Monday 18 February 2019

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Ireland boast such a depth of quality that even on occasions when Johnny Sexton may be absent, Joe Schmidt can call upon a host of talented performers to fill the void. Photo: Ramsey Cardy

Joe Schmidt's top priority after the 2015 World Cup was building depth at 10, how has he fared? 

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...

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.

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.

Leinster’s James Lowe touches down for his side’s third try despite the tackle of Jean Kleyn of Munster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Electrifying Lowe brace earns Leinster derby bragging rights 

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.

Jerry Flannery. Photo: Sportsfile

'I wanted to prove that I wasn't just a good player' - Hard graft is part of the Jerry Flannery way 

"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...

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.