Connacht coach Andy Friend with Gavin Thornbury at the Sportsground, Galway. The   attitude of not to “die wondering” has firmly penetrated his squad. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Since taking over at Connacht the coach has created a really stable period of club rugby

James Ryan in action against Saracens: Ryan and  Ringrose struggled to find their notes as the curtain was coming down. The physical aspects of the La Rochelle game seemed just out of reach, both of them missing and soaking tackles that we just don’t associate with them.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Likes of Ryan, Ringrose and Stockdale could not quite grasp opportunity when it counted

La Rochelle’s Will Skelton hands off Tadhg Furlong of Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Sunday. Photograph: Dave Winter/Inpho

When reality bites, as it did in France, a transition period often beckons

Ronan O’Gara pitting his wits against Stuart Lancaster is one of the many tasty subplots in Sunday’s semi-final between his La Rochelle side and Leinster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

La Rochelle coach will be relishing pitting his wits against the Leinster coaching ticket on Sunday

Joey Carbery is running out of chances to earn a place in the Lions squad as a bolter. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Who will take responsibility for the women’s game in Ireland after loss to France?

Ireland’s Béibhinn Parsons goes past Elinor Snowsill of Wales during the Women’s Six Nations match at  Cardiff Arms Park. Photograph: Robbie Stephenson/Inpho

Professionalism is only way forward for women’s rugby and it must avoid previous pitfalls

 Jonny Gray of Exeter has his shirt pulled by Mickael Guillard of Lyon during the  Champions Cup Round of 16 clash at  Sandy Park. The way Exeter  play demands an enormous work rate by players off the ball and all the fundamental skills on it. Photograph:  Michael Steele/Getty Images

To reach the semi-final without Ryan and Ringrose would be an incredible achievement for Cullen’s side

Munster head coach Johann van Graan and senior coach Stephen Larkham. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The clarity that Leinster displayed in the Pro 14 Final was down to superior coaching

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw makes a break past Mark Wilson of England  during the  Guinness Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

We still don’t know if this standard can become the norm but it’s a bloody good start

Ireland’s CJ Stander is tackled by England’s Sam Underhill and Joe Marler in the 2020 Six Nations. Photograph:  ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Physicality is everything for Ireland against England this weekend at the Aviva

 Of Ireland’s eight tries so far, Will Connors’ first score against Italy is all that can be paraded around the winner’s enclosure as a strategy invented in the coach’s box. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Sometimes in rugby you have to play the game and not the opposition

Action from the Stadio Olimpico. CJ Stander – to his eternal if misguided credit – keeps charging into brick walls for one- or two-metre gains.   Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Scotland will provide a true test of Ireland’s worth while Wales relish momentum

Keith Earls scores Ireland’s third try during the Six Nations game against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in  Rome in February 2017. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coaching ticket must harness the wildly enthusiastic work rate of this group of players

France’s Gregory Alldritt is tackled by Billy Burns of Ireland during the Six Nations game at the Aviva Stadium. photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

A bulked-up pack and heads-up rugby can lead to a statement win in Italy

Ireland outhalf Billy Burns was  ill-equipped to guide Ireland out of a game that was there for the taking. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The cracks were there for all to see in Cardiff and could be exposed again against France

Wales celebrate a Hadleigh Parkes try against Ireland in 2019. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

An opening round win and anything will feel possible - defeat and questions will be asked

Home advantage in the Six Nations is all but gone with games being played behind closed doors. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It is vital Paul O’Connell can fix it or another difficult campaign is in store

Keith Earls, Peter O’Mahony and Jonathan Sexton ahead of the Rugby World Cup game against Russia in Kobe City. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Now is not the time to be slashing the salaries of their most valuable products

D’Arcy goes off with an injury to the head in 2012. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

In early 2000s nothing was more important than playing on after receiving a heavy blow. Nothing

Johnny Sexton spoke recently about the excellent work being done behind the scenes.  Maybe it’s time to allow the fans to see this. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Behind the scenes access is important as it helps create and keep a new fan base

Is 2018 as good as it’s going to get for Ireland under  Performance Director David Nucifora? Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Australian’s attitude to the press grates with euphoria of 2018 now just a distant memory

The Ireland 10 Ross Byrne needs to have one eye on “the plan” and the other on what his gut tells him. Keep the forwards on the front foot and build pressure on the scoreboard. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Gordon Darcy: Andy Farrell chose scrum solidity over lineout certainty but the decision backfired

CJ Stander and Maro Itoje get to grips with each other in February. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

James Ryan’s captaincy faces a baptism of fire - his side must box clever in London

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photograph:  ©INPHO/James Crombie

My major worry about Ireland is correcting the defensive flaws that are increasingly evident

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton leaves the pitch after being replaced in the Six Nations game against France at the Stade de France. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Andy Farrell deserves time and help from the provinces in remodelling international team

Ireland’s Hugo Keenan in action against Italy in their Guinness Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

We have the chance to banish ghosts of 2019 and play one hell of a game against France

Finn Russell showed with his performance in the Heineken Cup final that he is a liability the very highest level of the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ringrose and Stockdale can play chess out the back without throwing the game away

Joe Schmidt: World Rugby have given Schmidt a daunting new brief. Not many people would consider taking on such an enormous task but it sounds like a job made for Ireland’s meticulous former coach. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

World Rugby have recruited a special mind to safeguard players and enhance the sport

Munster’s Ben Healy converts a penalty to win the Guinness Pro 14 game against the Scarlets at  Parc y Scarlets. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

Johann van Graan needs to back up his promise to invest in local talent

Tendai Mtawarira of the Cell C Sharks is tackled by Malcolm Marx (L) and Tyrone Green (R) of the Emirates Lions during their Super Rugby clash in April. Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Once the South Africans move onto Pro14 turf, the game will never be the same again

Leinster players after  the defeat to Saracens in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Mark McCall’s Saracens side played for each other with a devastatingly simple gameplan

Leinster’s Caelan Doris and James Lowe tackle Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale during the Pro14 final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

McFarland’s men showed naivety in Pro14 final and that won’t cut it in the south of France

Conor Murray in action against Leinster. Munster remained blindly committed to the box kick tho little effect at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

On- and off-field leadership lacking as province succumb to familiar failings

 Tadhg Beirne’s return will be a massive aid to Munster at the breakdown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Van Graan’s men must disrupt Leinster at source to have a real chance of a final place

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose looks to offload as he is tackled by Andrew Conway. Photograph: Inpho

Rugby people grasp the gravity of Covid-19 guidelines, but not the Oireachtas Golf Society

Ian Madigan in action for Bordeaux against Ulster in2017 - he is to join the province on a one-year deal. Photograph: Morgan Treacy

Ulster plan ahead with Ian Madigan signing but these are very worrying times for rugby

England’s Joe Marler. Funny man that Joe Marler may well be, he shouldn’t get away with bringing this sort of behaviour back into rugby by masking it with a cheeky chappy grin. Photograph:  Adam Davy/PA Wire

Punishments for Marler, Tuilagi or Haouas must fit their respective crimes

It’s not only about losing people over 50 – a definite risk by moving off terrestrial TV – it’s about catching and keeping the attention of those under 20. Photograph: Dave Winter/Icon Sport

To go fully behind a pay wall would prove catastrophic to the sport’s future

England’s Maro Itoje and James Ryan of Ireland grapple during their  Guinness Six Nations Championship Round 3 match at Twickenham on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

All too predictably, the same pack that failed at the 2019 World Cup could not turn the page

 Ireland’s Tommy Bowe celebrates as he scores the late match-winning try against England at Twickenham in 2010. Photograph:  Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

If Ireland do not match the home side physically, they are sure to be overwhelmed

Andrew Conway’s  performance against Wales was exceptional but his standards these past few years have never dipped. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Farrell is putting fresh shape on Ireland’s attack with fundamentals from the Schmidt era

Conor Murray in action against Scotland: Andy Farrell’s selection of the tried and trusted will be judged harshly if Wales win in Dublin. The championship is on the line. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Coach has opted for experience but Cooney and Deegan are the way forward right now

Ireland’s Denis Leamy, David Wallace and Gordon D’Arcy tackle Andy Farrell of England in the  Six Nations Championship at Croke Park in February 2007. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

New manager’s biggest challenge is to inspire players to work as a team for their country

Owen Farrell: English rugby has directly benefited from the success of Saracens, from their coaching standards and the benefit of settled partnerships at club level.  Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

The club deserve to be punished but the fallout could adversely affect England

Munster head coach Johann van Graan: Does he have enough time, the support of his employers and a generation of early-twentysomethings who can reshape Munster in the 2020s? Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster have had one foot in the past, but coming unstuck in Europe could spur them on

Jack O’Donoghue: has always possessed the raw materials to become an established Ireland international. Or it could go another way. That’s up the man himself. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Connacht lack the resources of their rivals while Ulster exposed Munster’s limitations

 Caelan Doris and Max Deegan:  have been making rapid progress this season with unbeaten Leinster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Provincial system still works and emerging talent shows platform for success remains in place

Joe Schmidt with Paul O’Connell in 2014. The coach and captain dynamic between the two proved the catalyst for Ireland winning two Six Nations. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A power struggle between coach and captain is an essential dynamic for a successful team

 Racing 92’s Donnacha Ryan  catches the ball  during the Top 14  match against   Castres  at the U Arena. Photograph: Lucas Barioulet/AFP via Getty Images

English and French clubs embracing their academies will change European landscape

A mini-rugby festival at the Aviva: Children play rugby at clubs and at school, but many drop out when they move from primary to second level and when they leave second level school,” says the report. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

There is an obligation to give kids a clear route into the professional game that does not necessarily involve private schools

Racing92’s Fijian centre Virimi Vakatawa  is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring  a try against Saracens last weekend. Photograph:  Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty

French clubs will provide a better idea of where the Irish provinces currently stand

Ross Byrne:  Now 24, he looks a beautifully balanced player every time he pulls on a blue jersey. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Japan 2019 marks the beginning of the end for some illustrious careers

South Africa’s head coach Rassie Erasmus instantly changed the perception of the Springbok brand, but he did it for the right reasons. Photograph: Odd  Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

South African coach could not turn down chance to be part of something transcending sport

England’s Manu Tuilagi running at New Zealand’s Anton Lienert-Brown during the  World Cup semi-final  at International Stadium, Yokohama. Photograph:  PA Photo

Physically Ireland look better than any other nation, but psychologically something went awry

Irish players are cared for better than any other team in the world, so where were they at psychologically?  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

In absence of constant evolution, our game plan became the rock Ireland perished upon

Ireland’s CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier tackle New Zealand’s Richie Mo’unga at the Aviva Stadium last November. Ireland must  deny the All Blacks possession and momentum. Photograph: billy Stickland/Inpho

The task of beating New Zealand is enormous but these players have done it before

 Johnny  Sexton kicking through to set up Peter O’Mahony for  Ireland’s second try against Russia in Kobe City. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

I hope Henshaw and Carbery are fit because they represent bright candles in the storm

Ireland had the energy sucked out of them. Japan ensured  this by owning 71 per cent possession. Photograph:  William West/AFP/Getty

Despite 10 prosperous Schmidt years we find ourselves back in the same familiar place

Now, with Scotland in their sights, all that torture has been moulded into something resembling peak performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Yokohama on Sunday is cup rugby, meaning squeeze the life out of your opponent

  Australia head coach Michael Cheika holds a team talk during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Nobody moulds adversity into a positive force better than Wallabies coach Cheika

Rory Best during Ireland squad training at Carton House. I think Rory should be named as Ireland captain for the World Cup no matter what, but the form player must get the jersey. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Players unlikely to be Japan-bound now have chance to replace those who seemed bankers

Ireland’s Garry Ringrose in action against Italy in the Guinness Summer Series at the  Aviva Stadium on Saturday August 10th. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

We could all do with the sight of Ringrose and Sexton tearing it up at Twickenham

Munster’s Mike Haley is tackled by Rhys Ruddock of Leinster in last Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo

Lacking sheer physicality, Johann Van Graan’s men need to build a new playing style

The sight of each other will motivate these Leinster and Munster players on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No motivation needed to forget pain of defeat but Munster need a win to avoid stagnation

Leinster’s Seán O’Brien in action against Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Aura he brings can inspire those around him to be better players, to exceed expectations

Rocky Elsom in action for Leinster: “We adopted an under-12s mentality in many games that season [2008-9]. Give the ball to the big fella and pile after him. It worked, especially against Munster at Croke Park.”  Photograph: Graham Stuart/Inpho

Fardy and Lowe following in proven footsteps of likes of Williams, Nacewa, Aki and Elsom

Munster’s Darren Sweetnam is tackled by Saracens’ Alex Goode during the Champions Cup semi-final at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Leo Cullen’s side will have to produce something special to disrupt a well-oiled machine

Leinster’s James Lowe celebrates a try against Saracens during the  Champions Cup quarter-final at the  Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Talented Toulouse in exceptional form and will fully test Cullen’s champions

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Billy Holland celebrate their victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

New Zealander can guide van Graan’s side past Saracens into dream showdown with Leinster

Leinster’s Garry Ringrose is tackled by Ulster’s Nick Timoney. The latter has made the most of his opportunities since joining the northern province.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Bleeding Leinster to feed the other provinces works for Ireland – but not for Leo Cullen’s crew

Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell after a Six Nations match against France at Stade de France, Paris in April 2012.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

It’s one thing to be a great rugby player, but to motivate players is another job altogether

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton dejected after defeat in Cardiff. ‘The frustrations are real. You can see it on senior players’ faces.’ Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

However, Schmidt faces biggest challenge of coaching career to rebuild belief for Japan

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best: have led Ireland to unprecedented heights and would love to register a win in Wales in their final Six Nations game. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland won’t lack motivation with Schmidt and Best facing their last Six Nations game

Johnny Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Kieran Read of New Zealand. Both players emphatically rejected proposal of a new World League.  Photograph:  Phil Walter/Getty Images

So many difficulties to address before a World League should even be considered

The Ireland team regroup after Georgia score during the 2007 World Cup in Bordeaux. Photograph:   Billy Stickland/Inpho

A few beers on the roof might be a better option if the bubble becomes too suffocating

Ireland’s Jordan Larmour makes a spectacular break to set up a try for Luke McGrath against Italy at Soldier Field, Chicago. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Final three Six Nations games a chance to find the real flow of our attacking game

France’s  Guilhem Guirado  and Dany Priso react on the bench as their Six Nations game enters its final minutes at Twickenham last Sunday, England winning 44-8. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

France are a sorry sight in this Six Nations, but they were once the beating heart of rugby

When Ireland used Plan B, via Conor Murray’s boot, the officials deemed the line of England blockers to be legal. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Physical standards were not met against England but a defeat such as this can cleanse the soul

Ireland will play their own game via Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton – together again for the first time since Australia last summer. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

From Sexton to Porter, this group of players crave pressure - it’s their primary motivation

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy speak to referee Frank Murphy in Thomond park. Photograph:  Gary Carr/Inpho

Latest verbal volley unveils greatest fear for England – leadership, or a lack thereof

Leinster’s Jack Conan, Cian Healy and Scott Fardy in action with Charlie Faumuina of Toulouse during their victory at the RDS. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Munster have all the motivation they need and must continue pushing to knock Leinster

Munster’s Sam Arnold  could shoot from the line in Kingsholm on Friday night to put Billy Twelvetrees on his backside. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

My Ireland teams lacked the current levels of streamlined preparation. That’s the difference

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale celebrates scoring the memorable try in the victory over the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Twelve tries in 14 Tests an incredible stat as Jacob ascends the ladder to greatness

James Ryan in action for St Michael’s Collge against Castleknock College in a Leinster Schools junior cup match in March 2011. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The likes of Scott Penny and Caelan Doris started their ascent in their early teens

An injured Gordon D’Arcy  during Ireland’s Guinness Series clash with Australia in November 2014.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

In 2015, focused on getting picked for Ireland, I broke the cardinal rule: Do Your Job

Ireland celebrate as  Jacob Stockdale scores the game’s only try. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Gifted generation ensure New Zealand fully aware now of the threat to their crown

Dan Leavy and James Ryan celebrate victory over England in Twickenham. They two of the new breed – used to winning silverware. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland players now believe they are capable of beating the number one side in the world

 New Zealand’s  Ryan Crotty crosses the line to score the winning try in the last minute of the 2013 clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Schmidt’s side have grown since and Chicago 2016 changed the narrative for Irish rugby

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt celebrates winning the Six Nations with CJ Stander and Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Irish system gave coach everything he needed to transform Ireland into a top team

Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani  tackles Munster’s Rory Scannell, resulting in a red card, during the Heineken Champions Cup match at Thomond Park. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire

World Rugby need to be sure about which problem they are trying to solve

Bath’s Freddie Burns runs behind the posts but fails to ground the ball to score during the European Champions Cup game against Toulouse. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Most success is built on failure, this error might prove a catalyst for something special

Joey Carbery and Johann van Graan at a Munster training session on October 8th  Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

‘Don’t f**k up’ – coaches can have a big impact on young players mental approach

Tadhg Beirne: his  incredible engine gets him into situations where an extra set of hands become a vital link. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

A flowing philosophy over a rigid system looks like Munster’s new foundation stone

Ireland’s Rob Herring, Jordi Murphy and Rob Kearney celebrate as referee Paul Williams signals a knock on against Australia during the second Test at the AAMI Park in Melbourne. Phogograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Schmidt has spent three years rebuilding a squad of sufficient depth for the job at hand

Australia’s Israel Folau   is tackled by Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton in his side’s 18-9 Test victory on Sunday. Photograph:   Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

To genuinely compete for the 2019 World Cup, we need 34 Test-standard players

Leinster players celebrate after the win over Racing 92. Three years after my career has ended at least I know the changing room will stay lodged in my mind until I’m old and grey.  Photograph:  Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

It’s fleeting but being together in a trophy-winning dressing room will be cherished forever

Fear of further failure fuelled Leinster’s Heineken Cup victory over Leicester in 2009. File photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Parallels with 2009 abound and leaders from that campaign should give side the edge

Dan Leavy carries to score during Leinster’s win over Saracens. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Defeat to Connacht will be a mere footnote if Cullen’s men deliver on the grand stage

Joey Carbery in action for Leinster: it looks like  Carbery or  Ross Byrne  will be coerced into leaving their boyhood team. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster won’t remain best in Europe if they have to solve Munster and Ulster’s problems

Gordon D’Arcy: I don’t think pressure will alter the way Sexton operates, do you? Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Provinces have opted for very different preparations ahead of semi-final assignments

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