Ireland Rugby Union November Squad Reflections

Ireland squad does not spring too many surprises

If anyone was looking for sensational sports headlines today, it probably was not coming from the Irish Rugby Union November squad selection. A consistent selection with one new face added to the camp. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squad selection and his hopes after this set of November test match fixtures. 

No Murray as expected as Addison is included

The key talking points from this squad selection is the absence of Conor Murray and the inclusion of Will Addison to the camp. Murray’s absence is hardly surprising to anyone who has followed this season so far. Murray continues to rehab on an injury (yet to be disclosed) and the expectation is that the Limerick native will be back come the end of this calendar year. 

Will Addison’s inclusion is reward for a prominent start with Ulster Rugby. His versatility to slot into multiple back line positions evident this season; started the campaign at full back with impressive ball carrying statistics. In recent weeks, Addison has switched to the center and was prominent in the opening Ulster Rugby try last weekend at Racing 92; a superb line break and pass to David Shanahan. Addison should get game time and it will be interesting to see the defensive side of his game; he was exposed on more than one occasion against a rampant Racing 92 outfit last weekend. A good selection which if comes off provides more squad depth to Joe Schmidt. 

Scrum Half Depth Chart to be fully assessed 

During the summer international series, I had hoped that Joe Schmidt would have given the likes of Kieran Marmion or John Cooney sufficient time to impress in the nine jersey. This never materialized as Conor Murray was the default test match selection and the two players mentioned got paltry minutes. With Murray not in the squad, it provides an opportunity for Marmion, Cooney and Luke McGrath to grab the initiative and fully control the backup nine jersey battle. 

Interesting Hooker Depth Chart

An intriguing depth chart issue has emerged at hooker. With Rory Best’s absence from the successful Australian tour last summer, it provided a great opportunity for Rob Herring and particularly Niall Scannell to impress. Both players to be fair took their opportunities with solid outings. The big loser in this hooker squad depth was Sean Cronin who was a late scratch from the final test when primed to play. Best as team captain is first choice but it will be interesting to see how the depth chart on the other players goes. The game minutes for Scannell, Herring and Cronin will be duly noted ahead in this end of year test match fixture list. 

Tasty Second Row Battle 

If you are Joe Schmidt, you are faced with a hard but satisfying position. The second row coverage for this test match fixture list is superb. The big question is how Tadhg Beirne fits into the master plan? The Kildare native has made a superb start to his Munster Rugby career and his form in European action cannot be ignored but who do you drop from the second row. Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Quinn Roux will all be vying for game time next month as well. The second row combinations will be interesting to say the least; the balance of the front five is paramount. An unit where the depth chart is through the roof. 

Back Row Options aplenty 

The key question for me is where Sean O’Brien fits into the national side? Competition is fierce in the six and seven berths so wondering if the eight channel is an area where Ireland management will look to give O’Brien game time. The eight channel has two recognized players in the mix in CJ Stander and Jack Conan but a third option needs to emerge in the event of an injury crisis. Ruddock is an eight option but management could throw a curve ball to find additional player versatility — watch this space. The competition in the six and seven jersey battles looks fascinating; players such as Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Peter O’Mahony, Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock will drive each other to yet new high levels of performance. 

Will Carbery and Byrne get sufficient game time? 

We all know what Sexton brings to the table. What I am looking for is in this November test match series is the progression of Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne in the national team ten jersey, given ample time next month to show their skill set and game management.

This is realistically the last time that these players will be able to showcase their talent ahead of the 6 Nations tournament. Carbery has had an excellent start to the season with Munster Rugby amid injury chaos at scrum-half in the club. Ross Byrne has being an early season standout too and it remains to be seen whether the Leinster Rugby backup to Sexton will be given sufficient game minutes.

With a RWC 2019 schedule which will require full squad participation and quality, this is a vital squad selection for Joe Schmidt to identify the depth chart to the open positions. Roll on November!

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.

RBS 6 Nations: Ireland Squad Announcement

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has announced his initial Ireland RBS 6 Nations squad who will assemble and prepare for the opening fixture against France. Few surprises in squad selection truth be told with the inclusion of Jordan Larmour as well as recalls for the likes of Sean Cronin, Rory Scannell and Fergus McFadden for good measure. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the squad and half-back selections are interesting.

Forwards

Props

A strong forward squad has being selected for the start of the tournament. The front row looks quite potent in the prop positions with Furlong, Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Porter, Ryan in the ranks. All players are playing well for their provinces. Furlong is certain to start but it remains to be seen how Schmidt viewed the suspension of Cian Healy against Exeter Chiefs. Healy was back to excellent form for Leinster Rugby and his disciplinary issue has opened the door to Jack McGrath who has produced standout performances as well. 50/50 call for the other prop position. The rest of the players realistically are looking at cameos off the bench provided no injuries surface before then. An area of weakness in the past for Ireland is now a key strength; the scrum set piece will be conceivably a primary platform for Ireland to attack from.

Hooker:

I am delighted to see Sean Cronin back in the international squad. The Limerick man has excelled for Leinster Rugby this season with several standout performances. His ball carrying ability was never an issue but a spat of injuries last season curtailed progress. However, the player has worked extremely hard to get back to form and this is reward for that.

Rob Herring from Ulster has being solid this season; very consistent performer in the set piece. However, Rory Best is the hooker for the start of the tournament, leading the side out in Paris. His form against La Rochelle last weekend was a timely reminder to everyone of his qualities. His ability to compete in the breakdown was to the core. The set piece was efficiently run. James Tracy potentially will feel a bit disappointed but with Cronin with Ireland, it is a chance to reestablish himself in the Leinster Rugby side and play quality minutes. Another player who has massive upside.

Second Row:

Five players selected for this unit. Henderson will start against France. His high tempo work rate and set piece execution to the fore. The Ulster second row has slowly picked up his form in recent weeks and his understanding with Best will be key to create a platform from the lineout. The partner for Henderson is a different story.

Ultan Dillane, James Ryan and Devin Toner all provide key strengths for first team inclusion. Toner’s experience, his line-out ability is superb, ball carrying has improved but question marks remain on his ability to compete in the breakdown. Dillane had a frustrating season last year, injuries and form issues did not help his cause but the Kerry man is playing well for Connacht Rugby this season. His ball carrying, speed and work rate to the fore. James Ryan is the dark horse for first team inclusion. The key point for Ryan is to establish himself as a consistent Leinster Rugby first team starter.

Ryan has all the traits to become a world class lock but it is too soon to throw him in against France on the road. With Tadhg Beirne returning back to Ireland next season, realistically it is an opportunity for the players selected to cement their squad places. Quinn Roux personally looks vulnerable and his disciplinary record in recent weeks does not bode well for the player long term with Schmidt. No complaints on the Beirne omission right now. Schmidt has laid out the policy for national team selection and Beirne does not fit the criteria right now while playing out of Ireland.

Back Row:

Immense competition for starting spots beckon in this division. The Leinster contingent have played superbly this season. Leavy and van der Flier have being immense in recent weeks with their Guinness Pro 14 performances. Jordi Murphy’s form is strong at this time and has softened the blow of Rhys Ruddock’s absence for club and country. Jack Conan comes into the squad as well, has shown well for club this season. The Munster contingent of O’Mahony, Stander provide leadership, work rate and breakdown know how. It is going to be fascinating to see who Schmidt goes with for the first game of the tournament. O’Brien’s absence is a blow but there is sufficient cover to offset the loss against France. No complaints on this unit and guys on the outside need to perform to higher levels to get into the national team shakeup.

Scrum-Half:

The key talking point was the omission of John Cooney from the squad. His form for Ulster Rugby this season has being a standout for the province in game management and kicking game.

Marmion gets the nod to impress again but the Connacht player needs to provide more decisive game management if given an opportunity to impress. His Autumn International against Fiji was a mixed bag and really has opened the door for other players to potentially come into the reckoning.

Hugely impressed by Luke McGrath this season; his maturity and game management has being excellent this season for Leinster Rugby and hopefully we will some good quality international test matches for the player in this tournament. Murray will start against France. His game is so good right now, form scrum-half for me in recent seasons.

Fly-Half:

Interesting squad selection as backup to Sexton who will start against France provided no injury concerns. Carbery is included even though injured since the Fijian international fixture.

Ian Keatley has being a shining light for Munster Rugby this season and gets the nod deservedly but you also have Rory Scannell here who can deputize at ten if need be.

Scannell played ten for Munster Rugby a couple of seasons ago; his kick game from twelve is a potent weapon for Munster Rugby. Given Carbery’s lack of game minutes in recent weeks, Keatley is the understudy to start off this tournament.

Carbery may be asked to go back and play games for the province during the RBS 6N tournament to establish form and sharpness. A player of massive upside and potential. A key squad player for the 2019 RWC.

Back Line:

Wingers:

No genuine complaints here on the back line selection. Zebo has made his decision to leave for France and with a World Cup looming, Schmidt needs continuity in the squad. The key inclusion is Jordan Larmour; the youngster is an exceptional talent and I think personally it would be wrong to throw in against France in Paris. The player has enormous attacking ability; his ability to create line breaks was seen against Munster and Ulster this season.

A key fixture beckons for Larmour this weekend in ERC action. A road trip to Montpellier and a chance to test his defensive qualities against the Goliath Nadolo on the wing. Sweetnam did as well as he could against the towering winger in international duty last year and Larmour’s defensive qualities need to be tested and this would be an excellent assessment on this facet of play.

An exceptional player already and one who will feature for the country before the end of the tournament. Sweetnam’s lack of game minutes for Munster Rugby and that Fijian performance defensively may be reasons for his omission; he will focus on returning to provincial action to reestablish his form.

Earls form has being outstanding; his cameo against Racing 92 sensational. McFadden has his critics but his upturn in form has seen the player back in the national setup, versatility also a plus for inclusion.

Conway like Earls is enjoying a superb season. His versatility a key reason for his inclusion, can fill wing and full back slots and expect game time for the player in this tournament.

Stockdale for me has being the find of the season for Ireland; his ability to create meters with ball in hand and his finishing qualities make him a standout wing option for this tournament. Stockdale and Earls potentially get the nod but there is stiff competition for places in the unit.

Centers:

Bundee Aki will start against France. His form in the Autumn International series was superb; his ball carrying and defensive work on point. The key question is who will partner the player for this tournament due to the absence of Gary Ringrose.

Henshaw has shown well for Leinster Rugby this season, his experience looks like a key reason for his inclusion to partner Aki. Chris Farrell’s development for the national team will be keenly noted; he has massive physicality, passing game and his line break speed is excellent.

Rory Scannell provides good cover at twelve and his kicking game as mentioned is a key asset for any side. It remains to be seen if Earls or McFadden will be considered for three quarters duty but their record is there for everyone to analyze.

Ringrose is a loss; his creativity and ball carrying are a perfect foil for Aki but they will have their chance in the Summer tour potentially if Ringrose does not make back in time for this tournament. McCloskey will be disappointed.

Full Back:

Such is the form of Leinster Rugby’s whizz kid Jordan Larmour at full back this season, Rob Kearney is under pressure to keep onto his full back starting jersey. Kearney has being in excellent form as well and is a great problem to have for club and country. I sense Kearney will get the nod at full back for the opening fixture but there could be opportunity for Larmour to potentially get game time later in the tourney (dare I say Italian match). Conway provides excellent cover in the position as well as Carbery. The position is stacked with quality. People will call out Zebo but in terms of the Schmidt game plan, these players are best equipped to execute the game plan to the letter of the law.

 

Squad Profile: Fiji

After the demolition of the South African challenge, Ireland reset focus to face Fiji at the now sold out Aviva Stadium this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick previews Ireland’s next opponents.

Recent Form

Fiji have played seven internationals this calendar year. The calendar year saw a 37-14 loss to Australia in Melbourne but the side then bounced back and beat both Scotland and Italy in tight encounters.

The Pacific Nations Cup took place in July and Fiji beat Samoa comprehensively before defeating Tonga 14-10. Italy exacted some revenge for that summer loss with a hard fought 19-10 win at Catania.

Decent form but the lack of international games for Fiji and for the rest of the Pacific Island nations are doing little for the development of these squads.

Key Players

Ireland have to be careful this weekend when to go expansive. Fiji love the open field, slick offloading in the tackle and quick ruck ball are paramount to their game plan. Leone Nakarawa ticks all these boxes and much more.

The Racing 92 second row is a sublime player. Physicality yet finesse. Set piece effiency with speed of thought and an offloading game which is a manual in how to play the game.

Akapusi Qera is a legend for the national side. The flanker has had a distinguished international and club career playing for the likes of Gloucester, Toulouse, Montpelier and now Agen. His physicality, tackle count and breakdown skills will look to win turnover ball for his side to unleash fast counter attacks.

Vereniki Goneva should see some game time this weekend and his threat out wide will need to be quelled by Ireland. His powerful initial burst of pace is hard to stop and his try count for club and country is excellent. Another distinguished player who has played with several English club teams with distinction.

What to expect from Fiji this weekend?

It all depends on the weather in Dublin this Saturday. Dry track conditions will mean that Fiji will be able to showcase their undoubted running and offload game to full effect.

The Italian game saw flashes of brilliance from Fiji with some potential decisive line breaks only to be quelled by poor ball handling or discipline.

Nakarawa’s try was superbly executed; all down to the mercurial second row whose running line from thirty meters proved too good for the Italian defense.

The Italians did provide evidence of areas to exploit in the pack exchanges; defensively the fringes were a source of easy gain line yards for Conor O’Shea’s side.

Furthermore, a better side would have punished Fiji in the red zone on several occasions. Several excellent scoring opportunities presented themselves for the Azzuri only for ponderous game management or lack of incisive running lines to kill any momentum.

Expect a Fiji side who will look to attack from deep; the kicking game from Ireland needs to be on point this weekend as failure to do so will allow Fiji’s primary ball carrier to gain excellent field position.

Fiji ultimately I suspect will be exposed on the set piece; question marks on the defensive setup for mauls. Their defensive shape was very tight against Italy and one would presume that Ireland would be better at expanding field position when required.

This is an international which will hopefully create plenty of try scoring opportunities. The chance to see the likes of Leone Nakarawa in the flesh, offloading with three Ireland players on his case will be a joy to watch. Roll on Saturday!

RBS 6 Nations – Round 3 Thoughts

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Sink or Swim week

Can Sexton produce a performance against France?

The Ireland team selection in essence yielded little surprises. Best and McGrath were recalled after being left out of the starting lineup against Italy. The only selection of interest was at fly-half with Sexton replacing Jackson for the jersey despite playing no game minutes in recent weeks.

Schmidt has plumped for a player who has produced for Ireland consistently over Jackson who did little wrong in Rome two weeks ago. Is Schmidt sending a statement that he still does not trust Jackson to execute the Ireland game plan against France?

For Ireland, you hope that the switch works but I have massive reservations on the selection. Sexton’s recent form and early departures from games are two main concerns and one that France will target throughout.

The ten and thirteen channels were to be targeted by France anyway and with Sexton introduced to the starting lineup, there will be more focus on the ten channel in the opening exchanges to test out Sexton and see if he is fully fit and defensive ready for a test match of this intensity.

Sexton’s ability is undoubted but the recent injury problems and lack of game time (don’t care who are) will affect your performance. Murray will need to provide Sexton with the time and space to launch his back line but also for his defensive duties. Ireland, Joe Schmidt and management will hold their breathe on Saturday evening. Intriguing stuff.

 

Ireland prepared for pack trench warfare

The fact that Joe Schmidt has named an abrasive subs bench (5 forwards, 1 backs and two half-backs). The decision to leave Dillane was made purely because Ireland management believe that this game will be won in the pack exchanges. The closing quarter will be a pivotal time for Ireland to potentially use their conditioning advantage or a France team who have flagged in their last two matches in the closing exchanges.

Peter O’Mahoney coming off the bench is a stellar substitute to spring into action for his open play, breakdown and lineout option capability. His willingness to do the hard work and go deep into the tackle count can only help Ireland at the death of this test match. Henderson gets the nod over Dillane who is still struggling for optimum form this season.

France will look to set their platform at the set piece and the onus is on Ireland’s front five to deny this advantage. The scrum will be sublime; the French pride themselves in a dominant scrum but with the likes of McGrath, Best, Furlong packing down, it promises to be an epic contest.

The lineout options to Rory Best are solid with Toner, Ryan and potentially Stander / Heaslip in the opening exchanges. The promise of Henderson and O’Mahoney to come into the fray will add bolster to the lineout in the closing quarter. This is not going to be an offloading exhibiton game; expect hard hits throughout with the pack exchanges pivotal to who wins this contest.

 

How much will England score against Italy?

England’s point spread bets will vary wildly this weekend. Italy are on a hiding to nothing as their backs are proverbially against the wall. Their media do not rate the team, their media has questioned why the team are in the RBS 6 Nations (prompting talks of why Georgia are not in the tourney).

Conor O’Shea realized that this job would take time to cultivate a winning culture and a team whose undoubted passion would convert into a more cohesive unit with ball and defensively. The reality check has being swift. A second half thrashing at home to Wales set the prelude to an embarrassing reversal to Ireland two weeks ago.

There was precious little to take as positives for Italy; the set piece was exposed. The scrum was a weak point in both games. The lineout usually so solid disintegrated against Ireland and gave Joe Schmidt’s endless opportunities to launch attacks deep in Italian territory.

With this backdrop comes their first road trip of the championship and what a daunting challenge with a run out at Twickenham. England will be relishing this fixture to demonstrate their flair, offloading and attacking dimensions to their side. Their pack are excellent; no genuine weak point in the England ranks. The set piece is solid, scrum could be targeted if any officials dare ping Dan Coles for not driving straight. Love him or hate him, Dylan Hartley throws good lineout darts and with the man mountain Maro Itoje becoming a standout pack leader, quick ruck ball from Youngs and Care allows the likes of Ford and Farrell to unleash an incredibly pacey back line. Joseph omission is an opportunity for others to impress.

Eddie Jones constantly tries to change up the side and keep the players on their toes. Joseph was a standout for England last season so Jones is not afraid to be the hard calls. Daly has being a revelation this season with his long range kicking and scorching pace (do not remain Alex Cuthbert of that try) which won England the game against Wales two weeks ago. England will look to probe Italy’s fringe defense throughout and there is only one winner; potential floodgates to open on fifty minutes and expect 30 / 40 point thrashing for the Azzuri. Expect more talk of Georgia and their inability to join the RBS 6 Nations party to develop next week.

Scotland vs. Wales – Creativity appear?

Wales enter this contest on the back of a traumatic loss to their arch foe England. A game which they could have won was taken away from them thanks to poor game management both on and off the pitch. The on pitch events preceding the game winning try have being much documented. Davies and Cuthbert have heard enough about their roles in video analysis but the Welsh management have to put their hand up and admit that key substitution switches were made at the wrong time. Ross Moriarty was having an absolute belter of a game but then Howley decides to take his Gloucester charge off in his prime. Momentum built was then destroyed and gave England an opportunity to regroup and execute their game plan.

Wales showed flashes of the creativity which they have in abundance. Liam Williams has being sublime in this tournament; his running lines and all round game makes him a cert for the Lions tour. George North continues to perform at a high level. Williams and Davies form a superb three quarters where pace and power are in abundance. Wales need to make a decision on what style of play they want to adopt for the rest of the tournament?

Wales need as many points as possible. The answer would point to a more expansive style but Wales have at times gone back to prototype and being a little one dimensional using their pack and defense nous to beat opponents.

Wales need to make a statement this week and with a Scotland team minus a couple of first choice players including influential Laidlaw, it is a game that is there for Wales to secure a win and a potential bonus point win.

Scotland under Vern Cotter have improved their consistency this season. The loss to Paris had plenty of positives. Hogg at full back continues to impress in open space. The defensive fringes were good for large parts.

However, the scrum and defensive maul were areas of weakness and Wales will look to target these areas in the opening half this weekend. The inclement weather may make the ambition to be expansive a long shot and it could be another pack battle, hoping it will not be as both sides process two stellar back lines. This could be the most entertaining contest of the weekend.

Hawkeye Sidekick Predictions

Ireland by three points (won’t be pretty but a result will be secured)

England by thirty points (bonus point by half-time)

Wales by seven points (weather determines bonus point)

RBS 6 Nations Reflections

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The good, the bad and the sheer ugly

The classic rout

Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all, hope everyone is feeling loved and appreciated today which is a contrast to the Italian management and squad who were vilified by their local scribes after Ireland comprehensive rout of the hosts in Rome last Saturday.

Statements such as ‘we do not belong in the RBS 6 Nations’ were the theme of the pieces, perhaps bourne out of frustration where professional rugby clubs are threading water at the bottom of the Pro 12 while the national team continues to struggle for anyone of the caliber of Sergio Parisse to game manage and launch game line breaks.

Ireland produced a professional performance in Rome. Their slow start of Murrayfield was not repeated as the Italians were under the cosh from the restart. The Italian set piece then started to deteriorate particularly the lineout and Ireland were gifted excellent field position. 81 tackles made in the first thirty minutes was an ominous sign for the hosts and it was no surprise that Ireland made their dominance count with a flurry of tries started by Keith Earls.

The bonus point (first in the tournament’s history) was secured before the interval and Stander was having one of those performances where it will be pretty next on impossible not to bring the South African / Annacotty resident to the Lions tour. Jackson had an assured performance at ten; orchestrated his back line superbly and his kicking off the tee was immaculate. Cian Healy produced a most encouraging cameo in the front row; his scrummaging was solid and tigerish in the open play, good competition with McGrath has developed for the number one jersey. The back row unit improved considerably; nullified Parisse and Favaro and were dominant throughout.

Gilroy’s cameo was a nod to management for introducing the speedster against a tiring Italian outfit. His hat-trick was clinically finished and will aid his development in the national team; his aerial skills looked good to boot. Kearney’s absence will be a blow in terms of squad depth but there is sufficient coverage in Zebo and O’Halloran for the French test. A satisfying second match performance from Ireland.

The second half was a procession. Italy have to be credited for their tries, good play from the front five to build momentum in the maul but there was little else for Conor O’Shea to be enthused about. The issues for the Azzuri were obvious and glaring. No leadership in the back line as Henshaw and Ringrose had the proverbial field day reading Italian attacking plays and making huge yards with ball carries.

Ringrose’s performance was encouraging; much more decisive in defensive duties and his ability to create space from nothing was evident in his try. The Italian three quarters were being ripped to shreds in the final quarter. The Italian pack at set piece lacked cohesion and precision to seriously threaten Ireland who pretty much scored at will. A difficult job on paper for Conor O’Shea looks mission impossible on the basis of this cameo.

With no genuine homegrown Italian talent coming through the ranks, RBS 6 Nations organizers will have to revisit the question of Italy’s participation in the tournament. An easy touch is not what this tournament needs or wants. The empty seats at the Olympic Stadium were striking; the locals are not prepared to watch this drivel anymore. Georgia surely have to be considered a genuine replacement for Italy if results such as this continue in this season’s tournament.

Coaching 101: Don’t change a winning unit

Rob Howley and Welsh management will need to reflect on this loss for sometime. Their decision to withdraw personnel who were playing stellar games in a pregame determined fashion backfired horribly. Moriarty’s substitution was particularly baffling; the number eight was having a superb afternoon. His physicality and ball carrying were to the fore, providing a platform for Wales.

The substitution saw the introduction of Faletau to the proceedings who also had a superb game but the decision to retain the services of Warburton stuck out like a sore thumb. There is someone not quite right with Warburton at present; the loss of captaincy is a blow but his general back row performances for club and country this season have being underwhelming. He was not very prominent in the breakdown exchanges.

Wales will rue the fact that they let the superb test match slip away. They had several opportunities to create a necessary buffer in the opening period but inaccuracy in the red zone was crucial. Halfpenny and Williams were superb in the back line with their running lines. Liam Williams’ running line for the opening Wales try was sublime. A key moment of the game and one that Wales deserved based on their second quarter showing.

You have to admire England for their refusal to panic and play to their game plan. Farrell’s leadership to the fore in the last quarter, driving the side on and was ably assisted by the likes of Teo, Haskell and Hughes who put in a serious shift. The game winning try will be viewed by England as reward for their constant probing in the last quarter, for Wales it was a disaster.

The attempted kick from Jonathan Davies lacked direction and conviction, kick the ball into touch, reset defensively and face up for another two minutes of England onslaught. The kick was caught in the middle of the park and a swift exchange of passes saw the ball with Eliot Daly whose pace burned Alex Cuthbert on the wing. The attempt of Cuthbert to make any tackle was embarrassing for the player; he was schooled by Daly. Farrell’s subsequent conversion was lights out brilliant and put the game out of Wales’ reach.

Penny for the thoughts of Warren Gatland on that try would be interesting. Whether the New Zealander would have being stuck with the premeditated substitutions is a question for another day? Wales will need to regroup but it will be difficult given the manner of the defeat. There is a championship still to be won and a pivotal fixture with Scotland now awaits.

France scrap past Scotland

An intriguing contest. Scotland produced exciting moments of play from their player of the tournament Stuart Hogg. They also showed weakness particularly in the scrum and the squad depth at nine was highlighted once Laidlaw was forced to retire due to injury. His kicking off the tee in particular underpinned by the bizarre conversion miss from Finn Russell. The defensive maul at times was ragged and the officiating crew pinged Scotland for offside at various stages. Scotland were competitive but at key times, game management was a little off which is fatal when you play away in Paris.

France for their intent to run the ball at any given occasion coughed up a lot of opportunities for Scotland to gain a platform in the contest. Kicks out in the full, crossing and unforced ball handling errors and errand passes plighted a performance which enthused the locals in attendance. Noves game plan is clear, asking his players to express themselves on the pitch but the absence of the likes of Fofana was key. His pace and game line gain ability would have an additional element which Scotland would have struggled to contain.

What worked for France? The front five were dominant in set piece. Their scrum was far superior to their opponents, setting up attacking platforms. The opening try was classic France, quick hand, awareness of space to the fore. Their physicality will pose Ireland a serious threat in two weeks time. Their pack is incredibly big and strong. The scrum battle will be intriguing at the Aviva Stadium. The question is whether France can improve their attacking and defensive cohesion to produce a full eighty minute performance. The defensive performance of France on the wings at times left a lot to be desired. Hogg enjoyed plenty of space to make easy game line yards. An interesting weekend and one that whets the appetite for round three.

RBS 6 Nations Preview: Italy vs. Ireland

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End of the line for the vanquished this weekend

Saturday afternoon represents an opportunity for Italy and Ireland to keep alive their slim championship chances. For Italy, a gritty yet ultimately heavy defeat against the Welsh indicates that it could be a tough afternoon for an Ireland side who were put to the sword by Scotland in Murrayfield. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixture and wonders if risk and fear will play heavily on both sides in Rome.

Italy – a distinct work in progress under O’Shea

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Conor O’Shea has arrived as the new Italian head coach. His leadership skills and ability to take a team who are at rock bottom (look at his Harlequins stint where the club were reeling from the bloodgate scandal) and build confidence and momentum to boot. O’Shea has yet publicly that this is a work in progress project; an accurate assessment and this season is a year where the Irish man will run the rule over the existing squad and see if there are any homegrown players ready to step up to the next level.

I feel for O’Shea in many respectives; a turgid domestic professional rugby environment where both Treviso and Zebre have massively struggled in Pro 12 and European Cup competition. The nucleus of the national squad is based on players representing these clubs. The saving grace has being the mercurial Parisse and Favaro who has made an excellent impact with Glasgow Warriors. Both players plying their trade away from Italy may be the tonic for the national team to prosper going forward; Italian players immersing themselves in clubs with a winning culture and learning how to execute in pressurized scenarios.

The Italian side have a reputation for throwing the tantrum when decisions go against them; it manifested last weekend with JP Doyle’s penalty count against the hosts particularly at scrum time. Italy argued their case but match officiating crews are closely scrutinizing their set piece. The scrum looked shaky at times last Sunday and with an impressive Ireland front three looming large, it could be a long afternoon.

O’Shea is going to look at the lineout and breakdown to gain parity in this contest. Parisse in particular will be a key figure; driving his back row colleagues with ball carries and slowing down Ireland ball. The options past the half-backs are limited unfortunately; no significant evidence that the Italy back line can create behind the game line, they rely heavily on their pack getting on the front foot. It is a situation which needs to change for O’Shea and Italy to progress.

A win against South Africa last November should have being the springboard for further confidence but it smashed only a week later when Tonga took the game to the Azzuri in the pack, won the battle upfront and sneaked a shock win. One step forward, two steps back is the theme for Italy at the moment. They have an excellent head coach but it is going to take time for the group to adjust to O’Shea’s coaching style and demands. The silly mistakes and lapses will be prevalent on Saturday but whether Ireland can avail of these gifts will be a different story.

Expansive Ireland or Low Risk Ireland?

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Sexton absence has created opportunity but exposed squad depth issues

Ireland media hordes have not given Scotland enough credit for last weekend. They analyzed Ireland’s game plan and formulated a strategy full of work rate and expansive attacking lines out on the wings to expose Ireland’s rigid defensive structures. It is a reality check for Schmidt, coaching staff and players. The team selection was unbalanced particularly in the back row where Ireland had three prolific ball carriers but no player with the pace to compete at the breakdown like van Der Flier. The Ireland camp have being quick to state that it was a bad day at the office but there were issues which cannot be thrown away as an one off.

Defensive structures seriously broke down last weekend. Ringrose at thirteen was struggling to make defensive reads all game; some inaccuracy inside of the Leinster player but his decision making to make a defensive play was non-existent at times particularly the first Scotland try. Payne’s absence has being massive on the defensive side of the ball. His communication traits to tell colleagues where to position themselves during defensive duties was sorely missed last weekend. Henshaw and Ringrose are superb talents with ball in hand but their defensive partnership needs to improve and expect Italy to perhaps to execute a couple of missed passes to test this unit early doors.

The second issue was the lineout and the lack of options at two and three. Best struggled for a consistent second option last weekend increased by the absence of Peter O’Mahoney whose assured lineout jumping has being on show with the province this season. Toner was the only viable option from the lineout and Scotland were quick to read and setup defensive off this.

The third issue has being an alarming distinct lack of squad depth at half-back. No genuine game minutes for players behind Murray in the November internationals has created a problem for management; when the game is in the melting pot and freshness is required at scrum-half, who can they trust? Marmion is a quality talent but with precious little minutes under his belt with Ireland, coaches felt the need to keep Murray on the pitch.

The ten position as well is a point of conjecture. This should be a period where Paddy Jackson stakes the claim to be the first choice number ten but the performance last weekend fell short; lack of game management and lapses in defensive play plighted his performance but was not helped by slow ball from Murray caused by poor pack ball presentation. Carbery could be fast tracked to the squad as soon as the French game so it is imperative for Jackson to produce an assured performance this weekend or the media vultures will be looking for changes.

The Ireland pack needs to be more cohesive this weekend. The scrum was a source of encouragement last weekend and with an Italian front row who are falling foul of officiating crews in recent internationals, there is a big opportunity to build a platform from this set piece. McGrath, Best and Furlong need to lead by example and with Healy, Bealham and Scannell in reserve, it is an unit with much promise. The second row partnership last week lost their battle with the Gray brothers. Henderson’s form should improve this weekend and hopefully a reliable lineout option. The back row has being mentioned in this blog posting. Van der Flier surely will be in the first fifteen, his pace and ability in the breakdown would provide balance to an unit with much upside.

It is a game where Joe Schmidt and team needs to step up and produce a performance full of drive and hopefully expansive plays when the Italian pack get tired and platform is sufficiently built. I am expecting a better clinical Ireland performance with a bonus point secured. Italy will try hard but their limitations were exposed last weekend and with a day less to prepare, Ireland have a golden chance to redeem themselves.

Ireland Selection (Hawkeye Sidekick)

Zebo, Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, O’Halloran, Jackson, Murray, Heaslip, Van Der Flier, Stander, Henderson, Toner, Furlong, Best, McGrath

Munster Announce Signings

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It is a total Munster party love in at the moment. Munster topped their tricky European Champions Cup pool, second seeds in the quarter finals and a home tie against Toulouse, medical staff absolved of any negligence over Conor Murray’s HIA procedures during the trip to Scotstoun. On this high, the powers that be in the province have announced more good news in back of three key signings and a couple of contract extensions to front line players. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news.

JJ returns home

This is the key addition for Munster next season. The return of JJ Hanrahan adds quality and competition to the ten berth and will push Tyler Bleyendaal on to higher performance levels. The fact that JJ has left Northampton Saints after only two seasons speaks volumes of a period where his potential at ten was unfulfilled instead plying this trade either at full back or at twelve, the very reason why the Kerry native left the province in the first place. Northampton right now are in a state of flux; head coach rumors circulating and with the likes of Tom Woods moving to Saracens next season indicates all is not well in the East Midlands club. This is a good move for Hanrahan, it is a move which will define his career and it will be an interesting off season to see how the ten battle unfolds already. Erasmus has a player with numerous positives; ability to game manage, astute tactical kicking. It is a win win for the fans who for the majority were sad to see the player go. Let us not forget the circumstances surrounding the departure with Anthony Foley making the call to appoint Ian Keatley as his first choice ten while Hanrahan was reduced as an utility back. Interesting times for the player next season. A fresh new start as it looks almost inevitable that Ian Keatley will depart for pastures new (probably France) in the off-season.

Scrum Half backups secured

With the departures of Cathal Sheridan (injury plagued) and Tomas O’Leary whose lack of game time prompted a loan move to Montpelier, it was essential that Munster identified sufficient backup options to Munster. The new recruit is James Hart, a potential shrewd signing from the province who is well regarded by management at Racing Metro 92. His brief cameo against Munster last weekend indicated a player who is quick to distribute from the ruck. With a good off-season, Hart will be a pivotal squad player who will challenge existing incumbent Duncan Williams for the backup scrum half spot. Williams is rewarded for a positive start to the season with a contract extension. Some may have their negative vibes on the player but Williams is well respected in the Munster dressing room and management team. Williams has played superbly in recent weeks particularly away to Glasgow two weeks ago. His assured box kicking and game management was to the fore. A potentially troublesome position resolved next season. Erasmus will have plenty of competition for places in the twenty-three man first team squad.

Chris Farrell

This is a signing which will prompt speculation on the futures of the likes of Saili and Taute. Chris Farrell has significant upside; aggressive ball carrier, physical and strong. His age profile means that he will come to Munster with his best days still left to come. Fans need to be patient on this signing so hopefully either Taute or Saili are also in the squad next season as both players have contributed massively on both sides of the ball in recent months. Farrell will need experience around him to nurture him into the defensive system of the province and also gain familiarity to the attacking plays. Either Taute or Saili would fit the mould perfectly or potentially Keith Earls as well. A signing which has a lot of upside given the age profile of the player. We await to see his impact.

Contract Renewals

Munster have tied down the futures of six Munster players whose age profile means that the province will enjoy the peaks of their playing careers. Bleyendaal at ten this season has being excellent; yes, they are questions from yours truly on his ability to vary up his game but his passing and ability to hit his targets has being on point. 2019 contract means that the player will be eligible for Ireland duty well before then. Is he a player in the plans of Joe Schmidt?

Dave Kilcoyne has signed on until June 2020. The abrasive prop whose ball carrying provides Munster with endless attacking opportunities has being a revelation this season. His set piece has improved this season and his error count has reduced compared to last season when he was exposed in set piece, offside and the occasion knock on. Kilcoyne’s suitors were many but the UL Bohs stalwart has made the right decision; a team which is on the up. Kilcoyne can bed down and hone his craft in familiar surroundings. Excellent contract extension.

The Scannell brothers have being standouts of the Munster revival. Rory Scannell at twelve has transitioned into a quality three quarter. His ability to spot space in behind opponents defenses with superb kicks has setup endless opportunities for Munster to launch attacks. Scannell’s defense this year has being sublime. Niebaner and Farrell have to be credited for this, his first time tackle success rate is on point. A player who will only improve in the coming years and his kicking makes him a good option at ten also.

Niall Scannell is the first choice hooker in the team even if Casey, Sharry were in the squad fit and healthy. His progression this season has summed up Munster’s rise; his error count has reduced and the Cork native has really improved all facets of his play. Lineout has being on point evident in his call-up to the Ireland squad for the upcoming RBS 6N. What I am loving about these signings is the age profile, all the guys are young and their potential has yet to be fully realized. Exciting times for the province. A key player for the team in the years to come.

Darren Sweetnam before his injury was excellent. Kirchner’s hit during St.Stephen’s Day was a sickener as the player was increasing in confidence in both sides of the ball. His GAA background proved a great asset for Murray in box kicking aerial duels but his ability to identify space in the open field was to the fore. Superb prospect and along with Ronan O’Mahoney is a player with massive potential to flourish in the years to come. A no brainer but a move which was needed to be tied down now. Exciting times indeed for Munster!

Ireland 27 – 24 Australia Postgame Thoughts

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Rory Best  – Centurion

Ireland conclude their international calendar fixtures with a compelling 27-24 win over an Australian side who were their own worse enemy. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the test match.

Ireland Squad Depth 

A key failure of Joe Schmidt and Ireland management during last year’s Rugby World Cup was that management did not have the squad to cover injuries to several positions. Arguments aplenty on why this was the case but yesterday, Ireland were faced with a similar predicament. Sean O’Brien late injury withdrawal compiled with the early withdrawals of Rob Kearney (15), Andrew Trimble (14) and Jared Payne (13) meant that Ireland had a makeshift back line for the second half where inexperienced Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery were thrust into unfamiliar positions. Australia did enjoy success on the flanks in that second period; Ireland gamely fought to the bitter end, tried to retain their defensive structure as much as they could to secure the victory.

The players who were summoned for duty off the bench made immediate impacts. Marmion’s hit on Pocock, Dillane’s ball carries and tackle count. O’Mahoney’s unbelievable breakdown steal at the death. Bealham at scrum time. It was a superb effort from an Ireland side who in past years would have struggled to compete with SH sides of the caliber of Australia given the absence of several marquee players. Schmidt and management will have plenty of food for thought selecting a 6N squad on the back of the performances yesterday where every player stood up and delivered a performance.

Game of two halves 

A pulsating game where both sides enjoyed long periods of dominance. Ireland should have being more than ten points up at the interval. Ireland’s front five were dominating in scrum and making numerous notable game line gains. The half-backs were complementing each other perfectly. Murray continues to excel and has to be a front runner for the Lions number nine shirt. His defensive nous, coupled with a big boot and ability to launch his runners at the precise right time has being hallmarks of this superb Autumn International series for Ireland. Even with the fluctation in personnel outside of the Munster number nince, Murray has led superbly and allowed his fly-half option the time and space to make the right game management decision.

Jackson yesterday showed everyone that with extended game time at ten, the Ulster man is the answer to the ten position. Sexton’s injury and concussion problems necessitate that Schmidt needs a viable alternative at ten. Jackson provided the attacking lines and kicking required in a superb test match. His penalty kicking which has at times being maligned was on point; his last conversion was sensational; showed massive leadership to slot the conversion over from the sideline. It provided Ireland with a massive boost heading into the last ten minutes of the contest. Ireland’s territorial dominance should have yielded more points, perhaps attacking refinement is required by Schmidt and management next year.

Australia will rue lost opportunities during this contest. It was a fixture which the Wallabies should have won based on their second half performance. They revel in open space and Foley, Folau were immense in identifying defensive mismatches in an Ireland back three whose inexperience at times was ruthlessly exposed. The first twenty minutes of the second half was how Australia should have started this contest; their pack aroused from their slumber making several eye-catching carries. Quick ruck ball allowed the visitors to strike with two well worked second half tries but they were undermined by constant penalty concessions. The front five unable to stem Ireland in the pack open exchanges with Garces making the judgement call that Australia were second best at scrum time and infringing in the rucks. Chieka will have grievances but some of the offside decisions were on point. Australia have massive potential but their pack needs to be more abrasive particularly when oppositions front fives are well organized and drilled.

Player Welfare? 

On a day where England winger Eliot Daly was given his marching orders for taking an Argentinian player out in the air, World Rugby hoped that would set the example for more consistent officiating yesterday. They were sadly mistaken as match official Garces failed to issue a red card for a serious tip tackle offense by Australian back row Dean Mumm on Tadhg Furlong. What makes the decision to brandish a yellow card more baffling is that the French referee had no hesitation to issue a red card to Keith Earls in a recent European Cup match against Glasgow. It was the same offense but officiated differently. This is what is driving both fans and rugby coaches potty.

World Rugby needs to provide direction on this type of offense; Bernard Foley somehow tip tackled Devin Toner late in the contest, another yellow card brandished which on another day would be a red. Ireland have being on the end of a couple of awful decisions in recent weeks, luckily the players involved will make a full recovery but it only requires an international player fatality to take place for action to happen. A worrying trend. Does World Rugby and match officials care for players welfare? It is a mixed message during this Autumn International series.

Rory Best – Centurion 

The Banbridge native has being immense in his Ireland career. A superb servant to the Ireland side throughout the years. He took on the unenviable mantle of succeeding Paul O’Connell but the Ulster hooker has provided assured leadership. His lineout and scrummaging this season has being on point and Best is surely going on the plane with the Lions tour next summer. The scenes after the contest stood out; Best with his family, cherishing the moments post game with them and taking the time to pose for photos with other families at pitch-side. His interview with Damien O’Meara before the international spoke volumes; if you have not listened to it, would recommend listening to it. His desire to do well for club, then province and now country was loud and clear. Class act and his centurion number of caps is well merited. Congratulations Rory!