Tag Archives: James Coughlan

Four on Form

(c) Jukka Zitting.


Cian Healy

Healy in action for Ireland. (c) Martin Dobey.

Leinster’s 25-3 win over Montpellier saw a much-improved performance from loosehead prop Healy. The Clontarf man has struggled to find his best form for Leinster this season after being one of Ireland’s stand-out players at the World Cup. At times, Healy has given an impression of disinterestedness and has seemed more irritable than usual on the pitch. But this was all swept aside with a vintage performance in the dominant win over Montpellier. The 24-year-old was back to his best with some big carries and a visibly better attitude.

Starting in the first minute of the game with a strong surge through a tackle, Healy put in an outstanding 48 minute shift. In the build-up to the opening try from Sean O’Brien, Healy was involved with a trademark one-handed carry close to the Montpellier line. Minutes later, the prop grabbed a Montpellier knock-on and showed his pace as he rampaged into the French side’s half, eventually leading to a penalty which Fergus McFadden stroked over. As Leinster defended their line for the last twenty minutes of the first-half, Healy showed great hunger with some aggressive tackles around the fringes.

The 25-times capped Irish international came out after half-time similarly amped up and burrowed his way over for a 42nd minute try. While it was only from a metre out, there was no one else Leinster would have rather had in that position. Joe Schmidt decided that Healy had done his job and replaced him soon after. With a real lack of competition in the prop positions for Ireland, Declan Kidney will be relieved to see Healy returning to his ball-carrying best. The Dublin man and part-time DJ has been dangerous with ball in hand from the very beginning of his career and Ireland fans will hope he can continue where he left off against Montpellier in the Six Nations.

Healy’s key stats vs. Montpellier:

Minutes played: 48     Kick/pass/run: 0/0/8     Metres gained on ball: 45         Defenders beaten: 3     Tackles made/missed: 5/0


Simon Zebo

Zebo takes flight against the Saints. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Zebo’s hattrick in Munster’s hammering of Northampton won him the Man of the Match award but there was more to his performance than just tries. Since breaking into Munster’s first team this season, Zebo has looked like a genuine attacking threat. He now has six tries in just nine starts and at only 21 has plenty of time and potential to improve. The blow of the season-ending achilles injury to Doug Howlett has been softened by Zebo’s form and perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay the youngster is that it was easy to forget that Munster were missing the All Blacks legend on Saturday.

Zebo’s tries showed his pace and attacking instincts at their best. The first was a straightforward finish after good hands from Keith Earls and Denis Hurley, as well as a beautiful Conor Murray pass, created the space. Zebo’s second was a great read as he intercepted James Downey’s pass and stretched the legs to run it in. Zebo recognised that Downey hadn’t looked before passing, so there was only one place it was going. Zebo cleverly put himself in the right position. The Corkman’s third score saw him take an intelligent switch line inside Ian Keatley and against the grain of the drifting Saints defence. The young wing’s pace made his line all the more effective.

Speed seems to be in the Zebo bloodline. His father, from Martinique, came close to representing France at the Olympics while his sister is heavily involved in athletics too. But there was more than pace and tries to Zebo’s game on Saturday. His committed kick chasing was superb. His reclaims of O’Gara drop-offs were the source of both BJ Botha and Johne Murphy’s tries. In a game where the restart was massively influential, Zebo made the difference. His defence was untested on Saturday and some doubts do remain in that regard. But for now, we should savour the joy Zebo brought to the game. With the rolled-down socks, exuberant confidence and ‘Z’ celebration, he has the makings of a different type of Munster hero.

Zebo’s key stats vs. Northampton:

Kick/pass/run: 2/3/11     Meters gained on ball: 130     Clean line-breaks: 3 Defenders beaten: 2     Tackles made/missed: 1/0


John Muldoon

Muldoon warms up for the Toulouse match, two weekends ago. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Connacht’s first ever Heineken Cup win will go down in the province’s history as an unforgettable night. In the wind and rain, the Connacht pack dug in and showed incredible commitment to their team’s cause. Harlequins couldn’t cope with the ferociousness of the Connacht defence and that was what made the difference. Muldoon was Man of the Match and spoke afterwards of that award being for each member of the pack. But that was the typically self-depreciating Muldoon. While others around him did put in similar efforts, the blindside’s contributions were crucial.

Two turnovers in particular stood out. The first came after 26 minutes as Harlequins, trailing 9-5, hammered at Connacht and still showed belief that they could break them down. Muldoon was involved in a tackle and then instead of looking to get his hands on the ball, he got to his feet and drove straight over the top of it. With his teammates piling in behind him the ball ended up in the Connacht side of the ruck. It was intelligent, determined work from Muldoon.

The second key turnover came in the second-half. ‘Quins were deep inside the Connacht 22 as Jordan Turner-Hall burst at their defence. Muldoon went high with his tackle, knowing that Mike McCarthy had tackled low. As Turner-Hall went to the deck, Muldoon ripped the ball free from his grasp and there was relief for Connacht. Those kind of turnovers helped to sap the belief from Harlequins and lift the Connacht players and crowd.

On top of those crucial interventions, Muldoon was his team’s top ball-carrier in a game where they didn’t see too much of the ball. He put in his usual high tackle-count too. This was the kind of game that totally suits Muldoon’s strengths and attitude. He played a major role in what will become a famous night for Connacht. Muldoon will hope for a chance to shine again in the Wolfhounds game with the English Saxons on Saturday.

Muldoon’s key stats vs. Harlequins:

Kick/pass/run: 0/1/7     Metres gained on ball: 5     Minutes played: 80         Turnovers: 2     Tackles made/missed: 14/1


James Coughlan

Coughlan (right) supports his captain, Paul O'Connell. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

While Simon Zebo had a superb game for Munster, Coughlan was probably slightly more deserving of the Man of the Match award. He has become indispensable to Tony McGahan’s team and is a real leader on the pitch. It’s easy to forget how poor a start Munster made on Saturday and Coughlan was important in ensuring Munster stayed with Northampton up until half-time. The No.8 set his stall out as he claimed the first kick-off, beat a Saints chaser than smashed into two more. He didn’t let up for the remaining 80 minutes.

Two bruising carries from Coughlan resulted in the penalty which allowed Ronan O’Gara to draw Munster back to 13-6 after conceding the first penalty try. Soon after, another surge from the Cork man led to Northampton coming offside as they looked to stop Munster’s wrecking ball, allowing O’Gara to further reduce the deficit. In the build up to Johne Murphy’s try it was a hard, flat line from Coughlan which had the Saints back-peddling in defence.

The ex-Dolphin back-row was again central to Zebo’s third try. After a Denis Fogarty overthrow at a Munster lineout, Coughlan’s hit on Ben Nutley knocked the ball loose, allowing Keith Earls to break. Seconds later, it was Coughlan who set the ball up in the middle of the Saints 22, from where Keatley and Zebo performed their switch for the wing to score.

Coughlan was today called up to the Ireland senior squad, just reward for his brilliant form this season. The fact that he was left out originally was very hard to understand. For him not to be included in the Wolfhounds was beyond belief. Declan Kidney has fortunately realised the error of his ways and added the Munster No.8 to his squad for the Six Nations. He replaces the injured Leo Cullen and at 31, will hope to get his first full cap.

Coughlan’s key stats vs. Northampton:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 0/2/13     Defenders beaten: 4            Turnovers: 1     Tackles made/missed: 7/1     Metres gained on ball: 52


Photos Courtesy:   Ivan O’Riordan, Martin Dobey, Jukka Zitting, Pierre-Selim.

Four on Form

PRO12 Round 13 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.


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


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


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


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


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

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.