Friday, February 28, 2014

Ireland to sweep the board again


Ulster kick things off for Ireland on Friday night as they entertain the Dragons at Ravenhill. The big news for them I guess is the return of Tommy Bowe. I’ve been waiting to see Bowe and Zebo in the Irish team together, and then talk about the T-bo and Zebo show, but I might have to wait a bit for that. It’s a rock solid looking Ulster team,  studded with stars, and great to Henderson getting a start at lock. They should look after the Dragons, even if they beat Glasgow last week.

Connacht play Treviso, and though the Italians have games in hand, it’s an opportunity to keep ahead of them and overtake Edinburgh who should be beaten by the Ospreys. ‘mon the West!

Munster have a chance to do the clean sweep of the Welsh sides on Saturday, They have re-jigged their backline again, with Zebo at fullback and Denis Hurley at centre. I would have persisted with Keatley at center myself (with a smidgen of tackling practice) but there you go. The Scarlets have Jonathan Davies back, but even with an odd looking backline I’d still back Munster to win at the Parc y Scarlets.

Finally, Leinster field a strong looking scrum for the visit of Glasgow. There seems to be quite a bit of tinkering going on in the backline, looking for frontline centre replacements to BOD and D’Arcy. Just a suggestion, but how about McFadden and Fitzgerald? They aren’t the biggest two, but don’t lack in heart, tackle well, and could really get something going with Madigan. Glasgow have a pretty decent pack themselves, but there’s a fair amount of experimentation going on in the backline. I think we’ll beat them, they have just fallen off the pace, while Leinster are picking up the wins week in week out.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , February 28
Ulster vs Newport Gwent D'gons 
Edinburgh vs Ospreys 
Saturday , March 1
Zebre vs Cardiff Blues 
Connacht vs Benetton Treviso 
Scarlets vs Munster 
Leinster vs Glasgow

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Even with BOD on our side...


Wales finally put in a proper performance on Friday against a shambolicly inept French side. Playing away from home seems to be too much trouble for France, especially at an intimidating place like the Millenium Stadium. Wales beat them up in the first 10 minutes, and then watched them implode. Whilst France are not out of the championship race, the wooden spoon isn’t impossible either.

Scotland meanwhile, dug deep and got  a well earned victory with a last minute drop goal in Rome. They don’t quite look like they could beat the All Blacks yet, but a win for them is like gold dust. After a dire first half, both teams picked up the pace and there was some good rugby played. Italy are up against it now, with both Ireland and England looking for big victories in their remaining two matches to improve their points differences.

Finally, England burst Ireland’s grand slam bubble with a hard fought win at Twickenham. There was very little between the sides, but England had better chances than Ireland did, played hard disciplined rugby, and kept the championship alive with this victory. No shame losing a close game like that.  But , to look on the brightside, we are top of the table with a good points difference, and we have winless Italy and make it up as you go along France left to play. Don’t write Ireland off just yet!

RBS Six Nations
Wales 27 - 6 France
Italy 20 - 21 Scotland 
England 13 - 10 Ireland

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Saturday is judgement day!

This weekend is about as juicy as it gets for rugby fans in Europe. Three big matches that could pretty well decide the 6 Nations this weekend.

Starting off at the Millennium Stadium, with a Welsh side still to find their mojo this year, taking on a French side from whom you can only expect the unexpected. Wales have dropped Mike ‘Street Fighting Man’ Phillips from their starting lineup which should settle things down a bit, and improve their tempo. Speculation behind the reasons for Welsh coach Warren  Gatlands’ persistence with Rhys Priestland is rife, maybe what goes on tour stays on Rhys’ phone! France have been uneven so far, sparkling and overwhelming, and also shaky and uninspiring. Two from two so far, but only  playing at home so far . Wales must start firing soon, Ireland was the kick in the pants they needed , and I think they’ll redeem themselves on Friday with a win.

Ireland v England at Twickenham is butterflies in the stomach stuff. For Ireland, a win would set them up for the Championship, and beating England never hurts that bad. For England, a loss and this 6 Nations is a write off, they’re playing in front of their home crowd, they really, really don’t want to lose this one. They were competitive but let one slip through their fingers in Paris, and then not particularly ruthless against a dire Scotland side. They’ve got good players, but not the finished article yet. Ireland are looking settled, they have a really good win under their belts against Wales and look organised and confidant. Scary stuff, I really want this win, and I think we’ll get it, I’m backing Joe Schmidt to have hatched the right plan.

Finally, Scotland face the unenviable task of trying to avoid the wooden spoon in Rome this weekend. ‘All over the place’ is where they are at the moment, if you play well you the coach drops you, the Italians’ wouldn’t be building Hadrian’s Wall to keep this lot out. I can’t see past more woe and soul searching for Scotland, with Italy to finally get their campaign on the go.

RBS Six Nations
Friday , February 21
Wales vs France  20:00
Saturday , February 22
Italy vs Scotland 13:30
England vs Ireland 16:00

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scrum penalties are the new running rugby for Leinster

 Jack McGrath (picture

Scrum penalties are the new running rugby for Leinster I found out this weekend. Matt O’Connor has turned a formally pretty iffy tight 5, to where even the B – team can boss the scrums and the line outs. It’s not as pretty to watch, but try bonus points don’t always have to be pretty. They seem to have forgotten how to make the space for the backline, but maybe that will come in time. I just wish that Isa was backline coach for Leinster, and not the Auckland Blues. Jack McGrath was good value for MOTM, Jordi Murphy was massive, but Madigan seems to be rooted in about third spot in the Ireland pecking order.

Munster ran out easy winners over Zebre in the end, after a wobbly start. It wasn’t their smoothest performance, and the rejigged backline didn’t really fire, but I hope they give it time, because Keatley shows a lot of potential at centre. JJ and CJ pulled the strings well, and so good to see Donnacha Ryan back in action.

Connacht got one over Edinburgh and pulled off the bottom spot. No problem to beat Toulouse away, and now a bit of success at home too.

I also stopped watching the Ospreys Treviso match after 20 minutes, with only one try scored. Of course, the Ospreys only went and scored another 20 tries after that!

Finally, I watched a fair amount of the Sharks v Bulls, with eye watering physicality. Both teams have pretty decent backlines too, be interesting to see what they do against the Kiwi teams.

RaboDirect PRO12
Leinster 31 - 19 Newport Gwent D'gons
Connacht 11 - 7 Edinburgh 
Munster 36 - 8 Zebre 
Cardiff Blues 20 - 27 Glasgow
Ospreys 75 - 7 Benetton Treviso 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Looking for a clean sweep from Ireland this weekend!


Leinster have a strong side out for the visit of the Dragons on Friday night. Key combinations for me would be the 8,9,10 of Jordi, Reddan and Madigan. Reddan will be champing at the bit to at least get a spot on the bench for Ireland, while Jordi and Madigan want to kick on for the big time.  Then at centre, Macken and Reid could well be the long term combination in centre, so the more game time they get the better.  I’m no expert on the Dragons, but there are not too many recognizable names there so I going with Leinster, comfortably.

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Darragh Fanning, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Martin Moore, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Issac Boss, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Darren Hudson.

Ulster got a good win last week over the Ospreys, with biblical weather conditions at Ravenhill. They have a strong side out again, and won’t struggle too much with the Scarlets. I’m looking forward to seeing Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson showing their wares.

Alan Solomons has Edinburgh looking like the capital of the Transvaal with his team selection for Connacht. Connacht look strong, not experienced at fly half, but there’s always Dan Parks on the bench. Wonder if Scotland still have his number? It’s an opportunity for Connacht to get off the bottom of the table, which I think they’ll take.

Finally, Munster are going with Keatley and Murphy in centre – I’ve always thought Keatley would make a good centre, and throw in JJ Hanrahan, Zebo, Felix Jones and van der Heever and they have a potent back line. Fantastic to see Donnacha Ryan back too.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , February 14
Ulster vs Scarlets 
Leinster vs Newport Gwent D'gons 
Saturday , February 15
Connacht vs Edinburgh 
Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow 
Munster vs Zebre 18:45
Sunday , February 16
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso 16:00

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ireland produce a gem


The only area where Wales had parity with Ireland was when Jake Ball ran on, a man who’d offer Gordon D’Arcy some serious competition in a beard off. But apart from that, It was Ireland all the way, man for man, in the lineouts, the scrums and the in the mauls. Garda are conducting an enquiry as Sam Warburton,  Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau were seen entering the stadium, but went missing after the anthems. Ireland were organised, clinical and tactically proficient, while Wales, weren’t. That has to be one of most dismal flat performances out a Welsh team in ages,  and one of the least reactive coaching performances as well , with Hook, Webb and Tipuric kicking their heels one the sideline while the carnage unfolded. And as one of my Welsh acquaintances tweeted, ‘What has Priestland got to do to be dropped, pull down his pants and do a poo on the pitch?’ Wales were one from two this time last year as well, though, so things could turn around still. Not time to put the champagne on ice for Ireland just yet, but you never know…

While the competition for the 6Nations champions heats up, Scotland have already laid down a marker for the wooden spoon. They’ve put in the training for it,  are well on course at this stage, and it will take an epic effort fromm Italy to snatch it from them..  I suppose the best you could say about the match against England was that they managed to lose at a slower rate as the match went on. England look burly and up for it, but not very clinical, you would have expected them to rack up a much better score than that. All things being said though, England look like they are going to provide the biggest test of the 6N for Ireland.

France and Italy wrapped things up for the 6N, with an erratic match in Paris. There was lots of toil and puff in the first half, but neither side has anything much to show for it. Then Louis Picamoles and Wesley Fofana got the show on the road for France, with a few individual moments of magic.  After that, the match descended into Frances’ favourite style, the farce, with sendings off and an Italian try. The French could go all the way, or just as easily collapse in a heap.

RBS Six Nations
Ireland 26 - 3 Wales 
Scotland 0 - 20 England
France 30 - 10 Italy