Monthly Archives: February 2012

Same Again for Ireland

The Ireland squad shows no changes from the Italy game. (c) Ken Bohane.

Declan Kidney has selected the exact same match day 22  as that chosen for last weekend’s 42-10 win over Italy. Despite some impressive cameos off the bench, particularly from Leinster’s Eoin Reddan, the Irish management team have kept faith with the likes of Conor Murray and Donncha O’Callaghan ahead of Sunday’s clash with France in Paris, with no changes to the starting 15.

Kidney’s team selection for this rescheduled fixture will almost certainly be greeted with accusations of conservatism and over-loyalty by many fans. Do you think Kidney should have made changes? If so, in what positions? Do you think Reddan and Donnacha Ryan deserved to be starting? Would you have made more than just two changes? Comment below with your opinion on Kidney’s decisions.

Ireland team to face France:

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

2. Rory Best (Ulster)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

4. Donnacha O’Callaghan (Munster)

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster, capt.)

6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)

7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

9. Conor Murray (Munster)

10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)

13. Keith Earls (Munster)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)

Subs:

16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Tom Court (Ulster), 18. Donnacha Ryan (Munster), 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 20. Eoin Reddan (Leinster),21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster), 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).

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Photo courtesy: Ken Bohane.

France Make Two Changes

Clément Poitrenaud B&W

Poitrenaud comes in at fullback. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Philippe Saint-André has made two changes to the France team ahead of Sunday’s rescheduled Six Nations clash with Ireland. Maxime Medard has been ruled out with the knee injury he suffered during the 23-17 victory over Scotland. His Toulouse teammate Clément Poitrenaud comes in at fullback. The only other change sees Julien Bonnaire promoted to the starting lineup in place of Louis Picamoles.

That switch means Imanol Harinordoquy reverts to his natural position at No.8, with Bonnaire starting at openside. With Medard out of the squad, Perpignan centre Maxime Mermoz is included on the bench. Saint-André has resisted the urge to include Lionel Beauxis at outhalf from the beginning, despite Francois Trinh-Duc’s lack of form in the opening two fixtures.

How do you rate this French team from what you have seen so far? Do you think they were lucky to beat Scotland last weekend? Which players do you think will be vital for them? Can Ireland win in Paris? Comment below with your opinions!

France team to face Ireland:

1. Jean-Baptiste Poux (Toulouse)

2. Dimitry Szarzewski (Stade Français)

3. Nicolas Mas (Perpignan)

4. Pascal Papé (Stade Français)

5. Yoann Maestri (Toulouse)

6. Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt.)

7. Julien Bonnaire (Clermont)

8. Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz)

9. Morgan Parra (Clermont)

10. Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier)

11. Julien Malzieu (Clermont)

12. Wesley Fofana (Clermont)

13. Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont)

14. Vincent Clerc (Toulouse)

15. Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse)

Subs

16. William Servat (Toulouse) 17. Vincent Debaty (Clermont) 18. Lionel Nallet (Racing-Métro) 19. Louis Picamoles (Toulouse) 20. Julien Dupuy (Stade Français) 21. Lionel Beauxis (Toulouse) 22. Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan).

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Photo courtesy: Pierre-Selim.

Scout’s Report: Italy

Italia - Irlanda

Jacques Brunel wants Italy to be more than a strong pack. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

Italy have lost both of their opening Six Nations games, going down 30-12 at the Stade de France before a 19-15 loss to England in Stadio Olimpica. No surprises there, and Ireland should be confident in their ability to overcome Jacques Brunel’s team. Since taking over from Nick Mallet at the start of this season, Brunel has admirably underlined his intention to expand the Italian style of play.

Italy’s traditional and well-known strengths up front remain, but Brunel has stressed to his charges the need to develop a more rounded, 15-man style. Long-term, this is certainly a good thing for Italian rugby, and the Six Nations as a tournament. The losses to France and England showed exactly how much work Italy have yet to do in developing their game plan into what Brunel terms “a more fluid style, a sense of spirit”.

The Italian back-line has struggled to create genuine try-scoring chances, with their two tries so far (both against England) coming directly from opposition errors. Despite having only minimally less possession than both France and England, Italy’s attempts to put more width on the ball have actually resulted in them creating very little, and even being to their detriment.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession at the breakdown, fanning out instead of competing on the deck. This allowed them to blitz aggressively on the Italian midfield, forcing them into errors. All four French tries came as a result of Italian mistakes (admittedly one from a turnover scrum). Against the English, long spells of Italian possession again came to very little. The swiftness with which they punished two English mistakes does bode well for Italy but their lack of invention is a worry for Brunel.

Italia - Irlanda

Burton (10) has been dropped for Tobias Botes, mainly for not exploiting gaps like this one! (c) Stefano Delfrate.

The decision to drop Kris Burton in favour of Tobias Botes looks like the coach’s attempt to add a more creative spark to his team. Botes has played much of his rugby at scrumhalf up until this season, but Brunel sees him as a player who can open the game up. His place-kicking after coming on against England was very poor and will have to improve if Italy are to stay close to Ireland.

As expected, the Italians remain strong up front. Martin Castrogiovanni will miss the rest of the competition, but Italy have a long production line of heavyweight props. Lorenzo Cittadini is no spring chicken at 29 and will look to ask questions of Cian Healy at scrum-time. Ireland answered Nick Mallet’s scrum-related taunts at the World Cup and will look for dominance there again tomorrow.

The Italian maul has the look of a potent attacking weapon, showing up particularly well in glimpses against France. However, Brunel’s desire for width often meant that the maul was not utilised to its full extent in Paris. It would suit Ireland if the same applied in Dublin.

So how do Ireland cut this Italian side open? Tempo and width are key. The Italians are weak at scrambling defensively. England showed the way in the 3rd minute of the match two weekends ago. From a turnover, they spread the ball wide to Strettle who carried at pace up the right-hand touchline. Swift recycling at the ruck resulted in a clean line-break for Phil Dowson. The English, utterly lacking in creativity themselves, failed to test the Italians in a similar manner for the remainder of the game.

Italia - Irlanda

Earls' pace will be important for Ireland. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

As mentioned above, the four French tries came about after Italian errors. The French are better than anyone at swift punishment of mistakes. This is not to say that Ireland should let Italy have all the possession and feed off their mistakes though. The key point is that Italy are slow to reorganise in defence when they are stretched.

Their line speed is not as aggressive as the Welsh defence which stifled Ireland three weekends ago. Ireland should look to get around them out wide through the pace of Earls and Bowe, moving them around the pitch in defence, making their big, heavy pack work hard to get back into position. From there, the likes of O’Brien and Ferris will have more opportunity for one-on-one carries and the tries will come.

Italy have actually looked pretty decent at counter-attacking off poor kicking. One of the major points taken from the Ireland vs. Wales game was the apparently aimless, deep Irish kicking. While the Italians are competent in the broken play resulting from loose kicks, they seem entirely less comfortable under a strong kick chase. Early on in the England game there were several dropped balls from the Italians under pressure from the English chase.

Conor Murray’s early box-kick against Wales which allowed Tommy Bowe to win a penalty for Ireland is the template. Murray has to make his kicks down either touchline contestable, particularly against the inexperienced Vendetti on the right wing. Even if it results in less relief in terms of territory, Ireland can reclaim these kicks in the air and immediately put Italy into exactly the type of defensive scramble which they struggle with.

An Ireland win is almost certain, but it is important that we see a clear Irish game plan tomorrow. We have 15 top-class players, some of the best in the world. But simply putting them on the pitch and hoping that they gel is not enough. Brunel has a clear vision for how he wants Italy to play. Kidney and his management team need to come up with their own vision and give these Irish players the platform to excel.

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Photos courtesy:  Stefano Delfrate.

PRO12 Previews

Munster vs. Blues @ Thomond Park

Friday 24th Feb, 19.05 (RTE2)

Simon Zebo, who scored two tries against Treviso last weekend, is on the left wing. (c) Jason Miller.

The revelation that Tony McGahan will leave the province at the end of the season has dominated Munster news this week. However, that will have to be pushed aside tonight as they look to continue their 4-game winning streak. 3 of those wins have brought try-scoring bonus points, but the Blues, 5th in the league, represent a tougher challenge.

McGahan has made five changes to his starting 15. Ronan O’Gara, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony, all starters against Treviso last weekend, are on the Irish bench tomorrow. Denis Hurley has also been called up as cover in the event of any late injuries. For Munster, Marcus Horan starts at loosehead ahead of Wian du Preez, while Ian Keatley, Tommy O’Donnell and Billy Holland slot in for the internationals with Felix Jones getting his first start of the season at fullback.

Blues’ boss Justin Burnell has made three changes to his side. Richie Rees replaces Welsh squad member Lloyd Williams at scrumhalf, Chris Czekaj comes in at fullback for Ben Blair while Maama Molitika starts at No.8 with Xavier Rush out ill. Munster fans will be denied an early look at recently announced signing Casey Laulala, sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Munster are 3rd in the table coming into this weekend, 4 points behind the Ospreys, with a game in hand. A Munster win, coupled with a favour from Ulster in Ravenhill, would see McGahan’s men into that home play-off position. Verdict: Munster by 5.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Mick O’Driscoll (capt.), 4 Billy Holland, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Marcus Horan.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Luke O’Dea.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Richard Mustoe, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Maama Molitika, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 Paul Tito (capt.), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Ryan Tyrell, 1 John Yapp.
Subs: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Ceri Sweeney 23 Ben Blair.

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Ulster vs. Ospreys @ Ravenhill

Friday 24th Feb, 19.05 (BBCNI)

Munster V Ospreys

The Ospreys, with Dan Bigger at 10, beat Munster at Thomond Park earlier this season. (c) Martin Dobey.

Ulster’s recent good form was brought to an abrupt halt by the Blues last weekend, as the Cardiff side came out 21-14 winners. Brian McLaughlin knows that a win tonight is vital if Ulster, in 6th, are to keep their play-off hopes alive. While the Ospreys have only lost three times in the PRO12 season, they are missing a total of 16 squad players due to international call-ups.

McLaughlin has finally made the call that many, including The Touchline, have been calling for in recent months. David Humphreys has been dropped to the bench, with Paul Marshall coming into the side. That results in Ruan Pienaar moving to outhalf. Pedrie Wannenburg’s return from a foot injury means that Robbie Diack (3 tries in 4) is unlucky to miss out. The only other changes are in the front-row, with Paddy McAllister taking over from Callum Black at loosehead and Andy Kyriacou being restored at hooker in place of Nigel Brady.

As mentioned, the Ospreys are missing a host of internationals, as well as having 7 players out injured. They can still name the likes of Welsh internationals Duncan Jones, Ian Gough, Dan Biggar and Andrew Bishop in their starting line-up. The talented young trio of Rhys Webb, Matthew Morgan and Ashley Beck have curiously been left on the bench, so expect an impact from them at some stage.

There will be no better chance for Ulster to beat a team above them in the PRO12. While the Ospreys are severely depleted, Ulster’s selection is basically first-choice bar Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Rory Best.                            Verdict: Ulster by 7.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Chris Henry (capt.), 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Subs: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Tim Barker, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Ian Humphreys, 22 Simon Danielli, 23 Adam D’Arcy.

Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Tom Smith (capt.), 5 James King, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Joe Rees, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Duncan Jones.
Subs: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Will Taylor, 19 Jonathan Thomas/Lloyd Peers, 20 George Stowers, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Ashley Beck.

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Connacht vs. Edinburgh @ The Sportsground

Friday 24th Feb, 19.30 (Not televised) 

Connacht Rugby

Connacht are looking for their 5th win of the season. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Connacht managed to end a 10-game losing run in the PRO12 against the Warriors last weekend thanks to a last-gasp Niall O’Connor penalty that drew the score level at 13-13. As seems to be the way with Connacht, it could have been so much more. Tonight they take on an Edinburgh side who sit 9th in the league and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Dragons. Prime opportunity for Connacht to secure a rare win.

Eric Elwood has given Academy prop Denis Buckley his first start for the province with Brett Wilkinson away covering for the international squad. The only other change to the side sees scrumhalf Frank Murphy return after recovering from a groin injury. Dave Moore is unfortunate to drop out of the match day squad after some promising cameos in recent weeks.

Michael Bradley makes four changes to his Edinburgh side after that loss ot the Dragons. Chris Paterson comes in at fullback, Jim Thompson is selected at 13, while 20-year-old Gregor Hunter should add some flair at outhalf. Up front, Scotland A international Andrew Kelly starts at hooker. The prolific Tim Visser is on the left wing, and Connacht will need to cut him down early.

It’s not the most intimidating Edinburgh selection, and this is a game that Connacht will most likely have been targeting for a home win. Whether or not they start finishing the chances they have been creating will be the deciding factor. Verdict: Edinburgh by 3.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Henry Fa’afili, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Frank Murphy, 1 Denis Buckley, 2 Adrian Flavin, 3 Ronan Loughney, 4 Michael Swift, 5 Mike McCarthy, 6 John Muldoon, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 George Naoupu.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Dylan Rogers/Brett Wilkinson, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Ray Ofisa, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Eoin Griffin.

Edinburgh: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Tom Brown, 13 Jim Thompson, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Gregor Hunter, 9 Chris Leck, 1 Kyle Traynor, 2 Andrew Kelly, 3 Jack Gilding, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 5 Sean Cox, 6 Stuart McInally, 7 Roddy Grant (capt.), 8 Netani Talei.
Subs: 16 Alun Walker, 17 Mike MacDonald, 18 Ulises Gamboa, 19 Esteban Lozada, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Alex Black, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Dougie Fife.

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Warriors vs. Leinster @ Firhill

Saturday 25th Feb, 18.00 (TG4)

22

Last weekend's win over the Scarlets was Leinster's 12th in a row. (c) Ken Bohane.

Fergus McFadden’s complete individual performance helped Leinster to a narrow 16-13 win over the Scarlets last weekend. That win saw them maintain a 10 point lead at the top of the PRO12. The Warriors were denied a victory in Galway as Niall O’Connor kicked Connacht level with the last action of the game. The Warriors remained 4th after the draw, but will be feeling the pressure of Ulster, the Blues and the Scarlets breathing down their necks this weekend.

Joe Schmidt has made several changes to the team which scrapped past the Scarlets. Young centres Collie O’Shea and Brendan Macken return, hoping to continue the promise they showed two weeks ago against Treviso. At scrumhalf, Isaac Boss comes in with Eoin Reddan on Ireland duty. In the front-row, Richardt Strauss is joined by Heinke Van der Merwe and Connacht-bound Nathan White. Mark Flanagan gets his 2nd start of the season in the second-row, while Dominic Ryan is at blindside. There’s plenty of youth on the Leinster bench, including promising 20-year-old wing Andrew Conway.

The Warriors show four changes to the side which drew in Galway. Alex Dunbar comes into midfield with Graeme Morrison selected for Scotland. Sevens specialist Colin Shaw is on the left wing in place of ex-Ulster man Tommy Seymour. In the pack, Mike Cusack is chosen at tighthead, with Scottish Rugby Elite Development player Nick Campbell starting in the second-row. Ruaridh Jackson will run things from outhalf.

Leinster were far from their sharpest last weekend, and with the Warriors under pressure in the last of the play-off spots, this is a big test for Schmidt’s side. Incredibly, they haven’t lost in any competition since the 17th of September 2011, an 18-game unbeaten streak. That loss was at the RDS against the Warriors, with fairly similar line-ups. Crucially, the likes of Ian Madigan, Leo Auva’a and Dave Kearney have grown as players since then. Verdict: Warriors by 2.

Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 David Lemi, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Troy Nathan, 11 Colin Shaw, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley (capt.), 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Nick Campbell, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ryan Grant.
Subs: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jon Welsh, 18 Gordon Reid, 19 Rob Verbakel, 20 Calum Forrester, 21 Scott Wight, 22 Federico Aramburu, 23 Tommy Seymour.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa,14 David Kearney, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Colm O’Shea, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 1 Heinke van der Merwe, 2 Richardt Strauss, 3 Nathan White, 4 Damian Browne, 5 Mark Flanagan, 6 Dominic Ryan, 7 Shane Jennings (capt.), 8 Leo Auva’a.
Subs: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Eoin O’Malley, 23 Andrew Conway.

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Photos courtesy:  Jason Miller, Martin Dobey, Pierre-Selim, Ken Bohane.

McGahan to Leave Munster

Tony McGahan's post match interview

McGahan is set to leave Munster at the end of the season. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

The rumour mill went into full flow last night with speculation that Tony McGahan will leave Munster at the end of the season in order to take up a role as Australia’s defence coach. An official announcement is expected from the Australian Rugby Union on Friday, and Munster curiously withdrew their confirmation of the deal earlier today. It looks like we may have to wait a little longer for concrete details. Munster have offered McGahan a two-year extension to his deal but the Australian’s move home looks to be signed and sealed.

McGahan first arrived at Munster in 2005, taking up the role of Defence Coach. The following season his importance was increased with an expanded brief of Defence/Skills/Backs coach. His subsequent role in helping Munster to win both the 05/06 and 07/08 Heineken Cup titles cannot be understated. Declan Kidney has always been more of a manager/organiser/motivator than an actual coach and McGahan’s ideas and attitude on the training ground were vital.

With Kidney moving on to the Ireland job at the end of that 07/08 season, McGahan was always going to be a smart choice as his successor. He has always been and still is respected and well-liked by the senior players. His appointment has been a relatively successful one, with two Celtic/Magners/PRO12 titles as well as two HC semi-final appearances. Last season’s failure to progress from the pool stages was a well-documented blip.

Leading out copy

The Magners League Final win over Leinster last season was a highlight for McGahan. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

This season, McGahan has done well despite the constant reminder that he is in charge of a side ‘in transition’. Looking at the facts – 6 from 6 in Pool 1 of the HC, 3rd in the PRO12 and Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo all established first-choice players – it’s clear that McGahan has done a good job. His promotion of these Munster Academy graduates is particularly praiseworthy.

Those facts don’t however illustrate some of the poor rugby Munster fans have seen this season. The first half of the season was a slog, with some uninspiring displays in which Munster looked like a side torn between two styles of play. Credit to McGahan though, performances have steadily improved, culminating in the unforgettable dismantling of the Northampton Saints. This improvement has won McGahan plenty of fans in recent months, to the extent that many will be disappointed to see him go.

However, the majority of fans are unlikely to be distraught at the news. Most Munster fans will welcome a change of leadership at the province next season. Everyone will have their own favourite candidate for the job, and there have been some interesting names bandied about. The traditional ‘Munster way’ would point to an internal appointment, but this might be the time for Munster to look elsewhere. Fresh ideas and different approaches could add impetus to a team that will need to identify its own style of play next season, with new faces joining and some old heads moving on.

McGahan will be determined to leave the province on a high. The pressure is in many ways off his shoulders for the remaining months of the season, and hopefully that relief will transfer to his players on the pitch. Munster fans will hope to bid farewell to McGahan on April the 19th at Twickenham.

Will you miss McGahan? Do you think he’s done a good job at Munster? Will the change for next season be welcome? Comment below with your opinion, and your who you would like to see in charge next season!

Keep on eye out for our profiles of some of the candidates to take over at Munster for next season! Coming soon…

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Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

Italy Make Changes for Aviva Clash

Italy Pre-Match Huddle

Ireland welcome Italy to the Aviva on Saturday. (c) Elentari86.

Jacques Brunel has made four changes to the Italian side which went down 19-15 to England two weekends ago. Despite his poor showing off the bench against England, Tobias Botes has been selected ahead of Kris Burton at outhalf. Deciding who fills the number 10 jersey for Italy must be a hard decision, for all the wrong reasons. In the centre, Alberto Sgarbi surprisingly returns to the side in place of the hard-tackling Gonzalo Canale.

Up front, fans’ favourite Martin Castrogiovanni looks like he will miss the rest of the tournament with the rib injury sustained against England. Treviso tighthead Lorenzo Cittadini will look to fill the Leicester man’s boots. On the other side of the front-row, Cittadini’s Treviso teammate Michele Rizzo comes in for Andrea Lo Cicero. As always, it’s a big, strong Italian pack who will look to ask serious questions of Ireland at scrum and maul time.

How do you think the game will go? Will it be an easy win for Ireland to get things back on track, or do you expect it to be closer than usual? Comment below with your predictions for the game on Saturday.

Italy team to face Ireland

1. Michele Rizzo (Treviso)

2. Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso)

3. Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso)

4. Quintin Geldenhuys (Aironi)

5. Marco Bortolami (Aironi)

6. Alessandro Zanni (Treviso)

7. Robert Barbieri (Treviso)

8. Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt.)

9. Edoardo Gori (Treviso)

10. Tobias Botes (Treviso)

11. Luke McLean (Treviso)

12. Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso)

13. Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso)

14. Giovanbattista Venditti (Aironi)

15. Andrea Masi (Aironi)

Subs

16. Tommaso D’Apice (Aironi) 17. Fabio Staibano (Aironi) 18. Antonio Pavanello (Treviso) 19. Simone Favaro (Aironi) 20. Fabio Semenzato (Treviso), 21. Kris Burton (Treviso) 22. Gonzalo Canale (Clermont).

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Photo courtesy: Elentari86.

Four on Form

(c) Jukka Zitting.

After an apt four week breakFour on Form is back. While the Six Nations has obviously been at the forefront of most rugby fans’ minds recently, the PRO12 continued last weekend. If you missed any of the action, you can find out how the provinces got on in our RaboDirect Round-Up. As always, Four on Form highlights four Irish players who were in top form over the weekend. This week’s edition is slightly longer than usual to make up for lost time! Do you agree with these selections? Which players do you think were more worthy of being highlighted? Feel free to comment at the bottom of the piece.

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Fergus McFadden

McFadden scored all of Leinster's points in their win over the Scarlets. (c) Ken Bohane.

McFadden is an obvious inclusion this week as he was quite literally the difference between Leinster winning and losing. His try, conversion and three penalties were the difference, with his penalty from 45 metres winning the game with the last play. Playing at inside centre, the 25-year-old looked very comfortable. McFadden has looked better on the occasions he has worn the 12 jersey this season.

While his pace can be effective in the 13 channel, McFadden is not the most naturally elusive or creative of players, so the directness often needed at 12 suits him. Joe Schmidt has clearly been working hard on McFadden’s distribution this season, and we saw another lovely skip pass from the centre which allowed Isa Nacewa to make a break in the first half.

McFadden’s footwork in traffic is also improving, as shown by the lovely sidestep he took to straighten his line for the try. The step forced Scott Williams into slipping, and McFadden’s pace allowed him to burst through the hole. He showed good strength to stretch over. On another occasion, a poor Isaac Boss pass put McFadden under pressure, but he showed quick feet to get out of traffic and offload. The signs are that McFadden is working hard to improve all aspects of his game, with the accuracy of his place-kicking another example.

This wasn’t a perfect display by McFadden. Just before half-time the centre shockingly knocked-on with Leinster attacking the Scarlets’ line. He got bounced off by the massive Ben Morgan too, in a manner reminiscent of the George North break against Ireland. At around 92kg, McFadden is not the biggest centre, but that’s not the reason for the two missed tackles, rather the height he tried to hit both ball carriers.

Despite those blips, this was a hugely effective performance from McFadden. He did all the basics well and showed that his game is suited to the inside centre position. With Gordon D’Arcy in decline, it’s time for Leinster and Ireland to put faith in McFadden.

McFadden’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

Kicking: 4/6     Points: 16      Kick/pass/run: 2/9/9     Defenders beaten: 3              Offloads: 1     Turnovers: 1     Tackles made/missed: 10/1

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Peter O’Mahony

Peter O'Mahony has another big game

POM had another big game against Treviso. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

After warming the bench for the duration of Ireland’s clash with Wales, O’Mahony was back in action for Munster in their bonus point win over Treviso on Saturday. The back-rower played at openside and put in yet another strong effort for his province. While O’Mahony is undoubtedly more at home at 6 or 8, he showed signs that he can adapt his game to the demands of openside play.

Against Treviso, we saw much less of the 22-year-old in open play than we have become used to. His ball-carrying has been a real strength this season, but against Treviso, O’Mahony only managed 6 carries. Playing at openside, he had much more work to do at the breakdown and he hit rucks with his standard agression all afternoon. Defensively, O’Mahony made 3 turnovers, showing he has the ability to compete on the floor.

At the lineout, O’Mahony was superb at the tail. Munster repeatedly used him to secure clean ball, and his 6 takes were the most of any player on the pitch. His soft hands make him a good target. We also saw a brief glimpse of what O’Mahony can offer as an openside in attack as he linked well from Johne Murphy’s counter attack in the first half. O’Mahony trailed Murphy’s run, took the pass and offloaded to keep the ball moving.

O’Mahony’s more subtle skills are something that are often masked by his aggressive ball-carrying and combative nature. He possesses strong footballing skills, as shown by two lovely kicks against Treviso, the second showing good awareness of space behind the Italians’ defence. With the game won, O’Mahony eventually got to show off his strength in contact as he burst through three defenders in the final minute.

This was a promising demonstration of O’Mahony’s ability to play at openside for Munster. While it is not his natural game, and his ball-carrying suffered because of having to adapt, the Cork man showed up well. He is a superb talent and looks likely to thrive wherever he is played.

O’Mahony’s key stats vs. Treviso:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 2/4/6     Lineout takes: 6     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 3     Turnovers: 3     Tackles made/missed: 6/0

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Devin Toner

Toner

Toner claims lineout ball against the Scarlets. (c) Ken Bohane.

Toner has assumed increasing importance for Leinster in recent times. With Leo Cullen out after achilles surgery and Steven Sykes’ stint with the province a disaster, Leinster have been short on second-row options. It’s no surprise that Toner has the most appearances of any Leinster player this season with 20. Brad Thorn’s imminent arrival will relieve some of the workload. However, all this playing time has resulted in rapid improvement, and Toner continued his fine form against the Scarlets.

At 6’10” Toner has always had difficulty with his ball-carrying. At that height, it is often easy for defenders to chop him down with low tackles. The 25-year-old does not seem put off though, and against the Scarlets he was Leinster’s top ball-carrier with 14, several of them very effective. From the kick-off, Toner showed good strength to bounce Josh Turnbull into the ground. In the second-half the Meath man displayed decent footwork to step inside a defender rushing up. Clear signs of improvement.

Toner is an obvious target at the lineout and Leinster relied heavily upon him in that regard, particularly as they chased the game in the second half. He proved up to the task with reliable handling, even in the rain. Defensively, Toner worked hard without particularly standing out. He had one or two opportunities to unload big hits on Scarlets’ outhalf Stephen Jones, but instead attempted choke tackles. A slightly more aggressive attitude to tackling would improve Toner’s effectiveness in defence.

With his height advantage, Toner is often able to get his hands free in the tackle. He has shown a desire to offload this season, and this is encouraging. He has to recognise the time and place though, as two attempts against the Scarlets resulted in knock-ons because of the slippy ball. Still, it’s encouraging to see that Toner has the intelligence and awareness to keep the ball alive. Better decision-making could make it a strength of Toner’s game.

Like McFadden, Toner’s performance wasn’t flawless in the wet conditions. Still, his work-rate, ball-carrying and lineout excellence were crucial to Leinster’s win. Toner last played for Ireland in 2010, earning 3 caps. If he continues at this rate of improvement he will be adding to that tally sooner rather than later.

Toner’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 0/1/14     Defenders beaten: 3                      Offloads: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/0     Lineouts taken: 6

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John Muldoon

Muldoon was Man of the Match as Connacht secured a draw against the Warriors on Saturday at the Sportsground. Muldoon is Connacht through and through and he never gives anything less than 100% in his performances for the province. Against Glasgow, his work rate was typically high and his determination inspirational.

The try-saving tackle he put in on Peter Murchie in the 72nd minute exemplified his desire. As Murchie dived into the corner to score, Muldoon intelligently dropped low enough to shove the fullback into touch. With the Warriors 13-10 in front, a try at that point would have guaranteed a win for the Scottish side. Muldoon’s intervention proved crucial as Connacht went downfield to secure an equalising penalty.

Muldoon’s work-rate was apparent in his ball-carrying too. He was one of the most effective Connacht players with ball in hand, carrying 9 times in total. As has become standard at Connacht, Muldoon led in terms of tackle count. His 12 tackle were all successful. A John Muldoon missed tackle is a rare sight in Galway. At 29, Muldoon still has plenty of rugby left in the tank. Ireland’s depth of back-row options means that he is unlikely to add to his three caps. However, Connacht will continue to be thankful for his loyalty and passion for the province.

Muldoon’s key stats vs. Warriors:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 0/2/9     Metres gained on ball: 24            Turnovers: 1     Tackles made/missed: 12/0

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Photos courtesy:  Jukka Zitting, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan.