Belfast Telegraph

Green sweep reinforces the power of Irish

By Tony Ward

For the second time in five series of Heineken Cup matches Irish rugby records a green sweep. Irrespective of the problems bedevilling this great competition an Irish playing record that shows 16 wins from 20 games played is for sure something to write home about.

Almost certainly there will be three Irish provinces in the last eight as, barring an extraordinary turn of events in the last match against the Ospreys, Leinster should join Munster and Ulster (both already qualified) in the knockout stages for 2014.

Connacht too are in with a mathematical chance of qualification but unlikely as that outcome is it is still a remarkable achievement for the men from the west to return their highest points total in another hugely commendable three from six winning return in Pool 3.

So for all four provinces, for Irish rugby and most specifically for Joe Schmidt (with Six Nations 2014 just around the corner) it was a rugby weekend to savour.

But we will concentrate on the last two into action, the two on the road, Munster and Leinster. At Kingsholm, still the most hostile of venues if not quite led by Gloucester warriors as talented or as uncompromising as teams past.

All that said, and we will come to Leinster shortly, this was for me the collective performance of the weekend by a distance. Despite the southern province's amazing winning record thus far this season in both Pro 12 and Heineken Cup (just three defeats in total) I cannot recall another winning 80 minutes where it smacked of controlled intensity reminiscent of the Munster of old. I'm still not convinced there is a third Heineken Cup in the squad as currently constituted but after this Kingsholm tour-de-force, led by the incredible double act of Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony, I sure as hell wouldn't bet against it.

I fear they will come up short behind when matched at the breakdown, scrum and maul. I am thinking specifically of the French giants Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont in that obvious regard.

For Rob Penney it represented the consummate team performance reminiscent of body on the line stuff from times past. We can now banish talk about new and varied game plans moving away from north-south and concentrating instead on east –west running and lines of support. That is not the Munster way. Yes it was tried and failed. Penney has had the good sense to accept that, to listen (I suggest to Niall O'Donovan, Anthony Foley, O'Connell and one or two other pragmatic Munster men of that ilk), to cut his cloth and adapt accordingly.

Trying to assess Leinster's equally meritorious win in deepest France, when invading the lair of the reigning Top 14 Champions and coming away with the spoils, is more difficult. Here again, on the upside was resilience at its very best.

But there were faults and failure to recognise and address them before the quarter-final (yes we are assuming the three time champions will seal the qualification deal at home to the Ospreys on Friday) could mark the first knock out fixture as the end of the road.

To win in France is fantastic, but keeping a lid on the level of performance and (shadow) make up of the opposition line up is essential in order to move it on.

But equally let's not lose the run of ourselves on this little island either. Well done to all four Antipodean coaches and to their respective squads.

Belfast Telegraph


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