Unsung Heroes

How appropriate that the winning act in Ireland’s victorious Six Nations campaign was a turnover by Chris Henry and Devin Toner – previously unheralded guys who were given an opportunity by Joe Schmidt and swam at this level. Henry epitomises the new Ireland – where players sacrifice all for the team. Ireland won this championship because they were the best team – the Irish collective was built on the commitment to excellence of the new coaching ticket, and every player in the squad bought into it entirely.

It’s becoming hackneyed to talk of Ireland’s “unsung heroes” (how many times do you get sung before you can’t be unsung any more?) and this usually refers to the consistent excellence of the likes of Devin Toner, Chris Henry, Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble. They are the contingent who Schmidt brought into the first team from the fringes of the squad, often ahead of more championed alternatives, and generated much heat for doing so. Let’s look at them:

  • Toner has found himself the target of derision and doubt many times in his career. Despite accumulating 100+ Leinster caps, his elevation to the XV was perceived to be Leinster-centrism from Joe Schmidt. Yet he was the surprise package of the November series and he looked of international standard. In recent years, he has improved year on year and this is no different. Yet, the perception was (and is) that if Ryan and McCarthy were fully fit, Toner would be nowhere near the XV, but he ends as one of Ireland’s players of the series. He has been a key man in adding grunt to a light pack, and will be hard to shift.
  • Henry – soldiering away at Ulster and one of the most influential players at HEC level for a few years now. Yet he is 29 and plays in a position where we are stacked. But Schmidt saw something he liked (at Leinster, where he devised his HEC2012 final gameplan around nullifying Henry’s influence) and he was in. He was the workhorse of the backrow trio, tackled himself to a standstill (we are too lazy to add up, but we expect him to be Ireland’s #1 tackler over the series). It’s easy to say he will make way for O’Brien and Ferris if and when they are back, but he has been one of Ireland’s players of the series, for his consistency, and was especially effective in the away games
  • Dave Kearney and, especially, Trimble – perceived as 5th and 6th best wingers at the start of the season (at best) – even now, most people would pick a fully fit Tommy Bowe over both, but they’ve done little wrong, and Trimble was Ireland’s best player in their win in Paris. Sure, Simon Zebo is more electric, no doubt about it, but read the below from Trimble in November, when he was outside the circle (H/T the Mole) – does this describe Simon Zebo? What about Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls or Tommy Bowe? Hard to know, but Andrew Trimble, after 50 caps, looks here to stay:
    “I’m more conscious now of the type of winger that Joe is looking for. He’s looking for someone who is accurate, who is physically dominant, who knows their role inside out and performs a lot of small areas of the game very, very well … He demands so much from his players. Joe isn’t overly concerned about a winger that breaks a gain-line and scores tries from halfway. He looks for a winger who does the simple stuff very well, presents the ball at ruck time accurately all the time, accuracy in kick-chase and reception. Every little thing. He has to do everything to make the team tick.”  

This is the new Ireland – the players are selected on their ability to execute the coach’s gameplan – and the team is paramount. No Ireland player was as explosive or as individually influential as Danny Care, Mike Brown or Joe Launchbury, but it isn’t those guys who are champions. Ireland had few noticable weaknesses, unlike the other championship contenders. England struggled any time their backup scrum-half was on the pitch, and would surely have won the Grand Slam had hand-flapping Lee ‘Rock Lobster’ Dickson not been introduced in Paris, and their 10-12 axis managed to create the grand total of one try in five games for two flying wingers. Wales had a weak collection of half-backs and an inflexible gameplan, and France a court jester of a coach, poor backups and a generally unfit pack.

Casting your mind back to how low Ireland had sunk this time 12 months ago is illuminating – beaten up in Rome, with a coach long since past his sell-by date and with a distinctly un-fortress-like fortress. The new ticket has brought a unified direction and purpose, a commitment to being the best, confidence, and a newly-loved team with an atmospheric home ground. Miracle worker? Well, it’s amazing what some strong leadership and a new direction will do – Ireland are a team that mirror their coach’s personality on the field.

Think about who was Ireland’s player of the championship, and there’s no obvious choice. Every player, from 1-23, contributed something. After two games, we’d have picked O’Mahony, but he had quiet games in Twickers and Le Stade and missed Italy. Henry? Certainly up there for consistency. Trimble? As important as anyone. O’Connell? Manic, and another brilliant leader, but quiet in Twickenham. Sexton? Got the Bernhardt Langers with him kicks in Paris, but scored four tries, and at crucial moments. BOD? Rolled back the years. But Jamie Heaslip would be our choice because he was among the top performers in all five games and had a huge all-round impact and influence (see Workrate  by Henry, C.) – but we wouldn’t argue with any of the above.  If anyone out there still doesn’t see what Healsip’s value to the team is, well, they’re not worth listening to.

That consistency and collective drive was the most impressive turnaround. Ireland have a quite magnificent coach, a squad of intelligent and skillful young men, and some big guns to come back. There is no reason why, with the RWC15 draw we have, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves up there with England as the main threat to BNZ and the Boks next autumn.  And while Ireland didn’t win a Grand Slam, there is a certain satisfaction to be derived from winning the championship on points difference.  Ireland have finished level on points with the champions in the recent past, but always came out second best on this metric.  Not this time, though, and the real differentiator between Ireland’s and England’s points differential was the thorough beating we handed out to Wales, which everyone can feel happy about. And the key reason England didn’t thrash Wales as well was consistently giving away kickable penalties to keep Wales in the game – something we happily avoided all tournament.  George Hook and others may lament the rules, but Ireland weren’t top of the log by accident.

To briefly talk about the game itself, it was torture. France turned up in a big way – Maxime Machenaud was class, Picamoles, Bastareaud unstoppable and the back three threatened with every touch. Ireland were superb for the middle 40 minutes, but the final 20 were horrible.  We eked out a 9 point lead after 55 minutes, but wilted under the pressure of the French desire and our own poor execution. Only a poor place kick from Doussain, prime butchery of a simple pass from Pape and a lucky scrum call right at the end got us over the line. It was the game was the best of the tournament and for pure bloody-mindedness, we just about deserved it. Some of the highlights:

  • The Sexton try in the second half. A spectacular break from Trimble and a brilliant piece of play from BOD – realising he wasn’t getting in, he plotted a path to recycle and we got in right under the posts. POC’s super-fast pick and drive from the ruck was a classic example of a huge carry for small gain – it crucially kept the momentum going.  And after seeing the way Sexton shanked the conversion, touching down under the posts was the winning of the game
  • Mike Ross destroying Thomas Domingo – Ross had an average year up to the Six Nations but has been totemic. Perhaps he just needed a bit of time to get to grips with the new scrum dynamics.  Seeing off a man like Domingo before halftime is one for the headstone.  Poor old Rosser remains totally undervalued – by ourselves as much as anyone else.  We wanted to see more of Marty Moore, but after the last ten minutes in Paris it’s clear just how far the young man has to go to get to Ross’ venerated level.
  • Dreamboat getting pedantic with the TMO right at end about whether it was forward out of Pape’s hands.  With Super Forward Pass-a-Rama Rugby in his DNA, he really, really wanted to give the try.  Triminjus, in his despair, said to no-one in particular “Come on man!”
  • Brice Dulin. Despite us being on the receiving end, a vintage full-back display from the little Frenchman. With him and Willie le Roux, little guys at 15 are back in vogue
  • Our favourite: the touching moment on the field after the game as Rog and Shaggy talked with Andrew Trimble about his journey from international outcast to golden boy.  The delight of the two retirees to see the “real Andrew Trimble” was palpable and the honesty with which Trimble discussed his struggles was captivating. The obvious delight the Leinsterman and Munsterman had for the Ulsterman was a joy to watch – you sensed McGurk was about to interrupt and ruin the moment, but thankfully he didn’t

However, it would be remiss not to point out that Ireland could still be an awful lot better at closing out tight, crucial matches.  We certainly couldn’t be accused of showing composure in the final ten minutes, and, in many ways, we were worse than in the BNZ game in November.  Courage, determination, incredible will to win; we ticked all of that, but not composure.  We’ve earned a tag of being chokers down the years and here, once again, we choked at least a little bit. In Paul O’Connell’s pitch-side interview post-game, he was furious about how we finished and mentioned it more than once – this is another positive.  In 2009 in Wales we stopped playing rugby in the final 20 minutes and lost our discipline, but somehow still won.  Here we stopped playing rugby, repeatedly kicking the ball to the French back three who were comfortable in finding ways to return it for profit, but maintained our discipline, at least until our scrum collapsed.  Maybe we’re getting there by degrees.  On this occasion it was enough to win.  The curious thing is that the provinces are all good closer-outers, with Munster regarded as world beaters in clutch situations.  But as we said in our pre-match post, the weight of history can be as hard to beat as the opponent.

Finally, what is there left to say about Brian O’Driscoll that hasn’t already been said?  The curious thing was that there was more BOD-related fanfare for his second-last match than his last, but that’s because there was a championship on the line which was the main media focus, and that’s exactly how he would have wanted it.

We are the champions, my friends.  Enjoy it.

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96 Comments

  1. Jojo

     /  March 18, 2014

    Definitely a team effort which won it in the end. I see gt still put pom on his championship 15. Opposite of unsung hero he is, another completely anonymous match. What does Henry have to do to get the accolades (or Heaslip for that matter) this good face gets given ?

    • Bozo

       /  March 18, 2014

      Trimble has had this form for Ulster for several years yet was labelled an international failure. The failure was the lack of a coherant gameplan that relied on players individual moments of brilliance to get the team by rather than teamwork – (c) D. Kidney

    • Agreed Jojo.

    • jacothelad

       /  March 18, 2014

      Henry would need to move to Leinster or Munster to become a ‘sung’ hero or a player with ‘good face’.’ Then he wouldn’t be a ‘foreigner’ to the Irish press as it were. Fortunately he, like Trimble, despite not coming from Munster, has that ‘honest’ sporting endeavour no matter what and I suspect if you asked him to select the team from a fully fit contingent he would of course select SOB gladly ahead of himself. Henry is probably one of the two real forward players of the tournament for Ireland if you analyse just what his contribution permitted others to do. Toner also was majestic.

      Perhaps it’s invidious to make such selections. Every starting forward was just great. There is still a gap between them and the cavalry. Clearly, Moore has a way to go despite the hype. He is good and will be better this time next year as he gets more games under his belt. Ditto McGrath although of course there is Cronin and Kilcoyne to consider now that Bad Face Court has gone. It is a worry that against England, Italy and France the ‘b’ front row got pressured and then mullerred (maybe illegally) at the end. We need to be more realistic as well as relieved that we have these guys on the way. Furlong also looks to be a savage prospect but he won’t get much playing time at Leinster….he should move to Ravenhill…(whistles casually and danders off for a coffee) BTW, does anyone think Ruddock looked the biz in his brief cameo and that Jordi Murphy looked a bit short of it as yet.

      It’s just a relief that it was Rob Kearney that butchered simple enough defence to allow in three tries. Missed tackles against England and Italy and not doing his usual aggressive aerial catch to allow Huget to get to the ball. Can you imagine the avalanche of pig slurry that would have descended on the head of Trimble had it been him. (Remember the opprobrium heaped on him for simply knocking a bouncing ball into touch against S.A. while covering across the pitch while trying to do the jods for Bowe and Kearney who were way out of position.) Instead, Rob gets a free pass on the issue. His good attributes may out weigh his weaknesses but his defence can be slipshod. Luckily he has ‘good face’ so he’s fine. Some players can make the odd mistake and no one really makes anything out of it. Others get pilloried for the slightest error, mainly from people like Tremenjus – not Munster guys of course.

      Anyway, I don’t mean to come across as parochial and mean spirited on such a great week.
      What a great start for Schmidt. Long may it continue. I for one don’t care if all 23 players are from Leinster or Munster or Connacht or Timbuktu so long as they are eligible and are the best.

      • moreinhope

         /  March 18, 2014

        I agree with jacothelad’s assessment of Kearney. He was outplayed by his opposite number in all but perhaps the Welsh game but is hailed, customarily, as ‘sensational.’ In truth I’d take Mike Brown, Brice Dulin and Stuart Hogg over him. Halfpenny too, prior to his Lions hangover.

        • curates_egg

           /  March 18, 2014

          Halfpenny is a great kicker. What else does he do better than any of the other above-mentioned fullbacks (including Kearney)?

      • Bueller

         /  March 18, 2014

        Utterly ridiculous jacothelad trying to project some strange persecution complex onto Kearney. No full back in world rugby would have stopped Hugets moment of utter brilliance. Insanely harsh to think he could have done anything about the English try a simple 2 on 1 situation. I will give you that he was poor for the Italian try but even Trimble has missed tackles this season and if you really want to get parochial about things, it was Trimble shooting out of the line to make the big tackle that created the space for them to exploit and then Chris Henry inexplicably (unless injured) jogging back beside the attacking player without even attempting a tackle..
        …Also ‘not Munster guys of course’…are you kidding me? POM, Murray, Earls and co. have never gotten any unwarranted abuse over minor mistakes then I take it.
        I mean you’d swear an Ulster player never got any praise. Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Steven Ferris have consistently been cited as two of the best players in the country…Henry and Trimble have just been universally praised in every article written over the past 6 weeks by pretty much everyone and the entire country felt bad for Paddy Jackson getting dropped in the end.
        There is no conspiracy or prejudice…get on with it.

        I’m not even going tovalidate the POM being ‘anonymous’ line with a comment it being the most uneducated statement of all time.

        • termagant

           /  March 18, 2014

          Wind your neck in there, Boohooer, the brothers Kearndashian collectively made a pig’s arse of defending the English and Italian tries and the lack of censure is legitimate comment when points difference was always going to be vital.

          Pathetic effort to try and blame Trimble and Henry by the way – run that past us again with a youtube link if you don’t mind….go ahead, in your own time…

          • Yossarian

             /  March 18, 2014

            English try was created by both sides of the ruck defence not moving up and we had a dog leg-looking at the last pass/tackle to blame shows a lack of understanding of defence.
            Huget slap is impossible to defend as you have to attempt the catch as the defending side and don’t have the luxury of slapping a ball(if you knock it into touch its a yellow and a penalty)
            Sarto-straight up missed tackle and his error. 1 from 3.
            Our sub front row did very well against England and Italy, struggled vs French.
            Universal praise for Henry/Trimble/Toner and D.K don’t know where the chip on your shoulder has come from.
            sensationalising your points there jacothelad.

          • Bueller

             /  March 18, 2014

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/26497994

            40 seconds Trimble makes the big hit but probably unnecessarily (I am definitely being hash there)
            43 seconds Henry looks lethargic at best
            47 seconds R Kearney misses a bad tackle
            49 seconds D Kearney slips after busting his ass to get there-nothing he could do coming across the pitch.

            How am I being the ‘Boohooer’ for calling someone up for a needless and completely uninformed attack on the full-back? Full backs often look bad when tries are scored because of the very fact that they are the full-back and by default the last man standing…generally in an impossible position. My point was that ‘if you want to get parochial’ you can blame any player for such ties, I wasn’t actually blaming Trimble or Henry but you are clearly not the brightest chap.

            For the record I am a Munster fan and have no affiliation the Rob Kearney other than the fact that he has been a lass player fro Ireland for over 6 seasons now. I’m also not Dave Kearney’s biggest fan as a player but he has done everything asked of him recently so wouldnt needlessly take away from him either.

            The other point is Ulster are afforded an enormous amount of good feeling from the other provinces merely due to the fact that they are not Munster or Leinster respectively. Everyone is delighted that they have come back to prominence with the other provinces and @Im pretty sure you would have to go pretty far to find someone who doesnt have a great deal of respect for all the players I named above and hope for Jackson, Henderson, Marshall, Gilroy, Olding,etc.

            If it isnt Darren Cave complaining in the papers (I mean not even Zebo ‘the arrogant twat’ has had the balls to do that) it is the fans making up reasons to feel hard done by on these blogs. I don’t get it.

          • Jaysus lads, it’s reassuring to see that inter-proivincial blame-gaming still goes on when we’re Six Nations champions. Imagine if we lost?!

        • Leinsterlion

           /  March 18, 2014

          POM is, and largely has been anonymous though, raping Wales and Scotland at the breakdown in the first two matches aside, what has he done over the course of his 23 caps? Henry has accomplished more in his short career than the anointed one has in his two/three seasons.

          • I think your views on POM are well-established at this point, LL. Unfortunately for you and those others who share your unhealthy obsession with him, none of Tony McGahan, Anthony Foley, Rob Penney, Declan Kidney, Gert Smal, and most importantly, Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss, and John Plumtree share your assessment, and their opinions are those that count.

          • toro toro

             /  March 18, 2014

            “Raping”? Srsly?

          • Yossarian

             /  March 18, 2014

            POM the divisive man of Irish rugby! Wasn’t a POM fan but he was excellent against Scots/Welsh. i commented pre match that i worried about him against England, that he struggles to impose himself against physically stronger packs, His “ruck marks” on demented Mole show he got through a mountain of work while not getting the steals. didn’t notice him against the French but will wait to re watch (or for Mole to rewatch!)as made same mistake with English game.
            did he have a good six nations?definitely. do we have to hear about it from all corners?Most definitely!
            as a final bomb-still waiting for him to hit double figures for his tackle count…..

          • Bueller

             /  March 18, 2014

            Henry was capped a season before POM.

          • Sound Steve

             /  March 18, 2014

            Yossarian – POM’s not divisive in the least – he’s just a lightning rod for anti-Munster sentiment

          • Leinsterlion

             /  March 18, 2014

            A six who doesnt or cant tackle with any regularity or conviction, yet we in Ireland are told he is a lock for future captain, and is/has been “outstanding”, “world class”. If it wasnt for his fluffers in the press and the tumescent Munster fans crowing ceaselessly about his abilities, all the while running down Heaslip and case in point, Henry, above, I wouldnt have an issue. If Henry got the same press POM was getting and had the same rep and fan erotica written about him, I would be (while not quite as scathing as I am about POM) equally as dismissive.

          • TERMAGANT

             /  March 18, 2014

            I’m not the brightest?!

            Care to explain how “it was Trimble shooting out of the line to make the big tackle that created the space for them to exploit” squares with “I wasn’t actually blaming Trimble”?

            Actually, don’t bother, I’ll accept your climbdown.

            As for being “ha(r)sh”, criticising a player for so completely emptying his opponent that he spills the ball which is then fly-hacked by another player and is picked up by an opponent might just be considered harsh, yes.

          • Bueller

             /  March 18, 2014

            Explanation is clearly labelled above under the qualifying tagline.

          • Bueller

             /  March 18, 2014

            Just re-watching it there and if you cant see anything wrong with Trimble’s defence there you plainly don’t get it or have any notion of defensive structures i if he had trusted the inside drift there almost certainly would not have been a try scored there (incidentally Henry is the man inside him drifting correctly). Mistakes happen though and that’s my point re not attacking Kearney for a missed tackle on the basis that other would have blamed Trimble. Is utter nonsense. Nobody brought up any blame for Trimble or any other Ulster player until then.

          • Stevo

             /  March 19, 2014

            Termagant, if you will wind your own neck back in read back over the posts you will see that Bueller is simply responding to an attack on Rob Kearney which somehow is supposed to be a defence of Andrew Trimble. I’m sure Ulster fans must get tired of being told they have a chip on their shoulders, but feeling the need to do this kind of thing in defence of a man who has received little but praise for his performances from most quarters in recent weeks is probably indicative of why it happens.

        • Sound Steve

           /  March 18, 2014

          The good face theory as I understand it is hilarious. The idea that coaches fail to rate players objectively while armchair fans have some insight that the coaches lack is beyond preposterous. I don’t want to turn this into another soporific Peter O’Mahony discussion but the guy has to be one of the most unfairly maligned players to pull on the Irish jersey in quite a while. If Heaslip or Henry have a less conspicuous game it’s put down to “unseen work”, while for POM he is described as “anonymous”. He was hardly sitting around scratching his arse for the game! I was a little disappointed with Heaslip on Saturday to be honest after he came off second best in quite a few collisions but he has had a very good tournament overall.

          Delighted to be proved wrong by Trimble btw. After his missed tackle on Van de Velze in the HC last year, I had completely written him off. He has to be the most dropped player ever to play for Ireland but he has shown so much resolve to come back yet again, probably better than ever. Fair play.

          • I think your understanding of the Good Face theory is incorrect; in fact it’s entirely the opposite of what you say it is. Of course coaches don’t pick players because they have Good Face. It applies to the media and fans’ opinions of players, not that of coaches. Have another read of the infamous piece if you need a refresher.

            https://whiffofcordite.com/2013/01/14/good-face/

            O’Mahony’s ‘Good Face’ resulted in a media-driven narrative of him being a very different type of player to what he is.

            I love how the phrase ‘good face’ has now entered the lexicon by the way.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 18, 2014

            Thought Heaslip was possibly our best player on Saturday (albeit hard to pick with Henry and Trimble going so well)! So, it is clear that some people watch the games with different perspectives/agendas/armchairs. Will be interested to see if Demented Mole’s analysis confirms the general impression of the enormous shift he put in.

            O’Mahony did well in the lineout but it is totally fair to say that he appeared to be less prominent than the other starting backrows (happy to swallow my words if Demented Mole’s analysis proves me wrong). He was our best player against Wales or Scotland – and was widely acknowledged as such – but he wasn’t on Saturday and it is totally hypocritical to pretend otherwise.

        • Lop12

           /  March 19, 2014

          For the English try, a point that was not referred to anywhere in the media that I saw, RK committed to Brown very early, DK had no chance of getting to Care, RK should have forced Brown to commit to scoring himself and hoped DK made the tackle.

          Not sure it would have saved the try but IMO that would have been a preferable way to defend it, he closed out potentially the only option of stopping it by committing so early. RK is a poor poor defender at that level.

    • Well, I think all three of the backrow did a great job. Remember what this team is about, adheing to the gameplan and m anaging the details. O’Mahony didn’t get the chance to show his jackalling in Paris because Ireland looked to choke tackle the French rather than risk Walsh’s ire by competing on the ground. O’Mahnoy had a fine championship, as did Henry, as did Heaslip. Smashing players all of them.

  2. I’d be lying if I wasn’t rocking in my seat holding my head in my hands for the last ten minutes whimpering “not again, not again!” over and over.

    Great article though lads, have to say that you pretty much covered everything I’d said.

    One moment that stood out to me was Basteraud staying with Sexton after he’d knocked him out. He gets a lot of bad press, but if that isn’t the definition of what sportsmanship is in rugby, I don’t know what is.

    I thought we were *very* lucky to still have 15 men on the pitch at full time, Cian Healy’s head charge was pretty much a carbon copy of the red card against Edinburgh in their Heineken cup match at Munster this year, and I’m amazed that it hasn’t been cited.

    All in all, a pretty great weekend for Irish rugby!

  3. Mike

     /  March 18, 2014

    Honorable mention to Ian Henderson as well for the tackle on the French scrum half after that last scrum (whisper it quietly, but was probably a pen to France…).

    Would also like to tip the cap to Rob Kearney for making the last few minutes exciting. Why boot the ball 50 meters into touch when you can try an up and under in your own 22 and make it interesting. Its thoughtful actions like that which keep us interested in rugby..

    • Indeed! Reminded me of the time against London Irish where he caught a last minute drop-goal and kicked it back to them to give them another go at it. Madness.

  4. Willie Le Roux is 6’1! Hardly a feckin midget!

  5. Yossarian

     /  March 18, 2014

    Basteraud was immense on Saturday,he was the one who gathered Rob K kick on 77 mins. Carried brilliantly, a menace at the breakdown and still was sporting enough to look after Sexton.

    • curates_egg

       /  March 18, 2014

      Probable MOTM. He only does two or three things but he sure does them well. They actually announced him in the stadium as MOTM and then confused everyone by announcing BOD.

      • ArtVandelay

         /  March 18, 2014

        He also does a few things, like pass, very badly. If he could pass, we’d have been hammered.

        • Jojo

           /  March 18, 2014

          SEARCH RESULTS FOR: BASTERAUD IS THE ULTIMATE “BAD FACE”. I FEAR IT’S ACTUALLY RACIST UNDERTONES. FEEL SORRY FOR HIM. UNREAL PLAYER. JUST NEEDS TO BE HANDED THE BALL. HUMAN WRECKING BALL.,. Sorry bout the caps

          • Bowe Gathers

             /  March 18, 2014

            Probably more Propist than Racist. The rotund should know their place: single digits only please!

          • Leinsterlion

             /  March 18, 2014

            He needs to turn the flab into muscle before he gets rated as anything other than an occasional threat, goes missing in games, lazy. He’s in shocking shape for a pro rugby player. Imagine how much more explosive and dangerous he would be if he hit the weights and sorted his diet? Reminds me of Wayne Rooney, talented but fat and lazy.

      • He was absolutely my MotM – BOD getting it was, as he said himself, a bit farcical. Even without being able to pass he was easily France’s biggest attacking threat that day. Wouldn’t go down.

    • Basteraud had a huge game, but before we get too excited about him, he was absolutely hopeless for the rest of the tounrnament. Couldn’t get anything going.

  6. I felt the faith POC showed in Sexton to nail the penalty kick near the end when he could have and probably would have in the past gone for the corner after Sexton’s misfiring boot was excellent and demonstrated the unity this team possesses.

  7. Stephen

     /  March 18, 2014

    There was a considerable element of choking in that game, most notably the garryowen Kearney kicked with three minutes left. Knowing Schmidt, though, he will have been pulled on it almost immediately!

  8. Great summary, WoC. Am still bathing in the relief of the mother of all choke-tackles and Steve Walsh’s final whistle. I too was very encouraged by Paulie’s post-match references to our piss-poor closing out. The result in Paris is good moral-booster for Leinster’s visit to Toulon. Like JS I would hope the success of the provinces and the national team feed into each other and for that reason would like to hear less moaning about who did or didn’t make the match-day 15/23. In this regard I thought Denis Leamy’s criticism of JS in the Indo on the eve of the championship-deciding match – regardless of the merits or demerits of his arguments – was unwise and unwelcome, to put it mildly.

    • Agreed on Leamy, Riocard. The timing of the criticism was the extraordinary thing – was there not a hampionship to be played for that weekend?!

      The thing about ex-players making these sorts of remarks is they’re never really held to account. The previous time Leamy had aired his opinions it was to question Jamie Heaslip’s value to the team. But nobody appears interested in asking him how that statement is working out for him.

      • Yossarian

         /  March 18, 2014

        whatever about the article and the merits of Leamy as a pundit the comments section in the indo(now gone) would make you cringe as a rugby fan. Glad the team is more unified than a (minority) of the fan base. If the people who comment on that were a reflection of the people responsible for Irish rugby we would be in a sorry state.

        • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

           /  March 18, 2014

          To be fair, the comments section on ANY topic in the Indo would destroy ones faith in humanity!!

    • p.s. Cian Healy’d want to cop on to himself, if he doesn’t want to get a permanent reputation as dirty player and in doing so become a source of penalties for the opposition. The “I didn’t mean it” routine will only work so far. He got away with poking Warbs in the eye in the Welsh match and on Saturday with the head-butt against Picamoles. Were I in Steve Walsh’s position I’d have given him a yellow card minimum and maybe even a red one.

      • labrecha1

         /  March 18, 2014

        Not trying to make excuses for him but it looked like he slipped just as he was about to contest the ruck and so he didn’t get a chance to use his arms.

      • ArtVandelay

         /  March 18, 2014

        IIRC, the warbs poke was pretty obviously unintentional.

      • You can’t be seriously accusing Healy of deliberately slapping Warburton that time?

        • I have no idea nor would I speculate, what his intention on either occasion was. The fact is both incidents looked bad, injured and an opposition player and could have led to a penalty. My point was primarily, that if he is the source of similar occurrences in the future, he could end up with a reputation, which he and both his teams – Ireland and Leinster – could do without.

    • ArtVandelay

       /  March 18, 2014

      To be fair, from what I’ve seen, the bitching about selections has been from outside the camp. I suspect this stems from the fact that JS has clearly explained to each player why they haven’t been selected. If JS has favoured some reserve Leinster players over other players, I think it may be down to the familiarity with the processes, not provincial bias. This will change as he gets more time with the players.

      • Paddy Logan

         /  March 18, 2014

        I’m an Ulster fan, and apart from PJ being dropped for the last game, which was a very tight call, I think the bench was pretty fair. It is extraordinary that Leinster provide 5 out of the 6 front rows, but they are the 5 best. Killer is very good, but he is clearly behind McGrath and Moore is now comfortably the 2nd best tight head. One could have made a strong argument for Reddan starting (it would have been wrong imo) and McFadden is an excellent utility back (I’ve had my Damascene conversion). It’s a toss up between TOD and Jordi, and I reckon the Leinsterman got the nod for his ability to cover 8. Leinster at their best (i.e. coached by Saint Joe) are still the best team in Europe. Luckily they aren’t coached by Schmidt anymore so Ulster for the HC!!

    • Stephen

       /  March 18, 2014

      Riocard, there’s no doubting that several individuals – Toner and Trimble top among them – will come back improved.

      The only issue is whether some of the players go on a bit of a “downer” after the thrill of the 6N, which is possible (and not a direct reflection on the skill-sets they may well have gained or improved.)

  9. connachtexile

     /  March 18, 2014

    Delighted with the result and voted for Andrew ‘Bad Face’ Trimble as my player of the tournament (even though he should probably be Mike Brown) as for choking someone should have a word with Sexton about not brain farting in front of goal everytime he needs to step up, it would help a lot of people’s blood pressure. He cost us against New Zeland and nearly cost us against France. Yes I know he scored two tries but missing gimmes in front of the posts could cost us hugely in a world cup.

    • Not sure it’s fair to single out Sexton for heightening everyone’s blood pressure, but those missed opportunities do have a habit of proving expensive. He seems to have an issue with kicks from halfway to the right, which surfaces from time to time. Still, he finished the series with a percentage over 80% which is fine.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  March 18, 2014

        Fair enough re the stats and agree re his kicking from the right, but what about that ‘shanked’ conversion (as you so accurately described it)! I nearly fell off the chair…

      • @eoinredahan

         /  March 18, 2014

        Hi lads, I totted up Sexton’s Six Nations kicking stats. He kicked 18 from 24 (if my maths didn’t fail me), which is 75%. I know he missed a couple of straightforward kicks against France, but 75% isn’t a terrible return for an international goal kicker. Obviously, his kicking isn’t Jenkins-esque, but he showed considerable bottle with the boot during Leinster’s three Heineken cup final victories, and he pulled through in the second half against France. So let’s not tar him with the Charlie Hodgson brush.

        • Patrick O'Riordan

           /  March 18, 2014

          I came across this website with 6N kicker stats and Sexton is mid-table in comparison with the other primary kickers with Halfpenny, Machenaud and Farrell all having a higher %.

          http://www.goalkickers.co.za/

    • Yes – strikes me we need another goalkicker for when he is off form (and it would seem he knows when he is). Who else kicks well of the current first team?

      • It’s a handy option but more of a luxury and one we don’t really have.. McFadden is handy with the boot, but hasn’t been place kicker with Leinster for a couple of years now.

        • I would very much like to see Murray given a shot at place-kicking in a few Rabo games at some stage. He kicks in warm-ups for Munster and looks quite good, as well as having kicked all the way up underage and (I think) at AIL level, and he has an enormous boot. He seems to have the right temperament for it too.

          • Indeed, it’s a handy option and every little helps, but it’s a far cry from kicking in warm-ups and AIL matches to doing it in the pressure cooker environment of test rugby. If Sexton had to kick in AIL matches I’m sure he’d slot every single one.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 18, 2014

            Anybody who can kick should be given a shot, as it is always good to have a back-up. Would also beg to differ with WOC on far crys. Machenaud is a perfect example: to my knowledge he takes no kicks for Racing Metro…yet he was perfect on Saturday. Go figure.

          • I presume you’re engaging in a little bit of fun hyperbole, but there isn’t a hope he’d slot every single kick in the AIL. No-one would, simply because kicking is a technically very difficult skill even for the best, and Sexton probably doesn’t even belong in the bracket of kickers who’d be closest. Seeing him shank the conversion in front of the posts barely over the bar nearly gave me palpitations, and he has a middling record by top-class international out-half standards from the tee for Ireland, so there are likely problems both with his temperament and his technique. (Or at least, I hope there problems with his technique, because those are easier fixes than the head-stuff.)

            The reason I mention Murray is because he clearly has an excellent temperament (entirely unfazed coming off the bench for the Lions in two Tests at a relatively young age), as well as outstanding footballing skills and years of kicking practice already. He obviously hasn’t kicked in “the pressure cooker environment of test rugby”, but I’m hoping he gets a chance to test himself first in the Rabo and then potentially at higher levels. It’s also worth noting that stepping up a level doesn’t even necessarily mean a decrease in place-kicking accuracy; last season, JJ Hanrahan stank the place up with some of his kicking performances for Bohs, and this season he’s on track to win the Rabo Golden Boot. It takes all sorts!

          • I’d like to see Murray take some place kicks too. Like I say, every little helps, and you cannot have enough good place kickers in your team. I’m not sure how he’s going to get it though, because Munster will hardly allow themselves to be guinea pigs for the unlikely situation that Sexton has to be taken off kicking duty for Ireland. Keatley has a very high percentage off the kicking tee this season, as does Hanrahan, and I’ve no doubt Munster would see those as to key reasons they are where they are this year.

          • curates_egg

             /  March 18, 2014

            Correction. Meant to type Machenaud is not the frontline kicker. Anyway, he had no problem stepping up.

          • Bowe Gathers

             /  March 18, 2014

            It really worries me: 75% is just not good enough. Bad face again, but had wee PJ missed like that there would have been riots in the street rather than eyebrows raised.

            And another thing on the subject of palpitations: was anyone else hitting despair when Madigan came on? Young OH who isn’t always first choice for province, in a clutch situation, when JS himself is bottling it, I thought we were done. Go figure. Glad I was wrong tbh.

          • Dec

             /  March 18, 2014

            Did he play on the wing in an AIL final? Tremendous !

  10. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 18, 2014

    Great analysis as per gentlemen – can’t really close the lid on these weekends now until the official verdict has been delivered! I was talking to English colleagues this morning & making the same point that the key factors in where both teams finished was discipline & the extra maturity within our ranks (both of course closely linked). This maturity is probably as influential off the pitch as on it. I know Joe is new to int.l rugby & is talking about a steep learning curve, but he’s a step ahead of Lancaster in terms of tactical nous & decision-making under pressure (albeit SL – like his team – will continue to improve).
    On a slight downer however, I must confess that (just like ’09) relying on the mistakes of others to win these things does take a little of the gloss off victory. That forward pass was a shocker. As you say, we are lacking in composure when it comes to closing these things out. I wonder if we had won in Twickenham would the twin pressures of Grand Slam & BO’D farewell have been too much? I suspect it would. Only solution is to keep on winning – make it a habit!! And we were due a little luck. Either way the future looks a more optimistic place right now. Already looking forward to England coming to the Palindrome next year!
    P.S. was anybody else getting veeery nervous around the 68 minute mark of the match in Rome??!

    • VERY nervous watching the Italy game. I’d planned not tow watch it and keep myself distracted to stop myself getting too nervous before the Ireland game. In fact me and Ms Ovale were at Little Ovale’s ballet class, but when I checked the twitter feed at around 55 minutes I said ‘Things are getting serious in Rome, I’ve to go home and watch the last 20 minutes’. Rarely has a consolation intercept try for another country been so loudly celebrated.

    • Mike

       /  March 18, 2014

      England really screwed up IMO. If they had just stuck to their game plan they would be champions. I think that was the real choke this weekend.

      • Yossarian

         /  March 18, 2014

        Lancaster selection cost England a grand slam against France(nowell starting and the scrum half of the tournament replacment) and then selection cost them the championship on points vs Italy. Care being replaced cost them rhythm when they were flying and Tuilagi for Burrell cut out the outside channels. tuilagi will carry 4 lads in contact but he doesn’t release his outside backs. with only 10points and 12 minutes (and getting a point a minute at that stage) i thought we were done. Sarto the hero!!!
        In reference to the dose of luck to win championship-most sides get a chunk of luck when winning a grand slam/championship/any cup win. Sure didn’t NZ need a ton to squeeze by france 8-7 on home soil!

    • “Only solution is to keep on winning – make it a habit!!” This, I think is a great point by the way. The only hope is that the more you win in these clutch situations, the easier it becomes to close them out. After all, Munster didn’t get good at it by accident, it was by winning tigt match after tight match that gave them the belief that when the match was close, they had what it took to win.

  11. Amiga500

     /  March 18, 2014

    All I can say is….

    Thank f**k Vincent Clerc was not on the pitch.

    • Amiga500

       /  March 18, 2014

      I don’t think I could have handled that particular lightening bolt striking twice!!

  12. Blaise

     /  March 18, 2014

    Just want to take this opportunity to say fantastic blog, WoC. Brilliant article as usual. You might just be pipped in the analysis stakes by Mr Mole but I wouldn’t worry about it too much as far as I’m concerned. Thank you.

    • Thanks Blaise. Glad you enjoy it. There’s no topping the Mole but we try to hang on to his coat-tails.

  13. Junior

     /  March 18, 2014

    Great summary guys. Totally agree that we nearly blew it again, with the feeling at the final whistle much more one of relief than of happiness. Someone once said of me that I was a great trainer –committed, honest, gutsy, “talented” even. But that in actual matches, that my game went a bit to pot. What I think the interview between Trimble and the lads highlighted more than anything, was the respect they had for a guy “who’s good in training, only” to, for me at least, one of Irelands most consistent players of the tournament. As Trimble mentioned, he had always performed well in an Ulster shirt, without ever delivering on the bigger stage. It appears that Schmidt rewarded the guys who are “good in training, only” – the Henrys, Toners and Trimbles of this world – which gave those players the confidence to go and make the jersey their own. Radge was close to tears in his respect for AT and his journey from Possible to Probable. Forgive me for getting all weepy, but it that not what rugby is all about? For the guys with frekish talent like O’Driscoll, Cooper or Falou, the ability to perform on the big stage is assumed – for the “average” international/provinvial/club rugby player, greatness is usually only assumed when you win something – and this win vindicates AT’s (and others) persistence, and Joe’s selection of much-slagged “average” provincial players. The gameplan that has emerged isn’t exactly the sexiest, but it certainly optimises the sum of its parts.

    • Great post. I think you’ve brought across exactly what Schmidt is so good at as a coach: giving the players the environment in which they can be at their absolute best.

  14. Junior

     /  March 18, 2014

    I’d love to see what team Joe would select for a knockout World Cup game if he had a clean deck to choose from (Fully fit squad including Luke F, SOB, Ferris, Donncha Ryan, Mike McCarthy, Gilroy, Marshall and an Irish qualified Jared Payne). It’s clear he has done his homework and only selects guys he’s comfortable with, and who are themselves comfortable with what’s asked of and expected of them. The admirable trust Joe showed in sticking with Trimble and DK is assuredly (lol) a double-edged sword. Here’s the thing – in selecting an Andrew Trimble or a Fergus McFadden-type character, do you lose the “X-ficta” of a Tommy Bowe or a Simon Zebo? Great thing is, we know from his selection of Madigan over PJ for the France game that Joe is as ruthless/decisive as is required at the top level to get the job done. Consistency of selection is not a guarantee, but consistency of “selection criteria” is.

    • I think the fact that he ensures that no player ever feels like they’re unfairly treated selection-wise is another big plus for Joe. If you look at Paddy Jackson, he knew if Johnny Sexton had been injured he’d have started the game, but because our centres were creaking so badly Madigan could cover more positions. The door seems to be always open to selection, *even* if your surname starts with Z.

    • Patrick O'Riordan

       /  March 18, 2014

      Trimble’s perspective on what Schmidt is looking for in a winger is in the original post, but if this is Schmidt’s template, then you’d think that Bowe could meet this with ease but more “mercurial” wingers like Zebo and Gilroy may have more work to do. This of course assumes that Schmidt has the same criteria for everyone and doesn’t adjust these based on the person. Some of the things Schmidt wants from his wingers may be non-negotiable in his mind but there is no point expecting a Zebo to play like a Trimble or vice versa.

      • Amiga500

         /  March 18, 2014

        Oh have no doubt whatsoever about it – if Tommy Bowe had been properly fit, he’d have been in the team.

        For all Andrew Trimble’s honesty and endeavour (which i applaud him for), Tommy Bowe is at least a 10% upgrade on many aspects of AT’s game.

        • The more pertinent question is whether Dave Kearney’s place would be safe if Bowe were fit. I couldn’t see him staying in at Bowe’s expense. Or Earls’. Or Fitz’s.

  15. Spikes

     /  March 18, 2014

    Great column, lads. As you pointed out on the twitter feed, thank heaven the ball popped out of that last scrum. Martin Moore will improve over time, but amen to your points aboujt how incredibly valuable Mike Ross remains to Leinster and Ireland. Let’s hope there’s a few years left in those legs yet.

    On the subject of JS’ kicking, does anyone know if his routine has been getting longer over the years? I can’t help but wonder when he stands frozen over a kick, as though trying to remember if he left his wallet on the train, if he wouldn’t benefit from a shorter routine. It’s a decent rule of thumb in golf that the longer they stand over a short putt, the more likely they are to miss it. This is from someone who couldn’t hit a barn from a foot away, mind you.

  16. Will

     /  March 18, 2014

    My moment of the match was one phase before our first try – Murray gets scragged with only Darcy there to help. 3 players (POM, Best, Ross) react immediately, barrel in and secure the ball. Henry does the fancy stuff (what a show pony..) and Sexton brushes off Basteraud, dots it down.
    I thought the 3 guys reacting so quickly and in unison really spoke of JS’s influence and how the team are so well drilled. Definite lost ball and no try otherwise.

  17. Paddy

     /  March 19, 2014

    Great read lads and a particularly apt title. Henry for me epitomizes the unsung hero. He came in to the side to replace SOB and did a great job. I’m a Leinster fan so don’t get to see him a whole lot at Provincial level but I really think he’s come on a good bit in attack(def at intl. level) this 6N. A similar style of player to Chris Robshaw in that he’s all about work rate and being effective at what he does and that he was and more. At a guess he played less than Robshaw but per min played probably close to matched him in ever department. Well done! Big shoes filled! If there’s a championship without SOB then there’s life after BOD.

    Delighted for Trimble. I wrote him off when he got dropped from the AI squad thinking he’d never make it back barring a massive injury crisis and even then he’d be in a rush to pass-up on further intl. caps. Well done lad!

    Toner…..great to see him shut up so many people up. Similar to Trimble in that I think their are players who given the chance(injury etc.) will make the jersey theirs but he earned his medal!

    I don’t think anyone thinks they’re long term certs to start but if guys like that are putting in performances like that and pushing the incumbents then maybe the good face brigade / golden generation will deliver more on the pitch.

  18. Paddy

     /  March 19, 2014

    Maybe a name one for the lexicon…
    Big Shoes = Chris Henry

  19. Junior

     /  March 19, 2014

    Just watched it again, thankfully already knowing the result. An excellent game. In reality, either side could have won it. Pallison, Fikou & Doussain didn’t cover themselves in glory on the day, but pretty much every other French player turned up like PSA & the French public hoped they would. One or two scrum penalties called on Domingo seemed a little harsh (collapsing, boring , not bearing own weight, whatever you call it). The opposite applies to Moore who, not surprisingly given his experience, seemed to be under a bit of pressure from Debaty. Possibly could have been penalised deep in the Irish 22, with an easy kick for anyone except poor JM Doussain. Zero sum game.

    Ian Henderson was incorrectly, in my view, credited with holding up the French maul at the death. While he was present, it was both Henry & Toner, which is simply phenomenal given how hard they’d worked up to that point. Other credits to Rory Best for his low tackles, to Trimble for my previous comments, to Mike Ross, Heaslip & O’Connell for their contributions. POM strangely quiet. On the French side, plaudits to Dulin, Swarewski, Papé(despite his public execution of Domingo before half time), Basteraud & Machenaud.

    The blood-soaked, not-camera-shy Steve Walsh continues to surprise. Not for his antipodean ruggedness or perfect hair, but more for his playing of advantage, which on more than one occasion influenced the scoreline. I think, on balance, and despite his best efforts to rack up the camera minutes, he did his honest best to allow a true test match to develop. He allowed the game to be played as a true contest, with both sides at full complement (Healy should really have walked, so too Domingo after side entry, having just been penalised 3 times in the scrum). He got most calls right – and given the enormity of the match, I think , for that, he is due some credit. Forget about his “yes but do his hands MOVE forward? question to the TMO (WTF?), have a quick look at his call for Swarewski’s try. After an unreal tackle on Chouly by Sexton, Johnny looks like he intentionally kicks the ball into Swarewski’s hand, causing a knock-on. Walsh spots this, rules out a TMO, awards the try, doesn’t penalise Sexton, and allows the game to continue. In the day of increasing reluctance to make actual refereeing calls, he got most right. I may (actually I know I will) regret saying this, but I’m beginning to enjoy the drama he adds to games (hopefully not ones involving Ireland in future).

    • Great analysis Junior. There’s a lot to be said for watching a game with a clear head after the dust has settled. Haven’t got around to it yet! So thanks for sharing on here.

    • Exile

       /  March 19, 2014

      Just on the subject of the Szarzewski try…

      The penalty advantage that Walsh was playing was for BOD going offside at the ruck.

      I reckon Walsh knew he would have to bin BOD for a professional foul in the red zone if he was forced to go back to award the penalty. Knowing what we know about Walsh, you can be pretty sure he wouldn’t want to be the ref who put BOD in the bin on his last appearance.

      The “easy” option is to award the try. Walsh took it, I reckon.

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