Donal Lenihan - Columnist - IRISH EXAMINER

DONAL LENIHAN: Three tactical challenges Ireland must master

1 Front five must survive early scrutiny

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DONAL LENIHAN: Can Ireland adapt to retain Six Nations crown and four other big questions

So many questions, so many imponderables. Rarely has the outcome of a Six Nations championship been so difficult to predict. 

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DONAL LENIHAN: Will the real Ireland please stand up?

Last weekend’s final round of Champions Cup pool action served to remind us that unless a team is emotionally invested in the outcome of the contest, chances are they can forget about winning.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Joe Schmidt left with serious soul searching to do

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse came the confirmation that there will be no Irish representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster must stay true to who they are in new European landscape

The problem with being a market leader for so long is that expectation levels are always set at ceiling height. Munster have been a good news story for European rugby ever since that shattering defeat to Northampton in the 2000 Heineken Cup final.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Irish provinces searching for positive pointers to the future

DESPITE that crushing defeat to Saracens in London, Ulster remain Ireland’s solitary contender to make the last eight of this season’s Champions Cup. 

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DONAL LENIHAN: Decline of Munster empire goes much deeper than coach Anthony Foley

“Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is a warrior and always speaks from the heart. You could feel his pain when commenting immediately after Saturday’s game. ‘We’ve left our fans down who travelled, we’ve left our fans at home down, we’ve left our families down, we left ourselves down.’ In truth, the players have also been left down. Munster rugby needs to take a good look at itself.” (Irish Examiner: January 20, 2015)

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DONAL LENIHAN: Time to acknoweldge Munster rugby is facing a depressing reality

IF that merited win over Ulster at Ravenhill nine days ago represented a step forward in what was proving an already challenging season, Saturday’s depressing Champions Cup defeat at the hands of Stade Francais constitutes a series of giant leaps backward.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Irish rugby at a crossroads - Where do the IRFU’s priorities lie?

NOT long ago I posed a question as to what direction the IRFU is heading in relation to its handling of the provinces.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Sean O’Brien an obvious captain in Irish rugby's changing of the guard

It almost passed unnoticed. Some who attended may have played no hand, act or part in Ireland’s ultimately disappointing World Cup experience three months ago but were in attendance when the book was finally closed on the 2015 event by the Irish players and management at Carton House on Sunday.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster must find a fork in the road ahead

It’s an oft-used phrase but it encapsulates succinctly the bind Munster find themselves in at present: “If things don’t change, they stay the same.”

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster’s kicking solution may be right under their nose...

With two full rounds of the Champions Cup pool action still to come in January, it’s already cast in stone that should Ulster or Munster claw their way into the final eight, there will be no quarter-final contested on Irish soil this season.

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DONAL LENIHAN: A day Munster didn’t get the reward they deserved

For the second weekend in a row, Ulster have kept Irish Champions Cup qualification hopes alive with a smashing win in Toulouse. Back-to-back victories over the former standard bearers in Europe represents an excellent start to the reign of Les Kiss as he begins to make his presence felt in Belfast.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster must take hard look at themselves, not at referees

If you’re a beleaguered fan of Munster or Leinster, pining for the glory days when knockout rugby in European competition could be taken for granted at the turn of the year, then you’re in good company.

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DONAL LENIHAN: What do Champions Cup performances say about Irish rugby?

IF Ulster’s amazing 38-0 demolition of Toulouse on Friday night suggested talk of the demise of the Irish provinces in Europe is a bit premature, the performances of Munster and Leinster only served to open the debate once again.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Time for IRFU to state its intention for provinces

Call it coincidence, but there was a prescient air of doom and gloom — amongst media and supporters at any rate — among the Pro12 sides heading into Round 2 of the Champions Cup. With good reason, as it transpired.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Possession name of the game for Pat Lam

After a funeral in Greystones on Saturday morning, I was approached by a man who proudly introduced himself as a Connacht selector on the day the westerners beat Munster in Thomond Park in 1986.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Eddie Jones and Jonah Lomu: Headline-makers in different ways

IT HAS been some week for rugby. In a period overshadowed by the terrorist attacks that has put all in France and beyond on high alert, the postponement of Munster’s Champions Cup game in Paris was absolutely necessary.

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DONAL LENIHAN: The wheels coming off in Europe for Irish provinces

Four games into the Champions Cup for the Irish provinces and just a solitary win to show for our efforts. Even that was achieved at home by Munster against the tournament’s basement side Treviso. 

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DONAL LENIHAN: Leo Cullen needs time while Leinster leaders must step up

One can only speculate as to the rollercoaster of emotions going through Johnny Sexton’s mind last weekend. The picture of him grimacing, with his hands covering his face on the final whistle after Leinster’s Champions Cup opener against Wasps at the RDS only told part of the story.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Leinster have mountain to climb after defeat by Wasps

The tragic events in Paris on Friday night cast a long shadow over the opening round of European action with five games postponed across the Champions and Challenge Cups.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Irish provinces digging in to keep up with deep European pockets

QUITE how Ireland’s World Cup hangover will be reflected in the upcoming rounds of the Champions Cup remains to be seen.

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