Sunday, May 31, 2015

Glasgow get an historic win!

 ( Picture

I was out working yesterday and it was technology 1 recording 0 so I only got to watch the last half hour of the PRO 12 final. At that point Glasgow had an 8 point lead, and Munster were pressing to close that gap. But not for very long, Glasgow got down the other side of the pitch and carried relentlessly until they scored, and after that it wasn’t really a contest. Glasgow are definitely worthy winners of the title, the close call against Ulster seems to have galvanised them to this impressive win against Munster.

It sounds as though the Scots outmuscled Munster, which is a rare enough event, but their defense was immense too. It’s a great win for Scottish rugby, and opens up the PRO 12 league, which has pretty well always been an Irish/Ospreys affair.

Next season is going to be pretty crucial for Munster, Paul O’Connell has played his last game for them, and that giant of world rugby would be a loss for any club. Connor Murray would have been a huge boost for them, but they still have to resolve their fly half issues, and the clock is now ticking for Anthony Foley.

Guinness PRO12
Munster 13 - 31 Glasgow Warriors    17:30

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Glasgow will just about sneak it...

Finally finals time, with Glasgow hovering in the wings for a number of years, now having their first real chance of getting the title. They topped the league, new league arrangements mean they have to play in Ulster, but hey have a full squad to pick from, and have been in good form for the last three seasons.

Munster meanwhile, having not won anything in a while, are trying to rebuild the dynasty that brought them success in Europe, the PRO 12, and propelled a generation of stars into the Irish and Lions teams. They don’t have Connor Murray available, but apart from that it’s as strong as they get. They’ve picked a monster pack, especially with Donncha Ryan at flank. Justice wise, Glasgow should win…but this is up for grabs, it’ll probably come down to kicking, so no pressure on Keatley. This is proba bly the last Munster out for Paulie, and Ali Kellock won’t be seen for Glasgow either. I think Glasgow will probably sneak it.

Guinness PRO12
Munster vs Glasgow Warriors    17:30

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ulster just falter, Munster get a bit lucky, and I'm so gutted for Connacht!

 Craig Gilroy
 Craig Gilroy (picture

Ulster played a really smart game plan at Scotstoun in the first half against Glasgow on Friday, night, getting into good field position, and then playing with ball in hand. Even without van der Merwe and Herbst, they brought massive physicality, that  had the Scots rocked back on their heels. Then in the second half, the tide turned, there was a bit of loose kicking, and while the Scots snatched it at the end, they didn’t really look like champions playing at home. Despite topping the Pro 12 log, they have to travel to Belfast for the final. Craig Gilroy was the most impressive Ulster player for me, he can commit 2-3 defenders, who don’t know whether to stand off or go in and tackle him.

Then Munster came up trumps against Ospreys at Thomond on Saturday, although they did their best to keep the Welshman in the game with a woeful kicking display. 15 points were left behind, and but for a knock on in the final move, their season would have been over. Impressive were Hurley, Butler and Stander. They can beat Glasgow, but they are going to need to play a lot smarter.

Finally, I was totally gutted for Connacht, they had that match won for all money, and deservedly so. Connacht played the smart rugby, the backs interchanging like Leinster used to do, and just raw physicality in defence that had Gloucester scratching their heads. So close…

I also caught Bath monstering Leicester, there’s a changing of the guard there, you can see why all the Bath players are making England now. I hope they go on to win the final.

Guinness PRO12
Friday, May 22
Glasgow Warriors 16 - 14 Ulster    18:45
Saturday, May 23
Munster 21 - 18 Ospreys    13:30

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bring it home, Ulster and Munster!

 Picture of Denis Hurley
 Denis Hurley (picture

Semi final time this weekend, with two great matches in prospect!

First up is Glasgow v Ulster, with a major challenge lying ahead for the Ulstermen. Last weekend, they sent their b team, hung in there for 60 minutes, and then finally caved. (not Cave’d!) This weekend it’s their A team, but the unfortunately without two of their South Africans, Herbst and van der Merwe, both of whom have had a massive impact at the province this year. Glasgow hold the upper hand, with form and home advantage. But Ulster know the way to the final, and would have home advantage in that. So I’m going for an upset, and a win for Ulster!

Then on Saturday Munster welcome the Ospreys to Thomond. Munster are in great form, and you’d be brave to bet against them at home. Captain Denis Hurley has been a stand out player for Munster this year, his form has been excellent, and he leads from the front. Add in players like Stander, O’Connell and Murray, and it’s hard to look past them to book a place in the final.

Guinness PRO12
Friday, May 22
Glasgow Warriors vs Ulster    18:45
Saturday, May 23
Munster vs Ospreys    13:30

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Munster get a home semi, Ulster are in the mix, and Connacht make the play offs!

 Franco Van Der Merwe
 Franco van der Merwe (picture

I like the all at once final day format of the Pro 12, and it threw up a few surprises for the top four and Connacht.  Connacht couldn’t beat the Ospreys, but they  prevented them from getting four tries and home semi, and booked their own place in the play offs. They are going to have to beat Gloucester away next weekend, and then if they get through that then they have to beat the 7th finishing French side. So big ask , but fair play to the Westafarians for getting the chance!

Munster demolished the Dragons to get a home semi of their own, and are hitting form at exactly the right time to mount a proper challenge to win the league.

Ulster, meanwhile, fielded a second string side and got smashed by Glasgow. Now they are going to have to do all it all again on Friday, but at least they got to rest some of their top players. Be surprised if Franco van der Merwe makes it though, and he’s a massive loss, the big South African is total grafter. But it’s all to play for…

Finally, Leinster wrapped up their season with a bonus point win.
22nd May 15    
18:45     Glasgow Warriors     -     Ulster
Sat - 23rd May 15    
13:30     Munster     -     Ospreys    
Connacht     20 - 24     Ospreys            
Glasgow Warriors     32 - 10     Ulster            
Munster     50 - 27     Newport Gwent Dragons        
Benetton Treviso     13 - 17     Scarlets
Cardiff Blues     29 - 5     Zebre            
Edinburgh     23 - 36     Leinster

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Short and sweet - wins for Leinster and Munster!

Right, last weekend of the league games in the Pro 12.  Leinster have picked a light backline for their trip to Edinburgh, and given Ian Madigan a rare runout in the fly half berth. Connacht will be really hoping that Leinster get the win to help keep them in the mix for a Champions Cup spot, although they will need to do awesomely well to beat Ospreys. The Welshmen will want to finish with a win, although all they need is point to top the league, so that gives Connacht a glimmer of hope. Munster should thump the Dragons, so that just leaves the match of the weekend, Glasgow v Ulster. This season has marked the rise and rise of the scots, and I think they’ll win this.

Guinness PRO12
Saturday, May 16
Munster vs Newport Gwent Dragons    14:00
Cardiff Blues vs Zebre    14:00
Edinburgh vs Leinster    14:00
Benetton Treviso vs Scarlets    14:00
Glasgow Warriors vs Ulster    14:00
Connacht vs Ospreys    14:00

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Leinster scrape into next seasons Champions Cup!

Chris Henry leads out Ulster at Ravenhill.jpg
Chris Henry ( )

Leinster scraped into next year’s Champion’s Cup with  a very forgettable victory over Treviso. All the excitement happened in the first 5 minutes when Heaslip went over for a well taken try off a scrum. After that it was grim watching, as each side ineffectually attempted to get a score for the next 75 minutes. Leinster butchered a  good few chances, and they have the most energy sapping game plan out – truck it up, truck it up, then free uncontested box kick which means they have to tackle and tackle and work the breakdown to get the ball back. No making space for the backs, and no territory game where the fly half is kicking for the corners, Treviso showed they aren’t completely rubbish when they have to compete for the Italian Champions Cup spot. I’m just hoping Jonny and Isa can freshen it up next season from the fly half berth.

Ulster Munster was top derby stuff, as physical as you could expect, but some decent running too. Munster were way better than I thought, they are hitting form at the right time, while Ulster, although good value for the draw, don’t quite seem to be realising their potential. Great to see Donncha Ryan back, and Chris Henry playing so well too.

Connacht scored 6 tries as they put Zebre away in Italy. They are in 7th spot, the last automatic qualifying position for the Champions Cup, so they need Leinster to hammer Edinburgh and try and get whatever they can out of the Ospreys – a win would be nice!

Guinness PRO12
Friday, May 08
Newport Gwent Dragons 19 - 5 Edinburgh    18:30
Ospreys 21 - 10 Glasgow Warriors    18:35
Leinster 10 - 0 Benetton Treviso    18:35
Saturday, May 09
Ulster 23 - 23 Munster    13:40
Zebre 10 - 40 Connacht    16:30
Scarlets 16 - 6 Cardiff Blues

Friday, May 8, 2015

A few good byes for Leinster

 Gordon D’Arcy is named on the bench for Leinster. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
 Gordon D'Arcy ( )

There’s two games left in the Pro 12, and there is only 4 points between first and fourth. Leinster’s ship has already sailed, but Munster and Ulster are still in the mix, and that match up , alongisde Ospreys v Glasgow is going to make for some exciting rugby this weekend. Connacht meanwhile will look for a big win against Zebre, and hope a few other results go their way.

There are a few farewells for Leinster tonight as they take on Treviso at the RDS. It will be Shane Jennings last home match,  and Gordon D’arcy probably won’t be seen again in Ireland in Leinster colours. D’arcy is a legend, for club and country, while Jennings was always at the coalface, a natural born grafter.  Jimmy Gopperth is heading off to Wasps, it hasn’t gone as well as he would have hoped, but he did score 347  points in 57 appearances for Leinster. Hopefully we can sign off at home with a flourish, I could see Ben Te’o and Jordi Murphy having big games.

Ulster v Munster is the latest derby match for Ulster, having seen off Connacht and Leinster in recent weeks. Home advantage is massive, and they have the form, in their own reckoning their game against Leinster was their best of the season. Munster are probably a more challenging proposition than Leinster these days, so it’s likely to be a bone crunching tense affair. I think the momentum is with Ulster, so they should win it.

Coanncht won’t have any problems with Zebre, and I think Glasgow will get the victory tonight over the Ospreys.

Guinness PRO12
Friday, May 08
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Edinburgh    18:30
Ospreys vs Glasgow Warriors    18:35
Leinster vs Benetton Treviso    18:35
Saturday, May 09
Ulster vs Munster    13:40
Zebre vs Connacht    16:30
Sunday, May 10
Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues    15:00

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Toulon reign supreme over Europe again!

Toulon celebrated with the European Champions Cup 
 ( picture )

Toulon reign supreme over Europe again, with a much more convincing display than they produced in the semis. I wanted Clermont to win, and they didn’t disappoint, playing ambitious rugby, and scoring some stunning tries. They got out of the blocks early, and set up a good lead. But they fluffed their lines at the end of the first half, keeping the game going when the clock went red, and conceding a try that ultimately cost them the match. Toulon came out composed and full of energy in the second half, and although Clermont got close again, Toulon were worthy winners with another two tries. Touolon finished the stronger, it looked like Clermont just ran out of puff in the end. A final with 5 tries, you can’t complain about that, now when are we going to see a proper North/South club match up?

On Friday, Gloucester ran out winners although they tried as hard as they could to keep Edinburgh in the game, with serious violent indiscipline. It looked like Edinburgh were going to get blown at any moment as they struggled to cope with the pace of May and Sharples, and with a bit better discipline Gloucester would have won this easily. Edinburgh have a lot of talent in their team, but they made too many basic errors to really compete at this level. They can only get better though.

Challenge cup
Friday, May 01
Edinburgh 13 - 19 Gloucester   

Champions Cup
Saturday, May 02
Clermont Auvergne 18 - 24 Toulon

Friday, May 1, 2015

French money v more French money!

 Isa Nacewa tackle on Gareth Owen
 Isa! Isa! ( picture

Saturday is the climax of the Champions Cup, Heineken Cup ver 2.0, and it French money v more French money. Actually, I am being a bit harsh there, because while the foundation of Toulon  is loads and loads of Euros, bringing together the biggest names in rugby, Clermont is a club that brings the razzmatazz, the love of rugby. They spend a lot too, but you can’t buy heart. I can remember them playing Munster at Thomond with 14 men after Jamie Cudmores’ red card, and they would just not give up, their intensity got higher and higher. Their demolition of Northampton is probably the match of the tournament so far, tough for Saints fan, but an absolute feast for everybody else. There wasn’t much in Toulon’s defeat of Leinster, and we are not the force we were, I thought our pack was better, and only an intercept try really separated the teams. Their key weapon is the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.

Clermont meanwhile really have it all – I think they have the edge in both the backs and the forwards, and players like Fofana that you can’t put a price on.  They don’t have a goal kicker of the same calibre of Halfpenney though, and that is Toulon’s glimmer of hope, snatching a win in a tight match. Clermont though, are nearly irresistible when they turn it on, and I think they’ll be able to keep playing in the right part of the field, and use that dazzling backline to really put the boot in. Clermont for me!

I believe selling tickets for an all French  affair at Twickenham hasn’t gone too well – you can buy a ticket for the English Premiership final and get a free ticket to the Champions Cup match at the same time.

In the Challenge cup, Gloucester take on Edinburgh. Neither side has had very even form this year, but Edinburgh have been truly terrible in patches, and I can’t see tehm finding a  good 80 minutes to win this , so Gloucester.

In Leinsterland, it’s the second coming of His Awesomeness, the return of Isa! Fantastic news, he’s one of the best players Leinster have ever had, he can take up the fly half role as needed, and if ever you saw a player with a coaching career stamped all over him, it’s Isa!

Champions Cup
Saturday, May 02
Toulon vs Clermont Auvergne    16:00
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Fri - 01st May 15     18:45
Edinburgh - Gloucester