Four on Form

PRO12 Round 13 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.

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James Coughlan

Coughlan goes over for his try against Treviso. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

After a relatively quiet first half in Munster’s 29-11 win over Treviso on Saturday, Coughlan came out and lead his team to a bonus-point win in the second-half. With a slim 10-6 lead at the break, Munster needed players to step up and Coughlan did so in typical fashion. The Cork man scored a try off the base of a scrum as well as being massively important in the build up to Simon Zebo’s score. His work rate was as high as always.

Coughlan, the current Munster Player of the Year, put in a serious shift as he made 14 carries as well as 9 tackles. Only the Dragons’ Toby Faletau had more carries than Coughlan over the course of the PRO12 weekend. Of course, it is quality rather than quantity that a player’s ball-carrying should be judged on and Coughlan was not found wanting in that regard. His try from a scrum five metres out showed the No.8’s strength. His support line to take Ian Keatley’s offload in the build up to Zebo’s try showed his intelligence.

At 31, Coughlan is uncapped for Ireland and likely to remain so. He has been involved with the Ireland Sevens set-up, playing in the 2009 Sevens World Cup. His late start to professional rugby means he has never been seriously considered for a senior cap. His importance to Munster is indicated by the fact that he has been involved in all but 2 matches this season. Coughlan’s man of the match performance against Treviso showed exactly why he will continue to be so important.

Coughlan’s key stats vs. Treviso:

Kick/run/pass: 0/3/14     Metres gained on ball: 64     Clean line-breaks: 2       Defenders beaten: 3     Tackles made/missed: 9/1

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Paul Marshall

As highlighted before here in Four on Form, Marshall has been one of Ulster’s best players this season. The return of Ruan Pienaar has meant that the diminutive scrumhalf has been relegated to a back-up role in recent weeks. Coming off the bench to replace the injured Ian Humphreys after twenty minutes of Ulster’s 42-20 win over Edinburgh on Friday night, Marshall showed exactly why he deserves inclusion in the starting fifteen.

The 26-year-old was centrally involved in all four of Ulster’s tries. For the first, his crisp, clean service allowed Pienaar to release Darren Cave, who offloaded to Rory Best for the score. The second try all began with Marshall’s perfect, hanging box kick. The height on the kick allowed Andrew Trimble to chase and reclaim the ball. From there, Stephen Ferris provided the scoring-pass for Tuohy.

Marshall showed his ability to snipe as he set up the third try for Trimble. From an Ulster maul, the scrumhalf somehow managed to slip down the blindside, showing his pace before releasing Trimble to burn past Tim Visser. Marshall’s pace was again on display for the fourth try. He recovered an Edinburgh knock on just outside Ulster’s 22 and raced past several defenders before intelligently interchanging passes with Trimble and putting Cave through to touch down.

Although Humphreys has been named in Ulster’s provisional squad for this Friday’s vital Heineken Cup showdown with Leicester Tigers, surely the form of Marshall can no longer be ignored by coach Brian McLaughlin. As suggested here before, Pienaar can play at outhalf, accommodating the irrepressible Marshall.

Marshall’s key stats vs. Edinburgh:

Kick/pass/run: 3/43/4     Metres gained on ball: 54     Clean line-breaks: 3     Defenders beaten: 3     Tackles made/missed: 2/0

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Rob Kearney

Kearney in action against the All Blacks in 2008. (c) Martin Dobey.

Kearney put in yet another top-class 80 minutes for Leinster as they hung on to beat Cardiff Blues 23-19 on Saturday. The 25-year-old has rewarded Joe Schmidt’s decision to install Kearney as first-choice fullback by putting in some of the finest performances of his career. The Louth native is back to somewhere close to his best, having clearly adapted to the role of a modern fullback. Missing most of last season with a serious knee injury, Kearney had to watch on as Isa Nacewa made the number 15 jersey his own. The battle between the two for the fullback jersey that many expected hasn’t really developed. Kearney’s form has made him undroppable.

Kearney’s try against Cardiff was an example of what he has been doing all season. As Eoin Reddan went on a dummy-loop around Cronin, Kearney took a brilliant line inside the hooker to exploit the hole created by Reddan’s loop. His acceleration through the gap was as impressive as his step around Leigh Halfpenny to touch down.

The rest of Kearney’s game was just as excellent. His positioning was supreme, as he collected many of the Cardiff kicks into Leinster territory. He made several intelligent decisions to step up into the Leinster defence to cut off Cardiff attacks. the His left boot is a cannon, as he showed in the last ten minutes. Once, Kearney managed to clear to the halfway line from underneath the Leinster uprights. Kearney’s form means he will be the undisputed first-choice fullback for Ireland in this year’s SIx Nations.

Kearney’s key stats vs. Cardiff:

Kick/pass/run: 8/5/6     Metres gained on ball: 48     Clean line-breaks: 1      Defenders beaten: 3     Tackles made/missed: 4/0

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Jamie Heaslip

Heaslip captained Leinster to a win over the Blues. (c) Martin Dobey.

Heaslip took over the captaincy for Leinster and he made some big plays to vindicate Schmidt’s decision. The No.8’s performance was far from perfect, but he came up with important contributions when his team needed them the most. The first of these was his break and offload for Sean O’Brien’s early try. This was Heaslip at his best, breaking through defences and bringing others into the game.

In the second half, Heaslip made a similarly powerful break and we can only hope there is more of this to come from the 28-year-old. Heaslip put in a strong defensive effort too. He successfully completed all of his ten tackle efforts. A negative side to his game were the two penalties he conceded at ruck-time. However, the flip side to this was that his willingness to compete at the breakdown resulted in the crucial turnover penalty as Cardiff attacked the Leinster line in the closing seconds.

Heaslip has certainly been in great form this season. The Irish management will expect the No.8 to bring this into the Six Nations, and perhaps hope that the bigger stage can draw further improvement from him. More of what we saw against Cardiff would be greatly welcome.

Heaslip’s key stats vs. Cardiff:

Kick/pass/run: 0/4/8     Metres gained on ball: 52     Clean line-breaks: 2      Defenders beaten: 3     Offloads: 2     Turnovers: 2     Penalties: 2

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Photos courtesy:  Jukka Zitting, Ivan O’Riordan, Martin Dobey.

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