Saturday, February 16, 2013


Dan Parks kicked 17 points for Connacht
Connacht claimed the scalp of the in-form Ospreys as they beat the reigning RaboDirect Pro12 champions 22-10 for the first time since 2008.

The Ospreys had won the last nine contests between the teams but they faltered at the Sportsground, allowing 17-point hero Dan Parks to dictate.

They traded tries in the first quarter, Kahn Fotuali'i striking first for the Ospreys before Willie Faloon replied with his maiden effort in Connacht colours.

Parks slotted two of his three penalty attempts to move Eric Elwood's men 13-7 ahead at half-time.

Penalties cost the westerners when going down to the Scarlets last weekend, however this time they gave the Ospreys - conquerors of Ulster last week - precious few chances to close the gap.

Matthew Morgan slotted a 69th-minute penalty, but Parks rubber-stamped the home victory with two second-half penalties and a late drop-goal.

Although the visitors had the better of possession early on, Connacht snuck into a seventh-minute lead as Parks punished a scrum infringement by Cai Griffiths.

Playing into the wind, a good spell of ball retention duly paid off for the Ospreys on the quarter-hour mark. Morgan was held up short before his half-back partner Fotuali'i quickly tapped a penalty and burrowed over from close range.

Morgan converted but the Ospreys lead lasted barely four minutes as the hosts hit back in determined fashion.

Connacht attacked from a solid scrum with John Muldoon and Michael Swift linking on the right wing. The ball was recycled and flanker Faloon's clever line took him over past two defenders.

Parks landed the difficult conversion for a 10-7 lead and was narrowly wide with a subsequent penalty from long distance, with the Ospreys front row coming under further scrum pressure.

Faloon was unceremoniously dumped in an apparent spear tackle that the match officials failed to penalise, as the game continued to canter along at a brisk pace.

Connacht had the final scoring opportunity before the break and Parks stepped up to widen the gap to six points, rewarding his forwards for another power-packed scrum.

The wind advantage was with the Ospreys for the second period, but a Kyle Tonetti block and a subsequent three-pointer from Parks kept Connacht on course.

The Ospreys failed to follow up on a promising lineout maul, while Parks' cross-field kick helped the returning Gavin Duffy bring Connacht downfield.

The former Scotland international drew a drop-goal attempt wide and as time ticked by, the Ospreys continued to make errors and struggle for accuracy.

Alun Wyn Jones' first start for the Welsh region since October was not going to plan, and Danie Poolman went close to collecting a loose ball during a dangerous counter-attack.

Minus a raft of Wales internationals, the title holders brought on Rhys Webb and Jonathan Thomas and a gradual improvement led to Morgan's lone penalty goal.

Steve Tandy's men probed from the restart, yet a crucial turnover from Duffy relieved the pressure on Connacht.

Then a pinpoint kick from Parks allowed Robbie Henshaw to hammer Richard Fussell in the tackle and the Ospreys full-back coughed up a penalty for holding on.

Parks clipped the place-kick over from the left for a 19-10 scoreline and the final nail in the Ospreys coffin was driven in by the out-half's sweetly-struck drop goal, two minutes from time.

Those kicks took the losing bonus point away from the Ospreys and James King's yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Faloon saw them end the match with 14 men.

A great win for Connacht in Galway then.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Ireland 6-12 England

Ireland defeated

Ireland lost to England 6-12 at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

In wet, uncomfortable conditions, turnovers and penalties were always going to be key and Stuart Lancaster's men always looked the more disciplined outlet, despite losing James Haskell for 10 minutes in the second half.

Owen Farrell kicked four penalties for England - two in each half – while Ireland could only respond with two second half efforts from substitute Ronan O'Gara, who came on midway through the first half for the injured Jonathan Sexton.
England looked a well-oiled machine who could now challenge for the Grand Slam - but Ireland were the authors of their own misfortune as they produced a disjointed, error-strewn performance. 
With the rain spitting down in Dublin, conditions were poor and the first-half was a scrappy war of attrition.
Ireland had the bulk of possession but were constantly giving the ball back with errors and penalties – their handling being particularly disappointing as they committed an unacceptable nine handling errors in the opening 40 minutes.
England played unspectacular rugby, with their backs barely involved outside of defensive work, but their more disciplined approach paid dividends as they went in at the break with a 6-0 lead.
Farrell fired over two penalties in the third and 29th minutes from similar positions near the Irish 10m line and to the right, although he missed a third opportunity with the last kick of the half. 
For all their possession, some of which was in dangerous areas, Ireland did not even have a kick on goal in the first half. Their efforts were also hampered by injuries that saw them lose winger Simon Zebo and fly-half Sexton, though they had experienced replacements on hand in the shape of Munster duo Keith Earls and O'Gara.

There was a nasty streak to the game too: Cian Healy stamped brutally on an English ankle that admittedly was on the wrong side of a ruck, while Farrell might have been sin-binned on another day for a cynical tug back on Conor Murray.
There were encouraging signs for Ireland in the early stages of the second half as their front-row seemed to be getting a handle on proceedings. 
Two penalties from O'Gara levelled the match, the second of which came in the 58th minute after Haskell was sin-binned for kicking a ball on the ground.
The home fans were really into the match at that stage as they smelt blood, but the 14 men of England kept their cool in the hostile environment and actually enjoyed arguably their best spell of the match while short-handed.

Farrell kicked them back in front in the 64th minute after England had almost scored a try while advantage was being played: Ben Youngs's clever kick just didn't quite bounce up for substitute Manu Tuilagi as he dashed into the try area, but England regained the lead in any case from Farrell's kick.
Another substitute, Courtney Lawes, then won another penalty for England just two minutes later as his superb tackle brought down Rob Kearney in an isolated area. With no help around him, the Leinster full-back was forced to hang on and Farrell again profited to the tune of three points.
When O'Gara then missed a kickable penalty nine minutes from time Ireland knew that they had to hunt a try, but that never looked likely against an English side that regained control of the pack in the latter stages of the match and cleverly ran down the clock.

It wasn't pretty from England, but they got their tactics just right given the conditions and were winners once the 80 minutes were up. 
Ireland looked battered and beaten by the end, ensuring it would be a mixed day for Brian O'Driscoll who had hoped for a win to celebrate the birth of his daughter just a few hours before the match.

Instead it is England who remain the sole team with a chance of winning the Grand Slam. Home matches against France and Italy come next before they travel to Cardiff for their final match.

It emerged that Simon Zebo is out of action for ten weeks with a broken foot, while Johnny Sexton has a suspected hamstring tear which is an eight-week recovery, minimum.

So a bad day all-round for Ireland.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Zebo magic v Wales
Ireland mixed panache with power to beat Wales 30-22 in a pulsating opening match of the Six Nations on Saturday, condemning the beleaguered holders to an eighth straight loss and already leaving their title defence in disarray.

Centre Brian O'Driscoll, who recently lost the Irish captaincy to Jamie Heaslip, instigated Wales' latest defeat by setting up Simon Zebo's 11th-minute try with a fabulous offload and going over himself after the break for his 46th try in 121 Irish tests.

Prop Cian Healy barged over in the 23rd, after some dazzling footwork by Zebo, for the other try for the Irish, who faced an onslaught in the final 32 minutes. Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell scored tries for Wales in that period but Ireland's terrific defence made time run out for the hosts, who lost a fifth straight home test for the first time since 1991.

"First game is a must win otherwise you're chasing your tail for the rest of the competition," said O'Driscoll, who has indicated this could be his final Six Nations. "We owed Wales one, they did a number on us in the last three games."

Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton finished with a perfect kicking record of three penalties and three conversions for 15 points for the Irish, who were seen as dark horses for the Six Nations before this weekend but may suddenly find themselves given the tag of favourites.

Their main title rivals, France and England, must both travel to Lansdowne Road.

The Welsh, however, haven't won a test since last year's Grand Slam-winning campaign and until they stop giving their opposition big early leads, their winless run won't come to an end. It doesn't get any easier either, with pre-tournament favourite France awaiting them next weekend in Paris.

"We didn't start well, you need a foothold in the game," interim Wales coach Rob Howley said. "You can't give any international side the space and time on the ball which we gave in the first 20 minutes."

With Zebo and Craig Gilroy on the wings, Ireland has added pace and daring to its back play since the 2012 Six Nations and Zebo in particular stood out on his tournament debut.

The Munster wing darted in for his second try in four tests after O'Driscoll exploded through a gap in the Welsh defence and flicked a superb pass across to Zebo.

Ireland was forcing turnovers, and soon built on its lead after an amazing piece of skill from Zebo. Rory Best charged down a kick from Dan Biggar and collected the ball, which was recycled out to Jamie Heaslip and then Zebo, who flicked the ball up with the outside of his left foot and continued the move. One phase later, Healy burrowed over from a meter for a try converted by Sexton, who had already booted a penalty.

Sexton and Halfpenny traded penalties but it was the Irish who finished the half in control, holding up a first sustained attack by Wales and then seeing Sexton knock over a stoppage-time penalty for 23-3.
The hosts were forced by the score to open up and score tries in the second half,  just as they had to in autumn losses to New Zealand and Australia,  but only after the evergreen O'Driscoll scored what proved to be a crucial try.

After Zebo and Conor Murray were tackled on the tryline, O'Driscoll found no more defenders to stop him from diving over from a meter out for the converted try and 30-3.
Ireland was on tackle duty for the rest of the game.

Cuthbert ran a beautiful line from Biggar's outside pass for a 48th-minute try and when Best was sin-binned 10 minutes later following an accumulation of team penalties, Wales capitalized almost immediately as Halfpenny squeezed over the line in the right corner.

Further pressure saw Murray yellow-carded and Mitchell go over for a 75th-minute try that needed the judgment of the video referee. Ireland was safely home by then.

It was a sixth straight loss under Howley, who has been filling in for Warren Gatland on and off for the past year while the New Zealander undertakes his duties as British and Irish Lions coach for the tour of Australia starting in June.

"This group of players will keep playing and they showed great character," Howley said. "It's just making that right decision under pressure... we talked all week about starting well and we didn't."
Gatland was in the crowd as a Lions assessor and cannot have failed to have been impressed by the enduring class of O'Driscoll, who could yet be Lions captain for the second time