Sunday, January 30, 2011

6 Nations 2011 Preview - 'Injured' has the best players to select from

Note Ireland in the lead!Picture from:

It all gets going this weekend, but before the 6 Nations starts, a little look ahead to see what form the teams are in.


Injuries include Moody, Ashton, dumb ban for Armitage, Lawes and Croft Add to that worries over Fourie, Tindall, and England have a bit of head scratching to do ahead of their opening match with Wales. They ‘ve been the gentle giants of world rugby for far too long, but third in the Six Nations last yearwas followed by back to back wins over Australia home and away. The Springboks punctured a bit of their bubble in the last of the autumn internationals, but England look like a force to be reckoned with in the 6 Nations and the World Cup to follow. Let’s hope their momentum isn’t derailed by the injuries (except against Ireland of course), which will make for a competitive 6 Nations and World Cup. Prediction 2nd or 3rd


France are so ridiculously overstuffed with talent that even allowing for the odd injury, they should still retain their 6 Nations title with ease. Most of their T14 teams seem to operate with the budget of a small European country (there’s a thought – we could get Stade Francaise to buy Ireland!) and there’s fierce inter club rivalry second to none in the world, breeding healthy competition and world beating players. Having said that, they had a nightmare summer tour last year, and were absolutely humiliated by Australia in the Autumn, 59-16. That’s the French for you though, swinging from the sublime to the ridiculous with only a gallic shrug as explanation. Prediction 1st


Ireland have an injury list as long as your arm at the moment, Kearney, Heaslip, Bowe, Trimble, Ferris, Horgan – if you’re going to the matches, bring your boots! Leinster have been the stand out province in Ireland this season, and should form the bulk of the Ireland team, including man of the moment Sean O’Brien. You’d feel that they are a few players short of mounting a serious challenge for the title this year. They do have the big guns England and France at home and if they can pick up a few early wins, and get a few players back from injury, you just never know… Prediction : 2nd or 3rd


Whatever Italy are paying former Springbok coach Nick Mallet they don’t seem to have really got their money back yet. Three years in to his tenure, Scotland are still the only scalp they manage to claim from time to time in the 6 Nations. Powerful pack and..that’s about it really. Entry into the Magners League will help them in the long run, but for this year I expect them to prop up the table again.


This could just be Scotland’s year, very few injuries, on a high after ambushing the Springboks at Murrayfield in November - this could be their year to make a big come back in the 6 Nations. Scottish teams are making an irritating habit of pooping Ireland’s party, no more so than when they beat Ireland in the 6 Nations last year. Fair play to them for sticking to their nuggety strengths. This year Scotland will entertain Ireland at home in what promises to be a spicy affair. I’m going to be definitive and say they’ll finish between 3rd and 5th.


Wales have Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Bishop, Shanklin, Henson out with injury. I always expect Wales to do better than they do, they have loads of talented players and have an open entertaining style of play. Add to that passionate, vocal fans and you should have the recipe for success. It hasn’t quite come together in the last few years, and while you feel they should be challenging for the top table, instead we see them being grateful in the end for a draw against Fiji. But with not much weight of expectations on their shoulders this year, we might just see them cut loose and stun everyone. Prediction : between 2nd and 4th.

Let me know what you think.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Hounds are out and Wasps take on Harlequins in the spiritual home of rugby, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi

An Irish Wolfhound yesterday (picture from )

This weekend all the leagues take a break and we have the LV cup and a sprinkling of 6-Nations ‘A’ games to fill in. Blues and Ospreys could be a feisty encounter, and Exiles and Saints should produce some fireworks as well. Then we have Wasps and Harlequins performing in the spiritual home of rugby, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Yes, this famous venue, a tribute to the hot bed of rugby that exists in the middle east, welcomes two English teams to play in the desert, for the money. Flights are a snip at £500, get in there all the real fans!
Irish Wolfhounds v Scotland ‘A’

I like the look of this Irish team. There are a few starters in contention for the senior team, mainly Duffy and O’Malley but Johnne Murphy must be in with a shout as well. C’mon the Hounds!

SCOTLAND A -- J Thompson; H O'Hare, B Cairns, J Houston, L Jones; D Blair, G Laidlaw (capt); J Welsh, D Hall, G Cross; S MacLeod, F McKenzie; R Wilson, A MacDonald, J Beattie. Reps: F Thomson, M Low, R Harley, R Grant, C Gregor, P Murchie, C Shaw.

WOLFHOUNDS - G Duffy; J Murphy, E O'Malley, N Spence, D Hurley; I Humphreys, T O'Leary; B Wilkinson, D Varley, T Buckley; I Nagle, D Toner; K McLaughlin, W Faloon, C Henry (capt). Reps: N Brady, J Hagan, A Browne, D Ryan, I Boss, N O'Connor, I Whitten.

LV= Cup

Friday , January 28

Sale vs Newport-Gwent D'gons 19:45

Saturday , January 29

Bath vs Newcastle 14:15

Scarlets vs Saracens 15:00

Exeter vs Leicester 15:00

Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys 18:30

Sunday , January 30

London Irish vs Northampton 15:00

Leeds Carnegie vs Gloucester 15:00

Wasps vs Harlequins 15:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Heineken Cup Quarters Finals - 24 into 8 won’t go – so they took it outside…

Brian O'Driscoll Picture from:
Heineken Cup Quarters - 24 into 8 won’t go – so they took it outside…and only the biggest, baddest meanest mutha’s made it big in for the quarters ( sporting the odd scrape /black eye). Fantastic weekend for Ireland as Leinster, Munster , Ulster and Connacht rode out like the four horsemen of the apocalypse

And this is how they finished :

Heineken Cup Quarter-Finals:

(Matches to be played over April 8/9/10)

Northampton v Ulster

Leinster v Leicester

Perpignan v Toulon

Biarritz v Toulouse

Heineken Cup Semi-Final Draw:

Leinster/Leicester v Biarritz/Toulouse

Northampton/Ulster v Perpignan/Toulon

So four from France and two each from Ireland and England, real pity for Wales. The draw mwans only two French teams can progress to the Semis.

Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter-Finals:

(Matches to be played over April 8/9/10)

Stade Francais v Montpellier

Brive v Munster

La Rochelle v Clermont Auvergne

Harlequins v London Wasps

Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final Draw:

Stade Francais/Montpellier v La Rochelle/Clermont Auvergne

Brive/Munster v Harlequins/London Wasps

That’s 5 French, 2 English and one Irish, again, incredibly no Welsh team, and at least one Scottish team should have made it. The French are in the ascendancy.

Racing Metro 92 11 - 36 Leinster

Leinster went to Paris and came back with more than an Eiffel Tower miniature replica and some perfume for their girlfriends. They only went and smashed one of the current top teams in France with another sublime performance. I really wish the quarters were being played straight away so they could take some of this momentum into the next round. After Leinster’s shaky start in the Magners League, you have to pinch yourself when you see how far they’ve come this season. I’ve said it before, but what has made the difference this season is the way the replacements have stood up, none more so than Sean O’Brien, Strauss and Ross. SOB was in full cry again and birthday boy Brian O’Driscoll celebrated with a typically well taken try. Racing were no pushover either, making Leinster defend for long, long periods.

Leinster are now going to take on Leicester at home which is going to be an ultra tough match, Tigers progressing after dispatching Treviso with ease. Jordan Crane scored three, and Leicester are going to be a tough nut to crack in Dublin. But Leinster can play the Nutcracker if they need to… Whoever wins here gets a home semi.

Aironi Rugby 6 - 43 Ulster

Pedrie Wannenburg was man of the match with his two tries as Ulster qualified for the quarters of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999. It was a fantastic result for Ulster, a big team effort, Ian Humphries was on song with the boot and they were full value for their 5 trys. Ulster investment in players has paid off handsomely, and it’s a brilliant boost for rugby in the province. Last time they got to a quarter final they won it…

They get to take on Northampton, who got six out of six in the pool stages. Saints increasingly look like they should be the backbone of the England team, and to me they are Leinster’s main threat. Winner here also get a home semi. Stand up Ulster, stand up!

Munster 28 - 14 London Irish

There was no score at half time here, although it was pretty miraculous that Munster hadn’t got at least one try as the TV ref had a busy afternoon. Munster got into the lead, then basically handed London Irish two tries on a plate. Their pack, the formerly fearsome engine room of the team, has lately resembled more of a day center for OAP’s. The second Exiles try stung them into action and once more the capacity crowd cheered on the marauding Munster forwards, sweeping forward in wave after irrisistable wave, scoring three tries, nabbing the bonus point and making clear who was boss. Munster now face Brive away, and if they win that (which they will if they play like they did in the last 10 minutes) then they get a home semi too.

Connacht rounded off a fantastic weekend for Irish rugby with a 12 try romp over hapless Cavalieri Prato, with Brian Touhy scoring a hat trick of trys.

The Ospreys at least finished with a flourish taking out one of the French guns Toulon at home, Perpignan made it look easy against the Scarlets, and Wasps pooped Toulouse’s party with a last minute try to snatch a win and take away Toulouse’s home draw.

This is Florian Fitz's red card and aftermath - I just got the one red card I think hes' trying to say!

Heineken Cup

Friday , January 21

Racing Metro 92 11 - 36 Leinster

Saracens 14 - 24 Clermont Auvergne

Saturday , January 22

Aironi Rugby 6 - 43 Ulster

Biarritz 26 - 19 Bath

Ospreys 29 - 17 Toulon

Castres 12 - 23 Northampton

Edinburgh 14 - 21 Cardiff Blues

Munster 28 - 14 London Irish

Sunday , January 23

Leicester 62 - 15 Benetton Treviso

Perpignan 37 - 5 Scarlets

Newport-Gwent D'gons 16 - 23 Glasgow

Wasps 21 - 16 Toulouse

Amlin Challenge Cup

Thursday , January 20

Gloucester 60 - 7 Agen

La Rochelle 71 - 17 Rovigo

Petrarca 20 - 24 Brive

Cetransa El Salvador 5 - 50 Sale

Montpellier 32 - 30 Exeter

Connacht 83 - 7 Cavalieri Prato

Harlequins 39 - 17 Bayonne

Rugby Parma 17 - 34 Stade Francais

Leeds Carnegie 26 - 6 Bucuresti

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The last weekend of Heineken Cup pool matches and all you need is a degree in quantum physics to work out who’ll go through!

Rhys Ruddock, photo from

There’s enough stuff on my blog this week with fixtures and tables (at the bottom) to break the wheel on your mouse!

The last weekend of Heineken Cup pool matches and all you need is a degree in quantum physics to work out who’ll go through!

Let’s give an example – in pool four, if Biarritz beat Bath (with a bonus point) and Ulster beat Aironi (with a bonus point) by 56 more points than Biarritz beat Bath (and the cow jumps over the moon) then Ulster go through but if Bath beat Biarritz (and the cow jumps over Pluto) is about this stage that my eyes glaze over At the moment, Northampton, Leinster, Toulon, and Toulouse have qualified, while Barritz and Ulster, and Perpignan and Leicester are tied on points at the top of their groups. One each of these two will go through, and then the two best runners up overall. The next three best 2nd placed clubs go into the Amlin Challenge Cup. We’ll reconvene after the last matches to see how it worked out, OK? Everybody with me? Here is a proper analysis of the last round:,25883,16016_6673930,00.html
And let’s hope the dish still gets to run away with the spoon.

It’s a huge pity that it looks like none of the Welsh sides are going to qualify for the final. When the finals were held in Paris, it was contested between two French sides, but there’s not going to be any Welsh spoken on the field in Cardiff. The Ospreys would surely have been the front runners to claim a final spot but they seem to have faltered in the final straight. Wales seems to be suffering a bad run of injuries at the moment, (Jones, Jenkins, Shanklin etc) to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one international may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose more than one looks like carelessness. Even a proto Welsh international like Gavin Henson is out for three week, another turn in his sad story, which will surely be made into a film one day. While I’m not sure who’s going to play Gavin and Charlotte (suggestions please), I do know that Bob Dylan’s ‘Hey Mr Tangerine Man’ is going to feature on the soundtrack.

Racing Metro 92 vs Leinster

I’m really looking forward to this one after last weekend. Leinster are going to be pushing hard for a good placing in the top 8. Racing pulled a few of their top player for last week’s match against Clermont, and with not a lot to play for this weekend will probably do the same again. Leinster to finish with a flourish and get the bonus point. Changes from last week Darce, Boss and Ruddock will all be looking for a good showing.

Aironi Rugby vs Ulster

It will pretty miraculous if Aironi beat Ulster and Aironi have also used their miracle card in beating Biarritz. So a big win for the Ulstermen and then they want Bath to beat Biarritz, which is a pretty tall order, pretty huge actually, but if they can just deny them a bonus point there will always be a soft spot for Bath in Ulster.

Munster vs London Irish

Munster will be aiming for an Amlin Challenge Cup place, they have lost their touch overseas, but at home Thomond Park is still a fortress, and I’m expecting a bit of venom in their play after last week’s disappointing loss. Exiles will be looking to pick up where they left off last week, but it’s going to be tough. Too tough, Munster to get the win but possibly not the bonus point. They may be out of the Heineken Cup this year, but this table shows the legacy they leave behind (ex Wikipedia)

Most Appearances

Player                       Club                                           Games

John Hayes               Munster                                     98

Ronan O'Gara           Munster                                    96

Peter Stringer            Munster                                    89

Anthony Foley          Munster                                    86

David Wallace          Munster                                    84

Shane Horgan           Leinster                                    83

Fabien Pelous           Dax, Toulouse                          81

Martyn Williams Pontypridd, Cardiff, Cardiff Blues   79

Alan Quinlan             Munster                                  78

Marcus Horan           Munster                                  77

Amazing really.

Connacht vs Cavalieri Prato

Connacht will look to build on their win last week and rack up some points, go the men in green!

Other matches I’m looking forward to are Ospreys/Toulon, Biarritz/Bath, Castres /Northampton, Perpignan/Scarlets, and Wasps/Toulouse. What a feast!

Heineken Cup

Friday , January 21

Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne 20:00

Racing Metro 92 vs Leinster 20:00

Saturday , January 22

Biarritz vs Bath 13:30

Aironi Rugby vs Ulster 13:30

Munster vs London Irish 15:30

Ospreys vs Toulon 15:30

Castres vs Northampton 17:45

Edinburgh vs Cardiff Blues 17:45

Sunday , January 23

Perpignan vs Scarlets 13:00

Leicester vs Benetton Treviso 13:00

Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow 15:00

Wasps vs Toulouse 15:00

Amlin Challenge Cup

Thursday , January 20

La Rochelle vs Rovigo 19:45

Gloucester vs Agen

Saturday , January 22

Cetransa El Salvador vs Sale

Petrarca vs Brive 14:00

Connacht vs Cavalieri Prato 18:00

Harlequins vs Bayonne 18:00

Sunday January 22nd

Rugby Parma vs Stade Francais 14.00

Leeds Carnegie vs Bucuresti 14.00

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The earth moved and the angels wept – how was it for you? Another sensational Heineken Cup weekend to remember.

Sean O'Brien Image from
Leinster 43-20 Saracens

Dublin had decent weather all last week, then on Friday night it all changed. Vertical rain, gale force winds – all that was missing was a bit of plague and pestilence as the elements got biblical on ireland’s ass. But for 80 minutes at the RDS, the sun shone, babies laughed, fair maidens danced at the crossroads and Leinster got biblical on Saracens asses. I can scarcely remember such a complete performance from Leinster – they weren’t perfect, but they made Saracens look distinctly ordinary. Let’s not forget either that D’Arcy, Heaslip and Kearney were kicking their heels in the stands. The revelation was the depth of class Leinster now possess, with players like Madigan, O’Malley, Dominic Ryan and Richardt Strauss all strutting their stuff. Sean O’Brien was in a class of his own, on attack, on defence, and it’s going to be seriously difficult to leave him out of the Ireland team now. Saracens had a slim mathematical chance of progressing which they obviously didn’t rate – and playing 19 year old Owen Farrell at fly half was probably the best sign of that. Leinster have to be serious title contenders at this stage as they book their seat in the quarters.

Ulster 9-6 Biarritz

My pesky children and a sense of fair play which characterises Leinster supporters meant I had to surrender the TV for this one. Awesome result for Ulster leaving them in a tie for first in pool 4. On paper Biarritz should have won this one hands down, and Ulster have it all to play for next weekend.

Bayonne 35-21 Connacht

The Ulster match was round about where my results went pear shaped this weekend. Connacht came roaring back into the competition. They aren’t going to win their group but they did Quins a massive favour anyway. Go Connacht! I don’t mind being wrong like this.

Toulon 32-16 Munster

This wasn’t a great match to watch, from an Irish perspective anyway. Munster never really got going, they were being tackled backwards, worked over in the scrums, and bashing it up in midfield to little effect all afternoon. Then on top of that you had the Sky commentary team salivating and going into ecstasies every time Wilkinson or Sackey touched the ball. It wasn’t Dave Pearson’s finest hour either but in fairness his harsh yellow card for O’Gara didn’t affect the result at all. Toulon played well, Munster didn’t. Personally I don’t think it’s ‘The end of an era’ that everyone was solemnly announcing. What, so they’re going to change ‘Stand up and fight’ to ‘All you need is love’? Munster are like the Terminator, this is like a flesh wound, and next season they’ll be back. The biggest problem for me at the moment is their lack of creativity in midfield. They could seriously do with Jean de Villiers back. Wouldn’t fancy being in London Irish’s shoes next weekend.

London Irish 24 - 12 Ospreys

This put the nail in the coffin of my punditry as Irish came right at exactly the wrong time for the Ospreys. Hopefully this is a turning point for the men from the Madejski Stadium and we’re going to see them kick some ass in the premiership. Some heavy soul searching is going to needed by the Ospreys, it’s not talent they are lacking that’s for sure.

This was Northampton laying down the law in Edinburgh
Round up of the rest

Wasps came unstuck in Glasgow – i saw them in a warm up game and thought they were going to go far this season, but apparently not. Good win for Exeter chiefs, and biggest loser – great if you’re dieting but not if you playing rugby – goes to Petrarca as they went down 54 - 0 to Sale.

Heineken Cup

Cardiff Blues 14 - 9 Castres

Northampton 37 - 0 Edinburgh

Clermont Auvergne 28 - 17 Racing Metro 92

Bath 55 - 16 Aironi Rugby

Ulster 9 - 6 Biarritz

Leinster 43 - 20 Saracens

Benetton Treviso 9 - 44 Perpignan

Scarlets 18 - 32 Leicester

Toulouse 17 - 3 Newport-Gwent D'gons

Toulon 32 - 16 Munster

London Irish 24 - 12 Ospreys

Glasgow 20 - 10 Wasps

Amlin Challenge Cup

Agen 17 - 28 La Rochelle

Brive 52 - 3 Cetransa El Salvador

Sale 54 - 0 Petrarca

Newcastle 0 - 6 Montpellier

Cavalieri Prato 16 - 48 Harlequins

Bayonne 21 - 35 Connacht

Exeter 17 - 6 Bourgoin

Rugby Parma 16 - 12 Bucuresti

Rovigo 7 - 55 Gloucester

Stade Francais 32 - 10 Leeds Carnegie

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's the Hic! Hiccup! HCup! Heineken Cup! But who's going to end up with the hangover?

Well about bloody time for something to come along to blow those New Year blues away! But is this weekend going to leave some teams with a bigger hangover than ever? Let’s have a look... All the match details are at the bottom.

Leinster vs Saracens

Yes please! The best South African Beef, with a bit of British Steel and some Welsh odd bit taking on Leinsters finest. Sean O’Brien should play and Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton all look likely to join him. Top of their group, it is all looking tickety boo for the men in Blue. They will do well not to underestimate Saracens, who are second in the premiership, but home advantage should send Saracens home with their tails between their legs. In an ideal world, Clermont Auvergne vs Racing Metro 92 in the same group would be a draw.

Ulster vs Biarritz

The feast continues at Ravenhill as the red hand gets to grips with Biarritz. It’s first plays second in this group, with Ulster able to leapfrog Biarritz if they come up trumps. Ulster have been getting their form together as the season has progressed while Biarritz currently lie 4th in the T14. There’s the old cliché Frenchteamsdontravelwell but a win for Biarritz here would effectively seal the group and the home semi for them. If they hadn’t lost to Aironi I’d say Biarritz were going to take this easily but I have a hunch they may implode again so I’m going for victory for the Ulstermen.

Toulon vs Munster

Another monster of a match - 1st plays 2nd, both teams have it all to play for. Toulon are 7th in the T14 but there is a real traffic jam from 4th to 9th. Toulon have a decent coach, deep pockets and home advantage. Paul O’Connell is available to start and I nearly resisted the temptation to say Munster are going to come out swinging but not quite obviously. Whether they win or lose to me rests more on the shoulders of O’Leary and O’Gara, even though it goes without saying that the pack is going to have to withstand a huge physical onslaught. As an aside, I’ve been hugely impressed by how Flannagan’s boots have been filled at hooker by Damien Varley and Mike Sherry. Munster have their impressive history in the Heineken Cup to draw on, and for that reason I think they’ll squeak in.

Bayonne vs Connacht

Connacht have been unable to match last season’s heroics in the ACC and Bayonne at home are a sobering prospect. They may be 8th in the T14 but they are still above Stade Francaise and Perpignan. Could be a black day for the men in green.

London Irish vs Ospreys

Irish are in free fall in the Premiership, and bottom of their table in the Heineken Cup. They have to entertain the star studded in form Ospreys this week and must be looking forward to the match like a trip to the dentist. They need a miracle to get out of this group, and I can’t see any motivation for them to win this so I’m going with the Ospreys.

Heineken Cup

Friday , January 14

Cardiff Blues vs Castres

Northampton vs Edinburgh

Clermont Auvergne vs Racing Metro 92

Saturday , January 15

Leinster vs Saracens 13:30

Toulouse vs Newport-Gwent D'gons 13:30

Benetton Treviso vs Perpignan 13:30

Bath vs Aironi Rugby 14:30

Ulster vs Biarritz 15:30

Scarlets vs Leicester 17:45

Sunday , January 16

Glasgow vs Wasps 13:00

London Irish vs Ospreys 15:00

Toulon vs Munster 15:00

Amlin Challenge Cup

Thursday , January 13

Agen vs La Rochelle

Friday , January 14

Brive vs Cetransa El Salvador 18:30

Sale vs Petrarca

Newcastle vs Montpellier

Saturday , January 15

Rovigo vs Gloucester 14:00

Cavalieri Prato vs Harlequins 14:00

Rugby Parma vs Bucuresti 14:00

Bayonne vs Connacht 19:45

Exeter vs Bourgoin 19:45

Sunday , January 16

Stade Francais vs Leeds Carnegie 17:45