Sunday 19 August 2018

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.

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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.

Simon Zebo and Johnny Sexton embrace after Ireland beat England in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium in March. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning: Irish camper van eclipsing an English juggernaut 

The day after St Patrick's Day this year Ireland beat England in a slog of a game at the Aviva Stadium. It didn't secure a Six Nations Championship, but in the circumstances not too many were giving out. Beating England is enough for lots of Irish fans, regardless of the code, and in that achievement they forget that it is just that: an achievement. To follow it up nine months later with a wipeout of English clubs in the back-to-back rounds of the Champions Cup lifts it onto a higher plane.

Stuart Lancaster: ‘Exeter have a very consistent playing philosophy and that’s one of their strengths’. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Fanning: Exeter know the right buttons to press 

Over the last four or five years, we've very much just tried to keep building on the progress we have made. We've played now in the knock-out stages and to play in a Premiership final and lose it and then go back and win one. That has shown how much the club has grown and we now feel we're in a good position. We're even fighting on all three fronts and we've got a squad of guys together now who have a good understanding of what makes us tick as a group.

Greg Feek, below, is keen to point out that in every province now there is a network of scrum coaches steaming ahead.

Scrum culture gains from extra push 

In the run-up to the Ireland versus Argentina Test, scrum coach Greg Feek was chatting to James Ryan about the nuts and bolts of the young fella's trade. With second-rows we tend to pick up easily on the more glamorous side of their business, if you can associate such a job with a bit of glitz. So lineouts and carries are the unavoidables when figuring if he was good, bad or indifferent in a match. Tackles too are a bottom-line issue, and if they are offensive and in full view then all the better. But scrummaging?