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Author Archive for Brendan Fanning

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Cautious CJ Stander keeps Ireland’s Six Nations champagne on ice

• Munster forward has missed out before• He expects to face ‘23 angry Englishmen’CJ Stander could be forgiven for mislaying the plot on Ireland’s history with the grand slam. In his excitement over being on the verge of the championship’s top prize he …

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Ireland stay on message to avoid giving England extra motivation

Ireland have been reciting lines about small margins and cutting out mistakes before they attempt to improve poor recent record of six losses in past seven encounters

In a week where Ireland started by patching themselves up having fallen out of the championship race in Cardiff and Eddie Jones hopped into the space with another instalment of his world leaders mantra, we are back to a familiar shape to this fixture: England looking to assert their dominance; Ireland on a mission of upset.

That is how it used to be long before the game went professional. In the early 1970s, Ireland managed a winning streak of five games in this match-up. At the time we inquired innocently how such a thing could happen against a country with vastly bigger resources. The response was succinct: “They couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.”

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Conor Murray injury means Ireland must adjust for finale with England

Kieran Marmion, who replaces Conor Murray at scrum-half, was praised by Johnny Sexton but the loss of his partner puts extra pressure on the fly-half in the Six Nations’ climax

It is safe to say the team Eddie Jones had been preparing England to play against is not the team that will run out at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. And you suspect he will be able to cope with the late change in runners and riders. Both Rob Kearney and Conor Murray had been expected to be fit, and are not; and the dropped Devin Toner could have been added to the list of sporting favourites who have failed to deliver elsewhere this week.

In Kearney’s case it is a fresh injury – a knee problem that cropped up on Tuesday and requires consulting a specialist. With Murray he was, seemingly, motoring along well enough after the shoulder stinger that forced him off in Cardiff until contact intervened in training and his world clouded over. As for Toner, it is a straightforward demotion.

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Ireland’s Devin Toner goes back to the drawing board for game against Italy

The second-row calls knows Ireland’s lineout game will have to improve against Italy after their plans went awry against England

A colleague on this newspaper asked on Friday if Ireland would be able to avoid the wooden spoon in this Six Nations. While the sound of a hopping ball could be heard clearly across the Irish Sea, nevertheless it illustrates two things: the tight lanes on the championship highway mean that accidents put you out of the race; and Ireland no longer prompt questions about how they can cruise along on the fast track.

The standard line in Camp Ireland has been that they are not far off the pace even though they lie fifth in the table with a solitary point, one more than their opponents on Saturday in Dublin: Italy. A draw; defeat by a point; defeat by two scores: it supports the theory that a team who last season were winning without exactly running their opponents off the park have slowed only slightly to be a close second in two of three races so far.

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Ireland need referee’s green light for scrum success against England

After two disappointing results the Irish know they need to be streetwise in the scrum at Twickenham, but Jack McGrath insists ‘it will be different this time because England actually want to scrummage properly’

It is a wonder Eddie Jones in his entertaining preamble to this Six Nations Test did not dial up a scrum sequence from Ireland’s defeat in Paris two weeks ago, and linger on that rather than Johnny Sexton. While there is clear water between the reality and Joe Schmidt’s contention that he does not dwell on that stuff – the Ireland coach parses every line uttered about his side – equally the key theme in the Ireland camp is to be streetwise. And the scrum demands that more than any other phase in the game.

In Paris Ireland were keen to point out post-match that the tighthead Tadhg Furlong was busy trying to stay on the right side of the law while his opposite number, Eddy Ben Arous, was literally circumnavigating it. For the away team it was a bit like bringing a textbook to a knife fight.

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Ireland’s Jack McGrath unfazed by Six Nations wobble and ready for England

Jack McGrath insists exciting times lie ahead for Ireland and Leinster and hopes to combine with Cian Healy so they become ‘the best two looseheads in the world’

Interview almost over and the issue of both Jack McGrath and Cian Healy staying at the one club raises its head – as in, three-year Leinster contract extensions for each when it would be reasonable to think they might want to go in opposite directions. It is unusual for players of that quality to be contesting the same position for club as well as country.

Their quality is not an issue. Healy is already a Lion, having gone to Australia in 2013 only to be crocked before he got warmed up. And if the tour to New Zealand was this summer instead of 2017, McGrath would be one of the first names in the squad. At 26 and with 27 caps to his name, you wonder how good he will be when that squad is being selected. The unusual thing for such an unassuming fella is how quick he is to declare his intentions.

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Fast start and maintaining fitness the key for Ireland against France | Brendan Fanning

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland have had a day less than France to prepare for Saturday’s match in Paris and cannot afford to be chasing the game in the final quarter as they did against Wales

It would hardly be unique for Ireland to be chasing a good start in any game in Paris, but never before has it seemed so important. The key themes at what will be a dank Stade de France are the level of pressure on the home side after an ordinary start against Italy last weekend, and Ireland’s capacity to compete with a day less to prepare.

For much of the final quarter at the Aviva Stadium last Sunday it was hard not to look forward to this weekend and imagine the state of Joe Schmidt’s side. The tackle count against Wales was high at 156 but the stats do not explain the effect of having to stop such big runners so often. Those impacts will have defined Ireland’s working week.

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The five hills Ireland have to climb for a Six Nations hat-trick | Brendan Fanning

The champions are aiming to become the first side to win three consecutive Six Nations titles but go into the 2016 tournament at a low ebb

Talking to tomorrow afternoon’s Calcutta Cup referee, John Lacey, about a range of issues before the World Cup kicked off, Paul O’Connell’s name cropped up. It was like a dark cloud passed overhead. “The stuff he does on the training field is almost as important as what he does on match day,” Lacey, a former team-mate, said, with much reverence. “He’d just sidle up to fellas and have a word in their ear at exactly the right time. And the effect would be massive. He’s the last man you’d want to let down.”

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Munster look to give Paul O’Connell stylish send-off against Glasgow

• Pro 12 final will be final game for France-bound veteran
• Glasgow Warriors aiming to go one better after defeat in 2014
Gripping final to cap absorbing domestic season

The most exciting run-in of Celtic/Italian rugby’s 14-year history will hit the finish line in Belfast on Saturday. With no sign of Ulster in this Guinness Pro 12 final it remains to be seen exactly how many turn up at Kingspan Stadium, but if the last month is an accurate form guide then it will be worth the effort.

For Munster, looking for their fourth title, there is the supplementary issue of seeing off Paul O’Connell in style before he takes up residency in France, most likely Toulon. For Glasgow, who are seeing off a handful of players themselves, the agenda is more clear-cut: winning will validate the progress of the last three seasons, in which they have reached back-to-back semi-finals before last season losing their first decider – to Leinster.

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Luke Fitzgerald: Toulon are great team but Leinster ready to go to war

The Ireland wing is flying again for club and country after a series of horror injuries and says there will be no holding back in the Champions Cup semi-final

If you are in the business of harvesting quotes from professional athletes then you’ll have noticed a shift in the landscape in recent years. Its timing roughly can be traced, appropriately enough, to the arrival of the recession – hard on the heels of the 2007 World Cup. There are a lot more heads with recording devices these days, and far fewer players with something worth recording. So here’s a tip: save your energy for someone with something to say; and sit him or her down soon after they have done a short, sharp gym session. That way the endorphins are spinning around their system. And in that buzzed-up state it’s like letting a greyhound out of the traps.

The Leinster wing Luke Fitzgerald is off and running. Contracts – bad and good – injuries, ambitions, opponents, his mental and physical state – he bounces off them all as he races around the track. And the underlying theme of it is that he is only starting his rugby career; the best is yet to come.

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Leinster look for fast ball to keep Toulon on move in Champions Cup semi-final

• ‘Toulon are probably the best team in the world at the moment’
• Leinster intent on maintaining their try count
• Match report: Leinster 18-15 Bath

If Leinster had taken a bonus-point win from Newport against the Dragons in the Pro 12 last weekend it would have been hailed on two fronts: first it would have kept them within grabbing distance of the top four; and second it would have been a mental leg-up for the journey to Marseille, where Toulon await in the European Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday.

Instead they lost a game they looked to have sewn up. By the next day as they turned up for work, according to their Wasps-bound fly-half Jimmy Gopperth, that league defeat had been filed away, out of sight and out of mind. “Look, our form hasn’t been great coming in,” he says. “I thought the first 50 minutes was very good. We put them under a lot of pressure and led 22-8 and then slipped a couple of simple tries.

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Six Nations 2015: Ireland keen to move on to Scotland, says Conor Murray

Scrum-half admits a few things needed fixing after the defeat by Wales but Ireland are focused on getting it right against Scotland

Where would you be in sport without the odd boot in the backside to move you forward? At the start of this week, Conor Murray, who wins his 35th Ireland cap on Saturday, was not feeling much of that force. Rather it was more like lethargy, a dullness had settled on the camp having blown their grand slam opportunity in Cardiff last Saturday.

“After a defeat like that, you go through the whole 15 or 23 and there were players who were disappointed so we probably just needed time to get back into the flow of things and get over the defeat and to look forward to Scotland,” he says. “I suppose Monday and Tuesday was probably the last day of that while we were still feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.”

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Ireland’s Joe Schmidt and Scotland’s Vern Cotter will ditch old pals act

• New Zealanders ready to go head-to-head in Six Nations at Murrayfield
• Schmidt says friendship will deliver little inside knowledge for either coach
Luke Fitzgerald gets first Ireland start since 2011 in Six Nations finale

In April 2010 the Ireland coach Joe Schmidt found himself in the unusual situation of trying to undo an outfit he would be joining two months later. Back then he was assisting Vern Cotter in Clermont, where they were well established as a smooth double act. So Schmidt came to the RDS for that Heineken Cup quarter-final, which Leinster won, and even then you knew the planets would align to bring the teams together again in following seasons.

The idea of Cotter and Schmidt taking up positions on opposite sides of the same halfway line gave those fixtures an added dimension. Co-conspirators in New Zealand with Bay of Plenty, and then in France with Clermont, they couldn’t get away from each other when they split up. In Schmidt’s three seasons with Leinster he would lock horns with Cotter five times, three more than any other European coach. Between pool games and one semifinal Schmidt won twice, and always managed to take a bonus point when defeated.

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Ireland’s Jared Payne happy under radar as England duo take centre stage

Brian O’Driscoll’s successor has slipped seamlessly into Ireland’s No13 jersey and the Kiwi convert appreciates what the match means to both sides
• Two halves of Sexton make perfect match for Ireland
• Dublin duels: England’s Six Nations record in Ireland Continue reading…

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Two halves of Jonathan Sexton make perfect match for Ireland’s needs

Joe Schmidt has huge faith in his fly-half whose kicking game will need to be in the zone against England in Six Nations

On the Friday night before the Ireland squad assembled for the Italy game three weeks ago, Jonathan Sexton walked into a small recording studio in south Dublin. He had just flown in from Paris that afternoon and was keeping a promise he had made some time before to feature on the rugby podcast Down The Blind Side.

He was in good time and mixed easily with the handful of people there as the scene was being set. If you had come across him then– quietly spoken and utterly unaffected – you would never have put him in the same space he would occupy for Ireland two weeks later against France.

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Two halves of Jonathan Sexton make perfect match for Ireland’s needs

Joe Schmidt has huge faith in his fly-half whose kicking game will need to be in the zone against England in Six Nations

On the Friday night before the Ireland squad assembled for the Italy game three weeks ago, Jonathan Sexton walked into a small recording studio in south Dublin. He had just flown in from Paris that afternoon and was keeping a promise he had made some time before to feature on the rugby podcast Down The Blind Side.

He was in good time and mixed easily with the handful of people there as the scene was being set. If you had come across him then– quietly spoken and utterly unaffected – you would never have put him in the same space he would occupy for Ireland two weeks later against France.

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Ireland’s Rory Best looking for the edge to combat England’s Dylan Hartley

Needle may be in short supply in the buildup to Ireland’s Six Nations clash with England but both Rory Best and Eoin Reddan believe that makes Stuart Lancaster’s men all the more dangerous
• Ireland’s Jordi Murphy back to fill Jamie Heaslip void against England
• England fly-half George Ford ready to come of age against Ireland Continue reading…

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Ireland can hear the master’s voice of Joe Schmidt in their heads

The prospect of back-to-back Six Nations titles in a World Cup year has quickened the pulse across Ireland but their coach says Italy’s challenge is being underestimated
• Ireland and Johnny Sexton stun South Africa with their passion
• Six Nations 20-15: team-by-team guide Continue reading…

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Jonny Sexton’s Ireland can hear the voice of Joe Schmidt in their heads

The prospect of back-to-back Six Nations titles, in a World Cup year, has quickened the pulse across Ireland’s sporting community but their coach says Italy’s challenge is being underestimated
• Ireland and Jonny Sexton stun South Africa with their passion
• Six Nations 20-15: team-by-team guide Continue reading…

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Ireland’s Joe Schmidt expects France to get physical with forward power

• Philippe Saint-André names six forwards on bench
• Schmidt says Six Nations game will be ‘very, very physical’

Ireland’s attempt at a second championship in six years will be carried out in Paris on Saturday by the usual suspects, a small band of just 18 players whom Joe Schmidt has used as starters in four matches to date. Peter O’Mahony, returning from a hamstring injury, is the only change to the starting line up from the win over Italy last weekend, which inflated Ireland’s points difference to put them firmly in pole position.

Where Schmidt has done some tinkering however is on the bench. Evidently reluctant to mess with his starting XV, the coach has opted for Leinster fly-half Ian Madigan as a replacement. His game time at Leinster this season has been hampered by the arrival of Jimmy Gopperth and he takes over from Paddy Jackson who has understudied Johnny Sexton in each of the previous rounds. It means that if Madigan gets game time in Paris then three 10s will have been seen action over the campaign. Ian Henderson also drops back to the bench having filled in for O’Mahony last weekend, with Rhys Ruddock losing out.

While Schmidt has gone again for a five-three split between replacement forwards and backs, Philippe Saint-André’s six-two suggests a barrage is coming Ireland’s way.

“I was probably a little surprised they went for the six-two split but I also can see some logic in it because it is going to be very, very physical,” Schmidt says. “I think it just allows fresh legs and to maintain a physical intensity to bash the opposition even when fatigue starts to tell. The athleticism and impact that [Wenceslas] Lauret can make, the size and strength of guys like [Sébastien] Vahaamahina and [Alexandre] Flanquart, they can all be really useful off the bench. It’s going to be a big challenge for our two young lads off the bench with Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy. Very, very young men. To match up to that sort of physicality that’s going to be brought off the French bench is going to be part of their growth. Hopefully that will give us a heads up for the future and a little bit of an investment for the future.”

Some of that physical onslaught, Schmidt believes, will be directed at Ireland’s driven lineouts, which have served them well do far.

“I think teams are probably looking to counteract our maul,” he says. “I think the Italians had certainly done some homework – I spoke to Jacques Brunel after the game and they had done a lot of work on making sure they stopped the maul one way or another and most of the time it worked pretty well for them.

“So I’ve no doubt with those big guys France intend to try to get in, sack you early or separate you and bust through it. Pascal Papé is very good at getting through the middle and getting hands on. They’ve got guys who are pretty good at combating the maul already; they’ve picked lots of them so combine that and that probably are going to look to be as effective as they can be in the domain.”

While a championship title would be the perfect conclusion to part two of Schmidt’s first season – the first saw one win from three in November – he maintains that generating an atmosphere of excitement around and about the squad was his first priority.

“To be honest I could probably say my expectations have been superseded already. I think they’re a fantastic bunch to work with, there’s a great staff that surround them that make sure that they’re in the right condition to play, they are incredibly well led by the captain and his cohorts and they’re self-driven. As Paul [O’Connell] said, we’ve just got to be confident about what we need to do and hopefully that’s something we can provide for the people who have those expectations, and who are getting excited about the team.”

Ireland team to play France, Stade de France, 5pm Saturday 15 March

R Kearney (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney (all Leinster), J Sexton (Racing Métro), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross, D Toner (both Leinster), P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahony (both Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Moore (all Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy, E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden (all Leinster).

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