Tag Archives: Joe Schmidt


Ian Madigan

Ian Madigan in Leinster colours. (c) Martin Dobey.

One of the more interesting head-to-heads during last month’s Pro 12 final was that at inside centre. While neither Ian Madigan nor Stuart Olding had a decisive impact on the outcome of that particular game, their futures in the position hold exciting possibilities for Irish rugby. Alongside JJ Hanrahan at Munster, these young players offer something different to the common concept of an inside centre.

The traditional view is that a 12 is someone to get your team over the advantage line, a big man who runs direct lines and takes out a few defenders. Jamie Roberts of Wales and Munster’s James Downey are fine examples of this ‘classic’ inside centre. These guys are 6ft 4ins and weigh around 110kg. While they are expected to offload out of the tackle, their main role is to get their team onto the front foot.

The trio of Olding (20), Madigan (24) and Hanrahan (20) come from an altogether different mould. Physically they are remarkably similar, standing at roughly 5ft 11ins and weighing around 90kg. In modern rugby, where giants like George North roam in wide spaces, these young Irish backs are a refreshing blast from the past.

It’s not really an issue of size here though, rather the different strengths that these talented youngsters offer. All three are versatile. Madigan has started at 10, 12 and 15 for Leinster. Olding has played at 10 and 12 for Ulster, but has experience at 13 and 15 at underage level. Hanrahan has been picked for Munster at 10 and 12. He too has the tools to play 15.

These are multi-skilled, complete players. What it means is that when they line out at 12 for their provinces, they offer a broad range of abilities outside the traditional role of a bosh merchant. All three are excellent playmakers. They share passing skills, vision, awareness of space and the ability to beat defenders with footwork rather than pure brawn.

JJ Hanrahan arrives copy

Hanrahan on debut for Munster this season. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

The development of the role of the inside centre is not confined to Ireland. At Toulon, the Australian Matt Giteau is the attacking playmaker in their backline. He too has a versatile past, having played 10, 12 and even 9 at the highest level. The positioning of a creative player at inside centre is popular in the Southern Hemisphere, where the 12 is often referred to as the ‘second-five-eighth’.

The perceived downside of having a smaller man at inside centre is a physical disadvantage. Of the trio highlighted here, Olding is probably the most effective ball carrier in traffic. His balance and footwork mean he is rarely smashed. But as Madigan showed on Saturday, he is more than willing to bash it up the middle when that’s required. Defensively, all three players are brave and make their tackles.

The positioning of Hanrahan and Madigan in the centre this season has to some extent been a case of needs must. With Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton owning the outhalf positions at provincial level, the youngsters have had to fit in elsewhere. Next season, Madigan will be wearing 10 for Leinster, but Sexton will continue to block his way with the Ireland team.

At Munster, Ian Keatley will expect to be next in line at outhalf. For Ulster, Paddy Jackson looks being the number 10 for years to come.  Olding will also have to compete with Luke Marshall, another who had a superb season. But moving forward, there is real value in keeping Madigan, Olding and Hanrahan at ‘second-five-eighth’.

Ireland is blessed with a stockpile of strike-running talent out wide at the moment. The likes of Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway and Luke Fitzgerald need the ball in their hands as often as possible. With a distributing 12 on the pitch, the possibilities are thrilling.

Not only do Madigan, Hanrahan and Olding offer the passing game to get the ball wide quickly, they also possess the subtle vision and sleight of hand to slip these runners into gaps when they roam infield.

Whether through fluke or foresight, the Irish provinces have developed the role of the inside centre this season. The attacking variations that could result under Joe Schmidt are hugely exciting for Irish rugby.

Olding and Madigan are in North America with Ireland at the moment, where it looks as though Madigan will be seen as an outhalf. Strangely, Hanrahan isn’t in the Emerging Ireland squad for the Tbilisi Cup. Perhaps a big pre-season awaits?


Photos: Ivan O’Riordan, Martin Dobey.

PRO12 Play-Off Race

RaboDirect Pro12

It's going to be an exciting final three weekends in the PRO12. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

With just three games remaining in the regular PRO12 season, there are still 6 sides with a realistic chance of securing one of the four play-off positions. Leinster and Munster currently occupy two of those slots, with Ulster just a point off 4th place. It’s widely agreed that the PRO12 throws up some poor games mid-season, but at this stage there’s plenty on the line in each of the remaining fixtures. At the other end of the table, the fact that relegation is not an issue means Connacht have nothing but pride to play for.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Irish province’s league run-ins and rate their chances of qualifying for the play-offs. Three Irish sides in the semi-finals for the second year running would be a brilliant achievement, and further underline our dominance of this league.



Cardiff vs. Leinster

Leinster come off the back of their brilliant 34-3 win over the Blues. (c) Ken Bohane.

Current Position: 1st     Points: 68     Remaining Fixtures: Edinburgh (H), Ulster (A), Dragons (A).

Coming into this weekend, Leinster have a ten point lead at the top of the table. Barring a complete disaster (losing all three remaining games without bonus points) they are likely to remain at the summit of the league. A win tonight against Edinburgh at the RDS would make the trip to Ravenhill the following week less important. That Ulster game comes the weekend before the H-Cup semis, so Joe Schmidt may rest some of his front-liners.

Two wins from three would secure top spot for Leinster, while even one win and two losing bonus points might do. The fact that they have only lost 3 of their 19 fixtures so far means Leinster can relax a little more than the other PRO12 sides. It’s difficult for Leinster to put out a weak side these days with so much competition in their squad (just look at tonight’s team). They will confirm top spot and a home semi-final, possibly against Munster or Ulster. What a way to finish the season that would be!



Ulster's lineout copy

Munster are looking to bounce back from defeat to Ulster last weekend. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Current Position: 3rd     Points: 56     Remaining Fixtures: Warriors (H), Scarlets (A), Ulster (H).

Munster are two points behind 2nd-placed Ospreys coming into tomorrow’s crucial clash with the Warriors in Musgrave Park. The Scottish side are level on points with Munster, but sit 4th because they have won a game less. Tony McGahan will have to ensure that his side forget about their Heineken Cup disappointment and focus on their potentially tricky PRO12 run-in. The objective will be to finish 2nd. The Ospreys’ run-in looks a little less difficult than Munster’s, with Cardiff away and the Dragons at home next for them. They finish away to Aironi in what will be the Italian side’s last ever fixture. I can see the Italians winning that one.

McGahan and his squad now face three games against direct play-off challengers. Munster are in poor form, having lost three of their last four games in all competitions. They need to bounce back immediately with a win tomorrow, before travelling to the Scarlets. The final regular season game sees a rematch of last weekend’s H-Cup quarter-final with Ulster. Pushing the northern province out of the play-off spots at the final hurdle would be sweet revenge. I’m going for Munster to finish 2nd, level on points with the Ospreys but with one more win than the Welsh side. Here’s the Munster team to face the Warriors.



Simon Zebo Munster's try scorer copy

Ulster now face important games in two competitions. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Current Position: 5th     Points: 55     Remaining Fixtures: Connacht (A), Leinster (H), Munster (A).

Ulster’s Heineken Cup progress has been superbly impressive and it will be hard for them to re-focus on the PRO12 after last weekend’s thrilling win over Munster. They travel to Galway tomorrow for a game in which Connacht will fancy their chances. As expected, Brian McLaughlin has made wholesale changes to his team and it remains to be seen how strong Ulster’s second string is. Three inter-provincial derbies is not the ideal way to finish the league season, especially since two of them have play-off ambitions of their own.

It’s quite conceivable that Ulster will lose all three of these games. A Heineken Cup final would be the most perfect consolation. I’m not writing Ulster out of the play-offs just yet, but McLaughlin hasn’t been in this position, balancing his squad out across two competitions at this late stage, before. I can see them  beating Connacht tomorrow but losing narrowly to Leinster and Munster. Ideally, they beat Leinster too and we get three PRO12 semi-finalists. My prediction at this stage is Ulster missing out on the play-offs by a single point.



ST vs Connacht-34

Connacht can jump a couple of positions up the table with a strong finish. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Current Position: 10th     Points: 29     Remaining Fixtures: Ulster (H), Aironi (H), Warriors (A).

Connacht’s win away to the Dragons last time out was impressive enough to suggest that they will finish the season strongly. They will be keeping an eye on the Heineken Cup too, in the hope that either Leinster or Ulster can win it and secure a 4th qualifier for the Irish sides. The PRO12 is clearly divided into two halves by mid-table side the Blues. In the bottom half, the Dragons, Treviso, Connacht and Edinburgh look to be battling to finish 8th. Connacht’s run-in is quite testing, starting with the visit of Ulster tomorrow (team here).

I can see Connacht taking losing bonus points from Ulster and the Warriors as well as beating Aironi in Galway. If the teams around them play to form, that would probably mean Connacht remaining in 10th. However, the bottom of the table is hard to predict, with these sides’ wins coming out of the blue. Connacht’s final match of the season is away to the Warriors. They could do Ulster and Munster a massive favour by beating the Scottish side. That would probably see Ulster into the play-offs, as well as Connacht into 8th.


How do you see the remaining three series of fixtures panning out? Do you think we’ll have three Irish sides in the play-offs again? Can Connacht finish out their season with a couple of wins? Comment below with all your views and predictions! I’m going for Leinster, Munster, Ospreys and Warriors in that order for the play-offs and Connacht remaining in 10th at the other end.


Photos courtesy: Sum_of_Marc, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan, Pierre-Selim.

RaboDirect Round-Up

Blues 21-14 Ulster

Friday 17th February @ Cardiff Arms Park

Ulster Ruck

Ulster failed to open up the Blues defence in the second half. (c) Simon Williams.

Despite leading at the break following a dominant first half, Ulster collected their 7th loss of the PRO12 season in Cardiff. A Robbie Diack try and two penalties from Ruan Pienaar gave Ulster an 11-6 half-time advantage. But second half tries from Dan Parks and Tom James plus a total of 11 points from Parks’ boot gave the home side a win that sees them jump above Ulster in the table. Brian McLaughlin will be disappointed with his side’s second-half effort.

That said, Ulster are still in contention for a play-off spot. Their losing bonus point leaves them 4 points off Glasgow Warriors in 4th. The Blues sit in 5th, 2 points ahead of Ulster, but crucially with a game in hand. That fixture will see them as favourites away to the Newport Gwent-Dragons. All Ulster can do is get back to winning ways, starting with a huge game on Friday when the Ospreys visit Ravenhill. That looks like a must-win if Ulster are to stay in the hunt.

Here’s Diack’s score from the Blues game. Decent turn of pace for his 3rd try in 4 games:


Leinster 16-13 Scarlets

Friday 17th February @ The RDS


McFadden on his way to scoring Leinster's only try. (c) Ken Bohane.

Fergus McFadden was the hero for Leinster as he slotted a penalty with the last kick of the game to earn his side a win.  It looked like ending all square at the RDS until Nigel Owens pinged Scarlets’ replacement prop Phil John for stupidly playing the ball in a ruck. McFadden confidently slotted the kick from over 40 metres out. The inside centre scored all of Leinster’s points on the night, converting his own try as well as adding three penalties.

The Scarlets were impressive, particularly with their aggressive defence. They limited the amount of chances Leinster created and held a 10-3 half-time lead. Dan Newton scored a try and a penalty for the Welsh side, while Stephen Jones converted the try and added a penalty of his own. The wet conditions contributed to a less sparkling Leinster showing than we have become used to. However, Joe Schmidt will surely be pleased that his side still ground out the victory. Leinster remain 10 points clear of the Ospreys after this narrow win. Next up, Schmidt’s men face a trip to Firhill to take on the Warriors this Saturday.

Here’s the highlights of the Scarlets game:


Treviso 14-35 Munster 

Saturday 18th February @ Stadio di Monigo

Simon Zebo clears copy

Zebo scored two tries as well as spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

A late Simon Zebo try ensured a crucial bonus point win for Munster despite a sluggish performance. The opening thirty minutes were extremely positive from Munster as they raced into a 24-0 lead thanks to tries from Danny Barnes, Zebo and Johne Murphy as well as the boot of ROG. But from that point, Munster relinquished their control of the game and allowed a poor Treviso team back in. The yellow cards to Mick O’Driscoll and Zebo didn’t help Munster. In the end though, Tony McGahan will be content with the five points.

Ronan O’Gara was flawless from the tee while Peter O’Mahony and Dave O’Callaghan showed their potential in the back-row. This win sees Munster up into 3rd, thanks in part to Connacht’s draw with Glasgow. The Ospreys in 2nd are just 4 points ahead, and Munster have a game in hand as well as a better points difference. Thomond Park is the venue for the visit of the Cardiff Blues on Friday as Munster continue to push for a home play-off.

If you missed the Munster vs. Treviso game, watch the whole thing here on the RTE Player!


Connacht 13-13 Warriors

Saturday 18th February @ The Sportsground


Connacht captain Gavin Duffy couldn't help his side to a win. (c) Andy Scrutton.

Niall O’Connor salvaged a draw for Connacht with a penalty at the death in Galway on Saturday evening. It’s impossible not to be repetitive about Connacht’s performances this season, but once again this was a match they could have won. Handling errors and silly penalties were Connacht’s downfall again. O’Connor’s late score did allow Eric Elwood’s side to end their 10-game losing run in the PRO12, but it could have been more than just 2 points.

Connacht’s only try of the game came from the prolific Tiernan O’Halloran, as he collected O’Connor’s cross-kick to score. O’Conner converted as well as notching two penalties. The Warriors’ try came from prop Jon Welsh, with Ruaridh Jackson kicking 5 points. Duncan Weir came off the bench to slot what looked like the match-winning penalty before a John Muldoon try-saving tackle prevented the Warriors from wrapping things up. O’Connor then took his late chance. Connacht drop back to 11th in the table after the Dragons beat Edinburgh. Elwood and his men welcome the Scottish side to Galway on Friday and will hope to emulate the Dragons’ feat.


Here’s the latest PRO12 table:


Photos courtesy:  Simon Williams, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan, Andy Scrutton.

Leinster Cut Loose Against Treviso

Match Report

Leinster 42-8 Treviso

Thursday 9th February @ The RDS


Fullback Isa Nacewa was Man of The Match after a 20-point haul. (c) Ken Bohane.

Four tries in the last twenty minutes gave Leinster a comfortable win over Treviso at the RDS. Joe Schmidt’s side now lead the PRO12 by 14 points, although they have played a game more than the rest of the league. Isa Nacewa put in a Man of the Match performance as he showed his class in attack and defence. Ian Madigan at outhalf put in yet another promising display, while Fionn Carr and Shane Jennings showed Ireland coach Declan Kidney what he is missing.

In wet conditions, Leinster were made to work hard in the first-half. Nacewa opened the scoring from the tee after a superb kick chase by himself and Brendan Macken resulted in a turnover penalty. Treviso leveled the score when outhalf Alberto Di Bernardo took advantage of Leinster’s poor line speed to scuff over a drop goal.

It took twenty minutes for Leinster to get into their attacking stride but they did so to great effect as Madigan touched down. Carr made a strong carry from Isaac Boss’ pass and then Leo Auva’a supplied Madigan. The 22-year-old outhalf showed good strength to fend off Alberto Chillon as he broke through the Treviso defence for the first try of the game.

Side entry at a ruck by the Italians allowed Nacewa to knock over another penalty, giving Leinster an 11-3 half-time lead. Treviso came out from the break extremely fired up and took the game to Leinster for the opening 15 minutes of the half. Another Nacewa penalty gave Leinster respite but Treviso came again. After switching down the blindside, replacement prop Pedro di Santo took advantage of a bad defensive decision by Nathan White to put front-row partner Matteo Muccignat over. Di Bernardo missed with the conversion.


Fionn Carr was a stand-out performer on the wing. (c) Ken Bohane.

Realising they had a game on their hands, Leinster reacted the way they know best, through all-out attack. A searing break from Carr resulted in Richardt Strauss bashing over from a few metres out. Nacewa converted that try then scored the next one himself. Switching swiftly to the blindside, the Fijian released substitute Dave Kearney down the left-hand touchline and took the winger’s return pass to cross the whitewash. The fullback was on target once again with the conversion.

The Leinster scoring continued as Treviso lost all hope. Nacewa was at the centre of the next try as he pierced through the Italians’ defence from a floated Madigan pass. The fullback drew the last defender and popped inside to replacement scrumhalf John Cooney, only on the pitch a minute. Nacewa added the extras from under the posts.

With the Leinster bench emptied by now, several of the youngsters showed up well in a very open final ten minutes. Some lovely touches from Noel Reid in the centre put Madigan in position to feed Carr with a cross-kick. The pacy winger was left one-on-one with second-row Francesco Minto and there was only ever going to be one outcome. Carr stepped the desperate tackle and scored in the left-hand corner. A well-struck Madigan conversion topped off an accomplished Leinster display.

With both sides missing their international players, this game had the potential to be a damp squib. Leinster’s exciting attacking play ensured that a satisfied RDS crowd and a satisfied Joe Schmidt. His attention now turns to the visit of the Scarlets in a week’s time. Schmidt will be encouraged by what he saw from young players like Collie O’Shea and Brendan Macken. The strength in depth of this Leinster squad is evidently increasing.

Leinster: 15. Isa Nacewa (Carr, 75), 14. Darren Hudson, 13. Brendan Macken, 12. Colm O’Shea (Reid, 67), 11. Fionn Carr (Kearney, 64), 10. Ian Madigan, 9. Isaac Boss (Cooney, 69), 8. Leo Auva’a (Ruddock, 56), 7. Shane Jennings, 6. Kevin McLaughlin (capt.), 5. Devin Toner, 4. Damian Browne (Flanagan, 64), 3. Nathan White (Hagan, 56), 2. Richardt Strauss (Sexton, 69), 1. Heinke van der Merwe (McGrath, 64).                                                                                                            Subs: 16. Tom Sexton, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Jamie Hagan, 19. Mark Flanagan, 20. Rhys Ruddock, 21. John Cooney, 22. Noel Reid.


Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane.


Here’s the highlights of the game:

Mid-Season Report: Leinster

With the Heineken Cup pool stages finished, the PRO12 campaign just over halfway complete and the international season about to start, now is a great time to take stock of how the four Irish provinces have gotten on so far this season. Over the next few days we’ll look at each province individually, reviewing their European and PRO12 campaigns as well as outlining what lies ahead in the coming months.



Leinster have only lost two games this season thanks to a dominant pack and and exciting backs. (c) Art Widak.

Top of the PRO12 by 9 points and a home quarter-final secured as second seeds after dominating Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup, Leinster are in great shape. Joe Schmidt’s squad have only twice all season and both of those losses came back in September with the international players away on World Cup duty. Since the 19-23 loss to Glasgow at the RDS on the 17th of September, Leinster have gone unbeaten in 16 games, 15 of those wins.

In the PRO12, the only other loss was to the Ospreys on the opening day of the season when Leinster fielded a fairly inexperienced team. Since September though, Schmidt’s men have been unstoppable. They are the top try-scorers in the league with 29 while their points difference is streets ahead of anyone at +128. The closest side to that are the Ospreys who stand on +65. Leinster have the 5th strongest defence in terms of points conceded, 218. Their biggest win of the PRO12 season so far is the 52-9 trashing of a heavily weakened Cardiff team at the start of December.

In the Heineken Cup, the reigning champions had no trouble negotiating Pool 3, winning 5 and drawing 1 of the 6 fixtures against Bath, Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier. The three home fixtures showed exactly what Leinster are capable of, particularly the spectacular 52-27 dismantling of Bath at the Aviva in December. Leinster, with 18, are second only to Clermont in the try-scoring stakes in the tournament so far. Clermont have scored 26 so far, thanks to their 12-try, 82-0 humbling of Aironi. The French side obviously lead in terms of points difference too, on +146, but Leinster’s +84 is well ahead of the next best, Munster and Toulouse on +45.

The 52-27 win over Bath at the Aviva in December is one of the season's highlights so far. (c) Art Widak.

The two-time Heineken Cup victors have 4 wins from the 4 inter-provincial games they’ve played so far in this campaign. They dispatched Connacht 30-20 at the RDS in October, then just about survived to win 13-15 at the Sportsground this month. Johnny Sexton’s kicking ensured a 24-19 win over Munster at the Aviva in November while a weak Ulster team was dispatched 42-13 on Stephen’s Day.

In terms of player performances, the size and strength in depth of the Leinster squad is what has kept them at the forefront of both competitions. Jonathan Sexton is the top points scorer in the squad with 121 so far. Isa Nacewa stands at 87, but Fergus McFadden’s prolific recent kicking form means he’s gaining fast on 71. Surprisingly, Ian Madigan is the squad’s top try-scorer with 6. Rob Kearney’s 4 in the last 4 games leaves him just one behind on 5, while Luke Fitz has crossed the whitewash 4 times.

Leinster now have a quarter-final final with the Cardiff Blues at the Aviva on Saturday the 7th of April to look forward to. A win in that game would mean an away semi to the winner of the Saracens vs. Clermont quarter. It does look like a tough route to the final, but nothing is beyond this Leinster squad. As with every side involved in the HC quarter-finals, Schmidt will be keeping his fingers crossed that key players like Sexton and Sean O’Brien can avoid injury in the 6 Nations.

Jonathan Sexton is Leinster's top points scorer at this stage. (c) Martin Dobey.

With that healthy 9 point lead in the PRO12, and only 10 games left before the play-offs, Leinster should be ok for a home semi-final there. The two toughest fixtures in those 10 will probably be the away clashes with Munster in March and Ulster in April. However, we should see Leinster challenging for honours on both fronts come the end of the season.

Leinster’s stats so far this season:

Games played: 19     Won: 16     Drawn: 1     Lost: 2

Points scored: 518     Tries scored: 47     Try-scoring bonus points: 5

Points conceded: 306     Tries conceded: 26     Losing bonus points: 1

Top points scorer: Jonathan Sexton (121)      Top try scorer: Ian Madigan (6)


Photos courtesy:  Art Widak, Martin Dobey.


Here’s a look at perhaps Leinster’s most impressive performance of the season, the 52-27 demolition of Bath at the Aviva in December:

And a look back at the 52-9 thrashing of Cardiff at the RDS on the 2nd of December:


Finally, highlights of the 24-19 win over Munster in the PRO12 back in November: