Saturday, March 18, 2017


 It came too late for Ireland’s title ambitions, but the nature of this win might just have saved their season.Joe Schmidt’s men overcame adversity to produce a performance of huge quality and intensity to deny the Six Nations champions England a Grand Slam and a world record 19th win in a row.

They lost Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up, but gained an inspired Peter O’Mahony. Kieran Marmion looked to the manor born, while Johnny Sexton took all the punishment the men in white threw his way on an ill-disciplined outing for Eddie Jones’ men.

In the cold light of day they will rue their deficiencies, but that can wait. Sometimes a one-off win cures what ails you.

Despite a hugely inexperienced bench that lacked the English fire-power, they resisted a huge effort from the world’s second best team to get over the line in front of a raucous home crowd.

Earlier defeats denied them a trophy, but this was a reminder that when they are good this team can live with the very best and it is something they can build on in the summer in the United States and Japan and beyond.

Ireland suffered a blow before the game had even settled, with vice-captain Heaslip forced to cry off after rolling his ankle in the warm-up which saw Schmidt re-jig his back-row and put O’Mahony on the blindside and CJ Stander at No 8 with Dan Leavy promoted to the bench.

It didn’t faze them as they took control of the game early on and barely relinquished it for the rest of the half.
England started with intent and a Mike Brown knock-on spared Irish blushes after a rusty Jared Payne knocked Ben Youngs’ box-kick on and the visiting side looked to have space on the edge.
Ireland’s Iain Henderson and Devin Toner celebrate at the end of the match as England’s dejected players look on.
Instead, Ireland opened the scoring through Johnny Sexton’s penalty and it might have been more had Keith Earls not knocked on Jared Payne’s off-load after an outrageous piece of skill from Rory Best who left the field needing a Head Injury Assessment afterwards as his out-half assumed the captaincy for a short period.

England hit back as the excellent Donnacha Ryan was harshly penalised for not rolling away allowing Owen Farrell to score but as Best returned the home team punished England’s poor discipline allowed Sexton kick to the corner twice and they bullied their way over from a perfectly set maul and Iain Henderson touched down.

Sexton converted and a Courtney Lawes’ knock-on handed the initiative back to the home side who sent Payne up the middle before working the ball wide brilliantly for Earls who got within metres of the line.

The good work was spoiled as Marmion knocked on and England attacked, with Elliot Daly collecting a Farrell high ball and the forwards taking over until O’Mahony intervened and made a crucial turnover.

Joe Launchbury’s penalty concession brought a breathless phase of play to an end and allowed Sexton apply more pressure by kicking to touch but they couldn’t take advantage as the white wall repelled Ireland’s advance.

England turned over an Irish  maul, but the old chop tackle came out as Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw forced a turnover but another good attacking opportunity passed by as O’Mahony was penalised for taking Maro Itoje without the ball.

Having been starved of possession and territory for most of the half, England finished in the Irish half but the clock beat them and Ireland led 10-7 at the break.

Both sides made changes at the interval, with Andrew Conway coming in for his debut for the injured Earls and Mako Vunipola introduced for Joe Marler who had been struggling.

Garry Ringrose almost broke free of the suffocating English defence during a cagey opening to the second-half.
Farrell reduced the deficit from distance when Jack McGrath played Youngs illegally.
The game was slowly turning into the champions’ favour as they mauled their way into it, forcing successive penalties to allow Farrell kick them into Irish territory but another Sexton-engineered choke tackle – with help from Henshaw – turned James Haskell over in midfield.

Instead, Ireland hit back and somehow Payne made huge yardage counter-attacking from a nothing ball and was felled by a high-looking Billy Vunipola challenge that referee Jerome Garces saw nothing wrong with and the TMO also allowed pass him by without comment.

A Farrell body slam was followed by Itoje straying offside in midfield and despite being on the end of another cheap English shot, Sexton dusted himself down and nailed a brilliant penalty to restore the seven point lead.

Eddie Jones continued to send on his big bench and Conway was unlucky when he mis-timed his hit on Ben Te’o who was in the air and England kicked into the ’22.

Again, Ireland were guilty of a maul offence and rather than go to the corner Farrell narrowed the deficit to four points off the tee.

Conway disrupted the English kick-off reception, but Ringrose knocked on and Cian Healy collapsed the scrum to allow England edge into the Ireland half but a monstrous Henshaw hit on Te’o saw the former Leinster man need to leave the field for a HIA.

England turned down three points when Henshaw was done for not rolling away and they paid the price when O’Mahony pilfered the ball at the front and Danny Care carelessly slapped the ball out of Luke McGrath’s hand to allow Sexton lift the siege.
Ireland went to their maul, before a clever Luke McGrath kick made England play it from their own 5m line.

They kicked it out and O’Mahony was rock-solid off Niall Scannell’s throw, but the English got to the hooker at the back of the maul and forced a crucial turnover by winning the scrum.
Ireland got the nudge on, but Garces ordered a re-set. England attacked and Scannell handed them a penalty by playing Youngs.
England attacked and there were echoes of 2013 and the All Blacks, but Mike Brown knocked on.

They’re not at that level yet. Deserved champions, but the record and the Slam were a step too far.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


A hat-trick of tries for CJ Stander and Craig Gilroy, and nine conversions from fly-half Paddy Jackson, relaunched Ireland's Six Nations title hopes Saturday with a record 63-10 win over Italy in Rome.

Ireland, the 2015 champions, arrived in the Eternal City looking to make amends for a 27-22 defeat at Murrayfield when Scotland scored three tries in the opening half hour.

And Joe Schmidt's men left the "Colosseum" of the Stadio Olimpico with no doubts as to their tournament credentials.

Despite their loss to Scotland, New Zealander Schmidt was buoyed by a win that sets the Irish up well for France next week: "We didn't release the pressure valve."

Ireland's previous highest score against Italy was a 60-13 win at Lansdowne Road in 2000. This was their highest against Italy away from home. 

"I thought we were a lot more clinical than usual," said Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip, standing in as captain after hooker Rory Best was sidelined by a stomach bug, "We definitely held on to the ball better through the phases."

Although Italy made amends for a 33-7 defeat to Wales with far better discipline, Conor O'Shea's men were dominated for long periods and, worryingly, saw their defence collapse in a completely one-sided second half.

O'Shea, who played 35 times for Ireland as a full-back, had asked for discipline to improve after shipping 15 penalties to Wales.
But in doing so, Italy's game elsewhere suffered.

"In the first 20 minutes we took a battering," said O'Shea. "We talked about Ireland's ability to hold the ball through the phases, and the first 20 minutes took a physical and mental toll on us.
"We played against a team that, in every department, is better than us. It was a tough day.
"But we will never hang our heads. We have to get ready in one week's time and be focused for England at Twickenham."

After seeing winger Angelo Esposito's timely intervention knock the ball from Simon Zebo's hands as he was about to touch down on 11 minutes, Ireland had their opener a minute later when Keith Earls was given acres of space on the right flank.
The first of Jackson's conversions gave Ireland a 7-0 lead on 14 minutes.

Italy reduced arrears quickly thanks to Carlo Canna's penalty but Italy's defence caved in when Stander collected Zebo's skip pass to touch down past the left corner flag.
Jackson's conversion bobbled over for a 14-3 lead, "one of the ugliest I've ever seen", said Schmidt, who said it resembled "a wounded duck".

Handling errors and a tight Irish defence intent on making amends for their poor start to Scotland ended Italian hopes of a quick fightback, and their defence suffered, too. 

Fast Irish hands moved the ball out to the right channel, where Earls was allowed to run over unhindered, Jackson converting for a 21-3 lead.

Italy bounced back thanks to a penalty try, awarded after Ireland collapsed the line-out drive, losing Donnacha Ryan to a yellow card in the process.

But minutes later Stander touched over for his second try to secure a fourth try bonus point. Jackson converted for a 28-10 first-half lead that left Italy in disarray.
Despite collecting a bonus point, Schmidt was dismissive.
"For us it's about trying to get the right performance and the right results over the tournament," he said.

Ryan returned on 44 minutes and two minutes later Stander collected Conor Murray's offload from a ruck outside the 22 to skip round a series of tackles and seal his hat-trick, Jackson kicking his fifth conversion for a 35-10 lead. 

Schmidt made a series of changes for the final quarter and the fresh legs were too much for Italy, Gilroy touching over the first of his hat-trick on 68 minutes after skipping inside his marker outside the 22 and running home.

Inspired, Garry Ringrose pulled off a similar move four minutes later, with Gilroy completing his hat-trick with a brace of tries in the final minutes.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Connacht continued their fine run of home form as they ran in seven tries against the Guinness PRO12’s basement side Benetton Treviso to win 47-8.
Tom McCartney’s first-half double and scores from Danie Poolman and Denis Buckley secured a try-bonus-point before half-time, and a commanding 28-3 lead for the hosts.
And John Cooney, Quinn Roux, and Jack Carty completed the scoring as Connacht eased home, meaning Braam Steyn’s try for Treviso was no more than a consolation.

The Irish outfit were unbeaten in four Guinness PRO12 games at the Sportsground prior to the match, but were dealt a blow when they lost Matt Healy in the warm-up with Poolman coming in on the wing.
The visitors started well, probing for an early try on the Connacht five-metre line after Jake Heenan was stripped of the ball, but while the home side’s defence stood firm they were pinged and Ian McKinley made it 3-0 from the tee.
Connacht forced a turnover and then a penalty deep in Italian territory, with Marnitz Boshoff kicking to the corner the Guinness PRO12 champions decision to turn down a routine three points was justified when McCartney rumbled over on 12 minutes to give the hosts the lead – Cooney making no mistake with the conversion.
But while Cian Kelleher immediately saw yellow after accidentally taking out McKinley in the air, Pat Lam will have been thrilled to see his side absorb Treviso’s pressure for the duration of his time on the sidelines.


Buckley got in over the ball to win a vital turnover on 23 minutes, which led to Connacht’s second try of the afternoon.
Bundee Aki found Nepia Fox-Matamua, and the Kiwi-born flanker’s beautiful flicked pass was gratefully grasped by Poolman who ran in to score, with Cooney nailing the conversion again.
Things went from bad to worse for Treviso as Simone Ferrari saw yellow for persistent fouling at the breakdown, and just after the half-hour mark John Muldoon was just held up after crossing the whitewash.
But Connacht’s pressure told and they got their reward when McCartney doubled his tally for the afternoon in the right corner.
And the Galway outfit had their try-bonus point before the interval as Kelleher, Cooney and Aki put the ball through the hands for Buckley to score.
Cooney’s flawless kicking continued as he converted both to make it 28-3 at the interval, and while Treviso stabilised slightly after half-time, ten minutes into the second half Connacht were over again.
A brilliant training ground move off the back of a lineout just outside Treviso 22 saw Poolman come off his wing and offload for Cooney to score under the posts, and Roux added try number six from a five-metre scrum moments later.
Lam rang the changes for the hosts around the hour mark, and Treviso began to threaten when they won a penalty at scrum time, and after setting up a five-metre rolling maul knocked the ball on over the line on 65 minutes.
But just a minute later the Italians got their first try for their efforts, using their strength up front to drive Connacht back over the line and Steyn touched down at the back of the scrum.
McKinley’s conversion attempt was unlucky to hit the right post, and there was still time for Carty to go over for Connacht’s final try of the afternoon under the sticks.