Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rugby - vampire hookers, farewell to Shaggy, and Blue to triumph over red!

Shaggy (picture )

The big game of the weekend in the Pro 12 has to be the mighty Leinster taking on the completely adequate Munster. The arrival of the men from the east will no doubt be a source of fear and trembling in Limerick. But in fairness, Munster are not a bad side on their day, and you’d think they’d be targeting at least a losing bonus point from this match. Oh, how easy is it to talk tough when you are seated comfortably in Meath, a hundred miles from the heat of the action!

Munster won’t have O’Connell , Murray, or Ryan for the match, but apart from missing a bit of grunt in the locks, they will no doubt be aiming to tear Leinster limb from limb and remind everybody who’s boss in Ireland.

Leinster should have a full squad to choose from, and it’s going to be a pretty special for Brad Thorne to experience the crowd at Thomonde Park. With my neutral, only slightly blue hat on, I think Leinster have a better balanced team, a match in the forwards, and more firepower behind. Having said that, home advantage nearly tips it in Munster’s favour, but my feeling is that the men in blue are going to take this.

In other news, Leinster follow Munster in losing a giant of the game in the shape of Shaggy. I’ll always remember him for that last minute, full stretch match winning try against England.

And vampire hooker, Dylan Hartley, gets an 8 week ban in a out cop out by the citing commission. If he’s guilty, 8 weeks is nothing, and if he’s innocent , he should have got nothing at all.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , March 30
Ulster vs Aironi Rugby 19:05
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Connacht 19:15
Glasgow vs Cardiff Blues 19:35
Edinburgh vs Scarlets 19:35
Saturday , March 31
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso 18:30
Munster vs Leinster 19:30

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rugby hits the skids for me this weekend

The BOD is back (picture )

This weekend I discovered it is possible to max out on rugby, after being goggle eyed for weeks on end during the six nations. I thought a bit of Leinster was going to be just the tonic after last weekend’s defeat to England. Instead, Leinster managed to combine the two worst bits of Ireland’s performance in the 6N, first their scrum disintegrated AGAIN, then they lost to a last minute kick. Add to that Peter Fitzgibbon trailing around in the middle – let's just say he wouldn’t make my list of top ten favourite refs – make that my top 50 - and you get the picture.

The bright spots were the return of BOD, and the full debut for Brad Thorne, who put in a serious amount of graft. That’s about it for highlights. Leinster had every opportunity to put the Ospreys away, especially when they were down to 14, but they failed dismally. Fair play to the Ospreys for coming away with a win.
And that was it, couldn’t watch anything else all weekend!

RaboDirect PRO12
Leinster 22 - 23 Ospreys 
Edinburgh 15 - 29 Newport-Gwent D'gons 
Glasgow 29 - 6 Aironi Rugby
Benetton Treviso 23 - 27 Ulster 
Cardiff Blues 14 - 26 Scarlets 
Connacht 16 - 20 Munster

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bits and bobs of Irish news and a look at the PRO 12 this weekend

From an Irish perspective, there has been lot happening this week.

Injury has forced the retirement of Jerry Flannery, and our game loses a bit of colour as result, as well as a great player and servant of Munster and Irish Rugby. 

There’s a certain BOD in the frame for selection for Leinster for their match the Ospreys this weekend (and nearly 17000 tickets sold already), as well as Leo Cullen and Matt Berquist,  and Brad Thorne should get his senior debut for Leinster.

Tomas O’Leary is off to London Irish – he hasn’t had the any form for  a few years now, but if he can get back to the way he played in 2009 he’ll force his way back into the Irish team, and maybe a move away is the best way for him to do that.

Lifemi  Mafi is on his way to Perpignan, to me he’s lost a lot since Tipoki left anyway, but he was never short of effort.

David Walllace may be in the Frame for Munster’s Saturday match against Connacht.

It sounds like it’s possible that Dylan Hartley may have got mixed up when he saw that there was going to be finger food at the reception after the 6 Nations match.

Leinster are going to be entertaining the Ospreys on Friday, who’ve named a fairly strong looking team, and will be looking to cement third place for the moment. Leinster will want to shrug off the Irish experience in the 6Nations and get the show on the road again. With a bit of luck, if we don’t beat them well, we’ll beat them with a penalty in the last minute.

Munster should put Connacht away, and Ulster will have studied the video evidence from the Munster/Aironi match and be able to avoid those mistakes and claim the win.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , March 23
Leinster vs Ospreys 19:05
Edinburgh vs Newport-Gwent D'gons 19:30
Glasgow vs Aironi Rugby 19:35
Saturday , March 24
Glasgow vs Aironi Rugby TBC
Leinster vs Ospreys TBC
Edinburgh vs Newport-Gwent D'gons TBC
Benetton Treviso vs Ulster 15:15
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets 18:30
Connacht vs Munster 19:45

Sunday, March 18, 2012

6 Nations 2012 -Wales get the Slam, Scotland get the wooden spoon, and Ireland get to think again

Amnesty International have been called in to investigate claims that Scotland and Italy were guilty of torturing a rugby match at the Stadio Olympico on saturday. There are two hours of video footage for them to study, but believe me, it’s too brutal to watch.  Italy claimed the honours, and the Scots walk off with the wooden spoon, rounding off another hugely disappointing season for them. Time for  a new coach I’d say.

Wales started a bit nervy at the Millenium Stadium, but a try from Alex Cuthbert steadied their nerves, and they went on to claim a well deserved Grand Slam, their third in 8 years. They have a young team that probably has a good few more slams in the tank. Good times for Welsh rugby. France are totally at sixes and sevens, Saint Andre is under pressure already, the circus continues.

Finally, England handed out a good thrashing to Ireland, to claim second spot and end their season on a high. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success against England in recent years, but on Saturday it was our turn to take the medicine. England found the weak spot in our team on the day – our front row- and exploited it to the max. There’s no easy fix for that either, the Irish cupboard is bare of props right now. And we have to rethink some of the selections – D’Arcy and O’Callaghan are yesterdays men. And Tomas O’Leary, while he played a vital part in our ’09 Slam, is woefully out of form. Boss, Marshall and even Stringer should be above him in the pecking order.

6 Nations Awards

Team of the Tournament – Wales

Player of the Tournament - Jonathan Davies

Outstanding contribution to comedy award – France – they are in a class of their own here

Moustache of the tournament  - Italian coach Jacques Brunel (takes over from Marc Lievremont)

One to watch – Owen Farrell

The Dilly dally award  - Lee Dickson – Get the ball out of the ruck!

RBS Six Nations Saturday , March 17
Italy 13 - 6 Scotland 
Wales 16 - 9 France 
England 30 - 9 Ireland

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

6 Nations - Scots to sack Rome, Ireland to paint the town green, and the Welsh be slammin'

"the piglet" (picture )

It’s superlatives Saturday this weekend in the 6 Nations, with the biggest, the baddest, the bestest matches -and Italy take on Scotland.

Yes, its wooden spoon time in Rome, who wants a glitzy cup when you can be a proud owner of a hand crafted object made only from natural materials? How horrible that both Italy’s and Scotland’s season’s are so often defined by this match. Scotland have to come good sometime, and I think this is their time, although it goes without saying that it won’t be pretty.

This weekend, Irish people get to celebrate that special day when we can all let our hair down, and get somewhere the wrong side of locked. Yes, it’s the day we call ‘Saturday’! But seriously, taking on England at Twickenham on Paddy’s Day, how sweet is that? With the way the economy is, the proper London Irish (aka half of London) are likely to be out in force, and in the mood for a party. It’s going to feel halfway like a home match for Ireland. And we’ve had the obligatory off field sparring, with Stephen  Ferris branding England  ‘Arrogant’. Thinking of players like Ashton and Hartley, where does he get that idea from? We pooped England’s grand slam party last year ( and cost Nike a bit of money and a few blushes ), so they they’ll be in the mood to settle that score, and they harbour the faint hope of Championship this year anyway.  With all due respect to our bigger neighbours, any year we beat England is a good year. This is a hard one to call with Ireland picking up a bit of form in the last few weeks, and England even more so. We still have big names missing, but have players ready and able to fill those boots. My heart says Ireland, my head says Eng..Eng..Eng feck it Ireland! Ireland it is.

Wales are going for the Grand Slam against a French team that is frankly, not to put too fine a point on it, getting on my tits. Saint Andre nicknamed Le Goret ("the piglet") in his playing days, has aptly taken up where his predecessor Lievremont left off, in making a pigs ear out a of silk purse. I thought that with a decent coach we’d finally see the real France emerge, but plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. That’s not to say they won’t win this match, hammer Wales at home, and hand the championship to England. Apart from anything else, that will totally bugger up my office draw, with no one at all backing England. I should have listened to my non rugby watching colleague Mary when she described them as ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’. Wales have looked a bit creaky the last few weeks, and the French have everything they need except a backbone to do the job, but for the style of play Wales showed when they beat Ireland, they deserve to win this match, and should get slammed up again on Saturday. I’ll take my tips from Mary more often.

RBS Six Nations
Saturday , March 17
Italy vs Scotland 12:30
Wales vs France 14:45
England vs Ireland 17:00

Sunday, March 11, 2012

6 Nations - Wales did enough, Ireland and England did well, and the French were unbelievable - but not in a good way

Star in the making (Picture )

Wales opened up the weekend by beating Italy comfortably in the end, but the match was a dull as ditchwater.  George Clancy blew the game, and his ears will be burning from what’s being said about him in Wales. Italy had a good day on defence, Wales had a poor day on attack and the resu....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Where was I?  It was an ordinary day at the office for Wales, who peaked in their win against Ireland, and have been winning ever since, but slipping in their performances. Italy’s backline is completely clueless, treating the ball like a live grenade, to be disposed of as quickly as possible.
That was the starter, the main course was Ireland taking on Scotland, where there was more excitement in every 5 minute spell in the first half than in the whole of the first game. Scotland need a good playmaker at 10 so badly it’s just not funny. They have forwards to burn, but the backline is a barren zone for creativity. It’s 15 against 8 when they play Ireland, and Ireland faltered a few times but they always had a few more gears to go to when they needed to. Ryan, O’Mahoney, Ferris and Kearney were all superb, the whole team stood up, and we have a good bench these days too. Bowe would have got a try if the officials hadn’t got all technical. We’ve scored the most points in the tournament so far, and have the best points difference too.  We get to go to Twickenham with our tails up, while Scotland face the grim battle of the wooden spoon with Italy next weekend.

France entertained England in Paris, on a day when the English shone. They didn’t really have to do anything special, just whatever need to be done, while the French tied themselves in knots, played in fits and starts and generally fannied about as you’d expect the French to. Owen Farell is a star in the making, and Croft is back to his best. Apart from Dusatoir , Harinordiquay, and Fofana in patches, France were pretty desperate. This is Wales Slam in all but name now.

Saturday , March 10
Wales 24 - 3 Italy 
Ireland 32 - 14 Scotland
Sunday , March 11
France 22 - 24 England

Thursday, March 8, 2012

6Nations - the Cro Magnons will triumph in Dublin

Scotland need more Cro Magnons

Wales will be at home on Saturday afternoon, enjoying a take away pizza, with full Italian seasoning. Their biggest risk in this game is shipping any more injuries as they are starting to get a bit thin on the ground, but they should beat Italy comfortably.

In the later kick off, Ireland take on Scotland at the Aviva in what’s likely to be an epic battle. Rugby is a visceral game, appealing to the primordial enjoyment of combat in all of us. That’s why primordials are best suited to playing the game, with Neanderthals commonly used in the scrum, while Cro-Magnons , slightly higher in the evolutionary pecking order, make good backs. Ireland have a good selection of both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons to choose from,  while unfortunately Scotland currently have a dearth of Cro-Magnons, and have been forced to select mainly Neanderthals in the back line. The Scottish supporters will no doubt be trying to capture some good breeding stock to improve their gene pool while they’re over for the match, and as by observation, all the ladies like a man in a kilt, they could well get a result.
I’m actually reasonably worried about this match, as Scotland are picking up a bit of form, and their massive pack is going to attempt to knock the stuffing  out of us. Without a decent kicker  for Scotland though, I’d say we’ll scrape by even without the inspirational Paul O’Connell. And Dublin will rock this weekend, because as the say, ‘the craic is mighty’ when the Scots come to town.

Sunday could be a classic as England travel to Paris to take on France. There’s huge history between these two teams and countries, on and off the field, and their relationship is perfectly summed up by this interview with former international Sebastian Chabal, in France.
You have an English reporter, with no French, at a press conference in France, trying to talk to a Frenchman who can speak English but won’t.

France are nowhere near the heights they reached in last year’s World Cup, while conversely, England are nowhere near the lows they reached at their tournament. It’s an England side with a lot of potential, but not really a team yet, although they have some very good promising individual players. If France is Irelands bogey tem, then England is France’s, but at home, their crowd won’t tolerate a loss and they should win.

RBS Six Nations
Saturday , March 10
Wales vs Italy 14:30
Ireland vs Scotland 17:00
Sunday , March 11
France vs England 15:00

Sunday, March 4, 2012

6 Nations - short and bittersweet in Paris

Two strings to his Bowe (picture )

So the first one was called off, the second was a draw, could we not make this the best of three and get a result here?  We had such a good chance with the half time lead to get a result in Paris for the first time in 12 years but it wasn’t to be. Sarkozy himself probably nipped down to the changing rooms at half time and described what the impact of an Irish win would have on the terms of our bail out deal.  It is going to go down as the one that got away, but it’s a good while since Ireland have played that way, and it is France at home we are talking here. From any angle, what both teams managed to do with a ball that must have been like a bar of soap was pretty amazing. Bowe was the stand out player with two trys that he made with his own fair hands. And Kearney, what can you say? O’Connell is a complete legend too, how many French ribs have got an ice pack on them courtesy of him? Ferris would put the fear of God into anyone with his tackling and Best was outstanding. For the French, Dusatoir and Maestri were the stand out players for me.

This isn’t Ireland’s six Nations, but with two matches to go we can still go out on a high.

RBS Six Nations
Sunday , March 4
France vs Ireland 15:00

Thursday, March 1, 2012

6 Nations - Paris in the spring - but is the French Cockerel going to be plucked up?

We're going to pluck you up!

This is an open letter to the French Rugby Federation. Paris is a delightful city, and while our supporters last time enjoyed your scenic but overpriced hotels, and sampled your world renowned (but exorbitantly priced) cuisine, none of that was an issue – we’re Irish, we’re used to being ripped off. Supporters  travelled to your famed city in a variety of ways, some flew in comfort (Aer Lingus, Air France) some flew cheap and nasty (Ryanair), some watched from the comfort of their own lounge , or at their local pub.

And we know how these things can sneak up on you, we realise you only had six months to prepare for the match, from the time the fixtures were announced. But we were thinking, both travelling supporters, and those left behind, if it isn’t too much trouble, would you be able to provide a pitch a match can actually be played on this time? We understand it can sometimes be difficult to meet the high expectations of fans, but if you’re not too busy getting pissed on your admittedly superb wine, chasing skirt (or trouser, whichever is your fancy) thumbing your noses at the English (although we do that too) and whatever other busy affairs you have to tend to, a pitch our team can play on would be class. Thanks, yours etc.

Now I have that off my chest, what about the match?  Ireland have an unchanged side from last week. We still look a little off the pace, and need a big step up to get a result in Paris. The French have not really hit their straps either, so both sides are looking for a win here to kick on the rest of their challenge. We have a bit of an issue with the French. The English for instance can be bigger, faster, stronger than us but when we need to we can really pull one out the fire with them. Apart from the odd occasion we beat them, you’re always left with sense of frustration after playing them, that feeling we haven’t done ourselves justice. I would so love to see the French cockerel slaughtered, plucked, spatchcocked and roast a on a barbeque. If our loose trio gets going, and Earls clicks at centre, and we get a bit dollop of luck, we could sneak it. But Paris is a hard place to go and win, so I’m going with a narrow loss for Ireland.

RBS Six Nations Sunday , March 4
France vs Ireland 15:00