Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kidney feels the heat - is it going to be a cruel summer?

A kidney yesterday

Who’d be a coach ,eh? If you win, people will forgive your foibles, and grumble quietly. If you lose more than people think you should lose,  you have no chance. If you stick to your guns and go with your gut feeling, you are pig headed and rigid. If you take on board criticism and make changes, you are wishy washy, bereft of you own ideas. Taking into account that 99.9997% of this criticism comes from people who have never coached, and who get their ideas on strategy and   the rules of the game from rugby commentators, 99.9999999999% of whom have never coached or read a rule book, it must be pretty hard to take. And his squad is, to use the technical term, completely buggered after 10 months of rugby. Awww, shame Declan! I guess he knew what he was in for when he signed up for the job.

Declan is a master at keeping his cards close to his chest, the most he reveals at press conferences is that he doesn’t want to tell the media anything. That genial smile could be a reflection of his calm inner zen, or could be masking his almost unbearable desire to seize the microphone from the offending reporter and stick it where the sun don’t shine – we’ll never know.

He has at least planned to leave for NZ with a few new aces up his sleeve, the likes of Tuohy and Marshall, but whether we’ll see them is another thing.  We’ll be without Ferris and probably POC, which is seriously bad news.

My two cents worth on Kidney is that Kidney comes from a background of success with Munster. He took the clay he had at Munster, an awesome forward pack, and talented half backs, and made them into champions of Europe, and then  blended in a few new elements to come up the 2009 6 Nations. He also achieved his Ireland’s best result of the World Cup by topping our pool. Times have changed, and Leinster are now top dogs, with Ulster rising fast below them.  The outstanding feature of Leinster is their dynamic back play, but we don’t get to see that for Ireland. Les Kiss is the defensive and backs coach, whose noticeable success is with the Boks, that hot bed of back line innovation. Kidney doesn’t have the key to backline magic, and neither do his staff  He couldn’t arrange for Joel Schmidt to have a holiday back home for oh, the next three weeks could he? 

I’d say there more chance for us to prosper in NZ  than most people think. Well most people think we haven’t got a snowballs chance in hell so that isn’t hard. The AB’shave lost a host of experience to the moneybags France, they have issues at half back with burger fan Piri Weepu body doubling for Homer Simpson these days, Carter has hardly played, Nonu is vey up and down, they have a new coach in place, and they haven’t played together yet this season. And they are massively confident.

But without a decent backs coach, this three match tour is likely to strain even Kidney’s Zen. Is this a good time to drop in the fact that Kidney’s and Schmidt’s contracts expire at the same time?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rabodirect final - actually, make that a single... Leinster bow out with a loss to the Ospreys

Actually make that a single…  Temperance ruled as Leinster’s season closed with a loss in the last few minutes of the last match. I took my son to the loo with Leinster leading by 9 points, and came back with them losi ng. Meanwhile, temperance was not top of mind in the good natured Osprey supporters around me. Fair play to the Welshman for coming over here and picking Leinster’s pocket right at the end. It was the kind of match finals should be, lots of attacking play, trys scored by wings, good hard physical play. The one thing it had too much of was scrum resets, which ultimately cost Leinster the match as the Ospreys took full advantage and scored 17 points while the Blues were down to 14 men.

I don’t know if I have any favourite French referees, Romain Poite certainly isn’t at the top of the list anyway. His shrill whistle as the scrum collapsed time after time, was not the sound nor the sights the crowd had come for.

Leinster need more depth at prop and lock, that’s pretty obvious, and with the type of schedule they are under, a bigger squad. Winning a Heineken Cup, and getting pipped at the last minute in another  final, we’ll take that. And for the Ospreys, great result, especially with so many high profile departures at the end of last season and good to have  Shane Williams bowing out on a high.

For Leinster, Nacewa was predictably superb, but it was a fairly quiet day at the office for a lot of other tired bodies.

Elsewhere, it was a fantastic win for Quins, tough for Leicester but always good to see new teams scaling the heights.

RaboDirect PRO12
Sunday , May 27
Leinster 30 - 31 Ospreys

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leinster aim to cut back from triples to doubles

The final of the Rabo Direct Pro 12 is on at the RDS this weekend, with both Leinster and the Ospreys having recently smashed an Irish Province. I’ll do my best to not stray too much into hyperbole when I talk about Leinster, but they certainly were in record making form last weekend.  It’s pretty miraculous that the Ospreys are here at all. They suffered an exodus of stars at the end of last season not matched since Moses lead his people of Egypt. Then they shed their coach mid season, and possibly face a further downsizing for next season as all the Welsh sides economise.  Well, Munster would have been happy to see a bit of that upheaval when they were being spanked in the semis, where the Ospreys  were definitely the form team out of all four. They are full of Welsh stars, anaiming to end their season on a high.  Leinster’s team in fairness was bit cobbled together that weekend, with one eye on the HCup. They have a full team to pick from this weekend, and massive depth on the bench. The Ospreys have a bit of talent on the bench but not too much. Both teams are fairly evenly matched in style of play, and the difference could easily be home advantage.  Plus , you know the way they say the crowd gives you anextra 5%? Well, I’M going, so that’s an extra 6%at least. It’s going to be a forward battle and backline contest par excellence,  where the 6% will tell, and Leinster will win!

The final of the Aviva Premiership is on Saturday, and pits Quins against Leicester. Hard to see how Quins are going to match the physical power of the tigers, so Tigers it is for me.

The Ba Ba’s take on what must an England Lite side on Sunday, which could be a fun match to watch.

Finally, what a massive cock up the RFU have made of the promotion/relegation  this year! If I saw on their CV that they had given marital advice to Tiger Woods and financial advice to the Greeks, I wouldn’t be surprised. Imagine if they got to run a World Cup? Oh…

RaboDirect PRO12
Sunday , May 27
Leinster vs Ospreys

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Heineken Cup final - Leinster are starting to get posessive with that cup!

Sometimes it’s hard to write these things, sometimes they write themselves.  3 out of 4 Heineken Cups in the last four years has to make you wonder  what their problem was in 2010, doesn’t it? It was as emphatic as you can get, with Leinster dismantling Ulster and  setting a host of records along the way. That’s not to crow over Ulster, who gave it all they had, but Leinster have an x-factor at the moment, that offloading game, and those sweet running lines, that can unlock any defence, and a nearly watertight defence. Confidence just oozes through players like Kearney, Nacewa, Heaslip, O’Brien et al. They’re going to have to build a bigger cabinet at Leinster HQ at this rate.

The match passed in a bit of a blur, I think I’ll have to watch it again to see what really happened.  Ulster started with the adrenalin pumping, and had Leinster pinned back for the first 20 minutes. After that, the tide turned, and Ulster had to fight harder and harder just to stay in touch. SOB was  back to his best, so destructive in broken field play, the handling in general was slick- it was exhibition rugby at times. Cave, Trimble, Best and Ferris all stood up to be counted, but it never going to be their day with Leinster in that form.

BOD payed tribute the team, the coach, the players left behind, and in fairness the foundation for this success, that’s lifted Leinster and Ulster to such lofty heights, was the trail blazed by Munster, showing the way it was done. From an Ireland point of view, it’s not great to see Ferris and BOD held together by tape. But that’s for another day, time now to bask in the title Champions of Europe.

Heineken Cup
Saturday , May 19
Leinster 42 - 14 Ulster

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heineken Cup Final 2012 - London calling!

Well, it’s pretty apt that the Clash theme this match with London Calling as Leinster and Ulster travel to Twickenham to contest the 2012 Heineken Cup. The French have done it three times, the English once and now it’s Ireland’s turn to have an all Irish final.

It’s not normal that I want Ulster to lose – Ulster, Munster and Connacht are my reserve team, there to back when the main show is not around. They have an awesome team, a mix of Irish talent like Ferris, Best  and Trimble that I back to the hilt when they’re in green, and some real stars in the likes of Ruan Piennar.  BUUUUUUT there’s only going to be one winner on Satruday, and hey, I’m sure those runners up medals are really nice too!

Why do I think Leinster are going to win, apart from the fact that I’m terribly biased? Well it’s a combination of factors – they been there before, twice, and in the recent past, and came back from the dead in last year’s final, so going behind in the match won’t scare them. They also have a structure to their game that is hard to break down, and hard to resist. The organisation of their defense is a joy to watch, and the way they attack in waves, and the speed of their play makes them hard to defend against. The BOD is back for the match, and he’s absolutely key, for his play and for his inspiration. Then you add in Kearney, Nacewa, Healy and the rest, and it’s going to take some team to beat them. Even though they are favourites, it’s likely to be a tight, close match, so who’s going to hold their nerve, Sexton or Pienaar? Actually, McFadden is probably better than them both, so that’s another plus for Leinster. And Leinster definitely have a stronger bench, they have real impact players like van der Merwe, Cronin, Madigan and Boss.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because Ulster will have Leinster just like that if they underestimate them, Ferris will beat a trail of size 12 boots over the broken Leinster bodies, with the South African beef there to bayonet the wounded. Ulster are also well organised, have an awesomely physical pack, and a blitzkrieg attack that left the Tigers reeling.

I think the repect for Ulster is there though, and the desire to do something special and get back to back HCups is really strong. So Leinster in a tight match then. Should make for an interesting flight on the way to New Zealand anyway.
Heineken Cup
Saturday , May 19
Leinster vs Ulster 17:00

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heart care tips for Leinster fans

Here are few tips on looking after your heart – don’t smoke, exercise regularly,  watch what you eat, try some of yogurt health drink things, and here’s a little known fact – apples are really good for cholesterol.  But whatever you, don’t support Leinster because they will kill you stone dead. I thought they were going to beat Glasgow, they did beat Glasgow, but for about half an hour, they only had a 6 point lead, and they weren’t going anywhere. Then eventually, when they felt like it, they quit buggering around, scored a try, and put the game to bed – still letting Glasgow score two late trys though. I know it was a bit of a mixed up team, and I know we had our injuries (see section on heart care above) but still I expected more. I’m of course not giving  Glasgow the credit they deserve for taking the game to Leinster, and making it awkward for them as only Glasgow can. Anyway, job done at the end of the day, and into the final.

I hope they Leinster lads caught the Ospreys/Munster match, because they would have seen the form side this weekend smash Munster. I was impressed with the confidence and physicality of the Ospreys, and frankly amazed at the way Munster imploded- they missed Paul O’Connell unbelielably, not just for his play, but for his leadership too. The one player I thought stood out for Munster was Simon Zebo, whose head never dropped, and who worked his backside off all over the park. Rob Penney has big task on his hand, cutting out the deadwood, and re-instilling that winning way. Leinster v Ospreys it is.

Elsewhere, I saw Quins pip the Saints in the first semi – Conor O’Shea must have aged 10 years at the end there, and Tigers, with George Ford in impressive form, saw off the Saracens.

RaboDirect PRO12
Ospreys 45 - 10 Munster
Leinster 19 - 15 Glasgow
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , May 12
Harlequins 25 - 23 Northampton 
Leicester 24 - 15 Saracens

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is it going to be a semi exciting weekend, or an excitling semi weekend?

It’s semi final time in the Pro 12 and the Premiership, with some season defining moments on the way.

Munster and the Ospreys get things going on Friday night at the Liberty Stadium. The Ospreys are a pretty formidable team – they have a great pack of forwards, and some talented backs to back them up , so to speak. They also have the Welsh grand slam momentum. Justin Tupuric is in doubt which is good news for Munster. Munster arrive without Paul O’Connell – It’s like the army arriving without their heavy artillery. What I’m hoping is that Munster take a few selection chances – leave DOC on the bench, go with younger players like Tommy O’Donnell, play a midfield that can create something ( and not put Earls there) , and that they stand up and fight! I’m going with the Ospreys with home advantage though.

On Saturday, Leinster will welcome Glasgow to the RDS. It’s been a great season for Glasgow, their form players of Grey, Hogg and Weir have given them a cutting egde. It’s been an awesome season for Leinster thus far. But, having said that, we’ve won nothing yet, and shouldn’t be taking anything for granted. The weather looks like it may suit a running game, which is where we want to keep it, and not get dragged down into an arm wrestle. This is Leinster’s to lose, they have all the assets, with Sexton, Kearney, Nacewa, Heaslip and Healy in the form of their lives, and will surely win unless they completely underestimate the Scots.

Across the water, Quins and Northampton are up first, with Quins’ flair coming up against the power game of the Saints. I think Harlequins day is coming and that home advantage will see them through.
Leicester Saracens is a real heavyweight bout. It’s likely to be a cross between rugby and combat. Sarries seem to have fallen off the pace a little, while the Tigers have timed their run to perfection, as usual. To me, the Tigers have more structure to their game, and will use their home advantage to set up a final against Quins.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , May 11
Ospreys vs Munster 19:35
Saturday , May 12
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , May 12
Harlequins vs Northampton 14:45
Leicester vs Saracens 17:30

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Everthing you ever wanted to know about the end of the Pro 12 but were afraid to ask

So that’s a wrap on the PRO 12 league, as it heads to the knock out stage. This week I have a cast iron excuse for missing the Leinster game, as it wasn’t being shown. But as normal, I got to watch Munster , taking out Ulster. I watch Munster so much, I might even start supporting them (or I would if they were any good :) ).  So the top four was as predicted, and it’s going to be Leinster taking on Glasgow at home, and Munster travelling to the Ospreys.

It wasn’t a classic by any means at Thomond Park, but Munster did what they needed to do. Lots of retirements, departures to get over. The biggest lost is Mick O’Driscoll – the term legend gets bandied about all over the place, but he’s been in the form of life this last year, absolutely keeping DOC on the bench. David Walace is also an immense loss , he's an absolute legend as well. Both gents of the game.Horrible to see Paulie get injured, for Munster and for Ireland. I thought Scott Deasy did an OK job at fly half, and that Ulster did pretty well with a makeshift team. Iain Henderson looks like he could go a long way. Connacht ended up 8th, that’s good going for a side that lost a host of stars last season.

In the Premiership It’s Quins, Tigers, Saracens and Saints into the play offs.  Exeter just missed out, but what a season for them. At the bottom, Newcastle are in grave danger – doesn’t it sound more dangerous when you say grave – of dropping out of the Premiership.

RaboDirect PRO12
Newport-Gwent D'gons 18 - 22 Leinster 
Edinburgh 44 - 21 Benetton Treviso 
Aironi Rugby 11 - 18 Ospreys 
Munster 36 - 8 Ulster 
Scarlets 29 - 20 Cardiff Blues 
Glasgow 24 - 3 Connacht

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The league stage of the Rabid Direct closes up, and my two cents worth on the new Munster coach

The league stage of the Rabid Direct PRO12 finishes up this Saturday. Leinster have topped it, and the Ospreys will finish second, unless Aironi beat them in the biggest upset in the history of upsets. Munster need to beat Ulster to keep third spot, and keep alive the prospect of an all Irish final. If they lose, it’s unlikely but possible the Scarlets could overtake them if they thrash the Blues, which they surely will. Then if Glasgow beat Connacht, which is pretty likely, they wouldn’t even make the top four.  For Ulster to make the top four, they have to thrash Munster, and hope Glasgow lose, get no losing bonus points, and that the Scarlets lose as well. Then there’d be THREE Irish sides in the top 4!

But most like the top four will be:

Great news that Connacht will be playing Heineken Cup rugby next year – they put in some very creditable HCup performances this year.

Other big News is the appointment of Rob Penney as Munster head coach, formerly head of the Crusaders ITM cup squad. Are they copying Ulster, who appointed Mark Anscombe, former Auckland ITM cup coach? Both coaches have solid credentials, Penneys more so because he has 4 ITM cups under his belt. Canterbury have been the dominant team in New Zealand for nearly 10 years now, and are a magnet for talented players, so that makes a coaches job easier. The fact that neither has Super Rugby head coach experience does put them in the second league of NZ coaches.

Here’s a few things they haven’t done yet, which could cause a few problems - they haven’t moved countries to coach – that’s going to be a big upheaval, especially if families are involved. They also haven’t had international squads – how do you deal with players who don’t have much English, how do you gel different internationals together as a team? So the jury’s out, time for them to prove themselves. Leinster took a punt on Cheika a few years ago and that didn’t go too badly did it?

Munster now have two forwards coaches with Anthony Foley , how about a backline coach?

Finally, not much chance of it, but I'd love to see Exeter make the top for on England.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , May 5
Aironi Rugby vs Ospreys 19:30
Munster vs Ulster 19:30
Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues 19:30
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Leinster 19:30
Glasgow vs Connacht 19:30
Edinburgh vs Benetton Treviso 19:30