Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ulster spare Irelands blushes in a challenging weekend for rugby here!

 Luke Fitzgerald
 Luke Fitzgerald

Well, Leinster had the task of getting Ireland of to a good start this weekend…and couldn’t. They had a smashing first half, absolutely hammering away at Toulon, and profiting. They took on Toulon at the breakdown, and beat them at their own game. Ruddock had a fantastic match, he’s a powerhouse – tackling, carrying the ball up, and making a great break. I’d say really, although we lost, very few players had a bad match. We struggled in two areas – we didn’t have the quality of replacements in the scrum – Marty Moore struggled when Ross went off – is Furlong not second choice now? And out and out, we struggled with their size, too many tackles on huge huge men eventually took its toll. I’m probably on my own here, we’re nowhere near where we should be, but we’re on our way up again. Sexton is getting some form, and Fitzgerald has never played better. Time to forget about the Champion’s cup, and get our season underway in the PRO 12.

Ulster are a team on the up, after a so so start to the season, they’ve come roaring back, very few teams beat Toulouse home and away. Huge character from the Ulstermen to get this win, and keep themselves in the hunt. I have the feeling they will have to beat Saracens away to ensure they qualify – but on this sort of form, it’s all on.

Connacht’s chronic run of injuries caught up with them as Newcastle ran out easy winners at home.

Finally, it was left to Munster to even up the results for Ireland at Welford road against the Leicester Tigers. Ultimately, although they played way better than last week, they came up short. And they’ll be kicking themselves, because they made chances, with a few good breaks, but it all fell down at just the wrong moment. Their intensity was good, they played really well, and away this sort of loss is no disgrace. If they keep up like this, the wins will come. Copeland and Stander were outstanding, and Saili is a real talent. He just needs a bit of tempering though, to learn when to hang on and when to offload.

Friday, December 18
Northampton Saints 9 - 9    Racing 92
Saturday, December 19
Saracens 55 - 13    Oyonnax
Bath Rugby 10 - 36    Wasps
Stade Français Paris 40 - 14    Benetton Treviso
Bordeaux Begles 33 - 27    Ospreys
Leinster 16 - 20    Toulon
Scarlets 6 - 9    Glasgow Warriors
Sunday, December 20
Stade Toulousain 23 - 25    Ulster
Clermont Auvergne 42 - 10    Exeter Chiefs
Leicester Tigers 17 - 6    Munster

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Leinster's desperation for a win could well see them home!

 Devin Toner ( http://bit.ly/1NAlARR)

It’s a weekend of back to back match ups in the Champions Cup this weekend – so if it all went wrong last weekend, it’s a chance to rectify that. Or suffer more… whatever the case may be!
Leinster are in action on Saturday, hoping to beat one of the biggest club sides in Europe, in the world. Cian Healy is in the do do after some ridiculous foul play – well he is a prop after all! I would look to shake things up a bit for this match – put Jonny on the bench, and give Mads his shot, and change our tactics at the breakdown. We are just going to have throw more people in their, violent people (within the law obviously) who are going to send player like Steffan Armitage packing in a hurry. I wouldn’t pick SOB yet, doubt if he’s fit. I heard with alarm Bernard Laporte praising Devin Toner – hands off! No Christmas shopping for him or anyone else while you’re here. I think we could actually win this, mainly due to the general French lack of away form, and our complete desperation for a win.

Munster tackle the Tigers at Welford road. I don’t know what else Munster can bring that could tip this in their favour – more intensity and more precision I guess. But the Tigers will be a fearsome prospect at home, so a win for the Munstermen will be a surprise. Cross fingers!

Ulster go to Toulouse on the back of an amazing win last weekend. Mental toughness is not the forte of French teams, so maybe Ulster have played with their heads enough to open the door for a win. If Ulster can take an early lead, the heads might drop, that’s their chance. But I’d expect a home win.

Finally, wouldn’t be surprised at all if Connacht get one over on the Falcons.

Friday, December 18   
Northampton Saints v    Racing 92     7:45 PM
Saturday, December 19
Saracens v    Oyonnax     1:00 PM
Bath Rugby v    Wasps     3:15 PM
Stade Français Paris v    Benetton Treviso     3:15 PM
Bordeaux Begles v    Ospreys     5:15 PM
Leinster v    Toulon     5:15 PM
Scarlets v    Glasgow Warriors     7:45 PM
Sunday, December 20
Stade Toulousain v    Ulster     1:00 PM
Clermont Auvergne v    Exeter Chiefs     3:15 PM
Leicester Tigers v    Munster     5:15 PM

Sunday, December 13, 2015

50% enjoyment, 50% torture for the Irish teams!

 Rhys Ruddock
 Rhys Ruddock

Friday night at Ravenhill was one to savour for the Ulstermen as they absolutely thrashed Toulouse. That was some win, it’s an awesome team, but Toulouse looked completely ordinary as Ulster brought red hot intensity. Hard direct running from Trimble, Gilroy and McCloskey put Toulouse on the backfoot, and then the forwards climbed in and made their presence felt. Pienaar was superb too, if Ulster can play like this for the rest of the season they’ll do well.

Connacht put their injuries aside as they got a good home win against Newcastle.

Then it was an uncomfortable evening for Munster against Leicester on Saturday. Munster have nearly all the elements of a good team, but they don’t quite fit together yet. Some great performances from Copeland, Murray and Earls. But lots of all too ordinary play, with terrible defence letting Ben Youngs in for his try. You shouldn’t lose your home games in this tournament, and they’ve left themselves a lot to do now. I thought Mark Chisolm made a big difference when he came on, making good yards, and to be honest, I’d be starting him all the time, probably make him captain.

If Saturday evening was hard to watch, Sunday afternoon was even more woeful, as Leinster’s slim qualification hopes spluttered out in Toulon. Murdered in the breakdown and on the scoreboard, Leinster just didn’t have the answers. Wrong tactics, they had to look after the breakdown better easy than that, poor execution of the tactics they did have, and bad discipline (although Toner’s yellow card was really harsh). There were a few bright patches – the scrum and line out were ultra solid, Ruddock had a stormer, and Fitzgerald is on fire. But Sexton looks just completely out of form. No easy fixes either, and there is just a general lack of leadership too.

Friday, December 11
Ulster 38 - 0    Stade Toulousain
Saturday, December 12
Glasgow Warriors 43 - 6    Scarlets
Benetton Treviso 17 - 50    Stade Français Paris
Racing 92 33 - 3    Northampton Saints
Exeter Chiefs 31 - 14    Clermont Auvergne
Ospreys 19 - 16    Bordeaux Begles
Munster 19 - 31    Leicester Tigers
Sunday, December 13
Toulon 24 v 9    Leinster
Wasps  23 v 25  Bath Rugby
Oyonnax 10 - 45    Saracens

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Looking pretty dodgy for all the Irish teams this weekend to be honest

 Stuart McCloskey: first start for last season’s academy player of the season. Photograph: John Dickson/Inpho
 Stuart McCloskey ( picture http://bit.ly/1IY3gAg)

Ulster and Connacht are in European action this Friday, but I’m more hopeful for Connacht than for Ulster. Having said that, it’s injury central in Connacht, with 18 (whew) players out injured. But the arriving Falcons are without a win this season in England, and the systems and self-belief of Connacht should see them through.

Ulster have named a strong side, there’s no denying the quality in the side with players like Pienaar, Best and McCloskey. But Toulouse are formidable – huge pack, exciting backline, and they lie in second in the T14 so they’re playing well.  We haven’t really seen much from Ulster this year – they have had the same problems as Leinster with reintegrating their internationals, and the team is just not firing properly. If they were to pull off a win here, even at home, it would be some achievement.

Munster face the visit of the in form Leicester Tigers to Thomond Park. The men in red have a pretty special home record, they very seldom lose European matches at home. But their form this season has been pretty patchy, they have two loss’s on the trot, albeit that last weekend’s team was practically a b- team. When I’ve watched Leicester, I’ve been impressed with their physicality, so Munster are going to have to really front up, and then behind that pack Ben Youngs is a master at pulling the strings. Munster can win this one  - but theyre going to have to dig awesomely deep.

Finally, Leinster go into their away match against Toulon with a horror start to the campaign, played 2 lost 2. Is it any consolation that Toulon were hammered even more efficiently by Wasps than Leinster were? Probably not. The French galactacos are not infallible, but are rarely fallible and seldom at home. If Leinster were in early Joe Schmidt form, I’d give them a decent chance of a win, but playing as they are – pretty hard to see really. Well, then we can really focus on the PRO12!

Friday, December 11   
Ulster v    Stade Toulousain     7:45 PM
Saturday, December 12
Glasgow Warriors v    Scarlets     1:00 PM
Benetton Treviso v    Stade Français Paris     3:15 PM
Racing 92 v    Northampton Saints     3:15 PM
Exeter Chiefs v    Clermont Auvergne     5:15 PM
Ospreys v    Bordeaux Begles     5:15 PM
Munster v    Leicester Tigers     7:45 PM
Sunday, December 13
Oyonnax v    Saracens     1:00 PM
Toulon v    Leinster     3:15 PM
Wasps v    Bath Rugby     5:15 PM

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Connacht get pipped, Ulster win, Scotstoun groundsman look away, and Munster have a bad day at the office.

 Matt Healy ( picture http://bit.ly/1NDf9fW )

Connacht didn’t manage to get an away win in Cardiff, but they were close. They have the ball handling skills that are the envy of the other Irish sides, and don’t have any fear. Sometimes, a little bit more structure would suit them – there can be lot of passing , but very little ground made. You need to suck in a few defenders before you can play it loose again. Cardiff were good value for their win, but it was close all the way up until the end. Where the Blues did struggle a bit was with tackling – they couldn’t catch hold of Bundee Aki at all, and Matt Healy seemed to have smeared himself in grease before the match, he would not just stay tackled! I hope someone in the IRFU is keeping an eye on his contract.

Ulster got back to winning ways at home, putting Edinburgh away.

Then in Scotstoun, the Glasgow Leinster match  match was called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Now, I was expecting that perhaps one corner was too soggy, and the pitch was unplayable. Meanwhile, the pitch looked like a swimming pool! They could have brought their speedos and had a gala! In Glasgow, you’d think they might expect to have a drop of rain from time to time, like all day every day! That leaves Leinster with no warm up for Toulon. But, maybe it’s not the worst thing, a good few of the Leinster players could do with a break, we don’t have any more injuries, and they won’t need any motivation for Toulon.

Finally, Munster had a bad day at the office slipping up at the Dragons. They butchered not one, but two tries, that would have put them in control of the match. I’m sure there are few people wondering why Ashton Hewitt wasn’t yellow carded for tackling Ronan O’Mahony in the air, me included which would have helped too. The Dragons were battling but not particularly threatening, but the days of send in second string sides there looks to be over.

Friday, December 4
Cardiff Blues 20 - 16    Connacht
Ulster 14 - 7    Edinburgh
Saturday, December 5
Benetton Treviso 20 - 22    Scarlets
Glasgow Warriors 0 - 0    Leinster
Sunday, December 6
Zebre 22 - 39    Ospreys
Dragons 22 - 6    Munster

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Amazingly, post no 600, and three Irish provinces looking for their mojo!

 600 posts, how did I ever get here?

Meanwhile, there's another weekend of Pro 12, and hopefully a weekend when 3 of the 4 Irish provinces can rediscover their mojo. Connacht travel to Cardiff to take on the Blues as league leaders in a match they should really win. The Blues have some good players, but with all due respect, when I’ve watched them this season, they’ve been a 70 minute team, hanging in there, but then getting put away in the last 10 minutes. If Connacht keep their composure from last week, they could win well.
The other three provinces are riding low on form and confidence. At least Ulster have Ravenhill to lift them for the visit of Edinburgh. They have so much talent, it’s going to start coming together for them soon, and this match could be the springboard for the rest of their season.

Glasgow is not the sort of place you want to be heading these days if things aren’t clicking properly. But I kind of feel like Leinster are turning the corner – they have the quality of players, they’re trying too hard. Even if they don’t win this, I think they’ll put in a performance they be pretty happy with. When they have to dig deep, they do.

Finally Munster will hopefully get back on the horse against the Dragons, after a pretty demoralising loss to Connacht last weekend. Just one good win and your whole season can look different

Friday, December 4   
Cardiff Blues v    Connacht     7:05 PM
Ulster v    Edinburgh     7:35 PM
Saturday, December 5
Benetton Treviso v    Scarlets     2:00 PM
Glasgow Warriors v    Leinster     3:00 PM
Sunday, December 6   
Zebre v    Ospreys     2:00 PM
Dragons v    Munster     2:30 PM