Monthly Archives: February 2015

Jordi Murphy can handle England’s power

Jordi Murphy faces a big task against England

Jordi Murphy faces a big task against England

Jordi Murphy can handle the “huge physicality” of England’s back-row in Sunday’s pivotal RBS 6 Nations showdown in Dublin, according to Ireland team-mate Peter O’Mahony.

Loose forward Murphy is primed to step in at number eight for Ireland, with Jamie Heaslip recuperating from the back injury inflicted by Pascal Pape's knee in the 18-11 victory over France on Valentine's Day.

Leinster back-rower Murphy is expected to start against England in Heaslip's absence, and his selection case has been strengthened by Tommy O'Donnell still battling the after-effects of concussion.

Munster captain O'Mahony and Leinster's Sean O'Brien will add experience and steel around the talented but green six-cap Leinster star Murphy when the Six Nations' two unbeaten sides slug it out at the Aviva Stadium.

O'Mahony believes 23-year-old Murphy has all the credentials to cope with England's bullish back-row trio of James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola.

"Jordi is a quality player: he's well rounded, well able to carry hard and do the grunt-work, but he's got a good set of skills," said O'Mahony.

"He's got a lovely pass and he's a good lineout option: he's a quality all-rounded player.

"England are a hugely physical side and that always starts with your pack. Guys like Haskell have brought a huge physicality to what they do. Vunipola, guys like (Dave) Atwood are really stepping up to the mark.

"They are physical guys: they are always looking to get them on the front foot. Whenever England are on the front foot, it stems from their pack."

Back-rower O'Donnell suffered a concussion in Munster's 25-25 Pro12 draw with the Scarlets on Saturday, and is progressing through the raft of testing required to be cleared for action.

Murphy was most likely front of the queue to replace the injured vice-captain Heaslip in any case, and O'Donnell's continued concussion wrangles could clear his selection path.

Murphy made a late cameo off the bench in Ireland's 13-10 defeat to England at Twickenham in last season's Six Nations, the last time head coach Joe Schmidt's men have suffered a loss.

Ireland can equal their all-time record with a 10th consecutive victory this weekend, and O'Mahony believes 23-year-old Murphy is a different player a year on from that Twickenham defeat.

"I think he has come on since then: he's developed hugely," said O'Mahony.

"The more experience and game time he is getting between Leinster and Ireland over the last couple of weeks, you can do nothing but develop."

Ireland have retained 31-year-old Heaslip in their squad despite the 70-cap number eight being unable to face England.

The Leinster stalwart could yet miss the rest of the tournament after suffering three fractured vertebrae from lock Pape's crude knee to his back, that landed the France veteran a 10-week ban.

Ireland have called Ulster's Roger Wilson and Munster's Billy Holland into their 36-man training squad as they step up preparations to host England at the weekend.

England will travel to Dublin still buoyed by their 21-16 opening-weekend win against Wales in Cardiff.

Captain Chris Robshaw imposed his authority off the field and on it that night, waving away Wales' late arrival to the pitch before strong-arming the hosts' much-vaunted back-row.

Ireland's bullish blindside O'Mahony admitted Schmidt's men are well aware of the influence the Harlequins talisman exerts over Stuart Lancaster's side.

"I think he's a quality player," said O'Mahony of the England skipper.

"He's been certainly in the forefront of what England have done over the last three weeks.

Fernando Alonso making a "solid recovery" in hospital

Photo of Alonso recovering in hospital has been released

Photo of Alonso recovering in hospital has been released

Fernando Alonso is making a “solid recovery” following a heavy crash during testing on Sunday, McLaren have announced.

Alonso spent the night in hospital after his McLaren-Honda left the track and hit a wall side-on at turn three of the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona.

The Spaniard remained conscious and able to speak to doctors after the incident, but he was concussed and airlifted to hospital for precautionary checks, including CT and MRI scans.

A McLaren statement on Monday read: "We are pleased to confirm that, having been involved in an on-track incident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (Spain) on February 22nd, Fernando Alonso is making a solid recovery in hospital, and is chatting to family, friends and hospital staff."

It continued: "In order to provide the privacy and tranquillity required to facilitate a peaceful recuperation, he is being kept in hospital for further observation, and to recover from the effects of the medication that successfully managed his routine sedation yesterday.

"We intend to give him every opportunity to make a rapid and complete recovery, and will evaluate in due course whether or not he will participate in the next Barcelona test."

The final pre-season test takes place in Barcelona from February 26 to March 1.

McLaren have carried out tests on Alonso's car and insist the crash was not caused by mechanical failure.

"Our findings indicate that the accident was caused by the unpredictably gusty winds at that part of the circuit at that time, and which had affected other drivers similarly (eg, Carlos Sainz Jnr)," McLaren said.

"We can categorically state that there is no evidence that indicates that Fernando's car suffered mechanical failure of any kind."

The incident occurred on the final day of the Formula One pre-season test, with the new campaign due to begin in Australia on March 15.

Alonso's manager Luis Garcia Abad told the Spanish media he "doesn't think there will be any problems" with regard to the two-time world champion making the start line in Melbourne and he also denied reports that Alonso had been feeling dizzy prior to the crash.

"I deny that Fernando was feeling unwell prior to the incident," he said. "The car had grip, there was tremendous wind and he went into the wall, the rest is speculation.

"The car telemetry has stated that he was correcting from left to right. Fernando was hitting the brake and changing gears until the moment of impact."

France forward Pascal Pape has been suspended for 10 weeks

Pape gets lengthy ban for Heaslip incident

Pape gets lengthy ban for Heaslip incident

France forward Pascal Pape has been suspended for 10 weeks and will miss the rest of the RBS 6 Nations after he kneed Jamie Heaslip in the back during last Saturday’s game against Ireland.

Pape, who has a right of appeal, was cited under Law 10.4 (a) and appeared in front of a disciplinary panel together with France coach Philippe Saint-Andre on Wednesday.

Referee Wayne Barnes issued Pape with a yellow card during the match but the disciplinary committee decided it was an act of foul play which merited a red card and "should be categorised at the top end of World Rugby's scale of seriousness".

Law 10.4 (a) forbids a player from punching or striking an opponent and Pape could have been banned for up to 15 weeks.

His punishment was, however, reduced given what the committee referred to as "the player's admission of foul play and his expression of remorse for what had occurred".

The lock issued an apology on Tuesday via social media to Heaslip, who damaged three vertebrae in the incident and will miss Ireland's next game against England.

@pascalpape thanks for your message. It's a physical game that we play and these things happen. I fully accept your apology.

— jamie heaslip (@jamieheaslip) February 17, 2015

Pape's suspension represents a blow for France, who lost 18-11 in Dublin and are now third in the table after two matches played.