Tag Archives: Andrew Trimble

Four on Form

Heineken Cup Round 5 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.


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


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


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


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


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


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

Heineken Cup Round 5 Round-Up

Munster secured a quarter-final by beating Castres on Saturday. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.


Ulster 41-7 Leicester

Friday 13th January @ Ravenhill

Ulster were irrepressible as they ripped the Tigers to shreds in front of an overjoyed crowd at Ravenhill. Tries from Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble (2) and Paul Marshall as well as 21 points from the boot of Ruan Pienaar did the damage for Brian McLaughlin’s team. Ulster completely dominated the Tigers, who had hopes of a push for the quarter-finals coming into this game. Ulster remain top of Pool 4 but now have the unenviable task of a trip to Clermont on Saturday.

Clermont showed good form themselves over the weekend as they humiliated Aironi. However, if Ulster can repeat Friday night’s performance then they have a real chance of winning in France. If they do lose, they can still top the group if – 1) they deny Clermont a try-scoring bonus point, 2) get a losing bonus point themselves and 3) either score more tries than Clermont in the game or lose by less than five points. Lots of permutations for what should be another thrilling Heineken Cup game.

Here’s Pool 4 heading into the final round of games next weekend:

Here’s the four Ulster tries from Friday night:


Munster 26-10 Castres

Saturday 14th January @ Thomond Park

Munster became the first side to secure a quarter-final berth in this season’s Heineken Cup as they overcame Castres at a packed Thomond Park on Saturday. Despite a promising opening ten minutes, which saw Johne Murphy cross for a well-worked try, Munster got dragged into a real battle with Castres’ second-string. Wian du Preez’s try with twelve minutes to go confirmed the win. Ronan O’Gara was as reliable as ever from the tee, converting both tries and adding four penalties.

Speaking after the game, Paul O’Connell admitted that Munster were”frustrated” with their performance. For the second week in a row, plenty of chances were created but there was a lack of accuracy in finishing them. Looking at the positives, Munster are in a much better position than this time last year and go to Northampton knowing that a win would guarantee a home quarter-final. The Saints will be out for revenge in a big way.

Pool 1 looks like this after Round 5:


Toulouse 24-3 Connacht

Saturday 14th January @ Stade Ernst Wallon

Connacht came away from Toulouse with a certain amount of pride after showing up well. Despite four tries for the home side, Connacht were much improved on last week’s loss to Aironi and were unlucky not to get a couple of tries themselves.  The travelling Connacht fans were rewarded for their loyalty and Eric Elwood will certainly find positives ahead of the final pool match against Harlequins on Friday night at the Sportsground.

Niall O’Connor opened the scoring after 14 minutes but Toulouse gradually got on top. The prolific wing Timoci Matanavou scored two tries with Maxime Medard and Louis Picamoles also crossing the whitewash. Lionel Beauxis was on target with two conversions. Connacht will look to finish off their maiden Heineken Cup campaign on a high against Harlequins. Conor O’Shea’s side can still qualify so a first win for Connacht would be a huge shock.

Here’s Pool 6 after the weekend’s action:

Here’s the highlights from the Toulouse game:


Glasgow 16-23 Leinster

Sunday 15th January @ Firhill

Joe Schmidt’s Leinster weren’t at their best in Glasgow but still managed a win that sees them secure a quarter-final with a game to spare. As predicted, Glasgow worked hard as they fought for their Heineken Cup lives. They will be dissapointed with the soft try they conceded to Rob Kearney. If truth be told though, the Warriors never had enough quality to come out on top.

Johnny Sexton kicked one penalty for Leinster but when he picked up a calf strain, Fergus McFadden took over the kicking duties. The centre slotted two conversions and two penalties to top off a fantastic all-round performance. Isaac Boss was the other Leinster try-scorer. Leinster host Montpellier at the RDS on Saturday and a win would be enough to ensure a crucial home quarter-final. That win should be well within Leinster’s capabilities.

Here’s Pool 3 after the fifth round of matches:

Here’s the highlights from the Warriors vs. Leinster game:


Photo courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

RaboDirect Round-Up

PRO12 Round 13 Matches

Simon Zebo on the way to scoring in Munster's 29-11 win over Treviso. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.


Edinburgh 20-42 Ulster 

Friday 6th January @ Murrayfield

Ulster secured a bonus-point win for the second week in a row with a convincing victory over Edinburgh. Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy and Darren Cave scored the tries. Ian Humphreys kicked two penalties before going off injured in the 20th minute. Ruan Pienaar took over the kicking duties from there, knocking over 2 conversions and 4 penalties.

Edinburgh managed to reply with two tries of their own through Nick de Luca and Alun Walker. Scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw converted both tries and added two penalties. But Ulster were fully deserving of their win and Brian McLaughlin was understandably pleased with the performance. This win moves Ulster up to 6th in the table, only 4 points off Glasgow in 4th. Two five-pointers in a row give McLaughlin’s side great momentum ahead of their crucial Heineken Cup clash with Leicester Tigers in Ravenhill on Friday.

Here’s extended highlights from the Edinburgh vs. Ulster game:


Aironi 20-6 Connacht

Saturday 7th January @ Stadio Zaffanella

A shocking performance from Connacht condemned them to their 13th consecutive defeat in all competitions. With the Newport Gwent Dragons winning against the Ospreys on Friday, Connacht have dropped to 11th in the table. Only three points separate them from bottom side Aironi now. While the majority of Connacht’s losses in this current sequence have been by narrow margins, or often undeserving, this defeat in Italy was fully deserved. The sheer amount of unforced errors and bad decisions the players made meant losing was the only possibility.

Samoan winger Sinoti Sinoti scored the only try of the game for the Italians while outhalf Luciano Orquera added five penalties. The only response Connacht could muster was a penalty apiece from Matthew Jarvis and his replacement Niall O’Connor. Connacht were clearly second best throughout and this long run of fixtures has left their squad severely depleted. There is little respite in the next two weeks though, with Heineken Cup fixtures against Toulouse and Harlequins to negotiate before there is finally an extended break with the start of the Six Nations.

You can watch the Connacht vs. Aironi match on the TG4 Player, but to be honest there’s definitely better things you could do with your time! Awful match…


Cardiff 19-23 Leinster

Saturday 7th January @ Cardiff City Stadium

Leinster extended their lead at the top of the PRO12 to nine points with a hard-fought win in Cardiff. This match lived up to the expectations created by both squads naming strong starting fifteens. Unfortunately for Cardiff, Gavin Henson cried off before kick-off due to a calf strain. Still, there were more than enough good players on the pitch to make this a rare top-quality PRO12 game.

Leinster had a fantastic start as Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney crossed for tries inside the first ten minutes. Jonathan Sexton converted both scores to give Leinster a crucial 14-0 lead. Sexton added two penalties and Fergus McFadden kicked a late three-pointer of his own. For Cardiff, Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties as well as converting Gethin Jenkins’s try. Dan Parks added a drop-goal. Leinster are now undefeated in 14 games and will look to extend that run away to Glasgow in the Heineken Cup on Sunday.

Here’s the highlights from the Cardiff vs. Leinster game:


Munster 29-11 Treviso

Saturday 7th January @ Thomond Park

Munster got back to winning ways with a bonus-point victory over Treviso on Saturday evening. While never scintillating, Munster did enough to secure the important extra point by scoring four tries. This win moves Munster back up to 3rd in the league and leaves them only a single point behind the Ospreys in 2nd. Munster can now look push on and get into that 2nd position in order to secure a home play-off.

The try scorers for Munster were Niall Ronan, Man of the Match James Coughlan, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo. Ronan O’Gara tacked on three conversions and a penalty. Manoa Vosawai scored a consolation try for Treviso while Kris Burton landed two penalties. Worryingly for Tony McGahan, Ronan managed to injury himself while touching down for his score. Ronan says he is hopeful of being fit in time for Saturday’s Heineken Cup clash with Castres. With Denis ruled out for up to four months and Tommy O’Donnell out for six weeks, McGahan will share Ronan’s hopes.

Here’s the highlights of the win over Treviso (no sound):

You can watch the full Munster vs. Treviso game on the RTE Player.


Here’s how the PRO12 table looks after the weekend’s action:


Photo courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

Pro12 Previews

Edinburgh vs. Ulster @ Murrayfield

Friday 6th January, 19.30 (Not televised)

Rory Best is one of four Irish internationals who return for Ulster. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Ulster welcome back their Irish internationals for the trip to Murrayfield tonight. Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Tom Court all return to the starting 15. Stephen Terblanche moves to fullback to accommodate Trimble on the wing, meaning Adam D’Arcy drops to the bench. In the back-row, Willie Faloon is the one to miss out due to Ferris’ inclusion. Ferris is at blindside, so Chris Henry moves to the openside with Pedrie Wannenburg retained at No.8.

Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys continue as half-backs while Ian Whitten and Darren Cave start again in midfield. The team selection ensures a degree of continuity from the morale-raising 33-17 win over Munster last weekend. Prop John Afoa said this week that there’s a “real buzz” in this Ulster squad at the moment. Coach Brian McLaughlin will hope this atmosphere is extended with another win in Scotland tonight.

Coming into this match, Ulster sit 8th in the PRO12. Edinburgh are one place behind, trailing by 4 points. Last time out, the Scottish side lost 17-12 to Glasgow Warriors. Outhalf Phil Godman scored a last-gasp drop goal to secure a losing bonus point there. Edinburgh have won just once in their last four PRO12 matches, but have only lost once in seven at Murrayfield in all competitions. Ex-Connacht and Ireland A coach Michael Bradley is in charge at the club.

Bradley has rung the changes for this tie. Scotland legend Chris Paterson comes in at fullback while Nick de Luca starts at centre. Try machine Tim Visser is on the left wing, opposite 21-year-old Tom Brown. It’s a Scottish international half-back pairing of Godman and Greig Laidlaw. Up front, Fijian international Netani Talei starts at No.8 while Bradley has gone for an all-Scottish international front row in Geoff Cross, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen.

Ulster come into this match with more momentum and the huge boost that the likes of Ferris and Trimble bring but Edinburgh’s home form has been good. Both teams face must-win Heineken Cup clashes the weekend after this so it may come down to whichever side can keep their focus tonight. If Ulster are to make a bid for the playoff spots then this is the kind of game which they have to win.

Edinburgh: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Tom Brown, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 James King, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Greig Laidlaw (capt.) 8 Netani Talei, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Esteban Lozada, 4 Sean Cox, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.                                                                                                             Subs: 16 Alun Walker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Alan MacDonald, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Matt Scott, 23 Jim Thompson.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt.), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Subs: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Wallace, 23 Adam D’Arcy.


Aironi vs. Connacht @ Stadio Zaffanella

Saturday 7th January, 15.35 (TG4) 

Connacht captain Gavin Duffy (catching ball) will hope to help his team end their awful run. (c) Liam Coughlan.

This match looks to be Connacht’s best chance of ending their run of losses. Aironi are bottom of the table, having won only two of their games in the PRO12, as well as losing all four of their Heineken Cup matches. Connacht were cruelly dealt more injuries during last week’s narrow loss to Leinster. Eoin Griffin, Johnny O’Connor, Brian Tuohy and Ronan Loughney all picked up injuries in that inter-pro derby.

Eric Elwood is able to call on the the province’s most capped player in Michael Swift, who returns in the second-row. Dylan Rogers replaces Loughney in the front-row. In the back-line, Dave McSharry returns from injury to replace Griffin in the centre while Fetu’u Vainikolo comes in for Tuohy, who broke his leg last weekend. The fifth and final change sees Frank Murphy start at scrumhalf instead of Paul O’Donohoe.

Meanwhile, Aironi had a derby of their own last weekend. They lost 37-14 away to Treviso and have made three changes from that starting fifteen. Giulio Toniolatti comes in on the right wing, while Tyson Keats gets the nod at scrumhalf. Joshua Furno joins captain Marco Bortolami in the second-row. The Aironi bench has experience in abundance with the likes of Salvatore Perugini, Mauro Bergamasco and Quintin Geldenhuys to call on.

Connacht’s next two fixtures after this are against Toulouse and Harlequins in the Heineken Cup. That makes a win against Aironi all the more important. Those two HC fixtures will be huge asks so a win in Italy looks their only hope to lift some of the gloom. While Connacht have only scored one try more than Aironi in the PRO12 this season, the Italians have conceded 33 to Connacht’s 18. Hopefully Connacht can match their performance of last weekend. That would be enough to secure a precious win.

Aironi: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giulio Toniolatti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gabriel Pizarro, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Josh Sole, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Nicola Cattina, 5 Marco Bortolami (capt.), 4 Joshua Furno, 3 Fabio Staibano, 2 Roberto Santamaria, 1 Alberto De Marchi
Subs: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Lorenzo Romano, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Naas Olivier, 23 Alberto Benettin.

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


Cardiff Blues vs. Leinster @ Cardiff City Stadium

Saturday 7th January, 18.15 (TG4)

Jamie Heaslip (being tackled by Keith Earls here) captains the Leinster side. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Joe Schmidt has named an all-Irish starting fifteen for Leinster’s clash with the Blues on Saturday evening. With the recent announcement of the IRFU’s plans to change the manner in which overseas players are contracted to the provinces, it’s a sign that Leinster will probably be the least affected. Blues coach Justin Burnell has also named a strong side for what should be a high-quality encounter.

For Leinster, fullback Rob Kearney is joined by brother Dave and 20-year-old Andrew Conway in a back-three brimming with pace. Fergus McFadden is selected at outside centre, where he’ll be hoping to impress Declan Kidney ahead of the Six Nations. Eoin Reddan is at scrumhalf ahead of Isaac Boss.

Up front, Sean Cronin comes in at hooker, with Mike Ross and Cian Healy either side of him. Devin Toner and Damian Browne make up the second-row. Kevin McLaughlin is named at blindside while Sean O’Brien is at 7. Jamie Heaslip captains the side from No.8.

Cardiff give Gavin Henson a start at fullback while Wales captain Sam Warburton leads the side at openside. Leinster will have to look to negate Warburton’s influence as much as possible. Elsewhere, the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Parks add an international flavour to this tie.

Looking at the teams on paper, this is a mouth-watering clash. Cardiff sit 5th at the moment, just 3 points behind Munster and with a game in hand. They’ll be looking to catapult themselves into those play-off positions. Leinster are currently 6 points clear at the top of the table and will hope to maintain that breathing space. It should be a cracker.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Gavin Henson, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Sam Warburton (capt.), 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 John Yapp, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Richard Mustoe.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Andrew Conway, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Leo Auva’a, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Isa Nacewa, 23 Fionn Carr.


Munster vs. Treviso @ Thomond Park

Saturday 7th January, 20.15 (RTE 2)

Conor Murray is back at scrumhalf. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

Munster are back to full-strength after a disappointing performance from a weakened team against Ulster last weekend. Only five of that team are retained as Munster look to get back on track. Ronan O’Gara is back in to steer the ship at outhalf, while Paul O’Connell returns to captain the side from the second-row. Peter O’Mahony has recovered from his jaw injury and comes in at blindside flanker.

Elsewhere, Keith Earls is back at outside centre, another player looking to impress Declan Kidney. The exciting Simon Zebo is back in on the left wing, meaning Johne Murphy moves over to the right. It’s a strong-looking Munster bench too, with Donncha O’Callaghan, Tomas O’Leary and Ian Keatley all waiting in the wings.

Treviso are only 5 points behind Munster in the league, so a win for them at Thomond would be huge. Coach Franco Smith has made only one change from the team that ran in four tries against Aironi last weekend. Manoa Vosawai replaces the injured Robert Barbieri at No.8. Treviso have been the most improved team in the PRO12 this season, so Munster will have to be wary of the threat they pose.

Still, with the strength of the team McGahan has gone for, Munster should be looking for a big win. As always, they will be made to work extremely hard by the Italians but this game may be an opportunity to secure a bonus-point win that would leave Munster in a much stronger position. The Blues, Scarlets, Treviso and even Ulster are all breathing down Munster’s neck, meaning a big win would be very welcome.

Munster : 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifemi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (capt.), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Tomas O’Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.

Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Brendan Williams, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Gonzalo Padrò, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Antonio Pavanello (capt.), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Subs: 16 Diego Vidal, 17 Matteo Muccignat, 18 Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Enrico Pavanello, 21 Simon Picone, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.


Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan, Robbie Ambrose, Liam Coughlan.

Heineken Cup Round-Up

Gloucester 23-19 Connacht

Saturday 17th December @ Kingsholm

Connacht's defence let them down at the death. Photo via Eoin Gardiner.

Connacht came so, so close to ending their miserable run of defeats but were denied as Gloucester replacement Johnny May scored a try with only four minutes remaining. This was a much improved showing from the Heineken Cup minnows and they will be devastated to have left this one behind them. In doing so, they have now recorded a club record 10th defeat in a row. If they can match this performance at Kingsholm in the coming weeks, that run will finally come to an end.

Connacht scored one lovely try after Frank Murphy intercepted Gloucester flyer Charlie Sharples’ pass. The scrumhalf offloaded to Gavin Duffy who then popped the ball back inside to Murphy. George Naoupu took Murphy’s second offload and looked to be clear, but was hauled down metres short of the tryline. He had the awareness to pop the ball off the deck to the supporting Tiernan O’Halloran who dotted down. Niall O’Connor converted that try and added four penalties over the course of the 80 minutes.

For Gloucester, outhalf Tim Taylor scored a try, conversion and penalty in the first half before being replaced by Freddie Burns at the break. Burns knocked over two penalties as well as the conversion after May’s late try. The match looked to have gone Connacht’s way when O’Connor was successful with a penalty 8 minutes from time to leave his side 19-16 up. But a weak missed tackle by substitute hooker Adrian Flavin allowed May to break through the Connacht line and use his pace to go all the way.

There are certainly positives Connacht can take from this defeat. O’Connor was vastly better than the previous weekend. His kicking from hand was exquisite at times. Along with O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin and David McSharry there is obvious potential in the Connacht backline. Clearly, forwards coach Dan McFarland spent a lot of the week running up to this game working on set pieces as Connacht were greatly improved at the scrum and lineout. There were far fewer individual errors too, but as we saw with May’s late try, even one mistake can have fatal consequences.

Here’s a look at Pool 6 after the weekend’s action:

Aironi 20-46 Ulster

17th December @ Stadio Brianteo

Ian Humphreys kicked 12 points in Italy. Photo via M+MD.

Ulster scored 6 tries as they overcame a second-half resurgence from Aironi to leave Italy with a five crucial points. Brian McLaughlin’s charges dominated the opening half to lead 27-3 at the break through tries from Andrew Trimble, Tom Court and a penalty try after a fantastic rolling maul was dragged down by the Aironi pack. Ian Humphreys converted all three tries and tacked on two penalties as well.

Ulster came out from the half-time interval in a less than convincing manner and allowed the Italians back into the game through their own sloppy play. Aironi scored two tries through wing Sinoti Sinoti and substitute Roberto Quartaroli. Luciano Orquera converted one of the tries to bring the game back to 27-15. Ulster were finally stirred into action and Craig Gilroy was on hand to finish a good team move which secured the bonus point.

Aironi then went over for another try when replacement back-row George Biagi took Quartaroli’s offload close to the line to go over untouched. But Ulster confirmed the win with late scores from South African Robbie Diack and sub Adam Macklin. Ruan Pienaar added two conversions in the second half to leave Ulster with a 46-20 win.

These five points keep Ulster at the top of Pool 4. The pool is wide open following Leicester’s win over Clermont, with all three sides still competing to top the group or secure a best placed runners-up spot. Ulster host Leicester in January in a must-win game. If they can do that and then secure a losing bonus point away to Clermont, it could be enough to see them through as a best placed runner-up. However, even though there are only two rounds of pool games left, nothing is decided. That’s the beauty of the Heineken Cup.

Here’s how Pool 4 stands after last weekend:

Here’s the Ulster tries against Aironi. This is a playlist, so just let each one play through and you’ll be able to select the next try:

And here’s the highlights from the other game in Pool 4 on Saturday between Leicester and Clermont:

Leinster 52-27 Bath

Saturday 17th December @ Aviva Stadium

Devin Toner had a great game for Leinster. Photo via M+MD.

Leinster scored 7 tries as they hammered a far inferior Bath side in front of a big crowd at the Avia. You can read the full match report here. At times, Leinster were just sensational and if they can consistently match the heights they hit at times on Saturday then no team will beat them. With such a strong squad too, it is hard to see injuries affecting Leinster too much. Still, there’s a long way to go before the business end of this competition.

Leinster are looking comfortable now at the top of Pool 3 and should secure a home quarter final with wins over Glasgow and Montpellier in the final two rounds of pool fixtures. Joe Schmidt will certainly head into Christmas in positive form after this win, although he was frustrated by how his team switched off for the closing quarter of the game. It is a measure of this Leinster squad that they will find negatives after a win like this.

Here’s how Pool 3 looks following the action over the weekend:

And here’s the highlights from Leinster’s win over Bath:

Munster 19-13 Scarlets

Sunday 18th December @ Thomond Park

O'Gara was crucial for Munster yet again. Photo via M+MD.

Munster had another hard-fought win on Sunday. They’ve now won 4 from 4 in Pool 1. It was a case of more of the same from Munster as O’Gara kicked 14 of the points and James Coughlan touched down at the back of a rolling maul. The Scarlets were threatening in patches but once again lacked the accuracy to finish off the breaks they made. They scored a try of their own through substitute prop Ken Owens. Rhys Priestland kicked a conversion and a penalty while Stephen Jones added a penalty of his own.

Tony McGahan was happy with another win but admitted to being disappointed with the performance from Munster. Regardless, Munster are now very well positioned to go on and secure a home quarter-final. They’re 4 points clear of the Scarlets at the top of Pool 1 and next up are a Castres side who have lost all interest in this competition. McGahan will hope to secure Munster’s first bonus point win in that game.

Here’s Pool 1 after four rounds of action:

Anyone who missed Munster vs. Scarlets can watch the entire match over on the TG4 Player. Just click on ‘Sport’ under the ‘Archive’ menu then select ‘Rugbai Corn Heineken’.

Photos courtesy:  Eoin Gardiner, M+MD.