Ireland vs Italy -2019 Review

Rome wasn’t built in a day, this statement is very apt given the performance in the Stadio Olympico where Ireland won 26-16 but it was the manner on the victory that has people asking legitimate questions in the aftermath of the game.

How has a team that conquered all before them in 2018, begun to falter and even though they were only beaten once in the last three games in this season’s Six Nations, the questions that one loss has stirred up is incredible. As late as last November this team was being hailed as a real contender to knock New Zealand of their perch next September at the World Cup in Japan.

Now all the work that has been done since the last World Cup in 2015 is being questioned, now we see people coming out to question the squad depth, the attacking game plan and so on.  Sean Cronin started his 1st Six Nations game yesterday and his line out throwing was poor but he can’t just be hung out to dry, the lifters have to take some reasonability in that area also. This particular facet can be fixed in the next two weeks and even Sean Cronin’s replacement Niall Scannell missed his man with his second throw when he came on.

When you don’t have a solid set piece it makes life very tough and the Irish game plan has been based around this aspect being extremely solid since Schmidt came on board and will need to be solid gain so Ireland will again need to go back to basics before the French arrive here. Like the win over Scotland, it wasn’t pretty but they got the win and can try and move on now from here.

Both Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton should have been replaced earlier than they were purely to give Jack Carty and John Cooney the opportunity to see could the unlock the Italian defence in that final 20 minutes. We constantly hear the game in now a 23 man or 30 man game and the guys in the squad need the chance to see can they effect the result.

The fact that Joey Carbery was injured last week in the build up didn’t help matters and probably put Schmidt’s team selection on ice for another time because Sexton and Murray will start against France in Dublin looking to find form ahead of Cooney and Carty. Carty will keep his spot on the bench as Carbery could be ruled out of contention for the French game at least with a hamstring injury. This will open the door for Carty or even Ross Byrne if he performs well with Leinster next weekend.

The attack will have questions to answer in the final two weeks of the Championship against France and Wales in Cardiff. The attack faltered because of lapses in concentration and poor passing nothing more or less again it can be solved and for all the soul searching that has be called for, Ireland still created a few good chances that but for poor passing would have been finished off and would all the questioned be asked  have been asked ??

Time now for this Irish set up to reset the clock heading into the final two games of this Championship and let’s see what happens, they still have an outside shot at the Championship, it’s a long shot given the opposition that Ireland will face and that the Irish record in Cardiff under Schmidt has been patchy to say the least. France in Dublin will be tough given how well France did against Scotland.

This Championship has brought up many questions but let’s not forget this year is long and the old say of “form is temporary, Class is permanent” It is quite important to remember that the World Cup is a few months off yet and the squad has time and the players to fix the problems. Put it another way, win the next two games and who will remember the last few weeks. That particular job may be tricky at the moment but it would just be the tonic to atone for the supposed fall off in form.

Murray and Sexton will come good again, they have too much quality not to and need to be allowed to and in the mean time, others need to be trusted to do the job if required in the next few weeks…..

The Irish women will be bitterly disappointed to have been defeated but they could not live with the power and pace of the Italian attack whose two centres where terrific and although it was a first loss to Italy at this level, the loss could have happened 12 months ago also but this squad like the men will have two weeks to find the solutions to the problems created.

The ladies will need to put this defeat to one side and move on. 3rd place is still up for grabs….

The 20s did well winning 34-14 and will be confident going back to Irish Independent Park to take on France. This side is on course for a Grand Slam and will look to continue the good run with a win over France on home soil. Keep an eye on this side coached by Noel Mc Namara. They play an open brand of rugby….

Munster Deals for Season 2019/2020

Munster have announced another small number of contract extensions and renewals with Alby Mathewson signing another extension to see out the current year with Munster. Keynan Knox  has signed a long term deal to move from an academy deal to a three year deal from next year. Sean O Connor has signed on for a further year on a development deal, Tyler Bleyendaal has signed on for two years with Ciaran Parker moving to a full time deal for next year.

Munster have been clever in getting there squad in shape for season 2019/2020. The retention of both Parker and Knox is interesting , tight head prop has been an issue for Munster since John Hayes retired and both guys were signed by ex Munster boss Rassie Erasmus and will continue to develop in the AIL , Munster A and the Munster senior side.

BJ Botha was signed in 2011 and went on to make the number 3 shirt his own with competition from Stephen Archer. The one issue people may look to is that both these players are not native to Ireland having learned there trade in South Africa and England respectively.

Both men will need to get past Stephen Archer and John Ryan even though John Ryan could be away with Ireland at the World Cup in Japan at the beginning of next season and in that instance both men may see game time early next season.

The Munster squad is now a real mixture of home grown talent ala Tommy O Donnell , Jack O Donohue , JJ Harahan then you have other players who learned there trade in Leinster  like Conway and Carbery and then there guys like Bleyendaal , Marshall and Alby Mathewson who have come in to ply their trade with Munster in the professional game.

The romantics will say Munster are losing touch with the grassroots and the amount of non home grown players is growing by the year and getting bigger as the years go on but that is professional sport and also Munster may not just be producing the quality of player in certain positions at the moment that is required.

The one thing that can’t be denied is Munster are doing their utmost to put a competitive squad in place and look to be continuing the work started with those 12 contracts announced back in November. The work of the Munster academy will need to step up and seeing a player like Craig Casey pushing on with the Ireland 20s is a good sign for the future.

The signing of Nick Mc Carthy on a two year deal may signal the end of the road for Duncan Williams and with Craig Casey pushing on Jack Stafford the current academy 9 may be looking anxiously over his shoulder in the rear view mirror at the progress Craig Casey is making. Only time will tell though about the future of both men.

Munster are now well stocked at half back with Mc Carthy ,Murray ,Casey in place for next year and the two men who will benefit from Conor Murray’s absence will be Mc Carthy ,Casey. At out half , Munster will have Joey Carbery , JJ Harahan , Tyler Bleyendaal , Bill Johnston so Munster should be in a strong place next season.

With a World Cup at the beginning of next season , we may just see some of that young talent in the Munster ranks from the opening week of the new season…….




Ireland XV Vs Italy 2019

15 Andrew Conway

14 Keith Earls

13 Tom Farrell

12 Robbie Henshaw

11 Jacob Stockdale

10 Joey Carbery

9 Conor Murray

8 Jack Conan

7 Josh Van Der Flier

6 Peter O Mahony

5 James Ryan

4 Ultan Dillane

3 Andrew Porter

2 Sean Cronin

1 Cian Healy

16 Niall Scannell

17 Dave Kilcoyne

18 John Ryan

19 Iain Henderson

20 Sean O Brien

21 John Cooney

22 Jack Carty

23 Rob Kearney

Here is the 23 I would select to face Italy next Sunday. It is an opportunity to give guys a shot at pushing for selection further down the road and for France and Wales also. It will be tough in Rome next week but a strong showing will have them well in tune to play France in Dublin on March 10th.

Rice Commits to England

Declan Rice has committed his International allegiance to England after many months of a will he won’t he saga. He was capped 3 times by the Republic Of Ireland. He was capped only in International Friendly’s so he was not tied to the Republic because these are seen as non competitive games and for this reason he is eligible to switch allegiance back to England, the country of his birth.

Many people will move to vilify Rice as to why he allowed himself to be capped by the Republic Of Ireland when his heart is now set on continuing his International career with England who are currently managed by Gareth Southgate. This particular decision was a tough one to reach and many of his closest confidants, be they family, friends, team mates and coaches were consulted along the way to him making this choice.

Yes, it will stick in the craw of many that he has turned his back on the green jersey but they are many angles to this story, did he have his head turned by Southgate, did he have a change of heart at one of the training camps he was involved in when involved with the Republic.

We may never really get the full story but let’s be honest, yes he won 3 caps but was he ever really going to be fully committed to a country that he would have only spent shorts periods of time in with parents.

Mick Mc Carthy would have done his utmost to get Declan Rice to commit his lot with the Republic but the pull of the country of birth probably proved too much. It is huge blow for every person that did work to get Rice involved from under 16 level up to under 21 level.  It is a real quandary for countries like Ireland who in some cases depend on guys with parents or grandparents from the Republic of Ireland but who left for pastures new in search of work and other opportunities.

This situation has benefitted the Republic Of Ireland in the past with men like Mick Mc Carthy himself, Ray Houghton and Andy Townsend all born elsewhere but declaring to play in green through the 80s and 90s. This rule was used impressively by Jack Charlton to bring many guys over his tenure in charge. Although we are in different times now than we were back then, we qualified for 3 out of the 5 tournaments in his time at the helm, two World Cups and Euro 88.

What I am saying is times have changed and the Republic Of Ireland may not be the most attractive of places to place International football like it was while Charlton was in charge.

Declan Rice has chosen to commit to England and we will just have to wait and see will his decision be proven correct. He has committed to them but that does not mean he will automatically be selected by Gareth Southgate.

He may have had some assurances by the FA and Southgate’s staff that his name is currently in the mix but that list is long and winding. Just ask Jack Grelish who made a similar move a few years ago. The circumstances are different but the situation is the same.

The FAI has had to deal with this before and now on the back of this decision will look to UEFA ,and FIFA to clear up the ongoing quandary of this will he /won’t he saga. The impetus will be on their shoulders to make some sort of move to at least show up the unease of this situation and the impact it has.

I think the FAI will still have questions to answer but all in all, this decision was made by Declan Rice and a team of advisors. Whatever the reasoning for it, it will have to be respected and all in Ireland along with the FAI will have to respect it however hard that pill will be to swallow.

All parties can move on from this episode and both sides will hopefully learn from it and both the FA and FAI will be in a position to go to UEFA and FIFA and try and close this loophole so it will not happen again to other nations…

Ireland Vs Scotland Weekend Review

The Championship is back on track for both Joe Schmidt’s men and for Adam Griggs’s charges both sides winning in Scotland over the weekend while the 20s who are coached by Noel Mc Namara made it 2 from 2 with a 24-5 win also on Friday evening.

Both the 20s and women played at the same time with the women having their game covered by RTE unfortunately for rugby fans the 20s games was not covered on any channel or any social media outlet but alas these are the breaks when you have so many masters to please.

The women will be pleased to have got back to winning ways after being humbled the previous week by England 51-7. This win has to be credited to the Irish forwards with the Irish scrum dominating there Scottish counterparts.

The Irish back row of Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy and Anna Caplice were outstanding and it was their dominance along with the scrum that helped the Irish ladies pick up a much needed win where Alison Miller made a try scoring return to the starting team.

On a challenging evening for either side to try and play any real attractive rugby, it was more of an arm wrestle that the Irish just seemed more in tune to the game and this type of attitude was important in Ireland grinding out the result.

Now there is a two week break until Ireland head for Italy in search of a second win, this will be a game that the squad will have targeted in the build up to the Championship.

Even in victory Adam Griggs will know he side can still improve and he will really need to use whatever window of opportunity that is afforded to him to get some key messages to his players and he will also be hoping some more players who are involved in the 7s programme may be freed up to get involved in squad training to boost the options ahead of a tricky fixture away to Italy.

It was a good win by the women on Friday evening and hopefully now they will use the next two weeks sharpening up the attack and defence with Italy in mind.

The men got there campaign back on track after defeat last time out at home to England. After results this weekend, Ireland are 4th in the standings but I do honestly feel the game with England was a blip and Ireland will use the 2 week break to reassess where things went wrong in the opening two rounds because although there was a win over Scotland there is plenty to work on.

The attack is extremely rigid and very much still a real work in progress and maybe the fact that Joey Carbery saw game time for over 57 minutes last Saturday might work out for the best in the long term because Ireland are still hugely dependent on Jonathan Sexton to run the show and if the worse was to happen in the next few months and Jonathan Sexton was to be ruled out of the Six Nations or the World Cup, the likes of Carbery and Ross Byrne will need to be trusted to run the show in green.

Yes he threw an intercept pass but he will learn, he is still only 23 and it is far more beneficial that he learn on the field rather than sitting there to get on with 10 or 15 minutes remaining and have no chance to show off the skill set that is beginning to hone down with Munster.

Others like Chris Farrell, Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane put up the hand to suggest to Joe Schmidt that it is not only Iain Henderson and Tadgh Beirne he has at his disposal behind the first choice pairing of Devin Toner and James Ryan. The squad depth was challenged at the weekend and came up with some if not all the answers to the questions asked.

It is now a two week break to look back and take stock before they go again in Rome. It’s back to Pro 14 action for a few members of the squad to get valuable game time while aiding there club sides quest for league points…

Ireland vs Scotland 2019

So Ireland have made 5 changes for the Scottish game in Murrayfield this weekend. Rob Kearney, Chris Farrell, Quinn Roux, Jack Conan and Sean O Brien have been drafted in by Joe Schmidt and in this case we will finally see the squad depth tested after the past 3 years where Schmidt has build up a reserve that he can dip into.

Last weekend was a wakeup call for Ireland and you can be certain there will be reactions this week and we will finally get to see the squad depth tested in a game with have consequences at full time. Knowing the way the squad has reacted in the past something similar will be needed this time round.

The reaction to the defeat was over the top, like the reaction to the winning streak that saw Ireland win 18 of the past 20 matches. One defeat doesn’t mean the whole situation isn’t redeemable in the rest of the campaign. Let’s face it Joe Schmidt and his squads have delivered 3 Championships since 2013 including the Grand Slam last year. Yes the 2015 World Cup will be pointed to as a failure because of the manner of the defeat to Argentina in the quarter final.

This Saturday is the first true test of the squad depth and by Saturday evening we will know if the changes worked out or haven’t worked at all.  Looking at the way the players have spoken since the loss to England, one gets the feeling that there was real honesty last Monday at the video analysis session in Carton House.

Scotland will be driven by their win at home last week and they also defeated Ireland in 2017 at home 26-22. Ireland started slowly that afternoon and they will be wary of starting slowly this year because they were playing catch up last week after conceding a minute in and although they did manage to dominate for 20 minutes in the opening half scoring a try through Cian Healy and that was converted by Jonathan Sexton.  Although Ireland dominated the stats they still didn’t put enough points on the board to win the game.

On 65 minutes, it was 17-13 to England and it was only after Jonathan Sexton threw a pass that Henry Slade intercepted and dived over that you could truly say that England were going to pull away and win the game.

I think it is time to calm ourselves and stop getting so tied up in knots by a defeat, it happens and will happen again but it is how you react to last week that will define this Championship. We have been incredibly fortunate since Joe Schmidt took over that we have won a Grand Slam and two Championships in his time in charge. No other Irish coach has achieved anything like that since Ireland began playing in the Championship.

Schmidt deserves to be criticised and has so often come up with solutions to the questions that were previously asked and he deserves another chance to try and weave his magic and if the performance this week does not follow, then players and coach will be correctly questioned further and they will be the ones that will have two weeks to find the right solutions to the questions. Ireland haven’t been far away in the past few years and with the right result this week , they will be back on track in the 2019 campaign…..

6 Nations 2019 Week 1 Review


So after week one of the 6 Nations , both our senior men and women’s teams have some soul searching to do after chastening defeats in Donnybrook and the Aviva. The women were humbled 51-7 and the senior men were beaten 32-20. The only bright spot on week 1 was the 20s who won down in Cork 37-28.

All three sides will head to Scotland to try and find form in the case of the men and Women’s sides and to continue the good form of the 20s. The 20s started the weekend off in fine style scoring some scintillating tries in a first win at this level over England since 2015.

The women also had good spells of possession in the opening half of their game in Donnybrook  but they could never force home the advantage and England led 13-0 at the half time break and took full advantage in the 2nd half and pulled away to win convincingly 51-7.

Adam Griggs will need his side to bounce back in confident form and redress the balance after Scotland came to Donnybrook and won last season. Will Alison Miller come back into the side on the wing and what 7s players will Griggs have at his disposal for this game will be interesting to see.

Unfortunately, the pros vs amateurs’ argument has to be had because it was plain to see that Ireland struggled fitness wise in the face of a constant pressure as the game wore on. This is again going to be laid bare when they face France at home in a few weeks when they visit Dublin in Round 4.

It will again open the question of professional contracts for those players to let them compete at this level. The appetite for this discussion will have to wait until the end of the competition but it is a discussion that will need to take place to just decide where the 15s game is actually going in Ireland.

For the Senior men, it is a case of where the game plan went wrong and why in the face of an England onslaught, they did not have a real plan B to fall back on ?? The loss of CJ Stander for a month is a blow but with Sean O Brien and Jack Conan in the squad , Ireland should have strong replacements and Dan Leavy is also knocking around so he may train this week in the build up to the Scotland game.

Last weekend was not what was expected by many but let’s be fair ,England had the home work well done and executed the game plan that Eddie Jones gave them and they dispatched Ireland in good style. For Ireland , there will really need to be a strong reaction to the loss last Saturday and the 23 selected will really need to show the type of aggression and skill in attack and defence that England showed. Round 2 is next up so the training week will be interesting in Carton House….

Women’s 6 Nations 2019

The Women’s 6 Nations 2019

This evening Ireland take England in the opening 6 Nations game in Energia Park Donnybrook at 5pm. Not the best time to expect a huge crowd at rush hour in Dublin. That will not matter to the 23 players who will take to the field for Adam Griggs this evening.

This is a huge task as the England squad is a fully professional paid side and the Irish side is still amateur , now this should not be used as a reason to say that if Ireland are beaten tonight , then the fact it was pros vs amateurs should not come into it. The Irish team has good experience within it with Claire Molloy, Ciara Griffin and Sene Naoupu. If Ireland mange like they did to France two years ago to hold their own at the set piece then maybe just maybe they may be able to cause a shock and beat this English side.

England are in a position where they recalled Natasha Hunt and Emily Scarrett who had been on 7s duty in the last two years. In that time the RFU has again handed out full time deals and will allow there women’s side to flourish in the run up to the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand. They will of course want to dethrone France from their place as defending champions.

Ireland have recognised that fact they may already being playing for 3rd in this campaign and that is a very honest assessment at this point in a campaign but the two sides ahead of everyone else are clearly France and England and that is down to professionalism pure and simple. Also the fact that the other side’s like Wales and Scotland have made strides forward and they will fancy taking Ireland on in the quest for wins in this Championship.

From an Irish perspective it’s about securing wins at home to the big two in 2019 , a number of players have been capped in the past 12 months wand Adam Griggs has worked tirelessly to try and build up a reserve of players her can call on when others are on 7s duty or out injured.

They beat Wales in a warm up fixture a few weeks ago and that will boost the confidence with a new campaign about to start. England under Simon Middleton will be here full sure of the win and bonus point but if Adam Griggs can get his team firing for the 80 minutes ,one doesn’t know what may happen.

So the 6 Nations will start at 5pm this evening then the 20s go into battle at 7.15pm down in Cork in Irish Independent Park , the Irish Legends play there English counterparts this evening in the RDS in aid of Charity.

As Always, enjoy the next 7 weeks, because whether you enjoy rugby or not, I can promise thrills and spills. I hope you all enjoy this year’s fair as much as this author will…… Enjoy….