Connacht Tom McCartney and Bundee Aki at squad training. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster’s big strength going into Pro12 showpiece is that they know how to win

 Ulster’s Paddy Jackson in action against Leinster in April in Belfast. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Paddy Jackson has led way for Ulster as they improve ability to exploit opportunities

The vice-chairman of World Rugby, Agustin Pichot. Photograph: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

Racing Metro have great chance in Champions Cup if they stop Billy Vunipola

Irupa Hall of Fame winner Ronan O’Gara and his wife Jessica with the Zurich Irupa Players’ Player of the Year CJ Stander at the awards dinner in the Hilton by Double Tree, Ballsbridge.  Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Outstanding personal season for Munster and Ireland recognised by his fellow players

Ben Johnson: faced disaster when his career ended in disgrace. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Transitory nature of life as a top-level sports person inevitably brings its own challenges

 Finlay Bealham is tackled by Munster duo Billy Holland and Donnacha Ryan –  the Connacht man’s  technique around the breakdown was magnificent.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Due to yellow cards and the effort expended, Munster looked wrecked by the 50th minute

Connacht’s Bundee Aki tackled by Grenoble’s Nigel Hunt in the Challenge Cup quarter-final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht have yet to be exposed to the onslaught that will greet them

Thankfully for both FC Grenoble and Connacht this weekend, Field Marshal Haig’s blunt tactics have little relevance.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s charges have the tactical nous to ask big questions of Grenoble on Saturday

Connacht’s Denis Buckley. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht prop is thriving in the scrum and open play under Pat Lam

Coach Dudley Herbert(far right) coaching his players in the scrum, from left: Odran Power, Paul Wallace, Tom Prendergast, Gareth Dinneen, Mike O’Mara, Shane Leahy, Philip Madigan and Des O’Malley

Irish schools rugby was blessed to have coach and man as inspiring as Dudley Herbert

CJ Stander dives over a maul to score Ireland’s opening try against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt came up trumps but better teams will exploit our weaknesses

Ireland centre Jared Payne scoring an intercept try against Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland are in for very challenging afternoon if they let Vern Cotter’s side dictate tempo

Jamie Heaslip touches down in a tangle of arms and legs to finish off a memorable Ireland move that started deep in their own half.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Turnovers are gold and kicking away precious possession will not work against top teams

Sharks’  Franco Marais  tackles Jaguares’  Santiago Cordero  during the Super Rugby clash in Durban, South Africa. Photograph: Anesh Debikyanesh/AFP/Getty

For now, we should have enough armoury to overcome limited Italy this weekend

The Jaguares’ Martin Landajo in action against the Toyota Cheetahs at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Photograph: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

But there remains a dearth of knowledge in our game which impacts at formative level

England’s Mike Brown grabs the shirt of Ireland’s Josh van der Flier during the Six Nations match at Twickenham. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Debutants impress but inability to suck in England players costs Ireland

England’s prop Mako Vunipola catches the ball during the Italy amatch at the Olympic stadium in Rome. Photograph: Getty Images

Eddie Jones’ England team have a powerful bench to call upon for Twickenham clash

Maxime Medard celebrates his try against Ireland with French team-mate Maxime Machenaud during the Six Nations match at  Stade de France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

This is not about mad risk-taking or massive passes, just the simple things, executed well

Seán O’Brien lies injured on the Stade de France turf. The flanker’s substitution was a big blow to Ireland. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Ireland failed to press home advantage when they were on top in the first half

France’s Virimi Vakatawa is held up by Italy’s Gonzalo Garcia at the Stade De France. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s team can exploit France’s lack of preparation in build up to Six Nations

Simon Zebo tries to break free from Welsh tacklers at Aviva Stadium. “Scotland wax lyrical at their man Stuart Hogg but Zebo has better lines and given more opportunity can cut any defence apart.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Munster's CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell epitomised Ireland’s determination

Wales’s Justin Tipuric can read space and attack it like few forwards in the game. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ireland’s chances hinge on Jamie Roberts running into a forward rather than outhalf

Andrew Trimble is supported by Craig Gilroy during the Champions Cup match against Oyonnax: Ulster bring their wingers into the game at every  opportunity. Photo:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Ulster recently pointing the way to a game the national team should adopt

Empty spaces evident at Thomond Park as Ian Keatley attempts a conversion against Stade Francais last week. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Province need to get bums on seats and start investing in the coaching of young talent

Munster line up opposite the  All Blacks  in Thomond Park in 2008. Photograph: Tim Hales/Photosport/Inpho

George Gregan once said that passion had no part to play in the modern game

Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell runs at Rory Best in Ravenhill. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Munster’s ability to recognise and then exploit opportunities has to sharpen up

Leinster’s Eoin Reddan and Munster’s Andrew Conway are upended during the sides’ Pro12 clash in Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster players did what had to be done at right moments in Thomond Park clash

Munster’s Andrew Conway could benefit from knowing when to go and when to stay, like a hybrid of Girvan Dempsey and Mike Brown. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Leinster and Munster could both be doing much better with a little more composure

Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva  breaks clear to score a try against  Stade Francais at Welford Road last month. Photo:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Leicester are a fine team but they certainly are not the team of old

Connacht loosehead Denis Buckley: his workrate continues to be off the charts, but with outrageous added value to the ball. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho

Western province are clearly doing something different – and it’s working

Luke McGrath of Leinster passes the ball during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Bath and Leinster at the Recreation Ground. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Fine-tuning will improve trench warfare ahead of a tough run

“I fancy if Gilroy was Argentinian or Australian he would likely be a star with 30-plus caps.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Do we opt for conservatism over continuity; safe hands over natural flair?

Continuity is crucial for our game; it requires an understanding of space; how to create it and then how to exploit it. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Forget the win-at-all-costs at underage and emphasise the development of real skills

The All Blacks doing their lateral passing drill at half-time in the World Cup final. Instead of a cerebral chat in the dressing room they practised this key skill at speed.

Making all players comfortable with ball in hand should be our coaching priority

Japan players celebrate their momentous victory over South Africa in the pool section – the Brave Blossoms missed out on a place in the quarter-finals but won the hearts of the rugby world. Photograph: Getty Images

‘Irish Times’ team looks back at an eventful tournament and pick their highs and lows

Argentina’s Guido Petti Pagadizábal tries to hold up   Australia’s   flankers David Pocock (left) and Michael Hooper  in last week’s Rugby World Cup  semi-final  at Twickenham. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP

All Blacks will have to adapt to stop David Pocock and Michael Hooper

New Zealand centre Ma’a Nonu:  against France his  key stats were 107 metres gained and nine passes; precious little contact from the big man. Power yes; but not to batter. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

New Zealand had 51% of possession to France’s 49 – but outscored them by nine tries to one

 Dave Kearney is tackled at the Millennium Stadium  in the defeat to Argentina. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

We missed our leaders, and enforced changes meant players were in unfamiliar roles

New Zealand’s   Keven Mealamu  drives on in the maul against  Argentina during the  Rugby World Cup Pool C match   at Wembley Stadium on September 20th. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Ireland this Sunday, Argentina are now the team France should be

France’s Mathieu Bastareaud and Yoann Maestri bring Ireland hooker Rory Best crashing to the Millennium Stadium turf. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s players knew jobs inside-out and performed them to maximum effect

Mathieu Bastareaud: “Bastareaud will come charging down the 10 channel . . . defending this shouldn’t be Johnny Sexton.” Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP.

History teaches us never to underestimate what France are capable of producing

 Dave Kearney is tackled by two Italian defenders  during the  Pool D match  at the Olympic Stadium in London. Photo:  David Rogers/Getty Images

A massive improvement on this display will be required against France in Cardiff

Italian scrumhalf Edoardo Gori did test the Canadian fringe but I fancy Ireland will not leak as easily.  Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP

In-form Keith Earls and Simon Zebo have sharpened Ireland’s cutting edge

England captain Chris Robshaw and head coach Stuart Lancaster face the media after their defeat to Wales at Twickenham. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Stuart Lancaster may come to regret omitting Steffon Armitage from squad

 England coach Stuart Lancaster has taken a big risk by omitting outhalf George Ford for the vital clash with Wales.  Photo:  David Rogers/Getty

Everything is so narrow about Romania and Ireland can make big inroads out wide

Luke Fitzgerald was impressive for Ireland at 12 against Canada. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland get World Cup show on the road with display of patience and power

 Canada in their World Cup warm-up against Fiji. Both sides will struggle to contain their opponents at the breakdown. Photograph: Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Ireland to dominate opener but magnificent Picamoles will be a threat come match 39

Liam Toland (centre), Mick Galwey, Paul Wallace, Craig Chalmers and Zinzan Brooke enjoy a well deserved swim in Galway after stage four of the Rugby Legends Cycle

The Cross Atlantic 1000 charity event is a timely reminder of just how lucky we are

England’s speed at the breakdown allowed them to put pressure on Ireland’s backs, particularly Simon Zebo. Photograph: Afp

Losing the averages against the big boys at the breakdown will mean losing the match

 Simon Zebo is tackled by Scotland’s Seán Lamont during their World Cup Warm-Up match atthe  Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Inpho

England have many fine athletes but too many poor decision makers. They are vulnerable to being confused

Justin Tipuric is tackled by Ireland’s Iain Henderson on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ulster man’s powerful try was not only thing he did well against Wales

Scotland’s Hugh Blake is tackled by Ireland’s Gordon D’Arcy during the World Cup warm-up match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Ireland coach has luxury of planning for team to peak for France in final pool game

Australia’s David Pocock is one of the best operators at the breakdown in world rugby. Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Merely pulling out rulebook won’t be enough for audience to follow what’s going on

Irish captain Sean O’Brien presents the ball during Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, on Saturday.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Huge talent will be left behind as Joe Schmidt selects his top 31 for Rugby World Cup

Ireland’s Chris Henry:   “Watch his early adoption of suitable body position as he puts himself into the ideal entry point over the ball.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Henry remains the best reader of the opposition’s breakdowns in the Irish squad

Jamie Heaslip of Ireland charges upfield during the International match between Wales and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland looked weeks, if not months, ahead of Wales in almost every facet

Joe Schmidt with Simon Zebo: ‘Has Zebo  finally learned that Schmidt requires a different feedback in order to get into his starting teams? If he has, then climb on board.’ Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Coach will be looking to expand the team’s playbook for vital clash with France

Glasgow’s Niko Matawalu takes on Ulster’s Jared Payne.  Ian Keatley must recognise Glasgow’s varied set up and create the opportunity to expose Matawalu. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Fijian right wing Nikola Matawalu’s defence must be exploited at every opportunity

Lansdowne captain Ron Boucher leads the celebrations after victory over Clontarf in the Ulster Bank League Division 1A Final at the  Aviva Stadium.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Quality structures exist in the professional game. But, are the IRFU doing enough in the club game?

St Mary’s captain Trevor Brennan with his son Daniel after defeating Lansdowne in the club final in 2000. Photograph: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Clontarf’s Wood and Lansdowne’s Ruddock should be praised for bucking the trend

Paddy Jackson in action against Leinster’s Isaac Boss. Ulster’s outhalf is increasingly dangerous in the opposition’s defensive zone. Photo: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Should Paddy Jackson exercise sufficient control, Ulster have more strings to their bow

Connacht’s Denis Buckley tries to get away from Ulster’s Callum Black. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht loosehead Denis Buckley is another player to have had excellent season

Connacht’s Mils Muliaina says Australia were his toughest opponents. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

With creativity come poor decisions or good decisions executed poorly from both sides

 Toulon’s  Mathieu Bastareaud:  “Time and again the Leinster midfield will get him down but if they miss him just once it will be a certain try for Toulon.” Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP.

Out-thinking Toulon the key to gaining Champions Cup semi-final win

Bath’s Anthony Watson is chased by Jamie Heaslip during the Champions Cup quarter-final in the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Champions Cup in grasp but Pat Lam’s team must stop conceding cheap scores

Bath’s Sam Burgess: his tackle technique is a cross between Trevor Brennan and a dumper truck. Photo:  Michael Steele/Getty Images

Bath’s former Rugby League star’s tackling technique is raw, pure and devastating

Luke Fitzgerald, by virtue of his different technique, is in a better place to dominate the tackle, making life much easier for the support runner. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s tactical nous keeps the odds tilted in Ireland’s favour

Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Finn Russell of Scotland during the RBS Six Nations match at Murrayfield on Saturday. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Manner of this win for back-to-back Championships is incredible

Scotland’s openside Blair Cowan:  a massive penalty offender. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

No more standing starts and forgetting about one-out carries should help Schmidt’s side past Scotland

Wales’ Sam Warburton is tackled by Ireland’s Jack McGrath at the Millennium Stadium. Warburton was simply immense in both defence and at the breakdown. Photograph: Crispin Rodbwell/Inpho

Joe Schmidt will need to address counter-attack policy, offloads and the ability to come from behind

Wales,  with the exception of Samson Lee and Luke Charteris, are all superb at the breakdown. And their flankers think their way around very similar to Australians.  Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty

Wales possess a far superior breakdown to what Ireland have faced thus far

Ireland’s Conor Murray kicks to the corner for Robbie Henshaw;s try against England at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Kiwi coach Steve Hansen must know Ireland have found a genuine attacking ploy

Peter O’Mahony gets in ahead of Chris Robshaw in the lineout. Tommy O’Donnell had a hand in a complex move off a lineout shortly after coming on, showing the players’ knowledge of their roles. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

Johnny Sexton’s bullying of George Ford epitomises the work-rate in the squad

 George Ford and Jonathon Joseph have been  combining superbly for club and country. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Negate Joe Marler at the scrum and the home side will win the battle of quick ball

France’s Vincent Debaty  made a big impact on his introduction against Ireland and had a hand in the French try. Photo: Franck Fifefrank/AFP/Getty

Teams seeking to create mismatches both in athletic and fatigue terms in the last quarter

Paul O’Connell and his team-mates had the character and fitness levels to withstand the charge of the French bench in the second half. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sexton immaculate in the accuracy of kicking and the way he run his backline

France winger Teddy Thomas offloads against Scotland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

French bench will inject massive muscle but home side can exploit lack of cohesion

Tommy O’Donnell breaks away from the Italian defence to score Ireland’s second try at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty

Tournament could be decided by who earns biggest win over weakest side

Toulon’s Martin Castrogiovanni is playing much looser than previously and is nowhere near as violent in the breakdown. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Image

New lease of life at Toulon makes experienced prop a real danger man

A screengrab of the ruck which Wasps’ number eight Nathan Hughes sprung through to score a try and prevent Leinster winning in the Ricoh Arena.

Wasps’ scorer handled ball in ruck – it seemed clear at time and video replay confirmed it

Wasps’ James Haskell is no Vunipola but he does damage, partly because of his physique but mainly because of his attitude. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty

Limited Wasps are no Saracens and Leinster have the pedigree to prevail

Billy Vunipola of Saracens. Vunipola will be one of Munster’s main challenges when they face Saracens at Allianz Park. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Saracens home pitch one of the obstacles in next European Champions Cup clash

Wilson’s Hospital and St Gerard’s School observe a minute’s silence in memory of former Leinster Schools Administrator, Anne McInerney. Photograph: INPHO/Donall Farmer

The much-loved former Leinster Rugby Schools Administrator died on Sunday

Leinster’s Jordi Murphy: will soon get back to where he was having returned from a long injury lay-off. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Fringe players can also benefit from gaining game time at provincial level

I have long since felt that Connacht are a potential threat to Munster – both are the only real professional alternative west(ish)(...)

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony in a maul against Clermont Auvergne at Thomond Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Anthony Foley needs to maximise power of unit to compensate for individual weakness

Jonathon Sexton in action against Australia. Ireland’s current game is largely based upon the kicking tactics employed by the halfbacks, Sexton and Conor Murray. Photograph:   Ian Walton/Getty Images

Will Ireland’s current kicking strategy suffice when it comes to the latter stages?

Australia’s Phillip Hughes: died  two days after he was struck in the head by a ball. He had emergency surgery before being placed in an induced coma. Photo: Philip Brown/Reuters

The charity will raise awareness and generate support for those affected by catastrophic sports injuries

Ireland’s Rob Kearney tackles Israel Folau during Saturday’s international rugby match against Australia at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Game bookended by massive and vital hits – first from Zebo, second from O’Connell

 Australia’s Michael Hooper  in action against France  at The Stade De France  Paris, France. Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Ireland can use their scrum to expose Australia’s defensive frailties

Simon Zebo goes over to score one of six Irish tries against Georgia. Ireland took advantage of Georgia’s ill-discipline in the second half. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Halfbacks and lineout impressive but scrum continues to be an issue

Ireland’s number seven scores the all-important first try against the Springboks but perhaps he didn’t get the credit he deserved. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.

More attention to detail in Irish camp than from some supporters

South Africa’s Duane Vermeulen tries to stop Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: PA.

In the face of such physical onslaught mind proved just as important as matter

Victor Matfield: one of the best lineout operators the world has ever seen. Photograph:Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men braced for the inevitable massive physical challenge the Boks represent

Toulon’s  Romain Taofifenua and Ulster’s Tommy Bowe compete for a loose ball  during the  Champions Cup clash at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Romain Taofifenua was guilty of top-end stupidity and the punishment should have reflected that fact

Toulon’s outhalf Matt Giteau  is tackled by Llanelli Scarlets’ full back Liam Williams during last week’s  European  Champions Cup clash at  the Mayol stadium in Toulon,  France. Photo: Bertrand Langlois/Getty

The best outhalf in world rugby graces Irish soil this weekend as European champions arrive in Belfast

Ulster’s Paul Marshall in action against  Glasgow. “He’s super-talented, sharp and very busy with a lightning pass off both hands and over the weeks he’s adding a great kicking game.” Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye/Inpho

Given Leicester Tigers’ injury woes, visit to Welford Road looks ideally timed

Les Kiss  on duty with Ulster for their visit to play Cardiff Blues last month at Cardiff Arms Park. Photo: Ashley Crowden/Inpho

Potential of contenders for the Irish squad will have been subjected to close scrutiny

Munster’s Gerhard van den Heever gets tackled by Aaron Jarvis and Justin Tipuric of Ospreys in their Pro12 game. Photograph: Inpho.

An extremely tricky balancing act between management and leadership

Munster’s Ian Keatley attempts to swerve the attention of the Edinburgh fullback at Thomand Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

While Connacht and Munster can be optimistic, Leinster have yet to fire

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