Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leinster struggle by Ulster, and a famous day for Connacht!

Josh Van Der Flier
 Josh van der Flier

Leinster and Ulster got the Irish derbies going on Friday night. And we got to see the best and worst of Leinster again. There is lot more intensity, and lot more urgency from Leinster, and thankfully the scrum managed to hold together, and even dominate at times. And you can see Sexton starting to ease into his role, exerting the control that he used to have. But there’s the bad as well, you’d have to be 8 foot tall to catch some of Reddan’s passes, and then just our handling and keeping your head – how did Ben Te’o not score? Still, we got the win, against an Ulster side that defended well and tried really hard to make up for last week. Fitzgerald is on fire at the moment, and van der Flier is just hungry for work. Ulster meanwhile, have a lot of talent, a lot of experienced players, but just seem to be struggling to pull a pattern of play together.

After that intense, low scoring affair, the action moved to Thomond Park for the visit of Connacht to take on Munster. For 29 years, there’s only been one result, it had to change one day, and this Saturday it did. On paper, Munster are way way stronger – Irish, Australian, Argentinian and All Black internationals, versus a team of decent but not  (mostly) outstanding players. You have to hand it to Pat Lam, as he said – that win started on the training ground, everyone knows what their role is, and they carry it out. That enabled them to retain the ball so impressively, and make space when they needed to. You’d still be scratching your head as to how such a physical side like Munster didn’t dominate Connacht in the collisions. And where in Ireland can we find a turnover machine that the Southern Hemisphere seem to churn out all the time – Munster could so badly do with that. Also,   I’m a bit like a broken record, but they’ve been persisting with Keatley forever, and it’s not working – he’s an inconsistent play maker – give someone else a chance, and stick with them. Whatever Munster’s deficiencies were though, you can’t take away from Connacht who just deserved that win all day long.

Edinburgh 32 - 13    Dragons
Glasgow Warriors 13 - 6    Benetton Treviso
Leinster 8 - 3    Ulster
Saturday, November 28   
Ospreys 13 - 6    Cardiff Blues
Munster 12 - 18    Connacht

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Two Irish derbies, and Pat, don't you want to come and live in Dublin?

Image result for Pat Lam
Pat Lam (picture )

Well pretty straightforward to talk about this week with two derbies. And first up is Leinster v Ulster at the RDS, so not getting any easier for anyone really. Leinster come in the match on a two match losing streak, and have looked a bit lightweight in both matches. What a time for Henderson, Tuohy, and Williams to ride into town! But at the end of the day, we could have won last week with a bit of luck, even with a powder puff scrum. So at home we could go one better, especially as Ulster are a  bit shell shocked from their defeat to Saracens. Having said that there’s a umpteenth tinker with the midfield – Ben Te’o and Fitzgerald look the best b a country mile, but no Luke is on the win and in comes Madigan. With all the controversy around his future, maybe they have felt they had to play him. I am as confused as our coaches and every other supporter as to what outr chances are, hopefully our experience will see us home.

Then on Saturday we have Connacht travelling to Munster, probably feeling quietly confident. As they would going to Leinster or Munster. They don’t have the stars, they have the grafters, and probably the best provincial coach in Ireland. Don’t you want to come live in the big city Pat? Munster have so much talent to call on, but do they have the coaching, the tactics and the flyhalf to unleash it? They’ll probably win it on pure guts.

Friday, November 27       
Edinburgh v    Dragons     7:35 PM
Glasgow Warriors v    Benetton Treviso     7:35 PM
Leinster v    Ulster     7:35 PM
Saturday, November 28   
Ospreys v    Cardiff Blues     3:00 PM
Munster v    Connacht     5:15 PM
Sunday, November 29       
Scarlets v    Zebre     2:30 PM

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Connacht spare Ireland's blushes!

 Luke Fitzgerald
 Luke Fitzgerald

After last weeks woeful showing, Leinster at least gave their fans something to shout about this weeks. But in the cold light of day, played two lost two means that Leisters European season bar a minor miracle is down the tubeIt wasn’t all bad. Ben Te’o and Luke Fitzgerald present a serious challenge in midfield – hard straight running lines, jinking and making space, and Te’o putting in some savage hits. There was a good pace in the game from Leinster too, a bet of tempo back. The problem was in the scrum – giving away penalties for free. And after last week’s poor showing, it was the area Bath were going to target, and it gave them rich rewards. I’ve said it before – we just lack grunt in our scrum – what would you give to either a Nathan Hines or a Brad Thorne in their prime back in the team? Kane Douglas left us in the lurch.

Wasps stunning bonus point victory over Toulon, and the uncertainty of the Toulon Bath replay will make this group really interesting.

And it was no more cheery for Ulster, given a hiding by Saracens at Kingspan Stadium. It wasn’t a great game from Ulster at all, but in fairness Saracens were pretty awesome. I’m not a big fan of Owen Farell, but he was superb, moving play around in such a way that it was very hard to defend.
Connacht at least spared Ireland’s blushes with a good victory over Brive at home

Friday, November 20   
Ulster 9 - 27    Saracens
Saturday, November 21   
Benetton Treviso 3 - 36    Leicester Tigers
Bath Rugby 19 - 16    Leinster
Stade Toulousain 24 - 18    Oyonnax
Glasgow Warriors 15 - 26    Northampton Saints
Scarlets 12 - 29    Racing Metro
Exeter Chiefs 34 - 19    Bordeaux Begles
Sunday, November 22   
Clermont Auvergne 34 - 29    Ospreys
Wasps 32 - 6    Toulon

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Leinster float like a bee, sting like a butterfly!

Jonah Lomu (picture
  (Above is Clive Woodward on his team talk before an All Blacks match)

Such sad new about Jonah Lomu, only 40, he never had any luck with his health.

Well, after the debacle of last weekend, time for Leinster to get back on track… or is it? I heard both Leo and Jonny do a lot of soul searching during the week. Jonny reckons it was his worst experience in a Leinster jersey, and there was not a lot of happiness coming from everyone really. Well, they’ve had a week to sort it all out, and have a few more players to pick from.  But whether that’s enough time to instil the urgency and aggression that was so sadly absent last weekend, well, we’ll see. It’s quite hard to see us winning this weekend, and if we don’t, that’s us in the competition. Are we going to end up like the French sides? Fielding an academy side because we can’t win anything? Well, faint heart never won fair lady, all we can do is go for it and surprise ourselves!
Ulster have Saracens on Friday, and have Ian Henderson back in the team, what a boost! It’ll be tough, but I’d say they have a good chance at home.
Munster’s match is postponed and Connacht have Brive at home. To say the men from the west have had a nightmare journey home is the understatement of the year, I don’t even know if they are even all back from Russia yet. It’s going to hard to get themselves together for the match.

Friday, November 20           
Ulster v    Saracens     7:45 PM   
Saturday, November 21           
Benetton Treviso v    Leicester Tigers     1:00 PM   
Bath Rugby v    Leinster     3:15 PM   
Stade Toulousain v    Oyonnax     3:15 PM   
Glasgow Warriors v    Northampton Saints     5:15 PM   
Scarlets v    Racing Metro     5:30 PM   
Exeter Chiefs v    Bordeaux Begles     7:45 PM   
Sunday, November 22           
Clermont Auvergne v    Ospreys     1:00 PM   
Stade Fran├žais Paris v    Munster     3:15 PM   
Wasps v    Toulon     5:15 PM   

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I'm downgrading my expectations for Leinster this season...

Image result for french tricolor

It was a weekend when events in Paris made rugby and most things in life pale into insignificance, and our thought have to be with the whole of France.

Well I took my son to the Leinster match, probably with fairly modest expectations – no Rob Kearney, no Isa, no Ben Te’o, no Like Fitzgerald. I did  have a few more realistic expectations about our ability to throw, catch and kick the ball, and have a decent line out. But, it was not to be. Scrum penalizes and free kicks were frequent, the first in the opening two minutes. Line outs? Well, we butchered a good few of those. Kicking and passing? Kick offs fluffed, penalties kicked dead, balls fumbled, passed forward. And this is no red hot Aviva Premiership team either, they’re 8th, and really had very little to do – a bit of defending in the first half, and after that, the safest place for the ball was with Leinster. It’s definitely the easiest game we have in the pool, and we got thumped! I’m readjusting my expectations for the rest of the season. So much work to do, we need some energy and we need it fast! It’s going to take a minor miracle for Leinster to get of this pool now.

Munster made heavy weather of beating Treviso in the first half, then pulled away convincingly in the second. And Ulster’s match was postponed, while Connacht at least got a win.

Leicester Tigers 33 - 20    Stade Fran├žais Paris
Saturday, November 14       
Oyonnax 0 - 0    Ulster
Racing Metro 0 - 0    Glasgow Warriors
Munster 32 - 7    Benetton Treviso
Saracens 32 - 7    Stade Toulousain
Northampton Saints 15 - 11    Scarlets
Sunday, November 15    
Leinster 6 - 33    Wasps

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bluffers guide to the Champions Cup!

 Image result for champions cup rugby

Right. Tadah! The Bluffers guide to the Champions Cup! Below are all the pools, and this is how I think it’ll pan out.

Pool one has Oyannax along for the ride,  and a huge battle for Ulster to get out of this group. Saracens and Toulouse are the big spending heavy weights, who will most likely be slugging it out for the top spot, and the Ulstermen are going to have dig deep to do this.

Pool 2 has Bordeaux Begles who I KNOW have no serious intentions in this competition. Clermont should top the group, Ospreys will be competitive, and Exeter are the dark horses, a team on the rise.

Pool 3 is probably the most open, any of the teams could top it, in theory Racing Metro should take it, but none of these teams has ever really delivered is this cup formerly known as Heineken.

Pool 4 Benneton do not belong here, so it’s going to be between Munster, Stade Francais and the Tigers. Munster have the potential to do well here, they are going to have to fight, but they’re good at that!

Pool 5 is pretty robust, Toulon are the strongest, Wasps the weakest, and Leinster and Bath are in between. On the overall performance of last season,  Leinster are going to struggle o get out of this group. But we have a new coach, Jonny Sexton and Isa Nacewa back, so let’s see…

Ulster and Munster should have nice gentle warm ups to get them going.

Leinster will have their hands full against Wasps, and I’ll be there to see how they do! I think we should win, it’s really Ireland v Wasps

European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1   
Pos    Team
1    Oyonnax
2    Saracens
3    Toulouse
4    Ulster
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 2   
Pos    Team
1    Bordeaux Begles
2    Clermont Auvergne
3    Exeter Chiefs
4    Ospreys
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3   
Pos    Team
1    Glasgow Warriors
2    Northampton Saints
3    Racing Metro
4    Scarlets
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4   
Pos    Team
1    Benetton Treviso
2    Leicester Tigers
3    Munster
4    Stade Francais
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 5   
Pos    Team
1    Bath Rugby
2    Leinster
3    Toulon
4    London Wasps

19:45 (GMT)    Leicester Tigers    Stade Francais
13:00 (GMT)    Oyonnax    Ulster
15:15 (GMT)    Racing 92    Glasgow Warriors
17:15 (GMT)    Munster    Benetton Treviso
17:30 (GMT)    Saracens    Toulouse
19:45 (GMT)    Northampton Saints    Scarlets
13:00 (GMT)    Bordeaux Begles    Clermont Auvergne
13:00 (GMT)    Leinster        London Wasps
15:15 (GMT)    Toulon    Bath Rugby
17:30 (GMT)    Ospreys        Exeter Chiefs

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Four from four for the Irish provinces! However, 'scrappy' is the best description.

Hayden Triggs ( picture

Leinster on Friday night started in the worst possible way letting the Scarlets score a try in the first few minutes. This was supposed to be a relaxing Friday night, watching the returning names for Leinster sort out the Scarlets and get revenge for the defeat earlier in the season. Instead, it was the Scarlets who played most of the rugby in the first half, and looked a lot more cohesive and threatening. It was only Madigan’s kicking that were keeping Leinster in the game. But Leo no doubt issued the hair dryer treatment at half time, that steadied the ship, and it looked slightly more comfortable after that. 

The best description of the Irish sides I saw playing was scrappy. Scrappy scrappy scrappy. Healy and O’Brien giving away silly silly penalties and so many dropped balls from everyone.  Leinster also seem to lack grunt, we were getting beaten up by the Scarlets all the first half. I’ve been impressed by the difference Hayden Triggs has made, he offers uncompromising physicality which is very welcome! We had a breathless few minutes at the end that weren’t too pleasant. But, we got the win and that’s what counts, over a very tidy Scarlets side.

Connacht put Treviso away to go top of the table. Great start to the season for them!

On Saturday, It was another Irish side hanging on for dear life in the last few minutes.  Munster played well in the first half, Murray is pure class, Earls is energised, and Donnacha Ryan is awesome. But there’s still an issue of control lots of loose and bad kicking from Keatley among others. And just basic tactics, Munster were up a player in the last 5 minutes, but kept kicking the ball back to Edniburgh and tried to play an expansive game – surely it was time to hang onto the ball and stuff it up the jumper? Anyway, they got the win, and will just have to keep tinkering until they get it right.

Finally, Ulster got an away win over the Dragons, to complete a clean sweep for the Irish provinces.

Connacht 33 – 19 Benetton Treviso
Leinster 19 - 15    Scarlets
Ospreys 36 - 3    Zebre
Cardiff Blues 30 – 35 Glasgow Warriors
Edinburgh 14 – 16 Munster
Dragons 12 – 17 Ulster