Sunday, May 3, 2015

Toulon reign supreme over Europe again!

Toulon celebrated with the European Champions Cup 
 ( picture )

Toulon reign supreme over Europe again, with a much more convincing display than they produced in the semis. I wanted Clermont to win, and they didn’t disappoint, playing ambitious rugby, and scoring some stunning tries. They got out of the blocks early, and set up a good lead. But they fluffed their lines at the end of the first half, keeping the game going when the clock went red, and conceding a try that ultimately cost them the match. Toulon came out composed and full of energy in the second half, and although Clermont got close again, Toulon were worthy winners with another two tries. Touolon finished the stronger, it looked like Clermont just ran out of puff in the end. A final with 5 tries, you can’t complain about that, now when are we going to see a proper North/South club match up?

On Friday, Gloucester ran out winners although they tried as hard as they could to keep Edinburgh in the game, with serious violent indiscipline. It looked like Edinburgh were going to get blown at any moment as they struggled to cope with the pace of May and Sharples, and with a bit better discipline Gloucester would have won this easily. Edinburgh have a lot of talent in their team, but they made too many basic errors to really compete at this level. They can only get better though.

Challenge cup
Friday, May 01
Edinburgh 13 - 19 Gloucester   

Champions Cup
Saturday, May 02
Clermont Auvergne 18 - 24 Toulon

Friday, May 1, 2015

French money v more French money!

 Isa Nacewa tackle on Gareth Owen
 Isa! Isa! ( picture

Saturday is the climax of the Champions Cup, Heineken Cup ver 2.0, and it French money v more French money. Actually, I am being a bit harsh there, because while the foundation of Toulon  is loads and loads of Euros, bringing together the biggest names in rugby, Clermont is a club that brings the razzmatazz, the love of rugby. They spend a lot too, but you can’t buy heart. I can remember them playing Munster at Thomond with 14 men after Jamie Cudmores’ red card, and they would just not give up, their intensity got higher and higher. Their demolition of Northampton is probably the match of the tournament so far, tough for Saints fan, but an absolute feast for everybody else. There wasn’t much in Toulon’s defeat of Leinster, and we are not the force we were, I thought our pack was better, and only an intercept try really separated the teams. Their key weapon is the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.

Clermont meanwhile really have it all – I think they have the edge in both the backs and the forwards, and players like Fofana that you can’t put a price on.  They don’t have a goal kicker of the same calibre of Halfpenney though, and that is Toulon’s glimmer of hope, snatching a win in a tight match. Clermont though, are nearly irresistible when they turn it on, and I think they’ll be able to keep playing in the right part of the field, and use that dazzling backline to really put the boot in. Clermont for me!

I believe selling tickets for an all French  affair at Twickenham hasn’t gone too well – you can buy a ticket for the English Premiership final and get a free ticket to the Champions Cup match at the same time.

In the Challenge cup, Gloucester take on Edinburgh. Neither side has had very even form this year, but Edinburgh have been truly terrible in patches, and I can’t see tehm finding a  good 80 minutes to win this , so Gloucester.

In Leinsterland, it’s the second coming of His Awesomeness, the return of Isa! Fantastic news, he’s one of the best players Leinster have ever had, he can take up the fly half role as needed, and if ever you saw a player with a coaching career stamped all over him, it’s Isa!

Champions Cup
Saturday, May 02
Toulon vs Clermont Auvergne    16:00
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Fri - 01st May 15     18:45
Edinburgh - Gloucester

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Leinster take the season off to build a bigger trophy cabinet!

Image result for guinness pro12

Leinster bowed out of the PRO12 race at Ravenhill with a loss to Ulster. They did look like a team that played on Sunday, and in fact all the Champions Cup quarter finalists lost this weekend, Saracens, Toulon, and Clermont. Even Toulon and Clermont, who each pulled out another team of internationals they’d made earlier. But no excuses, Ulster played well, while Leinster are still in the confines of a game plan that requires huge amount of effort, but rarely delivers results. We can say we are taking a season off to build a bigger trophy cabinet!

Connacht found the going tough against Glasgow – they started well, but the Scots showed their class as the match went on, and they ran out easy winners in the end.

Munster kept the pressure on the leaders with a BP victory over Treviso

Guinness PRO12
Friday, April 24
Ulster 26 - 10 Leinster    18:35
Edinburgh 37 - 0 Zebre    18:35
Saturday, April 25
Connacht 13 - 31 Glasgow Warriors    12:05
Cardiff Blues 23 - 31 Ospreys    13:30
Munster 30 - 19 Benetton Treviso    14:05
Newport Gwent Dragons 10 - 29 Scarlets    15:45

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tough day at the office ahead for Leinster!

Jimmy Gopperth
Jimmy Gopperth ( Picture

Leinster have the daunting prospect of Ulster at Ravenhill tonight. The Champions Cup waved bye bye last weekend, the Guinness Pro 12 waved bye bye 2 weeks ago, so it’s just pride that on the line. Mathematically, if Leinster win all their remaining matches, and the Ospreys win just one of their last three, we could get in. But that ain’t going to happen. Ulster meanwhile, want to get a home semi, so plenty in for them, and absolutely nothing for Leinster.

I was even wondering if Matt O’Connor was going to field a second string side, but he’s named all the big guns. Not sure why Jordi Murphy is on the bench, as he’s was my MOTM last week, and Madigan too, we need all the points we can get.  Meanwhile the player who played every match for Leinster this season gets a start too, and that player is… Jimmy Gopperth! It’s going to be an almighty battle, Connacht  v Ulster was international level intensity. For Ulster, good to see Chris Henry back, and the form of players like Craig Gilroy. I think Ulster are going to shade this.

Connacht have the mighty Glasgow on the way, and they’ll still be smarting from that loss to Ulster. They have Edinburgh and the Scarlet’s hot on their heels for the 6th place too.  You could sniff an upset though, Connacht have shown some steely reserve this season, so I’m going for the Galwegians over the Glaswegians!

Finally, Munster have an opportunity to gain on the leaders with the visit of  Treviso, that’s five point opportunity if ever you saw it! Tommy O’Donnell, one of the hardest working men in rugby, should pick up his hundredth cap.

Guinness PRO12
Friday, April 24
Ulster vs Leinster              18:35
Edinburgh vs Zebre           18:35
Saturday, April 25
Connacht vs Glasgow Warriors    12:05
Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys  13:30
Munster vs Benetton Treviso        14:05
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Scarlets          15:45

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Leinster go down fighting

Jordi Murphy 
 Jordi Murphy (picture

Leinster went down fighting in Marseille in a contest that was as tight as a ducks bottom. It wasn’t pretty, there wasn’t much running rugby, Leinster relied on their defence, their excellent set pieces and the boot of Ian Madigan to keep them in th ematch. Madigan was also the man who threw the intercept pass, but at that stage of the match, it was time to take risks, and that one didn’t pay off. The scrum were massive, Murphy, O’Brien, and the front row, all exceptional. The backs never came into the game much, and that is where Sexton will come in when he returns. The only fault we had was a bit of loose kicking – Madigan fluffed two restarts, kicked out on the full a few times, as did Gopperth with his missed drop kick and conversion – he’s is a good standard player, but he’s no magician pulling the strings.

Out of Toulon, Steffon Armitage was probably the pick of the bunch, apart from Halfpennies sweet boot of course. They didn’t play much running rugby either, and this could well be their last win in the tournament. It’s a pretty averge season for Leinster now, but at least they gave it their all.

In the other semi, Clement eased past Saracens, in a match that was much tighter than I thought. Saracens probably play the smartest game plan of any team around, they have great players, but Clermont are possibly the best club team in the  world right now, and at home near unbeatable. It’s an all French affair in the final then, bit ironic when you look at the state of the national team, with Clermont ahead in my book with their superior scrum.

Edinburgh made short work of the Dragons – putting Leinsters loss to them into even more horrid light, with Hidalgo-Clyne the stand out player. Gloucester put Exeter away, I though Exeter were a bit harshly called in the scrum, but apart from that Gloucester were good value for their win.

Champions Cup
Saturday, April 18
Clermont Auvergne 13 - 9 Saracens    14:15
Sunday, April 19
Toulon 25 - 20 Leinster    14:15

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pleeease play well this Sunday Leinster!

Cian Healy (picture

Leinsters season all comes down to 80 minutes of rugby at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille against Toulon this Sunday. It won’t be an easy job for them, but it all hinges on which Toulon, and which Leinster turn up.  Toulon, for all their stars, looked pretty ordinary for long patches against Wasps – their pack is aging, and if Wasps gave their scrum a hard time then we can too. Leinsters form this season, however, has not smelt of roses –more like the stuff you put on roses to make them grow. Well, if Leinster have got the one game in them that they owe to themselves, and to their fans, this is the Sunday to deliver it! It’s not likely to be open running rugby, we’ll have to hang in there, stay in touch until the last 20 minutes when hopefully their pensioners will start to tire, then BAM! Hit them with Healy, hit  them with O’Brien, Heaslip, Kearney, Fitzgerald and Te’O, let’s at least do ourselves justice, and we can’t win go down, with an almighty fight!

In the match on Saturday, Saracens hope not to emulate the Saints form when they take on Clermont Auvergne. Clermont are a purists team, massive, skilfull, creative. And they should really win the whole thing this year, Saracens are a good team, and play really smart, but I’d say their only chance is if the French discioline fails. I think it’ll be the Les Jaunards all the way!

Champions Cup
Clermont Auvergne vs Saracens    14:15
Sunday, April 19
Toulon vs Leinster    14:15