Matt O’Connor with his former charges. The low point, ironically, was a victory over Benetton Treviso at the RDS. Leinster had become almost unwatchable.  Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

New incumbent will be without between 14 and 20 players during the World Cup

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey could turn out to be a bolter for Ireland’s World Cup squad. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Joe Schmidt will keep an eye on the Tbilisi Cup before announcing his squad

“Iain Henderson went off his feet but I think it would be harsh to say he launched himself at Ronan O’Mahony.” Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Rugby authorities have no problem making example out of a player for the greater good

“The Ulster supporters brought great passion to the occasion and it was matched by the home team.” Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye

Ravenhill always reminded me of Thomond with home side feeding off energy in stands

 Munster head coach Anthony Foley has done a good job with the players he has to work with but next season will bring a lot more pressure. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Munster coach’s status has kept the wolves from the door but Ulster clash will be crucial

“Habana is always on the lookout for that sort of ball. He shoots out of the line a lot more than other wingers. Yes, Madigan took a risk with the pass but Habana took a big risk too.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ian Madigan’s pass was risky but it took world-class player like Habana to punish him

Seán O’Brien is really starting to get into his stride for Leinster and should be a big influence against Toulon. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Place in Champions Cup final would change the complexion of Leinster’s season

 Francis Saili in action for the Auckland Blues. A potential centre partnership with Keith Earls at Munster is mouth-watering. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

The pair have the potential to be game-changers for Ulster and Munster

Matt O’Connor was not happy before the game against Glasgow at being made to start without his Six Nations players. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Alan Quinlan: Matt O’Connor has been hampered by losing players

Paul O’Connell making another of those unglamorous carries that are the hallmark of his unselfishness and work ethic. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

It’s incredible he’s still going to such a high level after all these years but I’m not surprised

Ireland’s Rob Kearney battles for possession with Wales’s Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts during the Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland could have secured a draw and retained Six Nations. But at what cost?

Jamie Roberts: is a different player in the Wales jersey – despite his less than spectacular sojourn wit Racing Metro. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

The unique Paul O’Connell winning his 100th cap makes this an extra-special occasion

Blackrock form a huddle before their supporters. “It’s wrong that we build these competitions up so much that kids end up being so devastated when it doesn’t work out for them.” Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Winner-takes-all mentality putting too much pressure on our young players

Northampton captain Dylan Hartley is shown a red card by referee JP Doyle during an Aviva Premiership game against Leicester Tigers in December. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Nobody knows the consequences of losing control on a rugby pitch better than I do

Ireland’s Jared Payne  is tackled by France’s Teddy Thomas during the Six  Nations clash at the  Aviva Stadium, Dublin.  Photo. Niall Carson/PA

When it’s a matter of no risks versus no mistakes, all you are left with is big-bash rugby

France’s Uini Atonio, a native of Samoa, struggles against Scotland’s Blair Cowan and Dougie Fife during last week’s Six Nations clash at Stade de France. Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

You’d have to have sympathy for Phillipe Saint-André as he plays a difficult hand

Ireland’s flanker Sean O’Brien  in action against Italy during the Six Nations clash in Rome in 2013. O’Brien may start on the bench this weekend. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/Getty

The performance against Italy on Saturday doesn’t matter nearly as much as the result

Wasps’ Ashley Johnson  stands over Leinster’s Dave Kearney before being sin binned in the first minute of the Champions Cup match at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

Even though it was the same as Jared Payne’s red card, two wrongs don’t make a right

Wasps’ Ashley Johnson  stands over Leinster’s Dave Kearney before being sin binned in the first minute of the Champions Cup match at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

Even though it was the same as Jared Payne’s red card, two wrongs don’t make a right

Saracens’ Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola tackle Munster’s Ian Keatley during the Champions Cup clash at Allianz Park, London. Photograph: James Crombie/Iinpho

Province lack enough quality players and need to find the money to go and get them

Munster’s Simon Zebo and Chris Ashton of Saracens tussle for possession. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Nerves bring pressure and it’s how you use that pressure that decide success and failure

Connacht’s Mils Muliaina, Miah Nikora and Kieran Marmion enjoy victory over Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ulster and Munster now massive games for province after Six Nations

Dave O’Callaghan scores a try for Munster against Leinster on St Stephen’s Day, a game that featured none of the regular Irish internationals. Photograph: Dan Sheridan

International game calls the tune in Ireland because that’s the system we’ve chosen

It feels odd to be writing the European season off but it’s clear the Irish teams won’t win it out

 Irish players warm up in the Keep Rugby Clean IRB Anti-doping tee shirts before the 2014 Junior World Championship match against Fiji  in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Jason Oxenham/Getty

‘Without firm evidence, it’s unfair to tarnish the reputation of a generation of players’

Munster’s Paul O’Connell is tackled by Clermont Auvergne’s Wesley Fofana during the 2013 Heineken Cup semi final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

For such a massive club, Clermont Auvergne always make you feel like you have a chance

Ireland physio Keith Fox assesses Conor Murray before leading him  from the pitch late in the game against Australia. Photo: Colm O’Neill/Inpho.

Alan Quinlan: It didn’t matter that a Test match was on the line, concussion protocols had to be followed

Australia coach Michael Cheika before the autumn Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

Alan Quinlan believes the former Leinster coach does not take any prisoners in quest for success

Ireland line up for the South Africa  clash. “The more belief players have in the coach, his game plan and the chances of it succeeding, the more united they will be.” Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Vaunted South Africans made far more mistakes than Ireland did and paid the price

 Lions captain Paul O’Connell beats South Africa’s Victor Matfield to the ball at Ellis Park  in Johannesburg in 2009. The two men renew acquintances this Saturday. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell and South Africa’s Victor Matfield are two or the best lineout operators in world rugby

Ulster’s Nick Williams and Jared Payne dejected after the loss to Toulon at the weekend. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Alan Quinlan: Players perform best when there is stability rather than constant chopping

Forward momentum: Munster outhalf Ian Keatley has been named in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad. Photograph: Inpho

Ian Keatley is showing that he has the ability to fill the gap left by the iconic Ronan O’Gara

Leinster’s Jimmy Gopperth is tackled by Munster’s Andrew Smith and Paul O’Connell during the recent clash at the Aviva Stadium. ‘Choosing Gopperth over Madigan is a conservative route to go down, in my opinion.’ Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Matt O’Connor could really have done with a win against Munster to relieve the pressure

Glasgow Warriors have won their last eight games in a row, including beating Munster at Thomond Park last month. photograph: inpho

No matter how well any of the Irish provinces have played, this is no weekend for it all to end

Referee Luke Pearce kept control of the decision and did his job correctly in sending off Tom Court against Leinster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Onus on referees to get it right increases as matches lead to Europe qualification

 Mourad Boudjellal, the owner of Toulon: players like Jonny Wilkinson, Juan Smith and Carl Hayman have been key to their success.  Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Experienced overseas players will be crucial if Irish provinces are to stay competitive

Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne celebrates his try against Toulouse in the quarter-final. “Munster have a handful of young guys who can change everything if they grab their chance on Saturday. Dave Kilcoyne, Dave Foley, Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Keatley – these are the kind of guys who have to do it.” Photograph: Inpho

Alan Quinlan says this Heineken Cup semi-final won’t be about throwing caution to the wind – it has to be about winning

Leone Nakarawa of Glasgow Warriors celebrates as his team beats Munster in Pro12 clash last week. photograph: dan sheridan/inpho

Alan Quinlan believes players let what had happened the previous week interfere with preparations

Referee Jerome Garces shows Jared Payne a red card after just four minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens at Ravenhill. Photo: Darren Kidd/Inpho

Ulster paid a bigger price than they should have for something that was clearly an accident

 Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor speaks to his Leinster players before last Saturday’s  RaboDirect Pro12 victory over Munster at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

This still feels like the tail end of the Joe Schmidt era but one big result will change that

Rob Penney (left) will want to end his tenure on a winning note before handing over to Munster favourite Anthony “Axel” Foley. Photograph: Inpho

Foley in tricky situation but winning, starting on Saturday, would make things easier

Irish players celebrate at the final whistle after clinching the Six Nations Championship with victory over France at the  Stade de France in  Paris. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Only six of these players have won a Six Nations before – and one of those is retiring

 Pascal Pape and Hugo Bonneval argue after yet another French pass has gone astray during the Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff. Photograph:  James Crombie/Inpho

Even in the professional era, the simplest motivation in sport is when no one believes in you

Italy’s Giovambattista Venditti scores his side’s try during the 22-15 victory over Ireland in Rome last year. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

But it’s not enough anymore just to be disciplined and wait for the Italians to hand you the game

Ireland’s Johnathan Sexton watches on as England scrumhalf Danny Care celebrates after scoring his side’s only try at Twickenham.

Ireland’s tactical approach played into the hands of a well-prepared England side

Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy, forwards coach John Plumtree, assistant coach Les Kiss and head coach Joe Schmidt during training at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

A crushing defeat at Twickenham in 2012 marked the start of a new era for Irish rugby

Conor Murray  gets the ball from the maul during the game against Wales as the Irish team drive for the  line. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

There’s a real desire in this Ireland set-up to be the dominant force in every game

Sam Warburton, seen here in action as a replacement against Italy, will captain Wales from the start against Ireland on Saturday. Photograph:  Stu Forster/Getty Images.

Maybe they took their eye off the ball but bad performances are never good preparation

 Wing Simon Zebo runs in the first try during Ireland’s opening  Six Nations game against  Wales last year  at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ireland have a decent chance to win the Six Nations but we can’t get carried away with the feelgood factor

John Afoa of Ulster crashes into Leicester’s Graham Kitchener in the Heineken Cup game at Welford Road. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/ Inpho/Presseye

Nothing that happens from here on out will be a big surprise

Because Seán O’Brien has such phenomenal leg drive tacklers go low because they know it’s the only way to bring him down. If leg-tackled, he  pivots to lay the ball back and right away the scrumhalf is in to take crisp, clean ball. That’s what makes him so valuable. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Both offensively and defensively, the Carlow backrow makes an impact with every play

Alan Quinlan believes referee Alain Rolland was wrong to award a penalty against Paul O’Connell and issue him with a yellow card, and thus deny Munster at least a bonus point, Quinlan believes, in theirRabo Direct Pro 12 29-19 defeat against Ulster at Ravenhill. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

I hate talking about referees, especially after Munster lose, but I stand by my criticism

 Northampton Saints’ Ken Pisi is tackled by Leinster’s Dave Kearney last weekend. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former trainer Paul Darbyshire popped into my head, a hard man who was taken by Motor Neuron Disease

The Connacht team before last weekend’s stunning 16-14 victory away to Toulouse. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Body language of some French and English clubs makes you wonder how competitive it is

Referee Nigel Owens looks on during a TMO decision in the second half of the Ireland v New Zealand clash that ruled out an Israel Dagg try. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ulster’s game against Zebre last week included perfect examples of what’s fast becoming a time-consuming menace

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton during the  match against New Zealand. You put yourself out where there’s no hiding place. Make the kick and the team are heroes. Miss it and people talk about you for years. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In many ways the kicker is the bravest guy on a team, he has no place to hide

Ireland’s Seán Cronin, Ian Madigan and Brian O’Driscoll after the defeat to Australia game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Losing so badly against Australia is bound to cause doubts and questions in the heads of the Irish players

Ireland’s Mike McCarthy and Mike Ross make one of the home side’s 163 tackles against Samoa last week.  The visitors made 90 tackles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

A similarly disproportionate tackle count as against Samoa last week would only spell trouble

Gary Longwell of Ireland gets up close and personal in Timaru in 2002

From the blindside: Alan Quinlan column

Ireland coach  Joe Schmidt with Eoin Reddan during squad training at Carton House this week. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

He could have walked away from Leinster with a glowing CV but instead he’s taking over a team in the doldrums

Johnny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro was a ’no-brainer’ for Alan Quinlan: “I know if I was 27 or 28 and there was interest coming from France where the money is going to be good, then I’d have to seriously think about it”. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

‘If I was 28 and there was a prospect of no European rugby, I’d be off like a shot’

Lions supporters cheer during the first Test. The atmosphere throughout the game was like a carnival . Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

I’m rooming with Peter Clohessy. It’s like living with a new-born baby

In a final between two sides so well matched, Jonny Wilkinson could be the one to prove the difference.

These are clubs of tradition and values but financial muscle has put them top of the pile

Alan Quinlan being announced as a member of the Lions squad in 2009. He had been so far off the radar when players were being photographed in team gear during the season that his head had to be superimposed on Martyn Williams’s body when he was selected. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Yesterday brought back memories from four years ago when I got the shock of my life

Playing away in France is all about mindset – if they don’t believe they can win, they won’t

Alan Quinlan’s confrontation with Leo Cullen in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final resulted in a citing which cost him his place on the Lions tour that summer. Photograph: Getty Images

I was cited three times in my career - two were deserved but one was totally unfair

Paul O’Connell salutes the fans. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Players stood up again when it was required to achieve an epic victory

Former New Zealand great John Kirwan, the current  coach of the Auckland Blues was open regarding his own mental health issues in his book. Photograph: Getty Images.

Irupa’s work with current and ex-players provides an outlet for when times are tough

 Luke Marshall lies injured in Rome. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

This number of players missing can’t all be down to freakish bad luck

England’s Mike Brown chases the ball against Italy. His side have become more careful and risk-free as the tournament has progressed, scoring just one try in their last three games. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire.

Lack of offloads and lack of risk has made this a really dull championship

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