Irish Rugby – Season Report
Irish rugby has had a mixed season and after a disappointing finish to the World Cup where Argentina ended their involvement at the quarter final stage. In the Six Nations there were defeats to England and France but wins at home to Italy and Scotland that saw Ireland finish in 3rd spot in the Six Nations table.
Moving to the Provinces where 3 of the 4 sides have made the final 4 in the Pro 12 and that has been a massive boost after some poor European performances saw Ulster, Leinster and Munster exit Europe at the group stage although Connacht kept the flag flying in Europe in the Challenge Cup quarter finals where Grenoble beat them 32-31 in an exciting game that saw Connacht lead 21-3 at one stage.
Connacht of course have been the story of the season that has seen them play an open brand of attacking rugby that has been a breath of fresh air to the Pro 12 and it also shows that club sides north of the equator can play that open attacking style that only ever seems to be seen in Super Rugby.
Pat Lam has recruited cleverly over the past few seasons with players like Tom Mc Cartney , Bundee Aki and Jake Heenan to add to the home grown talent Robbie Henshaw , Peter Robb and Caolin Blade. They play with a real freedom that has seen them rocket up the table and get within one game of the Pro 12 final that will take place in Murrayfield on May 28th. Glasgow the defending champions stand in the way of Connacht and a first ever domestic final.
Ulster have had a mixed season like Munster and Leinster and have also gone about the season quietly and have now made a semi-final after just missing out on a European quarter final spot on point’s difference. Having Iain Henderson back has been a massive boost given the fact Nick Williams has been ruled out for the rest of this year, he joins Cardiff Blues next season.
Leinster of course will look back on this year and wonder what more they could have done but they will also know that teams like Wasps, Toulon are further along in there development and things will turn around again Leinster didn’t win 4 European Trophies in 5 years for all that winning mentality disappear.
Guys like Jonny Sexton, Sean Cronin and Rob Kearney need to step up to the plate and be counted when they are required. Gary Ringrose , Cathal Marsh , Peter Dooley and Luke Mc Grath are the new breed of player in Leinster blue. The shadow of Brian O Driscoll , Rocky Elsom and Brad Thorn has to be left behind and new heroes need to step up.
Munster have also had a poor season by their high standards but with Champions Cup rugby secured for next season and a new Director Of Rugby appointed on a three year term things may finally begin to look brighter for the men in red. Unlike Connacht, Munster’s recruitment hasn’t work out too well with Mark Chisholm and Tyler Bleyendaal spending large amounts of time on the sideline.
Johan Erasmus will take up the Director of Rugby role from July 1st and will appoint some new members to his backroom staff with Mick O Driscoll and Ian Costello moving to pastures new with Costello moving to a head coaching role with Nottingham RFC. Mick O Driscoll will leave to pursue interests outside of rugby.
So to sum up although things didn’t go to plan in the World Cup or in Europe you can’t ask for much more than three of Ireland’s sides making the Pro 12 Semi’s. Roll on Ireland’s three match tour of South Africa where they will hope to pick up at least one Test victory although knowing Joe Schmidt he will want more than one win……
Cian Mc Gibney