Thursday, June 27, 2013

Heading for 2-0....

Warren Gatland has gone for a fair amount of changes to what was a winning formula last week. Parling and Vunipola come in due to injury – but Phillips is gone from the 22. Lydiate gets a start, as do Bowe and Youngs with SOB is on the bench as a potential real impact player.  Maybe Gatland senses they need a faster game. To me, the biggest thing they needed to do was sharpen up their discipline – that’s what kept the Aussies in the game last weekend. The Australians won’t be able to rely on 80 metre tries to win them the match.

Only two changes for the Wallabies – they have their main kicker Leali'ifano back which should keep their points ticking this time, and Beale is in. James O’Connor is puzzling still at 10. If the Lions can dominate the Wallaby pack again, and keep Genia quiet, they’ll be wrapping up the series in Melbourne, and it’s hard to see it not happening.

British and Irish Lions: :15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 George North, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Makovina Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Alex Cuthbert.

15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Jesse Mogg
British & Irish Lions
Saturday , June 29
Australia vs British & Irish Lions 11:05

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Lions draw first blood!

So after all the hype – a match that lived up to the billing, with both sides in it up until the last second. There were missed opportunities for both sides – the Lions failed to capitalise on their domination in the scrum,they  didn’t take points often enough in the Wallabies 22, and should have made more of a flank playing at centre. The Wallabies meanwhile, with a bit of decent kicking, could and should have won the match. Now in fairness, the Aussies lost their place kicker Leali'ifano in the first minute, and neither O’Connor nor Beale could get their act together after that. I thought the Aussies might pick up a few injuries after training for 3 weeks, but they were hit really hard.

For the Lions Halfpenny, Sexton and POC were imperious, Heaslip had a great match, and George North’s reputation in the Northern Hemisphere took a massive step up. In the second test, they need to work out how to maximise the effectiveness of their scrum – the replacemsnt front row was a big disappointment. They also need to work with Phillips on the tempo of the game – they have excellent backs, but they need fast ball to give them the space to work in. Also penalties – and working out what the hell the ref wanted – is something they have to work on, as they were handing out soft penalties all over the place. Finally, what a massive disappointment for POC to be leaving so soon.

Folau was the standout player for the Wallabies, while it was Genia who really kept them in the game – he’s a player the Lions need to pressurise more. Beale looked good, when he came on, but there was a lot of rustiness in the Wallabies play and massive room for improvement.  Mogg, George Smith and Tapuai have been called up, and Horwell, by the grace of the citing commissioner in a risible decision, is still free to play. James O’Connor has offered very little for them so far, they need someone to work with Genia, otherwise this series will be done and dusted next weekend.
Saturday , June 22
New Zealand 24 - 9 France 
Scotland 30 - 29 Italy 
South Africa 56 - 23 Samoa 
British & Irish Lions
Australia 21 - 23 British & Irish Lions 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Lions and the Wallabies get it on in Brisbane!

Oh yes, bring it on! All the speculation, all the build up stops this weekend as it finally gets real in Brisbane. Starting off with the Lions…the starting team kind of picks itself doesn’t it? In particular in the backline where the 7 fit players start. The pack has the form players, with only Corbiserio perhaps a little lucky. On the bench, I might have a few bones to pick with my man Warren. I haven’t seen Lydiate do anything since the last World Cup, including this tour, and I can’t see him making any impact coming on. Give me SOB any day. Maitland is another player that was lucky to come in the first place, and who’s looked dazed and confused since. I’d have Kearny there, and let him and Halfpenny rotate at wing and fullback. Big credit to the veterans BOD, POC, and Alwyn Jones, for taking their places on form not reputation.

The Aussies look a little more experimental, not Deans’s normal  conservative style, with  Ben Mowen ,Christian Leali'ifano, Israel Folau all debuting, and Hooper is not exactly a grixzzled veteran. There are a fair amount of new combinations in the backline – Genia and O’Connor,  Leali'ifano and O’Connor, Leali'ifano and Ashley Cooper. With the attacking flair of Sexton, Davies, BOD, and North, are the Aussies going to know who tackles who? Add in most of these player not having played much recently…and home advantage aside, it does look the Lions have the upper hand, whether they keep it tight in the formidable pack, or spread it wide. The Wallabies obviously have the players to test the Lions backline, and a star in Kurtly Beale on the bench. Their key man is Genia – if the Lions keep him quiet, they’ve won. I’m going with the Lions by 8 points!

Elsewhere, France have changed 8 again for the AB’s, so no surprise there, and the other big match of the weekend is probably Samoa/Springboks, which will probably be savagely entertaining.

British & Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 George North, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Makovina Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sean Maitland.
Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Pat McCabe, 23 Kurtley Beale.
International Match
Saturday , June 22
New Zealand vs France 08:35
Scotland vs Italy 14:15
South Africa vs Samoa 17:15
Sunday , June 23
Fiji vs Tonga 12:10
Japan vs USA 14:10
More International Match fixtures
British & Irish Lions
Saturday , June 22
Australia vs British & Irish Lions 11:05

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Lions limp out of Sydney, Ireland fire, and Scotland...get so close!

This weekend I caught the Lions, some of the All Black/French match, and the second half of the South Africa/Scotland match. Whoa are the Lions shipping back line injuries! It wasn’t quite their first team but they still looked classy against NSW in attack, although a little suspect in defense. The loose trio looked more potent than the last match, and apart from the injuries, the team performance is growing all the time. Not too impressed with some of the NSW tactics though – you’re playing one of the top teams in world rugby – don’t let yourself down with cheap shots.
France shuffled their pack of cards again for the All Blacks, and went backwards, The team played well last weekend – back them and pick them again! The prospect of a win next weekend is pretty slim.

I watched Scotland go into a absolutely deserving 17-6 lead against the Sprinboks. The Springboks may be my reserve international team, but boy do they play some boring stodgy rugby. Without Jim Hamilton’s silly yellow, a great upset was on the cards. What a bounce back for the Scots after last weekend! It was the reserves for South Africa, mostly young players, who put things right in the end so at least there is a glimmer of hope the Boks will start to reach their potential.

I didn’t see the Ireland/Canada game, but the match report is here Fergus McFadden got a hat trick – Trojan work again from one of Ireland’s most solid players, when does he ever let you down? And tries also for Cave Trimble and O’Donnell, the bubbling under pack are finding their feet.

International Match
Sunday , June 16
Canada 14 - 40 Ireland
Saturday , June 15
Japan 23 - 8 Wales 
New Zealand 30 - 0 France 
Samoa 39 - 10 Italy 
Argentina 26 - 51 England 
South Africa 30 - 17 Scotland 
More International Match results
British & Irish Lions
Waratahs 17 - 47 British & Irish Lions 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Lions and Ireland teams, and more rugby than you can shake a stick at

The Lions face a sterner than average test of their tour so far as they take on NSW in Sydney. I thought this was going to be Gatlands A team, but he is still keeping his cards close to his chest. The pack, in fairness could be the starting pack. And although Zebo needs to given a run as they’ve deservedly brought him over, I don’t see them starting him in the tests, or Maitland or Davies. It’s a hell of a side though, and I’m looking forward to seeing Kearney get to show his wares as well.  I think they’ll do better against the ‘Tahs than the side that was picked to play the Reds.

15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip. 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Rob Kearney.

Ireland have a promising looking side for Canada – great to see talent like Felix Jones and Tommy O’Donnell starting. I’d like Dan Tuohy to show he deserves a regular starting berth, and fair play to Downey, he could make his mark too. Kevin McLaughlin adds some grunt in the loose trio we could have done with against the USA.  And how close did the under 20’s come to upsetting New Zealand?
15 Felix Jones, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Darren Cave, 12 James Downey, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Dan Tuohy , 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Robbie Henshaw,

International Match
Saturday , June 15
Japan vs Wales 06:00
New Zealand vs France 08:35
Samoa vs Italy 14:15
South Africa vs Scotland 17:00
Argentina vs England 20:10
Sunday , June 16
Canada vs Ireland 01:00
British & Irish Lions
Saturday , June 15
Waratahs vs British & Irish Lions 10:30

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Lions and Ireland struggle with physicality

There were some good tough games this weekend. The Lions got into a dogfight with the Reds, and although they pulled clear in the end, the Reds had them sweating. The Lions didn’t seem to be able to impose themselves physically – Faletu, Lydiate and Warburton weren’t noticeable enough to contain the pack. Meanwhile, in the backs, North and Bowe shone.  The A team is shaping up in terms of performers, and the B team in terms of solid but unspectacular players. The Lions do seem to be shipping a lot of injuries – but then Australia will as well, and the Lions are going to be battle hardened by the time the tests start.

I was expecting a completely different game from the Ireland USA match – I thought it was going to be a lot more free flowing, instead of a penalty fest. The USA are coming on in leaps and bounds – they need to sort their discipline out, but they are a big strong team, they got stuck in ferociously, and we didn’t seem to have the firepower to answer them with. SOB, Heaslip and O’Connell would have gone down a treat. Our lineouts were shocking, and both locks had pretty modest games. We still got the win though, and have some new internationals blooded, which can only be good in the long run.

Finally I caught the first half of the AB France match, and saw some great rugby. A good looking French team, and an up for it New Zealand. You won’t see many better tries than Frances opening salvo, and although that rocked the AB’s back, they upped a gear and scored two good tries of their own.

International Match
British & Irish Lions
Reds 12 - 22 British & Irish Lions
Saturday , June 8
Japan 18 - 22 Wales 
New Zealand 23 - 13 France 
South Africa 44 - 10 Italy 
Argentina 3 - 32 England 
Scotland 17 - 27 Samoa 
Sunday , June 9
USA 12 - 15 Ireland

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lions team for the Reds, Irish team for the USA

I got to see the Lions Force match last night, and dodgy tackling and defence aside, there are a few players in very good form. SOB was in sparkling form , Vunipola, Bowe, Heaslip, Tualagi, Sexton, BOD – all showed they are ready to start. Helays up and down week has ended sadly cleared of biting, but out of the tour injured. What impressed me about the match was the effort the Lions are putting in to team work – most of the tries were from putting other players into space, and they all make a point of acknowledging good play. And the after match camaraderie between the Force and the Lions, a full stadium – that’s what rugby’s about.

On Saturday, the Lions will get their first real test of the tour against a near full strength Reds team. Warburton makes his debut, and Tommy Bowe get’s another start.  I’d love to see Ben Youngs get a bit of decent game time with Jonny Sexton, I think they could really produce some fireworks. As there are no centre’s on the bench though, we might see Sexton in centre too, more likely George North though. I think this Lions team is way better than the Aussies realize yet, and I’d say they are going to get another good win. I want to see what Quade Cooper does to show he should be in the Wallabies.

Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Paul O'Connell, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 George North.
The good rugby goes on and on this weekend with Ireland also taking on the USA. I like the look of this young team – in come Henshaw and Olding for their first caps, and Madigan and Henderson been given starting spots – that’s what we want to see! And the All Blacks are playing France!
Ireland: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Peter O'Mahony (capt), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Jamie Hagan, 18 Tom Court, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Felix Jones.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Lion and the Ba Ba lay down together - but the Ba Ba didn't get much sleep

The Lions racked up a big score against the Barbarians in Hong Kong yesterday, scoring 8 tries in total. The match was never really about the result though, more an opportunity for fringe players to put their hands up, and work on a few combinations. Mike Phillips and Justin Tupuric were the players that stood out for me, always on the ball, and instinctively good. Owen Farell put his hand up as well, to say – I’m not really sure why I’m here. I’m not giving out at him, it’s just too much responsibility too soon for him – he doesn’t even start that often at 10 at Saracens. Sexton came on and immediately put his stamp on the game, just adding control, and some dangerous incisive running lines. I would have said the 9/10 will be Phillips and Sexton, but if they want to pace on the game then Youngs and Sexton would be a great combo.

 Jamie Roberts is a class act, and Hogg looks like a good impact player. Connor Murray came on and looked really good, a young Mike Phillips. And Heaslip was pretty impressive in his time on the pitch – I thought Faletu and Lydiate were solid but unspectacular, nowhere near as dynamic as Tupuric.

Finally, Irishman in the making Jarred Payne is a classy relaxed player who when he’s qualified could add a lot to the Irish team.

British & Irish Lions
Barbarians 8 - 59 British & Irish Lions