Amply Balmed

As we’ve written many times, when European rugby hits you hard, you must apply the soothing balm of the Pro12.  The first half of this season has been perhaps the worst in living memory for the Irish provinces in the main shindig, so the seasonal interpros had a heightened sense of importance.

These matches have been washouts in previous editions.  With coaches hindered by limited access to their frontline players, they have tended to pick a strong side for their home match and a team of bunnies for their away tie, creating a series of foregone conclusions in the process.  Not this time, as all of Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster needed the points badly.  Leinster are out of Europe and the Pro12 is Connacht’s primary target anyway, and while Munster and Ulster still have aspirations of qualifying for the knockouts, the best either can realistically achieve is to qualify as runner-up, which brings with it an away quarter final.  They know they can ill afford to coast along in the Pro 12.

With the stakes high, it is Leinster who have come out the most amply balmed.  Indeed, it’s been a fabulous Christmas period for Les Bleus, with other results going their way to boot; Scarlets lost to Cardiff, and Glasgow lost twice to Edinburgh.  Munster beating Ulster also helped.  They can go top and open a gap with their game in hand.

If not exactly half-full, the Leinster glass is at least starting to look less than totally empty.  The team appears to have found a bit of shape and edge in attack, and it can’t be entirely by chance that they have conceded the least number of points in the league.  Their defence over the Christmas period was exemplary, giving up just seven points on aggregate to Munster and Connacht, and some of the handling against Connacht was impressive considering the conditions.

A couple of standout performers deserve mention.  Sean O’Brien is probably the best player on the island and when he is fit makes an incalculable difference to any team.  He performed explosively over the Christmas period, giving a ferocious 55 minutes against Munster and a blistering cameo in the last half hour against Connacht.  There is no other player that combines his ability both in the breakdown and carrying at close quarters, and, er, regathering his own chips over the defence off the back of scrums.  Ireland and Leinster are a different team when they have access to his wrecking-ball talents.  If Leo Cullen and Joe Schmidt could magically protect one player from injury it would be he.

Another is Garry Ringrose.  Munster and Ulster fans may be scoffing at the hype emanating from the ‘Dublin meeja’, as ROG once put it, and while anointing the 20 year old to the Ireland 13 jersey is perhaps premature, there is no doubt that Ringrose is going to be an international player, and surely no question that he is blessed with a rare and natural talent.  While it was his sensational try-creating break that will be remembered, he also defended his channel manfully against Munster, and backed up the performance against Connacht with two more line-breaks and a generally sound showing on a day which wasn’t exactly made for skinny-hipped outside centres.  There’s nothing like the anointing of a new local hero to get a bit of giddiness going on the terraces, and the RDS now has its next potentially great outside centre to celebrate.

Two more young guns who we are going to be seeing a lot more of are Josh van der Flier and Ross Molony.  Van der Flier is enjoying a breakout season and combines great presence at the breakdown with a good carrying game, a similar kind of player to Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell (whose return to fitness, incidentally, will be a huge benefit to Munster over the coming weeks).  Molony is a second row with a big couple of months ahead of him.  As Demented Mole pointed out, Leinster are going to be without their starting second rows for much of the Six Nations period and have little in the way of depth.  Mike McCarthy has finally brought his best form to the blue shirt and is likely to be brought back into the national team set up this spring; O’Connell is gone and Henderson is injured, and while it was hoped Donnacha Ryan would return from injury at his 2012 best, that just hasn’t happened.  Molony and the underwhelming Tom Denton are likely to be partnering up for the five or six games in that window.  He made two vital lineout steals against Munster which have got him noticed.

Things are looking up, admittedly from a low base, but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible to reflect on a European campaign in which a new and totally inexperienced coaching ticket was only finding its feet, and where the bulk of players in the team were coming off the back of an exhausting and mentally draining World Cup.  With fresh energy, and fresh names in the team, the season can still be turned around, and perhaps that process has already begun.

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58 Comments

  1. D6W

     /  January 4, 2016

    Welcome Back. Looking forward to reading you in 2016.

    As a Leinster fan, I am relieved that we have been put out of our European misery early, and can focus on Pro12. I don’t know why some people devalue it, it is always worth being champion of your domestic league, just ask Man U or Chelsea. And this year could be a real humdinger, with all 4 four provinces having realistic hopes of making playoffs. That would be something.

    Ringrose is definitely being hyped, but I am more impressed by McCloskey. Ireland suddenly are good for centres, with Henshaw, McCluskey, and Ringrose, and Fitzy in form of his life. Might be time for Payne to switch back to fullback to put pressure on Rob.

    • Bin Rob Kearney for good. We’ve enough good centres now that we could move Henshaw or Payne (serious upgrades in either case) and not weaken the centre.

    • Peter Daly

       /  January 4, 2016

      Agree with Kevin regarding moving Henshaw to fullback. I know all the chat has been about Henshaw going to Leinster and pairing him with Ringrose to create the future Irish centre pairing but McCloskey looks a serious player and a natural centre. Having the three best young backs in Ireland fighting it out for two positions might not be the best use of our limited resources.

    • Probably what alot of people would like to see 12. McCloskey 13. Ringrose 15. Henshaw. But while we may see it in 5 to 10 years I feel that conservatism will rule the day as always in Irish rugby.

  2. aird02

     /  January 4, 2016

    Also glad to see Whiff of Cordite back in action. D6w whilst not agreeing entirely with your choices of centre,as I feel Fitzgerald has had more than his chance to grab a place at centre but has never quite managed to do so, I would add Luke Marshall’s name to the list and Stuart Olding is due back from injury soon and could if all goes well also join the list. As an Ulster Supporter I would welcome Payne challenging Kearney at full back as it would solve a problem at Ulster and on recent form may well improve the Irish position.
    As for Second Row I think that Alan Oconnor who was overlooked by Leinster Academy is great prospect with real bit of “dog” about him for a relatively young player.

    • D6W

       /  January 4, 2016

      Fitzgerald’s career has been dogged by injury possibly more than any other Irish player. That said, I would say he grabbed his chance at the RWC, where he was Ireland’s outstanding back. And yes, maybe Marshall and Olding could be added to that list. It is an impressively long list now, thankfully.

      Also, while Rob definitely is not the all action FB of 2011/2012, I don’t think he deserves all the harsh criticism he gets these days, as exampled above by Kevin. He is still extremely reliable, and rarely makes costly mistakes.

      • He said something to that effect in an interview a while back himself. Some sort of a comparison to a goalkeeper and how a game without mistakes is a good game. I’d be extremely disappointed if his coaches concur with him setting that standard for a good performance, especially at international level.

        Full-backs should be one of a good team’s principal attacking weapons; look at the positivity that the likes of Ben Smith, Folau, Le Roux, and Tuculet play with in the SH. Contrast that to the two main Irish full-backs since the turn of the millennium. While Kearney’s deficiencies in that respect are probably exaggerated in online discussions, he is historically a ball-hog, he rarely hits the line at pace from deep, and he frequently looks for contact when returning the ball rather than seeking space. In Payne, Henshaw, and Zebo we have a set of alternative options that are solid at the back, if not as solid, but offer more going forward. They’re also not indispensable in their alternative positions, given the emergence of Ringrose and McCloskey and the resurgence of Luke Marshall.

        I’d like to see those options explored over the coming year with a view to adding another string to our bow and to hopefully drawing more out of Kearney, who’s absolutely capable of excellent attacking play. The question of whether that will happen is subsumed in a broader question about whether Schmidt et al. are willing to shake things up in selection terms, specifically by exploring alternative options to some of the old reliables (Healy, Heaslip, Reddan, Sexton, Kearney) and preferring or rotating them with some younger and arguably more in-form players (McGrath and most of the other LHs knocking about, Stander, Marmion, Jackson, the FB options already mentioned). I have to say I’m not overly optimistic on that front, but I also really wouldn’t care too much if we win a third 6 Nations in a row.

        • D6W

           /  January 4, 2016

          I agree with all of what you say. It is not that Rob is above criticism, but it should be measured. And he could certainly do with feeling some competition for his jersey. Hopefully to bring him back to his best form, which is way better than any other other FB we have. Same very much goes for Heaslip. You may be a bit harsh on Healy, injuries considering.

        • Peter Daly

           /  January 4, 2016

          thoughtless you hit the nail in the head as regards the modern fullback. Such is the emphasis on defence these day there is very little space to operate in attack. The fullback is a teams wild card in attack as he can hit the line anywhere and should do so at pace. In this regard I don’t rate Kearney highly at all. Joining the line he is very tentative and he tends to telegraph when and where he will do it. Also I used to rate him hugely when it came to returning ball but he seems to have gone backwards in that regard too. As you point out he seems to look for contact or he pumps the ball up in the air. How much of this is gameplan or his own issues I don’t know but he hasn’t been much of an attacking option for us recently.

  3. aird02

     /  January 4, 2016

    As an Ulster supporter D6W we are not as selective and will accept either piece of Silverware. In spite of the Munster result I feel that Les Kiss has been well worth waiting for, and is bringing a real resurgance in the Province.

    • As an Ulster supporter it is encouraging to see the defense shored up but the attack looks the same as last season. The Ulster attack has no answer to the best defenses. They are all figured out. Les will need to add something that the Ireland team could not against England in the first 6N win and Wales last 6N. Keatley taught Ulster a lesson in the value of drop goals. Ulster need something different or innovate in attack to break down aggressive defenses either that or they need a new attack coach.

      • The Ulster attack looks good to me. As with all attacks in world rugby, they rely on quick ball. If they can get that, they have the firepower to cut teams to ribbons with that three-quarter line. And Jackson is good at releasing them. Their trouble is they often have to play off slow ball, as was the case against Munster, where Tommy O’Donnell dominated the breakdown.

        • All teams have to play off slow ball at some point in a game. The difference between those teams that win trophies are what tactics are employed when getting slow ball. Ulster had 42% possession in the Munster half but it is how it was used that mattered. The Munster defence was more a significant factor than TOD.

        • D6W

           /  January 4, 2016

          Not sure that even quick ruck ball can work against a well organised defence these days. I would say the RWC 2015 has proved that the best way to break down defences is a well timed offload.

          • Christiaan

             /  January 4, 2016

            True but the game breaker tactic from Rugby League which is now a standard against aggressive defenses is scoring trys from kicks. Given that Les Kiss is from the golden generation of greats. It is stunning how little Ulster use that tactic.

          • True but the game breaker tactic which is now a standard in RL against aggressive defenses is scoring trys from kicks. Given that Les Kiss is from the golden generation of Rugby League footballers, playing with the greatest rugby player ever in Wally Lewis. It is stunning how little Ulster use that tactic but how effective it is against quick line speeds.

      • Amiga500

         /  January 5, 2016

        Ulster’s problem is fairly straightforward – right now outside of Nick Williams, they’ve no forwards who can generate momentum close to rucks.

        When Henderson comes back – and assuming he’s allowed to play at 6, that’ll change.

        [Its such a shame 1F couldn’t overcome his injuries – imagine him, Henderson, Williams and McCloskey in the one team – Carnage!]

        • Curious to know if there are more injuries caused by forwards running close to rucks than running wider out on the edge of rucks or into the backs?

          • Amiga500

             /  January 6, 2016

            Hard to know – one is bigger men, the other is probably faster hits.

  4. curates_egg

     /  January 4, 2016

    Am surprised you were also buying into the lazy media story around Leinster. All these stories about a slump that has been stopped belie the facts. Bad news is good news, so it was great column inches and provided a platform for Dexy’s et al to froth at the mouth but they don’t stand up to much analysis.

    Apart from the bizarre loss against Wasps, the season has probably gone better than most people suspected in the context: new inexperienced coach, missing 20 plus players for the first two months, post-RWC fatigue. Our Pro12 form and results have been consistent and good, and far better than last season. The performances and style of play have been cohesive: swashbuckling at times in the first couple of months and very solid defensively all through (again, apart from the bizarre Wasps game). We are sitting pretty at Christmas after having won 3 out of 3 interpros in convincing fashion.

    4 losses out of 4 in Europe is, of course, a damning stat but nobody expected us to beat Toulon (even without the aforementioned context) and we ran them close twice. We would have beaten Bath away if the scrum hadn’t bizarrely got its asshole handed to it. We dominated Wasps for most of the game and the scoreline bore no reflection on what happened on the pitch. The final third of that game was appalling and it was a shame to see such experienced players drop heads and standards…however, if we had any coherency in attack and hadn’t had such an odd backline selection (and Kearney hadn’t fallen on his ass) we would have been well up after the first 2/3s. It’s still 4 losses out of 4 but there is more to it than that.

    Long story longer: Leinster are in a better place than where I expected them to be. Crucially, we also now seem to have a squad to get us through the 6 Nations: something we didn’t under MOC. The glass I am drinking from is definitely still at least half full. If you park the Wasps game, Leo has had a pretty decent start and certainly exceeded expectations.

    • D6W

       /  January 4, 2016

      Agree, think Leo has done a decent job so far, all things considered. It will be interesting to see what kind of team he will put out for the 2 dead european rubbers, considering it won’t affect seeding for next years tournament. I would like to see him blood as many young players as he can.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 5, 2016

        Those games provide a good chance for experimentation alright but I am not sure we need to blood any more youngsters. We have already blooded a lot and brought through 2 definitively, with a few more on the fringe.

        Moloney looks like the next one who needs to be transitioned fully into the fold, so I would expect him to start a bit over the next few weeks.
        With Cronin and Strauss both likely to be with Ireland, Tracey also needs to get fully up to speed: he certainly looks to have the physical attributes but I am not 100% convinced by his setpiece yet (then again, that has never bothered Cronin).
        Marsh is also likely to be needed in the 6 Nations window, although I can see Jackson being back-up 10 this season due to his form and Madigan’s lack of gametime (I thought the omission of Leo in his thanks to Leinster spoke more than anything else).

  5. Peter Daly

     /  January 4, 2016

    Great to have ye back lads. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Here’s to a great 2016.

    Now for the business. I know you guys touched on it a bit on twitter but I’m much more hyped about Jack O’Donaghue than Josh van der Flier. Could it be the Dublin meeja or that van der Flier is a sexier name ripe for the headlines? Granted I am a Munster fan but O’Donaghue is younger, more experienced and has shown more over a longer period. I know van der Flier is a 7, a position of relative scarcity, while O’Donaghue’s a 6/8 but he’s looked great playing out of position in an unbalanced backrow and would seem to fit the bill as a Joe Schmidt type of squad player capable of covering multiple positions.

  6. ruckinhell

     /  January 4, 2016

    Some great talent coming through- Ringrose, VDF, ODonoghue all look like real prospects for the next World Cup. The player who looks like the real deal for now is big Stu McCloskey though, he seems to have it all. Which is why it was hilarous listening to Shaggy Horgan on second captains today- asked about Ringrose and McCloskey he rambled on about Ringrose for several minutes before the obligatory Fitz for Ireland plug. Didn’t mention McCloskey once; Shaggy is fast becoming the Frankie Sheahan of Leinster!

    At present, form 3/4 line would be Fitz, McCloskey, Marshall, Trimble, Henshaw with Ringrose may be getting a bit of time against Italy in lieu of Marshall.

  7. andrew097

     /  January 4, 2016

    Keep Luke on the wing a world class winger but a useful centre plus with his injury record he should be kept out of heavy traffic and told to txt book well timed, don’t hurt yourself tackling.
    I am a bit underwhelmed by the hype of the new young guy and it is hype. Ireland have potential in the backs but the half backs unexpectedly were a bit undercooked during the WC what happens there God knows because they really need to sharpen up.
    It would be nice to have three sevens TOD, VDF and Henry, there is a real possibility of Ireland playing some good rugby, it would be nice to move away from kick and chase the bod box kick.
    Hopefully Leinster will continue to improve

  8. Pete

     /  January 4, 2016

    Welcome back gents.

    A few bits from me.

    1: delighted with the center options and that’s before olding is back. Henshaw should move to 13 (where he has played a lot and has all the skills. 12 for me is between mccloskey or fitz. Mccloskey has been incredible and fitz has been playing out of his skin. Both have been playing better than ringrose by some distance I think.

    2: van der flier is insane. His carrying is such a huge positive and is not brought up enough, he comes on to the ball at pace!!!!!!! So few Irish players do that the way he does! He is making some outrageous amount of tackles. I’ve seen figures over 20 a few times I think. Put that int perspective against POM or Murphy! Van der flier and stander could leapfrog all bar o’brien and maybe heaslip.

    3: our lock situation is not at all good. Like really not good. I’d bet on us not winning the 6n due to our locks options and cover. Toner-Ryan-McCarthy which is already a massive step down but then the drop off to our next set of options…………

    4: someone mentioned the Leinster team during the 6n being possibly ok…….I don’t agree

    Bent-Tracey-furlong
    Denton-Maloney
    Ruddock-Conan-Ryan
    Boss-Marsh
    T’eo-Ringrose
    Nacewa-kirchner-McFadden

    The weight of giving up 8 (maybe9) players to Ireland in the front five means we won’t be a force during that window I don’t think.

    5: Payne should revert to 15. Serves neither ulster or Ireland best at 13 right now.

    6: my team for Wales with a month to go

    McGrath-best-Moore
    Toner-McCarthy
    Stander-heaslip-o’brien
    Murray-sexton
    Mccloskey-Henshaw
    Fitz-Kearney-Trimble

    Strauss-Healy-white-Ryan-Henry-reddan-Jackson-zebo

    Van der flier and Marmion to get game time during championship

    • Sean O'Brien

       /  January 5, 2016

      Hello all,

      Leinster’s 3rd choice front row is as strong as most club’s 2nd choice. Unfortunately that level of depth does not extend past the number 3 jersey (mmmmaybe the back row). Jamie Hagan actually steadied a few ships during 6N time last year if memory serves me correctly.

      Personally I would love to see, for a limited time only, a 5 on Rhys Ruddock’s back for the 6N. He’s a solid option in the lineout, though quite light during scrum time. McCarthy and Dillane at 19 isn’t the worst set up, but if you were Muldowney you’d have to feel slightly aggrieved. Anyway, back to Ruddock. I do feel that he is close to a nailed on starter in Schmidt’s eyes, he was in ahead of Murphy no doubt but for the arm break a few months ago, and he’s a like for like replacement for POM. O’Brien will be 7 and, perhaps unfortunately for the longer term, Heaslip WILL be at no.8. You can be damn sure Gatty would have Stander, VDF and O’Donoghue all starting, and there is reason enough to argue it wouldn’t be a bad idea, that reason being Japan 2019. In my fantasy world, Ruddock moves to 5, Stander goes to 6, Sob and Heaslip do their thing. I dunno, back row options abound (haven’t even mentioned Masterson or Connoly). Schmidt needs to be brave and pick on form, but generally speaking Heaslip hasn’t let him down much. Schmidt doesn’t forget the last ditch tackle in Murrayfield and he doesn’t forget the rucking and effort against the French in the group game, and he is loyal to a fault.

      My concern for Japan (in more immediate terms) and the intervening period, is the lack of back up for Murray at scrum half. Marmion has not cut it in most consequential fixtures, at least not for me. Blade, McGrath and Porter all look okay, but it is an issue right now. As is 10, and Schmidt’s preference for DKearney. Let’s be fair, he has stank the place out of it since letting those early Argentinian breaks get past him. Give Zebo time on the wing again. He won’t let us down. Give McCloskey the 12 shirt, Henshaw 13, Trimble 14, Kearney 15 until Payne gets the moon boot off him. Earls to duke it out with Fitzgerald for the 23 jersey forever more unless they both make a blood pact to keep to the left and right wing respectively or Fitz commits to 12. Jackson has earned the 22 jersey, but I’m not convinced Schmidt will see it that way.

      Personally, while I’d love to see about 40 players used throughout this 6N, and results be damned (or at least not be the be all and end all), with a hat trick on the line, and following that another crack at the potentially vulnerable ABs at the end of the year, I foresee a conservative approach for the year. Conservatives might point towards England’s underpeformance after the investment made in the WC, but England were missing a clarity of vision. Schmidt has vision out the wazoo, he needs players who can not only perform for that vision, but enhance it through their abilities. To make really great players they need to lose a few games, and the only way to do that is to play a few games. The way it’s looking, the majority of those games will be played in provincial colours.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 6, 2016

        Ruddock is a very different type of player to O’Mahony. Each brings a different set of skills and strengths to the 6 position. You can argue about which set you prefer (I would have Ruddock every day) but they are not “like for like”, apart from the fact they both wear 6.

        • Peter Daly

           /  January 6, 2016

          You’d really have Ruddock over O’Mahony? Personally I think that’d give us a awfully unbalanced backrow if O’Brien is playing, not to mention seriously weakening out lineout (a big issue post O’Connell).

          • curates_egg

             /  January 6, 2016

            Definitely weakens the lineout. Don’t think the balance thing is a problem though: O’Brien and Heaslip are very adaptable players.

        • Peter Daly

           /  January 6, 2016

          The lineout thing for me is huge seeing how important it is. You need at least 3 targets in the modern game. Also O’Mahony is a fantastic defensive lineout operator. I agree that Heaslip and O’Brien are adaptable but for me taking out O’Mahony would detract too much from they’re best attributes. Also there’s the leadership aspect. O’Mahony very much in the O’Connell mode as an emotional driver.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 7, 2016

            Again, I agree his lineout operation would be a big loss. However, I don’t buy the emotional driver spiel either: it seems to be important for his own game but I doubt it has much influence on players like O’Brien and Heaslip; it is not the junior cup quarter final in Clanwilliam.

    • Amiga500

       /  January 5, 2016

      As a man with a season ticket on the Terrace at ravenhill Chris Henry needs a big few weeks – he’s starting to slow a bit too much for me now – right now I’d have VDF on the bench ahead of him*.

      Another player that consistently impresses me is Alan O’Connor – there is a real good attitude about him and it makes up for maybe lack of height. If the 2nd row options are really bad, I’d like to see him be considered. Definitely Ulster’s 2nd choice lock after VDM for me (ahead of big Dan).

      I’d also not have Kearney in the team at all – unless someone draws a little line on the grass for him to learn in training as part of a set move he’s utterly useless at cutting a line. Ringrose/Marshall at 13 and Henshaw at 15. Or if Payne is fit, Henshaw at 13, Payne at 15.

      I’d also have Cian Healy on shaky ground too – needs a few big performances with Kyle McCall playing so well up here*.

      *These are the kind of calls where you build for a world cup or don’t.

      • A season ticket holder eh, on the terrace no less. If Ulster rugby were a financial investment would you check out their track record first and the track record of their management? Anybody buying an Ulster season ticket is nostalgic of former schools cup glories, a pillar of the parochial establishment that is the middle class of Tatler society rather than Ulster or a gambler of long odds. Ulster rugby needs an ethical investment committee for all the money invested in overseas contracts compared to local youth rugby. The only reason I can see to buy an Ulster season ticket is to avoid the apologist Jim Neilly on BBC or the cringeworthy Mark Robson on Sky.

        • Stephen

           /  January 6, 2016

          Whiff, do yourselves a favour and drop this Theron eejit. He’s been polluting the42’s comment threads since day 1, no good will come of him

          • Whiff, Stephen clearly knows his rugby and is making a really useful contribution by reducing whatever knowledge he does have to name calling.

        • Amiga500

           /  January 6, 2016

          @Theron

          WTF was that all about?!?

          If you must know, I’m not from a schools cup or tatler society background.

          Having an ST would only avoid TV for home games. But, I’m certain that’s irrelevant to your point – so if you want to continue to climb up your own arse, go ahead.

          • @Amiga if you peruse the Irish rugby fans forum outside of the Ulster fans. You will see how respect Ulster rugby performances have among fans outside of Ulster. Even my Dentist stopped going to games after the Saracens rout. The Saracens game proved how far off the standard Ulster are for major trophies. Change is never easy but while season ticket sponsorship of mediocrity continues Ulster will remain the same. So I will say this at least I am not brown nosing a complete bunch of amateurs with no track record in what they are supposed to be doing other than Les Kiss. If you are in any doubt about this the track record of Mark McCall since he left Ulster says it all.

          • D6W

             /  January 6, 2016

            @Theron Maybe you should stick to those forums them, not the case on this one.

          • @D6W, says a supporter from a competing province. Who benefits from Ulster’s underperformance?

          • Amiga500

             /  January 7, 2016

            @Theron
            So your a glory hunter then? 😉

            That’s fine, sure Man City are still doing reasonably well (I assume you’ve already transferred your allegiance from Chelsea by now). Or go watch the Belfast Giants.

            Real support is not conditional on performances.
            ————————

            The Saracens away game (assuming we get the 9 pts we need before then) will give us a better indicator of where we are. At the hour mark, Ulster were still leading – albeit more hanging on than pushing on.

          • @Amiga

            Not a soccer fan and would only go to see the Giants if tickets were complimentary but have been to Wembley to see GB take on Australia and the Challenge Cup as well as Quarters, Semis and final of Ulster’s last European Cup win. Still remember the people sitting in the stands after the win trying to take it in.
            Real support which is not conditional on performance makes you a consumer to be cashed in on and if performances are not important why are you commenting on the Ulster players performance?

            Let’s be clear here Doak has a very watchable running game but as the Munster game proved it is nowhere near enough against fast line speeds. This was evident last year against Glasgow and Leinster as well. The Saracens Wolf pack like them or lump them have been heavily influenced by Rugby League for those of us who watch it. The next generation of Rugby League greats Kevin Sinfield (sports personality of the year award) is transitioning to rugby union coaching. It is the skills and experience of this type of coach who would have the knowledge to take Ulster’s attack to the next level.

          • Amiga500

             /  January 7, 2016

            “Real support which is not conditional on performance makes you a consumer to be cashed in on and if performances are not important why are you commenting on the Ulster players performance?”

            In what world did I say performances are not important and that supporters cannot have their say on the players’ performances?

            The distinction is that I’m not abandoning the team when things aren’t going well, unlike a glory hunter such as yourself (I suspect you probably didn’t bother to attend the non European games in ’99?).

            It has long been known that Ulster’s running game doesn’t work well against rush defences – indeed, most teams’ running game suffers against such defences. However, that doesn’t mean you chuck out the baby with the bathwater.

            I find your comment about Kevin Sinfield’s experience laughable – who has he coached to date? A good player does not make a good coach. If the IRFU were to take him in, he’d have to prove himself in the AIL before being let near the provincial setup. But no doubt, its a good soundbite from a Monday morning quarterback.

          • “Real support is not conditional upon performances” I have got news for you things have not been going well for at least decade or more.
            Given that you have not admitted to being from a schools cup or tatler society background you must be a gambler of long odds or worst of all a retired alickadoo.
            “Doesn’t work well against rush defences”. You need to widen your horizons and watch some NRL. As far as “chucking the baby out with the bathwater” is concerned Ulster have reached a glass ceiling on how far they can go with the running game. It needs to be augmented with an accurate out of hand kicking game.
            If you knew the skills that Kevin Sinfield had you would find the suggestion less laughable. You need educate yourself on the codes of rugby and what skills are transferable before you make anymore very public faux pas.

          • Amiga500

             /  January 11, 2016

            Yes…. things were going shockingly badly when Ulster got through to the HEC final. They were even worse the next year when we went till December losing only one match (bloody disaster it turned out to be too). Definitely not going well at all… especially when we topped the league back in 12/13.

            Yes, lets all employ Rugby League attack coaches, that’s a definite way to go – I know – lets employ Andy Farrell as the Irish attack coach – he’s a rugby league legend – sure what could go wrong?

            Who is lurching from public faux pas to idiotic statement to blissful ignorance I wonder?

  9. Sean O'Brien

     /  January 5, 2016

    There’s also a very real possibility that, if Murray and Best were injured, that numbers 1-12 could all be Leinster players, I really hope that doesn’t come to pass.

  10. While we all surely agree that Ringrose is a great talent and we all hope he will reach the top in the near future I’m reminded of the last ‘Dublin Meeja’ star in the making, one Jordi Murphy who was touted as one so talented that he could cover the Whole back Row in an Ireland squad.
    Now maybe he’ll get back to that level in the near future. I’d bet that Joe Schmidt wont be overly pressured by the same ‘Meeja’ nor I hope would he throw a talented young lad like Ringrose into the deep end on the ‘Meeja’ say so.

  11. Pete

     /  January 5, 2016

    I think there is very little to suggest that ringrose is playing better than mccloskey or Fitzgerald

    • Yossarian

       /  January 6, 2016

      I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that. He is definitely one to watch and be brought into camp same way Furlong (and even Henshaw in BOD’s last season )were. In all likelihood he will be an international so the earlier he is exposed to camps the better.

      I don’t agree with sacrificing 6 nations games to blood youngsters,or to focus on the world cup in 4 years-as we saw best laid plans can be scuppered by injury or as the Aussies show you can change things very quickly.

      that said if we lose to Wales and perhaps away to France/England i would treat the remainder as a chance to experiment when the prize of winning is gone anyway.

      • Peter Daly

         /  January 6, 2016

        There’s this debate every January about sacrificing 6 Nations games versus blooding youngsters. The issue Ireland have is if we don’t blood players during the Six Nations then when do we do it. On our summer tour to South Africa? That’d be feeding lambs to the slaughter. The November internationals? I don’t think Joe will sacrifice either the Australia or AB fixture. That leaves the Canada game as the lone opportunity between now and summer 2017 if you’re excluding the Six Nations.

        As for the Six Nations scenario you lay out if we lose two of our opening three fixtures we’ll be in face saving mode so unlikely to risk losing to either Scotland or Italy by picking untested young players.

        If Joe thinks McCloskey, Ringrose, VDF or any of the young players breaking through are potential Internationals now is the time to play them. The Southern Hemisphere sides are much better about giving youth a shot. Jesse Kriel was the same age Ringrose was last year and he was thrown in against Australia in the Rugby Championship. Fekitoa is the same age as McCloskey and has 13 caps for the AB’s.

        As an aside I’d use the career of JJ Hanrahan as a indicator for how wary Irish teams are of youth. In 2012 he was voted among the top three young players at the IRB Junior RWC ahead of outhalves like Handre Pollard and Henry Slade both now key players at club level and in Pollards case International. George Ford was the previous winner and look where he is now. Other players he beat out include Teddy Thomas, Jack Nowell, Gael Fickou and Paulo Matera who are all seasoned internationals. Hanrahan came home and sat behind Keatley as Munster thought he was too untested for the big games. Now he’s moved abroad and at 23 he’s off the international radar.

        We’ve won back to back Six Nations and Joe is pretty secure in his job. He has all the breathing room he needs to take a few shots in the dark.

        • I agree with a lot of what you write and I also am annoyed over the slow and over careful nature of developing young talented players.
          For sure Hanrahan has been lost temporarily and that’s definitely due to him being ranked No.2 in Munster with few chance in important games to demonstrate his ability. Except things like that try in Perpignan which was enough for me but not for the Provincial coach.
          I think the key here for young players is nailing down a first choice position in their club and that shouldn’t just be down to the provincial coach either.
          The step is less of a risk when there’s evidence.

          • Peter Daly

             /  January 6, 2016

            You hit the nail on the head there. The main issue is at club level where there are a myriad of problems in my opinion. While some of it is unavoidable due to only having 4 professional teams there are some area’s Nucifora needs to address and others that coaches need to be empowered. Players also need to step up to the plate.

            1. There needs to be more IRFU influence in getting players to move on long/short terms deals. Why are the 3 of the best tightheads in Ireland all playing in Leinster while Munster and Ulster trot out journeymen SA’s in big games. Furlong has 32 minutes of action in the ECC so far. Why not have Herbst or Botha ride the pine in Leinster while Furlong or Moore sees action elsewhere on a short term deal. Munster lose Jones and sign Ambrosini, why not send Dardis or Leader down as cover. Ulster need an 8. Surely Conan could do a job up there on a similar deal.

            2. We need to stop signing middling foreign players who are slight upgrades on local talent. Gopperth is the prime example. We knew exactly what he was. Solid and unspectacular but since O’Conner was fighting for his job that’s what he needed. Maybe it’s the modern culture of getting on the coaches back so soon that they’re not willing to take chances but they must be empowered to. Lets not forget that it was an injury (albeit to a great overseas recruit) that thrust Johnny Sexton into the spotlight aged 23.

            3. Youngsters on the fringes need to encouraged to move abroad in search of game time. Too many of them are happy being seen as squad members and never pushing on. Look at how James Hart and Chris Farrell have kicked on. It didn’t do Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings or Tommy Bowe any harm either. Youngsters need to be challenged. It won’t always work out but it’ll bring new ideas and new methods to Irish rugby.

            I could really go on and on regarding this subject so apologies for the rammble

      • I’m sorry, but why is blooding new players the same as sacrificing matches? Why are the two things seen as being mutually exclusive? That bullshit’s been peddled by coaches and the media since forever. I think picking form players for Ireland would actually improve the team (a revolutionary notion that Ireland, and indeed provincial coaches have never really grasped). There’s fox news levels of scaremongering in the media every time an old (and past it) player is looking like being dropped and then the vast majority of the time the lad that replaces him is a serious upgrade and never looks back. Stringer, o gara, easterby, [ferris, heaslip, luke Fitzgerald(none in wc squad…test lions 2 years later)], Murray, sexton, Henshaw, sob, ross, heaslip all examples that come to mind. Gatland had no problem picking a shower of 20 year old nobody’s at RWC 11 and they swatted our ‘best ever team’ away.

        ”how can we compete with New Zealand given their culture, playing population bla bla bla”? Well I suggest looking at how they started Lima Sopoaga (one of the form players in their league), at outhalf, against south Africa, in south Africa, for his first cap. Shock horror the form player was great and won them the match.
        Then I would compare this to Ireland, who play an 80 cap, 35 year old Gordon D’Arcy who’d shot it 4 years ago and presented the same ball-in-hand threat as Mike ross, vs Australia(golden opportunity against a team a class above six nations but not as good as SA or NZ), the might of Georgia, and a few weeks before a WC against the Scottish B team. We can whinge about our lack of depth or actually try to do something about it.

  12. Welcome back lads, good to see you back to help me procrastinate through the day!

    Being an Ulsterman living in Dublin I do enjoy winding folks up about how poor Leinster have been, but it’s astonishing to see how much of a difference of opinion there’s been since I went home for Christmas. All of a sudden Leo has gone from “being thrown under the bus” to “doing a good job, no-one better to steady the ship”. Which is fine, but I think the real test will be (similar to last season) the 6N period. Yes, Leinster have quietly gone up the table in the Pro12, but how much can they do without the bulk of their squad a good few weeks?

    As for the centre partnership, if Henshaw was good enough to play out of position (albeit with a year playing understudy to BOD at international camps) Choo Choo and Ringrose should both be good enough. Whoever Schmidt goes for, we should be fine I guess? I just want to see a response to the World Cup and some less picking players to play them into form.

    • curates_egg

       /  January 6, 2016

      Except Leinster haven’t been poor: they’ve only lost two in the league and started the season with a bang. It’s a lazy narrative that sold copy.

      • D6W

         /  January 6, 2016

        There was quite a number of handling errors and bad lineouts at the start of this season, which thankfully seem to have been reduced.

        • curates_egg

           /  January 6, 2016

          Our lineout has been poor since Gibbes left…as has our maul. As for handling errors, we spent the last 2 years not handling the ball at all, so it is bound to take a while to get used to the pill again.

  13. Pete

     /  January 6, 2016

    Payne has just been added to ulster’s European squad in place of Nelson. Hoping I’m not clutching at straws here but does that mean Payne will be used mainly as a back 3 player since that is what Nelson is????? That would be great news. More pressure on Kearney please.

    It sucks a bit that Madison and jj have left, I think a player who leaves would be so well placed in Connacht a lot of the time. Maybe they wouldn’t want either of them but it would definitely up their squad depth and talent.

    Anyone else terrified by our weakling engine room for the 6n???

    We should use this 6nations to blood people because
    1) we know we can beat all the 6nations teams, it is not above us
    2) we should not be experimenting against southern opposition who we have issues beating
    3) we have won the last 2 championships
    4) we have a long period before the World Cup so using a six nations now is much better than using one in 2018 or 2019

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