Tag Archives: John Muldoon

Four on Form

(c) Jukka Zitting.

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


Fergus McFadden

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

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

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

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

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

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

McFadden’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

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


Peter O’Mahony

Peter O'Mahony has another big game

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

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

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

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

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

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

O’Mahony’s key stats vs. Treviso:

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


Devin Toner


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

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

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

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

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

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

Toner’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

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


John Muldoon

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

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

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

Muldoon’s key stats vs. Warriors:

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


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

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.

Heineken Cup Round 6 Round-Up

Simon Zebo was the hattrick hero as Munster destroyed the Saints on Saturday. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.


  Connacht 9-8 Harlequins

Friday 20th January @ The Sportsground

A determined, ferocious effort from Connacht earned them their first ever Heineken Cup win at a wet and windy Sportsground on Friday night. Man of the match John Muldoon said afterwards that he and his teammates felt like they had  just won the tournament. While Munster’s huge win against Northampton on Saturday showed us one side of what makes rugby so special, Connacht showed a totally different side with their undying spirit and determination.

So, the awful run of losses is finally over. Connacht’s first win in fifteen games came thanks to what Muldoon called “a lot of ticker”. This heart was expressed through Connacht’s powerful, aggressive defence. ‘Quins failed to adapt to the conditions and the scrappy nature of the game suited Eric Elwood’s men. Niall O’Connor landed the crucial points with three penalties. Sam Smith touched down for Harlequins in the first-half but Nick Evans was off target with the conversion as well as a more straightforward second-half penalty.

Here’s the final table from Pool 6. Toulouse are the only team to advance to the quarter-finals:


Leinster 25-3 Montpellier

Saturday 21st January @ The RDS

Leinster completed their dominance of Pool 3 with a muscular win at home to Montpellier. Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy scored the tries while Fergus McFadden kicked ten points. Leinster did miss out on the try-scoring bonus point to leave Munster as top seeds after the pool stages. However, Joe Schmidt will be unconcerned following a good display from his team. Leinster will now host the Cardiff Blues, most probably at the Aviva, in April’s quarter-final.

Montpellier gave Leinster’s defence a severe testing for a 25 minute spell either side of half-time but the current Heineken Cup champions held firm. Schmidt will be hugely pleased to have only conceded three points, showing that Leinster can defend just as well as they cut teams open in attack. Some strong individual performances from the likes of Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Gordon D’Arcy will have pleased Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

Here’s how Pool 3 finished up. Leinster are the only team to move on to the knock-out stages:

Pool 3

And here’s the highlights from the Leinster vs. Montpellier game:


Clermont 19-15 Ulster

Saturday 21st January @ Stade Marcel Michelin

Connacht’s win on Friday night meant that Ulster were already guaranteed a quarter-final spot coming into this game. After the narrow loss to Clermont, Brian McLaughlin stated that he was pleased his side had also secured that qualification on their own merits with a losing bonus point. However, he expressed his dissapointment at their failure to win and ensure a home draw. The Ulster performance was once again top class. This side, after a shaky and inconsistent first third of the season, has morphed into genuine Heineken Cup contenders.

The nature of this defeat will frustrate Ulster. Clermont scored the only try of the game through replacement hooker Ti’i Paulo. While the French side had been battering Ulster’s line at the time, the touchdown came only after an American football-style block by Nathan Hines. The fact that Hines was lucky to still be on the pitch after some highly cynical holding of Pedrie Wannenburg and Stephen Ferris only minutes before exacerbated the sense of frustration. The fact that dan Tuohy had been binned early in the game for a less serious offence topped off a one-sided display from referee Dave Pearson.

Still, Ulster will move on and now have a quarter-final with Munster to look forward to. That will be a momentous occasion in Thomond Park.

Here’s how Pool 4 finished up. Both Clermont and Ulster move on to the quarter-finals:

Pool 4

Here’s the highlights from the game:

And a closer look at the two incidents involving Nathan Hines. The Clermont try is first, followed by the Scottish second-row’s cynical holding:


Northampton 36-51 Munster

Saturday 21st January @ stadium:mk

Munster saved the best for last as they made it six wins from six to qualify as the top seeds for the quarter-finals. This scintillating performance was a stunning surprise from a Munster side who have, by their own admission, been winning without playing brilliantly up until now. Paul O’Connell had emphasised in recent weeks that his side needed to start converting more of the try-scoring chances they were creating. That finally happened to great effect at stadium:mk as Munster swept the Saints aside in the second-half.

Five tries from Johne Murphy, BJ Botha and Simon Zebo (3) ensured a try-scoring bonus point while Ronan O’Gara kicked 24 points. Munster had a sloppy opening quarter to the game, allowing Northampton pull into a 13-3 lead. At that stage, things weren’t looking good for Tony McGahan’s men, but they pulled back to 19-19 at half-time. After the interval, Munster were unstoppable as they repeatedly cut the Saints apart, despite the English side’s awesome dominance of the scrum. From being written off as a side in transition for most of the season,  Munster have marked themselves out as one of the teams to beat in this competition. The inter-pro quarter-final with Ulster will be fascinating.

Here’s a look at how Pool 1 finished. Munster are the only team into the quarters:

Here’s all five of the Munster tries. Enjoy!


Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

Four on Form

Paul O’Connell

O'Connell in action against Leinster last season. Photo via M+MD

The Munster captain was named Man of the Match as he helped his team to a vital win away to the Scarlets. It was another mammoth performance from the two-time Lions second-row. After the disappointment of missing much of last season through injury and suspension, O’Connell has been re-born this season. His energetic displays have belied the fact that the Irish international is now 32. The time O’Connell spent on the sidelines last season has been of benefit to both Munster and Ireland, as O’Connell is now more hungry and in-form than he has ever been.

Against the Scarlets, O’Connell’s performance was all-encompassing. He made 15 carries, the most of any player on the pitch. The closest to him was James Coughlan with 11. O’Connell constantly offered himself up to take the ball on, multiple times during certain passages of play. He was immaculate in the lineout, winning the 3 balls sent his way by Varley. O’Connell made five tackles from five attempts. This relatively low number can be explained by the fact that Munster retained possession for long periods of play, often through O’Connell’s carries.

O’Connell started this season with a brilliant World Cup for Ireland, resulting in being named as part of the tournament’s Dream Team. He has brought that form back from New Zealand and has been outstanding for Munster every time he has set foot on the pitch. Munster without O’Connell are a completely different proposition. If they can keep himself and O’Gara fit and firing for the remainder if the season then it will go a long way to ensuring they can compete at the top of the European game. Meanwhile, with Brian O’Driscoll ruled out of the Six Nations, Declan Kidney will be thrilled that O’Connell is looking better than ever.

Jonathan Sexton

Sexton's place-kicking has improved since the World Cup. Photo via Ross Wynne

Sexton scored all of Leinster’s points in their 18-13 win over Bath at the Rec on Sunday. Leinster weren’t their usual selves as they butchered at least three good try-scoring opportunities. Instead, they had to rely on the boot of Sexton as the outhalf held his nerve to kick two late penalties. Matt Banahan’s try had put Leinster 13-12 down, but Sexton made no mistake with two penalties in the last 8 minutes to win it for his side. With Ronan O’Gara getting so much credit for his late kicks in Munster’s Heineken Cup wins, Sexton must be applauded too.

At the World Cup, Sexton’s place-kicking was an issue as he missed 7 of 11 attempts from the tee in Ireland’s first two matches. O’Gara took over the duties from there, with Sexton relegated to the bench. However, since returning to Leinster, Sexton has been back to his best from the tee, and this has been just as important to Leinster as O’Gara’s drop goals have been for Munster. It was Sexton who secured a draw for Leinster away to Montpellier with the last kick of the game and a chorus of boos in his ears. And again last weekend, his kicks ensured the victory for Leinster away to Bath.

Sexton and O’Gara’s performances at the weekend highlighted the difference in style between the two outhalves. Sexton received possession on 34 occasions, kicking 5 times and carrying the ball himself 5 times. He passed 24 times, highlighting his qualities as a playmaker. In contrast, of the 32 times O’Gara got the ball, he kicked 12 times and passed 17 times. He carried on 3 occasions. Obviously these stats are effected by Leinster and Munster’s different game plans. Munster play a much tighter game while Leinster look to move the ball around far more often. Still, it is clear that Sexton offers a more expansive attacking game as well as a more robust defensive game. He made all 6 of his tackle attempts, while O’Gara missed 3 of his 7 attempts. It will be intriguing to see if Kidney retains O’Gara for the Six Nations, or finally gives Sexton an undisputed first-choice role at outhalf.

John Muldoon

While Connacht extended their losing streak with a 14-10 loss at home to Gloucester, Muldoon shone for western province. He put in an all-action performance that was not matched by some of his team-mates. Muldoon was full of aggression and hunger as he attempted to drag Connacht back into the game. Sporting a grizzly caveman style beard, his defensive qualities came to the fore as he played a huge role in keeping Gloucester to just one try. While Ray Ofisa wore the number 7 jersey for Connacht, it was Muldoon who performed more of the duties of an openside as he got through a mountain of work.

Muldoon made 13 tackles to finish the match with the highest tackle-count of any player on the pitch. He didn’t miss a single tackle all afternoon. Muldoon was also excellent at the breakdown, as he was involved in several turnovers for Connacht. The Irish international is intelligent in recognising when to actively pursue a turnover, something that the best back-rows in the world are all good at. One of Muldoon’s turnovers, in the last minute of play, allowed Connacht to go downfield in search of a winning score which they could not find. The turnover exemplified the attitude and desire Muldoon brought to the game.

Muldoon was also responsible for one of only two clean line breaks for Connacht. He claimed the restart after Gavin Duffy’s try and burst through the chasing Gloucester pack to put his team immediately back on the front foot. As is their wont, Connacht spoiled the good play with a knock-on.

At 28, Muldoon still has plenty of rugby left in the tank. With such strength in depth at back-row in Ireland presently, it will be very difficult for Muldoon to get a look in. If Connacht can start winning games it would certainly help Muldoon’s cause. All he can do is continue to put in displays like this one and hope his team-mates can match him.

Stephen Ferris

Ferris in action for Ireland. Photo via M+MD

While it might be getting a bit repetitive including Ferris in Four on Form for a third time, he simply cannot be ignored. Four on Form‘s aim is to highlight four Irish players who hit top form in each weekend’s action and there is no Irish player in better form than Ferris at the moment. He was named Man of the Match for the third time in five games as Ulster ran in five tries to beat Aironi 31-10 at Ravenhill  of Friday night.

Ferris was on the scoresheet yet again as he powered through a tackle in the left-hand corner to get Ulster off the mark in this match. Ferris’ power in contact has gone up a level since he missed must of last season through injury. Like O’Connell, Ferris has seemingly benefited from the time out and his hunger and determination are inspiring for Ulster. As well as his obvious strength on the ball, Ferris is a hard worker off it. That showed again as the Ireland blindside made 12 successful tackles in his 66 minutes on the pitch.

At this rate, Ferris is becoming a nightmare for opposition. Given any sort of space, he will almost always go through the first tackle with his combination of strength and pace. It’s hard to see any real weaknesses in Ferris’ game at present. He is even offloading out of tackles, with two good examples against Aironi. His 9 carries throughout the game were offset by 5 passes too. Ferris is showing that he is a complete back-row and both Brian McLaughlin and Declan Kidney will be  praying that he can stay injury-free.

Photos courtesy:  M+MD, Ross Wynne

Heineken Cup Round-Up

Photo via Ben Sutherland

Ulster 31-10 Aironi

Friday 9th December @ Ravenhill

Ulster did exactly what was needed as they ran in five tries to secure five points against Aironi in Pool 4. Stephen Ferris, Adam D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson scored the tries while Ian Humphreys added three conversions in another erratic kicking display. Ferris was Man of the Match again for Ulster. The Ireland flanker is in scintillating form at the moment with three tries in two matches.

Following this win, Ulster sit second in Pool 4. They will need another bonus point win next weekend when they travel to Italy for the return fixture with Aironi. While they did what was required at Ravenhill on Friday night, Ulster are aware that they will need to improve to get the five points at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella. Ulster are still well in contention in this pool and even if they don’t win the group they will be hopeful of going through to the quarter-finals as one of the best runners-up.

Here’s Pool 4 at the half-way stage:

Here’s footage of the Ulster tries, excluding the first from Ferris:

Connacht 10-14 Gloucester

Saturday 10th December @ The Sportsground

Connacht extended their losing streak to 9 games with this home loss to Gloucester in Pool 6. Read the full match report here. This game was certainly there for the taking for Eric Elwood’s side. Once again, errors at crucial times in the game cost Connacht as they came up short. An outstanding, inspirational display from ex-Ireland flanker John Muldoon was not matched by others.

Connacht travel to Gloucester next weekend for the return fixture and the fear now is that this run of losses will extend into double figures. It will take a mighty effort for the province to record what would be their first ever Heineken Cup win. Captain Gavin Duffy is aware of the scale of the challenge but remains hopeful that Connacht can end their losing streak.

Connacht are rock-bottom of Pool 6, and only Aironi have less points in the Heineken Cup after three matches. The potential to win games is there for Connacht. If they can start to take more of the chances they create and cut out just a portion of the errors they are making then a win will come.

Here’s a look at Pool 6 after three matches:

Scarlets 14-17 Munster

Saturday 10th December @ Parc y Scarlets

Munster secured their third win from three in Pool 1 with a hard-earned win away to the Scarlets. You can read the full match report here. This win leaves Munster sitting top of the pool and well-positioned to go on and claim a home quarter-final. The Scarlets come to Thomond Park in the return fixture next weekend.

Munster have home fixtures with the Scarlets and Castres and a visit to Northampton still to negotiate. It’s hard to see Munster losing in Thomond Park, and they are favourites to win the two home matches. The trip to Franklin Gardens will be a tough test, despite the fact that the Saints are now out of reckoning and and will presumably focus on the Aviva Premiership.

After the disappointment of failure to progress from the group stages in last year’s Heineken Cup, Munster look well-placed for a return to their traditional place in the knock-out stages of the tournament. The likes of O’Gara and O’Connell will make sure the squad take nothing for granted but will also be confident of topping the group.

Here’s how Pool 1 looks at the half-way stage:

Bath 13-18 Leinster 

Sunday 11th December @ The Rec

Jonathan Sexton’s accuracy from the tee was enough for Leinster to claim a valuable away win in Pool 3. The Irish province butchered a number of good try-scoring chances, but still came away from The Rec with a victory after Sexton kicked two late penalties to win the game. England international wing Matt Banahan scored the only try of the game for Bath. The home team enjoyed the majority of possession in the first half, but Leinster’s defence was solid.

Following yesterday’s game, Schmidt has urged his team to be more clinical in finishing the opportunities they create. Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien all made clean line breaks for Leinster but the defending champions failed to convert them into tries. Still, a win away from home in the Heineken Cup is a positive outcome, no matter how it is achieved.

Leinster are now top of the pool with two home games to come, as well as a trip to Glasgow. Joe Schmidt’s side should go on and top the group now for a home quarter-final. Glasgow look like Leinster’s biggest rivals for that top spot but the Scottish side still face trips to Montpellier and Bath. Once again, the senior members of Leinster’s squad will ensure complacency does no take root, but the Leinster squad is full of confidence and players in form.

Here’s how Pool 3 shapes up at the half-way point:

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

Pool tables courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

Photo courtesy : Ben Sutherland