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

CROSS Cancer Research Rugby Legends cycle: “This is no place to be for your second cycle in a year – belly empty, bar the gallon-and-a-half Kenmare offered the night before”

Two thoughts: what is a ‘legend’; and difference between ‘management and leadership?’

Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen: “For all the players that came and went over 15 years those two remained crucial.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll have been the steady heads behind Leinster success

Toulouse centre Florian Fritz leaves the pitch after he was injured during the Top 14 quarter-final rugby union match against  Racing Metro earlier this month. He was allowed to return to the game. Photograph: Getty Images

If we don’t wise up many players could reap a terrible harvest after retirement

Munster’s CJ Stander and Gerhard van den Heever with Tommy Seymour of Glasgow Warriors. Munster face another battle royal against the Scottish side. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

They’ve unfairly kept Eddie O’Sullivan out of a job but will help Munster perform against Glasgow

Casey Laulala in action against Toulon: “Casey Laulala is a case in point where the accuracy he consistently displayed fell below standard.”

Taking on the money boys of Toulon is not an option for the IRFU

For Munster to keep the ball on or beyond the gain line against Toulon in Marseille. James Downey (with ball, above), in particular, must get flat, quick ball ad nauseam. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

To do so they must recognise their weaknesses and play to their strengths

 Munster’s Dave Foley tackles Jonny Gray of Glasgow Warriors. The homeide’s performance was miles off the intensity required. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

While David Nucifora may be concentrating on the game’s elite, the clubs’ participation must be fostered

Toulouse secondrow Joe Tekori can prove a handful for Munster defenders on Saturday. Photograph: Pascal Pavani/AFP.

Home side can use dominant scrum to move opponents around

Having already missed out on a Six Nations championship medal, Donnacha Ryan will be further disappointed that injury also keeps him out of tomorrow’s Munster-Leinster clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

The Munster and Leinster players meeting tomorrow are also trying to fit in with Joe Schmidt’s schemes

Winger Andrew Trimble crosses to score Ireland’s  second try during their Six Nations victory at the Stade de France, Paris, France, on Saturday evening. Photograph: PA

Old warriors to the fore as dominance at scrum proves profitable platform for epic triumph

France’s Yoann Huget springs clear to score a try against Scotland at Murrayfield. France will profit if they create overlap opportunities. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s men must keep their heads when all around them the French are losing theirs

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton goes over for the try against Italy in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

More formidable opposition lie in wait but there is room for postive improvement

Scotland’s Alex Dunbar is brought down by Italy’s Joshua Furno (top)during the Six Nations match at the Stadio Olympico in Rome. Furno’s move from the secondrow to six for tomorrow’s match  in Dublin will be of huge benefit to Ireland. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Pace and variation with concentrated precision will ensure an Irish victory

Ireland’s Issac Boss, Martin Moore, Gordon D’Arcy and Devin Toner dejectedat Twickenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

By the end of last week’s game, half the pack was comprised of four recent U-20 players

 Danny Care of England celebrates his try with Luther Burrell  during the RBS Six Nations match between  at Twickenham Stadium. Photo:  David Cannon/Getty

England’s line speed, discipline and physicality forced Ireland to commit numbers to simply maintain possession

England captain Chris Robshaw tries to disrupt an Ireland maul in Twickenham two years ago. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

And how Ireland respond will have a huge bearing on contest and result

Ireland’s Andrew Trimble breaks the tackle of Wales’ Adam Jones at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday. In Trimble Ireland have a player revelling in confidence that has transformed his international game. Photograph: Inpho

Anthony Foley has been in Munster senior rugby for over 20 years, does he have Munster’s confidence? Yes or no?

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell (bottom, C) reacts the Six Nations match against Wales. Photograph:
Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Physical when needed, Joe Schmidt’s men take their toll on Wales

Italy couldn’t deal with the hard running of Wales’s Jamie Roberts. Gordon D’Arcy will have his hands full on Saturday. Photograph: Joe Giddens/Pa Wire.

This clash will be physical but Joe Schmidt must get the breakdown right

Peter O’Mahony drives forward during the Six Nations match against Scotland at the  Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Inpho

But plenty of room for improvement in advance of the expected massive Welsh challenge

Iain Henderson, seen here  beating England Saxons captain Calum Clark to a  lineout ball  at Kingsholm Stadium last week, could force his way into the senior Ireland reckoning. Photograph:  Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Once again, the breakdown is where Ireland must break down a troubled foe at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday

Paul O’Connell’s newfound love for offloading shows that Joe Schmidt has already had an influence

 Saracens player Billy Vunipola (left) races past Gloucester player Ben Morgan during the Premiership match between Gloucester and Saracens at Kingsholm Stadium on January 4th. Photograph:  Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It’ll take field position, a high tempo at rucks and perfect accuracy from the kicking tee for the province to get ahead

Quarterback Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates after his last minute heroics helped his side defeat the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in the 2014  BCS National Championship game. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

The Florida State Seminoles shows that success is all about sticking with the processes

Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip: stars such as the Leinster forward and Seán O’Brien sell success and seats. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The union’s negotiating stance over contracts shows a reluctance to reward elite players

Chris Davis  of the Auburn Tigers returns a missed field goal for the last-gasp winning touchdown in their 34-28 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30th in Auburn, Alabama. Photograph:  Kevin C Cox/Getty Images

Top performers should study how to unlock the potential deep in individual and collective minds

Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw in action against Toulouse in their  Heineken Cup match at Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse. Connacht backs have benefited from the solid platform provided by the pack. Photograph: Inpho

Munster’s five tries against Perpignan mask other issues

Liam Toland charges at the Northampton defence during the European Cup clash in October 2000. Leinster registered a 14-8 win over the then reigning Heineken Cup holders at Franklin’s Gardens.  Photo: Tom Honan/Inpho

But Munster at Thomond Park likely to prove a bridge too far for Perpignan

 Gordon D’Arcy, one of the outstanding performers yesterday, is tackled by Ma’a Nonu. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Cian Healy abandoned his own safety in bouncing and bashing his way around the park

 Quade Cooper of the Wallabies fails to stop Israel Dagg of the All Blacks as he breaks forward during the World Cup semi-final  at Eden Park  in Auckland in October 2011. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Their backs are dangerous enough but their forwards’ attacking nous set them apart entirely

Syrians, fleeing the violence from the Syrian town of Qara, queue to register to get help from relief agencies at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley, earlier this month. Photograph: Mohamed Azakir / Reuters

Lebanon and Jordan have had to cope with a vast demographic bulge

Australia’s Israel Folau uses those size 13 feet to rise high and claim yet another kick against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Hours of deep practice in a perfect environment go into effortless Aussie execution

Michael Hooper of Australia is tackled by Sergio Parisse of Italy  at the Stadio Olimpico last weekend.  Photograph:  Harry Engels/Getty Images

Ireland must target Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper to have any chance

Seán O’Brien scores Ireland’s second try against Samoa at the Aviva on Saturday in what was yet another powerhouse performance from the openside flanker. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

There was a lot to like about Ireland’s display, which bodes well for the future

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