Sunday, January 25, 2015

Four from four for Ireland, and two quarter finalists, not too shabby!

Ulster’s Iain Henderson will make his first start of the season against Leicester on Saturday. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho


Iain Henderson (Picture http://bit.ly/1xUMD2u)
Leinster, with a draw and a few other results going their way, have managed to manufacture a home quarter final. Wasps had a yellow card in the first seconds, and in recent times, they pretty lucky it was only yellow – Dave Kearney had to leave the field injured. They put in a smashing first half performance, scoring two tries, and taking a 14 point lead into the half. Then Wasps reeled them back in, with a try of their own. Madigan had an average day off the kicking tee, or Leinster could have won, and I thought we really missed the pace Reddan brings. Still, you can’t argue with a home quarter can you? Be looking forward to the Bath match

Ulster were up next, absolutely battering Leicester. It’s the one team the Ulstermen grow 10 feet tall for, with superb performancesfrom hat-trick man Cave, Gilroy, and wildman Henderson. Still it would be hard to think of an Ulster player who didn’t shine, really impressive physicality, and with a rake of good players to come back.

Connacht continued their great season. Getting a try bonus point win, including two tries in the last 6 minutes. Good times. They get to face Gloucester away in the next round.

Finally, Munster got back on the horse with a 10 try demolition of Sale, including six tries in the last 15 minutes!

I also saw Racing Metro put in a huge performance to take Northampton apart.

This is the draw:

Racing Metro 92 v Saracens

 Toulon v Wasps

 Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints

LEINSTER v Bath


Gloucester V Connacht

Exeter Chiefs V Newcastle Falcons

London Irish V Edinburgh

Newport-Gwent Dragons V Cardiff Blues


Munster 65 - 10 Sale Sharks 

 Clermont Auvergne 18 - 6 Saracens 

 Montpellier 27 - 26 Toulouse 

 Bath Rugby 20 - 15 Glasgow 

Ulster 26 - 7 Leicester Tigers 

  Scarlets 3 - 26 Toulon 

La Rochelle 20 - 30 Connacht   

Northampton Saints 8 - 32 Racing Metro 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Leinster and Connacht to sail into the Quarters! (probably)

  Pat Lam
 (picture http://bit.ly/1wqD35N)

This is it! Last round of action in Champs Cup, next stop, hopefully is the quarters for Leinster and Connacht. The ship has sailed for both Ulster and Munster, but there’s still pride to be played for. And with the 6 Nations roaring up, a final opportunity to stake your claim for Ireland or the Wolfhounds.

Leinster travel to Coventry to take on Wasps and get a look at their fancy new stadium. At the start of last weekend’s action, Leinster were expected to be chasing the runners up spot in the pool, and best of the rest place in the QFs. But it’s a better deal now, they could top the group – or as a fall back, they could get a point or two, and still get that runners up spot. Wasps are a good team, so it’ll interesting to see where their heads are for this match. Last weekend, they had nothing lose, they had to win or it was all over, so they went for it. This weekend, they may well be a bit more cagey, as they now have a good chance of making the quarters. Their victory over Quins was built on defence, and work rate. But Quins pretty ordinary in attack, Ben Botica had a shocker, and their main strategy seemed to be to get Mike Brown to punch a big hole through the defence. Meanwhile, Leinster’s attack finally fired against Castre, it’s always easier to run around someone than through them, and they found the hpo;es to run 7 tries.  So it‘s an excellent defence against and excellent attack. Matt O’Connor has wisely chosen to leave SOB and Cian Healy on the road to recovery. I think Leister will just about scrape win out of this one!

Connacht lost last weekend, but had great news that Pat Lamb has re-signed – I was kind of expecting one of the other provinces to come calling. La Rochelle should be easy enough to get a BP out of, then it’s down to getting a few favourable results going your way. They’ll be pretty to lucky to make it I think.

Ulster, and Ireland have more bad injury news with Jackson and Olding, and Ludik doesn’t look great either. HOWEVER, with the Tigers coming to town, all things are possible, including this win I think they’ll get.

Finally, Munster should hand out a satisfying thrashing to Sale.

Champions Cup
Saturday, January 24
Wasps vs Leinster    13:00
Castres vs Harlequins    13:00
Benetton Treviso vs Ospreys    15:15
Northampton vs Racing Metro    15:15
Ulster vs Leicester    17:30
Scarlets vs Toulon    17:30
Connacht vs Bayonne    17:00
Sunday, January 25
Bath vs Glasgow Warriors    13:00
Montpellier vs Toulouse    13:00
Clermont Auvergne vs Saracens    15:15
Munster vs Sale    15:15

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tricky weekend for the Irish teams, with only Leinster getting a win.

 21 October 2013; Connacht's Matt Healy during squad training ahead of their Celtic League 2013/14, Round 6, match against Leinster on Saturday. Connacht Rugby Squad Training, Renmore Recreation Centre, Galway. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
 (picture http://bit.ly/1DROZWQ)

Tricky weekend for the Irish teams, with only Leinster getting a win.

Munster had a tough day at the office against Saracens on Saturday.  It just wasn’t happening for them, too many dropped passes, poor scrumming, and cheap penalties. Saracens seem to always be going forward with purpose, while Munster, apart from a purple patch in the second half when they got their try, played in fits and starts. They really missed Murray, both his control of the match and the physicality he offers around the fringes. A couple of players put their hand up – I thought Felix jones was excellent, while Denis Hurley goes from strength to strength, and both must be in the Ireland frame now.

Ulster also had a difficult day on Saturday, conceding 8 tries against the Galactecos of Toulon. It was always going to be a tough ask, and not helped by a rash of early injuries. What you can say for the Ulstermen is that they stood up and fought as well as they could – they picked the strongest team   they had available, and played right  to end, picking up a four try bonus point.

Leinster finally turned in the performance that the fans have been waiting for. Castre are long out of this competition, but they at least still brought their full squad  if not their A-game. Leinster had their tempo back, and attacked relentlessly   running in 7 tries altogether. The starting 15 played well, the subs all had an impact, and if they can keep that momentum going they could top their group. Castres would have been slightly peeved to have scored a perfectly good try, and see Leinster get a penalty, but apart from that they should have no complaints.   Hard to pick stand out performances, everyone was good!

Finally, Connacht fell to a very committed Exeter side. The men from Galway had a good first half, then saw it all slip away. Their scrum couldn’t handle the pressure, and they just played way tto loose. They did get a try bonus point though, and Healy and Carty, kicking aside, were excellent.         

Glasgow 21 - 10 Montpellier        
Saracens 33 - 10 Munster        
Toulon 60 - 22 Ulster        
Leinster 50 - 8 Castres        
Sale Sharks 13 - 22 Clermont Auvergne        
Harlequins 3 - 23 Wasps    
Leicester Tigers 40 - 23 Scarlets
Connacht  24 - 33 Exeter Chiefs

Friday, January 16, 2015

As the cup formerly known as Heineken (CFKAH) nears the end of the pool stages,only wins will do now!

 
 (photo http://bit.ly/1u8Ar2m)

As the cup formerly known as Heineken (CFKAH) nears the end of the pool stages, it's last chance saloon, only wins will do now!

Munster have it all to do on Saturday against Saracens at the Copthall Stadium. They’ll will be without Connor Murray, which is a big loss. They are aiming to get the second spot off them, so they need to beat them as well as they can, and not concede any bonus points. Both teams have a similar forward based game plan.  Munster are going to have to hit them with a force that’ll make Storm Rachel look like a summer breeze. They have the forwards to get the job done, although scrum time could be a bit tricky. I think Saracens must be favourites, let’s see how much passion Munster can bring!

For Ulster the match against Ulster is mostly about pride.  Looking through the injury list they have at the moment, it hasn’t helped their cause at all this season. It sounds like Toulon could be a bit light on heavyweights with the flu that has it their team, so who knows, Ulster will be itching to right a few wrongs of the season so far.

Leinster shouldn’t have too many problems against Castres on Saturday. The Frenchmen are in 13th place, 2 points above La Rochelle. Survival in the Top 14 is their focus for the rest of the season, so I can’t see them taking any chances with their name plyers. The challenge for Leinster is to get as much out of the match as they can then, ideally a bonus point, and a big boost to their points differential. They have Captain Jamie back, the front row is a worry with McGraths suspension, but in fairness to Michael Bent, he has really proved his value this season. I actually think we could do something impressive this weekend.

Finally, Connacht have a might battle due against the Exeter Chiefs this weekend, who are currently 5th in the Aviva Premiership. Even if they win it’ll probably still come down to the last match, but a loss for Connacht and it’s over. Bundee Aki is out for a good while – but I’m backing the men in green, they are not going to lose two in a row at home!

Champions Cup
Friday, January 16
Leicester vs Scarlets    19:45
Saturday, January 17
Saracens vs Munster    13:00
Toulon vs Ulster    15:15
Sale vs Clermont Auvergne    17:30
Leinster vs Castres    17:30
Harlequins vs Wasps    19:45
Sunday, January 18
Glasgow Warriors vs Montpellier    13:00
Toulouse vs Bath    15:15
Ospreys vs Northampton    17:30
Racing Metro vs Benetton Treviso    17:30
Connacht v Exeter Chiefs,  15:15

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Connacht slip up, Leinster look half way decent, and wins for Munster and Ulster.

 Ben Te'o
 Ben Te'o (picture http://bit.ly/1C4uphY)

Connacht conceded their home record on Friday, with an underwhelming performance against Edinburgh. They didn’t seem to pitch up for the match – when it’s Leinster on Munster coming to town, they gird their loins and get down to it. But they obviously didn’t figure that Edinburgh were going to bring much, and came short as a result. Still some impressive performances though, Henshaw goes from strength to strength, and Muliaina, Aki, Roux and Muldoon stood up. Marmion overplayed his hand a bit, and John Cooney played a blinder while he was on. Time to regroup.

Leinster and Cardiff played out a thriller in the Cardiff Arms Park, with the lead see sawing backwards and forwards. The match was decided with Hoeta’s red card in the first half, but the Blues never gave up and if anything played harder and better with 14 men. One man advantage aside, Leinster at last showed a bit of decent form. Noel Reid and Ben Te’o looked like the business in midfield, Luke McGrath was sensational, and the Kearneys played well, but Gopperth was the revelation. Now his future is settled, the monkey seems off his back and he had his best game since last season. A mention too for Tadgh Furlong, who was a massive dynamo of energy wherever he was, and Sean Cronin will never let you down.  Cardiff have a really good team, a great back line, and top forwards like Navidi and Turnball. One of these days they’ll come right.

Munster plundered 5 points off Zebre, and Ulster had a topsy turvey match against Treviso, racing into a good lead in the first half…then nearly seeing it all slip away.

Friday, January 09
Connacht 13 - 16 Edinburgh    19:35
Glasgow Warriors 22 - 7 Scarlets    19:35
Saturday, January 10
Cardiff Blues 13 - 22 Leinster    14:40
Zebre 7 - 31 Munster    15:00
Benetton Treviso 20 - 24 Ulster    14:00
Ospreys 22 - 11 Newport Gwent Dragons    16:00

Friday, January 9, 2015

Leinster looking for another win!

  Martin Moore has played 12 games for Leinster this season.
(picture http://bit.ly/1FyxrB1)

I’m back in action after a good holiday – saw the results over Christmas- did all the 4 provinces get a win and a loss? All even then. Amazing how good Munster are against Leinster – they’d be top of the league if they played like that every week – and amazing how abject Leinster are against Munster. News from Munster is the departure of JJ Hanrahan – they weren’t playing him much, he’s a big loss, but he’s young and he’ll be back. If Munster get their forward play right, the fly half doesn’t have much to do anyway.

Connacht kick things off on Friday at Edinburgh – good times when they’re favourites and should
win this handily.

Leinster hope to make it two in a row against Cardiff, who have a decent team and should be doing much better than they are. Marty Moore and Ben Te'o are back in the picture, whilst Jack McGraw is on the bold step for a few weeks. Leinster have been poor away in general, but I think they might do this.

Munster won’t struggle against Zebre, nor Ulster against Treviso. Munster have pretty lengthy injury list though – Earls and Cronin are close to returning, but Kilcoyne, Copeland, Smith and Ryan are still a way away.

Enjoy the rugby!

Guinness PRO12
Friday, January 09
Connacht vs Edinburgh    19:35
Glasgow Warriors vs Scarlets    19:35
Saturday, January 10
Cardiff Blues vs Leinster    14:40
Zebre vs Munster    15:00
Sunday, January 11
Benetton Treviso vs Ulster    14:00
Ospreys vs Newport Gwent Dragons    16:00

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Christmas everyone!