Category Archives: Rugby

Rugby Bullets – Ireland aim for a slam

Here’s this week’s quick fire rugby thoughts.

Ireland vs Scotland

  • Ireland lost three big players early on, and it was the kind of game where it would have seemed as though having impact subs in the last 30 minutes would be beneficial. The subs did make an impact, particularly Cian Healy as Hooker. Having Cian Healy down as an extra hooker was clever as if Ireland would have gone to non-contested scrums due to two hookers not being available somebody else would have had to go off. Healy mastered the art of playing at hooker quickly turning the scrum in our favour. Van der Flier once again proved he is no mere mortal rugby player by throwing into the lineouts.
  • Scotland lucky to avoid a penalty try, Ireland overthrow the lineout and lose big ground.
  • The first 10 minutes saw big pressure, going for 3 was the right call, from there Ireland were under pressure. Scotland had a penalty with the clock in red to go in ahead at halftime, they went to the corner rather than the posts. it was a long way out but Hogg probably had the distance. A lead of any kind at the break would have been huge, Scotland game close to a try but ended up in touch. Psychologically that was a massive moment in the game.
    • Ireland had a bit of odd luck in the game. Having scored a try off a Scottish quick lineout, it was ruled out because Scotland had used a different ball. In the second half Lowe got over when Scotland were really pushing it with the infringements. Strangely, if it had of been a penalty try there would have been a yellow and an automatic conversion. Ireland could have ended up suffering for finishing a movement.
    • Mack Hansen doesn’t appear to have bad games for Ireland, but his performance on Sunday was special. He made the Lowe try by taking the ball in the air and throwing the ball into Sextons arms in one move. Immediately after for Conan’s try Hansen was once again there for a big pass. His movement and positioning were incredible last weekend and he’s a big reason the back three is so effective.
    • Sexton goes off for Byrne late on, tied with the record for most Six Nations points with Ronan O’Gara. He nailed a difficult conversion for James Lowe’s try which made it a two score game.
    • Losing Gary Ringrose is a massive blow as we’ve seen how important is to the defense. His neck went back when his head went into an opponents hip and it looked bad. He was stretchered off with a brace but was moving, and later he was reportedly up and talking. For as good as he has been for Ireland it’s a shame he misses out on the grand slam decider, similarly he’s been excellent for Leinster and would deserve to be back for the latter stages of the League and potential games deep into the European Cup.
    • Scotland were good in the first half but admittedly got away with an awful lot throughout the game. It may be harsh to call the second half a collapse when really it was Ireland going up a gear.
    • This win is arguably the biggest since the third test down in New Zealand when you consider every single thing that went wrong. So many injuries and bits of bizarre luck, everything was going against Ireland. It is the performance of a team unwilling to die. It’s big a few months out from the World Cup, as teams will be wondering what they have to do to beat Ireland.

Elsewhere in the Six Nations

  • In one game Italy undid all the good work they had done in the early rounds. Despite losing their first 3 games they performed fairly well and were largely competitive. Against Wales they were soft and disjointed. They certainly weren’t helped by a refereeing performance that got progressively worse throughout the game.
    • If Italy perform like that in the World Cup they will be blown away by hosts France, and New Zealand. While they should have enough to get past Namibia they will also struggle against Uruguay if they put in this kind of performance. The South American side qualified as Americas 1 and have drastically improved over the past few years.
      • Los Teros have now qualified for 3 successive World Cups, with this being their best qualifying performance (they topped the South American qualifier pool over Chile and Brazil, and they beat USA over two legs to qualify as top seeds. The majority of their players play for Uruguayan side Penarol who won the Sudamerica Championship last year having finished runners-up the previous season
  • As poor as England were France were incredibly good, returning to the heights they hit last year. They remain favourites for the World Cup on home soil.
  • England will surely improve by the time the World Cup roles around, they can’t possibly be that bad again. They, like Wales, benefit from being on the easier side of the World Cup draw thanks to the lopsided nature of the pools, but may find themselves having a hard time against Argentina and Japan if they play like that.

Ireland vs England

  • Ireland are favourites and the better team, but the beginning of the game will likely be a battle. England will be hurting, have been poor this tournament, and capitulated last weekend. There will be a response and the first 15 minutes will likely be very competitive. Ireland are rightly favourites to win the game and the grand slam, but they may have to survive a storm. Psychologically the first quarter of the game is big, as if Ireland can hold off England early on, based on last week the away sides heads will drop and Ireland will power on.
  • Despite numerous injuries there isn’t a lot of concern going into the game. Andy Farrell has done very well to build depth in the squad since the last World Cup. He was sometimes criticized for squad choices but we’re seeing the benefits of building a big squad. A few months out from the World cup we’re now in a position where there will be a few big players unlucky to miss out.
    • Ryan Baird, Rob Herring, and Keiran Treadwell get a chance to impress and cement their places in the squad. It’s also a big game for Jimmy O’Brien who can show why he belongs in the 23.
  • Hopefully Sexton can get the record early so that narrative is out of the way. If the game is won with 30-20 minutes to go it’s time to empty the bench. Give Ross Byrne, Herring, Tom O’Toole, Treadwell, Jack Conan, and O’Brien valuable minutes in green ahead of the world cup. An argument could be made that Gibson-Park should play as much of the game as he can to get some minutes post injury, although you couldn’t begrudge Conor Murray being on the pitch for at least the final 15 minutes with the tournament he has had.
  • If Ireland were to win by 10 or more points, they would be the only team to win a Six Nations Grand Slam while winning every game by double figures. England in 2003 were the last side to win a grand slam with every victory being by a margin of 6 or more points.

Rugby Europe International Championships

  • Sunday see’s the final round of games in the top tier of the Rugby Europe International Championships. There are four games, including the ranking finals which are Belgium vs Poland in the 7th place final and Netherlands vs Germany in the 5th place final. These games are important for determining rankings over the two years for relegation. Romania play Spain in the Bronze final. Then on Sunday night in the grand final Georgia play Portugal. We’ll see this tie again in the World Cup in Pool D, so there’s more than a trophy on the line. Georgia are the dominant force in this tournament, but Portugal have qualified for the World Cup and been improving over the past number of years.
  • In the second tier (Rugby Europe Trophy) Ukraine host Sweden. This is Ukraine’s final game and only sit 3 points above last place. Sweden sit just one point ahead of their opponents and are 10 points behind top side Switzerland who have are on 15 points. Switzerland’s final game is against Croatia in two weekends time, and a single point will see them become champions.

Thursday Bullets: Ireland Battle Past Italy

Thursday bullets is our article series where we give a few quick rugby thoughts on anything going on in Irish, European, or World rugby.


  • The game against Italy will stand to Ireland in the long run. Playing without several key players, particularly Sexton and Ringrose who are both leaders in this team. We wouldn’t have learned anything going into the World Cup if Ireland had of beaten a poor side by 30 points, so the fact Italy put up a good fight until late on and Ireland had to actually work hard to win the game will mean more come September, and even two weeks time against Scotland.
  • Defensively Ireland weren’t as strong as they had been. Considering they were without the usual half-back pairings and usual center partnership it’s understandable, but there’s plenty to work on ahead of the final two rounds.
  • Ross Byrne is the number 2 to Sexton, and outside of a significant injury it has to stay that way at least until after the World Cup. It’s unfortunate Crowley didn’t get more time but it was important Byrne had the experience of closing out a tight Six Nations game on a difficult start. He didn’t set the world on fire but managed the game well despite Ireland missing players. It’s long been a debate as to who Ireland’s 2nd choice would be, with Carbery done no favours after being burdened with the messiah tag pre-injury. Ross Byrne has earned the jersey. It’s important he isn’t hammered with the expectation of living up to Sexton every time he plays. After the World Cup the debate over who should replace Sexton can rage on at both Ireland and Leinster, but until Ireland return home from France Ross Byrne needs to be trusted with the fly-half jersey when Sexton isn’t available. Murray has wrestled back the starting scrum-half place but Craig Casey adds a pace to the game off the bench and is a good deputy number 9.
    • Who gets the 3rd Fly-Half spot if an interesting debate, which likely at this stage comes down to Jack Crowley or Joey Carbery and which one does better at Munster in the latter part of the season. Carbery has been hampered by injuries and Crowley hasn’t had the game time yet. Both players have a versatility that would lend well to a World Cup Squad.
  • The back three of Hansen, Lowe, and Keenan is nailed down barring injury. They function well together. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the center alongside Ringrose. A returning Henshaw will battle it out with McCloskey and Aki for a place, one of whom may not even make the bench is the 23 jersey is given to a more versatile player. Ringrose is a certainty at center so it may be a case of bringing McCloskey, Aki, and Henshaw to the World Cup and changing it up depending on the opposition. Henshaw could actually find himself playing super-sub role behind McCloskey or Aki as he has that bit of versatility.
  • Finlay Bealham misses out on the rest of the Six Nations. A big loss to Ireland considering h has played so well in Tadgh Furlong’s absence. Surely he’s done enough to get into the World Cup Squad when back fit. Furlong’s return to the squad is timely but his minutes will need to be managed, providing a big opportunity for Tom O’Toole.
  • A 27-man squad training squad see’s the return of Jamison Gibson-Park. There’s 3 scrumhalves with Conor Murray and Craig Casey retaining their place. However, there are only 2 fly-halves, with Johnyy Sexton and Ross Byrne being retained. Whoever gets the 3rd fly-half spot will likely depend on how Jack Crowley and Joey Carbery get on on the weekend for Munster.
  • In the 27-man training squad, of the 13 backs only Jimmy O’Brien has caps in single-digits (4), and of the 14 forwards there’s just two players in that position in Ryan Baird (9) and Tom O’Toole (7). The other players who had been in the squad with under 10 caps are Tom Stewart (6), Jack Crowley (4), Gavin Coombes (2), Cian Prendergast (1), Joe McCarthy (1), Caolin Blade (1), Jamie Osborne, Scott Penny, Michael Milne, and Roman Salanoa (all 0). Ireland have 4 remaining scheduled games with between Six Nations and World Cup Warm-Ups. It’s possible if not likely that an additional warm-up match will be added for late July/August. There’s not a lot of chances to get minutes ahead of France 23 so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see most of those players miss out on a World Cup place considering in favour of names with more experience.

The Provinces

  • Kieran Marmion will leave Connacht at the end of the season to join Bristol Bears. The 31-year-old got 28 caps for Ireland, and despite being behind Conor Murray and sometimes others in the pecking order, the scrum-half always impressed me when he played internationally. He did the basics very well, and was a team player (I have memories of him playing on the wing against Australia a while back in a November test).
  • Delighted to see Leo Cullen sign an extension with Leinster. Last time a very successful coach left Leinster things went down hill before Cullen turned it around. One thing the former lock has done well is given young players time. Everyone can see Leinster has a massive playing pool. Throughout his early days as head coach he gave young guns plenty of game time and room to make mistakes, allowing them to grow into great players. Whether he stays past 2025 or a new name has to be found, Leo Cullen, along with Ronan O’Gara, is a former player who has proven himself to be an excellent coach at senior level who could coach Ireland some day.

Elsewhere in the Six Nations

  • A strong Italy is good for European rugby. While I’m in agreement that the Six Nations should be connected to the Rugby Europe International Championships Pyramid, it’s not as simple as relegating Italy, as that just replaces one tier 1 nation with another. The expanded rugby Europe Championship and the levels below determine promotion and relegation over 2 seasons, and an expanded Six Nations could do the same. Whether or not South Africa join, the Six Nations could be expanded to an 8 team tournament and be incorporated into a European rugby pyramid. There aren’t enough Tier 1 Nations in rugby to get get rid of one, so fans should be happy that Italy have been at least respectable in each of their games so far. Hopefully this spreads into the URC and Benetton become a side that can push on to qualifying for the European cup, and with Zebre not just being pushovers.
  • England and Wales played out a pretty turgid draw but the reality is they will both likely improve come the World Cup. Due to the nature of the draw being made so long ago they find themselves benefiting from strong performances last time out and are on the far easier side of the draw. England will need to avoid slipping up against both Argentina and Japan (winning one of those games should be enough couples with wins against Samoa and Chile). Argentina beat them in November and Japan have made a habit of big World Cup wins in recent years, but surely England will be in a better place come September to avoid a repeat of 2015. Wales play Australia, Fiji, Georgia, and Portugal. While Portugal should be routine it’s unclear how good Australia will be under Eddie Jones, and Fiji and Georgia provide banana skin games. Interestingly Wales could find themselves topping the pool or having to go through qualifiers next time around in what is a tumultuous year.

Rugby Europe

  • The Rugby Europe Championship got a reboot this year with 8 teams split into 4 pools. Georgia and Portugal topped their pools with maximum points while Romania and Spain came second. This weekend Portugal host Spain and Georgia host Romania in the Championship semi-finals. In the ranking semi-finals (which determine the standings for the rest of the sides) Netherlands host Belgium and Poland host Germany.
  • The new format of the pyramid with relegation taking place over two years rather than one should lead to a better balance of quality in the leagues, rather than the same teams exchanging places each year.