Four on Form

Heineken Cup Round 5 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.

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Andrew Trimble

Trimble scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance against the Tigers. (c) Martin Dobey.

It was a hard task picking stand-out performers in Ulster’s thrashing of the Leicester Tigers simply because every single one of the Ulster players was on top form. It was a genuinely complete team performance from the northern province. Trimble was chosen as Man of the Match, but the award could have gone to at least five or six other players. Trimble is selected for Four on Form because he has been putting in consistently strong displays for Ulster this season. His two tries on Friday night were well deserved as he put in his usual hard-working shift.

Trimble’s first try was a straightforward dive into the corner after a breathtaking, multiple-phase passage of play from Ulster. More impressive than the finish was the Irish international’s heavy involvement in those phases, carrying and even playing scrumhalf at one stage. For his second, the 27-year-old wing was once again instrumental in the build-up as he hared after Terblanche’s chip and drove Horacio Agulla back over his own line. From the subsequent five metre scrum, Trimble’s finish outside Alesana Tuilagi was sharp.

Aside from the tries, Trimble was busy on and off the ball. He is a complete winger and his level of performance this season makes him a strong contender for one of the wing positions in the upcoming Six Nations. With the possibility of Keith Earls or Tommy Bowe moving into the centre, the Ulster man is the obvious replacement for either. Even if the two World Cup wingers don’t move inside, Declan Kidney might be foolish to leave such an in-form Trimble out of his side.

Trimble’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Tries: 2     Kick/pass/run: 0/6/9     Metres gained on ball: 51                         Defenders beaten: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/2

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Donnacha Ryan

Ryan makes a break against Castres on Saturday. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

Tony McGahan’s post-World Cup decision to install Ryan as first-choice partner to Paul O’Connell was perhaps one of his more controversial selections calls this season. But the Munster coach’s backing of Ryan has been rewarded as the Nenagh man has gone from strength to strength. After his Man of the Match showing against Castres on Saturday, the debate about whether he should be starting ahead of Donncha O’Callaghan looks to be over.

Ryan was everywhere for Munster and gave several perfect examples of the extra dimension he adds to Munster’s game in comparison to O’Callaghan. While the 28-year-old Ryan did all of the tackling and spoiling that O’Callaghan specializes in, he also made some fantastic carries of which his rival is not capable of. Witness his break after 6 minutes, where he showed decent footwork to beat a tackle and then good pace until he was hauled down metres short of the tryline.

There was a similar example later in the first half as the 13-times capped Irish international again broke, this time offloading to Denis Hurley. Admittedly,  the amount of visible work Ryan got through was aided by the fact that he played the majority of this match in the back-row after Niall Ronan’s injury. Indeed, having O’Callaghan on the pitch freed Ryan. Still, he has been equally impressive in the second-row this season. There’s plenty of contenders to partner O’Connell for Ireland, with the likes of Dan Tuohy, Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner playing well. Ryan is most certainly in the mix too.

Ryan’s key stats vs. Castres:

Kick/pass/run: 0/1/10     Metres gained on ball: 34     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2     Offloads: 1     Tackles made/missed: 11/1

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Sean Cronin

Cronin playing for Ireland against France in last year's Six Nations. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Ian Keatley, Jamie Hagan, Fionn Carr and Sean Cronin. All key players for Connacht last season, all moved away to supposed brighter pastures. At the half-way stage in this season though, only Cronin can be said to have progressed. Keatley has been inconsistent as back-up to Ronan O’Gara while Carr and Hagan have played bit-parts in the Leinster squad. Cronin has had to battle with Richardt Strauss for the number two jersey in Joe Schmidt’s side. This tussle to be first-choice seems to have brought the best out of the younger.

Against Glasgow on Sunday, Cronin was Leinster’s most effective ball-carrier. Even with the likes of Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the starting fifteen, it was Cronin who did the most damage with ball in hand. He had eleven carries and while this wasn’t the highest carry count for Leinster, Cronin beat four defenders, more than any other player on the pitch. The Limerick man’s pace is a huge asset and helps him to win most collisions.

While Rory Best has been playing well for Ulster, Cronin’s dynamism is definitely something that Kidney will consider using from the start. The Leinster man offers obvious impact from the bench, but his display against Glasgow shows that he can do it for 80 minutes. Best has had a few hiccups with his lineout throwing, missing three against Leicester on Friday. Cronin’s throwing was almost perfect as he missed only one. Cronin’s time playing second-fiddle to Best for Ireland may be over.

Cronin’s key stats vs. Glasgow:

Kick/pass/run: 0/2/11     Tackles made/missed: 7/1      Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 4     Lineout jumpers hit/missed: 8/1

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Darren Cave

The discussion about who should replace Brian O’Driscoll for Ireland has mainly centered around Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe and Fergus McFadden. But another man whose form has given him a chance for Six Nations inclusion is Ulster’s Darren Cave. The outside centre has been impressive for his province all season and a return of four tries from eleven starts is not too shabby. Cave was having another storming game for Ulster on Friday night before picking up a foot injury with twenty minutes left.

Brian McLaughlin will be praying that Cave recovers in time for this weekend’s massive clash with Clermont. The 24-year-old has become a vital part of this Ulster side. His attacking zest and defensive work-rate would be massive losses for the Clermont game. Both of these qualities were on show against Leicester on Friday night.

Cave may not possess the footwork of someone like Gordon D’Arcy or Keith Earls but he runs fantastic lines in attack and his pace allows him to be very penetrative. His distribution skills are good and importantly, Cave recognises when to give the ball. He has a strong offloading game too. Defensively, Cave is full of energy. At close to 100kg, the centre does not specialise in big hits, but he is intelligent in patrolling the 13 channel. With Kidney naming his Six Nations squad this week, Cave has done all he can to deserve inclusion.

EDIT: Cave has cruelly been ruled out for up to six weeks with the foot injury he picked up on Friday, meaning he’ll miss Saturday’s crucial clash with Clermont. It also rules him out of the Six Nations campaign. Very unlucky.

Cave’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Kick/pass/run: 0/6/5     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2            Offloads: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/0     Minutes played: 57

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If you missed any of the action over the weekend, check out the Heineken Cup Round 5 Round-Up, which includes video highlights.

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Photos courtesy:  Robbie Ambrose, Liam Coughlan, Martin Dobey.

4 responses to “Four on Form

  1. Years of skepticism over Trimble are finally passed. He definitely deserves to start now, probably even ahead of Earls if he isn’t moved to 13. Donnacha Ryan is class!

  2. Obviously Earls is a class player, Trimble just seems to be doing more week in week out at the moment, whether he can bring that to the international game is another thing. On current form though I think he deserves to start in the back 3 with tommy B on the other on the wing and kearney full back. 10 and 13 are impossible to call, realistically I reckon its between Earls and Mcfaddan with Earls probably getting the nod?

    • Yeah picking on form, Trimble is ahead of Earls. But Kidney often doesn’t pick on form! Very loyal at times. I’d agree with your back three – Kearney, Bowe and Trimble. I’m gutted Darren Cave got injured, would’ve love to have seen him up against Rougerie for Clermont next week to see if he’s really at that level. The squads were announced today, check them out in the latest post!

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