Munster praying new boy Beirne stays fit and well for next phase
When Munster announced they had nailed down Tadhg Beirne for next season, it looked like the best piece of business any club would manage in this part of the world this season.
When Munster announced they had nailed down Tadhg Beirne for next season, it looked like the best piece of business any club would manage in this part of the world this season.
The last time Leinster were in the final of Europe's premier competition it was known as the Heineken Cup, and their demolition of Ulster in that game in 2012 was the high point of their development as a professional outfit. Their third title in four years, they set the bar.
A French colleague issued a health warning the other day: "It will be 28 degrees in Bordeaux, so be careful with your Celtic skin! And Racing have their biggest team out for their biggest game.
Rugby is such a brutal sport that the most frequent news item is injury. All sorts, and with varying impacts from tweaks and strains to game-changers and career-enders. So when you come across someone who has put up with unreal stress and anxiety to get back on the field there tends to...
It's hard to beat sunny Saturdays in April and a European semi-final at Lansdowne Road. Some 48,000 - a good lump of them in red - turned up to see the latest instalment in one of the more intriguing rivalries in this corner of the world.
Before James Lowe enters the room a colleague is recalling a recent media gig where the Leinster wing was on duty along with a couple of team-mates.
Club rugby doesn't get the love it once received from the fourth estate, so it's unlikely the goings-on in Donnybrook yesterday made it on to too many sports pages this morning. Whatever space was on offer was devoted to the action at the top of Division 1A, not the tail end of Division 2C, the fifth tier of the All Ireland League.
At the media bunfight to launch this competition at the start of the season there was, as usual, a short queue to interview either of the two Italian entrants.
In November 1998 an independent drugs tribunal found that Ireland under 21 scrum-half Tom Tierney had no case to answer for a positive test he had incurred nine months earlier.
The IRFU have confirmed Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been sacked following an internal review.
THE IRFU are expected this weekend to announce the departure of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The IRFU are expected tomorrow to announce their decision on the contracts of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The preamble to Ulster's spin over to Edinburgh on Friday night was dominated by the appalling vista that would be their fourth defeat on the trot.
Saracens won't be matching Toulon's three in a row just yet. They came to the Aviva knowing it would require something special to get past the form team in this competition, but despite heaps of possession came up well short.
Early one February night, when the case against the Belfast Four was in the foothills of its climb, we happened across a group of adult sportsmen who were discussing the initial evidence as reported in the media.
It's good news on the league front for Munster, with a win that has them second and six points clear of the Cheetahs, but with Toulon coming to Limerick on Saturday their injury list has lengthened even further.
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.
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...
When Joe Schmidt reflected on his first Six Nations Championship title, in his second season in the Ireland job, he started the process of pencilling in those he expected to be heading to the World Cup the following year.
A reported crowd of 14,215 at Thomond Park got to witness a bizarre PRO14 match where the TMO hardly got a moment's peace. Four times he had Munster touchdowns referred to him. Two got the thumbs up and the home team prevailed in a game where they needed their forwards to ride to the rescue.
It will be pushing things for the IRFU to have their next Strategic Plan printed and bound in time for the AGM in June.
Shortly before the final whistle in Twickenham yesterday you could have been forgiven for thinking that the falling snow was in fact a shower of ticker tape, a salute to the new Grand Slam champions. The scoreline was likely to be amended - and indeed it was - but the game was done.
The Ireland team homecoming planned for Sunday afternoon has been cancelled due to heavy snowfall.
Brendan Fanning picks his Six Nations tournament 15.
In a campaign where injury dominated the preamble, and almost inevitably raised its head in some shape or form in each round thereafter, Joe Schmidt still has been able to select the spine of his side almost untouched since picking the group to play France.
If you were not tuned in to the events at Donnybrook last Wednesday then you missed a genuine classic. No rugby competition on planet earth takes itself more seriously than the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, but what Belvedere and St Michael's served up genuinely was astonishing.
The trip to Twickenham is still what Irish fans had hoped it would be: a chase for the Grand Slam. Even if it doesn't represent the same for England, who have been resigned to that for a couple of weeks now, and came up short of the target last night in Paris. But it's still a glorious proposition for an Ireland side who now have a record 11 straight wins, and equalled the record 12 games unbeaten established from 2008-2010.
Ireland will travel to Twickenham this week with a Championship in the bag and a Grand Slam in their sights after a bonus-point win over Scotland was embellished by England falling short in Paris.
When Ireland were winning their 2009 Grand Slam in Cardiff, coach Declan Kidney was, as you would expect, very good at being inclusive.
Jack Conan clearly likes his day job. And doing it against the Guinness PRO 14 champions is better than going to work against the minnows.
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.
An anniversary rolls around today for Andrew Porter of which he is blissfully unaware. It was on March 4 last year, in Belfield, that he started his first AIL game at tighthead. Nine weeks later he was named in that position for Ireland's summer tour of US and Japan.
When Michael Cheika signed up Jono Gibbes as his forwards coach at Leinster he took a circuitous route to the task. Gibbes, not quite finished as a player, thought Cheika wanted him as a veteran on the field rather than a new man in the coach's box. It was well into the exchange when the smoke cleared and Gibbes was suddenly embarking on a new chapter in his career.
Ireland's Grand Slam train is still running despite a close-run thing with Wales at Lansdowne Road yesterday. Joe Schmidt's side blew their opponents off the park in the battle for territory and possession, but it took a second try from Jacob Stockdale - his eighth in seven Tests - to make the game safe, and seal a 37-27 win.
If your fear beforehand was that this Test match was going to be off the charts on the brutality ratings then you would have been wide of the mark. Not by much though, and had Wales taken the same approach as Ireland then we would have been scraping bodies off the floor by the end of it.
Long ago, before phones went mobile and media developed a social engine, we went on a club tour of California. Out of a squad of 26, six of us were still in our teens. Nothing before or since has come remotely close to the jaw-dropping crack of those three weeks working our way up and down America's west coast.
The juxtaposition is not great: Warren Gatland cheerfully announces the return to his side of three healed Lions; Joe Schmidt confirms the departure of two wounded ones.
An insight into the mindset of an international rugby player. Or at least one of veteran status but at the top of his game. In the dying minutes of the Ireland versus Italy game last weekend, Mattia Bellini latched on to a pass from Joey Carbery, and took off down the wing. It looked like a home run.
For a good number of the 14,916 at a cold but sunny RDS yesterday afternoon the reference point was a warmer evening last May when Scarlets left Leinster standing in the semi-final of what was then the Guinness PRO12.
At the official dinner on the night of the Ireland versus Wales Six Nations game in 2008, the rigmarole of speeches and presentations were as nothing compared to the most interesting set-piece of the night: the meeting in public of Eddie O'Sullivan and Warren Gatland.
With 23.53 on the clock in Cardiff last Saturday, Scotland looked like they had caught a break at last. Already they were having issues at the breakdown, but here was a hard-won penalty for a good poach - a chance to bang the ball safely into the Welsh half and attack off the lineout.
'They weren't the hardest of hits," Aaron Carpenter said of the hat-trick of concussions that made up his mind to stop playing rugby.
In Ireland's Six Nations history very rarely has there been a bad time to play Italy. Their experiences in Rome in 2011 and 2013 went from uncomfortable to bizarre, but aside from them this fixture has been largely about banking points.
Training must have been a real pleasure to be a part of in the Ireland camp this week. It’s hard to put a price on the wellbeing generated by surviving such a close call at the first fence – and to have done it with a level of accuracy and resolve that will have warned the four remaining opponents in this campaign.
What was billed as a new era for French rugby was ransacked by a man who endured some hardship on these shores as Johnny Sexton revelled in his redemption to snatch a win for the ages from the jaws of defeat. The tricky conditions were exactly what the home team were after: a skill leveller, but we got a moment of brilliance to finish it in memorable style.
If Ireland go on to win the Grand Slam, or Championship, or both, the telling of the story will rev up around the last few minutes of their opening game in Paris.
Les Kiss was due to clear out of town late last week to get a wee break from a place where, if you were centrally involved in rugby, you wouldn't much want to be right now. He will return for the suitcases later.
Not exactly the old days when the Championship would roll around and the Big Five – yes, there were five selectors picking the side – might announce a raft of new caps for international action.
Ulster have announced the departure of Les Kiss as Director of Rugby, with head coach Jono Gibbes taking the reins until the end of the season.
Bundee Aki has a suit hanging in his wardrobe at home. Perhaps, between Ireland and Connacht issue, he has a few to pick from, but this one should stand out. It would have been bought rather than handed to him; off the peg rather than tailored; and all of this done circa 2010 when he was 18. He needed it for work in the real world.
In late March last year, just a week after the Six Nations Championship concluded, the chief executive of the (English) RFU came out with a line that could have been scripted some three years earlier.
When Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen review Leinster's record-breaking pool journey - the 27 points haul took them past their previous best of 26, in season 2004/05 - the list of things to improve on will be short enough.
Within half an hour of the final whistle in the Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo last June, John Cooney was out quick-time to face the travelling media. Suited and booted in gear obviously chosen by someone well removed from the IRFU committee, he exuded a heady mix of relief and optimism.
Leinster reached a best-ever tally of 27 points in the pool phase thanks to an impressive and hard-earned win in Montpellier yesterday. Already assured of a home draw in the quarter-final, they got the added value of a win in France given that they don't know how much travelling they will have to do before their campaign is done.
The danger in travelling in comfort is that you can end up drifting off, and getting mugged. Leinster already had both feet in a home quarter-final of the Champions Cup before they flew out of Dublin on Friday, but could have done without having their reputation being tarnished on the road. No worries on that score then.
In recent enough times when Munster were struggling to get up to speed for European competition, there was a certain choreography to be enacted with the media. This revolved around how their poor form in the lead-up to the tournament would actually be the perfectly timed poke in the arse they needed to magic up the right moves on the big day.
This was a game of two halves. The first, in Kingspan Stadium, saw Ulster complete their home programme in Pool 1 with another win, which ticks more than one box in that part of the world.
In the minutes before Munster played Ospreys in Irish Independent Park in early December, a clutch of their extras were making their way along the walkway in front of the new stand, mingling with supporters as they went. One of them could best be described as a lighthouse. He had the vertical dimensions of an NBA star, but with the horizontal scale to match.
Despite their near constant involvement in any given game, scrumhalves don't actually come across their opposite numbers as often as they'd like.
Ulster's roller coaster season continues – and with their final pool game to come, away against Wasps on Sunday, they top Pool 1 of the Champions Cup.
Another spin for Ulster down to the RDS, another journey home that must have felt like twice the distance. They hadn't travelled in expectation against a Leinster side on the cusp of an interpro clean sweep, rather in the hope of keeping things respectable. They hope to announce an overseas replacement for Christian Leali'ifano in the next few days. Depending on his quality that might bring them some cheer.
Funny the way things can turn around so fast.
St Anne's Park is the gift that keeps on giving. Straddling the border between Clontarf and Raheny, its collection of follies and woodland walks make it a special place at any time of year.
If Christmas came early in Connacht, then you suspect it was cancelled in Ulster.
For most of us the enjoyment of Christmas Day is not governed by what happens on a rugby field a couple of nights earlier. If you happened to be one of those on that pitch however - in this case the Sportsground, in front of a packed house - then tomorrow morning you'll either be looking forward eagerly to the rest of the day, or else hoping to fast forward to the new year to put stuff right.
It's a good time to be in the temporary seating business. Between the Sportsground last night and Thomond Park on St Stephen's Day it's been all about accommodating the hordes who want to go and watch live rugby at this time of year. So where the normal capacity in Limerick is 25,600, for Tuesday they will be able to shoehorn a total of 26,267 into position. And with luck they will get value for money.
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.
Ulster are unbeaten in their last five games. They scored six tries in beating Harlequins before a full house on yet another wet Friday night in Belfast. They are currently in a decent position to challenge for a quarter-final spot in the Champions Cup.
If by some chance Leinster should go on and win this trophy, they are unlikely to endure a tougher 80 minutes than this. It was an enthralling game, full value for the 40,064 who turned up at the Aviva on a cold day to see what the follow-up to last week would bring.
Leinster stayed firmly in control of Pool 3 in the Champions Cup with an epic victory over Premiership champions Exeter at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
The drill in Thomond last Saturday was well removed from the old and welcome routine of an afternoon kick-off. Instead of having little time to kill before going to work there were long hours to get out of the way before a 7.45pm start.
On nights like this in Limerick you expect the heat from the crowd to take your mind off the numbing cold. The breeze from the Mayorstone end took the dial down to below zero; the quality of the game brought it up a notch as far as the 23,503 were concerned. Their team were outstanding in lots of areas, so a stress-free night and another step towards qualification.
What stretches out between Ulster and the end of January is the rugby equivalent of a series of hairpin turns in icy weather. And the treads on your tyres are not in great shape.
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.
Injury has stalked the Munster camp relentlessly this season, and it struck again at Irish Independent Park with the loss of loose head Liam O'Connor ahead of next Saturday's Champions Cup tie with Leicester Tigers.
Munster are understood to be in talks with Lions defence coach JP Ferreira to join Johann van Graan’s team in Limerick.
At this time of year a perfectly dry, calm night is more than a bonus. Combine that with an immaculate surface - well, it did churn up a bit - and you have the ideal stage. Providing both teams want to play then you're in business.
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?
At this time of year a perfectly dry, calm night is a bonus. Combine that with an immaculate surface - it did churn up a bit - and you have the ideal stage. With a full house of 8,000 at Irish Independent Park, providing both teams want to play then you’re in business.
Well before the half-hour mark at a freezing Aviva Stadium yesterday the Pumas packed down to a scrum around their own 10-metre line. Having already started to experience discomfort at that phase, they had to expend more energy than they would have liked just to win the ball. Job done, they shifted it wide. Mistake lads.
Ireland completed their Guinness series with a clean sweep at a full Aviva Stadium yesterday thanks to an excellent opening half-hour that left Argentina, at the end of their season, with too much to do.
November time in the Joe Schmidt era has been a fairly positive experience. It started with a 40-9 win over Samoa in 2013, and yesterday's success against Argentina in the Aviva brought us to 10 wins from 13 games, including the solitary away fixture, against the All Blacks in Chicago last year.
Given this is Johann van Graan's first spin behind the wheel of the Munster bus, there is more than standard interest in a fixture with Zebre.
At the start of this Guinness Series you wouldn't have envisaged such an inexperienced Ireland three quarter line starting against the Pumas, but between centre and wing on Saturday there will be all of five caps between four players.
It's a sign of the momentum behind this Ireland side that the stadium should virtually sell out for the visit of a Tier 2 nation in November. Equally it's illustrative of the mindset of some of those who part with their hard-earned coin - or maybe it's not hard come-by - that the Mexican Wave should be as high on their agenda as having a look at what's in front of them on the pitch.
Ireland were put to the pin of their collar to make it two games from two in this Guinness series at a virtually full Aviva Stadium yesterday. Having been 17-3 ahead after 34 minutes it was 17-17 early in the second half and it required a cool head from replacement Ian Keatley to kick the winning points with seven minutes left.
In the lead-up to the third Test between New Zealand and the Lions in Auckland in July 2005, the NZ union asked the travelling media to check out their bid for the 2011 World Cup. It helped that the venue was across the road from our hotel. So over we went, and men in black told us all about how a World Cup for New Zealand would be 'a stadium of four million'.
Not much point in throwing the same players out on the field three weeks running if the opposition are at the end of their season, and low on fuel.
The absence of Simon Zebo from the Ireland side yesterday will rekindle for many the apparent unfairness of the unwritten rule restricting Test rugby only to those who play here - or in Zebo's case, have declared they will play elsewhere soon enough.
If you were in South Africa two summers ago you would have got a close-up on how the relationship has changed between the Springboks and Ireland. While the trip to Dublin, since Eddie O'Sullivan's days at the helm, had become one the tourists weren't keen on, throwing the party at home was still a low-risk affair. Then Ireland, a numerically challenged Ireland, did the unthinkable in Cape Town, and it was a whole new ball game.
Ireland gave South Africa a woeful start to their four-Test European tour with a record beating at a full Lansdowne Road yesterday. In a game that pushed Ireland further ahead of the Boks, they followed up the win in Cape Town two summers ago with a 38-3 scoreline to eclipse the previous best - 32-15 in 2006.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is going out of his way to talk up his side ahead of tomorrow's Test with Ireland. The weather? They love it. He hasn't seen so much sunshine in this country since he doesn't know when.
The reuniting of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in a different shade of green – actually it will be white on the day – will dominate the talkback from Joe Schmidt’s selection to face the Springboks on Saturday.
Last Monday, 24 hours before World Rugby (WR) made its recommendation on who should host RWC 2023, we were drawn to a piece by South African colleague Clinton van der Berg, who has contributed to these pages over the years.
Ireland's World Cup bid chairman Dick Spring has written to rugby unions around the world expressing shock at what he claims is the "narrow, operational and theoretical approach adopted in the final report" of World Rugby on bids for RWC 2023.
Andy Farrell sees himself as a lucky bugger. He is still only 42 and hopes to be coaching at the top end of the game until 60 at least. If that comes true then he will be reflecting on a professional career as player and coach spanning the guts of 45 years. And who knows how many shelves will have been added to the trophy cabinet by then.
The good news for Ulster is that a sell-out crowd of 17,631 at Kingspan Stadium meant that, for the treasurer, the sums added up nicely. For the players and the coaching staff however, there were, and are, big gaps in the equation.
In the space of a few days last week Rhys Webb and Simon Zebo were commanding lots of column inches and air time over their respective travel plans.
A year on from the sudden death of Anthony Foley, health screening of coaches in the IRFU system is not mandatory, despite the stressful nature of the job.
Storm Brian may not have had the meteorologists on the edge of their seats this weekend but it was enough to define the nature of this Pool 4 contest in front of 22,054 hardy souls in Thomond Park. It was a horrible night, with a combination of wind and rain that made progress of any sort very difficult. At its end Munster had picked up their first win of the campaign, and Racing had got a...
Jono Gibbes likes to portray himself as the rugby equivalent of Lucky Luke, the cult cowboy who wasn't exactly silver-tongued but could draw his gun before his own shadow got up to speed. In Gibbes' case, instead of a six-shooter he has the enviable knack of being in exactly the right place at the right time.
Rory Best’s involvement in Ulster’s Champions Cup tie in La Rochelle on Sunday is likely to extend no further than waterboy, according to head coach Jono Gibbes.
The night before Munster played in their first Heineken Cup final, they had a team meeting that went so deep into the soul it left them emotionally drained for battle the next day. Their opponents, Northampton Saints, arrived to Twickenham held together with band-aids and strapping, such was the physical toll exacted by their run-in to the final. Nevertheless, they had more than their opponents.
Leinster got their European campaign off to a successful start before almost 16,000 people at the RDS, and now hope to have Johnny Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Scott Fardy in the side for the trip to Glasgow.
An old prop forward we know and love was explaining recently the reasons why two technically competent tightheads could, in the same afternoon, have wildly differing fortunes against the same opponent. Typically the first bloke gets called ashore, and then his replacement brings stability where previously there was chaos. And everyone immediately jumps to career-defining conclusions...
This qualifies comfortably as a strange game. For much of it, the challenge of playing at lunchtime seemed to weigh down a fair number of those on the field, especially in the Montpellier ranks.
CJ Stander is happy that Munster’s soaring penalty count is not going to become a regular feature of their game. Going to Castres in the Champions Cup this weekend he reckons they won’t get on the wrong side of the referee.
In the post-match interview after Leinster’s win over Edinburgh last weekend, Fergus McFadden was reflecting on his side’s trip to South Africa to play the Kings and the Cheetahs.
The moments after the final whistle are perhaps not the best time to ask a man who exudes intensity if his team - who had just been well beaten - lacked some, eh, intensity. So when former Leinster captain Reggie Corrigan, on duty yesterday for TG4, went down this route with Munster's Peter O'Mahony, he ran into a road block straight away.
At this time of year it's standard practice for coaches across the board to talk about the step up their players have to make in order to cope with Europe.
With 20 minutes to go at a very well-attended Aviva Stadium yesterday, JJ Hanrahan dinked a penalty into touch with a view to his forwards finishing the job. The gap stood at 11 points, and if Munster were going to close it then this platform was tailor-made. How many mauled tries had they scored last season? A lot. So they got to work.
Munster fans got some good news ahead of Saturday’s clash with Leinster in the form of local knowledge on prospective coach Johann van Graan.
Munster fans will be denied the chance to see Donnacha Ryan line out for his new club when Ronan O’Gara brings Racing 92 to Limerick in round two of the Champions Cup on 21 October.