Neill Clarke on Rugby

Ireland 19    –    New Zealand 22

Well I called that one all wrong. You could hardly believe that this was the same team (more or less) that were hammered in the first test. Stung by the severity of the defeat Ireland came out all guns firing and for once, against the All Blacks, kept it going to the end.

There must have been some straight talking during the week coming up to the second test, and the video reviews of the match couldn’t have been comforting for many of the squad. It does seem as if leaders stepped forward and called for a united effort and thankfully that is what was delivered.

The All Blacks can’t have expected this and couldn’t recover from the relentless pressure of the Irish forwards and the line speed of the Irish defence. As a result, the All Black strike runners never got going.

It is a long time since they were put on the back foot for the entire game. It is also a long time since they were held try-less in a game. Even Dan Carter, who to my mind is the best player in the world, was struggling throughout the game.

The controversial penalty against Ireland was the turning point in the game. Ireland drove the All Blacks back and then, under pressure, the scrum wheeled. This wasn’t deliberate by Ireland and Nigel Owens explanation just didn’t make sense. His reaction to criticism on twitter leads me to believe he knows he is on shaky ground, don’t be surprised if the All Blacks come to his defence and the I.R.B. When it comes to rugby, New Zealand holds the big stick at the world table.

I thought the standard of play was poor all over in the world cup and if France had a coach with his head screwed on they would have won it. France must have the worst record for shooting themselves in the foot of any rugby nation.

They appeared to come into this game expecting to play exhibition rugby. You can’t take any credit away from Ireland; they had a game plan and played all the rugby. Kearney had his best game in an Irish jersey, hopefully he will continue like this, he has an on off button. Heaslip should have been dropped during the six nations, he was easily the worst forward Ireland had, Declan Kidney was at fault with him and Gordon Darcy. They needed a wake up call. Cian Healey was outstanding, as was Ross in the front row while Rory Best is playing some of his best rugby.

Donnacha Ryan was immense, one of the few players to shine in the first test he was outstanding again in the second test. He is also showing up as a leader as well as a great line out player, he is a great defender and footballer, and a good reader of the game.

So what about this weekend? The frustrating thing about this Irish team is their inconsistency; a brilliant win against England in the six nations was followed by a run of dismal performances in warm up world cup games. A brilliant win against Australia was followed by some very poor stuff. I watched two games in Dublin this year and thought the body language and general approach was not what you would expect of a team who consider themselves contenders. We have fallen to eight in the world in rankings, they don’t tell a lie. I feel this match to be of great importance, can we produce high quality two games in a row?

They have shown that the All Blacks are vulnerable, can we turn the screw?

Ireland 27 – England 17

World Junior Cup (under 20s)

This was a historic result by Ireland at this level, consigning England to their worst ever placing and our best ever. We play France in the 5th and 6th place playoffs on Friday; a win there would mean we would have beaten South Africa, England and France in a major competition. (South Africa play New Zealand in the final)

There have been outstanding performances all over the pitch by this Irish group and it wont take long to see them challenging at senior level.

Players like:

BACKS: Peter Nelson Chris Farrell and Foster Hogan.JJ Hanrahan and Kieran Marmion.

FORWARDS: Merrey Scanlon and Tadg Furlong Henderson and Beirne in the second row.

BACK ROW FORWARDS: Coghlan, Gilsenan, and Conan. James Rael and Alan O’Connor also played their part. You could name the entire squad such was the quality of their performance

IRB Junior World Championship

The International Rugby Board has confirmed a shortlist of three nominees for the IRB Junior Player of the Year Award 2012, with the winner set to be announced following the final at Newlands on Friday, June 22.

For the first time ever, Irish player J.J. Hanrahan has been nominated for the award. Also for the first time, the public now has the chance to vote on this shortlist on the official Facebook page The results of the public poll will be considered, along with the original votes, when finalising the winner.