Ireland rugby 2021/22 – the writeup of all writeups

As happy as we were as Irish rugby fans in the wake of that wonderful win in Wellington, the few weeks since then have brought many of us back down to earth.

First there was the vote by the RFU on their policy regarding the participation of transgender players in the women’s game, although it wasn’t just the result that was alarming but also the protracted debate around the issue which preceded it – I briefly harped on this over the weekend.

Then there was the announcement by SANZAAR (a name which looks more and more like the home planet of an evil species in a sci fi movie every time I type it) that they are going to continue the trial of the “20-minute red card”, which seems to prioritize the spectacle for those watching over the safety of those playing.  Also in a really ironic twist I notice a lot of the people defending this move are the same ones arguing for the transgender ban under the guise of “player safety”.

But then on Sunday the entire rugby family read the tragic story of Siobhan Cattigan, and if all claims made by the article are true, then to my (admittedly untrained legally) mind, neither an apology nor an internal investigation by the SRU are anywhere near sufficient; instead it seems to be a case heading towards criminal negligence.

So I couldn’t introduce this post without at least acknowledging those issues – but for now we must of course hurry back to the main theme, namely Ireland’s 21/22 test campaign, which was quite the journey in every sense of the word.

It was meant to start in Las Vegas with a one off test against the USA, but sadly this fell foul to COVID, something Andy Farrell had gotten very used to since he was just two matches into his tenure.  From March 2020 on it was a case of matches postponed, rearranged, or at best played in mostly empty stadia as he tried to establish himself as a test level coach.

And it’s not like Irish fans were collectively giving him their full throated support and understanding at the beginning of November 2022.  When the team was named to face Japan, there was the usual chorus of disapproval for all the usual reasons…not enough development, not enough from certain provinces, too many from one particular province, yaddya yaddya.

There was really only one thing Farrell’s team could do to stick it to the naysayers and that was start winning.  And I think we all know what happened next so without any further ado, here’s a timeline of our progress through the Autumn internationals, Six Nations and of course the New Zealand tour, complete with quotes and links from our Harpin match writeups….



Sat Nov 6 – Aviva Stadium

Simply put, bringing offloads and “KBA” rugby back to the Irish table is in many ways like taking the shackles off.  Over the years it has been our way to truck it up the middle hoping for a penalty to create scoring chances and I don’t even think that’s necessarily a bad thing when you can make it work, although when opposition can see it coming as your “brand” from a long way out, the time does come to mix things up and it looks like we’re doing it.” – PUT TO THE SWORD


Sat Nov 13 – Aviva Stadium

So Lowe has gotten Reiko down and rolled away, and the All Black has one, two, THREE team mates gathering around him to protect the recycle for TJ Perenara, but three is clearly not enough for the War God who has already planted his feet in the ground and burrowed his way over the ball to give referee Luke Pearce no option but to go for his whistle.” – FEARLESS


Sun Nov 21 – Aviva Stadium

“…with all the debate over who should be backing up Sexton, plus another lurking in the background over what kind of full back we should have in reserve should Keenan ever be unavailable, all of a sudden we were being treated to half an hour of Joey in a role he played on several occasions for Leinster ‘back in the day’.  And he didn’t look too shabby back there either.” – PLENTY IN RESERVE



Sat Feb 5 – Aviva Stadium

“…the (Josh Adams) ruling could not have been more pivotal for Ireland’s hopes of getting to four tries.  All of a sudden from a Welsh penalty heading towards our line, now we’re going the other way and with an extra man and straight from the lineout, a series of phases including what is by now a trademark JVDF crash ball set us up for JGP to do what he does best finding that final pass which Conway gratefully received to finish his second try.” – EARLY 6MAS PRESENT


Sat Feb 12 – Stade de France

Do I believe we’d have made up the 7 points we were short of victory if Sexton were on the pitch?  Yes, I do, absolutely.  Does that mean I believe Joey Carbery was a disaster and we can’t possibly win anything without our captain?  No, absolutely not.  Make of that what you will.” – STILL IN THE HUNT


Sun Feb 27 – Aviva Stadium

…it was a case of JGP showing why he has become the presumptive starter in this “Farrellball” squad, moving so quickly he’s pretty much moving to the next breakdown before he’s finished passing from the last one, and with strong support from his forwards, we worked our way to the 22 where an inside pass by Peter O’Mahony was perfectly times (and disguised) to allow Caelan Doris through a gap. Next was the relatively easy bit as he has Sheehan and Carbery in support and it went quickly through the hands allowing our out half to defy a last gasp tackle to get it over the line. ” – A QUARE ONE


Sat Mar 12 – Twickenham

Ewels’ body position going into the tackle was both awful and dangerous.  It ended James Ryan’s match before it had a chance to begin, and every contact to the head comes with the possibility of long-term implications.  It deserved a red card.  And when your team gets one, you deserve to be without a player no matter how long is left…The sanctions are not there to victimize.  They are there to influence behaviour.  Get. Those. Tackles. Lower.” – THE FULL EIGHTY


Sat Mar 19 – Aviva Stadium

“…this was the year of a French squad which itself will go down in history as one that achieved the Grand Slam courtesy of some of the greatest players this competition has ever seen.  Yet while the final table shows them to have won by a margin of four match points, we have to remember that they got an extra three for winning said Slam. When it comes to points earned in individual matches, Ireland only fell short by just the one point.  ONE…So if this team can reach those heights, who are we to bet against them learning enough to move on and go even higher. ” – ANOTHER STEP TO 2023



Sat Jul 2 – Eden Park, Auckland – First Test

“…it all started when Ringrose bobbled the pass.  Not his fault; it happens.  But for this play everything needed to be perfect and James Lowe knew this, which was why he tried so hard to adjust his run to be available.  Garry managed to hold onto it, managed to offload, but Lowe’s adjustments weren’t enough for him to be there, not his fault either of course.   So the ball went to ground, and as we all know, when this happens it’s up to the Rugby Gods to determine what happens next, for reasons only they know.” – MARGINAL


Sat Jul 9 – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Second Test

Even putting aside the perennial talk outside of New Zealand that they tend to push the boundaries of the Laws – after a start like this, is it any wonder they might have tried to push them even further?  Like maybe a late hit on Mack Hansen?  Or maybe  tackle Garry Ringrose off the ball when he looks certain to score?  Or maybe stay upright when facing that same centre because you’re wary of him offloading or stepping around you?” – THE CARDS OF DUNEDIN


Sat Jul 16 – Sky Stadium, Wellington – Third Test

…while we can’t exactly say “it never looked in doubt”, because at one point despite the big halftime lead it most certainly did look in doubt, the way we managed to pull more and more big plays out of the bag, both with and without the ball, demonstrated clearly that this is a squad that has its sights set on a lot more success than this one end of season series, however historic the victory may be.” – TEAM OF AWESOME


As you can see it was quite the season.  Just the two defeats, one to the Grand Slam champions and one to a team we beat three other times over the course of the campaign.  Oh, and now we’re number one in the World Rankings, which of course means they matter too 😜.

Now obviously what you see above is a list of matches from just the men’s senior team.  Here at Harpin Manor they and the Leinster senior men are the only teams we have the time to give full week-in, week-out coverage throughout the season, but we also do what we can to support rugby at all levels across Irish rugby, the four provinces and club level as best as we can.

So here is also a brief summary of how we saw some of the other Irish squads over the past 12 months.  It wasn’t all good by a long shot, but still I think it’s safe to say all the different programmes are definitely headed in the right direction.


Towards the end of Leinster men’s season opener against the Bulls, we were winning comfortably so I could turn my attention to the Irish women in their World Cup qualifier against Scotland, and as we all know, it did not go well for them.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just this one result that represented a low point for the women’s game here at the time, there were issues all the way down through the system.  We spoke to @IrishWomens on our podcast about what needed to be done and it seemed clear that massive change was required all the way up to the very top, where the job of running the Women’s game was shared with that governing sevens rugby for both genders.

As often has been the case when there are issues within the game here, a report was commissioned with much debate about transparency surrounding it.  But eventually there was a commitment to appoint a dedicated head of Women’s rugby for the IRFU and also to produce full time contracts for a number of players in the 15s code.

Naturally all of this change meant that performances on the pitch were likely to stagnate for a time, although November test victories over the USA and Japan offered a decent start when it came to putting the WRWC disappointments behind us.

Then came the Six Nations, now in its own slot on the calendar, and while it began with a disappointing defeat at home to Wales plus even bigger losses away to France and England, there was a win over a decent Italian side plus some measure of revenge against the Scots to round off the season.

When it comes to personnel, we now have Nichola Fryday leading the side and forming an excellent engine room with Sam Monaghan, plus Linda Djougang doing an excellent job of taking over the number 1 jersey from the legendary Lindsay Peat.  That’s to name just three players, and there are many more but one of the issues the side has had is a difficulty in preventing players from moving back and forth between 15s and 7s.

Hopefully the new head of Women’s rugby will bring more consistency to the selection, and with that appointment, plus the contracts and the ambitious tour to Japan towards the end of August, there seems to be a lot to look forward to and hopefully the support from the general fan base will reflect this.


Apparently the IRFU kind of fell between two stools in organising the New Zealand tour…at first there was just to be the three tests while many were crying out for squad development, yet when the two matches against the Maoris were added to the schedule, it turned out we hadn’t brought enough players!

It probably didn’t help that so many were injured in the opening match which, like the first test, ended in victory for the home side, but in the end the midweek team bounced back every bit as much as the seniors and comfortably won the rematch in Wellington, with several players getting good game time in green, most notably perhaps from a Leinster perspective Ciarán Frawley at 10, even if that may not have been the intention when the squad was originally named.


Grand Slam.  Need I say more?  Well I guess I probably should…

Led by Reuben Crothers and with stellar performances from the likes of James Culhane, we posted significant margins of victory over Wales, Italy, England and Scotland but it was the 79th minute try by Ben Brownlee brilliantly converted by Charlie Tector pinching us a 1-point win over France in Aix-en-Provence that was the stand out result of the campaign.

With the Junior World Championships still off the table there was a Summer Series organised in June over in Italy, and although we sent a squad leaning more towards next season’s crop of prospects and shipped a couple of defeats to France and South Africa, they also found some mettle to beat England by a point before winning their final match against the Scots.

Plenty of talent coming up the pipeline for all the provinces to look forward to breaking through at senior level very soon.


Sevens weekends should become a staple diet for us rugby-mad fans.  When Irish teams are involved, there are often up to a dozen different matches over the course of a couple of days, each of which only last about twenty minutes and most of which are available to watch for free on YouTube.

Naturally the ideal scenario would be for there to eventually be a World Series leg held in Ireland annually, but until that happens I hope we can collectively do more to be present to keep up with all the action for both women and men, as there has been much success over the past few years, culminating in qualification for the top tier in both genders as well as the World Cup to be held in South Africa this September.


Right, that’s enough harpin’ on last season.  The URC fixtures were released last week so it’s time to start looking ahead to 22/23 and as I have said several times on these pages recently, we’ll be making some changes to our routine and we’ll be working on that over the next few weeks and hopefully be able to start sharing it with you towards the end of the month.

In the meantime I’ll be keeping up with the latest news on the Twitter machine so by all means join the discussion, that’s what it’s for.  JLP

PS : last week we did a similar post covering Leinster men’s 2021/22 season, click here

Leinster Rugby 21/22 – the writeup of all writeups

It’s the end of July, we’ve seen the snazzy new jersey for next season plus news is starting to trickle through about fixtures…so before we’re really counting the days to when it all starts up again, time for one post to look back through the timeline of Leinster’s 21/22 campaign.

On the “End of Season” episode of our podcast we talked about it in a general sense so be sure to have a listen – the whole point of this post is to remind you of the progress from September all the way through to June.  

Naturally there were disappointments towards the end, but I have a funny feeling that if you were the type of fan that only cared about the province when we were winning silverware, you wouldn’t be following a fansite like this one!

Personally, I really do think the matches that stand out most for me are those in South Africa.  Obvs I wouldn’t be saying that had we won a final or two, but still the fact that we were able to not only send an inexperienced side down there but also for them to do so well and come back with something from both matches, bodes really well for the many challenges that lie ahead.

Anyway – here’s a list of all the matches we played, also the ones we didn’t, plus of course the one we didn’t which was given a final score anyway…


Leinster-40 Harlequins-21

Fri Sep 10 – Aviva Stadium – Preseason friendly

By far and away our catalyst was none other than Johnny Sexton…He was on top of his game, showed the very leadership we’d expect from our club captain, and clearly inspired those around him to rack up four quality tries before halftime against a Harlequins XV not a million miles from that which won the Premiership a few months ago.” – WELCOME BACK

Leinster-31 Vodacom Bulls-3

Sat Sep 25 – Aviva Stadium – URC Round 1

By far the most eye-catching change was in the front row, with both Porter starting and Healy on the bench sporting new jersey numbers. And you simply could not have written a better script to open the match.  Bulls 10 Johan Goosen kicks off and puts it straight into touch, giving us the first Leinster scrum before the clock has barely gotten going.  After one reset, Adamson’s arm goes straight up in the air for a penalty to Leinster on Porter’s side – just how satisfying must that have been?” – THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…


Dragons-6 Leinster-7

Sun Oct 3 – Rodney Parade – URC Round 2

The bottom line that made us able to come away with four match points on the day was that not once during the 80 minutes did the Dragons look even remotely like they were ever going to cross our line.” – THE KNOCK ON EFFECT

Leinster-43 Zebre-7

Sat Oct 9 – RDS Arena – URC Round 3

Sexton scooped the PotM gong courtesy of another legendary Ireland skipper Fiona Coughlan in the RTÉ commentary booth.  I might have leaned towards Adam Byrne to help celebrate his return but in reality it is hard to argue that Johnny’s introduction made a significant difference to the proceedings.” – 10K’S A CROWD

Leinster-50 Scarlets-15

Sat Oct 16 – RDS Arena – URC Round 4

Ciarán Frawley won Player of the Match and while I probably would have given it to a forward, his role in our attacking structure was definitely worthy of recognition because although a lot of the moves and formations on show didn’t quite pay off as designed, at times we actually looked capable of creating space at will.” – FORWARD MOMENTUM

Glasgow Warriors-15 Leinster-31

Fri Oct 22 – Scotstoun – URC Round 5

“…all in all a very satisfying end to the opening five rounds by Leinster.  Top of the URC pile, just the one point dropped, defenses in order, new evolution of attack starting to come good, and still with things like a creaky lineout keeping us honest.” – TOP OF THE PILE


Leinster-10 Ulster-20

Sat Nov 27 – RDS Arena – URC Round 6

“…while (Max Deegan) seemed to expect the ball to come to him, James Hume was lying in wait to pounce, totally earning the right to recover a little bobble and run it in to not only nail down the historic win but also deny us a losing bonus we might have actually been thankful for all things considered.” – LYING IN WAIT


Leinster-47 Connacht-19

Fri Dec 3 – RDS Arena – URC Round 7

A mere mortal would have known Jordan Larmour was with him and simply fixed his first tackler and put his winger through.  But not this guy (Dan Sheehan).  Instead he does a little shuffle step putting Mack Hansen on the deck (remember, big hooker vs pacy winger…not crashing through him, rather actually skipping around him) before powering to the line for a wonderful YouTube clip-worthy try just before half time.” – MORE LIKE IT

Leinster-45 Bath-20

Sat Dec 11 – Aviva Stadium – HCC Round 1

“…I’m going to do my best train myself to stop and take a deep breath whenever I’m getting too annoyed when my beloved Leinster doesn’t achieve perfection in absolutely everything they do, instead remembering the chants of those faithful younglings from Saturday.  We could probably all do with watching sport that way more often.” – “LEINSTER!!! LEINSTER!!!”

Montpellier-28 Leinster-0*

Fri Dec 17 – GGL Stadium – HCC Round 2 (match forfeited)

The pandemic goalposts keep getting moved on a near-daily basis so it’s not just sporting types which have to handle it.  So what happens, happens and of course we all hope above everything else that all who tested positive are actually ok.” – ASTERISKS AND THE OMICRON

Munster v Leinster (postponed)

Sun Dec 26 – Thomond Park – URC Round 8


Ulster v Leinster (postponed)

Sat Jan 1 – Kingspan Stadium – URC Round 9

Leinster v Lions (postponed)

Fri Jan 7 – RDS Arena – URC Round 10

Leinster-89 Montpellier-7

Sun Jan 16 – RDS Arena – HCC Round 3

“…for this try JVDF was “only” involved at the start of the move, making the most of Jack Conan’s catch at a lineout at halfway, and at the end when finishing it by dotting down, again taking it from his number 8.  What happened in between was a wonderful series of passes, offloads, clearouts and recycles from pretty much the rest of the XV, with the highlight being a guided missile of a long pass from James Lowe into the path of Jimmy O’Brien.  Plus we originally won back possession after a strong bout of defending at halfway.” – NO MERCI

Bath-7 Leinster-64

Sat Jan 22 – The Rec – HCC Round 4

Over the past couple of weeks the measure of (Jimmy O’Brien’s) displays can be found in how easily the more experienced backs around him include him in virtually every move.  Whether you’ve played European rugby before or not, if you’re selected for this Leinster team you’re guaranteed to be involved in everything and he was able to back up the confidence with a bucket load of scores and quality contributions.” – GRAND JOB

Cardiff Rugby-29 Leinster-27

Sat Jan 29 – Cardiff Arms Park – URC Round 11

When the two defences came out of the blocks looking stingy, the home side tried something different and it kept paying off, while we stuck to our guns and although it did get us three tries, I really think if we had taken a similar approach to our hosts we could have gotten more and even killed the game altogether up to half an hour” – EVANS ABOVE


Leinster-26 Edinburgh-7

Fri Feb 11 – RDS Arena – URC Round 12

Not much to summarize…only that while we definitely deserved to win because our try line defense was far superior to theirs, we really should treasure that bonus point because whatever the rugby gods had against us in Cardiff, they most certainly looked keen to make amends here.” – BIT OF A STRETCH

Leinster-29 Ospreys-7

Sat Feb 19 – RDS Arena – URC Round 13

Personally I wish it could be possible to nominate an entire bench for a match gong.  Our starting XV did well here it’s true, seizing control early and staying strong defensively but were it not for the collection of cameos the all important bonus point was by no means certain.” – BENCH BONUS

Leinster-21 Lions-13

Fri Feb 25 – RDS Arena – URC Round 10

It was a certain try.  It just was.  And even if Pienaar was caught, that wasn’t going to be enough – he had to be hit just right so he couldn’t power through and touch the ball down anyway as the best wingers are wont to do.  And boy did he hit the guy just right, it was one the best try-saving tackles the RDS has seen.” – THAT TACKLE


Benetton-17 Leinster-61

Sat Mar 5 – Stadio di Monigo – URC Round 14

I wouldn’t feel too badly about things if I were Benetton, we were in determined mood on this particular day and they are getting used to a new coach and definitely have the talent to get back, especially when their internationals return.  Plus, had the URC schedule gone as originally planned, they would have been stronger for this match, not having had to face the Sharks a week before.” – CLOUD NINE

Ulster-18 Leinster-13

Sat Mar 12 – Kingspan Stadium – URC Round 9

For Leinster the last two weeks have shown us exactly how much a functioning lineout means to us.  Without clean ball last time out, no way would we have racked up 60+ points.  This time, the inaccuracy arguably cost us the 5 points we were short at the end, although we still had the Ulster D to contend with.” – DOUBLE TROUBLE

Connacht-8 Leinster-45

Sat Mar 26 – Sportsground – URC Round 15

When it comes to intent on this challenge, obviously nobody is suggesting (Daly) wanted to injure (Frawley), but he was attempting a tackle so this was always going to struggle to find mitigation down from a red card.” – HAWKS OVER EAGLES


Munster-19 Leinster-34

Sat Apr 2 – Thomond Park – URC Round 8

Naturally I was hoping for a big shove from our pack, but…I did not expect one…like I always say when I have reservations over my team, I’m delighted to be proven wrong and what followed was a really good 8-man shove from Leinster which had our hosts under pressure, so much so that when Kendellen reached down and grabbed the ball, he was met by Caelan Doris.” – SWITCHED ON

Connacht-21 Leinster-26

Fri Apr 8 – Sportsground – HCC Rd of 16 (1st leg)

When it comes to these two-leg rounds, well I’m not as against them as many seem to be, and for sure there a lot of ties still well poised going into the reverse fixtures, but overall I’d be very happy to see a return to the “four team pools leading to quarterfinals” format as soon as possible.” – ALL TO PLAY FOR

Leinster-56 Connacht-20

Fri Apr 15 – Aviva Stadium – HCC Rd of 16 (2nd leg)

With the margin on the day already at 29 and the aggregate at 34…all (Lowe) had to do was place it down where he stood to bring his personal tally to four and it was a perfect end to the match, right? Wrong…Ever grateful to his out half for setting him up, James made sure the placekick was that much easier by skipping around towards the posts…” – THE LOWE SHOW

Sharks-28 Leinster-23

Sat Apr 23 – Jonsson Kings Park Stadium – URC Round 16

Frawley’s poise was really impressive, so much so that I’m wondering if he’s not better suited to a 10 role.  I know that doesn’t speak well for Harry, who was good on occasion here, but with his 12 taking the placekicks I reckon it’s a fair observation.” – POINT TAKEN

Stormers-20 Leinster-13

Sat Apr 30 – DHL Stadium – URC Round 17

Sure, we fell short in the end, and sure, there were frustrating moments like those blocking penalties at lineouts, but overall it was a second consecutive 80-minute display that can only be met with immense pride from all fans.” – STORMCHASING


Leicester Tigers-14 Leinster-23

Sat May 7 – Welford Road Stadium – HCC Quarterfinal

Naturally we needed a bit of luck along the way, every winning team does, but on a day when fans are bound to be nervous whether their team are favourites or not the boys in blue made their return to Leo Cullen’s stomping ground look perhaps not “easy” or “comfortable”, but definitely controlled.” – GAME MANAGEMENT

Leinster-40 Toulouse-17

Sat May 14 – Aviva Stadium – HCC Semifinal

“…the fact that James Lowe did…two amazing kicks, also helping himself to two tries while playing a pivotal role in our fourth, DIDN’T get Player of the Match, which nobody, not even he would dispute, tells you all you need to know.” – LEINSTERTAINMENT+

Leinster-35 Munster-25

Sat May 21 – Aviva Stadium – URC Round 18

“ was kicked ahead into our 22 it was gathered by Jordan Larmour….I reckon it was the sixth Munsterman that had a go at defying his steps and weaves who actually brought him down, but not until he was at the halfway line..” – FIRST OF ALL

Leinster-21 La Rochelle-24

Sat May 28 – Marseille – HCC Final

I truly believe it was simple.  Two great teams went at it for 80 minutes, the lead exchanged hands a few times, and when a push came to a shove towards the end, the better team won.  Just.” – OUTSTRETCHED


Leinster-76 Glasgow Warriors-14

Sat Jun 4 – RDS Arena – URC Quarterfinal

“…this was a good performance and a powerful result, on a bright (if really, really cold for some reason) day back at the RDS where we hadn’t been since February.  And while it may not have told us much about our chances of winning this new competition, it was definitely an excellent way to put last weekend behind us…- D4GGER

Leinster-26 Bulls-27

Sat Jun 11 – RDS Arena – URC Semifinal

no matter what has gone before, you still have to go out and get the job done and besides, the more success you’ve had throughout the season, the more likely opponents are going to find a specific way to beat you.” – BUSINESS END


Next week we’ll do a similar post for Ireland’s matches, but outside that we’re kind of in “coccoon mode” here at Harpin’ Manor as we hope to change a few things around in time for next season.

Of course we’re always keeping tabs on the day to days happenings in the rugby world, so feel free to follow the conversation on the twitter machine and jump in with your two cents when the mood takes you.  JLP

NEW ZEALAND-22 IRELAND-32 (3rd test)

© INPHO/Photosport/Elias Rodriguez


The clock was approaching 25 minutes as the scoreboard read New Zealand 3, Ireland 5. The home side had good attacking ball from a lineout and were heading for our 22.

On the second phase, Tadhg Beirne got a hold of the ball, seemed to snaffle it, but went off his feet and so he wisely let it go. Pity – who knows when he’ll get a chance to do that again in this match…

So the All Blacks play on and try to send it wide to their left wing, but that gets quickly shut down and sent back inside. O’Mahony, Doris and Porter are among the tacklers who keep thwarting their attempts to break through until Reiko Ioane looks like he has a chance but he’s grabbed by a combination of Henshaw and Hansen so the centre spins around and tries to present the ball to his team mates who are a fraction of a second behind him…

…only as he looks up from the ground he sees an ominous red scrum cap looming over him, owned of course by Josh van der Flier, who doesn’t even need that fraction of a second to come through the gate get his hands on the ball and win it back for his side.

He lets Beirne take it and he wisely passes it to Keenan who in turn ships it to Hansen but they’re under a good bit of pressure in their own 22 until thankfully the officials spot that Ioane had come from on offside position which meant the threat was relieved by a penalty. That in itself had the look of a pivotal moment about it, although to be fair this series has been full of them.

So skipper Johnny Sexton goes to put the penalty to touch – the kick is 15m in from the touchline, right on the 22. The All Blacks have been good at punishing us for trying to take too much out of touchfinders by making the most of the laws for keeping the ball in play, so he needed this one to be good, and it really was.

Anywhere around the halfway line would have been fine, but his torpedo actually had the assistant ref raising his flag 10m into the New Zealand half, meaning this was now an attacking opportunity for us, once we won the lineout of course, and as I said in my preview, well actually in pretty much every preview this season, set piece accuracy on our own put in was critical.

Over to you, Dan Sheehan. Remember – his test debut was only last November as he came on in the 56th minute for Rónan Kelleher against Japan. Now here he was taking a critical lineout throw in a series decider in Wellington. And every time he looked down the barrel of the two lines before a throw, he knew his dart needed to be on the money, particularly with Sam Whitelock lurking halfway down having returned to the Kiwi starting lineup.

Actually his first attempt ended up going straight to Wayne Barnes, who called a halt just as he threw because he was annoyed by Andrew Porter shouting at him for the gap being closed so he gave the Irish loose head a talking-to. This meant James Ryan probably had to come up with a new call as there was a chance his original one had been exposed, thus putting extra pressure on Dan.

So Porter relays the fresh instructions to his hooker, who then sets for the throw. Sure enough Whitelock rises into the air, but Sheehan’s dart finds an absolutely perfect arc over the All Black’s outstretched arms and straight into those of Peter O’Mahony who is right at the apex of his lift.

From there we have the upper hand immediately as Sheehan goes around to collect the ball at the back of the quickly formed maul which is moving deeper into the All Blacks half as Wayne Barnes sticks out his hand for yet another penalty advantage.

But let’s see what we can do with it first eh…Jamison Gibson Park ships it to Sexton via Bundee Aki and the set play is to move it right the way to the other wing where the back three combines Hansen > Keenan > Lowe. He takes on Jordie Barrett who tries to tackle him into touch but Lowe is extraordinarily good at staying in play and he manages to recycle it.

JGP is there in time to keep the move flowing, to Aki via Sexton this time, and the centre works it closer to the 22. You might think we’d work a few more phases in the forwards or even spread it out wide the other way, but nah…the back three is stacked again in our left wing channel ready to have another go.

This time Hansen misses out Hugo Keenan and sends it straight to Lowe, which gives him that extra bit of time so that when he is confronted by Jordie again, he can actually fix him and slip it back inside to Keenan who brings it the rest of the way for our second try and our first taste of a two-score margin.

And to provide the icing on the cake, Sexton effortlessly stroked over the extra points to bring his own personal test point tally to over 1000 although I very much doubt he was thinking too much about milestones like that at the time.

When it comes to analysing rugby moves and set plays, I have never claimed to be anything of an expert at all. I am and always will be merely a blogging fan first and foremost. So when someone who IS an expert at analysis, like, say Brett Igoe, says “This has to be one of Ireland’s greatest tries” about our third one in this match, you should definitely listen to him.

From my humble point of view, however, I would actually use that phrase about this second one from Keenan. The third was a strike move off a scrum under the posts, while this one had involvement from pretty much every man in green, with strong D to start, a turnover, great kick to touch, perfect lineout and maul, then excellent use of the back three to create the space for the score.

Now I’m not trying to start a row here folks, not by a long chalk. And I repeat what I say, you should probably listen to Brett because he is definitely more qualified to rank such things. But instead of focusing on the disagreement, how about we focus on what it’s about? “The Best All Time Irish Try” has not one but two contenders, both in a deciding test in New Zealand, which we comfortably won.

And while we can’t exactly say “it never looked in doubt”, because at one point despite the big halftime lead it most certainly did look in doubt, the way we managed to pull more and more big plays out of the bag, both with and without the ball, demonstrated clearly that this is a squad that has its sights set on a lot more success than this one end of season series, however historic the victory may be.

But that’s the thing – much will be said about how much our victories in Dunedin and Wellington have made history, yet for me that is only goes so far to explain what has happened. To focus on the whole “first NH team to win a series in NZ” aspect would be to deny a body of work that spans all the way back to last November, when Andy Farrell had his first test window as head coach without any real COVID involvement.

And in that time he has shown us the core set of players he wants to work with, the way he wants to play and going by the results, it seems to be a formula that works so if we don’t include that bigger picture in our analysis of what happened on Saturday we really are doing Andy & his coaching staff a major disservice.

But for now it’s time to go back and look at the 80 minutes from the start – in actual fact this will probably be the last time you see a writeup in this format on these pages as we are making some changes for next season, but more on that later…


I know the coin toss in cricket has much more impact on how a match progresses than in rugby, but still I have wished for a long time that we made a bigger deal of the pre-game ritual – information on who won it and what decision was made is often difficult to find even in big matches. As it happens the NZ commentator mentioned in passing that Ireland won it and Sexton chose to take the kickoff.

And it’s no surprise that he would prefer to have the ball in his hand to start a match. Especially at this level where all kicks are expected to land on a sixpence, this should put you in control right from the start and give you a really good chance of getting on the scoreboard first.

It’s not like we hadn’t already shown we could strike the first blow in this series, having done it in both Auckland and Dunedin, so surely we couldn’t do it a third time? Well, actually, we could, and as the All Blacks do their post mortems this most definitely has to be their starting point.

Unlike our hosts who liked kickoffs straight up the middle with the hope of winning possession back immediately, we chose instead to send it into their 22 to welcome Will Jordan to the starting lineup; he took the catch and was immediately wrapped up by James Lowe.

Aaron Smith’s exit kick finds Hugo Keenan rather than touch, so we have one of the outcomes Sexton was looking for and he runs into the opposition half to have us on the front foot already. After a rampaging run by Caelan Doris brought us even further, we sent it out wide where it looked like we had an overlap until O’Mahony’s final pass to Lowe is intercepted by Beauden Barrett.

But we quickly regroup into defensive mode and Havili is forced to clear from behind his own try line, giving us a lineout well into the 22 and not even two minutes on the clock. Ryan calls it to himself, on to JVDF then Bundee Aki who crashes some extra metres.

The forwards do some heavy lifting for a few phases and when it seems Laulala has turned it over, the officials spot a tackle off the ball so now we’ve a penalty. It’s definitely in a kickable position for Sexton, but after consulting with Ryan the brave decision is made to go for the corner. Now, only a try will do.

From 5m out, Sheehan hits Ryan again and this time we’re setting the maul, turning it a bit to the left to get some traction then powering forward so that when van der Flier gets it down over the line, there are several All Blacks left trailing in our wake. Just 3:41 on the clock and we’ve only gone and scored first for the third week in a row.

Obviously our hosts were going to respond, and a high tackle by Doris at midfield gave them a chance to set up an attack down at our end. Given how solid our defensive line has been, it’s no surprise that their very first set piece involved Beaduen Barrett putting up a high ball into our 22 that was aimed perfectly to drop near the posts right at our try line.

Enter Mack Hansen. Just as a reminder…we’re only 5-0 up, it’s “early doors”, it’s our opponents’ first attack and we all know that if they make good on this, they can quickly follow it up with a score or three more. He only went and made the catch, calling the mark, under pressure, with all kinds of consequences should there be any slip up as you can see by the screengrab. Plus for good measure he followed it up by thumping a clearance to touch well outside the 22.

And to follow it up even more, we had Tadhg Beirne rising to pilfer the lineout giving us a chance to clear our lines even further. Now – as it happened, they did come back at us with the high ball and won it back before winning a penalty and what was interesting about this was that unlike us, they weren’t for going for the corner.

That is the straightforward sensible option for 99% teams in test rugby, but in this particular match situation, you’d have bet your house on the Kiwis opting to go for the jugular, so I have to assume this decision was proof that they weren’t exactly sure where to find it. And what’s more, their nerves showed even more when Jordie pushed his kick wide.

For the rest of the opening spell the All Blacks continued to go to the high ball, and came very close to making hay when Will Jordan got to one ahead of Hugo Keenan only to knock it on so Lowe cleared, and when we recovered an overthrown lineout, the same winger booted a sweet kick ahead up the touchline that somehow the AR determined hadn’t quite done enough to be a 5022.

Still, it was soon our turn to put up the bomb but after Hansen batted it back to our side, the All Blacks turned it over and when Reiko Ioane had a go himself at the 5022, it made it with room to spare setting the home side up well to start the second quarter.


We had them under pressure from the lineout but Sexton was judged by Barnes to have “made a poor decision” at a breakdown which gave the home side a penalty right in front – maybe even they would always choose to slot it from this position, which Jordie duly did.

Now we get to the part which I described to open the writeup so let’s jump ahead to right after Sexton’s conversion which made it 3-12. We exited well off the restart as JGP’s kick found touch deep in their half but they took it quickly.

What’s key here is the amount of players Ireland had on the chase. Often the All Blacks are renowned for attacking from deep but when there’s a hoard of stampeding green jerseys they might have thought twice about the quick throw here. In the end Their Winger I Shall Not Name found himself running into heavy traffic so Beauden chose to help him out by clearing Porter out beyond the ball, seemingly forgetting the lesson from last week that ABs are getting pinged for this now.

This time the calculus is very different for Sexton’s decision. Having absorbed a ton of pressure and gotten an outstanding try to create a 9-point lead, this was a kickable chance to kill a bit of time to regroup and stretch the margin even further, which he duly did amid all the booing around the Caketin.

And again we have a distinction between what Irish fans were thinking back at home and what the players were thinking on the pitch. We’d have been delighted with 12 point lead at the break but when James Ryan pinched a lineout 10m inside his own half, we were on the attack again looking for more.

Dan Sheehan went on a wander bringing it to halfway and a good old fashioned Sexton wraparound got it to the far side where Keenan kicked it ahead into the 22 , then Hansen followed it up with a tackle and for some reason NZ chose to run it a few phases, hardly advisable against our determined chasers.

So Laulala brings it into contact against JVDF and tries to shift it to his right arm but as Porter hits him on the other side it squirts out of his hands, going forward where it was taken by his fellow prop George Bower. Am I the only one who thought this might have been a penalty? Well, as it turned out, it’s just as well it wasn’t because we’d have probably taken the three under the sticks.

Instead we had a crucial scrum where it was imperative that we win our own ball. The ABs sure enough put on a shove but we resisted and JGP was able to get the move going. Keenan with the first carry, Doris with the second, and when Sheehan finds Sexton on the next recycle, his body language bamboozles Havili enough for him to put Aki through and with Henshaw inside him, there was try number three.

Our skipper slots the extra points and somehow we have a whopping 19-point, 3-try-to-nil lead going into the “sheds”.

Just one quick sidebar here – there was an incident after the “hooter” where a lineout throw by the ABs was deemed crooked; normally a scrum when the clock is in the red means the half ends but Wayne pointed out the Laws state that this must be taken. In fact he called it a “silly rule”. Actually when you think of it, it makes perfect sense.

If it’s your throw and you’re leading, you can throw it crooked on purpose and no match or half should ever end that way. Anyway, enough of that – back to the amazing fantasy land of a big halftime lead, something we hadn’t had yet in this series.


Obviously the fact that the All Blacks won this quarter 22-3 doesn’t look great, in fact this was probably worse from an Irish standpoint than the 2nd quarter in Auckland had been, and actually could have been even worse still had things gone differently.

For the first try the home side set out to take control from the kickoff as we had done in the first half and it worked, yet the route was nowhere near as direct. Having clearly abandoned the aerial strategy they instead knuckled down and set about out hitting our defence at the contact area, assuming it would break eventually.

Well, on their first go at it they did make a lot of progress from halfway to our 22 but caught a massive break when Tadhg Beirne ripped the ball free and apparently the rugby gods saw fit to have it bounce straight back to the host team, without really breaking their momentum, in fact if anything it allowed Beauden to get within 10m of the line.

It took all of 24 phases for them to get it over our line in that move courtesy of Ardie Savea, but it was only when that same player jackled a penalty on our next spell with the ball down their end that it really started to look like a comeback was on the cards. You don’t mind so much giving up a score provided you know you can still get more yourself, and right at that moment it looked like the All Blacks had tucked in to some Shredded Wheat during the break.

Obviously a very big moment came at minute 51, namely the Porter/Retallick collision, but first I’d like to take another quick sidebar…

The incident itself happened with the clock at 48:59. There then followed a bout of “kick tennis” which lasted until James Lowe found touch and with the TMO contacting Wayne Barnes time wasn’t stopped until 50:25. There are those who feel we should always play on to minimise disruption but the fact is, since the hit was eventually deemed foul play, this meant that there was 90 seconds of play that never mattered.

Luckily it was all just kicking so there was a low probability of anyone getting injured, but that’s not within the TMO’s control. There could easily have been loads of contact in that time, so I reckon once he spotted it the play should have been stopped. And yes, I know we wanted to kill time and the extra minute and a half helped Ireland, but I guess on safety we have to put all that aside don’t we.

Anyway…back to the hit. Red for me. NZ TV kept popping up this graphic of the World Rugby guidelines and to be fair to Wayne Barnes, he was not only following them but doing it out loud so we could hear him and he determined that Retallick was “absorbing the tackle” and made that mitigation for yellow. I disagree, and I would be annoyed had it gone the other way.

(UPDATE – since this article was posted it has been announced that Porter was cited for this challenge, although the citing went on to be dismissed)

When the match resumed, the penalty was put to touch in our 22, and when the maul was going nowhere they broke away there was a glaring exception to the rule of Irish defending as Sheehan, JVDF, Furlong and Hansen all failed to get a hold of Akira Ioane and the blindside powered over.

My reaction to a try scored that easily directly after a card? “Ruh-roh.”

We needed a break – something, even the smallest thing to go our way and quickly. Sexton sent a shortish restart hoping to win it back but it was taken by Whitelock who knocked on at halfway moments later giving us a scrum to calm our nerves.

Many wonder about why we chose to remove JVDF at this point to allow for a sub prop to come on for the scrum – the best suggestion I saw was that having already made 100,000 tackles in this series, he was due a breather…

Anyway the ABs put us under pressure at this scrum until a brilliant piece of innovation from Caelan Doris saw him scoop it through his legs to JGP allowing us to go on the attack. Lowe took it towards their 22 into a central position where Barnes stuck his arm out for a penalty, just what we needed as Sexton was able to put the lead back to two scores, 17-25.

Shortly afterwards we had another penalty after Tadhg Beirne did more Tadhg Beirne things at the halfway line. With just over 3 minutes left until Porter’s return, it made sense for Sexton to take time off the clock with a place kick even if it was right on the edge of his range.

In the end he really gave it a good go, only for it to hit the crossbar almost dead centre and back into play. The home side tidied well, cleared, and we ran it back until Sexton put up another bomb that was inch perfect outside the 22; Beauden and Keenan went for it only for it to fall right on the line where it was brilliantly gathered by Jordie (well described by the NZ comms as a “slip catch”).

Two passes later, the one thing we worried about when we saw the name Will Jordan on the team sheet happened. He found a perfect line, broke through a gap, and from there it was like sevens rugby. Our halfbacks were never going to stop him, nor was Henshaw chasing back, it was a superb try (though still not best of the match, see opening paragraphs!).

More importantly, the gap had now narrowed to three, and actually could have been one had Jordie not missed the conversion (looked ok at first but on replay clearly went wide high above the upright). The only positive thing for Ireland at this stage was that both Porter and JVDF were now able to return to the field, although as it turned out Rob Herring jogging on with them to replace Dan Sheehan was just as significant as the clock ticked beyond 60.


So we were back to needing “a break – something, even the smallest thing to go our way” again and we got it just after the restart when Sam Cane was judged to have knocked on. Now we had a scrum, central and just 7m outside their 22 – if we had even an ounce of attacking mojo left from the first half, we badly needed to find it now.

And sure enough, JGP sent it to Keenan who brilliantly found Aki at full pace and that got it all the way to 5m from the line; after he’s tackled the ball is left exposed at the back of the breakdown which looked too tempting for Akira Ioane to ignore as he ran around and picked it up – trouble was, he hadn’t done it legally so we had a penalty.

Three points making it a 6-point margin would have been no good to us with the home side in this mood. Sexton had to back us to make the most from a 5m lineout so that was the call. With all of the game’s six tries having come down the other end, we badly needed one here now, which in turn meant we badly needed Herring’s dart to stick. Luckily for us this situation is a forté of his and he has gotten on the back of many a good set piece for his province over the years.

Before the lineout is thrown, the ABs make the odd move of replacing their skipper Sam Cane with Dalton Papali’i. He certainly did not look injured and this, to me anyway, had all the hallmarks of “even if we do take the lead here, you won’t be on the pitch when we do it, and your days as skipper are done” about it. I have to say it was a very, very odd time to make changes to your pack.

Anyway, Herring still had to make his dart count, and he found James Ryan perfectly, though without any competition I might add. The home side had set for a maul, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to our formation, which went one way first, then started moving the other as Herring broke off and got it over the line.

Once more, I would like to apologise to my neighbours and their newborn baby for the almighty roar I may have let out at this point.

Now the lead was ten, and with about 14 minutes left on the clock at this stage, it was still one the home side could claw back. But I guess nobody told that to our defence. Tadhg Beirne gets a huge chunk of the credit for forcing about a thousand turnovers in that time (might be overstating it but it felt like there were that many) although I reckon he’d be first to say it was a team effort.

On 70 minutes they had a scrum right under our posts and all Irish fans who were scratching their heads at Porter and Furlong being taken off before it was set had their doubts put to rest by a massive shove which put the ABs on the back foot, with our backs following up well before a neck roll by Whitelock on Beirne gave us the clearing penalty.

I may have let another roar just then, possibly even louder, but sure the baby was already awake at that stage, right?

As the clock hit 75, then 76, then 77, not only was it getting more and more likely we had done it but we were actually spending more time down their end of the pitch. Carbery had replaced Sexton at this stage and he made a timely interception which put us down there.

Eventually the home side had possession in their own 22 and the clock had gone red – in the back of my mind I was thinking if anyone can find two scores after the hooter it’s this lot (nonsensical I know but sense was well out the window at this stage) until eventually Akira knocked it on and, well, we had only gone and done it.

Let the records show that while this writeup is much longer than usual, I would have gladly made it twice as long if I had the time. Perfect way to end the season. Each and every true Irish rugby fan was right there with Peter O’Mahony, both in his reactions towards the end, and in his celebrations later with Bundee Aki.


Only one real harpin point for me. The historical element of who we had beaten and where we had beaten them is one thing, but I can’t help thinking back to Andy Farrell’s original lineup being named for that first match of the 22/23 test season against Japan back in November.

The postponement of our match against the USA brought the end to COVID’s disruptions of Andy’s plans for this squad, having just two matches under his belt when it hit. Now he could make a plan and select a squad for a regular series of matches in front of big crowds just as nature intended.

And among Irish fans there was much moaning over his selection t face Japan, mostly because it was very much a Leinster-centric one. I was really annoyed with this, though not because I follow the boys in blue, rather because it really shouldn’t matter how the team is made up because they are all wearing the same jersey.

But the only real way to shut down those critics is to win, and by God, these boys have done that. 3 for 3 in November, 4 for 5 in the Six Nations, and now 2 for 3 (3 for 5 combined with Maori matches) with a Triple Crown and Steinlager Series trophy in the bargain is well.

So I guess there was method in his “madness” right? And what’s more, you can tell by all the soundbites coming from this squad that they are far from finished. Hopefully he and his coaching staff have earned a lot more support from us for the challenges that lie ahead because to adapt a corporate slogan, it really is a Team of Awesome.


I’ve been doing these writeups for every Leinster & Ireland men’s match since the 2008/09 season. I have no plans to stop Harpin On Rugby as an entity, but this is probably the last writeup I will do in this particular format. From next season the plan is to put more emphasis into podcasts, and by the way don’t miss our last one of those for this season, which should post on Thursday.

Anyway there will be more details on our changes over the coming weeks, for now I’d like to thank everyone who has ever read, liked, shared and commented on my writeups over the years. Needless to say it has been a pleasure.

But thanks most of all to everyone involved at both Leinster Rugby and the IRFU – obviously I couldn’t do any of this without them and over the past thirteen years both have provided a host of top quality entertainment for me to harp on; I’m very looking forward to whatever comes next. JLP

Click here for a selection of online comments at the fulltime whistle




NEW ZEALAND-12 IRELAND-23 (2nd test)

I know the screengrab make it look like Cane got the red
but I still think it’s appropriate for his reaction


As trilogies filmed in New Zealand go, this test series has been packed with just as much drama, colourful characters and yes, even magic, as anything Peter Jackson was able to produce. And what’s more we’re only two instalments in, with a bonus spin-off episode to come on Tuesday.

So I have chosen “The Cards of Dunedin” for my writeup, partly as a nod to titles of the individual LOTR books/movies, but also because I see the flurry of first half sanctions as being key to the historic result.

Now I know that might seem a bit controversial…to say we won thanks to having a man advantage might suggest we were somehow lucky or maybe even got some favourable decisions from the officials.

But that’s not the case at all. In fact, it has actually been proven that mistakes were made with regard to cards that may have prevented us from scoring even more, so I assure you it has nothing to do with that. Plus we mustn’t forget that 17 of our 23 points were scored with even playing numbers.

What I mean by saying the cards being so critical is more about how and why they happened.

The All Blacks were justified as 12-point favourites given how the first test had gone, but as I said in my writeup, since many of their scores came from our mistakes, there was plenty for us to work with and every chance we could turn things around ahead of this clash in Dunedin.

And literally from the kickoff, we put it up to them. First high ball challenge, handled. First AB lineout throw, enough pressure to drive them back ten metres. First attack, line break followed up by seven Irish points. First defensive set, turned over at halfway, albeit with an Irish knock on. First scrum, solid lock by Irish front row then enough pressure on Beauden Barrett that the planned move goes out the window.

By minute 13, Ireland not only showed we came to compete, we showed we had our hosts’ number in several key areas, and we also showed we could back up all that domination with enough scores to force them into a situation they are far from used to…being two scores behind so early.

Even putting aside the perennial talk outside of New Zealand that they tend to push the boundaries of the Laws – after a start like this, is it any wonder they might have tried to push them even further? Like maybe a late hit on Mack Hansen? Or maybe tackle Garry Ringrose off the ball when he looks certain to score? Or maybe stay upright when facing that same centre because you’re wary of him offloading or stepping around you?

I reckon those two yellows and a red, which came in relatively quick succession from minutes 17 to 31, seemed to be direct consequences of what we had done in the time leading up to them. And even without the phantom “cover” denying a penalty try or the mixup over player numbers, it’s fair to say that much like the previous week we seem to have left a score or two behind ourselves.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that this wasn’t just an historic victory to be taken in isolation. When you add it to what we achieved last November, plus the Triple Crown/strong 2nd place finish in the Six Nations, you have a clear pattern of a side that seems to know what it’s about, is being well prepared for these big matches, and most importantly, appears focused for even bigger challenges down the line.

Because going by the body language of the players after the full time whistle, I wasn’t seeing the kind of elation you tend to see in a big one-off victory. It felt like I was seeing a perfect mix of satisfaction from a job well done along with realization that there is more left to do, and not just next Saturday in Wellington either.

Obviously I was disappointed with a portion of the reactions of Irish fans online, some of whom seemed to only care about heaping praise on players from their own province, others who seemed to only care about heaping insults on players who came from outside their own province, but while I will always call that out it won’t ever prevent me trying to emphasize what really matters; you know, the whole “standing shoulder to shoulder” bit.

Anyway that’s enough of a preamble, time to stock up on Lembas bread and set off on a journey through the 80 minutes which led Ireland to cast yet another one of our long-standing demons into Mount Doom.


I’ve already summarized what happened in the opening few minutes by pointing out our first go in different situations, but I’d like to delve a little deeper into how our first score came to pass. It was clear the All Blacks were confident they could hurt us following up after a high ball but first Hugo Keenan from the kickoff and then Mack Hansen at midfield proved otherwise.

Then as we settled into our first decent bout of possession we first had Caelan Doris throwing a flat pass inside him to Josh van der Flier when it looked more likely he would send it further back, although this was only the appetizer to the magnificent entree about to be served by Johnny Sexton (who celebrates his 37th trip round the sun as this writeup posts).

You can see how we set ourselves up, with it looking to all intents and purposes that the Irish skipper was looking to use Tadhg Beirne as a screen to send the ball back to the four players stacked up towards the wide channel…but we don’t talk enough about Sexton’s ability to disguise his intent with his body language and it’s clear not a single All Black expected a flat pass to Beirne, which is exactly what he did, putting the lock clean through.

Now we’re in the 22 and on the front foot. Remember where we are, remember who we’re playing, remember this is the opening attack where we need to make a statement of intent. We really have to make this count. At the very first breakdown, referee Jaco Peyper puts his arm out for a penalty advantage – some might say there’s a debate to be had over this being in yellow territory already but let’s not be greedy eh.

The ball gets shipped out wide where somehow Peter O’Mahony keeps it in and we go back inside for more crash ball from the van der Fliers and the Henshaws. On phase #9 a Mack Hansen show and go gets us to within 5. Following up is Beirne with another carry to get us in closer to the posts, another penalty advantage gets posted and to provide the perfect finish, yet another flat Sexton pass right into the path of Andrew Porter who nonchalantly plants down.

So as the clock ticked into the 5th minute, the home side were already 7 points down and taking another restart. Again it goes up the middle, again it’s confidently fielded, this time by O’Mahony. As we clear our lines it’s taken by their right winger (still won’t use his name) as the home commentator points out they “haven’t really had the ball yet”.

A bit of kick tennis follows and they still don’t get that possession until a minute later and even then, when they get to halfway, Doris manages to wrestle it free only to knock it on. We continue to thwart them despite a harsh call for a jersey pull by Lowe though that comes to nothing as James Ryan snaffles the resulting lineout.

Then something I genuinely never thought I’d see. An All Black pinged for clearing out beyond the ruck. And I don’t even mean it to be disparaging. I’ve always said that if you can get away with that kind of thing, fair play to you, however frustrating it might be for others. I even thought maybe this one was a bit harsh compared to others I’ve seen let go, but it was crucial for Ireland.

Having gotten back into their 22, and again needing points, a Henshaw fumble on the set play made it look like our chance was gone only for our defence to stay solid as the All Blacks exited and Caelan Doris again latching on to a carrier, this time earning a straight arm penalty which Sexton was happy to pop over the sticks for a 10-point lead.

The first card came shortly after we denied them once more at midfield, this time with a seven-phase set that let to Beauden Barrett launching one which Mack hansen wasn’t able to gather this time but still the chaser knocked it on giving us the scrum.

From the set piece, Gibson Park sent it blind side to Hansen who sent a great kick ahead into the 22 and the ABs were under a fair bit of pressure when Peyper called it back after being told that there was a follow through by Fainga’anuku of his attempted block down into Hansen that needed looking at.

Obviously my goggles are going to say this could have been red, but I have been consistent on these pages over challenges that can be considered “reckless” and this was definitely one of them. Still, let’s just say for this one I can see how the officials found their way to mitigation but it was always going to be at least yellow.

Whatever the colour, every Irish observer was clear that it was crucial that we made this man advantage count, and when our lineout from the penalty was turned into a New Zealand scrum in their 22 after which they got two clearing penalties, it wasn’t looking good for us at all even though it was only the end of the first quarter.


Now when I say “it wasn’t looking good” I have to be clear that I mean for us, the very-dedicated yet also very-much-unable-to-help fans. For all the uncertainty we had throughout this match, it was clearly not shared by the players.

And while there was a barrage of disgust from fans at halftime that we had failed to score in the second quarter, it really was harsh criticism given what happened in the lead up to their second yellow card.

What needs to be noted here is the variation we were using in our attack to get into their 22. The flat passes may have worked early, but on this next bout of possession we first kept going at their blind side before Sexton did a little dink over the top which a brace of Barrett brothers did well to clear.

But it only went as far as Keenan who gave it back to his skipper and with the opposition now with no idea what he was going to do, chose to bring it himself and got it deep into the 22 and with Ringrose on his inside, the offload seemed to be a certain try, at very least to Ofa Tu’ungafasi who proceeded to haul the Irish 13 down before he got the ball.

Again I was surprised even by the fact that the ref was going for a card at all because, well, you know, they already had one which was itself a shock to all biased Irish eyes. But there was more to this. Would Ringrose have scored? I thought so, obviously all other Irish fans thought so, and critically even the NZL commentary team thought so (the term “100%” was used, can’t get clearer than that) except for the officials somehow deciding that Beauden Barrett, despite clearly being wrong footed at the time of the challenge, was in a position to cover?

I’m sorry, but this should have been seven points, and what annoyed me most wasn’t the call by the officials but actually the way Irish fans seemed to forget about this come half time.

Though to be fair, although much had happened already, there was still much more to come before the break. Having failed to take advantage once again from the penalty after the yellow, there was an Irish scrum about 13m in the New Zealand half and we were again trying to mix things up to find a way through.

On the All Black side of things, they had actually been defending reasonably well all things considered, and here were were being forced back a bit but when the ball got to Ringrose, everyone flinched when they saw his collision with Angus Ta’avao.

“Looked like an accident” says the ref before any replay is shown. Clearly he really, really, REALLY doesn’t want to flash yet another card at a black jersey. Yet replay after replay after replay shows the challenge to be worse each time. No attempt to go low, no change of height or direction from the carrier, clear contact with the head, no alternative than red.

Now had this been Super Rugby, the home side would have been able to return a tight head prop to the field in the 50th minute, but now they were without two of them for the next 5 minutes or so and couldn’t have more than 14 on the pitch for the remainder of the match.

There was much confusion over personnel for the next while, and rather than go through it all I’m going to leave it to this excellent Murray Kinsella twitter thread to explain the numerous technicalities. To bottom-line it, it was Papali’i who should have sat out the rest of the match not Ardie Savea but more crucially, the ABs had 13 on the park for around 2 minutes when they should have had only 12.

A word on Ringrose going off…absolutely nothing against Bundee Aki but I hadn’t been wild about his having the 23 jersey for the first two tests. I’m always happy when he starts it’s just for percentage reasons I prefer a back three player on the bench but the way this turned out, boy did we need him, it was a cameo so good it almost put him in the frame for PotM.

But everything began to go wrong for Ireland, in this half anyway, on the 35th minute when Mack Hansen, again in space on the wing and taking the right option to kick it ahead, saw the ball drift just over the touchline to send the play all the way back towards halfway for an All Black throw.

Despite being two (though should have been three) men down, this was the home side’s “purple patch” where they took advantage of rugby situations where it doesn’t really hurt with unequal numbers, aided and abetted of course by Ireland shipping a few penalties in a row.

Once the Savea confusion was handled (albeit incorrectly), a well set maul off the first lineout got them moving forward and then a little grubber forward flicked off Porter on the way by which meant when it found touch in our half, they had yet another lineout.

The next one brought another penalty, this time against Ryan for getting arm instead of ball in his jump. Now we’re in our 22, for the first time in the game I might add, and there’s yet another advantage on the way for taking out a lifter. A few phases later, Ryan is caught on the wrong side for a penalty, which they quick tap and Ryan again tackles before the carrier has gone 10 so there’s no dispute that his own card was bang on.

Even after all of that, the All Blacks needed a good bit of luck to breach our goal line defence (although you could say we had luck too in that we might have seen a second card). On another day the loose ball would have found an attacking hand or chest to be knocked on but this time the rugby gods placed it onto Beauden Barrett’s boot and let it trickle perfectly over the line for him to dot down and his conversion ended the half. When it could, probably should have been 0-17, it was now 7-10, quite the swing.


Sexton took the restart, our first of the contest.

When Beauden’s exit kick didn’t go too far, our skipper returned with a bomb that was perfectly contestable for Hugo Keenan who won it back for his side, and once again we were applying pressure down the other end and our hosts found it difficult to escape.

It was an Irish scrum right on the halfway line that put us in a position to get that crucial next score. You could feel the tension even from the other side of the world that this was a pivotal set piece.

All was good in the front row, and Gibson-Park was able to launch an attack by sending Bundee Aki on crash ball well into enemy territory. A few phases later it was a perfectly timed pass from Sexton putting Aki through this time and we had an overlap on the outside that eventually got us into their 22.

Next it’s Tadhg Beirne involved in the heavy lifting and now we’re at the 5m line. 7th phase, 8th phase, JGP goes on a little snipe to bring us even closer…the All Blacks employing their “chaos theory” to try to knock us off our game but we’re still going strong.

Finally on phase 11, there’s Andrew Porter again, this time getting it down right under the posts, and all with 17 seconds still left of James Ryan being on the naughty step so not only are we back to a two-score lead, we’re also back to a man advantage.

Our road to that try cannot be understated. The occasion, the venue, the opposition, regrets from earlier failed opportunities, fear of further ones….none of them stopped us from running full tilt at them, creating the chances, and forcing them down whether the home crowd liked it or not. Such was our confidence that even the introduction of Will “can create a try out of literally nothing” Jordan didn’t seem to phase us.

Now we were even winning full penalties at scrum time, on top of all the other things like our world class back row trio of O’Mahony, JVDF & Doris forcing turnovers for fun.

Still over 25m left but already the seeds of belief had been planted in my head, although they hadn’t taken root enough to stop me from letting out an almighty roar when James Lowe’s pass towards the wide channel sailed over his team mates and into touch. I wasn’t aware of the penalty advantage, you see. Clearly he was.

What’s more this penalty was right in front of the posts, and Sexton wasn’t for missing those especially on this day as he closes in on becoming the 8th member of the “1000 test points or more” club.

So there we were, at the end of the third quarter, having stretched our lead to 13, definitely more lucky a number than not for us, but clearly against this lot we really needed to stretch that margin to 15 or higher so there was no time for letting up.


Finally after the 60 minute mark it looked like the All Blacks had worked out that our stingy defence, particularly a man stronger, was going to take some improvisation so when they won a penalty in their own half, Will Jordan didn’t hesitate to take it quickly to try to catch us unawares.

And sure enough for the next few phases they had managed to up the tempo and seemed to be getting into something of a rhythm when Jordie Barrett appeared to slip through two of our best tacklers in Robbie Henshaw and Caelan Doris – he had Reiko Ioane right there with him for the offload and he could have brought it the rest of the way…

…only for Doris deciding “You Shall Not Pass!!!” (had to slip at least one LOTR reference into the actual writeup, sorry) by laying down an absolutely inch perfect ankle tap for the ages that brought him down. Am I the only Irish fan who had already mentally added 7 points to the AB side of the scoreboard? I very much doubt that I am.

Two phases later it was that man Andrew Porter involved again by burrowing his way into breakdown and by now my screams had transformed from ones of “oh no we’re going to blow this lead aren’t we” to ones of “hell yeah we’re actually gonna win this one”.

And to finally seal the deal we had two magnificent kicks, one from a likely source, the other not so much. The first was from Hugo Keenan who managed to fire one from inside his 22, 15m from the touchline, out of bounds almost 10 inside the All Black half, an almighty punt in a high pressure situation. But the best was yet to come…

I’m not sure Karl Tu’inukuafe knew the pass from his scrum half was intended for him the way he snatched at it but he was always going to knock it on. And a scrum 10m in our own half would not have been the worst thing, and any mere “War Mortal” would have been happy with that.

But when the ball falls to Peter O’Mahony, especially in a match like this in which he was clearly born to feature (whether or not he actually did tell Sam Cane he’s a “shit Richie McCaw” I will still tell my grandchildren he did), you can be sure to expect something different. Fully aware of his position, he did not hesitate to “funt” it (yeah I know I’m borrowing heavily from TRK-speak here, more than happy to give him the nod) and before we knew what was what, it was our lineout in their 22 thanks to the new ruling.

And although we lost the lineout, the way our defence had been playing it was almost a blessing and for a second magical time, Jaco Peyper spotted another All Black clearing beyond the ruck (“Winger Who Shall Not Be Named” the culprit this time) and guess where this was? Right under the posts again for Sexton to push that lead to a wonderful 16 with all of 13 minutes to go.

If you do watch this match in full again, even though you know the All Blacks do get one more try from this point, I still strongly suggest you watch it all the way to the end because they really do have to work bloody hard to get even that, such was the determination of our defence, as our bench proved to be much, much deeper than theirs with important contributions all the way through the 23.

The consolation try eventually game courtesy of Jordan (who surely has to start next week btw) right in the corner but with the clock at 77:29 by that stage, there was nothing more the home side could do and this match was done.


For one thing, among all the satisfying things about this performance, one of the best for me was that at halftime I wanted us to “Regroup, make man advantage count, mind discipline”, and that’s exactly what we did.

Only one more key harpin’ point for me, even though I have already made it earlier I have to say it again…this was a team result.

Sure, we had leadership and creativity from Sexton, power from all of our backrows (with a little extra O’Mahonyness from O’Mahony thrown in), strength off the bench especially Bundee Aki, but it’s ALL about the team display, yes, in defence but above that, more importantly, in their seemingly endless belief because while we may have been found wanting for it back at home, the lads on the pitch had more than enough for all of us put together.


And following on from what I said about their confidence, they don’t look like a side that will be happy with just the one win on this tour so we’ll see what happens during the week and next Saturday. Obviously we’ll be giving it all the full Harpin treatment with a podcast during the week and the usual previews and tweets and what not so do stay tuned.

So congratulations once more to the boys for ticking this very important box, very much looking forward to seeing what’s on the cards in Wellington. JLP

Click here for a selection of online comments after the fulltime whistle




NEW ZEALAND-42 IRELAND-19 (1st test)


I guess the way we Irish fans process our matches against the All Blacks can be put into two categories – “Pre-” and “Post-Chicago“.

Because if you turn the clock back to before that historic fist win over this lot, a scoreline like this one wouldn’t phase us and if all we knew was the result, we’d be able to take a pretty good stab at guessing how the 80 minutes went because we had seen it happen seen it so many times before.

Another feature of those many many defeats prior to 2016 was the comments we’d make after the full time whistle…”there were plenty of positives”, “injuries cost us”, “the ref had it in for us” or “we just didn’t get the bounce of the ball”…so much so that those phrases had about as much credibility as “the cheque is in the post” or “the dog ate my homework”.

But here’s the thing…what if the cheque really IS in the post? We’ve beaten the All Blacks twice more since then, one of them our most recent meeting and we went on from there to have a more than decent international season. So there were legitimate reasons to be optimistic going into this first test, and when we started so well, it really looked like we were going to make it a contest.

Now that’s not to say our opening spell suddenly made us look like favourites or anything, but right up to that fateful one minute spell where The All Black Winger Whose Name I Refuse To Type scored that interception try and Sexton went off, we were right there in the contest and that cannot be ignored.

Everything about that series which led to the Keith Earls try was good. Lineout in the 22, possession retained, phases in the red zone against what was always going to be a stubborn defence, plenty of ball control and patience until eventually it was sent out wide and even then there was composure from Sexton, Ringrose and Keenan to find the accuracy to get it out wide where “The Man” defied all his doubters to provide the finish.

It was all looking good at that stage, even with the conversion missed. Shortly afterwards Garry Ringrose clattered into their skipper Sam Cane and it really looked like we had come to compete. Then that same centre got on the end of a little dink through from Sexton and had his offload gone to Jamison Gibson Park the scrum half could well have been under the posts. But instead it went to Beauden Barrett. Fine margins.

Having won the first quarter, it was always going to be a matter of time until the home side created a decent chance and once they finally worked a smidgin of space on our left wing allowing new cap Leicester Fainga’anuku to get it to the line, our scramble defence wasn’t enough to keep up with their recycling and Aaron Smith shipped it right into the path of Jordie Barrett who dived over the line.

Next came that pivotal minute, the 30th one to be precise. Having already demonstrated that we could convert good attacking opportunites, we were 8 or 9 phases into our next attempt and while the home D forced us into creative ways of retaining the ball, like Robbie Henshaw’s behind the back effort, we still had reasons to be confident that we’d get something out of this visit into enemy territory.

But it all started when Ringrose bobbled the pass. Not his fault, it happens. But for this play everything needed to be perfect and James Lowe knew this which was why he tried so hard to adjust his run to be available. Garry managed to hold onto it, managed to offload, but Lowe’s adjustments weren’t enough for him to be there, not his fault of course. So the ball went to ground, and as we all know, when this happens it’s up to the Rugby Gods to determine what happens next, for reasons only they know. And in this instance it fell perfectly for TABWWNIRTT and there was no stopping him from there. More fine margins.

Somehow, it’s 14-5 after half an hour, despite our domination of territory and possession. And it’s not like this was the kind of arena that chasing a deficit of more than a converted try is easy. But there was more to come.

On the one hand you want us to have the confidence to take a quick tap penalty at midfield and JGP is definitely the kind of player to do it. But we had done so well with lineout opportunities in and around their 22, plus we had just seen our early lead completely reversed so I was never confident about this decision paying off and sure enough the phases ended up in a knock on outside their 22 and it wasn’t long before they were back down at our end again.

While I meant what I said about the bounce of the ball going against us at times, what the All Blacks did to us next definitely wasn’t one of them.  There was so much space in behind our rushing defenders that when Beauden Barrett trickled through his little grubber it practically could have bounced in any direction and Quinn Tupaea would have had plenty of time to collect it and score.

The gods definitely weren’t with us for try number four. To be fair, we were already under the kosh with them having won a penalty straight from the restart before enjoying front foot ball around our 22, then earning a penalty advantage, but when Aaron Smith spotted a gap up the middle and kicked ahead, we were teased a bit when it didn’t quite sit for him but then it shifted away from all Irish players to a spot over the line where only Ardie Savea could get to it. 

Halftime, 28-5, game over plus a scoreline that never looked possible just twenty minutes earlier.

“Just win the second half” is all we ever heard from coaches when we’ve had our arses handed to us before the break and I’m sure it was floated in the Irish dressing room here, although like I said we had already shown we could hurt this All Black side albeit with little to show for it.

And while for the most part it was them punishing our mistakes, when a woeful exit clearance from Beauden Barrett was taken on the run by Hugo Keenan to set us up nicely at their 22, we embarked on a series of phases when referee Karl Dickson ignored two tacklers lingering past the ruck before finally pinging the third. With Joey Carbery leading our attack we put it to the corner, won the lineout then worked a few phases before flinging it wide where Lowe innovated an offload in the tackle to get it to Ringrose who applied the finish you see in the lead photo.

The next try from the home side was probably the most disappointing of the lot. It feels wrong to type the words “Garry Ringrose fell off a tackle” because even on the rare occasions when he does, if Henshaw is with him in the centre, it rarely costs their team anything but on this occasion when it was Ardie Savea in full flow, the Irish backfield is going to have no chance in stopping him if he makes it past those two. His nonchalant celebration was annoying to us of course but still understandable.

Still we didnt give up and on the next series of phases in their 22 Carbery looked to get it down only for the TMO, referee and NZL commentators all looking at the replay just to see if there was “separation ” in his grounding, totally oblivious to the “try-saving” tackle made by Reiko Ioane whose first contact was with Joey’s shoulder before actually grabbing the back of his collar and pulling.

At the time with my admittedly green goggles not only was there enough (just) to award the try, but even without it there was a nailed on penalty try and yellow card for a dangerous tackle. In a way I’m more annoyed now that it wasn’t even looked it or indeed discussed by the commentary team. Had they reviewed and said it was ok at least there would have acknowledged what was clearly a challenge worth looking at.

Instead they went back for an offside penalty and having backed ourselves to “tap n go” a few phases later JVDF crashed over the line and this time the ref gave it, only for it to be called back because he actually did let it go before grounding so the home side escaped.

Their sixth try was another bad disappointment. We had struggled at scrum time throughout but even without that for Pita Gus Sowakula to take it under the post more or less unchallenged is going to look a lot worse in the DVD review.

Of all the home transgressions ignored by the officials, the more egregious was that by Scott Barrett on 74m. Now when I say “ignored”, the ref did give a penalty for his charge into Peter O’Mahony as we rolled through more phases on their line, but even when you rule out the head contact it was minimum a yellow for being both offside and lightyears from anything remotely resembling a gate. As I type the window for a citing has closed so I really don’t know what everyone else is seeing.

Anyway the ref did award a penalty after the next phase and when we all thought he was finally going to his pocket, he seemed to almost apologetically give a warning instead (his reply of “of course you can” when Savea asked if he could talk to his team mates was particularly grating).

So we did another tap n go and it looked like Andrew Porter got over…this time the call was that it was “held up” (ref) and “brilliant defence” (commentary) despite the clear evidence of a grounding in the replay (again when I say “clear” I mean “at least worth a mention”).

Finally we got both back into their 22 AND over the line for real a minute or so later when Bundee Aki applied the finish and then in the 79th minute it was almost laughable that an All Black was sent to the naughty step after all that was missed before.

Now I know I’ve done a lot of “whinging and moaning” in my descriptions of the scores but if you read these pages regularly you’ll know I generally do my best to be fair about my team’s performances and even on second look a day or two after the fact I still felt we were hard done by at times.

All that said, over the 80 minutes it was probably right that we ended up on the losing side, although a 5-4 try count would have made a lot more sense than 6-3 did the way the match went. You just can’t afford any kind of defensive lapses against these guys and we had too many, plus there were some set piece issues that need addressing.

However…going back to the “positives” angle, you can’t ignore how much success we had against their red zone defence. If the three tries doesn’t point to it, the lengths to which they went to stop us definitely do. And that is definitely something to bring forward to next week.

I’m short on time this week which is why this writeup is short on words compared to others but I still reckon I’ve said all I can about this match, though I will add that Joey Carbery’s forcibly-prolonged cameo was impressive and overall I think both the selection and approach were justified. If you can’t see a path for us to improve next week then I really don’t think you want to.

Obviously there’s every chance the All Blacks will improve themselves which is a scary prospect but I’ll leave that broader discussion to the podcast during the week so be sure and stay tuned for that. JLP                                                      




S02E23 : “Lions 1.1 & Opp view #MUNvLEI feat Michelle Tobin (@CorkSeashell) + Wood v JVDF feat Keego (@nkeegan)”


A longer show than usual just before the Christmas – to start I’m bringing back my Lions Selector Panel where I ask a group of fans to pick their best starting XV for the First Test against the Springboks before returning to them a couple of times before the squad is announced to see if they have any changes.  First up we have Michelle Tobin who also will share with us an opposition view of her beloved Munster going into Saturday night’s visit of Leinster to Thomond Park.  Then I spoke to Keego about the incident from the RDS last weekend involving Tom Wood and Josh van der Flier.

Harpin Leinster v Northampton match writeup >

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S02E22 : “Opposition view : #LEIvNOR featuring Nathan Johns (@nathanrjohns)”


So Leinster kicked off a new European campaign last weekend with a controlled performance on the way to maximum points in Montpellier.  Next up in round 2 we welcome the Northampton Saints to the RDS and I was lucky enough to find a perfect guest in Nathan Johns for the latest in our series of “opposition view” pods.  We talked about the Premiership outfit’s season so far and the kind of team we’ll expect to see them put out on Saturday among other things.

Montpellier v Leinster Harpin match writeup >

ThreeBOD Rugby group >

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S02E21 : “The Post Autumn Cup, Pre Champions Cup Pod featuring Keego (@nkeegan)”


So I took a bit of time off from the pod but I’m back now and there’s a lot to harp on.  Keego was on hand to discuss the Scotland match, the Autumn Nations Cup itself, the social media abuse directed at Andrew Brace (#DBAD) and Leinster’s upcoming trip to Montpellier.

Keego’s “The Couch Pundit” >

The Harpin writeup of Ireland v Scotland, titled “The Third Place Minutes” >

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S02E20 : “Finding Your Level : England v Ireland speakup”


With two matches every weekend for me to harp on, I’m trying to trim the workload down where I can, so for this week’s pod I’m simply going to share an audio version of my writeup from last weekend’s match at Twickenham in case you missed it on the website.  I reckon I didn’t have to look too far for positives, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Read the original text here >

Also, our Leinster v Cardiff writeup is here >

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S02E019 : “A Leinster 23 for Europe featuring @nkeegan, @ccbooms & @RichMif”


With a new European campaign on the horizon I’m switching the focus back to the boys in blue and for this pod I’ve assembled an elite panel of Harpin contributors to discuss a possible matchday squad for our pool matches, also looking at how we might approach the competition.

Follow the lads on twitter Neil “Keego” Keegan @nkeegan, Conor Cronin @ccbooms & Richard Mifsud @RichMif

Harpin Ireland v Wales writeup >

Harpin Leinster v Edinburgh writeup >

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