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