World Cup 2021 Qualifier Route

The IRFU have today given a much needed boost to the women’s game after they revealed a plan to try and help Ireland gain qualification for the 2021 World Cup. They will have two Internationals in November 2019. They will have a National camp in August. This will hopefully set them up for the games that will come in November and the 6 Nations of 2020.

It is good to see the IRFU put this together and Adam Griggs and his coaching staff can now put a plan together as they will have much needed time together in August and again in November. This plan is 2 years in the making after a poor showing at a home World Cup alongside some poor displays in the last two 6 Nations under Adam Griggs.

Yes there has been a large turn over in players in the past few seasons with some really experienced players making way for less experienced players but you still have a core group of leaders like Claire Molloy, Lindsey Peat and Ciara Griffin. These are the players that will hopefully lead Ireland to the 2021 World Cup.

The games are against Italy and Scotland and an as yet unnamed opponent. Ireland will know that the performances of the past few months just won’t cut it at the very top level. They will have 9 training camps before the serious stuff of qualifying will kick off.

The hope with this plan is that it won’t just be a flash in the pan situation where these games have only been put into the schedule for this season. There has to be room for this set up to continue beyond the qualifying campaign of late 2020. The IRFU have committed to this plan and the appetite is there from the players to try and get to the 2021 World Cup.

With the positive impact that we have seen from the recent Women’s World Cup in France, let’s hope that the appetite for women’s sport will continue into the future. I am not trying to compare like for like because rugby still has some distance to go to gain the same recognition as Football.

The coverage of women’s sport is beginning to gain real momentum and will only get stronger as the years roll on. I have been a strong supporter of the Irish women’s rugby side since 2013 and I can now count a number of that grand slam winning side as friends. Let’s hope that this 13 month plan for World Cup qualification is a permanent fixture. Roll on the camp in August and the pair of games set for November….

World Cup 2019 Preparations

As the 2019 World Cup roars into view for all 20 competing nations who are beginning to sharpen up their preparations with Fiji beating the Maori All Blacks in Suva last night other sides like the Rugby Championship sides will commence a shortened version of the annual championship with all teams playing only 3 rounds before the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Ireland for their part are in camp in Limerick from Monday based in Munster’s high performance centre in UL. They will hold an open training session in Thomond Park next Friday. They have just spent the last few days in Galway while also holding two earlier camps in Carton House. They will face Italy, England and Wales in World Cup warm up games before departing for Japan to begin against Scotland on September 22nd.

Jonathan Sexton sustained a thumb last week injury that will see him on reduced training for between 4 and 6 weeks. This will give men like Joey Carbery, Jack Carty and Ross Byrne the chance to shine to push their selection prospects. It will be very interesting to see what way Schmidt will break his 45 man squad down to 31 where he will cut 14 names in the coming weeks but many will get the chance to shine against Italy on August 10th in Dublin.

This for most will be there one real shot unless Schmidt decides to delay naming his 31 man squad until closer to departure time. The addition of Will Addison after only a few weeks of pre season with Ulster says that Addison is in a strong position to travel like Conor Murray in 2011 and Tadgh Furlong in 2015.

The breakdown of the squad may only see two out halves named with three scrum halves or flip that on its head where Joey Carbery could easily cover the 9 shirt if Schmidt and his coaches went slightly differently in terms of selection. The time is now for all 45 players because all 45 will feel they can break into the final 31.

Next week in another chance for the whole squad to show what they can do in the surroundings of UL and Thomond Park. It will be an interesting few days in Limerick. They is only 69 days between now and the kick off of the World Cup for Ireland in Japan and we can finally see can Ireland break the quarter final hoodoo… 69 days and counting…..

Coaching Appointments

This week, we have confirmation of two significant coaching appointments with La Rochelle confirming Ronan O Gara to their Head Coach role under Jonno Gibbs who is there Director of Rugby.

He will return to France after 2 seasons in New Zealand as part of the Crusaders coaching ticket alongside Scott Robinson that won a Super Rugby title in 2018 and are still on course to secure another title in 2019 but only time will tell about the destination of the 2019 Super Rugby campaign.

He was part of the Racing 92 coaching team under Lauren Travers and Lauren Labit for 4 years before making his move to New Zealand to continue his apprenticeship in coaching. He has been very clear that although he has been linked to any job that has come up in Ireland since retiring he will return to Ireland to coach one day soon but for now he will continue to ply his trade elsewhere.

This will be his first head coach role as he has only be an assistant since he started out including a short stint with Ireland under Joe Schmidt in 2017 when Ireland went to the USA and Japan for three Tests during the 2017 Lions Tour of New Zealand.

You can be sure he was in the frame to take up a role with Munster when Felix Jones left his position as backs coach but he will instead take up a role in the Top 14 with La Rochelle.

Moving to Munster who yesterday announced the arrival of Stephen Larkham as a senior coach to complete the Munster coaching team for the 2019/2020 season. There is a rumour that another coach may be added to the coaching team before the new season begins.

Larkham will join Munster in August just in time for the pre season matches but you can be sure that he will have certain plans in place and will have forwarded on stuff he will want done before he arrives in the scene to try and hit the ground running.

The hope now will be that the arrival of Graham Rowntree and Stephen Larkham may be the missing pieces of the puzzle after so many near misses in the Pro 14 and Champions Cup in the last few years.

The Munster squad will only have one new name in Nick Mc Carthy and a few players stepping up from the academy like Shane Daly, Gavin Coombes and Sean O Connor who has already played many times for Munster and they will step up to the senior squad and will feel that with the new coaching set up that they will get chances to show what they can do in the new year where you will be short of some Irish Internationals during the World Cup period.

Munster have now put a coaching team in place that they will hope will be there for the long term after Larkham signed on until 2022 and Rowntree did likewise recently. The back room staff is in place now it is over the players to go out and thrive because the focus will be on from week 1. The heavy investment will hopefully reap rewards from early next year. All the clubs who will play in Europe next year will find out who they will face in Europe next week…..

Ireland Under 20s Vs England Match Day 1

Ireland Under 20s began their World Championship campaign in Argentina with an impressive 42-26 win over England. Like the opening game of the Six Nations it was an extremely open affair with England racing into a 10-0 lead with scores from Ollie Sleightholme with Manu Vunipola adding a conversions and a penalty. Then Ireland found a rapid response with David Mc Cann getting over for the first of his two tries, Jake Flannery added the extra 2 to bring the contest close to 10-7.

England were full of very familiar names like Vunipola , Manu is a 1st cousin of the senior Internationals Billy and Mako , you had Tom De Glanville whose father Phil played for England and won a Heineken Cup with Bath in 1998. This group is not the strongest group that England has sent to the Under 20 World Cup in recent times but they will look to bounce back against Italy on match day 2.

Back to the game, England will look back on their indispline where they had two players sent to the sin bin and had replacement hooker Alfie Barbery red carded for a tip tackle on John Hodnett which led to the number 7 having to go off for a head injury assessment.

They will know that they had to play 35 minutes of the games with only 14 players on the field after the two yellow cards and the red card late on. They will also need to sharpen up at the break down where starting scrum half Ollie Fox was caught at the base of a number of rucks and his slow presentation directly affected two of Ireland’s tries where inside centre Stewart Moore used his knowledge of the laws at ruck time to snipe in and score a clever try.

Ireland will need to tighten up in defence because just thinking they will out score teams at will won’t sustain as we go on in this Championship. They play a very open style that also includes some elements that the senior men’s team also do well like the pick and go and also some line out drills that the senior team use. It has been great to see the linkup between the senior men’s team and the 20s that has seen a number of training sessions take place involving both squads.

Ireland went to this Championship shorn of guys like Scott Penny, Harry Byrne and captain David Hawkshaw who were all ruled out of the campaign for varying reasons over the past few months. But Ireland can still call on live wire scrum half Craig Casey who has recently signed a development deal with his home province Munster, others like John Hodnett, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Charlie Ryan and Ryan Baird have plenty of experience at this level.

They will know after a successful opening day that if they can beat Australia at 2pm this Saturday live on Eir Sport that they will be well on the way to qualifying for the play off section of this Championship. They have started this campaign is good fashion and will be keen to continue the good form on Saturday afternoon.

My 2019 World Cup Training Squad

My World Cup Training Squad – 2019

Prop – Dave Kilcoyne, Jack Mc Grath, Cian Healy, Eric O Sullivan, Tadgh Furlong, Martin Moore, Andrew Porter, John Ryan.(8)

Hookers – Sean Cronin, Niall Scannell, Rory Best, Dave Heffernan.(4)

Second Row – James Ryan, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Tadgh Beirne.(4)

Back Row – Josh Van Der Flier, CJ Stander , Jack Conan, Peter O Mahony, Jack O Donoghue, Jordi Murphy.(6) 22 Forwards

Backs –

Scrum Half- Conor Murray, John Cooney, Luke Mc Grath.(3)

Out Half – Jonathan Sexton, Jack Carty, Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery. (4)

Centre –  Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell, Gary Ringrose, Bundee Aki (4)

Wing/Full Back- Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls. (6) 17 backs

Here is the training squad I would select to train to the 2019 World Cup in Japan, I realise not all these men may not make it as injury may strike but this group would be well equipped to challenge in Japan….

Munster Vs Leinster 2019 Semi Final

Munster will play Leinster in the RDS in their second successive Semi Final in the Pro 14. Last year Leinster beat Munster 18-16 in a tight contest last May. Both teams have a few personal changes with the most notable being Joey Carbery moving from Leinster down south to play with Munster initially on a two year deal that has already been extended by two more years.

For Leinster they haven’t had many personal changes outside of Isa Nacewa who retired at the end of last season. Both teams have 1 win each this season, Leinster won back in October and Munster redressed the balance in December winning 29-17.

Leinster will have their own personal demons to beat on Saturday after their comprehensive loss to Saracens in last weekend’s Champions Cup Final in Newcastle. Leo Cullen will make a few personal changes but may largely stick to the 23 that played Saracens to give them the chance to right the wrongs on last weekend.

It is time for Munster to stop all the heart wrenching defeats at the semi final stage of competitions since there Magners League win in 2011 against Leinster in Thomond Park. Time also for this group to really stand up and be counted, They really don’t want another situation where they will be coming out telling us that they will learn from their mistakes and will be back to following year.

This group has hard to learn some really tough lessons since 2011 and will get another shot on Saturday at making a Final and then trying to win it. Having made Finals in 2015 and 2017 and falling at the final hurdle by being beaten by Glasgow and Scarlets, the Munster squad will feel it is time to give themselves a chance at winning another league crown.

There have been enough hard luck stories and mixed performances. The players will need to take full reasonability for this performance and not leave anything on the field of play. It will be interesting to see how Leinster come into this game. Will they be as physical as they were in December or will there be a more controlled approach on this occasion, only time will tell I suppose…..

I will now and try and select the two squads to face off against each other in the RDS this weekend.

 

Leinster XV

15 Jordan Larmour

14 Dave Kearney

13 Gary Ringrose

12 Robbie Henshaw

11 James Lowe

10 Jonathan Sexton

9 Jamison Gibson Park

8 Jack Conan

7 Josh Van Der Flier

6 Rhys Ruddock

5 James Ryan

4 Devin Toner

3 Tadgh Furlong

2 James Tracey

1 Cian Healy

16 Sean Cronin

17 Jack Mc Grath

18 Andrew Porter

19 Scott Fardy

20 Max Deegan

21 Luke Mc Grath

22 Ciaran Frawley

23 Noel Reid

Munster XV

15 Mike Haley

14 Andrew Conway

13 Chris Farrell

12 Rory Scannell

11 Keith Earls

10 Joey Carbery

9 Alby Matthewson

8 Arno Botha

7 Jack O Donoghue

6 Peter O Mahony

5 Tadgh Beirne

4 Jean Kleyn

3 John Ryan

2 Niall Scannell

1 Dave Kilcoyne

16 Rhys Marshall

17 Liam O Connor

18 Stephen Archer

19 Fineen Wycherley

20 CJ Stander

21 Conor Murray

22 Bill Johnston

23 Darren Sweetnam

Leinster Vs Saracens 2019 Champion Cup Final

So the first drive for 5 of the year is upon us as Leinster face Saracens in St James Park at 5pm tomorrow evening. They take on Saracens who are trying to win a third European title. This is the game everyone has wished for as we have heard so much from the English media about how Saracens have reinvented the wheel and have a superior “culture” to everyone else in World Rugby. It is only in the last 10 years that Saracens developed this much vaunted “culture”.

Nigel Wray has pumped millions into Saracens to put them on this upward curve. They are a well drilled team and Mark Mc Call has a good sharp coaching team around him with Kevin Sorrell and Alex Sanderson in charge of attack and defence.

These men have been in and around Saracens for many years and are well versed in the way that Saracens works. They did not reinvent the wheel although it does seem that people seem so keen to point out that Saracens have done things differently but so many clubs have tried those different ways and with varying degrees of success.

For all the talk, Saracens have to be admired with how ruthless they have been in the last few years.   They have managed to get rid of the choker tag because Nigel Wray tried this slightly differently around 20 years ago when he signed guys like Paul Wallace and Kieran Bracken and Francois Pienaar and they didn’t make a any real dent into European or League action at that point.

But 20 years on, the same team is really breaking down all those barriers and winning many trophies and also they are developing their own players as 16 of the 23 to play tomorrow are from their own academy. Leinster likewise will have academy talent on show with Ross Byrne, Max Deegan, Sean O Brien and Rhys Ruddock in there 23.

Both clubs have put time and money into developing their own talent and that talent will get the chance to show off on the biggest stage in St James Park. Both teams seem to be now leading the way in allowing young players the opportunity to play in the big games. Hugh O Sullivan gets into the Leinster 23 to replace Jamison Gibson Park with James Lowe and Scott Fardy in the starting team. Both men have played key roles in Leinster’s run to the Final this year and will be critical to Leinster’s chances in their quest for a 5th title.

This is as I have already alluded to is the game everyone has waited for at this stage after Leinster beat Saracens at the quarter final stage last year. Mark Mc Call will have learned plenty from that game as Leo Cullen will have so it is set to be a real scrape for European supremacy. So many have found it hard to pick a winner but this is the two best sides in Ireland and England taking each other on.

Prediction time, I think Leinster will come out on top but like most Finals it will be tight. There will only be between 3 and 7 points between the sides……. May the best team win…..

All Ireland League 2019

This weekend will see a number of playoff games take place where Clontarf will face Lansdowne on Saturday at 2.30pm in Castle Avenue. On Sunday, Cork Constitution take on Dublin University in Temple Hill at 2.30pm. These are the AIL Division 1A semi finals.

Also this weekend will see a number of other AIL play offs from the Women’s Final that will be played in Energia Park at 3pm next Saturday to other divisional games that will decide the faith of a number of clubs and where they will play there rugby for the season 2019/2020.

The professional game will take everyone’s attention over the closing weeks of the current campaign but the club game will also be in its closing weeks. If you can’t make the Pro 14 games this weekend then head towards Castle Avenue or Temple Hill and cheer on one of the 4 semi finalists or if that won’t work out they are other games that you can go and follow.

The Club game in Ireland flourished in the 80s and 90s but when the game of rugby went professional in 1995 the game in Ireland fell behind in the professional ranks but stayed strong at club level.

Look back on YouTube at the old footage of the AIL finals and you will see how strong the club game once was. In recent times the club game has suffered as the IRFU tries to find a way to get the AIL back close to the glory days of the 80s and 90s. The Professional game has dominated paper, TV, radio and social media.

I have seen at close quarters in the past few years what a good product the AIL is and with large amounts of academy talent and players looking to get game time after injury. The AIL has been a great vehicle to help give young academy talent a taste of senior rugby when some of them may have only played underage rugby before making the step up to the academies in the 4 provinces.

There is real value in giving those academy talents the chance to play at club level rather than at A level for their provinces at certain times of the year. At vital times over the course of the season, players that are affiliated to clubs are made unavailable and travel with their provinces in most cases without the real chance of game time. Many times these guys would have been bettered served to stay at home and play in the AIL.

So many say that the schools game in the reason for so many players making it at some level but the truth is without clubs the schools game would have no players to fill their different teams. The club game has suffered but with the correct planning and exposure it can regain its place in the centre of the game.

Some big choices need to be made in the next few months about the direction of the AIL. A podcast name the Club Scene has been released and has done great work in bringing the club game to a new audience.

Like everything it will take time to get things back on the straight and narrow but there a large numbers of players , coaches , supporters and administrators willing to put in the ground work to re establish the AIL. Here’s hoping that TV, Radio and all social media outlets up there game in the new season.

The AIL is a quality product and will highlight some top players, coaches and clubs throughout Ireland. Next time you see a sign advertising an AIL game make the effort to get to it. It will not disappoint….

Munster Vs Saracens

Bang goes another dream as Munster this afternoon crashed out of the Champions Cup at the Semi Final stage for a third year in a row after losses to Saracens in 2017 and Racing 92 in 2018.

Thankfully this year like 2017 Munster were still in the game at the break as the score stood at 12-9 in favour of Saracens thanks to 4 Owen Farrell penalties and in reply Munster had three penalties from Tyler Bleyendaal and a long range effort from the boot of Conor Murray.

This afternoon again showed Munster that they have still a long way to go to discover the Munster of old. They were ruthlessly exposed in attack. They were brave in defence throughout the game but critically at vital moments they failed to clear their lines and were found wanting in the air where Mike Haley dropped a number of routine balls that on another day he would take cleanly but when the pressure was on today it didn’t happen for him.

Munster will know that today is another failure and there will need to be serious discussions about the direction the Munster attack is going in particular where on occasions today it looked like they didn’t seem to have  a clear idea of how to break Saracens down and kicking for territory is a lost art in Munster at the moment. It seemed to be kick to contest and then take it round the corner and this seemed to be the idea for 80 minutes.

Quick ruck ball was another problem and the mess that was the break down contributed to that but Munster should have been cleaver enough to move the ball at speed and try to kick the corners. Yes they don’t have Ronan O Gara in the armoury anymore but others can use that particular skill it wasn’t patented by O Gara. I also realise that this was difficult down to the aggression and efficiency of the Saracens defence which seemed to be on the edge in terms of being onside but the same can be said for Munster on occasion.

Saracens had a number of off field issues to deal with in the build up and also were beaten last weekend by Bristol but when the heavy hitters were recalled they did a number on Munster and the big names for Munster didn’t fire this afternoon. This just wasn’t Munster’s day but the post-mortem will be hard to stomach as this post mortem is very familiar to this group. They are sick to death of hearing about “learnings” from defeats and this is just another in another in a long list of Semi Final defeats.

Since 2011, it has been near miss after near miss in both the Heineken / Champions Cup along with hitting the post at domestic level also. The time for recriminations will come at season’s end but Munster will need to circle the wagons and prepare for Connacht in the Pro 14 next week.

With questions remaining about the makeup of Johan Van Graan’s back room staff next year the clamour for Ronan O Gara’s return may only intensify as the attacking game plan that Munster seem to be persisting with does not seem to be having the desired effect and it may be time for a new voice in that department. Felix Jones is highly regarded in coaching circles turning down the chance to join the South Africa backroom staff when Rassie Erasmus was appointed in late 2017.

We may only know about the coaching situation at the end of the current campaign. They are scoring tries for fun at Pro 14 level but struggled yet again the knock out phase of Europe only crossing late on when Darren Sweetnam rounded off a slick move.

The soul searching must wait and all the anger must be channelled in the right way and Munster must do everything in their power to end the year in the right manner. The Pro 14 is still there to be won and given their performance today it will be tough but with the correct result next week a home Semi Final is up for grabs , results must go their way also in other games but they can gain home advantage in the Semi’s with victory at home to Connacht…… It was a bitter pill to swallow again today but there is time to put it right so again it’s over to the players to right the wrongs of today…. Let’s leave all questions until the end of the season and just see what happens in the next few weeks….

 

Semi Final Preview

Munster Vs Saracens

Munster go into this Semi Final with memories of the 2017 Semi when Saracens were extremely clinical in dispatching Munster although it was only 10-6 at half time in that game. Munster will most likely not have the services of Joey Carbery who suffered a hamstring injury in the quarter final win over Edinburgh 3 weeks ago. This is a blow but the return to form of Tyler Bleyendaal along with the recent good form of JJ Hanrahan means Munster will Munster may not have the first choice twn at their disposal but these two men have played well since Carbery went off injured in that quarter final.

The time for talking is almost over and another Semi Final appearance awaits the Munster squad. The faithful will travel in large numbers to the Ricoh Arena this weekend to the scene of the last time Munster won a European Semi Final in 2008 against an Alan Gaffney coached Saracens team. Yes both teams have transformed massively since that game and Munster have lost a number of Semi Finals since that day only winning two trophies, the Magners League in 2009 and 2011.

Europe has also seen consistency in reaching the latter stages but with no trophy since 2011, it is time this Munster squad reached the levels of previous sides by firstly making another final and then winning a trophy. Saracens will be favourites to get to another European show piece to play either Leinster or Toulouse in St James Park in May.

For Johan Van Graan it is a second Semi Final since he took over in late 2017. He will need all his powers of positive thinking and some good fortune to get past a well drilled Saracens side. Yes they were beaten late on this weekend by Bristol but they like Munster will be a full throttle for this game and it will be interesting to see have Munster learned from the past 2 Semi Finals where a fast solid start in required. Last year this was not achieved and after 20 minutes Racing 92 were out of sight. Those lessons need to learned.

Munster won’t want to be looking at another loss in the semi final column and for that to happen they need to play like there is not tomorrow because they have been here too often and left with the wrong result. The heart says Munster will win but the head says Saracens will just have too much for Munster over 80 minutes. I hope I am proven wrong but the smart money will be on Saracens to make yet another European Final. Saracens by 3 or more…

Leinster Vs Toulose

It will be Leinster Vs Toulouse mark 3, with both teams on a win a piece at this point. Toulouse have found there mojo again under Ugo Mola. They are back boned by academy graduates like Romain Etamack and Thomas Ramos with men like Richie Gray, Anton Dupont being brought in to add a physical edge to the old attack minded Toulouse side that won multiple trophies in the 90s and 2000s.

Leinster will go into this game off the back of two poor displays in the Pro 14 where they were defeated but having not played up to scratch in the quarter final either and Leo Cullen has already said that they should have Jonathan Sexton back in harness and that will help to get the stuttering attack back on track even though they still managed to score 4 tries against Glasgow at the weekend.

Toulouse will look to the win away from home for inspiration in trying to beat the defending champions on home soil. They were touched off back in January in the RDS and will know they will need to be squeaky clean in all departments to stand any chance of beating a side that won’t want to lose grip on the crown they worked so hard to win in May 2018.

Like the first semi final , this will be a tight contest and I feel that there will only be a score either way but Leinster should make another Final with home advantage helping to see them over the line….. So I feel it will be a Saracens Vs Leinster in St James Park in May…….