RWC2011: Ireland Team preview

1 09 2011

Stephen Ferris gets to grips with England's Courtney Lawes. Pic: Ken Sutton

 

Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
Ireland have been off form for the most part of this year. The only game where they showed what they can really do was the 24-8 defeat of England in the final game of the Six Nations to deny England a Grand Slam. Since then they have lost all four of their warm-up games to Scotland, France (home and away) and England. While there has been much improvements in the forward play, the back line seems to be bereft of ideas and any penetration.

Track Record:
Ireland don’t have much of a track record in the World Cup, they have reached the quarter finals but never progressed beyond that stage four times. The only significant record they hold is the top points scorer of the tournament for Ralph Keyes the Irish fly-half. After a dismal 2007 World Cup in France, Ireland will be looking to make amends.

Best Rugby World Cup moment:
The most iconic moment for the Irish team in previous World Cups came in the ’91 quarter final against Australia, Gordon Hamilton scored a try to put Ireland ahead by 3 points with 5 minutes on the clock. Ireland did not seal the win as a quick tap penalty from Michael Lynagh led to him to score the winning try in the dying seconds leaving 40,000 heartbroken Irish fans wondering what happened!

Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 64-7 (v Namibia 2003)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 19-43 (v New Zealand 1995)

Key Player:
The Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll is heading into his fourth and final World Cup. O’Driscoll remains one of the greatest centres in world rugby to this day. He made his 100th appearance for Ireland against Wales in the 2010 RBS 6 Nations, has led Ireland to four Triple Crowns (in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009) as well as a Championship and Grand Slam.

One to Watch:
The ‘Tullow Tank’, Sean O’Brien has been in devastating for over the last two seasons. He picked up the ERC player of the Year 2011 after a barnstorming Heineken Cup run with Leinster. He is the complete back rower, combining awesome strength with speed and agility. The Carlow man started all nine of Leinster’s Heineken Cup matches, picking up three man-of-the-match awards, and was also first choice for Ireland for all their games in the Six Nations, being named man-of-the-match against Italy.

Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
11/09 – 07:00 BST v USA, New Plymouth
17/09 – 09:30 BST v Australia, Auckland
25/09 – 07:00 BST v Russia, Rotorua
02/10 – 09:30 BST v Italy, Dunedin

Key Clash:
As mentioned in our Australia preview a few days back, the key clash in Pool C is Ireland v The Wallabies. The winner of this game will surely top the pool and likely to face Fiji/Tonga/Wales in a quarter final. Ireland will have to contain the mercurial Australian back line of Genia, Cooper, O’Connor and Beale.

Odds: 40/1 to win the World Cup outright and 3/1 to win their pool.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney says:
Kidney is adamant that losing four warm-up games should not create a sense of negativity around Ireland’s preparations:
“If you don’t win it you are disappointed. But at times you have to see a bigger picture, see where you’re going. While we’re disappointed with our losses against England and France, I’d like to feel that if we had to play them again in five or six weeks’ time we’ll have learned from this experience and we’ll be the better for it.”

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll says:
“This is my last one, I’m not going to look back in five or 10 years and wish that I’d been into it a bit more. I will enjoy the next six, hopefully, seven weeks and, hopefully, create some new memories along the way”
O’Driscoll is keen to point out the World Cup has not started yet: “We weren’t playing in the World Cup. The World Cup is our next game, We’ve a big two weeks ahead of us.”

Prediction:
It all boils down to the crucial game against Australia. A win means an easier path to the semi’s. So far we have not seen anything to expect Ireland to win that game, so, I predict a quarter final exit.

Position: Quarter final exit.

Original article written for therugbyblog.co.uk





#RWC2011 Warm-up, Ireland v England player ratings

29 08 2011

Jonny Wilkinson tackled by Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls. Pic: Ken Sutton

15 Geordan Murphy – 7
Great return to the international fold for the Tigers captain, showed he still has juice in the tank matching Manu Tuilagi for pace in a one on one situation. Assured under the high ball, Rob Kearney will have to watch his back!

14 Tommy Bowe – 6
First game of the warm-ups, took a long time to get into the game, This was not aided by Ireland’s repeated habit of drifting wide with no penetration in the center. Needs more game time.

13 Keith Earls – 5
Earls was at fault for Tuilagi’s almost unchallenged try early in the game but he was probably the only back that could break the line in attack. Multiple times he skipped passed tackles, but as he looked up he had no support to offload to.

12 Gordon D’Arcy – 3
Another anonymous game for D’Arcy, has not shown any improvement in the last 2 matches he has played. Made Mike Tindall look dynamic.

11 Andrew Trimble – 6
Another decent performance from Trimble, similar to Bowe hampered by the lateral play of the Irish backline. When he drifts infield he looks dangerous.

10 Ronan O’Gara – 6
Opting to kick for touch instead of taking easy points on offer was a big mistake in yesterdays must-win game. Other than this, he surprised everyone by opting to run with the ball on a couple of occasions and making some decent ground.

9  Eoin Reddan – 5
Did decently, was under quite a bit of pressure at the rucks as England were quite aggressive in this area and weren’t shy of letting their presence felt.

 

1  Cian Healy – 7
Industrious, took some real punishment from the English pack, seemed to be getting singled out for it quite often.  Unfortunate to sustain some damage to his eye socket which will mean he will miss Ireland’s first game against the USA in 2 weeks.

2  Jerry Flannery – 6
Looked comfortable, provide plenty of quality lineout ball for O’Connell and O’Callaghan to hoover up.

3  Mike Ross – 6
Scrums were on the whole, quite positive, winning one against the head in the first half should have been a big inspiration to the rest of the team but the scrum conceded a penalty 30 seconds later.

4  Donncha O’Callaghan – 6
Always looks a better player playing alongside Paul O’Connell, did well at the lineout and put in a good defensive performance.

5  Paul O’Connell (c) – 7
Extremely busy and committed, was Ireland’s best player on the day. Questionable decisions along with ROG on kicking for touch when points were on offer.

6 Stephen Ferris – 6
Ended up playing a full 80 minutes, was great to see him back with ball in hand, will need more game time to get up to match speed but looked in peak physical condition.

7  David Wallace – 6
Heartbreak for Wally, a seemingly innocuous tackle on the touchline for Tuilagi resulting in a serious knee injury has put an end to what was to be his 3rd World Cup.

8  Jamie Heaslip – 6
Only managed 34 minutes before being subbed off with a head injury. Unfortunate for Ireland as his ball-carrying abilities were missed.

 

Replacements

16 Rory Best – 5
First action was a lineout throw which was crooked but made up for it with an audacious steal minutes later.

17 Tom Court – 6
Held his own against a strong English pack, needs more game time which he will probably get against USA.

18 Donnacha Ryan – 6
Early introduction due to Heaslip’s injury, decent shift but didn’t offer the same carries that Heaslip can.

19 Denis Leamy – 6
Introduced after Wallace’s injury, the Irish backrow was completely unbalanced after the two forced substitutions and this really affected the whole team. Leamy was busy in defense and managed a couple of carries.

20 Conor Murray – 7
Another good performance from Murray, introduced some pace into the attack when he came on.

21 Jonathan Sexton – 6
Kicked the ball more that ROG had done in the preceding 60 minutes, doesn’t seem to have the ability to change the game in the same vein that ROG can off the bench.

22 Fergus McFadden – 6
Came on for Trimble with 10 minutes to go, didn’t get too many opportunities to show what he can do.

Original article written for therugbyblog.co.uk





Ireland, Organised Chaos?

29 08 2011
Pic: Ken Sutton - http://pa.sepaphoto.org/

Andrew Trimble gets smashed by Manu Tuilagi and Mike Tindall. Pic: Ken Sutton

This article has been floating around in my head over the last week and may be wishful thinking on my part, I’m still not convinced if it is true, but I’m going to put it out there and see if it gets some discussion going…

Ireland have lost all four of the World Cup warm-up games where they were expected to win three from four, at a minimum. They have dropped from 4th in the IRB rankings to 8th in one month, this is their lowest position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. While there have been marked improvements in the set-piece, their once best-of-breed backline has now turned into the teams major weakness. It has looked sterile and bereft of ideas in the last few games, offering little or no penetration and seemingly no game plan. This beggars belief when you look on paper and see the caliber of players that have made the team sheets in the last 4 games: O’Driscoll, Earls, Fitzgerald, D’Arcy, Bowe, Trimble, Kearney, Murphy are all players that any team in the world would be envious of, but yet when combined in the current system they look one-dimensional. Does this strike anyone as strange?

What if…
Ireland purposely have been selecting strange combinations in the backline, They have played a total of 6 players in the centers over the last 4 games, even out half Jonathan Sexton got a run out against France in the 12 jersey. What if the backs have been told to tone it down, nothing fancy, just ship it wide as part of Declan Kidney’s masterplan. These are players that have won the Heineken Cup and Magners League last season and it’s a backline that failed to unlock the Scottish defense even once. Could it be plausible that Kidney has kept all his cards close to his chest on purpose. Is this the big plan to catch Australia unawares?

Besides the opening 20 minutes against France in Dublin, Ireland have hardly produced one decent backline move. They have scored 3 tries in 4 games, two of those coming when the French had all but given up. Jonny Sexton is the only Irish back to get a try in four games. As far as I can see there can only be 2 explanations for this, either Alan Gaffney (backs coach) actually does not have any kind of game-plan, or, the players have been deliberately told not to give anything away.

We are all fully aware what Genia, Cooper, Ioane, Beale and O’Connor can do after their Tri-Nations series victory, But what do Australia know about us if they review our last four games? They have no idea what the starting half-backs will  be, they won’t be sure of which centers will start against them. They will surely be expecting an easy ride.

Leinster were second highest try scorers in the Magners League last season with Munster and Ulster at joint fifth. You don’t forget how to score try’s in the space of a few weeks. Of our best centers, O’Driscoll has been wrapped in cotton wool and D’Arcy (top performer in the last Six Nations) is playing so quietly he looks as if he has been sedated before games. Could Gaffney and Kidney have planned this?

Ireland are going into this World Cup as write-off’s, completely under the radar. They will field a second string team against USA and should beat them, but is it possible that they could come out all guns blazing against the Aussies a week later and perhaps create a huge upset? Of course I’d love if this were true, guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Am I delirious/dreaming? Leave a comment!





RWC2011 Warm-up, Ireland v England Preview

26 08 2011

Date: 27th August 2011
Time: 14:30 GMT
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

To say that this was an important game for both sides, would be a massive understatement. It’s the last game either team play before they head to New Zealand next week for the World Cup.  Ireland are probably under more pressure than England going into this game they have lost all three of the warm-up games. England have beaten, and been beaten, by Wales in their two warm-up games.

England:

Martin Johnson has made 6 changes to the side that lost to Wales a fortnight ago. The new centre partnership of Tindall and Tuilagi has no doubt given Declan Kidney nightmares this week. Jonny Wilkinson claims the out-half jersey from Toby Flood and is joined in the half backs by Saracen’s Richard Wigglesworth. London Irish scrumhalf Joe Simpson makes the bench in what is set to be his international debut.

Ireland:
The precautionary absence of Brian O’Driscoll following a minor shoulder injury in the France game, means that the captaincy will be in the safe hands of Paul O’Connell. More worrying for Kidney is the news that Sean O’Brien is set to be out of action for a fortnight after picking up a knee injury. Stephen Ferris starts his first warm-up game as does Munster’s Jerry Flannery and David Wallace. Veteran fullback Geordan Murphy also starts and travels to New Zealand following the ankle injury to Felix Jones.

What to expect:
England will be keen to get some decent attacking backline moves, we all know what their pack can do and going into the World Cup they could do with an extra string to their bow. Tommy Bowe is making his first appearance in a green jersey since the 6-Nations and will be keen to make his mark. The Irish pack did well in the scrums last week against France and they will be keen to keep parity against a much bigger pack this weekend.

All eyes on:
England’s physical dominance over the Irish is most evident in the mis-match of the center pairings, Mike Tindall and Manu Tuilagi will face Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls. I would also expect England to target the Irish 10-12 channel as this is where they are weakest. Jonny Wilkinson will no doubt provide plenty of opportunities to test Irish lineout, which has shown a great improvement in the last two matches.

Last fixture:
March 19, 2011, Ireland 24-8 England, Dublin.

Weather: Chance of showers.

Prediction:
Ireland will be keen to get a win under their belt and always up their game when England come to town, so on that basis, I’m going for an Ireland win by 6 points.





ninetyninecall – HCup:2011: Referee analysis

27 03 2011

Everyone knows the referee can be the single most influential participant in a rugby match. All to often the focus of analysis is on the players and teams, but the analysis of the referee should also be taken into account for every game. Last week saw the announcement of the referee’s to officiate in the Heineken Cup quarter finals, Nigel Owens, Romain Poite, Allain Rolland and Wayne Barnes will do the honors in a fortnight’s time. But what has their previous record been in Heineken Cup history?

Romain Poite will referee Ulster’s clash with Northampton Saints. The match is Ulster’s first in the knockout stages since they won the competition in 1999. It is also Poite’s first ever knockout stage assignment.Poite is top of the table for average number of cards per game, This season he has handed out on average 2.75 cards per game which is more double the amount of the next closest referee. Surprised by the high number, I decided to go back over the last three seasons and check the stats… He still comes out on top of the table with 1.6 cards per game over 15 games! The one thing you can say in Poites favor is that he is impartial, handed out the same amount of cards to both the home and away teams!

Wayne Barnes of England will referee the final quarter-final between Biarritz Olympique and defending champions Toulouse at Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian, the second match on the Sunday.Analysis of Wayne’s carding habits show something even more interesting, a definite bias towards to the home team in each game, this season he has not awarded a single card against the home team, in the last three seasons he has awarded only 3 cards against the home team and 10 against the away team, Toulouse beware!

Irishman Alain Rolland has been given the contest between Perpignan and Toulon at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona in the early game on the Saturday of quarter-final weekend.Another referee that tends to favor the home team, clear divide between the number of cards against the home team (3) and cards against the away team (8) in the last 3 seasons.

Nigel Owens, Wales, will take charge of Leinster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Leicester Tigers in Lansdowne road. The Welsh official was the referee for the last time Leinster and Leicester met in the Heineken Cup, the 2009 final at Murrayfield. It will be his fifth time officiating at the quarter-final stage of the Heineken Cup and his 54th Heineken Cup match. Nigel is the bottom of the table for average number of cards per game over the last 3 seasons, only 0.55.

I was quite surprised on two fronts when looking through the stats, what stood out for me was the large gap between Romain Poites number of cards per game and the home-team bias on display from Barnes and Rolland. Food for thought!

Analysis of the HCup QF Rugby Referee's performance

Stats were compiled from statbunker.com





6N:2011: Highlights compilation

27 03 2011

Here’s another quality video compilation by Adam Keane on youtube, great stuff!





ninetyninecall – England Grand Slam Fail Parody

23 03 2011

Brilliant take-off of the Nike/England Grand-Slam Ad








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