Tuesday 24 April 2018

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.

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...

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?