Tag Archives: Tony McGahan

PRO12 Semi-Finals Preview

Ospreys vs. Munster @ Liberty Stadium

Fri 11th May, 19.35 (RTE2)

Congratulations for Danny Barnes copy

Munster beat the Ospreys at this stage last season, with Danny Barnes scoring a brace. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

It’s 2nd versus 3rd in the first of the PRO12 semi-finals tonight. Munster will be desperate to advance in the hope of salvaging something from this campaign, but they face a tough task in Swansea. The Ospreys have been impressive all season in this competition and come into the game on a 5-game winning streak which started with their 23-22 victory over Leinster at the RDS in March.

Ronan O’Gara returns to the Munster bench, meaning Ian Keatley is back in at outhalf. This is a huge game for the ex-Connacht and Leinster man. After a strong start to the season, his form has tailed off and he needs to show that he is ROG’s long-term successor. The rest of the Munster team is as expected, with Keith Earls back at outside centre and keen to show Rob Penney that 13 is his best position. Ivan Dineen comes onto the wing due to a late Felix Jones injury, with Johne Murphy moving to fullback. Dave Kilcoyne is on the bench following his promising recent form.

Up front, the knee injury to Paul O’Connell means Mick O’Driscoll gets another outing before retirement. With James Coughlan still out with a hand injury, Peter O’Mahony continues at No.8. Without O’Gara and O’Connell, Munster haven’t looked the same side this season, so it’s crucial that the likes of Mafi, O’Driscoll, O’Callaghan and Botha step up to the leadership mark.

Mafi magic as Sexton and O'Gara eyeball

Mafi will be out to ensure this isn’t his final game for Munster. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

The Ospreys side is largely as predicted, with Dan Biggar set to steer the ship at 10. Interestingly, coach Steve Tandy has gone for Kahn Fotuali’i at scrumhalf rather than the talented youngster Rhys Webb, who is likely to have an impact off the bench. The centre partnership of Ashley Beck and Andrew Bishop has been effective for the Ospreys this year, with 22-year-old Beck looking to earn a place on Wales’ summer tour to Australia.

Up front, the Ospreys are highly experienced. The front-row of Paul James, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones have been around the block once or twice and will be confident of scrum dominance. Behind them, Joe Beardman is the only of the five who is not a Welsh international. Openside flanker Justin Tipuric has had a fantastic season, showing that Wales have depth behind Sam Warburton.

It’s a strong, solid, grizzled Ospreys team who have been doing the business all season. The Welsh side have lost only 3 of their 17 home fixtures, and they’ve already beaten Munster home and away. With the likes of Mafi, O’Driscoll and coach Tony McGahan all set to leave Munster, the province will be keen not to end their season on a losing note. However, the Ospreys appear to have too much. Verdict: Ospreys.

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Leinster vs. Warriors @ The RDS

Sat 12th May, 19.35 (TG4)

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Leinster’s record vs. the Warriors this season is P4, W2, D1, L1. (c) Ken Bohane.

Joe Schmidt will be ignoring the unfounded speculation of a return to New Zealand as Leinster look to stay on course for an historic double. They host the Glasgow Warriors is the second semi-final on Saturday night. The Scottish side confirmed 4th place with a 24-3 win over a disappointing Connacht last weekend. Regardless of the teams Sean Lineen and Schmidt pick (as yet neither side has been revealed), Leinster should have too much quality to be overcome by the Warriors.

The Scottish side have obviously been doing something right to find themselves at this stage of the competition. Lineen has built a solid, unspectacular outfit who are difficult to break down. They have obvious limitations in attack, highlighted by the fact that they have only bettered 3 other teams in terms of tries scored in the PRO12. The main attacking spark they possess is Stuart Hogg at fullback.

The 19-year-old Scottish international has lightening quick feet and pace to burn so Leinster will need to watch him closely. Duncan Weir has been given the nod over Ruaridh Jackson at outhalf. Weir offers more solidity in the 10 jersey, as well as a reliable boot, but expect to see the creative Jackson off the bench if the Warriors have to chase the game. Lineen’s backline really won’t strike fear into the Leinster squad. Big Graeme Morrison at 12 will look to put dents in the Irish side’s defence but is limited.

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Richie Gray will be a danger to Leinster’s lineout. (c) Ken Bohane.

Up front, Richie Gray and Ally Kellock form a complete second-row, which will cause problems for Leinster at the lineout in particular. At No.8 John Barclay has ball-carrying ability, but his form has been patchy this season. For Leinster, the only real surprise is that Eoin O’Malley starts at 13. This season’s PRO12 stalwarts in Devin Toner and Dave Kearney have earned their right to start. Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney are in competition for a H-Cup final spot so expect big efforts from both

Schmidt has picked a team that’s close to full strength, in what doubles up as a test run for the Heineken Cup final. It would be foolish to completely write off the Warriors. Despite the two wins for Leinster in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup, the Warriors beat Schimdt’s side at The RDS in September and Leinster could only manage a draw in Firhill in February. However, Leinster should be close to full strength and the Warriors cannot match that quality. Verdict: Leinster.

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Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Ken Bohane.

Foley and Umaga – Risk or Reward?

Red Army

What next for Munster? (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

This week has seen Munster interview both Rob Penney and Tana Umaga for the Head Coach role at the province next season. An intelligent appointment will be absolutely crucial for Munster Rugby, especially as Ulster look to move above them in the pecking order of Irish clubs. Much has been made of Munster’s transitional state, but a smart move now will bring fresh ideas and a new impetus.

Tony McGahan has been criticised by factions of the Red Army throughout his time in charge. While I am in agreement with certain points of the dissent, I feel that the Australian has done a decent job. It’s unnecessary to go through the number of players who have moved on during his tenure at Munster. However, McGahan has done as good a job as anyone could have with the resources at his disposal. The manner in which Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo have become first-team players is particularly praiseworthy.

McGahan will move on, hopefully with a third Magners League winners’ medal to show for his work. After Munster’s loss to Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, it’s easy to suggest that the next coach will have a thankless job on his hands as Munster go backwards. However, they are still one of the most renowned clubs in the world. They have a huge fan base and, thanks to McGahan’s good work with the Academy, are now producing promising young players. Bringing Munster back to the pinnacle of European rugby would be an attractive challenge for any coach.

Cup Winners

Munster will be hoping to return to 2008's heights. (c) Martin Dobey.

Anthony Foley will retain his position as part of the province’s coaching staff, but whether he moves the position of Head Coach remains to be seen. He’s the clear favourite, but the fact that Munster have interviewed other candidates shows that they have doubts. Foley has no experience as a Head Coach. Many will highlight his undoubtedly good work as Forwards Coach, but that is a far more technical role. As pointed out by the Demented Mole, matching a more experienced figure such as Graham Henry or Ian McGeechan with Foley would make sense.

Do Penney or Umaga offer that crucial experience and know-how? Not particularly. Penney has a good track-record with the Canterbury ITM Cup provincial side, having won the tournament in each of the last four years. At the end of last year, he was appointed as the New Zealand U20 Head Coach, replacing Ulster-bound Mark Anscombe. Umaga’s coaching experience involves a stint with Toulon where he did more good on the pitch than off it as well as his current position in charge of ITM Cup side Counties Manukau Steelers, which began in December. Not the most impressive CV.

Rather than experience, what they would bring to Munster is a fresh approach and high levels of motivation. Both have plenty to prove as coaches and would be keen to make an impact in their first top-level roles. The word is that Penney specialises in coaching forwards, so that would appear to give Umaga an increased chance of employment at the province. The 74-times capped All Black would bring a new approach to Munster’s back play, something I would definitely welcome.

The Farewell Match

Umaga playing his final game for the Hurricanes in 2007. (c) Dean Pemberton.

As a player, Umaga was intelligent, skillful and aggressive. Looking at Munster’s backline options for next season – Murray, Stringer, O’Gara, Downey, Laulala, Earls, Zebo, Howlett, Jones, Murphy, Hurley, Hanrahan, Deasy, O’Dea and Barnes – it’s clear that there is lots of talent there for a new backs coach to work with. If Umaga can translate his playing style and ability into the realm of coaching, then Munster could be onto a real winner. It’s worth stressing that a great player does not automatically make a good coach though. Umaga represents a risk.

A coaching duo of Foley and Umaga looks the most likely outcome presently. In a dream world, Wayne Smith would have loved a shot at the Heineken Cup with Munster, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Both just 38, Foley and Umaga are relatively wet behind the ears in coaching terms. However, they will have raw motivation to bring Munster back to the forefront of European rugby. It’s worth remembering that McGahan has been at Munster since 2005, and even before succeeding Declan Kidney as Director of Rugby, he had a big say in how Munster played.

Foley and Umaga would be a breath of fresh air to the entire province. There are plenty of similarities between the pair. Both have 60+ caps for their country, 200+ caps for club/province and both retired in the ’07/08 season. These are guys who understand modern rugby. They are current and know what it’s like to be a professional player in the game today. Both come across as honest, to-the-point guys who don’t take any bullshit. While they lack top-level coaching experience, their appointments could be an exciting change for Munster.

*Who would you like to see take charge at Munster? Would a Foley/Umaga pairing work do you think? Or do they lack the required experience to be successful? Comment below with your views on where Munster should look to go with this appointment.

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Photos courtesy: Dean Pemberton, Martin Dobey, Ivan O’Riordan.

PRO12 Play-Off Race

RaboDirect Pro12

It's going to be an exciting final three weekends in the PRO12. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

With just three games remaining in the regular PRO12 season, there are still 6 sides with a realistic chance of securing one of the four play-off positions. Leinster and Munster currently occupy two of those slots, with Ulster just a point off 4th place. It’s widely agreed that the PRO12 throws up some poor games mid-season, but at this stage there’s plenty on the line in each of the remaining fixtures. At the other end of the table, the fact that relegation is not an issue means Connacht have nothing but pride to play for.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Irish province’s league run-ins and rate their chances of qualifying for the play-offs. Three Irish sides in the semi-finals for the second year running would be a brilliant achievement, and further underline our dominance of this league.

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Leinster

Cardiff vs. Leinster

Leinster come off the back of their brilliant 34-3 win over the Blues. (c) Ken Bohane.

Current Position: 1st     Points: 68     Remaining Fixtures: Edinburgh (H), Ulster (A), Dragons (A).

Coming into this weekend, Leinster have a ten point lead at the top of the table. Barring a complete disaster (losing all three remaining games without bonus points) they are likely to remain at the summit of the league. A win tonight against Edinburgh at the RDS would make the trip to Ravenhill the following week less important. That Ulster game comes the weekend before the H-Cup semis, so Joe Schmidt may rest some of his front-liners.

Two wins from three would secure top spot for Leinster, while even one win and two losing bonus points might do. The fact that they have only lost 3 of their 19 fixtures so far means Leinster can relax a little more than the other PRO12 sides. It’s difficult for Leinster to put out a weak side these days with so much competition in their squad (just look at tonight’s team). They will confirm top spot and a home semi-final, possibly against Munster or Ulster. What a way to finish the season that would be!

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Munster

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Munster are looking to bounce back from defeat to Ulster last weekend. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Current Position: 3rd     Points: 56     Remaining Fixtures: Warriors (H), Scarlets (A), Ulster (H).

Munster are two points behind 2nd-placed Ospreys coming into tomorrow’s crucial clash with the Warriors in Musgrave Park. The Scottish side are level on points with Munster, but sit 4th because they have won a game less. Tony McGahan will have to ensure that his side forget about their Heineken Cup disappointment and focus on their potentially tricky PRO12 run-in. The objective will be to finish 2nd. The Ospreys’ run-in looks a little less difficult than Munster’s, with Cardiff away and the Dragons at home next for them. They finish away to Aironi in what will be the Italian side’s last ever fixture. I can see the Italians winning that one.

McGahan and his squad now face three games against direct play-off challengers. Munster are in poor form, having lost three of their last four games in all competitions. They need to bounce back immediately with a win tomorrow, before travelling to the Scarlets. The final regular season game sees a rematch of last weekend’s H-Cup quarter-final with Ulster. Pushing the northern province out of the play-off spots at the final hurdle would be sweet revenge. I’m going for Munster to finish 2nd, level on points with the Ospreys but with one more win than the Welsh side. Here’s the Munster team to face the Warriors.

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Ulster

Simon Zebo Munster's try scorer copy

Ulster now face important games in two competitions. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Current Position: 5th     Points: 55     Remaining Fixtures: Connacht (A), Leinster (H), Munster (A).

Ulster’s Heineken Cup progress has been superbly impressive and it will be hard for them to re-focus on the PRO12 after last weekend’s thrilling win over Munster. They travel to Galway tomorrow for a game in which Connacht will fancy their chances. As expected, Brian McLaughlin has made wholesale changes to his team and it remains to be seen how strong Ulster’s second string is. Three inter-provincial derbies is not the ideal way to finish the league season, especially since two of them have play-off ambitions of their own.

It’s quite conceivable that Ulster will lose all three of these games. A Heineken Cup final would be the most perfect consolation. I’m not writing Ulster out of the play-offs just yet, but McLaughlin hasn’t been in this position, balancing his squad out across two competitions at this late stage, before. I can see them  beating Connacht tomorrow but losing narrowly to Leinster and Munster. Ideally, they beat Leinster too and we get three PRO12 semi-finalists. My prediction at this stage is Ulster missing out on the play-offs by a single point.

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Connacht

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Connacht can jump a couple of positions up the table with a strong finish. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Current Position: 10th     Points: 29     Remaining Fixtures: Ulster (H), Aironi (H), Warriors (A).

Connacht’s win away to the Dragons last time out was impressive enough to suggest that they will finish the season strongly. They will be keeping an eye on the Heineken Cup too, in the hope that either Leinster or Ulster can win it and secure a 4th qualifier for the Irish sides. The PRO12 is clearly divided into two halves by mid-table side the Blues. In the bottom half, the Dragons, Treviso, Connacht and Edinburgh look to be battling to finish 8th. Connacht’s run-in is quite testing, starting with the visit of Ulster tomorrow (team here).

I can see Connacht taking losing bonus points from Ulster and the Warriors as well as beating Aironi in Galway. If the teams around them play to form, that would probably mean Connacht remaining in 10th. However, the bottom of the table is hard to predict, with these sides’ wins coming out of the blue. Connacht’s final match of the season is away to the Warriors. They could do Ulster and Munster a massive favour by beating the Scottish side. That would probably see Ulster into the play-offs, as well as Connacht into 8th.

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How do you see the remaining three series of fixtures panning out? Do you think we’ll have three Irish sides in the play-offs again? Can Connacht finish out their season with a couple of wins? Comment below with all your views and predictions! I’m going for Leinster, Munster, Ospreys and Warriors in that order for the play-offs and Connacht remaining in 10th at the other end.

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Photos courtesy: Sum_of_Marc, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan, Pierre-Selim.

PRO12 Returns

RaboDirect Pro12

The PRO12 returns to the foreground this weekend. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

With the Six Nations done and dusted, it’s time for the provincial game to take the front seat again. Many supportes will be delighted to get back to supporting their home team, especially after the inconsistent Irish displays over the last couple of months. With only 5 games left until the play-offs, Leinster, Munster and Ulster are all well in contention while Connacht are hoping to rise as high as possible in the table. Even with the Irish internationals getting a precious weekend off, there are plenty of big names to whet the appetite.

Leinster are first up on Friday night against the Ospreys. They welcome Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen back into the fold after recovery from shoulder and achilles injuries respectively. The initial prognosis on BOD after his surgery in November was that he could miss the remainder of the season. The fact that he is back already speaks volumes for the man. He is a legend of the game and will play a huge part as Leinster look for PRO12 and Heineken Cup glory.

Captain Cullen coming back into the mix on the same day that Brad Thorn is set to make his Leinster debut is more good news. Leinster have been stretched for numbers in the second-row department in recent times, but now look well-stocked. Thorn’s obvious pedigree should help Leinster maintain, and possibly improve, the high standards they have set for themselves over the last few years.

Drico is back for Leinster, rejoice! (c) Art Widak.

On Saturday afternoon Ulster are in Italy to take on Treviso. Sitting 5th, just one place off the play-offs, Brian McLaughlin’s men face a tough run-in. This Treviso game and Aironi at home the weekend after are must-wins. Ulster’s final three games are away to Connacht, home to Leinster and away to Munster. Not ideal. After a good first half to the season Treviso have faded away and are no longer in contention for the play-offs. Clearly, a win for Ulster is essential.

Darren Cave and captain Johann Muller make their returns from injury to give Ulster a lift. Cave’s foot injury was unfortunately-timed in the build-up to the Six Nations as he was in excellent form. He’ll be looking to pick right up where he left off in a bid to secure a place on Ireland’s tour to New Zealand this summer.

Finally, on Saturday evening it’s the big derby in Galway, Connacht vs. Munster. Tony McGahan’s side come into the game placed 2nd, on course for a home play-off. Connacht are at the other end of the scale in 10th, just 5 points off the bottom. It would appear that Munster have more to play for, but this is exactly the type of game that Eric Elwood and his team will have targeted for a win. Expect another ferocious battle in front of a capacity crowd at the Sportsground.

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O'Leary is back for Munster's derby with Galway. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

There’s been plenty of positive news coming from Connacht relating to next season’s squad, which we will look at in more depth over the next few days. For now, minds will be focused on this term’s run-in. Elwood will be keen to at least match last year’s 9th-place finish and 7 wins. With only 4 wins registered up to this point, a good finishing streak is needed. Home fixtures against Munster, Aironi and Ulster offer hope, as well as the clash away to the Dragons. Here’s the Connacht team.

Munster will be unconcerned with aiding their nieghbours’ positive finale to the season. They are focused on securing that crucial home spot for the play-offs in May. Ireland squad members Damian Varley and Tomas O’Leary are involved this weekend. O’Leary will be keen to get straight back into action after his involvement at Twickenham. Meanwhile, David Wallace and Felix Jones both continue their resurgence after long-term injuries.

The underestimated PRO12 is often demeaned as a dull league when pitted against the Heineken Cup and Six Nations. However, it’s vitally important to the game in Ireland, and gives our talented youngsters a chance to get on the pitch. With just 5 games left, Leinster look safe at the top of the table. Behind them, there are 6 teams, including Munster and Ulster, with realistic hopes of a play-off place. Further down, a successful run-in for Connacht could give them their best-ever final position. Plenty of reasons to tune in.

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Friday 23rd March

Leinster vs. Ospreys @ The RDS. Kickoff – 19.05 (RTE2)

Saturday 24th March

Treviso vs. Ulster @ Stadio di Monigo. Kickoff – 15.15 (BBCNI)

Connacht vs. Munster @ Sportsgrounds. Kickoff – 19.45 (TG4)

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Photos courtesy: Sum_of_Marc, Ivan O’Riordan, Art Widak.

McGahan to Leave Munster

Tony McGahan's post match interview

McGahan is set to leave Munster at the end of the season. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

The rumour mill went into full flow last night with speculation that Tony McGahan will leave Munster at the end of the season in order to take up a role as Australia’s defence coach. An official announcement is expected from the Australian Rugby Union on Friday, and Munster curiously withdrew their confirmation of the deal earlier today. It looks like we may have to wait a little longer for concrete details. Munster have offered McGahan a two-year extension to his deal but the Australian’s move home looks to be signed and sealed.

McGahan first arrived at Munster in 2005, taking up the role of Defence Coach. The following season his importance was increased with an expanded brief of Defence/Skills/Backs coach. His subsequent role in helping Munster to win both the 05/06 and 07/08 Heineken Cup titles cannot be understated. Declan Kidney has always been more of a manager/organiser/motivator than an actual coach and McGahan’s ideas and attitude on the training ground were vital.

With Kidney moving on to the Ireland job at the end of that 07/08 season, McGahan was always going to be a smart choice as his successor. He has always been and still is respected and well-liked by the senior players. His appointment has been a relatively successful one, with two Celtic/Magners/PRO12 titles as well as two HC semi-final appearances. Last season’s failure to progress from the pool stages was a well-documented blip.

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The Magners League Final win over Leinster last season was a highlight for McGahan. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

This season, McGahan has done well despite the constant reminder that he is in charge of a side ‘in transition’. Looking at the facts – 6 from 6 in Pool 1 of the HC, 3rd in the PRO12 and Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo all established first-choice players – it’s clear that McGahan has done a good job. His promotion of these Munster Academy graduates is particularly praiseworthy.

Those facts don’t however illustrate some of the poor rugby Munster fans have seen this season. The first half of the season was a slog, with some uninspiring displays in which Munster looked like a side torn between two styles of play. Credit to McGahan though, performances have steadily improved, culminating in the unforgettable dismantling of the Northampton Saints. This improvement has won McGahan plenty of fans in recent months, to the extent that many will be disappointed to see him go.

However, the majority of fans are unlikely to be distraught at the news. Most Munster fans will welcome a change of leadership at the province next season. Everyone will have their own favourite candidate for the job, and there have been some interesting names bandied about. The traditional ‘Munster way’ would point to an internal appointment, but this might be the time for Munster to look elsewhere. Fresh ideas and different approaches could add impetus to a team that will need to identify its own style of play next season, with new faces joining and some old heads moving on.

McGahan will be determined to leave the province on a high. The pressure is in many ways off his shoulders for the remaining months of the season, and hopefully that relief will transfer to his players on the pitch. Munster fans will hope to bid farewell to McGahan on April the 19th at Twickenham.

Will you miss McGahan? Do you think he’s done a good job at Munster? Will the change for next season be welcome? Comment below with your opinion, and your who you would like to see in charge next season!

Keep on eye out for our profiles of some of the candidates to take over at Munster for next season! Coming soon…

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Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.

Munster Sign Tokula and Connacht Loan Borlase

NZ vs Guyana

Save Tukola in action for the NZ Sevens team. (c) AtTheSevens.com

Munster have announced the signing of Waikato’s outside centre/wing Save Tokula for the remainder of the season. The Fijian-born outside back was a member of the Chiefs 2011 Super Rugby Squad, while he has also represented the New Zealand Sevens team on a number of occasions. The 26-year-old weighs in at around 96kg and stands 6’1″ tall. As his strong sevens background suggests, Tokula is an elusive, explosive player. He will arrive in the province over the coming weekend.

Munster coach Tony McGahan clearly felt he was short of options in midfield after Will Chambers’ return to Australia last month. Tom Gleeson and Troy Smith are still out injured so McGahan has made this short-term move to cover any other injuries. Youngsters Danny Barnes and Scott Deasy will hope that Tokula’s impact doesn’t deny them any valuable playing time. Tokula is quite an unknown entity in these parts (only clip I could find), so for that reason the signing is somewhat exciting. Still how much do these short-term signings really add to Munster?

Borlase moves on loan to Connacht. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Meanwhile, Munster tighthead prop Peter Borlase has moved to Connacht on loan for the rest of the season. The New Zealander has yet to make an appearance for Munster this season due to his struggle with a back injury. The ex-Canterbury and Crusaders man will provide cover for the injured Connacht props Dylan Rogers and Rodney Ah You.

Since joining in 2010, Borlase has only made 4 starts for Munster, so it will be interesting to see how he fares if given a chance with the western province. Borlase is only 26, and will become qualified to play for Ireland in 2013, so his progress at Connacht should be watched closely. After overcoming his lengthy injury, and playing a number of games with Munster A recently, Borlase will surely be desperate to prove himself at a higher level.

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What’s your opinion on these two moves? Did Munster really need to bring in another back? Do you think it shows a lack of faith in the younger players’ ability to step up? Or would you like to see a few more short-term signings for Munster?

What do you make of the Borlase move? Do you think he has the ability to go on and play for Ireland when he is qualified? Comment below with your opinions…

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Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan, AtTheSevens.com

RaboDirect Round-Up

PRO12 Round 14 Matches

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Leinster 42-8 Treviso 

Thursday 9th February @ The RDS

Leinster

Shane Jennings and Richardt Strauss helped Leinster to a win over Treviso at the RDS. (c) Ken Bohane.

Leinster lead the PRO12 by ten points after their fourth try-scoring bonus point win of the season. You can read the full match report on the Treviso game here. The Italians gave Leinster a tough battle in the first-half, but in the end tries from Ian Madigan, Richardt Strauss, Isa Nacewa, John Cooney and Fionn Carr allowed Joe Schmidt’s side to pull well clear. Man of the Match Nacewa added 17 points from the tee as part of a truly complete individual performance.

Carr, Madigan and Shane Jennings all had strong showings while the young centre partnership of Collie O’Shea and Brendan Macken, 21 and 20 respectively, gave plenty of promising signs. With eight games left before the PRO12 play-offs, Leinster continue to look good for a home quarter-final. Next up, they welcome the 7th-placed Scarlets to the RDS on Friday .

Here’s the highlights of the Leinster vs. Treviso game:

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Ulster 30-12 Dragons

Friday 10th February @ Ravenhill

Ulster move up to 5th in the table after their fourth consecutive bonus point win at Ravenhill. Crucially, Brian McLaughlin’s men are now only 2 points behind 4th-placed Munster, although the southern province do have a game in hand. Friday night’s win didn’t see Ulster dominate but they still had far too much for a poor Dragons side. Get the full match report here. Tries from Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Craig Gilroy and Stefan Terblanche did the damage for Ulster. Pienaar added 10 points with the boot.

The second try, started and finished by Pienaar, showed Ulster at their best with the ball flashing through 10 pairs of hands as they attacked from inside their own half. It’s well worth a look below. That passage of play will have been particularly pleasing for Brian McLaughlin in a week that brought the public revelation of Ulster’s long-standing decision not to renew his contract as coach for next season. McLaughlin remains focused on the job though, and Ulster’s play-off push continues away to the Cardiff Blues on Friday.

Here’s the four Ulster tries against the Dragons:

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Cardiff Blues 22-15 Connacht

Friday 10th February @ Cardiff Arms Park

The Scrum Collapses

Connacht lost to the Blues in Cardiff. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

In their first match since the historic 9-8 win over Harlequins last month, Connacht reverted to old habits as they failed to take several try-scoring opportunities in Cardiff. Tries from Tiernan O’Halloran and Dave Moore, as well as a conversion and penalty from the boot of Niall O’Connor, weren’t enough to get a win against the Blues. However, the losing bonus point gained through Moore’s late try sees Connacht move up a place in the PRO12 table.

O’Halloran put in another promising display on the wing, scoring one and setting up the other try. Coach Eric Elwood will have felt a familiar frustration though as Connacht failed to finish off some good breaks throughout the game. On Saturday, the western province host Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground. Elwood will be keen to ensure his side don’t go back on a run of losses. Connacht sit 10th in the table now, with Edinburgh just 5 points ahead in 9th. A few wins in the remainder of the season will be the target.

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Aironi vs. Munster

Postponed

Rugby Snow

Ireland vs. France wasn't the only fixture disrupted because of the cold weather last weekend. (c) Olivier Pechenet.

Munster’s game in northern Italy was postponed due to the freezing weather in the region. Aironi’s Stadio Zaffanella was heavily covered with snow all week, forcing the game to be rescheduled. This fixture will now take place on the 11th of March.

Glasgow Warriors’ win over the Scarlets on Thursday sees them jump above Munster in the table. Sitting 4th, Munster do have a game in hand. Despite, the disruption to their schedule, Tony McGahan has refocused his side’s attention to Saturday, when Munster travel to Italy to take on Benneton Treviso.

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Here’s the latest PRO12 table:

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Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Olivier Pechenet, Sum_of_Marc.