Munster Fly-Half Steers Team To Famous Victory

The good ship Heineken is cruising along nicely, and the hopeless rats are deserting at a cracking pace – after this weekend, the list of realistic quarter finalists stands at a desultory 10 – Ulster and Quins will surely go through alone; and while Toulon, Sarries and Clermont hold the whip hand in their pools, Montpellier, Munster and Leinster are still in touch and have definite best runners-up potential. In the Pool of Death, the Ospreys are virtually gone, leaving Toulouse and Leicester to fight for top spot, and also contest for a best runners-up spot. Racing Metro and Castres are still alive, but they would much prefer to do it in the Top14, and may see HEC progression as counter-productive – the cream is rising to the top.

It was a good weekend for Romanian and Spanish rugby – Bucharest’s win over Agen had echoes of the 80s, when the Mighty Oaks had the Frenchies’ number, and Declan Cusack’s Bizkaia Gernika did what their fellows Basques in Biarritz and Bayonne couldn’t, and won a game – kudos all round. Rather less encouraging was the performance of the representatives from some of European rugby’s more prominent countries – after 3 rounds of the HEC, all the Welsh, Scottish and Italian sides are out of contention for qualification. In a miserable, no win 7 loss weekend for the Pro12 Patsies, Hard-Scrummaging Scarlets and Glasgow’s losses at home to English debutants Exeter and French Euro-bunnies Castres were notable low points. For the second year in three, we will have no Welsh quarter-finalists, Embra’s success last year looks increasingly like a flash in the pan and Italy continues its wait for a knock-out representative – this is not a sustainable divvy-up of the spoils.

All week, we had heard the repeated mantra of the Europe-dominating ambition of Saracens – from the cheerleading media in Blighty talking up their chances in Thomond, to the cheerleading media in Tara Street looking to underpin Munster’s underdog credentials. In the event, their lack of ambition on the field was stunning – for a team with such an array of talented backs, they play a horrendous brand of rugby. It’s hard to credit that a backline containing the likes of Hodgson, Farrell, Strettle, Goode and Ashton can score just 9 tries in 10 Premiership games. Do the top brass at Saracens really think that the type of 10 man dross that was in vogue 4 years ago is really a realistic gameplan for HEC success? If they do, their “European ambition” is just like the Northampton pack – all talk and no trousers.

With Ulster odds-on to be among the top 4 seeds going into the HEC quarter-finals, and the ERC stipulation on a minimum 15,000 capacity for knock-out games, the race is on to get Ravers up to capacity by April. Ulster want nothing less than to win their pool in style, only to draw a best runner-up like their modern-day nemesis, Leinster, and have to effectively give up home advantage. Expect Christmas to be cancelled in Belfast – the quid pro quo will be a first HEC knock-out game at Ravers since January 1999 and a serious tilt at bringing the trophy to Ravers for the second time, and to Ireland for a remarkable seventh.

As for Leinster, yesterday’s game was pretty instructive – Leinster were as “there for the taking” as they are going to be, yet Clermont looked a little intimidated – there is no doubt the regular wins for the D4 goys over the Bananamen have got into their heads. If Leinster end up going back to the Marcel Michelin in a quarter-final, they will be confident they have their number. Leinster won’t be happy at the prospect coming out of the pool in second, but they are probable seventh seeds and will fancy their chances away to Clermont, Ulster, Harlequins and Saracens. Only Toulon represent an intimidating journey into the unknown – it’s a fascinating sub-plot to the jostling for quarter-final seeding – third place might be a better place to be than second.

And finally, to Connacht, whose victory over fading heavyweights Biarritz was possibly the highlight of the weekend.  17 of their 22 points came from the boot of Dan Parks, including two sweetly struck drop goals.  In a season when foreign signings have been more under the microscope than ever, he is pound for pound th best bit of business by an Irish province this summer.  He is exactly what Connacht needed at this point in their development and is performing an invaluable job for them, turning the pressure they generate into points on the scoreboard.

The result certainly had an effect on our Munster-Leinster collision course.  It more or less takes Biarritz out of the equation, as they can only achieve a maximum of 20 points.  So, perhaps both Leinster and Munster could qualify as best runners-up?  Perhaps, but it’s looking like we might have been a bit dismissive of Pool 2’s chances of producing a second qualifier.  We thought Ospreys would be a contender in a three-way tussle in that group, but it doesn’t look like panning out that way.  With Ospreys now all but doomed, both Toulouse and Leicester could win there and set about achieving some pretty high points totals.

PS the “think of the fans” argument for not sending off players who commit dangerous tackles is one of the most annoying memes of modern times. After Lloyd Williams was sent off for dumping Benoit Paillauge on his noggin, Ieuan Evans and Paul Wallace moaned about how it was never a red, and the Sky line at full-time was how disappointing it all was for the fans to see a refereeing decision “ruin the game”. It prompted us to imagine this hypothetical conversation between fans:

Fan 1: Oh look, Player A is going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after being dumped on his head.

Fan 2: Who cares about that, I’m just hoping the referee doesn’t send off Player B – I paid £15 to see this!

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  1. abitofshoepie

     /  December 10, 2012

    Really impressed with all of the provinces this weekend. Ulster detroyed Northampton, the Westerners were brilliant, Munster were at their fiery best and with a better referee may have beaten the South Africa reserves more comfortably, and Leinster were a few straight line-out throws away from knocking over Clermont on their own patch. For the Irish teams, not all is doom and gloom after all. However, as you highlight, what does worry me is the weakness of the challenge put in by our Celtic cousins…they have provided the english and french unions with a very strong case when it comes to negotiating a reduced participation in the competition for Rabo teams. Looking forward to an Ulster v Leinster quarter-final!

  2. Leinsterlion

     /  December 10, 2012

    The Goodman Darce axis showed promise with Goods showing some boshing attributes if not much else. Sextons dumb kick for the corner cost us a draw at the very least. We looked blunt in attack and on the counter. Mads is not a FB, Lee Byrne displayed that(Halfpenny should be looking over his shoulder) Nacewa should have started there. I think Schmidts defensive minded selection was a mistake, we could have taken Clermont.
    Our locks were quite unimpressive (Leo aside, he put in an ok shift).
    Toulon really are the galacticos and team to fear, what a bench never mind the XV. They have arguably the best four locks in the competition. I could see a repeat of the Toulouse semi where we were steamrollered by sheer power, they have a team of heavy hitters(Gits aside).
    Scottish rugby continues its slow inevitable decline towards the third tier. Italian rugby obviously is not primed to replace them and continues to wallow in mediocrity. The Welsh? I think the regional system needs to change as its obviously not working as they just dont have the money or the players to compete.
    Saracens and the English teams all look one paced and about as sharp as a butter knife. Quins will be the team to fly the flag for England, but whats going on with the tigers,they look quite mediocre?
    At this stage I’m putting money on a french winner, they all have too much depth and boshability that the provinces lack.

    • Goodman was impressive for his first H-Cup game. Darce fell off a few too many tackles though. He was lucky the cover defence was so good.

      Hindsight is 20:20 but Schmidt’s selection was the right selection for going to Clermont – the highest try-scoring team in Europe at a venue where they don’t lose. He couldn’t have anticipated their relative callowness and had to select a team based on the evidence.

    • Far too simplistic to say that Sexton’s kick to the corner cost Leinster the draw. Firstly, he reached his man – unfortunately McFadden knocked it on. Secondly, even if he hadn’t reached his man, it was – with almost half the match still remaining – hardly a do-or-die moment.

      And perhaps most crucially, thirdly, at 15-9, if that incident hadn’t happened, then the penalty just after (which made it 15-12) wouldn’t have happened. Which would mean Leinster would have had roughly the same time to get the final three points they never got.

      For whatever reason, it’s the line-out where Leinster must look to explain the defeat, not a move that would have been hailed hyperbolically as the hallmark of Leinster’s brilliance had it worked out.

      • Thanks Ronan, for explaining this one so succinctly, so we don’t have to. We wrote about exactly this sort of thing after Ben Youngs was castigated for a quick tap penalty in the November series.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 10, 2012

        Kicking the ball is an unnecessary high risk gamble with the most important thing in the game: Possession. Why risk giving the ball away when you have fought hard on gaining field position and retaining posession. I would have accepted a tap and go but kicking away possession is criminal stupidity, its luck if it comes off, there are too many variables.

      • Agree with Leinsterlion, one of the biggest frustrations for Connacht fans is the continued overuse of hail mary types kicks to relieve pressure or attempt to make yards, its just not worth it most of the time, regardless of who the team or 10 is. Its no surprise that Connacht have looked their best this season when Parks’ has been kicking less rather than more often.

    • Is it ridiculous to say the Welsh regions just don’t care about the Heineken Cup any more? Welsh fans will be laughing in February as all their players are fresh and ready to fire for the six nations……..

      • That didn’t exactly work out for them in the Autumn series though. Hard to switch form on and off like a tap. We wrote a piece before the series expressing doubt over how long the national team could sustain its run of form with such a patchy feeder system.

  3. Thomas

     /  December 10, 2012

    Does anyone have any info on Ricky Lutton, his inclusion on the bench for Ulster was interesting, even if Afoa was always staying on for the 80 mins. I’m guessing Fitzpatrick is still injured although his injury which I believe was a “knock to the head” is mysterious, yet Mackin’s absence is of greater mystery. No word of him being injured, although he could have been taken out to beef up the B’and’I cup squad. Perhaps Anscombe is trying to cultivate three viable tightheds, I have no idea, we remain however, one Afoa injury away from what could be a disaster.

    Btw is Lutton a genuine dual sided prop, ulster website gives little away.

    Connacht beating last years Amlin winners, if they get there best players back can they hope for Amlin glory this year, or perhaps a Heineken knock out match, well done either way.

    • ORiordan

       /  December 10, 2012

      I believe Lutton is primarily a LHP so if Afoa had been injured then Court would have gone to the tight head. Macklin was on the bench for the Ravens against Cardiff in the B&I Cup and was returning from injury. There is no doubt that Ulster are putting almost all their THP eggs in a John Afoa shaped basket.

      • Thomas

         /  December 10, 2012

        I see now, so Mackin was injured after all, that one sorta flew under the radar with me, and Lutton is a LHP. Says on Ulsters profile of him that he also plays hooker, i suppose a guy who could cover all three positions would be a figment of a very lively imagination indeed.

  4. 4 great Irish performances this weekend – such a joy to be back to the provinces in their pomp.

    Ulster are awesome right now. I keep thinking they don’t have enough depth but they are playing with such confidence.

    Sarries clearly let Thomond get to them. Will be interesting to see whether they turn it around next week. Maybe Munster might surprise everybody.

    Biarritz’s scalp is another fantastic achievement for Connacht. Biarritz must be the worst away team, relative to home form in Europe though.

    Am just back from Clermont and naturally disappointed. Every Leinster fan would’ve taken a point before the game but we really left something behind yesterday and gave Clermont a 3 point advantage. It was a powerful Leinster performance though: best of the season. It is worrying that Leinster just don’t seem to be able to score tries this season however – they never came close yesterday.

    One thing that was really evident yesterday was that Clermont – team and fans – were scared of Leinster. Given how good Clermont have been this year, that was a surprise.

    • Jimbob

       /  December 10, 2012

      Spot on, was really surprised by Clermont’s attitude, I thought they were going to strut out onto the pitch and then try bully Leinster for 80 mins. I have to say that the whole Leinster team played fantastically and gave everything; it makes me so happy to see a team go all out for the cause, which is exactly what all four provinces did this weekend.

      I must also admit that I was reluctant to believe that Ulster were genuine contenders but I’m convinced now. Although Northampton were fairly poor, it takes a lot for a team to go there and take the full 5 points. It’d be very interesting to see how they’d fare in Toulouse or Clermont;as we all know it takes another big step up to go and win in France.

      I think Munster will go and win in London, they have the mental edge and will get over the line at least once too while Sarries will again fail to score a try.

      Connacht will only get better from games like this, they have a real belief at home and once they bring that with them on the road, they won’t look back. I’d love to see them frustrate Biarritz again but I think that may be a step too far just yet.

      • Morton Slumber

         /  December 10, 2012

        Question for Munster fans -the media were all proclaiming the win was due to O’Garas brilliance (leadership and inspiration as per the Indo). Do you as fans want him to continue starting at 10 or should Keatley be given a fair run?

        The reason I ask is that as lethal as ROG is with the kicking I thought Keatley really added value in all aspects of the game earlier this season. When I think back to Leinster a few years ago I was completely dismissive of Sexton in terms of Contipomi starting -how wrong I was in hindsight. It just strikes me that Munster are in the same situation now.

        • Although we aren’t Munster fans, we will opine …. we thought Rog was pretty ordinary (bar his place-kicking) – his decision making at the end led to Farrell’s final penalty, and that aspect of his game has noticably declined in the last 12 months. Munster look a bit caught between 2 stools now – the players are clearly way more comfortable with the old school gameplan, but Penney has medium-term designs on something more expansive. Had Farrell remembered his kicking boots, the reviews of this game might be concentrating on how Penney needed to fast-track an extra dimension to Munster’s play (and perhaps Keatley would be the man to do that)! The outhalf debate hasn’t gone away – despite the opinion of our esteemed national press, but it doesn’t seem like Keatley will get a go this HEC.

    • Bushmills

       /  December 10, 2012

      Jimbob. If you would like to see how Ulster would fare against Leinster, I can tell you they played them twice in the last 13 months and beat them in Belfast 16-11 and came very close in Clermont losing 19-15.

      I understand if you missed that in last years Heineken Cup campaign as the Irish press tends to ignore Ulster too.

      • Anonymous

         /  December 10, 2012

        Should have beat Clermont in the auvergne last year but for blind Dave Pearson having a shocker.

      • Nice Freudian slip there Bushmills! Ulster have not tended to fare well against Leinster at all though in recent times. This year’s Christmas match will be very telling as to where Ulster stand IMO. If Ulster beat Leinster (the last team to beat them), then even the greatest sceptics will have to stop and think.

        Hines was at the same shennanigans yesterday he was at when Ulster visited Clermont a year ago. He got away with it this time as well. Not game changing though.

      • Bowe Gathers

         /  December 11, 2012

        As far as I remember Ulster have been winless for a decade when playing Leinster away. This statistic is skewed by the fact that we’ve been sending second string teams down and using the blue meanies as an excuse to fill up IRFU mandated rest periods for Stephen Ferris plus Deccie’s chosen bag carriers. I totally agree that the true test of Anscombe comes against our personal bogeymen, but the new man has totally exceeded expectations thus far and now is the very best time to be facing Leinster than at any other point in the past three years.

        On the point of us being ignored, Ulster came as close to winning in the Michelin as Leinster did, and it took a true gamesman in Hines to block us out of the game, American Football style (on that note, why oh why did Leinster ever let him leave, come back Nathan, the South Dublin Riviera forgives you). We’ve not come out of the clear blue sky and (bar THP, as discussed above) we’ve actually covered very well in nearly every position by functioning as a unit that is greater than the sum of our parts. The proof has been and will continue to be in our results this season. Roll on NWJMB’s new army.

      • Jimbob

         /  December 11, 2012

        Sorry Bushmills, what i should have said is that it’ll be interesting to see how Ulster fare against the Clermonts and Toulousains in away conditions at the knock-out stage of the competition. These more established teams become different animals at that point of the competition and as someone posted previously by April it’s like a different tournament altogether. I wasn’t trying to put Ulster down, just wondering if and how they’ll drive on from this point and become one of the dominant forces of European rugby.

      • Anonymous

         /  December 11, 2012

        Ye mean like storming fortress Thomond Jimbob? 😉

      • This Nathan Hines thing is beginning to irritate me. The Irish Times also mentioned him “switching allegiances”in the match preview. There’s nothing to forgive. He wasn’t offered a contract even though he wanted to stay so he went to Clermont who have just resigned him again. It was a massive error on behalf of Leinster, (I don’t know what the IRFU involvement was. On one hand it’s not like he was going to be centrally contracted but on the other it was around the foreign players farrago). Either way, it shows how badly missed he is that the 2nd row remains a troubled spot for Leinster. Bad bit of business but cetainly not something Hines can be held responsible for. Comes across as a Bidenesque “haoy warrior”.

        Thgouth Ulster were awesome. They had a team last year wheras now they have a squad and fear no-one. Was disappointed to see some Ulster fans on twitter mocking Foden after he apologised for a poor game but was equally heartened to see other Ulster fans smacking them down. Hartley was rightly cited, and Afoa did him a big favour clearing him out before he could continue his onslaught. I dont particularly rate him as a player and how someone with his disciplinary record can be in with a shout to captain his country is beyond me.

        Dan Parks has been a great fit for Connacht. The losing straight last year included many that would have turned out differently with someone on the pitch who could take the points when they were on offer and manage a game. Also thin it’s a good move for him to facilitate a move into coaching. Nice also that the conditions were decent so Biarritz can’t claim to have been robbed by the Galway rain. Hope this is something they can build on.

        I thought Schmidt’s tactics and selections were spot on for the game. There’s no point in saying anyone thought Clermont were going to be as timid on their own patch as they appeared to be at times on Sunday. Also thought Leinster put in a hugely disciplined performace. Line-out obviously cost them hugely, this was a pretty consistent probelm among an otherwise solid set of provincial performaces. In some ways the draw last year was the making of their season so it’ll be interesting to see if the LBP is a similar springboard.

        Sometimes it’s hard to separate the Munster magic from the performace. I though the backrow were very impressive. On the other hand Farrell’s not the first kicker to get the yips at Thomond. There’s been a lot of debate on this but for me the refereeing was poor, altho Muster could have adapted to it better. Sidenote: Nigel let the Clermont LH Debaty away without binding for the whole game.

        Althought his place kicking was solid, I think ROG’s game management and kicking out of hand have massively deteriorated and would be well on for giving Keatley a shout. I wonder if the LBP we gave to Saracens will come back to haunt us & I think the return’s going to be a fascinating fixture. Or truly truly awful. Either way I will be waching it with the hand that seems to clamp itself around my heart at these games present and correct

  5. ruckinhell

     /  December 10, 2012

    Good weekend of rugby. I only saw the highlights of the Ulster game but they looked slick- Jared Payne has a serious bit of class about him, quite a coup for Ulster and was well worth the one season injury imposed wait. Muller is a big loss but they seem to have most of the hard work done if they can win in Belfast- Hderson to the row and Jolly old St. Nick to the backrow? What has happened to Northampton? In the past you could at least count on them bringing some serious “Bosh!!!” to the table but from the clips I saw Ulster made them look almost feeble in the contact zone.

    I say this as an absolute compliment to Leinster, but they looked a bit out of sorts at the end of the Clermont game, which is usually when they pull the win out of the bag. That’s a compliment as any team who is out of sorts and can still almost beat Clermont away is a serious side. Late 1st half and early 2nd half I thought Leinster played a very smart game, they kept the ball safe and worked the points. They never looked threatening but considering who they were missing it was a very professional away performance. O’Strauss will not enjoy the video sessions this week!

    Munster were a real mixed bag. I thought the pack were excellent and they really took apart the Sarries vaunted lineout. The scrum was a bit helter skelter and I thought the ref lost all semblance of control, some of the scrummaging on Botha’s side was Picassoesque in it’s angles. Kilcoyne continues his impressive debut. Dave O’Callaghan was outstanding, from the first tackle and rip early in the first half we was everywhere and made a serious contribution. POM put in the graft and was athletic and niggly but the starman for me was Coughlan. I think he’s Munster’s Christian Labit, a guy who won’t quite make it at international level but who is an integral and extremely effective HEC standard player. He nearly always makes the right decision and everything just settles down when he is on the pitch. When Stander and Tommy O’Donnell (the TOD has been tearing it up when fit) are back from injury (not to mention Sean Dougall who has been in good form) there will be some tough decisions to make. Dougie Howlett is a hero. That is all.

    RADGE!, on the other hand, has me infuriated. He was so far behind the gainline that he might as well have worn the 15 jersey. He seems completely out of kilter with the Penney game plan, he just kicks (quite poorly at times) away posession or shovels crap for Downey or Earls to clean up. He took his kicks when it mattered but there were glimpsed of what Penney wants done during the Murray and Downey breaks- multiple options causing confusion and clean breaks in midfield- I don’t think RADGE! is equipped for that type of dynamic game. I embrace the Penney revolution, and I fear that RADGE! is the pantalooned Louis XVI to the revolutionary Robespierre that is Penney.

    • Great stuff ruckinhell. Lots of interesting points. Reckon we’ll see Hendo in the second row and The Big Unit in the backrow for sure.

      Northampton… they do look to be going sideways to backwards. They’ve always looked to be a decent pair of halfbacks short of being a properly good team, and now that’s compounded by losing the likes of Ashton, Downey, Wilson etc. I think they’re a bit better in theory than in practice. You look at the names in their pack and they’re all tough nuts, but when things start going against them they don’t seem to be able to hang in there and limit the damage. Too many of them seem to be looking to make the Rugby Dump highlights reel rather than doing what’s best for the team.

    • Love the Labit comparison…but Labit did end up playing a good few times for France. With all respect for Coughlan, who is a fantastic player (as he proves again every time), I don’t seem him being the right choice to play 15 times for Ireland over the coming years.

    • Great analysis ruckinhell. Spot on. Also, I love a good French revolution metaphor as much as the next person.

  6. If Lamb had his kicking boots on Ulster would have been 2 points down at half time but in reality the Ulster men were always on top in that game. The Munster game was similar in the fact that Munster despite Farrells missed kicks deserved to win the game. Munster just didn’t put the points on board that they should have. They had two great chances early on in the first half with Murray going through and the scrum five metres out. If they didn’t butcher them it could have been a lot more comfortable for Munster.

  7. jojo

     /  December 10, 2012

    ROG had such an awful match. Missed kick by Sarries, he kicks it straight out, pressure straight back on! his kicking from hand was very poor. Obviously, his place kicking is very consistent. But if they have any ambition to progress far in the competition, I dont believe he can be part of their plan.I think this weekend was a backward step for munster in what is meant to be a transition. Also, felt did not secure their ball well. In contrast to Ulster who competed at the breakdown brilliantly. Henry was a standout backrow of the weekend, and Ulster the stand out team. Heaslip played very well.

  8. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  December 10, 2012

    I fully agree with an above comment about Munster being caught between stools. Penny wants that multi option attack (modern rugby) that embraces the gainline as a challenge. He is looking for rugby players who are there to play rugby and not just hit things. Many in the Munster team have embraced this fully, Ryan, Zebo, Howlett, Kilcoyne, Sherry, Keatley, POM are examples. DOC too in all fairness has appeared very open minded.

    There are others though who really seem to be fighting this. ROG is one. He has none of the attributes that really suit this style of play. He has a very good pass but this is completely offset as defenders drift from him in to the channel he is passing to. How often do Munster use a loop with ROG at 10? How often do Munster use an inside runner of 10 with ROG there? Or an effective switch? It doesn’t really happen it is just flat pass after screen after flat pass after screen this is when he isn’t kicking.

    I think POC to an extent too is not helping in this: he was majestic during the first two HCup games, the lineout steals, the driving mauls, the ferocious rucking. POC however should never touch the ball in an attacking sense. He is a very poor ball carrier and he has poor footballing ability. He is a natural, inspirational and proven leader however his leadership saw Munster picking and going often, the one off static runners returned, the old school Munster.

    If this was 2009 then that would be the right call and POC would be one of the most valuable players in the world, however it is not.

    Munster need to sort out their direction pretty quick IMO.

    Also can we please get nonathletic forwards off the wing? If they can carry and play actual rugby great but if they are there to catch it and try and run over a “small” winger then that is naive.

  9. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  December 10, 2012

    PS: Delighted for all the provinces this weekend: can everyone please pray that Clermont implode in round 4 and 6? Thanks

  10. Nice summing up of last weekend’s action guys – happy to see ‘Sugar Wrays’ ambitions for cup domination being thwarted!

  11. zdm

     /  December 11, 2012

    Two things struck me about Ulster at the weekend – the first was that every play had two prongs of attack – the first with Paddy Jackson who stands so flat to the gainline that you would think he was on the defensive team half the time. Couple this with his quick hands and you have flat passes to strike runners getting the ball at the gain line – simples.
    When Northampton finally figured this out (took them a while), Ulster reverted to plan B which consisted of deeper balls to Jared Payne.
    I had seen him play before he got crocked and thought he looked decent but oh Lordy, that boy can play. The mantra at any level for an inside back is to “keep the defense honest” – i.e. make sure their defense don’t know what the feck is going to happen. Payne brings so much class and so many skills to the Ulster back line that he had Ben Foden et al tied in knots for 80 minutes – the dummy he threw Foden for his try was so ludocris but Foden was unable to judge that, such was the confusion Payne had instilled in their minds. (can somebody start searching graveyards in NZ for Irish-born Paynes as quick as possible please).

    This brings me on to my second observation – with this attacking plan in place, Ulster’s game plan is relatively straight forward – keep Pienaar, Jackson and Payne out of rucks and mauls. I don’t remember a single instance in the Northampton game where a pass out from the base wasn’t given by Pienaar and recieved by Jackson or Payne – everytime one of them went in to contact, an Ulster forward picked and went to get them out of contact and keep the attacking format alive. It was so simple but it again meant that Northampton could’t guess where Ulster were going to go – remove Jackson and it’s going through Payne and probably wide, if Jackson is there, flat and hard but with both, Northampton couldn’t figure it out and their defense was completely static and completely flat footed.

    Also kudos to Paddy “that lad can’t tackle” Wallace for smashing everything in sight.

    • Ulster fans will correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t Payne switched to being a project player earlier in the year? This means he doesn’t need an Irish granny, just another season with Ulster. For Ireland, it would be good if he were given more time at 13, as it is there where our need is greatest.

    • Anonymous

       /  December 11, 2012

      jdm – Jared Payne is a project player.

      He’ll be in a green shirt in 2014.

    • Anonymous

       /  December 11, 2012

      Don’t forget Paddy Wallace in our distribution plan… He is the dictionary definition of a 2nd 5/8th.

      • zdm

         /  December 11, 2012

        Agree that Wallace is a great 5/8 but if anything, Ulsters plan to use Jackson & Pane off “phase” ball has free’d Wallace up to play at his improvising, open field best.

        • Mary Hinge

           /  December 11, 2012

          Cheers ruckinhell. I was at that same game at the Falcons in 2007: we were awful. Lucky to score 3! Enjoyed the party in the Gosforth clubhouse beforehand though, and the scantily-clad Newky lasses down town afterwards too.

          WOC: it was McSharry who won that ball on the floor and released Vainikolo for the try last Friday. He’s consistently playing well.

      • zdm

         /  December 11, 2012

        Hah! Payne obviously! Damn auto-correct!

  12. Mary Hinge

     /  December 11, 2012

    Disappointed that ruckinhell couldn’t see fit to mention Connacht’s wonderful victory in his otherwise insightful piece of analysis.

    • ruckinhell

       /  December 11, 2012

      Hi Mary- I’ve a soft spot of the Weshties ( I braved the Newcastle cold in December 07 for their away game against the Falcons in the Amlin Challenge Cup). I only ommitted them as I live in Buenos Aires at the moment and wasn’t able to get to see any of the game so couldn’t really comment on any of it.

      Tremendous result though, there seems to be a good balance there at the moment and if they could get a bit of consistency and a bit of luck on the injury front (did I hear Walloon is out with a fractured cheekbone?) they could challenge more often at both European and Rabble level rather than offer the odd one off upset and a collection of losing bonus point defeats.

      Elwood has done a great job with limited resources, and it’s a shame to see that he feels the need to leave at the end of the season- it’s clear that he suffers when the team does badly but I can’t see how he could be expected to do more given the realities faced by Connacht rugby and I don’t know any Connacht fan who would begrudge his efforts to date.

  13. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  December 11, 2012

    Anyone else think that McSharry and Marmion could/should be getting called up to the Irish Training squad? Marmion in particular looks OUTSTANDING. His pass is excellent and more importantly his decision making is really on the money. His basics are all way up there too.

    • zdm

       /  December 11, 2012

      Better for both players and Connacht to not get called up – what value does it bring to their development to get called up to a squad they won’t play for?

      Darren Cave did a short interview with the BBC where he vented slightly at being called up to successive Ireland squads and not being played no matter what he does and how he was glad to be back actually playing rugby for Ulster.

      • Seiko

         /  December 11, 2012

        I agree that it would be a waste of time and difficult for Connacht with their injury worries to lose Marmion to 6Ns training squad, though I do hope he makes the summer tour. Hanrahan & himself played well together in the U20s world cup. With Elwood in charge of the Wolfhounds, he should have a good chance of some gametime there, though more than likely it will be Paddy Jackson & Marshall together.

        Darren Cave needs to be able to play more than one position to make a match-day 23. He should look at how Fergus McFadden has been able to progress his international career.

        • Darren Cave needs to play >1 position? Why is that? Ferg has suffered, if anything, from his versatility – if he was a specialist 12, he might have got more starts.

    • Jimbob

       /  December 11, 2012

      Absolutely Pete. They, along with a few others, should be getting a chance to challenge for an Irish jersey. Unfortunately (as we all know too well) the odds of a call-up are stacked against them under the current set-up. They will most likely be part of the A team during the 6 nations and will hopefully travel during the summer when the others are on lions duty.

    • Was it McSharry that got the offload away to Vainikolo for the try? Smashing bit of skill.

      • pete (buachaill on eirne)

         /  December 12, 2012

        Yeah it was McSharry: good pick up, drove in contact for a few yards then got the offload away. He looks a really good player this season, a big and strong 12 who can also distribute and has a bitta gas. Not sure what his kicking game is like but he is still young.

        Sucks that it looks like Connacht are going to lose McCarthy, that is a real kick in the teeth

  14. Jaybee965

     /  December 11, 2012

    Is Nigel rieffing the Leinster v Clermont return game? I thought he bottled it early on, maybe 5 or 6 minutes, first Leinster line break into the 22, stopped just short of the line and one of the Clermont defenders on the ground grabbed the ball to present it back on the Clermont side – Nigel gave the pen and Sexton kicked the goal but it was a clear yellow card offence

  15. jojo

     /  December 12, 2012

    such a clear yellow, jaybee, if its a professional foul.
    It shoudlnt have mattered what minute in the match it is.
    That infuriates me.

  16. jaybee965

     /  December 12, 2012

    Leinster have Wayne Barnes, hmmm. He was in charge for the semi last year as I recall
    Nigel is going to Ravenhill. Munster have another French ref (Gauzere) and Connacht have Leighton Hodges (Wales)

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