Sunday, October 19, 2014

Connacht flatten, Munster and Leinster scrape, and Ulster lose

 
 (picture http://bit.ly/1prB0MD)

So much rugby I may need to join a support group! Staring off with the little matter of the Wallabies v the All Blacks . During the anthems, the All Blacks looked cocky and relaxed, while the Wallabies look completely focused. What an awesome match, with the Wallabies giving everything, going right ahead...then ultimately failing to keep New Zealand out. Kurandrani was epic, but it’s back to square one for Australia, the chaos continues. Ewen McKenzie is gone, I reckon they should fast track Michael Cheika into the job, and try and make the best of what they can before the World Cup

Munster got the weekend going for Ireland, and by the time I tuned in the first half, things weren’t going right. Sale had them on the rack, and were pretty unlucky not to get a bonus point try before half time. However, a few choice words from Mr Foley at half time turned them around, they put themselves in touching distance, and with the clock gone dead, Keatley pulled the trigger with a drop goal. It was ugly, but it was a win, now they just need to work on an 80 minute performance.

Ulster were also in action later on, with an away match to the Tigers. Two things cost them the match, a yellow card, and a shambolic lineout. Franco van der Merwe has lot of work to do as the man who runs the lineout. After being outmuscled, out thought, out of the match, Ulster somehow managed to come back and get a bonus point. Their midfield is dynamite, and it’s hard to see how the Irish midfield is not very soon all going to come from Ulster. But just a pity, if their line out had functioned, I’d say they had a chance of winning.

Connacht got off to a winning start, thumping La Rochelle, and scoring 7 tries in the process, including 2 for Robbie Henshaw.

Finally Leinster scraped home against Wasps at the RDA. You aren’t supposed to hanging on at home! They looked flat and inaccurate in the first half, then turned it around. Heaslip stood up, as did Cronin, and Ryan and Ruddock worked their socks off. Special mention too for Michael Bent, in the background for years, out of position but stepping up to the plate. Injuries are an issue, but the continued pick and mix in the midfield is a worry. We butchered a few opportunites at the bonus point try but at least we won.  Fair play to Wasps for making it a tight exciting match, the return fixture will be massive.

European Rugby Champions Cup
Sunday , October 19
Ospreys 42 - 7 Benetton
Toulouse 30 - 23 Montpellier   
Toulon 28 - 18 Scarlets   
Leinster 25 - 20 Wasps   
Saturday , October 18
Glasgow 37 - 10 Bath   
Sale Sharks 26 - 27 Munster   
Saracens 30 - 23 Clermont Auvergne   
Racing Metro 92 20 - 11 Northampton   
Leicester 25 - 18 Ulster   
Friday , October 17
Harlequins 25 - 9 Castres

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All you ever wanted to know about 'The Cup Formerly Known as Heineken' - but were afraid to ask!

 Stuart McCloskey rugby player
Stuart McCloskey (picture http://bit.ly/1DeMxqA)  

This is quick preview of the snazzily named European Rugby Champions Cup - probably easier to refer to it as the cup formerly known as Heineken  - which is still sponsored by Heineken. I’m just busy selling my house to pay for all the different Sky, BTSports etc packages so I can watch it all.

There are 5 pools,  20 teams, and the teams will be seeded after the round robin matches , with the top 8 seeds progressing. It’s not impossible then, that there may be a pool which no one progresses from. You need to win often, and win big, and at least get losing bonus points. All the pools are below, with each team’s current position in the domestic league.

Pool one, where Munster sit, is easily the hardest. You kind of get the feeling that if they get out of there, they could win it. I’d say they’ll be lucky to make it out, but let’s see. This weekend they have Sale away, which is a must win, can’t see them having too many problems, but ideally they want a 5 pointer. There only problem is hooker –it seems to be difficult to find a good robust hooker in Munster. For Sale maverick Danny Cipriani is the one to watch.

Leinster are in Pool 2, with more modestly placed teams. They are the bookies favourite for  the pool, Castre are their French side and not doing much season, and they have decent records against English sides. Bookies favourites or not for this pool, the way they are playing right now, I think they are going to have a battle to get anywhere. They have Wasps at home this weekend – you can at least expect them to win that, and get off to good start. I’ll be nervous though! They need to watch out for wings  Christian Wade and Salosi Tagicakibau. Apart from prop and loose forward injuries, it’s pretty much full pick for Leinster.

Pool three is where Ulster reside, with Toulon, and Leicester who they visit this weekend. The Tigers have an injury list the length of your arm, and Ulster have claimed a good few scalps off them in the last few years, so they’ll fancy this one. I could absolutely see Ulster get off to a flyer, and if they lose, it won’t be by much. Interesting to see if McCloskey starts, the Ulstermen have an embarrassment of riches in the backline now.

Pool 4 surely presents Glasgow to redeem themselves from last year’s poor showing in the cup formerly known as Heineken, they’re a good team, and this week’s match against an in form Bath should be a thriller.

In pool 5, Northampton are the grande frommage, but there’ll be some interesting match ups with Racing Metro and the Ospresys no doubt.

Connacht meanwhile, have found themselves in a tough group, with Bayonne, Exeter and La Rochelle. They have a history of pulling off big results in these competitions though, so let’s see… They kick off at home against La Rochelle.

Pool 1
Pos    Team               
1    Clermont Auvergne 1       
2    Munster 4       
3    Sale Sharks 10       
4    Saracens 2       

Pool 2
Pos    Team                  
1    Castres 12       
2    Harlequins 7       
3    Leinster 6       
4    Wasps 5       

Pool 3
Pos    Team                   
1    Leicester Tigers 8       
2    Toulon 2       
3    Scarlets 7       
4    Ulster 3       

Pool 4
Pos    Team             
1    Bath 4       
2    Glasgow Warriors 2       
3    Montpellier 4       
4    Toulouse 8       

Pool 5
Pos    Team                
1    Northampton 1       
2    Ospreys 1       
3    Racing Metro Paris 7       
4    Treviso 12       

European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , October 17
Harlequins vs Castres    19:45
Saturday , October 18
Sale Sharks vs Munster    13:00
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne    15:15
Leicester vs Ulster    19:45
Glasgow vs Bath    15:15
Racing Metro 92 vs Northampton    17:15
Sunday , October 19
Leinster vs Wasps    17:15
Toulon vs Scarlets    15:15
Toulouse vs Montpellier    13:00
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso    13:00

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Four from four for Ireland, not too shabby!

 Leinster's Richardt Strauss thunders forward, Leinster v Montpellier, Heineken Cup, RDS, Dublin, Ireland, January 21, 2012
 (picture http://es.pn/1qMZC1I)

Four from four for the Irish provinces, so not too shabby.  Connacht fired again, getting an way win over Treviso. They traditionally have a purple patch during the 6 Nations, while the other squads are depleted, and they are really putting their hands up for a top 6 finish this year.  Ronaldson kicked all their points, and is proving to be a key cog in their machine.

Munster had 9 changes from last weekend, and it showed, all the dynamism and momentum they had from last weekend was missing. The Scarlets where pretty desperate too, makings a hains of their line outs, and dropping the ball umpteen times. Meanwhile,  Rhys Priesland, sporting a bit of bumfluff on his upper lip, masquerading as a moustache, did himself no favours  with his international aspirations, squandering 2 or 3 regulation attempts at penalties. I’m expecting a completely different Munster next weekend against Sale.

I didn’t see the Leinster match, but with a host of changes, not surprising they weren’t running like a well oiled machine.  Madigan scored a try and got 13 points altogether, underlining his importance to the team.  Luke McGrath got a try too, best to bank the 4 points, and think about Wasps in the Champions Cup now. Certainly great to have Richardt Strauss back.

Finally, Ulster came out well on top of an almighty battle against Glasgow at Ravenhill. It was an intensely physical match, where defence was king, but Ulster kept their patience, ground Glasgow down, then put in the boot in. Craig Gilroy scored the type of try that will put him back into Irish contention. Ian Humphreys had a good match, as did Payne and MCloskey, and Henry and Diack were as superb as always. Not many sides will win that big over the Scots this season.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , October 11
Edinburgh 24 - 10 Newport Gwent D'gons   
Zebre 3 - 20 Leinster   
Ulster 29 - 9 Glasgow   
Friday , October 10
Benetton Treviso 6 - 9
Munster 17 - 6 Scarlets

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Leinster hope to bounce back, while the big match is Ulster v Glasgow!

 
(Picture http://bit.ly/1rj6CU6)

After a weekend to forget, I’m sure the mood in in the Leinster camp was like the weather, pretty stormy. We have a few reinforcements back, with Kirchner, Ross, Kearney, Jack McRath and Marty Moore back in action. The best thing to do is draw a line under last week, and get on with the job. Zebre came pretty close to upsetting the Ospreys last week, they are not the walking 5 points they used to be, but we should hammer them pretty efficiently I’d say, and I hope O’Connor rests a few of the guys like Madigan who’ve played pretty well every minute so far.

Connacht travel to Treviso, and have named a strong looking outfit. The Italians have knul wins so far, and I’m backing the Galwegians to continue their good start with another victory.

Munster will need to keep their feet on the ground as they welcome the Scarlets, who lie in 6th position, a point below.  Munster have struggled a bit at Thomond recently, and while I’ve no doubt the momentum from the Leinster win will see them through, the Welshman are no pushover, so they’ll need to bring their A game. Peter O’Mahoney starts for the first time this season, and captains the side.

Finally, the big match of the weekend sees Glasgow travel to Ulster. Ulster have named Neil Doak (who’s also a mean cricketer) as head coach, and will get Les Kiss back as Director of Rugby after the world cup.  This is a perfect warm up for the European Cup for Ulster, Glasgow may be top of the PRO12 but they’re going down this Saturday!

Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 10
Benetton Treviso vs Connacht  
Munster vs Scarlets  
Saturday , October 11
Edinburgh vs Newport Gwent D'gons    14:40
Zebre vs Leinster    15:00
Ulster vs Glasgow    17:05
Sunday , October 12
Ospreys vs Cardiff Blues    16:00

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The blue tailed ladyboy has been saved from extinction!

 Ian Davies
 Go ahead punk, make my day!( picture http://bit.ly/1n72CLg)

The blue tailed ladyboy has been saved from extinction! Munster flushed a few of them out as they came marauding down the Dodder like the Munster of old. Munster battered Leinster into submission, with a fast moving, highly physical game plan, that Leinster couldn’t repel, or penetrate themselves. They look flustered, none more so than Gopperth, dropping the ball and losing their shape. And that was despite Munster making every effort to throw their lead away, with  Ian ‘Fastest draw in the West’ Davies, handing out cards all over the show, with steely eyes, his hands a blur, ‘Don’t even LOOK at me the wrong way, mofo!’. For Munster the pack was outstanding, with Foley, O’Connell and Stander the stand outs. What’s happened to Leinster then? They are down on loose forwards, with Jennings, Jordi Murphy and Sean O’Brien out. At prop, with Healy and McGrath out, Bent is playing well, but he’s not first choice, and Moore’s out too. Then they had a last minute rejig in midfield, which, same against Glasgow, plays havoc with their game. Performers were Cronin, and I think Douglas is the real deal, and has to start. We need to suck it up, man up and get on it with now.

Connacht went roaring ahead against the Blues, were going for the bonus point…then lost their way and let the Blues back in. But times have changed when the Blues are delighted with a draw at Connacht.

Ulster made short work of Edinburgh, running in four tries, and nilling the Scots.

In Jo’burg, another epic encounter between the Springboks and the All Blacks saw South Africa nearly throwing away a good win, and coming back at the end with a penalty to beat the All Blacks for the first time since forever. Lots of unbelievably sore bodies all round, and mention to Handre Pollard for two excellent tries, not bad for a 20 year old!

In Mendoza, Argentina finally broke their duck against the Wallabies, going behind, then coming storming back to secure the win. Australia’s discipline was abysmal, very lucky to get away with just the two yellow cards. But they’ll be back, don’t doubt they are turning the corner.

Guinness PRO12
Sunday , October 5
Benetton Treviso 23 - 40 Glasgow
Scarlets 26 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons   
Saturday , October 4
Leinster 23 - 34 Munster   
Friday , October 3
Connacht 24 - 24 Cardiff Blues   
Ulster 30 - 0 Edinburgh   
Zebre 14 - 15 Ospreys   
Rugby Championship
Saturday , October 4
South Africa 27 - 25 New Zealand   
Argentina 21 - 17 Australia   

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Has to be Leinster! Also, I'm saying the Springboks and the Pumas.

 
 Performance needed (picture http://bit.ly/1x3Pd7b)

The BIG match of the weekend, in Ireland anyway, has to be Leinster v Munster. Albeit, it’s 5th v 6th, and one team is going to come out of this with a played 5, won 2 record. And that team is going to Munster obviously! Of course the match is pretty finely balanced, neither Leinster nor Munster has been setting the world alight so far, but this is a match they’ll always be up for. Home advantage definitely gives Leinster the edge, plus I don’t think everyone is on the same page at Munster, they certainly didn’t have plan B for the Ospreys.  For Leinster, Reddan and Gopperth and their game management are absolutely key, as well as the ability of the pack to stand up and fight. And for Munster, still, it’s about the forwards, their ability to batter Leinster (go on, they’re no relation). If they can disrupt Leinster by force and intensity, that’ll be the key to their victory. Still going with Leinster though.

Connacht have named a strong team for the Cardiff Blues, who also arrive with a potent looking line up. Another acid test for the ‘new’ Connacht, its 4th v 10th they should win this. Think if the weather plays along they’ll do it.

Ulster have a strong team out for  Edinburgh, with Bowe and Payne included, looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against Zebre, caused in fairness by Fitzpatrick’s red card after 10 minutes. If they can subdue Edinburgh’s forwards they should be fine, and Edinburgh aren’t good tourists.

In the Rugby Championship, the competition is dead, but… two massive matches coming up. The meeting between the Springboks and the All Blacks last year ranks in my mind as one of the best matches ever, and I think this year’s won’t be far behind. It’s a match both teams will refuse to lose, and the Springboks will be near fanatical in their attempts to win. The Springboks and the Al Blacks are clear one and two now, but it’s whether the Springboks can find that extra 10% and exploit any tiredness from all the travelling New Zealand have been doing. I really think the Boks can do it, of course I thought that last year too, but I’m going with them. Aside from the match, the All Blacks kept it classy off the field as well as on, taking time to posing with legendary Springbok and motor neuron disease sufferer, Joost Van Der Westhuizen. That’s why I love rugby.

Finally, the Australian men’s drinking team rolled in to Argentina, with the unenviable task of keeping a desperate Pumas side out. Kurtly Beale has been ejected after an in-flight contretemps, which won’t have helped. Think this is one for Argentina, and a bit of pressure starting to mount on Ewen McKenzie

Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 3
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues  
Ulster vs Edinburgh  
Zebre vs Ospreys  
Saturday , October 4
Leinster vs Munster    18:30
Sunday , October 5
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow    14:00
Scarlets vs Newport Gwent D'gons    16:00
Rugby Championship
Saturday , October 4
South Africa vs New Zealand    17:05
Argentina vs Australia    19:40

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