Sunday, December 22, 2013

Leinster were meh, Ulster and Munster were adequate, but top result for Connacht!

 Niall Scannell (picture

Watching Leinster struggle and fail to subdue Edinburgh on Friday wasn’t much fun I can tell you. They’ve gone from potential champs to chumps in 2 short weeks. Massive changes in the team didn’t help their continuity. Out of a pretty dire overall performance, Fitzgerald put in a decent shift and Jordi Murphy looks hungry for more. Ian Madigan is still a work in progress, but he just needs that game time to develop his all round game. They need to work out how to get their rhythm back into their game.

I didn’t watch the Ulster match because I was feasting my eyes on Leinster’s golden offering, but while it sounded like their win wasn’t anything to write home about, at least they won.

On Saturday, Munster followed up their last minute win over Perpignan – with a last minute win over the Scarlets. It sounded like the reserves getting game time weren’t only on the pitch, with disbelief from the Scarets fans at the final decision of surely a reserve TMO. I wouldn’t want to comment on his prowess, but, in fairness, I would have taken that for Leinster all day long. Patchy and disjointed from Munster, but they won.  Massive performance from Niall Scannell, fourth choice hooker. He can throw straighter than Sherry or Varley!

Finally, in Galway, Connacht showed the kind of steely resolve that need to keep mining as they took down the Dragons with a last minute dropkick. Dan Parks is worth a mint to them.

RaboDirect PRO12
Cardiff Blues 19 - 22 Ospreys 
Edinburgh 11 - 6 Leinster 
Ulster 13 - 6 Zebre
Connacht 14 - 11 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Munster 16 - 10 Scarlets

Friday, December 20, 2013

Four from four again after skipping a week - c'mon Ireland!


After the highs and lows of the Heineken Cup, it’s back to the bread and butter Pro 12. It’s not a who’s who of Leinster stars who run out in Edinburgh on Friday. In fairness, there are a few players who looked like they needed a break. Boss ise back, he was needed off the bench last week, and Zane Kirchener, whose introduction a lot earlier last week might have provided the spark that was needed, gets to start as well. Time to give the bubbling under talent a chance to shine. I’d like to see Jordi Murphy get more opportunities for a start. They need to give the Scots a good pummeling to get back on the horse. Edinburgh’s team looks strong enough, it will probably be a tough, gritty encounter.

Munster have Gerhard van den Heever and Andrew Conway back for the visit of the Scarlets. The Scarlets need to put away, but I’m sure the high the team is on after the last minute win at Perpignan will see them through.

Ulster have Zebre, which should be an 5 point early Christmas present. Good to see Jared Payne in the centre, a role he’s surely likely to take up for Ireland soon.

Finally, Connacht have the Dragons at home. This is the type of match that’ll be an acid test for the men from Galway. If they’re going to establish themselves as a team to be reckoned with, and show that their famous victories in the HC aren’t flukes, they have to start by making their home ground a fortress.  The Dragons are mid table, and will be a challenge, but with the right attitude, and an 80 minute performance, I’m backing Connacht.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , December 20
Ulster vs Zebre 19:05
Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys 19:05
Edinburgh vs Leinster 19:35
Glasgow vs Benetton Treviso 19:35
Saturday , December 21
Connacht vs Newport Gwent D'gons 17:00
Munster vs Scarlets 19:15

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Post 400! With impressive home wins for Munster and Ulster, unimpressive home defeat for Leinster and defeat for Connacht

                                                 Luke (Picture

Well, I probably picked the right weekend to miss most of the rugby. I watched a bit on Friday, Glasgow were appalling  while the Ospreys played a half decent match. I was planning to watch Ulster on Saturday, but it was like trying to peer through a shower curtain – not that I do that of course. So I watched Toulon instead, looking not all that impressive against Exeter, while Ulster got the 5 points they needed.

I watched the Leinster match with the fast forward button handy, and just as well, for highlights for Leinster were few and far between. After monstering  the Saints last week, this week they decided to play in the ladyboy style. It was a rugby league approach, fanning out across the field and getting picked off for turnovers all over the place. Their physicality was remarkable by its absence. Fair play to Northampton for turning around last weeks defeat. Luke Fitzgerald was the only player to come out of that with much credit for Leinster.

I saw a bit of the Munster Perpignan match, probably not the best bit but huge credit to them for getting  an away win at a really tough ground. And Connacht weren’t able to repeat their heroics of last week, but against Toulouse, we’ll give it to them.

Finally, I watched the Tigers cancel Christmas in Montpellier with a last gasp try to steal the win, which the Frenchmen only have themselves to blame for.

And post 400! I FEEL 400!

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 13
Ospreys 21 - 12 Castres
Glasgow 7 - 9 Cardiff Blues
Saturday , December 14
Benetton Treviso 3 - 35 Ulster
Toulon 32 - 20 Exeter
Saracens 64 - 3 Zebre
Leinster 9 - 18 Northampton
Connacht 9 - 37 Toulouse
Scarlets 13 - 31 Clermont Auvergne
Perpignan 17 - 18 Munster
Sunday , December 15
Harlequins 17 - 3 Racing Metro 92
Montpellier 14 - 15 Leicester
Gloucester 10 - 16 Edinburgh

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Another Heineken Cup clean sweep for Irish teams?

After wallowing in rugby last weekend, this weekend it’s all going to be off the sky box as real life conflicts with real rugby!

Leinster look like they have a full squad available, apart from Cian Healy, as they welcome the Saints to the Aviva Stadium. Leinster set the bar as high as it gets last week, reaching that level again isn’t going to be easy, and the Saints are a much better team than they showed last Saturday. However, we’re talking of a comeback that would put Lazarus to shame for Northampton to actually win this match. I think it’ll be a close tight match, but self belief will see Leinster through.

Ulster have a trip to Treviso to contend with. After noting Connacht’s giant slaying antics last weekend, they want to make sure they don’t take the Italians too lightly at home, but It shouldn’t pose any problems for them.

Connacht get the chance to do the double over Toulouse after having got the hard away win out the way. Toulouse are in shock. They had these two matches down as squad rotation matches, after which they could get back to the tough T14 schedule. If they send a shadow squad over this weekend, they might lose, but be fresh for the T14. If they send over a full squad, they might still lose, and be demoralized and stale and for the T14! Connacht are going to be like tigers at home, Toulouse will probably win, but it’ll be one of the hardest fought matches this weekend.

Munster will have their tales up after beating Perpignan, resigning Connor Murray and signing Robin Copeland, the former Leinster academy player. I’m hoping they have Connor Murray back fit, as Sheridan is a good deal more workmanlike scrum half. Perpignan are going to be a different prospect at home from the side that caved in Limerick. Munster want to keep it tight and just ruck the life out of the game and grind something out. It’s a pretty pivotal match – if Munster lose it’s going to be a three way dog fight with Gloucester to get out of that pool. I’m backing them to do it though.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The power of 4!

 Devon Toner (picture

I know when Leinster won their first Heineken Cup, it was on the back of a Ireland Grand Slam, and Rocky Elsom said at the time that when the players came back from the 6 Nations they just had that belief now. I After 4 mighty performances this weekend, it looks like that match against the All blacks is still pumping in the blood of Ireland.

The results were Ireland 4/4, England 4/6, France 3/7, Wales 1/3 and none for Scotland and Italy.

Leinster for starters put their hand up on Saturday, and said ‘please may I have some more?’ Heineken Cups that is. I’m trying not to too smug here, but that match totally looked like an international side versus a club side, which it was. Northampton got caught absolutely cold. They have a few key injuries, but they still ran into the match expecting their form in the premiership would give them an edge. But it was Ireland not #Leinster that ran on the pitch, and gave the 80 minute performance that they gave for 40 minutes against the All Blacks. Their pack is forceful – players like Cronin and Toner are stepping up to be world class now. The difference between this team and that of last season is conviction. They just knew they were going to do it. The backline was sensational, they scored 5 tries and left two behind,  BOD,Kearney, D’Arcy, Fitzgerald were all brilliant, and Madigan too, really growing into that 10 jersey. A tough night for Northampton fans who deserved better than their team could do

Ulster also stood up and put in a sterling 7 try  performance against Treviso.  They’re on track to get out of the pools for the third year in a row.

Munster put in a purposeful performance, putting Perpignan away with a bonus point win. There is some fine tuning to be done here and there, mostly in the backline, but their pack is as tough as they come, and from an Irish perspective they have three very good props now. James Cronin is the one to watch for me. And Earls put his hand up for Ireland  too, as a wing that makes things happen.

Last but certainly last least, I did Connacht a disservice by not giving them a chance against Toulouse. They only went and won it! That’s a result that’s going to live long in the memory, there’s going to be plays made about it, and it’s another scalp to add to their long list of famous triumphs.  I didn’t see it, but by the sounds of things there players like Marmion and Henshaw that are knocking on the door of bigger things.

I also watched Clermont get a bonus point out of the Scarlets. I thought the Scarlets played pretty well, but Clermont are just so physically imposing playing them is like getting run over by a tank.

Quins were hugely impressive against Racing Metro, although that’s the only way Racing Metro and ‘hugely impressive’ would fit in the same sentence. They were rubbish, shapeless, ineffectual and limp. Pairing Phillips and Sexton made them look half decent, and I’d expect that to work for them in the future. Just don’t go drinking with Mike, Jonny! Quins did that without the host of internationals that other teams can do, which made it even more impressive.

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 6
Castres 15 - 9 Ospreys 
Cardiff Blues 29 - 20 Glasgow 
Saturday , December 7
Clermont Auvergne 32 - 11 Scarlets 
Zebre 10 - 39 Saracens 
Exeter 9 - 14 Toulon 
Ulster 48 - 0 Benetton Treviso 
Northampton 7 - 40 Leinster 
Racing Metro 92 8 - 32 Harlequins 

Friday, December 6, 2013

This weekend - success for Leinster and Ulster, Munster need to pulverise, and charachter building for Connacht!

 We need intensity! ( picture

Now that the South has departed with most of the spoils, again, it’s time to hit the big time again with the return of the Heineken Cup!

Starting off with Leinster v Northampton at Franklin Gardens, now doesn’t that sound like a tasty prospect? I’ve got the teams below, and while they’re both strong teams, Leinster have a much stronger bench with 6 internationals.  The Northampton players I really rate are Wood, Lawes and Manoa, and George North of course. Not having Ben Fodden is a loss to them.  It’s going to be all about the intensity that the Leinster pack bring – if they’re on the front foot, we’ll win. And with our bench, we should win the last 20 minutes. Overall, I think it’s going to be a good day for Leinster.

Northampton Saints: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Dom Waldouck, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Diickson, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (capt), 1 Alex Waller. Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Ryan Glynn, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Jamie Elliott.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy. Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Zane Kirchner

Ulster have named a really strong team for Treviso, and having already slipped up against Edinburgh, they won’t do it again. Toulouse Connacht will probably be an ouch experience. Character building. Finally, Munster have what’s probably their A team on the pitch, as they welcome Perpignan to Thomond Park. Perpignan are 9th in the T14, and don’t seem to the quality of internationals that some of the other big French clubs have.  To me, it’s all down to the type of game Munster want to play. If they stick it up the jumper and keep it as an arm wrestle, they should win. Anything more expansive, at least until they’ve really pulverized the Catalans, and it could all go awry.

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 6
Castres vs Ospreys 20:00
Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow 20:00
Saturday , December 7
Northampton vs Leinster 18:00
Exeter vs Toulon 13:35
Zebre vs Saracens 13:35
Clermont Auvergne vs Scarlets 13:35
Racing Metro 92 vs Harlequins 15:40
Ulster vs Benetton Treviso 18:00
Sunday , December 8
Toulouse vs Connacht 15:00
Leicester vs Montpellier 15:00
Munster vs Perpignan 12:45

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Leinster take down the Scarlets, and Wales slip up against the Aussies

 Brendan Macken (picture

Friday night I got home looking forward to some PRO12 action.  However it was like being transported back to the 50’s and cathode ray TV’s with nothing on,  I could have tried to find a match on the ‘wireless’, but I couldn’t  be bothered. So what sounds like a good match between Munster and the Dragons, with Munster squeezing through is lost to posterity. Although, Connacht are probably quite pleased that nobody got to see their shortcomings at Edinburgh.

Saturday afternoon brought the Zebre Ulster match, which was surprisingly evenly matched, but a bitty stop start affair, which Ulster won after I lost interest and stopped watching.

Then it was Wales taking on the Wallabies. I suppose a few things became clear from this match, firstly that the Wallabies, despite all the reports, have a fairly decent side after all. They only won by four points, but they left a good few tries behind. The second is that Wales shouldn’t be surprised that they aren’t beating the SH teams if they going to bring 40% intensity for most of the match. Warburton, Faletau and Lydiate were nowhere to be seen and the Aussies won the physical contests by a country mile. Also Falau is probably the best attacking full back in the world, so why Phillips kept on sending him uncontested presents is a mystery, as is why Wales didn’t kick the ball out more and keep the game more structured, And their lineout was a shambles.

Finally, Leinster kicked some arse in Dublin with a good win over the Scarlets. They didn’t have it all their own way, and there are still issues with Leinster’s defense that need to be fixed. But we have a proper scrum now, even with our second choice front row(and first and second choice is getting blurred now), winning penalty tries and everything, and the running game is coming back. Zane Kirchner is a superb addition to the team, a poised work horse. Lote Tequirir is not in the same league.  Brendan Macken is playing well, it’s all starting to come together. For the Scarlets, Shingler must fancy his chances of a recall, and Gareth Davies is a pretty potent scrumhalf.

RaboDirect PRO12
Ospreys 16 - 28 Glasgow 
Newport Gwent D'gons 14 - 18 Munster 
Edinburgh 43 - 10 Connacht
Zebre 11 - 19 Ulster 
Leinster 36 - 19 Scarlets 
Benetton Treviso 26 - 26 Cardiff Blues

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rabo round up, and hope for Ireland!

Van der Heever (picture

No disrespect for the Scarlets, but it’s a bit of a comedown after the AB’s last week. For Leinster, BOD, Rob Kearney, Heaslip, O’Brien and Toner will be rested, and Mike Ross will start on the bench.  You can never take the Scarlets lightly, but without their internationals we should see them off. A complete aside now, but I see that Isa Nacewa is now the backs coach for the Auckland Blues. I hope Leinster kept his number, maybe in the distant future (August next year) we can tempt him back.

 Munster have named a strong side to play the Dragons, with G van den Heever, K Earls and Paul O’Connell in the side, and Billy Holland captaining. They should win that. Connacht have a shot at another victory and lift off from the bottom of the table with a trip to Edinburgh which I think they’ll win. 

Ulkster have a pretty hefty injury list – Best, Henderson, Stevenson, Allen and Nick Williams. However, as they’re playing Zebre I think Mark Anscombe could pick himself and still be confident of the victory.

A final word too, on Ireland v the Abs. Last year, they beat us by three points, this by two. You can see the inevitable sequence that will give us a draw in 2015, and one point victory in 2016! Seriously though, I really believe that with Joe Schmidt on board, we are going to beat the All Blacks, and it won’t be by one point either. You read it here first!

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , November 29
Ospreys vs Glasgow 
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Munster 
Edinburgh vs Connacht 
Saturday , November 30
Zebre vs Ulster 14:00
Benetton Treviso vs Cardiff Blues 16:00
Leinster vs Scarlets 19:15
International Match
Saturday , November 30
Barbarians vs Fiji 14:30
Wales vs Australia 17:00

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ireland come up millimetres short...


What can you say about the Ireland New Zealand match? I felt like I didn’t so much watch that match, as live it.  80 exhilarating, scary, frustrating and ultimately heartbreaking minutes. To beat the All Blacks you need skill, commitment, passion, a little luck, to make your own luck…and a little more luck. We came up millimeters short, from a victory we so deserved and needed, you could taste it. That’s why they’re the best team in the world though, they’ve earned the right to get that last bit of luck. You could cry for the team, 1-23, every one counted, everyone gave 1000%. It’s the one that got away, again, but we’ve just got to take this forward, store this hurt and use it when it counts in the future.

Looks like we have one of the few major stadiums in Europe you can set a scrum on too.

I also saw a great first half from Wales, followed by a pretty average one, a bit of the error strewn Argentina Italy match, and all of Scotland’s tough close battle against Australia. France South Africa was a mighty contest too, lots of sore bodies, and some strange video ref decisions there.

Italy 14 - 19 Argentina 
Scotland 15 - 21 Australia 
France 10 - 19 South Africa 
Ireland 22 - 24 New Zealand 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm proposing some sneaky tactics, and demanding some heart from Ireland against the All Blacks!


I see Darren Cave and Felix Jones have been called up to join the Irish squad, and I can see a plan taking shape. The All Blacks are renowned for pushing boundaries, Ritchie McCaw for instance spends at least as much time on the wrong side of the breakdown as the right. Sounds we could be planning to sneak a few extra players on the field – maybe another three in the pack, then have two fly halves, and three wings. Let’s see them push an 11 man scrum around! If Sextons not fit – no selection problem! Jackson AND Madigan can start, as right and left flyhalves. 

Well, that plan, plausible at it sounds, may not come off, so I had a look at what happened last year when we toured New Zealand. We last the first test 40-10, played badly- then came back, albeit to lose, but lose 22-19, the All Blacks narrowest victory in the last two years? And this was the team that did it

Kearney McFadden O'Driscoll (c)  D'Arcy      Trimble  Sexton  Murray  Heaslip  O'Brien  McLaughlin  Ryan      Tuohy  Ross  Best  Healy

Not our strongest team by any means, so I don’t care who runs out on Sunday, it’s all about heart and effort, about putting them under huge pressure for 80 minutes. Former Munster player Rua Tipoki met with the Irish team before that second test, and said to them ‘Play the men, not the jersey’. I’m not saying we’re going to win, but the All Blacks have been through two really tough matches on the trot, both of which they were keen to hear the whistle at the end of, everybody’s giving us no chance, and it’s time for us to stand up and fight! I hope it’s freezing cold and raining, and that the All Blacks get tired of kamikaze tackling, and just want to get the hell out of here, get on a plane and go home! We have the slimmest chance of winning, but whatever, we can at least show them and the world what we can do.

Otherwise, I’m also planning to see the Scotland Australia, with the Wallabies hi-jinks in Dublin (Australian men getting pissed in Dublin – hard to believe!) evening up the Scots chances a lot. They have also lost Kundrani and Toomua. I hope Ewen McKenzie is fit. And then the France/Springbok match will probably be the match of the weekend. Without Fourie Du Preez, I think the Boks might struggle a bit actually. It must be every international coached nightmare going to France these days – 10 minutes after landing, and Toulon have already signed half your squad.

And I might go the whole hog and see Wales and Tonga, and Italy and Argentina, just for the craic like.

International Match
Friday , November 22
Wales vs Tonga 
Saturday , November 23
Italy vs Argentina 14:00
Scotland vs Australia 18:00
France vs South Africa 20:00
Sunday , November 24
Ireland vs New Zealand 14:00

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ireland's performance was what the people use to think the world was

 Best player in the world? (picture

Ireland performance against Australia was what the people used the earth was – flat, flat as a pancake. We leaked 4 of the easiest tries you’re going to see Ireland give away ever. I say that in hope anyway. Actually, I’ll forgive Cooper’s try because with a backline of Murray, Madigan, Marshall and O’Driscoll, nobody knew exactly what everyone was doing. We tackled too slow, we tackled to soft, and we didn’t get around the park. I’m scratching around for positives – we nearly scored a try I suppose. Really the best thing to do is forget this performance ever happened, sweep it under a carpet, it’s so flat no one will even notice. Australia, for their part, were efficient if not inspiring, coming up fast, handling the ball well as you’d expect, and taking the golden opportunities given to them. There’s going to have to be a bit of soul searching this week if we want to avoid humiliation by the All Blacks

Earlier on, England got their hopes up briefly, before the All Black machine coughed back into action and took the game away from them. England played well in the middle of the park, although their backline is still in a muddle. New Zealand looked a bit tired after their epic match against the French – I hope they’re completely flpping exhausted by the time they roll into Dublin. The AB’s still have a enough class to pull something out the bag when required, and game breakers like Read to force tries. England’s scrum is at least a good and sizeable block to build their team on.

Finally, I saw the Springboks on briefly get out of second gear to see off Scotland.  The Springboks were hungrier, faster and more physical, and made the Scots look flat footed. Scotland never really looked like they thought they could win, and it only underlined the Boks no 2 status in the world today.

International Match
Saturday , November 16
Italy 37 - 31 Fiji 
Wales 40 - 6 Argentina 
England 22 - 30 New Zealand 
France 38 - 18 Tonga 
Ireland 15 - 32 Australia 
Sunday , November 17
Scotland 0 - 28 South Africa

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Australia to continue with their 'One in a row' winning streaks, and the AB's will be emphatic

 Luke Marshall (Picture

The poo is about to get real for Ireland on Saturday when the Aussies come to town. They had what in the end was a big win over Samoa, but Joe Schmidt sober assessment of the match means he for one is no doubt about the size of the task this weekend.  Injury wise we’ve been fairly lucky, it’s a shame to lose Chris Henry but he would probably have been on the bench anyway. We want our Sexton back though, and we have him!  Australia meanwhile, haven’t been able to put together more than a one in a row winning streak this year, and let’s not see them break that habit this weekend.  Everything clicks, they fill their boots with tries- then the next match it all falls apart. You wouldn’t have to be a strategic genius to see that the best way to beat them is give them no space, and try to keep the game as structured as possible.

Their much maligned scrum is much maligned for a good reason – it’s shit. And we need every opportunity to prove that on Saturday, let’s see a few fake knock ons! The other thing we need to do is have a go at their backline. In a broken field situation, they have the individual brilliance to work magic and score tries. However those individuals are the only ones that are fit or banished from the team for disciplinary reasons. So while their attack might be ferocious their defense is not going to stand up to thorough analysis of a Sexton, O’Driscoll, Marshall and Rob Kearney type. Trust me.  If we get  little bit of space to run at them, we’ll all be shouting, and the Aussie backline will all be looking at each other.

I’m going to be bullish and go for an Irish win, even though they want to get their own back for 2011, ‘mon Ireland!

The biggest source of collisions this weekend will be when England take on New Zealand. The earth is going to move -not like that though.  Wouldn’t you just love to have the All Blacks arriving in town with a chip on their shoulders about their solitary loss last year? I’m expecting them to be focused, clinical and devastating. The England backline is ripe for the picking – lot’s of youth and unfamiliar combinations, although their pack will give the All Blacks some headaches. I’m expecting something pretty emphatic from New Zealand.
Wales should get back on track against Argentina – although if the Pumas pick up from where they left off against England it might start rocky for the Welsh. And Scotland v South Africa is the perfect round off for the weekend, the Scots are always fearsome at home, but this is a pretty good Springbok side.

International Match
Saturday , November 16
Italy vs Fiji 14:00
England vs New Zealand 14:30
Wales vs Argentina 14:30
France vs Tonga 17:00
Ireland vs Australia 17:45
Sunday , November 17
Scotland vs South Africa 15:00

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ireland get the new era going

 Future Irish captain.. (picture

I’m currently undergoing therapy for a rugby overdose this weekend. Starting off with some LV cup on Friday, and rounding up late Sat with a replay of Wales v SA. Yes, it was a typically hedonist sex, drugs and rugby weekend  down fromthebottomoftheruck’s house.

Starting off with Ireland, who got their new era off with a slow first half, and a good second half. Gee, we’ll have to be more careful with those Samoans though, who were exiting right left and centre. I think the first half was about right for where we are – not really having played together since the 6N, and with a team with a touch of experimantaion in it. We did some good things in the second half, but in fairness the Samoan team  started with 14 men, and looked like us against Italy this year by the end. As always let’s dwell on the positives Jack McGrath is a rising star, Jackson was great, Toner had his best match for Ireland, and Peter O’Mahoney has ‘future captain of Ireland’ stamped all over him. If Sexton’s back next week, I think we’ll see another step up. Awesome debut for Dave Kearney, and Rob is playing at his best too.

Earlier on I’d seen England dismantle Argentina in the first half, and then get bored or something in the second. Argentina could have got a lot closer with a bit more ambition.

France v the All Blacks was the real deal – no space, top drawer physicality, yet both sides able to conjure something out of thin air. The All Blacks defended well, made their tries look easy, but were very relieved to hear the final whistle blow. Let’s see if they can cope with the fear factor of facing Ireland!

Finally, I watched the Wales South Africa match from the first Springbok tries to the last. The Boks had their old skool backline, and a young hungry pack. Wales didn’t seem to have much tempo, and were a bit short on physicality too. I’d put Phillips on the bench, and get some pace into their game.

International Match
Saturday , November 9
Italy 20 - 50 Australia 
Scotland 42 - 17 Japan 
Wales 15 - 24 South Africa 
France 19 - 26 New Zealand 
Ireland 40 - 9 Samoa 
England 31 - 12 Argentina 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ramblings about the new Ireland

 ( picture

New season, new coaches – mostly the same old players for Ireland, but we’re hoping for new things ie winning regularly. Playing Samoa, Australia and New Zealand, however, could mess with those hopes in the short term. I was reading a bit new assistant coach John Plumtree had to say about improvements to the Irish line out, and had a look at his bio. He coached Swansea in the late 90’s, then the Wellington Lion, and finally the Sharks. So he’s earned his chops that’s for sure, and he watched the quadrangular series with Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Samoa this year, so he has a lot of insight into the Samoans.  He also discovered Gavin Henson, but don’t let that put you off.

I saw that a survey rated Samoa as the side most likely to cause an upset this weekend. Well, the Australians could beat Italy too! The last time Samoa came to Dublin, we beat them 20-10. In fairness they weren’t above us in the World rankings at that time. Anyone with a n ounce of rugby knowledge know’s we are in a mighty battle this weekend. I’m still backing us to win though, mmm, for a few reasons. Firstly, structure, we have a good defensive pattern, and good rhythm when we play to anywhere near our potential. Also our discipline is good on the whole.

I like the team Schmidt has gone for- he’s taking a few chances, and giving some players a chance. I hope Paddy Jackson starts well, he’s a confidence player, and sometimes it can go either way.  O’Connell as the captain is a good idea, and Heaslip for the match. ‘mon Ireland!

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Paul O'Connell, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Dave Kearney.

I have a few grumbles about the weekend – too many clashes of good matches. And for Ireland, how about spreading these things around a bit – why not play Samoa at Thomond, and plan a few matches for Ravenhill when it’s finished?

The best match of the weekend is likely to be France v the All Blacks. The All Blacks have come full strength. I think they’ll struggle in the scrums, but get home easy enough.

International Match
Saturday , November 9
Italy vs Australia 14:00
England vs Argentina 14:30
Scotland vs Japan 14:30
Wales vs South Africa 17:30
Ireland vs Samoa 17:45
France vs New Zealand 20:00

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Leinster and Munster just about get the job done, while England get home with a bit of intensity and luck

 ( picture

First up for me was Leinster v the Dragons, I’d said that LOeinster would lose, so all in all, I was pretty pleased. It was scrappy, and they were hanging on for dear life at the end, but I’ll take it! Leinster had all their Irish internationals yanked out, and had a few players making their debut off the bench – generally not very auspiciously – so it was never going to be a flash performance. When you’re on your third choice scrum half, it’s not going to be fluid. Positives to take out are the scrum, who looked imperious, and the form of Zane Kirchner who never looked flustered, and even better, looked like he was enjoying himself. The Dragons crowd weren’t too happy with the ref, but if you’re going to give away silly yellow cards and ship 14 points in 5 minutes you only have yourselves to blame.

I was sorry to see Ulster falter but the Scarlets are the Jekyll and Hyde’s of the PRO 12, you never know what you’re going to get. Connacht, meanwhile, did well to get a point out of Glasgow.

Finally, it was a top of the table clash between Munster and the Ospreys, both obviously a bit strung together with their internationals gone.  This was not an expansive game, this was a stick it up your jumper game, and once Munster got the grip of that,  and stopped passing to the opposition, they slowly ground their way to victory. Duncan Williams is no Peter Stringer, but I thought CJ Stander, Dave O'Callaghan and Dave Foley all put in good shifts.

England  v Australia was a tough, gritty match, which England edged with more intensity and a bit of luck. The Aussies had the better of the first half, and then England came roaring back, a pretty creditable performance for their first of the season. Australia can’t buy luck or a win at the moment, hopefully they’ll continue the trend at least until they play Ireland.

RaboDirect PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 19 - 23 Leinster 
Edinburgh 25 - 23 Zebre 
Cardiff Blues 17 - 13 Benetton Treviso 
Connacht 12 - 19 Glasgow
Munster 12 - 6 Ospreys
Scarlets 17 - 9 Ulster
England 20 - 13 Australia 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leinster could struggle, and so could England...


Leinster get things going for Ireland this weekend with a visit to Rodney Parade to take on the Dragons. Mat O’Connor did a sterling job in talking up the Dragons on the Leinster website, and in fairness they are only one place below Leinster in the league. They normally give Leinster a tough game at home, and the men in blue have  all their internationals gone. They have Zane Kirchener starting, which is a boost, and Lote Tuquiri as well.   I don’t know the Dragons too well – they seem to be an emerging talent pool for French Clubs at the moment, so there’s a bit of turnover going on there.  But they are having a decent season so far and don’t contribute much to Wales so with the way Leinster are playing I’d actually think the Dragons are going to take this.

Connacht have to take on Glasgow, surely smarting from their loss to Munster last week. Just pretend they’re Leinster, Connacht and you can do it! Glasgow will probably shade it.
Ulster go to the Scarlets, and as the Irish team with proper depth at the moment, I’d expect them to have Scarlets number, especially with the internationals gone from the Scarlets. With the new stand coming along well at Ravenhill, it all seems to be happening for Ulster at the moment.

Finally, Munster welcome the Ospreys to Musgrave Park for a top of the table clash. Gerhard van den Heever is arriving/has arrived this week, although it may take a bit of time to get him into action. Munster seemed to do just fine last week without a lot of their big names, and with a home crowd behind them they should make it a trip to forget for the Ospreys.

England Vs Australia should be entertaining, and an opportunity for England with Australia’s recent stuttering form.  I don’t really like the look if the Aussie side that’s been picked – Nick Cummins chief attribute is that he looks like a honey badger, and there are too many bog standard, passenger type players on the team. I’m not all that sure about the England team either – I wouldn’t pick Dickson, and neither have Tompkins and Twelvetrees together – lets go big! But good to see Yarde there. It’s toss up who’ds going to win – England will be rusty, while the Aussies have played a lot together, just not very well. I think the Wallabies could well win.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , November 1
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Leinster 19:05
Edinburgh vs Zebre 19:45
Saturday , November 2
Cardiff Blues vs Benetton Treviso 14:30
Connacht vs Glasgow 17:00
Scarlets vs Ulster 18:30
Munster vs Ospreys 19:15

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Leinster go from side to side well, forward, not so well

Stuart Olding (

There were a host of matchs this Friday night, and just one on Saturday. I picked the Glasgow Munster match to watch live , and recorded half of the Ulster match.

That’s more like the Munster we used to know, a harder more abrasive style, and really just one moment of magic from JJ Hanrahan separating the sides. He’ll be pushing for more starts with form like that. Other stand out Munster players for me were Billy Holland, and James Cronin, both shaping up as names to watch. And honorable mentions for Archer and Kilcoyne – where did all these props come from? The watch just about wasn’t spoilt by ineffectual refereeing, which seemed to be the flavour of the weekend.

Ulster showed their form against Montpellier was no fluke, beating the Cardiff Blues in some style.  They have a lot of firepower out there these days . Stuart Olding is someone I really enjoy watching these days – he added a threat coming into the line, and linking with Jared Payne who seems to have a ridiculous amount of time on the ball. And in the pack, great matches from Ricky Lutton, and Lewis Stevenson. Ulster are picking up where they left off last year.

Finally for the Irish sides, a nugget derby to round things off as Connacht turned in a typically competitive performance to nearly pull one off against Leinster. The first half was theirs, but Leinster owned the second half, with the introduction of Mike McCarthy  giving them the scrum dominance that ultimately won them the game. You can see Matt O’Connor’s influence in the scrum with Martin Moore and Jack McGrath showing some serious form. Not Michael Bent as much, but he is just back from injury. Leinster seem to have lost their cutting edge though, they go from side to side well, but forward, not so well. Umpteen midfield combinations don’t help that, but they are missing something thats for sure. The ref seemed to feature way too prominently in the match, and not decisively either.  One that got away from Connacht, and a lot more work need by Leinster.

Finally, I also caught the Currie Cup final, which really need bang! and kapow! appearing in bubbles to go along with the action. Enjoyable stuff, physicality from the top draw, but great tries too, as the Sharks grabbed the cup back. Pieter-Steph du Toit is 20 year old juggernaut that the rest of the world is going to find out more about soon…

RaboDirect PRO12
Zebre 16 - 16 Scarlets 
Ospreys 40 - 17 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Glasgow 6 - 13 Munster 
Edinburgh 20 - 13 Benetton Treviso 
Ulster 39 - 21 Cardiff Blues 
Leinster 16 - 13 Connacht

Friday, October 25, 2013

Meanwhile, back in the PRO12...

Craig Clarke (picture

There’s a whole lot of matches tonight on Friday, and then Leinster and Connacht will round things off tomorrow in the Pro 12. There’s some good matches, starting with Ulster v Cardiff Blues which should be a great match after good results for both of them last weekend. I’m interested to see how Stuart Olding goes at fullback – I haven’t really seen him put a foot wrong, although I think his best place for Ulster and Ireland is probably at centre. It’ll be great to see Cardiff playing with their tails up, but Ulster should take this at home.

Glasgow v Munster is probably the match of the weekend. The Pro 12 gives Rob Penney a chance to start JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway and CJ Stander, in what is a strong looking team. You wouldn’t bet against Glasgow at home anymore though.

Leinster and Connacht go head to head on Saturday, in a match where Connacht have had some pretty good results in the last few years. I believe Zane Kirchener may get his first run out, and I’m hoping that Ian Madigan gets an opportunity to start and sharpen his skills. For Connacht, I’m looking forward to seeing how Craig Clarke shapes up against in theory better quality opposition. Leinster should get this one.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , October 25
Zebre vs Scarlets 
Ospreys vs Newport Gwent D'gons 
Ulster vs Cardiff Blues 
Glasgow vs Munster 
Edinburgh vs Benetton Treviso 
Saturday , October 26
Leinster vs Connacht 18:45

Thursday, October 24, 2013

England v Australia Legends at Twickenham Stoop on Thursday October 31st


I don’t normally do this, but it’s for a good cause, and there are going to be some of the legends of the game on show. Let me just lapse into PR Speak for a bit:

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, Sportingclass and Harvey Thorneycroft Ltd are delighted to present the England v Australia Legends at Twickenham Stoop on Thursday October 31st, kick off is at 7.45pm. The match is in aid of the chatirities Restart, and the  Injured Player’s Foundation and is sponsored by Heathrow Express

Jason Leonard, Martin Corry, Jason Robinson, Phil Vickery, Josh Lewsey and many other members of the victorious England 2003 squad will take on a formidable Australian team, that includes Stirling Mortlock,  Al Baxter, Chris Whitaker and Richard Harry – and with a combined total of over 1,450 Test caps, there is going to be a lot of quality on show.

When I say legends, I mean players like Jason Robinson, who could just about weave his way through a brick wall. And Stirling Mortlock, who was a big strong player with all the skills to go with. I can remember him as captain being called over by the ref to reprimand the current Australian captain, James Horwill in one of his first tests for getting involved in a dust up, and failing spectacularly to control his grin at the state of Horwill’s face. Leinster supporters will be pleased to see Chris Whitaker putting his skills on display again.

Get on down there and support this, our game is based on respect, for the ref, for the fans, for the players, respect for the skills of players from another time, and  respect for the players who’ve come out the wrong side of a hugely physical game

And the English team is here: