Blues Talk TV – Episode 190   Leave a comment

Blues Talk TV returns for the 2015-16 season with a look back at Ireland and Leinster’s matches with Wales and Moseley respectively. We talk about the summer of upheaval at Leinster, preview Leinster’s opening Pro12 fixture against Edinburgh, Irelands match against England and discuss Joe Schmdit’s Rugby World Cup squad selection.

Heads on the Block, Names on the Page   Leave a comment

Ireland Squad

With three warm-up games down, Joe Schmidt will name the 31 names in his World Cup squad and submit it by the close of the 31st of August. The Blues Talk team have each picked what they think the squad will be. Two provisos – firstly, it is assumed that everyone in the squad is fit and secondly, these selections were made on Friday afternoon before the Wales game.

Jason’s Selection

Forwards

Backs

Cian Healy Conor Murray
Jack McGrath Eoin Reddan
Mike Ross Jonathan Sexton
Marty Moore Paddy Jackson
Michael Bent Ian Madigan
Richardt Strauss Robbie Henshaw
Sean Cronin Jared Payne
Rory Best Darren Cave
Paul O’Connell Keith Earls
Devin Toner Luke Fitzgerald
Donnacha Ryan Simon Zebo
Ian Henderson Tommy Bowe
Peter O’Mahoney Felix Jones
Sean O’Brien Rob Kearney
Chris Henry
Jordi Murphy
Jamie Heaslip

 

Jason thinks that Andy Trimble might go instead of Cave or Felix Jones, but he has played precious little rugby in last season.  Dave Kearney has been getting good reviews in the papers so Jason thinks he might be a dark horse for inclusion.  He alone went with the 2 scrum halves option but still thinks that Joe could easily bring Isaac Boss.

 

John’s Selection

Forwards

Backs

Cian Healy Conor Murray
Jack McGrath Eoin Reddan
Mike Ross Isaac Boss
Marty Moore Jonathan Sexton
Michael Bent Paddy Jackson
Richardt Strauss Ian Madigan
Sean Cronin Robbie Henshaw
Rory Best Jared Payne
Paul O’Connell Keith Earls
Devin Toner Luke Fitzgerald
Donnacha Ryan Simon Zebo
Ian Henderson Tommy Bowe
Peter O’Mahoney Andrew Trimble
Sean O’Brien Rob Kearney
Chris Henry
Jordi Murphy
Jamie Heaslip

 

Dave’s Selection

Forwards

Backs

Cian Healy Conor Murray
Jack McGrath Eoin Reddan
Mike Ross Isaac Boss
Marty Moore Jonathan Sexton
Michael Bent Paddy Jackson
Richardt Strauss Ian Madigan
Sean Cronin Robbie Henshaw
Rory Best Jared Payne
Paul O’Connell Keith Earls
Devin Toner Luke Fitzgerald
Donnacha Ryan Dave Kearney
Ian Henderson Tommy Bowe
Peter O’Mahoney Andrew Trimble
Sean O’Brien Rob Kearney
Chris Henry
Jordi Murphy
Jamie Heaslip

 

What all three selections show is how little variation there is in what those involved believe the squad will be. All three sets of forwards are identical and the only variation behind the scrum is where Jason thinks that there might be chance that Joe will take only two scrum halves and the last back position between Zebo, Jones, Trimble and Kearney minor.

 

Posted August 30, 2015 by bluestalktv in Ireland, Leinster, Rugby

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Heaven knows I’m not quite but at the same time sort of miserable now kind of   Leave a comment

Last weekend Leinster took to the field against Ulster to kickoff their pre-season and on Friday night Moseley are the visitors as the Blues take to the field for their first home game after a long and troubling off season.

Matt is Murder

Last year ended with neither a bang nor a whimper – enough air couldn’t be bothered to be displaced for either – instead it ended in a fog of uncertainty, recrimination, social media stupidity and a whole lot of discordant noise generated by virtually everyone. It has been a long time since Leinster didn’t have a pot to play for at the end of the year and in the interim we all forgot how to pack up our stuff and go home quietly.

Even the manner of O’Connor’s departure reflected the kind of uncertainty that surrounded the end of his period in charge. The official story was the old ‘by mutual agreement’ line, but I’ve heard that one before. I’ve also heard that he wanted his contracted extended and Leinster told him to do one, that he demanded that his contract be extended in order to force Leinster to tell him to do one, and that Leinster just told him to do one! I guess you can pick whichever one you prefer.

However it happened it left Leinster looking for a head coach this summer and the rumour mill went into overdrive. The usual names were mentioned – Robbie Deans, Ewan McKenzie, Conor O’Shea – the usual names who are never in with a shout of being appointed. The situation wasn’t helped by the only inarguably successful member of the coaching team leaving with his boss, as scrum coach Mario Caputo decided to return home also.

Leinster reacted pretty quickly by appointing Leo Cullen as interim Head Coach, bumping Academy Manager Girvan Dempsey up to backs coach, moving John Fogarty from Elite Player Development Officer to Caputo’s old job as scrum coach and re-appointing Kurt McQuilkan as defense coach, abeit initially only on an interim basis. Richie Murphy would remain as Skills and Kicking coach, but with a title bump to Assistant Coach. In short it was All Legends – All The Time (for the time being). Not so much rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as flinging them at the iceberg in the hope of deflecting it.

It soon turned out however that Leinster wasn’t quite as attractive an appointment as many assumed it to be. For starters, compared to the sides Leinster are expected to compete with at the business end of a European season, the budget is tiny. Last year the IRFU spent €32 million on the professional game in Ireland – all of it – 4 provinces, national teams, the whole shebang. Toulon’s budget alone is €25 million whilst Stade Toulousain’s budget is a whopping €35 million. On top of this, any new coach would be without most of his first team squad until the first European match of the season if the World Cup goes to plan (and they could even miss that if it really really goes to plan – though at that stage no-one apart from him would care!).   He would have to remember too, that he’s only in charge on someone else’s say so – one particular deal that O’Connor did would have significantly strengthened Leinster but was vetoed by the Schmifora and of course the least said about the public smackdown that was put on O’Connor by the Schmifora the better. One would be foolish to think that potential candidates didn’t take that into account.   Lastly, for his first season the new coach wouldn’t be able to make any signings as Leinster had their business all wrapped up.

When the anticipated queue of antipodean superstar coaches down the Clonskeagh Road failed to materialise a new tack was required. Or rather, an old tack with a new twist. The hiring of relatively young, relatively inexperienced, hungry guys, like Cheika and Schmidt had worked – hiring higher profile guys like Kidney and O’Connor hadn’t. So go back to Molling the Oige – and if you’re going that way, then why change the team that was, by now, in place. Interim coaches became permanent and two month contracts morphed into two year deals. It ticked all the boxes, youth, hunger, an understanding of both the province and the game in Ireland, a history of achievement with Leinster. What could go wrong and how could one question the credentials of legends like Leo, Girve and Fogs?

Plenty and quite easily, as it happens. Leo Cullen was a legend as a player, an overused term perhaps, but in his case, completely justified. He was Leinster. The final five minutes of the semi final against ASM Clermont Auvergne should be played on a loop in the lobby of the Leinster Rugby offices in an Installation simply called ‘Leo’ (I am available for commissions Mick). It is no exaggeration to say that the three stars on the Leinster shirt are there, in large part, because of him. Whilst I may not have scratched his name on my arm with a fountain pen, this “Rusholme Ruffian” does literally wear his name on my sleeve, which is why it pains me to point out that there are serious questions over the appointment of both Leo and his team.

It was a risk appointing Leo to the position of forwards coach straight out of the first XV. Both ROG and Berch (Jackman) had gone overseas to learn their trade in professional coaching so no matter how it went, their reputations, and thus prospects, in Ireland would remain intact. The exposure to a different rugby culture as well would be of benefit. Anthony Foley might be young, but he spent a lot of time in the backrooms of various Munster representative sides before urquharting himself into the top job. Leo went straight from poacher to gamekeeper and it showed. Perhaps the most disappointing part of Leinster’s overall performance last season was how poorly the pack played. The scrum was fine, but the breakdown, the lineout and particularly the maul simply didn’t function at an appropriate level.   Instead of having a chance to work out the kinks that led to such a poor first year of senior coaching, Leo now finds that he has, essentially, failed upwards.

There are question marks too over the (currently) short term appointment of Girvan Dempsey as backs coach. No less of a legend than the head coach, the importance of Girvan’s role as a rallying point for Leinster supporters in the middle part of the last decade cannot be over-emphasised. It was crap being a Leinster supporter back then. A new coach every day of the week, our best player batting his eyelashes at Basques, a media that just loved to put ‘the ladyboys’ down. Girve wasn’t crap though. Girve was good, always good. Sometimes great, but never less than good. And he wasn’t going anywhere. He was getting it from the media too as he was keeping Geordan Murphy out of the Irish team, or rather the perception was that he was. He didn’t let it phase him, just kept turning in consistently good performances week after week until eventually the rest of the province lifted themselves to his standards. One of lifes genuine gentlemen as well, he is one of the nicest guys in professional sport.

None of which matters a damn really in light of the fact that he has never coached a senior professional team.   Enhanced the already stellar reputation of our academy – check. Coached the A-side to back to back British and Irish Cups in fine Leinster style – check. The problem is that there’s an immense gulf in standards between the level of the B&I Cup and the two tournaments the senior team play.   The same goes for John Fogarty – an essential part of the HEC winning squad in 2009 and the team that got to the semi final again in 2010, but in terms of senior coaching experience? Nada.

Richie Murphy is probably the most gifted native coach currently working in Irish rugby. If O’Connor had held on for that final year I’d have bet good cash money on Murphy replacing him as head coach. He is so good that Joe Schmidt has him working with the national team pretty much 50% of his time. And that’s the problem. Apart from the forwards, the most noticeable negative about Leinster last season was the lack of skills on display – and not even the tricksy stuff, at some points even catching and passing the ball seemed to be beyond some of our players. Richie Murphy is the Skills and Kicking (that wasn’t too hot either btw) coach, that’s his balliwick and he wasn’t there.   And he won’t be there much this season either. He’ll only be back from the World Cup two months when he’ll be off again for the Six Nations.   Like I said, Richie Murphy is a great coach – half of him, not so much. In the words of Ron Swanson, “Don’t half-ass two things. Full ass one thing”.

Kurt McQuilkan is a great hire, surely I can’t come up with a problem here you’re thinking, he’s one of the best defense coaches in the game, and you’d be right. Except. Les Kiss is Irelands defense coach, he leaves for the Ulster job once the World Cup is over, McQuilkans original contract expired when the World Cup was over. No rats to be smelt there.

So, all doom and gloom then? No chance for Leinster? Not a bit of it! I’m generally a pretty optimistic chap and the other side of the “untried” coin is that we don’t know. I have a suspicion that Leo Cullen the head coach will be a very different kettle of fish to Leo Cullen the forward’s coach. Its one thing to coach to another mans cloth, quite another to cut that cloth yourself, and that’s what Leo will be doing this season – him and his coaching team will be working to Leo’s plan. And while somewhere between 15 and 20 of his players will be missing for a good chunk of the season, the newly re-signed Isa Nacewa won’t be. Isa is the best foreign player to play in Irish rugby and having him back, and judging by how he looked on Friday night against Ulster, in fine fighting fettle is a huge addition to the squad. So too is the return of Johnny Sexton. How much we get to see of him is open to debate, but signing the best out-half in the world is not to be sneezed at.

Even our “I Can’t Believe Its Not The Heineken Cup” Cup prospects aren’t as bleak as they may first appear when one looks at our group. Both Bath and Wasps made the Aviva Premiership playoffs last season, something we didn’t manage to do in the Pro12, and Bath were losing finalists. Toulon won their third European Cup in a row and reached the semi-finals of the Top 14 after topping the league and before being beaten by eventual champions, Stade Francais. That’s a pretty formidable line up, but Leinster played all three last season and a team coached by Matt O’Connor without Johnny Sexton was able to beat Bath and Wasps at home, draw with Wasps away and took the most expensively assembled team in the history of Rugby to extra time before losing to an ‘own-goal’. When one considers the low level of esteem some Leinster supporters hold O’Connor in, then this group becomes a lot less intimidating.

Mostly though my optimism comes from that most scientific of sources, I have a gut feeling about Leo. I’ve been fortunate to meet Leo Cullen on a couple of occasions, for interviews for “The History of Leinster Rugby” and “Leinster Rugby – The Treble” and the guy has what can only be described as an aura.   There is a sense one gets when you talk to Leo that is similar to the sense you get when you see Brian Cody being interviewed – an outward affability that just about but not entirely masks an uncomfortable obsession with winning. And that’s the real Leinster Way.

Two games in two weeks and what have we learned?   Leave a comment

Following up on his previous article on the composition of the Irish Rugby World Cup Squad, John takes a look at how the games against Wales and Scotland may have changed things, or not.

Luke Fitzgerald scores for Ireland against Scotland

Players who enhanced their reputations

Well Jamie Heaslip and Paul O’Connell, but they are guaranteed big game starters obviously. Reddan, Madigan, Earls, Zebo, Ryan, Kilcoyne, Bent, Cave and on a very short cameo Dave Kearney

What remains unchanged?

In the Second row its still Paulie & Dev with Hendo on the bench and Ryan as 4th lock. Tuohy is the special extra.

In the Back Row it still looks like O’Mahony, O’Brien Heaslip with Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry. Tommy O’Donnell staked a serious claim to replace Murphy or Henry until he was struck down by the 75th minute serious hip injury. Which makes Jack Conan (The destroyer) the next up.

Nothing really changed at Hooker either with Best, Cronin & Strauss up front with Herring as the next cab off the rank.

At Centre, the starting centres seem to be still nailed on from the 6 nations. Henshaw and Payne. More of the backups later.

What has changed?

Prop is interesting. With all fit it would have to be the 6 nations combos of Ross/Moore and Healy/McGrath with Bent covering both sides. (i.e no change). Moore seems to have foot issues though and Healy….. well he is touch and go to make the opening game v Canada. So Kilcoyne and White seem to be the next up with the further options of Tadhg Furlong (who could have been ahead of White if he did not have his own niggles) and Denis Buckley.

As for Out half, obviously the best OH in the NH and most expensive Ireland player…. JS. Behind him the perceived wisdom has been that Paddy Jackson would start games if JS was injured, but Madigan would get the 22 jersey if JS was fit due to versatility and his golden boot, leaving Keately and perhaps JJ Hanrahan as injury cover.

After Madigan’s very good showing v Scotland (baring a horrendous restart and a few missed tackles) and PJ’s faulty kicking v Wales, it would seem that Mads may have slipped ahead. Making him second or third choice in up to 4 positions.

Which leads us neatly on to scrum half. Here is where the interesting rumours start. Giuseppe Ferrari (That’s Josef Schmidt to you lads) is reputed to be considering emulating his Leinster predecessor Cheika in taking only 2 scrum halves. Murray and Reddan (who had a super game v Wales) to allow more centre and back three cover. Obviously if he does Boss and Marmion will be on a hair trigger to step in if needed.

So, to the REALLY interesting bits.

Rob Kearney seems to be the only back 3 player to be nailed on. Bringing us to a total of 26. The last 5 have to supply 2 wingers and cover for centre, back 3 and maybe scrum half. If rumours are true and Boss & Marmion will be cooling their heels then 5 of these guys are up.

Andrew Trimble
Keith Earls
Tommy Bowe
Luke Fitzgerald
Simon Zebo
Dave Kearney
Gordon D’Arcy
Darren Cave
Felix Jones
Fergus McFadden
Craig Gilroy.

Some serious names in that 11 and AT LEAST 6 will have to lose out. The 3 who are the most versatile, and also possess serious x factor, are Earls, Fitzgerald and Zebo (after his cameo at full back). That cameo could have sunk the ship of perennial Schmidt favourite Felix Jones.

Gilroy has not had a look in yet and maybe he won’t with all the players that need a run in the back 3. Fergus McFadden was solid but unspectacular in a game v weak opposition. That could leave those 3 players in the injury cover spots.

D’arcy and Cave will not both go. In fact possibly neither will. Trimble looked great v Wales but will he stay fit with a foot injury?

Tommy Bowe may not be sown into the 14 jersey like he has been but it is hard to see him left at home either. Very tough decisions but the only change I would make from my previous selection is Keith Earls ahead of Gordon D’Arcy with a choice between Dave Kearney, Darce and Cave to come in if Trimble does not regain fitness OR if Joe decides to go with just 2 scrum halves. Will Joe risk 2 Scrum halves (Madigan as emergency 9) to bring Darce on his final fling?

More headaches if anything rather than less.

What has emerged is a new class of player. The player who is good enough but just doesn’t make the plane. We have never had too many of them. Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip in 07. Luke Fitz in 11. Certainly there are a few more. But nothing like the list we have now.

If you consider the 8 players who would not make the starting 23 v France but will travel (numbers 24 to 31). Just trying to pick another 8 behind them (i.e. numbers 32 to 39) is tricky in some positions.

You need

  • A 4th hooker – Herring
  • A 5th second row – Tuohy
  • A 6th and perhaps 7th prop – Kilcoyne, White,
  • A 6th Back row – Conan
  • A 3rd (or 4th) scrum half – Boss, Marmion
  • A 4th outhalf – Keatley
  • A 4th centre – Cave
  • A 6th (or 7th) back 3 player – Dave Kearney

Players like Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy can’t even break the top 40. Or if they do equally good players will miss out. Did I mention McCloskey, Olding, Reid, Mike McCarthy, Furlong, Buckley, Luke Marshall . We could get to 50. Fairly unheard of in these parts.

Posted August 22, 2015 by johnnyg321 in Ireland

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The Magic Number   1 comment

Joe Schmidt

Hard to believe it but International Rugby starts next weekend. The world and her husband will be trying hard to predict the mind of the inscrutable Mr Josef Schmidt.

So what the hell. I thought I’d have a go too.

The only caveat is that we will have to assume that all players will remain fit. (Even Cian Healy)
Let’s see how hard it is to count up to 31, for that is the magic number of a world cup squad,
We can probably start with the team that won the 6 nations. How many of them are indispensable?

Quite a few I would have thought.

Rob Kearney
Tommy Bowe
Jared Payne
Robbie Henshaw
Conor Murray
Rory Best
Mike Ross
Devin Toner
Paul O’Connell
Peter O’Mahony

All started every single game in the same position. Jonny Sexton would have had he been fit. Sean O’Brien also. Only for a vicious knee in the back Jamie Heaslip would have been guaranteed a start too.

That’s 13 players.

Sean Cronin
Marty Moore
Iain Henderson

All took the same spot on the bench for all 5 games. (So did Ian Madigan and Felix Jones, but more of that later)

We are up to 16.

Jack McGrath and Cian Healy shared the 1 and 17 jerseys so both of them will travel.

That’s 18.

Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald both started at 11. Assuming they both will travel we are at 20.

So. What other assumptions can we make before things get complicated?

The back 5 of the pack seems like a good place to start.

In addition to O’Connell, Toner and Henderson we need one of Tuohy and Donncha Ryan in the 2nd row.

My money is on Ryan if he stays fit. He is on a central contract and would seem to be next in line. If both are in similar shape I would give Ryan the edge. If Ryan is not 100% then perhaps Tuohy might get through. So as we are assuming all fit Ryan gets the nod

21!

In the back row, with Ruddock injured you would have to assume that Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry will bring us up to 23.

Tommy O’Donnell could feel hard done by, mainly because he is less versatile across the back row than the other 2, but a good performance in the warm ups or a disaster from one of the others and things could change.

Another easy choice is Richardt Strauss to get in ahead of fellow South African Rob Herring for the 3rd hooking spot.

24……. Getting tight now.

On to the halfbacks.

We need one or two more out halves and Paddy Jackson seems in flying form for Ulster. Most of the smart money is on Ian Madigan getting in also, because of his golden boot and his versatility.

There is a school of thought that says Gordon D’Arcy will get in to cover centre at the expense of Madigan, but that is a bit left field and there is also a chance that both could travel.

So let’s go with 3 out halves for now.

Aulfellahs Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss to stay in front of Marmion for the extra scrum half berths.
That’s 28!

Only 3 places left! We are down to the hardest to predict places with the most candidates in each position.

The outside backs and the props.

The candidates in the current training squad at prop are:

Dennis Buckley
Michael Bent
Tadhg Furlong
Nathan White
David Kilcoyne.

And the current outside back options are.

Gordon D’Arcy
Felix Jones
Andrew Trimble
Keith Earls
Noel Reid
Darren Cave
Dave Kearney
Fergus McFadden
Craig Gilroy.

That’s a lot of players for 3 places.

Firstly. What configuration will we get?

Will Michael Bent’s ability to play both sides of the scrum see him as the 5th and last prop?

Or will Joe take 6 props? Then it is between the experience of Nathan White and the Explosive power of youngster Tadhg Furlong at Tight head.

The aforementioned Michael Bent would have to compete with Denis Buckley and David Kilcoyne for the loose head berth.

If 6 props travel, then things get very complicated in the outside backs, with the top 4 contenders scrapping for just 1 place.

Would you fancy telling 3 of Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble and Felix Jones that they had to miss out?

Personally I think I would go with just 5 props. Your mileage may vary.

Even then how do you decide between the talent and versatility of Keith Earls, the experience of Gordon D’Arcy, the player of the 2014 6 nations Andrew Trimble and the man who made every squad in the 2015 6 nations, Felix Jones?

My personal preferences are as follows.

Over to you Joe.

Props (5)
Jack McGrath
Cian Healy
Mike Ross
Marty Moore
Michael Bent

Hookers (3)
Rory Best
Sean Cronin
Richardt Strauss

2nd Rows (4)
Devin Toner
Paul O’Connell
Iain Henderson
Donncha Ryan

Back Rows (5)
Sean O’Brien
Jamie Heaslip
Peter O’Mahony
Jordi Murphy
Chris Henry

Halfbacks (6)
Conor Murray
Eoin Reddan
Isaac Boss
Jonny Sexton
Paddy Jackson
Ian Madigan

Centres (3)
Jared Payne
Robbie Henshaw
Gordon D’Arcy

Back 3 (5)
Rob Kearney
Tommy Bowe
Simon Zebo
Luke Fitzgerald
Andrew Trimble

Extremely hard done by
Keith Earls
Felix Jones
Dave Kilcoyne
Tommy O’Donnell
Nathan White
Tadhg Furlong

Posted August 1, 2015 by johnnyg321 in Ireland

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Blues Talk TV – Episode 189   Leave a comment

This week on Blues Talk, in the last episode of the season, we take a look back at Glasgow’s victory over Munster in the Guinness Pro12 Final. We review the season just past and discuss Irelands options for the Rugby World Cup

Blues Talk TV – Episode 188   Leave a comment

This week on Blues Talk we take a look back at the thrilling Pro12 playoff semi-finals and preview the final. We also take a look at Connacht’s heartbreaking and controversial ECC qualifier defeat and discuss Joe Schmidt’s Summer plans.

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