Irish Rugby Half Term Report

Irish Rugby – Half Term Report

As we have just pasted the half way point of the Pro 12 season, It is time to take stock of where the four Irish provinces are, Connacht are having a great season so far even though they have suffered many injuries and have gone into a couple of fixtures with only 22 players not even enough for a full complement of 23. In fairness to Pat Lam he hasn’t let those issues effect the team and barring the last two weeks where Newcastle Falcons and Ulster have beaten them, they have started this season in fantastic shape and let’s hope this continues into 2016.

 Looking through the squad , it is full of home grown talent that is sprinkled with some outside talent namely Bundee Aki and Tom Mc Cartney to name two players with Super 15 experience that have come in and made a huge difference and given Connacht the hard edge that they have lacked in year’s past. Looking to the rest of this season they will need to weather the Six Nations period where I feel they will be missing more than just Robbie Henshaw, players like Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty should be on Joe Schmidt’s radar. In the forwards guys like Denis Buckley and Ultan Dillane can’t be too far away from a call up. They have been the feel good story of a strange season for Irish Rugby so far.

Moving to Leinster, they resigned Jonathan Sexton in the summer to try and regain lost ground but alas so far it has been far from plain sailing, out of Europe after 4 rounds and until last night against Munster struggling to find form in the Pro 12, but with guys like Sean O Brien, Dominic Ryan and Luke Fitzgerald getting back to form at this key point of the season things are brighten for the boys in blue. Leo Cullen took on his first big head coach’s role after the sacking of Matt O Connor at the end of last season.

Cullen like Foley in Munster was in charge of the team’s forwards before being promoted to the big job. Leinster have done well in recent years in integrating the academy graduates into to the main squad through the Leinster A side and then straight into the first 23. Players like twins , Emmett and Bryan Byrne , Josh Van Der Flier , Jack Conan , Luke Mc Grath have made the step up to the Leinster senior side.

After such a poor start to the season , things looked glum for Leinster but to be fair to Cullen and his coaches they have steadied the ship and with players like Isa Nacewa and Ben Teo’o driving things on the field the pressure has slightly been lifted  from Sean O Brien and Jonathan Sexton. With Europe gone for this year, Leinster may just spark and make a real push for Pro 12 honours this year.

Up to Belfast, things are going well for Ulster two massive wins over Toulouse has reignited there European campaign. Players like Luke Marshall and Stuart Mc Closkey have taken up the batten from injured players like Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe. Paddy Jackson has started firing since arriving back from the World Cup , he along with Ruan Pienaar have steered Ulster into a position where they can go after honours in Europe and the Pro 12. The arrival of Les Kiss has also signalled a change in fortunes before he arrived they were just cruising but now they are in flying form and one wouldn’t bet against them at home and abroad to at least get to the knock out phase of both the Champions Cup and Pro 12.   

Munster now find themselves in a position that they have been in before almost certainly out in Europe barring a miracle and after a humbling 24-7 defeat at the hands of Leinster in Thomond Park where teams used to fear coming to unfortunately this is no longer the case as throughout this season and last things have changed, crowds have become less vocal and results have changed with Clermont Auvergne and a number of teams in the Pro 12 have arrived and stormed “Fortress Thomond”. That myth is sadly no longer the truth with teams coming to Limerick and having an easy time of it. Gone are the days of Ronan O Gara scoring a winning drop goal or penalty to secure another famous win , Since 2011 when the last trophy was secured things have just gone on a downward spiral and although Rob Penney arrested the slump with two European Semi Finals he was disposed with after trying to change the way that Munster played and while this didn’t sit well with many Munster fans I am sure they wouldn’t mind a European Semi Final at the end of this season.

Here’s hoping that Munster‘s fortunes will turn and they can try and find a way out of this current situation or it will be a long finish to the current campaign.


Cian Mc Gibney


Munster Open Letter

Munster Rugby – An Open Letter

After the last few weeks and the three defeats on the spin I though it important to write an open impassioned open letter to the Munster squad and management. I have been a long-time supporter of Munster since the age of 8. The team has given me some of the best days of my life and the team means so much to me I just felt that I needed to pen this letter.

After the league win 2011 under Tony Mc Gahan I never thought that the glory days would be few a far between after that day. Since then there has been another Pro 12 Final appearance and also a few Semi Finals in Europe and also some glorious away days in Europe like Harlequins in 2013 and the magnificent day in Limerick against Toulouse when they put 50 points on the 4 time winners. They are special days and I really want those days back again.

I realise that the team has changed and will continue to change over the next few season’s but that Red Jersey is still the same one that it was in 78 , 92 , 06 ,08 and 2010 when some of the greatest days happened like beating New Zealand , Australia twice and winning two European Cups.

Anthony Foley has tried to get back to the old days of back to basics rugby and that worked on certain occasions and he has tried to come up with solutions to dilemmas that have cropped up since he took over from Penney, like putting a centre combination in place that will get the team going forward , ala the days of Holland , Mullins , Mafi , Tipoki and even Downey and Laulala yeah remember them , they were three centre combinations that always succeeded in getting Munster over the gain line. Since the latter pairing of Downey and Laulala left Munster have struggled to find the right combination with a number of pairings tried not all really having the desired effect. Hurley and Saili was the latest incarnation and that was tried out but Foley reverted to type with Keith Earls moving in from the wing and Conway was moved to the right wing.

Cian Bohane is a man that many may not recognise but he is another option at 13 that Munster may well try out in the coming weeks and months, watch this space!! Getting back to the letter I just hope that Fans can get behind the team this weekend in Leicester and just see where that takes us. This weekend again is huge, we are hanging by a thread in Pool 4 even with one game to spare to be played against Stade Francais in early January. But first a foremost another huge European night in Welford Road to come this Sunday at 5.15 where Munster will do what has made them a legendary team is Europe and that is try and win on the road.

The performances in the last few years has seen people turn away from Munster and say they are finished and that is a person’s prerogative but I do feel that this team has a big performance within them every team does and Munster may just need to call on that performance this weekend. I know in my heart and soul it is there and what better way than to roar back into contention with a win in Welford Road , It has been done before , No reason why it can’t be done again. TO THE BRAVE AND FAITHFUL NOTHING IS IMPOSSAIBLE, this particular motto is needed this weekend like no other time , So Lads go out this Sunday and show everybody what wearing that famed Red Jersey really means.


Cian Mc Gibney


Irish Sporting Weekend

Irish Sporting Weekend

The Irish sporting weekend saw Ireland find out who they will face in next summer’s European Championships, with Martin O Neill’s men drawing Sweden, Belgium and Italy. Not an easy group by any stretch of the imagination but one main difference between Trappatoni’s men in 2012 and O Neill’s crew of 2016 is that while the squad may have many faces from 2012 but the self-belief levels are now at an all-time high. Having beaten Germany 1-0 in Dublin to secure a third place finish where we faced down a well drilled Bosnia side led by Edin Dzeko. Goals from Robbie Brady in the away leg and a brace from Jon Walters in Dublin help send Ireland to France next summer. So now that O Neill and Keane know what they have to face they can plan accordingly.

Moving to UFC and the big fight between Conor Mc Gregor and Jose Aldo the undefeated Featherweight Champion. As I have stated before I am not a massive fan of UFC but you cannot but be impressed with what Conor Mc Gregor has achieved in UFC and also with his charisma is so infectious it is hard not to get carried away by all the hype but one major difference between his trash talk and some of the rest is that he backs everything he says up with action.

 It took him 13 seconds to dispose of Aldo and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas went wild. Another major attraction that helps Mc Gregor is that he came from a simple back ground in Dublin and that to me would be a big help in drawing in fans. He has also got this ability to say the correct thing and the most opportune moment. His skills and fitness levels are incredible. To be able to master one discipline is something special but to combine three in one sport in truly remarkable. He has a coach in which he trusts and this particular link cannot be underestimated. Joe Kavanagh is a key cog in the Mc Gregor camp.

The support that Conor Mc Gregor has managed to garner in a short space of time in also a remarkable achievement. He has supporters that have shown they will travel anywhere in support of there “Hero”. He is now the man with the Belt so we wait with baited breath to see where the Mc Gregor roadshow will pull into next!!

The Champions Cup and Challenge Cups have moved onto the back to back fixtures that could make or break a team’s season. Ulster defeated Toulouse on Friday to reignite there challenge with a 38-0 win. They will now travel to France knowing that they will face an altogether different Toulouse side who will be stung from being niled. In the Challenge Cup, Connacht continued their recent good form with a 25-10 win over Newcastle Falcons. They are also in the middle of an injury crisis which makes any victory in Europe all the more impressive. Looking to Munster’s defeat at home to Leicester, Leicester will be pleased that they delivered another blow in Thomond Park.

 Although Munster will point to a couple to key decisions that helped Leicester to victory. Munster will also need to be honest with themselves this week if they are to stand any chance of gaining a win in Welford Road. Leinster took on Toulon yesterday and were beaten 24-9 and that defeat coupled with the round one loss at home to Wasps has seen Leinster all but knocked out of Europe for this year. Irish rugby needs to steady the ship after a quarter final loss to Argentina. The Union needs to sit down with all of the Provinces coaches and CEO’s and come to a mutual agreement that will benefit both the Provinces and that National side.

 For the last 15 years or so the model that the IRFU pioneered has worked and delivered trophies in both club and national competitions. It needs to be looked at before the club and national sides of the other nations overtake our club sides.It might be time the Union looked to outside investment to help fund the game in this country.


Cian Mc Gibney


European Preview

European Preview – Round 3 and 4

Ulster Vs Toulouse –

After the postponement of round 1 for Ulster, they then went into round 2 at home to Saracens looking to defeat the team that beat them in the 2014 quarter final Saracens, a game that saw Jared Payne red carded for taking a player out in the air.

From an Ulster point of view the game never really went to plan and it saw Saracens dominate and they went on to win the game comfortably.

Heading into the Christmas double header with Toulouse that will see Toulouse travel to Belfast first and then Ulster go out to France, it is crucial that Ulster win at least one of the next two fixtures given the fact that they have to play Oyonnax in a back game in early January. Ulster will still feel they have the squad to compete in Pool 1.

 Looking to the next two games, Ulster who won this weekend in the Pro 12 will want to bring the feel good factor back to the Kingspan Stadium after a few years in the European wilderness, they made the 2012 Final and with a positive result against Toulouse they might well be on the road to redemption. I think Ulster will have enough to get past Toulouse and give themselves a fighting chance in Pool 1.

Connacht Vs Newcastle Falcons –

Connacht will go into round 3 of the Challenge Cup in a rich vein of form, defeating Munster in Limerick for the 1st time since 1986 and coming up just short against Cardiff this week.

 Connacht will have the edge on Newcastle in terms of form and although Connacht have picked up a number of injuries in recent times, it doesn’t seem to have slowed their progress down and with a game plan that suits Connacht, there recent good run in both the Pro 12 and Europe could be set to continue and I see Connacht beating Newcastle in Galway and in Newcastle and setting themselves up for a home Challenge Cup quarter final.

Leinster Vs Toulon –

Leinster go into their double header with Toulon in desperate need of points having being beaten in the opening two games by Wasps and Bath. Leinster are only holding on in there Pool by their fingertips and mathematically still have a slim chance of making progress into the quarter finals. Toulon have welcomed back a number of World Cup stars like Bryan Habana , Drew Mitchell and of course double World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu has come into the squad to add yet another experienced head.

 Paul O Connell would also have been part of the squad only for injury to intervene and delay his debut for a few more months. Leinster will want to set down a marker and get their season back on track and a win over Toulon would be the ideal way to start that process. Toulon have had a mixed start to the Top 14 season and also they were well beaten by Wasps in Coventry. They have picked things up since that defeat and this weekend they beat Agen 53-19 in Toulon and that may also be a signal to Europe that they are ready to fire again.

 Leinster would dearly love a win over Toulon to kick start a stuttering season but you have to think they may have to wait until the Pro 12 resumes for that boost in confidence. Toulon will win both legs at both home and away.


Munster Vs Leicester Tigers –

Munster go into round three with an unconvincing 32-7 win over Treviso as the starting point for their time in Europe this season. Leicester on the other hand will take huge confidence from two big wins over Stade Francais and Treviso. They of course came to Thomond Park in 2007 and delivered Munster’s first defeat at home in Europe. Since then both Clermont Auvergne and Harlequins have breached Fortress Thomond in European action.

With that 07 defeat to Leicester in mind I am sure Munster will do everything to redress the balance. Leicester have had two wins since they last played in Europe whereas Munster suffered defeats to Connacht and Newport Gwent Dragons.

 The old cliché of Munster being really strong in Europe is old news but they are now is desperate need of a big result to keep any hope of European action beyond January alive. Munster will need more than just the crowd and a hell, fire and brimstone approach to get passed Leicester Tigers. Munster might just have enough to find a way past Leicester in Limerick but realistically they don’t seem to have the game plan that will see them get the required result in Welford Road. So over the next two rounds, I see Munster winning one and losing one.


Cian Mc Gibney