Conor Murray running the game against  Leicester in Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leicester must fix passing problems to mount serious challenge to Munster

Leicester’s George Ford: programmed to find green grass wherever and whenever possible and is leading the Premiership kicking stats. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Province have the wherewithal to deal with a competent but far from great Leicester

The detail that went  into the play leading to Conor Murray’s crossfield box kick wiper that could have given Adam Byrne an opening for a try against South Africa is unbelievable.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Joe Schmidt has got his Ireland side excelling at the basics but now we can evolve

Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray in action against Argentina. “In the opening half Los Pumas didn’t engage the breakdown, affording Ireland total comfort in possession.”  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Reselection never a guarantee in Schmidt era due to the huge amount of talent within squad

James Ryan and Iain Henderson form a an interesting second row partnership for Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Exciting potential evident in the back three, the backrow and new second row pairing

Ireland’s Joey Carbery making  a break against Fiji at the Aviva. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland have beaten Fiji with a whole raft of new faces – with some especially shining

Jesse Kriel and Courtnall Skosan’s failure to smash Darren Sweetnam into touch was completely unacceptable. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan

Irish players with meek opportunities may stake a claim in non-Joe Schmidt style of game

South Africa’s centre Damian de Allende   is tackled by  Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: Getty Images

Exciting times ahead if Ireland can build on this record-breaking performance

Bundee Aki during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Co Kildare. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

With Bundee Aki in midfield the evolution of how we transition is ripe for exploitation

Simon Zebo:  It appears everybody loves him  and totally understands the reasons for his move to “France”. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

There’s not a player in Irish rugby akin to Zebo and his case should stand on its own merits

Champions Cup: Jeremy Sinzelle on his way to scoring a try against Ulster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leinster will prove a different challenge as they know how to flick the switch

La Rochelle’s players celebrate their win on the pitch after beating Harlequins in the Champions Cup. Photo: Ollie Goodwood/Getty Images

Champions Cup new boys showed what they are made of in opener and will be a real test

Tadhg Furlong showed his true value to Leinster in unlocking space against Munster. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Irish tighthead proved a force multiplier in the victory over Munster and can do so again

Munster’s Rory Scannell is tackled by Nick Williams of Cardiff at the Guinness PRO14 in Thomond Park, Limerick in September.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Implementing a structure for the sake of it is not enough – we need to develop skills

Colm O Luasa, Caimin Keogh and Neville Furlong: all from 63rd Cadet Class, overseas with 73 Infantry  Battalion, Lebanon, 1993

He will be missed by many – his family, Garryowen, and his old army rugby team-mates

Glenstal Abbey and PBC take the field for last year’s Munster Schools Senior Cup Final at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Being on the fringes of the school panel can mean students play precious little rugby

The Scarlets close down Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw in the Guinness Pro12 semi-final at the RDS. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Key to victory lies in battle of opensides

The holy trinity of wins over South Africa, New Zealand and Australia last year has Conor Murray at the beating heart of Munster, and especially Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland players can improve Lions chances by overcoming Welsh rivals in Pro12 semi-finals

Saracens know the best way to get at Clermont is to disrupt their scrumhalf Moran Parra. Photograph: by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Ireland can’t compete with these European heavyweights on money but we can on resources

Rhys Webb: Conor Murray has a battle on his hands from the Wales scrumhalf who is as a real contender for that Lions’ Test slot against New Zealand. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ospreys and Wales scrumhalf not restricted by the consistent use of pre-ordained plays

Leinster’s Joey Carbery and Isa Nacewa with David Strettle and Aurélien Rougerie of Clermont at the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final at Stade de Gerland, Lyon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster and Munster needed the ‘OODA Loop’: Observe-Orientate-Decide-Act

Peter O’Mahony rises high to steal a crucial late lineout against England’s Maro Itoje at the Aviva. The two Lions will renew rivalry tomorrow at the same venue. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Match up of Lions Maro Itoje and Peter O’Mahony worth the match ticket alone

The Old Crecent Under-17s celebrate their win at the Portugal Rugby Youth Festival 2017 in Lisbon last weekend. Photograph: Rhys Herdman

Fantastic experience as panel of 28 young lads experience a memorable trip to Portugal

Tadhg Furlong and Seán O’Brien kept Ireland on the front foot against Wasps in the Champions Cup quarter-final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster frontrower showed the ambition Ireland need if they are to dominate

Two of Wasps’ three playmakers, former Leinster man Jimmy Gopperth and Australian Kurtley Beale. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Munster must keep ball alive to fatigue a huge Toulouse pack

John Hayes and Paul O’Connell were formidable attacking the opposition’s lineout ball, which created counter-attacking opportunities.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

If we want to compete with All Blacks we need to practise attacking off turnover ball

Asking the right questions: Peter O’Mahony competing in the lineout. Photograph:  Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Peter O’Mahony a key figure, but all were phenomenal, including the Aviva crowd

Jared Payne could prove a wonderful foil to Sexton by running rewind lines in a second playmaker role. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s side must play smart to disrupt England’s impressive recycle speed

England’s Maro Itoje in action against Scotland: he is “like some sort of hybrid player that comes along but once a century”. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Schmidt needs to look at players and tactics against harder opposition than Wales

France’s Gaël Fickou breaks the tackle of Ireland’s Garry Ringrose  at the Aviva Stadium. A missed tackle in midfield usually costs seven points at this level. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Ireland must test the Welsh non-pushing up defensive side and keep penalty count down

 England’s Dylan Hartley  speaks to referee Romain Poite during the game against Italy at Twickenham. Photograph: Henry Browne/Livepic/Reuters

Conor O’Shea is being hailed as a genius but all he did was apply the breakdown law

Jonathan Sexton kicks a drop goal against France: Wasn’t it great to see him walk off the pitch unhindered by injury? Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Allowing Murray dictate the pace and field position through his box-kicks was crucial

I do expect a subtler performance from Jack McGrath in managing Rabah Slimani. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

France’s new pod system has limitations which Ireland can exploit and expose

Josh van der Flier would be a wise selection against France. Photograph:  Craig Mercer/ CameraSport via Getty Images

A different balance in the backrow could swing the odds in favour of Schmidt’s team

Ireland’s Craig Gilroy goes after a loose ball at the Stadio Olimpico. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Italy defence caught was short after assuming the visitors would truck it up middle

 Ireland’s CJ Stander is tackled by Scotland’s Richie Gray and Allan Dell as the home side effectively focused on one-out Irish ball-carriers at Murrayfield. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Schmidt’s side must counterattack more effectively than they did at Murrayfield

Nearly every Scottish backline move was a double-skip to fullback Stuart Hogg. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Concern after Murrayfield loss is that things may get harder before they get easier

Dr Arthur Tanner  attending to  Brian O’Driscoll at the Aviva Stadium in 2014. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

This wise professor laid stepping stones, not stumbling blocks, for the men under his care

“In addition to Andrew Conway’s brilliant display was his stand-up, fend and offload for Ian Keatley’s try with the touchline advancing –sublime skills.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Andrew Conway is our most improved back and is morphing into another Schmidt clone

Munster’s Simon Zebo in action against Racing 92: the  Zebo v  Hogg clash on the 4G pitch in Glasgow is a mouthwatering prospect. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The province’s defensive systems will be put to the test in clash with Glasgow Warriors

Racing’s opening two minutes at home to Glasgow failed to impress: “Carter, making a half break, decided to right hand backdoor pass inside.” Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP.

Recent evidence suggests French giants suffer problems in technique or mindset

Bundee Aki is out of action until February. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Connacht players always believe their fullback will ride the tackle and find his man

Wasps’ Kurtley Beale evades Stacey Ili’s tackle to score a try against Connacht. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Pat Lam’s side for once looked vulnerable with ball in hand but expect improvement

Leicester scrumhalf Ben Youngs celebrates a try for England against Australia. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Livepic

Munster’s Conor Murray versus Leicester’s Ben Youngs is an intriguing prospect

 Ireland’s Conor Murray gets ready to put the ball into the scrum against Australia. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Maximising key attacking platform will be a potent weapon during the Six Nations

 Peter O’Mahony celebrates Ireland’s victory over Australia. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Wallabies were sublime at times but the home side overcame great odds to prevail

 David Pocock:  is especially good at riding the waves of opposition clear-outs due to his exceptional reading of the evolving tackle and breakdown.   Photograph:  Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Ireland will need to match their intensity displayed against the All Blacks to prevail again

Conor Murray and  Ben Smith compete  during Saturday’s clash:  “Having lost 21-9, I was troubled with how to frame such a brutal Test match.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Superb Ireland performances not enough to stop New Zealand team intent on revenge

Brodie Retallick will boost the New Zealand scrum as well as the lineout. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Return of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock represent a real challenge for Joe Schmidt’ side

Ireland’s Rob Kearney is tackled by Aaron Smith of New Zealand in Soldier Field: “Not only was his performance sublime, his leadership   was phenomenal.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Managing teams in big games against opposition like the All Blacks is key to success

Simon Zebo (left) of Ireland celebrates with teammate Jonny Sexton after scoring his team’s fourth try against New Zealand at Soldier Field, Chicago. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s players followed Joe Schmidt’s plan to the letter and reaped that historic reward

Barrett at 10 is sensational; he has a fullback’s pace and, with Coles, makes up my favourite back and forward combo.

There are a million things New Zealand do better than us but Ireland can still prevail

Seán O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony could have a big impact against the All Blacks if they are introduced from the bench. Photograph: Marcus Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland have culture, coaches and players to make history by finally beating New Zealand

Anthony Foley with his sister Rosie who also represented Ireland. Photo: Marie McCallan/Press 22

He was a modest man who always let his achievements fly well below the radar

Ball control is the key factor for Connacht in their opening Champions Cup fixture against Toulouse, writes Liam Toland. Photo: Inpho

Ball control is key factor for Pat Lam’s side in Champions Cup opener with Toulouse

CJ Stander takes on Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip during last April’s PRO12 clash at the Aviva. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Both men will be compared right up to the announcement of team to face All Blacks

Munster’s Dave O’Callaghan evades Edinburgh’s Michael Allen. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster try against Edinburgh demonstrated how they have added value to ball

Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow: synthetic surface gives exciting rugby a chance. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Surfaces such as Scotstoun can make slobbering around in the muck a thing of the past

The Wallace brothers, Paul, David and Richard, ahead of the Cross Atlantic Way Rugby Legends Cycle

Paul Wallace’s 2016 Cross Atlantic Way left us all tired and emotional

Connacht  coach Pat Lam and centre Bundee Aki celebrate with the Pro12 trophy. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s men took their chances but what really counted was how they made them

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

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