Interpro Mini League

And the winner of the Holiday Season Interpro League is… Leinster. They were the only province to manage two wins over the festive period which was low on memorable rugby matches and high on debates about whether international players should be more readily available for these matches or not.

By far the best match over the period was Connacht’s superb victory over Munster. For those who don’t get to see Connacht as often as they would like (count us as members of the club) the win was notable for the amount of rugby Connacht were willing to play on a rain-and-wind-lashed (i.e. slightly above average weather) night in Galway. With Kieran Marmion controlling the tempo, Connacht showed far more enterprise than Munster in creating space. Ex-pro commentators tend to be remarkably conservative types and generally implore the team they are discussing to play less rugby, typically suggesting they kick the ball away or stick it up the jumper, but Connacht confounded everyone with a willingness to play ball. Their short-passing game was especially impressive, with the passer frequently delaying his popped pass to perfection. Passing!  Instead of just running at the chap in front of you!  Who knew such things were possible?  Their youthful second rows were marvels to behold, especially in the carrying stakes, but the outstanding players on the pitch were their footballing centres, Bundee Aki and the increasingly magnificent Robbie Henshaw. It was Connacht’s only win of the mini-series, but their two other games were tough away matches and they got a bonus point out of Ravenhill. They stay on course for the top six.

For Leinster and Munster it was a curious series. With home advantage ruling supreme, Leinster won two, while Munster won one. However, the supine, apologetic nature of Leinster’s defeat in Thomond Park almost counts as a double-defeat. It was a result that had been threatening for some time, with Leinster having played numerous get-out-of-jail cards in the weeks leading up to it. Finally, the full-scale awfulness of their form was laid bare and we suspect that the ‘spoiled Leinster fans’ line will harder to dredge up in light of this defeat; any fanbase would be entitled to ask for more than that. It was like the clock was rewound to 2005.

As for the men in red, they seem to have the opposite problem to Leinster. They keep on losing, but nobody seems to notice. A fine and impressive win over Leinster in which Donncha O’Callaghan passed the ball at least twice masks the fact that they have now lost four games from five including at home in Europe, away to Glasgow where they surrendered a handsome lead, and in Connacht where they routinely win. They’ve allowed Leinster to close the gap on them to a point and given that a European exit is more likely than not, they need to keep the points column ticking over in the Pro12.

Up in Ulster, injuries and a lot of behind the scenes messing around have scuppered the season. All the talented blonde backs in the world count for little when there is nobody up front who can make the hard yards. With Nick Williams injured for the foreseeable, and useless anyway for at least the last 12 months, Iain Henderson not back until possibly after the Six Nations, Stuart McCloskey also crocked and Chris Henry’s return as yet unknown, their only decent yard-maker is a second row, Dan Tuohy. One supsects they would offer a king’s ransom for a decent bludgeon and a passable openside, where the only available player is Clive Ross. As Stephen Ferris sort-of put it, ‘I don’t mean to disrespect anyone but something-something Clive Ross’.  Ulster may find the squeeze coming on for semi-final places; it looks increasingly like a season that will be put down to experience, possibly including Neil Doak’s experience as a head coach.

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  1. Yossarian

     /  January 5, 2015

    Munster reluctance to shoot at posts in the final 10 mins away to connacht seems like a losing bonus point dropped. I know it was windy but it seemed like a better option than to take on a connacht defence defending for their lives.

  2. D6W

     /  January 5, 2015

    Maybe some of us Leinster fans really are spoilt. Because despite us winning the interpro mini league, overall it stills feels like a huge disappointment because of the loss, and the manner of it, in Thomond.

  3. Rough ol’ holiday period for Ulster, and you got the feeling that they didn’t have much of a plan to break down Leinster, even though Munster (and EOS on BBC commentary at the RDS, who was delightful alongside Jim Neilly) basically told them to play tight along the rucks where Leinster weren’t manning defences particularly well.

    Against both Connacht and Leinster there seems to be an awful lot of shovelling out wide for the sake of it to try and Give Craig And Or Tommy The Ball, whereas our best wing play has come off training ground moves where the wings are coming into midfield.

    The lack of ball-carriers is certainly our main problem, and will probably mean Bamm-Bamm reverting to Bamm-Bamming and Olding going to 15 for a stretch. At this point we’re essentially back to a “get your best team on the park” scenario as if it’s the knockout stages already, complete with frustrating injuries. One change I’d make would be to bring in O’Connor over Frank vdM to try and add some ball-carrying. Not sure if it would really work but we should probably try something. One other improvement needs to happen as well: Breakdown protection. A huge frustration this season for Ulster has been being in a dominant position, only for the ball to squirt out the back and we concede 10+ yards or a turnover.

    It’s a new year though, so some positives* in no particular order:

    – Robbie By God Henshaw.
    – Peter Nelson, had a fantastic game against Leinster bar one kick out on the full, should hopefully get a few more appearances (although I wish we would stop producing backs in the academy so regularly)
    – Dan Tuohy being back and rampaging around. Could do with not generating quite so many penalties though
    – Ulster’s set pieces were generally solid, although their decision making afterwards (see 65+ mins against Leinster) left a lot to be desired.
    – Madigan against Ulster (didn’t see the Munster match). Could we ask Joe/Nucifora to make sure MOC picks Gopperth at 10 next time?
    – All the Top 4 losing so the loss away to Leinster wasn’t *quite* so hard to swallow.
    – Jack Conan, maybe a dark horse for the World Cup? I can imagine quite a few people will be sweating over Heaslip’s shoulder.

    *Luke Fitzgerald is not included on this list for fear of his abductor or thigh or metatarsal giving out again.

    • Billy

       /  January 5, 2015

      Surprised you thought Madigan had a good game vs Ulster. I’ll admit to never particularly rating him but I thought he was poor in open play. Obviously his goal kicking was excellent but I thought he kicked poorly (one peach aside) and made some bad decisions. At least in Limerick he had the excuse of his pack getting steamrolled but with his pack in the ascendancy and some good front foot ball I would have expected more from him.

      • Could be I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention to him, but he’s been Ulster’s Bane for the last couple of seasons and kept it going here. Poor kicking from hand could probably be excused in that they wanted to target Nelson as a weak link in the back three, when it actually turned out to be Tommy (although that could be explained by that head knock he got).

        In terms of getting the backs to sing, I feel bad saying it but it seems more and more like D’Arcy is well past it at this stage. I can’t really remember a single telling contribution that he made.

      • I thought he was decent – though in general I will (easily) forgive a couple of squiffy kicks from a ten in return for generating stuff that wins the game. In the first half we had the gainline and Leinster were on the back foot. Early in the second half Mads gambled and scored a game-changing and, ultimately, winning try (horror show by Ulster notwithstanding). I’d call it a positive performance overall.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 5, 2015

        For a guy who only started at 10 a handful of times over the past 12 months, it was a decent show and he got stronger as the match went on. He had a couple of duffed kicks and one peach. The kicking to Nelson was clearly pre-ordained and was let down as much by the chase as anything. One over-zealous pass aside, he delivered a pretty comprehensive display of his abilities. And it is hard to see any other current Irish player attempting or scoring a try like that (maybe Marmion).

        As the other Ian outhalf has proved, it is only by giving outhalves a decent run that they can settle in to their game. If after 5 matches, Madigan is still duffing kicks, then you can start legitimately grumbling.

  4. Jaybee985

     /  January 5, 2015

    I think Bundee Aki running over Peter O’Mahony was my highlight, if only because I’m looking forward to hearing from LeinsterLion.
    Leinster very lucky v Ulster, game turned on Tuohy’s unnecessary yellow card. Jury still out on Madigan – very poor in Thomond Park but wasn’t alone. Solo grab for the try was the wrong call to make, his pack had an extra man advantage, trust your teammates. His kicking out of hand was poor again for the first hour or so, got a bit better near the end when he managed to ping Ulster back in their 22. He was not helped by Boss being on the pitch.
    Am I the only one who gets the feeling that Leinster (and/or the IRFU?) are prepared to write this season off? What counts is getting all the internationals to the world cup where Saint Joe will lead us to the Promised Land? Next season Saint Johnny will be back and all will be right in the world again (but not unless he brings a playbook with him).

    • Donal

       /  January 5, 2015

      Ah I don’t think it’s fair to say Leinster were very lucky against Ulster, they dominated the breakdown and could have scored a couple of tries in the second half. Leinster were lucky (or given the citing unlucky) not to lose McGrath to the bin but Ulster should have probably got a second yellow too. I thought the Leinster pack were pretty impressive in the loose although their fringe defence is still suspect.

      Tadgh Fuhlong is as forecast making serious headway, it’ll be interesting to see him scrummage against a strong front row but I think Marty Moore may struggle to budge him and he’ll be challenging Ross soon enough.

      An Irish centre pairing of Fitz and Henshaw looks like a real option and not just fantasy rugby! In any case Payne is likely out past the 6Nations and Darcy has been pretty consistently poor so the options are limited. Here’s hoping they both stay injury free.

      • If you think of who we have available as centres now, you kind of feel bad for D’Arcy falling off the cliff formwise, and is likely to have a bit of an O’Gara-ish end to his Ireland career unless Joe brings him in and he *really* switches on. There are at least four guys I’d put ahead of him (two 12’s, two 13’s) in the pecking order right now:

        12: Marshall or Olding (Henshaw in a pinch)
        13: Henshaw or Fitzgerald

        Right now I’d say Henshaw is a lock, and Olding is pencilled in (although just as likely to be on the bench given his versatility).

        Now, D’Arcy’s form could well be down to the fact that he’s hopped between 12 and 13 so much this season with various partners, but I think we all know the real reason is that the beard just isn’t there anymore.

      • ORiordan

         /  January 5, 2015

        I don’t think luck had anything to do with Leinster’s win. Sure, Ulster shot themselves in the foot with Touhy’s YC just before half time but if that didn’t happen, I’d have put money on Touhy or someone else fecking up in the second half to let Leinster pull away on the scoreboard.

        Such is Ulster’s fragile state of mind at the moment, they seem to be playing with a Homer Simpsonesque approach of “Don’t mess up, don’t mess up, don’t mess up, Doh!”

  5. Xyz

     /  January 5, 2015

    Missed the LvU game for the most part but came in at the end to hear the Sky commentators comparing Dev Toner to Retallick for his passing. Have seen no mention of him anywhere else – did I miss a big Dev tour de force?

    • I think Ickle Stu Barnes has a massive man-crush on Big Dev. Toner did play pretty well though.

    • He’s been doing that for a while. And, yes, he was good. Both teams showed some brains when it came to hard carrying, keeping the passing options open and using them appropriately to target soft shoulders rather than catch-and-ooooooooooooh. IMO that’s the way all Irish teams should play, so it was encouraging.

    • D6W

       /  January 5, 2015

      Dev had one of his better games for Leinster, he had good hands,made some hard yards, and yes, even did a few offloads. Still did not dominate the lineout like he should, but certainly looked like an international 2nd row. When Heaslip went off, Barnsie asked who would step up and be leaders for Leinster, and it looked like Toner did.

  6. Slightly strange time to bring his up, as Jamie did go off this weekend, but how often will Conan get to play for Leinster given Heaslip’s ability to play endless rugby at the required standard. Ulster have a shortage of ball carriers, one ageing home-grown number eight and an overseas slot spent on a guy who is injured a lot and anonymous just as often (and sometimes man of the match, it should be noted). Solution: Conan to Ulster. He’d walk into our first team. Shane Jennings probably hasn’t too much time left, given his age, but they could probably even donate another back rower to Munster or Connacht as well (Kevin McLaughlin, maybe?). When’s Dan Leavy back?

    I’m not just trying to hoover up good options for my own province without a bit of give as well: Olding, McCloskey, Marshall, Cave, Payne, Gilroy, Bowe, Trimble, Ludik… that’s not a good use of resources. Luke Marshall to Munster, for example?

    Too much horse trading will probably cause as much disruption as anything, but some seems required for the benefit of individual players (and all provinces except Leinster, probably). Presumably Nucifora has a load of Panini cards on a table top and is trying to work out some seamless transfers.

    • Given Leinster’s propensity for back row injuries over the last couple of seasons, I’m not sure we’d be able convince Nucifora and/or Mick Dawson/Guy Easterby to let go of anyone in the Leinster pack at the minute. Considering that Ulster are in a roughly similar situation (we’re blessed with wingers but go past Bowe/Trimble/Gilroy and the form dips significantly. Similar in the centres, what happens if Cave pulls something this month?).

      More importantly, we don’t really have anyone we could offer them that is low enough on our depth chart that would walk onto their A team, I’m not sure it’d fly.

      • D6W

         /  January 5, 2015

        Leinster would take McCloskey for sure, with D’Arcy looking like he has finally run out of gas.

        • Is there anyone other than Reid on your depth-chart at 12?

          • Donal

             /  January 5, 2015

            Not really. Colly O’Shea hasn’t got a look in even through the injury crisis.

            Jordan Coughlan, Tom Farrell and Tom Daly in the academy have a bit of promise and are all big lads but are finding their feet at B&I cup. Harrison Brewer was a media storm in a teacup a while back as the next big thing but again hasn’t come close.
            Realistically if their was a need they’d shoehorn in Ben Teo or Ferg, or more likely, Mads.

          • D6W

             /  January 5, 2015

            Ben Te’o, but no IQ.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 5, 2015

            Add to the others mentioned above Steve Crosbie, who has had two cameos from the bench this year and looked very good in one of them. So, D’Arcy, Reid, Te’o, Madigan, Crosbie and McFadden have all played there for us this season…and that’s before you dip into the academy centres mentioned above. Let’s not forget Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion to centre 😉

          • toro toro

             /  January 5, 2015

            Collie has been injured too; he only got back for ‘Tarf the other week. It’s not that he “hasn’t got a look in”, he’s still very much rated.

          • Brewer is u20 again this season and likely to be starting alongside Ringrose, so it’s completely ridiculous to say he “hasn’t come close”. And Jordan Coghlan has moved back to the back-row.

    • curates_egg

       /  January 5, 2015

      I thought Roger Wilson was better than Heaslip? Why would you want a sub-Heaslip cast-off when you have the uncited one? ;p

      Seriously though, he is now guaranteed to start more than half of Leinster’s matches at 8 (i.e. those when Heaslip isn’t playing). If he keeps this form up, who knows what next season will hold.

  7. @LeinsterPAGuy

     /  January 5, 2015

    We should have let Heaslip go to France. Think of how much €€€ we could have saved.

    In Arnie we trust.

    • Yeah we should have let him go. Sure, we’d probably have lost against Castres and Wasps where he carried a patched up team through to victory, but never mind that, feel the $$$.

    • Love this.

      If Heaslip is the difference between a (not)HEC quarter final and elimination at the group stages (and if they get through he will have been) then he’s worth whatever he’s paid and change. And he costs the Leinster budget precisely zero euros and zero cents, because he’s centrally contracted.

      Get rid of him!

      • curates_egg

         /  January 5, 2015

        An interesting exercise would be to pick the best provincial sides without centrally contracted players. I struggle to get an overview of who actually is on a central contract. Does Connacht have any? Think Leinster would still be able to field a strong side, with lots of Irish international caps.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 5, 2015

        Of course it ignores the point that Leinster actually generates money for the IRFU budget, as opposed to being solely a beneficiary.

        • None of the provinces turns a profit. Leinster are better funded because of their excellent commercial unit and larger fanbase, but they’re still hugely subvented by the union.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 6, 2015

            It is actually difficult to talk about profit/ loss among the Irish provinces. Clearly, Munster are making a loss but Leinster? The IRFU’s unique revenue stream masks the contributions and redistribution of the different provinces. TV rights, prize money go to the IRFU, which then redistributes. Clearly, Leinster have generated much of that over the past 5 years – by winning prizes and having a much bigger fan base. The same is true of gate takes for the Landsdowne Road matches unless I am mistaken. So I would say my point that Leinster is a net generator of revenue for the IRFU budget is correct.

          • The reason Munster are making a loss is the Thomond Park redevelopment, which is a necessary part of any future WC bid. Leinster didn’t need to take on such a capital project because the IRFU did it for them in the form of the Aviva. A straight profit and loss comparison is pretty unfair on that account

  8. Given at Ulster the messing around behind the scenes has lead to Neil Doak becoming head coach. The brain trust that was Humph is gone and Shane Logan is badly exposed. In the absence of a strategy as to how Ulster rugby responds to the new IRFU recruitment of Irish Qualified players. Shane Logan is pursuing a regressive policy of local internal appointments, notably with the most recent of Bryn Cunningham raised calls of ‘jobs for the boys’ from fans. The Ulster branch may need to intervene to reverse what now appears to be a club of diminishing returns of silverware. It will be interesting to see, will the Ulster branch gamble with the season ticket holders by plodding on without a brain trust at Ulster rugby or will the IRFU give in to the media apologists for

  9. Scrumdog

     /  January 5, 2015

    Heaslip is a World class player right up there alongside Reid and Parisse. He is the most consistent player on the Irish team and utterly dependable on doing his job effectively, and then some,in every match he plays! Why on earth would anyone want to send Heaslip on his way, no doubt opponents would love to see him omitted from an Ireland or Leinster team? Jack Conan looks like the ‘future’ (as do others) and has been impressive ‘so far’ and given regular game time he will progress…as would many other players.
    It will be interesting to see what happens next season regarding whether or not there will be a mandatory spreading around of some indigenous talent to shore up the provinces. Nucifora has had a season to get familiar with rugby in Ireland and to work with Schmidt.

    • Best play on the game was by heaslip in the lead up to leinster’s first score. Ulster got a blitzkrieg counter ruck and drove ruck, ball and all back a good few metres. Heaslip was gutsy and managed to tidy up the horrible ball, then actually eeked a yard or two forwards, before placing it perfectly and salvaging an attacking platform. Led to 3 sorely needed points for leinster. Surely that’s leadership? – ulster had been pretty dominant to that point (maybe 20 mins in) and leinster looked vulnerable (and pointless). Impressed me anyway.

  10. Heaslip has flacked unwarranted criticismfor a while now and IMO he completely silenced critics in the last year or so,he’s a fantastic player,and an able captain.

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