Bonanza!

If indeed the Heineken Cup is to be recast as a tin-pot version next season, we’ll miss weekends like this one.  An absolute bonanza for Irish rugby, topped off by the most remarkable result in Connacht’s history.  Leinster were entitled to think the Monday headlines would be given over to them, but they were upstaged.  It goes down as arguably the biggest shock in Heineken Cup history.  While Toulouse are not the force of yore, they’re still pretty good.  They beat Saracens away in the previous round and are second in the Top Quatorze.  Connacht had been in the midst of a horrendous streak and are below Zebre in the Pro12 log.  Where the hell did they pull this from?  Connacht-watchers might have expected them to use the away game as a mission in damage control, before dialling up the intensity in the Sportsground.  But Connacht cleary had other ideas.  They’ve taken everyone, perhaps even themselves, by surprise.

To put some context in that result, it’s only about two generations of Irish rugby since celebrity Munster fan Mick Galwey stood under the posts in Toulouse imploring the lads to keep it to 50. Back then, at the dawn of professionalism (and the HEC), Munster were about as good as it got in Ireland, and they couldn’t keep the score below 50. Now, Ireland’s weakest province (please don’t be offended) can go there and win. That is incredible.

The question – as always – is whether they can back this up.  Asking them to beat Toulouse a second time in a row might be a bit much to ask, but it should at least give them the belief to get some wins in the Pro12 and work their way off the basement place in the league.  Their star turn appears to be scrum half Kieran Marmion, their busy scrum-half who was unlucky to miss out on a debut cap this autumn.  He could come into consideration in the Six Nations but those who watched Leinster on saturday will have noted that Eoin Reddan looked like a sort of rugby genius.

Which brings us to Leinster, who were superb.  It’s worth rewinding to October, when we put up a couple of posts expressing concerns over the direction in which Matt O’Connor was bringing Leinster.  Thankfully, we left room for an optimistic scenario:

“The optimistic scenario is that Leinster are still operating with a patched-up backline and once O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald – who looked very threatening when he came on – are fully restored to the team that there will be more emphasis on attack and putting the ball through the hands.  In the meantime, O’Connor has tightened up a defence that was more than a little creaky last season, and that focus will begin to shift to attacking and Leinster’s fabled gainline-passing.  One hopes Ian Madigan will be trusted to do some of the playmaking – after all, he’s awfully good at it when given the chance.”

Well, thank heavens for small mercies, because it looks to have come to pass.  The rugby played by Leinster against Northampton looked suspiciously like Schmidt-ball, with an emphasis on gainline passing, varied attacking patterns with inside-ball and wide passing mixed to devastating effect, as well as an almost feral approach to clear-out with those arriving at the ruck driving beyond the ball.  Throw in exemplary ball presentation and it was a near-perfect performance.  It all combined to serve up Eoin Reddan with silver-platter-ball, with which the flaws in his game vanish into the ether and he appears world class.  His speed of thought and deed were too much for the bewildered Saints. Mind you, we’ve said before that these Saints are no-one’s barometer of manliness – this is the third successive occasion at the Gardens where an Irish province has left with 5 points.

What’s remarkable is how in the space of a couple of weeks all half-empty glasses are suddenly brimming over.  After the Australia game all was miserable in the heart of Irish rugby.  Now, options appear everywhere.  Rhys Ruddock looks like yet another – another! – option in the backrow, playing as if to the manor born.  Rob Kearney is looking like his old self.  Gordon D’arcy has gone from a bust to a boom.  Luke Fitzgerald is back!  Keith Earls is back among the tries.  Some excitable fans were even calling for Sean Cronin to start ahead of Rory Best.

Up in Ulster, Paddy Jackson looks like a proper outhalf – his development since his harrowing Ireland experiences in March has been excellent, and he now takes on more of the game management from Ruan Pienaar. And, speaking of Ulster, when a 7-try romp over a team that has given Ulster problems in the past becomes a footnote, something must be going right, even allowing for the relegation of Ulster in Irish rugby minds (should we call this the “Cave Factor” going forward?).

PS. While getting annoyed about celebrity Globo Gym fan Stephen Jones is about as futile as it gets, we must take issue with his latest.  We won’t even go into the laughably uncharitable tone of his Northampton-Leinster write up, but his assertion that refereeing outside England is ‘terrifyingly bad’, with reference to Nigel Owens, who refereed this game, was so far wide of the mark as to be abhorrent.  For a start, the example he cited was just plain wrong.  He claimed Owens didn’t see the miles-forward pass by Cronin, but Owens could clearly be heard saying ‘we’ll go back and check it’ as Luke Fitzgerald was jogging over the line.  And as if it needs saying, Nigel Owens is widely, and rightly, regarded as the best official in world rugby (not best-looking mind, there are some things Steve Walsh just won’t lose).  Still, though, perhaps it’s reassuring: with Jones no longer able to claim a natural superiority for the English clubs over the Irish provinces, he has now turned trained his wobbly aim on the Pro12 referees.  Deary me, what an unedifying sight it is.

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38 Comments

  1. ruckinhell

     /  December 9, 2013

    A great weekend of rugby and for this Munster fan, the required result if sadly delivered via a poor enough performance against an uninterested Perpignan. On paper the team are flying it bar the result in Murrayfield but everytime I watch them play I just can’t help being frustrated and angry at an inability to execute simple skills such as passing in front of your teammate.

    Kudos to Connacht, I deeply regret leaving the pub after the Munster game, fantastic result.

    While the Connacht scoreline was the result of the weekend, a huge chapeau to Leinster. Their execution was lethal, and they simply demolished the Saints at the breakdown. Ulster did the deed as well, and with a pretty substantial injury list. If they can build a proper squad they could really be serious contenders come business time.

    Let’s all back this up next week with 4 more wins and see Irish teams on top of three pools and Connacht well in the mix!

  2. One incident in the Leinster game particularly pleased me. This game was Ian Madigan’s first Heino start at 10. It was a very big game for him, having had difficulty tying the outhalf position down due to new arrival Jimmy Gopperth’s excellent form. After he missed the second conversion, Jamie Heaslip had the presence of mind, after getting over the line in the corner for the third try, to get back up off the ground and touch down under the posts, thereby giving his teammate an easy conversion and get his confidence in his kicking back up. That’s real captaincy. I have criticised Jamie Heaslip in the past for being too flippant, but in this instance he showed he has what it takes in terms of leadership. I was mightily impressed!!!

  3. WhisperingDeath

     /  December 9, 2013

    I see Gavin Cummisky has borrowed the grand wizard’s phrasebook – “Switzer’s window dressing” – which must be baffling to anyone from outside Dublin and all under 30s… Well played, sir, your mentor would be proud…

  4. Len

     /  December 9, 2013

    Leinster’s performance put a big smile on my face (due to the ruthless nature of our performance), but this weekend belongs to Connacht! Too often the forgotten Provence (especially by the IRFU). Take a bow men of the west epic stuff. Here’s hoping you can do the same in the sports ground.

  5. The All-Blacks near-miss does seem to have sparked some life into the Irish set-up, and it’s about time too. The talent has always been there, the belief in applying it and getting results, not always so. It’s several miles premature to hope for a renaissance off the back of a couple of inspiring weekends, but the article does a good job of covering the major points: all four Irish provinces played the opposition in front of them and did what was necessary to start the double-header fortnight in the best way possible.

    Munster probably had the weakest display, but what they managed at Thomond Park was to take their chances where Perpignan wouldn’t or couldn’t. I was happy to read that the players reckoned they had plenty of improving to do – it’s undoubtedly true. As for Ulster, I was a bit nervous about what Treviso might bring to the table, but it was a unnecessary as it turned out. Ulster dominated for all but the first 15 mins of the second half (when they soaked up some pressure in confident style) and when the biggest annoyance of the game is a clumsy swan dive (I hope Doyle’s teammates gave him some stick about that), it’s not hard to be happy. As an aside, how good is Trimble at finding the line with ball in hand? I’ve seen him dot down while sideways in midair time after time now…

    Which brings us to Leinster, who looked close to their best. Fitzgerald finally free from injury, Kearney showing signs of his best and the team as a whole purring against clueless foes. O’Driscoll may be looking a bit like Muhammad Ali in his late-career showboating habits, but hell, he’s earned the right, and he has the talent to pull it off. Those who travelled to Northampton had some reward for their devotion. Only the Connacht game (which sadly I didn’t see) could have trumped that demolition and so it proved – all of a sudden that group is wide open…

    The only real question is how the hell next weekend is going to live up to this.

    • Ciaran

       /  December 9, 2013

      It’s a bit unfair to call BOD’s between-his-legs-pass showboating. It was the quickest way to get the ball out wide and every second counted in that situation.

      • Fair comment – I was exaggerating for rhetorical effect (I do that a lot). It would be fairer to say that there are few players who have the awareness and experience to know that was the right play at that moment, and almost none who also have the talent to pull it off. However, at least to my eyes, BOB has been going for the big plays more often this season. Now that he’s got a few games under his belt, they’re coming off more regularly too, and that’s only good for Ireland and Leinster.

  6. Xyz

     /  December 9, 2013

    I only caught the last ten minutes of the Connacht game having decided to give my put-upon family a break from my monopolising of the tele (last time I make that mistake, Sky multiroom has been ordered).

    That defence was incredible! They swallowed up all of Toulouse’s space with their aggressive line speed. It took a huge strain for Les Rouges Et Noirs to get over the gain line at all and when you think of the depth off the bench they have in comparison to the westies then I can’t understand how Connacht weren’t out on their feet. Huge conviction on their part, definitely the achievement of the weekend.

  7. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  December 9, 2013

    No need to mention Stephen Jones at all lads. I’ll bet he is seriously miffed that he has disappeared behind Murdoch’s paywall so all his wummery is now so much pissing in the wind.

  8. Favourite moment for me this weekend was seeing BOD’s face after his intercept try. He looked as if he’d never done anything like it before!

  9. Leinsterlion

     /  December 9, 2013

    Performance of the weekend has to go to Connacht. I had Toulouse winning the HC, even though they were missing players they still should have won on paper, fantastic performance.
    As for Leinster, Maddog is a beast, I can see him replacing Sexton sooner, rather than later, his pace is a serious threat and makes everything much harder to stop. Great performance after and extremely underwhelming start to MOC’s tenure.

    • Ná bí mar sin, Leinsterlion. Slowly, slowly catchey monkey….

    • Amiga500

       /  December 9, 2013

      Now now… don’t get ahead of yourself.

      If the English had their way, all teams would have to qualify and you wouldn’t get the obvious mis-matches like this weekend.

      Wait till you play a big team and then judge where you are.

  10. labrecha1

     /  December 9, 2013

    Great weekend, wow how things have changed since Monday after the Oz game ey!
    Some players really making a mockery of the hysterical criticism that was levelled at them.

    • Tá ceart agat, labrecha1. I feel suitably chastened. My suggestion that BO’D, Darce, Ross and Reddan should hang up their boots has been proven spectacularly premature. Mea culpa…….

      • labrecha1

         /  December 9, 2013

        I was slightly disbelieving at how good Reddan played, I was perhaps in agreement on his sledging post Oz match, his kicking, not a strong part of his game was spot on, not too mention the break for his try and his support play, and as the lads mentioned his speed at everything at ruck time looked world-class.

  11. Will

     /  December 9, 2013

    S Jones – “Northampton are about 40 points better than this when playing in their sleep.”
    Which I take it mean they would have won by 7?

    • Exile

       /  December 9, 2013

      Clearly they just made the mistake of showing up and being awake, both at the same time.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 9, 2013

      There is trolling, and then there is the world that Jones inhabits.

    • Paddy o

       /  December 9, 2013

      The guardian had a belter too….fair enough piece but had an argument along the lines of how the PRL teams subsidise the fact that Leinster could field 15 Irish internationals. That’s right – the team who signed George North…..George North! ….. and sadly will also supposedly pick up Sam Warburton next year are at a disadvantage to the Irish team fielding 15 eh, Irishmen. Here is a suggestion, stop taking apart European rugby with these ridiculous, illogical arguments and follow Conor O’Shea and Stuart Lancaster’s example and get the house in order and play better.

    • Yeah, that was an eye-opener. To be honest we didn’t even want to get into the uncharitable nature of his article because it was the comments about Nigel Owens that irked us more than anything.

  12. Andrew

     /  December 9, 2013

    I was thinking that about the Jones report that it was pretty harsh on a good team performance by Leinster. As for the remark that nobody can ref a game but a Englishman, I started laughing at that point. It just came across as petulant, almost like he had placed a large sum of money on a Saints win.

  13. Ciano

     /  December 9, 2013

    Speaking of trolling; what in the name of Zeus’s butt hole was with the alleged Connacht ‘Knock On’? Surely it was a Toulouse knock in that didn’t hit the deck and was then caught before Carr ran it in?

  14. Unfortunately it looks like a case of enjoy it while we can. The fissures in European rugby now seem past healing. Oh well… (sorry for pissing on the chips).

    And forget about Stephen Jones. I’m pretty sure the ire of fans he trolls is the only way he can get an erection. Don’t give him anything.

    As for the teams – my lot were fine (Cave good, after setting himself up for a fall), Munster spluttering but far too good still, Leinster imperious (though Saints were crap), and Connacht fantastic. But it’s back to 0-0 and they all need to win next week or qualification looks much trickier – and that’s why I really love this cup, which takes me back to my first paragraph.

  15. hulkinator

     /  December 9, 2013

    Leinster and Connacht were excellent, Ulster were very good and Munster were average. It displeases me to say that Munster have some poor players in their backline. Downey is a waste of space there, Lualala has talent but no brain, Jones is average, Johne Murphy is average. Only the half backs and Earls were the required quality.

    Its also a mystery what effect Simon Mannix is having. I’ve seen nothing from Munster to suggest he is having a positive influence. In fact they look a little bewildered out there. S

    On the positive side Munsters pack is going well! I’m not a Varley fan though. He is a liability.

    I havn’t had a chance to watch the Connacht match yet but I will watch it from the beginning. Luckily I recorded it.

    Great to see Leinster play the way they do. I’m an Ireland fan before anything else so its been a great weekend for Irish rugby. I’d like to see a raising of standards from now on and start performing consistently in the big games.

    • How d’you reckon Varley is a liability? At lineout time? I must say I think he’s a doughty chap. His ability to jackal over the ball is his best attribute, he wins plenty of penalties.

  16. Bravo, Banzai, Geronimo !!!.
    The performances of the 4 teams were more entertaining than watching Miley Cyrus lick a
    sledgehammer. (I cannot escape MTV in the gym).
    Connacht were outstanding; Leinster were excellent; Ulster and Munster were both
    very good.
    What does it mean in terms of quarter final places ? – nothing if they get carried away.
    But I hope that common sense will prevail. Based on that assumption, I will take a shot at forecasting the final points per pool.
    Connacht 1+5+1+9 =16
    Toulouse 4+4+5+10 = 23
    GloboGym 5+1+4+10 =20
    Zebre =0.

    To quote part of a rant by a wendyball manager, who sported a Gerry Thornley hairstyle in his playing days, ” I would love it; really love it” if Connacht stuck it to the Plastic Fez Boys
    in Barnet. But I fear that Mark McCall will never underestimate his fellow countrymen so
    there will be little chance of complacency.

    Leinster 4+4+5+13 =26
    Castres 1+1+0+ 8 =10
    Saints 0+4+5 +5 =14
    Ospreys 4+1+0+1 = 6

    Even if Leinster were to lose in Castres they should still pick up a point leaving them on
    23- should be sufficient to earn a home draw.

    Ulster 4+4+1+13 =22
    Tigers 1+5+4+11 =21
    Montp. 4+0+5+5 =14
    Trev =0.

    Ulster should just squeeze this but a home bonus point against Montp. would make
    their road easier.

    Munster 4+1+5+10 = 20
    Glaws 5+4+4+8 = 23
    Perp/
    Walkers 1+4+1+6 =12
    Embra 0+1+0+4 =5.

    I fear that Munster are right on the edge, as usual, but they could win in Glaws – very tight. Losing the opener to Embra may yet cost them.
    If they are to miss out it would be hard to begrudge a team like Glaws.

    I will just put down 1st and 2nd for the remaining 2 groups.

    Toulon 5+4+4+10 =23
    Blues 1+0+4+9 =14.

    C.A 4+1+4+10 = 19
    Quins 4+4+4+7 =19.

    So Tigers and Munster/Globo Gym would be the best runners up if my “Brendan Cole” type forecast is anywhere near accurate.
    Yeah, I am a retired loafer with nothing better to do and this a nerds site – so perfect fit.

    • Paddy

       /  December 9, 2013

      So if your predictions are right it could well be a home QF for Leinster against Munster….

  17. Connachtexile

     /  December 9, 2013

    Thanks for the good words guys. It’s being tough but days like that make it worthwhile. All four provinces for the Quarters!

  18. Red razors

     /  December 9, 2013

    The munster win was both heartening and dispiriting at the same time. It felt like they cannot grasp the concept of passing the ball further along the attacking line than the next man. It often seemed as though, when the ball was passed long, that the players on the receiving end were surprised by it coming to them and not the man next in line for it. A lot of the match was spent shuffling the ball out laterally, and to what benefit (other than retaining possession)?

    I settled in today to watch the great connacht victory – but disaster! Hadn’t been recorded. It’s safe to say i’m more than a little disappointed.

  19. Bushmills

     /  December 10, 2013

    If you think Stephen Jones come across as an apologist for sore losers in the ST, check out Mick Cleary in the DT:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/european-rugby/10506926/Leinster-and-Connachts-victories-merely-highlight-the-decline-in-quality-in-the-Heineken-Cup.html

    Dear, oh dear.

  20. Amiga500

     /  December 10, 2013

    Ahh, if only Connacht had beat the Sorries in the sportsground…

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