Castres 24 – Leinster 24

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I travelled over for the final group game for Leinster. It was a bitterly cold night in France but the match was exciting and was on a knife edge for most of the game to keep all of us in the crowd distracted. Leinster knew going in to the match that a win would guarantee a top 2 finish.

It started brilliantly with Leinster scoring a penalty and the Henshaw getting his first try for Leinster. It was an opportunistic score and we had suddenly found ourselves 10-0, appearing like we were cruising to an easy victory, especially considering Castres seemingly had nothing to play for.

However Castres were not going to give up that easily. Castres have only lost once this season at home and the rest of the game showed exactly why. They played with real passion and intensity that at times Leinster were powerless to stop. Leinster also lost the experience of Sexton and Nacewa early in the game, which only compounded their problems.

The game was a real rollercoaster for anyone present. In truth either team could have won. Castres looked on course to win it at the end with a series of mauls against 14 men. In fact it seemed only a matter of time before they did and snatched the game. However before that last period of sustained pressure, Leinster could well have got a bonus point win, with only the cruel bounce of the ball stopping Leinster’s Rob Kearney from running under the posts unopposed.

The result of all this was Leinster managing to hold Castres lunges for the line at bay and scraping a draw. It was enough to secure a home quarter final against Wasps. However it now means we will be away to either Clermont or Toulon in the semis! Despite all this I think it was important for Leinster to have a really tough game, lately we seem to have had a string of slightly easier matches which I feared had the potential to leave us exposed later on.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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(Read between 22/10/2016 – 21/11/2016)

The Martian is a science-fiction novel which tells the story of Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut who becomes the only living human on Mars when his crew abandon him, on presumption that he has died. When Mark discovers he is alone on Mars he now has to figure out how to survive for as long as possible on a planet that is almost completely uninhabitable. The book flicks between Mark’s Sol’s (days on Mars) and NASA scientists back on Earth, both frantically trying to figure out how to keep Mark alive and they can possibly save him.

The book could serve as an advert for Murphy’s Law! Throughout the novel almost anything that could go wrong, does!  Just when Mark seems to have figured out a way at surviving for the time being, disaster always seems to strike. This keeps the reader constantly on the edge of their seat and hooked to see what happens next.

The novel also displays what human intelligence and sheer will can achieve. Because of difficulties of communication on Mars, Mark is largely left to his own throughout the novel to come up with solutions to lethal situations. The book is inspiring because it shows how combining the intelligence with a strong will to survive can do.

I would recommend this book to readers. It far exceeded my expectations. I had decided to read the book because the  movie came out last year and a friend recommended that I give the book a go first. I decided to give it a go as a break after a few difficult reads and it didn’t disappoint. As well as having really interesting science in the book, it is also a really funny read, with plenty of moments of humour to compliment the stressful ones.

Leinster 57 v Montpellier 3

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Last Friday Leinster faced Montpellier in a must-win game for qualification for the quarter-finals of the European Cup. What I had expected was an arm wrestle with a close game, especially after the away game which I went to earlier in the season. Instead what materialised was an engrossing first 20 minutes followed by a very one-sided last 60 minutes.

The end result was even more surprising given how well Montpellier started. In the opening 5/10 minutes, Montpellier looked the team much more likely to score. Then Leinster came back and scored two good tries, the second followed a beautiful piece of magic from Isa Nacewa. Then at around the 20th minute mark the game’s result was all but settled. Leinster looked dangerous and were going for their third try when Steyn hit Sexton late and high with a swinging arm. The tackle would have been on the edge of a red card a few weeks ago however now with the new crack-down on this area, the red was almost guaranteed.

One of the main talking points in the game apart from the red card was Leinster’s brilliant attacking play. Even before Montpellier had completely thrown in the towel, Leinster looked like they were well on their way to a bonus point. Leinster had brilliant running lines and brilliant variations in their attack. They also mixed it up with kicks in behind, chips and skip passes. It was extremely promising to watch and made it a very entertaining evening in the RDS.

Special mentions must go to Jack Conan who grabbed a hat-trick. Considering how difficult it is to get a place in the backrow at the moment in Leinster, this display would do his chances over the next few weeks no harm. Adam Byrne also played brilliantly scoring one of the best tries of the evening. Nacewa also played brilliantly, scoring one and setting up Conan’s first try of the night. It was also great to see Sexton back on the pitch. In the last few weeks we’ve been down to what was our 4th choice outhalf at the beginning of the season. Byrne and Carbery before him have both played very well in his absence, but it’s evident to see how well Sexton manages the game when he is on the field.

If we can follow up this result with a win next week in Castres we will have a home quarter-final which will be crucial for our chances to try and progress. But even at this point, it is looking a lot better than this stage last year!

We Are Arrested by Can Dundar

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(Read 17/10/2016 – 21/10/16)

The last few years in Turkey have seen a shift towards a more autocratic form of rule. With a recent attempted coup in mid July thousands of people in various positions in the public sector have been arrested. And with a sate of emergency in action these people are being arrested without trial and kept in confinement indefinitely. But even before all this journalists in Turkey have suffered career threatening state intervention through the form of censorship and imprisonment.

Over the previous decades, there has been an increased control imposed by the government in the media. Almost all of the newspapers are owned by the government or by pro-government sympathisers. One of the few remaining secular independent newspapers that remains is called Cumhuriyet. And its editor was Can Dundar, the author of this tragic autobiographical tale of how performing your duties as a journalist (reporting the news) can now land you and your family in harm’s way in a country like Turkey.

Can reported on an incident where trucks supposedly carrying aid to Syria were in fact carrying 6 steel containers. Inside these 6 containers were; 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells. These trucks were en-route to anti-Assad extremist groups. Can received photos of these trucks on a flash drive from a friend. Despite knowing that there would more than likely be repercussions, Can and others in the Cumhuriyet bravely posted the story.

Erdogan was furious and came out and said that Can would pay a heavy price. The case against Can was on the charges of: providing documents regarding the security of the state, political and military espionage and propaganda for a terror organisation! What follows is a trial, whereby the reader doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how the court plays with the journalist’s life like a pawn on a chess board, manipulating the charges to ensure that eventually the voices of free press will be removed entirely from the board.

Can was held in solitary confinement in Turkey’s Silivri prison for three months whilst awaiting trial. Here we learn about Can’s time in prison and how it affected him. What emerges is how solitary affects an inmate. The things most people take for granted are suddenly gone. Solitary is a form of torture of the mind and soul and it affects everyone no matter how strong they are mentally.

Some of the chapters whilst he was in prison are some of the most heart wrenching you are sure to find in any book. Whilst inside he misses his wedding anniversary, his son’s birthday and New Year’s celebrations. The episodes where he receives correspondence from his son or wife are tear-jerking moments. We get a real sense of hopelessness and the inability to affect anything on the outside.  Despite the overall sense of gloom surrounding his time in prison, we also get a glimpse into how Can keeps himself busy, which can be very funny and heart-warming.

I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story for those who want to go on to read the book. But I will say that this book is a must-read. It reveals the cruel faith that awaits honest journalists in a country where the government becomes more autocratic. At the time of reading this book, there were 126 journalists in Turkish jails, meaning there were more journalists in Turkish prisons than China, Iran and Egypt put together. The sad part is that Can Dundar is one of the lucky ones; others sit in prisons with no end in sight.

Therefore the book is key reading as a warning of what happens to journalists and media in modern day Turkey, but on top of this the book should be read as an example of what the blind bravery of one man in the face of an overwhelming power can achieve when coupled with the unconditional love and overwhelming support of those closest to him. Whilst reading the book I was constantly reminded of this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

Whilst many of us dream of living by this doctrine, Can Dundar is a journalist who may be quietly assured that he belongs to the very few who continue to do so in the face of unimaginable obstacles.

 

 

Leinster 28 v Dragons 15

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It was nice to get back to the RDS to see another home live game after the November Internationals. Because Leinster were bulk suppliers to the Ireland team, there were plenty of notable absentees from the Leinster line-up. However despite this, it was exciting to see some of Leinster’s younger players getting a chance.

This was really a game of two halves, or more accurately 45 minutes and 35 minutes! In the first 45 minutes Leinster scored four tries and secured the bonus point through some beautiful running rugby. However after that they didn’t score any points for the remainder of the match. They let the Dragons back into the game but held out to deny them any points from their trip.

Despite the last thirty minutes, Leinster played really encouraging, heads-up rugby. They constantly looked to keep the tempo of their attack up and were always looking to offload. Some of the tries were really nice on the eye and it was a nice mix of forward power linking with the back’s electric pace and passing.

There were some really encouraging performances from a number of players. I thought the centre Rory O’Loughlin had a brilliant game, with his break for Carbery’s 4th try a real highlight. Another player that impresses me every time he plays this season is Adam Byrne, he is fast and strong and seems to have a real eye for the tryline. It was also a great game for Jack Conan in only his second game back from injury.

Despite the bonus point win on Saturday the next two weeks against Northampton Saints will be the making or breaking of our season. Lose these games and our stint in Europe will be over. Therefore it was interesting to see Carbery taken off before the 50th minute. This probably means that Sexton is injured next week and Carbery may start. It’s amazing what this guy has achieved so far this season!

Montpellier 22 v Leinster 16

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I travelled over to Montpellier for our first European away game last weekend. In the end the result didn’t go our way and our performance wasn’t up to scratch. But considering how the game looked in the 60th minute, to get a losing bonus point, whilst denying them a winning bonus point was a fantastic achievement.

The game was very poor for 70 minutes from a Leinster perspective. They made countless errors, especially knocking on the ball in contact. They lacked accuracy in attack and a lot of the time when the play went beyond four or five phases, Leinster appeared to run out of ideas and a cohesive plan.

However the sheer size of the Montpellier team must be mentioned. Throughout most of the game they bullied Leinster and looked to physically pound Leinster into submission. For most of the game they succeeded, but Leinster kept hanging on and eventually their fitness levels showed, as the Montpellier giants began to tire.

Despite all this, the game showed how mighty Leinster’s character is. To refuse to roll over and to fight right up until the very end showed great spirit and meant I actually left the ground with hope and pride. Anyone that has watched European campaigns in the last decade will know how important each point is come the end of the group stages. I also believe that any team that has any serious notions of winning the tournament shouldn’t leave an away game empty handed.

I thought 4 players put in excellent performances in this game. I thought Ringrose was terrific. He kickstarted the move that resulted in us eventually going over in the corner. He also appeared to be our most dangerous attacking threat throughout most of the game. Carbery did extremely well when he was called on at the beginning of the second half. He controlled the game well and looked settled throughout. This is amazing considering it is still his first season and only his second European game. It looks like the outhalf role is in good hands if Johnny gets injured. Nacewa as always had a brilliant game, he nailed all his kicks and provided calm for the team when the going got tough. As well as getting the try  at the end, he also had the presence of mind to run as close to the posts as possible to make sure he got the kick that got us the point. Finally I thought Dan Leavy had a really strong impact when he came on and provided some important breaks and go-forward ball.

Even though I am rather positive throughout this post about the point, it is important to remember this was a loss! The performance apart from the dying minutes was nowhere near the standard required in this tournament. A massive improvement is needed if we want to progress from this pool. Also in the last three games, defending mauls has looked a real issue. In the games against Munster and Castres we conceded tries defending mauls. Against Montpellier we seemed to constantly be giving away penalties whilst trying to defend mauls and lineouts. In the end is was encouraging to see the attitude and spirit Leinster showed in this game and it’s always to see your team achieve something even on an off day but they will need to up their game before the visit of Connacht next weekend.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

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(Read 26/08/16 – 16/10/16)

I’ve always wanted to read this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve always regarded Hemingway as one of my favourite authors. The novel the Old Man and the Sea is one of my favourite books by any author along with Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, therefore I approached this book about the Spanish Civil War with great excitement. I had also regularly heard how this novel was Hemingway’s finest one so I was excited to tuck in! The novel tells the story of an American, Robert Jordan and how he joins a group of guerrilla fighters in the mountains of Spain in the fight against the Fascist forces. Robert Jordan’s main aim is to blow up a bridge during a planned attack. The story revolves around the few days before the attack and Robert Jordan living with the group of guerrilla fighters.

The first thing I must mention is how strong the characters are in the novel. Each one of them is well layered and has their own story. The main character, Robert Jordan is one of the strongest characters in any book. Throughout the novel we see his quiet and calculated mind begin to waver in the face of his surroundings. His internal struggle between executing the job with a surgeon’s precision and objectivity and his growing friendship between him and many members of the group. He also begins to wonder throughout the course of the novel whether he really supports the Republic or whether he is just merely against the Fascists. This internal struggles reach a climax with the growing fondness for Maria. Hemingway also constructs characters that we hate such as Pablo, the leader of the band, whom we come to dislike despite being sympathetic to why he acts the way he does.

The novel, like most war novels shows the brutal side of war. One chapter in particular, Chapter 10 recounts the story of her town and what happened to the people who were discovered as fascists in the town. It reveals the brutality of the Spanish Civil War and how in many Civil War, a neighbour and friend can turn into a bitter foe. The novel also shows how disillusionment can strike people in war times as they see the realities of what is occurring around them. Despite all this, there is also almost an innocence about this group of guerrilla fighters and how they speak and act throughout the novel which means that it is never too heavy going or difficult to read.

Despite all this, it wasn’t as good as the other two novels I mentioned in the beginning. I don’t think the narrative was as strong as it was in his other novels. I thought it was too long and didn’t keep me gripped throughout. I think perhaps I had built the novel up in my mind before starting, due to my fondness of his other works and rarely for Hemingway, this piece didn’t live up to my expectations. I would still recommend this book as there is a lot to take away from it and in classic Hemingway fashion the language is simple yet elegant and evocative.