Monday, June 29, 2015

Two smashing semi finals in Super Rugby!

 Nehe Milner-Skudder (picture

Two unbelievable matches closed up the Super Rugby semi finals. And for once, justice is done, because if you take out the conference system, it’s the teams who finished first and second who will be contesting the final. Add to that the two teams that scored the most tries got the wins, shows that things are looking pretty good in Super Rugby.

The Canes put the Brumbies way first up, very clinically. Their attack is just about unstoppable, and they attack relentlessly, there’s no defending of leads in their psyche. They have forwards who can offload, two excellent locks, a good all round team, and some outstanding players. Ardie Savea, Nonu, and Milner-Skudder are just playing out of their skins. The Brumbies started well, but that travel must have tired them,  but they look like a team for the future.

In the other semi, the Highlanders used the same approach, attack as if your life depended on it, and play it down their end of the field.  The Tahs looked like they hadn’t played for a month, wild passes and missed tackles was the order of the day. Naholo and Aaron Smith were outstanding for the Highlanders, they sweep into the final, featuring two teams that have never won the competition.

Super Rugby
Saturday, June 27
Hurricanes 29 - 9 Brumbies    07:35
Waratahs 17 - 35 Highlanders    09:55

Friday, June 26, 2015

My take on the Irish rugby squad , and Super Rugby semi time!

 Ruddock has been in superb form for his province.
 Rhys Ruddock (picture

This is the preliminary Irish Squad for the world cup, broken down as follows:

Connacht 2
Leinster 22
Munster 9
Racing Metro 1
Ulster  11

Even for me as a Leinster supporter this seems a little unbalanced, I mean 9 players from Munster, that’s way too many!  In fairness, it does look a little like you could not even play rugby, but happen to be passing the RDS at the right time, and find yourself on the Ireland squad! Absentees who probably should have been in contention to me anyway are Archer and Cronin. Dave Foley and Robin Copeland would surely have been in there were they not injured (and we could really do with another quality lock), and CJ Stander only qualifies for Ireland the day after the World Cup Final. Denis Hurley has had the season of his life, so for me he should have at least made the 45.  Ian Keatley is not there, but in a tournament where goal kicking is likely to be vital, he is just not that reliable.

In Ulster, I think Marshall is not there for concussion reasons, with players like Olding and McCloskey to be challenging for places soon, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Wiehahn Herbst in there one day.

For Leinster Rhys Ruddock is player who shines for his country, while one day maybe Ben Te’O whill have his chance.

And for the players left out, it doesn’t take very many injuries in key positions to suddenly be required.

Forwards: Rory Best (Ulster), Michael Bent (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster) (c), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster)

Backs: Isaac Boss (Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Felix Jones (Munster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Noel Reid (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster)

Finally, there are the Super Rugby semis this weekend.  The Hurricanes have had a week off, and will be at home, wyhile the Brumbies have earned mega frequent flyer miles on the way to beating the abject Stormers last week. Home advantage is key, the Canes have been the form team this season, so they should close this out.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, the Tahs get to grips with the Higlanders. Again, home advantage is huge. Without a conference system though, the highlanders would have finished second and had home advantage this weekend. I haven’t really seen the Tahs too much this season, and they have Folou at centre which is good in attack, but may not work in defence.  So maybe the Highlanders can sneak this one.

Super Rugby
Saturday, June 27
Hurricanes vs Brumbies    07:35
Waratahs vs Highlanders    09:55

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Highlanders triumph while the Stormers meltdown!

 Joe Tomane (Photosport file)
 Joe Tomane ( picture

Super Rugby semi semis opened up with Highlanders v the Chiefs – now THAT was proper rugby, both teams in it until right to the end, although the Highlanders always had the edge you felt. They won, and they won pretty, in an entertaining match full of great tries and skill. Ben Smith and Aaron Smith were superb for me, just adding classy touch after classy touch. They now get to face the Waratahs, and if they produce the same quality of rugby, they’ll win that too. Damian McKenzie for the Chiefs looks like a future All Black.

In the other semi, the Brumbies absolutely trashed the Stormers in Cape Town. I thought the South Africn teams were supposed to be big and ugly – they got totally beaten up by the Australians, AND the Brumbies had all the cool foul play too! Joe Tomane hardly seemed to be trying with his hat trick, actually hard to judge how good they are with the Stormers being so poor. Damian de Allende was the only one who stood up to be counted, sure they had some big names missing, but South Africa has players to burn, it should have at least been close.

Super Rugby
Saturday, June 20
Highlanders 24 - 14 Chiefs    07:35
Stormers 19 - 39 Brumbies    15:05

Friday, June 19, 2015

Champions Cup optimism for Leinster, and Super Rugby semi semi's!

 The pools for the 2015/16 European Rugby Champions Cup

Starting off with the Champions Cup, funny to see other clubs writing off Leinster’s chances this year before it’s even started, after being drawn in the same pool as Toulon, Wasps and Bath. While WE can remain quietly confident. Right? Can I have an amen? Fair enough, it’s a really tough group. But the Ireland squad is like Leinster lite these days, we have Jonny and Isa on the way back, if we get a half decent coach, we can beat Toulon in the pools, and the rest will take care of itself… Here’s hoping!

Ulster are with Saracens, Toulouse and Oyannax, which I think is pretty reasonable, with Saracens the main challenge. Because there are less pools, it means more quality sides in each pool. And Munster have Stade Francais, Leicester, and Treviso, which is not bad as pools go. Can’t wait! Finally, Connacht are in the pound seats IMO with their draw in the challenge Cup, with Brive, Newcastle Falcons and Enisei-STM from Russia. French sides often aren’t interested in the Champions Cup, never mind it’s younger cousin, Falcons are always more worried about staying up, and the Russian games should be a breathe of fresh air.

In Super Rugby, it’s semi semi finals, with Highlanders and Chiefs the main draw, both play really exciting rugby, and this could be the match of the final stages. The Brumbies go to Cape Town to take on the Stormers, where home advantage should prevail, but with shrewd head coach Steven Larkham, anything could happen.

Super Rugby
Saturday, June 20
Highlanders vs Chiefs    07:35
Stormers vs Brumbies    15:05

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stade Francais shake things up in France!

Morne Steyn ( picture
The Top 14 finished up on Saturday with classic finals rugby ie not nearly as entertaining as the semis. No tries were scored, and it wasn’t through lack of trying, but defence was the order of the day, and there just weren’t any gaps. Clermont tried to play their normal running game, but got smashed back time after time. Stade had a more pragmatic approach, keeping the ball in hand and carrying it up, and eventually establishing a dominance in the scrum. And so it all came down to penalty kicks, where Morne Steyn clearly had the edge over first Parra, then Lopez, then James. I think Clermont really missed Fofana and Nakataci, they just didn’t have the penetration without them. But fair play to Stade, they had to beat Toulon to get to the final, they are the real deal.

Top 14
 Clermont Auvergne 6 - 12 Stade Francais 19:00

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Clermont V Stade in the French final, and rugby's rich list

Mr Rich (picture
French rugby finally wrap up their long, long season on Saturday, in what’s likely to be an almighty battle between Clermont and Stade Francaise. Clermont will be grateful to Stade for knocking out Galacticos Toulon, amazing they seem to struggle with them, because man for man, Clermont are as good if not better than Toulon.  

You get to hear a lot about the imports in France, but last weekend Clermont had eleven academy players, and Stade 8 in their match day squads, so a lot of work is being done to produce their own stars.  

Clermont have a long history of falling at the final hurdle, but they certainly showed a lot of composure last weekend, a lot more than Stade, so I’m going with them. 

Saturday 13th June 

Clermont Auvergne vs Stade Francais 19:00

 Also , this is rugby’s rich list. Two each for France, South Africa and Wales, then one each for Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and England. Only two of them will play outside France next year. The football guys must laugh! 

1 Dan Carter (Racing Metro and New Zealand) €1.3 Million
2 Matt Giteau (Toulon and Australia) €0.9 Million
3 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon and Wales) €0.8 Million
4 Sam Burgess (Bath and England) €0.6 Million
5 Johnny Sexton (Racing Metro and Ireland) €0.6 Million
6 Bryan Habana (Toulon and South Africa) €0.6 Million
7 Morgan Parra (Clermont and France) €0.55 Million
8 Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse and France) €0.48 Million
9 Bakkies Botha (Toulon and South Africa) €0.48 Million
10 Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro and Wales) €0.48 Million

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Irish U20's win again, and how about Ewen McKenzie for Leinster?

 Heading for Dublin? ( picture

In the Under 20 World Cup, Ireland are 2 from 2  after beating Scotland 24-20. They scored two first half tries from Billy Dardis and Conor Oliver. They now have the pool decider with the Baby Blacks. Come on lads, let’s start making a habit of betting New Zealand!

In the Top 14, Toulon were well beaten by Stade Francaise, maybe not by as much as the scoreline suggests, but the men from Paris always looked like they had control of the match. Both teams are star studded, but Toulon seems to hog the biggest stars, and good that for once money couldn’t buy results. It was pretty nervy in the last 15 minutes, wild passes, bad decisions, and thoroughly entertaining all the same.

In the the other semi, Clermont squeezed past Toulouse in an even encounter. Brock James had a decisive influence on the match in the last 10 minutes, kicking his kicks and keeping the game in the right part of the field.

Meanwhile, on the Leinster coaching front, my favourite under the current possibles is Ewen McKenzie – he turned the Reds gold, led them to their first Super Rugby title, and coaches the rugby we want to watch. Also on the radar, and also a good bet, is Tony Browne, former All Black 10, and with coaching spells at the chiefs and the Highlanders.

Top 14
Friday, June 05
Toulon 16 - 33 Stade Francais    19:00
Saturday, June 06
Clermont Auvergne 18 - 14 Toulouse    14:30

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sad news about Jerry Collins, and the Irish U20's squeak home

 Jerry Collins ( picture

Just a few odds and ends now the Pro 12 season is over. First of all, really sad to hear of the passing of Jerry Collins. Uncompromising is the best way to describe his play, he’ll be remembered as hardest tackler of his generation. A friend of mine met him, and he was a solid down to earth guy.

In Italy, Tom├ís Quinlan kicked a last minute penalty to help the Irish U20’s squeak past Argentina for a win in their opening match. Ireland are in the same group as New Zealand and Scotland, so there’ll be bigger challenges to come, but great start none the less.

The hunt for a new coach for Leinster continues, Robbie Deans has ruled himself out – could we ever afford him though. In the great tradition of robbing Connacht, I have my eye on Pat Lam, but that doesn’t look likely. Bernard Jackman is on the radar, doubt whether we could prise him off Grenoble, and Jonno Gibbes is not leaving Clemont. Who’s next?

Finally, in France, it’s quarters time. I’d like to see a Stade Francaise Clermont Auvergne final,  let’s see how it all plays out.

Top 14
Friday, June 05
Toulon vs Stade Francais    19:00
Saturday, June 06
Clermont Auvergne vs Toulouse    14:30