Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saracens mash, and Toulon survive...

 Simon Zebo is back in the Munster team
 ( picture )

Well. It’s possible that I might have been a little out on my prediction for a Clermont win. And it turns out that in their own way, Saracens can actually play pretty entertaining rugby, scoring multiple tries as they monstered Clermont. You certainly can’t fault their defense, with Burger and Brtiz on fire. . Clermont didn’t start well, and got a harsh decision (Nigel Owens won’t be getting too may offers for sets of Michelin tyres). But once their heads were down, they never really came back, and although they were tying and playing until about 60 minutes, after that they pretty well gave up. When they couldn’t bust a way through, or use Sivivatu and Fofana to make a hole, they were out of ideas. Whatever you think about Chris Ashton, this was his day, pouncing on everything, and surely putting himself back into contention for an England jersey.

Sunday’s match with Munster travelling to take on Toulon, was a far more even contest, and a much better match. Toulon went into half time with a deserved lead, having managed to keep and extend their lead, through a 10 min sin binning. But Munster, after surviving a horrendously hot opening 10 minutes, miraculously not conceding a try ( someone must have been saying their hail Mary’s) came roaring back into the match. They worked their way back up the field with penalties, turned down three points, and scored a try through the lethal finishing of Zebo, surely looking to return for Ireland.  They played proper 15 man rugby, and gave Toulon an almighty fright, but made enough basic errors through the match to just lose it in the end. The red of Munster is on the rise again.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , April 27
Toulon 24 - 16 Munster 
Saturday , April 26
Saracens 46 - 6 Clermont Auvergne 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This weekend...I'm going Clermont and Toulon

 Wesley Fofana.jpg

Semi final time in the Heineken Cup, and four teams 80 minutes away from a Heineken Cup final.

First up is Saracens taking on Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium. Saracens build their play on massive physicality, and organised defense, then thye have some good strike runners in back play. Then of course they have Owen Farrell to knock the penalties over. They may not be the most exciting team to watch, dull you could say, but awesomely effective. Clermont are European royalty – stuffed with French internationals, and a pick and mix of the best international players. As well as a bringing their own impressive physicality, they have players like Fofana, Nalaga and Sivivatu that can turn a match on it’s head. For the sake of rugby, I hope Clermont win, I always enjoy watching them, and I’m going with them by 5.

Then on Sunday, Munster go to Marseille to take on champions Toulon. Munster have a huge pedigree in this competition, it’s their 10th semi, following on from a semi appearance last year. Munster have a very balanced team, and brought unmatched physicality and energy in their win over Toulouse. They’ll have to bring that and more to Marseille though, as they don’t get bigger and badder than Toulon, who can just crush the life out of you. It’s the million euro question, can Munster come up with the kind of form from the quarter finals, and pick the champions pocket. It’s not impossible, but on this occasion, I think they may just come up short, as the away venue will count against them.

Heineken Cup
Saturday , April 26
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne
Sunday , April 27
Toulon vs Munster

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Leinster and Munster plough on, Ulster plough in


Leinster gave the RDS something to shout about on Friday with a 9 try thumping of Treviso. The Italians are no Toulon, but you can only play what’s in front of you. Leinster played the sunny kind of rugby that suited the day and the crowd. The win keeps them on top, and the bonus point keeps them slowly pulling away from the chasers. I thought Heaslip was very impressive, there was a little more space for him to show his running game.

Things weren’t so sunny for Ulster though. They just have no luck, a few weeks ago they were riding high in the league, and looking forward to a home Heineken Cup fixture. Now they are plagued by injuries and suspensions, out of the HC, and teetering on the edge of not making the Rabo play offs. Glasgow were efficient if not exactly inspiring in their home win, flattered by the try that never was. But in fairness, the Glaswegians are finding form at the right time, and helped by some appalling tackling from Ulster, continued their journey up the table. Ulster need a lot of grit and just a little luck to get themselves out of this.

In Galway, it was the season of giving, as Connacht gift wrapped two tries for Munster, and Munster returned the favour right at the end. Connacht have 80% of a good team, a lot of good young backs, but no lpolish. Munster didn’t fire on all cylinders, laboring away for the bonus point try, but they got it. That wasn’t anywhere near their strongest team though, it was about a pass as a warm up for Toulon.
RaboDirect PRO12

Sunday , April 20
Cardiff Blues 17 - 13 Scarlets 
Saturday , April 19
Zebre 26 - 13 Edinburgh 
Connacht 23 - 32 Munster 
Friday , April 18
Leinster 62 - 7 Benetton Treviso 
Glasgow 27 - 9 Ulster 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter wins for Leinster, Ulster and Munster!


Leinster have put out a strong side for the visit of Treviso tonight.  With the Heineken Cup down the tube for this year, they need to clock up five pointers whenever they can to make sure of a home semi in the Rabo.  It’s a home match on an Easter weekend, I hope they are going to put on a bit of a show, something which has been missing from their game recently. They need to kick some arse! Madigan is at least back on the bench again, he’s the man that to me could spark them back into life.

The big clash this weekend is Ulster’s trip to Glasgow. The Glaswegians win over Munster has been talked up as a revival of Scottish rugby – steady on there… I really fancy Ulster this week, even with a few big names out, they are a potent side, and still hurting from their Heineken Cup loss.

Connacht play at home to Munster. I pretty well glossed over Munster’s underperformance against Glasgow, but a loss here would sound a BIG alarm. Connacht won’t be a push over either, they are ferocious at home, and won’t be feeling intimidated by anything they saw last weekend! I’s be surprised if Munster lost though.

Meanwhile, it’s ‘Judgement Day’ in Wales on Sunday – you don’t have to play well to get into heaven, however, just into Gatlands Welsh squad.  Should be a great day of handbags, petty grievance solving, and even some rugby maybe – nothing like getting stuck into your Welsh mates! I’m looking forward to it!

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , April 18
Leinster vs Benetton Treviso 
Glasgow vs Ulster 
Saturday , April 19
Zebre vs Edinburgh 
Connacht vs Munster 
Sunday , April 20
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets 
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Leinster need to suck it up and get back on the horse next weekend!

 Cian Healy

It was a tale of woe for the Irish teams this weekend, unless you’re an Ulsterman. Connachts run of good results came to crashing a halt at Ravenhill, as Ulster put 8 tries on them, and basically gave them a hammering. Connacht are 8th, they’re not a bad team, but Ulster had a point to prove, with Trimble getting a hat trick, and Tommy Bowe sounded good in the centre.

I didn’t get to watch that complete performance by Ulster, because I was dutifully watching Leinster struggle against the Ospreys. Both Leinster and Munster didn’t have to win this weekend, where the Ospreys and Glasgow did, and it showed. A couple of players really stood up, Cian Healy was massive,  I though Dave Kearney was great, but on the whole it was pretty flat and ordinary from Leinster, no tempo, no magic. Just have to suck it up and get back on the horse next weekend!  At least they got a losing bonus point.

Munster, meanwhile, were equally all over the place against Glasgow, conceding their first loss at home to a Scottish side for 6 years. With Paulie sitting in the stands, and POM out injured, here was no one to rally the troops against an organised determined Munster side.. I’d say there’s going to be a bit of tackling practice this week. Like Leinster, best just to forget this happened and get their focus back.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , April 12
Benetton Treviso 45 - 27 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Munster 5 - 22 Glasgow 
Scarlets 27 - 20 Zebre 
Friday , April 11
Ospreys 25 - 19 Leinster 
Ulster 58 - 12 Connacht 
Edinburgh 22 - 29 Cardiff Blues 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wins for Ulster and Munster this weekend...

Where is he? (picture

After a hectic, and apart from Munster, not a very productive Heineken Cup weekend, it’s back to the day job, the RaboDirect PRO12.

Ulster have to put defeats, cards and injuries behind them ( they currently have Best, Pienaar, Wilson. Afoa and Tuohy out) (and no Payne after 2 week suspension) and pull themselves together to beat Connacht, to keep them in the play-off race. They’ve still put out a strong team, and have Tommy Bowe in center – a place a lot of Irish fans would have liked to see him in for a long time. While Connacht have put a good few wins together recently, I think they’ll find Ravenhill a step too far.

Leinster have to pick themselves up, and get back on the horse at the Liberty Stadium, as they try to get a result out of the Ospreys. Leinster escaped pretty well injury free against Toulon, apart from Fergus McFadden, pride was the main thing that was hurt.  BOD has been swanning around England this week so he’s out, and Ian Madigan is nowhere to be seen, which is odd, apart from that it’s a strong team. The Ospreys have a pretty potent squad out, they’ll be a bit rusty after all the gaps in play, but I think realistically Leinster will look at a  losing bonus point as the main points on offer. Surprise me!

Finally, Munster get to play Glasgow at home on Saturday. They don’t have Peter O’Mahoney due to his surgery, but CJ Stander made his case convincingly for more regular starts last weekend, for Munster and maybe ultimately Ireland. Also absent are Donnacha Ryan and Casey Lualua. Glasgow had a great end to the 2013 season, and great start to this year’s season, but things have gone a bit pear shaped since then. Unless they’re tired from last weekend, or they underestimate Glasgow, they should win this easily.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , April 11
Ulster vs Connacht 
Ospreys vs Leinster 
Edinburgh vs Cardiff Blues 
Saturday , April 12
Benetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D'gons 18:00
Scarlets vs Zebre 18:30
Munster vs Glasgow 18:30

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Munster shine, Ulster bust a gut, and Leinster don't shine.

 Heineken Cup logo
Ireland’s only reason to cheer this weekend was the stunning form that Munster showed as they chewed up Toulouse and spat them out. They out muscled them, and found their attacking prowess out wide again, scoring 6 tries in the process. It was a complete performance, with CJ Stander in awesome form, but really, it was a 15 man effort. They were absolutely the form team of the weekend. They travel to Marseille now.

Leicester pushed Clermont right to the end, but playing the French sides on their home turf is tortuous stuff, the crowd is like a 16th and 17th man. Clermont got out of the blocks fast, got a good lead, and then defended it, holding off a late Tigers comeback. They travel to Twickenham next.

Ulster ran Munster close performance wise, after they had to play with 14 men for 75 minutes, with the red carding by Jerome Garces (the same man who sent off Stuart Hogg) of Jared Payne. The Ulstermen got far closer to win than they should ever have, also losing Rory Best, and eventually Ruan Pienaar, who played through an injury. Hearts like Lions. Saracens were efficient, but would have struggled against 15 you’d think, and will have to play better than that to beat Clermont at Twickenham.

Finally, Leinsters hopes of a fourth title slipped down the tube  at the Stade FĂ©lix Mayol. They looked off the pace from the start, their passing was atrocious, and only excellent defense, and a bit of luck kept them in the game in the first half. In the second, they were simply blown away by Toulon’s power. It’s a pity, because when they could string a few phases together, the gaps were there. They still look short of another world class lock, and are still not sure who the best 10 is. Another year! Toulon will play Munster now in Marseille.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , April 6
Toulon 29 - 14 Leinster 
Saturday , April 5
Munster 47 - 23 Toulouse 
Clermont Auvergne 22 - 16 Leicester 
Ulster 15 - 17 Saracens 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I'm going with Munster, Clermont, Ulster and Leinster - trust me!


I’ve put in all the essential training and preparation for this weekend’s Heineken Cup action  – the couch springs have been tested, the remote is taped in the secret spot beneath the table,  I tested my stamina for the arduous ‘3 matches in a row’ hell in the 6 Nations – bring it on now, do your worst!

First up is Munster’s clash with Toulouse, at Thomond Park.  Munster definitely won’t have Donnacha Ryan, although it sounds like Peter O’Mahoney will make it. Toulouse don’t have mountainous  Census Johnston, but apart from that their team reads like a who’s who of French and international rugby. Toulouse are 6th in the T14, level on points with two other teams. They are not the force they were, and the French away from home are notoriously flaky. On paper, they have a better team than Munster, but I fancy Munster are going to dig deep for this one, if they build an early lead with barnstorming start, that’ll put the Rouges et Noir away

Clermont Leicester is next, it’s all giants of the game at this stage. Leicester’s coach thinks that Les Jaunards unbeaten run of 74 games at Parc de Sports Marcel Michelin puts the pressure on Clermont. My arse. That record is there because a) they arguably have the biggest, baddest, bestest squad for a club side, anywhere, anyhow b) they would pretty well lay down their lives for their fanatical fans. The Tigers are great team too, and will back themselves, but I think the Clermont should have won the thing last year, and won’t slip up to the Englishmen.

Ulster Saracens at the newly renovated Ravenhill – yes please!They reckon they could have sold the place out 8 times over, such was the demand for tickets.  This is going to be a brawl to see who can get the upper hand in the pack. And I think we’re going to see some steel that Saracens haven’t come up against yet, the Ulstermen are going to be absolutely ferocious, they are going to get biblical on the Londoners arses, and then Bowe, Jackson, Trimble and Jarred Payne are going to rip them to shreds in the backs and finish the job. Ulster with an epic win!

Finally, Leinster get to travel to the Stade Felix Mayol to take on Toulon. Toulon are extra stuffed with household names in international rugby, not many French internationals mind, but still, it’s pretty mind boggling who they have to call on. Leinster have a full team to pick from, apart from SOB.  After last weekend’s match against Munster, I’d suspect Toulon are going to try to scrum for 80 minutes, with Johnny to kick the them home. And they are going to try and physically smash  Leinster witht eh size fo their players. Leinster are up against it alright, they are going to have to play the match of their lives to get out of this, but they can. They’ll have to play a superb kicking game to keep Toulon as close to their own try line as possible, defend defend, tackle tackle, wear them out – then turn on just enough style at the end to take the game away from the Frenchmen. Matt, if you’re reading, that’s how we’ll do it, and I think we will, c’mon you have to be bullish don’t you!

And if it all goes according to my predictions, that’ll be both semis in Dublin!

Heineken Cup
Saturday , April 5
Munster vs Toulouse 13:30
Clermont Auvergne vs Leicester 16:00
Ulster vs Saracens 18:30
Sunday , April 6
Toulon vs Leinster 16:30