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What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Talk about the men in white, and everything Ulster!!

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What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Mon May 19, 2014 9:56 am


Right everyone, we know the routine. The "Boss" and myself have signed
a lucrative one year extension to the contract so we'll see what happens
after this year. Will be stepping back over the next few months in line
with less info floating around and start back into pre-season sometime
around August or so. Again, any and all help appreciated. As well as ideas
and guidance as to how we can improve things. You know where to find us.

Though things have changed radically around The Hill the last few years
I'd like to think that essentially we remain a family club. Being a family, we
still remember our own. :red:

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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Mon May 19, 2014 10:26 am


More Ulster Rugby stars need to stand up and take on responsibility
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe did not attempt to disguise his disappointment after seeing his side come up short against Leinster for the fourth season in a row.

Asked where Saturday night's defeat ranked, the Kiwi replied: "It was right up there. We worked our way up to a good stage in the game, being in control and professional, 9-0. We were going well, had the game in control.

"They started putting us under pressure, having a crack, which we knew was going to come but we just didn't keep our composure under pressure as well as we should have.

"That took a bit of tension off them and we put it on ourselves. Then we made some poor decisions. I thought we created a couple of good opportunities – particularly in the first half, but even a couple in that second – but we just lacked composure to finish it off."

Significantly, he refused to go down the usual "we will learn from this" route used by most losing coaches. Referring to the fact that this was Ulster's fourth successive season-ending defeat by Leinster, Anscombe said: "You never want to end a season saying 'we've learned and here we are' because that has been repeated three or four times.

"The fact is we have not taken these opportunities and we need to find out why. I think there are a couple of things in our game that we have addressed and talked about which we know that we need to do better next year."

Anscombe lauded the resolve and strength within his squad, saying: "I know the character of the group, if you look at the year that we have and where we have been and where we have played and some of the results we have got. We have great character in this team and no one can ever question that."

It was not unqualified praise, however, for tellingly he added: "But we have got to balance that character with clarity in what we do and how we communicate and support each other and not rely on one or two people making decisions, the ones who create the organisation.

"Others have got to take responsibility. It's alright making a run or making a tackle, doing something good, [but] you've got to re-load, you've got to re-group, you've got to get back in position quickly. Little things like that we have got to do better than we have been."

Just as had been the case 12 months earlier when Leinster beat Ulster in the PRO12 final, it was a case of remorse and rueful reflection on yet another one that got away.

There were moments Ulster failed to exploit, leading their frustrated coach to say: "Against good teams like this you are not going to get six to eight opportunities. You may get two or three and you have got to at least take one of them, which we failed to do." ... 83597.html

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Talking points as Leinster beat Ulster
Leinster set up end-of-an-era homecoming

Always favourites to reach the RaboDirect Pro12 final again, reigning champions Leinster duly delivered again at the RDS in their 250th match in the competition despite trailing for 65 minutes against oldest rivals Ulster in their semi-final. As with the first semi-final between Glasgow and Munster, the hits were brutal as defensive systems came out on top, a kicking battle between Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar vs Jimmy Gopperth looking likely, which had gone the way of the Ulstermen as they built a 6-0 lead at the break. Leinster’s almost all-Ireland backline—featuring the Kearney brothers, Fergus McFadden, the world’s best centre partnership in O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, scrum-half Eoin Reddan and former Junior All Black Gopperth—produced the occasional break through the Ulster defence, only to be unceremoniously stopped, but they eventually prevailed as Gopperth landed two penalties to make it a one-score game before Leinster snatched a win in front of a record semi-final crowd. For the blue Irish province, it provides the perfect opportunity to give Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen the perfect send-off as they call time on trophy-laden careers. The former may not have lasted more than 50 minutes after his head collided with Iain Henderson’s hip, his departure merely a precaution and he should be good to make his final appearance in two weeks in a match that should live long in the memory as the end of the Drico era while their opponents Glasgow Warriors will be looking to spoil the party and become the first Scottish club to win the league. For that opportunity, O’Driscoll owes a lot to his replacement Ian Madigan—usually an outside-half—who produced an O’Driscollesque break to force two missed tackles from a determined Ulster defence for the game’s only, and decisive, try.

Absences tell for Ulster

Mark Anscombe may have had influential hooker Rory Best and scrum-half Ruan Pienaar back after weeks out with injuries, but they were still short where it counted. The loss of loosehead prop Tom Court, still suspended after a red card for a dangerous tackle, and tighthead prop John Afoa significantly weakened the Ulster scrum with flanker Stephen Ferris also out. Pienaar produced a mixed bag: missing an early long-range penalty after just four minutes and drifting out of the game at times, but he almost stole through for a try with a trademark chargedown near the Leinster 22—the bounce wasn’t on his side. Not this time. The Ulster head coach said before the game that he wouldn’t have selected Best and Pienaar if they weren’t fully ready for such a physical encounter, but they were both certainly rusty and against a side like Leinster oozing class across the field for 80 minutes, it was always going to be a calculated risk. It almost paid off. Needless penalties gave Leinster the impetus they needed after the break to enjoy some territory and Gopperth the chance to add some scoreboard pressure into the mix. It is telling that Anscombe didn’t empty the bench as Leinster were forced to do through injuries during the match. Those extra three bodies may have made a difference as Ulster dropped off tackles they should have made as ruthless Leinster ramped up the pressure in the Ulster half. There are a lot of good youngsters coming through Ulster’s ranks who now have to step up as the club say goodbye to captain Johann Muller, who is retiring to his farm in South Africa, and Afoa, Court and Sean Doyle among a number of players moving on, but it would be a surprise if they weren’t back in top four contention next season ... -ulster-2/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Mon May 19, 2014 12:01 pm



Diack and Herring named in Ireland squad to tour Argentina
Uncapped Ulster forwards, Robbie Diack and Rob Herring, have been named by Ireland Head Coach, Joe Schmidt, in his 30-man squad to tour Argentina this summer.

They are two of nine Ulster players in the squad. Rory Best and Chris Henry join
Diack and Herring in the forwards, while Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble are selected in the backs.

Munster prop James Cronin and Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion, who are also uncapped, have also been named in the touring party.

The first Test takes place at the Estadio Centenario in Resistancia in Chaco Province in the northeast of the country on Saturday 7th June. The second Test will be played in the Estadio José Fierro in Tucumán in North-western Argentina on Saturday 14th June.

Both Tests against the Pumas will kick-off at 15:40 local time (19:40 Irish Time).

The Ireland squad will depart for the two Test tour on Sunday 1st June and both Tests will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 2 with coverage starting from 7.00pm.

IRELAND 2014 Argentina Tour Squad:

Forwards (16)
Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 75
James Cronin (Dolpin/Munster) *
Robbie Diack (Malone/Ulster) *
Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 10
Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster) 14
Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) 65
Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) *
Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 8
Jack McGrath (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 8
Marty Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster) 5
Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 2
Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) 92
Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) 39
Rhys Ruddock (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 2
Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 15
Damian Varley (Garryowen/Munster) 2

Backs (14)
Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 5
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 39
Robbie Henshaw (Buccanneers/Connacht) 3
Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 9
Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster) 5
Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 54
Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) *
Luke Marshall (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 5
Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 26
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 27
Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster) 54
Johnny Sexton (Racing Metro) 43
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster) 55
Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 6

*Denotes uncapped player

Argentina v IRELAND

Saturday 7th June, 2014
Estadio Centenario, Resistencia, Chaco
KO 15:40 local time (19:40 Irish time)

Argentina v IRELAND

Saturday 14th June, 2014
Estadio José Fierro, Tucumán

KO 15:40 local time (19:40 Irish time) ... ntina.aspx

Sexton and Zebo included in Ireland squad for Argentina Tests, D’Arcy and Madigan miss out
Tommy Bowe and Sean O’Brien also miss out as Schmidt calls upon Felix Jones, Robbie Diack, James Cronin, Rob Herring and Kieran Marmion.
IRELAND COACH JOE Schmidt has omitted Ian Madigan from his 30-man squad to face Argentina in two Tests next month.

The Kiwi has included four uncapped players in the group. Kieran Marmion of Connacht is the only uncapped back, while Robbie Diack, Rob Herring and James Cronin are included among the forwards.

Madigan’s omission came as Jonathan Sexton was called up, despite many suggestions that the out-half may well be rested after a long season of Lions, club and international rugby.

Paul O’Connell continues as captain, but in the first window without Brian O’Driscoll there is no place for Gordon D’Arcy. Instead, the midfield options are made up by Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Robbie Henshaw, Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls.

Tommy Bowe is another big name to sit out the summer tour, the back three opportunities given to Earls, McFadden, Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney and Felix Jones.

Ireland squad to tour Argentina:

Forwards (16): Rory Best, James Cronin*, Robbie Diack*, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Herring*, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, Paul O’Connell, Mike Ross, Rhys Ruddock, Devin Toner, Damian Varley.

Backs (14): Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Felix Jones, Rob Kearney, Kieran Marmion*, Luke Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Jonny Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo.

*denotes uncapped player. ... 4-May2014/

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Time To Look In The Mirror
If Ulster fans left the RDS depressed amid the repetition of the same traits that have hamstrung them for much of Mark Anscombe’s reign – an inability to score tries against an organized defence – it would have been made worse by the relief felt by Leinster fans given the balance of the play. That said, Leinster fans will be feeling a little empty on Sunday morning in spite of their win – their sheer ineptitude in the first half was stunning and their mistakes were off the chart. If anything, it was worse than the Embra game.

The first 33 minutes of the game felt like a culmination of a season of Leinster having Joe Schmidt trained out of them – the error count was horrendous, sky high, the likes of Eoin Reddan couldn’t pass the pill, accuracy levels were on the floor. It was the worst Leinster have looked in years. And yet – despite totally controlling the game, Ulster were only 3-0 up, and never really looked likely to break the Leinster defence down to score the try that would surely have led to a comfortable win.

The stabilisation point, ironically, came from yet more poor Leinster play – this time a rank leading elbow from Dorce, which deservedly had him cooling his heels on the sideline (there was quite a bit of niggle going on – much of it involving famously nice chap Andy Trimble for some reason). Suddenly, the psychology of the game switched – the pressure on Leinster to find their A game dissapated and the pressure switched to the Ulstermen to score a few points while he was in the bin. Nearly a quarter of that time was wasted on one scrum, and Ulster didn’t cross before half time. Leinster went in at half-time feeling a bit spritely at being ‘only’ 6-0 down despite playing like drains.

In the second half, Ulster continued to own the football, but Leinster began upping the urgency levels – rucks were contested a little more vigourously and the aggressive defensive line was beginning to force Ulster errors. The turning point came when you-know-who trying to takle NWJMB’s knees – not advisable under the best of circumstances, and especially not when the man-child was in this form. Drico sustained perhaps the last concussion of many in his career and was replaced by Ian Madigan. Shortly after, Wee PJ left the field and was replaced by James McKinney. The net effect was for Leinster to have someone ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck and Ulster went down a notch in the playmaking – and defensive – stakes. This was the Ian Madigan that has been missing in action all season. Could it be that with seemingly nothing to lose he was able to just relax and do his thing. It’s rare in rugby for the man of the match to go to a reserve, but Madigan was indeed the game’s most influential player.

Aided and abetted by some serious beef off the bench, Leinster finally found their feet, and ten minutes of pressure culminated in Madser’s game-winning try. Even in Optimism Central BBC NI, the score was greeted, with nine minutes to go, as the “game-winning try”. The hole Madigan sauntered through was left there by Jared Payne, who, if this was an audition for some-bloke-called-Brian’s shirt, wouldn’t get a call-back. Bamm-Bamm will feel he is the best inside centre in the team and Darren Cave is easily a better fit outside him right now – if Payne really is an outside centre, he has yet to show it.

To say Ulster let Leinster out of jail would be an understatement – they had them in solitary confinement but accidently left the key lying around and Leinster strolled out of the prison whistling a tune. Anscombe will feel a tad uncomfortable this morning, and he should be – Ulster’s failing 12 months ago was an inability to make big plays in big games (Saints, Leinster) and that is still the case.

There have been a number of games this year in which Ulster have had countless visits to the opposition 22, and been made to pay for not converting enough of them into points. The freak result at home to Glasgow earlier this season was one, and two more were the home games against Leicester and Montpellier in the Heineken Cup, which they won, but which nearly proved costly in terms of bonus points. As a team they have the set pieces and forward oomph to dominate matches, but their struggles to score from close range have become the equivalent of getting the yips on the putting green. Anscombe described them as lacking compusure in key situations, and that seems about right – but that’s as much on him as it is on the players. It feels like they force the issue – the missed touch with several penalties trying to eke out every last metre, when there really wasn’t any need to.

Leinster’s Schmidt Generation would have been much more clinical, and likely have been 15 points up and out of sight by half-time in a similar situation. Lofty standards, sure, but that’s what Humph is aspiring towards with Ulster – and rightly so. The rumour mill already abounds that his coach will be replaced by Neil Doak after next season – this may seem harsh, but unless Ulster’s failing in knockout games is rectified, it’s quite easy to argue that Anscombe has taken Ulster as far as he can and a new approach is needed.

As for Leinster, they’ll be glad to still be alive. It must not be forgotten that they provided the majority of the Six Nations team and a handul of their players were on the Lions tour too, so they’re most likely exhausted. But it still looks as if Matt O’Connor is more Gary Ella than Joe Schmidt, and if anything performances seem to be getting worse by the week. And yet he may just finish his first season with silverware. I can think of a couple of provincial coaches who’d love to be in that position.

They will face a Glasgae side who won a great old-fashioned arm wrestle in a seething Scottish stadium (no, really) against Munster on Friday night. Leinster will see the final as a free play, but they’ll need to be a damn sight better than Saturday to deny the Warriors the win they felt they deserved in last years semi at the Oar Dee Esh. After 33 minutes, Leinster’s season seemed in tatters with performances reaching a nadir. Somehow, and again, Ulster let them off the hook – but it’s hard to know who has the bigger long-term worry. ... he-mirror/

A familiar feeling of dejection and pain for Ulster
Same opponents, same outcome. For the fourth year in a row Ulster's season ended in defeat by Leinster in a winner-takes-all shoot-out. Nothing new there, then.

Of those four defeats, this was probably the hardest to stomach. Ulster led 9-0. Indeed, there were 58 minutes on the clock before the hosts registered their first points.

By that stage, Brian O'Driscoll had been withdrawn suffering from what Leinster would later describe as 'a neck injury' following a massive tackle by Ulster's Iain Henderson.

Everything appeared to be in place for Ulster.

They had dominated the first half and turned round with a 6-0 lead courtesy of two Paddy Jackson penalties in the seventh and 40th minutes, the second the only punishment they applied during Leinster's reduction to 14 men; Gordon D'Arcy having been binned for a late tackle on Tommy Bowe six minutes earlier.

Five minutes after O'Driscoll's departure, the Ulster fly-half made it three from three by adding a 53rd minute goal, leading the 4,400 who had travelled south to offer support to dare to believe that the bookmakers who installed Leinster as favourites had got it wrong.

They hadn't. Leinster did what Leinster do; they kept the faith, dug deep, tightened the screw, defended superbly and ultimately bagged the game's only try nine minutes from the end.

Ulster have only themselves to blame for this latest defeat at the hands of their oldest rivals.

With a 9-0 lead they were in a position from which to have won this game. And while the Leinster defence was top-notch, the fact remains that in view of the territory and the amount of ball they had, Ulster ought to have been able to finish the job.

Their best performers were two of the younger players – 23-year-old full-back Craig Gilroy and swashbuckling lock Iain Henderson, 22.

"I thought Iain Henderson and Craig Gilroy were outstanding," Ulster coach Mark Anscombe said.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was an interested onlooker and neither of that pair will have done his prospects any harm at all.

The party for next month's two-Test trip to Argentina is named today and, while Gilroy may have left it a little too late to serve up this international-class display, Henderson can certainly look forward to facing the Pumas.

But there were other, older Ulster players who did not match that duo's appetite. Big occasions require big performances from those recognised as big-names. Unfortunately, some of those from whom Anscombe was entitled to expect more did not deliver.

Jackson's three penalties were hard-earned reward for Ulster's superiority up to just before the hour-mark. But that's when the tide began to turn.

Two Jimmy Gopperth penalties in the 58th and 63rd minutes served to raise hope in Leinster hearts and plant seeds of doubt in Ulster minds.

Now it was about continuing to adhere to the plan that had seen Ulster dominate up to that point.

But for the first time they began to waver and, like a shark smelling blood, Leinster went for the kill.

Summing up his post-match in view of what happened, Anscombe said: "It's disappointment because quite easily I think we'd all agree that we could be in a final now and it's just one or two little wasn't major areas that we were unlucky or being pounded or whatever, we did enough there to win that game and again it's just not being smart enough or cute enough to finish off an opportunity and then being disciplined at crucial times."

With eight minutes remaining, Ian Madigan – O'Driscoll's replacement – went through the gap between James McKinney and Jared Payne and, having been 9-0 down 14 minutes earlier, now it was Leinster who led 11-9. Gopperth's conversion meant Ulster needed a try to win it. None came.

Captain Johann Muller said: "We've put ourselves in those positions for four years in a row now and still there is nothing in the cabinet for us. There is nothing to show for it and I think that's the disappointment.

"I've played in plenty of teams in the past and played enough games and sometimes you just need a bit of luck. Obviously this year – especially this year – we haven't had luck.

"We've had a huge amount of bad luck, but today wasn't one of those days – we were beaten by a better side at the end of it."

"If you look back on the last five-six weeks we've had a huge amount of bad luck. But I'll tell you what; if this group of players sticks together, and the new guys coming in, I've got no doubt that they've got the ability to win trophies.

"And I would love to come and watch them next year in the final and have a bit of champagne with them afterwards because I truly believe, I honestly believe, that it is possible for this team to win trophies." ... 84069.html

Forgive & Forget...............

Check out Tom Youngs and Salesi Ma’afu’s brilliant Twitter reaction to their on-field scuffle
Image ... 8-May2014/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Mon May 19, 2014 1:43 pm



Schmidt juggling player management and depth chart for Argentina Tests
WITH THE ABSENCE of a number of (but not all) experienced big-name players in the Ireland squad to tour Argentina, Joe Schmidt has clearly had a difficult task to balance the needs of individuals with the overarching goal of continuing Ireland’s winning momentum.

On top of the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll, Schmidt has omitted Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Gordon D’Arcy and Tommy Bowe in order to give them a chance to recover fully from injury troubles.

“There are a bunch of guys who we would feel are better served by getting a window to fully recover,” Schmidt said at today’s squad announcement.

“Also, a number of them will have accumulated a number of very brief pre-seasons by the time they go away on June tours, Lions tours and the like.”

That reasoning doesn’t apply to Racing Metro’s Jonathan Sexton, who is included at the expense of his former back-up, Ian Madigan, with three scrum-halves also scuppering the Leinster utility back’s chances this time around.

“To only take two scrum halves would be very, very difficult,” says the Six Nations-winning coach.

“To go with six halves would have been a real tightening of numbers. The thing for Ian is he hasn’t had a lot of game time recently. I have had a really good discussion with him.

“He is going to come in and train with us, but he will go on the emerging tour and will give him and the likes of Ian Keatley time to get game time over there. We will still be keeping a close eye on that group.”

That emerging squad will be coached by Neil Doak and Dan McFarland in the IRB Nations Cup in Romania with the hosts providing the opposition in between games against Russia and Uruguay.

The full squad for that shadow tour is expected within the next week. But Schmidt has already eyed up his potential standby players, with Craig Gilroy (“finding form and footwork again”) and Tommy O’Donnell among the group invited to Dublin for today’s 24-hour re-introduction to the international scene and leading contenders for a late call-up along with Madigan.

With only three recognised second rows selected, and Robbie Diack providing a fourth option, Schmidt is also likely to hand a late call to Mike McCarthy provided he comes through the Pro12 final unscathed.

Along with managing those medical concerns, this tour provides Schmidt with this first true opportunity to work to a long-term goal of increasing Ireland’s strength in depth.


“To build a bit depth and competition for those places,” said the Kiwi when asked about his overriding goals for the Tests on June 7 and 14, “to give players an opportunity to demonstrate that they’re at a level. Because any time you go to Argentina it’s going to be combative.

“I’d like to think that the team can perform well and keep some continuity and consistency going on from the Six Nations. I felt that we finished in November last year with that performance against the All Blacks, not quite getting over the line, but then I felt we were very consistent in the Six Nations.

“Even though we didn’t quite beat England in the Six Nations – they’re a super team and that’s a very big test to do that – we worked our way through that very well and the challenge for the group is to maintain a consistent high level performance – that would be the primary thing.” ... 0-May2014/

If there are any Leinster fans out there who don't at least have a bit of empathy for their Ulster counterparts after this match then they clearly haven't a soul. And I know that may come across as trite and patronising, but I'm happy to run that risk because the statement is true.

I have shared many a stadium with Ulster fans over the years and there is no doubt that they are more than a match for followers of any other team in the world whatever the sport in terms or loyalty, passion and banter. Sure they have a minority who try to let them down, but so does every team, us included. All you need to do is watch how every single spectator is on their feet clapping off BOD as he left the field for what could have been the last time ever and you'll know what I mean.

Yet while these two great provinces may be well matched in terms of support, the fact that way more often than not one tends to come out on top in big contests shows up the difference in the stage of development of their respective rugby programmes, and even though it took us a lot longer to turn the screw than ever before, the way in which we did it still managed to highlight that very gap.

Apologies if my headline seems to lay all the blame for the defeat on Ruan Pienaar, because that is far from the case. The reason I single him out though has more to do with the pun,'s about the personalities and performances a team can produce when their marquee talent aren't available or at the top of their game.

Compare this match to last year's final between the same two teams at the same venue. On that day Leinster had Sexton, Nacewa, Strauss, Boss, O'Driscoll and Cullen all putting in full 80 minute shifts, plus of course there was The Schmidt Factor. With BOD finishing early and Leo starting late on Saturday, plus the fact that the rest of that array of talent were out of the equation altogether, that is a serious amount of big shoes that needed filling.

Of course the changes weren't all on the Leinster side from that final last year...Payne is quite rightly making a timely run for a regular start at 13 so Craig Gilroy was a full back, plus Nick Williams, Tom Court and John Afoa are also massive losses.

And don't think for a second that I'm suggesting Ulster don't have anyone else to introduce when those key figures are out. Iain Henderson was only on the bench for that final but he showed every bit on Saturday why he has to be in contention for a Lions 2017 start, let alone an Ireland one. The other nations may not know too much about him just yet, but it won't be long.

But what I am saying is that pound for pound, while the ideal first string teams of these two provinces may be closer to parity than they have been in recent seasons, it's in the ability to get performances out of the players on the next level down that has proven the difference.

Sure, Leinster were shut out for 58 minutes at home, something that doesn't exactly happen every week, and as well as the visitors were playing, we weren't getting the most out of our top performers, with Gordon D'Arcy and Eoin Reddan probably the biggest culprits in having an off day.

Yet when you preview matches like this, you hardly take into account someone like Quinn Roux coming out of the blue into the starting lineup and putting in a solid 50-minute shift. Nor do you think your near-7-foot lock is going to be able to throw a dummy and play a big role in kickstarting an offence which badly needed it. Nor do you think that a young scrum-half like Luke McGrath who didn't think he'd be involved at all on the day will be able to come on with 11 minutes to go in as tight a game of cup rugby as you'll see and more than hold his own...did I mention he came on as a replacement winger for Dave Kearney?

Meanwhile as Ruan Pienaar had a day he'd probably rather forget, it wasn't so much that Ulster were poor in other positions, rather there just wasn't the spark coming from unlikely sources that was required to get their hard-earned 9-0 lead over the line. Plus with no disrespect meant to the players on their bench, they had nowhere near the talent of Madigan, O'Brien and Cullen to introduce to the fray in the closing stages.

Though there were a multitude of turning points, the flashpoint in this fixture for me was the 55th minute. That 9-point lead had just been established, and Iain Henderson had just forced a turnover penalty at midfield. Paddy Jackson was forced to leave the field to be replaced by Ian McKinney, who despite leaving the province at the end of the season, proved his worth down at Thomond Park last week.

But for the third time in the contest, Pienaar failed to find a relatively simple touch with the kick from the hand. We could perhaps offer mitigating circumstances like the swirling wind plus the fact that Leinster's solid D made him try to eke every millimetre he could out of each kick, but I very much doubt Ruan himself would have any of that.

And as part of the ensuing run back, Ian Madigan surged down the field and before long it was Leinster on the front foot in the opposition 22 and with Callum Black falling into a ruck from the side, Jimmy Gopperth had the chance to not only put us finally on the board, but also keep Ulster's time with a two-score lead to the absolute minimum.

Here I will admit that we were a tad lucky on two Ulster possessions in our 22 over the final few minutes, which came either side of the decisive Madigan try. On both occasions, they had gotten to within a whisker of the Leinster line only for referee Leighton Hodges to award a scrum to the home side. Also on both occasions, there was a strong case to be made for penalties to be awarded to Ulster.

However...when you take into account how the match had gone up to that point, you can see why the ref was favouring the defence, and to be fair he was doing so for both sides for the 80 minutes. Although those were the last two times Ulster threatened with phases in our 22, they were by no means the first, and time after time after time particularly in the first half they were denied by a Leinster defence that to a man was tackling, jackling and covering as though their lives depended on it.

I also think Hodges handled other potential flashpoints well, like collisions in the air and the spat just before halftime between Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney. And in many ways it was the cause of that spat which could have swayed the ref against the Ulstermen in those closing stages...clearly part of their plan to disrupt our D was to hold on to pillar & post defenders a fraction longer than usual but he had their number on it and they didn't seem to have a Plan B in that particular area and kept doing it.

And taken on its own, the try which clinched the match was worthy of the honour. Though Leinster's offence stuttered much as it has in recent weeks, it would only take one key offload/ decent line combo to spark and ironically it was Gopperth & Madigan who provided it seeing how the debate over them has been “either/or” all season.

That Madigan was awarded man-of-the-match despite coming off the bench was probably the right call...he contributed more than just the try when he came on and certainly made a case for himself in the 12 position...don't forget he played 80 minutes there in last year's final. Had the result gone the other way, however, I'd have gone for another Ian, or should I say Iain, namely Ulster's number 5 Henderson.

Overall while this was in many ways a perfect 80 minutes of cup rugby for the “neutral”, given Leinster's success in recent years, I'm not sure exactly how many neutrals there were out there watching! I'm under no illusions that the “ABL” support is growing with every result like this one!

But that won't stop me from getting as much enjoyment as I can out of yet another Pro12 final at the RDS in a couple of weeks, not to mention the bonus of cheering on the A team at Donnybrook this Friday.

Given the run of winning form that the Glasgow Warriors are on, plus the fact that we find scoring 5-pointers so difficult this weather, retaining our Pro12 title will be anything but easy. Still...I reckon it's a safe bet Gregor Townsend & co are thinking exactly the same. Bring it on.
JLP ... ter-9.html

No last hurrah for Ulster skipper Johann Muller
One great rugby career was destined to end on Saturday night at the RDS when Leinster clashed with Ulster in the PRO12 semi final.

Brian O’Driscoll left the pitch injured to a standing ovation and with his side trailing 6-0 it looked like it would be the former Ireland and Lions captain’s last hurrah.

The sides exchanged penalties to give Ulster a 9-3 lead when they withdrew skipper Johann Muller on 59 minutes, Mark Anscombe’s team were in control but the game changed in the final quarter and it the former Springbok who bowed out at the final whistle.

“I actually had a protein shake when I came off because I thought I needed a bit of recovery for a few week’s time,” smiled Muller.

“But that is the way this game works, we were 9-3 up when I left and playing some good rugby and I thought we had a big chance of winning it.

“There was one score in that game all the time and Leinster that took the opportunity.

“They had one opportunity and took it and I thought we came back well in the last two minutes and could have easily won a penalty in those 10 to 15 phases that we had but huge credit to Leinster they were defensively outstanding.

“It’s not the way I wanted it to end. We said during the week we have played Leinster in a knockout game for the last three years and we’re zero out of three so we were really keen to make it one out of four.

“At a stage it looked like we had the better of them. But once again it shows the quality of the Leinster side they know when to raise their game.

“They have played in plenty of play-off games in the last five or six years and I think that experience of playing in those and knowing what they need to do just showed in that last 20 minutes.”

Ulster had dominated the first half in terms of territory, possession and had the advantage of the wind but only turned around 6-0 up.

“I don’t think the wind played a big part in the game, I actually though we played in the right areas of the field in the first half and we put pressure on them in the first half.

“Hats off to Leinster defensively I thought they were absolutely outstanding.

“Whenever we got to within five or six metres of their line they seemed to find an extra gear defensively, I don’t think it is one of those that we lost I think it is one that they won.”

For four seasons in a row Ulster’s season has been ended in a knockout game by Leinster and Muller is puzzled for a solution.

“If I knew that I would be a very rich man. We have put ourselves in those positions for four years in a row now and still there is nothing in the cabinet and nothing to show for it.

“I think that is the disappointing thing, I have played in plenty of teams in the past and a lot of games and sometimes you just need a bit of luck.

“This year we have had a huge amount of bad luck but that wasn’t one of those days we were beaten by a better side.” ... -1-6066632

Latest Leinster defeat was hardest to take says Ulster coach Mark Abnscombe
Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, admitted the narrow loss to Leinster in Saturday’s PRO12 championship play-off was particularly hard to take.

Three Paddy Jackson penalties before his retirement with injury had given Ulster a 9-0 lead against the top seeds from the regular PRO12 season and defending champions, Leinster.

And even when Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth kicked two penalties to make it 9-6 in the second half, Ulster still looked as they were in control and would make the Grand Final against Glasgow Warriors on May 31.

But Leinster replacement Ian Madigan scored the only try of the match nine minutes from the end and Gopperth’s conversion made it 13-9 to the hosts - and it proved to be the vital scores in the end.

Last month Ulster lost agonisingly by two points to Saracens in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, albeit having played for the most of the game with 14 players.

It was tough to take and after losing to Leinster in another knock-out game Anscombe admitted it was hard to take.

“This one is probably harder to take. It is hugely disappointing because we could be in a final now and it was just one or two little things tonight which cost us.

“It was not major areas, that let us down. It was not about being unlucky or being pounded (by the opposition) we did enough out there to win that game.

“It was about not being smart enough or cute enough to finish off an opportunity at crucial times.

“We created three of four opportunities and did not take them. They (Leinster) had two, and took one of them.”

Leinster have enjoyed a richness of success in the past four or five years having come so close prior to that.

He accepted that if Ulster could get over that threshold of winning big games, then it would happen for them too.

Anscombe said: “The fact is we are getting into these situations (knockout rugby), but the fact also is we are not taking these opportunities and we have to find out why, what do we need to do to our game better next year.

“If you look at the year we have had and where we have been and where we played and the results we got, we have got tremendous character in this team. You can never question that.

“But what we have to do is balance that character with clarity in what we do, how we communicate.

“We cannot rely on one or two people on being the ones who create the organisation.

“Everyone has to take responsibilty.

“It is all right having a run, putting in a good tackle or doing something good.

“We have to reload, we have to regroup, you have got to get back into position quickly, little things like that we have got to do a little better than perhaps we have one some occasions.

“We will work hard on doing that so that when we come back next year and find ourselves in these situations we are able to do better and make that step.” ... -1-6066614

Retired Muller says trophies lie in Ulster's future
Johann Muller may not have been able to crown his Ulster career with another RaboDirect PRO12 final but the retiring skipper insists success for the Irish province is just around the corner.

Three Paddy Jackson penalties meant Ulster were in the driving seat at the RDS on Saturday night until Leinster burst into life through replacement Ian Madigan.

The fly-half scored the game's only try as Matt O'Connor's troops set up a home RaboDirect PRO12 final against Glasgow Warriors - and leave Muller without a last hurrah.

Ulster went one step closer last year - falling to Leinster in the final - but 34-year-old Muller, who retires from rugby after four years at the club, insists they can learn from their Irish rivals
"This Ulster team's time will come, without a doubt," he said. "The facilities are there, the players are there, the set-up as well, the Academy are coming through.

"I've got no doubt that in the next five or six years there will be plenty of trophies in Ulster Rugby.

"We just need to find that extra step because that's the difference between ending second and ending first," he said.

"Obviously a side like Leinster who have won plenty of trophies in the last five-six years, know what it takes to get to that extra step." ... Muller.jpg
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Tue May 20, 2014 8:44 am

Tuesday 20th May

Muller may make move into coaching after a year back on the farm
The lock has already declined offers in favour of enjoying some well-deserved R&R in the Southern Cape.
Rory Best says an emotional farewell to Johann Muller.
RETIRED ULSTER CAPTAIN Johann Muller has already declined a number of approaches to move into coaching in favour of returning to his native Mossel Bay.

The Springbok hinted that he may yet take up an offer should one come his way, but his first priority will be to bring his Belfast-accented children back to the Southern Cape.

“I ‘ve had a couple of offers to get into coaching,” Muller said after Saturday’s 13 – 6 defeat to Leinster at the RDS.

“At this stage, after 16 years, I need to take a bit of a step away from the game. I will definitely get involved in rugby again, but for the next year or 18 months I want to focus on farm life and family life; enjoying my family, enjoying doing what I love.

“Then, after that, if I feel if I’ve a bit of extra time, you never know, I might get back into it.”

The the end of the Springbok’s career was confirmed with Ulster’s failure to recover from falling behind after 72 minutes. Having left the field on 59 minutes with his side leading 9 – 3, Muller was making provisions for the final.

“I actually had a protein shake when I came off, because I thought I’d need a bit of recovery for a couple of weeks’ time.”
It was not to be. Though the recovery shake will do him no harm, the 33-year-old has been forewarned that his diet may need a little re-thinking without the daily grind of training to keep him busy.

Muller has long boasted that he can eat anything that took his fancy without gaining weight, soon he will have to fight the urge or start facing up to some conditioning work if he wants to stop himself becoming a fat farmer down in Mossel Bay.

“We’ve got a couple of ex-players on the coaching staff that have put a bit of weight on after rugby and they tell me the same thing is going to happen to me,” the South African says with a laugh.

“We’ll see how I look this time next year. I’m obviously really excited about the next chapter in my life I’m going to miss rugby and I’m going to miss game days. I’m not going to miss training that much, but I’m definitely going to miss that camaraderie within the dressing room.

“It’s been my life for 16 years and I’ve loved every second of it. There’s absolutely no regrets.” ... 4-May2014/

Johann Muller bids a farewell to Ulster
Ulster's Johann Muller does his final lap as a professional player
Departing Ulster captain, Johann Muller, told the players he had spent four years with to keep believing in themselves and it would not be long before they got the big victory they yearned.

The former Springbok skipper gave one final captain’s post match talk to his team in Dublin on Saturday night after his final competitive match.

It was not the victory speech many had hoped for, Ulster losing to Leinster 13-9 in the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs.

But like all great leaders he was positive in his approach.

“I told them that if they stayed together and continued doing what he had been doing that it would not be long until they would celebrating a big Cup success.

“I said they had to keep believing and working hard.

“I said I would come back next year and drink the champagne with them.”

Muller has led Ulster to a Heineken Cup final (2012) and a RaboDirect PRO12 final (2013), only to end up losing, as they did in this season’s play-off to Leinster.

During his time playing with The Sharks in South Africa, it was the Bulls who continued to thwart him just as Leinster have during this time with Ulster.

“In South Africa for 11 years the Bulls were phenomenal they won plenty of trophies and we always finished second to them.

“We always played second fiddle to them for basically 11 years in a row then I come over here and Leinster take over and it’s like a second Bulls team for me,” laughed Muller.

But as the towering Springbok, who became an adopted son of Ulster rapidly when he arrived four years ago, prepares to take his family home he said he enjoyed every minute of his time with the Irish Province and his rugby career..

“I have no regrets I’ve loved my time over here and back home as well,” he said.

Muller is returning to the family farm in Mossel Bay and is hoping to stay in shape in spite of no more rigorous training sessions.

“We have got a couple of ex players that are on the coaching staff now that have put a bit of weight on after rugby.

“They tell me the same is going to happen to me so we’ll see how I look this time next year.”

“I am really excited about the next chapter in my life and I’m going to miss this.

“I’m going to miss the rugby, Fridays, Saturdays and game days but I won’t miss the training that much.

“ I’ll definitely miss the camaraderie within the team and the fun during and after the games.

“It has been my life for 16 years and I have loved every second of it.”

Muller has had offers to stay in the game but he wants to take some time out and relax.

“I have had a couple of offers to get into coaching but for e after 16 years I feel at this stage I just need to take a step away from the game.

“I will definitely get involved in rugby again but for the next year to 18 months I really just want to focus on farm life.

“I want to enjoy my family and working on the farm and doing what I love then after that if I have a bit of extra time I might get back into it again.”

He may even take a future role in the Ulster dugout.

“David Humphreys has already signed me up for 10 years from now,” quipped Muller, who quickly added: “ I’m joking.

“It has been a special place for me and David has already invited me back next year to watch a couple of big games.” ... -1-6068848

Robbie Diack and Rob Herring make Ireland squad for Argentina tour
Ulster’s Robbie Diack and Rob Herring have been included in the Ireland squad to tour Argentina in June.

The Ulster pair are two of four uncapped players in the 30-man squad named by Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt on Monday.

Munster prop James Cronin and Connacht scrum half, Kieran Marmion, are the other two uncapped players named along with backrow forward Diack and hooker Herring.

Ulster, who lost to Leinster in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final in Dublin, have nine players included in the panel.

Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry join Diack and Herring in the forwards, while Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble are in the backs.

Notable absentess include Ulster winger Tommy Bowe and Leinster’s Sean Cronin and Cian Healy.

The squad will leave Ireland on June 1 - the day after Leinster play Glasgow Warriors in the RaboDirect PRO12 Grand Final - for the Two Test four against the Pumas.

The first Test takes place at the Estadio Centenario in Resistancia in the Chaco province in the north east of the country on Saturday, June 7.

The second Test will be played at the Estadio José Fierro in Tucumán in north western Argentina on Saturday, June 14.

Both matches against the Pumas will kick off at 3.40pm local time (7.40pm GMT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 2, with coverage starting from 7pm. ... -1-6067764

Dungannon Appoint Brady And Irwin As Coaches
Dungannon Rugby Club have announced the appointment of a new coaching team for the 2014/15 season, as they look to bounce back from their relegation from Ulster Bank League Division 1B.

Outgoing head coach Paddy Johns stays in the mix with former Dungannon player Nigel Brady returning as forwards coach. Brady, a former Ulster and Ireland 'A' hooker who is currently in France with Aurillac, has recently been forced to retire from playing through injury.

He was a prominent schoolboy rugby player at Royal School Dungannon having been capped a number of times for Ulster and Ireland Schools. He then graduated to the senior squad at Dungannon in 1998 and was a member of the All-Ireland League winning side of 2001.

Brady will be assisted by his former Ulster Schools colleague David Irwin who is joining from Lisburn RFC as assistant forwards and development coach.

Mark Henderson is also remaining on from the existing coaching team and he assumes the role of coaching co-ordinator, responsible for assisting with the coaches and other coaching duties along with the recruitment and development of young players.

Henderson has been involved with coaching and managing a number of sides at Stevenson Park and also led the Sevens squads to success at the Carrick Sevens on a number of occasions, including at this year's tournament.

Outgoing Dungannon club President Paul Magee is excited by the new appointments, stating: "I have played with both Nigel and David and know their rugby abilities. Nigel is no stranger to Dungannon and whilst we are all disappointed he has had to finish his playing career early, we are excited he has chosen his home club as the place to begin his coaching career.

"We have targeted our men and believe they will do a good job at Dungannon, developing players and returning the first team to the premier division of the Ulster Bank League.

"Dungannon has always been a development ground for young ambitious players and with these additions to our current coaching team, we will be well placed to continue that tradition and bring all levels of Dungannon rugby back to the standards we set for ourselves.

"Over this season we have used many players new to the AIL and along with potential new recruits, they will benefit greatly from the quality coaching and high level experience available to us next season."

Former Ulster and Ireland lock Johns, who is stepping down after two seasons as 'Gannon's head coach, added: "Nigel will be an enthusiastic young coach who will bring fresh ideas and a new momentum to the club. He continues the long tradition of former Dungannon players, who, like me, have proudly taken on the role of coach of their home club.

"He and David Irwin will have plenty of support from Mark and entire club. I believe coaching, like playing, is now a team effort where we depend on each other for support and ideas.

"We should be open to constructive criticism as well. It is better to get it wrong on the training ground than on the pitch on a Saturday."

Dungannon are continuing to seek the appointment of a backs coach to complete their coaching team, however with this announcement the Tyrone side can begin the important steps of building for next season.

Hailing Johns as 'a great servant to Dungannon for the last two years', the club thanked him for his continued support and commitment to the Stevenson Park outfit.

Ireland tour party to Argentina notable for eye-catching inclusions Gerry T
Absentees such as Ian Madigan also controversial
The composition of a 30-man squad for a two-Test tour to Argentina might, in normal circumstances, have been notable for the absentees, but this party is also notable for some eye-catching inclusions.

Aside from the quartet of uncapped players – Munster loosehead James Cronin (23), Connacht scrumhalf Kieran Marmion (22) and the South African-born Ulster pair of hooker Rob Herring (24) and Robbie Diack (28) – Simon Zebo is brought back into the fold, while the main losers would appear to be Leinster outhalf-cum-utility back Ian Madigan and Munster openside Tommy O’Donnell.

As expected, managing injuries and weary bodies have excused some frontliners from duty, such as Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Dan Tuohy, Sean O’Brien, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy and now Dave Kearney.

Johnny Sexton, mustard-keen to travel, does so despite the rigours of last summer when the Lions outhalf was then pitched quickly back into action with Racing.

With no D’Arcy or Brian O’Driscoll, the need for Sexton’s leadership as Schmidt’s primary conduit on the pitch, also given his departure from Leinster, is all the more acute.

This, coupled with the decision to make an understandable investment in Marmion, has contributed to Madigan missing out, for Schmidt was not of a mind to bring six half-backs.

Even so, given his composure as Sexton’s replacement in the endgame to Ireland’s Six Nations’ finale in Paris, his versatility as a 10, 12 and 15, not to mention Saturday’s reminder of his potential impact off the bench, it is a surprise Madigan has been earmarked for the Emerging Tour to Romania.

Schmidt also made the point that Madigan lacks game time, which is true compared to last season and to Paddy Jackson.

Cronin is highly regarded, and it will be interesting to see how he and Kilcoyne acquit themselves in Argentina, albeit Jack McGrath is ahead of them in the pecking order.

The inclusion of Diack, a skilful utility forward and a very good lineout option, by dint of the residency ruling – whatever about Herring through Irish lineage – raises that hoary old chestnut but not unreasonably, Schmidt was of the view that them’s the rules, so to speak.

“That’s a question for people over and above me. Players are either available or they are not. I think if Bundee Aki plays well and qualifies in three years, time he will be available to whoever is coaching the Irish team at that time to be selected.

“If they change the rules he may not be. As it stands at the moment I think there are some very good indigenous players and the vast majority of the squad is made up of those players.”

The coach also noted Richardt Strauss, Seán Cronin, Mike Sherry and Jason Harris-Wright were all ruled out , and Herring’s qualification adds to the depth at hooker.

“Robbie has played really well and merits his place. He has a good throwing game and I thought he had a super throwing game in Thomond Park where both he and Sean Doyle defensively did a fantastic job, getting off the line, making tackles.”

There will be relief amongst Munster fans, as well as the Zebo household, over his inclusion after falling out of the Six Nations reckoning.

Schmidt bridled at any suggestion the winger had fallen off the radar, although strongly intimated Zebo still has to work on his defensive game and work-rate around ruck time.

“I think it’s inaccurate to say he was not in my thinking. There are a number of players who don’t get selected who are very much in the forefront of all the coaches’ thinking. We saw a number of the elements that he brings. I think there are still some things he will be working hard on in camp and he’ll be given some direction about some other things that we do need.

“I think if you were objective on Friday night you’d see a few things he needs to work on. And at the same time you’d definitely see a few of those things that he brings.”

Schmidt essentially regards Zebo as a winger for the moment, and hence Felix Jones is probably the beneficiary of Dave Kearney’s misfortune. Kearney is believed to have suffered a serious cruciate knee ligament injury.

“He was playing a super game until he got injured at the weekend,” said Schmidt, who added of Keith Earls: “I thought Keith showed that acceleration against Toulon at one stage where he accelerated through the middle and got very close to opening things up. He also covers centre for us, as does Fergus McFadden, who I thought was pretty combative again on Saturday evening.”

Despite a reduced reliance on Leinster, Schmidt will be hopeful their 10-strong contingent come through the Pro12 final against Glasgow on Saturday week unscathed.

The squad departs the day after that final to arrive in Buenos Aires six days before the first test in Residencia, over 1,000km away on the Paraguayan border, before returning to the capital for another 1,000km-plus trek to Tucuman for the second Test. ... -1.1801796

Schmidt sidesteps residency ruling
Joe Schmidt has refused to become embroiled in the debate about whether the three-year residency rule should be extended before a player is eligible to play international rugby in an adopted country.

He named four uncapped players in his 30-man squad for the two-match tour of Argentina next month with Ulster’s South African back rower Robbie Diack poised to become the latest project player to be capped.

Indeed, three of the uncapped players were born outside Ireland but Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion from Wales and Ulster hooker Rob Herring, who was born in Cape Town, were eligible before they moved here. James Cronin is the other uncapped player, the Ballincollig native crowning a glorious breakthrough season with inclusion.

Schmidt said the list of players out through injury illustrated the need to have in-depth cover in all positions and said he would pick anyone who was available without getting wrapped up in the eligibility discussion.

“That’s a question for people over and above me,” said Schmidt when asked whether it was right that Bundee Aki, who joins Connacht next season from New Zealand, should be talking about playing for Ireland even before he comes here. Players are either available or they are not. I think if Bundee Aki plays well and qualifies in three years time he will be available to whoever is coaching the Irish team at that time to be selected. If they change the rules he may not be. ”

The biggest surprise is the omission of Leinster out-half Ian Madigan as Paddy Jackson gets the nod along with Jonny Sexton as Schmidt opts for just two out-halves and three scrum-halves.

Munster’s Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne have also been recalled, with several players given the summer off to sort out varying degrees of injury with the likes of Sean Cronin, Gordon D’Arcy, Cian Healy and Dan Tuohy not being considered, while Dave Kearney’s brilliant season ended with a serious knee injury in the Pro12 win over Ulster at the weekend.

Irish captain Paul O’Connell said quality signings from oversees can add to the provinces and the national team if they are the right fit on and off the field.

“I can understand why people would have an issue with it, with guys taking maybe an Irish player’s place but as long as it is kept to a minimum and they are really top class players and guys of top class character I don’t have a problem with it.

“You look at the likes of Robbie Diack and CJ [Stander], they are really good guys and they have been good signings. Robbie seems to be a good top class character. I don’t know Robbie all that well but I think he was captain when we played them over the Christmas, and it’s a real good sign of the guys’ quality and respect amongst the players. If guys add a little bit little bit to the Irish squad as well and have pride in what they are doing, I think they can be good for Irish rugby,” said O’Connell. ... 69232.html


Connacht boosted by over €1 million in extra funding from IRFU
The western province are set to improve their strength and conditioning facilities and have appointed Paul Bunce as their new head of fitness.
Bunce while working for Bath in 2011
CONNACHT HAVE BEEN granted additional funding ‘in excess of’ one million euro by the IRFU for the coming season.

With the budget for playing personnel remaining static for next season, the majority of this funding is apparently being ear-marked for the improvement of strength and conditioning facilities at the province.

The first port of call for moving the S&C department on is the appointment of Paul Bunce as head of fitness.

Bunce will take over the position from Tom McLaughlin ahead of pre-season having previously worked with Bath, Newport-Gwent Dragons and, most recently, the Scottish Sevens squad.

“It’s an exciting time for Connacht Rugby with the increased investment and support from the IRFU to improve our rugby programme,” head coach Pat Lam said in the statement released today.

“Capturing someone of Paul’s considerable experience is in line with our vision and where we want to take Connacht Rugby.” ... 0-May2014/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Tue May 20, 2014 11:44 am

Tuesday 20th May


Nine Ulster players called for Irish duty
On the plane: Ulster's Rob Herring could win his first Ireland cap after
being called up for the trip to Argentina next month

Ulster's progress in recent seasons is mirrored in the Ireland squad named yesterday for next month's two-Test trip to Argentina.

Nine of those in Joe Schmidt's 30-strong group are from Ulster and they include two as yet uncapped players in hooker Rob Herring and lock/back row forward Robbie Diack.

Both are South African, with Herring qualifying for Ireland via his ancestry and Diack by virtue of having lived here since 2008.

Herring, 24, has had a phenomenal season. With Rory Best having missed so much of the campaign through injury and Irish duties, the Cape Town-born hooker, who joined Ulster from Western Province two years ago in the hope of boosting his prospects at international level, has packed down on 26 occasions.

So too has Diack, whose appearances this term have included several as captain. To date he has amassed a total of 128 Ulster caps, which means that when the new season gets under way, only four players still on the books will be able to boast more appearances – Darren Cave, Rory Best, Roger Wilson and Andrew Trimble.

Three of that quartet will be on the plane for Buenos Aires, with Wilson the unfortunate exception. The gifted No 8 forward's solitary cap to date was against Japan while on tour with Ireland in June 2005 and at the age of 32, it is beginning to look unlikely that he will add to it.

In contrast, Cave's prospects have improved somewhat with Brian O'Driscoll having played his last international match. Having just turned 27, the outside-centre certainly has had encouragement from Schmidt since he succeeded Declan Kidney who appeared to have discounted the Ulster player.

The other Ulster inclusions were as expected, which means hooker Best, lock/blind-side Iain Henderson, open-side Chris Henry, out-half Paddy Jackson, inside-centre Luke Marshall and winger Andrew Trimble will be on the Argentina-bound plane when it leaves on Sunday, June 1, the day after the PRO12 final in which most if not all of the Ireland squad's 10 Leinster representatives will feature.

But it was not all good news for Ulster's Ireland internationals yesterday, as Lions wing Tommy Bowe, lock Dan Tuohy and back-three player Craig Gilroy failed to make it on this occasion.

Bowe's season has been seriously disrupted by injury, witness participation in just 13 of Ulster's 30 matches in which he scored only half a dozen tries – a poor return by his high standards. And he played no part in Ireland's 2014 Six Nations Championship triumph.

Tuohy, who will be 29 next month, played 21 games for Ulster in the just-ended season during which he completed a century of appearances for the province.

But he, too, has been beset by injuries at the wrong times.

He had an outstanding game against Scotland in February in the opening match of the Six Nations Championship when he stepped up on the morning of the game to fill in for Paul O'Connell when he was taken ill.

But the following week against Wales he broke his right arm. And having recovered from that, he then had the misfortune to break his left hand.

In his absence, young Ulster team-mate Henderson made hay in the sunshine, culminating in an excellent engine-room display against Leinster on Saturday night at the RDS with Schmidt in attendance to witness it first-hand.

Gilroy, too, was one of Ulster's best performers in that PRO12 semi-final defeat, but for him it was a case of too little too late at the end of a season in which injury and a loss of form have taken their toll.

Herring and Diack are not the only uncapped players; they share that status with Munster's promising prop James Cronin and Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion. ... 86077.html

Anscombe will be kicking himself Tony W
Quite whether the more deserving team won at the RDS, I'm not so sure.

Credit Leinster for the quality of their defending, the extent of their discipline and the strength in depth in reserve.

Matt O'Connor has brought a steely Cheika-like edge to Leinster, albeit at the expense of a consistent attacking game.

They are still in a different league to Munster, and with Jimmy Gopperth oozing class and confidence, there is a strong case for playing game-turner Ian Madigan alongside the New Zealander, irrespective of the world's most decorated centre pairing being fit for the final.

On the assumption Brian O'Driscoll is given the all-clear, then the Leinster head coach has a very big decision to make, ahead of taking on a Glasgow side in which Alex Dunbar is playing out of his skin.

Leinster would not be in the final were it not for Madigan's second-half impact against Ulster, and that surely must see him take centre stage for the final – but not at out-half.

The Leinster bench made all the difference when it really mattered in another RDS play-off sizzler, while Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Shane Jennings were absolutely top notch.

That said, the Ulster coach Mark Anscombe must be beating himself up. Ulster will hardly play as well again without coming away with the spoils against their old enemy.

Iain Henderson, like Toner and indeed Dave Foley for Munster, was a colossus at lock, while the back three of Craig Gilroy (by no means perfect but a revelation still at full-back), Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble were so full of energy and innovation at this stage of the season.

Impressive Ravenhill duo Jared Payne and Darren Cave more than stifled their opposite numbers, for the best part of an hour at least.

In the end, composure, patience and discipline got the defending champions over the finishing line in front.

Top of the league and now in control of a home final under a new main man, the rugby may not be all that easy on the eye but surely that gong for top coach should be awaiting the outcome of Saturday week's final when O'Connor and Gregor Townsend come head to head. ... 86541.html


Develop your skills this summer at an Ulster rugby camp
Summer fun: Tom Megaghey from Acorn Integrated Primary School in Carrickfergus gets a
lift from Ulster rugby stars Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson and Robbie Diack

Ulster rugby stars Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson and Robbie Diack have teamed up with independent retail group Centra to kick off this year's Ulster Rugby Summer Camps.

With over 1,500 places available, the five day camps will be held between June 30 and August 22. Qualified youth coaches and Ulster players will be in attendance to give youngsters tips on the game and sign autographs.

Aimed at boys and girls aged 6 to 12, Junior Camps will he held at over 20 different locations, offering children the chance to try the sport for the first time or develop existing skills.

Extra camps have been set up in this year's Centra Summer Camp to cater for the growing popularity of girls' youth and children with special needs' rugby. The girls' camp for 12 to 17-year-olds will run across four venues, whereas the children with special needs' camps will be held at Newforge Sports Complex in South Belfast and Coleraine RFC.

The Senior Camp, set up for boys and girls aged 13 to 17, will build upon previous rugby experience. Focusing on all aspects of rugby, the Senior Camp will take place in August at University of Ulster at Jordanstown.

Nikki McDowell, Centra Brand Manager, said: "This is the sixth year that Centra and its independent retail partners across Northern Ireland have supported Ulster Rugby Summer Camps, and we are very proud of that association.

"The camps offer young people the chance to learn new skills and of course meet Ulster Rugby players, who drop into every camp throughout the summer. The additional camps allow many more children to take part and enjoy a week of rugby during the summer holidays."

Barry Willis, community rugby manager at Ulster Rugby, said: "The camps provide an excellent opportunity for those who are new to the game and those with some experience to develop their skills in a fun environment and meet new friends.

"It's great to have Roger, Robbie and Ruan on board to help us launch our busiest ever schedule. All three of these players took up the sport as youngsters and our summer camps are a fantastic way to bring rugby to young people."

Full details can be found on ... 86050.html
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Wed May 21, 2014 12:48 am

Wednesday 21st May

Career of Stephen Ferris may be over due to recurring ankle injury
World-class blindside made a valiant comeback in March for Ulster
The career of Stephen Ferris (above) may be over, with one of Ulster’s greatest ever flankers struggling to recover from a recurring ankle injury.

The world-class blindside made a valiant comeback in March for his native province, following 16 months rehabilitating; damage that was initially sustained against Edinburgh in November 2012.

The 28-year-old subsequently broke down at training, just four games into his comeback.

Ferris was expected to leave Ulster for a Japanese club last season but further ankle surgery scuppered the lucrative move.

Having got his central contract extended by the IRFU, he made a dramatic return to action against the Scarlets on March 14th, arriving as a replacement and making an immediate impact with a ferocious tackle.

Two more appearances in the Pro12 against Edinburgh and Cardiff followed before his unique power again proved of enormous benefit off the bench in Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens.

But the ankle didn’t hold up to the strain of just a month in the professional game, subsequently ruling him out for the remainder of the season.

Ferris won the last of his 35 Ireland caps in the 30-9 defeat to England at Twickenham in March 2012. He also toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 but following some excellent performances, a knee injury denied him any involvement in the Test series.

Ulster caps
A century of Ulster caps were compiled since 2005 and his enormous contribution for Ireland during the 2011 World Cup pool stages, particularly the victory over Australia at Ellis Park, guarantees him a place among our great backrowers. ... -1.1802979

Ankle injury may end Stephen Ferris' career
It is being reported in the Irish Times this morning that Stephen Ferris' career may be over as he is failing to recover from an ankle injury.

Ferris returned to action against Scarlets on 14 March this year, following 16-months of rehabilitation; however, four games later he re-injured the ankle in training and was back in the treatment room.

The 35-cap Ireland international will spend the summer period rehabilitating in the hope that he can feature next season. ... is-career/

Recurring ankle injury looks set to end the rugby career of Stephen Ferris
The career of one of Ireland's greatest flankers of the professional era may be over.

Ulster's Stephen Ferris completed an amazing comeback after 16 months of gruelling rehab in March but there are rumblings that the playing career of the former British and Irish Lion will be cut short.

There was delight when the 28-year-old recovered from the debilitating ankle injury he sustained against Edinburgh in November, 2012 but his comeback lasted just four games and teh Irish Times is reporting that his career may be over.

Ferris won the last of his 35 Ireland caps in the 30-9 defeat to England at Twickenham in March 2012.

He also starred with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 during their tour of South Africa but following some excellent performances, a knee injury denied him any involvement in the Test series.

Ferris will be forever remembered for his performance in Ireland's victory over Australia during the World Cup in 2011 and his tackle on Will Genia.

Look back HERE ... 92726.html


Anscombe admits he must 'fix' Ulster's search for silverware
Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe believes the responsibility for the club's recent near-misses rests with him - but he is full of promise for the future.

Anscombe's men were heading for a second successive RaboDirect PRO12 final on Saturday until Ian Madigan took centre stage at the RDS to secure a 13-9 victory for Leinster.

Leinster toppled Ulster in the final a year ago, while European success has fallen just short of their grasp in recent times.

It sees Ulster head back to the drawing board in contrast to Leinster, who will defend their RaboDirect PRO12 crown on home turf against Glasgow Warriors on May 31.

And Anscombe admits his troops need to learn how to finish the job should they want to bring their own trophies back to Ravenhill.

"That's something that we clearly have to be better at if we're going to win these big games," Anscombe told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We've been there for three or four years and repeating it, so that's mostly my fault that we haven't fixed it.

"I can promise you that we have unearthed a few good young players for the future, with some others coming in." ... 3xQzGAU_IU


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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Wed May 21, 2014 12:16 pm

Wednesday 21st May


Ulster Rugby must find way to clinch the big wins
Feeling down: It’s been another season of so near yet so far for Ulster and the likes of Roger Wilson following the PRO12 defeat to Leinster
I don't know if you're a glass half-full or half-empty person. Maybe it depends on the size of the glass and what's in it.

Ulster's season? Depends how you view it. Did they win anything? No. Might they have won something? Yes. Should they have? Um – that one's less black and white.

Their PRO12 form was less impressive than the previous season. In 2012-13, Ulster won 17, drew one and lost four of their 22 regular season matches to finish top of the table.

They scored 577 points and conceded 348, a differential of 229. They then saw off Scarlets in their play-off semi-final before losing 24-18 to Leinster in the final.

This term Ulster won 15 out of 22, losing the balance to finish fourth. They scored 470 points and conceded 319, a differential of 151. On Saturday night they fell to Leinster in the semi-final, losing 13-9.

One does not need to be a mathematical genius to arrive at the conclusion that the record was a lot better in the first of those two seasons.

Okay, so let's examine the past two Heineken Cup campaigns. In 2012-13, Ulster topped Pool Four by virtue of having won five of their six matches.

Those five victories included a magnificent display in the 25-6 rout of Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens, albeit that this was offset when the same opponents inflicted a 10-9 defeat the following week in Belfast.

Significantly, Ulster beat Castres Olympique in France – their first ever victory in a competitive match on French soil. The fact that Castres then went on to win the Top 14 underlines just how magnificent an achievement it was to have beaten them at their Stade Pierre Antoine citadel.

Through to the quarter-finals for the third year in a row, Ulster bowed out after losing 27-16 to Saracens at Twickenham.

And this year – Mark Anscombe's second as head coach – Ulster did even better in the group matches, creating history by registering a perfect six out of six.

This included inflicting Montpellier's first Heineken Cup defeat at Stade Yves du Manoir where Toulon, Leinster, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bath and Sale had all tried and failed to win in the previous two seasons.

In addition, Ulster beat Leicester Tigers away, the first time any visiting side had been victorious in a European game staged at Welford Road since October 2006 when Munster lowered the Midlanders' green, red and white colours.

Through to the knock-out stages for a fourth successive season, Ulster had a home quarter-final for the first time since 1998-99, the season they won the Heineken Cup.

But in front of a capacity crowd at the all-new Ravenhill it all went pear-shaped when Jared Payne was ordered off in the opening minutes following a purely unintentional collision with Saracens full-back Alex Goode. The 14 men battled heroically before going down 17-15.

The bottom line is that having reached the knock-out stages in each of the past four seasons, Ulster have progressed just once – 2012 when they went all the way to the final only then to be trounced 42-14 by Leinster at Twickenham.

And it's Leinster who provide the yardstick against which Ulster must measure themselves. In the past six seasons they have won the Heineken Cup three times – 2009, 2011 and 2012 – followed by the Amlin Cup in 2013, the year in which they also won the PRO12 for the first time after defeats in each of the previous three seasons' finals.

In those six seasons, Leinster have played a total of 24 knock-out games in the two competitions. Of those they have won 19 – a whisker shy of an 80 per cent success rate.

Ulster were not involved in any knock-out games in 2009 or 2010. But since then they have played 10 – six in the Heineken Cup, plus four in the PRO12. Of those 10, they have won three – exactly 30 per cent.

Against that, they have produced an exciting crop of gifted young players – the likes of Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Stuart Olding, all of whom have been capped.

And to that quintet can be added the promising Ricky Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Rory Scholes and Michael Heaney.

But then you go back to that Leinster yardstick for a reminder of the fact that they, too, have excellent fledglings. And they are learning how to WIN. They lifted the British & Irish Cup last year and will make it two in a row if, as expected, they beat Pontypridd in Friday night's final at Donnybrook.

And with their seniors facing Glasgow on May 31 at the RDS – where it's 14 months since the hosts last lost a PRO12 game – another double is on.

Like I said, that's the measure for Ulster. ... 89669.html

Stephen Ferris facing possible retirement due to persistent ankle injury
The brilliant blindside has played 35 times for Ireland and 106 times for Ulster.
ULSTER, IRELAND AND Lions blindside flanker could be forced to retire from rugby in the coming week as he battles a persistent ankle injury.

The 28-year-old returned to action in March having been given two contract extensions during his injury lay-off from ankle tendon damage suffered in November 2012.

Ferris made a thrilling comeback at Ravenhill in March and added three more of his 106 Ulster appearances this season, the last of which came in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens at Ravenhill.

Return to action... HERE

Ferris’ injury continues the subject of ongoing assessment, and no formal decision has yet been made. However, it is feared that if no obvious improvement is seen then he will be advised not play rugby again.

On top of his 106 appearances for his province Ferris has played 35 times for Ireland, including a starring role in the World Cup 2011 win over Australia in Auckland. A match which delivered this iconic image of the Portadown man hoisting Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia while driving him towards the Australian 22.
Thanks, Fez. ... 0-May2014/

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El Summer Tour Contra Los Pumas
Joe Schmidt has named his 30-man panel for the two-game series in Argentina – and it’s not in nice places like Buenos Aires and Mendoza, but swampy, tropical Resistencia and rural Tucuman, where Besty might feel at home. Sling another cow on the giant open barbie there, ranch hand! The wine will be great, sure, but the nightlife might not cut it. We discussed the topic last week, and mooted that the most important bits of business are beginning the process of replacing O’Driscoll and winning the series.

It’s been a long old season and a good few bodies are deemed too tired or injured for the trip. In the past, the mantra from Irish coaches has been ‘these are the games the players are rested for’, but for the likes of Cian Healy, Tommy Bowe and Sean O’Brien, it’s been decided that they’d be better off recovering from whatever niggles they’re carrying. It must have been tempting to bring O’Brien and Bowe, who have relatively little rugby this season and could be reasonably fresh as a result, but discretion is often the better part of valour, and they’ll have the summer off to come back with renewed vigour for next season. There are bigger fish to fry.

Hookers: Rory Best, Damien Varley and Rob Herring

Herring is the beneficiary of a lengthy injury list, with Cronin, Sherry and O’Strauss all injured and he has deputized well for Besty. Best himself has only just returned to fitness, but given the lack of first-rate alternatives, it seems logical to pick him.

Props: Mike Ross, Marty Moore, James Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne and Jack McGrath

With Healy being given a free pass for the summer, James Cronin gets to travel. He hasn’t quite shot the lights out since his eye-catching cameo against Leinster last autumn, but there’s no rush and he seems to be made of the right stuff. He’s picked to get exposure to the test squad. Most likely he’ll be holding tackle bags, with McGrath the likely starter and Kilcoyne first reserve. It’s become a position of remarkable depth in the last season. On the tighthead side, Moore is likely to get his first start in a green shirt. Mike Ross tours again – we were incredulous he was brought to the US and Canada last year, although this makes more sense – you don’t want to be relying on Stephen Archer against top rate opposition.

Locks: Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell and Devin Toner

Ireland look a bit light with just three. Presumably Robbie Diack and Rhys Ruddock are providing cover should it be needed. With Donnacha Ryan injured and Dan Tuohy operating at less than 100% options are thin on the ground, although Mike McCarthy might have been one, though his star has waned. The players named are uniformly excellent. Henderson had his best game of the season against Leinster, and just as Devin Toner looked to be running out of puff, he had a fine performance in the same game. O’Connell is captain. It will be interesting to see if Henderson gets a chance to mix it with Patricio Albacete and co.

Backrow: Lots of players NOT FROM MUNSTER

Back in the Six Nations we had the Great Tommy O’Donnell Outrage. But Schmidt was proved entirely correct in his selection of Murphy over O’Donnell. O’Donnell’s form has been nowhere near his 2012-13 level and he has subsequently found himself dropped by Munster, failing to even make the bench in ther last game. Never mind, let’s move on to Sean Dougall Outrage. With O’Brien not selected and O’Mahony injured, Rhys Ruddock is liable to get a first start for Ireland, and the uncapped Robbie Diack may feature at some point, though Jordi Murphy appears to be the most versatile man for the bench. Mr Indestructible, Jamie Heaslip, will almost certainly be relied upon for another 160 minutes of high-grade rugby, and Chris Henry will also ensure some degree of continuity. Diack is probably the most POM-for-POM replacement, but you wouldn’t think he’s at this level. The bigger question is how you re-integrate Sean O’Brien (presumably in November) - someone has got to miss out. Fez is injured again, and surely won’t wear green again – sniff.

Half Backs: Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Kieran Marmion, Jonny Sexton and Paddy Jackson

No surprise that Jonny Sexton is picked, especially with O’Driscoll and Dorce missing. He presumably assumes the role of backline leader. As usual, Ian Madigan’s inclusion/exclusion [delete as appropriate] becomes a talking point. He’s back on everyone’s radar after Saturday’s stunning match-swinging performance, but those whose memories extend back to before then may remember that his form has been in the doldrums since the Six Nations. Paddy Jackson has yet to have that match-dominating performance that elevates him to the level occupied by Sexton and O’Gara before him – the new Toby Flood anyone? – but he has had a solid season (to be fair to Jackson, with Pienaar inside, he’s unlikely to have the opportunity any time soon either). Kieran Marmion’s selection is welcome – Reddan will slow down at some point - like Cronin he is no doubt bought along to learn as much as possible from his seniors.

Centres: Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Robbie Henshaw

The great one retires and 97-year old Gordon D’arcy gets to put his feet up. It’s a great chance for Luke Marshall to get the jump on him. McFadden presumably provides cover. At outside centre, the new era begins, and whichever centre gets selected to start is probably worth persevering with for both games to give them the best possible chance of settling in. No pressure Mr. New 13, you’ve only got to replace the best player in the world, like, evah! Angry Darren Cave feels like the sensible option to us, but if Anscombe is shuffling him around, it becomes a little muddier – no point in investing gametime in a player who might not start there for his province.

Back three: Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden, Rob Kearney, Felix Jones

He’s back! The red corner will breathe a sigh of relief that Simon Zebo has returned to the squad. Joe Schmidt needed little prompting to remind the Munster flyer that he has things to work on, but since the Six Nations it’s been hard to fault his attitude. He used the media not to whine about his lot, but to let the public know he was going to work as hard as he could, and to these eyes anyway, appeared to show great desire on the pitch. Notable contributions included a brilliant try-saving tackle against Toulon that kept Munster in the match, and his restart-chase against Toulon resulted in him scoring a try a few phases later. Surely the very details that Schmidt was looking for him to improve upon? Ireland are crying out for a bit of stardust in the backline, so hopefully he will get his chance. Keith Earls is back from injury and has looked dangerous without quite cutting loose in recent weeks; the rest pick themselves with Dave Kearney now injured and Tommy Bowe given the summer to rest.

Team to start the first test, maybe, possibly, dependant on all players getting through the Pro12 final, not getting injured in training and not missing the flight: Kearney, Trimble, Cave, Marshall, Earls, Sexton, Murray, McGrath, Best, Moore, O’Connell, Toner, Ruddock, Henry, Heaslip. A nice blend of the established and the younger. NWJMB would be a brave selection alongside POC – he will likely scrum down at tighthead lock when Muller moves on, so it’s the future .. if Toner ever stops improving. ... los-pumas/


Gareth Anscombe told to come now or miss World Cup :roll: ... world-cup/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Wed May 21, 2014 1:43 pm

Wednesday 21st May


Paddy Jackson ruled out of Ireland Tour of Argentina
Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson has been ruled out of Ireland’s two Test tour of Argentina in June due to a stress fracture in his lower back.

The injury will require rest and recuperation for Paddy to start next season fully fit.

Ian Madigan has been confirmed as his replacement on the tour. ... tina-.aspx

Stuart Hogg Reportedly Spotted Meeting With Ulster Rugby :roll: :roll: :roll:
Glasgow Warriors and Scotland player Stuart Hogg was reportedly seen being shown around Ravenhill by Ulster’s top brass three weeks ago amid reports of a possible move to the Northern province.

Hogg is currently preparing for the historic RaboDirect Pro12 Final versus Leinster at the RDS on May 31st. Despite being dropped for the semi-final, 21-year-old Hogg has played an important role in guiding Gregor Townsend’s side to their maiden final. Hogg’s attitude is something that has been questioned in the past but the young Scot’s reaction to his semi-final snub spoke volumes, with Andy Nichol discussing it in the Daily Mail:

This time last year, (Hogg) was preparing to go with the Lions to Australia but, on Friday, he was passed over for selection. However, he was still there cheering on his mates, which proves there is a real team spirit.

The utility player would offer some strength in depth to Mark Anscombe’s side as the curtain comes down on a season that promised so much, but ultimately failed to bear fruit. With Ulster’s provincial rivals having already made strong signings for next year, Anscombe knows a player of Hogg’s calibre (and more) is needed if they are to end a trophy drought that dates back to 2006. He has already secured the signing of South African international lock Franco Van der Merwe as a replacement for outgoing captain Johann Muller, while Ian Humphreys will also return to the province.

Hogg was reportedly spotted being shown around the new Ravenhill Stadium by Ulster’s top brass just three weeks ago, as rumours of a move continue to gather pace. Twitter has gone into overdrive with ‘Hogg to Ulster’ rumours in recent weeks. The Scottish Daily Mail’s rugby correspondent Rob Robertson believes Ulster have offered Hogg a very tasty proposition.
Hogg.png (15.38 KiB) Viewed 24303 times

Hogg’s obvious talent cannot be denied, however it is clear that his signing alone will not be enough. Expect high traffic volumes passing through the Ulster Rugby revolving door this summer. ... ster-rugby

Paddy Jackson could miss Ireland tour
The Ulster outhalf has a back injury that’s threatening his participation
Ulster outhalf Paddy Jackson could miss Ireland’s summer tour to Argentina after exacerbating a back problem.

Jackson had been named as one of two outhalves - first choice, Racing Metro’s Jonathan Sexton is the other - in the Irish squad that will play two tests against the Pumas next month.

The 22 year old had an ongoing issue with his back this season but following a two-day camp Monday and yesterday, the problem may have deteriorated to the extent that he now looks like missing out on the tour to Argentina. There is a suggestion that he may have a stress fracture.

The Ulster pivot was forced to limp off during last Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final defeat to Leinster at the RDS. A spokesperson for the IRFU confirmed that there was an injury issue

Jackson’s misfortune should mean a call-up for Leinster’s Ian Madigan, whom Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, had earmarked to travel with Emerging Ireland to a quadrangular tournament in Romania.

Munster’s Ian Keatley may form part of the discussion on a replacement but Madigan is the likely deputy should Jackson fail be ruled out of the tour.

Meanwhile Ulster are set to make a formal statement this week on speculation that Stephen Ferris will have to retire because of a long standing ankle injury. ... -1.1803778

Stephen Ferris: Decision expected on injured Irish star soon
Representatives of injured Ireland star Stephen Ferris have said a decision on the player's future will have to be made soon.

The Ulster flanker has been dogged by injuries and missed most of the season with an ongoing ankle problem.

"There are still ongoing tests on the ankle," said his management company.

"Having not played for a number of weeks, and not going on Ireland's tour, decisions will have be made very soon on the best move forward for Stephen."

Speculation has been mounting in recent weeks that the 28-year-old's glittering playing career could be over.

He did make a comeback in March after being out of action for 16 months because of the ankle injury sustained in a match against Edinburgh in November 2012.

Ferris received a rousing ovation from the Ravenhill crowd when coming on as a replacement against the Scarlets, and the roars became even louder within seconds when the British and Irish Lions star made a powerful, trademark challenge.

The forward played in further Pro12 fixtures against Edinburgh and Cardiff and the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Saracens.

However, a recurrence of his ankle problem saw Ferris miss the rest of the season.

Ferris has made 100 appearances for Ulster and the last of his 35 Ireland caps came in the Six Nations game against England in 2012.
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Wed May 21, 2014 4:46 pm

Wednesday 21st May


Five of Stephen Ferris' career highlights
Stephen Ferris scores a try against the might All Blacks
There have been reports this mroning that Stephen Ferris may be forced to retire at 28. Here are some of his career highlights.

1. British and Irish Lions Tour 2009

Stephen Ferris was at the peak of his powers in 2009 and was arguably the most explosive forward in Northern Hemisphere rugby.

Backboned by try-scoring outings against the Golden Lions and Free State, Ferris had nailed down a starting spot for the Lions until injury struck.

He would suffer a cruciate knee injury in training that would rule him out of the Test Series but he had made a lasting impression as a Lions tourist.

:red: Fez shows his wheels

2. Ireland v Australia, 2011 Rugby World Cup

A simply brutal display of strength, aggression and intensity from the giant flanker in Ireland's historic 18-9 win over the Wallabies.

In truth it was an amazing collective display from Declan Kidney's men but the game will always be remembered for Ferris' tackle on Will Genia.

Ferris picked up the renowned scrum-half at the base of an Australian scrum and carried him back into his 22 in an incredible show of strength.

:red: Fez lifts Will Genia up like a Rag Doll

3. Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Munster at Thomond in 2012

Ferris produced one of his best ever displays for his province in the home of Munster rugby to inspire his team mates to a 22-16 win.

He has been a doubt before the game with an ankle knock but played through the pain barrier in a performance which personified the courage of the man.

:red: HEC QF V's Munster 2011/12

4. Ferris returns from injury with monstrous tackle

The big man tweeted that he never had felt a buzz like it after he received a rousing reception in March following his return from 16 months of rehabilitation from an ankle injury in the Pro12 game with the Scarlets.

His first involvement in the game was a massive tackle on Scarlets back Kristian Phillips which drove the Welshman back 20 metres.

Paddy Jackson scored two tries, with the other two scored by Tommy Bowe and Tom Court in a 26-13 win.

:red: Oomph ! Fez announces his return

5. Grand slam triumph in 2009

Stephen Ferris was an ever-present in Ireland's amazing run to Grand Slam success in 2009.

The Portadown flanker formed an amazing back-row partnership with David Wallance and Jamie Heaslip as Ireland ended a 61-year wait for a Grand Slam. ... 93338.html

ENJOY :fleg:
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Thu May 22, 2014 10:15 am

Thursday 22nd May

Ulster Rugby's Stephen Ferris will meet surgeon before decision on future
An imminent meeting with a surgeon will decide whether or not Ulster star Stephen Ferris's career is over.

Amid rumours as to his demise, Ulster Rugby yesterday refused to confirm or deny speculation that the 28-year-old flanker's ankle injury is forcing him to quit.

When asked about the player's status the terse reply from Ravenhill was: "We aren't in a position to say anything at this stage."

Ferris's agency, Esportif Ireland – previously known as Cornerflag Management – confirmed that a decision as to whether he is quitting or can continue will be taken after he meets his surgeon.

"There are still ongoing tests on the ankle," his management company said.

"Having not played for a number of weeks, and not going on Ireland's tour, decisions will have to be made very soon on the best move forward for Stephen."

Ferris – a Grand Slam winner and British and Irish Lion in 2009 – has fought a lengthy battle against that career-threatening ankle injury, with his IRFU employers offering time, support and encouragement in the hope of helping their world-class number six back to fitness.

In January he was given yet another short-term Ulster contract extension, effectively giving him until the end of the season to prove he could make a recovery and return from the injury which up to that point had sidelined him for 14 months.

Ferris suffered the injury playing for Ulster against Edinburgh on November 2, 2012 – ironically in a match in which he had hoped to persuade then-Ireland coach Declan Kidney of his fitness to participate in that month's Guinness Series matches against South Africa and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.

But having set out intent on showing Kidney that he was ready to return to the international stage, instead a stricken Ferris ended up being helped from the pitch seven minutes into the second half. And now the fear is that this injury may prove to have been one too many for the 6ft 4ins (1.93m), 17st 8lbs (112kg) powerhouse.

Hopes soared when, having been sidelined for 16 months, finally he returned on March 14 past, replacing Nick Williams for the final 17 minutes of Ulster's 26-13 PRO12 victory over Scarlets at Ravenhill.

Ferris announced his return in typical fashion, his first action being to get up in pursuit of a perfectly-judged Ruan Pienaar box-kick following a line-out on Ulster's 10-metre line. Cleverly, Ferris waited until the visitors' fly-half Aled Thomas had caught the ball rather than risking tackling him in the air.

As soon as the 29-year-old Welshman's feet touched the ground, Ferris enveloped him in a bear hug of a tackle, driving him back in a manner reminiscent of his memorable 'hit and carry' on Will Genia in Ireland's 15-6 World Cup victory over Australia at Eden Park, Auckland on September 17, 2011.

As recently as November, Ferris was wholly confident that he was on the way back. And on March 14, that optimism appeared to have been well founded after all.

Sadly that 17-minute cameo against Scarlets on a night when he entered the fray to a rapturous welcome from the 14,000-strong Ravenhill crowd now appears to have been another false dawn.

Since then his on-field time has been limited to first half appearances against Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues in the PRO12, followed by the final 25 minutes of that ill-fated Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens which may now prove to have been his last ever match.

In the course of 106 Ulster outings he has scored a dozen tries. He has 35 Ireland caps and but for injury there would have been a great many more. ... 93845.html

Injury-hit Ferris ponders future as he sweats on ankle results
Stephen Ferris is expected to make a decision on his future in the game by the end of this week as Ulster and the IRFU grow increasingly reluctant at the prospect of offering him another short-term deal.

Ulster's Grand Slam-winning star, just 28, has made only four brief appearances for the province since damaging his ankle in November 2012.

He was handed a short-term deal halfway though this season when it seemed likely that he would be able to make a playing comeback, which he did in March against Scarlets.

Ferris had hinted at a move to Japan last summer before securing a short-term IRFU deal but, after the most recent final extension, his employers may be reluctant to repeat the offer.

After appearing briefly in the Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens last month, Ferris suffered another setback which ruled him out of contention for the rest of this season.

Now it appears that Ulster will respectfully afford the luckless back-row enforcer the opportunity to decide for himself if he has what it takes to continue in the game.

Ferris has undergone more tests this week and the results of these will inform his decision. He has made 100 appearances for Ulster and the last of his 35 Ireland caps came in the Six Nations game against England in 2012. ... 94777.html

Pienaar ready for Boks
Overseas-based Springboks Francois Louw and Ruan Pienaar will be ready for action by the time the Boks play their first game this year.

Flanker Louw, who plays for Bath in England, has recovered from an ankle injury which ruled him out for the last nine weeks. He is expected to play for Bath in their Amlin Challenge Cup final against Northampton Saints at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday.

Scrumhalf Pienaar has also returned to action for his Irish club, Ulster, after being sidelined for four weeks.

His dad, former Springbok Gysie, told the Volksblad website that his son would be ready for selection when the Boks play their first game of the year on June 7.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer earlier this week announced a 36-man squad to attend a national training camp in Durban from May 25 to 28.

Non-European-based players were not considered due to club commitments but there will be some overseas additions when Meyer names his final squad on May 31, with Louw and Pienaar likely to be called on.

The Springboks start their year with a game against the World XV at Newlands on June 7, followed by two Tests against Wales (Durban, June 14 and Nelspruit, June 21) and one against Scotland (Port Elizabeth, June 28). ... s-20140522

Six Nations champions Ireland celebrated at Stormont: Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best among players
Ireland's top rugby stars - including Brian O'Driscoll and Ulster's own Rory Best have celebrated their stunning Six Nations victory during an event at Stormont tonight.

The bash to recognise the achievements of the Ireland squad, brought some of the side's top talents, such as captain Paul O’Connell and Andrew Trimble.

Ireland took the RBS 6 Nations title after defeating France 22-20 during a thrilling clash in Paris in March.

It proved to be a fairy tale send-off for Brian O'Driscoll - who announced he was hanging up his boots at the end of the season.

Tonight, head coach Joe Schmidt said the whole island of Ireland would reap the benefits of a successful bid to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The man who guided the national side to glory this season highlighted the key role Northern Ireland could play in securing the tournament as he and the team were hosted at the special reception.

While the reception at Parliament Buildings was held to mark the nerve shredding triumph in March, many eyes were focused nine years hence and on the potential of a cross-border world cup.

Schmidt said Ireland could replicate the success of his native New Zealand in its staging of the 2011 tournament.

"You have got the same population and the same kind of energy around sporting occasions and I think you have got the stadia," he said.

"It would have to be a buy-in from all the sporting codes but I think that exists, it certainly seems to exist in the enthusiasm that's been shown so far.

"One of the niche things for Ireland is the proximity of everything. You've got that nice proximity where the roads are good, you can get from venue to venue.

"I think people would go off road a little bit too and get into the villages and towns like they did in New Zealand in a similar way.

"I think the whole country has an opportunity to benefit from it and also an opportunity to support it with the way they welcome people in."

He added: "There are so many positives to it that I really hope it can be successful."

A cross-border working group, chaired by former Irish international Hugo MacNeill, has been set up to prepare a feasibility study into a joint bid by the Belfast and Dublin governments.

Noting the Stormont Executive's £14.7 million contribution to the redevelopment of the home of Ulster Rugby at Ravenhill in Belfast, Schmidt said:

"I'd like to thank the Northern Ireland Executive, I think its support of the Ravenhill redevelopment has been extraordinary and I think it's now a fantastic resource for Ulster Rugby and also to support Hugo in his bid to try and bring the 2023 World Cup to Ireland."

The event hosted by Stormont Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was attended by Irish captain Paul O'Connell, retiring superstar Brian O'Driscoll as well as many other of the Six Nations winning team. Rory Best, Paddy Jackson and Andrew Trimble were among the Ulster contingent present.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: "I have already indicated my support for the proposed bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union to host the Rugby World Cup in Ireland in 2023. It would be wonderful to see the competition taking place here and perhaps a home championship win for Ireland."

Stormont's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also strongly endorsed the likely bid.

Mr Robinson highlighted the success of recent sporting events staged in Northern Ireland, such as the Irish Open golf tournament and the opening stages of this year's Giro D'Italia cycling race.

"You can see the enthusiasm from the Northern Ireland public for any major sporting event," he said.

"That (Rugby World Cup) really would be the icing on the cake for many us, we'd really enjoy seeing that, whether it's at Casement (gaelic games ground in west Belfast) or at Ravenhill, or whether it's at both, it would be absolutely fantastic."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "This is a great night for us, we are very proud to be part of it.

"And we are also very determined to do anything in our power through our administration, working with the Irish government, to see that Hugo MacNeill, who has the onerous responsibility of hopefully leading the effort to bring a world cup to the island of Ireland, that he can succeed." ... 94331.html

Paul O’Connell swung by Stormont with the Six Nations trophy today
The Ireland captain was joined by Joe Schmidt and his teammates for the visit to Northern Ireland’s parliament buildings.
THE IRISH RUGBY team visited the Northern Ireland parliament buildings at Stormont, Belfast, this afternoon and took the Six Nations trophy along for the ride.

12 players from the squad that captured the 2014 Six Nations were on hand to meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. With Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, forwards coach John Plumtree and team manager Mick Kearney also present, it was a formidable XV.

Team captain Paul O’Connell closely guarded the trophy while Brian O’Driscoll and Fergus McFadden were showing no ill effects of weekend knocks against Ulster. The northern province was represented, this afternoon, by Iain Henderson, Rory Best, Luke Marshall, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry and Six Nations player of the tournament Andrew Trimble.
Northern Ireland Peter Robinson, Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness climb the steps to Stormont.

'I'll let you hold it for 10 more seconds' ... 1-May2014/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Thu May 22, 2014 12:20 pm

Thursday 22nd May


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Bloody Foreigners
These bloody foreigners, coming over here, stealing our jobs. Especially in rugger. Wasn’t so long ago Ireland had a foreigner as captain (Dion O Cuinneagain) and the NIQs were coming in to teach us how to be good rugger players and explain that recovery from injury didn’t involve going on the lash – who knew?! John Langford, Shaun Payne, Pippo Contepomi, Rocky Elsom, Johan Muller, etc have all passed through and left deep wells of knowledge.

But now we have largely succeeded in making the provincial playing pools more Irish - NIQs are now limited in scope and number, and the days of big name signings are gone (except in Connacht). Getting the balance right is never esay - the national side won a Six Nations this year, but the provinces are finding it increasingly tough against the French moneybags, possibly soon to be joined by English moneybags. It’s a constantly shifting target and not easy to hit.

And we are still a little touchy about foreign players - when Joe Schmidt announced his squad this week, he had to defend the selection of Robbie Diack, who has qualified as a project player up at Ulster – here’s what he had to say:

“That’s a question for people over and above me. Players are either available or they are not. I think if Bundee Aki plays well and qualifies in three years, time he will be available to whoever is coaching the Irish team at that time to be selected. If they change the rules he may not be. As it stands at the moment I think there are some very good indigenous players and the vast majority of the squad is made up of those players.”

Now, there is an element of self-interest in some of those questions, as it was in the context of not selecting the likes of Tommy O’Donnell, Irish-born, who had been picked during the Six Nations. When it comes to, say, Jared Payne, in November, given we don’t have a plethora of obvious 13 candidates, one doubts this barrier will be thrown up.

This is especially interesting this week – and this is the point we were trying to get to – as Munster formally anounced their coaching ticket for next season. And, intriguingly, it’s an all-Irish one. In spite of the IRFU’s desire to limit the influence of for’dners, Ireland just can’t shake its fondness for Southern hemisphere coaches. Not long ago there were four Kiwi head coaches across four provinces; the only thing that changed since then is that one went on to manage Ireland and was replaced by… an Australian. As we know, Munster have chosen not to extend Rob Penney’s contract in spite of two successive HEC semi-finals and the successful transition from the bestest tactical outhalf ivir like to .. Ian Keatley. The Belvo boy appeared to have inherited a poisoned chalice in taking the torch from RADGE, but all the time knowing that a local boy was waiting to take it off him. But he has played to levels unforeseen by many commentators (ourselves included).

What Penney has achieved is to instill an adventurous and sometimes coherent style of play from a province perceived as being more comfortable with boot-and-bullock HEAVE type stuff. The aforementioned Keatley, Peter O’Mahony’s captaincy, Conor Murray’s journey to the best scrummie in Europe, the pack’s technical excellence all happened under Penney. Divvying up the credits is never an easy business, but between the players themselves, Axel Foley and Rob Penney, it’s largely been two years of gains. Rog’s retirement was weathered surprisingly well, Paul O’Connell remains a totem and Stakhanov briefly re-invented himself as a winger. Epic-ish Heineken Cup wins against Globo Gym, Harlequins and Toulouse after four years of limping out of Europe get chalked up in the credit column and the eventual defeats were suitably close to go into the ‘heroic’ column.

And yet – he has never really fit in. Some of the team of the noughties (let’s call them Liginds) have persistently sniped at him for imposing a gameplan that the province are uncomfortable with – to be fair, for vast tracts of Penney’s reign, Munster have looked toothless and often gormless – but they have delivered when it matters, and have improved in every facet of the game since he took over. Very few rugby teams look good every week, in what is an increasingly fragmented rugby season. Joe Schmidt’s Leinster came closest to consistency in the Pro12, but they were the first team since Leicester to win back to back European Cups, a rare breed indeed. It’s hard to say that his reign has been anything but a success.

As Matt O’Connor is probably learning, it’s always easiest to blame the out-of-towner, and even Gerry Thornley’s assessment on Second Captains when asked if there was ‘any shame’ in how Munster lost the Pro12 semi-final seemed a little pointed, and alot OTT. Yes there was, he said, given the manner of how it happened because they ran out of play twice. Really? ‘Shame’ in losing by a point away to a team that has become adept at peaking at this time of the season, because they ran into touch twice in the last 10 minutes? Jamie Heaslip ran out of play twice when Wales beat Ireland in the 2011 World Cup, but you probably didn’t hear as much about it.

This is the backdrop for the appointment of the current coaching team – who have done nothing wrong here, let’s remember. From the outside, it always looked like the province wanted someone to come in, retire a few big beasts, bring through a few youngsters then hand the keys over to Axel – and that’s what has happened. They probably didn’t expect Penney to do as good a job, which will be Axels’ problem as he tries to live up to those standards. Or not, as he should get a decent honeymoon period.

So – to the Irish coaching ticket (all-Munster in fact) - it harks back to Deccie’s first stint in charge of Munster with Niall O’Donovan and co – a salt of the earth old-skool club coaching ticket. Jirry has been brought in as scrum coach, Micko as “technical advisor”, Brian Walsh as attack coach and Ian Costello as defence coach. A nice balance between Cork and Limerick, with nary an outsider in sight. Lunch is sorted, fellas, it’s hang sangwidges and tins of lilt out of the back of Axel’s car, and we can all have a chat about the rubbish road from Cork to Limerick!

Where are they coming from?
◾Axel: currently Rob Penney’s number two, has spent time in the national setup under Deccie and the Milky Bar Kid. Generally gets credit for the packs technical skills, and is generally felt to have done a good job with Ireland too. Although Penney was also a forward, so the real driver will become clear next year
◾Jirry: coming from Arsenal, where he was on the conditioning side. With due respect, Arsenal’s conditioning at key moments of this season wasn’t spectacular – but that can’t be all his fault. This feels like a key personality to get on board, even if it might take time to bed into a coaching role. He has been uncomplementary about Munster’s younger players in the past and appeared to take a dig at Mick Galwey on his way out the gate from his playing days. Jerry seems like an interesting, forthright individual, but in the same way that Foley is always heralded for his rugby brain, Fla never seemed to be a great rugby strategist; more of an instinctive wild man in fact!
◾Micko: er, he’s, er, played for the Baa-Baa’s. And has apparently “shown promise” in the coaching sphere
◾Brian Walsh: involved in the Academy, but most experience is with Cork Con in the AIL, where he won the league a couple of times
◾Ian Costello: former A team coach and Academy man, sports science/UL background

One must say, it’s a big gamble – every member of the coaching staff will be making a step up to a position they have never been in before. Most coaching tickets you see appointed have a few grizzled veterans or older hands in there to offer continuity. The gamble Munster are taking is that Axel provides the continuity and the chaps with familiar faces and accents will takes to Munster like ducks to water, ensuring a seemless transition. We must also say, it’s great to see a progression path for younger Irish coaches. And while it’s more inward-looking than outward, it’s not that out of step with the way Leinster have gone about appointing coaches. Matt O’Connor, Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika all arrived as young and unproven, acclaimed for their role as second-in-command but untried as head honchos (at a big team at least).

It’s going to be a pretty steep learning curve for all of the ticket. So how will it pan out? Our guess is it’s unlikely to end with Donncha O’Callaghan on the wing. And while that’s the case, it is probably wide of the mark to anticipate that the ball won’t go beyond the No.9 either. While it’s tempting to see Foley as the ultimate old-skool Munsterman, warming-up by keeping the heat on in the car and shovelling in the recovery pints after training, his being “steeped in the Munster culture” has to be weighed against his oft-cited smarts as a player, which are presumed to inform a technically astute coaching brain that will be more than capable of imposing a modern and highly effective gameplan on the province. So perhaps the ‘return to traditional Munster values’ (TM – the Cork Con meeja) won’t be on the menu just yet. This is where the real fascination lies. Everyone has had their suspicions that Foley and Penney have never been entirely ont he same page, and theirs has been an uneasy allicnce. The direction in which Foley points Munster should give us a nice retrospective angle on whether or not that was the case.

Foley inherits a squad which looks pretty good, and is on an upward curve. The emergence of Dave Foley, Sean Dougall and CJ Stander in the late season adds real depth to his pack and he will hope to have Donnacha Ryan and Mike Sherry for more of next season than he did this, and a rejuvenated Tommy O’Donnell would be a big help. Robin Copeland arrives from Cardiff and James Coughlan ain’t done yet. The likes of Kilcoyne, Cronin and Archer will be a year older and presumably better. He has no real issues at half-back or in the back three – unless the outstanding Conor Murray ever gets injured that is, but he’s not the only coach who’s goosed in that eventuality. If the two largely unknown quantities at centre turn out to be halfway decent, he will have every opportunity to keep Munster competitive.

He can expect an easier ride in the media than Penney got, because there will be huge goodwill behind him, and, how shall we put this, most of the key pundits are great pals with him! But Munster fans will be as demanding as ever, and he’ll be expected to at least hit the marks Rob Penney did over the last two years.

Ulster Rugby legend Paddy Wallace to shape stars of the future
Ulster Rugby legend Paddy Wallace has set his sights on finding the next generation of sports stars.

After a distinguished career with the club, the record holder is set to retire at the end of this season. But he'll be using his wealth of experience from Ulster by setting up a new youth academy to find the next Rory Best or Paddy Jackson.

The 34-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph he was excited about The Paddy Wallace Rugby Academy and its aims to start players young and build them to a world class level.

Upcoming rugby camps aimed at boys and girls aged seven to 14 will be held at five clubs this summer – Bangor, Belfast Harlequins, Civil Service, Coleraine and Holywood.

"I really hope to give the young players a taste of what professionals go through," he said.

"I will try to steer them in the right habits and techniques to improve themselves and also good nutrition education.

"The All Blacks are so good because they do the basics so well and I will be making that a huge part of my camp."

Paddy played 189 times for Ulster and won 30 caps for Ireland but a bad knee injury in February 2013 has prematurely ended his professional playing career.

His first involvement with Ulster's senior side was in 1998, while he was still a pupil at Campbell College.

He trained with the squad over summers when he was studying business and marketing at University College Dublin and then took up a professional contract after graduation.

Paddy has called Ulster "my home for all my life" and says he will miss the fans and being in the thick of professional rugby, but will still be cheering on the lads at Ravenhill.

"Before the injury I was playing some of the best rugby I've played," he said.

"That was at 33-years-old. I had hoped to play on for another two years."

Paddy is now focusing his energy on the new academy. He and his wife Tina are also the busy parents of two young children, PJ and Leila, but neither of the youngsters are sold on the idea of a rugby career just yet.

"They are more interested in their iPads at the moment," Paddy added.

"But PJ, my son, is seven, so he will hopefully be coming along to the camps and starting the process of rugby."

Paddy is going to take the next few months to grow his business and consider other projects too.

"I am interested in the business side of the sport. I am hoping to pursue the sports management side of rugby, providing a service to players, dealing with their contracts, the commercial side.

"I am undecided whether to go out by myself or join an existing company, but in the immediate future it's the academy."

For more information, visit


Paddy Wallace made his Ulster debut against Swansea in August 2001 and has represented Ulster more than any other player with 189 caps. A versatile back who could also play outhalf or fullback, he found his niche in the centre and had a reputation as a playmaker. Educated at Campbell College Belfast, Paddy was part of Ireland's U-19 Rugby World Cup winning side in 1999. He won his first Ireland cap against South Africa in November 2006. He was also a member of Irish squad that won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009. ... 94406.html


Edinburgh move for Andress
Edinburgh have signed Irish prop John Andress from Worcester Warriors on a two-year deal, the club have announced.

The Ireland A cap has agreed a deal until 2016 that will see him reunited with his former Ulster coach Alan Solomons, now in charge at Murrayfield.

The 6ft 2in, 18 stone tighthead has also featured for Exeter and Harlequins, b ut it was the chance to team up with South African Solomons which proved key to his decision to move north.

Andress said: "I'm really excited about joining Edinburgh. It's a fantastic rugby club in a great city.

"I know how good a coach Alan Solomons is and what he brings to the table so I'm delighted to get a chance to work under his guidance again.

"He feels that the club has a good infrastructure in place and is now looking to build on it.

"I've earned a lot of experience in two very tough scrummaging leagues and I'm keen to be part of this vision to build a successful club and work with the younger guys and help them develop."

Solomons said: "John is well known to me from my time in Ulster when he was a young boy playing under-20 rugby.

"He came through the age-grades in Ireland and then, in my opinion, did the right thing in signing for Exeter who were playing in the Championship.

"After a couple of successful years there he joined Harlequins and Worcester in the Premiership, which means he comes to us with a lot of tight-head experience earned in the two very competitive divisions.

"He is an outstanding scrummager, but is also good around the field. I think he will bring a lot to this club. We need depth in that tighthead position, and he'll give us a lot of experience in that role." ... 95838.html
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Thu May 22, 2014 2:52 pm

Thursday 22nd May


Logan Setting The Bar High In Ulster
For most teams reaching a domestic semi-final and a European quarter-final would constitute a major success but Ulster's ambitions have soared in recent years to such an extent that this season is almost viewed as a disappointment.

The northernmost of the Irish rugby provinces does have one PRO12 and one Heineken Cup title to its name and a proud history stretching back 135 years but you only have to look back a few years to find it finishing in the bottom three of its domestic league in three consecutive seasons, so the rise in aspirations and even expectations has been a steep one.

The last of those three barren campaigns was punctuated by a change at the very top of the club midway through it as Shane Logan became Ulster's new chief executive and the changes both on and off the field since then have been remarkable.

Three domestic top four finishes, one Heineken Cup final and three European quarter-finals have followed, together with an upgrading of the stadium to increase its capacity by over 60 per cent to 18,000, but Logan insists the club is only halfway there and there is much, much more to come.

“On the pitch and off it we are maybe at five out of 10 at present though and we might be rising to six, so we are not complacent and we have a big distance to travel,” he told Running Rugby.

“We want to be a leading European rugby region. We want to be consistently in the top four in Europe and at the top end of our league. We also want to grow our playing numbers from 35,000 to 45,000 and we want to make sure that the game is absolutely thriving in clubs and schools because without that we don't have a rugby watching or playing public.”

Ulster may be ambitious under Logan in terms of both grassroots rugby as a branch of the IRFU and professional rugby but, with a varied business background working for Coca Cola in Russia and as CEO of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, it is clear that his long-term vision for the club is far from a pipe dream and is based on a broad analysis of the potential of the region as a whole.

“There are two million people in Ulster, so in our view that gives us the necessary population to grow the game and to generate a large number of international calibre players who will play for Ireland and Ulster – and that is one of our main reasons for being,” he said.

“We are in the very fortunate position that, because we a separate geographical region, we have all rugby within that region and that means we are able to pull everybody together and that is what we want to do.

“Whether that is government, media, business, supporters, players, clubs, schools, if we can have a pyramid where every part of it reinforces every other part of the pyramid, that is what success looks like for us.”
Despite that large population, Ulster's average attendance was languishing at around 8,000 as recently as the 2011/12 season. That figure has almost doubled to 13,402 this season and should grow significantly again in the next campaign with the redevelopment of Ravenhill complete.

It will take a while to see a return on the investment in the stadium, which began with one new stand in 2009 costing over £5m and housing over 500 premium seats and 20 boxes and ended with over £16m being spent on the three other stands between late 2012 and April this year, but it certainly seems to have been money well spent.

“The total investment in the stadium is around £23 million and we have been very fortunate in receiving substantial government backing to invest in the stadium rather than having to borrow and invest ourselves,” Logan told Running Rugby.

“We have the ability here to improve from an average crowd of around 7,000 to 8,000 a few years ago to 18,000 and therefore to more than double our commercial revenues. That won't be easy but the market potential is there.

“In the two games that we have had full capacity for this year – the Heineken Cup quarter final and our game against Leinster – we could have filled the stadium many times over, so the latent demand is there.

“Moving forward it allows us to double our gate income if we can fill the stadium and it is where we are housing the professional team and we have exceptional training facilities now within the stadium.”

Ravenhill is used for a variety of domestic and regional finals as well as by the professional outfit and the plan is to take every child in the province to the stadium and The Nevin Spence Centre, its museum and education centre named after the club's centre who died tragically in a farming accident in September 2012, twice during their school life.

Logan believes that Ulster now has an “iconic venue” that symbolises the ambition of the club and is capable of playing a major part in the winning of the hearts and minds of the region as it seeks to grow the number of players and fans.
And it is belief that he points to as being one of the most important factors in lifting the province from the lower reaches of the PRO12 table to the point where nothing short of being among the very elite of European rugby is considered a success.

“I think belief has been key. People didn't believe we could sell out an 18,000 capacity stadium and people didn't believe we could be competing at the upper end of competitions,” he said.

“We were in the nether regions of the league and we were struggling to qualify for Heineken Cup rugby, so I think people were fairly deflated but historically Ulster have produced big and probably disproportionate numbers of Lions and international players and had significant provincial success.

“The key was to make sure that we had the right people doing the right things and the best people doing the best things. Sometimes in sport people look for the latest fad rather than the best performance management and I think that is more important than the amount of money you have.

“The single most important thing to get right was the performance of the professional team. Without an excellent product people won't pay to come and watch you. To have an improving team and better performance is just 60 per cent of the equation though and unless we are selling it effectively and targeting different segments of the market more effectively and providing a better experience in a better stadium it isn't complete.

“We went through exactly the same process with our commercial staff as we did in the professional game, so we made sure we had a good, strong plan and good quality people doing their best in terms of selling.”

It stands to reason that a more successful side will draw bigger crowds but Logan has also managed to oversee such a dramatic increase in attendances despite putting ticket prices up by around a third very early on in his tenure.

Some would say he must have the magic touch to get the paying public to willingly part with a lot more of their hard-earned money to watch their rugby each week but the man himself says it was a simple equation and one that the fans understood.

“I held several meetings with season ticket holders – and I think at that stage there were around 3,000 – and told them that we were too cheap and that if they wanted a cheap team, we could stay at the same prices but if they wanted a competitive team, then they had to pay competitive prices on the gate. Generally that went down well and we only had to do that once right at the start,” he said.

“Our underlying season ticket growth is very substantial and that is looking very promising for next year, so we have taken a good, strong stride towards being able to fill the stadium next season.”

Combine a full, expanded stadium with a full arsenal of sponsors, an improved European agreement and an improved television deal for next season and just about every area of Ulster's commercial operations is on the up.

“We have been able to achieve significant growth in sponsorship over the last few years and I think there is more to come. We are in the fortunate position of demand being greater than our ability to supply in sponsorship as well as in box sales and ticket sales. So, there is scarcity which increases value and it is a good situation that is getting stronger,” Logan said.

“We do not negotiate the television agreements directly but I think we have a much better set of arrangements moving forwards and the big benefit of television is that it helps to spread the game as well as bringing money in.

“There will be a growth in direct financial return and I think through the years it will grow more as well. However, the main benefit in the next two to three years will be allowing us to grow the numbers of players and volunteers and people interested in the game.

“I think the structures that have been agreed within Europe, which now influence the Pro12 in terms of qualification, are a really good thing. I think our league is highly competitive and this adds a real edge to every game, particularly at the end of the season, so that is to be welcomed.

“I think it is a good agreement and it does what it set out to do. It generates the potential to grow revenue and it creates two very competitive competitions.”

The luck of the Irish may have deserted them this season, losing by two points to Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-final after playing for 75 minutes with 14 men, but at the deep end of the premier of those two competitions is where Ulster now believe they belong.

And Logan's admission that the club is “disappointed not to have gone further” both in Europe and in the PRO12 this season is confirmation that the bar is now set very high in Belfast.

“As a minimum, it was fine but we are setting ourselves high expectations and we would have liked to have done more in both competitions and we will be aiming to do more going forwards,” he said.

“This has been a good year but it hasn't been an excellent year and we are striving for excellence every year.” ... in-ulster/
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Fri May 23, 2014 8:57 am

Friday 23rd May

Closed season has definitely started so it will
be a very mixed bag from now until August...........

Ulster leavers share memories
Ulster may have missed out on silverware this season - but those leaving are taking plenty of good memories with them.
Going, Going. Gone.......png
Going, Going. Gone.......png (54.1 KiB) Viewed 23550 times

3 x Vids.... ... 62df43a20e
Paddy Wallace has been forced to retire after 13 years at Ravenhill due to an ongoing knee injury.

The 34-year-old has set up the Paddy Wallace Rugby Academy and hopes to stay involved with Ulster Rugby.

"I have helped out on the sidelines over the last few months, there's nothing planned yet to stay on but I would love to be part of the backroom team at some stage," he said.

"My standout memory from my time at Ulster was winning the league back in 2003/04. That kick started my international career and I have many happy memories from my time at Ireland, especially winning the Grand Slam in 2009.

"It's been a frustrating few years for me with injuries and operations so it's a sad day that I have to hang up the boots - but my body can't take any more and I'm looking forward to finding the next Tommy Bowe or Paddy Jackson through my new academy."

World Cup winner John Afoa leaves Belfast for good on Thursday morning insisting he will miss Ravenhill.

The New Zealander has spent three years at Ulster and told UTV Sport that his happiest memory was beating Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter final in 2012.

"We were massive underdogs and I just remember everyone fell to their knees at the end and Stefan Terblanche walked around Thomond Park with an Ulster flag as if he'd won the game by himself!" joked Afoa.

"The changing rooms were amazing after that game and it stands out as my best time here."

Afoa admitted that his personal life has been hard since moving to Ulster after his wife and children failed to settle in Northern Ireland and returned to New Zealand.

"It has been really tough, at the start, we thought it sounded easy but being away from my young kids and wife for about a year and a half has been hard," he added.

"I will miss Ravenhill and the boys, it will be strange not seeing them every day but I'm looking forward to my new challenge at Gloucester."

Tom Court is moving to London Irish next season after eight years with Ulster.

"I don't think it will really sink in until we're away but I am very sad to be leaving," he told UTV Sport.

"I've made friends for life here and I take some great memories with me."

Court played for Ireland 32 times, but said the pinnacle of his career so far was his call up to the 2013 British and Irish Lions squad.

"The only thing that would've topped the Lions was if I had won Silverware with Ulster while I was here." ... 62df43a20e

Someone was busy yesterday.............
Craig Gilroy Tribute - Ulster and Ireland Rugby Player
Watch HERE


Munster will face financial challenge
Munster’s chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald admits life in the rugby fast lane is about to become more difficult for Munster.

Fitzgerald this week admitted the province would have to be increasingly proactive in competing financially but believes the Irish provinces will remain heavyweights.

He admitted France and English have raised the financial bar but thinks the Irish model working under the IRFU umbrella was the only way to keeping domestic rugby at world-class level.

“Money doesn’t solve everything,” he said.

“There is no point using money as an excuse, we’ve just got to realise it’s a challenge and that we improve our players because that’s the structure we work under. It doesn’t allow you to buy in teams and it never will, and I hope it never happens in Irish rugby.

“I hope it never does because it will be to the detriment of the national team.

“I still believe that, given the performance we put on against Toulon and against Clermont last year, we’re well capable of competing when we put our minds to it. The only reason we could possibly struggle with it is if we got a run of injuries because the squad might not, overall, be as strong as the opposition.

“What’s obvious in world rugby is that France have moved ahead of all other countries in the financial sphere. If you look at their TV deal alone, and I don’t know what the exact figures are, it’s around €32m up to €70m, so that whole issue has moved them into a different category between all the other rugby nations.

“Second of all, in England the BT deal is much more valuable to them than their previous deal, but I think the French are out on their own in a different financial category at this stage.

“I think it isn’t a coincidence Toulon are in the Heineken Cup final two years in a row, it isn’t a coincidence Saracens are in the Heineken Cup final, they’ve been knocking on the door. They have the squad. They seem to have the funds to assemble a broad enough unit. When you get to the end of any rugby season, your performance is probably determined by the strength of your squad.

“If you look at Leinster against Ulster last week, there was nothing in it, but what Leinster brought off the bench was what tipped it. It’s about the size of your squad, the quality of your squad and it’s going to get more difficult when you have Racing Metro, you have Clermont; you have Montpellier, who also had quite a significant investment into them.

“You obviously have Stade Francais, who have had a reinvestment, that’s what you’re competing against.”

Fitzgerald also pointed to the huge financial television gains available in France and England at a time when worldwide match-day attendances were dropping.

“The whole issue of gate receipts is an interesting thing. We have done a lot of work and spoken to a lot of people on the whole gate receipts issue. If you look at rugby attendances around the world, they are dropping.

“One of the challenges we face is there’s probably too much rugby on television in Ireland, given the size of the rugby viewing population.

There so many games on television; the TV companies are competing for space, which means a lot of our games are being played at times that do not suit the supporter. But, at the same time, we have to fully recognise rugby is being funded in a large way by television so it’s a catch-22.” ... 69648.html

Sarries have Wilko in sightsImage
Toulon v Saracens
Saracens must heed the harsh lessons of last season’s "incredible regret" to fend off Jonny Wilkinson and claim their first Heineken Cup crown, according to Mark McCall.

Boss McCall believes Saracens gifted Toulon 18 of their 24 points in last season’s 24-12 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat. Saracens slipped up in the last four of both European action and the Aviva Premiership last term.

The Men In Black are battling for a European and league double this term, starting by facing Toulon in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff tomorrow.

McCall knows Saracens must cut off Wilkinson’s points supply line this weekend to keep those double dreams alive.

“Jonny kicked 24 points last year, one was a drop-goal and the rest were penalties,” said the Saracens rugby director.

“Six of those penalties we gave away when we were in possession of the ball. We weren’t under the pump, we weren’t hanging on for dear life: We had possession of the ball in our half. And there’s a lesson for us in that, it’s very important when you play Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon how you approach the game, and where you play.

“They are an outstanding defensive team, they are very good over the ball. Alain Rolland gives penalties quickly against the ball carrier, so you’ve got to be accurate when you go into contact. And we’ve got to play more of the game in their half than in our own.”

Wilkinson retires after the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 finals as Toulon chase their own European and domestic double. ... 69645.html

Preview: Heineken Cup Final
Drawing the curtain down on a glorious European era, champions Toulon take on Saracens in this year's Heineken Cup Final.

For many the European showpiece has become part of the furniture, annually supplying us with unforgettable moments of magic.

A group of memories stand out above the rest; Howley's chase, Leinster's comeback, Stringer's blindside dart, the hand of Back.

Letting these moments go isn't such a bitter process - after all, it's not as though next year's Champions Cup is going to be an enormously drastic departure from the template.

But Saturday's final will still be the last of the ERC era, a fairly glorious one at that too dating back to when Toulouse defeated Cardiff in extra time back in 1996.

Except now it's two of the newer European forces, not Leicester or Wasps or Leinster or Munster or Toulouse, that will meet under the Millennium roof.

Toulon's recruitment policy has been the stuff of fantasy, with a South African trend emerging in recent years. Four will start in the pack against Saracens, the high note on Juan Smith's incredibly recovery, with Bryan Habana out wide to do his part.

There is not a bad name to be found on the Toulon teamsheet. So it should be given Mourad Boudjellal's outrageous level of investment, but even the lesser-heralded players - Craig Burden, Jocelino Suta, Sébastien Tillous-Borde - persistently rise to the occasion when called upon.

It's important to remember that success has not come instantly to Boudjellal's galácticos. There has been heartbreak in the Top 14 Final, twice, along with two failures in the Challenge Cup.

That process has given them character, something personified by three figures in particular; Steffon Armitage, Joe van Niekerk and Jonny Wilkinson.

Armitage arrived in France with high expectations, but has exploded into arguably the league's best player. He offers so many qualities - a brilliant carrier, big tackler - but his breakdown work is unparalleled, his body position over the ball so squat and secure that shifting him becomes a supernatural demand. The clamour for England to break their own rules to utilise his talents isn't for nothing.

Van Niekerk is Toulon's soul. He may not make the matchday squad anymore, but as one of the first recruits of the Boudjellal empire he has been at the centre of their growth into the juggernaut we know today.

And then there is Wilkinson. When it's suggested that the World Cup-winning fly-half could become the town's mayor, it is only uttered half in jest. Few players move to a club and make as much of an impact as Wilkinson. As he bows out, perhaps the greatest tribute that can be paid to his legacy at Toulon is that not just any Englishman can become adored in France.

Age hasn't limited his abilities one iota. He gives his team a safety net, an ace in the hole. They will bleed for him in Cardiff, just as he was utterly incremental to their success last year. In the semi-final against Saracens at Twickenham he gave a masterclass, scoring seven penalties and a drop goal.

Based on that evidence, what chance do Saracens stand? Even with 'home' advantage at Twickenham they were not expected to defeat Clermont. Instead they decimated them, shattering all pre-conceptions of the fixture and in doing so produced their biggest statement yet.

There is a lot to like about Saracens, more so than the grating aspects that annoy opposition supporters so easily. Forget the awful songs, salary cap allegations, the mid-season excursions abroad and the supposed heavy South African influence on the playing field. Nine English players will start for them this weekend.

Nor can they any longer be described as boring. Last season, sure, but 2013/2014 will be remembered as the campaign that Saracens opened up their wings. No side scored more points than their 629 in the Premiership, an average of 28.5 per game. Their defensive strength wasn't sacrificed as a result.

It's tough to criticise them based on that. Doing so would only feed into the 'us against the world' mentality honed by Mark McCall's squad.

They too are not lacking when it comes to inspirational figures. Jacques Burger stands above the rest; his tally of 27 tackles in the semi-final against Clermont is astonishing even to those who have become used to the Namibian's desire to break his body into pieces for the cause.

Steve Borthwick, like Wilkinson and Van Niekerk, is ready to say goodbye having given an invaluable level of service to his club.

Owen Farrell is the young apprentice maturing season-by-season into a world-class operator. Billy Vunipola only needs one carry to transform a contest.

Perhaps the key to Saracens is the unity of their squad. Toulon may have the world's leading players occupying every position overall, but Saracens as a squad have a greater bond. The trips to Oktoberfest and New York are for a purpose, to build up the 'Wolfpack' mentality championed by forwards coach Paul Gustard. And it's working - the results speak for themselves.

That is what Saracens have to rely on in Cardiff, if they are to contain and repel Toulon. Put doubt in the French side's mind and the pillars start to crumble.

Away from home in the Top 14, as is the way with French teams in that league, Toulon won four out of 13 games. The Stade Mayol is a brilliant fortress and Toulon have capitalised on the ferocious atmosphere generated there by their fans this season. It'll be a different matter in Wales.

Ones to Watch:

For Toulon: Take your pick in truth, but you can't forget Matt Giteau. While Wilkinson prods and probes the ball around the field, hunting for space, Giteau exploits it. The Australian is a brilliant distributor but also this season has scored his fair share of tries, showing off an understated turn of pace. His little and large combination with Mathieu Bastareaud has perfect balance to it in midfield. If Toulon's pack suck in defenders, Giteau will attack.

For Saracens: The man mountain. Burger tackles everything he sees, Kelly Brown - often unheralded - is a master of the breakdown dark arts. But Saracens punish sides through Billy Vunipola. The rolling tank off the back of the scrum does two things persistently; making metres and breaking tackles. Opposing sides don't come much bigger than Toulon and despite their age, the likes of Bakkies Botha and Danie Roussow still love a physical confrontation. Vunipola won't shy away from the challenge.

Head-to-Head: Wilkinson v Farrell (both are excellent kickers) and Borthwick v Botha are both good contenders here, as is the battle on one side of the scrum between Carl Hayman and Mako Vunipola. But chances in Heineken Cup Finals are few and far between, which means your finishers have to be sharp and clinical. Step forward Bryan Habana and Chris Ashton.

The Springbok's first season in France has been disrupted by injury but Toulon have him available now, and his class is undeniable. Ashton on the other hand - his idiocy from last week aside - can't stop scoring tries of late and is in flying form, enough to warrant a starting spot for England in New Zealand. Few moments, key chances. They have to take them when they come.

Prediction: Toulon have the luxury of being here before. Last year they forced Saracens to concede penalties in their own half; McCall's men won't fall into that trap again. Territory therefore is essential, as is the set-piece, where Saracens lineout runs seamlessly but their scrum may struggle against Toulon's ballast.

Then it comes to a kicking contest and those rare chances previously discussed. Neither team should be written off. Toulon should be narrowly favoured, handing Jonny Wilkinson an unbelievable send-off with back-to-back Heineken Cup titles. Toulon by five!

The teams:

For Toulon: tbc

For Saracens: tbc

Date: Saturday, April 24
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kickoff: 17:00 (local, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wal), George Clancy (Ire)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wal),2588 ... 53,00.html

Sarries to focus on "regret"
Director of rugby Mark McCall, pictured, has warned Saracens to cut off
Jonny Wilkinson's points supply or face Heineken Cup final defeat

Saracens must heed the harsh lessons of last season's "incredible regret" to fend off Jonny Wilkinson and claim their first Heineken Cup crown, according to Mark McCall.

Boss McCall believes Saracens gifted Toulon 18 of their 24 points in last season's 24-12 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat.

Saracens slipped up in the last four of both European action and the Aviva Premiership last term.

The Men In Black are battling for a European and league double this term, starting by facing Toulon in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff on Saturday.

McCall knows Saracens must cut off Wilkinson's points supply line this weekend to keep those double dreams alive.

"Jonny kicked 24 points last year, one was a drop-goal and the rest were penalties," said the Saracens rugby director.

"Six of those penalties we gave away when we were in possession of the ball.

"We weren't under the pump, we weren't hanging on for dear life: We had possession of the ball in our half.

"And there's a lesson for us in that, it's very important when you play Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon how you approach the game, and where you play.

"They are an outstanding defensive team, they are very good over the ball.

"Alain Rolland gives penalties quickly against the ball carrier, so you've got to be accurate when you go into contact.

"And we've got to play more of the game in their half than in our own.

"This time last year we were finished, the season was over and there was this incredible regret and disappointment.

"I think we're just chuffed that we're preparing for a huge match.

"But it's important we keep things as they always are, our very best performances are always preceded by our best preparation weeks."

Wilkinson will retire after the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 finals as Toulon chase a European and domestic double of their own.

The 34-year-old World Cup winner has enjoyed a new lease of life since swapping Newcastle for Toulon in 2009, easing past his previous horror-show injury glut.

Saracens boss McCall said Australia centre Matt Giteau has had a big hand in that, helping Wilkinson add extra dimensions to Toulon's already-threatening attacking game.

McCall admitted Saracens must not allow Giteau time or space to dictate play in Cardiff, otherwise star-studded Toulon will wind up retaining the trophy their claimed last season.

"He's a very special player, because he's got not only a fantastic passing game, he kicks the ball well, he's stronger and quicker than most people think," said McCall of Giteau.

"And he's at his most dangerous when he's at the line with a winger on his inside, and you can't take your eye off him for a second, he's a superb player.

"I think Toulon are a brilliant rugby team.

"There's this common view out there of how to beat them, just to move their big men around and play with tempo, and everyone who has done that has come up short.

"So you've got to have other plans and find ways of stressing them, taking away their energy and moving their big men around in a different kind of way.

"So hopefully we'll be able to execute some things to do just that.

"I'm unbelievably impressed with what Toulon have put together, they've gathered together incredibly competitive people, all high achieving world stars.

"You put 23 of those together and you're going to get a pretty competitive team.

"I think there are examples of teams who have spent a lot of money, or brought in stars, and then not delivered.

"But Toulon seem to have chosen very well, with the squad they have got they have a great togetherness, spirit and camaraderie, and on top of that they are all good players." ... 96437.html
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Re: What the Papers Say 2014/2015

Postby Mac » Fri May 23, 2014 11:33 am

Friday 23rd May



John Afoa Contract: Clarification
Contrary to reports in this morning’s media, Ulster Rugby would like to clarify that at no point were there any discussions with John Afoa or his representatives about extending his contract to allow him to remain with the Province. Due to his personal circumstances, it was understood that he would be seeking a return New Zealand to be with his family.

While a world class player when fit and available, Ulster Rugby’s intention has always been to replace Afoa with a top-class tighthead prop who could ultimately play for Ireland. That has been achieved through the signing of project-player Wiehahn Herbst.

In December it was announced that he had signed a contract with Gloucester and Ulster Rugby would like to wish him well in the next chapter of his career. ... tion-.aspx


Regrets? Yes, I've a few, admits Afoa
World Cup winner turned down a new deal but feel he could've won trophy
Former All Blacks tight-head John Afoa rejected Ulster's offer of a contract extension before agreeing to join Gloucester.

The 2011 World Cup winner spent much of 2013-14 commuting between Belfast and his native New Zealand where his wife and their three children have been living since Christmas 2012.

Revealing that Ulster's Director of Rugby had been willing to allow that situation – of which many supporters were critical – to continue, Afoa told the Belfast Telegraph: "David (Humphreys) asked me to stay on. He said we'd keep the same routine, but I told him there was no chance.

"It was just too hard; I knew I couldn't do it for another month never mind another season. That's why I decided I had to go somewhere in England."

Afoa, who flies home today, admitted that the season now ending had been the straw that broke the camel's back.

He said: "Here for a few weeks, then there for two weeks at the back end of my second season made me think it would be fine for one more year.

"But it was much harder than I thought it would be. If I'd known how tough it was I probably wouldn't have gone through it.

"Half way through the season it was just starting to get tougher and tougher. Flying home, training there, then flying back here to play definitely wasn't ideal for anybody."

Nor was that the only problem in his final campaign as an Ulster player.

He explained: "I was injured for the first part of the season so it took me a while to get going.

"I fought through it and after Christmas I thought I'd started to play really well and had got a good rhythm going. But then I happened to get injured in that Sarries (Heineken Cup quarter-final) game and that was it."

As for his domestic situation when he joins his new club, Afoa explained: "The family's coming over to England to live. The kids are enrolled with school and we've got a house sorted so we'll be together as a family."

No more to-ing and fro-ing to be with his wife who never took to living in Belfast, then.

Having been a World Cup winner, the strong-as-a-bull number three admitted that he was leaving with a sense of under-achievement – and some concern as to Ulster's prospects.

"There's so many guys leaving this year – and not just older guys like me. There are a few young ones who were meant to be big stars for us who are going, too," he said.

"When I got here there were guys like Paddy (McAllister) and Chris (Farrell) who were supposed to be in the next block of boys coming through. But they got injuries and now they're on the move as well."

Both are heading for France – McAllister to Aurillac, Farrell to Grenoble.

Reflecting on the situation when he arrived from the Auckland Blues following New Zealand's autumn 2011 World Cup triumph, Afoa said: "When I got here Ulster were on an upward curve; they'd made the (PRO12) top four and they'd made the (Heineken Cup) quarters for the first time in 10 years or whatever.

"Now it could go either way. It could go up or it could go on a downward; I guess we'll not know until next year."

And although he has seen progress, Afoa's conclusion after three seasons with Ulster is that they have not fulfilled their potential.

"There has been development, but not as much as there could have been," was how the 30-year-old put it.

"This is a better team than when I joined – they're definitely winning more games.

"We've made the play-offs for the Heineken each year and we've made the PRO12 top four in the last two years," added Afoa.

"But we still haven't won anything. There have been a lot of chances to go on and win something, but we haven't taken any of them. We just don't seem to play our best rugby when we get to a play-off situation.

"We've shown that we can play well and win big games against good opposition," he pointed out. "But when it gets to the big stage you need everybody performing; everyone has to produce it in those matches. When you're playing against sides like Leinster or Sarries, seven of the team have got to be nine out of 10 and the rest have to be 10 out of 10.

"In a play-off, nothing must go wrong – you've got to be right up there or else you're never going to win."

And admitting that he was departing with a sense of disappointment in some of his own performances when it mattered, Afoa said: "In my first year here, not being able to play because I was suspended going into the Heineken Cup final meant I was probably under-done.

"The following year in the RaboDirect final I'd been carrying bad calf injuries and then I did them again in the game, so I was playing injured.

"Things like that were really frustrating for me because I thought those were our best chances to land a trophy." ... 96695.html
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