Four on Form

(c) Jukka Zitting.

After an apt four week breakFour on Form is back. While the Six Nations has obviously been at the forefront of most rugby fans’ minds recently, the PRO12 continued last weekend. If you missed any of the action, you can find out how the provinces got on in our RaboDirect Round-Up. As always, Four on Form highlights four Irish players who were in top form over the weekend. This week’s edition is slightly longer than usual to make up for lost time! Do you agree with these selections? Which players do you think were more worthy of being highlighted? Feel free to comment at the bottom of the piece.

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Fergus McFadden

McFadden scored all of Leinster's points in their win over the Scarlets. (c) Ken Bohane.

McFadden is an obvious inclusion this week as he was quite literally the difference between Leinster winning and losing. His try, conversion and three penalties were the difference, with his penalty from 45 metres winning the game with the last play. Playing at inside centre, the 25-year-old looked very comfortable. McFadden has looked better on the occasions he has worn the 12 jersey this season.

While his pace can be effective in the 13 channel, McFadden is not the most naturally elusive or creative of players, so the directness often needed at 12 suits him. Joe Schmidt has clearly been working hard on McFadden’s distribution this season, and we saw another lovely skip pass from the centre which allowed Isa Nacewa to make a break in the first half.

McFadden’s footwork in traffic is also improving, as shown by the lovely sidestep he took to straighten his line for the try. The step forced Scott Williams into slipping, and McFadden’s pace allowed him to burst through the hole. He showed good strength to stretch over. On another occasion, a poor Isaac Boss pass put McFadden under pressure, but he showed quick feet to get out of traffic and offload. The signs are that McFadden is working hard to improve all aspects of his game, with the accuracy of his place-kicking another example.

This wasn’t a perfect display by McFadden. Just before half-time the centre shockingly knocked-on with Leinster attacking the Scarlets’ line. He got bounced off by the massive Ben Morgan too, in a manner reminiscent of the George North break against Ireland. At around 92kg, McFadden is not the biggest centre, but that’s not the reason for the two missed tackles, rather the height he tried to hit both ball carriers.

Despite those blips, this was a hugely effective performance from McFadden. He did all the basics well and showed that his game is suited to the inside centre position. With Gordon D’Arcy in decline, it’s time for Leinster and Ireland to put faith in McFadden.

McFadden’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

Kicking: 4/6     Points: 16      Kick/pass/run: 2/9/9     Defenders beaten: 3              Offloads: 1     Turnovers: 1     Tackles made/missed: 10/1

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Peter O’Mahony

Peter O'Mahony has another big game

POM had another big game against Treviso. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

After warming the bench for the duration of Ireland’s clash with Wales, O’Mahony was back in action for Munster in their bonus point win over Treviso on Saturday. The back-rower played at openside and put in yet another strong effort for his province. While O’Mahony is undoubtedly more at home at 6 or 8, he showed signs that he can adapt his game to the demands of openside play.

Against Treviso, we saw much less of the 22-year-old in open play than we have become used to. His ball-carrying has been a real strength this season, but against Treviso, O’Mahony only managed 6 carries. Playing at openside, he had much more work to do at the breakdown and he hit rucks with his standard agression all afternoon. Defensively, O’Mahony made 3 turnovers, showing he has the ability to compete on the floor.

At the lineout, O’Mahony was superb at the tail. Munster repeatedly used him to secure clean ball, and his 6 takes were the most of any player on the pitch. His soft hands make him a good target. We also saw a brief glimpse of what O’Mahony can offer as an openside in attack as he linked well from Johne Murphy’s counter attack in the first half. O’Mahony trailed Murphy’s run, took the pass and offloaded to keep the ball moving.

O’Mahony’s more subtle skills are something that are often masked by his aggressive ball-carrying and combative nature. He possesses strong footballing skills, as shown by two lovely kicks against Treviso, the second showing good awareness of space behind the Italians’ defence. With the game won, O’Mahony eventually got to show off his strength in contact as he burst through three defenders in the final minute.

This was a promising demonstration of O’Mahony’s ability to play at openside for Munster. While it is not his natural game, and his ball-carrying suffered because of having to adapt, the Cork man showed up well. He is a superb talent and looks likely to thrive wherever he is played.

O’Mahony’s key stats vs. Treviso:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 2/4/6     Lineout takes: 6     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 3     Turnovers: 3     Tackles made/missed: 6/0

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Devin Toner

Toner

Toner claims lineout ball against the Scarlets. (c) Ken Bohane.

Toner has assumed increasing importance for Leinster in recent times. With Leo Cullen out after achilles surgery and Steven Sykes’ stint with the province a disaster, Leinster have been short on second-row options. It’s no surprise that Toner has the most appearances of any Leinster player this season with 20. Brad Thorn’s imminent arrival will relieve some of the workload. However, all this playing time has resulted in rapid improvement, and Toner continued his fine form against the Scarlets.

At 6’10″ Toner has always had difficulty with his ball-carrying. At that height, it is often easy for defenders to chop him down with low tackles. The 25-year-old does not seem put off though, and against the Scarlets he was Leinster’s top ball-carrier with 14, several of them very effective. From the kick-off, Toner showed good strength to bounce Josh Turnbull into the ground. In the second-half the Meath man displayed decent footwork to step inside a defender rushing up. Clear signs of improvement.

Toner is an obvious target at the lineout and Leinster relied heavily upon him in that regard, particularly as they chased the game in the second half. He proved up to the task with reliable handling, even in the rain. Defensively, Toner worked hard without particularly standing out. He had one or two opportunities to unload big hits on Scarlets’ outhalf Stephen Jones, but instead attempted choke tackles. A slightly more aggressive attitude to tackling would improve Toner’s effectiveness in defence.

With his height advantage, Toner is often able to get his hands free in the tackle. He has shown a desire to offload this season, and this is encouraging. He has to recognise the time and place though, as two attempts against the Scarlets resulted in knock-ons because of the slippy ball. Still, it’s encouraging to see that Toner has the intelligence and awareness to keep the ball alive. Better decision-making could make it a strength of Toner’s game.

Like McFadden, Toner’s performance wasn’t flawless in the wet conditions. Still, his work-rate, ball-carrying and lineout excellence were crucial to Leinster’s win. Toner last played for Ireland in 2010, earning 3 caps. If he continues at this rate of improvement he will be adding to that tally sooner rather than later.

Toner’s key stats vs. Scarlets:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 0/1/14     Defenders beaten: 3                      Offloads: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/0     Lineouts taken: 6

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John Muldoon

Muldoon was Man of the Match as Connacht secured a draw against the Warriors on Saturday at the Sportsground. Muldoon is Connacht through and through and he never gives anything less than 100% in his performances for the province. Against Glasgow, his work rate was typically high and his determination inspirational.

The try-saving tackle he put in on Peter Murchie in the 72nd minute exemplified his desire. As Murchie dived into the corner to score, Muldoon intelligently dropped low enough to shove the fullback into touch. With the Warriors 13-10 in front, a try at that point would have guaranteed a win for the Scottish side. Muldoon’s intervention proved crucial as Connacht went downfield to secure an equalising penalty.

Muldoon’s work-rate was apparent in his ball-carrying too. He was one of the most effective Connacht players with ball in hand, carrying 9 times in total. As has become standard at Connacht, Muldoon led in terms of tackle count. His 12 tackle were all successful. A John Muldoon missed tackle is a rare sight in Galway. At 29, Muldoon still has plenty of rugby left in the tank. Ireland’s depth of back-row options means that he is unlikely to add to his three caps. However, Connacht will continue to be thankful for his loyalty and passion for the province.

Muldoon’s key stats vs. Warriors:

Minutes played: 80     Kick/pass/run: 0/2/9     Metres gained on ball: 24            Turnovers: 1     Tackles made/missed: 12/0

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Photos courtesy:  Jukka Zitting, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan.

One response to “Four on Form

  1. Murray, your blog is brilliant! Especially being so far away from home, it’s great to get the updates! Cian and I read it religiously for all the rugby news! I may actually start caring about rugby now. Fair play, I emailed it on to my brothers just there, I’d say they’ll love it!

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