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

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