How we rated Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in the 11-point victory over Argentina

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND made it two wins from two in this autumnal programme with a 10th straight victory at the Aviva Stadium. It wasn’t a vintage performance from the hosts but tries from Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki and Luke McGrath got the job done against Argentina.

Our match report can be read here, while below we rate the Irish performances. 

Larmour was tested in the air. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Jordan Larmour: 6

After last week’s dazzling display in Chicago, this challenge was a considerable step up for the 21-year-old at fullback, and his performance here was pockmarked by a number of uncertain moments.

Left himself exposed by landing on his back after contact in the opening exchanges, allowing Nicolas Sanchez open the scoring and the out-half didn’t need a second invitation to test Larmour’s aerial ability either.

One steepler into the night sky in the first half wasn’t dealt with by the Leinster back as he misjudged its flight and got nowhere near it. Dropped another straightforward take early in the second stanza, too, but saw more of the ball as the game wore on. 

Keith Earls: 7

Not an overly busy night’s work for the Munster winger but looked lively whenever the ball came his way and, as usual, very solid in defence.

Will Addison: 7

Drafted in at the last minute after Robbie Henshaw pulled up in the warm-up with a tight hamstring, and following his debut off the bench against Italy at Soldier Field, produced an impressive display against the Pumas. 

Was heavily involved early on, taking the ball into contact and showing good understanding with Bundee Aki in midfield despite the late call-up. Brilliantly tapped a Johnny Sexton restart back to Tadhg Furlong in the first half to regain possession for Ireland. 

Bundee Aki: 8

Bundee Aki goes over for his first-half try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After having three partners in the Ireland midfield during the Six Nations, Aki formed another new partnership here following Henshaw’s precautionary withdrawal.

Consistently abrasive in the carry, earning hard yards for his side, and capped an influential and brilliant game with a third international try. 

Went down holding his ankle in the final 10 minutes but was able to jog off before putting the feet up for the dying embers. Ireland need him fit and firing for New Zealand. 

Jacob Stockdale: 7

Like Larmour and Earls, was given little space to work with and that’s testament to Argentina’s work-rate in defence. On the one occasion he had grass to run into, Stockdale sloppily conceded possession as he flung the ball back to nobody in particular. Let’s hope Joe nobody runs that back for Joe. 

Johnny Sexton: 6

A rare off game for the out-half. Dragged his conversion attempt from Kieran Marmion’s try, and it seemed to set the tone on a night a usually razor-like kicking game was off the mark. 

Will be frustrated for carrying into contact in midfield when there were green shirts in space out wide and a try looked a real possibility. From the tee, landed a long-range penalty on the stroke of half-time but then saw another come up just short on the other side of the break. Kicked five from seven. 

Kieran Marmion: 7

The starting chance he had been waiting for and certainly in the continued absence of Conor Murray, the Connacht nine was typically energetic and tidy here. Showed quick and clever thinking to swoop on the loose ball and surge through the gap to get Ireland up and running for his fourth try in green.

Pulled up just short of the hour mark after picking up an ankle injury, and hobbled off to be replaced by Luke McGrath.  

Cian Healy: 8

Healy had another big game for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Irish scrum enjoyed dominance at the set-piece, particularly in the opening 40 minutes, while Healy was typically dynamic in the loose before being replaced by Jack McGrath 

Rory Best: 6

The captain was replaced after 57 minutes by Sean Cronin, a decision no doubt aided by the fact the Irish lineout was horribly inaccurate for large periods.  

Tadhg Furlong: 8 

Rarely has a bad game. Incredibly powerful and dynamic, as evidenced by his carry into the Argentina 22 in the opening exchanges and then the way he bounced off a monstrous double hit like it was nothing. Such a reliable performer for Schmidt. 

Iain Henderson: 6

As far as auditions to face the All Blacks go, this was not the night Henderson would have wanted. The lineout, as above, malfunctioned in worrying fashion as Ireland consistently failed to retain possession. Devin Toner was the big winner here, and that was even before he entered proceedings for the last 20 minutes. 

James Ryan: 9

Ryan was named MOTM. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Firmly established now as Schmidt’s first-choice option in an uber-competitive second row department, Ryan’s brilliance shows no sign of relenting. See how he single-handedly repelled Argentina’s lineout maul on this near side in the first period, before winning the turnover for his side.

13 tackles, none missed and 17 carries barely scratches the surface. Utterly immense, and deservedly named man of the match. 

Peter O’Mahony: 8

Conceded an early penalty but from there had a huge impact, even grubbering through into space at one stage in the first half. Brilliantly stole a Pumas line-out in this near corner in the build-up to McGrath’s game-clinching try.  

Sean O’Brien: 7

Cruel, cruel luck. O’Brien’s first international appearance in 12 months was cut short just before the break, with what appeared to be a broken forearm. The flanker was in serious discomfort as he trudged off after his right arm took the full force of Tomas Lavanini’s carry. Could be set for another spell on the sidelines. 

CJ Stander: 8

Spoke during the week about how his body needed a rest after getting through plenty of minutes for Munster in the first two months of the season, and looked well recuperated here. Huge work-rate, making 11 tackles. 


Dan Leavy: 9

Exceptional. A late arrival into camp during the week following his trip to South Africa with Leinster and sprung into action earlier-than-expected because of O’Brien’s injury. Not that it showed. 

Although one of his first involvements was to concede a penalty on the ground, which Sanchez duly converted, he was superb thereafter, making instant amends with a trademark steal moments later. It was the first of many. 

Jack McGrath: 7 

Introduced not long into the second period to add muscle to Ireland’s tight five and ensured the hosts’ superiority at scrum time was maintained throughout the 80 minutes.

Luke McGrath: 7

McGrath added Ireland’s third try off the bench. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Added real energy to the Irish attack upon his arrival and added a third Irish try to his collection after stepping and sniping over from close-range off the back of another powerful shove from the forwards. In contention to start next week. 

Sean Cronin: 7

Asked to shore up the line-out, Cronin lent his power to the cause after replacing Best. 

Devin Toner: 8

As he watched on, Toner’s stock rose considerably as Ireland’s line-out and restarts struggled. Sorted things out when he replaced Henderson and is surely now a shoe-in for next week. 

Andrew Porter, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway

Not on long enough to rate.

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Murray back in full training ahead of Munster’s Pro14 trip to Parma

CONOR MURRAY IS back in full training with Munster ahead of the province’s Guinness Pro14 clash against Zebre this weekend, with the scrum-half entering the final stages of his comeback from a neck injury.

After being ruled out of Ireland’s seismic victory over the All Blacks, Murray could now make his long-awaited return for Munster in Sunday’s game in Parma [KO 3.30pm, eir Sport/Premier Sports].

Murray pictured at UL this afternoon. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Murray trained with a group of Ireland players at Carton House in the week of the Italy Test earlier this month, but hopes of a miraculous comeback against the world champions were ended last Monday.

The 29-year-old was ruled out of the remainder of the November series by the IRFU, but confirmation he is now back to full contact training comes as a major boost for Johann van Graan and Munster.

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Murray, who signed a new IRFU contract in October, has not played since June because of the neck issue.

While there is no indication as of yet if he’ll be available for selection for this weekend’s round nine clash in Italy, the visit of Edinburgh to Cork’s Musgrave Park on Friday week may be a more likely return date.

There was also good news on the injury front for Munster with Chris Farrell, Conor Oliver, Ronan O’Mahony, Calvin Nash and Jaco Taute all back in training ahead of the return of Pro14 action this weekend. 

Liam O’Connor (knee), Rhys Marshall (hamstring), Jean Kleyn (thumb), Tommy O’Donnell (ankle), Jack O’Donoghue (knee), Dave O’Callaghan (foot), James Hart (knee), Dan Goggin (knee) and Stephen Fitzgerald (foot) continue to rehabilitate their respective injuries.

Munster travel to the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi bidding for their fourth straight win after heading into the two-week break off the back of their impressive 30-26 victory over the Cheetahs in South Africa last time out.

Van Graan’s side currently sit second in Conference A behind pacesetters Glasgow Warriors, while they are in a strong position in their Champions Cup pool ahead of the back-to-back December games against Castres. 

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Master and apprentice: Payne hails Schmidt’s influence on his playing and coaching career

ULSTER DEFENCE COACH Jared Payne has hailed the impact that outgoing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has had during his time in charge of the national side.

Payne played 20 times for Ireland, with all of those caps coming under Schmidt, after coming over from New Zealand and qualifying under the residency rule before moving on to become defence coach at his adopted province.

Schmidt with Payne and Iain Henderson in South Africa in 2016. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The two Kiwis shared a close bond, with Payne inheriting the role of midfield general in Schmidt’s teams, a reliable defensive organiser in the heart of his backline.

Payne played in all five games of Ireland’s Six Nations triumph in 2015, and he started at outside centre when Ireland first defeated the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 as well.

And now he’s paid tribute to the man who was at the helm during both of those successes, claiming that Schmidt will not be happy just to walk away from the job in just under a year’s time empty handed.

“He’s a great coach and obviously he’s stepping away in a year or so and he’ll be pretty keen to finish on a high,” claims Payne.

“He was intense and that got the best out of you. I’ve probably pissed him off once or twice by being too relaxed with him.”

What made him such a good coach, then?

“All sorts, everything,” says Payne. “What he wants, he gets that across, and he has an amazing eye for detail and keeps you honest as a player and he’s a nice guy too.

“Put it all together and he’s pretty good.”

The New Zealander has also worked very closely with Schmidt’s successor, Andy Farrell, both as a player and since venturing into the coaching side of the business.

As a player, the pair combined for Ireland, again with Payne a central part of Farrell’s defensive structures in the backline, while they also toured with the Lions in 2017 — where Payne’s playing career came to an end.

But that led to a fruitful relationship off the pitch as coaches, with Farrell providing mentorship to Payne as he transitioned from player with Ulster into their defensive coach — unofficially at first before officially taking the role in May 2018 to go with his retirement.

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It leaves Payne confident that the IRFU have appointed the right man to take over after the World Cup, with the 33-year-old singing Farrell’s praises as a coach.

“Faz is a great coach as well,” he insists. “He’s a bit different to Joe in some aspects but I think he’ll have learnt a lot off Joe and he’s going to put his own slant on it, though I’m not sure exactly what he’ll bring just being a defence coach.

Payne is now Ulster defence coach. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

“I’ve been under him, he’s a great guy, gets on with players, knows what he wants and gets his message across the same way as Joe.

“Joe’s exactly the same but just does it in a different manner, but it will be interesting to see how he goes.”

Meanwhile, Ulster and Ireland hooker Rob Herring has thanked Schmidt for his contributions to Irish rugby, describing him as one of the best coaches in the game at the moment.

Like Payne, a first bow in an international jersey came under Schmidt for Herring, who was called up to one of his first squads for the 2014 Six Nations.

“It was obviously big news,” says the hooker, who won seven caps under Schmidt since moving to Ulster.

“His attention to detail is second to none. He expects everything to be exactly spot on and that’s the environment he has brought to Ireland.

“He has the expectation that everyone knows what they are doing and they can fit in like a cog in a wheel and fit into the team environment and to make things better for other players.

“There are definitely things that he has embedded into that side now, just the small habits, that everyone talks about, I don’t think they will disappear when he leaves. So in terms of a legacy, that will be going on for a long time.

“He’s up there with the best.”

Again, similarly to Payne, having been a regular around Ireland squads over the past few years, Herring is well-acquainted with soon-to-be head coach Farrell and also concurs that the right man is taking the reins.

“He’s a great defence coach,” says Herring. “You can see the accolades that he has achieved as a defence coach speaks for itself, and the way he has the boys defending has taken us to a new level.

“He a great guy as well, and he’s the right man for the job when Joe leaves.”

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Leinster confident in Byrne if Sexton fails to shake off calf injury for Bath

LEINSTER WILL GIVE Johnny Sexton every chance of proving his fitness in time for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup return match against Bath, after the out-half limped out of last weekend’s win at the Rec.

The province are hopeful Sexton will shake off his calf problem and be available for the round four clash at the Aviva Stadium [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport], but are also confident in his deputy, Ross Byrne, should he be called upon to start. 

Byrne will start if Sexton fails to shake off a calf problem. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, will be limited in his training load at the start of the week and Leo Cullen is sure to wait until the last minute before a definitive decision is made on the 33-year-old’s availability.

That being said, Leinster would have no concerns should Byrne be handed the reins for the visit of Bath to Dublin, with the former St Michael’s College man — who earned his first Ireland cap during the recent November series — an ever reliable performer at 10.

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Byrne came on for the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s 17-10 victory over the Premiership outfit, nailing the clinching penalty to seal an important result for Cullen’s side as they stayed in touch with Toulouse in Pool 1 at the halfway mark of the pool stages.

“We’re optimistic and hopeful but you couldn’t say for definite at the moment,” Stuart Lancaster said of Sexton’s fitness.

“He got a bang on his calf, which has meant that he is going to be limited as to what he can do at the start of the week. We will give him as long a time as possible to get himself available.

“If he is not we have every confidence in Ross. I think the progress he’s made certainly in the course of the last 12 months in particular [has been impressive].

“He played well in the November internationals when he got his opportunity. I thought he was excellent against the Dragons, one of the best performances I have seen him play.

“He is certainly confident and ready to go if Johnny is not.”

Leinster also reported Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Jordan Larmour and Rory O’Loughlin all came through their respective injury returns unscathed, and are available again this weekend. 

O’Loughlin could be in line to start in midfield alongside Garry Ringrose, having come off the bench at the weekend, and is set to play an important role for Leinster over the busy festive period with Robbie Henshaw sidelined.

The Ireland centre’s hamstring injury, sustained in advance of the Test against Argentina last month, is more severe than first anticipated and will keep him out for a further eight weeks. 

Henshaw’s hamstring injury is worse than first feared. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Emerging as an injury doubt for the start of Ireland’s Six Nations defence, the loss of Henshaw is a blow for Leinster, as he will miss the final rounds of their Champions Cup pool campaign.

“Obviously it is a huge hole to fill,” said Lancaster. “That alongside Joe Tomane being out for a longer period of time; your two physical centres who would bring that balance to your backline. We’ll definitely miss Robbie, particularly for his experience.

“When you look at European games you can pretty much put them at almost Test level in terms of the intensity. Particularly when you are playing against a side as good as Bath with so many international playing and so motivated to play well.

“You want all your big-game players playing and unfortunately we were missing Robbie but were delighted to get the win overall. It was a tough place to go and win. People might have underestimated how hard it was.

“It reminded me of going to Exeter last year and the game back at the Aviva will be just as tough because if you look at the game against Exeter here last year as well we only got on top of them in the last 10 minutes really.” 

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The42’s 2018 Champions Cup dream team

AFTER A BRIEF period in disguise, 2018 was the year the Heineken Cup returned (with an added ‘Champions’ tagged on). Here are the players who we felt deserved a spot in the tournament dream team for their performances this year.

(NOTE: we tried to pick this team based on performances in the calendar year of 2018. So it takes in last season’s round five to the final and this season’s round one to four. We’d love to pick everyone in their best position, but sometimes you just have to get the best players on the field.)

15. Simon Zebo (Munster / Racing 92)

Began the year by helping Munster power out of the pool stages with a losing and winning bonus point against the best teams in France. Didn’t start the semi-final against his future employers, but emerged from the sideline to spark a valiant comeback attempt.

Zebo runs at Leone Nakarawa in Bordeaux. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Corkman has lit up Paris since moving to the Ciel et Blanc and his creativity has played a huge role in pushing last year’s beaten finalists to the head of the pack in the race for this season’s knockouts.

14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)

Not involved last season, but his footwork through the four games of the current campaign have dropped jaws and left defenders grasping air.

13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster)

Knits together Leinster’s attack with the absolute minimum of fuss. A classy runner with a steely edge to his tackles.

Ringrose and Henshaw celebrate in Bilbao. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)

A midfield powerhouse for the reigning champions and he has added a brilliant array of passing to his more obvious physical talents.

11. James Lowe (Leinster)

It’s a detestable headache for Leo Cullen every time he has to choose between Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park and Scott Fardy for the very biggest games. The free-spirited Kiwi was notably left out of the final but each time he has taken the field he is an utter breath of fresh air. Already a leading contender for the 2018/19 European Player of the Year.

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10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)

The best player on the planet right now. Sexton masterfully controls games and his full array of handling, kicking and mental talent was on full display in guiding Leinster to their fourth European crown in May.

9. Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92)

Machenaud lines up a conversion against Clermont. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A close-run thing this. Both Machenaud and Conor Murray missed chunks of the season through injury and both were incredibly instrumental in steering their team to the latter stages last season. A toss of a coin and drawn straws later, we’re giving Machenaud the nod because he ended up on the winning side in both meetings with Munster in 2018.

1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)

Another close call, but we’ve plumped for the England international over Cian Healy. Vunipola is enormously important to Saracens’ cause with solid scrummaging and breakdown work helping Mark McCall’s men back into top form.

2.  Camille Chat (Racing 92)

Shone most brightly in Racing’s quarter-final win away to Clermont, but his influence at the breakdown and tireless tackling efforts have ensured you are never in much doubt about the attitude the Paris club will bring to a contest.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

Tadhg Furlong preparing to face Bath this month. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

We’re running out of superlatives. We can stop arguing whether the Wexford man is the best tighthead in the game and start considering what forwards are better? Sublime playmaking ability and a force with ball-in-hand and at scrum time. The new bar for front rows.

4. Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets and Munster)

December didn’t quite work out the way Munster or Beirne wanted, but the dynamic lock has proven a brilliant acquisition for the southern province. All the physical explosiveness and subtle handling that helped bring Scarlets to the European semi-finals helped Munster to force their way top of pool 2.

5.  James Ryan (Leinster)

The pick of an astounding amount of brilliant second rows around Europe – from his team-mate (Devin Toner) in Leinster, to the man he replaced in the Ireland pack (Donnacha Ryan) and two men we’ve had to squeeze into this team elsewhere.

Ryan’s unbelievable winning run as a professional rugby player continued until Ireland’s Australia tour and he did not lose with Leinster until the October trip to Toulouse. It’s no coincidence, with each new challenge set before the 22-year-old, he dips his head and powers through with astoundingly little fuss.

6. Scott Fardy (Leinster)

Fardy scores against Glasgow in January. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Brings the old, grizzled hard edge that Leinster thrive on from overseas imports. The Australian added a calm, composed voice mixed with a fiery lust for work in the Champions’ pack.

7. Dan Leavy (Leinster)

The first half of the year marked Leavy out as a man on the verge of superstardom. Bounced back from a brilliant Six Nations to tilt the balance of the quarter-final away from Saracens. Ferocious at the breakdown and a nightmare for tacklers to deal with.

8.  Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)

Okay, so we had a problem. Leinster were continually able to rotate their back row and still succeed. Their are a heap of brilliant second rows and Racing’s flankers are best left at six and seven. So we’re stealing an idea of Laurent Labit and Travers by sending the magnificent skills of Leone Nakarawa to number 8.

Who made your first XV in European competition?

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Good news for fans as Munster’s European pool decider set for free-to-air TV

MUNSTER’S SOLD-OUT CHAMPIONS Cup clash against Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park will be shown on free-to-air television, after Virgin Media announced its live coverage of the round six game.

The Ballymount broadcaster’s cameras will be in Limerick for a potential Pool 2 decider on Saturday 19 January [KO 5.30pm].

The Virgin Media cameras will be in Limerick next week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Johann van Graan’s side currently top their pool heading into tonight’s round five against Gloucester at Kingsholm, and the qualification picture will have become a lot clearer for the southern province ahead of next weekend. 

With all 26,000 tickets sold out in advance, Virgin Media One’s coverage provides a boost for rugby fans without a BT Sport subscription, as Munster bid to record another famous European win at Thomond Park. 

Champions Cup rugby returns to the broadcaster’s schedule tomorrow afternoon as Virgin Media One brings supporters live coverage of Leinster’s crucial Pool 1 encounter against Toulouse from the RDS [KO 1pm].

The meeting of the two four-time European winners has effectively become a pool decider, and fans will be able to watch all the action from Dublin live free-to-air.

Shane Horgan, Matt Williams and Shane Jennings will analyse the action alongside presenter Joe Molloy, with commentary from the RDS coming from Alan Quinlan and Dave McIntyre. 

Virgin Media last year secured a four-year agreement with the EPCR to broadcast nine live Champions Cup games per season on terrestrial television in Ireland, including coverage of one quarter-final, one semi-final and the tournament decider.

Ahead of a huge weekend of Heineken Champions Cup action, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ chances of putting a foot in the last eight:

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Munster show their mettle under pressure to take quarter-final berth with win over Chiefs

Munster 9

Exeter Chiefs 7

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

IT WAS A night for the brave and those with no little faith.

Munster’s proud home record was in danger from English visitors again, but three nerveless Joey Carbery penalties delivered victory and with it progress to the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals as pool 2 winners.

Billy Holland congratulates Joey Carbery on the winning penalty. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It was a breathless, frenetic and incredibly physical contest and a steady flow of steam rose out of continuously-colliding bodies and into the cool Limerick air.

Munster were far from perfect, they had little over a third of possession and saw little in the way of try-scoring opportunities. But thanks to a gutsy resistance effort led by Tadhg Beirne, they will pick over the enforced errors content in the knowledge that they will have a match to play on the last weekend in March.

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While many teams went into action this weekend with a member of staff wearing follicles thin in an effort to figure out permutations, the pool 2 finale was a perfect self-contained storm.

One quarter-final berth was on the line and there was no use hoping for a runner-up spot.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The absence of a safety net meant this match delivered every bit of ferocity it promised,  and more.  Battle lines were already drawn deep through early stages before CJ Stander ripped the jersey off Jonny Hill’s back and flung it out of a seventh-minute maul. There was retribution on the Munster number 8, separated from his scrum-cap before long.

Carbery nudged Munster ahead while Hill dressed himself, but any wishful notion that this Chiefs side would be overawed by their first visit to Thomond Park was brutishly dispelled by the muscular breakdown efforts of Matt Kvesic and the pack he anchored.

The latter forced a 13th minute turnover penalty on the Munster 10 metre line. Joe Simmond’s perfect kick to the corner gave the visiting pack just the sort of sniff of blood they thrive on and Don Armand was soon barrelling over the line through Conor Murray.

It was the aerial battles which kept Exeter from getting a firm upper hand in the contest. Simmonds could not steady himself under Murray’s box kicks and, after a technical hiccup, the scrum earned Carbery a second shot at the posts to make it a one-score game midway through the half.

Exeter went in at half-time with that 6-7 lead in tact, but they could have been far better off than that. Their defensive pressure forced errors from Munster’s attack and their groundwork forced kickable penalties. Twice though, the Chiefs stuck to their early-season tactic of forgoing the kicking tee in favour of a line-out.

Beirne gets the plaudit for a vital turnover. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

On 30 minutes, Tadhg Beirne dug in deep to force a vital turnover penalty in front of his own posts and the interval was warmly welcomed by Thomond Park along with the sight of an error in the corner of the hosts’ 22.

The second-half was perched on a knife-edge. Munster were a score away from a winning position. Exeter were a converted try away from taking over the pool lead. There was a mood shift around the stands as the importance of pool points came to the fore over current scorelines. Every tackle mattered, every ruck was roared on and Garryowen chasers were kingmakers while the ball was aloft.

Nobody chased harder that Andrew Conway, and it was he who brought Munster closest to the second half’s opening score all of 20 minutes after the restart – his grubber to the corner was turned over, but the Chiefs held their ground and their lead.

Beirne’s heroics eventually came to an end with what looked like a knee injury after the hour mark. But even before he finished his slow march to the touchline, his replacement Billy Holland was filling the void by making a magnificent line-out steal on his own five-metre line.

Jean Kleyn stepped into the breach too with a turnover win. And from the line-out platform he earned, O’Mahony was taken out in the air, Carbery grabbed the tee and nailed his 20th straight successful kick since the December loss in Castres  to edge Munster into the lead.

The knife edge was finally tilted against the Chiefs. And there was a fitting end as Peter O’Mahony – in doubt until yesterday after ‘popping his rib’ last weekend – careered into his 16th tackle of the match. And he continued battling to own the ball while the red flags rose to acclaim his effort.

Munster will end tonight among the top four seeds, but they must wait and hope Leinster don’t overtake them in that position when the pool stage concludes tomorrow.



Penalties: J Carbery (3/3)

 Exeter Chiefs

Tries: D Armand

Conversions: J Simmonds (1/1)

Munster:  Mike Haley,  Andrew Conway,  Chris Farrell,  Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin ’57), Keith Earls,  Joey Carbery,  Conor Murray (Alby Mathewson ’65); Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman ’66), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’70), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’55), Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne (Billy Holland ’66), Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell (Arno Botha ’40), CJ Stander.

Exeter Chiefs: Jack Nowell,  Santiago Cordero. Henry Slade,  Ollie Devoto (Ian Whitten ’58), Tom O’Flaherty, Joe Simmonds, Nic White; Alec Hepburn (Ben Moon ’53), Jack Yeandle (Luke Cowan-Dickie ’57), Harry Williams (Greg Holmes ’67), Dave Dennis (Mitch Lee ’50), Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic.

Referee: Jerome Garces.

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Contepomi and Ruddock influence helping Harry Byrne ‘declutter’ his game

HARRY BYRNE RECKONS he was most likely ‘playing behind the stands’ at the RDS while Felipe Contepomi was in his prime, playing centre stage.

However, that has not stopped the Argentine from bringing a strong influence in developing the young number 10′s game.

Throughout this season, in the wake of Joey Carbery’s departure, Contepomi and his fellow Leinster coaches have quickly slipped the 19-year-old into any conversation on out-half depth, alongside Ciaran Frawley, right behind Jonathan Sexton and older brother Ross.

Byrne poses for an U20 photo-shoot in Dublin this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Entering his second year at U20, Byrne is feeling his game grow and his attacking instincts sharpen thanks to the step from his province’s sub academy to academy.

“(It) means you’re in and around those lads, Ross and Johnny, being around them is a massive help,” says Byrne.

“In the past (he and Ross) would be telling each other about stuff, now we’re both seeing it. Getting tips and stuff off him, it’s been brilliant.”

Ross will always be an influential figure, but the current Ireland U20 playmaker is also benefiting from a wealth of coaching experience at his disposal. Not only in Leinster, but on the club scene with Lansdowne, where Mike Ruddock has – most likely unwittingly – played a Marie Kondo-esque role in helping Byrne pick and choose the moments he sparks joy.

“A lot of his focus would be on the speed of the ball from the breakdown. If it’s slow ball and there’s not much happening, there’s not much point trying to create on slow ball.

Byrne in Lansdowne colours this season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“So if an opportunity comes, take it. But don’t be afraid to get down the other side of the pitch.

“When the ball is quick, he doesn’t care where you are on the pitch, he’s happy for you to play. He’s been brilliant with me, let me do my thing a little bit.”

In a way it feels like a contradiction, but the separate voices have helped push Byrne in the one direction, because the messages are clear and consistent.

“Stuart and Felipe have been good in training. Felipe, in particular, has been really good for me, telling me to get square at the line and be more of an attacking threat.

“It’s definitely been a massive help. Also helps that you’re playing with better players than yourself. So the standard is higher in there and you’re expected to raise your game and if you don’t, you won’t be there long.

“Listening to it you might think it’s basic stuff, but it’s not, it’s just really simple clear instructions. He makes it a lot simpler.

Byrne at the wheel for Ireland in last year’s Six Nations. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“‘Do this’, ‘go at people and things will unfold a little bit.’

“For me, it’s about taking more direct routes, taking the ball on more has been a massive help.”

With head coach Noel McNamara setting up his side to move England around Musgrave Park, those attacking directives will be put to good use tomorrow night (kick-off 19.15) when Byrne gets the campaign under way.

His turn to take centre stage while young hopefuls play on out of shot.

Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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Schmidt’s Ireland ready to weather the Scottish storm at Murrayfield

IRELAND WILL HOPE to channel the lingering hurt and anger from last weekend into a much-improved performance against Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow afternoon, as Joe Schmidt’s side bid to avoid back-to-back Six Nations defeats for the first time in three years.

The defending Grand Slam champions completed their preparations for Saturday’s round two clash in Edinburgh this morning, at the end of a difficult week for Schmidt and his players.

Rory Best speaks to his team-mates after today’s captain’s run. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With the benefit of hindsight, captain Rory Best admits the dressing room was uncharacteristically quiet in the build-up to last Saturday’s humbling home loss to England, but keen to learn from their mistakes, there has been a greater intensity and edge in preparations for Scotland.

Ireland know their Six Nations title defence now hangs in the balance in the Scottish capital.

“We were very disappointed with the result and parts of the performance last week,” Best said at Murrayfield this afternoon. “We’ve worked very hard on looking at how we can improve and how we need to improve because we’ve looked at the Scots and how dangerous they are.

“Look, we’re going to have to produce something significantly better than last week. But that’s always the goal for us and we fell down last week but it doesn’t mean we throw everything out and attempt to start again.

“We’ve built a lot of things over the last number of years and it’s times like this where you have to stick to what you know. You just ask a little bit more individually from the players to produce something collectively with a few players coming in who didn’t play last week.

“They’ll be looking to make a point that they should have been involved last week. We have to make sure we get our things right because if we produce something similar, the Scots are a great team and they’ve shown us that as recently here as two years ago.” 

Asked specifically about last weekend’s no-show against Eddie Jones’ side, Best admitted Ireland were guilty of making mistakes during the warm-up, and that filtered into their performance.

“You can pick on a couple of things in hindsight,” the Ulster hooker continued. “Sometimes you get so fixated with making sure that you know where to go that you become a little hesitant.

“You sensed it more before the game than the Friday. Friday is a strange day, there’s a little bit of lightheartedness, a bit of training, a bit of giddiness so close to a big game. It’s hard to read into that. Joe probably has a better handle of that.

“Before the game I thought we were quite quiet. We’re a relatively quiet bunch anyway bar a couple. Peter (O’Mahony), Johnny (Sexton) and myself are that bit more vocal.

Best speaking at this afternoon’s press conference. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“So you don’t always read into the quietness, but the fact looking back now, I felt we were a little bit hesitant in the warm-up, we made a few mistakes in the warm-up, and that wasn’t like us. We didn’t get the same buzz that we normally generate in warm-ups.”

You can be sure Ireland won’t endure another false start tomorrow afternoon, with a big response expected from Schmidt’s side. 

Best added: “There’s a lot of frustration in the camp after last week and it was a bit around the way we were perceived to be bullied, but it was probably mostly around our accuracy.

“We felt that to get into the game we need to be accurate, that sort of comes hand in hand with physicality for us because it allows us to get phases, it allows us to get carries, it allows us to get ruck cleans — it gets us out of our own half and it allows us to attack a bit more in defence.

“So the accuracy last week was the thing we felt let us down the most and that’s what made the review tough, but they’re always tough with Joe anyway.

Ireland got a taste of the stormy conditions they expect to face come kick-off on Saturday afternoon during the captain’s run earlier, with rain and strong winds forecast for Edinburgh. Best says they will tailor their game-plan accordingly.

“I think it’s due to be quite windy so we’ll tailor our game plan accordingly and we’ll try to play the conditions as best we can. I’d imagine Scotland will be taking a look at that as well.

“Being out here today, it’s good to get a run out and get a feel for it, how the pass comes to you when you’re catching it and those bits and pieces.

“But ultimately, we have a game plan and we might tailor it a little bit over the next 24 hours but the weather conditions are going to be the same for both teams. We have to make sure we look after all of our bits and pieces to make sure we’re in this game.”

Following a tough Six Nations opening defeat to England, Joe Schmidt will look to regroup against a dangerous Scotland side. This week, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to assess the damage of last weekend and look ahead to the clash in Murrayfield:

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Cooney proud of overcoming struggles and potholes to make international mark

JOHN  COONEY KNEW that taking over at scrum-half in Ulster in the post-Ruan Pienaar era wasn’t going to be easy.

He might not have foretold just how difficult the trip to even discuss the switch was going to be, though.

Travelling to Belfast for a meeting with the northern province’s decision-makers ahead of his 2017 move from Connacht, Cooney’s progress hit something of a pothole along the way.

“I got a flat tyre on my drive up to see them and I was like four hours late,” he said with the humour of hindsight in Carton House this week.

Tyre trouble is an outright sickener at the best of times. On a long journey to a potentially pivotal meeting, Cooney would have been well within his rights to turn the air inside his car a dark shade of blue while thumping the leather off the interior.

Cooney chatting with reporters this week in Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The positive horizons seemed to be weighted against added misfortune as he spotted a the glow of a petrol station ahead.

“I was able to get there and then went to change, well I didn’t know how to change the tyre, but when I went to change it the lock-nut broke. So I couldn’t even change the tyre.”

Stuck in a tight spot with a punctured tyre stuck on his car, he tried to get by with a little help from a friend. Fortunately, for Ulster as well as the then 26-year-old, Aonghus Cody answered and dropped what he was doing to rescue Cooney and ferry him the rest of the way.

“One of my big work-ons when I was younger was that mentality, it was something I really developed. Working on training my brain, stuff like that.

“It is probably what I am proudest of in my career; that when I was third, fourth choice or whatever I still saw myself being able to get to this position.

“When I look back, I’m most proud of that: when I was struggling…”

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

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