Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ireland's season - the verdict. Time for a spot of dialysis

Ireland’s season was slammed shut by the All Blacks last weekend, so time to pore over the debris, and try to work out what happened.  This is Irelands record of the season- readers of a nervous disposition should look away now.

Scotland 10-6 Ireland
France 19-12 Ireland
Ireland  22–26  France
Ireland 9-20 England
Australia  6 – 15  Ireland
Ireland  36 – 6  Italy
Ireland  10  22  Wales 
Ireland  21 – 23  Wales
Ireland  42 – 10  Italy
France  17 – 17  Ireland
Ireland  32 – 14  Scotland
England  30 – 9  Ireland
New Zealand 42 – 10 Ireland
New Zealand 22 – 19 Ireland
New Zealand 60 – 0 Ireland

Pluses – we beat Australia! Lost narrowly to the All Blacks, and at a push got a draw with France

Negatives – takes a deep breath – lost 60-0 to the All Blacks, knocked out of the WC by Wales when we should have been there or thereabouts. And look at the losses NZ 3 England 2 Wales 2 France 1 Scotland 1.  Basically, Italy and Australia were the only teams we beat consistently.  I haven’t included the USA and Russia, because if we can’t beat them we can all go home.

So, what’s the reason for all of this, when we have arguably the two best club teams in Europe. And Munster. Not arguably in the best the best two teams in Europe, but a pretty good team none the less. We are struggling a bit with the age of the best players – there are a few giants of the game who have retired, or are held together by bandages and plasters.

But after all that, we managed to up in the IRB rankings, to 7th. I love the IRB rankings! If you can lose and go up, we should keep Kidney forever, because at this rate we’ll be no. 1 in no time!

We have been struggling with a few key positions, mostly at lock and in the front row. So one of the positives of the NZ was what looks like the new starting lock combination of Tuohy and Ryan, and a new tighthead in the shape of Declan Fitzpatrick.

In the next 2-3 years we are going to lose Ross, O’Connell, O’Driscoll,  O’Gara and D’Arcy. We have some replacements coming through, but at centre we have a big gap looming. So far Kidney has used Earls and Wallace there. Earls improves each match, but I don’t know if he’ll ever be a center he’s a wing or a full back.

That is the nub of the problem we have right now, in that we need change, but have an ultra conservative coach, who’s making change mainly as a result of injuries. Our style of play doesn’t fit our skill set either, it’s not great to watch, and it’s not giving us the results. We have the firepower in our backline, but we are firing blanks. We had a great win over Australia, but the only time the team had the hairs stand up on the back of my neck was the second NZ match. Straight after that match, I had some good words for Kidney. I’m going to have to take them back now.

I think it’s time for change. We need a coach who can foster new talent, and play to our strengths. My ideal candidate is Joel Schmidt – it wouldn’t be great for Leinster, but I think he could really do things with Ireland.  Mike Ruddock would be in the frame too, that’s a smashing job he did with the U20’s, 5th and the only team to beat the Baby Boks.  Personally, I think it’s too early for Connor O’Shea, although I wouldn’t mind him at Leinster! Graham Henry?

I think it’s how and when, and not if anymore.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ireland forget the skills and committment, but New Zealand bring the pain

Man on the rise ( )

Well that was a pretty joyless start to the weekend, wasn’t it, as Ireland were demolished by the All Blacks. Ireland forgot to pack the skills or commitment, but New Zealand remembered to bring the pain.the No drop goal needed in the last minute this week. I would say that the All Blacks gave the team a sufficient kicking, so no need to add to that. Time to scratch around for a few positives, and try and offer a bit of constructive advice. A few players put their hands up and got stuck in, Healy, Touhy, Ryan. A few got shown up at test level – O’Mahoney, although I’m sure he’ll get there in the end, Earls, McFadden. I’ve been an admirer of Wallace in the past, and I think he does a great job for Ulster, but when it comes to Ireland, whatever the question is, Wallace is not the answer. Why not Cave? And the coach, what to make of Kidney. He can coach, but he can’t tackle himself, he can’t get players to catch the ball. But, he doesn’t make the players jobs any either throwing them together in seemingly random fashion, and in fairness, he did Wallace no favours, plucking him from nowhere, and throwing him  into the shark pool.

Romain Poite did us no favours –not that he affected the outcome, maybe the score with Kearney’s yellow card. You’ve got us all wrong Romain, we’re part of Europe, speak English, but we’re not English. And when you’ve reffed us in the 6N and the HC, ”Ah ya bollix!” is a term of endearment, let’s have a pint sometime.

What do we need to fix this 60-0 mess? Do we need new players?  Well, we don’t have any more players so we need to get more out the players we do have. Do we need a new captain.? O’Driscoll has been our go to man for a decade, but this wasn’t his finest hour. Maybe it is time to think of a change, I’d go for Donnacha Ryan myself. Always easier to lead from the front when you’re in the engine room. Time for a new coach? That’s the million euro question. After praising him last week, in two matches we leaked 100 points, not good enough.

Wales got agonisingly close again, they need to play with more tempo, and I’d put Phillips into flank and get a real scrum half if I was them. And give Alwn Jones some catching practice.

Finally, England scraped put a drawer against a disinterested Bok side, leaving Scotland with the only result of the summer. Get in Scotland!

Australia 20 - 19 Wales 
New Zealand 60 - 0 Ireland 
South Africa 14 - 14 England

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

North VS South - seconds out, round three!

We'll miss you Jamie (picture

Ok seconds out, let round three commence! I have to say I really like this 3 match series format, you get a lot more involved in the matches as they evolve from week to week.
After having the chance for glory snatched away from them last week in the last five minutes, is it a chance for Ireland to set the record straight? Ireland have lost some pretty influential playmakers and defenders in the shape of Jamie Heaslip and Gordon D’Arcy. I’ve been calling for D’Arcy to get the chop for some time now, but his form for Leinster and Ireland recently has changed my mind. In the backline, I hope we go O’Gara at fly half and Sexton at 12 again, it’s a combination that works well.

In the pack, I suspect DOC is going to be recalled, with Ryan shifting to the loose trio. DOC may well prove me wrong. But what a difference having two young strong locks on the field! My take is that with DOC on board, we have to push the oppositions pack while carrying DOC, which has made us look pretty feeble.

We have been careless in our treatment of the AB loosies, with Vito, Read, and now Thompson all struggling. We’ll try and be more careful this time, seeing as they seem to be a bit delicate.

Are we going to win? History is against us, let’s see how the All Blacks treat us now they know we have it in us to beat them. I think we’ll lose again. But anyway you look at it, look how we’ve raised our game when the bar was set higher. With all due respect, I think we’re spending too much time playing Italy and Scotland these days.

Wales also had victory snatched away from them, in a match that got pretty close to boiling over more than once. I this has prompted Curtly Beales return to the Australian side, who put his hand up with his recent street fighting antics, Robbie Deans can see he needs players to match Mike Phillips and Bradley Davies obvious talents in this department. Wales will win if Priestland can kick decently and they find a hooker who can throw straight.

Finally the Boks look for a whitewash against England. I’d expect them to flatten England in the first half, struggle for 20 minutes in the second, then put it to bed after that. They probably have a siesta at half time or something.

Saturday , June 23
Australia vs Wales 06:00
New Zealand vs Ireland 08:35
South Africa vs England 16:00

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Please support the SPCNHT - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Northern Hemisphere Teams

Cometh the hour, cometh the man (

Please donate geneeously to the SPCNHT – the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Northern Hemisphere Teams. Every euro and pound counts.

I have to start by stealing a great line from the New Zealand Morning Herald. Luck of the Irish? – they don’t have any they deserved to win that test. Well we didn’t I guess, but if ever there was time you were going to proud of the team, it was Saturday.  To have the world champions rocked back, looking for answers and finding none, for the scores to be even with five minutes left, and the for the AB’s to be down to 14 men, that wasn’t in the script. How cruel is it that it was them  who managed to get down to our try line and spare their blushes with a drop goal, and not the other way around. Our forwards were gigantic, world class, every single one of them, and our back line dangerous and threatening. I haven’t rated Murray for Ireland so far – he proved me wrong with the performance of his life, with quick, crisp, decisive play. Everyone, with or without the ball, put their bodies on the line.

We gave a few soft penalties away in the first half, which kept the AB’s in the game, and probably cost the game in the end. Well, at least the All Blacks know what we’re about now. It’s hard to say where this performance came from. Declan Kidney has to take some major credit for it, if he can inspire his troops like that every time we play, we won’t ever let him go.

Elsewhere, Wales were hugely unlucky to lose out to the Aussies. Rhys Priestland put in too many wayward kicks, which combined with an absolutely brutal line out, handed way too much easy ball to the Aussies.  Australia are in a quandary at fly half, they were far too deep, and kept getting caught behind the game line. I think the £N is going to be tough for them.

In the last match on Saturday, the Boks put in a barn storming first half to have England on the ropes. A much better performance from England in the second half had them chasing an unlikely victory, until the Boks woke up and put the game to bed. Ben Youngs has stepped up his game, and to me Tom Johnson is the find of the tour.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ireland to even the series up one all in Christchurch. Stop laughing at the back there.

Your country needs you... (photo

Ireland head for Christchurch this weekend, looking for a win to even up the series and set up a decider in the last match. Stop laughing at the back there. While half of Ireland is looking for a Kidney transplant, my view is let’s give him the rest of this series to show us what he’s got. I suppose the grumble is, where’s the synergy, where the 2+2=5, where the four provinces are combined to get something better than each individual team. You could argue we have the 2+2=3 effect with the national team.

The team is missing a few key players, namely Bowe, Ferris and O’Connell, but with the amount of rugby being played now, you need a squad of players able to step up to the mark when required.
As I’ve said before, we lack a noted backline coach. Earls was never my favourite in the centre, and now that he’s gone( which I had nothing to do with, promise), it will be interesting to see who’s the replacement. We need back up cover in centre, and fast. D’Arcy and O’Driscoll are both one injury away from the ends of their careers, and we should be trying to blood (excuse the expression) new talent there, so bring on McFadden, Cave, O’Malley would have been good if not injured, Trimble, we need options! I suppose that is Kidney’s plan with Earls, but no, bangs head on desk, it’s not fair on Ireland or Earls.

I’ve also heard rumours that DOC is in the frame for a return. (more banging of head) Not! Give Tuohy a chance, he’s been thrown in at the deepend against the AB’s, he’s a big strong boy, he’ll learn to swim.
Murray out, and Reddan in is a must but… that probably won’t happen either.

What can we do to put the AB’s off their game? I’d target two players –Smith the scrum half, and Sonny Bill Williams. Smith had a dream debut, but we need to be all over him like a rash, he needs a scrum half and a flank hanging off him at all times. That scrum needs to be a lot more unstable for him to work off. SBW would be my other player to target in defense. He’s still learning his trade, and there have to be gaps around him to be exploited.

Now the teams are out, wouldn't argue iwth anything except Murray. Oh dear.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip. 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Declan Fitzpatrick, 18 Donncha O'Callaghan, 19 Peter O'Mahony, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Simon Zebo.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.

Are we going to win? Hard to see but I heard Tipoki had a few words with the team, reminding them of what they did against the AB’s at Thomond. If they can play like they did that night, you just never know…

Elsewhere, I can see Wales winning, they are even trundling out Gatland now. I can see them winning now that they realise the task ahead, they looked a bit like they were expecting an easy game last weekend.

England could take the Boks if they stick to their strengths – put Fodden at full back, try to keep the ball in hand and play a fast game. The Boks are pretty one dimensional in attack, but it’s still pretty hard to stop a tank. They are ultra physical in defense, so just from a common sense point of view, try and run round them! I think The Boks will win though.
Saturday , June 16
Fiji vs Scotland 03:00
New Zealand vs Ireland 08:35
Australia vs Wales 11:05
South Africa vs England 16:00
Argentina vs France 22:10

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ireland lose a test, but find a prop

Time for a Caveman? (picture

Well, I have to fess up from the start, admit that I have no life, and that I watched every minute of the three NH/SH matches.  My only useful contribution to society was taking the kids out to the library, and mowing the lawn.

My prediction of a Northern Hemisphere sweep may have been little bit off the mark, but I was expecting at least one win.
However bullish I was last Friday, it was still a wing and a prayer that Ireland were going to beat the All Blacks, and we got smashed in the end, letting in a few easy tries to see the score really blow out. Before I put size 10 boots into the team and the coach, let’s look at the positives. First up has to be Declan Fitzpatrick, hidden in the depths of Ulster. Tony Woodcock may not be what he used to be, but he’s still one of the finest tightheads in the game, and to at least match him was huge result for Fitzpatrick. He also got around the field – is there any chance Ulster could play him a bit more, or could he move to Munster? The pack on the whole did a great job – they won all their lineouts, scrum was solid, and they got quite a few turnovers. I thought Tuohy and O’Mahoney had fairly quiet  games, although I’d expect them to step up a gear next weekend, and Heaslip looks like he’s carrying an injury – he seemed to be hesitant going into contact.

The backline didn’t do too badly either, a bit disorganized in defense, but winmgs in centeres, centres in wings, and new players, it’s going to happen. I though Earls did OK, but would still way prefer him on the wing. Time to start Cave? Murray is the one player I’d start on the bench, Reddan has the ability to give the game tempo, and Murray doesn’t.

I’m not either  going to go for Kidney, we had the organisation and determination to keep the AB’s pegged back for the first 20 minutes, and after that they had the class to hit us on the counter almost at will, with a depressing succession of tries.  DC10 is back again, Savea had a dream debut, and Aaron Smith showed the virtue of a quick scrum half. Anyway, at least we scored a try!

Wales looked like they were still on Welsh time, it was 11.00 O’clock in the morning for them, and way too early to be playing rugby. Australia were not in brilliant form themselves, but Will Genia made the difference as they bounced back from defeat to Scotland. If he gets injured, they’re knackered. Let’s hope Wales have worked out the time zones for next week’s match.

The Boks look beefy but blunt – decent debuts for Kruger, Etzebeth, and Coetzee, but no cutting edge. Why Kirchner is in the team I have no idea, I’d have Pieterson any day, and de Jongh in as well. England need to play it a bit smarter – surely no great feat against the Boks, and keep the ball running.

Saturday , June 9
New Zealand 42 - 10 Ireland
Australia 27 - 19 Wales 
Argentina 37 - 22 Italy 
South Africa 22 - 17 England

Friday, June 8, 2012

Coming up this weekend - a Northern Hemisphere sweep!

Declan Fitzpatrick Picture (
Oh Declan, my Declan! We come not to praise you, we come to bury you! I’m talking about his selections for the match by the way, and in fairness I like a lot of what he’s done.. I really like the look of the locks and the loose trio. Fitzpatrick is a risk, a big one, as Nigel Owens makes his mind up pretty quickly about props, and I’d be fairly surprised if Fitzpatrick doesn’t get a yellow.  But he’s what we’ve got, and I’d back him to give 100%. It’s behind the scrum where things start to look shaky.

Murray at scrumhalf is not fast – in fact he makes Piri Weepu look fast – yes he’s THAT slow. The opposition has the chance to set their defensive lines, have a cuppa, and practice the haka by the time he get’s round to clearing the ruck. He is big and strong though, and is going to have to tackle well. Also, Earls in the center – Jesus wept! Play him on the wing, try Trimble there, put McFadden there, not Earls though. It’salso  going to be a tough experience for Zebo – how’s his tackling and his handling of high balls?

I still think the AB’s are ripe for the taking, when everybody thinks you have no chance – that’s your chance. Not likely, but that’s not going to stop me screaming my lungs out on Saturday morning. You know that part in Trains, Planes and Automobiles where the teller asks Steve Martin And how may I help you sir? To which he replies – you can start by wiping that fucking grin off your face. That’s what I’d like to see happen. Now I’m starting to feel bullish, I can sniff an upset, Ireland by 2!

Actually, I’m feeling a NH sweep coming up, as I fancy Wales against the Aussies, and think England have a decent chance of overturning the Boks.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Keith Earls, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dan Touhy, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Donncha O'Callaghan, 19 Kevin McLaughlin, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Darren Cave.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The New Zealand squad gets a once over, and has Piri Weepu ever been seen in the same room as Papa Smurf?

So, bring on the All Blacks! I’ve already given my two cents worth (on reflection only worth one cent) now it’s time for some incisive analysis of New Zealand.

For a start, since Piri Weepu’s move to the Blues, has anyone noticed his starling similarity to papa Smurf? Have they ever been seen in a room at the same time? Pity they won’t let him wear his hat when he plays.

Going through the NZ squad, they are adequate in hookers and definitely stronger than Ireland in props, especially with Mike Ross struggling. Their locks don’t look too frightening, and their loose trio is good but they’ll miss Kaino and McCaw has been out a lot.

Half backs – that’s a ringing endorsement for cartoon characters selecing Weepu, with inexperienced back up – which could back fire. Carter hasn’t played much, but Cruden looks like he’s soon going to be stepping up to the plate, centres are strong, and they have talent in the back three but not much experience.
We can do this, I’d say Wales have the best chance of a scalp this summer, followed closely by England, but don’t write us off yet.

Forwards: Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Ronan Loughney (Connacht), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Mike Sherry (Munster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Brett Wilkinson (Connacht).

Backs: Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).

New Zealand squad:
Hookers: Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu.
Props: Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Ben Tameifuna, Tony Woodcock.
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Samuel Whitelock, Ali Williams.
Loose forwards: Sam Cane, Richie McCaw (C), Kieran Read, Adam Thomson , Victor Vito.
Scrum-halves: Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu.
Fly-halves: Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett.
Centres: Tamati Ellison, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams.
Outside backs: Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford, Ben Smith, Julian Savea.