European Quarter Finals

European Champions Cup Quarter Finals – France Vs England !!


So it’s France vs England in the Champions Cup Quarter Finals with an even spread of 4 teams from each country and no team from the Pro 12 on this rare occasion. This occurrence will of course throw up the usual questions of financial muscle and the strength of each league.

The Pro 12 will have many questions asked of it given the fact that not one team made the last 8 in the Champions Cup although some Pro 12 sides made the last 8 in the Challenge Cup. Of course it will straight away have people questioning the strength of the Pro 12. Ulster did extremely well to put themselves in a position to fight for a last 8 spot. There can count themselves extremely unfortunate not to be heading for the Quarter Finals in April. They along with the Ospreys flew the flag for the Pro 12 into yesterday’s vital round 6 fixtures.

Rather than this being a disaster of epic proportions, the Pro 12 will just have to come up with solutions to the problems that have surfaced off the back of results over the weekend. Now in saying all of this, all is not rosy in the Top 14 and the much talked about Aviva Premiership.

Teams like Bath and Clermont Auvergne have fallen through the trap door which goes to prove that money doesn’t mean you will automatically win the Big prize, just ask Clermont who despite bringing in talent like Nick Abendanon and Jonathan Davies are still waiting to lift Europe’s big prize. They will have to wait until next season at the earliest to win that much sought after European Title.

The lack of a side from the Pro 12 will also have people asking would it be better to have the Irish teams in particular in private hands and not in the hands of the Union but as I have shown by stating that both Bath and Clermont have spent heavily and haven’t crossed the European threshold and picked up Europe’s big prize. Bath did win it back in 1998 but that was along time ago and loads of water has passed under the bridge since that win over Brive.

Munster could easily have made the last 8 if they had won at least one game against Leicester and picked up a losing point or try bonus point in more than just the two fixtures against Treviso. This instance will show everybody how important it is to come away from each fixture with something. You don’t need to win all your games but come away with a try bonus or losing bonus point and you’ll never know how crucial that could be in the final standings.

Leinster will be hugely disappointed with their performances in their Pool and will want to put this year behind them although they have unearthed a few gems within their squad, with guys like Josh Van Der Flier and Gary Ringrose stepping up to the mark and taking the chance that has presented itself with the World Cup being on over the early weeks of the season. Josh Van Der Flier has made the most of Sean O Brien being away with Ireland and has performed so well he will be involved with Ireland during this year’s Six Nations.

Coming back to the European Quarter Finals it isn’t all doom and gloom with Connacht making it through to the last 8 in the Challenge Cup and continuing what has been a very impressive season in the Pro 12 and in Europe , where they had to travel to Russia to take on Ensei STM. So what Connacht have proven to the other three teams in Ireland is that it can be done and you just have to persevere.


Cian Mc Gibney


Ireland 6 Nations Squad

Looking at the Ireland squad that will contest the opening two rounds of this year’s 6 Nations there are some winners and losers, both Cian Healy and Mike Ross have been replaced by James Cronin and Tadgh Furlong, Joe Schmidt is moving away from the old hands although Cian Healy has struggled with injury and suspension since coming back from the World Cup. Mike Ross will be disappointed to have been left out but with the emergence of Tadgh Furlong coupled with the already well established Martin Moore, Mike Ross may finally have to admit defeat and feel that his International career could be coming to a close.

Elsewhere in the forwards, Josh Van Der Flier, Ultan Dillane and CJ Stander have earned first time call ups after strong performances over the last few months. Into the backs and there has been minimal change with only Stewart Mc Closkey being rewarded for his fine early season performances. Joe Schmidt hasn’t gone too far away from the squad that he picked for the World Cup.

The clamour for Gary Ringrose to be included will have to die down for another while even though the squad has only been announced for the 1st two rounds of the 6 Nations. Injuries may open the door for all players currently on the outside of the squad.  Players like Gary Ringrose, Jordi Murphy and Cian Healy will have to wait until at least round 3 to break into the squad.

Looking to the tournament itself both Ireland and Wales want to start the campaign with a win but both sides will be the final two teams into action on the opening weekend.  Already we have seen Warren Gatland heap the pressure on Schmidt and Ireland by saying that they are favourites to win a third consecutive Championship. After winning in 2014 and 2015 it would probably be natural to think that Ireland would have a real chance to win a 3rd title.

With both England and France under new coaches Guy Noves and Eddie Jones, both of those sides will fancy their chances to turn their team’s fortunes around. England will want to perform in this campaign after being knocked out of the World Cup at the group phase and France will want to bounce back after being dismantled by New Zealand in Cardiff in the Quarter Final. Ireland of course will want banish the demons of that defeat.

Italy and Scotland are not to be forgotten after Scotland came within a score of beating Australia to reach the Semi Final. They along with their coach Vern Cotter will be hell bent on improving on that Quarter Final performance and I am sure they will cause all the other teams many problems.

Looking to Italy they will want to send Coach Jacques Brunel away with some positive performances and maybe one or two wins to give the incoming coach the opportunity to build on some good results. The results have not been the best for Italy since Brunel took over from Nick Mallett. Whoever does take on the job will have to work with a team that has to depend on two underperforming club teams in the Pro 12. Some of their better players are plying their trade away from Italy and also they need to blood more players from there Under 20s side to give the team a well needed shot in the arm. Here’s hoping we have a good tournament to give Northern Hemisphere Rugby a well needed boost.


Cian Mc Gibney