Thursday, October 22, 2015


Alas, Ireland were left dwelling on another failed World Cup semi-final bid as their depleted ranks were ruthlessly put to the sword by a scintillating Argentina outfit at the Millennium Stadium.

One more win too big an ask with crocked leaders
Ireland's full-back Rob Kearney (C) is tackled by Argentina's centre Matias Moroni (L) and Argentina's wing Santiago Cordero (R)

None of us will know for sure how today would have transpired had Ireland been able to call on O’Connell, Sexton, O’Mahony, O’Brien and Payne, but the toll of their loss was undeniably evident.
There isn’t a team in the world that would not feel a similar mass decimation, notably after the crescendo to the Pool phase and in the face of an Argentina unit who were rampant, belligerent and refined in equal measure.
A dejected Ireland fan in the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
A dejected Ireland fan in the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

It may not come as any consolation to the Irish players as they ponder more underachievement on the global stage but, to a man, their bravery was awe-inspiring. And, in reality, even if Joe Schmidt had a full deck at his disposal the outcome may not have differed, though possibly a little closer. Because, maybe, maybe not, the last three games have shown- the disparity between the northern and southern hemispheres is only getting bigger.

Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez celebrates after the referee awarded them a try
Reuters / Toby Melville

Ireland tellingly blown away in the opening quarter
Whether it was nerves, shell-shock or a physical hangover from the battle with France, but Ireland simply could not cope with the ferocious wave of Argentine pressure that swept them away in the early goings. The period proved decisive.

Conversely, Los Pumas, having rested a majority of their front liners for their final group game with Namibia, were brimming with brutish brio; their ball-carriers consistently broke the gain-line and they smashed all in sight at the breakdown, where Ireland conceded a glut of penalties (20 of their points would come from that source).
By the 12th minute Ireland were 14 points down, thanks to converted tries from Matias Moroni and Juan Imhoff.  Sanchez then sent over penalties in between Madigan getting Ireland off the mark, with the scoreboard reading an ominous 20-3 with just 22 minutes on the clock.

The Pumas opener, in particular, was a stunning example of their evolving offence. Fullback Tuculet fielded Sanchez’s Garryowen, and the South Americans swiftly went left to right through big carries, notably from flanker Pablo Matera, before Moroni cantered over in the corner.
The pair of tries sandwiched the ignominious sight of Argentina’s driving Ireland off their own ball in the game’s first scrum, which ultimately led to Imhoff’s score.

Fitzgerald try temporarily turns the tide

The scarcely believable injury hex that has blighted Ireland over the last week reared its head again as Tommy Bowe was carried off in just the 13th minute. As the Ulster man was being carted to the dressing room, Sanchez sent over a penalty to make it 17-0.
However, his replacement Luke Fitzgerald made a spectacular intervention 13 minutes later as went over for his fourth, but most important international try.

Murray retrieved a loose kick, Heaslip carried into contact before Ireland fluently put it through hands, and Henshaw stood up some defenders, allowing the Leinster man swiftly step in off his wing, then jet-heel through a horde of Pumas to dot down.
Madigan added the conversion, but missed a subsequent penalty, though Ireland went into the break with a far more palatable 10 points to make up.

Ireland harness momentum after the break before Argentina ruthlessly wrestles it back
Chris Henry won a pivotal penalty as Argentina came out of the blocks with similar haste at the restart. Jordi Murphy claimed the line-out resulting from Madigan’s subsequent kick to touch, but the flanker wasn’t finished.
Luke Fitzgerald’s searing brake cut the Argentine line to pieces and Murphy was on hand to take the wing’s pass and go over for his first international try. After Madigan’s conversion the deficit was reduced to three points with 45 minutes played.

Sanchez and Madigan then traded penalties, before the latter failed to draw level with another just before the hour.
The peerless Sanchez scored another penalty, before Tuculet’s fine try in the 68th minute , engineered by another seamless left to right move, proved the killer blow. The incredible Imhoff rubbed salt in the Ireland’s wounds as he slalomed past waning defenders to give his side an ultimately deserved 20 point lead.

Argentina’s wide game a sight to behold
It was no secret that the Pumas’ back three held a serious speed advantage over their counterparts in green, though perhaps not to the degree to which we saw today. However, they obviously targeted Ireland in this area. Every time Argentina put width on the ball they resembled a paler All Blacks.
Imhoff, Cordero and full back Tuculet were afforded the wonderfully selected passes of Hernandez and Sanchez while hitting full stride so they were almost perpetually making significant yardage.

Their acceleration, appreciation of space and compelling ambition typified a Pumas outfit that are unrecognisable since joining the Rugby Championship four years ago. They will take some beating from here, and you wouldn’t envy Australia come the semi-final, especially after winning so controversially to Scotland.
©Irish Independent

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Ireland claimed a heroic victory against France at the Rugby World Cup, meaning they will face the emerging Argentina in the quarter-finals next Sunday, avoiding the mighty All Blacks.
Rob Kearney scores v France

However the victory came at a price for Joe Schmidt’s side with Johnny Sexton suffering a groin injury while Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony left the pitch on stretchers and man of the match Sean O’Brien could face a possible citing.
It was a war of attrition in Cardiff but were able to match France at the breakdown and limited Les Bleus to just three penalties.
The Irish bench made a huge impact with Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Ian Madigan making big contributions.
Ireland edged and tight first half before scoring two tries after the break when the game became more fragmented.
Ireland made a bright start working the ball through 10 phases but conceded a penalty for coming in at the side of a ruck.
France had the first chance to open the scoring when Ireland were guilty of playing the ball on the ground after five minutes but out half Freddie Michalak sliced his penalty wide.
Ireland had another lucky escape when full back Scott Spedding struck the upright with a penalty after Ireland had collapsed a scrum.
Ireland despite being under pressure for the opening period took the lead on 12 minutes with a Johnny Sexton penalty.
Spedding levelled the game with a penalty on 16 minutes after Sean O’Brien was penalised for holding on the ground.
Sexton restored Ireland’s lead two minutes later with his second penalty as Pascal Pape was caught offside at the bottom of a ruck.
The sides were level again after 22 minutes as Spedding landed a long range penalty.
Ireland lost Sexton to a rib injury on 25 minutes but his replacement Ian Madigan kicked a penalty a minute after coming on.
Sean O'Brien v France

Ireland wasted their first try scoring opportunity, Tommy Bowe picked a great line and cut open the French defence he passed to Keith and with an open try line the Munster centre dropped the ball.
Ireland led 9-6 at half time but lost captain O’Connell to a hamstring injury just before the interval.
Full back Rob Kearney got the game’s opening try on 50 minutes.
From an attacking scrum Bowe went close, Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip had drives close to the line before the ball was spun wide for Kearney to squeeze over but Madigan failed to convert.
Morgan Para kept France in touch with a penalty on 64 minutes.
Scrum half Conor Murray got Ireland’s second try on 72 minutes.
From a lineout the forwards carried the ball through 12 phases, Iain Henderson drove close to the line, Chris Henry carried it on before Rory Best launched himself at the line but was held up short, Muraay lifted the ball from the bottom of the ruck and touched the bottom of the post to score and Madigan’s conversion put Ireland 13 points in front.
Madigan sealed the victory with a penalty four minutes from the end.

A magnificent performance by Ireland.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Shane Long's 14th international goal handed the Republic of Ireland a priceless win over world champions Germany and blew the race for Euro 2016 qualification wide open.

Sky Bet
 Shane Long scores the winning goal v Germany

The Southampton striker came off the bench to thump a 70th-minute thunderbolt past the helpless Manuel Neuer to hand the Republic their biggest competitive victory since they defeated Holland in a World Cup play-off in 2001.

Ireland's success, coupled with Poland's 2-2 draw with Scotland, means that Martin O'Neill's men are guaranteed a top-three finish and a play-off place at worst, but they will head for Warsaw on Sunday knowing they could still top Group D.
It was a night for heroes at the Aviva Stadium as Martin O'Neill's depleted team stood firm in the face of a German onslaught and took their chance when it came in front of a delirious full house of 50,604.

O'Neill sprang something of a surprise when, with defenders Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark injured and midfielder Glenn Whelan suspended, he handed Burnley defender Stephen Ward a first cap since November last year with only a single Capital One Cup appearance to his name this season.

Richard Keogh, Cyrus Christie and, again to raised eyebrows, Daryl Murphy also got the nod against a Germany side featuring seven of the men who played in the World Cup final in Brazil last summer.

Predictably, Joachim Low's men dominated possession. Less predictably, they failed to do a great deal with it as Ireland keepers Shay Given and Darren Randolph, who replaced the injured 39-year-old two minutes before the break, did not have a single save of note to make.

For that, they were indebted to skipper John O'Shea, who blocked Ilkay Gundogan's 13th-minute shot over his own bar, and central defensive partner Richard Keogh who managed to prevent Mesut Ozil from reaching Matthias Ginter's cross two minutes later.

The visitors thought they had taken the lead when Thomas Muller drove the ball across the penalty area and inside the far post as Ozil tried to get there ahead of Given, although whether or not he got a touch was irrelevant as the offside flag halted German celebrations.

Ireland were able to muster little going forward in front of a boisterous home crowd well aware of Poland's early goal, with Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady - released back into midfield by Ward's inclusion - attempting to link with Murphy and Jonathan Walters.
However, they rode their luck as time ran down when Ozil met another Muller cross unmarked but steered his left-foot effort wide.
There was little let-up after the break as Germany pressed Ireland ever deeper, but once again, the Republic responded in dogged fashion.

They were almost undone 10 minutes after the restart when Marco Reus latched on to a long clearance and crossed for substitute Andre Schurrle, whose volley at full stretch flew high and wide.

The game was opening up, although at times dangerously so for O'Neill's side, although the home fans were off their seat with 64 minutes gone when Murphy blasted a long-range effort just wide of the upright after Hoolahan's initial shot had been blocked by Mats Hummels.

Long replaced Murphy almost immediately and the newcomer had only five minutes to wait for his big moment, running on to Randolph's clearance and hammering the ball past the stranded Neuer to raise the roof at the Aviva.

Hummels and Muller passed up glorious opportunities to level in quick succession and Jerome Boateng and Gundogan both forced Randolph into important - if routine - saves as time ran down, but Ireland were not to be denied.

The clocked ticked agonisingly through four minutes of stoppage time before referee Carlos Carballo's whistle sparked mass celebration on and off the pitch.

Poland's late equaliser means Ireland must defeat them on Sunday in Warsaw to automatically qualify for France 2016, but we are already in the play-off's at worst.