Brendan Fanning: 'Time to find Best alternative'
France. Is there anything as unhinged in modern rugby as the way the French go about their business? Fourteen fully professional teams in the Top 14 supported by another 16 largely pro...
France. Is there anything as unhinged in modern rugby as the way the French go about their business? Fourteen fully professional teams in the Top 14 supported by another 16 largely pro...
The last time Dave Kilcoyne was in Rome with an Ireland side it was that freakish day when players were falling over so fast they couldn't be replaced. Spring 2013, for a change Italy with their tails...
The recurring theme around Ireland in the build-up to this tournament has been the padding that...
What started with a bang at Murrayfield yesterday, with Scotland coming out of the blocks from the first whistle, turned into a long sequence of grunts, where Ireland always had enough to get back into the winner's enclosure.
In an Edinburgh day when the weather wasn't too sure what it was doing, lurching from winter to spring in a matter of minutes before the game, we trooped up to Murrayfield to see if Ireland would...
In the lead-up to the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup in 2005, Leinster captain Reggie Corrigan was doing a radio interview with a man whose first love would not be rugby. Looking at the numbers from the pool phase, the interviewer opened with: "Well Reggie, Leinster qualified in first place and Leicester in eighth as a runner-up, so you'll be very warm favourites for this?"
In a previous lifetime we worked for one of Rupert Murdoch's organs. It was the early 1990s and giving rugby some space was part of their strategy for establishing themselves in Ireland.
A late penalty from Joey Carbery squeezed Munster home at the top of Pool 2 in the Champions Cup at Thomond Park last night but their chances of staying at home in the quarter-finals looks very slim.
Mind and body. At the ripe old age of 31, Cian Healy seems to have both sides of the house talking to each other in a language that is clear and easy to understand.
Another throbbing occasion here, but the extra bodies squeezed into the crowd of 26,276 didn't go off into the chilly Limerick night chatting about the quality of what they had seen. Rather they were relieved their side had topped the pool. An away quarter-final, likely to be Edinburgh, is better than none at all - it would require Wasps and Bath both to win today for Munster to get a home tie.
Paddy Jackson is almost certain to be playing his rugby with London Irish next season. It is understood there is still one other French club in the mix to sign him but a combination of factors...
A look at the Ulster team-sheet gave you an indication that they weren't expecting to bridge the gap between 2013, and their last win in Dublin, and last night in front of an almost full house of 18,099. As tends to happen in some of these interpros, they were making up the numbers.
The headline on the highlights package from Round 11 of the Premiership last weekend read...
Ticket touts looking for some match currency on the approaches to Thomond Park last night suggested this was not your bog-standard...
In the space of three days this month we had as many news stories reinforcing some fundamentals about our game. First, agreement was reached in principle for the buy-in to England's Premiership...
What was widely predicted to be a tight affair turned into a hiding for Ireland at a packed Aviva yesterday - their first Six Nations defeat since losing to Wales in 2017 and their first home defeat in this competition in the Joe Schmidt reign.
The IRFU will turn to an independent facilitator at forums later this month to try and get a consensus on how the All Ireland League might go forward. This is not like finally getting the mechanic to lift the bonnet when yet again your car has cut out. It's more like getting someone to referee while yourself and your missus decide what garage to go to. Still, it's something we file under the...
There is a stat in the Scotland data bank which, if it had an equivalent in this country, would be considered either a freakish turn of events or a significant system error in the production line.
No need for an extra carry-on bag for the Grand Slam then.
Typical for this time of year is the column listing the new faces to feature in the upcoming Six Nations.
By any stretch this has been a good week for Connacht. A close win over Sale last weekend, currently England’s form team, to set them up this weekend for a crack on Saturday of nailing down a quarter-final place in the Challenge Cup, followed by five players named by Joe Schmidt in the Six Nations squad. And a sixth, Kieran Marmion, sure to follow next month.
The dust hadn't even begun to settle in Cardiff on Ireland's first ever World Cup win over France when already the body count was getting in the way. If Argentina, Ireland's opponents in the quarter-final, had installed a sniper in the upper tier of the Millennium Stadium, he could hardly have done a better job on taking out the team leaders. Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony were all...
There are not many sides who can take the stage without an array of leading characters and then put on a show like that. It wasn't that there weren't any fluffed lines but from start to finish there was a resolve to get the job done. Everyone knew their places. Everyone gave value for money.
Ireland are on course for all four provinces to make the quarter-finals of European competition for the first time. Munster started the run of wins on Friday night in Gloucester, and were followed by Leinster and Ulster yesterday in the Champions Cup, and Connacht in the Challenge Cup.
The recurring image from Kingsholm on Friday night oddly enough was not Joey Carbery standing over the tee before banging over another successful kick, rather it was of David Humphreys. The former Ulster star became to go-to man for the tv director. So every time Munster scored, we got to see Humphreys standing at the back of the coaches' box looking increasingly frustrated.
Full house; full-on; and from early in the piece it was apparent that neither side would get through the 80 minutes with a full complement of players. Indeed by the break we had said goodbye to three men in blue, on yellow/red; and one man in red on a stretcher.
We don't pretend to present this job as real work, which is not to say it doesn't have its moments of acute stress. Mostly these revolve around trying to file, on time, a match report that has some elements in common with what actually happened. This is harder than you think.
The tone for this interpro was set with the industrial load of points dumped on Ulster in Thomond Park at the end of September. Ulster's predicament has been such that they couldn't afford to be counting the days until this rematch - they've had a lot on their plate in Europe - but the combination of some momentum now from that competition, and the nature of the Munster selection on Friday...
A member of the Munster organisation pointed out that whatever disciplinary action does or not follow for any Castres player after this game will be of little value to Munster.
Progress was slow on the final approaches to Castres yesterday afternoon. From lunchtime the protestors, clad in their yellow bibs, had mobilised and taken up positions on roundabouts leading into town.
On a fresh Saturday morning over Christmas 2015 we were given a heads up on an interesting schools game going on down the road. Blackrock College were taking on CBC Cork, and for various reasons it was being played on the all-weather pitch at Castle Avenue. A handy opportunity to catch some of the next wave.
Progress was slow on the final approaches to Castres this afternoon.
This may well be one of those days Leinster look back on with a mixture of pride and relief.
One of the many components in the make-up of champion teams is the ability to ride out the odd storm. In front of 14,425 on a miserable winter's day at one of rugby's great locations, Leinster had to battle to stay afloat.
Shoes and socks. That's what Joey Carbery remembers about his 11-year-old self coming to Ireland from New Zealand. As in, everyone here wore them going to school. Moreover, they kept them on when they got there.
A long week stretches out for Dan McFarland and John Mulvihill. For the Ulster coach he’s looking at the trip to Scarlets on Friday knowing that he needs more than a returning Iain Henderson to put some meat on the bones of his forwards.
The first time Billy Burns came up against Irish sides was at age-grade level for England. If you've ever seen English teams at under 18 or under 20, the first thing that strikes you is their size. They are like something from another planet.
In what feels like a previous lifetime now we remember covering Garryowen v Bath in Dooradoyle.
The only surprise in the IRFU statement this morning about Joe Schmidt’s exit plan is that seemingly he is folding his tent altogether and not pitching it somewhere else.
The tumultuous events of last weekend in Lansdowne Road took us back to a near miss that has been all but wiped out by the recent history between Ireland and New Zealand.
If you were waking up in the USA Eagles camp this morning you'd be forgiven for thinking rugby is a pretty cruel pastime.
Yesterday's press conference after Ireland's comfortable win over the US clearly was not Joe Schmidt's last post-match media ritual, but it was the last time he will be in that seat after a Guinness series. The only way he will be attending one of these things again in the month of November is if Ireland get to the World Cup final in Yokohama on 2/11/2019. Which, in fairness, would be a good way to sign off.
The arrival of Sam Arnold off the bench on Saturday will complete the process of cap sharing ahead of next year’s World Cup. Joe Schmidt assembled 42 players late last month – three of them uncapped – so between that group and those uninvolved over these four games he has all the bases covered.
There was no escaping the odd man out when Ireland wrapped up their Australia tour in Sydney in June. Aside from Will Addison, whose holiday had conveniently dovetailed with Ireland's trip, only one man had togged out and not played in any of the three Tests.
We have been telling you since the conclusion to the third Test in Sydney five months ago that before you could say: 'Well well, is that the World Cup around the corner?' it would have turned that corner and be staring us in the face. Guinness Series gone in a flash in November; Six Nations in the rear-view mirror; World Cup warm-ups done and dusted.
Having been through the mill in 2013 in a game that was analysed to death in the aftermath such was its effect, it was hard to fathom that we were being transported back there in the endgame at the Aviva Stadium last night.
It's fair to say USA looked at today's fixture against Ireland in Donnybrook (1.0pm) as the least stressful event in a three-game programme that saw them play New Zealand and England before arriving over here.
The week of an All Blacks game is a big week. Given all the requests to try and sniff out tickets you'd say this one is a lot bigger than most. So CJ Stander, not a great man at staying calm in these situations, will likely be suffering from what he calls PMS: pre-match stress.
When a colleague in this office saw the IRFU's 'New England Free Jacks' email pop into his inbox on Friday evening he thought they were announcing a clothing deal. If only.
New Zealand will fly into Dublin this evening and most Irish rugby supporters will be relieved that they arrive with a win rather than a loss in their rear-view mirror. The All Blacks looked doomed at a sodden Twickenham yesterday until referee Jerome Garces and his TMO Marius Jonker bailed them out with an offside decision against Courtney Lawes, ruling out England's try that looked like a match-...
At the start of the month Jordan Larmour wouldn’t have been banking on this level of involvement at 15 for the first two weeks of the Guinness Series, but that’s the silver lining on the injury cloud.
Two years on from turning a page in the history of Irish rugby, Joe Schmidt took a different sort of Ireland back to Chicago for a different sort of Test. Then, as now, it opened a series of four games, one of which was against the All Blacks in Dublin, but that's where the comparison ended.
Stade Felix Bollaert in Lens, about half an hour after the final whistle of a World Cup tie that shaped the future of the two nations involved: Ireland and Argentina. It was 1999, a mild October night, and for the losers a slightly convoluted tournament had just ended in the no-man's land of a play-off between pool stage and quarter-final.
From famine to feast, you can't move in Munster these days without falling over an outhalf. Which is a lot better than having an outhalf falling over you.
Two understrength teams in a game of limited value – and clearly to the sporting public of Chicago also of limited interest. Ireland got through their work schedule without too much stress, assisted by an Italian side who had a decent plan but not enough quality to sustain it.
Munster fly out to South Africa this morning with a squad stretched by injury, but with the massive morale boost that comes from winning big games by the narrowest of margins.
It was hard to escape the feeling that the recent launch of the IRFU Strategic Document was not the most considered event in the union's history.
Two years ago, at this time of year, Ireland set out on the toughest schedule of Tests in our history. That November series stands alone; even allowing for modern World Cups where a warm-up series of three or four games leads in to a five-match programme - in 2015 in England, for example, those five games were spread over 29 days.
You wonder were they counting the days since the last meeting, which added to the stores of bad blood between these teams
When you name 24 forwards for a Guinness series and that list has no new caps it means either your head coach is not getting out and about watching too many games, or else he’s very well sorted for depth. Joe Schmidt wouldn’t be watching westerns of a Saturday afternoon when he’s supposed to be out at a match, so ahead of the World Cup - never mind next month - Ireland are very strong...
Stuart Lancaster was a year into the job at Leinster when a colleague across the water brought up the issue of Super Rugby. As in, how keen Lancaster was to work in that environment at some point in his career. At the time he had already turned the Leinster ship around, so if the info was solid then they needed to be shaking the trees for a potential replacement to continue the voyage.
Munster secured the bonus-point win they wanted against Gloucester at Thomond Park yesterday but paid a high price in the process with three players going off with serious injuries.
Brace yourself for the backlash from the Rugby's Gone Soft Brigade. An error-ridden game in perfect conditions still had the capacity to become an engaging contest for the Thomond Park crowd of 23,068 until Gloucester's Danny Cipriani was sent off for a high tackle on Rory Scannell. Munster were 5-3 ahead at the time. Joey Carbery's successful penalty made it 8-3, and in the circumstances - there was just under half an hour gone - we filed it under 'game over' with bonus point to follow.
On a blustery day in April 2012 one of the great upsets of Irish rugby unfolded at Thomond Park. Having enjoyed 17 years of Heineken Cup dominance at home with only one blot on their copybook - losing to Leicester Tigers in 2007 - Munster suffered the unthinkable when Ulster put them on their rear ends.
On a night of much frustration for Munster, surely its peak was reached in the restart after Alby Mathewson's try on 67 minutes. The conversion from Joey Carbery had left just five points between the teams, representing a bonus point at least - one they had worked very hard for, having been 27-12 adrift five minutes into the second half. So, gather the restart and set about getting the territory that might let them win a game where they had never been ahead.
A week ago against Leinster we were looking at a Connacht side scratching around desperately for a chink of daylight. Locked out of their own gaff, they looked the picture of frustration at the end of it: well beaten without a bonus point, down to 13 men and with a disciplinary hearing to follow.
Serious business this, as the Champions Cup slogan declares. Or the Heineken Champions Cup to give it its new name. You'll remember that at the height of the European turf war the Mark McCafferty Club Clan were telling us about the suite of sponsors who would be pitching their tents around the stellar new competition under EPCR. Turns out it's the old warhorse, Heineken, who kicked it all off back in 1995, who are running this race.
You'll remember the endgame against Wales in Lansdowne Road last season as one of those little periods when the Grand Slam campaign might have been dumped in the Dodder. Your abiding impression probably is that Wales blew it. And they did. But with four minutes left Ireland needlessly had opened the door to a try for the away side that made it a three-point game.
Next weekend will be the 18th time around the block for Division 1 national league rugby in this country. What started on October 6, 1990, with two divisions - one of nine, the other 10 - will kick off again with what on the outside looks like a well put-together model: 50 clubs spread evenly over five divisions.
A couple of seasons ago, a referee was reviewing some international match footage involving the England pack when they were just getting into their stride under Eddie Jones. It was against the Wallabies in Twickenham, December 2016. Not for the first time, England forwards were giving the Aussies some hurry-up, and savouring every moment.
"I actually said to the lads, I think I was 30 or 31 after I'd won the Grand Slam (2009) with Ireland - which makes us technically the best team in Europe international-wise - and we spent a weekend up in Belfast on an international camp, just trying to run switches. They had to teach us how to run switches. And we needed it. We didn't know how to run them. And I was thinking: 'Shit, I wonder...
A crowd of 13,476 fetched up to the RDS last night looking for an entertaining hour and a half, one that included a bonus point. And they got exactly that.
It's safe to say that when Dragons coach Bernard Jackman was doing his win/loss budget for the first tranche of Guinness Pro14 games he had this one down in the pointless column. Even though he brought 13 Test players in his 23-man squad the visit coincided with the home team rolling out a fair bit of glamour themselves.
Two developments in the last week drew our attention to signposts on rugby's road forward. A bit like going off the beaten track in this country, you wouldn't be sure if they were giving you a dig out or leading you further into the unknown.
The IRFU have threatened to plough ahead with a new cross-border competition despite staunch club opposition to the increase in the number of contracted players in the All-Ireland League.
If Will Addison's plan to get some green on his back comes to fruition then Cillian Willis should be claiming a finder's fee.
The script for Connacht's next run in the Guinness PRO14 is already set out. Edinburgh will have more than a hint of desperation about them, having lost both opening rounds in games they felt they should have won. And now here come Connacht.
Leinster have asked the IRFU to postpone for a season the change in AIL regulations to increase the number of contracted players in match-day squads.
On a warm October night in 2007 we were part of a crowd of all sorts gathered around the players' entrance to the Stade Jean Dauger in Bayonne. It was one of those scenes where you'd be slow to light a match for fear of the explosion that would follow. Ireland had just come through a faction fight dressed up as a rugby match - a young Wayne Barnes had struggled to stay afloat with his referee armbands - and all concerned felt sure it would be the end of Brian O'Driscoll's World Cup before it started.
From the run in the sun against the Cheetahs last week to an all-out assault from Glasgow in Scotstoun on Friday night, for Munster this was like playing in two different competitions - one at club, the other international.
You wouldn't say Zebre were ever in the hunt to pick up where they left off against Connacht last season but it should have been a closer contest than this.
Presented with the prospect of five wins in a row in this competition, picking up from last season – and against opponents who had been victims in that campaign – Zebre did themselves in at the Sportsground with a performance that bypassed the discipline button altogether.
Johann van Graan pulled off a Bertie Ahern impression at the post-match press conference in Limerick, referring regularly to the 80 minutes as a job done with more to do. The next bit comes in Glasgow on Friday when everything about the game will be on a whole different level.
The Cheetahs must have been relieved yesterday evening to run out onto a pristine pitch in temperatures from high summer. If that was a pleasant surprise then leaving empty-handed was less of one. The heat cooled with the sun dropping behind the west stand, and the tourists - for that's what they are - lost their energy if not their ambition. Already they are thinking beyond Swansea next weekend and getting back to the High Veldt.
The Cheetahs must have been relieved to run out onto a pristine Thomond Park pitch in temperatures from high summer. If that was a pleasant surprise then leaving empty handed was less of one.
At the tail end of the campaign, the quote of the season was delivered not at a post-match press conference, but in the heat of battle.
The IRFU has withdrawn its proposal for a new-look All-Ireland League. In a memo sent to clubs on Friday, the union kicked for touch on an issue that has met with widespread opposition across the four provinces.
Tournament launches are a variant on speed dating. The clubs fetch up with coaches and captains and do the rounds of the various media from print to broadcast to digital. They get asked mostly the same questions and deliver mostly the same answers. The tedium is shared equally between both sides and was perhaps best described by Leo Cullen at the gig two years ago as "a no-score draw."
The IRFU are experiencing widespread opposition from clubs to their proposal for a recast All Ireland League (AIL). As revealed in the Sunday Independent in June, the union plan to kick-off a new-look competition in 2019/20 with two top divisions of eight clubs, with representatives from all four provinces across the two divisions.
Before heading for home from the 1994 version of this tour we took one last trot along Manly Beach, one of the many beautiful vistas in this part of the world. And there we happened upon a scene so entertaining it was not just fall-down funny but a metaphor for the trip itself.
Ireland turned a dodgy start into winning finish in front of a record crowd for Sydney's Allianz Stadium of 44,085 to make history by winning the first ever three-Test series with Australia. It was their first series win here since the 2-0 success of 1979.
An epic finish to an enthralling series: if you were framing a three-match set-piece then top of your wishlist is that it's still alive when the hooter goes in the last game. So that was a bonus, never mind who won it. But if you were the Wallabies, desperate to avoid losing another series having drawn a blank against England here two years ago, then it would have been hard to find value in the drama of it all.
When you are trying to bridge a gap going back to 1979 then it’s apposite that the last few pieces should be put in place in high drama.
It remains to be seen if Ross Byrne gets off the bench in what we still call the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday. If he does, he will join the elite club of those capped for their country.
There is nothing as long, as empty, or as meandering, as the final week in a three-game series when the score stands at 2-0. So while the Wallabies would have celebrated long into the Melbourne night had their late chase ended with catching Ireland on the line, they too will appreciate that this is good for business.
Ireland finally brought an end to their Australian drought yesterday, exactly 39 years after Ollie Campbell's heroics had brought them their first and only series win Down Under. A hugely intense and physical performance in Melbourne puts the sides at one win each going to the third Test in Sydney on Saturday where the Allianz Stadium is a 45,000 sell-out.
Having promised during the week to bring a whole new level of intensity to their game, Ireland delivered just that in Melbourne.
By close of business in Melbourne on Saturday it’s likely that Ross Byrne will be the only member of the 32-man Ireland touring party not to have got a run.
We took a spin up the Daintree River in northern Queensland the other day. En route, the pilot of the boat, a font of knowledge on every creature and plant in its environs, explained to us how crocodiles don't attack intelligent people. It's not that these predators would look you up and down and somehow assess your IQ before deciding on their next move, rather they are sheer opportunists. If you are dim enough to get into the water, or hang around within roughly 10 metres of its edge, you're fair game. And intelligent people would be found in neither position.
Ireland came up short in Brisbane yesterday in their bid to stretch a winning record of 12 to 13 when they were outplayed by the Wallabies in the final quarter of a tight Test match in front of 46,273.
Ireland's record winning streak didn't stretch from 12 to 13 at Suncorp Stadium as the Wallabies got a head start, in front of 46,273, in the three game series. It brought Australia's winning home run in this fixture to 11.
We saw this coming only in the way you see a signpost at the last minute. And then try and calculate should you keep going and turn back, or risk a late swerve.
The All Ireland League is set to change shape to bring its top end closer to the professional game. In changes scheduled to kick in for the 2019-20 season, the new format will see two divisions of eight at the top - Premiership 1 and Premiership 2 - followed by two Championship Divisions, each of eight clubs, and then two Conference Divisions, also of eight clubs each.
On the summer tour of US and Japan a year ago Andrew Conway did his share of the media duties, and left us in no doubt that the move to Munster was the best thing that ever happened to him. A schoolboy star in his own eyes as well as others, his Leinster career had not delivered the way anyone expected. So he bit the bullet and went south to Munster, whom he had always admired from the days they were ripping it up, when Leinster couldn't tear open a wet paper bag.
The best team in Europe made history in front of a record crowd of 46,092 yesterday. Picking up a Pro14 title alongside a Champions Cup was a new combination for them. For the 16 of them in the matchday squad who were a part of Ireland's Grand Slam it was even better. A stunning achievement in a stunning season.
Leinster made history last night when they blitzed Scarlets by 40-32 to add the Guinness Pro14 title to their Champions Cup success of a fortnight ago. It was the last game for their captain Isa Nacewa, who hobbled off inside the first quarter having started the game with a calf injury that has limited his input in the last month.
It might have felt like the end of the season at the Aviva yesterday, but not quite. For Leinster to complete a unique double of Champions Cup and PRO14 titles was the near word-perfect statement about where they are in the rugby world. And for Munster to have joined them in the last four of both competitions spreads the net of competence a bit wider.
With just two new caps in Joe Schmidt’s squad to tour Australia next month, it illustrates how hard it will be for outsiders to break in ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
'They'll be coming down off the back of a Grand Slam - strong favourites to do well down there. Poor old us. We'll just have to put up against the big green giant when it comes down!"
As Allen Clarke was driving out the gate of Ravenhill last year - a casualty in the reshuffle that saw himself and Neil Doak replaced by Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel - the Future Fairy flagged him down with a message. "Never mind Clarkey, you'll be back here before you know it!"
No matter who won yesterday's cracking Guinness Pro14 semi-final, they would have had a tailor-made story for next Saturday against Scarlets at the Aviva. A year ago, on a lovely, sunny evening at the RDS, the Welsh side ran Leinster off the park. And then did the same a week later to Munster.
What a great finish to a very good game. Had Munster managed to complete what was an unlikely comeback - Joey Carbery's penalty left them 16-8 down with four minutes to go - it would have been thoroughly deserved for they brought a huge amount to this contest.
You would be surprised at the gap that will extend between Leinster's Champions Cup triumph and the RDS meeting with Munster on Saturday in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final.
Leinster captain Isa Nacewa signed off his European career with the province in Bilbao last night by applying the six points his team needed to turn a losing final into a winning one. The 15-12 success over Racing 92, in front of a crowd of 52,282, puts Leinster on a par with Toulouse as the only sides to win four Heineken/Champions Cup titles.
In this, the 23rd staging of the Heineken/Champions Cup final, the organisers hit on one of those magnificent venues: located bang in Bilbao's city centre, and a lovely city at that. They wouldn't know a rugby ball from a pineapple in this part of the world, and it's unlikely if any of the locals tuned in to proceedings in the San Mamés Stadium yesterday that they'll be abandoning the round ball game.