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