Tony Ward: 'Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne make Munster a match for anyone - even Leinster'
It bears little relevance to the Six Nations opener against England, but three out of three for Irish provinces against Premiership opposition...
It bears little relevance to the Six Nations opener against England, but three out of three for Irish provinces against Premiership opposition...
If I had a euro for every time I have been asked since last Friday's showing at Gloucester if Munster can now win a third star on the red jersey, I'd...
Remember that saying of our youth - look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves? Well, while not suggesting that European rugby...
In terms of winning silverware and matches of consequence, Leinster with and Leinster without...
In terms of winning silverware and matches of consequence, Leinster with and Leinster without...
When the Champions Cup draw was made and fixtures released back in the summer, the promise of a return of seven points out of a possible eight from back-to-back December fixtures would have been more than acceptable for Munster. And yet…
Naturally the coaching pipers will play the appropriate tune. So just as Johann van Graan papers over the cracks caused through Chris Farrell’s latest injury at Munster so too must Leo Cullen, Stuart Lancaster and the rest paint the rosiest picture given the loss of Robbie Henshaw yet again to Leinster.
Defending champions Blackrock College will begin their quest to win the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup for the 70th time against Presentation College Bray.
It's a sign of the times. A clean sweep of European wins over the weekend - two on the road - yet it all felt a little flat. Maybe it's the month that preceded it. We have been spoilt.
Johann van Graan described the opening half hour against Edinburgh in Irish Independent Park as "some of the best rugby we've played all season".
Let's cut to the chase. When news came through on Friday that Dan Leavy had been ruled out, momentum shifted for me from green to black.
Not only do we have the top two teams in world rugby coming head to head but central to this evening's proceedings is the face-off between...
Not only do we have the top two teams in world rugby coming head to head but central to...
Of our four fixtures against southern-hemisphere opposition, the visit of the Pumas is the one I look forward to the least.
Rory Best is already on record as saying he will think long and hard about his future in rugby (presumably at Test level) after the November internationals and it's hard to blame him.
It had its flaws but Saturday's game at the Sportsground was the real deal: a full-blooded, no-holds-barred, old-style interprovincial. Munster deservedly took the spoils but the Connacht graph continues to rise - they are visibly making progress.
Let’s start with a fact. Statistically, Munster’s record away from home so far this season doesn’t stack up. Two wins and a draw from eight competitive games (Pro14 and Champions Cup) should be a cause for concern but there’s more to those numbers than meets the eye.
On Saturday, I penned a piece on my beloved Leeds United. Sod’s Law – they went and lost later in the day to Hull. Still, Elland Road, irrespective of the opposition, the competition or league positioning, will always have that special appeal for me, that hairs-standing-up-on-the-neck, unquantifiable feeling.
It's been a 60-year love affair and on St Stephen's Day this complex relationship got my pulse racing like never before. After witnessing the greatest sporting finale of my life to date, I was never more grateful to be a fan of Leeds United.
A few years back I did a piece sounding off about the Leinster selection heading to Thomond for the festive interpro. The nub of the moan was the fact that the sell-out crowd had bought tickets on the basis that they would witness fully-stocked and full-blooded tribal warfare.
It just gets better by the week. The results stand for themselves with another clean sweep of four wins from four and Connacht returning from South Africa blemish free, and with nine points from a possible 10.
LET’S toss out a few names readily identifiable with success in Irish sport. Kevin Heffernan, Mick O’Dwyer, Brian Cody, Jack Charlton, Mickey Harte, Jim Gavin and in more recent times, however limited the exposure, Graham Shaw. No doubt many other names will trip more easily off the tongues of others.
It wasn't the perfect ending to a magnificent November campaign, yet it was an illustration of just how far Irish rugby has come under Joe Schmidt. Beating New Zealand was the focus of the Guinness series and with that significant goal achieved, all signs pointed to a final-game romp against the USA.
Back in 1979, the concept of man of the match was first introduced to international rugby in this part of the world.
BACK in 1979, the concept of man of the match was first introduced to international rugby in this part of the world.
Rory Best is already on record as saying he will think long and hard about his future in rugby (presumably at Test level) after the November internationals and it’s hard to blame him.
We'll not go so far as to suggest it's mission accomplished for this was no mission. It was unashamedly designed to bulk up the coffers.
Between today and this day next year, Joe Schmidt's Ireland will definitely play 17 Test matches, probably 18, and possibly as many as 20.
Last season was the greatest in the history of Irish rugby. Not only did we succeed in doing what we thought was the impossible - a Grand Slam in an even year - but over the course of the eight months from November through to June we won 10 of the 11 Tests, coming up short in just the second of the three matches in Australia.
Where have those four decades gone? Forty years since 'Munster 12, New Zealand 0' reverberated around the world. It is scary in the extreme and a gentle reminder to those of us involved, who back then thought we were invincible, as to how truly precious is life and the passing of time.
Not since Billy Bremner was dismissed along with Kevin Keegan in the 1974 Charity Shield at Wembley - and yes, I was there - has a red card upset me as much as Danny Cipriani's dismissal for (presumably) dangerous play in Limerick on Saturday.
It was this time last year when it was revealed that Johann van Graan would be taking over at Munster from Springboks-bound Rassie Erasmus. It was a little over a month later when he took control for his first match - a PRO14 win over Zebre.
It was this time last year when it was revealed that Johann van Graan would be taking over at Munster from Springboks-bound Rassie Erasmus. It was a little over a month later when he took control for his first match – a PRO14 win over Zebre.
In the Anglo-Irish war of the opening weekend, like most, I felt Leinster at home to Wasps was a banker, and like some I saw Ulster in Belfast against Leicester as a genuine opportunity.
Five years ago, I visited the newly-established Sandy Park Stadium in Exeter for the first time. Although beaten by Leinster in that particular European Pool game, everything about the Exeter operation then smacked of efficiency and professionalism.
On Saturday, within minutes of each other, we witnessed the two biggest clashes in world rugby at their respective levels. In Pretoria, New Zealand again did the seemingly impossible when coming back from the dead in the final minutes to squeeze South Africa with the final play of the game. No sooner had the final whistle in the Loftus Versfeld Stadium blown than Leinster and Munster,...
It was boasted that more than 10,000 tickets were sold in advance of Scarlets v Ospreys' West Wales derby at Parc y Scarlets today. And while it is certainly no proof of a game in rude health, they are encouraging signs.
After a sobering introduction to interprovincial rugby, Connacht's new head coach Andy Friend offered some realistic and honest words.
Early in the new millennium an out half plying his trade at Bristol first caught my eye. Although the English Premiership was his place of business anyone watching in from afar couldn't but have been impressed. Here was a footballing out-half but one with a volcanic 'X' factor erupting in every performance.
Thankfully it didn't set the tone for the weekend but for the second time in a fortnight on the road, this time in the Arms Park, an even stronger Munster line-up were abysmal.
Quite whether rugby going open has been good for the game on this island overall is another argument for another day. What cannot be denied is the progress made in preparing and competing consistently at the highest level.
You throw, I'll catch - the immortal words of 'King' Barry John to half-back partner Gareth Edwards when he and his fellow half were in their pomp driving the greatest phase in Welsh rugby history.
For one who has been indifferent to the Celtic League, the Magners League, the Rabo and even the PRO12 in their initial stages I have to say that the first two weekends of the 2018 Guinness PRO14 have been riveting.
How do you better what was achieved in 2017/18 ? It was the greatest season in the history of Irish rugby.
The pre kick-off wish was for Connacht and Ulster to hit the ground running and, in whatever order, rejoin Leinster and Munster at the top table as the forces in European and domestic rugby we know they both can be.
In terms of quality it was never going to be a classic but Saturday's result is further proof that this Ireland squad is ready to make history at next year's World Cup by reaching the semi-finals - at least.
'We'll see what the good old Irish ticker's about" suggested Andy Farrell in advance, and by God in Melbourne's AAMI Stadium we did. What we saw was the most complete Irish performance of this amazing season by a mile.
Those of a more mature vintage will recall the legendary song and album 'A Question of Balance'. I don't know if Joe Schmidt is a Moody Blues fan but either way the title will resonate with him, even more so now than before this three-Test series kicked off.
In May 1978, alongside just short of 100 students, I sat my final exams of a four-year degree course at what is now called the University of Limerick.
If we had any doubt as to which route Joe Schmidt might go for this summer tour then the announcement of a full-strength squad of 32 thirty two provided us with that answer in the most assertive way.
So which is the better team - the Leinster side of 2009/2013 or this year's model? Both have conquered Europe and both have thrilled their supporters en route to silverware. Comparing teams of different eras is, of course, fraught with danger and we'll tread warily, especially when the class of 2018 may still be on an upward curve.
For the second week running, the best team in Europe found a way across the winning line when it really mattered. Yes, it was tight and exciting in the dying moments but unlike Bilbao the previous week, I felt this game lacked quality.
In 2010 John Joseph Hanrahan was part of a particularly talented Rockwell College group led by then Ireland schools lock Shane Buckley. Hanrahan, along with Cian O'Donnell and Buckley, were central to the Munster schools inter-provincial side that season.
It was certainly no classic, but who cares? For ever and a day, people will remember who won the 2018 Champions Cup final, not how it was won.
No doubt there's an expression for it but when you grow up with something it's very hard to contemplate anything different. As one fortunate to attend a rugby-playing school, and despite its small size, one of the best at that, I was inducted into the schools system at a tender age.
The need to walk before we run needs little elaboration. It applies to almost every aspect of life and rugby is no different.
So what exactly constitutes a 'basket case?'
No matter how you dress it up or tone it down, John Muldoon's bon voyage at the Sportsground was astonishing. Just how good Connacht were - or how bad Leinster were - is in the eyes of the beholder.
With all the heated talk surrounding the out-half dilemma, one of the saddest stories of this great rugby year has slipped under the radar. I refer to Fergus McFadden's injury sustained in the act of scoring Leinster's third try against Scarlets.
Last weekend's mixed sequence of results raised plenty of questions for Irish rugby but Leinster's comprehensive win over Scarlets raised the most pertinent question of all: Can they go all the way? Can Leo Cullen's men lift the title against cash-rich, high-quality Racing in a fortnight's time? I believe they can and will.
I read a quote from Ulster Academy chief Willie Anderson recently where he described his role (most appropriately) as the development of 'warriors'. Well, if a certain John Muldoon could turn back the years to the early noughties and was based in Belfast instead of Connacht then Anderson would have the consummate warrior to mould in his own likeness.
For 24 hours we dared to dream, but where Leinster delivered Munster did not. The intensity, the physicality, the defensive line speed - so often epitomised by Rory Scannell as a high-risk midfield shooter - were all key Munster traits that were marked by their absence on this massive occasion in the south of France.
Forget all this mumbo jumbo about 'first receivers', 'heads-up rugby' and all the buzz phrases coined in the jingoistic speak of the modern game. Show me a successful team and I'll show you a pretty impressive out-half, stand-off, No 10 - call him what you will.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the Spring of hope, the Winter of despair." To Charles Dickens that immortalised, if abbreviated, quote.
Since the dust has settled on Ireland's Grand Slam victory and with the prospect of an all-Ireland Champions Cup final on the cards, Tony Ward argues that the European club competition has now surpassed its test equivalent.
By the law of averages, a rugby moment of the weekend comes courtesy of an Andrew Conway-type try or maybe a Johnny Sexton 45-metre drop goal. Well maybe not that spectacular, but you get my drift.
In a sense, it's now a fortnight of relative calm before the storm. The penultimate round of games in the PRO14 play-off race will be followed by the Champions Cup semi-finals and then the final PRO14 derby day to define who plays who, where and when in the knockout phase of that competition, leading to the 2018 final in the Aviva on May 26.
Even before officialdom deemed the game open in 1995, the Southern Hemisphere was ahead of the posse. The Super 10 incorporating teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga and Western Samoa was launched in 1993 and lasted three seasons up until 1995, when professionalism kicked in.
We'll try not get too carried away, but it's difficult. This wasn't another good weekend for Irish rugby, it was a great one and let nobody tell you otherwise.
Let's get one thing clear from the off: I hate everything that Mourad Boudjellal and Toulon stand for. If you want to know why French rugby is a shadow of its former self - this used to be the most exciting rugby-playing nation on Earth - then look no further than the Cote d'Azur.
That was one sobering weekend. But, just as we're not going to lose the run of it with what was achieved the week before in London, neither will we lose the head on the back of what was a very disappointing few days for Irish rugby and there's little point in pretending otherwise.
To err is human, let's get that clear. The use of the Television Match Official (TMO) has on balance proved a very positive addition and both rugby codes have got it pretty much nailed, although we could do with a quickening of the process.
Blackrock chose the biggest day on the schools rugby calendar to produce their most complete display of the season.
In all the euphoria surrounding last weekend's unprecedented success at Twickenham, we may have forgotten one small but very important segment of the rugby fraternity who might be forgiven for having mixed emotions about an occasion that will live forever in the hearts of just about every Irish supporter.
It was goodbye to the old Donnybrook and hello to the new Energia Park as the signs were unveiled yesterday when hosting the final of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Junior Cup at the headquarters of the underage game.
Wasn't it ELO, back in the '80s, who had that magical hit 'Hold on Tight (To your Dream)'? I know I can't speak for the massive proportion of the 82,000-plus capacity attendance clad in green in Twickenham on Saturday, but when the clock entered the final quarter with Ireland uncomfortably in front, each time I looked to register the passing minutes on the giant screen I, like every other...
For CBC, a win tomorrow in the Clayton Hotels Munster Schools Senior Cup final at Irish Independent Park (kick-off 4.0) and it's title number 30, one ahead of great cross-city rivals PBC.
For the second year in a row traditional heavyweights Belvedere and Blackrock go head-to-head in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior final at the RDS tomorrow (kick-off 2.0).
As a child growing up the daring deeds of Karl Mullen, Jack Kyle and the Grand Slam-winning side of 1948 seemed the absolute zenith in terms of Irish rugby achievement and where we might go.
It's 21 years since Shane Jennings captained St Mary's to the Leinster Schools Junior Cup and yesterday at Donnybrook it was Adam Mulvihill at the helm as the Rathmines' school qualified for their first final at this age level since then.
At a pre-Scottish match luncheon on Friday I was asked if a third championship win in five years would propel us to at least a semi-final place in the 2019 World Cup.
Taking the 1948 Grand Slam as a starting point, there have been many great Irish scrum-halves down through the years.
There have been many great Belvedere wins down through the years but I doubt any surpassed what was witnessed in the final act of an absorbing Leinster semi-final at Donnybrook yesterday.
So it's another RDS St Patrick's weekend final for Blackrock as they took this Donnybrook semi-final pulling up.
Much has been made of Scotland's away form - or, more accurately, the lack of same. It is fair motivation for a proud rugby-playing nation with a professional game on the rise. The sport needs Scottish rugby to return to its former glory as a competitive force on the global stage.
Given how the structure has developed in the respective countries since the game went professional, it is difficult for those of more tender years to comprehend that Ireland and Scotland were once joined at the hip.
There have been many great Ireland-Wales encounters down through the years. I've played in one or two myself and attended almost every other but few if any compare to what we witnessed on Saturday in Lansdowne Road.
Back in 1982 I rejoined St Mary's College RFC from Garryowen. Current Ireland team manager Paul Dean was out-half for the Templeville club, although playing in the centre for Ireland at the time.
Given the build-up of injuries the weekend break could hardly have been better timed, particularly for the Six Nations countries with fewer playing numbers such as ourselves, the Italians and the Scots.
Robert Henshaw (as I then referred to him in my schools coverage) first hit my radar in late 2010 through Michael Loftus, the hugely inspirational teacher and coach behind the game and its development in Marist College, Athlone.
Nine match points secure and a 39-point scoring differential at the top of the table after the first block of games makes for a pretty impressive start. I believe Joe Schmidt when he says he would have gratefully accepted that position had he been offered it a fortnight ago.
And still we gazed and still the wonder grew. With respect to the writings of Oliver Goldsmith, in the immediate aftermath of Jonathan Sexton's drop goal those were my thoughts as I and thousands of green-clad supporters in the Stade de France stood in awe at what we had just witnessed.
From hero to villain to super hero all in 80-plus amazing minutes. Johnny Sexton has achieved many great things in an outstanding rugby career but his drop-goal at the death in Paris on Saturday was one of the most courageous individual acts I have ever witnessed from any Irish sportsman.
Back in 1987 at the inaugural World Cup there was a banquet held ahead of the ball so to speak,a dinner for the competing nations before we headed to our respective bases throughout New Zealand and Australia to prepare for the main event.
Over the past few months the schools competitions have been under way in all four provinces and contrary to the much-pedalled myth, the schools rugby year is not all about one knockout game.
I have always argued that every Ireland team should be picked in the here and now. Given our relatively shallow pool of top-quality players, we generally need to be at full strength.
I'm still not convinced Munster have the all-round game to go the whole way but they did produce another typically gutsy and clinical performance when the heat was on.
It should have been a great week for Irish rugby what with going into the final weekend in Europe with all four Irish representatives leading their respective pools. It may not end up that way in 24 hours' time but to be in this position is some achievement, one unprecedented in the history of professional rugby.
Unlike the back-to-back December games - when it was a clean sweep for Irish sides in Europe by way of an eight from eight winning return - a modest two wins, a draw and a loss from four would seem to represent a disappointing follow-on. Anything but.
For those in love with the oval ball, it's been a winter wonderland of rugby this festive season as each successive interpro has pretty much outdone the one before it.
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 light as the other three teams. He was wrong.
I never like Munster losing and I'll not pretend otherwise. That said, the nature of Tuesday's defeat by Leinster might prove to be a blessing in disguise.
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 reputations significantly enhanced? Jacob Stockdale most definitely, Chris Farrell and Andrew Conway certainly, James Ryan, Darren Sweetnam and Joey Carbery most probably, and Andrew Porter and Adam Byrne potentially.
It shows how far we have come under Joe Schmidt that at the end of a November clean sweep we are picking at whatever bones of negativity we can find.
"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.
Tomorrow at the Stadio Lanfranchi in Parma, the Johann van Graan era in Munster Rugby begins. What those of us who care about Munster rugby want is a smooth transition between a coach who oversaw a unique period in the game down south and, as David Campese, in his inimitable Campo way, described the new main man, "a mate of a mate".
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.