Leinster 37 v Cardiff Blues 9

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After months of not venturing out to the RDS to watch Leinster play, I couldn’t wait in the days leading up to the match to finally watch some live rugby again.

However despite my excitement and the general feeling of excitement of the crowd, the first half of the match quickly dampened this excitement. There were countless small errors on both sides, with the ball being spilt frequently. This was partly due to the wet grass, but also I suspect because of the players trying to get back in to the swing of things. The knock-ons from both sides lead to a very stop-start half where both sides struggled to build any sort of momentum. On top of this Nacewa was very fortunate to avoid a red card for a high-tackle which could have easily seen him going off for an early shower. Tracy managed to squeeze over from a maul for the only try of the first half.

The second half started where the second half left off, with errors still occurring from both sides. The Cardiff team defended doggedly and were proving very difficult to break down. However after 60mins, Leinster managed to find another gear. Croinin picked up a loose ball and raced past everyone (as only he can) to jot down. After this, Daly juggled magnificently from a cross-field kick to score in the corner and leave Leinster one try short of the bonus point. This duly arrived when a beautiful piece of play was finished by McCarthy. The try featured brilliant handling from forwards and backs and showcased some of the skills some of these Leinster players possess.

The bonus point and quick flurry at the end papered over a lot of the cracks in this performance. As to be expected, a lot of the players were very rusty after a summer break and this culminated in the first 60 minutes featuring numerous stoppages. However it was nice to deny Cardiff any tries and also to get the maximum return in terms of points. This means that Leinster have started the season with the maximum number of points in their opening two matches.

Next up will be very interesting as Leinster travel to South Africa to take on the two new teams in the Pro14. Leinster, it’s nice to have you back!

 

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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

 

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(Read between 24/04/2017 – 13/05/2017)

The Forever War is a science-fiction novel set in the future where humans are in war with an alien race. The author uses this narrative background to cleverly discuss some of the issues he lived through whilst he served during the Vietnam War. Unlike other books which I’ve read or reviewed on the Vietnam War such as ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Kerr this novel isn’t a memoir. Instead it uses science fiction themes to describe some of the horrors of warfare and the difficulties of readjusting back to civilian life when you return home afterward.

Similar to the soldiers in the Vietnam War the main character in this novel William Mandella is sent off to fight far away enemies and he isn’t entirely sure why he has to and what the enemy did. The enemies in The Forever War are an alien race called the Taurans who are said to have attacked a human spaceship. Without ruining the story for anyone who wishes to read it the main twist in the story is the effect of time dillation and the effects of relativity on the war itself and the pawns in it. Because time is warped as the soldiers travel it means many years have passed as they travel. This means that in between battles, the enemy has years to research new weapons to counter previous attacks and vice-versa. It also means that as the officers return home after each battle many years have passed on Earth and it no longer resembles anything that they left behind.

The returning home after battles, in my opinion represents the most striking sections of the novel. The dystopian world the officers return to are unlike anything they left behind and the people of Earth are either indifferent or opposed to the war they fought in. For me this clever use of relativity mirrored what most veterans returning from Vietnam must have felt. America changed radically in the time which they were away for and how people didn’t offer them a heroes welcome upon return but instead many of those they came home to were opposed to the war. Haldeman uses relativity to describe the feelings he must have been feeling upon returning from his war in a fascinating way.

It is these themes of feeling lost in your own world you fought to keep safe that resonated the most with me. For me the way the author used science fiction to discuss some of these themes was more enjoyable than the actual narrative or plot itself. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in seeing how people can use science fiction as a vehicle to convey real world issues and emotions they have experienced.

The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton

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(Read Between 04/02/2017 – 23/04/2017)

I decided to read this book because it was on a number of previous year’s books of the year lists. I normally try to read one or two of these books the next year to see what leading minds think were important books of the preceding year. On top of this I was interested to see what could be done in the face of climate change. Oliver Morton decided to look at Geoengineering as a response to one of the biggest issues of our time. He has written for some of the world’s leading journals such as the Economist, Nature and The National Geographic.

The book makes you consider some of the moral dilemmas of Geoengineering and climate change. For instance, one key issue with climate change is that the people who end up suffering the worst from its effects are for the most part, people who are emitting a small amount of carbon-dioxide emissions and are typically farmers or poorer people in developing countries. Another issue is the sheer time it takes to repair the damage we have already done. For instance all big emitters would have to cut their emissions by 100 percent in order for the atmosphere to be stabilized in this century.

This harrowing fact shows the need to take corrective action is now and this is where geoengineering comes in. Geoengineering is deliberate intervention in Earth’s climate to slow down and hopefully reverse the process and effects of climate change and therefore alleviate the planet’s warming. Geoengineering itself is an idea burdened by ethical questions, such as should humans be able or allowed to play Mother Nature with our planet? Throughout our history humans have seen weather and climate being beyond us and the work of gods or forces beyond our control. Therefore many people feel uneasy about tampering in something which is ‘bigger’ than us. However when we see the effects that industrialization and now mass urbanization etc. have done to change our planet, is it not already too late to wonder whether we should tamper with climate?

Even if we were to get beyond the overall ethical dilemma of whether we should or not be running geoengineering projects, many issues would still remain with it. Imagine the issue of regulation of geoengineering projects. Would countries allow planes to fly over their airspace or boats to sail into their waters even though they were helping the planet? I think in today’s security conscious environment it is easy to see lots of countries supporting the idea of geoengineering but opposing some of its practices.

The backdrop to this book is that in 1750 pre-industrial revolution the CO2 levels were 280 parts per million, in 1950 they were 310 parts per million. Today they have reached 400 parts per million. Even after political action on climate change we still continue to rely on fossil fuels. In 2012, 15 years after the Kyoto protocols, solar and hydro generated power still only provided 3 per cent of the world’s energy needs. Whereas in the same 15 years CO2 emissions were more than half as high as they were at the time of Kyoto.

Morton notes that if the world had the capacity to deliver one of the biggest nuclear plants ever built, week in and week out, it would still take 20 years to replace the current amount of coal-fired plants. However we currently build roughly three or four a year and retire the same amount. If we tried to replace coal plants with solar panels at the rate they were erected in 2013, it would roughly 150 years. These figures are just to replace the coal plants, it doesn’t take into account gas and oil, cars, furnaces and ships.

Also renewable energy takes up a lot of room. For instance the rate at which British citizens consume electricity is roughly 40GW. To generate this at one watt per square metre would mean devoting 20 per cent of the area of the country to renewable energy.

With these points it’s easy to see that at current rates it is taking too long to replace how our energy is provided. Also by the time they are provided the emissions will have risen substantially once again. It also takes up too much space, which we are already running out of due to growth in population and the resulting use of land for either living or agriculture to feed this growing population. Against this scary backdrop Morton discusses some of the leading geoengineering ideas and outlines their pros and cons.

I don’t want to give away some of the forms of geoengineering that Morton discusses in the book in case you wish to go and read the book for yourselves. However, what fascinated me most about some of the solutions was the effects they had, not just the productive but also the destructive. Like any solution to most problems in any walks of life there are likely to be adverse effects and this is no different when it comes to geoengineering. As one solution helps one part of the world, it may effect another entirely different part in a negative way. It once again underlined the difficulties that undertaking these projects will pose. But rather than dampen the reader’s enthusiasm for geoengineering projects, it makes the reader consider that there will be have to be clever and careful planning to see which combination contribute the most whilst causing the least damage.

I found that the latter chapters of the book dragged on a little but the first half was a fascinating read and therefore I would recommend this book to readers. Even if some of the geoengineering projects mentioned are never even practiced, the book makes the reader consider how delicate our planet is and how every change can have serious unintended consequences. It also forces us to see that the longer we wait and continue the route we are on, the harder it becomes for humankind to reverse and solve it down the line.

Clermont 27 – Leinster 22

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I traveled over to see the Leinster and Clermont semi-final over the weekend in Lyon. Although I’m still devastated by the result, we were treated to a brilliant spectacle of positive and exciting rugby. Unlike the other semi-final the day before, where Munster and Saracens played a largely boring pick and go style of play, this game had a really edge of your seat style rugby, with both teams attacking from anywhere on the field.

In front of an overwhelming number of their hugely passionate fans, Clermont came out and started with a blistering pace that Leinster quite simply couldn’t deal with. Leinster did themselves no favours by losing three early lineouts and failing to handle the breakdown, which led to Nacewa being sin-binned. This coupled with Clermont’s width, pace and accuracy meant that within the opening 20 minutes Leinster were 15-0 down. In this opening quarter Strettle made one try and scored the other himself, with Fritz Lee and Parra also having huge parts to play. This opening spell by Clermont ultimately led to Leinster having too much of a mountain to climb.

The only saving grace from the first half was that Leinster managed somehow to not concede any further scores for the rest of the half after that blitz in the first fifteen minutes. Leinster even salvaged a penalty to at least send us in to the tunnel with something on the board. Although it must be said that we were fortunate that Parra missed a conversion and an easy penalty (by his high standards). At halftime I was concerned that Leinster would be making the trip back to Dublin having not shown a decent account of themselves.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right from the kickoff Leinster kept the ball in hand and began to build momentum and pressure. The whole team looked galvanized and began to find holes in what appeared to be a impenetrable defence in the first half. We managed to get three penalties back to back and got the scoreline back to 15-12. After this I really thought we’d done it when Dan Leavy went over. This would have been the first time Leinster would have taken the lead, but the TMO deemed that Leavy had held Rougerie in the buid-up to the move and the try was disallowed and Parra slotted the resulting penalty. This seemed to take the winds out of Leinster’s sails and then Lopez slotted a really nice drop goal to extend their lead.

Despite this, Leinster fought back and scored one of the best individual tries of the season through Garry Ringrose. He stepped two defenders before selling Spedding a dummy and racing to the line. It was a brilliant try and once again after the conversion gave Leinster a glimmer of hope. Another Lopez drop-goal extended the lead to 27-19 and moved it to a two-score game approaching the end. Despite this, Leinster fought back and Sexton slotted a sideline penalty to bring it within one score with only a few minutes remaining on the clock. No one at this stage doubted that Leinster might be able to pull off a miracle comeback! But from the resulting kick-off, Leinster didn’t organise themselves and Clermont won it in the air and from there played out the last two minutes to clinch a win in a breathtaking match.

I couldn’t help but feel devastated by the result and the manner of the loss as they came so close to winning the match. However I was also incredibly proud at how the players all showed such ambition and resolve to fight their way back in to the match. I also feel that this team looks like a team that can win a Heineken Cup again in a season or two, which I didn’t believe at the beginning of the season. I wish Clermont the best of luck in the final. They play some beautiful rugby and have exceptionally passionate but kind fans. It would also be a wonderful send off for one of the game’s greats and a Clermont god – Rougerie!

Leinster 32 v Wasps 17

Leinster v Wasps - European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final

It was great to be back in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup once again. After only winning one group game last year and thus failing to progress, this year marked a return to the quarter-finals. I must admit I was extremely nervous in the build up to the game. This was due to the combination of Wasps leading the Aviva Premiership and their back to back wins over us in the group stages of the same competition last year!

From the kickoff it was apparent that both teams had come to play high risk and positive rugby. Both Leinster and Wasps regularly kept the ball in hand, even within their own 22s and tried to play the ball out. Leinster dominated much of the opening quarter, but had precious little to show for this dominance, and Wasps should have brought the game to a one point margin of 8-7 if Le Roux hadn’t knocked the ball on attempting a dive over the try line. With the last play of the half, Leinster managed to disrupt the Wasp’s lineout and through quick thinking by Leavy and then brilliant passing by O’Brien and Sexton, Henshaw raced under the posts to send Leinster in at half time with a lead that reflected the superiority shown in the first half.

But credit must be given to Wasps who fought back in to the game through a stunning individual try by Wade, where he threaded through a delicate grubber and outpaced the defence to touch down. And then they brought the game to back within 8 points when ex-Leinster player Gopperth showed great acceleration and strength to score a lovely individual try of his own. This brought the game back from a dead-rubber to a tight two score game with another 20 plus minutes remaining.

Leinster however put the game to bed when McFadden scored a pick and go try after a brilliant break from Ringrose and a strong carry from Toner. From there the game was out of Wasp’s grasp and Leinster managed to play out the rest of the clock without conceding any further scores.

This was the strongest Leinster showing I’ve seen all season and really demonstrated Leinser’s instinct in attack and the strength and dynamism of their forwards. My one criticism was that early in the second half we had a few opportunities to score a try and put the game to bed, but we spilled the ball or gave away a cheap penalty, which nearly cost us when they got back to within two scores. Against Clermont in two weeks time, we will have to be much more clinical and take every opportunity if we have any hope of winning.

A special mention must be given to Leinster’s young players. I thought Ringrose had an excellent game and made some excellent breaks and tackles in defence. I also thought Henshaw was at his usual high standards and provided shuddering tackles and carries. Man of the match Carbery showed some brilliant touches in attack and set up 2 tries, despite being at fault for one of their tries. And finally I thought Leavy was excellent, tackling every that moved with ferocity but also showing subtle and sublime handling to link the forwards to the backs. With so many young players performing at such a high ability, it looks like Leinster’s future could be very bright!

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

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(Read between 28/01/2017 – 03/02/2017)

The debut novel from Ernest Cline is a guaranteed entertainer for anyone who has a love of retro games or lived through the 80’s. Falling into the latter category meant that this book was a great read. Firstly, I must say how brilliant an idea for a novel this is. It is set in 2044 in a dystopian future where fossil fuels have been depleted and the effects of global warming have led to serious social and economic problems for the earth’s inhabitants. In this age many people have turned to spending their dreary lives plugged into Virtual Reality headsets in an alternative reality call OASIS. This virtual reality was created by James Halliday, who subsequently became the richest man alive. Upon dying, he left 3 Easter Eggs hidden inside OASIS. The prize for finding each of these Easter Eggs would result in the person inheriting his entire fortune and his business. The novel’s protagonist, Wade Watts is obsessed with OASIS and finding these Easter Eggs and 5 years after he finds the first Easter Egg and his life completely changes.

I don’t want to give too much more away about the novel. So I’ll discuss some of the positives and the small negatives about this book. This novel is almost impossible to put down. The story progresses at a steady pace and I found myself completely glued to it over the days I was reading it. From the very beginning I found myself transfixed to what the world was like in this 2044 dystopia. And then I found myself more and more fascinated with Wade Watts and his search for the OASIS Easter Eggs. This all added up to me trying to read chapters of the book whenever I had a moment free and some late nights where I couldn’t bring myself to close the book and get to sleep!

The clues and Easter Eggs that Halliday left in OASIS are linked to retro games and 80 movies. As a person who has always loved gaming, this made the book extremely enjoyable and instantly caught my attention. It made the book really interesting when characters in the novel were discussing or playing games and movies that I had also experienced in real life! I must also stress that you shouldn’t be put off if you aren’t too interested in gaming as I have discussed the novel with friends who have never been too keen on video games and they still really enjoyed it.

The only small criticism I would have of the book is that towards the final quarter of the novel I felt it began to drag on a little bit. I also thought that the ending was too predictable and  obvious. I can’t go in to too much more detail, but these are only small criticisms of a novel I otherwise found impossible to put down.

The Vital Question – Nick Lane

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(Read Between (28/12/16 – 26/01/17)

I decided to give this book the privilege of being my first book of 2017!  I heard a podcast on the origins of complex life earlier last year and Nick Lane appeared as a guest giving some insight into the matter. He then mentioned he had recently written a book on the topic and I was immediately interested. I had previously read Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by him. It is still one of my favourite scientific books to this day so I was excited to see what his next book had in store.

The book attempts to answer what Nick Lane sees as a “black hole” in biology. This is the fact that we don’t know why life evolved the way it did and why complex life appears to have only evolved once in four billion years! On top of this he looks to examine why all complex life on Earth shares elaborate traits such as sex to cell suicide, while none of these traits are shared by bacteria.

The first section examines how all eukaryotes all share a common ancestor, which arose just once in four billion years. They all have common traits that are written out in their gene sequences and in their DNA. Lane then goes on to examine what is considered ‘living’? By looking closer at this we see the importance of the environment. We discover that whilst life is about its structure (genes, evolution, etc.), living, growing and reproduction is largely governed by the environment also.

The second section looks at the origin of life and how complex life may have arisen. The problem with complex life is that there are no surviving evolutionary intermediaries that we often see. The fact that all eukaryotes have the same traits such as sex and cell suicide and death, seems to point to a common ancestor, however because this was so long ago, the organisms that were the original ancestors no longer exist.  However Lane makes arguments regarding how energy which plays a vital role in life, would have had a direct influence on how complex life arose and where. If anyone has read Nick Lane’s earlier book, Life Ascending, they will be familiar of alkaline vents. This section outlines how Lane believes these structures had a key role in the emergence of complex life. This is because they provide the exact conditions required for the origin of life:  a high flux of carbon and energy, physically channeled over inorganic catalysts, and then constrained which allows the accumulation of high concentrations of organics.

The third section looks at some of the key traits of complex life.  In this section we learn of the importance of mitochondria for the eukaryotic cell. Mitochondria are absolutely fascinating and has a electric potential of roughly 150-200 millivolts, which when we account for size is the equivalent of a bolt of lightning! The rest of the section looks at how important sex is to complex life, instead of the cloning method many prokaryotes use. It also looks at death and its role in complex life.

The book is interesting but its difficulty made it hard to enjoy for me in large parts. Unlike his earlier book, Life Ascending, I found myself lost in many parts of this book and felt it hard to keep up. However I must stress that despite reading a few popular science books, I have no great understanding of  biology beyond a basic level. I only studied biology in school up to the age of 18 so it was perhaps rather ambitious (or silly) to take on a book of this scope. Therefore I would recommend this book to readers who have better scientific knowledge or else to stick to Lane’s earlier and fascinating Life Ascending book, which I found easier to follow.