Tony Ward: You can be certain our competitiveness in Europe will continue into the foreseeable future and beyond
Unlike the back-to-back December games - when it was a clean sweep for Irish sides in Europe by...
Unlike the back-to-back December games - when it was a clean sweep for Irish sides in Europe by...
For those in love with the oval ball, it's been a winter wonderland of rugby this festive season...
A few weeks ago in the aftermath of the Irish clean sweep over back-to-back fixtures in Europe, a Connacht supporter took me to task for not acknowledging their performance in the same...
I never like Munster losing and I'll not pretend otherwise. That said, the nature of Tuesday's...
This time last year I took Leo Cullen and Leinster to task over the shadow XV selected to play in the biggest game of the Thomond Park calendar outside of Champions Cup nights.
Over the three-week period when the Springboks, Fijians and Pumas came to town, Joe Schmidt experimented with 29 different players in his starting line-up. That is as it should be given the accepted mid-series opportunity to give the shadow or Wolfhounds XV a run.
Time to pinch ourselves methinks. This day last week we were trying to get our heads around three wins from three for the best of the Irish over pretty close to the best of the English, but we dared not let it go to our heads.
Last weekend was special. It wasn't just that the three Champions Cup teams won (and no we're not forgetting Connacht, albeit in a competition with a different level of intensity) but it was the quality and the manner of those wins. We have had 'clean sweeps' before but I can't recall anything of this magnitude.
In raw terms it reads Ireland 3 England 0, and while no-one on this side of the Irish Sea will lose the run of themselves, this weekend’s results were a massive statement of intent from the provinces.
On Tuesday last, word leaked of a Jordi Murphy move north being imminent. In the 24 hours that followed, it was indeed confirmed and the nuts and bolts put in place.
Wise men say, only fools rush in. Well he's only here a fortnight and already I think we can safely say that whatever else, a fool Johann van Graan is most certainly not.
Leaving our most recently-celebrated Lions aside, who were the new generation players to emerge from the Guinness November series with their...
It shows how far we have come under Joe Schmidt that at the end of a November clean sweep we...
"If you go back two years, how can you possibly move forward." Joe Schmidt's measured but typically courteous reply to a brain-dead question relating to Ireland's defeat to Argentina at the 2015 World Cup.
First impressions can be powerful. In the opening five minutes at the Aviva on Saturday Ireland over-laboured the maul, they over-held the ball at the back of the scrum that followed, misplaced the clearance kick from the base, before turning over possession in the first up and at 'em from our physically powerful centres.
It could be best described a mixed week for Irish sport. From the highs of the Aviva on Saturday to the extreme lows at the same venue three days later. London's midweek calling added to the woe with Ireland trailing badly in the 2023 race of three. To that end today's Test against the Fijians provides opportunity on varying levels.
In days of yore, Ireland would hit the southern hemisphere big three with everything they had to offer for the best part of an hour in Dublin before being blown to smithereens in the final quarter.
My first up-close experience of South African rugby was on the Lions tour of that country in 1980. It was an eye-opener in so many ways.
We can all agree that professionalism has taken rugby in this country to another stratosphere. Remember the days when we would huff and puff for an hour before being blown to kingdom come by stronger, technically better, higher-ranked nations in the final quarter?
It's been a confusing week in this part of the world. The findings of the Independent Evaluation Commission, established (apparently) to determine the location of the next World Cup post Japan, presented the most wide reaching issue.
Were I a betting man, which mercifully I am anything but, the family jewels would have been dug out and stacked behind Ireland getting the official 'consultancy' nod ahead of the vote for the staging of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The mid-term report brings mixed grades for the four Irish provinces.
The news of Simon Zebo's departure to pastures new at the season's end is bitterly disappointing. That said, I wish him nothing but the best in making what is clearly the best decision for him and family at this point in his still-developing career.
They all want to play in them and I'm as excited as much by the occasion as the players are. I think it is a great thing, because anyone who is hoping to get a green shirt , this is the forum to shine in.'
Almost every group is tough but this is without doubt the proverbial Pool of Death. For Exeter, Glasgow, Leinster and Montpellier, three home wins has to be the bottom-line objective.
It was out of character for a Champions Cup tie, particularly one involving Munster and in France, yet this latest clash with Castres all but died a death in the final quarter.
There are lots of things about modern rugby I hate, but press me to name the biggest plus from the game going open and I will have great difficulty looking beyond European competition, specifically the former Heineken Cup, now the Champions Cup.
We may not always like fronting up but the truth hurts. And while it pains me to say it, my expectation, like so many others ahead of Saturday's game, was way in excess of what was actually delivered. It's clear that this fixture, whether in the national stadium or Thomond Park, is now what it says on the tin: a preparation for either Round 1 in October or Round 5 in early January of the...
The importance and relevance of the greatest rivalry outside of the international arena needs little introduction. As is becoming the norm, Leinster and Munster come into the real start of the rugby season in a state of hope as much as preparedness.
The solstice might be a couple of months away but winter, in a rugby context, can't come quickly enough. For me, October has always been the month when the real stuff begins and the rugby season really kicks into gear.
First off, let me clarify my position in relation to the Munster coaching dilemma. I knew little about David Wessels (or indeed Johann van Graan) other than what I uncovered after Wessels's name appeared on the rugby radar courtesy of the current head coach.
The only problem with winning is that it can sometimes paper over some ugly cracks. It's Cardiff next for Munster so given their position - despite beating Connacht in the Sportsground - at the bottom of Conference A alongside the Ospreys, Munster will be looking to make this a fourth win from five.
Whatever your take on his opinion of the recent Lions tour, Sean O'Brien sure stirred a hornet's nest when giving it timber in relation to what he deemed a golden opportunity lost to beat the All Blacks over the Test series.
Those of us privileged enough to have known and built a friendship with the much-loved 'Memory Man' Jimmy Magee have our own special memories of him.
A good start is half the battle they say and the Irish sides in the Guinness PRO14 have had an encouraging opening spell. With three rounds gone, just four teams remain unbeaten and three of them are Irish. In Conference A, Munster lead the way by a point over Glasgow and these two will go head to head at Scotstoun on Friday. In Conference B, it's Leinster and Ulster setting the pace...
In eight sad days in August two of the most iconic figures in world rugby departed this life. On August 20, Colin Meads lost his battle with cancer in his beloved Te Kuiti and eight days later, almost as far away as the rugby mind can stretch, the great Willie Duggan left his equally beloved Dunmore for the final time.
World Rugby recently introduced three new changes to the scrum (a total of six law changes in all) geared towards taking away the time-killing element to the set-piece now known as scrum time.
Just two weeks in and while I have little doubt a different dimension to the South African challenge will emerge over the course of the 21-match marathon, particularly on home soil, the reality is of a PRO8 and the other six.
Later today in Thomond Park Munster entertain the Cheetahs. After the easiest opening at home to Treviso last week, by seven o'clock this evening last year's beaten PRO12 finalists should be two wins from two and close to top of the new-look Guinness PRO14 table.
A good start is half the battle, or the more things change the more they stay the same.
Before Saturday's game in Galway, in dire conditions, referee Ben Whitehouse gave an informative explanation of the new laws governing the catcher taking the ball into touch and on the scrum-half putting the ball into the scrum to enable a front-row to strike.
I couldn't say I was overcome with excitement at the prospect of this 'revamped' PRO14 League. Like most I'm curiously intrigued but not overwhelmed as 21st century rugby continues on its revolutionary way.
Back in October, not yet a year ago, the sudden passing of Anthony Foley knocked the nation for six. Yesterday morning when Joe MacDonnell, a great mutual friend, rang to tell me that Willie Duggan had passed away overnight the same gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach prevailed.
It wasn't Barbarian rugby and it was never going to be, but what the world witnessed in Auckland on Saturday was an epic sporting contest, a gripping rugby showdown and a match to stand the test of time. If this didn't challenge your sporting emotions then I doubt anything ever will.
It is most commonly defined as the rules of behaviour that require order be maintained by training and control. We refer, of course, to 'discipline', the most common thread in every post-match analysis by either side in this hugely intense tour to date.
Steve Hansen reckons it's a result great for world rugby and, while leaving out the aesthetics, I think we would all go along with that.
It doesn't take any insider knowledge to appreciate which camp in Wellington is in the better shape ahead of tomorrow's kick-off.
It was without doubt the best performance of the tour, and still the Lions were hammered. I say hammered because while the difference in points was 'only' 15, the gap in quality - individual and collective - between the sides was marked.
God be with the days when you dare not change a winning side or further back again when the Irish team was harder to get off than to get on.
Whatever your views on the concept, there is no denying that tomorrow's first Test between the Lions and New Zealand has captured the interest, if not quite the imagination, of sports fans everywhere.
The purpose of the exercise in Hamilton yesterday was to accentuate the positive for the Lions and in almost every respect the midweek 'trackers' did just that -and did it forcibly. This wasn't just a win, it was a demolition job.
As Test rugby goes, the USA was a doddle. Just what the doctor ordered for Joe Schmidt in terms of performance and result.
By common consensus, tomorrow's clash with the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua represents the unofficial fourth Test. As dress rehearsals for the Lions go, this is as big as it gets.
In the end it represented a second defeat in four and yet it has been a good five days for the Lions ahead of the games of consequence - the Test series. Do I like watching the best of the four home countries play the game in the manner they have been doing so far on this tour? No, but I understand why.
Many first-choice names might be either injured or on Lions duty but the Ireland team picked by Joe Schmidt to take on USA Eagles is a statement of intent.
The easy option for those outside the sacred circle is to stick the boot in. My own feeling on Wednesday when watching a second shapeless Lions performance - particularly in attacking terms was one of sadness.
As false starts go - short of losing - let's hope this is as false as it gets. Given the gulf in class and experience in Whangarei, the Lions were putrid. That they will improve beyond recognition is a given; for the simple reason they have to.
On a May Monday morning back in 1980, I received three urgent messages at my then place of work in Limerick.
I heard it suggested in the immediate aftermath of the Guinness Pro12 final that although the Scarlets deserved to win, the Welshmen were flattered by the scoreline. Get a grip.
Like the rest of the civilised rugby world, I rejoice at the extension of the three-year residency rule by World Rugby to a minimum of five but I long for the day it is abolished altogether and qualification is by birthright alone.
Since 2010 when the Guinness PRO12/Celtic League returned to the knockout format fo the season finale, Leinster had (prior to last weekend) made it through to six of the seven finals. That is some record of consistency... and yet.
While the Pool draw for the 2019 World Cup could scarcely have been any kinder, it is also unfortunately a double-edged sword.
All rational evidence points to one outcome at Murrayfield today. Whereas football doesn't, as a matter of course, translate territory or indeed possession into anything tangible, positional supremacy in rugby tends to see the scoreboard ticking over. In that key respect, no team right now plays the percentages better than Saracens.
The timing of tomorrow's World Cup draw in Kyoto is not ideal, coming more than two years before the tournament kicks off, but it's a reasonable compromise.
A rising tide lifts all boats - or so the aphorism goes. Such might be the case from time to time in economic language but certainly not where rugby is concerned and most definitely not in club terms.
There's something rotten in the state of Ulster. Generally, it has been a good season for the provinces, with Leinster and Munster reaching the last four of the Champions Cup and guaranteeing home semi-finals in the Guinness PRO12.
Given that we're almost at that time of the year when the provinces give out the gongs for outstanding performances, we thought we would get our retaliation in first and nominate our top ten performers from all four over the course of the season to date.
No sooner has the Six Nations finished, the Lions squad been announced and the Champions Cup finalists for 2017 decided and the World Cup draw for Japan comes firmly into view. World Rugby and the Japanese organising committee will host the Pool draw for 2019 tomorrow fortnight, May 10, in Kyoto's State Guest House - the same venue used to host the G7 summit in 2016.
So for the fifth year running we have a Champions Cup final minus an Irish presence. In a frank and honest assessment of the weekend semi-finals Munster were comprehensively outplayed while Leinster could and perhaps should have got to a fourth final. Just where does that leave Irish rugby? In as good a place as it did before either went into semi-final action.
Despite all the doom and gloom of recent seasons - reaching a nadir last season when no Irish side reached the Champions Cup quarter-finals - we are 160 minutes away from an All-Ireland final.
Tomorrow the white smoke will finally rise above the Hilton Hotel in London as Warren Gatland unveils his initial 37-man Lions squad for the tour to New Zealand.
Early on Tuesday morning Christy Cantillon informed the Munster team of 1978, courtesy of WhatsApp, that former coach Fergus Walsh had unexpectedly passed away. The reaction across the board was one of shock, allied to fond memories of the lovely man that Fergus was.
On Wednesday, head coach Warren Gatland will announce his British and Irish Lions squad for 2017. Central to that eagerly-awaited presentation will be the unveiling of the player chosen to lead the Lions on what is their greatest adventure but also the most difficult tour of all.
On Saturday at Myreside, Steve Crosbie kicked 17 points in Connacht's 22-19 win over Edinburgh.
Over the weekend SANZAAR announced the reduction of Super Rugby teams from 18 teams to 15.
I suggested ahead of Munster's kick-off with Toulouse, that the biggest game for the southern province in recent times represented the ideal opportunity - in practical and psychological terms - for Rassie Erasmus to nail his colours firmly to the red mast.
For sure Irish rugby is back at the top end of the European game - not that we had ever gone away.
According to Rassie Erasmus, rumour linking him with a return to South Africa "is really speculation"
Leinster and Munster have had very different build-ups to the biggest games of their season today.
They say the cream rises to the top and yesterday in much improved weather at Donnybrook it certainly did. Pre-tournament favourites St Michael's deservedly captured the Leinster Junior Cup for the fourth time in the school's history.
Last Thursday, the Irish Independent announced its Leinster Schools Senior Cup Team of the Tournament.
There is no good time for bad news, but for Munster, confirmation that Donnacha Ryan is to leave is hardly ideal preparation ahead of the biggest game of their season.
For the second year running CJ Stander looks set to be voted Irish Player of the Year. Whether it is IRUPA (players) or RWI (rugby writers) making that award, the adopted Munster man has been the epitome of consistency and our outstanding international player by a country mile. Conor Murray and Tadhg Furlong come closest, with Johnny Sexton also hitting top gear in his three games played.
Invariably when people select their best teams from a tournament the most recent in the memory tends to have the most obvious impact. So in an attempt to be fair we'll try and stretch it out over all five rounds.
All rational evidence ahead of the chariot's arrival pointed to one logical outcome. Oh, we of little faith. I've been in that dressing room on a number of occasions with the English down the corridor and I know what that means. But even by 'auld enemy' standards this was special.
For the second year running and 12th time in all, the cup made its way north of the Liffey as Belvedere defended their title with incredible resilience and no little discipline at a wet and windy RDS yesterday.
Those of a certain vintage will recall the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit of the early eighties. As soon as Eddie Jones announced his team and Joe Schmidt followed suit, the refrain from 'Two Tribes' - when two tribes go to war - was rattling around inside my head.
For the third year running Belvedere will grace the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final as Max Kearney's talented squad look to make it back-to-back success for the first time since 1971/72 against Blackrock.
Back in 1970 a Rockwell team that included future Ireland international Paul McNaughton broke Glenstal hearts.
For the second year running, it will be a Blackrock v St Michael's Leinster Schools Junior Cup final and, on this impressive evidence, the Ailesbury Road school will need to be on top of their game if they are to wrest the title from the reigning champions.
This is a class St Michael's side, probably the best ever to emerge from the Ailesbury Road school, but yesterday at Donnybrook they were rattled by a gallant Newbridge effort as they reached their 11th Junior final.
After a defeat as disappointing as the one Ireland suffered in Cardiff on Friday night, there's often a clamour for change but it's pointless bringing in young players just for the sake of seeing fresh faces.
The home of Welsh rugby in the heart of the Welsh capital is a stadium like no other on big match day. Roof on or off, the atmosphere in the Millennium Stadium is electric.
I hate the removal of the traditional Five/Six Nations holy day. Saturday was, and I believe still should be, the sacred playing day.
I must confess to having mixed feelings about Ian Madigan's latest move.
For the third year running, the black and white of Belvedere will adorn the final as the holders overcame great Jesuit rivals Clongowes at Donnybrook to qualify for the St Patrick's Day decider.
What is the key position on a modern-day rugby team? Some would argue tighthead, others scrum-half, many out-half, perhaps the No 8?
I won't reveal his name but well do I recall an Irish replacement chewing on a lump of cake when he was called into action some years ago.
I hope I am wrong, but for all the talk of a new attacking direction for French rugby under Guy Noves, I just don't see it. I will head to the Aviva today on the back of two decent Gallic performances hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
The failure to leave the traps in the first half at Murrayfield showed that Ireland are an inconsistent, still developing team. The upshot of that defeat is that every game is effectively a knockout in terms of our title hopes.
At the start of the season when I was browsing through the French squads before for the Champions Cup, I was slightly taken aback when I came to Bordeaux-Begles.
To say the last two weeks have been confusing is an understatement. Ireland are neither the over-hyped mugs, as suggested in some quarters post-Murrayfield, nor indeed are we favourites for the next World Cup post-Rome.
When the rumour mill had it that Jono Gibbes was set to replace Pat Lam in the Connacht hot-seat, I thought, wow, the Westerners couldn't have done any better. That rumour was soon scotched and the void remains.
I'll stop short of saying they've repaid the debt in full, but certainly those given the chance to make good the loss in Murrayfield did so to telling effect. Rome wasn't built in a day, and certainly this squad has still a bit to go to get back where it was on that memorable afternoon in Chicago.
Ireland started the Six Nations in the running for three trophies and, thanks largely to 50 listless minutes, we are already out of two of them. Losing the chance at both Grand Slam and Triple Crown at Murrayfield was a high price to pay for what was a most 'un-Joe Schmidt-like' performance.
It's been a sad few days for rugby at home and abroad with the passing of former South African great Joost van der Westhuizen and the Leinster chief medical officer for the best part of 20 years, Professor Arthur Tanner.
Let's cut to the chase. For the guts of 40 minutes in Murrayfield on Saturday we were awful. The final flurry wasn't too hot either, but in between we got a glimpse of what this squad is capable of producing.
Close to two years ago, on March 21 to be precise, we were treated to the most exciting day in Five/Six Nations history.
With due respect to schools and club rugby, they represent the calm before the storm as the Six Nations comes firmly into view. Just days to go and already anticipation is at an unprecedented high, particularly in this neck of the woods.
Following a most productive autumn campaign the contentious positions are at full back, a second-row partner for Devin Toner and (as ever) balance in the back row.
I was never great at maths in school but one thing I'm pretty sure about is that three into one won't go. Yet in Joe Schmidt's utopian world of coaching that is the Holy Grail.
Twelve months on from the doom and gloom that followed Ireland's World Cup exit and the subsequent provincial wipeout in the Champions Cup, things could not be looking much better for Joe Schmidt.
There have been a number of key pieces to the Connacht jigsaw but, relative to what has been achieved in recent times, two men stand apart.