Sunday, December 14, 2014

Leinster smash Quins by a point! But Connacht are the real deal!

 Eoin Reddan is one of a host of returning players named in the panel for tonight's game
 Bacon saver (picture

Well 2 from 4 again in Europe, and the only consistency is from Connacht,  who arguably have the best provincial coach in Ireland at the moment.

Connacht started the weekend in style, with a run on team featuring academy players. Caolin Blade scored two tries on his first start, as they came from behind to secure the best result for Ireland of the weekend.

Leinster smashed Harlequins at home with a one point victory. Yes the Leinsterman continue to tread water, with no particular pattern of play, and a creaky scrum. It took a few inspired breaks from Eoin Reddan to save our bacon and set up the match winning penalty. We won, playing with the umpteenth centre pairing, which actually could work well if it continues, so let’s be generous and say we can only get better.  Quins scored a couple of good tries, and deserved the losing bonus point. If we just looked like everyone knew what the plan was, I’d be a lot happier.

Munster started red hot, and finished medium hot to get the losing bonus people, it was the bit in the middle that was the problem. That French running game is just dizzying to watch and defend against, they scored two tries as good as you’ll see, and butchered another. Like Leinster, the Munster scrum was dodgy, but they are even lower down on the prop stocks. Clermont have this group you’d think, but Munster  can still at least can chase that runner up spot.

Finally, Ulster staggered through the first half of their match against the Scarlets, coughing up several soft penalties to give the Scarlets a good lead. Their scrum was at least as bad as Munster and Leinster. Cave and Marshall set up the most beautiful try, and when they went down to 14 they played really well, and got within 2 points. Then…an intercept try took it all away, a loss and no bonus pont. Time to concentrate on the league.

European Rugby Champions Cup

Clermont 26-19 Munster
Wasps 44-15  Castres
Scarlets 22-13 Ulster
Saturday , December 13
Glasgow Warriors 9 - 12 Toulouse   
Toulon 23 - 8 Leicester Tigers   
Northampton 67 - 0 Treviso   
Leinster 14 - 13 Harlequins   
Racing Metro Paris 18 - 14 Ospreys   
Saracens 28 - 15 Sale Sharks   
Bayonne 27 - 29 Connacht
Bath 32 - 12 Montpellier

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another orgy of European rugby on the way!

 Cian Healy: bad news.
 We want you back! (picture

After some pain for the Irish last weekend for the Irish provinces, they all get a chance to right the wrongs of last week with the reverse fixtures this weekend.

Leinster lead up the Irish challenge, with injury doubts over Darragh Fanning and Gordon D'Arcy although they should be fit, while Dominic Ryan, Richardt Strauss and Dave Kearney could also be in the picture.  What is it with injuries and us at the moment, it’s a bit like a revolving door. Quins will be without Nick Evans and captain Chris Robshawe. Also Jimmy Goppeth has announced he’s leaving. This is one we have just have to win, bonus point win talk has been floating around, but that’s really hard to see, any kind of win will do. If we can hold our scrum together, at home, we should at least beat them, and with a bit of luck deny them a bonus point. I’d love to see Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien back ASAP!

Munster have to go to France to try and take out Clermont. While they won’t lack for motivation, the real question is do they have the firepower to get the job done? They certainly gave Toulon a good game in the knock out stages last year, so they know how to do it. On the injury front, they’ll be without Gerhard van den Heever and doubts over  Dave Kilcoyne, and James Cronin . Robin Copeland, Paddy Butler, Eusebio Guinazu and Andrew Smith may be available though. As the Frenchmen always grow another inch at home, it’s tough ask, don’t want to be pessimistic but Munster will be lucky to get a result I think.

I’d back Connacht on current form to beat Bayonne, whose commitment to European rugby is pretty suspect.

Finally, Ulster travel to take on the Scarlets, where the real worry is all their injuries. Stuart Olding and Franco van der Merwe suffered concussion in Saturday’s, while Wiehahn Herbst and Nick Williams have hamstring problems, and  Stuart McCloskey is a serious doubt. Luke Marshall may play – I wouldn’t worry about the backs too much, they have such depth there, but they’ll miss Herbst, Van der Merwe and Williams. It’s a hard one to call, but I think the Ulstermen have more quality, and should sneak a win.

European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , December 12
Bath vs Montpellier    19:45
Saturday , December 13
Saracens vs Sale Sharks    17:15
Leinster vs Harlequins    19:45
Toulon vs Leicester Tigers    15:15
Glasgow Warriors vs Toulouse    13:00
Northampton vs Treviso    15:15
Racing Metro Paris vs Ospreys    17:15
Bayonne vs Connacht
Sunday , December 14
Clermont Auvergne vs Munster    15:15
Wasps vs Castres    13:00
Scarlets vs Ulster    17:15

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2/4, average outing for Ireland this weekend.

 Leinster coach Matt O'Connor talks to Douglas at UCD this afternoon.

There was some fiery rugby played this weekend, no more so than in Limerick, where Munster came up against a very determined Clermont side. This was not for the faint hearted, with international standard intensity. What the French team brought was, alongside their normal talented (and huge ) backs was amazing physicality, for the whole match. They stopped Munster’s big runners in their tracks – even Paul O’Connel struggled, it was that difficult, while CJ Stander and Dave Foley hardly seemed to feature. Tommy O’Donnell really stood up, MOTM for Munster for me. Part of the learning curve for Anthony Foley – what’s the plan when your driving game is out the window? Easy for me to say, but I would have liked to see Felix Jones brought in more at first receiver, he’s playing a blinder at the moment, or given JJ Hanrahan a run for 15 minutes. It’s not a disaster though, it’s tight at the top of the pool, and Munster are going to give Clermont a hell of a game next week.

Ulster got a bit back on the horse, with a 5 pointer over the Scarlets. Pienaar makes a huge difference, and their amazing array of backs really came into the match. Darren Cave just quietly gets better all the time. Toulon’s loss at the Tigers leaves the pool nice and open.

Leoinster battled away on Sunday, and only came away with a losing bonus point.  The scrum was a huge issue in the first half, and overall, I’d say we struggled to impose ourselves physically. What Douglas was doing on the bench, I don’t know, and I think Jordi is still a touch off the pace. Gopperth had a pretty good game, which is a relief, but our problem at the moment is that there’s no tempo to our back play – other teams used to sh8t themselves when the Leinster backs got the ball, now it’s just pretty routine tackling to keep them contained. That’s what Sexton and O’Driscoll used to bring. Overall though, if we can beat Quins at home next week we’ll head in to the break in good shape.

Finally, Connacht held the flag high for Ireland, with a BP point win over Bayonne.

European Rugby
 Champions Cup
Sunday , December 7
Castres 17 - 32 Wasps   
Harlequins 24 - 18 Leinster   
Leicester Tigers 25 - 21 Toulon   
Toulouse 19 - 11 Glasgow Warriors
Saturday , December 6
Sale Sharks 15 - 19 Saracens   
Treviso 15 - 38 Northampton   
Munster 9 - 16 Clermont Auvergne   
Ulster 24 - 9 Scarlets   
Ospreys 19 - 19 Racing Metro Paris   
Connacht 42 - 19 Bayonne
Montpellier 5 - 30 Bath

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Leinster need to get ready to rumble, Quins here we come!

Just when the glut of Autumn internationals comes to an end – the ‘Cup formerly known as Heineken’ arrives!

And Leinster first up need to seriously get ready to rumble, as they travel to take on Quins. Quins are currently 9th in the Premiership, so it hasn’t been a stellar season – but… they are a much better team than they’ve been playing. And Leinster haven’t looked too fly this season themselves. Just who of their Irish stars is going to be available will have a big bearing on the result. We just don’t seem to have the beef that we used to, nor the creativity in the backs. However, we do have a habit of picking ourselves up for the big ones, so I’m hoping for a ‘Northampton away’ result again – I kind of think we’ll win.

Munster have Clermont at home. There have been some epic battles between the sides over the years, and this is one of the matches of the weekend. Munster weren’t entirely convincing last weekend, but they have a pedigree in Europe as long as your arm. So it’s game on, and you know what they say about the French travelling. Clermont would be one of the few French sides actually interested in Europe, but you’d fancy Munster at home wouldn’t you?

Ulster have had a lot of disappointments this season, but I think the Scarlet’s are going to feel the backlash of that when they visit Ravenhill. It wouldn’t pay the Ulstermen to underestimate  their Welsh guests but they’ll have too much firepower this weekend.

Finally, Connacht  have Bayonne at home. They should win, but Bayonne, although bottom of that pool, have beaten Connacht’s real rival in this pool, Exeter. I’m backing Pat Lam and his men.

European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , December 5
Montpellier vs Bath   
Saturday , December 6
Sale Sharks vs Saracens    13:00
Munster vs Clermont Auvergne    17:30
Ulster vs Scarlets    19:45
Treviso vs Northampton    13:00
Ospreys vs Racing Metro Paris    15:15
Sunday , December 7
Castres vs Wasps    13:00
Harlequins vs Leinster    15:15
Leicester Tigers vs Toulon    17:30
Toulouse vs Glasgow Warriors    15:15

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Post 500! Leinster could learn from Sam Davies and Connacht!

 How did I ever get to 500 posts!?

The match between Munster and Ulster at Thomond was a thriller, if not always entirely very skilfully played out. You can see the rustiness  of the lay off, and the gaps the big names leave. Munster’s halfbacks were alternatively brilliant and woeful, Kealtey making good ground running, then passing all over the place, and his place kicking was not up to standard, Williams try scoring but throwing a good few wild passes of his own. It was Munster who looked the likelier of the two to run away with it, but they also worked hard to keep Ulster in the game with silly penalties and yellow cards. Ulster meanwhile, look like a team with a new coach and head of rugby. It’s going to take a while for that to all calm down. My MOTM was Robin Copeland, and I though Francois vd Merwe was very good for Ulster.

On Saturday, Leinster’s ordinary run of form continued  with a flat win over the Ospreys. They look out of ideas, Gopperth is playing at about 30-40%, and very few guys are putting their hands up. They have injuries and internationals missing but so did the Ospreys. Showing a bit of form were Douglas, Murphy, and Dave Kearney, who seems to have muscled up a lot. What I’d like to see is Madigan at 10, for a decent run (if he’s not injured) and Gopperth on the bench. Gopperth was getting lessons off Sam Davies, who kicked superbly.

Connacht’s good start to the season continued with a solid win over a game Scarlets side. It was pretty physical – Leinster might want to have a look at how it’s done – a real arm wrestle. It took a moment of brilliance from Matt Healy to seal it for Connacht, the man has some serious gas. Good times at the Sportsground!

In the internationals, both England and Wales got important wins.  And off the two, the Springboks should be the more worried – they only really turned up once, against England, and don’t look the no 2 side in the world.

Guinness PRO12
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons   
Saturday , November 29
Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh
Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys   
Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets   
Friday , November 28
Munster 21 - 20 Ulster   
Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso   
International Match
England 26 - 17 Australia
Wales 12 - 6 South Africa

Friday, November 28, 2014

Can't wait for Munster/Ulster, and time for Leinster to get serious!

 16 December 2013; Leinster's Jordi Murphy during squad training ahead of their Celtic League 2013/14, Round 10, match against Edinburgh on Friday. Leinster Rugby Squad Training & Press Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Friday night kicks off with the mouth watering prospect of Munster v Ulster at Thomond.  There is going to be a titanic battle up front! Munster have gone for size, with Stander and Copeland in the backrow, taking on Nick Williams and Roger Wilson.  Super match ups all over the field, and Munster must have the advantage being at home, but the Ulstermen aren’t going to leave anything on the field, so it should be close. Bit of a South African feel to it, with four for Munster, and three for Ulster.

Leinster have to get back on the horse straight away after a forgettable result and performance in Italy last weekend. They have a decent home record – have they lost at the RDS this season? And the Ospreys don’t have their Welsh internationals. But they gave Ulster a really good game last weekend, so Leinster will have to bring their A game. I’m hoping to see some of the returnees, guys like Jordi Murphy, really put their hands up. And Jimmy Gopperth, if he plays, owes us one! We should do it.

Finally Connacht have to keep up their good run of results – the Scarlets are a team they should beat now, going to be  really tough, but they should sneak it.

As far as the internationals go – I think Wales have the best chance, hope I’m wrong but I can see both results going South.

Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 28
Munster vs Ulster            
Cardiff Blues vs Treviso  
Saturday , November 29
Zebre vs Edinburgh           15:00
Leinster vs Ospreys          17:15
Connacht vs Scarlets        19:30
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors vs Dragons      16:00

International Match
Saturday , November 29
Wales vs South Africa     
England vs Australia

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Don't you wish we were playing the All Blacks next weekend!

Joe Schmidt

Let’s face it, Joe Schmidt is God! We played two of the Southern Hemisphere giants this Autumn, and sent them both away empty handed.  Don’t you just wish we were playing New Zealand this weekend? It wasn’t the cagey close match we were expecting, in the first half anyway, it was helter skelter end to end stuff with us storming into a big lead, throwing it all away, then clawing it back. But at the end it was the basics that saw us through – Foley left more points on the table than Sexton did, and that was the difference in the end.

Schmidt has created tremendous systems and structures, and when we stick to them, they work like a charm. But there is still the freedom to play instinctively – if Tommy Bowe hadn’t trusted his judgement and gone for the intercept, would we have won? When we ignore his systems, don’t follow up on kicks, give needless off loads, it hurts us.  But we have forwards with the hearts of lions now, Best and Ruddock 14 tackles each, POM  and McGrath giving everything, O’Connell gigantic. And backs to run and put their bodies on the line, Zebo, Bowe, Kearney, Murray. And Madigan coming on, tackling the biggest man on the field, Skelton, ripping the ball from a prop for a crucial turnover in our 22, making  a magic pick up and break, and getting the final turnover, winning a penalty.   Are we on a roll or what! And in fairness, whatever the run of results they’ve had this year, Australia are a good, good team.

I also saw Wales come up short against the All Blacks – they put in a 65 minute performance then fell away. The score was a bit cruel in the end. The best Welsh player for me was Biggar , hardly put a foot wrong, and tackled like a tiger. You just can’t ever give the All Blacks an inch can you.

I also saw the Boks scrap with Italia, pulling away in the end in a margin that flattered them. They can’t concentrate unless they rate the other team.

It’s not just the internationals we are winning either, with only Leinster of  the provinces not cleaning up in the Pro 12. We are a force to be reckoned with! Leinster look really out of sorts – there are injuries and we missed the internationals, but still, very average fare from the men in Blue.

Italy 6 - 22 South Africa   
Ireland 26 - 23 Australia   
Wales 16 - 34 New Zealand   
France 13 - 18 Argentina   
England 28 - 9 Samoa   
Romania 18 - 9 Canada   
Scotland 37 - 12 Tonga   

Guinness PRO12

Sunday , November 23
Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster   
Friday , November 21
Dragons 12 - 38 Munster   
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors   
Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys