Six Nations Championship Build-Up To France Away: Tadhg Beirne – – October 28 2020

Beirne Looking For Ireland To Take ‘Another Big Step Forward’

By Daire Walsh

Following over a year away from the international game, Munster lock Tadhg Beirne enjoyed a successful return to the Ireland team in last Saturday’s 50-17 bonus point win at home to Italy.

The Kildare men’s previous most recent Test appearance before that was during last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit to New Zealand, when he appeared as a second half replacement for Iain Henderson.

In the absence of the current Ulster captain, Beirne joined James Ryan in the second row for the much-delayed Guinness Six Nations fourth round clash with the Azzurri at the weekend.

He was delighted to play his part in a commanding seven-try victory, which saw fellow former Clongowes Wood College student Will Connors produce a player-of-the-match performance on his debut.

Speaking about his second Six Nations start, Beirne said: “I definitely enjoyed it out there. I think we had a bit of an emphasis on defence going into Saturday. It’s probably something I’m working at in Munster quite a bit.

“I’ve tried to just bring that over into the green jersey. I felt my tackle count was a bit higher than it probably usually is. That’s just the luck of it in some ways, in terms of they just came my way.

“I think overall, everyone was geeing each other up around defence and I think everyone saw that Will Connors was absolutely outstanding in that area and he always is.

“Everyone is giving him pats on the back as well. I think that’s just something that we’re bringing our own energy and we’re creating our own energy on the field.

“When we have good moments, everyone is trying to celebrate them. Because every moment matters in these kinds of games.”

Nonetheless, Beirne accepted there is significant room for improvement ahead of this weekend’s trip to Paris. While Italy are making considerable strides under Franco Smith, Fabien Galthié’s les Bleus will undoubtedly pose a much greater test.

“It’s a massive challenge, but everyone is excited. Everyone wants to be involved. The team isn’t named until Wednesday, but that just means how it’s so important for each and every individual to be all over their detail and it means anyone can step in when the team is named.

“I do think there were some really good things from Saturday, but if we want to come home with a Championship on Saturday then we do have to take another big step forward.”

As someone who is regarded as a specialist in the area, Beirne has some interesting views on the new breakdown laws introduced by World Rugby before rugby’s restart. From his perspective, the ‘poacher’ is receiving a lot more protection as a result of its implementation.

“That’s just my own personal view on it. Even in some of the rucks, in some of the games there’s still lads getting away with some in-the-sides. That’s something I’m looking at, because I’m usually someone who’d be over the ball.

“That’s something I’m always looking out for. It’s a very difficult area to ref, but I definitely feel like the poacher is definitely being better looked after than they were a year ago.

“Which is good to see and it probably gives a lot of lads more comfort about going after the ball in those areas. Because they don’t have to survive as long and risk getting their heads or their knees taken from them. It definitely gives lads more confidence, for sure.”

Naturally, teams are looking at how they can use these new laws to their advantage. As Beirne explains, Ireland are no different in this regard.

“I think it’s definitely an area that we’re looking at targeting. I think it’s an area where we’ve a lot of players within the squad who are really good over the ball. I think you saw that on Saturday.

“Across the board, there was a lot. It wasn’t just one player who was topping the charts in terms of turnovers. It was a lot of different individuals who were coming away with good turnover ball, which is great to see.

“It gives us a much better opportunity around the park to play off turnover ball. Obviously there’s a lot of space when that does happen.

“There is a massive emphasis on us going after those balls, but also an emphasis of being smart around it and not overcommitting in those areas. I think that’s an area that we’re all getting better at.”

Throughout the course of his remote press conference with the virtually-assembled Irish media, Beirne was fulsome in his praise of team captain and talismanic out-half Jonathan Sexton.

Now the elder statesman of the Ireland squad at 35, Sexton will hope to cap his first year in the captaincy role by lifting the Six Nations trophy.

“He’s our skipper and he leads from the front. He’s very level headed in training and he makes his points very clear. He orchestrates our attack as well,” explained Beirne.

“Johnny’s a great leader for us and before training he’ll say a few words along with a few others. Even after training he’ll make his points as well and at meetings in the evenings.

“From a leadership point of view he’s been great. He’s someone who has been in this situation many, many times for province and country. It’s probably something that he’s a bit more used to than a few others in here. He has definitely shown that kind of leadership this week.”

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Six Nations Championship Build-Up To France Away: Cian Healy – – October 28 2020

Healy Focusing On Bigger Picture As Ireland Build For Paris Title Tilt

By Daire Walsh

While a landmark international appearance haul is firmly within his grasp, Leinster and Ireland prop Cian Healy has his eye on the bigger picture.

Should the Clontarf man be selected in his trademark loosehead role by head coach Andy Farrell in today’s team selection, it means he will pick his 100th cap in Saturday’s crunch final round encounter with France in Saint-Denis.

Yet, as someone who already has three of them in his locker, the prospect of securing another Six Nations Championship medal is what has him fired up for the Halloween night clash with les Bleus.

“It will obviously be something quite special to myself and my family, and people around me,” Healy said of his impending 100th cap. “I’m trying to pass it off and not have anything like that hang over me.

“Hopefully get selected and there’s something much bigger than an individual merit to play for. I’m trying to brush it aside a bit at the moment and go towards that bigger thing.

“It’s an opportunity to win a medal, win a trophy and play with the lads. That’s the goal. Hopefully get selected and get the shot to do that. We go over with an unbelievably tough challenge, but it’s something that this group are hugely capable of and I think it’s something that will be needed.

“You need to score a lot of tries to beat this French team. They’re an unbelievable outfit as we saw the other night (against Wales). It’s an exciting fixture ahead and I think everyone is looking forward to it.”

It is a testament to Healy’s extraordinary perseverance that he continues to be the first choice number one for both provincial and national teams. Owing to a serious neck injury, he was perilously close to announcing his retirement in the summer of 2015.

He subsequently regained full fitness to once again become one of the most consistent front row performers in Irish rugby. During his rehabilitation, the opportunity to don the green jersey was the ultimate end goal.

However, he had to go through a long and arduous process of recovery before he could even consider that possibility.

“It was broken down into so many stages. The first stage of that was to be a functional human again and be able to open the door with the keys and stuff like that.

“Each time I became capable of something, I set a new little standard. Something short-term, achievable. Something I could work on.

“As I built through them, I just started progressing those goals to get into the national team again and get to a standard. Because by the time rugby had started back up, I was able to play but the standard of my fitness was probably a bit down.

“There was a constant drive then for fitness. What I could do outside of rugby for fitness. Lifestyle changes, all that sort of stuff.”

This period of time away from the game meant the 33-year-old Dubliner was well-equipped to deal with being in lockdown during the early months of Ireland’s fight against Covid-19.

The remote work he put in during the absence of rugby was, in many ways, an extension of what he has been doing in the five years since overcoming his career-threatening injury.

“The lockdown period gave me an opportunity to put a lot of time into things that I had kind of pushed off and not focused on as much. You can nearly treat it like a bit of a sabbatical.

“It’s an extender and everyone sort of treated it like that, to work on things that you might not have the time to when you’re game-on-game.

“I put a bit of a recovery system in at home and everything is now focused on having my body in the best shape. Even outside of that, I want to be a healthy person. I want to live a long life. That stuff is something I want to do.

“Not only for rugby, but for enjoyment of my time outside of the field. Not walking around like an auld fella. You want to be as fit and as healthy, day-to-day. When that transfers into rugby, then it’s pretty helpful.”

As someone who grew up on the northside of Dublin, it was perhaps fitting that Healy made his international bow in a November 2009 Test against Australia at Croke Park.

Reflecting on this big day out at GAA HQ, one particular incident springs immediately to his mind.

“It was kind of class to play in Croker. We’d such a team out there, there was a lot of big names in that team. That kind of shocked me a bit, but I was cocky and confident in myself and young.

“I got slagged a bit for it, but I think if you have a bit of that confidence it goes a long way.

“I remember Paulie (Paul O’Connell) tapped me down a ball off a kick-off. That was probably my one outstanding memory from that game. I got a little bit of a run off it.”

Even though he might seem like one of the automatic selections for Saturday’s game, Healy knows better than to be taking something like that for granted. Since taking over from Joe Schmidt, Farrell has been keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to revealing who has made the cut for match day.

In addition to each player hearing the team at the same time, there is a strong link-up between the backs and the forwards in the collective training sessions. Healy explained:

“We’re in the dark (regarding selection). Training is hotly-contested. It’s all out. (Wednesday) will be a physical session and everyone will have a right crack at it.

“We’re pushing each other and there’s no set group going into lineouts or back plays. It’s completely intertwined. To have everyone having the complete understanding of what we’re trying to do, we have to have people moving in and out of position.

“In and out of different groups of players. So every player knows exactly the same routine or movement to do for what we’re trying to get.”

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Six Nations Championship Build-Up To France Away: Jonathan Sexton – – October 28 2020

‘All We Can Control Is Our Performance’ – Sexton

By Daire Walsh

Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton is hoping that a strong focus on team performance can help them to achieve their desired result in the Guinness Six Nations finale against France.

In all likelihood, Andy Farrell’s side will require a bonus point triumph on Saturday night in order to secure the Championship title for a fourth time in seven seasons.

Speaking at the latest media conference from the IRFU’s High Performance Centre, Sexton said: “All we can control at the moment is our performance. What we’re trying to emphasise to everyone in the squad is that we need to get our performance right, no matter what.

“If it’s just a win, if it’s a bonus point win, we’re still going to have to play well. No matter what. Let’s just focus on that aspect.

“We know that if we can perform well, that we’ll give ourselves chances. Then it’s up to us to try and take those chances on the day and be clinical.”

On their last trip to Saint-Denis in February 2018, Ireland were put through the ringer before eventually claiming the first of five victories on their way to a Grand Slam success.

Just when France looked set to secure the spoils, talismanic out-half Sexton stepped forward to slot a 83rd-minute drop goal attempt between the uprights – after a staggering 41 phases.

Given what has transpired in both the sport and the world since that day, Sexton admits it feels like a lifetime ago. Yet, he is glad to be returning to the venue with a shot at Six Nations glory and believes Ireland’s destiny largely remains within their own hands.

“A lot has happened since. It does feel like a long, long time ago, but it’s great to be back in that situation now where we’ve got a trophy on the line.

“We know it’s in our own hands in many ways, no matter what happens in the games before it. We’ll still be going onto the pitch being able to win the trophy, which is what you play for. You train hard for these big days.

“We’re looking forward to it now and like I said, we’re just trying to concentrate on our performance. Make sure if we can get that right, it gives us a chance.”

When Sexton landed that high-pressure strike through the French posts, he did so in front of a crowd of 74,878. Their latest encounter will be world’s apart, however, as Covid-19 restrictions means it will be held behind closed doors.

While conceding there are pros and cons to this set-up, Sexton generally feels it could be an advantage on the night for Ireland.

“Depends what way you look at it. I’ve been in the Stade de France before where the crowd have turned on them. Then it can become a positive for us and a negative for them.

“You can look at it whichever way you want. It’s obviously more like a neutral venue. Obviously they’ve played there last weekend (against Wales) and they’ll be familiar with it.

“Obviously we’d prefer to play in an empty stadium than play with 80,000 French supporters. It is what it is. It’s not ideal. A part of me wishes there was a crowd there. We missed it, we miss the supporters. Hopefully we won’t be too long getting them back out.”

Courtesy of a run of victories over England, Italy and Wales in the spring, a rejuvenated France are also in the mix to be crowned Six Nations champions for the first time in 10 years.

They did hit a speed bump in round four back when losing 28-17 to Scotland in Edinburgh. Still, there has been enough in their displays to date that suggests they are more than capable of finishing the campaign on a real high.

Thanks to his previous stint with Racing 92 – and his regular duels with Top 14 outfits in the Heineken Champions Cup – Sexton is well aware of the problems this French team can pose.

I think just their ability to score out of nothing. That points to the individual flair that they have. (Antoine) Dupont, (Romain) Ntamack at half-back. You saw them against Wales last weekend. It looks like Wales are defending well and out of nowhere, they’re gone,” he noted.

“(Virimi) Vakatawa has obviously been in great form. (Gaël) Fickou has been doing well. From a backs’ point of view, they’ve just got threats throughout.

“We’re just going to have to be unbelievably connected and together (in defence), because if you show them those big gaps, they’re through it pretty quick.

“Then up front they’ve got power. They’ve got big men and lots of power. It’s a big ask, we know that, but we’re preparing ourselves for a big performance.”

Throughout the majority of his successes with both Leinster and Ireland in the past decade, Sexton has been joined on the field by the ever-dependable Cian Healy.

The 33-year-old prop is in line to collect his 100th Ireland cap on Saturday. For Sexton, you only have to look at the other Irish centurions – such as former number 10 Ronan O’Gara – to fully appreciate how impressive an achievement this is for Healy.

“If he gets picked, it’s an incredible feat. You look at the guys who have 100 caps, the special players they are. You don’t get there easily. Every player that’s in that category are legends of the game really in Ireland.

“I think he’ll add himself to that legacy if he gets that hundredth cap. Cian deserves it, he’s so professional in the way he goes about his business.

“He’s had one particularly bad (neck) injury, which he took a while to get back from. Once he did, he put an unbelievable amount of work into getting himself back. I’m absolutely chuffed for him.

“I’m very good friends with him obviously, first and foremost. I know his family very well and his wife Laura. I know they’ll be so proud of him. It’s another little layer onto our story.

“If it is his 100th cap, we want to honour him in the best way possible which would be trying to win the game. It was the same last week when we were playing first-cappers. We wanted to make the day special for them.”

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Six Nations Championship Interview (Post Italy Home): Will Connors – The Kildare Nationalist – October 27 2020


By Daire Walsh

Donadea’s Will Connors continued his rapid rise through the ranks of professional rugby with a dream Ireland debut at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Thrown in at the deep end alongside Caelan Doris and CJ Stander in the back-row, the 24-year-old  crashed over for a second half try and was consequently awarded player of the match for his all-action display at openside flanker as Ireland convincingly dispatched the challenge of Italy.

Considering he found himself behind the likes of Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy (prior to his injury) and Scott Penny at Leinster a little over 12 months ago, Connors has displayed remarkable perseverance to get himself to this stage. Despite encountering road blocks along the way, he always believed an Irish cap was within his grasp.

“Every boys dream is to play for Ireland. I’ve had a few injury set-backs over the last while but constantly this was the goal. Where I wanted to go. I kept trucking away. I knew my time would come if I just kept at it,” Connors remarked after Saturday’s game.

“It is an unbelievably competitive position [openside flanker], but that’s just the beauty of it. We are all pushing each other incredibly hard. Even Josh was great helping me to expand on my breakdown game. Things I was probably poor at. You are constantly trying to get better at your weaknesses.”

Whereas in an ideal world would have celebrated this moment in front of his family and close friends, this wasn’t possible in the current climate of behind closed doors sporting contests. Nevertheless, it will forever be a cherished memory for the former Clongowes Wood College student.

“It’s unusual but I’m unbelievably grateful to even be out here. It’s obviously a tough time for the country and people have to abide by legislation, stay at home, and being able to go out there today was extra special, being able to express ourselves and things.

“I suppose not having people clap you out and stuff is tough because everyone wants to be here, drive the team on. It is difficult in that aspect, but it was still incredibly special.”

The day was made extra special for Connors by the fact that he was joined in making his international bow by three of his provincial team-mates. With the game winding down in the second half, Ed Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park were introduced off the bench to add extra zeal to the Irish challenge.

Before then, Hugo Keenan had grabbed a brace of opening period tries in his first appearance at this grade. Connors and the Blackrock College previously represented Ireland together at Sevens and U20s level.

While it won’t always be as comfortable as Saturday’s 50-17 bonus point win, the duo’s double act looks set to continue in the coming months.

“Hugo is one of my best friends and it was incredible to able to head out there and share that moment with him. He had a cracking game, I’d slag him a bit for not scoring tries and it was nice to see him come up at the other end of it.”

Either side of the lockdown that saw professional rugby halted on these shores for close to six months, Connors gained rave reviews for his chop-tackling technique. Although this undoubtedly helped him to secure a spot in Andy Farrell’s squad, he is keen not to be pigeon holed as a specific kind of player.

“I’m constantly trying to work on my game. I did get knocked back a few times but I’ll look at that, see what happened. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. I’m constantly trying to work on my weaknesses and I think that’s why the back row is so good. We’re all working together to try to get the best out of each other.”

Having gotten 80 minutes of international rugby under his belt, Connors is eager for another shot at the number seven jersey. By the time Ireland take to the field in Saint-Denis to face France on Saturday evening (kick-off 8pm Irish time), it is expected a bonus point will be required in order to secure the Six Nations title in Farrell’s maiden campaign at the helm.

Even though he emerged as the game’s outstanding performer on Saturday, Connors realises there is no guarantee of retaining his place for the final round of a truncated campaign.

“That’s the thing, we step back into Monday and we go again. It is an open table as to who is going to be playing in that backrow and that’s the beauty of it. Incredible competition and I will put my best foot forward and I know the lads will so we will drive each other,” Connors added.

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Six Nations Championship Build-Up To France Away: Peter O’Mahony – – October 26 2020

‘Weeks Like This Don’t Come Around Very Often’ – O’Mahony

By Daire Walsh

Since his very first appearance for the national team back in 2012, Peter O’Mahony has had a battle on his hands to gain selection in Ireland’s ultra-competitive back row.

Following a string of impressive performances for Munster, the Cork native made his international debut in February of that year during the closing stages of a convincing 42-10 triumph over Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

On that occasion, Ireland’s starting back row consisted of Leinster duo Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip along with Ulster’s Stephen Ferris. By the end of the year, O’Mahony had showcased his versatility by featuring in all three positions at the back of the scrum.

He subsequently went on to become a regular in the Ireland side, starting 14 out of 15 games in the Six Nations title-winning campaigns of 2014, 2015 and 2018.

However, he had to be content with a place on the bench last Saturday as Caelan Doris, debutant Will Connors and his Munster team-mate CJ Stander were chosen to lead Ireland back into Guinness Six Nations action – also against the Italians.

While O’Mahony admits it will not be easy to reclaim a starting spot for this Saturday night’s crunch final round showdown with France, this is something he is fully accustomed to at this point.

Speaking today at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre, he said: “You’ve a battle on your hands every week. I’ve felt 67 or 68 battles every week I’ve played for Ireland. I’ve worked as hard as I physically could to get a jersey, whether it was on the bench or whether it was starting.

“There’s nothing taken for granted. There’s nothing given in these circles. When I first started, you look at the back row that was there. Every single weekend you look at the back rows that I was involved with, now the back row at the moment.

“It has never been anything other than the most competitive position on the pitch. We’re in a battle every week to get a jersey, not to mind to start. I’d have to say I’m hugely enjoying it and learning from it.

“The performance from the starting back row at the weekend was second to none. I thought their energy, their moments in the game, the amount of work they got through, was incredible. From a team point of view, you couldn’t be prouder of the way the team worked at the weekend. Particularly the back row.”

Such is O’Mahony’s competitive streak, it comes as little surprise to hear he was disappointed not to get the nod to start Ireland’s first game in eight months. Yet, once he came to terms with the fact he was on the bench, he started to ponder how he could make an impact if called upon.

He managed to do just that in his short time on the pitch, his sublime one-handed offload releasing Bundee Aki for a memorable try inside the final quarter.

“I’d be sitting here and lying to you if I said I didn’t want to start. At the end of the day, there’s 23 people who need to take the pitch at any given time on a Saturday or a Sunday. There’s a massive emphasis put on our bench to come on and not just roll in, but to make a difference.

“You’ve got to make a difference and be different when you come on. That’s the pressure we put on ourselves. I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. I want to play every game, I want to start every match.

“That’s just the way we all are as a group. I think we understand that the team comes first and you’ve got to be best prepared to play 79 minutes or 80 minutes, or 15. It doesn’t matter what you get, you’ve got to be ready to go.”

Whereas O’Mahony will be hoping to pick his 69th Ireland cap at the Stade de France this coming weekend, it will be a particularly special moment for prop Cian Healy if he does make it onto the pitch. Following his 99th appearance against Italy, the Leinster loosehead is set to join a unique set of Irish centurions.

As it stands, only Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes have earned 100 caps or more for their country.

Healy’s impending landmark becomes all the more remarkable when you consider he was on the brink of retirement in the summer of 2015 due to a serious neck injury. Having packed down with him for countless Tests, O’Mahony is delighted the Clontarf native has been able to reach such a milestone.

“The professionalism for Cian to be available to play that many games for Ireland, not to mind to be selected, is incredible. Including in that a big stint out which, he wouldn’t mind me saying, was touch and go for him at one stage as regards to getting back playing at all.

“To get back to the form he’s got back to over the last three or four years, if he does get his shot at the weekend, I don’t think anyone deserves it more. His work ethic, his professionalism. A huge character around the place.

“Has filled into a leadership role as well for the younger front rowers coming in around him. To have him to learn off, from their point of view. Not just the looseheads, but all the front rows. It’s an incredible achievement and hopefully whoever gets picked can make it a special one for him.”

With the prospect of a fourth Six Nations crown in the space of seven seasons very much alive, there will be no lack of motivation for table-topping Ireland when they cross the white line on Saturday night.

Nonetheless, having played the full 80 minutes of their last outing in Saint-Denis in February 2018, when Jonathan Sexton’s last-gasp drop goal sealed a dramatic away win, O’Mahony understands how difficult it will be to come out with the result they crave.

“It’s a cup final week. You don’t need any more motivation than that, to be winning trophies with your national team. It’s the epitome of it, any competition as competitive as this. Weeks like this don’t come around very often.

“It’s important to enjoy them, but it’s important to understand what it takes to win a Championship. That’s secondary to winning in France. It’s a different animal to a lot of these games. We understand the challenge that’s ahead,” he added.

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Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Andrew Porter – – October 26 2020

‘Only Our Best Will Do Against France’ – Porter

By Daire Walsh

Tighthead prop Andrew Porter believes Saturday was only the beginning of the journey in green for Ireland’s four debutants.

On his side’s return to Guinness Six Nations action, head coach Andy Farrell threw Hugo Keenan and Will Connors in at the deep end on the left wing and at openside flanker respectively.

Keenan repaid Farrell’s faith with a brace of first-half tries, while chop-tackle expert Connors also crashed over to cap an impressive player-of-the-match display.

During the second half of Ireland’s convincing 50-17 bonus point win, Porter’s Leinster front row ally Ed Byrne also made his bow along with scrum half Jamison Gibson-Park.

As someone who works with the newly-capped quartet on a weekly basis at his native province, the St. Andrew’s College alum was delighted to share the pitch with them on this special occasion. Porter commented:

“You saw what the lads did today, the lads who started and the lads who came on, what they can do. Obviously they’re four Leinster guys so I’ve been able to play with them and have the privilege of being able to share the field with them today.

“It has been great to share in that journey with them. I’m sure they’ll have many other days like today and be able to put on the green jersey.

“It’s obviously a huge honour for them, but it’s a huge honour for myself and everyone else to be able to share the field with them. They played out of their skins today and we’ll see them again soon, I’d say.”

As regards the game itself, Porter felt it was very much a case of mission accomplished. Securing maximum points has edged Ireland to the top of the table ahead of the final round, although in all likelihood another bonus point success will be needed against France in Paris next Saturday.

Yet, if they are to fall short in their pursuit of the full five points on Halloween night, it will not be due to a lack of ambition on the part of Porter and his team-mates.

“We came into the game with the hope of getting five points and really make the next game more interesting. That was the main thing we came into the game looking for. We got the result on that, so we’re very happy with that.

“We know what this squad is capable of. That’s what we’ll be looking for. We know France are a great team and have a great squad. We’re really going to have to come with our best performance for next week. Take our learnings from today and turn up next week with a really big performance.”

Since coming into the job, Farrell has spoken about wanting the Irish players to express themselves on the pitch. Circumstances can often dictate whether or not this comes to fruition, but there were certainly elements of that on display against the Italians.

With players from all four provinces coming together, it can often be difficult to get the perfect mix but Porter could see evidence of Ireland releasing the shackles after an eight-month absence from international rugby.

“When you have the squad that we have and the amount of talent and skilled players that we have, from lads coming from all different provinces, that’s what you want.

“You want guys expressing themselves and playing to their best abilities. Not just going inside themselves because it’s maybe a different team environment or anything like that.

“We want to be ourselves, the same that we are at home in camp. I think that’s really been great for lads getting their playing confidence up, as well as getting to know each other off the pitch as well.

“It’s obviously difficult because you’re not around each other all the time, like you are in your home provinces. I think we’ve done really well in terms of that. It’s definitely a huge advantage, being able to express yourself on and off the pitch as well.”

Although he had already played behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium for Leinster, this was Porter’s first time to do so in an Ireland jersey. It is something that is hard for even the most professional of players to come to grips with, but the 24-year-old hopes they managed to give their supporters a reason to be cheerful.

“Obviously it’s strange not having the support of your home crowd. The noise and the energy of the crowd, but it’s something we’ve been trying to build as a team – being able to build our own energy when the fans are not there.

“We knew they’d be watching at home and we were looking to put in a big performance. Hopefully give people something to get excited about in these really trying times.

“It’s tough obviously and it takes a bit of getting used to, but I think we overcame that bit of adversity of what’s going on outside of this. I think we did great in terms of creating our own energy.

“We really did well with that, but it’s all about giving people at home something to look at and maybe take their minds off the crazy things that are going on outside. I thought we did really well in terms of that,” he added.

Posted in International Rugby | Comments Off on Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Andrew Porter – – October 26 2020

Women’s Six Nations Championship: Ireland V Italy – The Irish Examiner (Print) – October 26 2020

Layoff does little to dim Claire Molloy’s brilliance

Claire Molloy served up a reminder of her enduring quality at Donnybrook on Saturday night as Ireland made a winning return to the Women’s Six Nations at the expense of a game Italy.

On her first international appearance since March of last year, the Galway native was named player of the match — just reward for a powerful performance at openside flanker. Her stoppage-time try gave Ireland a 14-7 interval platform and despite the best efforts of the Italians, the hosts remained in the driving seat until the final whistle.

“She’s been phenomenal for Ireland in a green jersey. It was no different tonight,” Ireland head coach Adam Griggs said of Molloy afterwards.

“One of those things that Claire has in her game is being able to adapt to pictures in front of her. That was the case in point for the try she scored, where she has to juggle it a couple of times. She has that calmness under pressure. She’s been there before and I thought she was really good for us.”

Already hampered by the withdrawals of Eimear Considine and Laura Feely from the match day squad — arising from an inconclusive Covid-19 test for a squad member on Thursday — Ireland fell behind to a converted Melissa Bettoni try on 15 minutes. A high error count made it difficult for the hosts to establish attacking momentum in response to this set-back but, as the opening period drew to a close, they finally discovered a cohesive rhythm.

Latching onto a Kathryn Dane pass, Lindsay Peat crossed the line for a clinical 37th minute effort.

The former Dublin ladies footballer (who turns 40 next month) turned provider for Molloy’s try in time added on, though the back-row had plenty to do before touching down.

A brace of Hannah Tyrrell conversions ensured Ireland held a seven-point lead at the break.

In a second half that was largely devoid of opportunities in open play, Ireland were forced to be patient in their pursuit of a game-clinching try. This score finally arrived on the stroke of 70 minutes when referee Hollie Davidson awarded a penalty try – following consultation with her TMO — after the retreating Italians were deemed to have collapsed a scrum.

An unexpected home encounter now awaits next weekend, with France having agreed to travel to Dublin once it became clear Ireland’s amateur stars would be forced to self-isolate upon their return from the original venue of Lille.

Though satisfied with his team’s latest victory, Griggs acknowledged there is considerable scope for improvement if they are to record their first win over Les Bleus since the Grand Slam season of 2013.

“There’s some small details we need to work on, certainly around the breakdown. Just making sure we’re competing and slowing the ball down. At times we probably gave it to them [Italy] too easily. That allows teams to attack you and looking at France next week, we can’t allow that to happen. They’re a very dangerous side and they’ve really dangerous backs as well. We’ll make sure we’re probably more of a menace at that breakdown and making it harder for teams.”

Scorers for Ireland: L Peat, C Molloy try each, Penalty try and con, H Tyrrell 2 cons.

Scorers for Italy: M Bettoni try, M Sillari con.

IRELAND: L Delany; L Sheehan, E Breen, S Naoupu, B Parsons; H Tyrrell, K Dane; L Peat, C Moloney, L Djougang; N Fryday, C Cooney; D Wall, C Molloy, C Griffin.

Replacements: B Hogan for Fryday (64), N Jones for Moloney, L Lyons for Djougang (69), H O’Connor for Wall (70), K Fitzhenry for Naoupu (72), A Hughes for Dane, L Muldoon for Delany (both 77), K O’Dwyer for Peat (78).

ITALY: M Furlan; V Ostuni Minuzzi, M Sillari, B Rigoni, A Muzzo; V Madia, S Stefan; S Turani, M Bettoni, L Gai; S Tounesi, G Duca; F Sgorbini, G Franco, E Giordano.

Replacements: S Barratin for Furlan (55), G Cerato for Bettoni (56), V Fedrighi for Tounesi (59), B Capomaggi for Madia (69), B Mancini for Muzzo (72), M Merlo for Capomaggi (73).

Referee: H Davidson (Scotland).

Posted in International Rugby, Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Women’s Six Nations Championship: Ireland V Italy – The Irish Examiner (Print) – October 26 2020

Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Hugo Keenan – – October 26 2020

Debut Brace Has Keenan Eager For More

By Daire Walsh

As international debuts go, the versatile Hugo Keenan could not have asked for much more at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Having earned a call-up to the Ireland squad on the back of impressive performances on the wing and at full-back in recent weeks, Keenan was named on the left wing for the visit of Italy  for the rearranged Guinness Six Nations fixture.

The 24-year-old duly enjoyed an explosive introduction to Test rugby, scoring a brace of first-half tries to put the hosts in the driving seat. He was unfortunate to have another try ruled out, but it was a minor inconvenience on an otherwise perfect day for Keenan.

“It was an unbelievable experience. The stuff of dreams really. The lads put in some shift and made it easy for me. To nab two tries as well was pretty special,” he acknowledged in the post-match mixed zone.

“As Ed Byrne said, I don’t know if the third one would have come about if the second try hadn’t been disallowed. I’d take two any day. I was just sort of at the end of the work of the others in fairness. I was just finishing them off.”

Keenan and Byrne were amongst a quartet of debutants on the day, the others being their Leinster colleagues Jamison Gibson-Park and Will Connors. Keenan was particularly pleased to see Connors deliver a player-of-the-match performance that included the bonus point try.

The pair were previously a part of the IRFU’s Sevens Programme and also played together for the Ireland Under-20s. Keenan explained:

“Will is one of my best mates, probably my best mate in rugby. It was so cool. Our Dads get on very well together and there’s a good connection between the families.

“We made our European Cup debuts against Saracens about a month ago and we’ve sort of been going up the ranks together. It was really, really special. To see him go so well and get man-of-the-match. Put in so many tackles and do what he does best, it’s just great to see. He deserves it in fairness.”

While Connors missed out on Ireland’s run to the World Rugby U-20 Championship final in 2016, Keenan was a key figure in that particular group alongside several current senior stars. James Ryan, Andrew Porter and Shane Daly were all regular starters in the side, while Jacob Stockdale was the full-back of choice for then-head coach Nigel Carolan.

It was there that the Ulster ace featured on Saturday and Keenan was grateful to Stockdale for helping him to bed into his new surroundings.

“Obviously we know each other from Under-20 level. He’s been so good integrating me into the squad here. He’s a good communicator and he bosses it from 15.

“I thought he was very good again today (Saturday). He’s an exciting player and he’s got those three key abilities – he can run the ball, he can pass and kick. He’s a top quality player in fairness.”

Although Stockdale, Ryan, Porter and even Max Deegan have preceded him in earning a senior cap off that Under-20 squad, Keenan always believed a day like Saturday was a possibility. Rather than pinpointing a particular moment where he realised it could become a reality, he believes it was more of a gradual process.

“It’s always just tipping away and trying to keep putting your hand up in every situation. Whether that was in the Sevens or through my first few caps with Leinster. Then it’s just about improving week-on-week and building.

“You don’t really look too far into the future. It’s always about the next game, the next performance. I think if you focus on that, it will leave you in a good place.”

In grabbing two tries on his Ireland debut, Keenan immediately doubled his tally in Leinster blue which currently stands at one try in 20 appearances. His only previous five-pointer in professional 15s rugby arrived way back on December 1, 2018 against the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.

Predictably, this is something he was given a constant reminder of within Ireland camp.

“The lads have been giving me a good bit of stick, James Lowe especially! It’s nice to get that off my back. A long time coming really.”

Because there were no spectators in the stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions, Keenan admits scoring his first international try was not quite what he had envisaged it to be. Nonetheless, it was a moment that will stay with him for the rest of his career.

“It was a bit different than I might have imagined growing up, but it was still very special. The lads celebrating with you, it’s such a cool feeling. Just to help them in the first half to get those early tries, they came at important times. To help the team like that is extra special.”

Unlike many of his provincial team-mates – Saturday’s other debutants being notable exceptions – Keenan is just getting used to the methods of head coach Andy Farrell. Based upon his last few weeks in the squad, he is looking forward to working under him in future Ireland camps.

“He just wants you to express yourself and be yourself. Be comfortable in the environment and then that will transfer onto the pitch. He’s been great.

“He has been chatting to me all week. Him, Catty (Mike Catt), Richie Murphy. They’re all very good and it gives you such confidence going into the game and good belief. I think that showed in the game with all the lads really.”

Posted in International Rugby | Comments Off on Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Hugo Keenan – – October 26 2020

Post-Match Reaction: Women’s Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Adam Griggs – The Irish Examiner (Online) – October 25 2020

‘Outstanding’ Laura Sheehan steps up after late Ireland call-up

Ireland women’s head coach Adam Griggs sang the praises of Laura Sheehan after his charges returned to Six Nations action with a 21-7 victory over Italy at Donnybrook Stadium on Saturday night.

With last Thursday’s inconclusive Covid-19 test on an Irish player ruling Eimear Considine – and replacement Laura Feely – out of contention, Sheehan stepped into the breach to indirectly replace her UL Bohemians team-mate in the back-three. It was a daunting task for the Cork woman, but she produced a fine display on both sides of the ball in this delayed fourth-round fixture.

“We had our contingency if things were to go wrong and again that’s the beauty of having the wider squad that’s so competitive at the moment. You look at Laura Sheehan, I thought she was fantastic tonight. Her defence was outstanding. She made some really good reads. She got on the ball and was dynamic in her carries,” Griggs remarked in his post-match press conference.

“I’m delighted for her, because she’s been working away really hard and pushing the other players. To get her shot and take it in the way she did, that’s testament to the group. Those players [Considine and Feely], we’ve just got to look after them now and make sure that they’re fit and healthy.”

When the fixture list was initially drawn up for this year’s Six Nations, this was expected to be Ireland’s final home game of the campaign. Instead, they now play host to France next weekend – Les Bleus having agreed to make the journey over to Dublin in a grand gesture of goodwill.

Ireland’s amateur players would have been forced to self-isolate upon their return from France if he had gone ahead as planned in Lille. But while this venue change is a most welcome development, the approach of Griggs and his players will remain the same.

“I’ve said to this group and this group knows that we never play rugby to lose. We’re not there just to compete. We want to make sure that we’re one of the forces.

“Again, we started off a little bit scrappy [against Italy] but we know we can be better. I expect us to come out next week and really put it up to France. They’re such a big, strong, physical side that we need to be on our game to compete with them.”

Posted in International Rugby, Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Post-Match Reaction: Women’s Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Adam Griggs – The Irish Examiner (Online) – October 25 2020

Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Jamison Gibson-Park – – October 25 2020

‘An Awesome Feeling I’ll Never Forget’ – Gibson-Park

By Daire Walsh

Jamison Gibson-Park described it as an ‘incredible feeling’ to make his international debut for Ireland in Saturday’s 50-17 Guinness Six Nations victory over Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

On a day when his Leinster team-mates Will Connors, Hugo Keenan and Ed Byrne also won their first caps, the impish scrum half replaced Conor Murray during the closing 13 minutes of an encouraging seven-try success.

Gibson-Park held off some stiff competition to become the back-up option for the Limerick man on Ireland’s return to Championship duty and was thrilled to be given the opportunity.

“It was unbelievable really,” he admitted afterwards. “We’ve had a pretty awesome preparation. I was privileged really to be in the squad and be surrounded by the lads that are here. It’s been a crazy journey to this point but like I say, I feel very blessed to be here.

“It was a pretty incredible feeling. It’s tough to sum up in words at the moment, I think. I’ll let it sink in a little bit more, but it was made even better by sharing the field with obviously the three other guys getting their first caps for Ireland who are also Leinster lads.

“An awesome feeling and one I’ll never forget. Very blessed.”

Throughout the elongated lead up to yesterday’s fourth round game, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell had expressed a desire for his charges to play heads-up rugby and adapt accordingly to the pictures they see in front of them.

Given he works under Stuart Lancaster at provincial level – Farrell’s former coaching partner with the England team – it is little surprise that Gibson-Park fully embraces the Wigan man’s stated philosophy.

“Personally, I think that’s the way rugby should be played. Some awesome players in the squad and you want to see them do their thing ultimately. Like I say, the kind of footie I want to be playing, I think most of the lads are on the same page as well.

“We look forward to working more under Andy. You think about yourself as a player and the strengths that got you to this point. Stick to your guns and, like I said, do what you’re good at.

“That’s certainly what he’s trying to bring out in everyone and hopefully we’ll continue to see that over the next while. We’ve had a wicked preparation and Andy wants to see us be ourselves.

“I think we saw a little bit of that out there today and that’s certainly something that will continue to improve. Looking forward to getting stuck in again.”

Although he was qualified to represent Ireland since the end of last year’s Rugby World Cup, the New Zealand-born Gibson-Park has been forced to bide his time for a place in Farrell’s squad.

While he did appear at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown for a mid-season stock-take last December, he missed out on selection for the Six Nations games that took place in the spring.

Before he could even think about ousting the likes of Murray, John Cooney or Kieran Marmion in the Ireland camp, he had to contend with the presence of Luke McGrath in his own province.

However, his impressive post-lockdown form was too good for Farrell and his coaches to ignore. He admits to having doubts as to whether an international opportunity was ever going to come his way, but at 28 years of age, he enters the Ireland fray as a mature and more rounded figure.

“There’s been periods where I probably lacked a lot of self-confidence and you feel as though you’ll never get there. Everyone goes through those passages in their career.

“I’m obviously fortunate that I’m a little bit older now so I’ve kind of come to grips a little bit and you figure out what works for you. A little bit older, like I said, than most of the lads who are making their debuts today (Saturday). It definitely makes it a little sweeter.”

After an overwhelmingly positive introduction to the Six Nations, Gibson-Park is hoping to be involved in next weekend’s final round showdown with France in Paris. It may be a tough task for Ireland to claim a bonus point win away to les Bleus, but the former Hurricanes star firmly believes it can be done.

“You have to have that (confidence), to go over there and get the job done. It’s obviously an incredibly difficult place to go and win. We’ll be looking forward to having a good week of prep, getting stuck in and giving it a crack,” he added.

Posted in International Rugby | Comments Off on Post-Match Reaction: Six Nations Championship – Ireland V Italy – Jamison Gibson-Park – – October 25 2020