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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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Talking Points as Leinster do the double while Scarlets get the Blues

Leinster 40 – 32 Scarlets

Leinster secured the Pro 14 title after they defeated the Scarlets in the Aviva Stadium. Here I menton the key points from this final game of the season.

Leinster complete a perfect season

Leinster have become the first side to complete the Champions Cup/Pro 14 double and they did so in impressive fashion. They ground out the win against Racing before they demolished Scarlets. They used 55 players throughout the season which showcases their impressive squad depth, while they have played free flowing rugby. This could be the start of a truly great Leinster side.

Leinster Pro 14 Champions
Champions. Photo by: Billy Stockland/INPHO

Nacewa doesn’t get his fairytale

Isa Nacewa limped off after 19 minutes of the final as it was the complete opposite to his European departure where he hit 6 points to guide Leinster to the title. Although he limped off, he knows that he has left Leinster in a better place and he has completed the double in his final season. He has been a great servant to Leinster and Irish rugby.

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

Larmour lights up the final

Jordan Larmour scored the try of the game when he kicked ahead and completed a sensational one handed pick-up before diving over. He noticed that there was no one home for Scarlets and his kick was spot on before he sped past the Scarlets players. Joe Schmidt will have enjoyed the try and it served further notice of Larmour’s undeniable potential.

Scarlets face a nightmare in Leinster

Scarlets suffered another defeat to Leinster in a knock-out game as they fell to a comprehensive defeat. The eight point losing margin flattered the Welsh side who were second best for long periods. Leinster suffocated last year’s champions as they went through the phases before Sexton pinged them back in their own half. Scarlets are a dangerous attacking side but they simply could not get their hands on the ball.

Jordan Larmour
Jordan Larmour celebrates with Garry Ringrose after he scored his sensational try. Photo by: independent.ie

Sexton the master

Johnny Sexton enjoyed another brilliant game as he guided them to more silverware. He received late hits but they motivated him. His kicking was on point as was his running game. His decision to go for the try when 3 points were on at the end of the half was excellent as he played James Lowe in. He has won all 19 games that he has played with Leinster this season and he is the glue that holds the team together.

Johnny Sexton Leinster
Johnny Sexton has added to the Pro 14 title to the Champions Cup trophy. Photo by: Getty Images
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Talking Points as Scarlets set up a shot at revenge against Leinster while Ulster seal European Rugby

Glasgow Warriors 13 – 28 Scarlets

Pivac must be considered for Wales job

Wayne Pivac has coached his Scarlets side to two victories over Dave Rennie’s Glasgow side this season. Warren Gatland looks set to leave his Wales job after the Rugby World Cup next year but his successor will be named this summer. Pivac, Rennie and Chris Boyd, who is taking over at Northampton Saints are on a 3 man shortlist. This win for Pivac will do his chances no harm.

Wayne Pivac
Pivac has done his chances of landing the Wales job no harm. Photo by: Getty

Wales out half tussle

Rhys Patchell was deservedly named Man of the Match in Scotstoun. He scored Scarlets’ first try in the fourth minute while his kicking and running game were excellent. After Gareth Anscombe helped the Cardiff Blues to win the Challenge Cup and Dan Biggar became the highest scorer in the history of the Pro 14, Warren Gatland has competition for the 10 jersey against South Africa on June 2nd.

Leinster 16 – 15 Munster

Leinster’s strength in depth sees them over the line

Leinster have one of the strongest squads in club rugby and they showed their dept once more as they beat a full strength Munster side. James Lowe was outstanding and it is incredible to think that he did not make the squad for the Champions Cup final. Max Deegan secured the vital turnover at the end of the game while Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Dan Leavy all to return for next week’s final.

James Lowe
James Lowe provides a wonderful offload to create Jack Conan’s try. Photo by: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Old mistakes haunt Munster

Munster nearly pulled off an improbable comeback but their basic handling errors proved their undoing. They were unable to provide Simon Zebo with a happy send-off as their errors and indiscipline proved their undoing. Jean Kleyn was sin binned after a head on collision with Ross Byrne as Munster were set for a 5 metre scrum. Instead they lost Kleyn and conceded a penalty. This was Munster’s fourth semi-final defeat in a row and 10th out of 15. They now face a long Summer.

Simon Zebo
Will Munster miss Zebo? Photo by: INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 35 – 17 Ospreys

Time of Change at Ulster

Ulster’s win against the Ospreys saw them seal Champions Cup rugby next season as they said farewell to Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall amongst others. Ulster will have a new head coach in Dan McFarland next season and they will be hoping to rebuild. They will need to blood more young players next season as they need to repair the damage of this season.

Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe will retire but will they miss his experience next season? Photo by: Billy Stickland/INPHO

 

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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