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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Ireland's first ever victory on Austrian soil has opened the door to a world of possibilities. 
2016 was a major tournament year, but this result could have a significant impact on Martin O'Neill's ambitions to bring Ireland to another one in Russia in 18 months time.

The last away triumph in a qualifier of this magnitude came in Scotland back in February 1987. These are the games that Irish sides are not supposed to win.
And, while time froze in time added on when the unmarked Marc Janko headed wide in a crowded goalmouth, this was a result that Ireland earned.
James McClean's 48th minute effort did the job and the most satisfying aspect of the outcome for O'Neill will be the fact that if there was a period where his team rode their luck, it was before the goal as opposed to afterwards.
His patched up side responded to adversity to grind out a crucial success over an Austrian group that is already staring elimination in the face.
At the end, they had run themselves into the ground. Jon Walters could barely walk. Seamus Coleman crawled after David Alaba in the late drama. But they stood firm at key junctures to make a big statement.
It didn't look likely earlier in the evening.

Ireland were level at the break after a chaotic opening half at the Ernst Happel Stadium where the loss of Glenn Whelan forced a tactical switch that was unable to affect the general flow of proceedings.
Specifically, it was Austrian pressure and frantic defending from the visitors that bordered on the agricultural.
Not that Austria screamed assurance.

What they had was the urgency that comes with being under pressure following a tardy start to the group, so they pressed high and their movement was sharper in the early exchanges as their full backs wandered forward to expose the absence of width in Ireland's diamond.
They had three chances inside the opening five minutes that left Ireland on the back foot knocking the ball behind for corners and hanging on for dear life. Lumbering attacker Janko tested Darren Randolph from their clearest opening.

Whelan suffered a thigh issue that forced him off with the SOS sent out for David Meyler. He spent a couple of minutes at the base of the diamond in front of the back four but it clearly wasn't going to work so competitive debutant Harry Arter was switched inside next to him with McClean and Jeff Hendrick splitting wide and Wes Hoolahan operating behind lone striker Walters in a 4-2-3-1.

McClean had started the match playing off Walters and did get away one right footed shot but Ireland were struggling to execute the plan.
Still, they had to live on their nerves in the new set-up with a brilliant last ditch Coleman tackle denying Arnautovic before Ciaran Clark made a goalline clearance to block Janko after Marcel Sabitzer almost capped a slick passage with a deft chip over Randolph came back off the bar.
Ireland did have a reasonable spell before the interval, though, and they could have seized a lead against the run of play from an excellent team move with Robbie Brady getting forward from left full to engineer a one two with Norwich colleague Hoolahan and then send in a terrific cross that Walters scooped over the bar from close range. A glorious chance.
The fear was that Ireland wouldn't create another.

But that view paid too much respect to an Austrian operation that have creaked since they travelled to France with high expectations and failed miserably. Their star turn, David Alaba, is out of sorts and the fault lines were evident before the break.
It was just a matter of Ireland being good enough to expose them. And, three minutes after the restart, they struck with a rapid fire break.
Meyler started the move by gaining possession in his own half, pushing red shirts aside and cleverly switching the ball inside Hoolahan. Austria were stretched, and Hoolahan took the time to gather himself and spot McClean racing unguarded down the left side with Florian Klein dragged out of position.

The weight of his through ball was perfect - this again proves the playmaker can make his presence felt on the road - and it invited McClean to bound into the area and drive the ball through the legs of Ramazan Ozcan and into the net. Every element of the goal was fantastic.
Austria were rattled and, suddenly, Ireland played with composure.
Hendrick lifted his performance level several notches and Arter showed a combative streak by getting stuck into proceedings. Walters had a goal disallowed and Hoolahan did waste another situation where Austria had overcommitted and Ireland had men over.
Ciaran Clark's header was hacked off the line in another scramble with Brady's set piece deliveries threatening - he would later blot his copybook with a silly caution for kicking the ball away which rules him out of Wales in March.

That was rash, yet Austria's overall discipline was  dreadful with skipper Julian Baumgartlinger setting the wrong example by fouling himself in the book and risking a second caution for indolently choping down Hoolahan.
Irish teams have a bad habit of ceding the ball in this position and looking for trouble but, as the game entered its final quarter, they had managed to keep the Austrians at arm's length and restrict them to speculative shots from distance.
Hoolahan was replaced by David McGoldrick and a tireless shift from McClean, who had lifted the away end with a rousing run just beforehand, ended due to injury with five minutes remaining. Aiden McGeady got the nod.
Austria huffed and puffed without breaching the line. Shane Duffy won headers, Coleman hustled and harried, Arter and Meyler closed space and Walters bravely attempted to run down the clock.

At the death, the good work was nearly undone when a cross shot found its way to Janko but he was facing the wrong direction and sent the ball off target. The Irish celebration started seconds later, conscious that they are now headed in the right way, sitting top of Group Don 10 points, two clear of Serbia who drew 1-1 in Wales.

Austria: Ozcan, Klein, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Wimmer (Ilsanker 78); Baumgartlinger, Alaba; Schopf (Schaub 58), Sabitzer (Harnik 73), Arnautovic; Janko
Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Clark, Brady; Whelan (Meyler 22); Hendrick, Arter; Hoolahan (McGoldrick 78); McClean (McGeady 85), Walters

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Ireland produced a stunning display to record a first ever win over New Zealand at the 29th attempt and end the All Blacks' run of 18 straight wins.
Tries from Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander and Conor Murray helped the Irish to a 25-8 half-time lead, then Simon Zebo scored his side's fourth try in the corner.

The world champions fought back to move to within four points but Robbie Henshaw's late try ensured the victory.
The sides will meet in another Test match in Dublin in two weeks' time.

This was Ireland's first success over the Kiwis in 111 years and it came about in sensational fashion as Joe Schmidt's men repelled a stirring second-half comeback by Steve Hansen's side.

TJ Perenara, Ben Smith and Scott Barrett added to George Mola's first-half try for the New Zealanders but despite some sustained late pressure, they fell short for the first time in their past 19 encounters with top-tier nations.
The match was the first of four autumn internationals for both sides, played in front of a capacity crowd of 60,000 at Soldier Field in Chicago, a venue chosen in an attempt to increase the exposure of the sport.
The teams will meet again at the Aviva Stadium in a fortnight after Ireland host Canada next Saturday and Steve Hansen's side face Italy in Rome on the same day.

From the start, the Irish effort appeared to be fuelled by the memory of former international and Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who died suddenly last month.
Prior to kick-off Ireland lined up in the shape of a number eight, the jersey worn with distinction by Foley for many years, while their opponents performed their traditional pre-match haka.

Ireland made light of the aura of invincibility surrounding the three-time world champions in a first half which they mostly dominated to go in 17 points to the good at the break.

Schmidt's side produced a performance of accuracy, purpose, pace and skill as they denied the All Blacks quality possession and repeatedly frustrated their efforts to win their own line-outs.

The Irish display bore echoes of the Test between the sides in Dublin in November 2013 when they built up a 19-0 lead, before ultimately losing 24-22 after conceding a last-gasp converted try, but there was to be no repeat of that outcome this time.

New Zealand prop Joe Moody was sent to the sin-bin for a tip tackle.
Moala raced through for a fifth-minute try after Waisake Naholo had carved a way through the Ireland defences but the turning point of the opening period came when front-rower Joe Moody was yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Robbie Henshaw.

Ireland made good use of the prop's 10-minute absence as Murphy rumbled over after a rolling maul and then fellow flanker Stander surged over the line following a break by Rob Kearney.

Murphy was subsequently carried off after turning his knee in a freak incident but seven minutes before the interval Murray produced a moment of magic, darting through a gap in the New Zealanders' defence to run in his third try in five Tests against the Rugby Championship winners.

The All Blacks' half-time deficit equalled their biggest ever at that stage of an international match.

The Irish momentum continued on the resumption, their relentless defensive efforts thwarting the normally ruthlessly efficient All Blacks, and Zebo increasing the advantage by touching down in the corner.
Replacement Perenara reduced the arrears by diving over near the posts and then full-back Smith managed to ground the ball beside the flag before being tackled into touch by Andrew Trimble.

Scott Barrett took advantage of some poor Ireland tackling to score on his international debut and when brother Beauden knocked over his third conversion of the game, the All Blacks trailed by just four.
Ireland continued to defend heroically however, forcing their opponents into a series of uncharacteristic errors, and a historic triumph was assured when Henshaw showed raw strength to score under the posts after Jamie Heaslip broke clear.


Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), J Payne (Ulster), R Henshaw (Leinster), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), T Furlong (Leinster); D Toner (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster); CJ Stander (Munster), J Murphy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), U Dillane (Connacht), J van der Flier (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), J Carbery (Leinster), G Ringrose (Leinster).

New Zealand: B Smith; W Naholo, G Moala, R Crotty, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; P Tuipulotu, J Kaino; L Squire, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: C Taylor, O Tu'ungafasi, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, M Fekitoa

Thursday, November 3, 2016


The Ireland coach Joe Smidt has named the side that will take on the world champions at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. (15:00 Local / 20:00 Irish Time)

Rory Best leads the side and is joined in the front row by Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath.

Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan are paired in the engine room with Jordi Murphy and CJ Stander on the flanks either side of vice captain Jamie Heaslip.
Conor Murray starts at scrum-half with Johnny Sexton returning to the No.10 jersey having missed the South African tour due to injury.
Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are re-united in midfield while Andrew Trimble and Simon Zebo fill the wing positions with Rob Kearney at fullback.
The uncapped Joey Carbery and Garry Ringrose are named in the replacements alongside Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Kieran Marmion.

IRELAND team to play New Zealand - Saturday 5th November, 2016
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
14. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena)
13. Jared Payne (Ulster)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster)
10. Johnny Sexton (St Mary's College/Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)

1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary's College/Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (c)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
6. CJ Stander (Munster)
7. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster)

16. Sean Cronin (St Mary's College/Leinster)
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
18. Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
19. Ultan Dillane (Galway Corinthians/Connacht)
20. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht)
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster)
23. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)