem the negative morale in the camp.

Inconsistent performances. Jekyll and Hyde cameos were the norm this season. A half of quality and then a half of poor mediocrity allowing opposition to get back into contests. The change in head coach did not stem this trend. Several fixtures stand out to me. The road trip draw to Dragons where Ulster Rugby combusted at a rate of knots. The Munster Rugby away performance where they controlled the opening period but then failed to show in the second half. Two games where wins were possible.

The retirements of Payne, Trimble and Bowe will reduce squad back line depth chart. The departure of Piutau is a blow too, it will be interesting to see how Ulster Rugby look to replace the void left by these departures from the squad. The decision on when Dan McFarland takes over at Kingspan needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Off Season Rumor Mill:

Paddy Jackson’s departure has left a void at ten. McPhilips has undoubted talent in the position but there needs to be an experienced player also in the position as well. Carbery and Byrne were touted but this link has cooled in recent weeks. Does Steenson come into the equation? Ten channel reinforcements as well as back line recruits are paramount. The pack are boosted by the signings of Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy but more front five depth is required.

Player of the Season:

Difficult season but for sheer consistency this season, it has to be John Cooney. No brainer.

Grade: D

High Point:

When Connacht Rugby produced a cohesive performance, they were a match for any side. Their derby wins against Munster Rugby and Leinster Rugby in the Sportgrounds emphasized this point. Their pack was abrasive and mobile while the half-backs launched their back line with fast ball where Aki and Farrell created gain line breaks. The European Challenge Cup campaign saw Connacht Rugby top their pool, several keynote wins on the road.

The emergence of Tom Farrell to the side; the twelve was a standout. His ability to find the soft shoulder was on point, creating gain line breaks. Delahunt is a player with incredible upside; impressed me massively at the end of the season with his ball carrying and set piece execution. McKeon and Butler were standouts in the back row.

Low Point:

Inconsistency performances. The ability of Connacht Rugby to contrive to lose narrow games due to self inflicted mistakes. The restart after a Connacht Rugby score was a problematic area in the first half of the season. The defensive line and speed was at times exposed by better sides. The losses to Zebre Rugby particularly hurt in terms of the performance levels and the sheer inability of Connacht Rugby to setup a platform.

Kieran Keane’s departure was massively mismanaged. The canines around the Sportsground knew that the New Zealander was surplus to requirements before Connacht Rugby then decided to issue a press statement release. It showed the board in a poor light and raises questions on the board’s convictions in backing their own appointment. Andy Friend needs 100% support from the board.

The form of Ultan Dillane. The second row’s form dipped this season and the Kerry man needs to come back with gusto next season. Keane preferred other alternatives to Dillane and his form has resulted in missing out on Ireland national team squad selection.

The end of an era. John Muldoon exits Connacht Rugby as a player. An emotional last home game against Leinster Rugby. The Portumna native was quite simply legendary for the province. His unerring loyalty to the club in the hard times is an example to anyone. Andrew Browne also left the club, a player who contributed massively to the development of the province in recent years.

Off Season Rumor Mill:

Andy Friend’s appointment by Connacht Rugby last week is a welcome step. Friend will be present for the start of preseason, something that Keane did not have. A preseason to evaluate the players and coaching staff and look to implement his expansive game plan ethos to the club.

Several key signings this off-season. The signing of Copeland, Horowitz and Goodwin are quality additions which will boost squad depth competition. The capture of the Fijian Sevu Reece has the ability to be one of the signings of the season provided the player can sharpen up his defensive side of play.

An off-season where everyone associated with Connacht Rugby need to knuckle down and work harder to get back to competing in Guinness Pro 14 and European Challenge Cup action.

Player of the Season:

Difficult season. Tom Farrell impressed. Bundee Aki cameos in European and Guinness Pro 14 were excellent. Tiernan O’Halloran had several eye-catching displays but I think Kieran Marmion was probably the player of the season. His game management was solid throughout the year, his ability to support the ball carrier seen with several tries at the back end of the season. A summer tour to Australia has the potential for Marmion to establish himself as the backup to Conor Murray.