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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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Galway v Clare Talking Points as the Tribesmen march on to final showdown with Limerick

Galway reached their second All-Ireland final in a row after overcoming a stubborn Clare side in another excellent game. Here we discuss the key talking points as Limerick discovered their All Ireland final opponents.

A Carbon Copy of Last Week

The replay was similar to the first game as Galway started strongly and surged into an early lead before Clare came roaring back. The Tribesmen were 1-9 to 0-3 ahead after 20 minutes but Clare ultimately left themselves too much to do. The wide count for both teams was high, similar to last week while Galway once again lost a big lead. It contributed to another cracking game of hurling in the summer that keeps on giving.

Micheál Donoghue gets his tactics right

Galway were caught cold tactically in the drawn match but Micheál Donoghue and his management team got their tactics right, especially in the opening period.  Galway varied their puckout strategy which reaped a rich reward especially when Joseph Cooney collected James Skehill’s short puckout and drove the ball into Johnny Glynn who slotted home Galway’s goal. Conor Whelan played a roving centre-forward role which freed up space down the middle for Canning and David Burke.

Micheál Donoghue
Michel Donoghue got his tactics right against Clare. Photo By: James Crombie/INPHO

Clare miss their chance

The Banner men showed terrific character throughout this Championship but their Achilles heel of poor shot selection was their downfall. They shot 19 wides while Peter Duggan missed a relatively straight forward free to draw the game level. Aron Shanagher missed a double goal chance when he scooped the ball onto the post after James Skehill saved his first shot. Clare will be left to ponder what could have been. It really is a game of inches.

Aron Shanagher hits the post late on
Aron Shanagher missed a glorious gal chance. Photo By: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Quality Goals

After the epic All-Ireland semi-finals last weekend, some complained that goals were becoming too rare. The three goals scored in this game were top class finishes. Johnny Glynn’s one handed finish was excellent while Peter Duggan’s goal was top class. Shane O’Donnell hit the goal of the year so far as he withstood fierce pressure from Daithi Burke and John Hanbury before dummying a shot and then striking it on the half volley. The Championship has lacked goals but these three were worth the wait.

Shane O’Donnell celebrates scoring a goal
Shane O’Donnell celebrates his epic goal on Sunday. Photo By: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Galway get extra motivation from the doubts

Joe Canning made some interesting comments immediately after Galway’s victory. Speaking to Sky Sports, the Portumna man remarked that he felt his men were not given enough respect coming into the replay.

“We felt as a group, we didn’t get too much respect. Clare only led last week for only one time in the match, and they didn’t lead at all today. We had five of our key players missing in extra-time last week as well, and they couldn’t finish it off. We thought ourselves that we didn’t get enough respect coming into today.” Galway and Canning used this perceived injustice as motivation.