Friday, April 29, 2016

This weekend... wins for Munster, Leinster and Connacht!

 Rassie Erasmus (picture

It’s a big weekend for the PRO 12, and none bigger than Munster v Edinburgh at a sold out Thomond Park tonight. Munster have to win their last two matches to make the Champions Cup next year – well probably mathematically they could win one, and then rely on results going their way, but it’s in their hands. Munster have been a bit all over the place this season, some good moments, some good young new players, some bad luck with injuries, but overall just really uneven. At home, with a full stadium, I’m expecting them to put Edinburgh away.

The big news this week in Munster was the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as the new Director of Rugby. Rassie was a magnificent player, and is known for his innovative coaching. When at the Cheetahs, he used to sit at the top of the standards with a coloured paddles to signal to the team. Whether he was signalling ‘Take it up, don’t go wide’ or ‘ No 10, get your s*&t together or I’ll bliksem you at half time’ isn’t clear. But great to have someone who’s thinking about new approaches all the time. I think he’ll add a lot to the team, in managing and coaching, and as a person, he’s a down to earth guy, really sound. It does leave Anthony Foley increasingly isolated though doesn’t it?
Connacht should get their 5 points in Italy.

Then on Saturday it’s Leinster travelling to take on Ulster in Belfast. Ulster need the win to stay in the top four, while Leinster have Glasgow steaming up the table, and they won’t want to be overtaken at this time of the season. Neither team is in exactly sparkling form right now – not playing badly, but not setting the worlds alight with commanding performances either. It’s pretty evenly matched, Ulster have home advantage, while Leinster nudge ahead in the pack and in the organisation of their defence. I think Leinster will sneak it…

Friday, April 29   
Benetton Treviso v    Connacht     6:30 PM
Glasgow Warriors v    Zebre     7:35 PM
Munster v    Edinburgh     7:35 PM
Saturday, April 30   
Cardiff Blues v    Ospreys     2:30 PM
Ulster v    Leinster     3:00 PM
Dragons v    Scarlets     5:00 PM

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Leinster, Munster and Connacht are ticking along, but Munster are in the poo!

Fergus McFadden
 Fergus McFadden - don't let the smile fool you!

Leinster had a good evening at the RDS on Friday, getting the bonus point win that kept them on top of the PRO 12. It wasn’t the complete performance – they don’t give away 23 points too often, and there a big cheer when they finally managed to squash out Edinburgh’s challenge in the 82nd minute. Leinster looked like they would run away with it at one stage, but lost a lot of shape when a flood of replacements came on near the end. All in all, considering the absence of a some of the big names, a good day at the office.  I’m really happy to see the way Mick Kearney is developing, and Rob Kearney is showing some form with his return.  And Fergus McFadden is becoming the angriest man in rugby!

Ulster easily wrapped up their bonus point against Zebre.

The Scarlets got hammered by Glasgow, in a one sided match. No doubting the quality of Glasgow, who must be favourites to retain their title, but a pity to see the Scarlets falling way back from their best.  Glasgow were flirting all over the offside line though, they’ll struggle a bit more when that’s policed properly.

The biggest match was without doubt Connacht v Munster, with a couple of history making moments. It’s the first time Connacht have beaten Munster back to back in a season, and the first time they’ve made the Champions Cup on their own steam. Refereeing was a little contentious – Cronins yellow seemed harsh, and I thought Adeolokun knocked on. Whatever about the ref though, there’s no doubt that Connacht play the most fluid, confident rugby of any of the Irish provinces. And also that Munster are in trouble – they scored no points in the second half against a province with half of their resources. They have plenty of talent, but not enough direction and leadership, they can still play Champions cup, but they’re relying on Edinburgh tripping up.

Friday, April 15
Leinster 30 - 23    Edinburgh
Ospreys 47 - 10    Benetton Treviso
Saturday, April 16
Scarlets 10 - 46    Glasgow Warriors
Zebre 17 - 47    Ulster
Connacht 35 - 14    Munster
Sunday, April 17
Cardiff Blues 28 v 8    Dragons

Friday, April 15, 2016

Leinster and Connacht for the wins this weekend!

 Rob Kearney
 Rob Kearney

Things are heating up in the PRO 12 as we hit the final stages of the competition. Leinster face a relatively in form Edinburgh side, sitting in 7th, poised to swoop on Munster’s precious Champions Cup spot.  Leinster have rested quite a few of their big names – not Ben Te’O though, they are trying to get full value for money there! Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald make welcome returns, van der Flier is back in and Luke Fitzgerald and Ian Madigan in the halves should make for a fast paced game. Edinburg really want this, but so do Leinster, they have Connacht and Glasgow snapping at their heels, and they want a good run in to get home advantage in the next stages.  The final is at Murrayfield, so optimally, Glasgow won’t be there, and the Scarlets can help that along this weekend. I’m expecting Leinster to win

The big match of the weekend from an Irish point of view will be Connacht v Munster, with a sell out crowd – in context, that’s a few hundred lees than went to the Saracens v Northampton Champions cup semi final. The West is booming! There shouldn’t be too many surprises in team selection for the match, although it would be abig boost for Connacht to have ~Jack Carty back. Amazingly, Connacht are favourites, a form team at home. Pat Lam has them brimming with confidence, and coaches them to play attractive rugby, good forwards, and backs always willing to run. Munster are trying to play the Munster style I guess under Anthony Foley, which is a forwards based game, with the backs taking advantage in broken field play. If the Munster forwards don’t get an upper hand, Connacht are going to win this, and I think they probably will.

 Ulster should comfortably pick up five points in Zebre

Friday, April 15   
Leinster v    Edinburgh     7:35 PM
Ospreys v    Benetton Treviso     7:35 PM
Saturday, April 16   
Scarlets v    Glasgow Warriors     3:15 PM
Zebre v    Ulster     4:00 PM
Connacht v    Munster     7:15 PM
Sunday, April 17   
Cardiff Blues v    Dragons    2:30PM

Guinness PRO12
1 Leinster    63
2 Connacht    63
3 Glasgow Warriors    61
4 Scarlets    58
5 Ulster    55
6 Munster    53
7 Edinburgh    52
8 Cardiff Blues    48
9 Ospreys    44
10 Dragons    26
11 Zebre    19
12 Benetton Treviso    16

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Coannacht come within a whisker, but still do themselves justice!

 Matt Healy

There was a few fantastic close matches this weekend, and Grenoble v Connacht was right up there. Connacht have a fantastic team, playing for each other, no big stars (at the moment) but up against a physically larger, bigger budget team, they played with a high tempo, trying to run them off the pitch. And Grenoble weren’t shy of running the ball themselves, so it was end to end stuff, for 80 minutes! Unfortunately, with their fourth choice fly half starting, what was missing was a bit of judgement –sometimes you just have to kick for touch chase it up well instead of incessantly running the ball. The match however, was a perfect advert for Matt Healy, who has the uncanny knack of picking a gap, injecting some deadly pace, and scoring himself or drawing the cover and letting someone else score the try.

I hope that someone’s looking after the Connacht contracts otherwise there’s going to be stream of players leaving after a performance like that on such a big stage. Connacht absolutely did themselves justice out in Grenoble, and Bernard Jackman was the first to hail their efforts. They still have plenty to play for this season, and next season with their Champions place.

Grenoble 33 - 32 Connacht