Sunday, December 30, 2012

Teeth shaking stuff as Munster and Leinster come out on top!

Dave McSharry (picture

Another weekend of derbies, good teeth shaking stuff!

Saturday started off for the Irish provinces, with a seriously weakened Ulster team taking on a strong Munster  side. Ulster had way the better of the first part of the game, pegging Munster back and enjoying a lot of possession. It was pretty well even stevens until Paul Marshall was sinbinned for dumb rucking after the whistle had gone. I really like Marshall, and would like to see him play for Ireland, but he’s got to watch his discipline. After that, Munster got a penalty try, Zebo sauntered through for another , then O’Mahony blasted over for the try that put the game to bed. Keatley put in a good break, and played pretty well, but there’s no doubting ROG’s class as he steered the ship home with pin point accurate kicking. Munster’s starting loose trio, and bench loose forwards are just awesome.  They should really have got a bonus point try, but even a 2nd string Ulster side is top class these days. For Ulster, Luke Marshall is shouting loud and clear he’s ready for regular Ireland duty.  I was also impressed by McComb and Stevenson, who put in a mountain of work. It’s as well for Ulster to get that unbeaten run monkey off their backs anyway.

Then it was a lightweight Leinster side, taking on Connacht. Connacht are ultra well drilled, their defense is absolutely top class, and their set moves very impressive, they just need a little something, luck even, to realize some of their potential. Nothing much happened for about the first 30 minutes, as Park’s kicking and an impressive line speed kept Leinster at bay. I like the way Leinster adapted their play, the holes were round the ruck, which they used to good effect, and Madigan dropped deeper to give him space. It was Madigan who opened the scoring, and it was pretty well all Leinster after that. McGrath played well and added another try, and although Leinster didn’t quite impose themselves like you’d expect, but there were lots of changes to the team. Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock are growing into their roles, and Andrew Goodman showed some good touches. Fergus McFadden was as outstanding as ever. For Connacht Dave McSharry is a busy physical player, and Kieran Marmion looks like he could go a long way.

I saw London Irish do enough to beat Quins, but they don’t have any luck these days and the game ran away from them. Wake up lads, you’re going down!

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , December 29
Benetton Treviso 26 - 18 Zebre 
Edinburgh 17 - 21 Glasgow 
Munster 24 - 10 Ulster 
Leinster 17 - 0 Connacht 
Monday , December 31
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys 16:15

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Leinster attempt to beat Connacht, and I'm going with Munster!

Bring more cards! (picture

Time to roll my way over from the dinner table to the couch, and get ready for the weekends rugby.
Leinster face Connacht on Saturday, and while this match in the past would have been a foregone
conclusion, it is now in the realms of must win match. Everybody is sniffing around the bloodied body of the once great Leinster, like a flock of vultures, sensing weakness. Bur this could also be the glorious return for Leinster, the phoenix rising from the ashes, smashing Connacht and starting a winning run that last…until the end of December anyway! Let’s hope so, and I’d imagine Connacht are going to feel the backlash of a lot of frustration.

In the big clash of the weekend, Ulster travel to Munster, still unbeaten, and surely fancying collecting another big scalp. Are they going to monster Munster like they did Leinster?  The way that people perceive you certainly has an effect on how they play you – I think now that Ulster are being afforded the respect they deserve, it is going to get harder for them to remain unbeaten, as other teams really focus in on the match against them. This is also two new New Zealand coaches going to toe to toe.  I was surprised that Ulster weren’t more affected by their injuries, especially to Muller and Tuohy, but the replacements stepped up ably. The scrum will be a titanic contest (sorry) and it’s going to physical of note! Munster have only hit their straps briefly this season, but that could change..and I think it will, so Munster to be the first to stop Ulster in the Pro 12.

I watched a bit of Ospreys/Scarlets, with Nigel Owens waving cards around like a signal man at the airport. Great to see such a passionate derby, with everyone as focused on knocking lumps out of each other as on the rugby!

RaboDirect PRO12
Wednesday, December 26
Cardiff Blues 12 - 10 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Ospreys 32 - 3 Scarlets
Saturday , December 29
Benetton Treviso vs Zebre 14:00
Edinburgh vs Glasgow 
Munster vs Ulster 17:30
Leinster vs Connacht 19:45
Monday , December 31
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys 16:15

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A third defeat in 3 weeks for Leinster - I may start watching soccer...

Where does ice cream come from?

So I slightly underperformed in my predictions this week, with a below par 0 from 2. First of all, it was Leinster haven seven colours of poo being beaten out of them by Ulster, Three weeks, three defeats – I may take up watching soccer… no, I’ll be there until the better end, even when Connacht are signing all our best players, which can’t be too far away now. Ulster were good, and we weren’t. It was errors on our part that handed the advantage to Ulster, carrying over for a five yard scrum, and throwing a loose pass in our own 22. And watching our scrums buckling and disintegrating… bet you Tom Court has a fat grin on his face when he watches the replays! Leinster have lost their touch for the moment – add back Sexton, O’Driscoll, Kearney Ross and Nacewa and we would have been a lot more competitive. But in fairness, Ulster are missing Tuohy, Muller, Ferris and Bowe. Back to the drawing board.

I watched a fair amount of the Connacht match, tuning in when Vainikolo was sprinting off for a try. He was caught by the Munster number 10, who at that stage I thought was O’Gara, and I was like Respect! for the old guy. I was no less impressed when I found it was Kearney, because Vainikolo is fast! That should really have been a try, and then Nauopu couldn’t finish in the second half. That match was there for the taking, but Connacht just couldn’t close it out and win. Good match though, in appalling conditions.

Finally, more to the point, Happy Christmas everyone!

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , December 22
Zebre 3 - 10 Benetton Treviso 
Connacht 12 - 16 Munster 
Friday , December 21
Ulster 27 - 19 Leinster 
Cardiff Blues 6 - 9 Scarlets 

Friday, December 21, 2012

This weekend - I'm going Leinster and Connacht!

Well it’s nearly Christmas, but still a fair amount of rugby to cram in the next few weeks. Leinster kick things off tonight with a daunting trip to Ulster. I might be wrong – but after the start of the Pro 12,  the Autumn internationals and two defeats in a row to Clermont – I’m sure all they want to do is go on the tear and forget about rugby for a couple of weeks. And now they have to travel to Ravenhill, to face an awesome Ulster side, unbeaten in the PRO 12 (until now!). Leinster have big time injuries, Sexton is rested, while Ulster are short at lock and will miss Tommy Bowe. Interesting game, Ulster are not very confident either after losing to the Saints, but both will want to bounce back quickly. I’m going with Leinster, as they’ll be more desperate for a win. I think!

ULSTER – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; I Henderson, N McComb; R Diack, C Henry (capt) N Williams. Reps: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, A O'Connor, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Wallace, A D'Arcy.
LEINSTER – N Reid; A Conway, B Macken, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: A Dundon, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, T Denton, R Ruddock, I Boss, A Goodman, A Byrne.

In the other domestic double header, Munster go to Connacht. Connacht have put in some awesome performances in the last few weeks, if they can beat Biarritz at home, they can beat Munster, and I’m going with Connacht!

Two against what most people think, let’s see how I do!
RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , December 21
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets 
Ulster vs Leinster 
Glasgow vs Edinburgh 
Saturday , December 22
Zebre vs Benetton Treviso 14:00
Connacht vs Munster 17:15

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Leinster cancel Christmas, and other cheerful news from the Irish HC campaign.

Eoin McKeon (picture

Last weekend, it was Leinster bringing up the rear for Ireland, this week there was no rear, it was all rear!

First up, Connacht put in a pretty awesome display of underwater hockey in France, and came off second best, but boy did they make Biarritz fight for that win! Eoin McKeon really caught my eye, he’s one to watch.

Then it was Leinster’s turn to be put to the sword as Clermont exacted revenge for numerous defeats over the years. Leinster looked asleep, lacking in leadership, and lacking in cutting edge. Not many players put their hand up – Sexton tried hard, and there were lots of workmanlike performances, but not much of this Blue Magic we get to hear about. We couldn’t stop Clermont on the gainline, , and it was nearly impossible to break their defense. In fairness Clermont were superb and absolutely deserved that victory. Mike Ross had a tough day at the office, and we really need depth at 4 and 5. There’s still the possibility of a runners up spot, but for all intents and purposes this is the end of the HC for Leinster. We’ve had our injury problems, and we could have done with a big name signing at lock. Be that as it may, we could have at least brought the intensity we shoed last week.

I was then looking forward to the Ulster match to pick my mood up – big mistake. Ulster, the current best thing since sliced bread in Irish rugby, looked a shadow of the team that thrashed the Saints last week. They lost Muller last week, and Bowe this week. You’d still back them to win the group, but it’s taken a bit of the gloss off their season so far. Marshall was the player who really caught my eye – is he the fastest player Ulster have? Tommy Bowe was certainly struggling to keep up with him. They came really close to snatching victory at the end, but couldn’t quite force the opportunity.

Finally, it was Munster’s turn to round off a dismal weekend for Irish rugby, losing away to Saracens. They faltered again, I think they had the winning of that match, but couln’t breach the defensive line of Saracens. When you saw how O’Gara opened them up with that chip kick for Zebo – you wonder why they didn’t vary their play more. And they miss the out and out brute force of O’Connell.

Elsewhere, the Ospreys played well to beat Toulouse at home.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , December 16
Castres 10 - 8 Glasgow 
Saracens 19 - 13 Munster 
Toulon 62 - 0 Sale 
Saturday , December 15
Ulster 9 - 10 Northampton 
Harlequins 53 - 5 Zebre 
Benetton Treviso 13 - 14 Leicester 
Ospreys 17 - 6 Toulouse 
Montpellier 34 - 21 Cardiff Blues 
Leinster 21 - 28 Clermont Auvergne 
Exeter 30 - 20 Scarlets 
Friday , December 14
Edinburgh 3 - 15 Racing Metro 92 
Biarritz 17 - 0 Connacht

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Make more excuses, it's back to back Heineken Cup action!

Andrew Goodman (picture

These back to back matches in the HC are great, it’s a chance for instant revenge, and even if your team can’t do anything  in the competition anymore, it’s always great to give them bruise to remember you by.

After predicting 4 from 4 for Ireland last week, although not on the level of the Mayan end of the world prophecy – I’m still feeling the pressure this week…

There’s lots of big matches but none so season defining as the one between Leinster and Clermont. When you’ve won two HC’s on the trot, not getting on out of the pools will be seen as a failure for Leinster. And really, they have to beat Cermont, with a bonus point, and concede no bonus points, to keep control of their own destiny. Otherwise you’d be relying on Exeter or Scarlets to beat Clermont for you, and good luck with that. Have Leinster got enough in the tank to do that? Without O’Driscoll and Kearney, it’s going to be very hard. Andrew Goodman had a good game in centre, but O’Driscoll has magic of his own, alongside an amazing understanding with the players around him. And at the back, Madigan is doing a good job, but his best position is centre. Is it right we can’t move Nacewa to fullback because he was signed at wing? Nacewa at full back would be a big help. An we’re still a bit short at lock. Clermont meanwhile, don’t know who to leave out. I’m going with a Leinster win, but with no bonus point for either team.

Ulster Northampton should be closer than the match last weekend, but Ulster for the win all the way.
Biarritz’s coaches were sacked after their loss to Connacht – but even coachless, Biarritz should win at home this weekend.

Finally, Munster travel to Saracens, where Sarries will want to make amends for a pretty blunt performance last week. Owen Farell got the kicking heeby jeebies, and the lots of other big names went AWOL. Munster meanwhile, put them away pretty easily, but had a few nerves of their own in closing out the match. I’m going to be bold and go Munster again.

I’ll try and catch the Ospreys match and see if they can turn it around against Toulouse. Probably not, but should be good.

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 14
Edinburgh vs Racing Metro 92 20:00
Biarritz vs Connacht 20:00
Saturday , December 15
Benetton Treviso vs Leicester 13:35
Ospreys vs Toulouse 13:35
Harlequins vs Zebre 15:00
Ulster vs Northampton 18:00
Leinster vs Clermont Auvergne 15:40
Exeter vs Scarlets 15:40
Montpellier vs Cardiff Blues 18:00
Sunday , December 16
Saracens vs Munster 15:00
Castres vs Glasgow 12:45
Toulon vs Sale 15:00

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three from four for the Irish provinces - #Leinster, where's your excuse note?

Watching the Ulster match, and reading my preview, I feel like a prophet. I said Northampton didn’t have big match temperament  and that Ulster would win.  Well, Northampton were comprehensively outplayed in the history of  comprehensively outplayment! There are names on the Northampton team, Woods, Lawes, Hartley, Fodden,  Mujati, Tongahuia, but you didn’t hear or see those names at all. There was a sweeping white wave casting all asunder on the way to a four try bonus point win. In defence, and especially on attack, Ulster were special. Jarred Payne was awesome, Rory Best was unbelievable, Cave, Wallace Trimble, Henderson, you could go on and on. Paddy Jackson had his ‘None shall pass’ sign up. Trimble and Wallace were imperious – hard to see who’s going to stop them this year.

And while Ulster were knocking 7 shades of poo out of the Saints, Connacht were doing exactly the same to Biarritz! What a night for the West and North, what night for Ireland.

On Saturday it was Munster’s turn to make the Galacticos of the Premiership look very ordinary indeed. Munster sucked them down into an arm wrestle, with predictable consequences. It was a feisty affair, with fights all over the place, DOC yellow carded – well I never, with Rhys Gill,  for an off the ball scrap. Munster are getting to grips with a new style, they need to get a bit of patience back, but they are starting to hum nicely. I thought James Coughlan and Dave O’Callaghan were outstanding, and being tackled by Doug Howlett is like running into a brick wall. Big names like Goode, Ashton and Farrell weren’t mentioned often. The Fortress Thomond is backup and running!

So it was left to Leinster to make for 4 from 4 for the Irish teams…which they couldn’t quite do. They got really close though, playing intelligent, skilful rugby. They kept the ball in hand, played well in the tight, and had Clermont’s defence guessing  out wide. Damian Browne is growing every match, but where they really need some magic now is in their line out, as they butchered at least three good opportunities to score some points with fumbled lineouts. Tacking scrum penalties off Clermont though, that is some achievement! The pack all played well, and in the backs McFadden was outstanding, with kick chases,ferocious tackling, and a handful in attack. Clermont are a team of stars, but even then Bonnaire shone, and Fofana is such a dangerous runner. At least we can bank the point, and hope for one better next week.

Otherwise, I saw the Ospreys giving Toulouse a reasonable game – really like Tupiric, and Kahn Fotuali'I was man of the match for me. Sale made life awkward for Toulon in the next match, where James Gaskell put in a hugely impressive performance.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , December 9
Leicester 33 - 25 Benetton Treviso 
Clermont Auvergne 15 - 12 Leinster 
Cardiff Blues 24 - 35 Montpellier 
Saturday , December 8
Racing Metro 92 19 - 9 Edinburgh 
Munster 15 - 9 Saracens 
Scarlets 16 - 22 Exeter
Zebre 14 - 57 Harlequins 
Sale 6 - 17 Toulon 
Toulouse 30 - 14 Ospreys 
Friday , December 7
Glasgow 6 - 9 Castres 
Connacht  22 - 14  Biarritz    
 Glasgow  6 - 9  Castres    
 Northampton  6 - 25  Ulster 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hide the remote, and make your excuses, the Heineken Cup is back!

Just when you thought the Autumn internationals had set the bar really high for quality rugby…along comes the Heineken Cup! And for the Irish clubs, there’s a set of season defining matches coming up in the next two weeks.

Starting off with Leinster, who have had a fairly uneven season so far by their standards. They are third in the Rabo, and 2nd in their pool behind Clermont in the HC. And it’s the French colossus they face away and home in the next two weeks. Leinster could lose away and still make it through…but only just, and they’d a few results to go their way, so this is a must win match. Just to make the mountain they have to climb a little higher, Clermont haven’t lost at home in 3 years. Gulp! Apart from O’Driscoll and Kearney, Leinster have a full squad to pick from.  Clermont may be missing a few, but their bench is likely to feature several leading internationals.  I think Leinster can cover for their losses in the back line, to me it’s how the pack is going to play, and whether we can compete with only one top quality lock. It’s going to be full bodied high intensity rugby. I have to say I’m expecting Clermont to win, but here’s hoping.

Connacht are going to be lucky to pinch anything of Biarritz, but the Frenchmen are pretty uneven, especially away, it’s not impossible, and I kind of fancy Connacht here.

Northampton Ulster is a heavyweight clash of note. Saints must hate the sight of Irish teams, now is it Ulster’s turn to bring the pain? From where I’m sitting, yes, I think that even though Saints are 3rd in the Premiership, they don’t have the BMT to match the way Ulster are rolling. Northampton have just found out that they are losing Mujati and Tongahuia – which must be brilliant news for the rest of the Premiership props! – but that’s the sort of thing that can unsettle a team. So I’m going with Bowe, Pienaar and co to come up with an away win.

Finally for the Irish provinces, Munster entertain Saracens in another top, top quality clash. Saracens have a healthy quota of English players, who will be still in the stratosphere from beating the All Blacks last weekend. CJ Stander is a loss after his storming showing against Glasgow, Romain Poite, who’s also injured, probably not as much!  Saracens are going to be trying to bring their size in to play, and bash Munster down. I hope they do, because that’s Munster’s game, and it’s not often Munster get Munstered. I going with the home team at Thomond.

Toulouse Ospreys, could be good as well, but I hope the Ospreys don’t play like Wales!

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 7
Connacht vs Biarritz 20:00
Glasgow vs Castres 
Northampton vs Ulster 20:00
Saturday , December 8
Munster vs Saracens 18:00
Racing Metro 92 vs Edinburgh 18:00
Toulouse vs Ospreys 13:35
Zebre vs Harlequins 13:35
Scarlets vs Exeter 13:35
Sale vs Toulon 15:40
Sunday , December 9
Leicester vs Benetton Treviso 15:00
Clermont Auvergne vs Leinster 15:00
Cardiff Blues vs Montpellier 12:45

Sunday, December 2, 2012

England crush, Wales falter (again!) and Leinster, Ulster and Munster look good

CJ Stander (picture

So I called one Northern Hemisphere win, but I got the wrong one… I put Wales/Australia on Sky+ and I have to say was blown away by England, and especially by their forwards. Their front row was epic, the locks majestic, and the lose trio hungry and aggressive. Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Joe Launchbury, Tom Woods – not fair on the players I left out, but they really stood out. The back line came to the party too, Ben Youngs had his best match in a white jersey, Owen Farell did everything he was asked, and Manu Tualagi came of age in the center. There’s been a touch of arrogance about the All Blacks this tour, and it came back to haunt them on Saturday. Of course, some of the English players got arrogant before the end of the match, Ashton with his swan dive, and Tulagi sauntering in for his try. They should both have been touching down and running over to forwards to thank them for all the hard work. Several AB’s went missing – was Messam even playing? DC was invisible, Aaron Smith was woeful, the front row only featured in England scrum penalties, and Conrad Smith was at his worst and best. Fair play for Lancaster for emptying his bench early, and giving his whole squad a taste for beating the All Blacks. And fair play to the England ladies for their 3-0 shutout of the Black ferns.

After that I watched the Wales Australia match, which like drinking Tesco value cider after Veuve Clicquot. Wales should have won that match, and only finally butchered it in the last two minutes. Neither side was firing much, Leigh Halfpenny is a perennial performer for Wales, Warburton was good, and Cuthbert was willing and able. But the Welsh line out was shocking, and I don’t know what’s happened to their attack but they don’t look capable of scoring a try at the moment. Australia did the basics Ok, tackled, hung in there and got a barely deserved win.

Pretty well straight after that I went into the Leinster match, and saw them fecking a round a bit before they settled into their rhythm and got the scoreline moving.  Sexton is a in a class of his own right now, he’s just oozing with confidence, Mc Fads is such a consistent performer for Leinster, and D’Arce is revelation at 13. Bent looked dead handy too. Bring on Clermont!

I missed the Munster match, which was pity because it sounded like a stormer, and a great home debut for CJ Stander.  Connacht nearly cracked Edinburgh, and missed by a whisker.

Finally, I caught the Scarlets /Ulster match, played in atrocious conditions in front of just about nobody. What is it with Welsh teams and their crowds. Could they not do deals for schoolboys to at least get some bums on seats? For the record, Ulster put in another good performance, playing at theright end of the field, and grinding out the win. Great to see Rory Best back, and Roger Wilson had a decent outing.

International Match
Saturday , December 1
England 38 - 21 New Zealand 
Wales 12 - 14 Australia
RaboDirect PRO12
Sunday , December 2
Scarlets 12 - 19 Ulster 
Saturday , December 1
Benetton Treviso 32 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Connacht 23 - 24 Edinburgh 
Leinster 37 - 7 Zebre 
Munster 31 - 3 Glasgow 
Friday , November 30
Ospreys 33 - 12 Cardiff Blues