Sunday 19 January 2020

Neil Francis: Conway and Beirne have thrived away from Leinster - Moore and Madigan have been disasters


Left to right: Andrew Conway, Tadhg Beirne, Marty Moore and Ian Madigan.
Left to right: Andrew Conway, Tadhg Beirne, Marty Moore and Ian Madigan.
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

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.

In the Aviva Stadium, the Scarlets won in style. The last three winners of this competition - Glasgow, Connacht and Llanelli - have won the championship by playing rugby the way it should be played. Emphasis on passing skills repetition and then employ them under pressure in match situations. All three winners over the last three seasons have been very easy to watch.

Munster people leaving the Aviva - some well before the final whistle - will not have had the thought lost on them that the Scarlets had their side for skill, with passing and space creation top of the heap. Hard to quibble about the disappearance of the dream final when the usurpers play with such daring and invention.

This piece is about some individuals who managed to play a part on the weekend.

On the Friday night before the Pro12 final, I met former Wales out-half Jonathan Davies, and he singled out the Scarlets second-row as a real asset: Lewis Rawlins and Tadhg Beirne. All the things that are only now obvious: two young, light, athletic, quick, dynamic second-rows with a voracious appetite for work and an ability to be in three places at the one time. New Zealand-style second-rows. As Davies said, nobody has even heard of Rawlins or "your" boy Beirne.

The much younger Beirne and Rawlins completely outplayed Donnacha Ryan and Billy Holland when you would have put the house on the grizzled pair gradually squeezing the life out of the two tyros the further the match went on.

Strange that in a four-year career with Leinster, Beirne got only four caps. In his first year with Scarlets, the Welsh side seem to appreciate and understand his value: the Pro12 final was his 23rd game of the season. Funny too that he didn't get injured during the season.

Quinn Roux ate up Beirne's chances of getting a decent run in the second-row early in his career; Roux now tours again in the summer because of this and the Irishman has to leave his country to get games while the South African, purely because he is a resident, gets another tour.

I am sure that someone from the Leinster management will be able to give me a perfectly plausible reason why Beirne wasn't good enough to make it. Yawn! Bottom line is if he continues to play the way he is, doors will open very quickly. Pity he has to go to Wales to have his potential and ability brought out to blossom.

Very few Munster players played to anywhere near their ability, or the level required to win this game, but one stood out. Andrew Conway's persistence and excellence has shone through. I think Joe Schmidt is going to pick him next season on a consistent basis.

Conway played in a 'real Test' against England in March. He tours with Ireland in America and Japan and is a good bet for the 2019 World Cup. I've watched schools rugby for a long time. Andrew Conway was the best schools player I have ever seen; only now are people realising how good he is.

When Conway left Leinster he was the quickest back in the roster. I reckon he is the quickest back playing professional rugby in Ireland.

The fact that he spends a lot of his game time chasing Conor Murray's box-kicks won't have helped him develop his game the way it should be developed, but he does manage to win or put the correct pressure on when he arrives and that tells you a lot.

Conway is a deadly finisher and seems to have settled into Munster. Yet he had to leave Leinster to make way for the lamentable Zane Kirchner and must look on in bemusement at some of the wingers who are being hailed as demi-gods on the back of a few run-in tries.

With Trimble, Bowe, McFadden and possibly the Kearneys either gone or going, Conway has now a real chance of fulfilling his destiny, the move to Munster an improbable success.

Meanwhile, over in Twickenham, Dai Young's quest for a trophy of any value came up short yet again. The rugby world rejoiced when Exeter beat Saracens and though both Wasps and Exeter play exciting rugby, I was glad the Chiefs won the final.

In the 26th minute, Phil Swainston, Wasps' starting tighthead, was replaced by Marty Moore. The former Leinster and Ireland tighthead had a very uncomfortable afternoon, chasing play forlornly. The Wasps scrum was put to the sword; it was a major factor in the game. Moore did not look fit or up to the pace and he was eventually replaced after a continuous neck/shoulder complaint.

His move to Coventry has been a disaster. The tighthead behind Moore in the Leinster pecking order, Tadhg Furlong, is now a likely Lions Test starter as well as being Ireland's foundation stone. John Ryan has come from nowhere to be a reliable replacement and even challenger.

Also the pocket battleship Andrew Porter has been changed from loose to tight and tours with Ireland this summer.

There is no point in Moore coming home because he wouldn't get into Leinster's squad now. Moore's name wasn't even considered for the Japan tour and his portion is now a summer in rueful reflection.

Meanwhile, in a land far, far away, the best club team in the world is laying waste to other teams in Super Rugby. The Canterbury Crusaders' form is so compelling that if the Lions get within 18-20 points of them, it will be seen as a victory.

I watched the Crusaders' second side put 41 points on the Melbourne Rebels. Strange to see one Oliver Jager, formerly of the Leinster Academy, playing brilliantly for the Crusaders. Not good enough to graduate out of the Leinster Academy but good enough for the bench for the best team in the world as they head into the business end of the Super 18.

The kid is a powerhouse and as we were only just reminded… three years for residency, I believe. The Kiwis will get one back.

To conclude, I found myself on the couch as the England v Barbarians game was about to start. There were 51,636 paying customers through the turnstiles; the sun was out and the admission price was worth it so you could drink beer all day. Not sure about you, but I'd rather watch Strictly than even five minutes of these meaningless throw-arounds.

Ian Madigan played at out-half for the Barbarians. It was sad to see; he looked like a lost sock in the laundromat of oblivion. This isn't rugby and these types of matches are not what a player of his quality should be reduced to.

Begles/Bordeaux finished 11th in the Top 14 and Madigan barely got a game after Christmas. Madigan is now contracted to a season in the Greene King India Pale Ale Championship with Bristol.

Having watched London Irish beat Leeds Carnegie to gain promotion, there is no guarantee that Bristol will beat Leeds in the Championship next year. The first contract for Bristol might be good, the second one, if there is one, won't! A distracted player who should have made more of his talent.

Instagrams from his mates in Japan and a whole summer to spend with the Barbarians fee on a sun holiday waiting for the paps to arrive.

Irish Independent

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