Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sweet satisfaction as Ireland beat England!

 Joe Schmidt (picture http://bit.ly/1aIjTW4)

Sundays win over England is easily one of the most satisfying wins of recent years. There was France in Paris last year, there was South Africa and Australia in the Autumn, but this was rich in flavour, with notes of yeah boy! We seemed to cope pretty easily with everything England had to throw at us, and it was them that were struggling to make ground or play with any fluency. There was a mighty shift from the loose forwards, especially the young guns Murphy and O’Donnell, epic performances from O’Connell and Best, MOTM for Henshaw, and brilliant from Murray and Zebo. But the MC was Jonny Sexton, kicking out of his skin, controlling and directing the game, and putting in some mean tackling of his own. Let’s face it, Ireland have the best coach in the world now in Joe Schmidt.  England just wilted under the pressure, and with a few exceptions, mainly Billy Vunipola and Alex Goode at the back, they were out of ideas. They are missing players, put Courney Walsh, Mike Brown and Manu Tuallagi back in and they’d be a lot more competitive, but that’s for a another day, for now it’s Ireland s turn to savour a sweet, sweet victory.

And Ireland’s ladies also beat England, what a weekend!

Scotland will up in the Hague for committing war crimes against a perfectly innocent win against Italy. They tortured the poor win, and their fans, until it expired in the last minute of the game – that after leading 10 nil after 10 minutes. It was easily their worse performance of the tournament,, and while Italy weren’t exactly in scintillating form themselves, they at least made less mistakes.

Wales played out a smart win in Paris, keeping it tight and strangling the life out of the French. France played like they’d been introduced to each other for the first time shortly before kick off. I was going to say that I was surprised with how easily, Wales beat France, but really, nothing is surprising about France anymore. All set up perfectly now for the Millenium stadium in two weeks!

Six Nations
Saturday, February 28
Scotland 19 - 22 Italy    14:30
France 13 - 20 Wales    17:00
Sunday, March 01
Ireland 19 - 9 England    15:00

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ireland versus England is going to be totally epic!

 Jordi Murphy
 Jordi Murphy ( Picture http://bit.ly/181Rb0s )


Sundays match is building up to be Ireland’s biggest match in years. We always want to beat England, sure we wanted to beat France, but we want to BEAT England! This is match 3 for everybody, the last number of 6 Nations have been decided on points, slams are pretty rare things these days, so the loser on Sunday may well still go on to win the whole thing. But it’s the two form teams meeting, and it does have the winner takes all cup final feel to it.  England were the only side we lost to last year, when they had home advantage, so this is a real test for where we are now, just how good are we?  We’ve lost Jamie Heaslip, through an act of French thuggery, but Jordi Murphy did a good job against Italy, and no doubt he’s going to step up again, while England are without Mike Brown. This is like chess, how we take the size of the English out of it, passion won’t be an issue for us, but it’s going to interesting to see what tactics Joe Schmidt has to bring to give us the edge. Against France, we played where we want to on the pitch, kept them in their half, and let them make the mistakes, will be we able to contain England like that?  Will our scrum hold out? I for one cannot wait, I think it’s going to be epic, if we can beat physically big sides like France, Australia and South Africa, we can beat England, I think we will, and it never hurts that hard to beat them does it?

Elsewhere, again, a feast of rugby. It’s giant v Goliath as France and Wales square up in
Paris. The French have made a few strangely common sense selections, going with Parra, and bringing a bit more flair into the back line, which give you concern for the health of coach Philippe St Andre. Are you feeling OK Philippe, do you need a lie down? France’s problem for number of years has not been who you pick, but who do you leave out? Leaving out the most talented players seems to have been the most favourable option recently, but I like the look of this French side. I don’t think Wales will physically dominate France, and if they couldn’t contain Scotland very well, good luck against the likes of Fofana, Dulin et al! So France for me.

Finally Scotland welcome Italy to Murrayfield for the annual wooden spoon competition. Italy will be without prop inspirational Martin Castrogiovani won’t be playing after his friends dog bit his nose last weekend, and Scotland lose fly half Finn Russell to a harsh two week suspension.  I reckon this is going to be a watershed match for Scotland, they’ll win and win well.

Six Nations
Saturday, February 28
Scotland vs Italy    14:30
France vs Wales    17:00
Sunday, March 01
Ireland vs England    15:00

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Three and a half for Ireland, good news for Leinster, Ulster and Connacht!

 Sean Cronin will start for Leinster against Scarlets on Friday
 Sean Cronin (picture http://bit.ly/1FMa6e8)

I’d be lying if I said I watched much rugby this weekend, I was in France for most of It! So I got to enjoy the matches a bit on Twitter instead.

The Leinster match – lads your ears would have been have burning. I tuned in when we’d just retaken the lead. The mood was not cheerful, and despite a bonus point win, the mood didn’t improve. ‘Papering over the cracks’ etc. It didn’t sound like a classic, but the 5 points are handy, and let’s face it, having players yanked in and out of the team for national duty, alongside a normal injury list, isn’t going to make for the most fluid watching experience is it? Ryan Gopperth, Fitzgerald and Cronin each got a try.

The Ulster tweets were about resilience, hanging on. A few red faces about the cards though.

And there was a fair bit of dejection from the Munster folk as well, the comeback was great, it was the downfall first that was hard to take.

Connacht rounded off the weekend with a win over the Dragons, helped a lot by a red card for the Welshmen after 15 minutes.

 3 out of the top 4 are Irish (for now), and Connacht are 6th – not too shabby…

Feb 22, 2015         Dragons 25 - 30 Connacht
Feb 21, 2015         Scarlets 25 - 25 Munster        
            Glasgow 19 - 16 Ospreys        
Feb 20, 2015         Benetton Treviso 40 - 24 Cardiff Blues        
            Edinburgh 17 - 20 Ulster        
            Leinster 29 - 8 Zebre

Friday, February 20, 2015

Leinster should beat Zebre if they dig deep!

 Leinster's Shane Jennings. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
 Shane Jennings (picture http://bit.ly/1EcpLSi)

After a boring interlude of 6 Nations rugby, it’s back to the high octane Guinness Pro 12.  And what have Leinster been up to in the meantime? Smashed the Dragons at home I suppose? Well, not quite. We all know that now that now Joe Schmidt is in charge of Ireland, Ireland is like Leinster Lite – if any of the other provinces want a player in Ireland, they have to pay Joe – and he charges Munster double – and damn right too!  So even excusing the fact that Leinster have lost a shed load of players to international duty, and that the Dragons on their day are a decent outfit, it’s a pretty ordinary result to lose to them. While on the international side we’re forging ahead, there’s a quiet decline in the provinces in Ireland – only one Champions Cup quarter finalist for instance.

Anyway, Leinster can put that all behind them this weekend – if they dig deep, I’m sure they have it in themselves to scrape a victory over Zebre. This is the week that Shane Jennings announced his retirement from rugby at the end of season – he’s the kind of guy you need when the going gets tough, a grafter, and he’ll be missed.

Ulster should have way too much for Edinburgh, while Munster and Connacht face tricky away ties with the Scarlets and the Dragons respectively. I’d say they’ll both come through though.

Guinness PRO12
Friday, February 20
Benetton Treviso vs Cardiff Blues    19:05
Edinburgh vs Ulster    19:35
Leinster vs Zebre    19:35
Saturday, February 21
Scarlets vs Munster    14:40
Glasgow Warriors vs Ospreys    17:15
Sunday, February 22
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Connacht    16:00

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ireland and England on course for collision

 Ireland and Leinster will be without O'Brien for an extended period of time.
Sean O'Brien ( picture http://bit.ly/1CwX9kP)

Rugby’s a cruel game, England don’t score a try against Italy which they don’t even need, and it’s given, and Scotland score a wonder try against Wales, and it isn’t given.

Ireland comfortably handled everything that France threw at them, on Saturday afternoon, conceding just one try and some long range penalties to keep their unbeaten run going. Some people think we should have won better, scored tries – I’d take that any day over France, a one point victory with a blind biased ref would have done nicely too, thank you very much.  Henshaw, Toner, O’Connell, Payne and O’Brien did most of the tackling, a great shift from O’Brien, playing the full 80 minutes after playing 40 minutes in the last year. And Sexton was superb, out for 3 months but sharp as ever, putting the balls on a sixpence with his kicks. What a brutal match though, the state of Sexton’s and O’Connell’s faces was terrible. France were lucky not to have lost by more, Pape’s yellow card could easily have been a red. And Rory Best is due for a long spell on Joe Schmidt bold step after that trip.

England racked up a good score against Italy, it wasn’t that impressive though, they let in three tries, and had a dodgy one awarded themselves. But Ireland didn’t look too flash against Italy either, and they got a better winning margin they we did.  George Ford is superb for England though, and our match against them could easily decide the championship.

Finally, Wales got their campaign off the mark with a battling victory over Scotland. There was a bit of controversy as the Scots had what seemed like a perfectly good try disallowed. But they’ve made it clear that a trip to Murrayfield is not for the faint hearted anymore, and with a bit more composure they could have won that even with a try disallowed.

The U20’s racked up a great win over the French, probably the best match I watched this weekend, and the ladies lost out in a close contest in Ashbourne.

Six Nations
Saturday, February 14
England 47 - 17 Italy    14:30
Ireland 18 - 11 France    17:00
Sunday, February 15
Scotland 23 - 26 Wales    15:00

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Irlande, England and Scotland with the wins this weekend!

 24 November 2013; Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Guinness Series International, Ireland v New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Jonny Sexton (picture  http://bit.ly/1Eh1YhC )

For Ireland and France, things are about to get real on Saturday. You want to beat every team you play, but there are teams you really, REALLY don’t want to lose to as well, and that’s the category that France fall into. Les Bleus have been the source of much heartache for Ireland over the years, Exhibit A would be Vincent Clerk’s last minute – probably after the last minute – try in the inaugural 6 Nations match at Croke Park. Talk about spoiling the party, we were supposed to win the 6 Nations that year and all! And that was the year of the 2007 World Cup, when things went pear shaped with a capital P, and the rot was started by the French! Not to get too carried away, but even 8 years later we still owe them one. Our fly half Jonny Sexton is now one the best paid players in France ( known by his teammates as Jonny Vacances for the amount of time he’s out injured), and we also have Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien back, and Cian Healy on the bench. Who knows what the French will bring, they didn’t show too much last week, neither did we, but I think this weekend it’ll all come right for Ireland with a decent win!

England will play Italy, they have an unchanged team, and will be expecting a big win, especially at home. A big win is important because the 6N has been decided by points the last two years. Italy, aren’t great, but you have to break them down first, so I think England will win well, but get quite frustrated early on.

Finally, Wales drag their sorry arses to Scotland to hopefully right some of the wrongs from last weekend. This one could be really interesting, Wales will be busting a gut to get their show on the road, against a very competitive Scottish team. I’m going to go with Scotland and home advantage.

Also, don’t forget about the rest of the rugby that’s on ,  where Ireland Under-20 and Women's teams host France at Dubarry Park and Ashbourne respectively. The U20’s match will be live on RTE 2, and the women’s match done as a stream off the website. Going to try and make the ladies match if I can.

Six Nations
Saturday, February 14
England vs Italy    14:30
Ireland vs France    17:00
Sunday, February 15
Scotland vs Wales    15:00

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ireland get the job done in the end!

 Robbie Henshaw
 Robbie Henshaw (picture http://bit.ly/1M3kwrm)

The 6 Nations 2015 kicked off with a bang, with a tense physical match in Wales. Wales won the first half, and then England came roaring back to claim the spoils. Wales got beaten up basically, by an ultra physical English pack – I’ve heard they are the biggest pack in the tournament, and it certainly looked like it. Behind them George Ford pulled the strings perfectly, and the English backline looked a lot sharper than their Welsh counterparts. When Wales don’t smash other teams early on, they seem to come to a halt, they were certainly out of ideas in the last 20 minutes.

Itreland didn’t exactly turn on the style but they put Italy away pretty easily in the end. Ireland had better ideas, but Italy’s defence hung in there, until a yellow card turned the match. I thought Tommy O’Donnell played really well, second most tackles behind Henshaw, while Jordi Murphy had the most carries, just behind busy man Robbie Henshaw. Zebo looked the most likely to crack things open, and Madigan added some good touches in attack. Italy weren’t that great though, discipline is still an issue, and some basic skills like lineouts and scrums. Now that’s over Ireland are going to have to really step up next week.

Finally, Scotland put in a hard battling performance to keep France in their sights the whole match. Finn Russell played really well, and their physicality is second to none. Hard to say how good France are, but they have an amazing depth of talent, let’s hope they don’t show it in Dublin!

So after the first weekend:

England were the most impressive, and look like the team to beat
Scotland played much better than everyone thought
France and Ireland won but played within themselves
Wales look the most peed off
Italy looked like the worst team

Six Nations
Friday, February 06
Wales 16 - 21 England    20:05
Saturday, February 07
Italy 3 - 26 Ireland    14:30
France 15 - 8 Scotland    17:00