Ulster’s season was marked by drama but lacked tangible achievement. The province started the season in two competitions and ended up playing in four: in two they were competitive [the Pro14 and the Challenge Cup], and in the other two [the Champions Cup and the Rainbow Cup] they were lacklustre.
Leinster took their fourth consecutive Pro14 title – and eighth league title overall – with a terse and professional win over close neighbours and long-time rivals Munster in a deserted RDS a couple of weekends ago. The mid-season final brought a sudden close to what has been a strange, arhythmic competition: Glasgow Warriors and Benetton Treviso played out their practically meaningless fixture in Scotstoun at lunchtime on the same day, as if to highlight the ungainly scheduling that saw a league final played just a day after the last match – albeit a rearranged last match – of the Six Nations.
Les Kiss, the now former Director of Rugby at Ulster, did the state a hell of a lot of service – not in the Charlie Haughey way, and I’m not implying any infringement on the nature of cross-border co-operation in Irish rugby, or unduly politicising his role … Jaysis, probably should just say something else nice about him. I only have so many non-Simpsons quotes though.
It’s been a long time since The Demented Mole shook the dirt off his mighty paws and focused his myopia on once-proud Ulster. There was a background article in the works – there always is, it’s just that time and topicality seem to escape them – before Les Kiss resigned his post, but the timing of his departure set against the background of the Jackson/Olding trial throws the disfunction of the organisation into relief. Continue reading →
That’s a Framer: Robbie Henshaw caps off a memorable week in the Windy City.
We selected four players from the u20 cohort of 2013 in order to follow their progress in a similar manner as applied to their predecessors of 2012. One player was selected from each province. All the players selected from 2013 were backs who had started at centre for the Irish u20 team, for two reasons. Firstly, the 2013 backs caught my eye more than the forwards from that year and, secondly, with D’Arcy and O’Driscoll each moving closer to retirement, the starting centre berths at national level would soon become far less competitive after many years.
Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner celebrate Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks in Chicago. They’re neither the most complementary second row partnership that Ireland have fielded in the professional era, nor the most individually talented locks, but they’ve succeeded where more illustrious pairings have failed.
Given the number of headlines sent to print and the variety of plaudits doled out for Ireland’s performances in November, it has been telling that very few of those made a hero of Devin Toner, one of only two Irish players to have gone the full 80 minutes in the three games against Southern Hemisphere opposition. Continue reading →
Leinster have had an extremely poor league season by their standards, but are still in with a shout in the European Cup. It’s a moment of truth, but there’s more scope for disillusionment that there is for restorative belief. Can the province return to former standards and former glories, or will they continue to chart a declining course?
Thus far this season, Leinster have played 19 league matches and only won 9 of them: a .47 winning percentage. That’s quite easily their worst record in a decade. Continue reading →
Conor Murray and Andrew Trimble make an effective last ditch tackle on England wing Johnny May to prevent a certain try early in the game [photo copyright – Mark Pain].
Narrow margins! England versus Ireland was a high intensity game, and a different standard to the rest of the championship thus far. English coach Stuart Lancaster isn’t given to exaggeration, and his description of the game as “a real test match” was both accurate and, in its way, laudatory. The action was genuinely high-paced for much of the 80 minutes, and with that came individual errors from a lot of players on both sides of the pitch. Unrelentingly high impact collisions from gun to tape will do that to you. Continue reading →
Paul O’Connell’s expression says it all. Ireland were seconds away from a first win over New Zealand in the history of games between the two countries, but it was snatched out of their hands.
Amidst no small dollop of carping and moaning about what a pain in the arse it was, we mentioned at the end of the last Ruck Marks article that we’d try and run a similar exercise using Ireland’s November tests as our subjects. We surprised ourselves by actually carrying this through [just like we carried through our tag index … all the way up to ‘D’] with a Boxeresque appetite for dumb labour. Continue reading →
Neither coach covered himself in glory at the weekend. While Ben Mowen’s shutdown of Mike Phillips was a highly successful tactic, that has to be balanced with Deans’ selection of James O’Connor as outhalf and placekicker. Continue reading →
Stephen Ferris looks likely to accept a one year deal to play in Japan next season rather than accept an offer from the IRFU that is contingent on gametime. Having missed out on contention for a Lions tour this summer due to an injury plagued season, it’s not a bad idea to earn good money, play some lower intensity rugby and then come back for a season leading up to RWC15, at which stage he’ll just have turned 30 years old.
If Stephen Ferris makes the rumoured switch to the Top League, he won’t be the first Irish backrower to play in Japan’s top flight rugby competition. Continue reading →