Sunday, September 29, 2013

Leinster Ulster and New Zealand get the BP's

Good to have you back (
Leinster looked a lot sharper as they rolled over the Cardiff Blues at home. They have a bit of work still to do – Cuthbert, class as he is, got in way too easily for his try, and they lose their shape and their way a bit too regularly. BOD just adds class to the backline, everyone feeds off his confidence, Heaslip has added grunt and leadership to the scrum, while Healy is such is a big part of the team. They are starting to motor again, and with some tweaks on defense, they are shaping up well for the season. Madigan’s try for the bonus point was the highlight of the match. For the Blues, there is so much talent there, but it doesn’t come together, Halfpenny and Cuthbert must wonder sometimes why they stick it out.

Ulster got a good bonus point victory out of Treviso, and Munster got the job done against the Dragons. The men in red still look like a team in transition, but it’s starting to come together. While I like some of the things they are trying with the backline, I think they should play to their traditional strengths and concentrate on a forwards based game. How profound is that!

In Cape Town, it looked like South Africa were going to tear Australia limb from limb at one stage, when they got two quick tries in the first half…but they kind of last their way after that. A couple of yellow cards, and a lack of concentration let the Wallabies back into the game, and the bonus point eluded them, which probably means this Championship is gone. They have all the talent out there, they use their bench well, but it’s still not quite happening in the top two inches. Australia are struggling – a horrible trip to Argentina to try and avoid the wooden spoon is all that left for them now.

The All Blacks had to be a bit patient, but once the Argentinean adrenaline ran out in the second half, New Zealand eased through the gears and ran out convincing winners with the bonus point to boot. Argentina didn’t do themselves justice – the intensity and vigor of their defense is second to none, but their handling was nearly comical sometimes. This tournament would be a hard ask for any team in the world to join, it’s going to take time, but I think in a few years you’ll be going to Argentina expecting to lose.

RaboDirect PRO12
Zebre 17 - 24 Glasgow 
Ulster 32 - 13 Benetton Treviso 
Leinster 34 - 20 Cardiff Blues 
Edinburgh 9 - 22 Scarlets 
Connacht 26 - 43 Ospreys 
Munster 23 - 9 Newport Gwent D'gons
Rugby Championship
South Africa 28 - 8 Australia 
Argentina 15 - 33 New Zealand 

Friday, September 27, 2013

BOD is back, and I'm tipping the Springboks and the Pumas this weekend!


Friday night is opportunity for Leinster to restore their battered pride, against a Cardiff side who lost to the mighty Zebre last weekend. More class and talent is pumped into the side with the inclusion of BOD and Heaslip for the first time, and a start for Healy. We need our physicality back big time, and Quinn Roux will help that too. And hopefully BOD can direct the defense, lead by example as he always does, and not get injured! I think we’ll do it at the RDS.

Munster welcome a resurgent Dragons side to Musgrave Park. They have more firepower on their bench with the inclusion of Paul O’Connell. It’s a difficult time of year for any Irish provincial coach – your team changes every week as more players become available. I don’t think it’s a very fearsome looking side, but POC is worth 10-15 points on his own with his presence and leadership, which is something Munster really need these days.

Ulster have named  a strong team for the increasingly impressive Treviso. They have a lot of talent at their disposal, and their home ground needs to spur them on to start getting the wins. Rory Best is a great leader, and Tommy Bowe always adds class. It think they turned the corner last week, and if they give Treviso the respect they deserve they should get this no problem.

Australia have arrived in Australia with a fairly cobbled together team – through injury, loss of form and exclusion for drunkenness, it been tough to consistently pick  a team. They have James Horwill back at least. But the Brumbies players in the team will still be coming to terms with Jake White’s pretty disgraceful departure during the week. They get to face a fairly well first choice Springbok side, with Fourie du Preez starting. The Springboks are going to have to give the talent of the Australian team its due respect, but there is an air of inevitability about this match.

Later on Saturday the Pumas will be entertaining the All Blacks, who to me look a bit undercooked. They haven’t looked flash in their last few matches (apart from putting away a 14 man Springbok team, and there’s no Carter, McCaw, probably Read, and Cruden is not 100%. The All Black scrum will be under pressure, and if the Springboks only scraped out of Argentina with a win… I think the AB’s are going to go one worse and ship a loss!

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , September 27
Zebre vs Glasgow 
Ulster vs Benetton Treviso 
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues 
Edinburgh vs Scarlets 
Saturday , September 28
Connacht vs Ospreys 17:00
Munster vs Newport Gwent D'gons
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 28
South Africa vs Australia 16:00
Argentina vs New Zealand 23:40

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Leinster's powder puff tackling against Glasgow was sponsored by Lancome


I watched a lot of the Leinster match on Friday – actually a lot more than I wanted. Maybe the Glasgow fans found it enthralling, but I thought it was a dull, horrible match. I was sitting there on the couch trying to put in all the hits Leinster were missing. Their powder puff tackling was sponsored by Lancome. And when they weren’t surrendering easy yards, they were coughing the ball in attack. Awful stuff, they need to beef up their defense, a lot, in a hurry. That’s probably nor being fair on a very good Glasgow side, we were lucky we weren’t on the end of a hiding.

Elsewhere, Munster will be hanging their heads for not even getting a point out of Treviso, and Cardiff Blues, they REALLYhave to hang their heads. I caught the first half of the Connacht Ulster match. You can see what Pat Lam is trying to do with the team, and boy did it make for a much more entertaining spectacle than the Leinster match. I guess Ulsters class was always going to tell in the end.

RaboDirect PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 23 - 16 Scarlets 
Cardiff Blues 25 - 30 Zebre 
Glasgow 12 - 6 Leinster 
Benetton Treviso 29 - 19 Munster
Ospreys 44 - 10 Edinburgh 
Connacht 7 - 18 Ulster 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Plenty of challenges ahead tonight for Leinster


Leinster have a similar team lined up for the trip to Glasgow that drew against the Ospreys. That makes me slightly nervous,but maybe they’ll play the full 90 this week, and not in fits and starts. They’ll need to because Glasgow are good! Leinster at least have more firepower on their bench with Cian Healy and Rob Kearney, and I’m hoping to see quite a bit of Dominic Ryan. I think we’ll struggle to be honest, and I’m going with a Glasgow win. Prove me wrong Leinster!

Leinster: 15 Ian Madigan, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Darragh Fanning, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings (c), 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Tom Denton, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Rob Kearney.

Munster face a tricky trip to Treviso. Good to see Earls and Downey back in the team, and they have CJ and JJ on the bench if needed. I’d say they’ll win, but not very easily. And Ulster have a chance to FINALLY get their show on the road against Connacht, although Connacht won’t be keen to surrender anything. I’m expecting Ulster to win though.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Scarlets 
Benetton Treviso vs Munster 
Cardiff Blues vs Zebre 
Glasgow vs Leinster 
Saturday , September 21
Ospreys vs Edinburgh 
Connacht vs Ulster 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A weekend of nearly’s and what ifs

 Jarred Payne (picture

This was a weekend that promised a lot, and didn’t quite deliver, not in the way I wanted it to anyway. I may sulk. First of all, it was the Leinster, Ulster et al.

Ulster,at home are potent now, even Leinster struggle, and lose when we go there these days. They had a 6 point lead over Glasgow for most of the 2nd half, and were camped on their line for most of the second half, but couldn’t take any points, and then shipped a try in the last minute to lose it. Talk about a sucker punch! They need to start throwing more names in the team and get some momentum going. They have such strength in depth, but are just slightly off the mark. Off the mark apart from Jarred Payne, who is the most relaxed player you can imagine, always has time on the ball, and I can’t wait until he’s Ireland qualified.

Leinster meanwhile, dish up the finest champagne rugby, and the vilest 2litre value cider in the same match. In the first half against the Ospreys they couldn’t stop scoring beautiful tries, and it looked like it was going to be a cricket score. Then they totally switched off, let the Ospreys into the game, the Ospreys scored two great tries of their own, and they had Cronin sin binned. That was the wake up call, they got back on the horse, got the lead, but still managed to give away a draw right at the end. There are bright spots – Goperth is on fire, but needs to work on his tactical game, Jordi Murphy gets better every time, and Jack McGrath shone again. They need a few of their stars back just to settle them down – a few less back three injuries would help too.

Munster came from behind to get a convincing win over Zebre, where by all accounts it was the initials – JJ and CJ who shon, and Connacht went down to the Blues.

Saturday morning was the big one – All Blacks vs the Springboks. I ran at 7 (at a freezing 5C) so I’d be nice and early, breakfast and coffee ready – then into the match! But 10 minutes in it started going pear shaped , with Bismarck du Plessis sin binned for what was judged a dangerous tackle.  You’ve seen them given, but… and his second a red in minute 42 snuffed it out as a contest. There was some superb intense rugby in the first half to enjoy, and the result was probably going to be a win for the AB’s anyway. I say that because the Boks didn’t handle the pressure of the occasion well enough, they were jumpy, made simple mistakes, and Ruan Pienaar in particular wasn’t great. The All Blacks lost Dan Carter, and Dagg, took their bonus point well enough – but Argentina and SA away are going to be ultra tough.

After the first match, Australia v the Pumas was a let down, the weather didn’t help, but it was a dreary affair. Australia look like a sitting duck for their away games, as Argentina could have won this with a bit more composure.

RaboDirect PRO12
Ulster  12 - 13  Glasgow 
Leinster 29 - 29 Ospreys 
Scarlets 26 - 10 Benetton Treviso 
Zebre 21 - 43 Munster 
Cardiff Blues 21 - 10 Connacht 
Edinburgh 16 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons 
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Rugby Championship
New Zealand 29 - 15 South Africa 
Australia 14 - 13 Argentina

Thursday, September 12, 2013

" I will take the ugliest win in the history of the game as long as we can win."

 Aaron Smith (picture

A major distraction this week ahead of the great games coming up on the weekend, is the future of the Heineken Cup. The French clubs, in particular are flexing their muscles, and the English aren’t too far behind. Pretty ironic when the French clubs in particular didn’t seem that bothered to make an effort in the competition for years and years.  Just making clear it’s our straw, and don’t forget it! And quite convenient to sideline in particular the Irish clubs who’ve won it 5 times in the last 10 years. No doubt some deal will be hammered out and in fairness, a merit based qualification does make sense. Anyway, we’ll always to be able to say that WE won it when it was still a proper competition!

Meanwhile, Leinster continue their campaign against the Ospreys on Saturday at the RDS.  The big news for Leinster is the arrival of Lote Tequiri, to provide more backline cover.  I suppose that means we’ve replaced Isa Nacewa and Andrew Goodman with Tequiri and Zane Kirchener. I think we have pretty good cover now, especially when we have utility players like Fergus McFadden available.  Can we kick Welsh arse two weeks in a row?

The Ospreys started with a pretty strong 15 last week, and had various Lions and Welsh stars to come off the bench. They’re always a potent side, and we’ll have to bring our A game to beat them. They seem to struggle with Leinster though, and not play to their potential. Long may it last! I’m going with a decent home win.

Munster should notch up an easy win over Zebre, while UIster have to bounce back against a tough Glasgow side – they have the players, they just need to do the business, but I think they will this week. Jarred Payne spending a bit more time at 10? Just  saying. Connacht will find it tough, but maybe not impossible against the Blues. Parks is a points machine, watch out Cardiff!

Saturday morning will see me vegging out in front of the TV all morning. The All Blacks V the Springboks, followed by Australia V the Pumas. Yes please!

The Boks have an unchanged side, pretty impressive continuity and some luck with injuries. The All Blacks change 5, Nonu is back, Cane for McCaw, Messam comes in for Luatua. They are a bit worried about his match, the New Zealanders. They think they can be beaten, and that doesn’t happen too often.  The best quote I’ve seen is from SA coach Heyneke Meyer. "I am really happy we can score tries but on Saturday I will just take a one point win as well. I will take the ugliest win in the history of the game as long as we can win." Got to love him for the honesty! Shutting  Aaron Smith down is the key for the Boks. I still think the AB’s will win, despite the big raps on the Boks, but it won’t be in dignified fashion!

Australia are all over the place for the visit of the Pumas. Genia is benched, he’s looked tired and under pressure, and no surprise behind a crumbling pack.  That pack has to stand up and be counted on Saturday, anyway, anyhow, otherwise it’s going to be a horrible horrible day for Australian rugby. And the momentum is all with Argentina, even if I don’t like the way they’ve rejigged their team, I still think this is going to be their day.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , September 13
Zebre vs Munster 18:30
Ulster vs Glasgow 19:05
Cardiff Blues vs Connacht 19:05
Edinburgh vs Newport Gwent D'gons 19:45
Saturday , September 14
Leinster vs Ospreys 18:15
Scarlets vs Benetton Treviso 18:30
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 14
New Zealand vs South Africa 08:35
Australia vs Argentina 11:05

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Leinster, Munster, the Dragons and the Springboks bring the pain!

 Brendan Macken (picture

Leinster were up and running again on Friday night in Wales against the Scarlets, in a match I kind of fancied them to lose. Losing their first match of the season is a great Leinster tradition these days. They went in at the break behind, and then came storming back to hand the Scarlets a bit of a thrashing. Their running game is up and running again, and there is a lot of graft before the flair is brought out. The loose trio, and in particular Devon Toner put in a lot of solid work. I was well impressed by Jack McGrath too, he looks to be developing in the mold of another Cian Healy. In the backs, Gopperth showed he hasn’t come to Leinster to sit on the bench and collect a pay packet, Brendan Macken had a great match, and Darragh Fanning is going to provide some interesting competition on the wing.  Leinster have a lot to work on, but not too shabby a start. The Scarlets have a lot of work to do, but most teams are rusty first out.

Ulster were certainly rusty, didn’t see it but the comments from the Ulster fans weren’t too complimentary. The Dragons can be tricky enough at home, and it hasn’t hurt Leinster starting slowly.

Munster beat Edinburgh convincingly, Ronan O'Mahony, JJ Hanrahan and Dave O'Callaghan caught my eye. Their attack is working well, but they conceded a couple of very soft tries too, so their defense needs to improve, which I’m sure it will over the season. Connacht got off to a good start with a win over Zebre.

In Hamilton, the Pumas did a lot better than expected, opening the scoring and gaining dominance over the AB’s in a few areas, notably in the scrum. Lobbe makes a huge difference to their team, and they must fancy a win against Australia now. The All Blacks weren’t at full strength, debutant Francis Saili started slowly then came roaring into the game.  New Zealand are amazingly efficient at turning opportunities into points, and could always score when they needed to. Their biggest concern now is the fitness of Ritchie McCaw.

In Brisbane, the Springboks broke a 40 year losing streak to record their best ever away victory against Australia. It was a close match until the last half hour. Then, in theory, South Africa’s big forwards would run out of steam and Australia would have a chance. Well, the opposite happened – the Wallabies didn’t have much steam to start with and had a power failure for the last half hour. The Boks bench is so strong the pack can keep going for 80 now, and they have the backs with the skills and confidence to rack up big totals now. South Africa are real contenders for the title this year, and I for one, CANNOT wait for the AB’s match. The Wallabies are in disarray – no physicality, no confidence, no plan. It’s going to be a tough road back for them, and Argentina next week isn’t necessarily going to be the turning point either.

RaboDirect PRO12
Scarlets 19 - 42 Leinster 
Glasgow 22 - 15 Cardiff Blues 
Newport Gwent D'gons 15 - 8 Ulster
Connacht 25 - 16 Zebre 
Benetton Treviso 19 - 24 Ospreys 
Munster 34 - 23 Edinburgh 

Rugby Championship
New Zealand 28 - 13 Argentina 
Australia 12 - 38 South Africa

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tadaah! The new season is here, I hope Leinster start well against the Scarlets!

Tadaah! Here is the rugby season again, and Leinster have a tricky first match to navigate against the Scarlets at the Parc y Scarlets. Welsh teams at home are often a banana skin for Leinster, but at least it’s a pretty strong Leinster side that’s been named.  The starting props are an interesting selection, with Moore and McGrath filling the spots. Heinke van der Merwe is plying his trade at Stade Francaise this season, and with Michael Bent injured, we are light at prop. Of course, it’s also an opportunity for someone to make a name for themselves in that position. Dave Kearney at fullback will be interesting, and I hope Jimmy Gopperth kicks on from his solid start last weekend.

The Scarlets have a pretty handy looking team, they’ve lost George North obviously but the team is stuffed with decent players, and I kind of think they may pip Leinster. Let’s see!
I fancy Ulster will sort out the Dragons at Rodney Parade, with a  strong first team and some good replacements to come on. Connacht are likely to make a winning start against Zebre, and Munster should bag a win at home against Edinburgh.

Also returning this weekend is the Rugby Championship.  Even with Lobbe retuning for Argentina, it’s hard to see them shocking the All Blacks at home. Whatever New Zealand are saying they view this match as glorified training run, so there’s Argentina’s opportunity- but they just have too much class, so it should be a comfortable win for the home side.

In the other fixture, the Springboks visit Brisbane to take on Australia. Quade Cooper is back in the hot seat, and for me the other surprises are George North’s mate Israel Folau at fullback, and Nick Cummins on the wing. Cummins is a journeyman at best to me, and I wonder how Folau is going to handle the aerial bombardment that is surely going to come his way. South Africa have Zane Kirchner at fullback, probably a good move as Willie Le Roux, moved to wing, fumbled quite a few high balls against the Pumas.  The Boks starting pack is better than the Aussies, their bench is better too, but they generally stink playing way from home, so if they do win this I don’t think it’ll be by much.

Scarlets: 15 Gareth Owen, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Steve Shingler, 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (capt), 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Jo Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Craig Price, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Jordan Williams.
Leinster: 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Darragh Fanning, 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings (capt), 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Tom Denton, 3 Martin Moore, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack O'Connell, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Brendan Macken.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , September 6
Scarlets vs Leinster 
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ulster 
Glasgow vs Cardiff Blues 
Saturday , September 7
Connacht vs Zebre 17:00
Benetton Treviso vs Ospreys 18:30
Munster vs Edinburgh 

Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 7
New Zealand vs Argentina 08:35
Australia vs South Africa 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Leinster come a little unstuck against the Saints, and a few other odds and ends.

 Ian Madigan (photo by me obviously)

The pre season friendly at Donnybrook is a bit of a routine for me now, and there was the normal genial craic to be had at this cosy venue. A fairly low key Leinster side made a decent fist of keeping the score decent against a strong Saints team. Saints had the obvious advantage from the off, kitted out as they were in the most horrendous show stopping dayglo lime outfit. Northampton had two Lions, and a good few England players in it, whereas Leinster were light on experience,  Leinster got the first try while the adrenalin was going, but it was always going to be hard after that, in particular at scrum time. The players that stood out for me were Jimmy Gopperth, who seems to always keep his cool, Aaron Dundon who tackled like a tiger, made a few good runs, and got a couple of turnovers, and Eoin Reddan who settled things down a lot when he came on.

For the Saints, Lawes and Manoa are some combination, Corbiserio is a class unit, and George North attracts tacklers like nothing else.

I’d have liked to see more of the full Leinster team, but it was a pretty good night out all round.
Ulster rounded up their warm ups losing to the Tigers, but that is a quality squad now. Munster wrapped up a two match series with London Irish with a good win. The Exiles even have a few Irish players now!

And Connacht lost to Newcastle last weekend, where new  Kiwilock (one of the best playing in Ireland now IMO) Craig Clarke made a bright start.

Leinster 13 v 21 Northampton Saints
Leicester Tigers 30 Ulster 10
Munster 27-13 London Irish
Newcastle Falcons 23 - 10 Connacht