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Four for Four for Irish Provinces but Injury headaches for Joe Schmidt

I pick out the main talking points from the European action as Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht all secured victories.

Leinster remind Toulouse of the path ahead

Toulouse entered their clash with Leinster on the back of 12 successive victories and on top of their Champions Cup pool. For 40 minutes the RDS was home to a slugfest, one which closely resembled an international game. Leinster however are an 80 minute side and they had too much for their French counterparts. This was a stark reminder that although Toulouse have improved they are still not on the level to compete with the best in the competition. With Johnny Sexton and other internationals to return, Leinster once more look the team to beat.

Leinster Pro 14 Champions
Leinster are the defending champions and look the team to beat once more Photo by: Billy Stockland/INPHO

Carbery’s response to adversity is very encouraging

Joey Carbery suffered an off day when Munster lost to Castres in their fourth game of the Heineken Cup. His response to that poor performance has been extremely encouraging. He has kicked 17 successful penalties in a row in games against Leinster, Connacht and Gloucester. His mental toughness shows just why he has the potential to be a pivotal player for Munster and Ireland in the years ahead. His game management has improved too and a 26 point haul against Gloucester will do his confidence no harm at all.

joey carbery
Joey Carbery celebrates his try against Gloucester. Photo by: Inpho.

Stockdale continues incredible try scoring form

Jacob Stockdale has took to senior rugby like a duck to water. The 22 year old winger scored his fifth and sixth tries as Ulster surprised last year’s finalists Racing 92. Stockdale’s second try in which he sidestepped past Olivier Klemenczak before breaking ahead, chipping on with a crisp-left foot strike, showing tremendous pace and then stepping inside to read the bounce quicker than three Racing defenders. Frighteningly good and as he is only 22, there is plenty more to come.

jacob stockdale
Jacob Stockdale scored a brace of tries for Ulster. Photo By: Getty.

Connacht have strength in depth

Connacht overcame Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup and now look poised to qualify for the quarter finals. The Westerners have used the competition to test their squad. Andy Friend did name a strong side but the performance of James Mitchell at scrum half and James Cannon in the second row. Substitute fly half David Horwitz kicked the winning penalty. If Connacht are to push for Champions Cup qualification then they will need a strong squad.

Schmidt’s scrum half crisis

If there is one negative that can be drawn from the weekend’s rugby, it is Ireland’s problem in the no9 position. Luke McGrath’s injury in Leinster’s win coupled with John Cooney not being fit to play for Ulster against Racing means that Conor Murray is Ireland’s only fit scrum half. Kieran Marmion was injured in Ireland’s victory against New Zealand last November and is not due back until late February. This means that Murray is the only capped Irish scrum half currently fit, less than three weeks out from the 6 Nations.

conor murray
Conor Murray is currently Ireland’s only fit scrum half. Photo By: Inpho.

Competition for Places for 6 Nations

The clean sweep of victories for the Irish provinces was notable because of the strength of performances by individuals fighting for a place in the Ireland squad. Since Ireland’s defeat to Argentina at the World Cup in 2015, Schmidt has tried to develop strength in depth. The provinces have allowed Irish talent to develop and now it is coming to fruition for the and the national side. This has raised hopes of a strong 6 Nations and World Cup.

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World Cup Final Talking Points: France and Croatia vie for glory but who will win the ultimate prize?

France and Croatia will face off on Sunday to win the World Cup. It is a final that not many predicted. France were expected to go deep while Croatia were dark horses but due to them flattering to deceive in previous tournaments, no one was sure how well this Croatian team would do. Here are the talking points ahead of the biggest game in these players lives.

World Cup Trophy
Who will get their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy? It’s anyone’s guess at this juncture. Photo By: Getty

Revenge for 1998

France beat Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup. It was Croatia’s first World Cup as an independent country and their achievement in reaching the semi-final made them cult heroes. They took the lead when striker Davor Suker slotted home after a wonderful assist. France replied instantly and with twenty minutes to go Lillian Thuram got his second and sent France on their way to winning the World Cup. Can Croatia avenge this loss?

France v Croatia 1998 World Cup
France celebrate their semi-final victory at the 1998 World Cup. Who will emerge victorious this time? Photo By: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

Can France’s attackers shine?

Strangely France are in a World Cup final but there are plenty of question marks surrounding the team. Their defence has grown in stature and has been excellent, barring the Argentina game. Their attack however has not been as consistent with the French public questioning Deschamps’ system of play. Antoine Griezmann stood up against Uruguay while Kylian Mbappe has been more consistent. Olivier Giroud has not had a shot on target so far. Who will be the one to step up and seize the opportunity?

Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals at the World Cup. Can he score one more? Photo By: Getty

Fatigue

This has been a long competition for both teams – especially Croatia as they have gone to extra time in their three knockout games and penalties in tow of those (against Denmark and Russia). Many believed Croatia would tire against England but in fact they were the fresher team and that is why they won through. France are more disciplined without the ball but will their young squad struggle towards the end of the game. Fatigue could decide this game.

The Midfield Battle

Luka Modric has been outstanding for Croatia in the midfield and he will face his toughest test to date against Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Ivan Rakitic could be vital in helping Croatia winning this key battle. Pogba and Kante were outstanding against Belgium and if either team can gain control in this sector then they will be World Champions.

Luka Modric Croatia
Will Modric be celebrating Sunday evening? Photo By: AFP

Nerves

No player in either team has played or been involved in a World Cup final. Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic and Griezmann have played in Champions League finals while others have played in Champions League knockout games. Those games are filled with pressure but this game is the biggest game in each of these players lives. A mistake or lapse in concentration could decide what promises to be a close game.

Good luck to both teams and lets hope for a classic World Cup final. It promises to be a cracker.