Tuesday Shorts

Ashley Johnson should have walked

Wasps v Leinster rather lived up to its billing; Egg thought Wasps would squeak it, Palla thought Leinster would edge out a win, so a draw seemed appropriate because y’know, on average we’re always right. The outcome would have surely been different, however, had Ashley Johnson been sent off in the first moments of the game. Make no mistake, he should have been. In last year’s quarter-final at Ravenhill, the very same referee gave himself no shortage of time to arrive at his decision to send off Jared Payne. The decision looked, on balance, just about correct, though to be fair to Payne he had been a little unlucky and appeared to slip. Johnson had no such excuse; this was reckless play of the highest order. Yet Garces appeared to make up his mind that it was a yellow card too quickly. Sure, he went to the TMO but he already had his hand on the yellow almost as soon as he blew the whistle. The outcome for the sinned against party shouldn’t be overly influential in these incidents, but the fact that Kearney had to leave the field injured, and now misses a decent chunk of the Six Nations, only served to highlight exactly why this sort of challenge has to be punished appropriately.  Johnson took time to apologise to Kearney on twitter, which was all very manly and sporting, but not very relevant in the grand scheme of things.

Round Six Jollies

The last round had a bit of everything, and was the best final round of pool matches in some time. Credit must go to several teams who had nothing meaningful to play for, but who upheld the tournament’s credibility, chief among them Ulster, who finally showed some of their quality, and Montpellier, who endured a tawdry campaign but refused to roll over against Toulouse. Things reached a fantastic crescendo on Sunday afternoon when, in the dying minutes of the Bath v Glasgow and Montpellier v Toulouse matches, any of three teams were within a score of going through or not. Not only that, but the fortunes of Leinster, Wasps and Saracens were hinging on events too. It was riveting. This viewer found himself channel-hopping from one to the other at every pause in play. It was certainly good enough to gloss over Craig Doyle calling Martin Bayfield ‘Bayfs’.

Pro12 Finale

The Pro12 has made a brave, almost certainly foolhardy gambit by announcing the final will take place in Ravenspan regardless of the finalists. The Top14 finale is in Paris, the Aviva final is in Twickers, so why can’t we join the party? Well, for a start getting to Belfast requires an overseas journey for fans of eight of the twelve teams in the competition. Presumably, the fact that the Champions’ Cup final is in early May is feeding into their thinking. It put enough distance between it and the Pro12 final to, hopefully, generate the kind of enthusiasm required to fill the ground. For all that, though, the organisers will be hoping at least one of De Oirish Provinces makes it. A Glasgow v Ospreys final could be a rather empty affair.

Half-back Concerns for Joe

Losing Jonny Sexton for the Italy game is one thing, but to be without Conor Murray would compound things further.  On top of that, throw in an injury to Eoin Reddan and we would be looking at a half-back partnership of Marmion and either Madigan ort Keatley.  The Irish camp are maintaining an omerta on the issue.  Maddog picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue and his placekicking, superb all season, went wonky at the worst possible moment in the heat of the Wasps match.  It’s all a bit concerning.  Marmion is a fine player, but a greenhorn at test level, while Madigan has played most of his rugby at 12 this season, albeit that he has done well.  Could we see the Wolfhounds game used to give them a chance to familiarise themselves with one another?  With O’Brien and Healy, and possibly Henderson also featuring, maybe Joe should use the match to give his full XV a dry run?

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48 Comments

  1. Mike

     /  January 27, 2015

    Hard for Ulster fans not to feel very hard done by watching that.

    Not only the Payne red, but the Court on Toner one too.

    Looks like injury is the big factor in Garces (note that spell checker keeps trying to change that to ‘farces’) thought process. Aside from that there is no reason I can think of why he would judge one a yellow and one a red (note that Kearney went off injured).

    • ORiordan

       /  January 27, 2015

      You’d wonder if the controversy after the Payne decision ended up influencing Garces. I think the IRB ended up sending out further clarifications to referees as a result. If Garces got 100% support from the rugby establishment after the Payne decision, then fair enough. But if he got the impression that the decision was “brave”…. (a coded message that a lot of other refs wouldn’t have done the same…) then maybe he thought, feck it, I’ll make the easier choice.

      So indignation about the Payne decision means that it becomes less likely, not more, that a similar incident will have a similar punishment.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  January 27, 2015

        I guess it’s a possibility. I also wonder if the fact that it happened from kick-off means ref’s are sub-consciously concerned about making such match defining call when proceedings are barely under way (ref. Tadhg Kennelly attempted decapitation of Cork midfielder ’09). And yet Payne red card was barely five minutes in?! I don’t know but it leaves a really sour taste.

    • Andy Pandy

       /  January 27, 2015

      I cant help feeling that Garces was influenced by the potential injury to Goode (particularly when they brought on the oxygen mask and tank), not wanting to be the guy that only gave a yellow for a broken neck. If Goode had moved, it may well have been a yellow not a red (not suggesting for a moment that Goode was faking). But when you are not certain of the seriousness of the injury you are going to err on the side of red.

  2. ExpatLeinsterFan

     /  January 27, 2015

    Bit off topic but surprised nobody has mentioned the appeal of Alex King as Northampton backs coach to JJ. King worked under Schmidt at Clermont and is, according to English media, a shoo-in as next backs coach for the English national side. Probably more appealing for a young player focusing on development than Brain Wlash.

  3. Marmion would be new to test level but he definatly needs test experience. The injury to Reddan + Murray proves we definatly need back-up for these guys and there’s arguements that could be made that he would be challenging Reddan on form as is.

    Granted Reddan’s experience would probably see him picked ahead though especially if Madigan is going to be playing 10.

  4. Playing Marmion and Madigan/Keatley during the 6 Nations would do our World Cup preparations no harm. I think Marmion, in particular, will step up when he gets the chance. Obviously, I still want Murray and Sexton on the pitch though.

  5. Huge fan of Marmion but both he and madigan like to take a cut themselves, maybe a bit too much? Should still beat Italy regardless but perhaps Jackson or even *shock* Keats would be a better match for him? I like keatley but the thought of him leading a win against Italy then having a melt down against France the following week is panic inducing and all too like him

  6. Less of a concern is Marmions experience over the kicking of Madigan and Keatley. Kicking could be the difference between winning and losing. What other kicking options could Joe have along the backline?

    • Kevin

       /  January 27, 2015

      Fergus Mc Fadden. I was at the Ricoh at the weekend and he was the stand out player. Nothing flashy but good in the air, defensively sound and dog rough, essentially a carbon copy of Trimble and a real Schmidt type of player..Very unlikely Madigan and Keatley would be picked and then not take penalties though

      • col

         /  January 27, 2015

        Agreed McFadden was fantastic at the weekend. His work rate is unreal. looks to have really settled on the wing now

    • D6W

       /  January 27, 2015

      R. Kearney has also had a few shots at goal in the past (although not recently). But it has not come to that. Madigan had a bad day at the office, but it does not mean we have to start looking for an alternative kicker. Even Sexton has had bad days, only one who I can’t remember ever having a shocker is ROG.

  7. Keyboard Warrior

     /  January 27, 2015

    Are we finally at the point with halfback injuries where we can start calling up form players regardless of which league they play in. I think seeing James Hart come off the bench to replace Marmion would leave me significantly happier with our preparations if we get a situation where Murray and Reddan aren’t available until after the France game.

  8. I think the IRB told a porky when saying Garces got the Payne red correct. When we toured Argentina a couple of months later Trimble got put on his bake in identical fashion and it was a yellow card with, if I remember right, no subsequent citing. World Rugby, as it is now, needs to make up its mind. This Ulster fan will reserve a small gripe given that side we built missed its two best chances at silverware (or, rather, was deprived of a proper chance at both) to two dubious red cards in short order, but ref blaming is my biggest irk in rugby, barring perhaps the current state of scrummaging, so I’m not going to waste too much time over it.

    Bath – Glasgow was a great match.

    The decision on Pro12 finals is ridiculous. I hope it only lasts this year – in which case: happy days, I live in Belfast.

    Murray-Sexton is clearly our best combination, but Marmion-Madigan getting some time has its obvious plus points. Considering the situation, I’d pick them both for the ‘Hounds, plus all of Healy, O’Brien and Henderson if feasible. Something like:

    Healy, Strauss, White
    Henderson, McCarthy
    O’Brien, Conan, Jordi M
    Marmion
    Madigan
    McFadden, Cave, Payne, Gilroy
    Jones

    • Donal

       /  January 27, 2015

      Word on the street is Healy is unavailable but SOB will play.

      I think you have the forwards pretty close to right otherwise, maybe TOD will get a go in backrow.

      Hard to say what he’ll do with the backs. Madigan will start for gametime, other that he will either want to test combinations or protect players. I’d say he’ll go Marshall and Cave in centre.

      Think McFadden will be a 6Nations starter so won’t play for Wolfs, Earls to get a run to prove fitness maybe?

      Wing selection will be interesting in 6Nations, will Joe persevere with specialist FB (Jones) on bench? He has been in pretty decent form but doesn’t offer as much impact as Zebo/Earls/Gilroy.

  9. connachtexile

     /  January 27, 2015

    Really wished Ireland had more than 1 Wolfhounds game this six nations. With the world cup just a few months away and Schmidt asking for more time it could have being the ideal situation were he could have had an extra week with the fringe guys and got them up to speed. Give the likes of Marmion/Boss and Keatley/Madigan more time with each other etc.

  10. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  January 27, 2015

    Wolfhounds game assuming some importance alright. Don’t think I’d pick full XV – top of my head I’d stand down Best, McGrath, PO’C, Heaslip & R Kearney – but otherwise I can see Joe sending out a very strong team.

  11. Had to laugh at Madigan’s “Merci Montpellier” tweet on Sunday afternoon. Man, he must have been mightily relieved . I reckon the kicking heebeejeebees v Wasps was a one off. Apart from that he had a pretty good game and according to the stats made the most tackles for Leinster – 12. I think Madigan has always flourished under Joe’s tutelage and would hope this to continue in the weeks ahead. Unfortunately he hasn’t since J10 went to Paris had the necessary opportunities at Leinster to become the complete out-half. Nevertheless I still think he’s the best choice we have in the current situation. With a bit of luck and if he applies the Schmidt game plan to the letter, he could give his career a massive boost. It’s yet possible that he could be playing 10 against France, although I, like most people, would prefer to have Sexton back in harness for that. By the same token the timing or Sexton’s concussion or rather the length of his rehab is forcing Ireland to get plan B in place in time for the RWC and could so in the long run prove fortuitous.

  12. Jojo

     /  January 27, 2015

    Glasgow Belfast is an easy ferry ride

  13. ruckinhell

     /  January 27, 2015

    I wouldn’t risk Madigan against the Saxons- we already have Jackson confirmed out and there are no certainties about the return of Sexton in time for the France game. While this may be disrespectful to Italy I think a Joe coached team will be more than able to take them apart even with notable absentees or players still refinding form before the main courses later on in the tournament; I wouldn’t be too hung up on getting guys “ready” for Italy. Use the Saxons game as a chance to give returning players gametime (Earls, McFadden, Healy, Henderson, etc.) or to have a good look at inexperienced guys with promise against decent opponents (Marmion, Conan, James Cronin, Nathan White)

    Great to see Iain Henderson back smashing man, ball and rucks against Leicester, he’ll be a fine addition to the bench and will hopefully push Toner hard for a starting slot. POC has looked rather wan of late so I’m hoping that an energised performance from his locking partner might get him back to his best for the 6N.

    • I’m very worried about POC, is it just me or has the age factor really started to catch up with him eventually?

      • labrecha1

         /  January 27, 2015

        ‘up with him unfortunately?’

      • D6W

         /  January 27, 2015

        Interestingly, for so many years Ireland 2nd row it has been POC+AN Other, but this year it has to be Toner+AN Other. And going by purely recent form, the AN Other should not automatically be POC (tbf, he was towering against Oz). I guess as captain he is nailed on, but still …

        • ruckinhell

           /  January 27, 2015

          I wouldn’t be so quick to write off POC, especially given that as recently as November he was putting in huge shifts against Oz and SA. Toner has improved considerably but I still haven’t seen him give the kind of performance where he has dominated a match to the extent that he has taken over the mantle of main man from POC. Also, Paulie is captain of the team so will be first man on the teamsheet. I would be worried about the consistency of his performances though, he is not as dominant a figure in the lineout (calls a lot of ball away from him) and has put in some very tepid performances at times.

          • Bill H

             /  January 27, 2015

            So was Mike Ross aswell to be fair! Maybe those big games are catching up with the auld lads!

          • col

             /  January 27, 2015

            That’s Devin Retallick these days and if previous rules still apply he is probably one more MoM away from European player of the year

        • Billy

           /  January 27, 2015

          Agreed that writing off POC just yet would be an error.

          But looking beyond the WC and POC, I would love to see a Ryan-Henderson pairing for Ireland, if Ryan ever recovers from his toe injury. While Toner adds serious ballast to scrums, rucks and mauls and is an underrated footballer, I find him lacking in terms of athleticism and leadership.

          You would struggle to find a more athletic lock pairing than Ryan and Henderson and I think it would be a good balance of physical powerhouse (Henderson) and intensity and aggression (Ryan).

          • Donal

             /  January 27, 2015

            Ryan is very light and as you say always injured. How is he lacking in leadership? He runs the lineout for Leinster, is often pack leader, has captained the side? He isn’t POC, if that is what you mean?

          • Billy

             /  January 27, 2015

            True but he still packs a punch in the tight, e.g. his maul defence is excellent. Toner’s ability to run a lineout is definitely a plus but Ryan’s lineout ability is underrated imo. He made a very good job of running it himself in the last days of Deccie.

            On the leadership point, I just never find Dev leading from the front in a big team performance. He’s played very well in some good team performances for Leinster and Ireland in the last year but he’s not the type of player to take the fight to the other team like a Healy, SOB, POC, Heaslip, Best, etc. He’s just a bit passive…

          • D6W

             /  January 27, 2015

            @Billy On your leadership point, the Dev you are referring to is previous seasons’ Dev. And I would have agreed with you 100% But this season he has been a revelation for Leinster, and he definitely shows more leadership agression, as well as playing better.

          • Billy

             /  January 28, 2015

            Hi D6W, I find the Dev of the last two seasons certainly imposes himself a lot more on matches than “the old Dev” but I still don’t think he displays leadership. Even this year, a couple of very good performances aside (Wasps at home and Ulster at home spring to mind), I think he’s gone missing in some of the big Leinster non-performances (Munster at home).

            I should clarify that I’m not saying he’s a bad player by any stretch and deserves his place in the team as it stands but Ryan/Henderson would be my preference post-POC with everyone fit.

        • seiko

           /  January 27, 2015

          It seems POC picked up an injury (I think to his shoulder) playing against Connacht (this info only emerged after the Saracens game). Seems to be back to his best against Sale.

      • Lop12

         /  January 27, 2015

        I think POC will be a different player in green when he has to take on a far more structured role and stick to what he is good at. He tends to always try to do way too much for Munster, especially when things are going against them. Get him back to scrummaging, calling the lineouts and clearing out rucks as his primary role al la Brad Thorne and he will look much better IMO!

        • seiko

           /  January 27, 2015

          The reference to his injury from Indo:

          Just because O’Connell’s name might not get mentioned in an injury update, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s injury-free. I assumed he missed Munster’s game against Zebre last weekend because he was rested. But it was actually because of a shoulder problem he picked up during their defeat to Connacht.

          At training on Tuesday, O’Connell did his own training which included hits to “get some confidence” in his shoulder before he joined the rest of the squad. He said, convincingly, that he will be fully fit to play against Saracens today in the Champions Cup.

          http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/sinead-kissane-whatever-future-holds-paul-oconnell-will-seize-the-day-30914635.html

  14. curates_egg

     /  January 27, 2015

    Stringer-Steenson for Italy.

  15. curates_egg

     /  January 27, 2015

    Seriously though. Madigan’s kicking has been outstanding for quite some time. However, yips have a habit of lasting more than one game (or tournament in other sports). Jonny went through a couple of bad spells when he was starting off. Let’s hope in Madigan’s case, it was just one bad day at the office.

    For what it’s worth, the first kick (which he nailed) was possibly the most difficult, apart from the long penalty, which was at the limit of his range and in a part of the pitch where the ground was totally cut up. No idea why they opted to kick that one. It all fell apart a bit after that. Thankfully though, he didn’t let his head drop and pulled his game together, even if the kicking stayed amiss.

  16. Xyz

     /  January 27, 2015

    Starting a back up pair of half backs against Italy isn’t the end of the world. In a WC year I think everyone is willing to let things go a bit, even if Italy are in our WC group. Worry is how long Sexton has been out – and put out by the floggin-a-dead-horse French medics to boot. Now compounded by the radio silence on Murray. Not time to push the panic button by any means but I’m getting a bit concerned.

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