Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Leinster smash Quins by a point! But Connacht are the real deal!

 Eoin Reddan is one of a host of returning players named in the panel for tonight's game
 Bacon saver (picture

Well 2 from 4 again in Europe, and the only consistency is from Connacht,  who arguably have the best provincial coach in Ireland at the moment.

Connacht started the weekend in style, with a run on team featuring academy players. Caolin Blade scored two tries on his first start, as they came from behind to secure the best result for Ireland of the weekend.

Leinster smashed Harlequins at home with a one point victory. Yes the Leinsterman continue to tread water, with no particular pattern of play, and a creaky scrum. It took a few inspired breaks from Eoin Reddan to save our bacon and set up the match winning penalty. We won, playing with the umpteenth centre pairing, which actually could work well if it continues, so let’s be generous and say we can only get better.  Quins scored a couple of good tries, and deserved the losing bonus point. If we just looked like everyone knew what the plan was, I’d be a lot happier.

Munster started red hot, and finished medium hot to get the losing bonus people, it was the bit in the middle that was the problem. That French running game is just dizzying to watch and defend against, they scored two tries as good as you’ll see, and butchered another. Like Leinster, the Munster scrum was dodgy, but they are even lower down on the prop stocks. Clermont have this group you’d think, but Munster  can still at least can chase that runner up spot.

Finally, Ulster staggered through the first half of their match against the Scarlets, coughing up several soft penalties to give the Scarlets a good lead. Their scrum was at least as bad as Munster and Leinster. Cave and Marshall set up the most beautiful try, and when they went down to 14 they played really well, and got within 2 points. Then…an intercept try took it all away, a loss and no bonus pont. Time to concentrate on the league.

European Rugby Champions Cup

Clermont 26-19 Munster
Wasps 44-15  Castres
Scarlets 22-13 Ulster
Saturday , December 13
Glasgow Warriors 9 - 12 Toulouse   
Toulon 23 - 8 Leicester Tigers   
Northampton 67 - 0 Treviso   
Leinster 14 - 13 Harlequins   
Racing Metro Paris 18 - 14 Ospreys   
Saracens 28 - 15 Sale Sharks   
Bayonne 27 - 29 Connacht
Bath 32 - 12 Montpellier

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another orgy of European rugby on the way!

 Cian Healy: bad news.
 We want you back! (picture

After some pain for the Irish last weekend for the Irish provinces, they all get a chance to right the wrongs of last week with the reverse fixtures this weekend.

Leinster lead up the Irish challenge, with injury doubts over Darragh Fanning and Gordon D'Arcy although they should be fit, while Dominic Ryan, Richardt Strauss and Dave Kearney could also be in the picture.  What is it with injuries and us at the moment, it’s a bit like a revolving door. Quins will be without Nick Evans and captain Chris Robshawe. Also Jimmy Goppeth has announced he’s leaving. This is one we have just have to win, bonus point win talk has been floating around, but that’s really hard to see, any kind of win will do. If we can hold our scrum together, at home, we should at least beat them, and with a bit of luck deny them a bonus point. I’d love to see Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien back ASAP!

Munster have to go to France to try and take out Clermont. While they won’t lack for motivation, the real question is do they have the firepower to get the job done? They certainly gave Toulon a good game in the knock out stages last year, so they know how to do it. On the injury front, they’ll be without Gerhard van den Heever and doubts over  Dave Kilcoyne, and James Cronin . Robin Copeland, Paddy Butler, Eusebio Guinazu and Andrew Smith may be available though. As the Frenchmen always grow another inch at home, it’s tough ask, don’t want to be pessimistic but Munster will be lucky to get a result I think.

I’d back Connacht on current form to beat Bayonne, whose commitment to European rugby is pretty suspect.

Finally, Ulster travel to take on the Scarlets, where the real worry is all their injuries. Stuart Olding and Franco van der Merwe suffered concussion in Saturday’s, while Wiehahn Herbst and Nick Williams have hamstring problems, and  Stuart McCloskey is a serious doubt. Luke Marshall may play – I wouldn’t worry about the backs too much, they have such depth there, but they’ll miss Herbst, Van der Merwe and Williams. It’s a hard one to call, but I think the Ulstermen have more quality, and should sneak a win.

European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , December 12
Bath vs Montpellier    19:45
Saturday , December 13
Saracens vs Sale Sharks    17:15
Leinster vs Harlequins    19:45
Toulon vs Leicester Tigers    15:15
Glasgow Warriors vs Toulouse    13:00
Northampton vs Treviso    15:15
Racing Metro Paris vs Ospreys    17:15
Bayonne vs Connacht
Sunday , December 14
Clermont Auvergne vs Munster    15:15
Wasps vs Castres    13:00
Scarlets vs Ulster    17:15

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2/4, average outing for Ireland this weekend.

 Leinster coach Matt O'Connor talks to Douglas at UCD this afternoon.

There was some fiery rugby played this weekend, no more so than in Limerick, where Munster came up against a very determined Clermont side. This was not for the faint hearted, with international standard intensity. What the French team brought was, alongside their normal talented (and huge ) backs was amazing physicality, for the whole match. They stopped Munster’s big runners in their tracks – even Paul O’Connel struggled, it was that difficult, while CJ Stander and Dave Foley hardly seemed to feature. Tommy O’Donnell really stood up, MOTM for Munster for me. Part of the learning curve for Anthony Foley – what’s the plan when your driving game is out the window? Easy for me to say, but I would have liked to see Felix Jones brought in more at first receiver, he’s playing a blinder at the moment, or given JJ Hanrahan a run for 15 minutes. It’s not a disaster though, it’s tight at the top of the pool, and Munster are going to give Clermont a hell of a game next week.

Ulster got a bit back on the horse, with a 5 pointer over the Scarlets. Pienaar makes a huge difference, and their amazing array of backs really came into the match. Darren Cave just quietly gets better all the time. Toulon’s loss at the Tigers leaves the pool nice and open.

Leoinster battled away on Sunday, and only came away with a losing bonus point.  The scrum was a huge issue in the first half, and overall, I’d say we struggled to impose ourselves physically. What Douglas was doing on the bench, I don’t know, and I think Jordi is still a touch off the pace. Gopperth had a pretty good game, which is a relief, but our problem at the moment is that there’s no tempo to our back play – other teams used to sh8t themselves when the Leinster backs got the ball, now it’s just pretty routine tackling to keep them contained. That’s what Sexton and O’Driscoll used to bring. Overall though, if we can beat Quins at home next week we’ll head in to the break in good shape.

Finally, Connacht held the flag high for Ireland, with a BP point win over Bayonne.

European Rugby
 Champions Cup
Sunday , December 7
Castres 17 - 32 Wasps   
Harlequins 24 - 18 Leinster   
Leicester Tigers 25 - 21 Toulon   
Toulouse 19 - 11 Glasgow Warriors
Saturday , December 6
Sale Sharks 15 - 19 Saracens   
Treviso 15 - 38 Northampton   
Munster 9 - 16 Clermont Auvergne   
Ulster 24 - 9 Scarlets   
Ospreys 19 - 19 Racing Metro Paris   
Connacht 42 - 19 Bayonne
Montpellier 5 - 30 Bath

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Leinster need to get ready to rumble, Quins here we come!

Just when the glut of Autumn internationals comes to an end – the ‘Cup formerly known as Heineken’ arrives!

And Leinster first up need to seriously get ready to rumble, as they travel to take on Quins. Quins are currently 9th in the Premiership, so it hasn’t been a stellar season – but… they are a much better team than they’ve been playing. And Leinster haven’t looked too fly this season themselves. Just who of their Irish stars is going to be available will have a big bearing on the result. We just don’t seem to have the beef that we used to, nor the creativity in the backs. However, we do have a habit of picking ourselves up for the big ones, so I’m hoping for a ‘Northampton away’ result again – I kind of think we’ll win.

Munster have Clermont at home. There have been some epic battles between the sides over the years, and this is one of the matches of the weekend. Munster weren’t entirely convincing last weekend, but they have a pedigree in Europe as long as your arm. So it’s game on, and you know what they say about the French travelling. Clermont would be one of the few French sides actually interested in Europe, but you’d fancy Munster at home wouldn’t you?

Ulster have had a lot of disappointments this season, but I think the Scarlet’s are going to feel the backlash of that when they visit Ravenhill. It wouldn’t pay the Ulstermen to underestimate  their Welsh guests but they’ll have too much firepower this weekend.

Finally, Connacht  have Bayonne at home. They should win, but Bayonne, although bottom of that pool, have beaten Connacht’s real rival in this pool, Exeter. I’m backing Pat Lam and his men.

European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , December 5
Montpellier vs Bath   
Saturday , December 6
Sale Sharks vs Saracens    13:00
Munster vs Clermont Auvergne    17:30
Ulster vs Scarlets    19:45
Treviso vs Northampton    13:00
Ospreys vs Racing Metro Paris    15:15
Sunday , December 7
Castres vs Wasps    13:00
Harlequins vs Leinster    15:15
Leicester Tigers vs Toulon    17:30
Toulouse vs Glasgow Warriors    15:15