Sunday, September 28, 2014

Leinster sucked the least of the provinces, while the All Blacks wrap it up!

 (Picture http://bit.ly/1qi8dON)

Leinster registered the solitary win for the Irish provinces this weekend, and the feeling even then at the final whistle was one of relief rather than elation. Yes, they got a four try bonus point, but that’s not a fair reflection of the match, which Cardiff were in right until the end. Two big postives from the match were the form of Ruddock and Douglas. Ruddock goes from strength to strength, he’s impossibly hard to put down, and Douglas is exactly what we need, a big bruising, hard working lock. Tries from McGrath and D’Arcy made it look safe, but we have a habit of making things hard these days. Gopperth is not controlling the game well – too many aimless kicks, and speculative cross field kicks, one of which ultimately led to the try where Madigan spilled the ball. Then another quick try for the Blues, and suddenly Leinster were hanging on for dear life. Composure is not our signature anymore, nor is slick handling, but, at least we won.

Ulster paid the price for making too many changes, and underestimating Zebre, allowing the Italians to add to their handful of wins. And Glasgow didn’t have too much trouble putting away Connacht, pity they didn’t send their A team and have a good crack at the Scots.

Finally, Munster completed a woeful weekend for the Irish, conceding at home to a sharp looking Ospreys side. What’s worrying is that they outmuscled Munster, traditionally the home of prime Irish Beef. They are missing O’Mahoney, they are missing Varley, while Dougall and Butler together did less work than Stander. Behind them, Keately seemed to be reacting to the game rather than controlling it.  Four weeks in, they still look undercooked. In fairness to the good play of the Ospreys, I don’t know if Leinster would have beaten them either though.

New Zealand wrapped up the Rugby Championship with a win over the Pumas, in a match they always had under control.  Fekatoa had an awesome match, and the All Blacks showed how it’s done – massive carries, high tempo rugby which lets the gaps develop on their own.

In the earlier match, it took a late, late show from the Springboks to run out with a handsome win. It probably didn’t reflect the closeness of the match, and to me as soon as the Springboks had an experienced scrum half and experienced scrum half on, the match just flowed for them. I would absolutely start Reinhach and Lambie next week.  Hougaard was superb, but he doesn’t play scrum half regularly. The Wallabies did a great job for the first 70 minutes, then just fell away. The Boks will be kicking themselves for the last minute loss to the Wallabies that would have kept this championship alive.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 27
Zebre 13 - 6 Ulster   
Munster 14 - 19 Ospreys   
Friday , September 26
Leinster 37 - 23 Cardiff Blues   
Glasgow 39 - 21 Connacht   
Edinburgh 20 - 20 Scarlets   

Saturday , September 13
New Zealand 14 - 10 South Africa
Australia 32 - 25 Argentina

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This weekend, I'm going Leinster, Ulster, and Munster, All Blacks and Springboks!



 
 Kane Douglas ( Picture: http://tinyurl.com/msyffzn)

This week offers some home comforts to Leinster, and an opportunity to get back on the horse. They always play better at home – what has set them apart in the past has been their ability to get away wins, and they need to rediscover that art. They have good news in the arrival of Kane Douglas, all 6’8’’ 123kg of him. He’s badly needed, but I hope he’s managed properly, as there is a bit of a history of Southern Hemisphere stars coming out of a full season of Super Rugby, and getting injured. In front of him will be a rejigged front row featuring the forgotten man of Irish Rugby, Michael Bent. The rumors are that Cian Healy is injured and out for a while.  Darcy starts at 13, but the backline at leas tlooks a little bit settled now. The Blues have plenty of talent in their team, but don’t normally have mush to show for it, and as their last win in Dublin is ten years ago, I don’t think that’ll change this weekend.

Connacht travel to Glasgow with a few of their key players rested. They have a bit of depth in their squad, but I’d say they are not really expecting to win this won, and it looks like victory for Glasgow.
Ulster travel to Zebre to claim what surely should be a victory, if not 5 points. They are a bit light at lock now, with Tuohy and Henderson out for lengthy spells, but apart from that they have strength in depth.

Munster have the Ospreys at home, in what is likely to be the clash of the weekend. Munster have had a setback with Dominic Ryan set for more time on the sideline. This is their first proper match of the campaign, with all due respect to Edinburgh, Zebre and Treviso. The Ospreys are always there or thereabouts, and are unbeaten so far, although that’s the Dragons, Edinburgh and Treviso they’ve played. This is both teams big test, and that basis you’d expect home advantage to see Munster through.

In the Rugby Championship, the Springboks have a run on debut for Tebo Mohoje, who replaces the injured Francois Louw. Lots of pressure on him, but more on the Wallabies, who haven’t won in Cape Town for 22 years. There scrum still looks wobbly, and their umpteenth new hooker this week won’t help. I think there’s a few Springboks due a big match, including Willie Le Roux, and Jan Sefontein in attack ( after his superb 22 tackles against the All Blacks). Australia don’t seem to be all on the same page yet, so a win for the Boks, maybe a good one.

Finally, the Pumas and the All Blacks get it on in Argentina. Everybody knows the Pumas are getting better, and there’s a smidgen of opportunity for them, with a new 10/12 axis, and a weakness at hooker for New Zealand. As I don’t really think that the Pumas believe they can beat the All Blacks, they probably won’t but this is their big chance.

Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 26
Edinburgh vs Scarlets       19:35
Glasgow vs Connacht      19:35
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues
Saturday , September 27
Zebre vs Ulster   15:00
Munster vs Ospreys          18:30
Sunday , September 28
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Benetton Treviso          16:00
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 27
South Africa vs Australia 16:05
Argentina vs New Zealand             23:10

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Connacht do some 'giant' slaying!

 
 (picture http://bit.ly/1hlx2X9)



Well it’s short and bitter this weekend!


Connacht did a bit of giant slaying on Friday, sneaking past Leinster, in a fixture they just lost last year.  It won’t be called giant slaying for too much longer if Leinster carry on playing like that! The sides were very evenly matched, and it took a moment of brilliance from Kieran Marmion to separate them. Leinster just couldn’t finish – two tries being turned down by the TMO, either of which would probably have sealed the game. They had 20 minutes to steal a win, but there was lot of ordinary decision making, which meant that Connacht’s fine defence didn’t have to work that hard. We look weak at 9 and 10 – not that easy to fix.  Reddan wasn’t scheduled to start, and Luke McGrath looked a lot more lively when he came on. Kane Douglas is on his way, at exactly the right time, and hats off to Connacht, a win to savour, three from three for the season.

Elsewhere, Munster scored five tries to put Zebre away, including a hat trick for Zebo, and Ulster got a good away win at Cardiff.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons 13 - 33
Scarlets 43 - 0 Benetton
Friday , September 19
Munster 31 - 5 Zebre   
Cardiff Blues 9 - 26 Ulster   
Connacht 10 - 9 Leinster

Friday, September 19, 2014

Leinster to scrape home, and wins for Munster and Ulster!

 

Short and sweet this week…as all four Irish provinces get to play on Friday night. Any chance we could spread them out a little?

Connacht V Leinster will no doubt be typical derby match, a real arm wrestle with a lot of niggle. Connacht have started well, and have hardly tinkered with their starting team (although where are these New Zealanders), while Leinster have had a few changes forced onto them. Leinster’s scrum will be given another stern examination, but it seemed to have been fixed last week. I’m interested to see how the midfields match up, with McSharry/Henshaw taking on Madigan/Macken. I think Leinster are going to have to bust a gut to win this, but think they will. Interesting interview with Leinster scrum coach Marco Caputo up on their site.

Munster shouldn’t have any problems beating Zebre by a cricket score with the team they’ve announced, with Paul O’Connell and Connor Murray starting.

Ulster travel to Cardiff to take on the Blues. The Blues beat Zebre, but then got pretty well hammered by Glasgow. Ulster are just about to announce their new coach, but Les Kiss has been a good job in the mean time. I see a tough way win for Ulster. 

Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 19
Munster vs Zebre   
Connacht vs Leinster   
Cardiff Blues vs Ulster   
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow    14:40
Scarlets vs Benetton Treviso   
Sunday , September 21
Ospreys vs Edinburgh   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Madigan will be pushing for an Irish centre spot soon!

 
 (picture http://bit.ly/1uxZp8k)

Ulster got their 4 try bonus point at Kingspan against Zebre, not playing their best but well worth the extra point.  The only downside for them this weekend was Pienaar’s injury against the All Blacks. Ulster have classy backs and loose forwards to burn – Henry, Diack, Marshall, Andrew, Olding and in particular this week, Ludik and Trimble, who just gets better and better.

Munster and Connacht played at the same time,  Munster getting an away bonus point at a place they’ve struggled before ( and Keatley shining), and Connacht closing out a tight match against the Edinburgh, that in the past they would have lost.

Finally , the pressure was on Leinster for the Irish clean sweep, and they didn’t disappoint. What a difference a week makes. Although if you put Heaslip, Kearney and Toner into most teams it wouldn’t hurt. I didn’t see the whole thing, heard that Kirchener was injured not badly though I hope. A week of practise for Madigan in the centre, and he’s shaping up an Ireland spot! You could see Madigan Macken, and Madigan D’Arcy becoming a regular Leinster feature. Normal service resumed

In Wellington, the All Blacks got their sternest test of the year, holding out for a close win against the Springboks. They struggled with ferocious physicality of Springboks, conceded a beautifully constructed try in the first half, and can count themselves lucky that the Springboks are pretty thin at scrum half – a better, quicker decision maker there would have won them the match. They should grab Rory Crockett while he still going, and get Cobus Reinach into camp ASAP. The rematch in South Africa will be the stuff of legends again, no doubt. These Sprigboks have decided they want to play 15 man rugby too.

In Australia, the Wallabies straggled past Argentina, in a match where a draw would have been the fairest result. They have their injuries, but still aren’t really clicking in the Rugby Championship, in just over a year’s tenure by Ewen Mckenzie. I’d say that’s their wins for this tournament. Argentina have come along way, and have more to do this year still.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 13
Leinster 42 - 12
Friday , September 12
Benetton Treviso 10 - 21 Munster   
Edinburgh 13 - 14 Connacht   
Newport Gwent D'gons 15 - 17 Ospreys
Ulster 33 - 13 Zebre   

Rugby Championship
New Zealand 14 - 10 South Africa   
Australia 32 - 25 Argentina   

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Munster, fly halfs, Leinster need tinkering, and the AB's and Pumas to win!

 Robin Copeland, the Cardiff Blues forward, joins six other uncapped players in Ireland's squad
 (picture http://bit.ly/1lXzBB1)

Munster will be in Italy on Friday, which should be an opportunity to get their show on the road. They had bad news this week, with Tyler Bleyendaal having to undergo neck surgery, to decide whether he’ll ever be able to play again. It’s an area Munster badly need some class. Ian Keatley is a game, hard-working player, but he’s a good Pro 12 player and no more. With O’Gara, they had a world class player, and without someone of his class pulling the strings, it’s hard to see Munster breaking through again. I’d as start,  be really backing JJ Hanrahan to see what comes of that, Keatley has had his chances. Robin Copeland (now he has a passport!) should make an impact. Munster have lost their two last away games to Treviso ( I find that hard to believe) but I’d say they be fairly focused this week! They haven’t lost their two opening fixtures since 04/05. Persisting with Keatley and Williams though – what are you at lads?

Leinster have the trip of Scarlets to contend with. They have Heaslip and Toner back in contention, I’d love to see Ruddock in too, and new boy Kane Douglas ASAP to give us a bit of grunt. Hopefully they’ll have sorted out a new midfield, worked on their defence, and attack, and the scrum. Just a bit of tweaking then. With a good home crowd, I’m expecting them to just about get the job done.
Connacht should give Edinburgh a good game, Robbie Henshaw is back, but when are we going to see this hot New Zealand talent?

Ulster have Zebre at home, Rory Best at hooker, have picked a strong experienced team, looks like 5 points all the way.

The biggest clash of the weekend is in New Zealand, where the Springboks, smarting from a last gasp loss in Australia, will be dying to register an all too infrequent victory against the All Blacks. The bookies and the South African press have written them off, and with Handre Pollard at fly half, they haven’t exactly enhanced their chances. Jean de Villiers hits the ton up, they have a really strong side, not exactly clicking, but desperation could be just the thing to pull those strings in the right way. The All Blacks have lost Messam and Whitleock to injury, and have Cruden back. I’m expecting off the scale physicality, with the precision of the All Blacks seen them home by 8-10 points.
Finally, the Wobblies head over to Argentina, hoping like anything they aren’t going to be the first of the big three to trip up to the Pumas. However, my monies on the Argentinians, the want this so so badly, and Australia just haven’t really shown any form this year.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 13
New Zealand vs South Africa    08:35
Australia vs Argentina    11:05

Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 12
Benetton Treviso vs Munster    19:00
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys    19:35
Ulster vs Zebre    19:35
Edinburgh vs Connacht    19:35
Saturday , September 13
Leinster vs Scarlets    14:40
Sunday , September 14
Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow    16:00

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Leinster outdo themselves to play worse than Munster!

 Zane Kirchner made his Leinster debut at the weekend.
 (picture - http://bit.ly/1qy5Iar)

It wasn’t a vintage weekend for the Irish provinces, with Connacht's good home win over Dragons the only thing to write home about. That’s just the start that the Galwegians needed. Following closely behind was Ulster’s draw with the Scarlets away, closing up right at the end of the match. That match sounded pretty well like the match of the weekend.

The ones I got to watch were pretty dismal from an Irish viewpoint. Edinburgh had lost 22 of their last 23 matches in Ireland, make that 22 of the last 24 as they put away an underwhelming Munster side. The scrum struggled, their tackling was terrible, and Keatleys poor kicking for posts really cost them the match.  Edinburgh looked quite settled, and up for the match, Cornell Du Preez and Jack Cuthbert were very impressive, while for Munster, Simon Zebo stood up tall, and Shane Buckley especially, but Andrew Smith too, had good debuts. That was a Munster B-side, so you wouldn’t want to get too carried away, but I think they’ll think hard before they start Duncan Williams again.

Well anything Munster can do Leinster can do better, so while Munster stank, Leinster gave off the foulest of deathly odours in the first half against Glasgow. Leinster’s tackling was abysmal, their physicality is still on holiday, and they were interested  spectators for the Warriors three tries in the first half. Things turned around in the second, with a good try, and a lucky one for Leinster (although Glasgow got a lucky one too) but it wouldn’t have been fair to Glasgow to get a win there. The backline play is nearly non existent – not helped, in fairness by the loss of Noel Reid in the first minute, and the loose trio, hung loose like, and didn’t do anything, while the locks were pretty idle too. Last year, in the same fixture, at the start of the season we lost by 6 points, so I guess Leinster still have time to come right. Glasgow palyed well, with a lot of confidence. The only Leinster to do himself justice was full back Zane Kirchener.

In the Rugby Championship, New Zealand Argentina was a cagey affair, the All blacks got their four point bonus point, but never really looked like cutting loose. The All Blacks have shipped a few injuries too, losing Whitelock and Messam is a blow. Argentina actually scored a perfectly good try, so the match was closer than it looked.

In Perth, the Springboks threw away a win that was theirs, with  a last minute kick to touch not going out. They had a pretty harsh yellow card on Habana – I don’t even think it was penalty. I can tell you, George Clancy is not the toast of South Africa right now. The Springboks played a lot better, but Australia were pretty poor, and would have beaten South Africa a lot easier with a bit more poise. The Springboks were livid at the end of the match – I just hope that anger carries on until next week, which should make the Springbok All Black match a real classic.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 6
Scarlets 32 - 32 Ulster   
Connacht 16 - 11 Newport Gwent D'gons    Glasgow 22 - 20 Leinster
Friday , September 5
Munster 13 - 14 Edinburgh   
Ospreys 44 - 13 Benetton Treviso   

Rugby Championship
New Zealand 28 - 9 Argentina   
Australia 24 - 23 South Africa