La Rochelle’s Irish coach Ronan O’Gara: his leadership has placed a high value on winning the Heineken Cup.  Photograph:  Valentine Chapuis/AFP via Getty Images

Racing have successfully harnessed the unpredictability of their creative individuals and have produced some spectacular wins

Toulouse forwards follow Antoine Dupont. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

French side have taken a leaf out of Leinster’s book by creating locally produced talent

Antoine Dupont of Toulouse scores the clinching try during the  Champions Cup Round of 16  match against Ulster. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty

Only a handful of top teams rising above repetitive and predictable game plans

Scrums have become too important as a battle in and of themselves instead of a fast way of restarting the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tsunami of scrum penalties creates a situation that discriminates against backline play

Ulster have been consistently better than Toulouse across the tournament but still risk being dumped out by the French side. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Plenty of teams that under normal circumstances would be dumped out could qualify

The distinct clinking and tinkle of cash  has been traded for the integrity of a once-great  club tournament.

EPCR bean-counters have facilitated a blatant cash grab that rewards unsuccessful clubs

If a supply chain specialist reviewed the rugby origins of the Irish players, they would be pressing the red warning button. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Cautionary tale of Australian rugby should be heard with trepidation

Italy flanker Giovanni Pettinelli and Niccolo Cannone embrace after the Six Nations win over Wales. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images

Years of graft from Ireland’s Stephen Aboud created a world class elite player pathway

 Stuart Hogg and his Scottish team need a big performance in Dublin. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Strong running game of Andy Farrell’s side will pose challenges for inconsistent Scotland

 Head coach Eddie Jones  wants every English player to develop the nagging anxiety that their place in the World Cup squad is insecure. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland can become a top-four team if they learn to perform on foreign soil

Last Sunday’s victory over Italy showed an outdated importance given to the scrum by rugby’s laws. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Only two teams benefit from the importance placed on scrums while the rest run the ball

If Ireland go out in the quarter-finals in 2023 it will be for the 10th consecutive time. Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Short-sighted strategy leaves Andy Farrell’s side trailing in wake of well-prepared rivals

 Ireland’s Joey Carbery in action against France at the Stade de France, Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Outhalf grew into his role in Paris where Ireland proved they are on the right path

“All of this draws us to the conclusion that the outcome of today’s match at the Stade de France sits very much in the mischievous hands of the rugby gods.”  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Attack god has looked kindly on Andy Farrell on his path down rugby’s road to Damascus

France outhalf  Romain Ntamack races away to score his side’s third try during the Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff in  February 2020. Photograph:  Stu Forster/Getty Images

The role of the inside centre is letting the No 10 flourish is one of the game’s key combinations

Gain line theory and a high skillset has helped Ireland’s resurgence. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Gain line theory has put Andy Farrell’s side in a good place - this time, can they deliver?

The Leinster scrum prepares to set during the Heineken Champions Cup round  three game against Montpellier at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Rugby supporters don’t like their competitions tinkered with once they have grown to love them

The English Premiership and Top 14 have a political power over World Rugby’s decision making. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It’s time for all nations to sing from the same hymn sheet if the game is going to survive

“They are like puppies, they like to chew on things. Keep an eye out.”

Two close encounters with Great Whites had me spooked - but you can’t let the fear win

Ireland’s James Lowe celebrates a penalty in the final seconds of the win over the All Blacks in November. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

At long last there’s a clear pattern of play that comes from provinces into national team

A walk along Sydney’s beautiful harbour shoreline will be the extent of my Christmas morning training this year. Photo: Getty Images

Despite everything going on in the world, life is still a beautiful thing to be savoured

Women’s rugby in Ireland is turbulent  times. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

In the lead up to the Six Nations the players must separate themselves from IRFU politics

 Leinster celebrate the 2001 Celtic League Final win over Munster at Lansdowne Road. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The wonderful life-affirming feeling of being part of a team, whatever size, never leaves you

France and New Zealand are two of the most penalised teams but also two of the best to watch with ball in hand. Photograph:  Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Too many laws reward negative sides who focus on penalties rather than ball in hand

Ryan Baird of Ireland celebrates after the Autumn  Series victory over Argentina at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. File photograph: Getty

As 2023 nears ‘if the truth be told, deep down in our hearts, we all want you to be right’

Ireland must avoid the mistakes of 2019 and this time kick on to greatness after defeating the All Blacks. Photograph:  Alessandro Di Ciommo/Getty Images

Leinster philosophy ringing true as players developed in the province show skillset

Ireland’s Andrew Porter faces the Haka before the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Greatest test in world rugby awaits and Ireland have a chance to prove themselves

Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop on Anzac Day 1991 at the commonwealth war cemetery in Thailand. Photo: Robert Pearce/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Former Wallaby endured torture as a POW but then brought the countries together

The teams that match the All Blacks’ tactic of having multiple playmakers will prove the most likely to beat them this November. Photograph:  Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ireland do not have enough quality playmakers on the pitch to match the All Blacks

Leinster’s Niall Breslin during a match against Llanelli in 2003. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

Likes of my former Leinster backrower and Keith Earls can be an inspiration to many

Munster’s rugby lacked precision, variety, skill, high tempo and competent systems when Johann van Graan arrived. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

His side are displaying a level of team skill that I haven’t witnessed in 25 years watching them

Referee Matthew Carley  awarded two highly technical penalties against New Zealand in the dying seconds that unjustly handed the Springboks the win. During the previous 79 minutes of the match he ignored   dozens of the  same kind of infringements. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

Others will fill the void if the governing body won’t deliver the reform rugby players and supporters alike demand

Leinster’s Andrew Porter celebrates scoring the second try of the game against Vodacom Bulls with Ross Molony. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/ ©INPHO

Ulster, Munster and Connacht are all following Leinster’s lead in the way they play

Ronan O’Gara: The great torpedo punters of the recent past like  O’Gara did not have the 50-22 law to exploit when they played  but could  land their torpedo punts a few metres from the sideline, deep inside the defenders’ 22. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The 50-22 law empowers attacking teams to exploit some of that crucial empty space to telling effect

Quade Cooper starred as the Wallabies beat the world champions. Photograph: Patrick Hamilton/Getty/AFP

Springboks are butchering our beautiful game but running rugby is fighting back

The players fight after a challenge on Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray by Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa during the second  Test in Cape Town. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

The rugby on offer has been ugly and the off the field behaviour uglier still in South Africa

 The  Lions celebrate after their victory during the first Test. Warren Gatland’s tactics won the game because he did the seemingly impossible and created a game plan that was even more negative than the Springboks’. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

First Lions Test the perfect example of the negative blight now ruining the game

England football fans gathered outside Wembley stadium before the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Violent ‘fans’ must be treated as the criminals they are

Police arrest anti-apartheid protestors during the rugby union match between Australia and South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground on July 17th, 1971. Photo: George Lipman/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Lions squad waiting in a biosecure bubble to play hosts raises some serious questions

Funerals taking place  at the Olifantsvlei Cemetery in Soweto, Johannesburg. Photograph: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

Questions must be asked over the validity and morality of this tour

  La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara’s  tactics against Leinster were brilliant. Photograph: Dave Winter/Inpho

Brilliantly-coached La Rochelle could cause another upset and win first Champions Cup

Leinster huddle after their Champions Cup semi-final defeat to La Rochelle. Photograph: Dave Winter/Inpho

If the other team win on the scoreboard that does not equate to failure for your team

 Matthew Carley: When the Racing flanker Baptiste Chouzenoux made obvious shoulder contact to the head of a Bordeaux player,  referee  Carley commenced an extraordinary exchange with his TMO, which  was accompanied by 24 replays of the one high tackle. Photograph:  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Arcane laws and increasingly complex officiating need to be urgently addressed

Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16, Thomond Park, Limerick:  Munster v Toulouse when the French side’s Antoine Dupont went over for a try. File photograph: Inpho

Failure to develop skills means some sides are declining rapidly – proof is on the scoreboards

Keith Earls scores for Ireland in their Six Nations win over England. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

This was Ireland’s best performance since March 2018 - it needs to become habitual

 England head coach Eddie Jones watches his players warm up before the Six Nations match between England and France in Twickenham on Saturday March 13th. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Eddie Jones’s obsession with winning the World Cup puts his team into a different class

Stuart Hogg: Scotland have a pack of forwards able to dominate their opponents and backs, like the impressive Hogg,  who can turn a game with their X-factor. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Coaches must change tactics against Scots or a banquet of consequences is inevitable

Ireland’s James Lowe is tackled by Cyril Baille and Antoine Dupont of France. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Strategies must be changed as Ireland aren’t getting the most out of talented backline

France’s head coach Fabien Galthie and Bernard Laporte, president of the French rugby federation   (FFR). Galthie selects players he can shape and who are hungry to learn from his band of technical coaches. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

French team that will run out in Dublin the product of a decade of planning primed to peak in 2023

Guinness Six Nations Championship at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on February 1st, 2020.  Photograph: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The absence of vocal locals at pandemic games has made away teams the big winners

 Irish success will arrive when they embrace tactics based on the gain line theory. File photograph: Inpho

Ireland are repeatedly ignoring the essential lessons inside the gain line theory

Lions fans on tour in New Zealand: South Africa now has over 1m people infected and a new super-infectious Covid-19 variant is rampant.  This not an environment for the Lions and their 30,000 supporters to visit. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Proposed Rainbow Competition also a non-starter given current Covid rates

David Campese of the Wallabies makes a break during the Australia vs New Zealand semi-final during the 1991 Rugby World Cup, at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photograph: Getty Images

Players must be given the space to push their decision-making to the point of failure

Leinster’s Dominic Ryan is tackled by Michael Lipman (right) and  Tim Davidson  of the Melbourne Rebels during a pre-season friendly at  Donnybrook in August 2011. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The will to keep getting selected or prolonging careers can lead players to hiding symptoms

A scrum is disrupted during Ireland’s win over Georgia. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

Complex laws are stripping away sport’s core belief of running with ball in hand

Pablo Matera with his Argentina team mates, celebrating their victory against New Zealand. Photograph: Getty Image

If Ireland do what they have been doing, then they will get what they have been getting

The magnificent Stade de France will be empty on Saturday night. No brass bands beating out “Allez les Bleus.” No smuggled roosters will be liberated onto the hallowed turf and no cigar smoke. File photograph: Getty Images

Ireland don’t have to silence the crowd, but they need to be wary of Antoine Dupont

Ireland  attack coach Mike Catt   must feel like Elizabeth Taylor’s seventh husband. He knows what to do, he is just not sure he can make it stimulating or entertaining. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Irish attack needs new innovative plan to create space then attack that space

Are Irish teams ready to play at high altitude in Pretoria and Johannesburg, in the African heat? File photograph: Getty Images

Rugby across the globe is experiencing some mysterious and desperate decision-making

The Leinster team form a huddle after their loss to Saracens. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster’s Saracens defeat does not mean Ireland are destined to lose to England

Matt Williams: Winning is a habit that has Leinster addicted to the juice that lifting trophies creates. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

An Ulster win in the Pro14 final would be one of Irish rugby’s greatest upsets

The high quality match that Munster and Leinster produced last week was the product of a much deeper motivation than fans cheering. Photograph: Inpho

We’d a ringside seat into the raw and loud realities of the grunts, bangs and sledging

Rugby in Ireland resumes with the clash of Leinster and Munster at the Aviva, but for it to be a success big sacrifices will be needed. File photograph: Inpho

The reward for this monastic existence? An economic boost and they get to play rugby

The scrums in the Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels match led to numerous stoppages. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Scoring system needs to be re-thought to encourage fast play and less breaks

Health advice notices are seen at Sydney International Airport. Photograph:  Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Australia’s experience shows how difficult rugby’s return in Europe will be

Ireland celebrate winning a penalty at a Welsh scrum during February’s Six Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Playing in the summer the tip of the iceberg as game drifts further from its core values

Beauden Barrett of the Blues signs autographs after a match against the Hurricanes at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty

I forgot how much I missed the sight of grown men acting like children, just for fun

To be part of a rugby team requires high levels of co-operation, emotional intelligence, empathy, tolerance, resilience, leadership by example and strong communication skills. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Rugby continues to be a great educational outlet, just as it was intended

Many of the  attacking skills of great players such as New Zealand’s Jeff Wilson were learned through unsupervised play on the local green or on the school playground. Photograph:  David Rogers/Allsport

Coronavirus will further limit kids’ opportunities to work on rugby’s key skills

New Zealand Warriors rugby league team players arrive at the airport in Tamworth, New South Wales last Sunday. The squad will spend 14 days in quarantine  before competition restarts on May 28th. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Australia and New Zealand are perfectly placed to help the rugby phoenix rise again

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont  is being challenged by present vice-chairman  Agustín Pichot. Photograph: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP via Getty Images

Bill Beaumont’s success would show rugby’s old order and northern hemisphere dominance

Scrums are again  a blight on the game. We need to see a return to the excellent laws from the 1980s, when penalty kicks at goal were not allowed from scrum infringements. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Cleaning up rucks and lowering target area for tackles to waist-high would help greatly

World rugby must strategically plan a new global calendar. Photograph: Jean Pierre Clatot/AFP via Getty

Needs of English and French clubs must be placed second to the international game

The skills of dairy farmers from Nenagh were not in high demand in the commercial hub of Sydney. Photograph:  Alan Betson

My grandmother kept her optimism through her 93 years despite all life threw at her

People queue outside of a Carrefour supermarket as they respect a one meter distance in Lormont on Wednesday. Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP via Getty Images

Just a week ago it was all so different, now we’re fighting over the last packs of toilet paper

England head coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell at the post-match press conference after the Wales game at Twickenham. Photograph:  Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Time for World Rugby to finally take serious action and put an end to flood of foul play

The crowd at the Aviva Stadium for the Guinness Six Nations match between Ireland and England in February 2019. Those negotiating the future of the Six Nations would do well to look at the Australian experience with deep consideration. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Australian rugby went behind a paywall 25 years ago, and is now reaping the whirlwind

Ireland’s Ultan Dillane (right) and Bundee Aki leave the field dejected after their Six Nations loss to England at Twickenham. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

This Ireland side hasn’t progressed in a year and I’m unconvinced they can change

Jonathan Sexton is tackled by England’s Dylan Hartley in 2018. The bulk of this Irish team came to Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day in 2018. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Winning away is never easy and World Cup runners-up will relish home advantage

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong (centre) celebrates after team-mate Josh van der Flier (hidden) scores his side’s third try during the Guinness Six Nations match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, on February 8th. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The positivity and self-belief is beginning to come back – but it needs to be nurtured

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell watches his players warm-up ahead of the Six Nations  match against  and Scotland at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

If Ireland perform at the same level as last week, the Welsh will return to Cardiff with a winning bonus point

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell during a training session  at the Sport Ireland campus in Blanchardstown. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Andy Farrell knows tight-five domination will lay platform for more expansive game

The men’s and women’s captains at the launch of the Guinness Six Nations Championship in London on Wednesday. From left:   Siwan Lillicrap (Wales),  Giada Franco (Italy),  Luca Bigi (Italy),  Stuart Hogg (Scotland),  Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales),  Sarah Hunter (England),  Charles Ollivon (France),  Owen Farrell (England),  Gaëlle Hermet (France), Ciara Griffin (Ireland) and  Rachel Malcolm (Scotland).  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

With new coaches at Ireland, France, Italy and Wales, the winner will be hard to predict

Top coaches learn plenty from those who have preceded them before going on to forge their own distinctive coaching philosophy. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The coaching fable of master coach and ‘Grasshopper’ conveys a universal truth

A Munster squad session. Over the last two decades, Irish provincial teams have had a number of world class players who have set exceptionally high standards. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Encounter in Sydney coffee shop recently got me thinking about key to success

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola, Australia, on the last day of 2019.  Since August, nationally the number of lost homes is over 1,200. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/The New York Times

Death, destruction and polluted air the byproducts of unprecedented bushfires

 Smoke haze from bushfires blankets the Sydney central business district  as beachgoers sit on a cliff on another hot day in Nielsen Park  in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Photograph: Steven Saphore/EPA

Sydney Letter: While fires burn inside Irish homes, in Australia they are raging outside

Those under-12 players made me remember how much fun I had playing the game and how much I loved it. For me that joy of playing morphed into an obsession. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

As a boy in Sydney my hot Christmas morning had a strange ritual – rugby practice

Conor Murray and Ross Byrne: ‘It’s important to also remember why you love to play rugby. Because it’s fun. I would like to see you both playing with the occasional smile on your faces.’ Photographs: Oisin Keniry and Billy Stickland/Inpho

With minor tweaks to their game, the pair can be Ireland’s halfbacks for the Six Nations

Chris Boyd: the wily Northampton Saints coach has led the club to the top of the Premiership table. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Franklins Gardens is always a tough trip and Saracens could be fully locked and loaded

Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham with Billy Holland: In recruiting Graham Rowntree and Stephen Larkham, Munster have brought in fresh creative thinking and vast experience into their organisation. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Precious little original thinking apparent as coaches embrace the herd mentality

Leinster’s Woodstock 50th anniversary celebratory tie-dye squashed, fifty shades of blue is in the running for the gong in the worst jersey of 2019 category. Photograph: Inpho

Irish provinces must beware of the Champions Cup wolves disguised as sheep

Leinster possess the mindset to achieve success within the unique environment of the Champions Cup. Photograph: Billy Stickland

Blues in box seat with Sarries’ troubles set to exclude them from usual suspects for glory

Andy Farrell will be in charge of Ireland following Joe schmidt’s departure. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Farrell needs to be brave and embrace what is a daunting challenge

In the wake of a magnificent English victory, Steve Hansen, Kieran Read (above) and their New Zealand team displayed astonishing dignity. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

New Zealand’s character revealed by their exemplary sportsmanship after defeat

England players take part in a training session at Arcs Urayasu Park ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. Photo: Charly Triballeau/Getty Images

England coach is in total control of his environment and having fun in doing so

Ardie Savea, Sonny Bill Williams and George Bridge train ahead of Saturday’s clash with Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Schmidt’s side are blunt in attack but New Zealand could fall foul of new tackle laws

A red card is issued to Canada’s Josh Larsen by referee Luke Pearce during their World Cup Pool B match at against South Africa at the Kobe Misaki Stadium. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire

The terrible refereeing at World Cup will hopefully lead to an officiating overhaul

Ireland players leave the pitch following their defeat to Japan. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Ireland’s attacking philosophy is outdated as they fail to evolve from the highs of 2018

 Michael Hooper  of Australia looks on after scoring a try against Fiji during the Rugby World Cup match clash  in Sapporo, Japan. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

Across the globe rugby is booming however in Australia the game is in decline

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