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