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

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