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: Round 5 (Friday Night Preview)

Two home wins look the solid bet

Two interesting contests on the books for Friday night. Cardiff Blues fresh from their emphatic victory over Munster Rugby last week entertain the Toyota Cheetahs who will hope to continue their performance from last week when they drew 39-39 each to Ulster Rugby. Edinburgh Rugby are again faced with a must win game at home, this time they face a Benetton Rugby side who have won plenty of plaudits for their performances this season. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Cardiff Blues turned the corner? 

Last week was a keynote victory for Cardiff Blues. It was a must win game for the Welsh side and they produced a superb cohesive performance to dismantle Munster Rugby. All units functioned so well and the threat with ball in hand was incredible throughout which resulted in a thoroughly deserved bonus point try victory. 

The keyword this week is consistency. Can Cardiff Blues continue to deliver a performance like last week? Can Cardiff Blues continue to play on the front foot? Can Cardiff Blues’ back row unit continue to impress in the breakdown area like last week? The answers to these questions will be key to determining whether Toyota Cheetahs have any realistic chance of securing anything from the contest. 

Cardiff Blues team news sees three personnel changes in the pack. Scott Andrews (prop), Rory Thornton (lock) and Olly Robinson (back row) all come into the side. Turnbull slots into the eight channel to replace Nick Williams who enjoyed his outing against Munster Rugby no end last week. 

Toyota Cheetahs come into the game on the back of an exciting 39-39 draw against Ulster Rugby. They could have won this contest only for a last gasp Henry Speight try, converted by Billy Burns to salvage a draw for the Irish province. There were plenty of positives for Toyota Cheetahs last week; several excellent phases of play and the pack unit look more cohesive than previous weeks. Defensively, there are still questions. 

Verdict: Cardiff Blues (BP Win)

Cardiff Blues need to keep momentum and the exciting back line named means that Toyota Cheetahs are going to be challenged on the outside channels. Toyota Cheetahs will look to run their expansive game as well but I think Cardiff Blues with Turnbull, Anscombe, Halaholo and Lane should have too much for their visitors particularly in the third / fourth quarters. Cardiff with another home BP win. 

Another must win for Edinburgh

The perils of a slow start to the season sees Edinburgh Rugby in a second successive must win home game. Scratch the result last weekend; the Leinster Rugby juggernaut in the RDS is a mission impossible for most sides this season so Richard Cockerill and management wisely rested keynote first team starters for this fixture. 

Edinburgh Rugby last weekend did compete well against Leinster Rugby; competed well in the breakdown and their ability to retain possession worked the Leinster Rugby tackle count high but they were ultimately undone by a red card and the reigning European Club kingpins took advantage. 

Edinburgh Rugby have freshened up their side and familiar names feature. Blair Kinghorn, Matt Scott and Henry Pyrgos are all back. Simon Hickey returns at fly-half at stand-off. The pack sees recalls for Stuart McInally (hooker), WP Nel (prop), Grant Gilchrist (lock), Hamish Watson (back row) and Bill Mata (eight) in the back row unit. Pretty much the first team out here and a win is the objective. 

Personnel aplenty for Benetton Rugby too. The back three has changed with Jayden Hayward (full back) and wings Ratuva Tavuyara / Luca Sperandio all starting. The three quarters sees Tommaso Iannone and Luca Morisi feature with Dewaldt Duvenage (scrum-half) and Tommaso Allan (fly-half) as half backs. 

Marco Riccioni (prop) comes into the front row as Dean Budd and Marco Fuser come into the second row.  Robert Barbieri (eight) comes into the starting lineup. Plenty of switches and Benetton Rugby are looking for a result this weekend. 

Verdict: Edinburgh Rugby

Dry conditions should see both sides look to become expansive. The pack battle edge goes to Edinburgh with the likes of McInally, Toolis and Gilchrist in the mix. Edinburgh Rugby need to be incredibly accurate tomorrow night, otherwise Benetton Rugby have shown this season they have the back field ability to cut open sides apart in open play. 

Considering both sides rested marquee names last week, expecting a close contest here and Edinburgh Rugby should edge this but if they leave points on the pitch like they did against Connacht Rugby in round three, Benetton Rugby could be in prime position for another marquee win. However, Richard Cockerill’s side get the nod for me, it is a must win; otherwise the Guinness Pro 14 season will have taken a massive nosedive.

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.

Guinness Pro 14: Cardiff Blues 37 – 13 Munster Rugby

Cardiff Blues crush Munster Rugby

Prelude:

On my preview of this fixture this week,  (http://hawkeyesidekick.com/2018/09/guinness-pro-14-round-four-friday-night-fixtures) I had commented that Cardiff Blues were not a 0/3 team heading into the fixture. They would have felt that all three games slipped away due to discipline and defensive lapses. Cardiff Blues were in a back against the wall scenario; a loss here and the Guinness Pro 14 playoff ambitions would be seriously undermined. Munster Rugby were warned but quite frankly were blown away a side whose work rate at the breakdown, sparkling running game were to the fore.

Dominant Cardiff Blues

The scoreline rather flatters Munster Rugby if truth be told. Cardiff Blues winger Lane thought he was over in the opening period only to be pinged back for a block leading up to the score, a tough harsh.

The hosts were the dominant side in the set piece; the line out was an unmitigated nightmare for Munster Rugby; over throws, throws not straight, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong which then saw issues at scrum time as Arhip started to impose his presence on proceedings. 

The breakdown was crisp in its execution from Cardiff Blues; quick ruck ball to allow the half backs to launch their exciting back line. Munster Rugby tried to stem the quick ball but it was a forlorn effort as the likes of Turnbull, Williams and Navidi had the edge all night. 

Munster Rugby had moments of brilliance from Carbery and Conway to score two quality team tries in the opening period to keep the Irish province in touch but the second half was a no contest as Cardiff Blues exposed more defensive decision making and yet more unforced errors in set piece and open play. 

Munster Rugby – Skill Set Issue?

The result is concerning for Munster Rugby but what is of more concern is that the skill set across the side looks well short when faced against a decent starting lineup. Let us forget the Toyota Cheetahs and Ospreys (B team selection), two non-event fixtures. When it has being put up to Munster Rugby against Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff Blues on the road, the side have being lacking in execution, creating a pack platform and general one dimensional attacking play. 

Try Analysis 

The Cardiff Blues tries will be horror viewing for Munster Rugby; too many easy meters gained on first phase possession. Halaholo will rarely have a better night all season; his statistics when published are going to be huge. Mike Sherry struggled all night long as he was grasping into thin air on  Halaholo in midfield which led to an easy forty meter gain. The quick ball that followed saw Nick Williams crash over, exposing Sherry in the defensive line to score the opening try. 

Munster Rugby did respond with two standout moments. Cloete steal in the breakdown on the touch line allowing Conway to advance with ball in hand, a deft kick in behind to negate Anscombe saw the Irish winger score in the corner.

Carbery was integral to the second try; a good aerial take and the fly-half was off on an excellent run. Tadhg Beirne’s role in the try cannot be underestimated; his effort to get in with play key when the ball was held short of Cardiff Blues’ line. The ball finally got back to Carbery and good work from Cloete to create a defensive misread inside for Conway to score in the corner again. Two tricky conversions missed but Munster Rugby were showing intent at last.

Halaholo right foot step again exposing Munster defensively (where was the tactical preparation on the player) to provide more easy gain line meters three minutes. Halaholo’s awareness to see the ever alert Tomos Williams to score with ease; great support running from the scrum half who with a dominant pack was the superior nine on the night.

The second half presumably would have seen Munster Rugby making the necessary adjustments but a key stop by the hosts in the third quarter on their line signaled the end of the Munster Rugby fightback.  Halaholo scoring a well deserved try; lead up to the try saw Jaco Taute caught defensively outside and with non-existent Munster Rugby defensive support out wide, the try was a procession. 

Munster Rugby huffed and puffed but it was getting all very one dimensional; one out ball carries and then forcing passes which went forward more times than not. The composure from Munster Rugby was surprisingly lacking considering the personnel on show; a reality check for all concerned. 

Cardiff Blues deserved their bonus point and it came at the death with Tomos Williams benefiting from more good work from the hosts pack, making easy yards down the middle. The quick ruck ball exposing Munster Rugby defensively and Williams crashed over. Cue the home celebrations!

Munster Rugby Not In Crisis Yet

Munster Rugby crisis, probably not yet but the warning signs from yet another below par road trip performance has to be a concern for Munster Rugby management.

The set piece will be pinpointed by opposition in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, Mike Sherry is going to have to front up on the video analysis on Monday; a game to forget and with Rhys Marshall and Niall Scannell chipping at the bit to get game time, game time for Sherry looks quite limited.

The lack of skill set and unforced errors across the side will be horrific viewing; hopefully this performance will be a watershed for Munster Rugby, otherwise with two Irish provincial derbies coming up, morale may take a pounding ahead of the Heineken Cup competition next month. 

Well done Cardiff Blues; thoroughly deserved victory and this is the platform hopefully for them to launch their season back on track. Turnbull was outstanding throughout and with an exciting back line (Harries impressive), a lot to be positive about if you are a Cardiff Blues fan today!

Guinness Pro 14: Round Four (Friday Night Fixtures)

Road trips beckon for Ulster Rugby and Munster Rugby

Round four of the Guinness Pro 14 has two Friday night fixtures on the books. Ulster Rugby conclude their South African tour with a fixture against the Toyota Cheetahs while Munster Rugby must negotiate a tricky banana skin road trip fixture at Cardiff Blues. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his eye on both games. 

Ulster Rugby look to continue their winning ways

Ulster Rugby primed for another win

Ulster Rugby will look to build on the good second half performance against Isuzu Southern Kings and secure another win in the competition. They face a Toyota Cheetahs side devastated by key personnel departures in the off-season as well as key injuries to the current squad.  Mohoje long term knee injury is a massive loss and the hosts here look incredibly vulnerable. 

Yet another crushing defeat for the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend as Glasgow Warriors skill set and attacking lines were too much for the hosts who have now leaked a worrying 136 points from three games. One could argue that Munster Rugby, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors are going to be at the business end of the season but defensive gaps and lapses have being alarming so far particularly in the third and fourth quarter of games so far; no quick fix.  

Ulster Rugby have made a couple of personnel changes for this fixture. Shanahan gets a chance to impress at scrum-half due to the absence of John Cooney. Will Addison returns to the full back slot. Herbst, O’Sullivan, Rea and Kernohan all get valuable game time. 

The key battle in this contest will be the front five battle. Can Toyota Cheetahs bully Ulster Rugby in the set piece? If they can, the hosts could have a chance but Ulster Rugby should win provided that they remain patient in their execution and phases with an exciting back line on hand to expose a fragile Cheetahs defensive confidence. 

Verdict: Ulster Rugby

After a competitive opening half, expect Ulster Rugby to stride out to another win. The altitude factor will mean that Ulster Rugby win but without the bonus point try but if they can win at Bloemfontein, a minimum eight points return from their South African tour will be a fantastic return and start to the season. Addison to have a proverbial day.

Cardiff Blues in must win territory

Cardiff Blues under pressure to win

It has being one strange start to the season for Cardiff Blues; three opening games where Cardiff Blues had the game in their grasp only to surrender the result in the closing exchanges as Leinster Rugby, Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby have all prospered from Cardiff Blues discipline and defensive lapses. 

This is a side which are better than the 0/3 start to the season; several standout players in the ranks. The back line is stacked with physicality, pace and try scoring prowess. Anscombe slots into the full back spot, will look to use his kicking game to setup a platform. 

Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo are an explosive three quarter combination. Scully and Harries provide the after burners and Harries try count has being a standout positive for the side this season so far.

The pack is stacked with talent with the likes of Arhip, Dacey, Turnbull, Navidi, Williams all featuring; a side well capable of turning a miserable start of the season around.

Munster Rugby come into this contest after an emphatic win over a massively under-strength Ospreys last week. A game which saw the talent of Carbery and Beirne to the maximum but both players will realize that a road trip assignment to Cardiff Blues is a different proposition entirely. 

The Munster Rugby side has an exciting feel; an opening look at CJ Stander who slots into the eight channel. He links up with Cleote and O’Mahony in the back row which should see some keynote exchanges with Navidi, Jenkins and the marauding Nick Williams.

The half back partnership will be interesting to see. Evans at ten is a standout; great ball player whose ability to create with ball in hand and solid kick game makes him a standout threat for the Irish province. Duncan Williams needs to speed up his distribution from set piece and ruck ball to allow Joey Carbery to shine with ball in hand.

Pleasing to see Jaco Taute back in the three quarters; an intense welcome from Lee-Lo beckons and JJ Hanrahan comes into the full back position looking to prove a point after a miserable Glasgow Warriors outing in round two. The wing play of Sweetnam and Conway should be prominent provided Munster Rugby pack enjoy good periods of dominance. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby

Like the look of this Munster Rugby side and this will be a serious test against a Cardiff Blues side who will provide seriously tricky moments. Cardiff Blues performance lapse deep into games could be exposed yet again in this round and I think Munster Rugby have the sufficient talent to get over the line by three points. Cardiff Blues left to rue more good moments in a game with minimal return. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 3 Reflections (Irish Provinces)

Connacht lose on the road as other Irish provinces win

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

Promise shown in one sided rout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack endured tough night in Edinburgh

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

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

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

In the podcast last Friday prior to the contest: https://www.mixcloud.com/clanterraceview/2018-19-pro14-round-2-review/ – my sense was that if Connacht Rugby could ride out the storm, they could come on strong in the last quarter and so it proved.

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

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

Training ground exercise for Leinster Rugby

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

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

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

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

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

Key final quarter secures victory

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

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

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

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

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

Guinness Pro 14: Round 2 (Friday Night Fixture Review)

Two contrasting fixtures last night. Glasgow Warriors continued their good start to the season with a comfortable 25-10 over Munster Rugby while John Cooney was again the hero for Ulster Rugby as they defeated Edinburgh with a late gasp penalty for a 30-29 win. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Glasgow punish sloppy Munster

I feared for Munster Rugby ahead of this fixture, not because of the personnel on show but because of distinct lack of competitive hit out in the opening round fixture against a massively poor Cheetahs outfit. The lack of intensity in those exchanges was going to do Munster Rugby little favors ahead of this opening road trip to Scotstoun, a ground where Munster Rugby were battered last season.

Glasgow Warriors were the sharper team from minute one in this contest. They preyed on Munster Rugby indiscipline and accuracy in the opening period to build a 22-0 lead at the interval with the aid of a strong breeze. The half saw one side dominate all facets of play with the hosts dominating the breakdown exchanges (some borderline clear outs) allowing Horne and Hastings at half-back the time and space to launch their back line out wide. 

Hastings loop pass for the opening try was a thing of beauty setting up Gibbins for a simple score on the sideline. This was the sign of things to come for Munster Rugby; more tackle reps and more gain line exchanges lost. Two additional tries were leaked before the interval. Hogg scoring after a deft drubber kick and then Ashe reacted to a JJ Hanrahan lapse in concentration to score which signaled the end of the contest. 

Munster Rugby were made to pay for a slow start and then were unable to establish any platform. The opening period could not get any worse as Neil Cronin and Billy Holland departed the scene in this period. Carbery, Marshall, Beirne and the rest of the bench were summoned well before the end of the third period, an indication of the woes experienced by the visitors.

Glasgow Warriors defended with depth and physicality in the second half as Munster Rugby to their credit improved significantly but the scoreboard gap was never going to be pulled back. Several line breaks from Munster Rugby courtesy of Carbery playmaking and Beirne’s direct running but skill set issues surfaced in decision making and offloading on the final pass. 

The five meter line-out towards the end of the contest summed up Munster’s evening. A miserable set piece execution mopped up by the hosts and the hosts looked for the bonus point try that they deserved, nothing doing and a four point vs. zero point outcome was written in the stars.

Glasgow Warriors look the part at the moment but we have said that before last season; the acid test for this side is in European Cup action. The side’s inability to mix in the pool stages last season was the disappointment of the European Champions Cup last term, time to address and hit out in this competition. An exciting back line and with a flourishing half back partnership in Horne and Hastings, the pack need to make additional improvements to give the side that extra edge to win silverware this season. 

Munster Rugby fans went into a frenzy last night but the warning signs were there ahead of this result. The lack of quality opposition last weekend did little to battle harden the side for a tussle like this. As a result, the physicality and sharpness required to set the platform was not at the standard required. 

What is of most concern is the skill set progression. Glasgow Warriors creativity, offloading and basic skill set execution were so superior to Munster’s and the Irish province need to take a long hard look at their basic skill set in the weeks to come to be a viable contender in all fronts. Munster fringe squad members did themselves little favors last night and expect the front line brigade to be summoned in the coming weeks. 

Ulster home game, yet another John Cooney party piece to win another close contest down the stretch. I plumbed for Edinburgh Rugby on the fixture (Ulster fans should want me to predict against them for the rest of the year). 

A couple of pleasing aspects to the Ulster Rugby performance. The resiliency of the side to come back from a difficult opening period where Edinburgh Rugby went 0-13 down. Hickey looked the part for the visitors, orchestrating attacking moves on the back of a dominant pack. 

Ulster Rugby regrouped superbly though and with John Cooney and Billy Burns at half-back, there is outstanding potential for creating line breaks. The gap was seventeen points going into the early exchanges of the second half when the comeback started. 

Addison went over for his first Ulster try, with Cooney slotting the conversion but another Hickey penalty gave Edinburgh more of a cushion at 26-13.

Addison made a half-break before laying off a perfect pass to Cooney, who went in under the posts and converted his own try to narrow the deficit to six points.

Cue the try of the night. Ulster stole Edinburgh ball deep in their own half and  Henry Speight offloaded to Cooney, who released the Gilroy to run in a fabulous try from 60 meters out. Cooney hit the extras to make it 27-26 but Hickey looked to secure the win for Edinburgh with a superb kick just before the eighty minutes. 

Ulster Rugby though refused to drop the heads; a great restart steal setting up multiple phases. The penalty award will be hotly contested; 50/50 call but Ulster Rugby got it and Cooney slotted over from 40 meters, amazing scenes at full time. Ulster Rugby are 2/2; set the platform for the rest of the season and defeating a playoff contender to boot in Edinburgh who are under pressure to win next weekend. 

Ulster Rugby’s attacking play is a joy to watch at the moment; creativity from Burns launching McCloskey and Cave. Speight, Gilroy and Addison are potent runners; the concern is the squad depth if injuries surface. A solid start for McFarland’s men but improvement is required in the defensive side of the ball. Edinburgh Rugby had opportunities to put this game to bed, other teams will not be as charitable. 

Guinness Pro 14 Round 1 Irish Provincial Reflections

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

Munster win in a canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guinness Pro 14: Irish Province Squad Preseason Review

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

Irish Province Squad Transfers: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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