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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.


6 Nations

Emerging Ireland Matches To Be Streamed on IrishRugby.ie

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All three Emerging Ireland games in the Toyota Challenge will be streamed live on Irishrugby.ie.

The squad arrive in Bloemfontein today (Tuesday) and will train in Greys College tomorrow (Wednesday) ahead of their opening fixture against the Griquas on Friday 30th September.

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The game against the Griquas kicks off at 12.45 Irish time and will be available to view live on Irishrugby.ie.  The match day 23 to face the Griquas will be named on Thursday.

Emerging Ireland play the Pumas on Wednesday 5th October (KO 4.00pm) and the Cheetahs on Sunday 9th October (2.00pm)

Emerging Ireland Squad: Meet the Players – click here

Emerging Ireland Toyota Challenge Fixtures 2022

Windhoek Draught Griquas vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Friday 30th September 2022, KO 12:45 (Irish time)

Airlink Pumas vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Wednesday 5th October 2022, KO 16:00 (Irish time)

Toyota Cheetahs vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Sunday 9th October 2022, KO 14:00 (Irish time)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Emerging Ireland Squad: Meet the Players

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The Emerging Ireland squad that will compete in the Toyota Challenge in Bloemfontein over the next two weeks features a host of players that have starred for Ireland at underage level and on the world stage for the Ireland Sevens. Fourteen were part of the IRFU’s National Talent Squad programme and the majority have already made a breakthrough at senior level for their Provinces.

The Capped Players

Max Deegan was named Player of the Tournament after helping the Ireland U20s to the final of the 2016 U20 World Rugby Championships. He was capped by Ireland against Wales in the 2020 Six Nations Championships and despite some serious injury setbacks, has amassed 85 senior caps for Leinster.

Shane Daly has two caps for Ireland, making his senior debut against Georgia in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup. A former Ireland Sevens international, he has 49 senior caps for Munster.

Robert Baloucoune is another former Ireland Sevens international who has two senior international caps having made his debut against the USA in July 2021. The winger has 47 senior caps for Ulster.

The Maori Crew

Cian Prendergast played in both games against the Maori All Blacks during the summer. He played for the Ireland U20s in 2020 and has made 32 senior appearances for Connacht.

Joe McCarthy also played in both fixtures against the Maori All Blacks on the 2022 New Zealand Tour and played Ireland U20s with Prendergast in 2020. The second row has made 13 senior appearances for Leinster.

The Development Brief

Both Tom Ahern and Jamie Osborne trained with the Ireland squad as Development Players ahead of the 2021 Autumn Nations Series. Ahern was an Ireland U20 international in 2019 and 2020 missing the Grand Slam campaign through injury. He has made 21 senior appearances for Munster

Osborne represented the Ireland U20s in 2021 but had already made his senior Leinster debut at that stage. He has made 20 senior appearances for Leinster.

Proven Provincials

Stewart Moore, Calvin Nash and Diarmuid Barron have all established themselves as senior Provincial players. All three represented Ireland at U20 World Rugby Championships.

Since making his senior debut for Ulster in December 2019, Moore has accumulated 32 senior appearances. Nash has played 38 senior games for Munster, while Barron has 36 senior Munster caps.

The Class of 2019

John Hodnett, Scott Penny, David McCann, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Brian Deeny, Jake Flannery, Thomas Clarkson, Michael Milne, Callum Reid and Josh Wycherley were all part of Ireland’s U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winning squad in 2019.

At Munster, Hodnett and Wycherley have made 22 and 29 senior provincial appearances respectively while Flannery made six senior appearances for Munster before making the switch to Ulster this season. McCann, who captained the U20s the following year, has made 15 senior appearances for Ulster with Reid clocking 11 appearances to date.

Tierney-Martin has made eight senior appearances for Connacht and scored a try against the Stormers at the weekend. Penny has made the most senior appearances for Leinster with 42 with Milne (18), Clarkson (18) and Deeny (3) also making the breakthrough at senior level for Leo Cullen’s side.

The Sevens Boys

Baloucoune and Daly are not the only two players in the Emerging Ireland squad that have benefitted from exposure to the Ireland Sevens programme.

Andrew Smith and Chay Mullins both won bronze medals at the recent Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town while Cormac Izuchukwu won two Ireland Sevens caps before clocking nine senior appearances for Ulster.

Smith also won the Energia AIL title with Clontarf earlier this year and has made two senior appearances for Leinster. Mullins has joined the Connacht Academy this season having also helped the Ireland U20s to a 2022 Six Nations Grand Slam.

The 2020 Triple Crowners

The 2020 U20 Six Nations was cut short by the Covid pandemic but after three games the Ireland U20 squad had secured wins over Scotland, Wales and England, claiming an unofficial Triple Crown. Ethan McIlroy, Jack Crowley, Tom Stewart and Ben Murphy were in that squad alongside the aforementioned Smith, McCann, Prendergast, Ahern and McCarthy.

McIlroy has made 37 senior appearances for Ulster while Stewart’s progress has been hampered by injury but he claimed an impressive try against Connacht in the first round of this season’s URC.

Out-half Crowley has notched up 16 senior appearances for Munster including a start in the Champions Cup against Castres.  Murphy has also made his senior debut for Leinster having gone on loan to Munster during the 2021/22 season.

The Class of 2021

In 2021, the U20 Six Nations took place in the summer months of June and July as the global pandemic continued to disrupt the rugby calender. Osborne featured strongly for the Richie Murphy’s side but so too did Nathan Doak, Cathal Forde and Sam Illo.

Doak has already made a big impact at senior provincial level with Ulster clocking up 24 appearances since making his debut against Munster in December 2020. Forde has made two senior appearances for Connacht while Illo has featured three times since switching from the Leinster age grade system.

International IQ Rugby

There are three players in the squad that have come through the Irish qualified player pathway. Mullins came via the Bristol Academy and the IRFU’s IQ programme in the UK.

Michael McDonald was born in Ireland but represented Australia U20s at the 2019 U20 World Rugby Championship having emigrated down under with his family at the age of 13. He joined Ulster at the start of the current season.

Antoine Frisch was born in France but qualifies for Ireland via his grandmother. He joined Munster this season from Premiership side Bristol Bears and made his Munster debut against Cardiff in the opening URC fixture of the 2022/23 season.

Roman Salanoa was born in Hawaii but has qualified to play for Ireland through residency. He represented the USA at the 2016 U20 World Rugby Championship. Originally part of the Leinster development programme, Salanoa subsequently joined Munster and has made 10 senior appearances to date.

New Kid on the Block

James Culhane is yet to make his senior debut for Leinster but the powerful number eight left his mark on the 2022 U20 Six Nations. He was named Player of the Tournament as Ireland secured a memorable Grand Slam.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Emerging Ireland Squad Departs For Bloemfontein

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The Emerging Ireland squad have completed a three day camp in the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin and will depart this evening for Bloemfontein ahead of their participation in the Toyota Challenge.

Ciarán Frawley has been ruled out with a shoulder injury picked up playing for Leinster against Benetton on Friday night. Connacht’s Cathal Forde has been with the squad since Friday and will now travel to South Africa. Forde represented Ireland U20s in 2021 and made his Connacht debut against Glasgow in the URC last season.

Caolin Blade picked up an injury playing for Connacht against the Stormers yesterday and has been ruled out of the Tour.  Leinster’s Ben Murphy, who was a member of the 2020 U20s Six Nations squad, has joined the group travelling to South Africa.

Unfortunately, Munster’s Alex Kendellen and Leinster’s Alex Soroka have also both been ruled out of travelling to Bloemfontein. Kendellen will complete his return to play process while Soroka aggravated an existing foot issue.

Ulster’s David McCann joined the squad on Friday. He was a member of the 2019 U20 Six Nations Grand Slam-winning side before captaining the Ireland U20s during the 2020 season.

The squad will depart for South Africa this evening and arrive in Bloemfontein on Tuesday ahead of their first game against the Windhoek Draught Griquas at the Toyota Stadium on Friday (Kick-off 12.45pm Irish time).

It is hoped that all three Emerging Ireland fixtures will be available via a livestream on IrishRugby.ie – details to follow.

Emerging Ireland Squad – Toyota Challenge 2022:

Backs (15)
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen)
Jack Crowley (Munster/Cork Constitution)
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution)
Nathan Doak (Ulster/Banbridge)
Cathal Forde (Connacht/Corinthians)
Jake Flannery (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
Antoine Frisch (Munster)
Michael McDonald (Ulster)
Ethan McIlroy (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
Stewart Moore (Ulster/Malone)
Chay Mullins (Connacht/IQ Rugby)
Ben Murphy (Leinster/Clontarf)
Calvin Nash (Munster/Young Munster)
Jamie Osbourne (Leinster/Naas)
Andrew Smith (Leinster/Clontarf)

Forwards (19)
Tom Ahern (Munster/Shannon)
Diarmuid Barron (Munster/Garryowen)
Thomas Clarkson (Leinster/Dublin University)
James Culhane (Leinster/UCD)
Max Deegan (Leinster/Lansdowne)
Brian Deeny (Leinster/Clontarf)
John Hodnett (Munster/UCC)
Sam Illo (Connacht/Buccaneers)
Cormac Izuchukwu (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
David McCann (Ulster/Banbridge)
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin University)
Michael Milne (Leinster/UCD)
Scott Penny (Leinster/UCD)
Cian Prendergast (Connacht)
Callum Reid (Ulster/Banbridge)
Roman Salonoa (Munster/Shannon)
Tom Stewart (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
Dylan Tierney-Martin (Connacht/Corinthians)
Josh Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster)

Emerging Ireland Fixtures – Toyota Challenge 2022:

(All matches at Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein)

  • Friday 30th September: Windhoek Draught Griquas vs Emerging Ireland, 12.45pm Irish time
  • Wednesday 5th October: Airlink Pumas vs Emerging Ireland, 4pm Irish time
  • Sunday 9th October: Toyota Cheetahs vs Emerging Ireland, 2pm Irish time.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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