Well, with all the talk of the Lions, I’ve forgotten to cover the other important events that have occurred in rugby recently. Although Munster’s Heineken dream has ended, Leinster have reached the final of the Amlin Cup!
Leinster have also qualified for the Rabo12 semi-finals, along with Ulster, with the 2 Irish provinces getting home games. The IRFU have selected a new Ireland coach, and 2 Irish legends have decided to hang up their boots at the end of the season.
Munster put in a terrific performance in their Heineken Cup semi-final, against Clermont, last Saturday. Though the French side finished the 1st half, 13-3, Munster managed to claw their way back into the game, to finish 16-10.
There were several inspiring performances by the Munster players, especially Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, and Munster seem to finally have recovered that spirit and passion of old. They will be a greater force next season.
Clermont will face Toulon in the Heineken final. Toulon beat Saracens, 24-10. Jonny Wilkinson was the star here, kicking all Toulon’s points, including a sweet drop-goal. Saracens’ out-half Owen Farrell kicked 4 penalties.
Farrell was outclassed here, failing to really get a grasp on the game, which doesn’t bode well going into the Lions tour. He may see Wilkinson again, as Jonny may be joining the Lions once he finishes his commitments with Toulon.
Clermont face Toulon in the Heineken final, in Dublin on Saturday, May 18th. Clermont are slight favourites with more attacking potential. Toulon seem to rely a bit too much on Wilkinson.
Leinster have reached their first ever Amlin Cup final, after beating Biarritz, 44-16. It was a dominant performance by the Irish province. They almost sealed the victory at the end of the 1st half, going into the break, 24-9 ahead.
There were some stand-out performances here as well, with Jamie Heaslip the stand-out, scoring 2 tries, and Ian Madigan linking well with Brian O’Driscoll in the centre. Madigan and out-half Jonny Sexton, shared the kicking duties.
Leinster will face Stade Francais in the final of the Amlin, on Friday May 17th, also in Dublin. Stade beat Perpignan in a much closer game, 25-23. Leinster will be the favourites going into the final.
(I’ve just found out that if Leinster do beat Stade Francais and win the Amlin Cup, then Connacht will automatically qualify for the Heineken next season. This would be Connacht’s 3rd time in the Heineken, all thanks to Leinster!).
Leinster booked their place in the Rabo semi-finals after beating Ospreys, 37-19. It was another impressive performance. Wing Andrew Conway was the stand-out here, scoring 3 tries. Jonny Sexton converted 3 tries, and also kicked 3 penalties.
Leinster will face Glagow this Saturday at 7.35, after Glasgow thumped Connacht, 20-3, with Lions Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland coming off the bench to feature in the victory for Glasgow.
Ulster clinched their home semi-final place, after thumping Cardiff, 37-13. It wasn’t a great performance by Ulster but they got the job done, with Andrew Trimble scoring 2 tries.
Ulster will face Scarlets, this Friday at 7.35. Scarlets were thumped 37-13 by Treviso, but still managed to reach 4th place in the Rabo table, qualifying for the Semi-finals. Scarlets were helped by Ospreys losing to Leinster meaning Ospreys failed to qualify.
NEW IRISH COACH
Leinster’s Joe Schmidt has been appointed as the new coach for the Irish rugby team. He will start on July 1st, missing Ireland’s tour to Canada/U.S. This tour will be overseen by Les Kiss.
Schmidt had been the frontrunner for a while but needed to sort out 1 or 2 contractual points before accepting the job. Leicester’s coach, Matt O’Connor will replace Schmidt at Leinster.
Ireland just suffered their poorest performance in the 6 Nations, and, although racked by injuries, their team effort left a lot to be desired. Schmidt has had a terrific run with Leinster, and it’s hoped that he can continue that success with the national side.
It’s been rumoured that Munster’s Ronan O’Gara will retire at the end of this season. O’Gara has been a star for both Munster, and Ireland for more then 10 years, and has become a bona fide legend.
He’s won 3 Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam with Ireland, and 2 Heineken Cups with Munster, and played a significant part in all those victories. He’s also one of the leading points scorers in rugby.
O’Gara featured in 3 Lions tours, though it hasn’t been as noteworthy. His most memorable contribution to the 2001 Lions tour to Australia was when he was attacked in an off the ball incident in a match against the New South Wales Waratahs.
He didn’t feature much in the 2005 tour to New Zealand, been the 4th choice, out of 4 out-halfs. He’ll forever be remembered for causing the Lions to lose the 2nd test, and the series in South Africa in 2009, after giving away a silly penalty.
He’s had his problems over the years (Ireland’s performance in the 2007 World Cup was probably the lowest point, though he also featured in 2 losing Heineken finals for Munster, where he missed the winning penalty against Northampton).
He also had to contend with the challenges of David Humphreys for a few years, and then, more recently, Jonny Sexton. Sexton seems to have seen him off for the Irish no.10 jersey and O’Gara probably saw the writing on the wall. O’Gara certainly contributed a lot to the game.
Geordan Murphy has announced that he will retire at the end of this season. Murphy had been out of the international scene for a while but had been still playing with Leicester, where he will take up a coaching position.
Murphy never really lived up to his potential, certainly with Ireland. He was a real star at the beginning of his career (even been called ‘rugby’s George Best’), but after getting injured before the 2003 World Cup he seemed to lose a lot of his flair.
He played all his club rugby in England for Leicester, after not getting chances with Leinster. He seems to think that this affected his chances with been chosen for Ireland, especially with Eddie O’Sullivan as coach.
Murphy had an easier relationship with Declan Kidney, who had coached Murphy as a schoolboy. He achieved the most with Leicester, where he’s considered a legend, winning numerous titles with them.
He was often in contention with Girvan Demspey, and later Rob Kearney for the Ireland full back jersey (he also played on the wing). He was picked on the 2005 Lions tour (New Zealand) where he featured in the last test.
Eric Elwood has ended his tenure with Connacht, after 24 years. Elwood played at out-half for Ireland in the ‘90’s, and was a terrific kicker. He played for Connacht, as their only star.
He was a semi-professional, after the game went open in 1995, and became coach of Connacht after he retired. It hasn’t been an easy ride, with consistent poor results. The IRFU even came close to getting rid of the Connacht rugby team at one point.