Sunday, March 28, 2010

28th March 2010

Magners League, Super 14, Guinness Premiership

Magners League

There was a bit of déjà vu here, memories of Croke Park at Thomond Park … Scots front row giving problems, Dan Parks landing his penalties, but in the end Munster dug deep and ground out a lead, before Jean de Villiers produced a little magic to put the match beyond doubt. Johnnie Sexton managed to save Leinster’s blushes the next day at The RDS. Ireland and Scotland have their stamp on the Magners League with two each in the top four. 27-19

Super 14

The Sharks v the Hurricanes was a very entertaining match. Blooper of the match went to Ma'a Nonu as he failed 22 Drop Out 101 by just dropping the ball and picking it up, then glowering at the referee. You actually have to kick it you know. He did score a try as well though. The men from Durban were never behind in this match, they’ve FINALLY found a bit of form, winning by 29-26 with the last kick of the game and catching the Hurricanes not at the best after the long trip back from the Republic. Jaques Botes was busy as ever for the Sharks and Aaron Cruden injected purpose and energy into the Hurricanes back line. Elsewhere the Force made the Bulls toil but they turned it round in the second half to win 28-15. The commentators seemed to think a 13 point losing margin was some sort of victory for the Force – as apposed to the more traditional victory, when you score more points than the opposition. As for the rest, the Reds look Hot, the ‘Tahs scraped past the Blues, the Chiefs lost out to the Brumbies and the Highlanders have two wins now, thanks to the hapless Lions.

Guinness Premiership

Bath got in a good win over Harlequins in what sounded like a good match at the Rec in the early match. Northampton then dug deep at Franklin Gardens to overcome a determined Wasps side 14-9. This is one that will gone off Paul Sackey’s Sky Plus ASAP as there was a pantomime ‘HE’S BEHIND YOU’ moment before he was caught from behind by prop Brian Mujati. The Saints’ try was a mite controversial but Wasps weren’t robbed, they had their chances. Saints kicked a lot in the first half but came to their senses in the second half – why would you kick with Geraghty, Foden, Reihana, and Aston in your team?

Friday, March 26, 2010

26th March 2010

This week - Magners League, Super 14, Guinness Premiership

General news

I see Leinster boss Australian Michael Cheika is on his way to French superstars Stade Francais next season.Good luck to him, he’s done a great job with Leinster and had a stratospheric rise, form Padova to Randwick, then Leinster and now Stade . He’s going to have his work cut out for him though as it must be the rugby equivalent of managing Chelsea – owner Max Guazzini expects results every season and he also wants Stade to play with razzmatazz, that’s the whole pink jersey, Can Can girls and ‘artistic’ calendar thing…Fourie du Preez is going to play inJapan after the next world cup. The Springbok scrum half, arguably one of the best in the world, in the twilight of his career obviously didn’t find the thought of coming to Europe and having giant Tongans and Fijians( and the odd giant European) jumping on his head very attractive. I wonder why?...Tommy Bowe was voted the player of the tournament for the 6 Nations, the man is just pure class now.

Magners League

The pick of the weekend looks like Munster against Glasgow at Thomond Park. Both teams are pretty well at full strength, this is Munster’s chance to right the wrongs of the 6 Nations but as Ireland found last Saturday, the Scots will be no push over. I can’t see Munster losing though.

Super 14 - Whiff of desperation?

The Brumbies and the Chiefs could be interesting, likewise the Waratahs and the Blues, all teams that are there or thereabouts and need to start putting a run of results together to be serious contenders for the play offs. But the match I'll be looking forward to most will the Sharks and the Hurricanes at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. When you look at both the teams it's quality internationals all over the field, but when you look at their log positions neither has anything to write home about. Sharks coach John Plumtree is an ex-Hurricanes man so that adds a bit of extra spice to the proceedings, but the biggest attraction is the whiff of desperation this fixture brings, this is last the last chance saloon for both these clubs. It's amazing when you compare these teams to the Bulls, the standard of the players is the same but the difference is that the Bulls know how to win and the others don't. No offence to the Bulls (who you'd hate to meet in an alley on a dark night) but none of them look like math’s Olympians do they? But they know how to win, whilst the Sharks definitively don't have a clue, and the Canes just don't seem to have that canny self confidence the All Blacks nearly always seem to have. As the Sharks season is all over bar the shouting, I'd say the Canes are going to pull through in a tight match.

Guinness Premiership

Bath vs Harlequins looks like an interesting proposition but the match I'm planning to watch is Northampton Saints against London Wasps at Franklin's Gardens. It's the new kid on the block having a go at the Old School. Saints are looking very impressive this season, they were good value for their win in the LV Cup over Gloucester with Shane Geraghty in sensational form at full back - I don't understand how he's not in the England set up. The Saints' defence is a bit leaky, but I'd still see them take this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

22nd March 2010

Now the 6 nations is over, watch this spot for more news of the Heineken Cup, the Magners League, the Super 14, the Tri get the picture.

20 March 2010
14:30 GMT Wales 33 – 10 Italy Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
17:00 GMT Ireland 20 – 23 Scotland Croke Park, Dublin
19:45 GMT France 12 – 10 England Stade de France, Paris

The final weekend of the six nations got going in Cardiff at the Millennium stadium as Wales took on Italy. It was a return to form for Wales as they ran away easy victors with the Italians really only concentrating on defence, which the Welsh ground down and then ran away the match in the end. There was a titanic battle up front between props Adam Jones and Martin Castrogiovanni for best facial hair of the tournament, marginally shaded by the Italian. This is an area that the Italians generally excel at, now they only need to work on their rugby.

The second match of the day saw Ireland take on Scotland at Croke Park. Rugby's sojourn at the home of the GAA has been an up and down affair, It started with a last minute loss to the French in 2007, and ending with a loss to the Scots in the last few minutes. It was pretty tortuous to watch, Ireland made loads of mistakes and never really got out of the blocks. They underestimated the Scots who on the balance of play deserved the win, and should have won more in the competition. Still, second in the tournament is still creditable, Ireland has loads of new talent coming through, and they know they can play better than that.

The final match saw the French take on England at the Stade de France in Paris. Ireland's defeat meant France had already won the tournament, so would they get the Grand Slam? England FINALLY showed a bit of enterprise and attacked with flair, coming up with the only try of the match. Just as I’d been preparing to write their obituary with gusto, they come back from the dead, Lazarus like. Their scrum is still pretty stinky though. The French played it cute, conservative and tight, they were clearly the better side but took the game on their terms, having left their running shoes at home. While it would have been sweet to seen England win and for France to have lost the championship to Ireland on points difference ( the same way Ireland suffered in 2007) you have to hand it to the French, this was their Championship.

Friday, March 19, 2010

19th March 2010 6 Nations

Saturday 20 March

14:30 - Wales v Italy
17:00 - Ireland v Scotland
19:45 (20:45 local) - France v England

First up will be Wales taking on the Azzuri at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. It's all come to tears for the Welsh this season I'm afraid, with only one solitary win against Scotland and even then there was more than a touch of luck. Italy, on the other hand, can mark this as a vintage year - a win against Scotland, and giving England a good run for their money, Nick Mallet their coach will be asking for a raise. Wales have made a raft of changes for the match, they have the experience and excellence of Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and Ryan Jones to welcome back from injury, and Tom Prydie will become the youngest ever player for Wales at the age of just 18. It should be Wales all the way with the Italian feeling their season is already in the bag.

Next up is Ireland against Scotland at Croke Park, the last Ireland rugby match at the famous Gaelic ground. Ireland don't have anything to prove, they will be going for a good win to beef up their points difference in case the French slip up against England, and if they are as clinical as they were against Wales last weekend they could rack up the points. Scotland, with only a draw to show for their efforts are unlikely to win but they have a nagging habit of making it difficult for the Irish, Ireland should win but it’ll be closer than they wanted. It should make for a festive atmosphere at Croke Park with a number of Scottish supporters likely to pitch in drag.

Finally, France will take on England at the Stade De France in Paris . The French are saying this is just another match, they have nothing against 'Les Rosbifs'. For Irelands sake, it would be better if England win, and better still if they could beat them by 50 points. But this is asking a lot of Martin Johnson's raggle taggle bunch of elderly portly gentleman. He's tinkered with his line up a bit but it's a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as this team is surely doomed to founder on the invincible looking iceberg that is the French team, who despite anything they might say will be itching to smash the English and claim the 6 Nations and the Grand Slam. France by a country mile.

Monday, March 15, 2010

15th March 2010

13 March 2010
14:30 GMT Ireland 27 – 12 Wales Croke Park, Dublin
17:00 GMT Scotland 15 – 15 England Murrayfield, Edinburgh
14 March 2010
14:30 GMT France 46 – 20 Italy Stade de France, Paris

The action kicked off again on Saturday as Ireland took on Wales at Croke Park. In reality Ireland now only have a triple crown to chase this year and sucessfully brought up the second leg of it as they dispatched Wales with ease. Keith Earl had another good match with two trys, Tomas O'Leary was good value for his man of the match award and 'Captain Courageous' Brian O’Driscoll survived another battering to celebrate his hundredth match in style. The match was rigidly refereed by South African Craig Joubert who gave the teams a crash course ( or should that be a whistle-stop tour) of the Southern Hemisphere interpretation of the rules. From the first try the match was never really in doubt, as Ireland are a cut above Wales at the moment.

In the second match of the day, Scotland took on England for the Calcutta Cup. The highlight of this uninspiring match was the Scottish crowd singing 'O Flower of Scotland' at the start and while they didn't quite 'And sent him homeward, Tae think again' they did their best. On the pitch the highlight was the performance of the excellent Scottish loose trio, the Killer B's of Brown, Beattie and Barclay. The match was a battle of attrition as the playing styles, the pitch, the injuries, the scrum resets and the ref gradually strangled the life out of the game. England put in their standard lethargic performance, from the land that brought you Noddy, this was Mr Plod as you've always seen him before. Scotland tried hard but never had the cutting edge and in fairness they only have two first class teams to pick their national squad. England, with 12 first class teams have no such excuse, their cutting edge seems to have been removed for health and safety reasons.

Finally, on Sunday, France cantered to an easy win over Italy. This was the sound of the soprano clearing his throat, France never gave it full power but still had way too much for Italy. The Italians managed a late flurry of tries to put a gloss on the score when the French gave up trying.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Post Number One

Well, here goes my first post with my predicions for this weekends 6 Nations:

Saturday 13 March14:30 - Ireland v Wales 17:00 - Scotland v England Sunday 14 March14:30 (15.30 local) - France v Italy

The 6 Nations restarts with the match of the weekend as Ireland take on Wales at Croke Park. The match sees Brain O'Driscoll reach another milestone in his career as his hundredth cap for Ireland comes up. There is always intense rivalry with Wales, and Ireland need to be careful as the Welsh can play well when they want to, and they aren't going to die wondering, they are absolutely going to throw the kitchen sink at Ireland. Ireland though, are adept at fielding all manner of aerial assaults, and their class and experience should see them through in a fitting celebration of Brian's centenary.

Next up is England versus Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup. England came unstuck in their last outing against Ireland, as did Scotland against Italy. Martin Johnson has fashioned a team in his own image, and I'm sorry to tell you Martin but the results are not pretty. Neither England nor Scotland (nor Italy) seem to have a gameplan, only lots of ugly bashing away at the opposition. England will be desperate to get their campaign back on track, and Scotland's campaign is still stuck in the station so they will be equally desperate to come away with a victory, and will play passionately in front of their home fans. It could really go either way, England should pull through, but if they don't, I can tell you for a fact the whole rugby world will be smiling from ear to ear on Sunday.

Finally, France take on Italy on Sunday at the Stade De France in Paris. Barring a miracle, this is going to be a large defeat for Italy, as France are running like a finely tuned engine, while Italy's engine is puffing smoke and spluttering all over the place. This looks an easy run in to the Grand Slam for the French.

Enjoy the rugby.