Tag Archives: Jamie Heaslip

Lack of Competition Is a Worry

Kidney's loyalty has cost Ireland this year. (c) Art Widak.

In the build-up to this year’s Six Nations, Declan Kidney’s conservative squad selection was not at all surprising. Loyalty is Kidney’s way. He maintains faith in the players who have done well for him in the past. There are positive sides to this loyalty. For example, it can contribute towards a strong spirit of togetherness within the squad, where every player knows he is valued and will not be discarded on a whim.

However, there are clearly negative factors to Kidney’s loyalty too. Picking players on past glories means ignoring absolutely crucial factors in current performance – form and confidence. Furthermore, when a player is almost certain of retaining his place in the team/squad even after a poor display, what effect does this have on his motivation? Competition within a squad is vital.

I’ve waited to write this piece until today because I didn’t want it to be a knee-jerk reaction to the embarrassment of Twickenham, but my feelings are still the same now. I don’t want to accuse Irish players of complacency as I understand that they always try their best for their country. But knowing that your coach is unlikely to drop you or give other players in your position a chance is not going to result in a player being at his most focused. 

Donnacha Ryan, passing, is one player who has shown high levels of motivation. (c) Ken Bohane.

A perfect example came on the stroke of half time last Saturday. English scrumhalf Lee Dickson was dithering over the ball at the base of a ruck just outside the English 22. Donnacha O’Callaghan, who started all 5 games in the tournament despite losing his place at Munster, stands idly at the back of the ruck watching on. Donnacha Ryan, making just his 2nd Six Nations start and with plenty to prove, ferociously clatters into the breakdown with an aggressive counter-ruck, forcing Dickson into conceding the penalty that keeps Ireland well in the game at 9-6.

Ryan jumps to his feet, pumps the air with his fist and screams, “Come on!” His teammates are visibly lifted, and there’s plenty of back-slapping and praise. Ryan is a man playing with high levels of motivation. O’Callaghan is a mere spectator. Again, I don’t want to start slating individual players, but the simple fact is that O’Callaghan has offered Ireland very little over the course of this Championship. In the past, he has been a vital part of Ireland teams, but that was when he had something to prove.

Much the same could be said of Gordon D’Arcy’s showing. There were dropped balls, kicks directly into touch and a badly judged switch of play when England looked to be on the ropes. The single most shocking incident was his attempted drop goal though. As we trailed 6-3, a thumping Ryan tackle on Dickson allowed SOB and Ferris to pile in for a turnover. Cian Healy’s pass to D’Arcy was poor, but to then attempt a ridiculously ambitious drop goal with very little space was hard to understand.

D'Arcy (12) has looked far from his best. (c) Ken Bohane.

The D’Arcy of ’07 or ’09 would have kept that ball in hand and battered into the English covering defence with confidence, looking for a hole to slip through, looking to create something. But this year’s version of D’Arcy, completely assured of his place in the team, doesn’t have that same hunger. Likewise Jamie Heaslip, the key example being Dylan Hartley ripping the ball from his grasp with Ireland in a superb attacking position in the England 22.

Tomas O’Leary’s case is a little different. He does have something to prove, having lost his place in both the Irish squad and with Munster. Still, it is Kidney’s loyalty that is the issue again. O’Leary should never have been near the Irish bench based on form. The decision to replace Eoin Reddan, who was having a decent outing despite one or two bad errors, was mindless. While I will stress that I will never blame individual players for a loss, some of O’Leary’s mistakes were costly.

His lack of confidence and sharpness was particularly evident as he carried the ball over the Irish tryline, providing England with the platform for their penalty try. Farrell’s kick was good, but the scrumhalf had options – either sprint to retrieve the ball before it got that close to the line, or have the belief to let it cross before touching down. As it was, O’Leary made no decision and England secured the game. His passing and box-kicking were both off the mark too.

There was more competition in the 2009 squad. (c) Arun Marsh.

When you look back to the 2009 Grand Slam-winning squad, the level of competition is obvious. Paddy Wallace started the first 3 games at 12, before D’Arcy got the nod for the final two games. At hooker, Jerry Flannery was first-choice but Best started the Scotland game and replaced Flannery in every other one. In the back-row, Ferris, Heaslip and Wallace were the front-liners, but Leamy came off the bench in every game as well as starting against Scotland.

At scrumhalf, Stringer kept the pressure on O’Leary, starting that Scotland match and appearing off the bench regularly. Rob Kearney was vying with Geordan Murphy at fullback, while Mick O’Driscoll and Malcolm O’Kelly ensured that O’Callaghan earned his place in the team.

Kidney’s loyalty has completely deprived Ireland of that level of competition this season, and the inconsistent performances are the result. On our day (vs. England last year/ vs. Australia at RWC) we are capable of beating any team. Those wins come when the entire squad is aggressive, motivated and hungry. A lack of competition in this current set-up means those performances are becoming more and more rare.


Photos courtesy:  Art Widak, Ken Bohane, Arun Marsh.

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.

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.

Leinster Lay Down Heineken Cup Marker

Match Report – Heineken Cup Round 4

Leinster 52-27 Bath

17th December @ Aviva Stadium

Leinster were far too strong for Bath at the Aviva. Photo via M+MD.

Leinster blew Bath away with a scintillating 60 minute performance in front of a 46,365 crowd at the Aviva. This performance clearly marks Leinster out as one of the favourites for the tournament. While the last 20 minutes of the game saw Leinster thoughts turn to their Christmas party, the display up until that point was as complete as it possibly could have been. Dominant set-piece, crisp handling, exhilarating pace and aggressive defence were all part of the package. With so many of the Leinster players in top form, Bath never had a hope.

The match was over as a contest within 30 minutes, as Leinster blitzed Bath early on. Rob Kearney gave the home side the lead after just 3 minutes. Jonathan Sexton’s penalty effort came off the post and Devin Toner was quickest to react, using his height to claim the bouncing ball. Leinster recycled and Eoin Reddan’s clever flick pass caught Bath unaware and allowed Kearney to dive over. Sexton added the conversion for a promising start.

Ex-England centre Olly Barkley got Bath back into the game with two penalties, but in between Sexton came up with a fantastic drop goal to keep the scoreboard ticking over for Leinster. Bath fullback Sam Vesty’s clearance kick was straight down Sexton’s throat and he had more than enough time on the ball to smack home the drop goal from 45 metres out.

Leo Cullen was sent to the sin-bin for a punch but that didn’t effect Leinster in the slightest. Their next try came from an unexpected source. 6′ 10″ second-row Toner dummied and then made a lovely one-handed offload to Kearney, who drew the last defender and put Luke Fitzgerald over for the try. It was a subtle, surprising piece of play from Toner, part of a strong display by the 25-year-old. Sexton was on target with the conversion to give Leinster a 17-6 lead.

Next to cross the tryline was Sexton himself after another passage of sumptuous Leinster play. Sexton used the Leinster trademark loop off Jennings to give McFadden the space to send Fitzgerald speeding down the left-hand touchline. He drew in the covering defender and Sexton was on his inside to take the scoring pass and stride over. Sexton converted his own try as Cullen returned to the pitch. Leinster has scored 14 unanswered points while their captain took a breather.

Sexton scored Leinster's 3rd try as well as kicking 16 points. Photo via M+MD.

Following half-time, Leinster picked up immediately from where they had left off. Directly from the kick-off, they shifted the ball from right to left, through the hands. A beautiful skip pass from McFadden allowed Kearney to use his footwork, fix the outside defender and hit Fitzgerald, just outside Leinster’s own 22. Fitzgerald did the rest as he beat two defenders and showed a tremendous burst of pace to go the length of the field. Once again, Sexton knocked over the conversion.

Scrumhalf Reddan got a deserved try ten minutes later as he sniped over from close range following strong carries from Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. Sexton added the extras. Any hope of a Bath revival was extinguished as first Vesty and then Chris Billar were yellow-carded. Replacement back-row Rhys Ruddock got Leinster’s 6th try when he went through a weak tackle after Kearney had made the initial break. Sexton was on target with his conversion.

With a whole raft of changes to the Leinster team, their focus started to slip in the last quarter as Bath tried to restore some pride. All Blacks World Cup winner Stephen Donald went through Eoin O’Malley’s tackle to get Bath’s first score of the second half. Barkley nailed the conversion from out to the right. Bath second-row Dave Attwood crossed next for Bath, with Barkley again successful with the conversion.

Leinster briefly awoke as O’Malley cleverly took a quick lineout in the Bath 22, and Jamie Heaslip surged up the middle. Isaac Boss then hit fellow replacement Ian Madigan, who stepped inside a tackle to dot down. Isa Nacewa took over the kicking duties and duly slotted the easy conversion. The game ended with another try for Bath as they won the restart and eventually substitute Ben Williams went through some uninterested tackles to touch down. Barkley knocked over the conversion with the last act of the game.

The true measure of this Leinster side lies in the fact that they will be frustrated with their performance in the last quarter of this clash. If they can consistently match the levels they hit in the first 60 minutes at the Aviva then most teams will find it extremely difficult to stay with them. Leinster now have a comfortable 6 point lead at the top of Pool 3. If they maintain this form, you would have to fancy them to wrap things up when they travel to Glasgow on the second weekend of January.

Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O’Malley, F McFadden (G D’Arcy, 53), L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (I Madigan, 59), E Reddan; H Van Der Merwe (C Healy, H-T), R Strauss (S Cronin, 53), M Ross (N White, 65), L Cullen (capt, K McLaughlin, 59), D Toner, S O’Brien (R Ruddock, 53), J Heaslip, S Jennings (I Boss, 78).

Bath: S Vesty; J Cuthbert (B Williams, 56), M Banahan, O Barkley, N Abendanon; S Donald (T Heathcote, 68), M Claassens (C Cook, 56); D Flatman, C Biller (R Batty, 67), D Wilson, D Attwood, R Caldwell, F Louw (capt), S Taylor (A Beattie, 53) G Mercer.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)


Photos courtesy:  M+MD

Four On Form

Heineken Cup Round 2 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting

The Heineken Cup weekend just passed saw Munster overcome Castres, Leinster beat Glasgow, Ulster lose away to Leicester and Connacht lose out to Toulouse at home. Four on Form looks at four Irish players who showed good form for their provinces and furthered their international claims.

Eoin O’Malley

O’Malley came into the Leinster team last weekend to replace Fergus McFadden, who suffered a dead leg against Montpellier in Round 1 of the Heineken Cup. The 23-year-old centre scored two tries as Leinster secured a bonus point win. With Brian O’Driscoll out injured, O’Malley was always going to be considered as a possible replacement. This was an impressive outing in only his third Heineken Cup start, and it will be interesting to see if Joe Schmidt sticks with O’Malley when McFadden returns from his injury.

O’Malley’s first try was a simple finish from the base of the ruck as he picked the ball and dived over. He showed good awareness to spot the opening when so many players would have simply rucked over the ball. This type of finish is something we have seen from O’Driscoll on many occasions in the past. O’Malley’s second try was another lesson in simplicity as he took a fantastic short, straight line onto D’Arcy’s pass and burst over the try line from five metres out. Again, this try was O’Driscoll-esque in the intelligence of the line taken by O’Malley.

Defensively too, there is something of O’Driscoll in the young centre. He always looks composed and confident when defending, invariably making the right decision. One particular passage early in the first half highlighted this. As Glasgow attacked from inside their own 22, Nacewa made a tackle with O’Malley outside him. As soon as Nacewa had brought his man down, O’Malley was swiftly over the ball with great, low body position, forcing a turnover penalty. This is something O’Driscoll has always done superbly and O’Malley seems to be capable of such decisive defensive moments too.

See highlights of Leinster’s 38-13 win over Glasgow, including O’Malley’s tries and turnover, here.

Niall Ronan

Munster’s win over Castres has understandably seen most of the attention go to Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal heroics. But the performance of openside Niall Ronan should not go unnoticed as he made several crucial contributions to the win. The ex-Leinster no. 7 has had a strong start to the season as he has nailed down a first-choice spot in Tony McGahan’s back-row. Ronan’s sharp form has continued against Northampton and Castres in the first two Heineken Cup fixtures. As Ireland struggled without a natural openside at the recent World Cup, it could be worth Declan Kidney’s while considering the merits of 29-year-old Ronan.

Ronan has taken on more responsibility for carrying the ball this season. It would appear that he has added some bulk to his frame and he has been far more effective with ball in hand. Against Castres, he continually offered himself up to take on ball and he consistently got Munster over the gain line. Ronan also provided the try-scoring pass for Peter O’Mahony’s try as he ran an intelligent trailing line off Conor Murray and then showed quick hands to release O’Mahony. Meanwhile, Ronan’s work rate was as high as ever. When he wasn’t carrying ball himself, Ronan was hitting rucks and supporting other carriers.

The Meath native also provided two crucial turnovers for his side, showing his ability as a natural 7. With Munster trailing 21-17, and Castres enjoying a spell of possession inside the Munster half, Ronan made a fantastic steal which allowed Munster to kick deep into the Castres’ 22. From the subsequent scrum, O’Gara’s block-down created the try for Chambers. Then, with three minutes left, Ronan turned over Castres’ possession at ruck time as the French side went in search of a winning score with the match tied at 24-24. Ronan’s steal resulted in Chambers making a searing break, almost setting up Doug Howlett for a winning score.

Highlights of Munster’s 27-24 win over Castres can be seen here.

Andrew Trimble

Ulster lost out to Leicester at Welford road on Saturday despite a brave, physical performance. The entire team put in a tremendous effort, none more so than Trimble. The winger carried ball all afternoon for Brian McLaughlin’s men. While Ulster struggled to crack the determined Leicester defence, Trimble was the player who looked most like breaking through. Despite most of his carries being in traffic, he always got over the gain line.

Trimble put in a mountain of work against Leicester. Photo via MD+D

Trimble signalled his intent to get stuck in early on as he followed up and won an Ian Humphreys garryowen. He again showed commitment as he chased a Humphreys restart and came up with a man-and-ball hit on Louis Deacon. Trimble always looked confident under high ball and took everything kicked down his wing with ease. His first-half included an intelligent offload to Chris Henry, but Trimble’s good work went to waste as the move broke down with a loose pass from Wannenburg. Soon after, Trimble came off his wing and showed great strength in handing off Matt Smith to get Ulster onto the front foot.

It was not a flawless 80 minutes from Trimble as he had two knock-ons in promising positions as well as getting bounced off by Tuilagi during one of his trademark surges out wide. Trimble got his own back on Tuilagi in the second half though, racing up out of the line to smash the Samoan in possession, forcing the turnover. He followed this up with a delightful kick deep into the Tigers’ 22 after an aimless Toby Flood garryowen. Trimble continued to make hard carries as Ulster searched for a reply to Matt Smith’s try for Leicester. He never broke through but deserves serious credit for his effort at Welford Road.

You can view the entire Ulster match against Leicester here.

Jamie Heaslip

Heaslip has come in for some criticism over the past year or so as he has failed to match his electric form of 2009, when he played a critical part in Ireland’s Grand Slam as well as starting all three tests for the Lions in South Africa and ended the year with a nomination for IRB International Player of the Year. Any player would find it hard to repeat a year like that every season. However, it is true that Heaslip has been quieter on the pitch in recent times. With Sean O’Brien’s ascendancy to the role of primary ball carrier for both Leinster and Ireland, Heaslip has had less responsibility in that regard. Against Glasgow, Heaslip showed signs that he may be returning to somewhere near his best.

Heaslip after being sin-binned against Munster earlier this month. Photo via MD+D

Heaslip was effective in possession, as he got on the ball more than he has in the previous few games. He carried hard and always made the ball available for Eoin Reddan to move it on quickly. His strength in contact was key to this as Heaslip always took the tackle on his own terms, not allowing the himself to get wrapped up or the ball to be slowed down. It was Heaslip who made the opening for O’Malley to score his first try. It took three Glasgow players to haul Heaslip down as he inched towards the line and his ball presentation was perfect, allowing O’Malley to slip over for the score.

Heaslip got through his usual amount of hard work in clearing out rucks and supporting ball carriers, much of which goes unnoticed. Heaslip had a large role in creating the platform which allowed Leinster to score five tries. It was encouraging to see Heaslip with more ball in hand and the hope is that he can build on this performance over the coming months and return to the form that saw him included in discussions on the best players in the world.

Photos courtesy:  MD+D, Jukka Zitting