Guinness Pro14: Round 8 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Glasgow and Leinster had good weekends

A weekend where the November test match series kicked into action with several sides looking at their squad depth to ensure vital victories. It was a weekend where Glasgow Warriors and Leinster Rugby extended their leads in both Conference A and B respectively. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Irish provincial success in South Africa 

The Twitter reaction to the Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby road trip successes in South Africa has me cracking up this evening while writing this blog article. Look at the sides named by both Irish provinces today, the potential in the side undoubted but there was always going to be passages of play when the cohesion with or without the ball was missing. Cue fan reactions (knickers in the proverbial figure eight). Bonus point try wins secured. Mission accomplished. 

Leinster Rugby accuracy may not have being to the armchair fan’s liking  but the 31-38 road trip win provides the Irish province with such a healthy lead at the top of Conference B. Nine points clear of Ulster Rugby and ten points clear of Scarlets in third with both sides facing the daunting task of having to secure results at fortress RDS. It is a time position to be in at this early stage of the season. The squad depth of the province shown when you see the likes of James Tracy, Scott Fardy, Dan Leavy on the pitch. They are the form side of the league at this moment in time. 

Munster Rugby secured their first road win of the league with a hard earned 26-30 road trip win to the Cheetahs. The good and the bad seen to full effect as Munster Rugby secured a bonus point try win; some great attacking play and the cameos of the back three was a real positive. The bad was the defensive meltdown in the third quarter where Cheetahs exploited big defensive gaps. The altitude was a factor but the parting of the Munster Rugby defense was seen in the previous round at home to Glasgow Warriors so something for management to look at in the coming weeks. 

Kevin O’Byrne was a standout today, put the hand up for more game time with an all action performance. The youngsters in the side did not let the side down and was delighted to see Liam Coombes cross over for a well earned try.

Mike Haley continues to settle nicely in the full back position and his running line for the game winning try was well executed. Munster Rugby secure a vital win on the road; move up to second place in the Conference A where Glasgow Warriors are well out in front and debatable whether they can be caught at this stage. Their demolition of Ospreys (albeit understrength) was a Matawalu showcase of skill and pace to score a hat-trick of tries. 

Bernard Jackman is a man under pressure

After a red eye flight back from Boston in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I headed to the Sportsgrounds in the hope of a thrilling encounter. This was an encounter which Connacht Rugby needed to come out fighting after a horrendous road trip performances to an Ospreys selection missing numerous first team stars at Bridgend last time out. The fixture was competitive for the first quarter but as soon as Connacht Rugby hit the front, Dragons’ heads dropped and a 26-0 lead at half-time to the hosts spelled the end of the contest. 

Connacht Rugby admittedly increased the tempo in that second quarter, better clear out work in the ruck exchanges with Marmion and Horowitz starting to create more line breaks as the game wore on. Horowitz produced an interesting cameo; he plays off the cuff evident in the Colby Fainga’a’s try where the Australian ten spotted a gap and created the line break opportunity. His kicking to the corners impressed me and thankfully for Connacht Rugby, there is a player who can push Jack Carty to the next level. 

Bernard Jackman stated post-game that he can see progress and improvement from his charges but the performance after the first quarter was a horror show; three deplorably blotched line breaks in the opening period which exhibited a distinct of composure on the final pass or handling is a coaching issue.

The number of tries conceded this season is sky rocketing out of control (33) and unless Dragons can secure a much needed morale boosting win next time out, there will be questions on his tenure. Dragons progression this season was expected given the high profile Hibbert and Moriarty signings but it has being anything but. Hope Jackman pulls the situation around but the skill set in his side on this weekend’s showing lacks the quality required to unlock opposition defenses at regular intervals.

Connacht Rugby win but they will rarely have an easier home contest all season. The back three looked a threat all game and the pack carries exposed massive defensive holes in the Dragons’ first line of defense. Buckley and Dillane for me stood out in the ball carrying stakes. Colby Fainga’a along with Jarrod Butler provided mobility and pace off the back of the scrum.

Horowitz has being duly mentioned and Godwin provided a timely reminder of his potency with ball in hand from three quarters. Connacht Rugby need to kick on now until the festive period; key games to get well and truly into the playoff mix now as it looks like a four way battle for the second and third spot in Conference A.

Ulster secured road trip win to Benetton Rugby

A significant result for Ulster Rugby on the road. Benetton Rugby have being progressing nicely this season and leading 7-0 at the break, the Italians would have fancied finishing off the job in the second half due to Ulster Rugby’s recent road trip woes. 

Credit though to Ulster Rugby, thought it was a very professional and efficient display in the second half. Speight’s creativity to the fore with ball in hand and the pack finally created a platform for Shanahan and Burns to launch their runners in the third quarter with tries from the impressive Reidy and Herring.  

The result was key here; the situation that Ulster Rugby found themselves in and the resiliency to get a result on the road in Italy has to be applauded. The fans made have a different perspective but this could be a key result for Ulster Rugby in the context of the playoff picture come next April. 

European Cup: Irish Provinces Round Two Preview

Tough road trips the order of the day

After a superb opening weekend for the Irish provinces last week (three wins and one draw), things went tougher in round two where all teams except for Munster Rugby are on their opening European Cup road trip. A weekend which should indicate plenty on how the season in Europe should pan out. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Leinster Rugby good form to continue?

Sexton on fire

No disrespect to Wasps but Leinster Rugby’s first real test in Europe will be this weekend. A trip to Toulouse is always a challenge but given how Leinster Rugby are playing currently, it is a trip which the Irish province will look with confidence. 

Leinster Rugby team news is minimal to say the least. Rob Kearney misses out due to injury so Joe Tomane slots onto the wing while Jordan Larmour if provided sufficient time and space could destroy Toulouse from full back. It is as you were for the rest of the side which comprehensively routed Wasps 52-3 last weekend. 

Toulouse won at Bath Rugby last weekend on the road. Yes, they were let off the hook by Freddy Burns’ late horror show and Toulouse will be the first to admit that they got out of jail. The weather in the South-West of France in recent weeks has being horrendous; rain aplenty which should slow the pitch down significantly.

The pack platform is going to be vital and Toulouse’s disciplinary issues after last weekend could come back to haunt them. Kaino is such a big loss, imposing back row whose tackle count and ball carrying are sensational. If Leinster Rugby are patient here, they will see joy in the third quarter particularly as Toulouse start to tire and give away penalties. 

Leinster Rugby will be asked questions out wide with the likes of Medard in the ranks but Leinster Rugby have the ability to beat you in the loose, set piece or out wide. Leinster Rugby to go away here by ten points after an opening period arm wrestle. 

Verdict: Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby look to kick on 

Grobler on the bench for Gloucester Rugby

Saturday lunchtime kickoff at Thomond Park. An opening European Cup rugby home fixture in Limerick and the venue will be buzzing. After a good draw on the road to Exeter Chiefs last weekend in stormy Sandy Park, Munster Rugby need to kick on and get their campaign fully up and running with a full eighty minute performance against Gloucester Rugby. 

The team news is interesting. Munster Rugby have made four personnel changes for the clash. A brand new front row is a shrewd move and reward for the likes of James Cronin and John Ryan on their cameos last week. Tommy O’Donnell as well gets the nod in the back row, his ball carrying was on point last week and setup Stander’s try. 

Gloucester Rugby make two changes to the side that beat Castres at home last weekend. Grobler must make do with a place on the bench and is replaced by Ed Slater. Matt Banahan replaces Charlie Sharples. The side showed good attacking cameos last weekend with Tom Marshall prominent. 

The key point here is the pack and who creates the platform. Munster Rugby have to start at a high tempo to allow Carbery to orchestrate his three quarters. A big game is required from Dan Goggin who needs to unleash his wide men at regular intervals. Gloucester Rugby were vulnerable on the flanks defensively against Castres last weekend at times. 

A fixture which Munster Rugby know that a win is required; a bonus point is attainable provided that the home side’s basic skill set is up to standard. Gloucester Rugby will look to bed in and try to stay in the contest until the third quarter; hoping that Danny Ciprani produces moments of brilliance. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby (BP Win)

Ulster Rugby face daunting challenge 

Daunting road trip

A trip to Racing 92 and the Arena beckons for Ulster Rugby this weekend. It was a good morale boosting win over Leicester Tigers last weekend but the level of competition this weekend is a significant upgrade. 

Racing 92 will look to impose their will on Ulster Rugby in the pack battle; the set piece battle has prompted Marty Moore’s introduction to the side. Kieran Treadwell comes into the lineup at the expense of Alan O’Connor. 

The worry is the absence of John Cooney at nine. The scrum-half has being outstanding again this season. No disrespect to David Shanahan but he will put under the cosh from the first whistle, struggling to see where Ulster Rugby create in the half-back channels and Racing 92 will look to create gain line breaks at will too. 

Racing 92 back line arsenal is vast. Finn Russell should see game time and then you have the likes of Simon Zebo lurking with intent. Ulster Rugby have to be completely switched on here from minute one; tempo will be sky high and the game will be uptempo given the closed roof and pitch. 

The Parisian side for me are one of the sides which could seriously put it up to Leinster Rugby this season in Europe. A statement of intent unfortunately may be issued at home and Ulster Rugby could feel the full force despite a positive opening period. Squad depth issues will be exposed for the Irish province.  

Verdict: Racing 92 (potential BP win)

Youth and Experience from Connacht Rugby

Interesting team lineup from Andy Friend

An interesting team lineup from Connacht Rugby. The term ‘youth and experience’ abound from this team sheet. A momentous day for Fitzgerald (ten) and De Buitlear (wing) who make their starting debuts for the province. Buckley, O’Halloran and Farrell return to the side to provide experience as well. 

This is such a key fixture in the context of Sale and Connacht’s aspirations for European Challenge Cup glory. With the French sides in this pool not genuinely interested in the competition, it is a two horse race to secure top spot in the pool. 

Sale Sharks have shown their intention loud and clear with a very strong team selection. McGuigan, O’Connor, Ashton and De Klerk will provide massive attacking threat. Rob Webber and Josh Beaumont will lead by example in the pack. 

Hopefully, the rookies in the Connacht Rugby side have good afternoons but this is a tough assignment given the selection of Sale Sharks. If Connacht Rugby can get a loser bonus point, then would be a good outcome. 

Verdict: Sale Sharks 

Nick McCarthy Move

Nick McCarthy moves to Munster Rugby from next season

The news had leaked out yesterday on print media but it was finally confirmed by all vested parties (IRFU, Munster Rugby and Leinster Rugby) today. Nick McCarthy moves to Munster Rugby on a two year deal starting from next season. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news. 

Munster Scrum Half Depth Chart Full?

Nick McCarthy’s arrival means that there will be five scrum-halves in the Munster Rugby first team squad next season. Conor Murray will be on Ireland duty for a significant period next season so for the likes of James Hart, Neil Cronin (who signed a contract extension), Duncan Williams and now Nick McCarthy, it is an opportunity to stake the claim for the backup slot next season.

It does seem to be a bit excessive for a potential fifth scrum half in the first team squad but given the injury issues of Hart and Cronin early doors this season, McCarthy’s name presumably was mentioned given his need to play more regularly next season. 

Player Profile

The Ann Arbor, MN native comes with a solid resume. The scrum-half played his schools rugby with St.Michael’s who are a massive conveyor belt of provincial talent. McCarthy represented Ireland at U20 level in 2015 and this coincided with the player joining Leinster Rugby in 2015 playing three times for the province (cameo roles).

2016 was a similar story given the stacked squad depth at the club and another three brief cameos followed. 2017-2018 season saw the player gain more game time, starting three times during this campaign. McCarthy scored three tries and played a total of 462 minutes.

The 2018-2019 season has seen two appearances from the bench and with Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park vying for the scrum half starting berth, the decision to leave Leinster Rugby for playing reasons was an easy decision to make.

Player Skill Set 

It has being really hard to see consistent video footage of the player this season given the sufficient game minutes given (26 minutes). What we do know is that McCarthy has a solid skill set, fast distribution from the ruck a key trait. A solid kicking game to complement the passing game.

It was hard to scrutinize the player given the stop / start nature of his Leinster Rugby career. Munster Rugby have taken the punt on the player, it is up to the player to hit the ground running during preseason next summer to impress the coaches to give him the game time that he craves.

Another ex-Leinster Rugby alumni joins the rank, whether this player will make an impression is debatable given the number of first team scrum halves at the club.

The reaction of Leinster Rugby is of disappointment but the talent pool at the club is stacked and no doubt more scrum half prospects will replace McCarthy in the depth chart and look to stake their claim for action. Time will tell on how shrewd this signing will be from both the player and Munster Rugby.

Heineken Champions Cup: Round 1 Reflections

Drama galore in round one

The first round of Heineken Champions Cup games are in the books. The round had it all; last gasp drama in several contests with some unbelievable performances for all the good and bad reasons. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Standout Team: Leinster Rugby

It might be only one round into the competition but that Leinster Rugby performance last Friday night particularly second half will have put all opponents on notice of the levels required to even compete with the Irish provincial juggernaut.

I do not use the word juggernaut lightly; this side is stacked with world class talent and then the squad depth coming off the bench in the third quarter with the likes of Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien and Scott Fardy.

Wasps were facing an uphill task without the Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury but both players would have struggled to stem the tide of Leinster attack after attack. Wasps manfully tried to keep in the contest but once Luke McGrath scored that try just before half-time, the writing was on the wall. 

Skill set central came out in the second half. Sexton’s pass between the legs. Furlong playing like a season three quarter and his pop pass to James Lowe who is playing at a different level was an action reel highlight. The relentless nature that Leinster Rugby continued to work the scoreboard was an ominous sign for all in Leinster Rugby’s pool. Toulouse and Bath Rugby will be sufficiently warned. A superb start to the competition. 

Standout Games:

Two games come to mind here. The after effects of Storm Callum had a massive impact in the South West England and West Welsh region. Two of the games held in these regions were standouts; the quality of fare immense given the atrocious weather conditions. Howling wind and rain and Exeter Chiefs / Munster Rugby along with Scarlets / Racing 92 provided superb entertainment. 

Exeter Chiefs and Munster Rugby was an old school arm wrestle. Neither side gave an inch. Munster Rugby worked the Exeter Chiefs tackle count, kept the ball in hand and must be complemented for their opening period performance playing against that gale force wind. Exeter Chiefs showed their potency with their try; superb pack. Jack Nowell on the wing was a constant menace. 

Munster Rugby struggled to breakdown a resolute Chiefs defense but credit the sub bench impact here. O’Donnell’s ball carry prior to Stander’s try was top notch. The front row replacements steadied a scrum set piece which looked to be going away from Munster Rugby. I thought James Cronin and John Ryan had powerful cameos. Ball handling issues and there was some soul destroying concessions when in range to score. Cloete’s disallowed try a perfect case study point. 

Exeter Chiefs to their credit refused to buckle and when Joey Carbery kicked the ball out on the full with minutes left, the scene was set for the hosts to win with a last gasp dropped goal or penalty. Credit Munster Rugby, the defensive shift at the end, camped on their own line and forced the error. A draw was a fair result. The return fixture in January looks epic already. 

Total ball break for Scarlets late on conceding a late penalty try to Racing 92. The game ebbed and flowed throughout. Both sides absorbed what the other threw but it looked like the hosts had done enough but Racing 92’s front five put the pressure on and unfortunately for Scarlets, they were unable to respond. Leigh Halfpenny had opportunities but the windy conditions made kicking a lottery. Incredible drama. Scarlets are suddenly in playoff rugby mode; need a win over Leicester Tigers next weekend. 

Knucklehead Moment:

Freddy Burns has had enough from the keyboard trolls this weekend for his horrific lapse against Toulouse so I am going to focus on RCT Toulon. How anyone in the RCT Toulon ranks thought with three minutes left to not go for the posts needs their head examined. I thought it smacked of arrogance and contempt for their opposition, delighted that Newcastle Falcons won thereafter. A superb triumph for Newcastle Falcons, a win to build the season around now. RCT Toulon are spiraling into the abyss this season; their lack of game management and leadership striking today. 

Unlucky Team:

Glasgow Warriors. They played all the rugby today against Saracens but were unable to break down a resolute Saracens side. The refereeing for me left plenty to be desired; the constant penalty concession by Saracens before half-time and no yellow card was weak officiating.

The Itoje incident is something that come back and haunt the England international yet this season; cheeky move and one that Glasgow Warriors should put on their dressing room wall for the return leg. Itoje needs to be careful; discipline is becoming an issue with the player and this antic (if seen by some as hilarious) will only put the spotlight further on the player. 

Glasgow Warriors were exposed in the pack battle; when they required go forward ball, they did not get it from their front five and that ultimately cost them the game but there sufficient evidence here that Glasgow can get back into this pool starting with a now tricky encounter against Cardiff Blues who had a superb 21-30 road trip win over Lyon who may give up the ghost on this competition.

Heineken Champions Cup: Leinster Rugby 52 – 3 Wasps

A performance of champions

It might be only in October but this performance and scoreline at the RDS will be keenly noted by all. This was a performance which showed patience, defensive nous and explosive attacking lines. This was a performance of a champion at the top of their play. This performance belongs to Leinster Rugby. 

You have to feel for the Wasps management and players on duty tonight. They valiantly went through the tackle count in the opening period despite playing with a strong breeze at their backs. Work rate was never an issue but the incessant waves of attack and minimal time with ball in hand was going to be punished and so it proved in the second half. 

Wasps will have felt good about the fixture heading into the last ten minutes of the opening period. Leinster Rugby despite their complete domination of territory and possession were only 7-3 up, a trademark lung bursting score from Sean Cronin. However, this game was opened wide open by the key call of the contest. 

Leinster Rugby yet again looking to create and the ball found its way to opening try scorer Cronin whose pass to James Lowe looked forward. Wasps fly-half Sopoaga attempted to intercept, missed and was sin binned. What about the forward pass? Wasps were down to fourteen players and the impact of the sin bin was two quick fire tries either side of half-time courtesy of Luke McGrath and James Lowe. The Wasps tackle count looked on the high side and the second half was a procession. 

James Lowe in particular was magical tonight. He is playing at a superlative level. His game management, defensive work and kicking game were on point but it is his ability with ball in hand that gives opposition nightmares and allows his colleagues the time and space to create around him. His running line for Leinster Rugby’s third try was sensational and his ability to finish off the move was of top quality. 

How does an opponent look to upset Leinster Rugby? Wasps approach to the breakdown yielded good results in the opening period (passive, picking their moments to compete) but then Leinster Rugby made the adjustments and negated Tom Young from this facet of play. Quicker ruck ball ensued with devastating results. 

What was most eye catching? The sight of Sexton passing between his legs to a colleague or Tadhg Furlong executing a perfect running line and pass to James Lowe. The skill set of this Leinster Rugby is remarkable. All players so comfortable with ball in hand; the players have no issue passing the ball from a ruck. 

The fact that Wasps did not make one single line break tonight was emphatic. The hosts continued to be unrelenting as the bench looked sharp in particular O’Brien who had an excellent breakdown steal. When you decide to only put on Scott Fardy with fifteen minutes left, enough said. This side is stacked. 

Wasps will be disappointed in the final quarter; their attacking threat was non-existent and their defensive shape and maul defense disintegrated before our eyes. Eight tries in total with back and pack players getting in on the act. 

A forty-nine point thumping, does nothing for the scoring differential but Wasps can rest assured that Toulouse and Bath Rugby will also endure miserable trips to Dublin this season. Leinster Rugby are evolving to an even greater juggernaut. Europe beware! 

Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Pool 1

New name, same exciting competition!

After the opening salvos in domestic competition, European Cup action looms large on the horizon for the next two weeks. The Heineken Champions Cup sees five intriguing pools with quite a few teams fancying their chances of quarter-final progression. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the pools. 

Pool 1: Pool of Champions

When this pool emerged, it was dubbed the ‘pool of champions’ and rightly so given the history of Toulouse, Wasps, Bath Rugby and Leinster Rugby in this competition. However, one side looks destined to rule the roost in this pool and it is the reigning European Champions Cup holders. 

Leinster Rugby have started as they finished last season, the side have gained momentum in recent weeks with some keynote interpro wins against Connacht Rugby and Munster Rugby in recent weekends. Squad depth looks good for the province and with James Lowe on superb try scoring form, hard not to go past Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s charges. 

Wasps come into the competition on the back of a solid domestic league opening. Third place in the standings with four wins and two losses, the most recent came to Gloucester Rugby (21-35) and a performance which was described by Dai Young as a ‘kick up the backside’. Several injury concerns coming into the competition with the likes of Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson and Brad Shields. Home form will be key for Wasps. 

Bath Rugby come into the competition with more questions than answers. Undoubted talent in the ranks but there are vulnerabilities in the pack which were exposed by Exeter Chiefs last weekend (24-39). Teams need to play clever against Bath Rugby, go too expansive and this team will punish any inaccuracies in open play. Their home game against Toulouse will be a key fixture in determining how far Bath Rugby go in this pool phase. 

Toulouse have an amazing rugby union fan base, historical success but in recent times, success has dried up. The squad boasts the likes of Gray, Medard and Kaino but the Top 14 results have being a mixed bag. An unconvincing 10-0 win to struggling Agen last weekend, a thumping loss away to Montpellier (66-15) on the road. All pool opponents heading to Stade Toulousain will get a tough game, the road trip form of the side is a big question mark.

Verdict:

Provided Leinster Rugby can safely negotiate their first two opening fixtures (Wasps at home, Toulouse on the road), they should be well set to advance as pool winners with December fixtures against Bath Rugby. I do not see two teams advancing from this pool; the English teams potentially cancelling each other out and a vulnerable Toulouse side on the road will not win enough points away to secure a quarter final spot.

Guinness Pro14: Leinster Rugby vs. Munster Rugby Preview

Old rivals clash at the Aviva Stadium

Leinster rotate as Munster name strong side

O’Brien returns

It is a massive compliment to Leinster Rugby that the side they have named this weekend is so loaded with quality given the personnel changes from last weekend’s decisive win over Connacht Rugby. 

Conscious of the six day turnaround between this fixture and their European Cup fixture against Wasps next Friday night, Cullen and Lancaster have decided to rotate the squad. 

Sexton is omitted from the match day panel with Ross Byrne slotting into the fly-half position. Sean O’Brien starts his full game for Leinster Rugby this season at eight; a nice positional switch to run the rule over the Tullow native and whether he can provide depth chart support in this position. 

The pack is fundamentally altered as the front row is completely replaced. McGrath, Tracy and Bent come in and James Ryan is included in the second row. The back row sees Josh van der Flier (sub), Jack Conan (omitted from the squad) replaced by Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien. Massive squad depth in the back row unit. 

The back line is also changed with Robbie Henshaw and Rory O’Loughlin coming into the three quarters to replace Garry Ringrose and Joe Tomane. The back three sees Rob Kearney win his 200th cap for the province and will have Fergus McFadden and James Lowe on the wings. A potent outfit. 

Near Full Strength Munster need to deliver

Near full strength for Munster Rugby

Munster Rugby have had a wretched season thus far on the road. Two comprehensive losses to Glasgow Warriors (round two) and Cardiff Blues (round four) has the side on alert not to produce another dismal performance away from Thomond Park or Irish Independent Park. 

On the face of it, this is as near full strength a side that Munster could name. Murray continues to be a long term absentee (injury unknown). The pack is loaded with international talent and no doubt Peter O’Mahony will be keen to highlight the post-game comments of Reggie Corrigan last season who asked whether Munster Rugby players had given everything to the cause in this fixture last year. 

This is a fixture that Munster Rugby must turn up and deliver a performance. There are intriguing battles everywhere on the pitch; effectively a national team trial on Saturday evening. The pack battle looks tasty. A mobile and physical Leinster Rugby front five comes against a Munster Rugby pack who have the likes of Kleyn, Beirne in their ranks. 

The half-back battle also looks interesting. Ross Byrne will relish the challenge of Joey Carbery tomorrow. Carbery has provided some memorable cameos in open play but tomorrow will be about game management and decision making has to be on point tomorrow. Byrne is such a solid operator. Joe Schmidt will be keenly observing developments. 

The three quarter battle as well looks potential exciting. We all know about Henshaw and his quality but it is a good opportunity to see the other players in this position. Rory O’Loughlin is highly rated in the Leinster Rugby ranks and another chance of shine tomorrow. Munster Rugby have gone for youth and it is good to see Dan Goggin and Sammy Arnold getting a massive opportunity to impress in such a marquee fixture. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby (narrowly)

Munster Rugby need to deliver a performance and win this fixture tomorrow. Leinster Rugby with their team selection have slightly opened the door for the Southern province to come into the Aviva Stadium and win this contest but it will require Munster Rugby to be clinical in the fundamentals. A loss here and Munster Rugby’s season could be dealt a massive blow ahead of European Cup action. 

Leinster Rugby will execute to a high level; the focus is whether Munster Rugby can do that and more. Munster Rugby look to have more potent weapons to come off the bench but their record against Leinster Rugby has being wretched. I thought Leinster Rugby would win this before team selection but the team news has shifted my mind to Munster Rugby but it will be a narrow, narrow win. Carbery needs to step up to the plate. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 5 Reflections (Connacht Rugby vs. Leinster Rugby)

Leinster show class and determination in derby win

The post game comments of Connacht Rugby head coach Andy Friend summed up the performance from the hosts; they huffed and puffed but they never looked like blowing the Leinster Rugby down. 


“We tried a lot mate. We tried to go through them, we tried to go around them, we tried to sneak around rucks and go short side, but they seemed to have an answer for everything. Our kicking game last weekend was very good. Sometimes you have to understand when you’re getting beaten on defense when to turn them. That’s something we’ll talk with our game leaders about. We never stopped trying, but we’ve got to be smarter.”

Andy Friend

A game that Leinster Rugby fielded their strongest team possible given the need to manage players ahead of the derby clash to Munster Rugby and European Cup action (six day turnaround) was a resounding success for Cullen and Lancaster. The side absorbed all that Connacht Rugby could throw in the opening period before then working the scoreboard with an emphatic second half display. 

It was an arm wrestle in the opening period which spelled bad news for the hosts. Leinster Rugby were patient with ball in hand and forced Connacht Rugby to concede penalties; fifteen penalties during the eighty minutes is more evidence for Andy Friend and management that discipline is an issue in the side (without referring to the red card in the final quarter). 

Sexton and Leinster Rugby’s ability to change tact was seen in the second quarter; took points instead of persisting with looking to score a try from the maul (that came after). The side have exceptional composure to survey the game conditions and make the right call. Sexton tacked on two penalties to cancel out Jack Carty’s opening period penalty to provide Leinster Rugby with the platform to build on in the second half. 

Leinster Rugby snuffed out Connacht Rugby out as an attacking unit in the second half. Connacht Rugby looked to change the point of attack but were met with a Leinster Rugby welcoming committee starting with Josh van der Flier who was inspired again. Twenty-three tackles again for the back row and the Irish international is back in the groove quickly from his knee layoff. 

Josh van der Flier was ably assisted in the tackle count by Scott Fardy (19). Jack Conan (17) and Devin Toner (14). The pack battle after a 50/50 opening period suddenly went Leinster Rugby’s favor as the maul worked a treat for Sean Cronin to crash over to secure the game win after Garry Ringrose swift foot work left Connacht Rugby defensive unit stone cold to score the opening try within a minute of the restart.

The second half saw Leinster Rugby play with authority and dominance. The ball carries of Lowe (102), Kearney (95) Larmour (78) meters gained was in comparison to O’Halloran (18). Adelokyun (15) and Farrell (54). Leinster Rugby negated the threat of Aki reducing the Irish center to only 20 meters gained on fifteen carries. Leinster’s fast defensive line was too much for Connacht Rugby on the day. 

The red card for Connacht Rugby was a sour note to proceedings. The Robertson McCoy incident will be punished to the maximum by the league disciplinary committee and I think Connacht Rugby need to look at their  prop squad depth options other than the substitute. The game was over as a contest but the actions exposed massive temperament issues from the player. Can Friend trust the player going forward? It is on shaky ground. 

Connacht Rugby have had a massive home game stand. 1/3 games won was unfortunate but the home stand has yielded positives and negatives. The positives have being the competitiveness of the side in all three games and good passing play. The lack of restart assurance and high penalty count will need to be worked on but Leinster Rugby are at a different level to anyone else.

No disgrace to lose to Leinster Rugby. Friend and Connacht have seen what makes Leinster Rugby tick and the Western province now know the work that lies ahead to get to this level.

For Leinster Rugby, it has being a satisfying round five performance. Despite the media buildup, Leinster Rugby wanted to prove a point at the Sportsground. A strong lineup and strong second half performance with Sean O’Brien getting invaluable game minutes is what is required heading into Europe.

Team selection next weekend against Munster Rugby will be interesting but the squad are playing well and with a vulnerable Munster Rugby seen so far on the road, it is hard to argue that Leinster Rugby will not come out victorious in the Aviva Stadium next weekend. 

Guinness Pro 14: Irish Provinces Round 4 Starting XV Statistics

Leinster Rugby and Connacht Rugby impressive

Round Four saw a mixed bag for the Irish provinces. Munster Rugby had another road trip from hell losing heavily to Cardiff Blues. Ulster Rugby had to score a last gasp try to secure a share of the spoils against Toyota Cheetahs. Connacht Rugby and Leinster Rugby had excellent wins and the statistics produced for the round are dominated by these two teams ahead of a mouthwatering fixture between the two Irish provinces next weekend. 

Meters Gained

Tiernan O’Halloran had a superb game against the Scarlets and this statistic shows the work rate and creativity to establish line breaks during the fixture. James Lowe and Garry Ringrose were superb for Leinster Rugby against Edinburgh. Joey Carbery’s strong numbers here came from the opening period of their loss to Cardiff Blues; his influence in the second half waned as Munster Rugby performance deteriorated rapidly. 

Meters Gained

Meters Per Carry

Darren Cave leads this statistics for the round after several keynote carries against the Toyota Cheetahs. Darren Sweetnam on limited possession against Cardiff Blues again shone with ball in hand, interesting to see how Munster Rugby address this issue in the coming weeks. 

Meters Per Carry

Passes

Luke McGrath topped the number of passes statistic for the Irish provinces in round five; his eighty-six passes beating that of Kieran Marmion who also had a strong performance. Note on Denis Buckley, the Connacht prop was prominent in several passing moves and his fifteen passes is an excellent return. 

Total Passes Attempted

Tackles Made

Leinster Rugby video analysis will not dwelling on the tackles made statistics; immense statistics from round five with the tackle machine Josh van der Flier leading the way with a whooping twenty-three tackles. Cloete, Kleyn and Sherry feature for Munster which is an indication of the struggles that the side had against a lively Cardiff Blues outfit. 

Tackles Made

Ball Carries

Tiernan O’Halloran was prominent in all good attacking things that Connacht Rugby did in their win over Scarlets. O’Halloran consistently collected Scarlets aerial exit ball and ran intelligently either into space or present the ball to team mates efficiently. James Lowe and Bundee Aki had superb cameos; their ball carry count is indicative of this. 

Ball Carries

Guinness Pro 14: Round 4 (Saturday Fixtures Preview)

Home wins the order of the day

Isuzu Southern Kings vs. Glasgow Warriors

A successful 100% win South African tour for Glasgow Warriors should be secured with a bonus point try win over the hosts who have shown resiliency but ultimately have being outgunned in the pack and skill set department. Glasgow Warriors have rotated their squad around for this fixture, still look strong enough to win this contest. Seymour set to have a keynote game. 

Connacht Rugby vs. Scarlets

A fixture which I am looking forward to. It is a must win for Connacht Rugby after a road loss to Edinburgh Rugby last weekend; discipline and pack platform must improve for the hosts to upset Scarlets who will look to consolidate their solid start to the season. Connacht Rugby welcome Robin Copeland into the pack and with several Scarlets first team regulars out of this fixture, is this a potential game which Connacht Rugby can win? Connacht to win only if they produce a smart, disciplined game plan performance; otherwise Scarlets could run riot out wide. Slight edge to Connacht Rugby as the weather improves here on the Irish West Coast. 

Dragons vs. Zebre Rugby

A key game for the Dragons and the long term managerial tenure ambitions of Bernard Jackman. Dragons have looked well exposed this season; their loss to Leinster Rugby was tough to watch as Leinster Rugby systematically broke Dragons defensive system to shreds. Zebre Rugby will arrive to Rodney Parade in good confidence; a superb late win over Cardiff Blues last weekend at home the standout performance last week. Zebre Rugby will realize that their discipline and fundamental set piece execution have to be on point and provided that they are not far behind at the interval should win this contest in a close, tense affair. Dragons to win need to drastically improve and I do not see the improvement required for this game in just seven days!

Leinster Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby

The standout fixture this weekend until I saw the Edinburgh Rugby team lineup; several pack first team regulars missing and with a strong Leinster Rugby team announced, can only see one winner. Edinburgh will look to restrict quick Leinster Rugby ruck ball but to be honest, Leinster Rugby are so good in changing the focus of attack that the pack may score a couple of tries from mauls. Leinster Rugby with a late bonus point try win. 

Ospreys vs. Benetton Rugby

A tricky fixture for Ospreys to negotiate today as Benetton Rugby with fourteen players scored four tries on the road to the Scarlets last weekend. Ospreys must be careful when they look to become expansive. Ospreys should have their first team regulars back and that could be decisive in the final outcome. Benetton Rugby will show well again but I think Wyn Jones, Tipuric, North and Williams’ cameos if selected will steer the hosts home.