Thursday 15 November 2018

Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath and John Cooney

Comment: The battle between John Cooney, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion is the most intriguing in Joe Schmidt's 42-man squad 

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. Photo: Sportsfile

Stuart Lancaster on losing his dad last month and the joy winning the Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14 brought his family 

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.

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Sam Arnold of Munster goes over to score his side’s fourth try against Gloucester at Thomond Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Injury blows as Munster make most of extra man 

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.

Johnny Sexton: ‘You picture yourself having loads of time to get ready for it (the World Cup) but we probably don’t have that much time’. Photo: Sportsfile

Comment: Expect turbulence on Ireland's flight to Japan 

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.

James Ryan is tackled by Australia’s Sekope Kepu in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tourists must find spark or they'll be dead in water 

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.

Andrew Conway. Photo: Dan SheridanINPHO

Slow-burning talent Andrew Conway primed to explode in Australia 

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.

Leinster lock James Ryan wins a lineout during their 15-12 victory against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

Comment: Stadium issue must still be addressed but Leinster are primed for a long spell at the top of European game 

In late January 2005 Leicester Tigers went to Calvisano looking for a bucket-load of tries in their bid to make the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. Although they had missed out on the knockouts the previous season, Tigers were very much one of the competition's elite clubs. Sure enough, they unloaded on the Italians, but it was only on the flight out of Milan that they got the news of...

Simon Zebo during squad training in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile

'Half-watching it, half-celebrating it' - Simon Zebo enjoyed low-key birthday while Grand Slam celebrations raged 

As a measure of how capricious and cruel sport can be, consider the case of Simon Zebo. Over the last few seasons he has been a nailed-on member of the Ireland match-day squad. Given that Joe Schmidt was not the honorary secretary of the Simon Zebo fan club, this reflected well both on his ability as a rugby player and his willingness to conform to what the coach demanded. It's a bit...

24 March 2018; Ian Keatley of Munster is tackled by Tadhg Beirne and Aaron Shingler of Scarlets during the Guinness PRO14 Round 18 match between Munster and Scarlets at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Keatley steers kids to victory 

For openers, Munster coach Johann van Graan didn't have to dwell too long on the selection of his side to play Scarlets in Thomond Park last night. With an entire backline missing - Andrew Conway, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Jaco Taute, Chris Farrell, Tyler Bleyendaal and Duncan Williams - his options were limited. In their absence Ian Keatley, less than a week away from his 31st birthday and with seven Tests to his credit, was the grand old man surrounded by kids. There are doubts now over Rory Scannell and Tommy O'Donnell after this contest.

There were times against Wales when Keith
Earls (above) looked like he was in danger of
dislocating a shoulder, so wildly was he flapping
his arms trying to get attention Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning: Ireland to confirm home dominance 

We asked a Scottish colleague last week about the mood over there in the wake of the Murrayfield Massacre of England. Notwithstanding the ripple of embarrassment spreading through the rugby ranks of that country after the abuse of Eddie Jones by a few well 'pished' Scots at a Manchester train station - Jones was heading to Old Trafford where a warmer welcome awaited - our pal likened it to a time from another era when the Scots lost the run of themselves completely.