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All the latest news and gossip from the world of rugby.
Kidney to wait on Kearney
'Unbelievable' Hayes earns French praise
Nallet hoping for déjà vu at Croker
IRFU defend ticket price increase
Inspiration could take Ireland to a Grand Slam
Leinster to hold ticket draw for match at the Stoop
Heineken Cup showdown set for Central Council debate
Connacht face trip to Northampton
City clubs revive Glynn Cup in Festival of Rugby
Revolution put on hold as England opt for pragmatic approach
Jones to quit Sarries on Monday
Pumas take step towards Tri-Nations berth
Match schedule set for Junior Championship
Bledisloe Cup Test set for bidding war between USA and Japan
Kidney to wait on Kearney
Ireland coach Declan Kidney will wait until after the Captain's Run at Croke Park tomorrow to make a decision on whether to risk Rob Kearney at fullback. The Leinster player is struggling with an ankle injury and will be replaced by Geordan Murphy if he has not recovered in time to face France in the Six Nations Championship opener atCroke Park on Saturday.
In that instance, Kearney'sLeinster team-mate Girvan Dempsey is the most likely candidate to be brought on to the bench. Another option would be to call on Shane Horgan and shift either Luke Fitzgerald or Tommy Bowe to fullback if Murphy needs to be withdrawn at any stage.
Kearney sustained the injury in an accidental collision in training on Tuesday morning and was on crutches for the remainder of the day. After intensive physiotherapy during yesterday's ‘down day', he took a limited part in today's session.
France coach Marc Lievremont has urged his players to liberate themselves and fulfil their potential at Croke Park. Speaking at the team's training camp in France today, Lievremont said this was the first time in a year that injuries had not prevented him from fielding the team he wanted.
"Our ambition is to play our own game and win. I told the players 'free yourselves and show your potential'," he added.
The French coach said that after a year in charge he was approaching the first game of the championship "with more demands, more expectations and more hopes".
"More conviction too that this squad is strong, consistent, able to play good rugby and to beat anybody," he said.
Lievremont said Ireland would be demanding opponents even though France have defeated them in their last seven encounters.
"This Ireland team inspire in us the greatest respect," he said. "Their organisation, the quality of their players, their coherence, the context of Croke Park and the growing expectations of the Irish supporters are factors which will make that game particularly difficult."
Asked about the weaknesses of his team, Lievremont said he had detected a tendency to fade away in the last 20 minutes. "If you look at last year's important games, against England,Ireland and Wales in the Six Nations and against Australia in November, we suffered after an hour of play and when we cracked we did crack in all sectors," he said. "We did our best to make the players aware of that and asked them to keep composure and concentration until the final whistle, whatever the score."
Hugh Farrelly - Irish Independent
Tomas O'Leary is shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He has just been named as scrum-half on Ireland's team to face France and has been wheeled out to field what he thought would be regular questions pertaining to all things French.
The dictaphones are out in force but the conversation has taken on a decidedly Gok Wan hue as his inquisitors hone in on the physique that has made O'Leary one of the most effective tacklers in the game.
Undeniably more buff than when he came on the scene with Munster a few seasons hence, is it a case of gym'll fix it for O'Leary?
"I don't know have I (bulked up). That might be the perception but I haven't put on that much weight," he responds. "Lower body is just as important for weight. Obviously when I was not in the rugby academy in Munster, I didn't really do any weights when I was playing hurling but I was only 17 or 18 then. I hadn't even thought about doing weights back then. It's just part of the professional set-up that you have to."
When the questions veer (rather alarmingly) to specific areas where O'Leary has increased his body mass, it is time to call a halt.
"Maybe, I don't know. I wasn't expecting 50 questions about my physique," he laughs.
Nonetheless, O'Leary's shuddering tackles have been a defining characteristic of his game this season (his hit on Clermont centre Benoit Baby a cert for tackle of the season), but modesty is another trait and he shrinks from the praise.
"It's everyone's job in the modern game to tackle. I was lucky to hit him in the right place. Everyone has their job to do. Hopefully, I can make my tackles on Saturday as well," he says.
While there has been a misguided perception that O'Leary represents a conservative selection on the basis of his game being based around fringe defence, he has always posed an offensive threat and reaffirmed that fact in considerable style during Munster's Heineken Cup meeting with Montauban two weekends ago.
His speed off the mark once had him earmarked as a winger and, at the start of the decade, his pace terrorised defences as he captained Cork's minor hurlers to an All-Ireland title. Now with the bulk to back it up, O'Leary scored one try and set up another in Montauban with powerful breaks off the back of the scrum and it is a tactic that could serve Ireland well on Saturday, particularly against an opponent as callow as the 23-year-old Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who will be winning his fifth cap in Croke Park.
Of course, O'Leary has one cap less than the Castres No 9 but is playing with a calm maturity founded on the big-game exposure he has received since usurping Peter Stringer during Munster's Heineken Cup charge last season. And, as Tillous-Borde attempts to justify the controversial exclusion of Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and forge a partnership with Lionel Beauxis, O'Leary has the comforting presence of regular club partner Ronan O'Gara outside him.
"It's brilliant," he agrees. "I've been playing with Ronan for the last few years, knowing his game and he's getting used to mine. It's great to have that sort of guy beside you for the direction he gives and the experience he has. He is a class footballer as well. He's brilliant to have beside you."
O'Leary has come a long way in a relatively short space of time and has worked extremely hard to get to this point -- answering question marks about his passing and kicking along the way. Two years ago, when Vincent Clerc denied Ireland what would have been a Grand Slam, O'Leary was watching on the couch.
"I was at home watching it on television," he recalls. "Everyone was fierce disappointed to lose it in the last play of the game but I don't think that has any bearing on Saturday's game, it's two years down the line."
When Stringer was an institution at Munster and with Ireland, O'Leary admits to experiencing frustration at various stages, but is delighted he resisted the urge to move abroad in search of regular first-team rugby.
"When you're in an environment here with Munster and training with Ireland, you're learning from the best players in the world," he says. "When I was first there with Deccie (Kidney) he preached about being patient and if you look at lads like Marcus (Horan) and Donncha (O'Callaghan), all of the lads within Munster have traditionally had to bide their time and serve their apprenticeship. I think it's probably been a good thing. Sometimes if you get things too easy in life you don't really appreciate it. Peter is a great player, I learned what I can from Peter, I still try to and the competition is great for both of us. It makes us both train harder and develop aspects of our game. I suppose the key thing was not to panic or get too frustrated. Obviously, there are times when you do get impatient. I was quite a bit away. I knew that if I could start playing regularly for Munster that I was going to be in the shop window to play for Ireland. It focused my mind to play for Munster and that is still the case."
With the Six Nations again landing upon us while the aroma of qualification-deciding Heineken Cup matches lingers in the air, it is customary for the old province versus country argument to be raised by supporters desperate to display their devotion to the provincial cause.
O'Leary has no hesitation in cracking that chestnut, dismissing the suggestion that players would prefer to win a Heineken Cup with their province than a Six Nations with their country.
"No, definitely not, that's bull. It's the ultimate honour to play for Ireland, you're representing your country," he says. "The fact we haven't won a Six Nations or even looked like winning a Grand Slam speaks for itself in terms of how difficult a competition it is to win. If we could win a Six Nations it would be a brilliant achievement."
O'Leary's tangible appreciation of the point he has reached in his rugby career stems from the circuitous route and hard work that took him here. It has also fostered a determination to justify that diligence which he will bring to Croke Park on Saturday. "I've had to work hard for it. I'm going to stay working hard to try to stay here."
'Unbelievable' Hayes earns French praise
France prop Lionel Faure has described his Irish counterpart John Hayes as "unbelievable" after facing the Bruff man twice when playing for Sale against Munster this season. Faure is, therefore, very familiar with Ireland's front five and says coming up against Ireland's pack on their own turf is one of the hardest challenges in rugby.
"I know all their front five and they are very aggressive, good in the scrum and Paul O'Connell especially is great in the line-out," said Faure, who will this weekend earn his seventh cap. "It will be very special to play in front of 85-90,000 people," he said, overestimating Croke Park a little. "The Irish crowd are very vocal, like it was in Munster".
"My one-on-one against John Hayes is always difficult," he added of the 35-year-old. "He is big and technical, and what is amazing is he never gets injured. He plays every game. He is 35, 36, and he plays 80 minutes every week and never gets hurt. He's unbelievable."
Faure admits there is a score to settle on Saturday despite victory in last year's meeting. The French defeated Ireland 26-21 at the Stade de France but their pack suffered the ignominy of conceding a penalty try in the second half after collapsing under pressure near their own line.
At the time, France head coach Marc Lievremont was chopping and changing his forwards at will, picking some inexperienced players who were clearly out of depth on the international scene.
Lievremont has since settled on his best team, with the likes of Faure and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski regular picks, and the scrum has improved as a result. They were even awarded a penalty try of their own when Australia buckled under pressure during a November Test match in Paris.
However, Faure has not forgotten about the blow to the pride struck by the Irish last February. "When we played against Ireland in the last Six Nations, it was quite a bad point for us because we conceded that penalty-try. We were in trouble there at the last Six Nations. It has been forgotten a little bit because we scored one of our own against Australia but it is still fresh in the memory. Our scrum is getting better, though, I think. We are working very, very hard on it and I am sure we will keep going in the right direction. It is not 100 per cent perfect and there are always small points to improve on, but it's getting better. It will be the first time we have played against Ireland since that match and we will be watching their scrum from last year on the tape. We have to be focused and ready to fight, to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Nallet hoping for déjà vu at Croker
Edward Newman - The Examiner
It should have been the perfect day. Croke Park, brimful with expectation, had opened its doors to rugby for the first time but, on a historic day of outward celebration for Irish sport, all was silenced by a piece of late Gallic magic.
For Irish supporters, France's first visit to GAA headquarters two years ago is tinged with the bitter memory of Toulouse flyer Vincent Clerc stealing in for a last-minute, match-winning try. And the dream of a first Ireland Grand Slam since 1948 was left in shreds, after just two rounds of the Six Nations.
These were good times for Irish rugby, however. After an autumn Test series replete with swashbuckling wins over South Africa and Australia, the 2007 Six Nations was seen as the year Ireland's golden generation would finally land a cherished ‘Slam'. It's a day that will never be forgotten for a variety of reasons, not least the sight of rugby being played at GAA headquarters. Although for France captain, Lionel Nallet, his memories appear to have faded fast.
"I don't even know if I played in Croke Park," Nallet ponders first. When assured of his presence in the second row alongside Pascal Pape and Clerc's late intervention, his eyes light up. "Ah, when France won in the last minute?" Given the demands of an exhausting 11-month season for France's elite players, Nallet's absent-mindedness is forgivable. After all, the historical significance of the day meant more to the Irish than to their Gallic visitors.
"2007 was a good memory because we won, but there are always tight scores between France and Ireland," Nallet says. "The same type of matches between us crop up time and time again like '07 and even last season - there is never much difference in points at the final whistle. Obviously France have won the last few matches but it's difficult to know what to expect against Ireland and what to predict when the two countries meet."
Last season Lièvremont's youth policy, of rotating teams and allowing his players to rediscover the joys of running rugby saw France finish a disappointing third in the Six Nations. And it would appear from reports in France that nothing but first place is acceptable this year.
After a spring and summer of experimentation, their autumn Test series saw a more settled French side emerge, and Nallet is confident the November matches against Argentina,Australia and the Pacific Islanders can act as a springboard to Six Nations success.
"The integration of young players was fast but without any great problems," he argues. "It was more of a natural process than anything else. It's very interesting obviously to have these new players come in and some of them have stayed and have become a real part of the French team. So it's important to see new players come in who have real potential; there's also competition for places which is really good."
No less than 10 of France's initial Six Nations training group of 30 were under the age of 23. Nallet, however, will find he's surrounded by plenty of hard-nosed experience on Saturday, but appears to be enjoying overseeing the emergence of young French talent like Maxime Médard and Sébastien Tillous-Borde.
As an emerging talent himself, the tough Castres forward had to endure long periods looking in from the outside during the Laporte era. First capped in May 2000, Nallet missed out on the Grand Slam-winning seasons of 2002 and 2004 but has become a permanent fixture since.
The uncompromising lock forward was regarded by Lièvremont as leadership material following the retirements of Fabien Pelous and Raphael Ibanez after the 2007 World Cup, and though he played only a minor part during France's run to the semi-finals, he described it as a "massive surprise" to be then named as captain in January 2008. If France are seen to be struggling however, Nallet is in the middle of a relegation dog-fight with his club Castres, a situation the 32-year-old describes as "a bit of a disaster".
"It's been difficult and it will be difficult. We're looking for solutions but we can't find any," he says of the club languishing second from bottom in the Top 14.
Even the influence of Irish coaches Mark McCall and Jeremy Davidson are struggling to help Nallet and company move up the table. "Obviously the match against Wasps was a good performance and a bit of ‘trigger'; maybe something that will move things forward for us. The Irish coaches have good contact with the group and I, as a captain, need to talk to them regularly as well. There are good relationships with coaches and players, but they need to find solutions at this stage and it's not an easy thing to do."
Club problems aside, he's looking forward to leading France into the Championship and on Saturday, faces Paul O'Connell, regarded as a strong candidate to lead the Lions in South Africa this summer. And O'Connell receives a ringing endorsement from Nallet. "Certainly - he is not just an icon for Irish rugby but for world rugby. He is one of the second row players we love to play against. He brings high levels of consistency to his game both for province and country. An amazing player."
He adds: "Ireland have many strong points. They never give up, they hang in until the very end of the match. Other qualities are the way they fight for everything on the field and how they treat each game as a conquest. It will be interesting too to confront one of the best lineouts in the world. They're a group of players whom have been playing together for years, both at province and international level, and know each others' game off by heart."
IRFU defend ticket price increase
John O'Sullivan - The Irish Times
Supporting Ireland during the upcoming Six Nations Championship matches against France and England at Croke Park will cost fans €25 more for top stand tickets than it will to sit in equivalent seats for Republic of Ireland soccer World Cup qualifiers or the All-Ireland football and hurling finals next September.
The most expensive ticket, outside the premium and corporate levels, for next Saturday's Six Nations clash with France is €95, an 18.75 per cent increase for the same seat (€80) two years ago when the Ireland rugby team played their first international at GAA headquarters, coincidentally against the French.
The decision taken by the IRFU is in marked contrast to the policy adopted by the FAI and GAA. Peter Sherrard, the FAI's director of communications explained: "We have given an undertaking to maintain our current price levels until at least 2012 in recognition of the current economic climate and as a thank you for the loyalty of the fans."
GAA spokesman Fergal McGill pointed out: "Our attitude is the same as everyone else's really in that we are taking into account the economic realities. Our last price increase was in 2007 and we have no plans to increase prices this year."
The comparison of ticket prices between the three national sporting bodies doesn't take into account the fact the IRFU must completely fund professional and amateur rugby alike. They pay the salaries of the professional players while also underpinning the club, youth and schools sections.
The IRFU's commercial and marketing director, Padraig Power, pointed out: "The vast majority of tickets we have sold for the home Six Nations matches were purchased as part of packages. Ireland's games against New Zealand and France were paired as were those of Argentina and England. If supporters bought one or both of those packages then the cost of a stand ticket works out at €85.
"It is a very small number of stand tickets that have been returned by the visiting unions that have gone on sale for €95. The business model of the IRFU is predicated on revenue generated to pay for the professional game. Any additional revenue we make is then diverted to grass roots. We don't have shareholders and there is no dividend so all the money is ploughed back into the sport.
"The comparison (in ticket prices) is slightly unfair in that we have limited opportunities to generate revenue and the main outlet in that respect is the national team. Ticket prices are determined by the income required to fund the sport and what the market will bear. If you take the FAI, they do not have to pay players' wages.
"We are pretty happy to have sold out both home matches in this season's Six Nations Championship."
Power confirmed the union keep a weather eye on what the other countries in the Six Nations are charging and discovered the IRFU is mid-table in that respect.
The best stand ticket outside of the corporate sector for Scotland's home matches in the Six Nations can be purchased for £60 (€66.45), at the Millennium Stadium in Wales it's £65 (€71.99), Twickenham £85 (€94.14), in the Stadio Flaminio in Rome €99 while the Stade de France tops the price structure with stand seats on offer for €110.
Power added: "Going forward we will be carefully reviewing the ticket pricing policy in terms of guaranteeing the revenue required to run the sport against what people can afford. We think we are delivering good value reflected the strength of the demand for tickets."
It's seems to be the case at present with both the French and English games sold out but given the current economic climate, maintaining that demand amongst supporters, especially those with an interest in several sports, will be predicated on the success of the national side.
Price Comparison: 2007 2008 2009
Stand / Terrace Stand / Terrace Stand / Terrace
Six Nations €80/€30 €70/€30 €95/€38
All-Ireland finals €70/€35 €70/€35 €70/€35
World Cup qualifiers €70/ - €70/ - €70/ -
(Prices are top stand tickets outside the premium and corporate levels)
* In 2008 Six Nations top stand ticket prices were €60 for Italy; €70 Wales and Scotland.
Inspiration could take Ireland to a Grand Slam
Peter Bills - The Independent
It's a team that looks chock full of hope and ability. There's a beguiling mixture of the experienced - Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, John Hayes, Ronan O'Gara and David Wallace - and the comparatively inexperienced - Rob Kearney, Tomas O'Leary, Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip.
There's a bold, brave selection at inside centre in Paddy Wallace who gets in on current form, always the best arbiter for selection. There's pace on the wings and a full-back who can kick a mile but also loves to run.
For sure, there's a hint of a new Ireland about this team. But will it bring new results? Will seven matches of failure against France be turned into a victory against them which would be Ireland's first since 2003 in Dublin?
The key for me is what difference Ireland's new coach will make. The core of this side has been together for sometime, without conspicuous success. Yes, they've settled readily enough for the runners-up prize of a Triple Crown in three of the last five years, which does at least show some consistency of performance.
But ask Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell if, hand on heart, they will be happy eventually to walk off into retirement with a few Triple Crowns in their locker, and I'm telling you the answer would be an emphatic no.
Both men, indeed anyone with an interest in Irish rugby, would surely want 2009 to be the year Ireland won the International Championship title for the first time since 1985. Nearly a quarter of a century is an absurd amount of time for one country to wait to be Champions but that has to be the least target for the likes of O'Driscoll and O'Connell.
Of course, the real dream, the deep desire is to land a Grand Slam, which would be Ireland's first since 1948. But to do that, you don't indulge in dreams, just realities and facts. Ireland must first beat France this weekend to stay in the hunt for that ultimate honour. Then they have to contemplate winning in Cardiff, never an easy task now that the demanding and hugely inspirational Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards are at the helm of Welsh coaching.
The question is, can Declan Kidney inspire his men to go where those in Eddie O'Sullivan's charge conspicuously failed to go? Can Kidney's quiet, motivational ways - so successful with Munster - be translated into success on the national stage? Can he drag the best from each of his players and, most crucially, build the type of close understanding, unity and collective that has been at the heart of Munster's success?
It goes without saying that Munster isn't Ireland and the Heineken Cup is not the Six Nations Championship. That makes Kidney's task so much harder. But you only have to look to Wales to see the remarkable turn around caused by Gatland's arrival. From being a World Cup embarrassment in 2007 and failing even to qualify for the quarter finals as well as winning only one of their five matches the previous season, Wales suddenly won the Grand Slam last year.
Don't tell me that wasn't due in large part to Gatland's influence.
Can Kidney have a similar effect on Ireland this season? Can he produce just that extra 5 or 10 per cent from each of his players that could make so much difference?
As Brian O'Driscoll rightly says, the margins between winning and losing in this tournament are desperately slim. Luck can even be the decisive factor although I subscribe to the theory that you mostly make your own luck in life.
There isn't any doubt that, if Ireland could build a winning momentum, they would be very hard to stop. They have quality players throughout their team.
But the key for me is what difference can Kidney make? If just a fraction of the winning mentality he established at Munster can be brought to the national side, you never know how far Ireland might go. Will he also let his players play, not enmesh them in the kind of tactical straightjacket which O'Sullivan seemed so fond of using during his coaching tenure?
A lot of questions, as yet no answers. But we might start to get a few by early evening on Saturday?????
Leinster to hold ticket draw for match at the Stoop
John O'Sullivan - The Irish Times
Leinster will hold a lottery for their season ticket holders after Harlequins confirmed that they will not be moving the Heineken Cup quarter-final between the teams to Twickenham. Instead Harlequins have elected to play the match in their traditional home ground, the Stoop, which has a capacity of 12,638 on Easter Sunday, April 12th at 3.30pm.
The decision has disappointed Leinster who were hoping to draw upon a sizeable support for the match in terms of those travelling fromIreland and supporters based in England. The Irish province played a pool match against Wasps at Twickenham last month and estimated in the region of 6,000 supporters made the journey to London.
Chief executive of the Leinster Branch, Mick Dawson, confirmed their allocation - the away team gets 25 per cent of the tickets under ERC regulations - would be "just under 3,000 tickets". He added: "It's disappointing from a tournament perspective, the match would have guaranteed a big attendance if it had been moved to Twickenham. We are also disappointed on behalf of the Irish people in London who would have come out to support us and that is probably one of the reasons why they [Harlequins] didn't change the venue. We will be holding a lottery for our season ticket holders, of which there are almost 10,000, and there will be no public sale."
Dawson accepted Harlequins had made the decision for rugby reasons, pointing out there would have been pressure from coaches and players to play the match at the Stoop. Every successful applicant in the Leinster lottery would be entitled to buy a single ticket, in one of the following price categories: €49.50, €42.95 or €36.50. Applications open tomorrow and will close tomorrow week. Details can be found on the Leinster rugby website (www.leinsterrugby.ie).
Dawson's counterpart at the London club, Mark Evans, outlined Harlequins' reasons behind not switching the quarter-final to Twickenham, especially after the team had attracted a crowd of 50,000 for a Guinness Premiership match against Leicester in December at English rugby headquarters. "This was a very finely balanced decision," said Evans. "We will be giving up a significant amount of revenue by not transfer
|Last Updated ( Friday, 06 February 2009 12:54 )|