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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


 Ireland completed a hat-trick over the big three of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in this calendar year. Remarkable stuff.
Ask the average Aussie his impression of November internationals in Dublin and chances are rain and cold will feature in the first sentence. Not this time. It was a perfect setting for rugby: still and mild and yet another full house in a stadium that is sold out for Ireland's games until the end of the season.


And the quality of the contest was first class. For the first 39 minutes Ireland were as close to optimum performance as was reasonable to expect from a side minus O'Brien, Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw. When coaches talk about injuries being an opportunity for others they dream of stuff like this. Josh van der Flier was man of the match, and Garry Ringrose had a tremendous game.

Perhaps the best bit for Joe Schmidt was that his side looked beaten in the third quarter, by which stage their backline had been hastily rearranged and the fuel tank looked perilously low. At that point there was a clinical look to the Aussies who made light of the fact that they've been bouncing around departure lounges since August. This was their 14th test since early June. Perhaps that's why, from the outset, Ireland passed up shots on goal in favour of going to touch and forcing their opponents to defend without rest.

Three times in the opening 12 minutes they chose the corner instead of the sticks. By the time we got to the hour mark, however, they looked like they would gladly settle for a shot on goal. The alarm had been set with a lovely set-piece try for Dane Haylett-Petty just before the break, giving the Aussies a sniff at 7-17, and then they set about an Irish side who came out for the second half with a makeshift backline. At that point, with Bernard Foley launching forwards down the middle before hurting Ireland out wide, you could only see an away win.

And yet Ireland, as they had done in Chicago three weeks ago, rallied with a try when they needed it most. When Keith Earls got over in the corner on 66 minutes, to put his side 27-24 ahead, we didn't think it would be the last score.
You could feel the tension as both sides put bodies on the line trying to change that picture.
For Ireland it was an appealing vista for almost all of the first half. The binning of Dean Mumm for tipping Tadhg Furlong when cleaning him out was crucial.
Ireland took immediate advantage, going to touch, mauling for 30 metres and then shifting wide where a lovely little combination between Earls and Iain Henderson saw the lock get over from 20 metres. Jackson's conversion put the home team 10-0 in front.

By the half-hour mark Michael Cheika lad lots to worry about: the scoreline, the penalty count (1-6 in Ireland's favour; it would be 3-13 by the finish); and two choke tackles conceded, which killed their momentum. The scrum was also beginning to lean in favour of Ireland.

Constantly Ireland were looking to get the ball out the back and motor down the wide channel. Mostly this involved Andrew Trimble, who for all his qualities lacks the gas to scare opponents at this level. He hobbled off on 31 minutes which meant Joey Carbery slotted in at full back with Zebo shifting to the wing.

Even when things went wrong for Ireland they went right. When they put their fourth kickable penalty to touch, and botched the line-out, Ringrose managed to scoop up the loose ball that followed and with a great finish evade Mumm to touchdown, the conversion made it 17-0.

Had it stayed that way until the break it would have completed as good a 40 minutes as Ireland have produced, anywhere, anytime. The gloss was taken off it, however, in the 40th minute when a horrible kick from Jackson gave the Wallabies a decent platform 40 metres out, and from there they produced a lovely set-piece move to put Haylett-Petty over by the posts. A scoreline of 17-7 had an altogether different feel to it.

And that was exacerbated by the non-appearance after the break of Jared Payne. The rearranged backline now featured scrum-half Kieran Marmion on the wing and Keith Earls at centre. Marmion did well to interrupt a certain looking try for Henry Speight a couple of minutes into the second half, but a few minutes later the Wallabies were over in the same spot through Tevita Kuridrani. And with Bernard Foley's conversion, a three-point game.

Jackson pulled three back for Ireland but on 57 minutes Foley was standing over another conversion, this time replacement Stefania Naivalu scored out wide within a minute of coming on. And with that the Aussies were a point ahead. He made it four with a penalty on the hour mark.

It didn't stay that way. When they needed it most Ireland managed that lovely try for Earls on 66 minutes, and Jackson goaled to put his team 27-24 in front. Remarkable it stayed that way until the finish, an appropriate tribute to captain Rory Best on his 100th cap. The hooker has rarely been better.