Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Leinster soar, Munster rumble, and Quins excell.

The 'lip (photo

Another weekend, dominated by rugby, I do have a proper life as well, no really. Ok not really.

Leinster soared high on Saturday, as they pretty comprehensively thrashed Bath at the Aviva Stadium. 7 tries does it for me. Fitzgerald is getting back to his best, Heaslip was immense, and Sexton was masterful. They have an irresistible attack, but with three tries conceded, they have to work on their defence. BOD was in the Sky studio instead of on the pitch where we want him, and he’s going to have to impart some of his experience to McFadden and O’Malley. Their discipline was fairly ordinary in the first half but they always had too much for Bath, who apart from Louw, Barkley and Abendenon look very run of the mill.

Sunday afternoon saw Munster welcome the Scarlets to Thomond for a titanic battle that went right down to the wire. Scarlets would be making mincemeat of half the teams in the Heineken Cup the way they are playing, and they made a good fist of surprising the men in red, before Munster roared back and took the game away from them. Munster’s pack is impeccable, but somewhere between Murray and O’Gara their backline doesn’t get the chances they deserve. How many times did Earls get passed the ball for instance? That aside, the engine rumbles on, 4 from 4.

I also saw most of Connacht Gloucester, a pretty heart breaking loss for the Galwegians. They have a total team ethic, while Gloucester seemed to be every man for himself. O’Connor impressed at fly half – they impressed all over the pitch actually.

Ulster got the 5 points they needed, while Irish slipped up at home, and are really going to struggle to get out of the group now. Saracens Ospreys was a good hard match, won by Saracens doing all the basics well, solid scrum and line out and excellent defence. They don’t use their line much though. The Ospreys look really competitive, Tupuric is great to watch, Ryan Jones was the MOTM for me, and Ashley Beck is a star in the making. Mauritz Botha is outstanding for Sarries.

Finally, I saw Quins give Toulouse a bloody nose in their own back yard with an excellent away win. Don’t underestimate the power of the top 2 inches in a match, Toulouse were wondering by how much they were going to win, and Quins had nothing to lose. Mike Brown could do no wrong, Care was brilliant, and they all played for each other. Toulouse had two tries not given, missed plenty of penalties, and have no one to blame but themselves.

Biarritz 29 - 12 Benetton Treviso 
Edinburgh 19 - 12 Cardiff Blues 
Ospreys 13 - 16 Saracens
Aironi Rugby 20 - 46 Ulster 
Leicester 23 - 19 Clermont Auvergne 
London Irish 19 - 25 Racing Metro 92 
Gloucester 23 - 19 Connacht 
Leinster 52 - 27 Bath 
Montpellier 13 - 13 Glasgow
Sunday , December 18
Munster 19 - 13 Scarlets 
Toulouse 24 - 31 Harlequins 
Northampton 45 - 0 Castres

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leinster, fresh off the bold step, set to clean up Bath

Geech - in dub (Picture )

Part deux of last week’s matches kicks off this weekend, with a big day on Saturday.  Ulster are away to Aironi, and should accept no less than a five point win. Ulster have a full squad to pick from, with only Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne out with injury. Could we get to see Pienaar again for the match? Connacht take on Gloucester at Kingsholm, with the welcome return of Mike McCarthy. They got really close last week, but away wins at this level are not all that common, and I can’t see them winning this one.

Leinster have no injury problems at the moment ahead of their home clash with Bath. Are they going to pull the plug on Bath, clean up Bath, or another cliché I haven’t thought of? This week’s preparation should have included a bit of time for the team on the bold step, while they reflected on where it went wrong last week. The review of the match must have been like one of those video nasties from the 80’s, up there with Driller Killer. Bath travel with nothing to lose, while the Leinster have all the pressure to show they have the form to try and retain the Heineken Cup. I’d say Bath are going to feel like they’ve been hit by a freight train. Bath have a spectacularly uninformative website, so I’ve no update on their squad, but I did find out that their coaches Sir Ian McGeechan, Brad Davis and Martin Haag, along with Nick Blofeld and David Trick, will be doing a meet and greet in the Lagoona Bar in Dulin on Friday from 8-9pm.

Munster have Keith Earls back in the squad, but I doubt he’ll play, while Peter O ‘Mahoney is out for the moment. Scarlets have as useful a website as Bath, but from a neutral point of view I’d like to see George North back in action. A tough group sets you up well to succeed later, and it looks increasingly likely they will top the group. This will be a hell of a match, but Munster’s home advantage should do it for them.

London Irish’s chances of progressing are pretty slim, but if they can beat Racing away, they can beat them at home too, and then they just have to hope for other results to go their way.

Friday, 16 December 2011
Biarritz v Treviso, Pl5, 20:00
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues, Pl2, 20:00
Ospreys v Saracens, Pl5, 20:00

Saturday, 17 December 2011
Aironi v Ulster, Pl4, 13:30
Gloucester v Connacht, Pl6, 15:40
Leicester v Clermont Auvergne, Pl4, 13:30
Leinster v Bath, Pl3, 18:00
London Irish v Racing Metro 92, Pl2, 15:00
Montpellier v Glasgow, Pl3, 15:40

Sunday, 18 December 2011
Munster v Scarlets, Pl1, 12:45
Northampton v Castres, Pl1, 15:00
Toulouse v Harlequins, Pl6, 15:00

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Leinster the butchers at Bath, and Munster are like Jason from Friday the 13th!

Strings (picture )

Ireland 3 / 4
Scotland 1 /2
France 3 / 6
England 3 / 6
Italy 1 / 2
Wales 1 / 2

I started off the weekend rugby viewing early by taking in Newcastle/Toulon. In terms of interest and excitement levels I put it somewhere between Crown and Dulux, with watching Crown Paint dry definitely having a slight edge over this match. Dulux Paint, now that’s really boring stuff to watch dry.

I thought I was going to catch a bit of the Ulster match on TV on Friday, but I thought wrong, as the match wasn’t shown anywhere in the universe. No weedy excuses Sky, you could have showed it and didn’t. I did, however, get to see the rather excellent Harlequins/Toulouse match. Top of the Premiership v top of the T14, and the Frenchmen were clear winners. They were just better, more skilled, bigger, more physical and clinical. What made it a great match to watch though was the way Quins took the game to them, getting them on the back foot and scoring a good try in the process. There’s no shame in losing to that team, and Quins need to suck their methods into the DNA of their young players.

Saturday I saw the Scarlets/Munster match, another hard fought but enjoyable match. Munster are like Jason, you think you’ve killed him but he always comes back, there’s always a sequel. Munster were pants for the first 20 minutes, the ball was shooting out the back of the scrum, their line outs were shocking, and they couldn’t kick or pass the ball. Scarlet should really have been 15-0 up and that could have the match. Instead, Munster clawed their way back to parity, when they clearly weren’t playing as well as the Scarlets, then got into the lead and never looked back. Munster have leaders like O’Connell and O’Gara that pull together the young talented players around them and give them purpose and direction. Scarlets really let that one slip, but same as Quins, they are paying their dues, and will be back themselves one day.

Sunday I watched the ‘mighty’ Leinster take on Bath, and I watched that one on Sky+, which was handy, so I could fast forward past all the shitty bits. So it took me about 15 minutes to watch the game then. Leinster took three absolutely golden chances to score, hung them from a hook, and butchered them in front of a shocked crowd. Bath have some talent, but they are team in transition, and Leinster should have had them gutted and filleted in the first half. Instead it was Leinster eking out a win with penalties while Bath scored the only try of the match. I think Leinster had ‘bonus point win’ lit large in their minds before the match, all the planning went out the window and it was every man for himself. SOB, you SOB! Oh well, still an away win, and they get the chance to make up at home next weekend.

Finally, I saw the Saracens/Ospreys match in x6 speed. Feck me, Saracens have a big team! Mauritz Botha is a giant, they are all massive, and players like Goode give them a cutting edge too. Fair play to Ospreys for getting a point and living with the physicality. Strings put in a good little cameo. What the Ospreys could have done a with a few cool heads at fly half and scrum half though, they could even have pinched a win.

Connacht lost to Gloucester but certainly didn't disgrace themselves.

Irish got a good win over Metro!

Glasgow 20 - 15 Montpellier 
Bath 13 - 18 Leinster 
Clermont Auvergne 30 - 12 Leicester
Connacht 10 - 14 Gloucester 
Benetton Treviso 30 - 26 Biarritz 
Scarlets 14 - 17 Munster 
Racing Metro 92 14 - 34 London Irish 
Castres 41 - 22 Northampton 
Saracens 31 - 26 Ospreys
Ulster 31 - 10 Aironi Rugby 
Cardiff Blues 25 - 8 Edinburgh 
Harlequins 10 - 21 Toulouse

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Return of the Heineken Cup, and Leinster to sack Bath

So it all kicks off again on Friday for the Irish provinces, with Ulster hosting Aironi. Now this has to be 5 points in the bag for Ulster, non negotiable, and to rack up a good points difference just in case that comes into play later, which they should do easily enough.

Connacht get to host Gloucester, and see what they can get out of the Gloucesterians. Gloucester don’t seem to be in a good place at the moment, and they lose this one they’re going to feel a whole lot worse that’s for sure. Well, I’ll stick my neck out and say they’re going down, Brown, in Galway. That’s if Connacht can play the way they did against Quins.

Munster away to Scarlets could be the match of the weekend. What are the bets that O’Gara produces a drop of magic in the last minute to make it three in a row?  Munster have been rocked by the loss of Doug Howlett, leaving a 6 ‘1” hole in their backline. He’s out for the season as well, so I hope they find someone to sign to bridge the gap. Scarlets look like the form Welsh team, with all their internationals back from the World Cup full of confidence. They’ve got the best fly half in Wales in the shape of Rhys Priestland, and Luke Charteris is shaping up to be the best lock in Wales as well. The young guns of Munster had a setback with the Ospreys last week, so is the team going to be able to bounce back this week. There’s a lot of changes going on at Munster, with some of the old heads moving on, and some fantastic new talent coming though. I'd give Scarlets the edge in thi match.

Leinster travel to Bath, a city famed for it’s Georgian architecture, and it’s baths, obviously enough. Bath have some talented players in their squad, but modestly placed at 10th in the Premiership, they are not setting the world alight so far this season. Olly Barkley and David Wilson are players I’ve always rated, but they have just lost captain Moody for a few months.  Leinster meanwhile, are riding high in the Pro 12, and have Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald, Jamie Heaslip and Kevin McLaughlin all back in the frame for selection. I’m going with Leinster to sack Bath.

London Irish face a tricky away game at Racing Metro, and even if the French don’t really seem to get the Heineken Cup, they are normally hard to beat at home. So O/3 for the exiles then :(

Friday, 9 December 2011
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Pl2, 20:00
Harlequins v Toulouse, Pl6, 20:00
Ulster v Aironi, Pl4, 19:30
Saturday, 10 December 2011
Castres v Northampton, Pl1, 13:30
Connacht v Gloucester, Pl6, 13:30
Racing Metro 92 v London Irish, Pl2, 15:40
Saracens v Ospreys, Pl5, 18:00
Scarlets v Munster, Pl1, 15:40
Treviso v Biarritz, Pl5, 13:30
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Bath v Leinster, Pl3, 12:45
Clermont Auvergne v Leicester, Pl4, 15:00
Glasgow v Montpellier, Pl3, 12:45

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leinster excell, and Peter Allen, look away now!

Fergus! (picture )

The first match I watched this weekend was Leinster at home to Cardiff. Excuse me while I reach for the book of superlatives. They made fairly heavy weather of the first half, then in the second the floodgates opened and the Leinstermen were queuing up to score. What was impressive was how the understudies rose to the occasion – McFadden is playing and kicking superbly (better than Johnny?), Madigan played really well, and Fionn Carr is hungry for work, on attack, on defense, filling in well at scrum half when needed, he’s knocking on Ireland’s door, never mind a Leinster starting place. Steven Sykes looked impressive, as did van der Merwe, hard to fault anyone really. A big shout out for Nathan White, prop try of the year? The Blues, with their internationals gone, could just about find a 1st fifteen, but had no subs to speak of. Bring on the next round of the HC for Leinster!

Then I caught the Wales Australia. The Welsh seem to have lost their mojo for the moment, I’m sure it will be back, but all the urgency of the World Cup was gone, they didn’t ever really seem to mean it when they attacked. Frankly, the first half was as dull as ditch water. The whole thing was crying out for a try, a punch up, a streaker, anything. In the second half ½ penny made a pretty calamitous decision to bring down O’Connor, because by the time he made it back from his yellow card Wales had leaked three tries and the match. Wales got two tries back and closed the gap to six points, but it was definitely Australia’s day. Shane Williams bowed out with a late try, bringing the curtain down on the match and his long successful career. Wales will be back, bring back Charteris, Phillips and Alwen Jones and they’ll fire again. Apart from Priestland, Warburton and Faletau, they had a quiet day at the office. Australia, meanwhile, miss Cooper and Beale, they looked solid but fairly ordinary.

Ah, Saturday afternoon, time to relax and watch Munster take on a very understrength Ospreys side. Or not. It’s not often in my experience that a ref changes the outcome of a match, generally he’s equally inept with each side. They can really spoil a match though. Peter Allen stuck pins under the fingernails of this match, he drowned it’s sweet little puppy, he told it Santa had died. It’s possible you might have enjoyed this match if you were an Ospreys supporter. But for everybody else, it was a shambles, with Allen trailing around, ineffectually trying to assert his authority on the match. I was impressed with how the Ospreys also-rans stepped up to the plate, and not very impressed with how Munster coped with the pressure they were put under. Peter Allen didn’t help, but they just weren’t expecting the competency Ospreys displayed.

Ulster got baqck to winning ways, and Connacht couldn't hold off treviso.

I rounded off the weekend watching Irish away to Saracens. This wasn’t a great match. I don’t want to make a habit of giving out about the ref, but the biggest feature of this match was Smalls voice, who's apparently an ‘elite’ referee. He didn’t so much instruct the players as nag them, frequently, in an unfortunate nasal tone. It was all penalties for Sarries, hardly any running rugby- turgid- is that the word? Absolutley turgid. Fair play to Irish as for getting the only try. Impressive for Irish were Garvey, and replacements Dermody, Allinson and Armitage. Farell for Saracens is not to everyone’s taste but he can certainly kick.

 Wales 18 - 24 Australia
Ulster 24 - 17 Scarlets 
Edinburgh 50 - 10 Aironi Rugby 
Leinster 52 - 9 Cardiff Blues 
Connacht 13 - 15 Benetton Treviso
Ospreys 19 - 13 Munster
Saracens 15 – London Irish 11

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Irish Pro 12 action, and Wales and Australia.

We salute you (picture )
Pro 12 Preview

Ulster take on the Scarlets at home. Last week they played Glasgow, who are always an awkward side to play against, in admittedly poor weather, but they still took ‘dire’ to a whole new level. I hope they can turn themselves around, and with Scarlets wealth of international players, they should be facing a weakened squad, hopefully featuring an orange peeler or two. No excuses this weekend!

Connacht are going to find it tough enough against Treviso, but this is the type of game they really have to start winning if they want to go places. I think they’ll win.

Leinster have the Blues to contend with this weekend. And no, it’s not the Dublin GAA, it’s the Cardiff Blues this time.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 David Kearney, 13 Eoin O'Malley, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Sean O'Brien, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Nathan White, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Damian Browne, 20 Leo Auva'a, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 Rob Kearney.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Richard Mustoe, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito (capt), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Taufaao Filise, 2 Ryan Tyrrell, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Dafydd Hewitt.

That’s a strong team for Leinster, with big names on the bench as well. The Blues have a lost a few players to the Aussie match – bet the centers are pleased not to have to tackle Jamie Roberts!No sign of Henson yet, but the combination of orange and baby blue holds little appeal anyway. At home, with a decent away win last weekend, I’m going with Leinster.

Munster have to play the Ospreys away from home, but if you’re going to play a Welsh side, this is the weekend. All their internationals have made a massive impact on their return from the World Cup, but they are going to leave big holes again.  So I kind of fancy Munster in this one.
Wales Australia

This the rematch, Wales were handed 4th spot at the World Cup following their defeat to the Aussies, and this time…it’s at the Millennium Stadium!

Wales have lost a few of their heroes from the World Cup, Phillips and Charteris being their main losses IMO. It’s the swansong for legend Shane Williams, and I hope he goes out on a high. Wales have stated they are targeting the Aussie midfield, and I’ve seen some less than impressive tackling from O’Connor too. The Aussie scrum is still suspect, but more than anything Wales need to bring speed and confidence in attack.

The Australians meanwhile, need to move the ball themselves. Without Beale and Cooper they don’t have the potency they could, but Ioane and O’Connor are the danger men on attack. Rookie scrum half Lloyd Williams can expect to get the treatment, and the Aussies will probably win or lose by how effectively they get to Williams. Wales to take it on with home advantage though.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Alex Cuthbert.

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Ben Tapuai, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.

Exiles and Saracens looks like an excellent match, but a losing point would be a good result for Irish.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , December 2
Ulster vs Scarlets 19:05
Connacht vs Benetton Treviso 19:30
Edinburgh vs Aironi Rugby 19:30
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues 20:05
Saturday , December 3
Ospreys vs Munster 18:30
Sunday , December 4
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow
Saturday , December 3
Wales vs Australia 14.30
Sunday , December 4
Saracens vs London Irish 14.00

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quarter of the story

Happy on the ship (picture )

England weren’t the only team to exit at the quarter final stage, how have the other 3 teams have fared since then?

Brian O’Driscoll is still captain( if they can patch him back together again), Declan Kidney is still coach, and pretty safe unless Ireland have a disastrous 6 Nations. World Cup? What World Cup?

South Africa
South Africans did what all passionate fans do when their team exits at the QF stage – they blamed the ref. Never mind aging players, dodgy tactics and even dodgier coaching, no Bryce Lawrence is the man who’s afraid to visit the Republic now, whose Facebook page ‘Petition to stop Bryce Lawrence ever reffing again’ has 84000 fans. The Boks has a bit of boozy night out of their own, but their fans kept it simple and blamed the ref. Pieter de Villiers kind of resigned but is reapplying for his old job

I googled ‘Argentina rugby world cup dwarves’ and nothing noteworthy came out, so the Argentineans had a quiet world Cup, and no aftermath.

The world cup is a distant memory now for three of the losing quarter finalists, except for one. Dwarfgate, boobgate, ballgate, chambermaidgate, ferrygate, twikileaks, fines, expulsions, resignations, outcries – England’s rugby world cup campaign morphed smoothly into an episode of Eastenders. Moody is gone, Johnson is gone, Tindall was gone – but now he’s back! and RFU members are defecting like rats leaving a sinking ship, with the notable exception of Rob Andrew – he quite likes the ship. He may the only man left to pick a new England coach. Now, as an Irish fan, I should be sticking up for Andrews. Keep up the good work Rob! Director of Elite Rugby for life! But beating England when they’re crap is not much fun.

I’m no fan of some the England players, but I’m tired of all of this now. Apart from chambermaidgate which is completely disgraceful, they behaved like idiots, but so what? They were still putting their bodies on the line for their country, and they got beaten in the end frankly by a more talented French side. All I want now is for Andrews to be fired, the admin to be put into the hands of administrators, and for England to hire a decent coach. The next and only time I want to hear about English rugby is for their success or failure on the field. From the perspective of the other three teams, it’s time to move on.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Champagne rugby from Leinster and Munster, 2l value cider rugby from Ulster

Leinster played Treviso Stadio di Monigo   in a entertaining match. OK, I would say that because Leinster won and won well, and did it with a good portion of the front line players absent. And a lot of fringe players put their hands up and staked their claim for a first team spot. Fionn Carr goes from strength to strength, Jamie Hagan played well as did Rhys Ruddock , and Johnny hard to say second name at 8 had a stormer. And in the back line, O’Malley, McFadden and Madigan all looked the business. Treviso played well as well, handling was good, and with a bit of luck they could have won this match. They had good home support, and their fans had something to shout about.

Now if the Leinster match was champagne rugby, drunk from crystal wine glasses, then the Blues/Treviso and Glasgow/Ulster matches were 2 litre bottles of Tesco value cider, drunk straight from the bottle on a canal bench with only the swans for company. Ugly, painful rugby, abysmal skill levels, that had you wondering why even the handful of spectators had bothered to make the effort.  The Blues at least eventually managed the four point bonus try, but Ulster – Jesus wept. They’ve got Darcy, Cave, Spence and Trimble in the backline and they should have been making merry with the ball. Instead of standing around like interested bystanders while Humphries kicked. At a minimum, they should have been going for a bonus point out of the match, but in fairness, they way they played they didn’t deserve anything. Connacht also lost out to Connacht. Wed I watched AC Milan/Barcelona, Thursday the Blues, Fri Ulster – I’m going to go over to the dark side and start watching soccer just now.

I also watched bit and pieces of the Munster match and it’s obvious there is a gulf in class between high flying Leinster and Munster, and the ghetto of Ulster and Connacht. Munster’s young guns showed us what they had, with Barnes, Zebo , Archer , Keatley, Holland and O’Dea all showing they are ready to step up. They could work on their defence a little, as the Scots crossed for a few easy enough trys.
London Irish put in a good win against Wasps, which I didn’t see, and the last match I saw the Ba Ba’s get thrashed by the Aussies. Poor Ba Ba’s rather than excellent Aussies, but they could only play what was in front of them. O’Connor did well at fly half, and Victor Matfield, as always, shone in his final outing, a giant amongst giants.

Benetton Treviso 20 - 30 Leinster 
Connacht 6 - 17 Ospreys 
Munster 34 - 17 Edinburgh
Scarlets 22 - 12 Newport-Gwent D'gons 
Glasgow 17 - 9 Ulster
Cardiff Blues 38 - 0 Aironi Rugby
London Irish 21 - 17 Wasps
Barbarians 11 - 60 Australia

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Leinster in Italy, and the Ba Ba's take on Australia

James O'Connor (Picture )

Leinster head off to Italy to take on Treviso this weekend – a few years ago the main concern would have agonising over the right trainers to pull the  signoras, after having thumped the Italians. Things are different these days though, and Leinster are not going to be arriving with a B team if they want to win. Fergus McFadden is apparently back in the frame, which would be great, and Damian Brown could return as well. I’m still expecting Leinster to beat Treviso, but bearing in mind that they drew with the Ospreys in the HC cup last week, they will need to play about 60% as well as they did in the first half, for 90% of the match to win. A win then.

Ulster should have enough firepower to take out the Warriors, even at Firhill, while I’d expect there to be unhappy hunting for Connacht against a still classy Ospreys side. Munster are going to have their hands full against Edinburgh, who’ve had a new lease of life with Irish coach Michael Bradley, who’ll obviously have an inside track on the men in red. But if Munster can beat Castre away, they’ll beat the Scots at home.
Scarlets and Dragons, with the current form of the Welsh, could be the match of the Pro12 weekend.

The Exiles take on Wasps at the Madjeski in a London derby, with Irish hoping to put behind their Heineken cup disappointments. I’m backing them to win.

Barbarians vs Australia

This is a decent looking Ba-Ba’s side, where I’m particularly interested to see Robbie Fruean show his stuff, alongside Mortlock who could really still have something to offer Australia. Hope Stringer has a good match as well. The Aussie side is out, with Pocock as captain, good move, and James O’Connor is going to be playing ten. The Ausiies had a fairly disappointing WC by their standards, so hopefully we get to see what they could have done on Saturday.

Barbarians: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Sam Tomkins, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Stirling Mortlock, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Eusebio Guinazu.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Jason White, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Nemia Kenatale, 21 Richard Kahui, 22 Seru Rabeni.

Wallabies team

15. Adam Ashley-Cooper , 14. Lachie Turner , 13. Rob Horne , 12. Berrick Barnes , 11. Digby Ioane , 10. James O'Connor , 9. Will Genia , 8. Ben McCalman , 7. David Pocock (captain) 6. Scott Higginbotham , 5. Nathan Sharpe , 4. Rob Simmons , 3. Salesi Ma'afu , 2. Tatafu Polota Nau , 1. James Slipper ,
Replacements:16. Stephen Moore , 17. Ben Alexander , 18. James Horwill , 19. Dave Dennis , 20. Matt Hodgson , 21. Nick Phipps , 22. Ben Tapuai

Thu 24 Nov 19:30 Blues   v   Aironi Cardiff City Stadium  
Fri 25 Nov 19:05 Scarlets   v   Dragons Parc y Scarlets BBCw
Fri 25 Nov 19:35 Warriors   v   Ulster Firhill Stadium ALBA/ni/RTE
Sat 26 Nov 15:00 Treviso   v   Leinster Stadio di Monigo  
Sat 26 Nov 18:30 Connacht   v   Ospreys Sportsground S4C/TG4
Sat 26 Nov 20:30 Munster   v   Edinburgh Thomond Park Stadium TG4/ALBA

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can he kick it? Yes he can! ROG boots Munster home, while Leinster get a bonus point win.

ROG (picture )

This week I did get to watch the Leinster match, as they  put away Glasgow in a bonus point performance. And they scored two tries while Toner was in the bin! Not taking anything away from Toner, but they definitely played better without him. Heaslip had a good match, O’Briens all round game is fab and his ball handling skills are sublime. Nacewa is in a class of his own, and O’Malley and Madigan all put in good performances. In fairness Glasgow weren’t great, they have a competitive scrum but not much behind it – they should get the cash from selling Richie Gray and buy one decent back.

Munster had everyone reaching for the superlatives again, as that man ROG drop kicked them another win. His prowess sits on the foundation of some awesome work done by the pack, O’Mahoney, Ryan and O’Connell all really shone. Competition for places in the Irish scrum is going to be very healthy indeed. There’s life in the old dog yet!

Ulster played some really good rugby but still came away empty handed at Welford Road. They should really have got a least a point, and the Tigers are looking pretty ragged round the edges, hanging on for dear life for a while there.  I thought Tuohy was outstanding, as were Trimble, Ferris and Muller.

Connacht were fairly well thumped by Toulouse, but that’s no disgrace, it’s happened to teamas far more august than them.

London Irish faltered again, but considering they played most of the match with 14, they were good value for their losing bonus point.

The result of the weekend was Scarlets win at Franklin Gardens.  The Saints last minute loss last weekend, and the departure of Fodden before the match, really knocked the stuffing out of them. They’re not my favourite team, Hartley leads from the front with a brash in your face style that doesn’t endear him to most. There is a lot to admire about their brutally efficient style though, but they sure missed Fodden, and looked a bit blunt and clueless without him. Scarlets are growing with each match, Priestland North Davies are all top performers, and Morgan at 8 was awesome.

I also watched Bath hang on for dear life against Montpellier. Did you know that fly halves Trin Duc and Donald played for France and New Zealand in te World Cup final? Well, you would have if you’d watched the match, because the commentators only mentioned it about a 100 times. Montpellier are going to be a handful at home for Leinster, while Bath need a bit more x-factor if they want to really succeed.

Wales 2 ½ /3
Scotland 1 /2
Ireland 2/4
England 3 / 6
France 3/ 6
Italy ½ / 2

Edinburgh 48 - 47 Racing Metro 92 
Cardiff Blues 24 - 18 London Irish 
Clermont Auvergne 54 - 3 Aironi Rugby 
Northampton 23 - 28 Scarlets
Benetton Treviso 26 - 26 Ospreys 
Biarritz 15 - 10 Saracens 
Gloucester 9 - 28 Harlequins 
Connacht 10 - 36 Toulouse 
Leicester 20 - 9 Ulster 
Castres 24 - 27 Munster
Sunday , November 20
Leinster 38 - 13 Glasgow 
Bath 16 - 13 Montpellier

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peter de Villiers for the England job, and Leinster and Munster to prosper this weekend

My tip for the new England Manager

Leinster face a tricky task at the RDS of subduing a resurgent Glasgow side. Edinburgh are the Scottish side that normally have the irritating habit of pooping Leinster party, but the Glaswegians will be on to keen to emulate them. Before last weekend, I would have put the men in a blue (which is apparently  VERY similar to that of a team in another unnamed code) way favourites against the Scots,  but given the turnout last weekend, I’d say Jonny Sextons boot is going to come in very handy again. BOD and Hines leave massive shoes to fill, hope the fillers are found soon. Leinster should win at home though.

I’m backing Munster to sort out Castres, their attack may not have the penetration of some of the other teams, but their defence is as tight as a ducks bottom.  Connacht proved against Quins that they are no walkover, but Toulouse are an altogether different proposition. However manky French form is away from home, and however vociferous the capacity home crowd is going to be, you’d still back Toulouse.  Ulster Leicester is likely to be the most competitive Irish tie, to me it’s the story of a team on the rise meeting a team in decline. At home the Tigers should still have the edge, but it likely to be a full blooded and bloody match.

London Irish are going to struggle against the Blues you’d think, I had high hopes for them – but you can’t lose at home. Pity Delon Armitage can’t take some time out from his busy suspension schedule and play some rugby.

Elsewhere, I fancy Gloucester/Quins could be a real humdinger.

New England Manager

Johno is no more, they may never find someone else to replace his magnificent scowling abilities, but can they get a decent coach? Front runner is Jim Mallinder, and why not, he’s on the up at the Saints. He’s won Parker Pen Shields, LV Cups and European Challenge Cups, and is most likely on the cusp of something great at the Saints. Other leading candidates are Graham Henry and Nick Mallet, and Conor O’Shea has had a mention. Eddie O’Sullivan is also on the market, may not be to eveyone’s taste, but how often did England beat Ireland when he was in charge? My favourite for the position is Peter De Villiers, just for the craic. With some of the English players acting like clowns, his insight into this area could come in handy. I’m going to go leftfield with my choice for the job though. Times have changed, the position has a media spotlight on it now, and the players are pretty well paid, and can misbehave and act like divas. I’d emulate English soccer and go outside the fold, with Toulouse coach Guy Novès as a man that can handle the circus better than most.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Bath v Montpellier, Pl3, 15:00
Leinster v Glasgow, Pl3, 12:45
Biarritz v Saracens, Pl5, 13:30
Castres v Munster, Pl1, 15:40
Clermont Auvergne v Aironi, Pl4, 20:00
Connacht v Toulouse, Pl6, 18:00
Gloucester v Harlequins, Pl6, 15:40
Leicester v Ulster, Pl4, 18:00
Treviso v Ospreys, Pl5, 13:30
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Cardiff Blues v London Irish, Pl2, 20:00
Edinburgh v Racing Metro 92, Pl2, 20:00
Northampton v Scarlets, Pl1, 20:00
Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Heineken Cup - top marks for Wales and Scotland, Ireland could do better, England scrape through, France and Italy fail

Best hair of Round 1 - Joe Marler (picture )

Wales 3/3
Scotland 2/2
Ireland 2 ½ /4
England 3/6
France1 ½ /6
Italy 0/2

I had an epic fail as a Leinster supporter this weekend. I Sky+ the match as I was working – then chose the wrong match to delete just as I was about to watch... But I knew the result anyway, and it didn’t sound like a classic. I thought they were going to win, but a draw away from home will do as well. I’ll make it up to Leinster  next weekend. Andato add insult to injury I caught a bit of each of the other Irish matches, but not my team!

First up was Connacht – what a match from the Galwegians! First in the premiership , at home,takes on on 9th in the Rabowhatever, it didn’t sound like it was going to be pretty. But as it turnedout , from a Quins point of view, it wasn’t pretty or comfortable, as they clung on for the win. And that was despite some pretty generous refereeing which saw Quins nonchalantly belly flopping in to loose mauls at wiil, and Robshaw spending most of the time on Connachts side of the maul. John Muldoon was the standout Connacht player for me, and I though Jordan Turner Hall was excellent for Quins.

Then I caught some of the Ulster match, who put in a fantastic win against Clemont. The Ulster scrum is first class now, packed with imports, but it’s Ferris and Best that stand out. Behind the scrum though, things are not so rosy, and it took a moment of magic from Adam D’Arcy, on a sub, to turn the tide for Ulster. They’ve got talent in midfield, but no incision, and they need to try and fix that to really go places. Clermont – that was just about France, so awesome win.

Munster/Northampton was a classic, where the home crowd, massive patience, and Ronan O’Gara saw the home team through. It was not a night for the faint hearted, an absolutely colossal forward battle, but plenty of attractive running rugby as well. Ben Fodden is awesome, fast skilfull and tough and Munster had their hands full containing him. The four players that really stood out for Munster were the loose trio of James Coughlan, Niall Ronan, Peter O'Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, and of course, Dougie Howlett. The first four are only going to get better, and the team is starting to look really balanced again, but they need Earls and Jones back in a hurry, to give them a threat behind the scrum.

Elsewhere- the rise and rise of the Rabo Protexyexy Super 12 – five out of five for Scotalnd and Wales, how about that! England scrape a pass, and the French are abysmal. Gut wrenching loss for Irish.
Racing Metro 92 20 - 26 Cardiff Blues 
Harlequins 25 - 17 Connacht
 Aironi Rugby 12 - 28 Leicester 
London Irish 19 - 20 Edinburgh 
Scarlets 31 - 23 Castres 
Montpellier 16 - 16 Leinster 
Ulster 16 - 11 Clermont Auvergne 
Munster 23 - 21 Northampton 
Ospreys 28 - 21 Biarritz
Glasgow 26-21 Bath
Toulouse 21 - 17 Gloucester 
Saracens 42 - 17 Benetton

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hide the batteries for the remote - it's Heineken Cup time!

Heineken Cup Preview

Pool 1 Castres Munster  Saints Scarlets

Northampton are the 400 pound gorilla in Munster’s group, Castres  sre the other big team,  they may be3rd in the T14 but their HC form has been merde forever. Players like Fodden and Ashton lift the Saints above fairly predictable premiership fare. I want to see the next generation of Munsterites like Murray, Jones and Barnes shine, and they’ll need to get Munster out of this group. They’ll just about pip the Saints at home this week. Saints to top the group and Munster to come out second. The Scarlets will keep them all honest.

Pool 2 Blues Edinburgh London Irish Racing Metro

In this pool I think Irish can do the business, The Blues don’t often perform at this level, Metro are to nouveau riche, and Edinburgh don’t have the consistency so Irish it is.

Pool 3 Bath Leinster Glasgow Montpellier

 Leinster are The Champs©! But without O CAPTAIN! my Captain! BOD it’s going to long and winding road for Leinster. He’ll be back but…    I think Nathan Hines is a big loss as well. But it’s not all doom and gloom, Leinster should make it out of this group fairly easily, Bath are a mid table outfit and Montpelier are 3rd from bottom in the T14, while Glasgow don’t have the resources. And if Leinster make it out of the pool as they should do, pick up a few players and a bit of form, anything could happen. I’m going for an away win for them this weekend agsinsdt Montpellier.

Pool 4 Aironi Clermont Tigers Ulster

Ulster are still the Man City of the Irish provinces, with big name signings two a penny. Not having Pienaar is going to hurt them, and some of that imported beef has been aged well past its prime. This is a challenging group, where I’m picking Clermont to win and Ulster to come out second. Tigers – I think they’ve turned a corner, but not in a good way, and need to rebuild a bit.

Pool 5 Treviso Biarritz Ospreys Saracens

This is another tough as old boots pool. The Ospreys have to be hurt by the loss of their big names, so it’s down to Saracens or Biarritz, and you have to back Biarritz with their experience.

Pool  6 Connacht Harlequins Gloucester Toulouse

Connacht make their debut in the HCup, and face Quins in the first match of the tournament. It’s going to be a learning experience for the Galwegians, they look well enough drilled to pull off a few surprises, and they have the advantage that they are going to be way underestimated. Toulouse are going through IMO, and Gloucester might make it tough for them, or compete for a runners up spot.

I picked 5 out of 8 last year but not Leinster making it out of their pool (cough)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

We Won! We Won! We bad! We Bad! Even handed look at Leinster's win over Munster

Stand up for Stefan!( Picture )

Starting off with Leinster Munster in Dublin, as a Leinster supporter you’d have to say it was very satisfying result, it would have been horrible to have lost three in a row to Munster. It wasn’t really a classic – it was impressively intense, but skill levels and discipline were nothing to write home about. Leinster were better for the first 60 minutes, and Munster for the last 20. Can we not add a bit of unpredictability to this fixture, or is it always going be Munsters forwards against Leinster’s back?

Leinsters scrum was underwhelming – I think we are going to miss the out and out grunt and aggression Nathan Hines provided. Devin Toner adds a lot, but why are we getting pushed around by Munster? McFadden, Fitzgerald, and Kearney all look shook sharp and inventive and broke the line with relative ease.
Munster still bring an immensely physical presence in the pack, but are fairly devoid of ideas in their back line. Mafi always seems to look for contact, and it’s very seldom that he runs over anyone. The one time he took the gap and offloaded they made about 30m. Barnes looks like he has a lot to offer, but they are really going to miss Earls while he’s out. I would just love to plug someone like Conrad Smith in there and see what he could do.

So we have the bragging rights until we meet again at Thomond, where I suspect it’s going to be a might tougher for Leinster.

I also caught the first half hour of the Ulster/Connacht match – the wrong half hour I think. Ulster have got some great names playing for them now, but God what they could do with a few simple basics like catching the ball. This match put Ulster back on track, and with a little more patience they could do well. Stefan Terrblanche is really handy player to sign, pretty similar to Paul Warwick in versatility and composure.

Connacht don’t look half bad either, they attack well, but then lose concentration, and their kicking was atrocious. Pretty difficult when half your stars disappear every year though.

I also caught a smidgen of the Irish/Tigers match – come on Irish! Great result against a major team like Leicester – Richard Cockerill must be having their guts for garters.

RaboDirect PRO12
Aironi Rugby 6 - 18 Glasgow 
Ulster 22 - 3 Connacht 
Ospreys 9 - 9 Scarlets 
Benetton Treviso 11 - 22 Edinburgh
Leinster 24 - 19 Munster

Aviva Premiership
Newcastle 16 - 16 Worcester
Bath 13 - 26 Harlequins 
Exeter 19 - 24 Gloucester 
Leicester 24 - 24 London Irish
Wasps 13 - 24 Northampton 
Saracens 23 - 10 Sale

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Munster will be the cannon fodder on the Dodder!

Here’s an amazing fact I gleaned from uber Leinster blogger Harpin on rugby – more people are going to watch Leinster and Munster at the Aviva stadium than all the Pro 12 matches last weekend put together! Irish fans are putting their money where their mouths are.

There’s a lot of good looking derbies this weekend,  with Dragons/Blues and Ospreys/Scarlets also likely to be fiery affairs with the high Welsh rugby is on at the moment.

For Leinster and Munster, it’s time to put aside the disappointments and triumphs of the world cup, and get ready to knock lumps out of each other.  There’s nothing like it the satisfactions stakes compared to putting in a really good hit on an erstwhile Ireland team mate. The ladyboys of Leinster were the perennial  whipping boys for Munster, up until a few seasons ago. Then, the unthinkable happened, they grew a pair, and for a good few years it was Munster who couldn’t buy a win. Now it’s sitting somewhere in middle , tilted a little on the Munster side, with 2 from 3 last year, and the Magners league to go with it.  This’d be the most keenly contested derby match outside of the Gaelic fixtures , and it’s a stereotypical town versus country match as well. Although players like the Tullow Tank, Sean O’Brien,  Dublin boys like Felix Jones, and international stars like Dougie Howlett and Isa Nacewa  don’t quite fit into that mould.

Munsters team from last week was as follows, and as they are sticking with the same squad  I’d expect O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan and Mafi to start this week. Pretty damn strong so.

15 Johne Murphy, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Peter O'Mahony, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 John Hayes, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Niall Ronan, 21 Tomas O'Leary, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Lifeimi Mafi.

This was Leinster’s team from last week, and I’d hope to see O’Brien, Heaslip , Nacewa and O’Driscoll back, and strauss to start. Oh, and it’d be great to have Healy back as well. So what’s it going to be?   I have to back Leinster, with home support, and to me Sexton is the man who’s going to make the difference.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Eoin O'Malley, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fionn Carr

Fri 4 Nov
Rodney Parade

Fri 4 Nov
AVIVA Stadium
Sat 5 Nov
Stadio Zaffanella

Sat 5 Nov
Stadio di Monigo

Sat 5 Nov
Sat 5 Nov
Liberty Stadium

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rugby,clamping, and blundering Sharks

Thanks a lot!

Well, there’s no two ways about it, I’ve been neglecting Leinster.  I had my head turned by the World Cup, and poor old Leinster have been pining away, waiting for my return. Or not. They seem to have been just fine, thank you very much, without my support. I’d vowed to turn over a new leaf, and had made all the plans to get home and watch the match. That was before the abomination of the streets of Dublin, a dastardly vicious vile clamper had his evil way with my car on Friday evening. By the time that was all sorted out, the match was gone, and I had all the good humour of the antichrist. Pity because it sounded like a good match with lots of tries, and Jonny Sexton on hand to guide the visitors home.

Ronan O’Gara claimed all the points as Munster took out Aironi, while Connacht and Ulster lost out to Welsh opposition. The  big result of the weekend I guess was Glasgows upset of the Ospreys.

I finally got a bit of time to sit down in front of the TV to catch the Currie Cup final, and see if the Sharks could cure those clamper blues. And did they make me happy? No, they made me more peed off than ever, as they adopted the Springbok model and looked for people to run into all afternoon. Do you think they woke up in the morning and thought ‘I’m going to run over people all day long!’.  All you have to do with the Sharks is tackle and wait for them to make a mistake. The backline are mere bystanders, Lambie and Michalak only seemed to get the ball when the Lions kicked it to them.  In fairness, even as a Sharks supporter, it’s good to see the Lions do well again, it’ll be interesting to see if they can carry this form into the S15. And look what happens when you get a decent coach!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011- The Awards

‘Best Beard’ Canada’s Adam Kleeberger – you can see why he grew the beard

The ‘Black is Beautiful’ Award – the All Blacks. After being the best team in the world for most of the last 24 years, they get finally get the title to go with the fact.

The ‘I could have been a contender’ Award: Samoa, who’s chance of making it big were scuppered by unequal treatment from the IRB. (Them and all the other little countries)

The ‘Bring on the clowns’ Award – England! Dwarfgate, Boobgate, Ballgate, and they left their A game at home.

The ‘Most farcical performance in a major tournament’ Award France. Lose two, stagger out of the pools, get to the final on a wing and a prayer

‘Performance of the Tournament’ Award: France in the final

‘The Little team that could’ Award – Ireland, who could beat Australia, helped a Northern Hemisphere team into the final, but couldn’t beat Wales…

The ‘You’ve made your point, now STFU’ award: Samoan Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Making the smaller teams play games every three days is unfair – but not in the same league as killing 6 million people. The IRB is not likely to face a crimes against humanity tribunal.

The ‘Move to the top of the class’ award – Wales. Sucker punched by Fiji four years ago, they looked like they could go all the way at one time.

The ‘Multiplicity’ Award: Jerome Kaino - was there only one of him on the pitch at a time? He seemed to be everywhere

The ‘My kicking went brilliant in the warm up, honest’ Award: Piri Weepu

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rugby world Cup final 2011 - Black is the new black

Deserved champs (Picture )

So 7 weeks and umpteen matches later, we get a final that, even until the last minute, the last play of the match, could have gone either way. New Zealand brushed off 24 years of pain to finally double their haul of World Cups. And France make the startling discovery that (cover the screen so no one else gets to see this) if you want to beat the All Blacks – you have to play better than them. That’s what France did for 64 minutes of the match, but the All Blacks won it with fifteen minutes of excellent play in the first half, and one minute of good play in the second half. C’est la vie.

Everything that could have gone wrong for the All Blacks, did. First of all, the French surrender monkeys that had been booked for the final failed to turn up, and instead we got 15 lean mean hungry Frenchmen who had the skills and the nous to go nearly all the way. The All Black line out was pretty shambolic, their scrum creaked, and then there was the kicking. Rugby coaching 101 states the first thing you do is pick a good kicker. The second thing you do is pick another good kicker. If I had somebody kicking for my life, Piri Weepu wouldn’t be top of the list – Piri Weepu wouldn’t even be on the list. Let’s be kind and say his radar was a little off. Then there was the  fly half merry go round. Dan Carter is the best  fly half in the world. When he was injured, his replacement, Colin Slade, is possibly in the top 15 in the world. His replacement, Aaron Crudden might make the top 30 on a good day. When Crudden was injured, on ran Stephen Donald who knows fly havles in the top fifty in the world. Graham Henry could see the apocalypse unfolding in front of him, the tactic was – don’t let him touch the ball! Or do anything! The second someone passed him the ball, Henry’s  eyes glazed over and he sent the word for his head to brought on a plate. And for two valium.

But it was the All Blacks day, Donald did what Weepu couldn’t and banged the ball over when he had to, and they just about held their nerve to kept the French out. I couldn’t think of another team that would have beaten France in the final, and it’s no more than they deserve. For France, their loose trio was immense, Bonnaire, Dusautoir and Harinordoquy were all outstanding, in fact their whole pack was – let’s face it, 1-15 they played out of their skins.

Now it’s all over things can go back to normal in the world of rugby, the All Blacks can carry on beating everyone, the French can go back to concentrate on the T14, and maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll find a coach without a mustache to make them into world beaters.

French journalists pay homage to that tache

In the other match, Australia outplayed game Wales to claim third. It was the Hook and Jones disaster series again for the Welsh I’m afraid.

Finally, this is a big shout for avid rugby fans Ciaran Kelly and his friend Alan Burnell who are heading to Zambia next June to help with Brent Pope's Rugby Legends Foundation as they build homes for the Habitat for Humanity project.
If you'd like to make even a small donation to help them out please follow this link and click the "sponsor me now" button! Get in behind them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Lethal Weapon, Johnny Logan, the All Blacks and the French - it's a dodgy 80's remix

The last time France and New Zealand met in the world Cup final was in June1987. Johnny Logan wanted to hold you now, Whitney Heuston wanted to dance with somebody, Lethal Weapon was big at the box office, 'Aertel' teletext service debuted on RTÉ Television and Charlie Haughey was back in the house. And this little guy was practicing stealing balls out of the playpen. 

Well, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then, or however the saying goes, can the All Blacks get what they’ve been waiting 24 years to claim back? And have the double satisfaction of winning the World Cup AND beat the French who’ve been their nemesis twice since the. In a word, yes. They comprehensively dismantled the number two side in the world last week, pulled them apart, danced on the bits and blew raspberries at what was left. They made the French look pathetique when they met in the pool stages, and there would be many ( four million Welshmen for a start)   that would argue that France don’t deserve to be there, especially after having lost twice already.

After having been knocked out by the French last year, you’d think that the All Blacks would never underestimate them again, and I’m just about sure they’re not although they wouldn’t have seen much to scare them so far. The French have got a few rays of hope – I reckon their front row is going to give the AB’s a torrid time, and the All Blacks attack better than they defend – Ioane ran through nearly their whole team last week. It’s going to come to patience, discipline and composure and consistency, and even their most ardent supporters are going to have to admit that France don’t have the last two. What I’m hoping for is a great match, and for the French to display even half of their potential. So the all Blacks by 2 or three then.

On Friday,  the Wallabies and Wales fight it out to decide who’s the third best team in the tournament. Has a really nice ring about it doesn’t it, third best.  You’ve narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, or been robbed, depending on your nationality, and now you face the potential indignity of losing twice in two weeks and being called the fourth best team. The last time they met in a 3rd 4th paly off was - 1987! They should do like the boxers do and just give everybody a bronze medal. For the record, I’d say Australia are going to shade it, but it could be a really entertatining match, and bad luck Wales I’ll be shouting for you again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Composure and World Cup Rugby

Alain Rolland (Picture )

Australia 6 - 20 New Zealand
Wales 8 - 9 France

This weekend was all about composure – if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs – you’re probably not French, Welsh or Australian.

I was really looking forward to the French Wales, two teams giving it welly, a feast of running rugby, a try fest, spy vs spy unlocking each others defenses.  Well, we didn’t get was on the tin on Saturday. The Welsh will all be sticking pins in their Alain Roland dolls, while the French confound us again, doing barely enough to scrape through.  The low point of the match was Warburtons sending off, after that, the French thought, ‘Ne problemme pas,  this one’s in the bag’, and the Welsh could only do so much with 14 men. The incident was a 50 50 call, judged on the real time view of the officials,  and could easily have been a yellow as well. Now if you were a Welsh conspiracy theorist, you’d be going into overdrive. What nationality is Alain Rolland? Irish. And who did Wales  beat last week? Ireland. And who did Wales controversially beat in the 6 Nations with a dodgy refereeing decision? Ireland. And who was the ref that day, and  touch judge today who could well have helped  the decision on the sending off? Jonathan Kaplan. It all comes together…

Leaving that aside though, Wales left 11 points you’d think they should have got on the table, and so really they should of won this anyway, with a magnificent effort from the 14 left on the field. If you ever wondered why Gatland  has been starting Priestland, Hook and Jones were there to provide the answer.  Where was the drop goal when they needed it? I was disappointed there was so much kicking by both teams, and Wales’ unloading game deserted them. So the French straggle into the final, well thye still have a lot in reserve because they didn’t use any of it this weekend. Their man of the match for me was Yashvili, who just kept the game ticking over nicely. I knew Wales wouldn’t thank me for shouting for them.

The first 20 minutes of Sundays match were as good as you’ll see anywhere anytime. The All Blacks put maximum effort into breaking the Australians, which they did successfully, and then went into containment mode. Australia got into the match a bit after that but never looked like they were going win. The All Blacks had that composure I was on about , sorely lacking for them last week, but the Australians never had composure, Quade Cooper had a mare, they really missed Beale, and didn’t have anyone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag themselves into back into it. Even Sonny Bill Williams long overdue union yellow card for a shoulder charge didn't dampen their spirit. The All Blacks do all the simple things really well, and then have that X Factor – not the Louis Walsh type (Although I’m sure Gary Barlow has it in him to throw a dwarf) – players like Dagg and Jane that can turn the game on it’s head in a flash.

The win meant the world to them, their whole scrum started punching the air and giving each other high fives when they won a scrum penalty near the end – steady on lads, it’s only Australia – but they rightfully claim their place in the final.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wales carry the burden of their reponsibility for beating Ireland into their France match, and the Wobblies get to grips with teetering All Blacks

Aaron Crudden - no pressure mate (Picture )

Saturday , October 15 Wales vs France
Sunday , October 16 Australia vs New Zealand

First up is Wales and France. Now Wales, occupying as they do the spot rightly belonging to Ireland, have a massive responsibility to beat France, since they denied us that opportunity. You broke the heart of a small nation that’s been through a lot lately, and when light appeared at the end of the tunnel in the shape of a best ever world cup result, you built more tunnel for us. All of that lovey dovey post match celtic bonhomie might disappear in a flash if Wales make like England and go all pathetic in front of the French.

Meanwhile  it’s Gallic smirks all round in France at the thought of kicking Les Rosbifs out of the World Cup, but they need to now nail down another performance now, two in a row, oooo tricky. Wales are bursting with self confidence, but how do  they stop that from going over into cocky? For France, there is disheartening harmony between Lievremont and his players at the moment, they seem to work best off the friction of mutual loathing. The French coach has persisted with Parra at fly half, which worked abysmally against the All Blacks and Tonga, but seemed to reasonably do the trick against England.  Because Parra at fly half makes no sense to me, it’s probably absolutely the best thing for the French to do.

Performance vs performance, I think Ireland were better than England, so on that basis Wales put in a better swowing than France, and they sustained that form for the whole match.  It’s going to be a fairy tale for Wales if they win this – but I kind of think French experience should kick in to see them clinch a win. I wouldn’t be too disheartened  though Wales fans ,with my record, my tip for success for France is the probably the death knell for them.

Then on Sunday we have the match that could easily have been the final, if magnificent Ireland hadn’t saved the Northern Hemisphere by bumping the Wobblies into the path of the All Blacks. 8 weeks ago, at home, this would have been good night nurse for the Aussies. But a lot has changed in the last two months, the AB’s are now done to third choice fly half, with Aaron Crudden now in the hot seat attempting to fill the size 15 boot sized gap left by Dan Carter. He’s got 5 caps for New Zealand, but has never played a whole match for them. It would the stuff of legends if this cancer survivor could guide the All Blacks home. The other pillar of the team, Captain Fantastic McCaw has a crocked foot and is below par on his admittedly stellar standards.

How about those Australians, not too consistent, but they are a cunning bunch, living off scraps last weekend to pick the pockets of the Springboks. It’s every New Zealanders worst nightmare, a bunch of jeering Aussies leaving the land of the long white cloud waving the World Cup in the tear stained faces of the Kiwis. Australia have a fairly sorry excuse for a scrum at the moment, but enough firepower behind them to trouble most defenses. The All Blacks have a far superior scrum, and even Carterless are a match for the Australian backline. That equals an All Black win. But the New Zealanders are all over the place at the moment, they look like nervous wrecks, and I’m afraid that this could be the end of the road for the Blacks again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The music dies for Ireland in New Zealand

I feel like that too if it's any consolation (picture )

New Zealand 33 - 10 Argentina 
Ireland 10 - 22 Wales 
England 12 - 19 France
Australia 11 South Africa 9

I woke up on Saturday morning with a funny feeling in my stomach about the Ireland match, and it wasn’t just that curry I had on Friday night (although that may have had something to do with it). It was the day the music died for the Irish in New Zealand. There’s no point in beating about the bush – Wales were just better on the day, sharper, hungrier, faster more physical, better sums it up pretty well. We looked like we had a chance when we got it back to 10 all early in the second half, but then Wales stepped up a gear.  They had all the answers to the questions we asked of their defense, and they wore us down until the two trys they scored in the second half were pretty well inevitable.  They were given away way too easily, but you can only defend for so long against that sort of attack until the cracks start to appear. Wales can go far now if they can just keep hold of themselves.

 There weren’t too many Irish players that had fantastic matches, not that they played badly, just that they were shaded all over the field by the rampant Welsh. Now’s not the time to knock the team though, they gave it everything they had, but came up short.  Players O’Connell, O’Driscoll O’Gara have been unbelievable for Ireland, and it must be very hard for them to take that they didn’t manage to push Ireland on to their best ever world cup finish.  A sad ending for some of the greats of their generation BUT things are looking up in the long run – we stopped at the pool stages last world cup, got the quarters this time, that means we’ll make the semis in 2015 and the final in 2019! Keep the faith!

France finally decided it was time to stop messing and play some rugby, and they had England caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Johnson had made a few dodgy selections, Flood at center for instancewas always going to have the potential to go wrong, he should have taken the bull by the horns and dropped Wilkinson. And what was he thinking picking Easter when the man’s clearly in the advanced stages of pregnancy – aren’t there health and safety regulations about that anyway? On the bright side, Dan Cole, will be releasing a limited edition miniature garden statue of himself after the tournament.  England looked leaden and devoid of ideas – they peaked just before their match against Ireland in the six nations. France will be reveling in the superlatives coming their way, they played some sublime rugby, and should they chose to turn it on again, could go all the way.

After Ireland were knocked out, I threw my weight behind my ‘B’ team, the Springboks. Big mistake. Ireland were at least beaten by a better team on the day, whereas the Springboks  absolutely butchered a perfectly winnable match against a below par Australia. All they know about is running in to people as hard as they can – you wouldn’t want to pass or your mates might think you were a sissy. Australia rode their luck, they used up lives 4 to 9 in this match. It’s enough to make you weep. Anyway, good luck to the Aussies, there are no prizes for trying really hard and doing everything but winning, as the Springboks have discovered.

Finally Argentina got their shot at being the first team apart from Australia and France to knock the All Blacks out of a World Cup. They made a fairly good fist of it for the first half hour, and even had the lead for a while, but they ran out of steam eventually. The All Blacks look fairly out of sorts – Slade, trying to fill the massive boots of Dan Carter, looked unsure of himself, and the giant hook removed him from the field at the 30 minute mark just after the Argentinean try. They got the win, but they look eminently beatable, and it’s those jammy Wallabies who get a shot at them next.

So that's a shocking one from four right for me.