Tag Archives: Sean Cronin

Four on Form

Heineken Cup Round 5 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.

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Andrew Trimble

Trimble scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance against the Tigers. (c) Martin Dobey.

It was a hard task picking stand-out performers in Ulster’s thrashing of the Leicester Tigers simply because every single one of the Ulster players was on top form. It was a genuinely complete team performance from the northern province. Trimble was chosen as Man of the Match, but the award could have gone to at least five or six other players. Trimble is selected for Four on Form because he has been putting in consistently strong displays for Ulster this season. His two tries on Friday night were well deserved as he put in his usual hard-working shift.

Trimble’s first try was a straightforward dive into the corner after a breathtaking, multiple-phase passage of play from Ulster. More impressive than the finish was the Irish international’s heavy involvement in those phases, carrying and even playing scrumhalf at one stage. For his second, the 27-year-old wing was once again instrumental in the build-up as he hared after Terblanche’s chip and drove Horacio Agulla back over his own line. From the subsequent five metre scrum, Trimble’s finish outside Alesana Tuilagi was sharp.

Aside from the tries, Trimble was busy on and off the ball. He is a complete winger and his level of performance this season makes him a strong contender for one of the wing positions in the upcoming Six Nations. With the possibility of Keith Earls or Tommy Bowe moving into the centre, the Ulster man is the obvious replacement for either. Even if the two World Cup wingers don’t move inside, Declan Kidney might be foolish to leave such an in-form Trimble out of his side.

Trimble’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Tries: 2     Kick/pass/run: 0/6/9     Metres gained on ball: 51                         Defenders beaten: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/2

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Donnacha Ryan

Ryan makes a break against Castres on Saturday. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

Tony McGahan’s post-World Cup decision to install Ryan as first-choice partner to Paul O’Connell was perhaps one of his more controversial selections calls this season. But the Munster coach’s backing of Ryan has been rewarded as the Nenagh man has gone from strength to strength. After his Man of the Match showing against Castres on Saturday, the debate about whether he should be starting ahead of Donncha O’Callaghan looks to be over.

Ryan was everywhere for Munster and gave several perfect examples of the extra dimension he adds to Munster’s game in comparison to O’Callaghan. While the 28-year-old Ryan did all of the tackling and spoiling that O’Callaghan specializes in, he also made some fantastic carries of which his rival is not capable of. Witness his break after 6 minutes, where he showed decent footwork to beat a tackle and then good pace until he was hauled down metres short of the tryline.

There was a similar example later in the first half as the 13-times capped Irish international again broke, this time offloading to Denis Hurley. Admittedly,  the amount of visible work Ryan got through was aided by the fact that he played the majority of this match in the back-row after Niall Ronan’s injury. Indeed, having O’Callaghan on the pitch freed Ryan. Still, he has been equally impressive in the second-row this season. There’s plenty of contenders to partner O’Connell for Ireland, with the likes of Dan Tuohy, Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner playing well. Ryan is most certainly in the mix too.

Ryan’s key stats vs. Castres:

Kick/pass/run: 0/1/10     Metres gained on ball: 34     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2     Offloads: 1     Tackles made/missed: 11/1

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Sean Cronin

Cronin playing for Ireland against France in last year's Six Nations. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Ian Keatley, Jamie Hagan, Fionn Carr and Sean Cronin. All key players for Connacht last season, all moved away to supposed brighter pastures. At the half-way stage in this season though, only Cronin can be said to have progressed. Keatley has been inconsistent as back-up to Ronan O’Gara while Carr and Hagan have played bit-parts in the Leinster squad. Cronin has had to battle with Richardt Strauss for the number two jersey in Joe Schmidt’s side. This tussle to be first-choice seems to have brought the best out of the younger.

Against Glasgow on Sunday, Cronin was Leinster’s most effective ball-carrier. Even with the likes of Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the starting fifteen, it was Cronin who did the most damage with ball in hand. He had eleven carries and while this wasn’t the highest carry count for Leinster, Cronin beat four defenders, more than any other player on the pitch. The Limerick man’s pace is a huge asset and helps him to win most collisions.

While Rory Best has been playing well for Ulster, Cronin’s dynamism is definitely something that Kidney will consider using from the start. The Leinster man offers obvious impact from the bench, but his display against Glasgow shows that he can do it for 80 minutes. Best has had a few hiccups with his lineout throwing, missing three against Leicester on Friday. Cronin’s throwing was almost perfect as he missed only one. Cronin’s time playing second-fiddle to Best for Ireland may be over.

Cronin’s key stats vs. Glasgow:

Kick/pass/run: 0/2/11     Tackles made/missed: 7/1      Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 4     Lineout jumpers hit/missed: 8/1

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Darren Cave

The discussion about who should replace Brian O’Driscoll for Ireland has mainly centered around Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe and Fergus McFadden. But another man whose form has given him a chance for Six Nations inclusion is Ulster’s Darren Cave. The outside centre has been impressive for his province all season and a return of four tries from eleven starts is not too shabby. Cave was having another storming game for Ulster on Friday night before picking up a foot injury with twenty minutes left.

Brian McLaughlin will be praying that Cave recovers in time for this weekend’s massive clash with Clermont. The 24-year-old has become a vital part of this Ulster side. His attacking zest and defensive work-rate would be massive losses for the Clermont game. Both of these qualities were on show against Leicester on Friday night.

Cave may not possess the footwork of someone like Gordon D’Arcy or Keith Earls but he runs fantastic lines in attack and his pace allows him to be very penetrative. His distribution skills are good and importantly, Cave recognises when to give the ball. He has a strong offloading game too. Defensively, Cave is full of energy. At close to 100kg, the centre does not specialise in big hits, but he is intelligent in patrolling the 13 channel. With Kidney naming his Six Nations squad this week, Cave has done all he can to deserve inclusion.

EDIT: Cave has cruelly been ruled out for up to six weeks with the foot injury he picked up on Friday, meaning he’ll miss Saturday’s crucial clash with Clermont. It also rules him out of the Six Nations campaign. Very unlucky.

Cave’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Kick/pass/run: 0/6/5     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2            Offloads: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/0     Minutes played: 57

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

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

Four On Form

Heineken Cup Round 1 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting

In what will become a weekly feature of this blog, Four on Form looks at four Irish players who really hit form in the previous weekend’s action.

Last weekend saw wins for Munster and Ulster, a draw for Leinster and a narrow loss for Connacht in the first round of Heineken Cup action. Who were the Irish players who stood out in these matches?

Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this article letting me know who you think should have been included here or disagreeing with any of the selections. Any feedback at all would be appreciated.

Peter O’Mahony

Heineken Cup debutant O’Mahony is an obvious choice. He collected the Man of the Match award after Munster’s dramatic win over Northampton. The 22-year-old backrow was brilliantly aggressive and his workrate was never-ending. As early as the 3rd minute, O’Mahony was hounding Chris Ashton and Ben Foden into conceding the lineout which led to Varley’s opening try. Eighty minutes later, O’Mahony was still going, carrying several times during the 41 phases before O’Gara’s drop goal.

In between, he put himself about the pitch to great effect, with one important carry in the lead up to Howlett’s try. O’Mahony has already captained Munster several times this season in the PRO12 and is clearly a natural leader. He showcased his abrasive, determined side here and will hope to build on this showing. His reputation will continue to grow with performances like this and they will not go unnoticed by Declan Kidney and the Irish management team.

Sean Cronin

Cronin started Leinster’s visit to Montpellier on the bench, but had a telling impact when he was sprung in the 57th minute. With Leinster struggling to make real incisions into the Montpellier defence, Cronin made an immediate impact after taking an inside pass from Fergus McFadden. Cronin burst through a slight gap in the defence but was eventually tackled. This was only a taste of what was to come. Released by D’Arcy out wide, the hooker showed great pace to get outside Montpellier’s Gorgodze. After being dragged down by the Georgian’s tackle, but crucially not held, Cronin displayed determination to bounce back up on his feet and drive over for the try.

This was Cronin’s Heineken Cup debut, having played in the Amlin Challenge Cup with Connacht last season. Cronin will hope that his blistering 23-minute cameo will be enough for Joe Schmidt to install him ahead of Richardt Strauss for Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS. Cronin will be eager to prove that his set piece abilities match his undoubtedly dynamic contributions in possession.

Eoin Griffin

Yet another Heineken Cup debutant, outside centre Griffin had an impressive game for Connacht away to Harlequins. The Galway-native showcased his attacking threat when he cut through the ‘Quins line from a Mia Nikora pass and put Tiernan O’Halloran over for a try. Griffin has nailed down the 13 shirt for Connacht in recent times and his confidence grows with every game. The former Ireland U20 international combines good physical strength with fine handling skills and a calm head in defence.

Griffin displayed tremendous potential against Harlequins, carrying the ball well, showing a good burst of pace and being extremely solid in defence. He had no problems shackling the physically bigger Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall. Griffin is another of the confident young players currently coming through within the Irish provinces. He will hope to continue his progress against Toulouse this Saturday.

Stephen Ferris

Ferris continued from where he left off at the World Cup during Ulster’s clash with Clermont. Ferris lifted the decibel levels at Ravenhill every time he carried ball. His physicality is always second to none and that was on full display last weekend. Ferris was a wrecking ball every time he had possession, knocking defenders backwards at every opportunity. He continued his position as every scrum half’s nightmare when he held up Morgan Parra, turning over the ball.

Ferris never took a backward step in a tough opening fixture for Ulster. Himself and opposite number Julian Bonnaire stepped up nose to nose just after half time, typifying this particular battle. Ferris made hard yards all day for his side and put himself about in defence too. He was replaced with four minutes left having made 12 tackles and made a huge contribution to his side’s 16-11 victory.

 

Photo courtesy:  Jukka Zitting

Lucky Leinster Escape Stade de la Mosson with Draw

Match Report

Montpellier 16-16 Leinster

12th November @ Stade de la Mosson

Sexton earned a drwa for Leinster in the last minute

Sexton held his nerve late on. Photo via MD+D

Jonny Sexton secured a draw for Leinster with the last kick of the game as Leinster survived a tough test in the first match of their Heineken Cup defence against Montpellier. A disciplined and physical effort from the French side had seemingly given them all four points until they conceded a penalty in the last passage of play. To a deafening chorus of boos Sexton held his nerve and kicked the three pointer. Joe Schmidt will have been relieved to get two points from this match and move onto next Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS.

Montpellier were making their Heineken Cup debut here but were not over-awed to be facing the defending champions. Indeed Fabian Galthie’s side came out highly motivated and took the game to Leinster all afternoon.

Scrumhalf Benoit Paillaugue drew first blood for Montpellier when he was successful with a penalty given for hands in the ruck. Sexton equalized for Leinster minutes later with a 39m effort just to the right of the uprights. In the 16th minute, Sexton put his team in front after Mamuka Gorgodze was pinged for not rolling away.

Leinster were doing well at managing Gorgodze’s surges on the ball. He was met by at least two tacklers every time he got his hands on the ball. Montpellier were similarly dealing well with Leinster’s wrecking ball, Sean O’Brien, taking inspiration from Wales’ example in the World Cup and cutting him down with low tackles. Trinh-Duc at outhalf was threatening every time he had the ball, carrying with pace to the gain-line. Sexton showed he too could threaten after soft hands from Cullen and Heaslip manufactured a break for their outhalf. Sexton tried a cross-kick on the run and the move came to nothing.

Both sides were showing great attacking qualities and the next few minutes were heart-stopping. Luke Fitzgerald made a scorching break into Montpellier’s 22. Leinster spread the ball across to Isa Nacewa whose attempted grubber was blocked by the feet of Argentine fullback Lucas Amorosino. After hacking the ball downfield, Amorosino won the chase and popped off the deck to France international Fulgence Ouedraogo. The powerful blind-side had a clear run to the line for the game’s first try. Paillaugue added the conversion from under the posts, 10-6 to the home side.

The diminutive scrumhalf added another penalty soon after from distance. Both sides continued to look for tries. Leinster enjoyed good field position, attacking inside the Montpellier half but the defensive effort of Galthie’s side was fantastic. Throughout the course of the match they were patient enough that they gave away few penalties but also aggressive in recognizing the opportunity to turn over possession. Ouedraogo and replacement Remy Martin excelled in this regard.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw the physicality of both sides stepping up even further. Gorgodze started to gain some yards carrying as Montpellier continued to repel O’Brien and the other Leinster ball carriers. The sides were turning each other over frequently in a real breakdown battle. Gorgodze steamrolled through O’Brien’s tackle as Leinster conceded a penalty and with Paillaugue replaced by Tomas Martin, Trinh-Duc took over the place kicking duties, extending the lead to 16-6.

Leinster made several replacements coming into the last quarter. Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin all made an impact and helped Schmidt’s men to recover the deficit. Cronin showed his dynamism on the ball soon after coming on when he took an inside pass from McFadden and burst through the defensive line. The passage broke down through a forced pass but signaled a slight shift in momentum.

Leinster had raised the tempo and were now getting on the front foot with clean rucks and quick service from Reddan. Toner showed soft hands to offload to O’Brien and the blindside finally rumbled through contact. Quick ball was spread to Cronin who bounced up from Gorgodze’s tackle and dived over for the try. Sexton converted and Leinster were back in contention, 16-13.

Leinster came straight back into the Montpellier half, searching for the winning try. Montpellier’s defence held firm, first from a maul which saw several of the Leinster backs joining the shove. Then, from a scrum five metres out on the left with only a minute left, D’Arcy knocked on. Montpellier cleared the ball and it seemed that Leinster had run out of time.

But with the seconds ticking down, Leinster came back into the Montpellier half and finally the French side’s patient defence let them down. A needless penalty for hands in the ruck gave Sexton the chance to salvage the draw for Leinster.

Photo courtesy:  MD+D