Monthly Archives: November 2011

Four on Form

RaboDirect PRO12 Round 9 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting

In last weekend’s PRO12 action, Munster enjoyed a bonus point win over Edinburgh, Ulster lost away to Glasgow, Leinster overcame Treviso in Italy and Connacht were downed by the Ospreys. You can catch up on all those results in our round-up. Who were the Irish players that impressed this week? As always, you’re encouraged to comment on Four on Form letting us know what we got right or wrong.

Donnacha O’Callaghan

Photo via M+MD

O’Callaghan was restored to Munster’s starting lineup for their 34-17 win over Edinburgh after Donnacha Ryan was chosen ahead of him in the Heineken Cup matches against Northampton and Castres. O’Callaghan came off the bench to great effect in both those games and he was excellent again at Thomond Park until Ian Nagle replaced him with 4 minutes left. The 80-times capped Irish international was full of aggression and enthusiasm as he looked to show coach Tony McGahan what Munster had been missing by leaving him on the bench in previous weeks.

O’Callaghan’s passion was infectious as he tore into every physical battle he possibly could. While the Munster lineout did suffer a few hiccups on their own ball, O’Callaghan was fantastic defensively and, in particular, his sacking of the Edinburgh maul was extremely effective. This aspect of O’Callaghan’s game often goes unnoticed but here his pure commitment was unmissable. That commitment did lead to conceding a penalty for taking an Edinburgh jumper in the air but that was excusable as he constantly disrupted their ball. As always, O’Callaghan was also amongst those with the highest tackle count.

This all-action display from the two-times Lions tourist will give McGahan a welcome selection headache. Ryan has performed well in his two Heineken Cup outings and does offer more in the way of ball-carrying than O’Callaghan. Ryan’s experience in the back-row is what makes him a completely different second-row to O’Callaghan. With the Scarlets next in the Heineken Cup in two weeks time, McGahan may decide to use O’Callaghan’s strengths in an effort to starve the Welsh side’s talented backline of quality ball. Whichever way McGahan decides, if O’Callaghan continues to perform like this, it will not be an easy decision.

Ian Madigan

Photo via M+MD

Madigan replaced Jonathan Sexton at outhalf for Leinster as they travelled to play Treviso in Italy. The 22-year-old was starting his 5th PRO12 game of the season, so it is clear that Joe Schmidt believes in Madigan’s talent. With Fergus McFadden in the side, Madigan didn’t have to worry about place-kicking duties and was instead able to focus on his playmaking. With much of his underage rugby played at fullback, Madigan’s vision and creativity are his strengths. This was on show at Stadio di Monigo as Madigan played a major role in all three of Leinster’s tries.

The first score came after only 30 seconds and while the Treviso defence was poor, Madigan must be praised for the vision he showed to put No. 8 Leo Auva’a away. Reddan hit Madigan from the ruck and the outhalf attacked the line with fowards running inside him. Madigan spotted that the Treviso pillar (the defender at the edge of the ruck) had broken from away the ruck and was drifting across the field towards him. He threw a hard, flat pass back inside, missing out Damien Browne, for Auva’a to go through the gap. It showed good awareness from Madigan as so many outhalves would have simply popped the ball to Browne directly inside them.

The second try showcased Madigan’s awareness once again. Madigan moved to join a ruck just to the left of the posts on Treviso’s 22. Seeing that the ruck was won, the outhalf backed into the first receiver position and had a quick glance out to his right. With O’Malley signaling space in front of him, Madigan spotted the tight Treviso defence and demanded ball from Reddan. The scrumhalf obliged and Madigan threw a beautiful skip pass out in front of O’Malley, sending the centre on the outside break. O’Malley did the rest as he put Fionn Carr over for the try.

Madigan then provided the try-scoring pass for O’Malley’s crucial try which clinched the game for Leinster. Admittedly this try was all about O’Malley’s intelligent running, but Madigan gave the centre quick service, again out in front of him, and that allowed the centre time on the ball. Madigan has now racked up 13 starts in his Leinster career as well as 19 appearances off the bench. His performance against Treviso showed exactly why Joe Schmidt has such faith in the young playmaker.

Dan Tuohy

While Ulster put in a poor performance as they went down 17-9 to Glasgow, second-row Tuohy was once again amongst their top performers. The twice-capped Irish international has been in good form in recent times, particularly against Clermont and Leicester in the Heineken Cup. Tuohy is one of Ulster’s main ball-carriers and he gets over the gainline more often than not. At 6 foot, 6 inches and 113kg, he is imposing in size and uses this to great effect in contact. Tuohy is always willing to make the hard yards for Ulster, regularly taking ball from outhalf Ian Humphreys and trucking it up.

Against Glasgow, Tuohy offered himself up to carry as always but at times he became isolated in attack. Ulster were slow to the breakdown and as a result Tuohy was vulnerable as a one-off runner. There was a great example of this around the hour mark with the match tied at 9-9 and Ulster searching for a winning score. After Adam D’Arcy and Nevin Spence had initiated a break, Tuohy was next to carry. But, with support slow to get to him, the second-row was pinged for not releasing. It must have been frustrating for Tuohy that others around him were not matching his work-rate.

Ulster face the Scarlets next Friday at Ravenhill and they need to up their performance level greatly. At the moment, despite his good individual displays, Tuohy is a victim of Ulster’s form. The Ulster lineout struggled at times last weekend and needs to be sorted. It will be difficult for him to impress the Irish management while playing in a team that is underperforming. As mentioned above, Tuohy has two Irish caps to his name and even scored a try against New Zealand in the 2010 summer tour down under. The 26-year-old lock has more than enough ability to come back into the international fold for Ireland.

Simon Zebo

Zebo got his 2nd start of the season on Saturday and showed just how exciting a talent he is. The 21-year-old was a threat every time he got his hands on the ball and he made himself a real handful for Edinburgh. Zebo appears to lack nothing when it comes to confidence and that was evident whenever he got the ball with any sort of space in front of him. The winger’s first option was always to back himself and he justified his decision with positive yardage on almost every carry. It is refreshing to see a young winger back himself so readily and it is that self-belief, allied to his pace and strength, that make Zebo dangerous.

It was Zebo’s scintillating break through the middle that led to the match-changing scrum when Edinburgh lost two men to the sin-bin and conceded a penalty try. Zebo got himself on the scoresheet when he took a smart line inside Will Chambers as the Australian drifted across the pitch. Zebo took the centre’s offload and had the strength to dive over for a try. Zebo did the basics well too, cleaning out rucks effectively when he had to. He even stepped into first receiver on two occasions, once again showing his assertiveness.

This was a very promising outing from the Cork Con flyer and he will hope to keep his place in the side for next Saturday’s visit to the Ospreys. If he does, and builds on this performance then he will put pressure on Denis Hurley and Johne Murphy’s places in the Heineken Cup team. While both those players have been solid in the first two rounds, neither offers a real cutting-edge with ball in hand. This is exactly what Zebo does offer. If he can prove to be defensively sound and consistent then Tony McGahan has another welcome selection headache.

 

Photos courtesy:  M+MD, Jukka Zitting

RaboDirect Round-Up

We briefly look at how the four Irish provinces got on in last weekend’s RaboDirect PRO12 action…

 

Glasgow 17 -9 Ulster 

Friday 25th November @ Firhill

Firhill Stadium before Friday's match. Photo via Stuart Crawford

Ulster followed up last weekend’s Heineken Cup defeat to Leicester with another away loss in Glasgow.  Similarly to the Leicester match, the opening half saw Ulster enjoy good territory without capitalising on it. With only one try in their last three matches, this Ulster squad look short on genuine firepower at the moment. Glasgow’s Duncan Weir opened the scoring with a penalty to which Ian Humphreys replied soon after with a three pointer of his own. Weir kicked two further penalties before Humphreys missed a sitter to leave the Warriors with a 9-3 half-time lead.

Humphreys made up for that miss soon after the restart as he kicked a penalty for Ulster. 10 minutes later, Humphreys tied the game at 9-9 with another penalty. However, the outhalf was wide with his next two efforts at goal and Ulster were left rueing those misses as ex-Connacht back Troy Nathan went over for a try after good play between himself and winger David Lemi. Weir missed the conversion but wrapped the game up for Glasgow with a drop goal in the last minute.

This defeat leaves Ulster sitting 8th in the league. They now lie 9 points adrift of the play-off places. Brian McLaughlin and his coaching team must work on how Ulster convert territory and try-scoring chances into scores as this has let them down in their last three matches, even as they beat Clermont 16-11. Next up is the Scarlets at Ravenhill on Friday night. The Welsh side are flying at the moment and Ulster will need to improve if they are to get their PRO12 campaign back on track.

 

Treviso 20-30 Leinster

Saturday 26th November @ Stadio di Monigo

Fionn Carr was on the scoresheet for Leinster. Photo via M+MD

Leinster did just about enough to beat Treviso in Italy on Saturday. Fergus McFadden took over the kicking duties and knocked over 15 of Leinster’s points. Leo Auva’a, Fionn Carr and Eoin O’Malley scored the tries in a match where a determined Treviso never let Leinster pull away. The Italians will be furious with themselves about the opening ten minutes which left them playing catch up for the rest of the match. Leinster will also be thankful for Tobias Botes’ three missed kicks in the second half.

No. 8 Auva’a crossed the tryline within 30 seconds of the kickoff as he took outhalf Ian Madigan’s inside pass and powered through the feeble Treviso defence. The covering Brendan Williams didn’t even attempt a try-saving tackle as Auva’a strolled over untouched. McFadden added the easy conversion. Botes kicked a penalty for Treviso soon after but then Leinster struck again. Madigan showed good vision with a skip pass for O’Malley to make the outside break. The centre drew in the covering defence and hit Carr on his inside shoulder for the winger to score. Again, McFadden converted. 14-3 to Leinster after only 8 minutes.

However, Treviso gradually grew into the game and three Botes’ penalties, with one in reply from McFadden, left the score at 17-12 in Leinster’s favour at the interval. Botes hit another penalty after half-time but McFadden again replied. By now Treviso were troubling the Leinster defence and the Italians levelled the game in the 50th minute. A good scrum platform allowed replacement No.8 Manoa Vosawai to power through Gordon D’Arcy from five metres out. Botes inexplicably missed the conversion from just to the right of the posts.

McFadden put Leinster back in front 3 minutes later after Treviso were penalised for not rolling away. Then O’Malley came up with some magic to all but end the Italians’ hopes when he burst through on a good line from Madigan’s pass. McFadden converted from under the posts. Treviso failed to muster the score that would grab them a losing bonus point.

Leinster stay 2nd in the league with this win, still level on 30 points with the Ospreys above them, but trailing on points difference. The Cardiff Blues come to the RDS on Friday night. The Welsh side are sitting in 5th, a point behind Glasgow but with a game in hand. They will be looking for a win to catapult themselves into the playoff places.

Highlights of Leinster vs. Treviso are here.

 

Connacht 6-17 Ospreys

Saturday 26th November @ The Sportsground

Conditions were poor in Galway. Photo via boocal

Connacht slumped to their seventh loss in a row on Saturday as the Ospreys secured the four points in a poor match. The difficult conditions in Galway made it difficult for both sides as Eric Elwood’s men failed to end their losing streak. Matthew Morgan followed his heroics against Treviso in the Heineken Cup with the important contribution of 12 points for the Ospreys in this match. Connacht did threaten the Ospreys tryline but, even with Ian Gough in the bin, they failed to convert their chances and that cost them dearly here.

Mia Nikora gave Connacht the lead 15 minutes in with a successful penalty. Morgan soon equalised for the Ospreys. The 19-year-old outhalf then went over for a try half an hour into the game. Scrumhalf Rhys Webb offloaded to Morgan who stepped Connacht captain Gavin Duffy to go in under the posts. Morgan converted his own try. Nikora hit back for Connacht with a penalty to leave the score 10-6 at half-time.

Ospreys second-row Gough was binned early in the second half but still Connacht failed to come up with the try that their dominance suggested was coming. Despite their high work-rate and determination, Elwood’s side made too many mistakes in possession. Gough returned without Connacht having got a single score. With the Ospreys scrum getting on top, Richard Fussell created the opening for substitute Sonny Parker to extend their lead. Morgan converted the try from straight in front of the uprights. With twenty minutes still left on the clock, Connacht failed to ignite any sort of comeback  and the Ospreys saw out their 17-6 win.

Connacht remain in 9th place after this loss but they haven’t won a match since the 23rd of September. They host Treviso next Friday and that is a must-win game for them. Treviso are two places above Connacht in the table, four points ahead, so it is imperative that the western province target a win to end this losing streak.

 

Munster 34-17 Edinburgh

Saturday 26th November @ Thomond Park

You can read about Munster’s impressive win over Edinburgh in the match report here.

Munster are 3rd in the table after this win, two points behind the Ospreys and Leinster. They travel to Wales next Saturday to take on the Ospreys in what should be good quality top of the table clash.

 

Photos courtesy:  M+MD, boocal, Stuart Crawford

Munster’s Second String Impress

Match Report – RaboDirect PRO12 

Munster 34-17 Edinburgh

26th November @ Thomond Park

Keatley impressed at Thomond Park. Photo via MD+D

Munster put in an impressive performance to claim a bonus point win against Edinburgh in an entertaining RaboDirect PRO12 clash. Tony McGahan was rewarded for putting faith in some of younger members of his squad. The more experienced second-string players also gave the Australian coach something to think about with their good showing at Thomond Park. While Edinburgh made a game of it, Munster always looked the more likely winners here.

Indeed, it was a flying start from Munster. After some strong carries from hard-working Mick O’Driscoll and Denis Fogarty, outhalf Ian Keatley switched play to the blindside. Denis Hurley broke a tackle and drew the last defender to put Danny Barnes over for a 3rd minute try. Keatley was on target with the conversion. With Munster retaining possession well for the next few minutes,  it looked as though they could go on to build a strong lead.

However, an attempted Keatley grubber went straight into the hands of Edinburgh’s Jack Gilding. The prop immediately moved the ball to backrow Netani Telai whose offload to Phil Godman allowed the outhalf to scamper over in the corner. The Edinburgh No. 10 was well off target with his conversion attempt in windy conditions. It was Keatley who dealt with the wind better for the remainder of the first half as he converted two penalties. Meanwhile, Godman and replacement centre Harry Leonard were badly off target with their penalty efforts for Edinburgh.

The 13-5 lead at half-time didn’t truly reflect the level of Munster’s dominance in the first half. They enjoyed good territorial advantage but were failing to convert try-scoring opportunities. Will Chambers was guilty on one occasion as he ignored the overlap outside and went himself. No. 8 Paddy Butler was unlucky to knock on as he attempted to gather and dive over after the ball had squeezed out of a scrum just in front of the Edinburgh try line.

Edinburgh were first on the scoreboard in the second-half when they swiftly moved the ball through the hands to winger Tom Brown on the left-hand touchline. It looked like Munster debutant Luke O’Dea had made a fantastic try-saving tackle on Brown, but the Edinburgh wide man stretched out to touch down. Again, Godman was unsuccessful with his effort from the tee. With their lead closed to 3 points at 13-10, Munster were snapped back into action by Brown’s try.

Simon Zebo made a scintillating break out on the left and from the ensuing scrum, it all started to fall apart for Edinburgh. The Munster scrum turned up the heat magnificently and Gilding was sent to the bin. Loosehead Kyle Traynor was hot on his heels as referee Neil Paterson was forced to reach for another yellow card. Munster then left Paterson with no option but to award a well-deserved penalty try as they shunted Edinburgh back once again. Keatley added the extras to leave Munster with a 20-10 lead.

Munster extended the lead soon after as they used their numerical advantage to create a try for Zebo. It was Chambers who was creator this time as his offload allowed Zebo to dive over for a score that his performance had earned. Once again, Keatley was on target with his conversion. It was an admirable kicking performance from the ex-Connacht outhalf as he adapted well to the blustery conditions.

Restored to 15 men, Edinburgh made a valiant attempt to reel Munster in. Replacement outhalf Greig Laidlaw scooted through a gap in the defence as Munster briefly lost focus. The substitute converted his own try to leave Edinburgh trailing by 10 points, 27-17. But it was Munster who had the last say when Keatley put an intelligent grubber through for O’Dea to dot down on his debut. Keatley increased his personal points haul to 14 with the conversion.

The comfortable 34-17 lead allowed McGahan to empty his bench and give the likes of John Ryan, Ian Nagle and Scott Deasy a few minutes of game time. He will have been impressed with the performances of his younger players. Zebo, O’Dea, Tommy O’Donnell and Stephen Archer all showed up well. More experienced players like Tomas O’Leary, Mick O’Driscoll and particularly Donnacha O’Callaghan led the side well. Munster travel to Wales to take on the Ospreys next Saturday, where these players will hope to impress again.

Photo courtesy:  M+MD

Four On Form

Heineken Cup Round 2 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting

The Heineken Cup weekend just passed saw Munster overcome Castres, Leinster beat Glasgow, Ulster lose away to Leicester and Connacht lose out to Toulouse at home. Four on Form looks at four Irish players who showed good form for their provinces and furthered their international claims.

Eoin O’Malley

O’Malley came into the Leinster team last weekend to replace Fergus McFadden, who suffered a dead leg against Montpellier in Round 1 of the Heineken Cup. The 23-year-old centre scored two tries as Leinster secured a bonus point win. With Brian O’Driscoll out injured, O’Malley was always going to be considered as a possible replacement. This was an impressive outing in only his third Heineken Cup start, and it will be interesting to see if Joe Schmidt sticks with O’Malley when McFadden returns from his injury.

O’Malley’s first try was a simple finish from the base of the ruck as he picked the ball and dived over. He showed good awareness to spot the opening when so many players would have simply rucked over the ball. This type of finish is something we have seen from O’Driscoll on many occasions in the past. O’Malley’s second try was another lesson in simplicity as he took a fantastic short, straight line onto D’Arcy’s pass and burst over the try line from five metres out. Again, this try was O’Driscoll-esque in the intelligence of the line taken by O’Malley.

Defensively too, there is something of O’Driscoll in the young centre. He always looks composed and confident when defending, invariably making the right decision. One particular passage early in the first half highlighted this. As Glasgow attacked from inside their own 22, Nacewa made a tackle with O’Malley outside him. As soon as Nacewa had brought his man down, O’Malley was swiftly over the ball with great, low body position, forcing a turnover penalty. This is something O’Driscoll has always done superbly and O’Malley seems to be capable of such decisive defensive moments too.

See highlights of Leinster’s 38-13 win over Glasgow, including O’Malley’s tries and turnover, here.

Niall Ronan

Munster’s win over Castres has understandably seen most of the attention go to Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal heroics. But the performance of openside Niall Ronan should not go unnoticed as he made several crucial contributions to the win. The ex-Leinster no. 7 has had a strong start to the season as he has nailed down a first-choice spot in Tony McGahan’s back-row. Ronan’s sharp form has continued against Northampton and Castres in the first two Heineken Cup fixtures. As Ireland struggled without a natural openside at the recent World Cup, it could be worth Declan Kidney’s while considering the merits of 29-year-old Ronan.

Ronan has taken on more responsibility for carrying the ball this season. It would appear that he has added some bulk to his frame and he has been far more effective with ball in hand. Against Castres, he continually offered himself up to take on ball and he consistently got Munster over the gain line. Ronan also provided the try-scoring pass for Peter O’Mahony’s try as he ran an intelligent trailing line off Conor Murray and then showed quick hands to release O’Mahony. Meanwhile, Ronan’s work rate was as high as ever. When he wasn’t carrying ball himself, Ronan was hitting rucks and supporting other carriers.

The Meath native also provided two crucial turnovers for his side, showing his ability as a natural 7. With Munster trailing 21-17, and Castres enjoying a spell of possession inside the Munster half, Ronan made a fantastic steal which allowed Munster to kick deep into the Castres’ 22. From the subsequent scrum, O’Gara’s block-down created the try for Chambers. Then, with three minutes left, Ronan turned over Castres’ possession at ruck time as the French side went in search of a winning score with the match tied at 24-24. Ronan’s steal resulted in Chambers making a searing break, almost setting up Doug Howlett for a winning score.

Highlights of Munster’s 27-24 win over Castres can be seen here.

Andrew Trimble

Ulster lost out to Leicester at Welford road on Saturday despite a brave, physical performance. The entire team put in a tremendous effort, none more so than Trimble. The winger carried ball all afternoon for Brian McLaughlin’s men. While Ulster struggled to crack the determined Leicester defence, Trimble was the player who looked most like breaking through. Despite most of his carries being in traffic, he always got over the gain line.

Trimble put in a mountain of work against Leicester. Photo via MD+D

Trimble signalled his intent to get stuck in early on as he followed up and won an Ian Humphreys garryowen. He again showed commitment as he chased a Humphreys restart and came up with a man-and-ball hit on Louis Deacon. Trimble always looked confident under high ball and took everything kicked down his wing with ease. His first-half included an intelligent offload to Chris Henry, but Trimble’s good work went to waste as the move broke down with a loose pass from Wannenburg. Soon after, Trimble came off his wing and showed great strength in handing off Matt Smith to get Ulster onto the front foot.

It was not a flawless 80 minutes from Trimble as he had two knock-ons in promising positions as well as getting bounced off by Tuilagi during one of his trademark surges out wide. Trimble got his own back on Tuilagi in the second half though, racing up out of the line to smash the Samoan in possession, forcing the turnover. He followed this up with a delightful kick deep into the Tigers’ 22 after an aimless Toby Flood garryowen. Trimble continued to make hard carries as Ulster searched for a reply to Matt Smith’s try for Leicester. He never broke through but deserves serious credit for his effort at Welford Road.

You can view the entire Ulster match against Leicester here.

Jamie Heaslip

Heaslip has come in for some criticism over the past year or so as he has failed to match his electric form of 2009, when he played a critical part in Ireland’s Grand Slam as well as starting all three tests for the Lions in South Africa and ended the year with a nomination for IRB International Player of the Year. Any player would find it hard to repeat a year like that every season. However, it is true that Heaslip has been quieter on the pitch in recent times. With Sean O’Brien’s ascendancy to the role of primary ball carrier for both Leinster and Ireland, Heaslip has had less responsibility in that regard. Against Glasgow, Heaslip showed signs that he may be returning to somewhere near his best.

Heaslip after being sin-binned against Munster earlier this month. Photo via MD+D

Heaslip was effective in possession, as he got on the ball more than he has in the previous few games. He carried hard and always made the ball available for Eoin Reddan to move it on quickly. His strength in contact was key to this as Heaslip always took the tackle on his own terms, not allowing the himself to get wrapped up or the ball to be slowed down. It was Heaslip who made the opening for O’Malley to score his first try. It took three Glasgow players to haul Heaslip down as he inched towards the line and his ball presentation was perfect, allowing O’Malley to slip over for the score.

Heaslip got through his usual amount of hard work in clearing out rucks and supporting ball carriers, much of which goes unnoticed. Heaslip had a large role in creating the platform which allowed Leinster to score five tries. It was encouraging to see Heaslip with more ball in hand and the hope is that he can build on this performance over the coming months and return to the form that saw him included in discussions on the best players in the world.

Photos courtesy:  MD+D, Jukka Zitting

Toulouse Burst Connacht Bubble

Match Report

Connacht 10-36 Toulouse

19th November @ The Sports Ground

Beauxis kicked 21 points for Toulouse.

Connacht’s performance failed to live up to the occasion at The Sports Ground on Saturday was they went down to a star-studded Toulouse side. The western province did put up a valiant fight and their second half performance, where they held Toulouse scoreless until the dying minutes, was an improvement on the opening half. Eric Elwood’s side did well to deny Toulouse the try-scoring bonus point and even managed a try of their own in the second period.

With a full house of 9,120 watching on, including recently elected President Michael D. Higgins,  Toulouse made an impressive start to the match which marked Connacht’s 100th tie in European rugby. Outhalf Lionel Beauxis opened the scoring with a penalty after 5 minutes.  Toulouse looked to run the ball from deep at every opportunity and Maxime Medard in particular looked threatening with several breaks down the left wing.

Beauxis doubled the lead for Toulouse with a beautiful drop goal from just inside the Connacht half. The 15-times capped French international then slotted a second penalty after another menacing Medard incursion into the Connacht half. Connacht’s defence in this opening period was not matching the aggressiveness they had brought to Harlequins the weekend before. Too many times, the defensive line stood off Toulouse, allowing the French side time on the ball to create the openings that were beginning to cut Connacht apart.

The Toulouse pack turned up the pressure after Connacht put-in to a scrum under their own posts. No. 8 Louis Picamoles managed to pick the ball from under Paul O’Donohoe and he fed Thierry Dusautoir. The IRB Player of The Year was hauled down just short of the try-line by O’Donohoe but blindside Jean Bouilhou snuck the ball over from the breakdown. Beauxis tapped over the easy conversion.

At 16-0 down after only a quarter of the match, Connacht needed to give the home crowd something positive to get behind. Captain Gavin Duffy led by example, claiming the drop-off. David McSharry broke through the Toulouse defence and hit his centre partner Eoin Griffin who made further ground. Toulouse conceded the penalty and Connacht went for the corner, the crowd back to full volume. John Muldoon launched himself at Toulouse from the line-out maul, but his teammates were slow to the breakdown and Dusautoir stole the ball. Luke Burgess broke away and kicked cross-field to Clement Poitrenaud. Fortunately for Connacht the ball bounced into touch.

Mike McCarthy was correctly sent to the bin for a high tackle on Vincent Clerc soon after and this seemed to signal the end of any hope of a comeback for the Western province. The Toulouse forwards once again dominated the Connacht scrum, winning a penalty under the posts which Beauxis slotted. Connacht once again put great pressure onto their drop off, forcing Yannick Jauzion into dropping the ball. Picamoles was then penalised for tackling O’Donohoe off the ball and Mia Nikora put Connacht on the scoreboard for the first time.

After yet another penalty against the Connacht scrum, Toulouse finished the half with another 3 points from Beauxis to lead 22-3. Toulouse had cut the Connacht defence apart on many occasions but only scored the one try as the final pass often didn’t go to hand. The second half began in similar fashion as Toulouse threatened to cut loose. McSharry halted one attack with a huge hit on Beauxis and then minutes later, the Toulouse flyhalf knocked on with the line at his mercy. Finally, Toulouse got the score their dominance deserved when they were awarded a penalty try, a harsh call by referee Greg Garner after only one wheeled scrum. Beauxis converted.

As Toulouse took their foot off the pedal, Connacht gradually got themselves back into the game. They enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession and good field position, as they looked more threatening with the ball. McCarthy knocked on with the try line beckoning but Connacht kept plugging away and were rewarded with a penalty try of their own after they finally got to grips with the Toulouse scrum. It was a well deserved try for Connacht and crowd at the Sports Ground enjoyed the moment thoroughly. Nikora added the conversion.

Nyanga came off the bench to score the final try.

Any hopes of a late revival for Connacht were extinguished as replacement hooker Ethienne Reynecke was yellow carded for taking Luke McAlister out as the New Zealander chased his own kick. Replacement flanker Yannick Nyanga touched down for Toulouse’s third try with three minutes left. Beauxis added the conversion to take his points haul to 21. The three-time champions were onto the scent of a bonus-point fourth try but they had left it too late and Connacht repelled the final attack.

 

Photos courtesy:  Pierre-Selim

Welford Road Woes For Ulster

Match Report 

Leicester 20-9 Ulster

19th November @ Welford Road

Ben Youngs had an impact off the bench for the Tigers. Photo via MD+D

Ulster came away from Welford Road with nothing to show for their efforts after a bruising encounter with Leicester. A strong final quarter from Richard Cockerill’s outfit saw them take the spoils here, denying Ulster a precious bonus point in the process. In a match dominated by defence, Leicester scored the only try and that proved crucial. Despite a brave effort, Ulster failed to break down a physical Leicester side.

In a first half that lacked any clear-cut try-scoring opportunities, it was the two outhalves who featured prominently. Ulster were first on the scoreboard as Ian Humphreys smashed over a penalty from 52 metres out after only two minutes. English international Toby Flood replied for Leicester with a penalty from a similar distance.

Ulster’s early game plan involved sending the likes of Stephen Ferris, Rory Best and Pedrie Wannenburg hammering at the Leicester defence but penalty opportunities were all they could muster. Humphreys restored the Ulster lead with another three points off the tee in the 11th minute when Leicester were pinged for playing the ball on the ground after a surge from Ferris. Flood missed his next effort at goal but made up for it soon after, leveling matters after Leicester constructed a decent passage of pressure in the Ulster 22.

However, Ulster hit back almost immediately when Leicester prop Marcos Ayerza  went off his feet at ruck time. Humpreys was successful again. Leicester had no intention of letting Ulster settle or build on a lead though and Flood knocked over another penalty after the Tigers got on top of the Ulster scrum after 22 minutes. That was to be the last score before halftime. The majority of the half was played in the middle third of the pitch, with both teams’ defences proving hard to penetrate.

The half finished with excitement for Leicester fans as Matt Smith and captain Geordan Murphy combined to put Alesana Tuilagi into space down the left hand touchline. Tuilagi broke Trimble’s tackle but Humphreys and scrumhalf Paul Marshall combined to drag the Samoan winger into touch.

Leicester took the lead for the first time shortly after the interval when Ulster were again penalised by referee Romain Poite at the scrum. Flood stroked over the penalty for a 12-9 lead. Humphreys had a chance to tie the match once again soon after but he was wide with his effort. Ulster enjoyed a period of sustained possession for much of the next ten minutes with Ferris, Trimble and Gilroy all making efforts to break down the gritty Tigers’ defence. Darren Cave threatened with ball in hand too but Cockerill’s men were disciplined and aggressive, repelling every wave of attack.

With the introduction of Ben Youngs and Martin Castrogiavanni with a quarter of the match left, the tide began to turn in the Tigers’ favour. After Rory Best had won a fantastic relieving penalty in Ulster’s own 22, Humphreys crucially missed his touch. Leicester countered back downfield, and after a typically strong Tuilagi burst up the middle, Flood had time to side foot a grubber through for Matt Smith to run on to. The centre beat the covering Paul Marshall to touch down. Flood was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt.

Ulster came back at the Tigers, bravely searching for a foothold in their 22 and gaps in their defence. But once again, it was in vain as Leicester just kept on tackling. A lineout steal with five minutes to go offered a brief glimmer of hope, but Ayerza burst away from the maul and hacked the ball downfield. Marshall raced back, just beating Youngs to the ball to prevent a clinching score.

That clinching score did come for the Tigers right on the stroke of full time with Flood knocking over another penalty from distance as the Leicester pack emphasised their scrum dominance. For Ulster, failing to secure a losing bonus point may prove critical but there is a long way to go yet in this pool. They face a double header with Aironi in December and will need two wins and most likely at least one try-scoring bonus point from those two fixtures.

 

Photo courtesy: MD+D

Drop Goal Deja Vu

Match Report

Castres 24-27 Munster

19th November @ Stade Ernst Wallon

Ronan O’Gara repeated last week’s heroics with a match-winning drop goal in the last play of the game to ensure two wins from two for Munster in Pool 1. From a similar position to the drop goal against Northampton, O’Gara once again showed serious nerve to land the three pointer. In doing so, he earned Munster a valuable four points in a game that looked like it had slipped away from them at one stage.

Castres set the early pace at the Stade Ernst Wallon, with outhalf Pierre Bernard opening the scoring with a long-range penalty out on the left after only 3 minutes. Several minutes later he added another booming penalty, this time from inside his own half. With Munster struggling to get into the game at this early stage, Castres built on their encouraging start with the first try of the game after 11 minutes.

Following strong carries from Jannie Bornman and then Chris Masoe, Bernard spread the ball wide to the right and good hands from the outside backs manufactured a two-on-one, allowing hooker Brice Mach to go over for the score. Bernard’s conversion came back off the upright, but Castres had now built a strong 11-0 lead.

Howlett went over for his second try in two games. Photo via MD+D

Munster manufactured a replying score within ten minutes. Wian du Preez put his team on the front foot and Paul O’Connell drove on inside the 22. Conor Murray cleverly put du Preez through a gap and then moved the ball to Coughlan who released Doug Howlett to dive over for the try. O’Gara added the conversion. This passage exemplified Munster at their best. Simple, strong carries from forwards coming onto the ball, then releasing the finishers off front foot ball.

A feature of the first half was Munster’s inability to come away from promising field positions with scores on the board. Just before the Howlett try, O’Gara had scuffed a drop goal attempt after good build up-play in the Castres 22. Soon after the try, he uncharacteristically missed a straightforward penalty attempt when Masoe was penalised for not releasing the tackled player. Then, when Munster returned to the Castres 22, Coughlan was penalised for side entry at the ruck following promising phases. When Castres came back downfield and were offered an opportunity in Munster’s 22, they made no mistake.

Castres kicked in behind Munster and after Murray had cleaned up, O’Connell carried from his own five metre line. Tekori stripped the ball from the Munster captain in contact and Castres swiftly moved the ball through the hands to Lakafia, a replacement for the injured Marc Andreu, wide on the left. He stepped inside a helpless Howlett to touch down. Bernard hit a lovely conversion to put Castres into an 18-7 lead.

On the stroke of half-time, Munster won a scrum battle underneath Castres’ posts to allow O’Gara to narrow that lead. Referee Wayne Barnes had reset the scrum five times before Wihongi was singled out for his binding. O’Connell smartly opted to get the points on the board rather than go for the scrum again. Tony McGahan must have stressed the importance of making territory count at half-time, because Munster began the second half with a well-worked try.

Murray ripped the ball from Masoe in contact and Will Chambers, on for Danny Barnes,used his strong fend to break through the Castres’ defence. Murray then looped off O’Connell and popped to Niall Ronan whose quick hands allowed Peter O’Mahony to gallop to the line as Castres fullback Florian Denos and Lakafia fluffed their defensive lines. O’Mahony fully deserved his try, following up last week’s Man of the Match performance against Northampton with another high-powered effort here. O’Gara added the conversion to O’Mahony’s score.

Bernard gave Castres a four-point lead when Wayne Barnes penalised Munster for dragging down a maul. O’Gara then missed with another drop goal attempt following a counter attack involving Johne Murphy, Howlett and Ronan. Perhaps the outhalf’s drop kicking boots had been left behind in Thomond Park? With Castres holding onto the ball in the Munster half, Ronan made a crucial turnover allowing O’Gara to boot downfield, eventually resulting in Munster taking the lead for the first time.

O'Gara was the hero again. Photo via MD+D

O’Gara blocked down an attempted relieving kick from Castres’ Remi Talles and Denis Leamy, on for James Coughlan, pounced on the rebounding ball. He offloaded to Chambers who crossed the whitewash untouched. O’Gara swung his conversion through the uprights and Munster led 24-21 with ten minutes remaining. The lead didn’t last long though, as BJ Botha was punished for losing his feet at a scrum and Bernard drew Castres level with the penalty, 24-24.

Munster nearly broke through for a try with time running out when Chambers made a scything break through the middle, fending off several tacklers and showing great pace. Mafi took the offload from Chambers but Howlett was then driven into touch as the move broke down. However, the feeling remained that Munster could manufacture one more opportunity, especially with the last-gasp win over Northampton so fresh in mind.

Munster didn’t need 41 phases to construct the position for O’Gara this time. O’Leary hit his outhalf with a pinpoint long pass and, with the last act of the game, O’Gara struck another beauty from the ten-metre line. A legend, a hero, who else would you rather have in that position?

View all the tries and O’Gara’s drop goal here.

Photo courtesy: MD+D