Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cheap and cheerful 6 Nations guide - with a surprise tip for Ireland!


Here’s my cheap and cheerful form guide for the 6N! WARNING! I wouldn’t put your house on my predictions

Second last year, they have a juggernaut pack, and a deadly place kicker.  Apart from that, the backline is a work in progress. I think they are still being baked in the kiln right now, I think they’ll finish 3rd

They came last year – last! They have the biggest money league in the world – so many good players they don’t know who to leave out, but they  don’t know who to pick either. I think they’ll do better this year, but finish fourth. And first up at home, they’ll beat England this weekend.

They came 4th last year, but diabolical performances from France and Ireland helped that a lot. Not much has changed, except they’re getting older, I’m backing them for 6th

Joe Schmidt is out secret weapon. We have injury worries, but the right coach – there are a few old codgers like BOD, D’Arcy and POC that are retiring or one injury way from the end. They’ll want to go out on a bang, so I’m being bullish and going for  first place, on points difference. We’ll beat Scotland this weekend – I think they’ll catch the backlash of our loss to New Zealand.

Third last year, but at the end of the day, they have only two teams to pick from – they are going to be game, but limited and finish 5th

Going for a triple crown of wins. But Welsh rugby is in bits – players are leaving, and the fans aren’t happy, players are staying, and the fans aren’t happy, everybody is blaming everybody else. They have awesome players, are bit suspect at 10 and also at 9 now, so I’m going second for them. They’ll comfortably beat Italy this weekend.

RBS Six Nations
Saturday , February 1
Wales vs Italy 14:30
France vs England 17:00
Sunday , February 2
Ireland vs Scotland 15:00

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Hounds chew up the Saxons!


The Irish Wolfhounds picked up a decent little win against the English Saxons at Welford Rd on Saturday. Ireland had a lot more experience than their hosts, but at home, with the depth that English rugby has to offer, I was still expecting England to probably win.

The Saxons, however, looked flat – Freddie Burns had a match to forget, and they had no penetration, against a superbly well organised Irish defense. They were out muscled in the scrum, and all England had to show for their efforts was a lot of ball, a lot of territory, a penalty, and a gift of a try. Boss was totally in command of the game, and behind him Madigan ran a tidy game. Boss scored an embarrasingly easytry, and then Madigan, who’s lethal from 5m out, added his own – he could run through a steel door at that distance.

The only thing Madigan needs to work on is his territorial play – he should have kept Ireland down in the Saxons 25 with the wind behind him in the first half. Apart from that, him and Boss were a class above Keatley and Marmion, who in the last 2 minutes each gave the Saxons pressure free ball to gave the watertight Irish defense another frenzied workout.

The pack was as solid as a rock, the tight five effective and physical, and the loose trio cleaned up the Saxons at the break down. That pack could be the Ireland pack one day. I thought Henshaw really looked the part of an international, and Fergus Mc Fadden is just invaluable for his speed of decision and deftness of touch

For the Saxons, Joe Simpson was the standout player.

International Match
Saturday , January 25
England Saxons 8 - 14 Irish Wolfhounds

Thursday, January 23, 2014

All you ever wanted to know about the Saxons v the Wolfhounds but were afraid to ask


It’s an interesting and strong looking team that’s been picked for the Irish Wolfhounds match against the English Saxons. Rhys Ruddock captains, and it’s composed of fringe Irish players, up and comers, and a few old stalwarts for the experience.

Of the starters, I’d put Boss, Tuohy and McFadden in the old stalwarts section – good players but who don’t seem to be in Ireland’s immediate plans. Tuohy would be the most aggrieved that he’s not in the ‘big’ squad.  Of the up and comers, Rob Herring, TOD, Copeland, Marmion and Jordi are the ones I’m hoping get some good profile from the match.  I’d say that McGrath, Zebo and Jordi are on the bench because they may feature in the Ireland’s plans for next week.

England also have a strong looking team, and I’m looking forward to the match, they tend to be a bit less polished because the players don’t know each other as well, but none less exciting for that.

The match is at 5.00pm on Saturday at Kingsholme, and will be shown on Sky Sports.

Irish Wolfhounds: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Martin Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Simon Zebo.

England Saxons: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Charlie Sharples, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Calum Clark (c), 5 George Kruis, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Jamie George, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Sam Dickinson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Rob Miller

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Three out of four ain't bad...


All the maths has been done, and all the quarter finalists sorted out for the HC and the AMC. Not by me, I was watching. And here they are, three Irish, three French and two English:

Ulster v Saracens
Clermont v Leicester
Toulon v Leinster
Munster v Toulouse
Semi-final Draw:
Ulster-Saracens v Clermont-Leicester
Toulon-Leinster v Munster-Toulouse

The Friday night matches were pretty poor, which is what you get with a 5 day turnaround. Leinster had an easy run in once Evans was red carded, but looked anything but sharp, except in patches. Luke Fitzgerald continues to impress, Healy was great, and with a best of rest and practice, they are going to give Toulon a good game.

I didn’t see the Connacht match, which is just as well as they got pretty comprehensively hammered by Saracens. Can’t take that away win over Toulouse from them though.

Ulster went to Welford Road looking for a win, played Leicester at their own grinding game, and got the result! The Tigers were shipping injuries all over the place, and Ulster seem to have more quality on the bench than they do these days.  They have a lot of injuries in the backs, but even their forwards don’t seem to have the physicality that the Tigers have always had. For Ulster, Chris Henry made his Ireland credentials clear, Rory Best is total performer, and Roger Wilson is an unsung hero. Meanwhile, Ruan Pienaar put in force 10.0 performance on the superlomometer, scoring all their points. One of the best players in Europe.

So on Sunday it was left to Munster to wrap things Ireland, which they did in style, with a hard edged performance that got them the bonus point, and a home quarter. Tommy O'Donnell is a workhorse who quietly puts in the hard yards, and should be getting higher recognition soon. Paul O’Connell was himself. Coughlan was industrious, and the stand out cameo was from Zebo, a man with time on ball. He needs to be parachuted back into the Irish team ASAP.

At one stage it was shaping up to be a Munster Leinster tie, but that all changed with Clermonts bonus point. Toulouse at home will be massive, but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Munster yet.

Heineken Cup
Friday , January 17
Northampton 13 - 3 Castres 
Leinster 36 - 3 Ospreys 
Saturday , January 18
Saracens 64 - 6 Connacht 
Zebre 6 - 16 Toulouse 
Glasgow 8 - 15 Toulon 
Montpellier 24 - 6 Benetton Treviso 
Leicester 19 - 22 Ulster 
Cardiff Blues 13 - 19 Exeter 
Sunday , January 19
Perpignan 18 - 36 Gloucester 
Munster 38 - 6 Edinburgh 
Scarlets 20 - 22 Harlequins 
Clermont Auvergne 28 - 3 Racing Metro 92

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Heineken Cup - enjoy it while you've got it!


How quickly do the weeks roll around, it’s ALREADY time for the last round of the Heineken Cup matches, on frankly what could be the last Heineken Cup ever. Heineken may get fecked off with all the faffing about that’s going on about a tournament, so that when some agreement is finally all hammered out, first item will be a new sponsor. At the moment, the likelihood of a new European cup in 2014/2015 looks dimmer all the time. So enjoy it while you’ve got it!

Leinster’s group will get sorted out on Friday night. They’ve named a strong team, and have Ricardt Strauss on the bench which is great news. The Ospreys look like they have a strong pack, but are lot more inexperienced in their backs, still filled with talented players all the same. Leinster spent half of last week playing in ladyboy style, and half in ferocious attacking finishing mode. They are going to need to rediscover the inner man, get stuck in, and then finish in style. I can’t see them getting a better placing than 5th or 6th, and will win but without a bonus point.

Connacht have to go to Saracens for their last match. They tend to pull off big wins every year, but generally earlier in the season when they are still underrated and the opposition is in their comfort zone. Saracens are forewarned and forearmed, so hard to  see anything but a Saracens victory.

Ulster Leicester is a bit of a strange one. Both teams are qualified, so it’s position they are jockeying for. Ulster are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, but Welford Road is a huge challenge. However, this is
Ulster’s fourth qualification in a row, they have the experience now, and it’s a team they’d particularly like to beat. I see them digging very deep for this one, and getting it!

Munster are going to wrap things up for Ireland  with their match against Edinburgh on Sunday. They have no new injuries, Murray is playing really well, and I hope Zebo starts. I’m expecting a ruthless Munster to a) extract 5 points out of the hapless Scots b) get full revenge for their first round defeat.

Enjoy it all!

Heineken Cup
Friday , January 17
Leinster vs Ospreys 
Northampton vs Castres 
Saturday , January 18
Cardiff Blues vs Exeter 15:40
Glasgow vs Toulon 15:40
Zebre vs Toulouse 13:35
Saracens vs Connacht 13:35
Montpellier vs Benetton Treviso 18:00
Leicester vs Ulster 18:00
Sunday , January 19
Scarlets vs Harlequins 15:00
Clermont Auvergne vs Racing Metro 92 15:00
Munster vs Edinburgh 12:45
Perpignan vs Gloucester 12:45

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ireland pretty well smash Europe 4-0!

 Jordi (

I’m sitting here oinking from the couch after TOTALLY pigging out on rugby this weekend (while still managing to fit in the other stuff). And get in, what a result,4 from 4 for Ireland!

Ulster got things going at Ravenhill with a tough win over Montpellier. Everybody was expecting Montpellier to not really show, and mentally, I think Ulster had bagged the win and were planning for Leicester next week already. However, when they realized they were in a fight they rolled their sleeves and got on with it, directed by a superb performance from Ruan Piennaar.  A bonus point would have been good, but they’ve qualified which is the main thing. Leicester are also through from that group after getting 5 points in Italy.

Connacht got their win against Zebre, no bonus point, but they are mathematically not out of the running for the HC or the AMC yet. Again, great performances from Carty and Leader, and  a MOTM performance from Healy on the wing.

Munster played Gloucester in front of a thumping Kingsholme crowd. Great atmosphere, great set of supporters, and a good tough match. Munster were clearly the better side, I thought Earls’ try was very well worked, while POM gets better every match. Charlie Sharples put in a touch of magic to score a great individual try. But overall, Munster are in great shape, ultra physical, and disciplined in defence. Murray made a difference, and great to see Zebo back.

So three from three, all up to Leinster to complete a clean sweep, but up against Castres unbeaten for more than a year at home. Leinster’s scrum and tackling were pretty shocking, to be honest. They got blown off the ball at the break down in the first half, and cut to shreds in midfield. But they took their opportunities superbly well, coming back from 14 nil to touching distance. Then in the second half, discipline, fitness and application told, as they kicked themselves into a lead, and then, with only 14 men, saw Healy and Murphy combine for a great try. The new Leinster centres! Castres left a good few try’s behind, but we’ll take it, teams with much, much bigger budgets couldn’t do what Leinster did On Sunday in the last year. Great performance from Gopperth in attack, Rob Kearney was great, and I thought Jordi Muphy was the one Leinster forward who really stood up to be counted.

Seed Pool Winners
1  Ulster 22
2  Toulon 20
3  Toulouse 19
4  Clermont 19
5  Munster 18
6  Leinster 17
Seed Pool Runners–up
7  Leicester Tigers 20
8  Saracens 15

Heineken Cup
Sunday , January 12
Castres 22 - 29 Leinster 
Ospreys 17 - 29 Northampton 
Toulouse 21 - 11 Saracens 
Saturday , January 11
Benetton Treviso 19 - 34 Leicester 
Harlequins 13 - 16 Clermont Auvergne 
Connacht 20 - 3 Zebre 
Exeter 10 - 15 Glasgow 
Edinburgh 27 - 16 Perpignan 
Gloucester 7 - 20 Munster 
Toulon 43 - 20 Cardiff Blues 
Friday , January 10
Ulster 27 - 16 Montpellier 
Racing Metro 92 13 - 19 Scarlets 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Four from Four Ireland, Four from Four!

Aaron Dundon (picture

What shall I do this weekend? I could play with my kids, fix up stuff around the house for my wife, and walk the dogs. OR MAYBE I’LL PIG OUT ON RUGBY, EAT SLEEP AND WATCH HEINEKEN CUP RUGBY ALL WEEKEND!!! YEAH! Or maybe a bit of both :)

Ulster get things started for the Irish clubs with a vist from Montpellier. Montpellier’s owners must have that feeling you get when you pay a fortune for a fancy coffee machine…but when you taste the coffee it still tastes like shit. This is Ulster:  J Payne, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy, P Jackson, R Pienaar; (1-8): T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (Captain), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams – get a strong team, and put Best and Muller in it, at home, means they are in awesome shape. Meanwhile, word on the street is that Montpellier are sending a second string side over, as they can’t see how they can make it out of their pool, so Ulster need to take advantage and get a 5 point victory.

Connacht have Zebre at home. The Galwegians have shown in their matches with Munster and Leinster over the last couple of weeks that they can mix it with the big boys. After upsetting Toulouse, I’m demanding a 5 pointer here, over the Italian side who’ll be buoyed by one of their only home wins over Treviso.

Munster have a trip to Gloucester to contend with, and the Cherry and Whites have only 4 times at home this season. Will they make it 5 this weekend? In a way, the loss to Ulster was perfect preparation for this game, nothing like the feeling of perceived injustice to really sharpen up your game. A win here, and the pool is really theirs. Interesting to see who starts at 10 for them, but  I can’t see any other result.

Finally Leinster are in France to take on Castres, who won’t have Antonie Claassen or scrumhalf Rory Kockott playing. That’s a bit of good news anyway. Castres don’t expect to go through to the next round, so it’s pride they are playing for – and also preserving an 18 week home winning streak. I’m just hoping Leinster are channeling Northampton Away this weekend, which I think they probably are. They know this competition, know they slipped up last time at home, and need to get back on the horse.  Apart from SOB, Leinster have a full squad to pick from, with Rhys Ruddock ,Aaron Dundon recovering and  Fergus McFadden back. So yes, I’m backing their experience to pull this one out the bag.

Apart from that, Quins/Clermont and Saracens/Toulouse will be the games to watch.

Heineken Cup
Friday , January 10
Racing Metro 92 vs Scarlets 
Ulster vs Montpellier 
Saturday , January 11
Exeter vs Glasgow 15:00
Toulon vs Cardiff Blues 15:40
Connacht vs Zebre 15:40
Harlequins vs Clermont Auvergne 13:35
Benetton Treviso vs Leicester 13:35
Gloucester vs Munster 18:00
Edinburgh vs Perpignan 18:00
Sunday , January 12
Ospreys vs Northampton 12:45
Castres vs Leinster 12:45
Toulouse vs Saracens 15:00

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Giving Out about Giving Out

Paddy Jackson (picture )

Two Irish derbies, two top International refs who are also Irish, and two big controversies. It’s a game of rugby, get over it! On the balance of play , over 80 minutes in each game, in my opinion, both games ended with the right result. If you want a game with a perfect result, play it on Xbox! And accept the fact that there’s swings and roundabouts, but over 80 minutes it’s evens out. If at any point during a game when reffering to the referee, commentators, studio analysts or fans, you realize you sound like you’ve just seen Niall at a One Direction concert – step away from the mike, step away from the Twitter machine!

They should go back to only being allowed to check the grounding – because if you applied the letter of the law to every single facet of the 4-5 plays before a try, there probably wouldn’t have any tries scored this weekend. And I want to watch rugby, not replays. Another thing, don’t bother your bollocks to critcise the referee until you’ve read the complete rules of the game ( ) which I can assure have been read by 0.00001% of fans, commentators and analysts, me included. Let’s get the respect back into our sport!

Irish action in the Pro 12 kicked off at Ravenhill, with a thrilling up and down match between Ulster and Munster.  Ulster ruled in the first half,  and could easily have been further ahead, with Munster looking sluggish and out of sorts, and missing their kicks. But they got a well worked try in the dying minutes of that half, which kick started a resurgence that carried on in the second half and nearly won them the match.  Ulster have a great pack these days, Dan Touhy is in top form, as was Chris Henry, and Paddy Jackson bossed the game, and the fly half contest well. I was impressed by Munster, that wasn’t quite a full team, but they have stepped up from their much looser performances over the last few years, and look like they really mean business.

Connacht/Leinster was another tight affair, which saw Connacht take a deserved lead in the first half with a committed performance, only to fall off the game in the last twenty minutes. Most impressive for me were Darragh Leader and Jack Carty at 15 and 10 for Connacht, coping well with Leinster’s aerial game.  Leinster won’t be using highlights of this match in their season review DVD that’s for sure. We are either amazing at the moment, or allowing play to be dictated to us. Jordi Murphy was great again, D’Arcy was strong, and I thought Heaslip made some good ground.

RaboDirect PRO12
Zebre 14 - 12 Benetton Treviso 
Connacht 8 - 16 Leinster 
Ulster 29 - 19 Munster 
Ospreys 17 - 12 Scarlets 
Cardiff Blues 21 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Derbies, derbies...and this weekend I'm going Ulster and Leinster!


Derby season continues this weekend with Munster’s trip to Ulster, and Leinster’s to Galway.  As well as Rabo points it’s also the final warm up match before the HC kicks off again.

Ulster were less than impressive last week against Leinster, and hopefully the return of Chris Henry will kickstart a bit of form for them. They’re just outside the top four and want to start climbing again. Ulster at  Ravenhill will be a way bigger challenge than Connacht at home were to Munster last week.  Munster didn’t really put the Galwegians away to their satisfaction, and they’ll find the Ulstermen a much bigger challenge. Sean Dougall and James Downey are both out of the match, and while another lose forward won’t be hard to find, Downey has been really solid in midfield for them. DOC is lucky to be in the starting 15, he always seems to play on the wing these days! Both sides have named strong teams -mmm, who’s going to win? Ulster I think, they are going to want it more.

Leinster won’t have SOB, who’s out until the end of the 6N. That’s a big blow, they missed him a lot in the Saints rematch.  Connacht meanwhile, won’t have Frank Murphy or Dave McSharry. We always go down to Galway and get sucked into a dogfight. The weather will no doubt be typically appalling, conditions which just don’t suit Leinster’s running game.  I reckon we should kick it down their end, defend, and win with penalties. Brutal to watch, but we need 4 points! We also need to our top players to pick up some from, but not get injured before the Castre  match. Leinster should win, ah gwaan, they will win!

RaboDirect PRO12
Wednesday, January 1
Cardiff Blues 21 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons
Glasgow vs Edinburgh 
Friday , January 3
Ulster vs Munster 19:05
Ospreys vs Scarlets 19:15
Saturday , January 4
Zebre vs Benetton Treviso 14:00
Connacht vs Leinster 19:15