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…….

Munster- Semi Final Time Again

Munster are in another Champions Cup Semi Final, It’s a 12th semi final appearance since 1995. This squad with a few additions is the same one that has progressed to three successive semi finals since 2016. The time is now to progress further than the Semi Final as a number of this Munster squad are in the prime of their careers and will want to get to a first European Final since 2008.

Players like Peter O Mahony, Conor Murray and CJ Stander have achieved plenty in the green of Ireland over the last few years but there is still no trophy in club colours for these guys and the Semi Final against Saracens in three weeks time represents another shot at a team that has the Indian sign over Munster in the last few meetings.

Saracens will feel they will walk this Semi Final, all the talk even at this stage is that they will get past Munster with ease down in Coventry at 3.15pm on the 21st of April. Yes the Munster performances in recent times would suggest that they have it all to do in this game but this group has it within them to put all missed opportunities behind them. The talk from certain personalities seemed to suggest that the trophy could nearly have been handed out after their impressive 56-27 win over Glasgow.

They did it well without Owen Farrell who welcomed his 1st child into the world last weekend. Alex Goode stepped into the 10 role as he has done many times in the last few years with Max Malins getting a spot on the bench. They have the strength in depth to win a third Champions Cup but Munster will have a shot at stopping that particular dream and the manner of the loss in 2016 in Dublin will prove that Munster have work to do but having Conor Murray available this time round unlike 2014 and 2016 will help the Munster cause.

Although the availability of Joey Carbery remains to be seen and he will be carefully managed in the next few weeks with an eye on getting him fit and ready for the game in the Ricoh Arena.

Tyler Bleyendaal came on early last weekend and landed two big kicks at goal and rescued a wayward Munster line out to help in setting up the 2nd Keith Earls try. If Joey Carbery does not make the Semi, Tyler looks to be in pole position to get the out half slot if Carbery is ruled out.

It’s seems like Saracens have one foot in the final already and the Munster squad have plenty of material already that they can use the adorn the wall of the dressing room because a large share of people have Saracens pencilled in to play in St James Park on May 18th.

Munster will need to summon up there powers that saw them squeak past Edinburgh last Saturday. Not many will be in the camp, but sport doesn’t all run smoothly and Munster will need an 80 minute performance and not just play for short periods as they have done in the last two Semi Finals.

Johan Van Graan and his coaching team has had their honeymoon period and the time is now to show they have learned those hard worn lessons of the past two seasons. Will Munster make a first European Final since the win in 08, the game in Coventry on the 21st will tell a lot. It will be 11 years after Munster last played there against Saracens on that afternoon they won through 18-16….  A two point win would do the trick in a few weeks. Roll on Saracens in a few weeks time…

Time for this Munster squad to come of age and not just tell us about lessons learned and we will be back in 12 months time… 2019 can be the year that this squad puts those heart breaking losses to bed and start putting wins in the columns alongside these Semi Finals…..

Carbery Commits Long Term To Munster

Joey Carbery has committed his long term future to Munster after signing a two year extension to his original 2 year deal which would have ended in June 2020. His commitment to signing a new deal has to be commended as many people may have assumed his the original deal would have been like an unofficial “loan deal” which would have seen him re join Leinster in 2020.

Leinster though have been proactive since he joined Munster bringing Ciaran Frawley into the senior set up and also with Ireland under 20s out half Harry Byrne waiting in the wings watching his brother Ross doing special things in the blue of Leinster and also the green of Ireland having been capped in November 2018. The rewards are there if you work hard enough and both Ciaran Frawley and Ross Byrne are putting in that graft.

Carbery will know that his performances have been scrutinised more closely since his move south and he has taken to the Munster 10 jersey like a duck to water performing very well against Exeter away and Gloucester away in January. Since then injury has intervened and he is still on course to return to the Munster 10 shirt against Edinburgh in BT Murrayfield on Saturday.

With Connacht’s Jack Carty getting capped during the Six Nations this year , Ireland are lining up a number of guys to challenge Jonathan Sexton and Joey Carbery will know his performance levels will need to stay on an upward curve if he is the fight off the genuine competition from Carty and Ross Byrne.

He has struck up a good rapport with Alby Mathewson and Conor Murray when he has been partnered by either of them. This has helped him gain confidence and if he is declared fit to be involved this week, it will be a major boost to Munster who will want to get to another semi final with the hope of progressing beyond that stage this season if they manage to get past Edinburgh then the fitness of Joey Carbery will be key to the success or failure of that particular goal.

Munster will of course now need to use the experience of Bleyendaal and Carbery to bring Bill Johnston and others like Jake Flannery and Ben Healy who were involved most recently with the successful Ireland under 20s side that won a Grand Slam on Welsh soil through to get capped at A or senior level over the next few seasons by Munster. Munster have a squad that should now be in a position to challenge for the major honors again after a few years of near misses and Joey Carbery will be key to making those dreams a reality….

Champions Cup / Challenge Cup Preview

This weekend, all four provinces go into quarter final action with Connacht facing Sale Sharks on Friday evening in the Challenge Cup quarter finals. This will be a great chance for Connacht to get into a European Semi Final and go one better than a few years ago when Toulon beat them in Galway to get through to take on Cardiff Blues in the 2014 Challenge Cup Final.

There first choice half back pairing of Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are in good form having returned from Ireland duty with a spring in there step. That will not be enough to win them this game that is away from home. Men like Ultan Dillane, James Cannon and Gavin Thornbury will be important because it will take a huge effort from the forwards to see Connacht home in this fixture.

Looking at their performances in Europe, they seem to have reserved their best performances until the European weeks this year. This game won’t be easy although they have already gone to Manchester and let’s hope that experience will stand to them on Friday evening. For both teams they will know by winning this competition that they will get a ticket to the Champions Cup for season 2019/2020.

Andy Friend has done a good job and has Connacht playing really well and although some performances in the Pro 14 have left a lot to be desired, the Challenge Cup campaign has brought some real quality rugby to the fore. This weekend will be a real test of how far Andy Friend has brought this squad this season. A win in Manchester will show how far that they have gone this year. Connacht to win by 3….

Munster take on familiar foes Edinburgh this Saturday at 12.45pm in BT Murrayfield. It is the opening quarter final in this year’s Champions Cup and will hopefully see the return of many Irish Internationals to the Munster 23 in their quest to reach yet another European Semi Final. They have reached this stage in the last few season’s only to be well beaten in those Semi Finals by Saracens and Racing 92 last year. Many of the players have said they don’t want to experience another loss at this stage in 2019 after those two defeats.

Time now for Munster to take that faithful step and hopefully having Joey Carbery back fit will help them to find a way past a gritty Edinburgh side that will have a vocal home support behind them but Munster will be able to count on the red army who will travel in big numbers this weekend in the hope that there side will get past Edinburgh and make another Semi Final that could yet be in the Aviva Stadium depending on the result of the 2nd quarter final at 3.15 between Saracens and Glasgow Warriors. If Glasgow win that tie then Munster will have home advantage in Dublin if they beat Edinburgh.

Edinburgh haven’t been here where this Munster team has been here in the last two years and will hope that experience will help them defeat Edinburgh who won against Leinster at home on Friday evening, good preparation for the upcoming challenge vs Munster.

Munster to win by between 3 and 5 points.

Leinster and Ulster head to the Aviva Stadium this weekend to renew hostilities after the 2012 Heineken Cup Final, Ulster will want to redress that balance and although they won’t be many players on the Ulster side, they will be hell bent on winning this one and with John Cooney and Billy Burns at half back they will fancy taking on the duo of Luke Mc Grath and Jonathan Sexton.

It’s another mini Irish audition with the World Cup in firm focus. All road will lead to the European Semi Finals and with what happened during the 6 Nations, it’s great to see all four Irish sides in action this coming weekend. We will have least 1 side in the quarter finals across both competitions but let’s dream for a second and imagine that 3 out of the 4 sides will get through although one will lose out between Ulster and Leinster…. Roll on 7.45pm on Friday for Connacht to kick start the Quarter Finals weekend…

Ireland vs Wales Review

So the rare chances of a Championship with victory over Wales have been empathically dismantled by a focused and disciplined Welsh side led by Alun Wyn Jones who today won his third Grand Slam. This game started with another early try this time set up by Gareth Anscombe and finished by Hadleigh Parkes both of whom won a Super Rugby title in 2013 with the Chiefs alongside Ireland’s inside centre this afternoon Bundee Aki.

Ireland will look back on this game when they regroup for a de brief either tomorrow or Monday they will realise that this game will taken plenty of time to recover from, Wales were full value for the 25-7 score line at full time but the Irish discipline and tactical know how that we have been so used to seeing in the past two years in particular were so sorely lacking this afternoon.

Our much vaunted half pack pairing will need to go into the video review with helmets on as they extremely poor this afternoon, yes they were not alone in that regard as others will have to look very deep for reasons as to why this display was so poor and abject. Poor kicking, extremely poor handling, yes the roof was opened and left opened but this constant theme that the weather was going to play a major factor is a non runner as far as I am concerned as we play most of our sports in this part of the world in the rain and the wind is also a big factor but this theory that you needed the roof  to be closed to help Ireland and Wales produce a quality spectacle.

Well Wales certainly answered that question by producing a performance that was much stronger and more clinical than even the England game in the Principality Stadium. The early injury to George North may have been a blessing in disguise as this then meant that Dan Biggar came into the game very early on and Gareth Anscombe moved to full back and this arguably strengthened the Welsh side and as soon as Biggar entered the fray his was able to kick the corners and distribute the ball to willing carriers throughout the Welsh side.

The back row of Navidi, Tipuric and Moriarty out played their counterparts O Mahony, Sean O Brien and CJ Stander, all three were British and Irish Lions in the last two tours. Ireland were very poor at set piece and they also had some very poor in attack with our half backs faltering and the question will need to asked why both Murray and Sexton were left on until the 70th and 73rd minute when Marmion and Carty could and maybe should have been introduced earlier in the game. Those two were not alone, others like Rory Best should have been called ashore earlier than they were.

Wales were fully deserving of their victory this afternoon and with that win Warren Gatland will end his time in charge of Wales in the Six Nations like it began with a Grand Slam win. Joe Schmidt will also end his time in charge of Ireland in the Six Nations having not beaten Wales in Cardiff something I am sure that will bug him when he goes through his own personal de brief next week.

The manner of this loss will sting for a few months but there won’t be time to dwell for the players as all the Irish squad will be back at their provincial bases from Tuesday. For the Irish management team, next week will be very tough to stomach when they will go through an extremely long and hard process of sifting through the debris of the past 8 weeks and trying to pick up the pieces of what has been a mixed Championship that will see Ireland finish 3rd in the table behind Wales and England.

The preparations for the World Cup will be very interesting to say the least at this stage. The players will have to focus on club matters for the latter part of the season where they will be battling for European honours and domestic honours also. The two defeats have rocked the confidence of everyone, players, coaches, supporters and it will take serious powers of concentration and ambition to look each other in the eye and be honest with each other and know that today and on the opening evening against England that this wasn’t good enough to do anything special at the World Cup in September…..

Congrats to Champions Wales who completed the Grand Slam by beating Ireland……

My Team Of the 2019 Six Nations is :

15 Liam Williams – Wales

14 Jonny May – England

13 Jonathan Davies – Wales

12  Hadleigh Parkes – Wales

11 Keith Earls – Ireland

10 Owen Farrell – England

9 Gareth Davies – Wales

8 Billy Vunipola – England

7 Justin Tipuric – Wales

6 Josh Navidi – Wales

5 Alun Wyn Jones – Wales

4 James Ryan – Ireland

3 Tadgh Furlong – Ireland

2 Ken Owens – Wales

1 Rob Evans – Wales – 9 Welsh, 3 Irish, 3 English in the team of the year.

Ireland Vs Wales 2019

Come 2.45pm, all the talking can stop and all players and fans can focus on the game that will either see Wales win a third Grand Slam under Warren Gatland or Ireland will be in with a shout of holding on to the crown won last March in Twickenham. Of course in the event of a draw, neither side will win the title.

This game is evenly balanced after Ireland regained there mojo after defeat to England in Dublin on the opening weekend. Ireland don’t have a great record under Joe Schmidt in Cardiff and will want to tick that box off in Schmidt’s final 6 Nations game as Ireland Head Coach.

Gatland will want to do likewise as he brings down the curtain on 12 years as Wales supremo in the 6 Nations.

Of course he will have a World Cup to contest for in less than 6 months time in Japan. Having guided Wales to Semi Final in 2011, he will want to go a step further in Japan. The focus won’t be on Japan, it will be on Ireland who pose quite a big obstacle to Wales winning another Grand Slam under Gatland’s watch.

Unlike 2005, I doubt Ireland will buckle under the pressure of a Grand Slam decider for Wales. Unlike 12 months ago all the expectancy will be on Wales in front of an expectant home crowd. Ireland will feel this is a free shot given how unlikely it may be that they will win the Championship this year. Yes it can still be done but results will need to go their way for it to happen. Joe Schmidt would love nothing more than to spoil the Welsh party on his final 6 Nations trip to Cardiff as Ireland boss.

The side he has selected may be in a position to do that and although Iain Henderson will not be involved Tadgh Beirne has been selected alongside Ireland’s player of the Championship in my mind James Ryan who will call the line out this week. What Devin Toner’s injury has done is it a put certain players in a place where they need to perform knowing he will not be involved to help them out of a sticky situation if it arises.

Jack Carty has been rewarded with a place on the bench after his impressive half an hour last Sunday. Even if Joey Carbery had been in the shake up for selection I think Jack Carty would still be worthy of a spot in the 23.

Again we have seen three men vying to take Jonathan Sexton’s spot namely Carbery, Ross Byrne and Jack Carty. It is great to see this situation crop up as for many years it was O’Gara and he alone. Again the work on the depth chart has come up trumps for Schmidt.

Have no doubt that Jack Carty will do an adequate job if called on early this weekend. He will have experience will inside him with Conor Murray and Kieran Marmion who is also on the bench this week. This weekend is a last chance to regain the crown won in such empathic fashion last year and 12 months on, the time is upon the 23 men selected to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and deny Wales the party they seem hell bent on having and although the likelihood with an Irish win would mean Eddie Jones’s England would sneak in to nick the title with a win against Scotland in Twickenham.

Plenty of rugby to be played before the 5pm kick off in the Calcutta Cup game and there will be thrills and spills in Cardiff before the action in Twickenham. To the Irish 20s, It will be full steam ahead to see can they claim a Grand Slam of their own in Colwyn Bay at 7.05pm on Friday evening. Noel Mc Namara’s men will have Harry Byrne and Craig Casey at half back and that slection alone could be key to see where this game will be won and lost….

The Irish women will hope to end a most disappointing campaign with a much needed win on Sunday at 1.30pm. The side will need to hit top gear or somewhere close to see off this Welsh side but Adam Griggs will want his charges to go out and finish this Championship on a positive note….

Ireland Vs France 2019

Ireland will look to get there stuttering Women’s Six Nations campaign back on track this evening in Donnybrook at 7pm live on RTE. They face France who will be looking to pick up a win that will keep them in touch with Championship leaders England.

For Ireland, it will be about find the right blend in attack and defence that will help them to defeat France who have made a few changes coming into this game and have welcomed back Jessy Tremouliere who has been out since last Autumn with a leg injury.

Ireland have made a few changes to the XV that took Italy last time out with Claire Mc Laughlin coming into the side at number 8 in place of Anna Caplice who has a spot on the bench. Enya Breen replaces the unfortunate Michelle Claffey at outside centre and Sene Naoupu will need to help her younger college through a tough 80 minutes.

The Irish side can look back to 2017 for inspiration where an aggressive display in defence led to an Irish win by a tight margin. This campaign has been mixed with a heavy loss to England in week 1, then followed by a morale boosting win over Scotland and then a tight contest in Italy which Italy deservedly won 29-27. So It is time for Ireland to find form and no better way then to beat France in Donnybrook with a game against Wales to come in the Final week.

Over the last few seasons, a number of new players have been blooded to replace many of the 2013 Grand Slam side and also the winning members of the 2015 Championship winning side. A few players like Jenny Murphy may make a re appearance having stepped away from rugby after the 2017 World Cup on home soil.

This evening is a massive chance to marry both defence and attack and see will that be enough to gain a much needed win. All roads lead to Donnybrook at 7pm this evening….

Our Under 20s have gone under the radar and secured the Six Nations title with a week to spare after a tight 31-29 win in Irish Independent Park. Having beaten England in week 1, people sat up and took note of this squad that has made a number of changes from last year.

Harry Byrne who wasn’t at 10 last night due to injury has been playing really well but he deputy last night Ben Healy who is a Garryowen player having won the Munster Schools Cup last year with Glenstal made himself feel really at home and did a great job in attacking the French defence when called upon.

His partner in crime Craig Casey was like a Duracell bunny last night he was doing everything, tackling, snipping, passing and box kicking. Hopefully the injury that ended his evening with 10 minutes remaining isn’t serious enough to rule him out of the Welsh game in Colwyn Bay next Friday.

Noel Mc Namara has done a great job getting this side to play heads up rugby and they will now want to finish the job they started by beating England in week 1. This team has benefitted from a few sessions with the senior team and you could see that a number of times last night in the scrum and also in close quarters where the Irish defence held up the French maul numerous times including in the final minute that brought the game to a successful finish.

Time now, for the 20s to try and finish the job next Friday evening and complete the first Grand Slam at 20s level since 2007 when Cian Healy, Simon Zebo and Peter O Mahony were members of the last side to win the Grand Slam at this level….

All the best to Noel Mc Namara and his charges next week….