Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ireland get 4th spot, and a damp start to the Rugby Championship!

 Niamh Briggs in action during this year's 6 Nations against France.

Lots and lots of great rugby this weekend!

The Rugby Championship kicked off in the rain – a nuisance in Australia, a mini monsoon in South Africa. It’s obvious too, that the teams are not up to speed yet interms of handling and focus, how would be when they last played in June.

Bledisloe 1 was a real thriller. The All Blacks looked much more focused and coherent at the start, then gradually lost their way as the match went on, while Australia grew as the match went on. It was interesting to see where the reffing emphasis is this year. Scrum engagement was keenly watched – with the new engagement laws, it’s a critical moment, and defence in the 2 was under the spotlight. This resulted in a lot of penalties against the All Blacks – who could never be accused of a cynical bending of the rules. Two yellow cards for professional fouls in and around the 22 kept the match pretty well balanced. The Wallabies seem to be focused on a team ethic, with no big plays, while the All Blacks looked as deadly as ever on the break, but seemed to do more kicking as the match went on.  The Wallabies look like they need more impactful loose forwards – apart from Hooper. It’s going to be all to play for next weekend, with the draw favouring the Springboks most.

Meanwhile, in Pretoria, the most exciting play happened in the first minute, as Pienaar finished off a great break away try. After that, it was armwestle, drop, niggle, and the point was a result for the Pumas – who could of got, and nearly deserved a draw. Pollard has been thrust a bit too far, a bit too fast, in that match it should have been all territory and keenly contested up and unders. The Boks have a lot of work to do in their scrums – and while their lineouts were wonly, they came good when the ref policed the line out gap. The Springboks look good on the break, but need to tighten up their handling. The Pumas need to start playing a style of their own, at the moment, it’s trying to disrupt the other team, and do things on the break – if they are going to get that elusive first win, we need to see more from them.

In the World Cup, Ireland played out a hard fought 18-25  loss against France. That was as intense as anything they’d played the whole tournament, with the score swing backwards and forwards the whole match. Great individual try from Grace Davitt, with a smart chip and recover. If France had had only an average scrum, Ireland would have taken it at a canter, but as it was, Irish no 8 Heather O’Brien was working a bit of wizardry to get the ball out of a scrum going backwards at a rate. Spence had a massive game, I’d love to see the stats on her carries. France ende with a try that give the scoreline a flattering look, but although we could have won, but, Get in! 4th! Great result all in all,  the ladies have done us proud, and really put the ladies game on the map in Ireland. Looking forward to seeing them in action again in the 6N.

Finally, I saw Jonny Sexton do some great things, as Racing Metro ground out a great win over Montpellier. Some match!

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 16
Australia 12 - 12 New Zealand 
South Africa 13 - 6 Argentina 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Irish ladies in line for a 3/4 finish, and the Rugby Championship starts!

 Fiona Coghlan, Lynne Cantwell, Marie Louise Reilly and Gillian Bourke are all included.

Things went pretty pear shaped for Ireland on Tuesday at the Stade Jean Bouin, the home stadium of Stade Fran├žais, as they fell to heavy defeat to England, after opening the scoring. Not having watched the match, but picking up scraps on social media and the radio, it sounds like our scrum came under massive pressure, as did our midfield defence. History was against us – we’ve only beaten England once now in 22 attempts. It still means we can’t finish worse than 4th, which is not too shabby at all. But when you look at what they’ve done for women’s rugby in Ireland, putting it on the front page and on the TV, when you look at the great role models and ambassadors that they are for Ireland, I don’t see too much defeat here. Sure it would have been unbelievable to win the World Cup, but hey, that’ll be in four years’ time! When you look at the self-sacrifice of these amateurs-playing-like-professionals, taking time off work to participate, putting themselves in real physical danger, no wonder they’ve inspired the country. They get to play France on Sunday for 3rd place, I’d say bronze medals all round would have been more palatable, but still the chance for a bit more success. 
In the other semi, Canada squeezed past France in front a big, partisan crowd, to set up a rematch of their pool encounter.

Also this weekend is the little matter of the clunkily named Rugby Championship. Top class rugby with B- grade branding. The biggest of the two matches is the Bledisloe 1 in Sydney, where the Wallabies hope that the ‘Tahs Super Rugby form carries on into this tournament.  It’s pretty well the Australian team that thrashed France earlier in the year, but the only curveball the selection of Kurtley Beal at 10. I would have gone with Foley and Phipps myself, but maybe Ewan McKenzie can see something we can’t. They are really weak at hooker too. The only surprise for the All Blacks is the inclusion of Ben Smith at 15 for Dagg, I suppose they are not overburdened with hooker resources themselves. Are they both up for this? Are they ever. Hard to look past the Blacks, but the Wallabies aren’t going to die wondering, so it should be pretty close. And the All Black aura in the 7’s, Junior and Women’s game has slipped a bit.

In the other match, South Africa are experimenting a bit with Pollard at 10 and Damien de Allende at 13. This is the Springboks, the backs probably won’t get the ball too much, so not a massive gamble. But if they feel this a match to experiment in, I’d have loved to see Sharks 9 Cobus Reinach given a shot. Much as I respect Pienaar, and know what Hougaard bring to the party, neither of them brings the tempo that du Preez does, or has his crisp accurate passing. The Pumas haven’t pulled too many surprises. They haven’t played together much this year, so I think the Boks will notch this one up.

13 Aug 2014
13/08 - 14:00 South Africa  25 - 24  Samoa
13/08 - 15:45 New Zealand  63 - 7  Wales Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 16:15 Spain  18 - 5  Kazakhstan
13/08 - 18:00 Ireland  7 - 40  England Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 18:30 Australia  20 - 23  USA
13/08 - 20:45 France  16 - 18  Canada Stade Jean Bouin

17 Aug 2014
17/08 - 12:00 Samoa   -   Kazakhstan 
17/08 - 14:00 South Africa   -   Spain
17/08 - 14:15 USA   -   New Zealand Stade Jean Bouin
17/08 - 16:00 Australia   -   Wales
17/08 - 16:30 Ireland   -   France Stade Jean Bouin
17/08 - 18:45 England   -   Canada Stade Jean Bouin

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 16
Australia vs New Zealand 11:05
South Africa vs Argentina 16:05

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Irish ladies are playing a blinder!


Ireland got going on Saturday with the first match of the day, against Kazakhstan. A simple win would have been enough to get into the semis. With 10 changes from the team that did heroics against New Zealand, there wasn’t going to be the fluidity that we’d seen in the first two matches. And after starting like a house on fire, they lost their way a bit, conceded a try and scraped through at the end of the first half with a lead and work to do. Even in the first 20 minutes of the first half, they weren’t looking too flash, until a few subs added the quality and the organisation so they ran away with a good victory in the end. Jackie Shiels and Sharon Lynch were the stand out players for me. Fair play to the Ladies from Kazakhstan for hanging in to the end, some achievement to be there at all. Another fab post match interview from Lynn Cantwell too, these ladies are playing a blinder!
So at that stage, a 3rd place finish looked on the cards.

But there more surprises on the way – England and Canada drew, which meant they both finished below Ireland, eliminating the Black Ferns in the process. And in the final match, a tough gritty affair, France eliminated the Australians. So next up for the final is Ireland England , France Canada. Any team can win it now, and quietly confident, the Irish ladies are honest enough to say they can win it. In the top two after the pools, not too shabby!

09 Aug 2014
09/08 - 13:00 Ireland  40 - 5  Kazakhstan FFR HQ
09/08 - 15:00 Spain  41 - 5  Samoa FFR HQ
09/08 - 15:45 England  13 - 13  Canada FFR HQ
09/08 - 17:00 Wales  35 - 3  South Africa FFR HQ
09/08 - 18:00 New Zealand  34 - 3  USA FFR HQ
09/08 - 20:45 Australia  3 - 17  France FFR HQ

13 Aug 2014
13/08 - 14:00 South Africa   -   Samoa FFR HQ
13/08 - 15:45 New Zealand   -   Wales Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 16:15 Spain   -   Kazakhstan FFR HQ
13/08 - 18:00 Ireland   -   England Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 18:30 Australia   -   USA FFR HQ
13/08 - 20:45 France   -   Canada Stade Jean Bouin

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ladies first - Ireland beat the Black Ferns!

 Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter, Vikki McGinn and Lynne Cantwell celebrate after their Women’s Rugby World Cup victory over New Zealand last night.  Photo: Inpho

Ireland’s biggest triumph over New Zealand in rugby ever, and I didn’t even get to watch it! The ladies powered home on Tuesday – I didn’t see it, but followed it online and through radio reports. The picture I got was of a dominant Irish perfromance – turning down several penalty opportunities to go for lineouts and scrums early on in the match, being a tad unlucky not to get a penalty try, going behind against the run of play, but scoring a deserved try in the first half to bring it close again. But then keeping the pressure on in the second half, getting another try, kicking the penalties, and closing out a tight match with defence and discipline. I thought in the USA match that their set piece work, with lineouts and driving mauls was excellent, and their scrumming in this match must have been top notch too. And their phase play is great, topped off by a good kicker in Niamh Briggs, why wouldn’t they have won? Brilliant to see the support they got from all over Ireland in the wake of their famous victory! Fiona Coghlan gave great post match interviews – self belief was the key, a good game plan and fitness. Get in there the ladies!

They face Kazakhstan next on Saturday, who have suffered two heavy defeats, and Ireland should get the bonus point win with relative ease, while being able to rest a few players from this punishing turnaround of matches. The big matches will be England/Canada, New Zealand/USA – (squeaky bum time for the Black Ferns) and Australia/France.  After this, the seeding will be decided for the final matches.  I reckon the seedings will look like this, if NZ get a bonus point, otherwise Canada will be 4th, which means Ireland could face the formidable French team next. ‘Mon the ladies!
1 England 2 France 3 Ireland 4 New Zealand

And for all the Munsterites and other rugby fans, details of the Limerick 7’s here:

09/08 - 13:00 Ireland   -   Kazakhstan
09/08 - 15:00 Spain   -   Samoa
09/08 - 15:45 England   -   Canada
09/08 - 17:00 Wales   -   South Africa
09/08 - 18:00 New Zealand   -   USA
09/08 - 20:45 Australia   -   France

Pool A
Team         P  W   D    L   PF    PA    TF TA  BP  PTS
England    2    2    0    0    110    8    16    1    2    10
Canada     2    2    0    0    73    12    10    2    2    10
Spain       2    0    0    2    10     76     2    10    0    0
Samoa      2    0    0    2    10    107   1    16    0    0

Pool B
Team                 P   W  D    L    PF    PA  TF   TA  BP  PTS
Ireland              2    2    0    0    40    31    4       3    0    8
New Zealand    2    1    0    1    93    22    14    3     2    6
USA                 2    1    0    1    64    30    10    3     2    6
Kazakhstan      2    0    0    2    12    126    2    21    0    0

Pool C
Team                P    W  D    L   PF   PA  TF  TA BP  PTS
France              2    2    0    0    81    3    13    0    2    10
Australia          2    2    0    0    51    6    6      0    0    8
Wales               2    0    0    2    3    51    0      7    0    0
South Africa    2    0    0    2    6    81    0    12    0    0

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ireland's ladies get off to a flyer,and the Waratahs finally get their name on the Cup!


I got to watch two tense, close matches this weekend, result! First up Was the Irish ladies team taking on the USA. The USA sit one point above Ireland in the World Rankings, in 5th, so it was likely to be a close affair. And what a good match! Both teams played to their strengths, and the match had a good tempo. Ireland have a really well drilled side – scrumming isn’t their forte, and the Americans had the upper hand there, but they have just about an unstoppable maul. And they’re good at holding on to the ball, going through the phases, and keeping the pressure on. I thought Mary Louise Reilly at 4 was outstanding for Ireland, safe hands at the line out, and busy all round the park. After closing out a tense match, they play the All Blacks on Tuesday, who had little more than a training run against Kazakhstan.

Then on Saturday, it was the Waratahs welcoming the Crusaders to Sydney. This was the third time they’d met in the final, with the Saders winning the first two. No exaggeration to say that’s one of the best matches I’ve watched, played at frantic speed. This was no cagey conservative match, this was full blooded rugby, with both teams prepared to spread the ball wide and gamble. Adam Ashley Copper always amazes me, he’s had a great career, he might not be the most skilled out, but he knows where the try line is, and crossed twice this match. The ‘Tahs came out of the blocks at a million miles an hour, and were 14-0 up in no time. Full credit to the Crusaders for never lying down, and hanging in there, right until the end, with the lead changing hands twice in the last 5 minutes. Nick Phipps was the MOTM for me, great crisp passing and game management, and game saving cover tackling. Foley excelled, the ‘Tahs loose trio was epic, and Folau ruled the airways. For the Crusaders, Todd was everywhere, Nadolo was impressive, but let’s face it, every starting player and every sub for both sides put their hand up. Great to see a new name on the cup, good news for the Rugby Championship too as they will surely invigorate the Wallabies.

Super Rugby
Saturday , August 2
Waratahs 33 - 32 Crusaders   

01/08 - 13:00    New Zealand    79 - 5    Kazakhstan   
01/08 - 15:00    Canada        31 - 5    Spain   
01/08 - 15:45    Australia    26 - 3    South Africa   
01/08 - 17:00    USA        17 - 23    Ireland   
01/08 - 18:00    England        65 - 3    Samoa   
01/08 - 20:45    France        26 - 0    Wales

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Womens World Cup kicks off, even if the ladies aren't quite getting first class treatment, and Super Rugby final!

 Fiona Coghlan with her fellow captains

First up, the Women’s World Cup! This kicks of tomorrow, and has had a medium profile in the build up I guess. Digging a little further, and you can see that the ladies aren’t quite getting a fair deal out of this. The IRB doesn’t do a world ranking for the women’s game (?), but rugby statistician Serge Piquet does a ranking of his own which is generally accepted, on which Ireland are ranked 6th.  We were third in the 6 Nations this year, so we have a handy team.

Looking at the schedule, it’s pretty ridiculous, test matches on a Friday, and then a Tuesday. Ireland open their account against the USA tomorrow, and then play New Zealand on Tuesday.
The Irish team for the USA features 14 out of the 15 that the won the Grand Slam in 2015, and fair play to TG4, will be live on Irish TV. C’mon Ireland!

Super Rugby reaches its climax in Sydney on Saturday, in front of what is likely to be a record final crowd, of more than 55000. I want the ‘Tahs to win this one, it’s their third final, they’ve never won it, and frankly deserve their turn for playing some great rugby over the years. And the Crusaders have hogged the title on and off, time to get some new blood into the system. Of course, deserving and getting are two completely different things, otherwise the Sharks would have a title already. On the form of last weekend, it looks like the Crusaders  have it in the bag, but how much of that was the Sharks making them look good is hard to say. Also, the Waratahs finished at the top by some distance, and beat a very good ACT side, then there’s the 50000 odd home fans who will be driving them on. One thing you always notice about Australia is that they play intelligent rugby, and I’m sure they’ve done their homework on the Crusaders, and are going to make life awkward to feck for them. After that, I reckon Phipps, Foley and Folau, nearly the 3 F’s, will guide them home. So the ‘Tah’s for the win then!

Elsewhere the Munster Race has been on with the Munster team on manoeuvres all over the Munster, a good treat for their fans, and the Limerick Worlds Sevens are on the 10th and 11th of August. Nice to invite the other provinces lads! Ulster got their new kit, while not a lot is happening in Leinster or Connacht.

Super Rugby
Saturday , August 2
Waratahs vs Crusaders

Women's World Cup 2014
Match Day 1: Friday 1st August
1300 New Zealand v Kazakhstan Marcoussis 2
1500 Canada v Spain Marcoussis 2
1700 USA v Ireland Marcoussis 2
1545 Australia v South Africa Marcoussis1
1800 England v Samoa Marcoussis 1
2045 France v Wales Marcoussis 1
1300 USA v Kazakhstan Marcoussis 2
1500 Australia v Wales Marcoussis 2
1700 Canada v Samoa Marcoussis 2
1545 England v Spain Marcoussis 1
1800 New Zealand v Ireland Marcoussis 1
2045 France v South Africa Marcoussis 1

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Crusaders thunder home, while the Waratahs get there in the end!

 SP Marais ( Picture

No surprises really on the weekend in the Super rugby semi’s. The Sharks didn’t run out in drag anyway.

The Crusaders looking all conquering in the first match, giving the Sharks a right good stuffing. I’m not looking to make too many excuses for the Sharks, but they did look off their peak, which comes back to their air miles. It’s not often you’re going to see a Sharks line out all over the place like that, or their scrum being rocked. But the brainless kicking away of possession deserves no excuses, it barely works when it’s contested, nevermind handing over the ball to the most potent 15 man attack in the world, bar the All Blacks. The only time they threatened was when they played the Crusaders at their own game, a bit of vision from the impressive Marais, and a good long pass at Kankowski taking them right up the field from their own 25.  Can the Cruasaders be stopped? It’s going to take something special.

In Sydney, it was a far cagier affair,  with mega amounts of tackling. The Waratahs didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Crusaders, with two of their tries coming through lucky breaks. But what was impressive was how they defended, against a very determined Brumbies attack. If ACT keep on playing like that, they’ll be making the final themselves soon enough again. The Waratahs used their defence to tire the Brumbies out, and then just eased away from them at the end. Can they hold out the Cruasaders next week? I think it’s going to be way closer than most people are predicting, the Waratahs should have a massive crowd behind them, and they have far more to show than they did this week.

Super Rugby
Saturday , July 26
Crusaders 38 - 6 Sharks 
Waratahs 26 - 8 Brumbies