Denis Hickie – your Twitter questions answered
In the final part of my exclusive interviews with Ireland’s most capped winger, Denis Hickie, I ask him some of your rugby questions. Continue reading
Denis Hickie – your Twitter questions answered
In the final part of my exclusive interviews with Ireland’s most capped winger, Denis Hickie, I ask him some of your rugby questions. Continue reading→
Cian Healy – One of Ireland’s most dynamic and strongest props. Expect a big world cup from Healy.
Mike Ross – Enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top. Very dependable and solid last year. Made the tight head position his own. Big challenge but undoubtedly up to it.
Tom Court – Big opportunity for the prop as he will get game time in New Zealand. Relatively untested but that will change soon.
Tony Buckley – The former Newbridge second row will be looking to have a big impact at the world cup. Only 4 props travelling means they will all get plenty of opportunities.
Jerry Flannery – Just back from injury but will probably be Ireland’s first choice hooker. Flannery’s last world cup, expect it to be his best if he can stay clear of injury.
Rory Best – Will be pushing Flannery for starting hooker. An impressive throwing display against France last week will have his confidence high. A leader within the team.
Sean Cronin – Would Kidney have picked 3 hookers if Flannery had not been injured for so long? Cronin deserves his place but may have limited game time.
Paul O’Connell – The leader of the forwards. O’Connell is one of the world’s best second rows and the heartbeat of the Irish pack. Plagued with injury over the past couple of seasons, this will surely be O’Connell’s last world cup. He will give it everything.
Donncha O’Callaghan – Has been very dependable for years and has formed a great partnership with O’Connell for Munster, Ireland and the Lions.
Leo Cullen – The Leinster captain will be hoping he can break up the partnership of O’Connell and O’Callaghan by forcing his way into the Irish second row. Had a fantastic season which saw his Leinster team crowned Heineken Cup Champions.
David Wallace – Needs to prove that his hamstring injury is not severe this Saturday against England. Playing in his final world cup, Wallace has been an incredible servant to Irish rugby. The only out-and-out No. 7 in the Irish squad will have a huge role in New Zealand.
Sean O’Brien – An aggressive, abrasive and dynamic loose forward. This is O’Brien’s first world cup and barring injury will not be his last. Could be a very big star after the world cup!
Donnacha Ryan – The Shannon man’s ability to play second row and offer himself as a lineout target may have proved instrumental in his selection. Will get his chance.
Stephen Ferris – The Ulster man is just back from a lengthy injury but is included in the squad. One of the stars of the 2009 Lions tour, Ferris’ inclusion comes as no surprise. Forms part of an exciting and potentially devastating Irish backrow.
Jamie Heaslip – One of Leinster and Ireland’s consistent performers. Heaslip has been outstanding for the past number of seasons and will be instrumental for Ireland at the world cup.
Denis Leamy – Injuries have plagued the Tipperary man but he will be delighted to get the nod. Ireland’s backrow is ultra competitive but Leamy’s ability to cover more than one position could prove important.
Eoin Reddan – Reddan enjoyed a very successful season at Leinster and looks to be Ireland’s first choice scrum half for the world cup. Forms a very good partnership with provincial teammate Johnny Sexton.
Isaac Boss – Still has a lot to offer and playing in his native New Zealand will stoke the fire all the more for Boss.
Conor Murray – One of the surprises of the squad. The scrum half has enjoyed a fantastic year. Making his debut for Munster only a few months ago, Murray’s inclusion meant Tomas O’Leary was omitted. A very exciting prospect.
Johnny Sexton – The key for Ireland’s world cup hopes. Sexton will be massively influential in any game he plays in. Undoubtedly now Ireland’s first choice outhalf, expect him to come back as a global rugby star.
Ronan O’Gara – Ireland’s two outhalves compliment each other very well and can be used very effectively by the Irish management. Expect Sexton to start games and O’Gara to close them out. A legend of Irish rugby. This will be ROG’s last world cup.
Brian O’Driscoll (Captain) – All good things must come to an end. This will be the captain’s last world cup. A mercurial talent who leads by example every time he plays. Will go down as one of the world’s greatest centres of all time. A privilege to have played on the same team as this rugby legend.
Gordon D’Arcy – Will be hoping to have a big world cup. D’arcy and O’Driscoll have been the spine of the Irish rugby team for close to a decade. His explosive runs as well his ability to stay on his feet should set Ireland on the front foot.
Fergus McFadden – A surprise inclusion? An exciting prospect who can also cover the wing position. McFadden gets the nod ahead of fellow Leinster teammate, Luke Fitzgerald.
Paddy Wallace – Can cover a number of positions and is a goal kicker. Wallace’s inclusion should not come a s a surprise. Will be used as a utility back.
Tommy Bowe – Since his omission from the world cup of 2007, Bowe has been in incredible form for the Ospreys and Ireland. The Monaghan man will be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Andrew Trimble – Has been one of the few notable performers during Ireland’s warm up games. The Ulster man has earned his place in the squad and will battle it out with Earls for one of the wing positions. May see him at centre also.
Keith Earls – Will be looking for a big world cup. His explosive runs will hopefully be his trade mark in New Zealand. Will probably be first choice winger along with Bowe.
Rob Kearney – Following his lengthly lay off through injury, the Leinster man has regained form just in time for the world cup. Kearney reminded everyone of his ability during Ireland’s warm up games and will probably be first choice full back.
Geordan Murphy – Finally Geordy is picked! The Leicester Tigers legend has been cruelly struck down with injury on numerous occasions so he knows how Felix Jones feels right now. Murphy had been told he was not included in the squad until Felix Jones’ injury against France. Without doubt Murphy thoroughly deserves his chance.
The 30 players listed above will represent Ireland in the highly anticipated Rugby World Cup taking place in New Zealand in just over two weeks. Choosing only 30 players from a much larger pool of top quality players is an unenviable task for any coach. It is often referred to as a “good problem”. It is a problem that all coaches want as opposed to only having a very limited number of players to chose from. All the members of the Irish squad deserve their place on merit, that is without question but what about the players not included in the final Irish rugby squad?
Luke Fitzgerald – The cousin of the Irish captain can feel very disappointed not to be included in Kidney’s plans for the world cup. Fitzgerald has struggled with injury and form since his British & Irish Lions selection 2 years ago ,but has shown signs of coming back to his best. His impressive performance last week against France was unfortunately too little too late for Kidney and the Irish management. Ireland’s loss is Leinster’s gain.
Tomas O’Leary – Along with Fitzgerald, O’Leary’s omission came as the biggest surprise. O’Leary was selected for the 2009 British & Irish Lions but suffered a broken ankle and never made the tour. Ireland coach, Declan Kidney has appeared to favor O’Leary at scrum half over the past few seasons so it makes his exclusion all the more surprising. Although O’Leary’s performance against France may not have done him any favors, it seems as though he already knew that he was not going to the world cup. The players were allegedly informed of their omission by the irish management last Thursday. Was this on O’Leary’s mind during the game against France?
Shane Jennings – Another player who suffered injury at the wrong time. Jennings broke his arm in the Magner’s League Grand Final against Munster last season. He was in a race against time to play a game before the world cup squad was announced. The flanker started against France last Saturday in place of the injured David Wallace but was unable to force his way into the final Irish squad. There seems to be a global shift away from the “fetching” flanker (No. 7 who competes for the ball at rucks). Competing at the break down is Jennings’ forte but Ireland and England have only included one of these “fetchers” in their squads, in Wallace and Moody respectively. Teams are committing less players to the rucks these days and relying on their defence. Thanks to the skill and incredible ability of New Zealand No. 7, Richie McCaw, referees will be looking to penalize players deemed to be slowing the ball at ruck time during the World Cup. The decision to only bring one recognized No. 7 means that Jennings loses out. Very disappointing for the man who’s introduction at half time of the Heineken Cup final saw a massive shift in Leinster’s fortunes.
John Hayes – It is hard not to feel for Ireland’s most capped prop. He has been a stalwart of Munster and Irish rugby for over a decade. I feel that Hayes still had a role to play in the World Cup but the Irish management obviously felt otherwise. It is vital that Ireland have a solid scrum and without doubt Hayes can provide that. Sadly this is a world cup too far for the veteran prop and it remains to be seen if Hayes has played his last game of rugby. An Irish legend.
Peter Stringer – Along with John Hayes, Stringer has been a mainstay in the Irish team for close on a decade. Although never really in contention for this world cup’s selection, the veteran scrum half deserves a special mention for his outstanding contribution to Irish rugby. Stringer and Hayes (along with many others) dragged Irish rugby, kicking and screaming, up to the high standard we now associate with the national team. They have been a credit to Irish rugby and it has been a joy to watch them.
The players who did not make the final squad will feel devastated. It is desperately unlucky to miss out when you have come so close. These players will have to put their disappointment behind them and focus on their provincial teams. It is tough, but that is the cut throat nature of professional sport.
The Irish team have played three warm up games and lost three warm up games. Kidney and O’Driscoll were quick to point out that the results were “not important and that the world cup has not kicked off yet”. This is true but Ireland need to get back to winning ways before the competition commences.
The Irish squad has been selected so it is time to get behind the team. Ireland have one more warm up game on Saturday. The opposition: England. This may be just the game Ireland need to get their world cup campaign up and running…
Rugby World Cup – who will be on the plane for Ireland?
In just a few hours Declan Kidney will announce Ireland’s 30 man Rugby World Cup Squad 2011. Although the last 3 matches would have helped Kidney decide upon one or two players, it is fair to say that the coach has known the bulk of his squad for quite some time. It has been said that the players found out if they were traveling to New Zealand or not last Thursday. That means the players would have known before the Ireland XV v Connacht game. If this is true, it must have been very disappointing for the players who then had to get themselves ready to play a game.
As always, it is very tough on the players who do not make the final Rugby World Cup squad of any nation. It is even tougher on guys who get injured so close to the main event. All eyes will be on Felix Jones’ scan results after he suffered a potentially nasty knee injury.
Here is the squad I believe Declan Kidney will bring to the Rugby World Cup.
15 R. Kearney 30. K. Earls
14 T. Bowe 29. A. Trimble
13 B. O’Driscoll 28. F. Jones (Injury Permitting)
12 G. D’Arcy 27. P. Wallace
11. L. Fitzgerald 26. R. O’Gara
10. J. Sexton 25. T. O’Leary
9. E Reddan 24. C. Murray
8. J Heaslip 23. T. Buckley
7. D. Wallace 22. T. Court
6. S. O’Brien 21. S. Cronin
5. P. O’Connell 20. R. Best
4. D. O’Callaghan 19. L. Cullen
3. M. Ross 18. K. McLaughlin
2. J. Flannery 17. S. Ferris
1. C. Healy 16. D. Leamy
Who would be in your Rugby World Cup Squad?
The Rugby World Cup 2011 kicks off in New Zealand in just over 3 weeks. Ireland played against Scotland last weekend and France yesterday. So, what have we learned? More importantly, what have the Irish coaching staff learned?
After losing against Scotland, Kidney made 8 changes to his starting side. Keep in mind that every player in the squad is desperate to get some game time and to prove they deserve to be on the plane to New Zealand. These games are always tricky for individual players. You are so desperate to play well that you can put too much pressure on yourself. Minor problems can manifest themselves until they become huge issues. This happened yesterday to Ireland’s lineouts. If ever there was proof needed that lineouts are of vital importance to winning or losing a game, yesterday was it. For a number of reasons Rory Best’s throws were not finding their intended targets consistently and this played a huge part in the outcome of the game.
For the second week in a row, Leo Cullen captained the Irish rugby team. Having played on the same team as Leo for Leinster and Leicester Tigers, I believe there are few better pack leaders and lineout callers than him. Cullen is second to none at spotting the hole in opposition’s lineout defence and calling appropriate lineouts to expose those holes. He has intelligence and communicates the calls very clearly. As a hooker, I was always full of confidence knowing that Leo was in charge of the lineouts and making the calls. I have no doubt that Cullen himself will be very disappointed with how Ireland’s lineout plays went yesterday.
There are many facets to lineout play. The pack leader must spot where the defence is weak and call accordingly. The lifters must ensure that they lock their arms out at full extension, lifting the jumpers to their maximum height. Hookers must throw the ball accurately while under pressure from the opposition jumpers. Unless all of these components are working in harmony, the chances are, the lineout will be lost. The importance of securing lineout ball cannot be overstated. It is from lineouts that backs can launch attacks and commence building the phases. Starving teams of their lineout ball is a very effective way to nulify their attack. This is precisely what happened in yesterday’s game.
Best and Cullen are both seasoned professional rugby players. They have played rugby at the top level for years and performed consistently throughout their careers. Their ability cannot be called into question. Over the past few years’ Ireland’s lineouts have been very accurate and consistent. As a team, they have worked hard to ensure that they can rely on their lineout possession. They have recognized the importance of obtaining quality ball from their set piece. So, with this in mind, what was the problem yesterday?
Hookers hate throwing crooked lineouts. It is a horrible feeling knowing all eyes are you because you made a mistake. It can play over and over on your mind and distract you from the rest of your game. The frustration of throwing one crooked throw can lead to a hookers’ throws falling to pieces. Along with place kicking, it is a specialist skill performed by an individual within the team. Kickers are judged on how many points they kick and hookers are judged on how many lineout throws reach their intended target. Pressure applied by opposition lineout jumpers competing for the ball often causes hookers to throw crooked balls. Best was penalized for a crooked throw yesterday but that wasn’t the extent of Ireland’s woes.
France have obviously worked hard on their defensive lineouts. Consistently they ensured they had two defensive pods competing for Ireland’s lineout throws. Every time Best (and later Flannery) threw into Ireland’s lineout, they had to navigate the ball between two outstretched French jumpers. The more accurate the throw must be, the more pressure the hooker comes under. I am a big advocate of competing for the opposition’s lineouts. Cutting the opposing team’s possession off at the source saves a lot of energy and obviously maintaing possession of the ball, wins games. I was dismayed by the lack of competition by Ireland during France’s lineouts. Very little meaningful pressure was applied to the French lineout. This guaranteed France easy possession of the ball. In turn, this allowed them to create a lot more attack phases then Ireland. Olivier Magne was appointed as the French lineout coach recently. This is an area they have been working on and it showed yesterday. They could have a very effective defensive lineout come World Cup time.
Many players on both sides yesterday were playing their first game of the season yesterday, added to this was the heat. It was reportedly 30 degrees celsius at 7pm in Bordeaux yesterday. Playing your first game of the season is tough but playing your first game of the season in those conditions is extremely energy draining. Hopefully these factors are to blame for the sub par lineout lifting by Ireland. On more then one occassian, Ireland’s lifters were slow to react to their jumper. If a lineout jumper is not lifted properly by his lifters he will not be able to get to the ball. Hookers throw the ball to an imaginary target “zone” and rely on the jumper to get to the ball. In order to get to where the ball is thrown, the jumper must ensure his two lifters give him their maximum lift every time. This was not the case yesterday.
It should be noted that Paul O’Connell’s appearance early in the second half made a big difference to Ireland’s lineouts. O’Connell’s presence undoubtedly has a big impact on his team mates. He is a true warrior and will play an integural part in Ireland’s World Cup campaign. I would like to see Cullen and O’Connell play in the second row together. Rarely have the two players been on the same team and I believe they could be our best second row partnership.
Next week, Ireland are at home to France in another World Cup warm up game. Ireland will spend a lot of time on their lineouts during training the week. They are aware that their lineouts need to improve and they will address this. Coach Declan Kidney has stressed that the results of these warm up games are not important. He is right. However, Ireland have played two games and lost two games. Winning is a habit and Ireland need to get into that habit next weekend.
Heineken Cup Final Review
At half time in the Heineken Cup in Cardiff last Saturday Leinster looked to be in big trouble. They were trailing Northampton by 6-22 in the northern hemisphere’s biggest club rugby match. The Dublin team were getting badly beaten up in the pack, particularly evident in the number of penalties they conceded from scrums. Leinster looked nervous and shaken while Northampton looked in complete control. Looks can be very deceiving. The Heineken Cup half time whistle saw the end of Northampton’s physical dominance over Leinster. The English team did not score any points in the second half. This may all have been part of Leinster coach, Joe Schmidt’s tactical plan.
Schmidt would have known that Northampton would start the match with all guns blazing. He knew that they would start the match at a frantic pace and try to establish early dominance. Northampton have a huge and powerful pack who look to build a solid platform from their set pieces for their backs to launch attacks. Leinster would not have wished to be 16 points adrift of their opposition at half time but they were keeping cool and believed in the coach’s tactics.
Leinster worked hard to ensure Northampton’s pack could not build a platform for their backs from lineouts. Northampton only had 2 lineouts in the first half. When Leinster kicked the ball to clear their lines, the ball was kept in play. They did not want to give Northampton a lineout from which the English team could build an attack. Instead Leinster wanted to keep the ball in play and move the Northampton pack around the pitch tiring out their big forwards. This was a clever tactic, designated by Schmidt and executed by Sexton and teammates. The Leinster coaching staff would have watched countless Northampton games in the build up to this match and would have seen how effective and dangerous a weapon their lineout has been. Coach Schmidt’s tactics effectively negated Northampton’s back line the ability to run their array of attacking plays from their lineouts while also making sure their forwards did a lot of running.
The scrums were a damage limitation exercise for the first half of the game. The Leinster pack knew that their opposition were physically bigger and collectively stronger than them up front. The scrum was never going to be easy going for the Leinster front row. Tonga’uiha, Hartley and Mujati are a fierce front row. Schmidt would have told his forwards to absorb the pressure from the Northampton pack. To soak it up to the best of their ability. It would have been almost impossible for Northampton to sustain the constant pressure on the Leinster scrum. Leinster gave Northampton all 22 points through scrums. Their 3 tries came from scrums and outhalf, Myler kicked a penalty awarded to his team from a scrum.
Leinster did not want to take on the Northampton pack in the first 40 minutes. They moved each one of their 4 lineouts immediately out their back line. This forced the big Northampton pack to cover a lot more ground and resulted in fatigue setting in at half time. No doubt Leinster were a fitter team than Northampton and relied heavily upon this. Fitness, patience and ability to stay calm under pressure won Leinster their second Heineken Cup. Johnny Sexton’s half time talk which referenced Liverpool’s famous Champions League Final comeback against A.C. Milan in 2005, was undoubtedly inspirational. Having played many times with Johnny, I can say he has always been a leader on the pitch.
Heineken Cup Timeline with Key Points:
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy
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