Sunday, January 1, 2012

Munster stumble, Leinster stagger, and the IRFU get it in the neck

O'Hallaran -one to watch ( picture )

I caught the Ulster Munster match on Friday, where Munster were absolutely spanked by the Ulstermen at Ravenhill.  Ruan Pienaar was the star of the show for me, scoring a try and doing everything a scrum half should. Terblanche scored a try and is a shrewd short term signing. Munster looked disjointed, and sadly lacking in ideas behind the scrum. In fairness to them, they were heavily affected by the loss of their internationals, while Ulster were hardly affected at all, as they have all their foreign stars to fall back on.

 I suppose the IRFU is hoping that their new rules on foreign players are going to mean all provinces are equally affected when the internationals are withdrawn. I’m not sure if the treatment here isn’t going to kill the patient. I was feeling fine until I saw the doctor, now I don’t feel so good. My two cents worth is that we currently don’t have enough quality players to field 3-4 top level teams. Foreign players are going to avoid Ireland because of the complicated transient nature of the contracts offered. At the same time, the number of games being played goes up and up, so bigger squads are needed. The net result is going to be that the provinces are going to struggle to compete in the Pro 12 and the HC, and if that happens, it hard to see how the national team isn’t going to struggle. Then if  our stars get fed up and chase big contracts in France, we’ll really be shagged.

Now I’ve depressed the hell out you, my alternative suggestion would be that the IRFU brings in a minimum number of games over the season where Irish teams have to field all Irish qualified players, start with 6 maybe, going up to say 12 over 4-5 years. I’d also be interested to see a how restricting players from playing in Ireland would stand up in court.

Leinster straggled past a gutsy Connacht side at the Sports ground. Without Isa Nacewa to kick them home, they would have been in deep poo. They didn’t ever put their stamp on the game, and with the disparity in resources available to both teams, they should have put Connacht away easily. I like the look of O’Hallaran for Connacht, and also their team ethic. Leinster have to work hard on their discipline. Connacht deserved that match all the way, but we’ll take it!

London Irish were hammered by Bath at the Recreation Ground. Player of the match was Michael Claasens with Stephen Donald close behind, and Abendanon is such a classy player for them. Irish looked like they were going to be all over them at the start, but Bath just wanted it more. Is there an issue with leadership at Irish? They really needed someone to pull them together and get stuck in to a vulnerable Bath team.

I went to the Quins Saracens match earlier this week with an 82 000 crowd, fireworks to start, and a lot to admire about the way the match was played. Unfortunately for Quins they got bad stage fright in the first 20 minutes, and Saracens had them eaten by that stage. Saracens have a very cautious game plan, based on massive forward power and watertight defense, and it works. They are going to make waves in the HC I reckon. I also watched Quins scrape past Exeter, with a diabolical kicking display from Clegg. You should never mix politics and sport obviously. From an Irish perspective, great to see prop Andress, fly half Steenson  and lock Hayes shine. Hayes hasn’t missed a league game in three years. Legend! Getting back to Quins, Mike Brown is a pleasure to watch, solid under the high ball and in defense and a danger with ball in hand.

Ulster 33 - 17 Munster 
Exeter 9 - 11 Harlequins
Bath 30 - 3 London Irish
Connacht 13 - 15 Leinster

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