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6 Nations

Ireland’s Redemption Mission

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One of the worst Ireland performances of the Joe Schmidt era, coupled with some of the best rugby Italy have played in years, meant Ireland had quite the scare in Rome. The 9th of March will see the French arrive into the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. A competent win against the Scots in Paris last time may have papered over some cracks in French camp, but France do have a tendency to completely fall asunder when playing away from home. Two teams playing below their best, but what can Ireland need to do over the next few days to try get back in form?

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It is clear that some of the senior players are not motivated like they usually are. The best performers of the Six Nations so far have been fringe players trying to force their way into contention. Ultan Dillane stood out against Italy, and in his bench cameo in Murrayfield. Quinn Roux has been rock solid calling lineouts, John Cooney has shined for his all too brief cameos off the bench. The body language some players are showing makes it seem like there is dissatisfaction in camp. The usual high fives, slaps on the back, all of the usual signs of good team atmosphere are not as evident

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Ireland’s halfbacks, the envy of most sides in world rugby have been playing at a level some way below their very high standards. Conor Murray’s usually pinpoint box-kicking has been off kilter; forgivable perhaps for the England game where Eddie’s men did an outstanding job of disrupting Ireland’s kicking game. Keith Earls, usually Ireland’s main kick-chaser, was targeted with Owen Farrell’s up-and-unders. Earls being forced to field the ball, obviously took him out of the game, forcing Conor Murray to kick to touch more often than he would have liked.

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Kicking has not been Murray’s only problem. His passing has not been as crisp as it once was, not quite at his usual accuracy. Murray looks like he has lost muscle mass in his upper body,  due to his injury enforced layoff, and this seems to have had a knock on effect on his passing. It hasn’t been all bad from Murray, he kicked two goals and scored one of his trademark sniping tries against Italy, but he does look like a player out of sorts, perhaps not fully fit.

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Breakdown has been a problem for Ireland this Six Nations. Tom Curry made the seasoned Ireland back row look like amateurs in Dublin, counterrucking like an animal and winning jackal turnovers. Lack of turnovers threat is something that Ireland have been hurt by this year, and for that reason, Tadhg Beirne needs to start against France. Beirne is quite simply the best breakdown operator in the country, and Ireland will need that, and his ball-carrying, against a big French pack. Demba Bamba, Guilhelm Guirado, Felix Lambey, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles, will all carry ball for days, and Ireland will need all the carriers they can get, so CJ Stander needs to come straight back into the squad.

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CJ Stander is one of the hardest working players in the Ireland squad. He has been criticised in the past by the likes of Stuart Barnes for putting up big numbers of carries, but not having a high enough count of his metres made. This is an unfounded criticism, by people who don’t pay attention to how CJ actually plays the game, and just looks at the stats, stats of course never tell the whole story. CJ takes all of the dirtiest ball, standing start, pod of three forwards in front of him, pick and go, you name it CJ will take that ball and he will make you a couple of yards. He doesn’t always give you big highlight reel carries like Billy Vunipola might do, but he is consistent in what he does. Munster have started using CJ on kick returns, and this something well worth considering for Joe, because once CJ gets going, he is a seriously hard man to stop.

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Joe Schmidt is undoubtedly one of, if not the best head coach in world rugby, but if you had to criticise him, his use of replacement half-backs would be top of the list. Murray and Sexton over the last year have been the best in the business, but as we have seen over the past month, even the best have their off days. John Cooney, the form scrum-half in the country has sat on the bench for the first three games, getting less than ten minutes in each game. Cooney has upped the tempo considerably when he has come on, and has made Ireland look a much better team. Discounting one 80 minute shift, John Cooney has 5 caps amounting to a total of 27 minutes of game time. For a guy who has single-handedly won games for Ulster this year, its borderline disrespectful.

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It’s a recurring theme with Schmidt. Even Kieran Marmion, who guided Ireland to a win over New Zealand has been massively under utilised. The Connacht half-back has been named on Ireland bench 23 times, 8 of these he wasn’t used, and he completed two 40 minute stints on the wing. Fair enough leaving Conor Murray on the field if it’s a very tight game and himself and Johnny are on song, but sometimes the kicking gameplan just isn’t working, and you need something different. John Cooney brings that. Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath both bring that. They need to be used. They need to be trusted. Aside from Conor Murray, Ireland have four international quality scrum-halves, and as Kieran Marmion proved last November, there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be trusted.

Schmidt is not the only coach with an aversion to changing halfbacks. Many England fans were bemoaning the fact that Dan Robson and George Ford didn’t make it onto the park in Cardiff, even when it became apparent that the gameplan was failing. The starters may be better all round players, but sometimes you need a change. As with Joe, Eddie has trust issues.

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Tempo is something Ireland will need this weekend. The France forwards are real big boys, and Ireland will not want to avoid a battering match the likes of Sebastian Vahaamahina and Wenceslas Lauret. Ireland will need to run them around the park as much as they can, especially late in the game. This is where John Cooney and Jack Carty could shine. It would be great to see Jack Carty get a decent run this week. With his first touch of international rugby he made half a break. Imagine what he could do with more than two and a half minutes?

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Ireland have to get themselves back on track this weekend. This Six Nations may be a write off, but Ireland need to get their mojo. France are going to be a test this weekend. An unchanged lineup from the team that competently dismantled Scotland must mean that the winds of common sense have blown through Jacques Brunel’s moustache. The cliche of which France team is going to show up is overused at this stage, but has come true in a big way this Six Nations. France’s last away game may have been an unmitigated disaster, but you get the sneaking feeling Dublin could be different. Ireland will have a job on their hands, and they need to get it done.

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6 Nations

World Rugby applies 50/22 law trial globally, bolster concussion protocol

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World Rugby announced on Wednesday five law trials which will start next month, including a so-called “50/22” kicking adaptation.

The 50/22 change allows a team to gain a throw-in inside the opposition’s 22-metre area by kicking the ball to touch with at least one bounce from their own half.

The rule was used in recent Super Rugby tournaments and its primary intention is to “encourage the defensive team to put more players in the backfield, thereby creating more attacking space and reducing defensive line speed”, according to the sport’s governing body.

The other laws to come into force on a temporary basis from August 1 include a goal-line drop-out if the ball is held up in the in-goal area, if there is a knock-on from an attacking player in the same area or an attacking kick is grounded by the defenders in their own in-goal.

There are also restrictions on attacking players latching onto team-mates from a ruck and clean-outs which target or drop weight onto the lower limbs at the breakdown.

Michael Hooper with a textbook tackle close out a certain try

The final trial allows for a one-player latch before contact, but the individual must “observe all of the requirements for a first arriving player, particularly the need to stay on their feet”.

World Rugby has also moved to strengthen concussion protocols, with independent specialists set to review cases when Test players return to action after a head injury.

They will launch a panel of Independent Concussion Consultants (ICCs) to provide expert opinion on whether players are ready to return to action after head knocks.

The global governing body will fully fund the process for Test-level competitions, with ICCs asked to rule when players look to return to action 10 days or fewer after a concussion or on players deemed higher risk due to previous head-injury history.

Source – Australia Rugby

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6 Nations

England name 8 new caps for USA clash

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Eddie Jones has named his England team for this weekend’s Test match against USA.

Eight uncapped players are set to make their debuts at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 4 July (2pm KO).

Lewis Ludlow will captain the side at blind-side flanker, with Sam Underhill at open-side flanker and Callum Chick at No.8.

Ellis Genge (loose-head prop) will be vice-captain and is joined by Curtis Langdon (hooker) and Joe Heyes (tight-head prop) in the front row.

Locks Josh McNally and Charlie Ewels complete the tight five.

Henry Slade, the most-capped player in the squad, will be at outside centre with Ollie Lawrence at inside centre.  Marcus Smith will start at fly half and Harry Randall is at scrum half. 

Freddie Steward is at full back, while Max Malins (left) and Joe Cokanasiga (right) are on the wings in attack.

Among the finishers there are four further uncapped players who could make their first appearance for England – Jamie Blamire, Trevor Davison, Ben Curry and Jacob Umaga.  Beno Obano, Ted Hill, Lewis Ludlam and Dan Robson are also named as finishers.

Jones said: “Over the past three weeks our biggest message to the players is what an opportunity this is to show what they can do and make their mark with England.

“They’ve applied themselves as a group and worked very hard individually during this camp to reach their personal bests.

“Now it’s all about coming together as a team, gelling and putting in a good performance at the weekend.”

England v USA is live on Channel 4, with coverage starting from 1.30pm.

England XV Starters
15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
14. Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 9 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 38 caps)
12. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors, 6 caps)
11. Max Malins (Saracens, 7 caps)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, uncapped)
9. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, uncapped)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 28 caps)
2. Curtis Langdon (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
3. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
4. Josh McNally (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 21 caps)
6. Lewis Ludlow (C) (Gloucester Rugby, uncapped)
7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 22 caps)
8. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)

Finishers
16. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
17. Beno Obano (Bath Rugby, 1 cap)
18. Trevor Davison (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
19. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors, 1 cap)
20. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
21. Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 8 caps)
22. Dan Robson (Wasps, 12 caps)
23. Jacob Umaga (Wasps, uncapped)

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6 Nations

James Ryan starts for Ireland v Japan

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ireland coaching team have named the Ireland match day squad to face Japan at the Aviva Stadium in the opening fixture of the Vodafone Summer Series.

James Ryan will wear the captain’s armband on Saturday and will be partnered in the second row by Ultan Dillane.

Peter O’Mahony starts on the blindside flank and is joined in the backrow by Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris, who makes his international return after missing the 2021 Six Nations Championships.

The front row is made up of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Finlay Bealham.

At half-back Jamison Gibson Park will partner Joey Carbery who returns to the international scene for the first time since the Rugby World Cup in 2019.  Stuart McCloskey and Chris Farrell are paired in midfield while Jacob Stockdale and Jordan Larmour on the wings and Hugo Keenan is at fullback.

The replacements include Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, John Ryan, Ryan Baird, the uncapped  Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey, Billy Burns and Shane Daly.

Last weekend Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms made the British and Irish Lions work hard for their 28-10 victory in Murrayfield.

Five Ireland players – Chris Farrell, Jacob Stockdale, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony and James Ryan started against Japan in the last encounter between the two sides at the 2019 Rugby World Cup with Dave Kilcoyne, Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour featuring off the bench that day in Shizuoka.

The match will be televised by RTE (ROI) Channel 4 (NI) and kicks off at 1.00pm.

Vodafone Summer Series 2021

Ireland team to play Japan – 3rd July 2021, Aviva Stadium


15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 11 caps
14. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 29 caps
13. Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 14 caps
12. Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 4 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 34 caps
10. Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 22 caps
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 43 caps
2. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 11 caps
3. Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 14 caps
4. Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 18 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 35 caps captain
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 75 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 31 caps
8. Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 7 caps

Replacements
16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 21 caps
17. Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps
18. John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 23 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 3 caps
20. Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped
21. Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 1 cap
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
23. Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution) 1 cap

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