IRISH SCRUM-HALF James Hart was once again the star of the show for Grenoble as they recorded an excellent 25-18 win over Toulouse on Saturday at the Stade des Alpes.
The Isère-based side find themselves seventh in the Top 14 after their latest victory, and there is a growing consensus that Fabrice Landreau’s men are well equipped to make a strong push for a Heineken Cup spot [top six] at the end of the season. Grenoble’s mix of powerful scrummaging, intelligent control of tempo and improved individual performances has impressed many commentators in France.
The work of Bernard Jackman [defence and collisions] and Mike Prendergast [skills] has been an important part of the strong form. Grenoble’s coaches identified weak collision skills as the reason they were making very few line breaks in recent seasons, but Jackman has noticeably addressed that deficit and his players are now dominating in contact regularly.
Grenoble’s defence has been excellent this season too; only big guns Toulouse, Toulon and Castres have conceded fewer tries. Similarly, Prendergast’s work has not gone unnoticed, with clear evidence of improved handling skills for Landreau’s men in recent weeks. Grenoble have been struggling to score tries [12 in 13 games so far] but they are on the right path to remedying that situation.
It is another Irishman who has been grabbing the headlines this season though.
22-year-old Hart shot into the French public’s consciousness with a 15-point haul as Grenoble beat Jonny Sexton’s Racing Métro in October. His latest high-class performance saw him orchestrate Saturday’s win against Toulouse, scoring 20 points and setting up a try for Julien Caminati.
The former Clontarf man’s exploits have seen him named in the teams of the week in both L’Équipe and Midi Olympique this morning. Beyond his superb left-footed place kicking, the manner in which Hart spotted a half-gap to burst into before offloading to the powerful Caminati for Grenoble’s try was hugely impressive.
YouTube credit: Ballboll81
Oddly, the Irishman was playing against his former club on Saturday – Hart spent eight months playing with Toulouse’s cadet side when he was 16. The Dublin native’s mother hails from the rugby-mad city in the south of France and some commentators are now referring to Hart as français-irlandais.
This 20-point performance means he has scored 72 points already this season, in just six starts and three substitute appearances. Hart recently signed his first senior professional contract with Grenoble – having originally joined on an academy deal – and it is understood that the club’s hierarchy have been encouraged by his phenomenal work ethic.
The latest plaudits are just reward for his hard work and it looks certain that Hart has an exciting future ahead of him.
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >