Donal Lenihan - Columnist - IRISH EXAMINER

DONAL LENIHAN: Turnaround in Ireland's rugby fortunes is remarkable

If the last eight months have borne witness to some outstanding achievements for Irish rugby on the international front, the fact that those magnificent test victories over South Africa, New Zealand and Australia has fed into the revival of Munster and Leinster in Europe is equally satisfying.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Rassie Erasmus must reiterate Munster are no Racing cert

“The quarter-final is set for the first weekend in April, with the semi-final three weeks later.” It’s been a while since I came across such bullish confidence from a bunch of Munster supporters, but that was the thrust of the conversation I overheard between a few diehards last Friday morning at Shannon Airport in advance of boarding the plane for Munster’s pool- defining trip to Glasgow.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Like it or not, the new tackle laws are here to stay

It was only a matter of time and we didn’t have to wait long. The first contentious decision surrounding the implementation of the new tackle directive cost Ulster dearly at Parc y Scarlets last Friday night, with the awarding of a penalty try coupled with the sin-binning of Sean Reidy.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster finally take positive memories from Paris

The tourist brochures present Paris as the city of lights and the city of love but one can appreciate why it won’t feature any time soon on bucket lists for the current Munster squad. From both a personal and sporting standpoint, the French capital has yielded nothing but grief for that particular group over the last 12 months.

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DONAL LENIHAN: The day after Anthony Foley was laid to rest in Killaloe, Thomond Park rediscovered its soul

They say a picture paints a thousand words. If that holds true then the accompanying snap, taken after Simon Zebo scored against Leicester Tigers in Thomond Park last month, tells you a lot about the mood in the Munster camp at present. 

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DONAL LENIHAN: For the first time, Ireland can win the World Cup

It’s imperative the Irish rugby snowball keeps on rolling in 2017 after such a productive end to 2016, writes Donal Lenihan.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Plenty to keep European chiefs busy over Christmas

It hasn’t proved an easy transition for the new tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby, since the two main competitions were revamped after the end of the 2013-14 season. Now in their third year at the helm, the board is struggling to meet the improved commercial targets originally set, while things on the field haven’t been seamless either.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Drained Munster shouldn’t sniff at Welford Road bonus point

History does have a habit of repeating itself, especially in European Cup rugby. Ten years ago Ronan O’Gara stood over a match-winning penalty kick bang on the halfway line to deliver a rare win at Welford Road against a quality Leicester outfit. He nailed it.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Rassie Erasmus is a man of substance who won’t be resting on his laurels

Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus has married the traditional strength Munster has always carried up front to a very clever continuity game, writes Donal Lenihan.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Munster back up emotion with precision

No matter where you look at present, it’s pretty difficult to avoid. Ireland against England, be it for club or country, is the only topic on the agenda. Time will tell whether or not the two leading contenders for this season’s Six Nations championship will both make it unbeaten to the last day of tournament to contest a Grand Slam showdown at the Aviva Stadium.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Warren Gatland spoilt for choice to make Lions a roaring success

If Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones have every reason to feel good about themselves after a very productive Autumn series for Ireland and England respectively then Lions coach, Warren Gatland, will be equally encouraged after some stellar performances from a host of contenders battling for inclusion in his 2017 selection.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Six important points ahead of a Six Nations to savour

With three wins, including a first over New Zealand, November has been a hugely encouraging month for Joe Schmidt and Irish rugby in general. So what were the major discussion points?

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DONAL LENIHAN: Another big step on Ireland's road to greatness?

After this momentous win, who knows what this Irish squad is capable of achieving.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Three talking points ahead of Ireland's game with Australia

David Pocock is a force of nature and Ireland will need to keep the ball off the deck as much as possible to negate his influence, writes Donal Lenihan.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Referee inaction leaves rugby at a crossroads

Referee Jaco Peyper is a full- time, paid official, and must be accountable for his performance, writes Donal Lenihan.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Yes, there is honour in defeat

Now that was a test match. Saturday’s game in Lansdowne Road had everything — mesmerising skills, unrelenting physicality, and unwavering commitment.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Are Ireland ready to raise the bar again?

With Sam Whitelock, and especially Brodie Retallick back in black, the challenge facing Joe Schmidt and Ireland has to be tougher than when they made history in Chicago, writes Donal Lenihan.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Belief earns its reward as Ireland no longer fear All Black bogeyman

Both Munster and Ireland will have confidence soaring after success against All Black sides, writes Donal Lenihan. 

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DONAL LENIHAN: Win over Canada offers significant signposts to the future

The contrast in advance of this test against Canada to the series opener against New Zealand last week could not have been more stark.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Evolving Ireland team are going places again under wily Joe Schmidt

A special win, on a magical day, in a brilliant city. For those of us privileged to be in Chicago last weekend, it proved the ultimate in sporting experiences. It had everything.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Ireland beating New Zealand is the stuff of dreams

IF THAT heartbreaking 22-24 defeat at the death against New Zealand in Dublin three years ago and the lessons learnt from the fallout was credited as the catalyst for back-to-back Six Nations championship titles in 2014 and 2015, one wonders what the long-term legacy of this unique experience in Chicago will be.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Ireland face daunting task of stemming tidal wave of New Zealand attack

Donal Lenihan looks at three key areas where Ireland must excel just to compete against New Zealand at Soldier Field tonight.

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DONAL LENIHAN: Are New Zealand beatable? Yes, of course they are

Joe Schmidt isn’t the only one looking forward to seeing his charges face the best side in the world twice over the next few weeks.

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DONAL LENIHAN: After the darkest of days, some brightness emerges

One thing Anthony Foley’s tragic passing highlighted over the last week was just how small and tightly knit the European rugby community is.

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