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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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Champions Cup Final – Leinster make history as Racing fall short again

Leinster 15 – 12 Racing 92

Leinster secured a record equaling fourth European title after they battled to a 15-12 victory against Racing 92 in Bilbao.

Isa Nacewa’s perfect farewell

Ireland’s greatest rugby import added further European glory to his growing trophy collection. Nacewa’s decision to rejoin the club in 2015 was a gamble but it has more than paid off. The Fijian slotted the final penalty to effectively win Leinster the Champions Cup. He is a big game player while he also plays in the Pro 14 games when the Six Nations is in full swing. He may end the season with even more silverware.

Isa Nacewa
Isa Nacewa celebrates Chmpions Cup glory. Photo by: Getty.

James Ryan’s Perfect 21

21 year old James Ryan played in his 21st senior game on Saturday evening. He has won all 21 of those games. This is a phenomenal statistic considering the fact he was not known to many Irish fans before this season. He came up against Donnacha Ryan and Leone Vakarawa, two of the finest locks in the world. Ryan’s Munster exit has allowed Ryan to become an Irish international. He has won a Grand Slam and a Champions Cup title in just 21 games. The future looks bright for Ryan.

James Ryan
The old guard vs the new pretender. Donnacha Ryan and James Ryan compete in the air. Photo by: James Crombie/Inpho

Racing’s out-half woe

Racing 92 have spent millions in making themselves contenders for titles. They suffered from a shortage of out halves after Dan Carter was unable to take his place on the bench while Pat Lambie suffered a knee injury after 3 minutes. French out half Remi Tales performed admirably but Racing did miss the extra spark that Lambie can bring. It is ironic that they have spent millions but still suffered from a shortage of 10s.

Dan Carter
Dan Carter. Photo by: Getty Images

Teddy Thomas’ mistake

Teddy Thomas has enjoyed an excellent season with both France and Racing 92. He is a top class winger who destroyed Munster in the semi-final. Unfortunately for him his final major act of the European campaign was to be tackled to touch after Racing had turned the ball over. His mistake proved decisive after Leinster won a penalty and edged ahead. Thomas has a bright future and hopefully he learns from his mistake.

Cullen and Lancaster must be considered for Ireland

Leo Cullen’s decision to bring Stuart Lancaster in to the Leinster set up has proven to be a masterstroke. Cullen took charge in 2015 but it is only since Lancaster arrived that Leinster have enjoyed true success. Joe Schmidt is expected t stand down as Ireland coach after the 2019 World Cup. Cullen and Lancaster must be in the running when Schmidt decides to step aside. Their achievements with Leinster speak for themselves.

Cullen and Lancaster
Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster. Photo by: INPHO