Monday 25 September 2017

Girvan Dempsey has been busy on his travels with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad on the tour. Photo: Sportsfile

Dempsey feeling benefit of investment in coaching 

Girvan Dempsey lands back in Dublin tomorrow, and then kicks off with Leinster again on Tuesday as they take a different approach to their pre-season: a little bit here, another little bit there. Coming off the back of a week here with Ireland in Japan, on top of the prep done with the squad in Carton House before they left home, it reflects where the coaching game is going as much as the playing side: when any useful window opens, you clamber through it.

Morgan Parra of Clermont. Photo: PA News

Clermont confident they can test Saracens' defence 

Compare where you stood after Saracens had strangled Munster in the first of the Champions Cup semi-finals last month with your position the next day when business closed in Lyon. If you felt that Clermont, the side romantics want to win, had enough grease and grunt to slip out of Sarries' boa constrictor routine then you were probably in the minority. And if those odds of 1/2 on Mark McCall's men are justified, we'll have yet another chapter in the epic, Bridesmaids of the Auvergne.

Under Les Kiss, Ulster have continued the pattern of shaping to do something serious, then collapsing. Photo: Sportsfile

A team in desperate need of a new lease of life 

The first anniversary of Ulster's whopping 46-26 win over the Ospreys in Swansea is just a week away. That unusual result last season secured an away draw against Leinster in the Guinness Pro12 semifinals. It was Ulster's fourth win on the bounce, a little sequence in which they were averaging a very healthy 35 points a game. Beating Connacht and Leinster in that run augured well for their chances in the knockouts, even if the RDS is always an unforgiving place for them.

Referee Romain Poite signals for Saracens’ second try of the game, scored by Chris Wyles. Photo: Brendan Moran

Hardworking Saracens too savvy for Rassie's men 

Most coaches would be happy enough if, on a regular basis, their team was a nightmare to play against. If Mark McCall numbers himself in that group then more often than not, for him, match day is a happy day. And certainly Saracens looked well pleased with themselves, for not only did their fifth straight European semi-final appearance finish in comfort, it had all the appearances of a performance that started on a laptop and moved - with only the odd change in punctuation - through to the field.

Who's fighting fit for Lions' slalom of punishment? Brendan Fanning picks 12 Irishmen in his 37-man squad 

At this stage of the season, every four years, the sight of a high-profile player being carted off has greater connotations than normal. Immediately you consult the calendar to check the following dates: initial assembly of the squad; first game on tour; last Saturday game before the first Test. And then with great insight we slosh about trying to figure out the chances of the wounded man being...

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony is tackled by Ulster’s Paddy Jackson during yesterday’s Guinness PRO12 match at Thomond Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster profit from Ulster's flaws to hold out for victory 

The endgame said it all about Ulster. Faced with the prospect of hanging onto the ball and taking the game into the red, until either a penalty or a decent drop-goal opportunity arrived, in the end they did neither. Instead they rushed an effort from Paddy Jackson which, if successful, would have won the game, but even before he put boot to ball you felt it was going anywhere bar on target. He had only just got back on his feet from cleaning a ruck.

Joey Carbery works his magic during yesterday’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash. Photo: Sportsfile

Carbery class helps Blues to take sting out of Wasps 

Leinster are back in the Champions Cup semi-final. And while the scoreline might suggest it was a handy day out, it was not quite that. Rather, it was a curious mix: Leinster looked a class apart in the first half, while Wasps looked a bit like the Keystone Cops. When in the last half hour the home side had lost a bit of their control, and their guests had given up on the world record chase for the number of unforced errors in a single afternoon, we had a different game.

Conor Murray is relishing what will be a tough test against France next week. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor Murray eager to extend his proud French record 

It sounds like some sort of team formation - 3-2-2 - but in this case it represents Conor Murray's profit-and-loss account from his French engagements. Hard to believe the first of 55 caps came less than six years ago, slipping in under the radar on a summer's night in Bordeaux. And equally hard to credit if, like the bulk of those who have played for Ireland, your experience of playing France was a negative one. To have lost just two of those seven Tests puts him in a happy minority.