Neil Francis: Without Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton, Ireland would have none of this success
In January 49BC, Julius Caesar received instructions from the senate to leave Gaul and return home to Rome. He received explicit instructions not to...
In January 49BC, Julius Caesar received instructions from the senate to leave Gaul and return home to Rome. He received explicit instructions not to...
What sport will the nation be watching next week? South Korea v Mexico perhaps, Belgium v Tunisia possibly, or maybe the highly competitive match...
During this year's Six Nations, I popped in to pick up my accreditation in the ever-friendly and efficient IRFU offices in Lansdowne.
So the better team won yesterday, certainly the smarter side. Australia had a game plan that upset Ireland, and when the men in green are held try-less you have to consider just why they were...
There is a line from the sitcom 'Friends' out there about the most unpopular transfer news on this island. It goes, "don't worry, we are going to...
The men's toilet is not normally a place where I introduce myself to strangers but it was the crest on this fella's jersey that initially garnered my interest. Independiente RC Santander - one of many rugby clubs operating in the Spanish Basque region.
A truly dreadful game of rugby and a match where the many neutrals, and particularly the Spanish, will be scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about. This game wasn't even one for the purists but who cares?
Racing 92 played their last home game of the regular Top 14 season 450 miles from Paris in Vannes, Brittany. At that time they needed a win to ensure they got a bye and a home draw in the Top 14 semi-finals.
The word 'sinecure' comes from the Latin sine, which means without, and cura, which means care. A sinecure is an office or position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit. Leinster House is full of them and Leinster rugby picked a few sinecurists to play against Connacht last Saturday in the Sportsground.
We can say for certain now that pressure is not just for tyres and bra straps.
On the final day of Champions Cup pool matches this year, everyone connected to their team would have been doing a little bit of mental and logistical arithmetic. Who would your team get? Where...
There have been some giddy finishes in the last couple of months — and the dénouement last Saturday in Thomond Park was certainly up there — but the crème de la menthe was the Keystone...
A vintage weekend of European rugby - we could decant all four quality matches they were that good. Yet we have barely the time to mask our...
The announcement of a verdict on Wednesday last in the Belfast rape trial, delivered after a period of time which surprised many, left both sides...
Well, here we are and strange though that it may seem the Ireland versus England reprise in the Aviva this Sunday just seems to have a little bit more bite than the main event at Twickenham.
On May 12 Leinster became European Champions for the fourth time. The match against Racing in Bilbao will be remembered as a titanic struggle with a low entertainment quotient.
A lot of rugby to absorb last weekend. The game at the Aviva, however, was the one to watch and admire. Two skilful teams playing the game beautifully. If there were three PRO14 teams in the Champions Cup semi-finals, am I wrong in saying that the PRO14 is where it's at?
I was only a small boy when the 1970 World Cup final was played in Mexico City. The match was well over and Brazil, probably the greatest football side of all time, were toying with their hapless Italian opponents. The Brazilians, not really wanting to humiliate the Italians, managed to sustain the pitch of their performance right to the end. The BBC's Kenneth Wolstenholme coined it beautifully when...
If I were fierce and bald and short of breath,
The stench of wasted opportunity was the overriding aroma in the aftermath of this match. What-ifs rolling off the tongue. Leinster, infinitely smarter, got the job done. Their challenge was a far more difficult task to deal with because the battle was not with Munster but with themselves.
We begin this week with some Winston Churchill: "I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."
What is it about home advantage? How is it that teams playing at home are far sharper, more cohesive, so much more composed and generally engage in the team dynamic far more naturally than they do when they play away from home?
Were we guilty of putting extravagant labels on this Llanelli side? Certainly this columnist was. They are still a very decent side and will have a big say in where the PRO14 championship goes, but at this level they were ruthlessly exploited.
In a week where we saw the power of sponsors and the financial straitjacket they placed on sporting bodies by their patronage, maybe just a cursory nod at the way things are.
And so the inevitable has happened and Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been dispatched by the IRFU and by their province.
Is it too easy to pen an 'aren't we great' article the week after collecting a Grand Slam? Ill-considered or ill-conceived to speak plainly about what we have witnessed - not just last Saturday but say since 2006 about where the oval ball game sits in the nation's affections. Is it stretching it too far possibly to say that rugby, now, is the nation's game?
On the evening before the big match at Twickenham I was at Keith Wood's W2 Charity black-tie gala ball at the Hilton on Park Lane, the hotel that used to host the post-match dinner for the England versus Ireland Championship matches.
And the responsorial psalm is: "Joe is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." There were many things that could have gone wrong yesterday for Ireland but such is the confidence of the squad in their coach that victory was the only option open to them.
A good while ago I was part of an Ireland squad that flew to Atlanta, Georgia for some warm weather training in December/January. It was 10 days of horror training which was repugnant to my own particular constitution. We were treated like children and when we made mistakes we had to do a routine called 'Up & Downs.' These were basically goal line to dead ball line, slide down, get...
The new Scottish Rugby revolution and the Loch Ness Monster? There is a strong suspicion that neither exists. Yesterday's Test match? In the end what really mattered was what you did with what you had and this was demonstrated in a 20-point victory.
I couldn't sleep the other night - something just gnawing at me. Just something vaguely familiar about the way Ireland are playing their rugby. Get the pack going forward, one-out runners, get them around the corner and garner some momentum and a little room and then progress from there.
Before last Saturday’s game with the Welsh there seemed to be a flurry of articles on ‘The Punch’ as a backdrop to the simmering rivalry between the two countries on the rugby field.
The sense of missed opportunity always heightens any reprieve that you get in sport. Last year in Murrayfield, Scotland put 21 points on Ireland before the men in green could even get out of the blocks. It was a somnolent and scatty first half from Ireland but they came back to lead the game 22-21.
A truly sweet victory! To the loser a pitcher of warm piss - after such an invigorating game there can be no silver lining and the winner takes all.
Warren Gatland, more than any other coach in the world, has lived, dined and slept on the perceived slights of opinion thrown in his face.
Back in December, Racing 92 played Castres away in the third leg of their Champions Cup pool. It was an unremarkable game which Castres won 16-13 — an unremarkable game save for one moment.
How does that tiresome dirge go again? "Shoulder to shoulder, we'll answer Ireland's Call." He is a tough boy, Robbie Henshaw. You see it in his demeanour on the field. I don't think anyone actually enjoys tackling, but some people just garner an aptitude for it.
We all have nightmares - recurring nightmares; devils, demons, bogeymen and vampires - all stock stuff but not real.
I still have no clear recollection of leaving the Centre Hospitalier de Bretagne Sud other than the fact that I struggled with the sunshine in my eyes as soon as I left the hospital. I also asked for the music to be turned off in the car - it wasn't what Plastic Bertrand was singing, it was just that the noise aggravated my still-delicate disposition.
Take some of that you cheating French so-and-sos! If Ireland had come away from yesterday's encounter with a loss the nation would have been sick to the pit of its stomach with yet another injustice. Instead they came away with a victory in the most dramatic circumstances and once again Ireland's icon Johnny Sexton is central to it all.
The period from September 1, 1939 to May 10, 1940 was known as the Phoney War. From the time the Germans invaded Poland to the time they engaged their real enemy, the English and the French, well it was a time of inertia and anxiety.
A while ago I played a game of golf at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, a fabulous course and way too good for the likes of me. The fourball that day was Scott Hastings, Derek Stark, Gregor Townsend and me.
While Castres were waiting the three hours for Thomond Park to dry out last Sunday, many things would have been circulating through the minds and hearts of the collectif.
Cooperstown is where they go to be venerated. It is a quaint little village in Otsego County, New York, where the baseball Hall of Fame is located. The game of baseball decided there needed to be a place to pay homage to 'the best of us'. The majority of its inductees are a shining beacon of athletic righteousness and forthright character, underpinned by a proper code of values and...
Wake me up when the team actually runs out on to the park.
'Cinderella story: This unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack out of Augusta." Bill Murray's classic cameo in the movie Caddyshack as the deranged greenkeeper taking the heads off chrysanthemums with his rake at Bushwood Golf Club. Pretending he is playing in Augusta. "Out of nowhere, former greenkeeper about to become the Masters Champion Oh he got hold of that one, I don't believe it, it's in the hole".
I remember bringing my youngest son to the World Wrestling Federation in the States. At that time he was just seven years old but was able to work out that if you come to the ring second with the better introduction, louder rock music, better make-up and the more outlandish budgie smugglers, well then it seemed you would be the winner all of the time.
The 2018 edition of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup begins this month. For the participants it is a competition which means everything, because at that time in your life it is the only thing. My thoughts here are a reflection on a famous game in which I played. What it meant to me. What it meant to two 'lesser' players on my team and what it meant to the two schools who took part in...
Jordan Larmour's rather good try in Thomond Park on St Stephen's Day was a signal moment in the affairs of rugby in this country.
My record is just too good to ignore. In the recent past, every time I have attended a regular season NFL game that team has won the Super Bowl. The New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots (twice) could all at the very least send over a private jet and come up with a corporate box on the halfway line. I will waive my fee.
In dodo land everything happens slowly. The neuro-transmitters that they gave you, well they were made in Taiwan. Somebody tells a joke, you don't get it, but you laugh anyway. Somebody explains the game-plan to you, they ask you if you have got it and you nod like the big sloppy St Bernard that you are. Are you sure? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
In the 68th minute of a less-than-absorbing game in the Kingspan on Friday night, Elia Elia - so good they named him twice - was substituted by the little-known Charlie Piper.
If ever I go to a restaurant and I have no other choice and choose a Caesar Salad, it is rare that I will return to that restaurant. It is an uninspiring and stage stock choice of starter.
Takudzwa Ngwenya was certainly the first Travelling Wilbury who brought the rugby tourist concept home to me. He was famous for burning Brian Habana on the outside when the American Eagles played the Springboks in the 2007 World Cup, France's first World Cup (ahem).
Bloody Scots! We got no votes in our recent World Cup bid, and there was no shame either, and now after Glasgow's bonus-point loss to Montpellier we get no favours either.
Van Graan? Sounds like a German battleship sunk in the mid-Atlantic during the Second World War with all hands on deck.
I recently saw Danny Boyle's Olympic montage for the London 2012 opening ceremony again. In it there was a clip of Noel Mannion scoring his famous try in Cardiff in 1989.
This loosehead thing has exercised my mind a fair bit for the last couple of weeks. Last Friday our world-class loosehead Jack McGrath had the weekend off - no Dragons, no Pumas. Not that long ago, he played in all three Tests for the Lions against New Zealand and played well enough to suggest that he should start in all of the November Tests.
Those pesky Argies are like an old girlfriend who you have bad memories with and they just keep turning back up. Yesterday was one of the fonder moments, but damn it they just don't go away quietly.
Three of my all-time sporting heroes are called Joe. Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Joe DiMaggio. I shook hands with Broadway Joe Namath in a restaurant in New York years ago. You might think that someone you know has charisma until you meet someone who really has got charisma.
The issue playing in matches like these is that it's like getting a window seat on the Hindenburg. It could be a 60 or 70-pointer or it could be the end of your career.
Treachery and betrayal! Deceit and devious behaviour? Vested interest and greed. All in a day's work behind locked doors. In London yesterday the vote to host the Rugby World Cup 2023 went the way of all previous World Rugby Council votes - all the way back to 1987.
The panto season approaches and I have been inundated with work offers. So many roles, so much malfeasance to throw about. I can play anyone - Gaston, Jafar, Captain Hook, Cruella…
A strangely soul-less game in the Aviva yesterday. South Africa, a proud rugby nation, have a rich heritage in the game, but were clueless to the point of being lamentable. The limited nature of their game will rubber-stamp their descent into becoming a minor rugby nation. At no stage did they look like they would threaten Ireland's line, and their resolve and conviction was broken well before...
Finicky bunch that lot on Twitter, a few of them branding me racist for taking a hard line on something I feel strongly about. The fervent wish that anyone who represents Ireland at any sport at international level be Irish. A simple constitution - born here, raised here, or a passport holder or son, daughter or grandchild of Irish parents or grandparents. An authentic connection to the island irrespective of creed, code or colour. Is that too much to ask for?
This article is not about Eamon Dunphy, but he does appear in it a few times. As contrarians, do we agree with each other on what we say or think or should we automatically disagree by nature? When Eamon dies they could put a revolving headstone on his grave - philosopher on one side, bullshitter on the other.
If you ever get the chance you could do worse than listen to Buffy Sainte Marie's immaculate 'The Big Ones Get Away.' A truly beautiful song, wonderfully crafted with powerful lyrics about money, greed and corruption.
Three former Irish rugby internationals - a 60, 70 and 80-year-old - meet up for a chat one day. On balance things are good but life isn't as easy as it used to be.
At some stage today Joe Schmidt will release the Ireland training squad for the Guinness International series this coming November.
"But he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose." - Anne Bronte
Not exactly a "one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cat go" start to the competition. Quality in the Champions Cup is as scarce as sponsors. The Irish teams all did better than could be expected but the gloss really has come off this competition.
To win the European Champions Cup you need a number of ingredients. You have got to have a scrum, you’ve got to get your goal kicks, you must be able to defend and you need good half-backs.
It is a sad state of affairs that the greatest moment of friction in the Leinster versus Munster game took place 20 minutes after the game was over in the safety and comfort of the West Stand as Peter O'Mahony took umbrage at Reggie Corrigan's line of questioning.
A low-quality game between two sides in a rivalry which has become just a little tiresome. Is there a premium to be paid for endeavour alone? Attitude is one thing; aptitude is what we expect in a match where there are so many quality players.
This one is supposed to be for the carnivores - Leinster versus Munster - you know blood, meat cleavers, a little bit of barely-disguised hatred. The build-up to these games over the last few years has been so lacking in colour that the match usually follows suit. Just different shades of mundane.
I watched two documentaries recently which brought into stark focus how the world has changed. RTÉ's series of programmes, Reeling in the Years, is excellent and '1970' was particularly so. The other was the compelling film, Mugabe and The White African by Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey, which received a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary. It's a chilling and depressing film about life as a white farmer in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.
Time, I always thought, was a great facilitator. I thought now we might try and get some perspective on the Lions tour. The circus folded tents over two-and-a-half months ago and we are all struggling for cause and effect after a drawn series.
I'm not sure who was responsible for building those old dressing rooms in Stradbrook, perhaps a long lost cousin once removed from the Marquis de Sade. The long corridor with the dressing rooms at the perpendicular was right at the apex of the prevailing north wind. During the winter the 20-metre dash from the shower room to the first dressing room cut to the bone.
Sad to relate that I have to choose a Eurovision Song Contest analogy to get my point across on such a subject as the expansion of a rugby franchise, but here goes . . .
If you are looking for direction or wondering how you should feel this morning after the series was drawn yesterday - rejoice! The All Blacks expected to win the series 3-0 - be happy! The All Blacks should have won yesterday but regressed due to a feral combination of courage and resilience from their opponents - celebrate! The All Blacks have not lost a Test match in Eden Park since 1994, so a draw there is just cause to be happy.
I went to see one of my favourite Englishmen Ricky Gervais performing at the 3Arena recently. There is nothing more edifying than listening to him nail the politically correct to the wall.
The great attraction and compelling nature of international sport is its continual propensity to astound and amaze. In our adventures against the southern hemisphere we expect nothing - but live frugally on surprise. One arrived yesterday, an unlikely victory but one that will cleanse the soul of predictable torpor where it was unquestionably going. Neither the Lions nor the All Blacks have...
One of the most galling things about last Saturday's Test match was that the All Blacks decided to play 'Warrenball'. They didn't do it to mock us; they did it because they weren't sure how good the Lions were.
A painful, predictable and sobering defeat. A scoreline that does not even come close to reflecting the gulf in class. The Lions produced a fitful effort; myopic commentators and apologists will point to the opportunities they squandered in the middle of the game without ever looking at how many the All Blacks passed up.
Funny how you react to adversity: it is character-defining in the great moments of crisis. We might need to look back in history to get an idea of what is going to happen on Saturday - this Saturday only mind!
This is a time for sober reflection. We know that the New Zealand All Blacks have not lost a Test match in Eden Park since 1994. There is a reason for that. We don't know what the sell-by date is on invincibility but, whatever way you look at it, the Lions do have a good chance of winning the first Test.
The run-in to the Test series has arrived with indecent haste. The All Blacks, with an ominously powerful selection, play Samoa in Auckland tomorrow morning.
I stuck a 50 on the Crusaders to win by 11 points or more at odds of 7/1. I thought that was a good bet. What do I know? I have admired the Canterbury Crusaders from afar. They play rugby the way that it is supposed to be played. I have watched them play 10 times this year and they are on fire, but that fire went out yesterday.
Two years ago I brought my three boys to Vanderbilt Beach which is in Naples, Florida. Simple pleasures - sandcastles and splashing. All three are tall, angular, long-levered and lanky. Plenty of rib and clavicle showing and their presence on an American beach was a subject lesson on the incongruous - as an essay in body shapes, this beach was as diverse as you could get.
It's interesting that in a full weekend of competitive and uncompetitive matches, none of the teams sitting on top of the table in the Guinness Pro12, Aviva Premiership and Top 14 at the end of the regular season won or will win the championship. Is that good for all those championships? Answers in an anonymous tweet to the sports editor.
Well Leinster found out the hard way last week - the excuse was in the bank and earning interest - would Munster show the sort of poise, intelligence and commitment required to get past what we knew was a very good footballing team?
Back in 2009, Leinster had decisions to make. They looked around, saw the talent and potential they had and then looked at their trophy cupboard and decided that this could no longer continue.
In 1994 Ireland toured Australia as part of a two-Test schedule. The results weren't great but we made loads of great friends which is what rugby is all about… apparently.
A week after we lost to Australia in that World Cup quarter-final in 1991, I went to watch the All Blacks play the Wallabies in the semi-final, to see if they could do any better.
We learn from World Cups that we actually learn nothing from World Cups. The ninth edition of rugby's great coming-together starts in September 2019 and when we arrive there we are usually no wiser or closer to getting where we need to go.
The Guinness Pro12 regular season finished yesterday with, well not a dull thud, but not exactly "this is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start, what a score" either.
The regular season in the Guinness Pro12 ends this Saturday. A little more convention and order restored when compared to last season's irregular season. The best team in the championship are Leinster, but that guarantees nothing and we wait on their team announcement to see how seriously they take Saturday's fixture against Ulster.
I had the pleasure of listening to Senator George Mitchell at a bash in the National Gallery in Dublin on Wednesday night. One of the points he focused on was expectation. He used the analogy of the wedding night of Elizabeth Taylor and her sixth husband. The groom would almost assuredly know what to do; the difficulty would be in making it interesting or exciting. The Lions travel to New...
A bloke goes to the local council to apply for a job in the office. The interviewer asks him, "Are you allergic to anything?"
"It don't matter I won't do what you say, you've got the money and the power, I won't go your way. I can take from the people, they don't matter at all. I'll be waiting in the shadows till the day that you fall."
On June 13, 2016, a strong Wales side took the field in Hamilton against the Waikato Chiefs. Both teams were under-strength, but the Welsh fielded 12 current internationals, with more on the bench.
A 22-20 win for Munster in Thomond. A match they could have and should have lost but still managed to win… as they always seem to do.
Neil Francis says it's time for powers-that-be to stop pretending they care about player welfare.
Twenty-three minutes and 13 seconds have elapsed in the Leinster versus Wasps Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva. Das wunderkind Joey Carbery has the ball in his hands after fielding a fairly loose kick. He knows what he is about to do and primes himself: a box kick; he puts up a beauty. The optimum distance for a box-kick is 25-30 metres.
I noticed over the weekend that the in-goal areas in a lot of the quarter-final hosts' grounds would have difficulty fitting a hopscotch court into them and I mean lengthways. Is it because of health and safety reasons? Can't have the players clattering into the advertising hoarding - damned inconvenience to have to clean up the blood and brain matter off their corporate advertisements.
And so the final score read Ireland 32 Wasps 17. The green-print put into practice by Leinster's Ireland players and executed for 55 minutes. The fact that Wasps had a chance midway through the second half was down to some of Leinster's failings, mental failings which will not be tolerated in a semi-final. For a club with such pedigree, Wasps looked like they were overawed by the occasion and when they couldn't hold on to the ball for any more than three phases at a time in the first half, their fate was sealed.
At the end of the season the Leinster management will sit down and review the year.
It's a pretty thankless task trying to unravel the contradiction that is the French. It is hard to know how you calibrate or cultivate the type of vacuous mediocrity that the French rugby team have meandered into. After eventually getting over the line against a determined Welsh rearguard, you would have thought they had all won the lotto when the final whistle blew - it did blow, didn't...
After the match last Saturday, I ended up in one of those hospitality suites deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium. I happened upon Damian Hopley and Lawrence Dallaglio and we chatted for a while.
If you were looking for thrills yesterday you would not have had to travel all the way to Blueberry Hill. A riveting contest, raw and belligerent and for the first time in a long time a crowd adjoined in belief in their team.
With your permission I would like one last moan before we attend to matters at the weekend. This refereeing business is a very subjective process. Wayne Barnes, we thought, had a good game last Friday.
Well, our dreams and aspirations of a Championship are six foot under in an overcoat of clay. In the face of another chastening defeat our lofty pretensions embarrass us all to the point of reappraisal. There does not seem to be any middle ground with Joe Schmidt’s teams.
The trick is not to come second after beating England. You can hope that Scotland deprive England of a try bonus point this weekend or ... you can go out and blitz Wales.
One of the most beautiful places I have visited is John Muir Woods, which is a great Redwood enclave an hour north of San Francisco. The death-wall silence and whispering serenity of the place is truly awe-inspiring. These giants can grow to 300 feet tall and some of the trees are over 2,000 years old.
In the 1995 Rugby World Cup we would be playing the All Blacks and Wales at Ellis Park in Jo'burg. The high veldt is about 6,000 feet above sea level. Five minutes of sustained activity and you are barking for oxygen. The rarefied air burns the bronchi deep in your lungs.