Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bulls Leicester Ospreys Super 14 Guinness Premiership Magners League

Leicester 33 - 27 Saracens

Bulls 25 - 17 Stormers

Leinster 12 - 17 Ospreys

Super 14

The premier rugby competition in the South closed up in Sowetu of all places, as the Bulls and Stormers went to war at Orlando stadium. Last year the Bulls absolutely smashed the Chiefs, so badly they still haven’t recovered a year later. This time it was the Stormers stepping up to the plate. The tournament prides itself on running rugby, the rules favour the attacking team and there are normally tries galore. This was no free running affair though, more like two tanks engaged in mortal combat. The score at the end was pretty close , but from about 20 minutes in there only looked like there was going to be one winner as wave after wave of relentless Bulls attack and defense smashed the Stormers back. This wasn’t rugby for the feint of heart, and there are bound to be a few frosty moments when the players meet up in the Bok camp. It was carnage on the field and carnage on the ears as the vuvulezi droned on at an unbelievable volume. The Bulls look like they are laying the foundations of a dynasty to rival that of the Crusaders.

Guinness Premiership

You have to hand it to the Tigers, much as I would have loved to see a new name on the Premiership trophy, you have bow down to the canniness of Leicester as they delivered the sucker punch and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Saracens will be absolutely kicking themselves (well Brendon Venter will probably doing that for them quite well) as they hauled themselves back out of the abyss and came within a whisker of a famous victory, only for it all to turn to ashes in their mouths as one lapse in attention let the Tigers in for back to back premiership titles. It was a good advert for the Premiership, and for rugby in general, tries drama and a heartbreaking end.

Magners League

Now I don’t want to boast – much – but that is three out of three predictions as the Ospreys went on a smash and grab in Dublin. It seems a long long time ago that Irish rugby was standing on the pinnacle of European rugby with the Grand Slam, the Heineken Cup and the Magners League all in the cabinet. There’s going to be quite a bit of soul searching in the off season, and maybe a chance in the tour down under for them to rediscover their mojo. Welsh rugby took another step forward as the Ospreys turned on the style, scored the tries and made it look all too easy as they downed Leinster at home at the RDS. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s wrong with Leinster, it just looks like the self belief is gone.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Finals Finals Finals Guinness Premiership, Super 14, Magners League

Saturday 29th of May

Leicester vs Saracens 17:30
Bulls vs Stormers 17:00
Leinster vs Ospreys 18:00

Sunday 30th May

England vs Barbarians 17:00

Super 14

It’s back to Orlando Stadium for the finals of the Super 14, where either the Bulls or the Stormers will be crowned king of the southern hemisphere. Is the meanest defense in the tournament going to be able to survive the onslaught the Bulls are surely going to bring? It could come down to the gamebreakers – Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn, Pierre Spies, Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger, Jaques Fourie. It could also come down to 15 large gentleman from Pretoria jumping on the heads on the Stormers, and this is the most likely outcome. The Bulls managed to pinch it at home from the Sharks in Durban in 2007, but although they are going to get bloody trying, it’s hard to see the Stormers winning this.

Guinness Premiership

It’s going to be a big day at Twickenham as Leicester Tigers defend their title against Saracens. Coach Brendan Venter conducts himself with good old fashioned South African charm and diplomacy and this has rubbed off on the Saracens – they play a no nonsense direct style of rugby, featuring several large South African men. Brendan is going to have to watch the match on TV due to his ban.The Tigers are the perfect foil for Saracens, they do all the simple things well and grind teams into the dust before really letting rip. Saracens have never won a league title, is that going to change this Saturday? Self confidence doesn’t seem to be a problem for them, but Leicester are old hands at this finals game, and that should help them claim back to back titles.

Magners’ League

This looks to be a really good match, Ireland’s finest taking on the Opreylians at the RDS. Leinster have had a good Magners League this year after falling short in the Heineken Cup. The Opreys have been ticking along nicely this year, they will feel unlucky to have lost to Biarritz in the Heineken Cup and would love to claims some silverware. Normally I’d be backing Leinster all the way and home advantage is formidable, but without Leo Cullen I think they could struggle – so I’m going for the Ospreys to join Cardiff with a cup of their own.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cardif Blues Triumph - Super 14, Heineken Cup, Amlin Challenge Cup

Heineken Cup Final Biarritz 19 - 21 Toulouse

Super 14 Semi Final Bulls 39 - 24 Crusaders

Super 14 Semi Final Stormers 25 - 6 Waratahs

Amlin Challenge Cup Final Cardiff Blues 28-21 Toulon

Heineken Cup

The Heineken cup reached it’s finale in Paris and the rugby gods even organized some sparkling sunshine to crown the occasion. Well, the sunshine was probably the most sparkling thing on Saturday afternoon as Toulouse kicked their way to their fourth title but is was a final so more conservative rugby is likely to be the order of the day. Biarritz gave Toulouse a big scare with a late try but it was a fair result as the better team triumphed, and brought the competition to a close for another year.

Super 14

I had to smile when I read some of the Australasian reports on the upcoming semis. There was one report talking up a final in Sydney, and other stuff like’8 reasons why the Crusaders will win’. It reminds me of being at school and not having studied for an exam but looking for every little reason as to why I was still going to scrape through. The facts of the matter are that to win the Super 14, you have to finish top of the league and get home semis. Thus, he spake, it ever was. Home advantage gives you overwhelming odds of winning. So it would have been refreshing to see a little bit of honesty, along the lines of ‘Basically we’re shagged unless they give it to us on a plate’. Both the Crusaders and the ‘Tahs are really good teams, but the momentum at the moment is with the SA teams – a few years ago it was the complete opposite, and in a few years it’ll probably swing around, with the Aussie teams poised en masse to make a big impact on the tournament. For the moment, the Bulls and Stormers can bask in the glow of successful seasons, and dream of lifting the trophy next Saturday.

In the first match, the Bulls flexed their not inconsiderable muscles as they gored the Crusaders – they’ve perfected doing all the simple things really well and the Crusaders had no answers. The Stormers also looked dominant apart from scrum time where they obviously have a weakness that the Bulls can exploit next weekend. The ‘Tahs weren’t helped by some unsympathetic refereeing but they never really got going and made loads of mistakes. The match was sealed with Juan de Jong’s moment of magic, a player who’s young but surely has Springbok stamped all over him.

So it’s over to Orlando stadium in Sowetu next weekend with prime servings of South African beef on the menu.

Amlin Challenge Cup

This turned into a sensational match in the end, particularly if you were a Blues supporter. Toulon were all over Cardiff like a rash in the first half, looking all the time like they were about to run riot. Then in the second half, Jonny Wilkinson was injured, and after that it was Cardiff running wild, taking all their opportunities and running away with the match, all under the baking French sun.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup Finales and Super 14 Semis

Heineken Cup

Saturday , May 22

Biarritz vs Toulouse 17:00

More Heineken Cup fixtures

Super 14

Saturday , May 22

Bulls vs Crusaders 17:05

Stormers vs Waratahs 19:10

Amlin Challenge Cup


Cardiff Blues vs Toulon

Super 14

The average Super 14 match can be pretty average, there are lots of mismatches and you never know what you are going to get. Now the men have been sorted out from the boys, so to speak, what we are left with is real quality. First up are the Bulls and Crusaders, the old masters versus the new kings of Super 14. The Bulls are an old fashioned team in lots of ways, this is no cool team, no fancy hairdos a la Nonu, no precisely cut beards, half of them probably still live with their parents. What they have going for them is a certain brutal efficiency, they are bigger and stronger than everyone else, and follow a simple game plan – simple so they can all understand it. The Crusaders meanwhile are also the least cool of the New Zealand sides, it’s all about the team with them, and while they have their stars it’s an ego free zone. They have had a bit of an up and down season, and while they are on the up at the moment you don’t know exactly what team is going to show up. If anyone can beat the Bulls they can, but with their big stars not really firing, and the long trip back to SA, even at Orlando Stadium in Soweto I can’t see them beating the Bulls.

Then it’s over to Cape Town for the match between the Stormers and the Waratahs. Both teams bought wisely in the off season, Jacque Fourie and Bryan Habana for the Stormers, and Drew Mitchell and Berrick Barnes for the Waratahs. The Stormers seem to be finally realizing the potential they’ve always had, but you’re going to have to excuse them a bit of nerves as they are in pretty unfamiliar territory getting into the semis. The Waratahs are a really solid team and their backs in particular are really starting to gel. The Stormers have the best defense in the tournament and their attack is beginning to fire. So who’s it going to be? I’m going with Stormers at home in front of a sell out crowd.

Heineken Cup

Paris in the spring… but there’ll be no love lost between Toulouse and Biarritz as this great tournament reaches its finale. Toulouse on paper are the stronger team , but Biarritz are also a star studded team. When are they going to sort out a Super 14/Heineken Cup winners match so people in the South can understand how good some of these Northern teams are? The French tradition is that home wins are non negotiable, no matter who you play, while they are decidedly more temperamental playing away. This really leaves the match wide open, and with two superb attacking teams it promises to be a fitting end to tournament. Toulouse will probably shade it in the end.

Amlin Challenge Cup

This rounds of the weekend nicely on Sunday in Marseilles as teh Cardiff Blues take on Toulon. It could nearly be the match of the weekend, both teams are red hot in attack, and although the trophy's not as prestigious as the Heineken Cup, that in some ways means the teams have tyhe freedom to really go for it. Neither of these sides is going to die wondering, and I'm giving it to Toulon as their stars are bigger and it's in France.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Imperious Leicester - Guiness Premiership, Super 14, Magners League

That was a clean sweep of predictions this weekend, OK you didn’t have to be Sherlock to spot half of them but pretty good anyway.

Super 14

The Hurricanes look disorganized and nervy, more like a summer breeze as the ‘Tahs (narrowly defeating the Cheetahs in the competition for the ugliest jersey) rolled up their sleeves and ground out the victory. Their prize is a trip back to the Republic to take on the Stormers who had few problems getting 5 points against an understrength Bulls team – all very cosy to keep it in the family. The final semi position went to the Crusaders as they overcame the Brumbies to book their date with the Bulls to be played in Sowetu stadium because of the upcoming World Cup. The Reds capped an excellent season by beating the Highlanders to come in a very creditable 5th. Things are looking up for the SA and Aussie teams, but not so good for the Kiwis.

Magners League

Glasgow would have to feel aggrieved by the shambolic manner by which they were denied a home semi, with the Ospreys being deducted 4 points next season for failing to fulfill an earlier fixture. But the smart money would have been on the Ospreys wherever they played. They made short work of the Warriors anyway. Munster’s woeful season continued as Leinster overpowered them to book their date in the final in Dublin. The old man of Europe is showing his age – time for a firesale of all the wrinklies and a big infusion of new blood.

Guinness Premiership

The first encounter on Sunday was fast paced and exciting, the lead swinging backwards and forwards several times. Brendan Venter may be famous for his SA style diplomacy i.e. none but he has got Saracens in to the final where anything could happen. Northampton just lost it at the end, where was the drop goal attempt? Leicester swept in to their umpteenth final in fine form. Not the most interesting match mind you, but they have a kind of ruthless efficiency that is admirable if not exciting. Watching Butch James temper fray as Bath were pinned back repeatedly in their 22 was the highlight of the match.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leicester pull the plug - Guinness Premiership, Magners League, Super 14

Super 14

This is going to be a great tussle for the remaining places in the play off. Some of the Kiwis and the Aussies are kicking up a fuss about the Bulls fielding a second string side for their final match. Of course the Bulls are going to do whatever suits them, including letting the Stormers in if they feel like it’s a good tactical move. The teams that are whinging should have beaten the Bulls in the first place (OK the Crusaders probably did but that’s another story). So this is how I see it panning out: the Crusaders should tame the wild horses of the Brumbies, working through the travel fatigue and the dodgy loss to the Bulls. Tah’s and Canes – this is tricky one, both on a bit of a roll but home advantage should tell as the Tah’s blow the Canes out of town. Bulls and Stormers: well I reckon even the orange peeler and the scorer for the Bulls are pretty big guys so the Stormers won’t have it all their own way but should win and claim second spot, followed by the ‘Tahs and the Crusaders.

Magners League

First up is the Ospreys taking on Glasgow. Practically the whole Osprey team – apart from Jerry Collins and Marty Holah who are All Blacks – have played for Wales so at home they are just going to way too strong. The Ospreys always play attacking entertaining rugby so it should be a good match. Then it’s the Irish derby, Leinster vs Munster at the RDS. Neither side is firing on all cylinders, but Munster seem to have developed serious engine problems that only a whole of new parts is going to fix, and not in time for this weekend – Leinster as the tide turns for them.

Guinness Premiership

Wha a weekend as the Premiership nears the end. Saturday’s matches start with Northampton taking on Saracens. This is incredibly hard to call, the Saints should take it at home but Saracens have been in a rich vein of form. I’d love the Saints to win because of their exciting style, but I think Sarries are on a roll so I’m going for an upset for them. Then it’s Leicester and Bath slugging it out in the other semi. Leicester are creaking a bit, whereas bath are 10 from the last 11 – the one loss to…Leicester. Home advantage pays here as Leicester pull the plug.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bulls squeak home Super 14 Guinness Premiership Magners League

Super 14

The big encounter of the weekend was the Bulls taking on the Crusaders. The result was either a fair reward for the Bulls persistence or a travesty of justice depending where you hail from. A fairer result would have been a draw. It’s dropped the Crusaders to 6th and leaves them with a pretty faint chance of qualifying. The Bulls are sitting pretty on home semis now. The Stormers and Reds both seem to falling by the wayside at the last hurdle, while the Tah’s, Brumbies and Canes are all well placed for the final four. From a national perspective it would be great if the Sharks could save their best performances for teams from other countries. It’s good news for the format of the Super 15 though, where all the teams play local leagues to decide who gets in to the second round, as some of the best recent matches have been local derbies. The Lions will never have to travel overseas again!

This is next week’s matches

Team Points P/D Opposition

1 Bulls 47 119 Stormers

2 Stormers 39 166 Bulls

3 Waratahs 38 81 Canes

4 Brumbies 37 85 Crusaders

5 Hurricanes 37 51 Tahs

6 Crusaders 36 75 Brumbies

7 Reds 34 56 Highlanders

Magners League

Well there were a few heart attacks as Leinster had to come from behind to beat Edinburgh, but they did what they had to do to book a date with … Munster who also came up with bonus point they needed to keep their hopes alive. It should be a good match, I wonder if the new Aviva stadium will get to host it? The Opreys looked imperious as they trounced the Dragons, to book adate at home in the semis with Glasgow. connachts recent dismal form continued as they rolled over to Ulster.

Guinness Premiership

The big shock result was the mighty Leicester losing out to Sarries. I guess they had the home semi in the bag already, but nobody enjoys losing and it will give Saracens hope if they reach the finals. To do that, though they are going to have to beat the resurgent Saints in the pick of the semis. Northampton took down London Irish easily enough, with Mike Catt getting the man of the match award – surely just for pitching up. Bath make up the quartet, that’s 10 wins out of the last 11 matches, could there be some surprises in store?

Friday, May 7, 2010

High Body Count Sharks and Stormers Super 14, Guinness Premiership, Magners League

Super 14

This  is how it lines up for the last two weeks:
Team Points 7th 14th

1 Bulls 43 Crusaders Stormers

2 Stormers 38 Sharks Bulls

3 Crusaders 34 Bulls Brumbies

4 Reds 34 Canes Highlanders

5 Waratahs 33 Chiefs Canes

6 Brumbies 32 Highlanders Crusaders

7 Hurricanes 32 Reds Tahs

It’s all to play for as the play off’s loom large. First up, the Reds got Caned in Wellington, and easy with the score handy now, but I was going for the Canes on their recent run of form, while the Reds looked really tired last week. Next up is the Bulls and the Crusaders, both wanting the win, the Crusaders desperately so. But these Crusaders are going to get gored, Bulls all the way. The Tah’s can’t afford to slip up again, they looked really ropey in their last outing, really hard to call as the Chiefs luck has to turn sometime – but not this weekend, ‘Tahs to win. The Brumbies should take down the Highlanders, with the last big match being Sharks at home to the Stormers. Looks like another bruising SA derby with a high body count – I’ll take a punt on the Stormers being last man standing.

Guinness Premiership

Two BIG matches her e, first of all Leicester take on Saracens, and I’m sorry Leicester fans but I think Sarries are in tiger taming form and will want to lay down a marker for the semis, Sarries to take a close match. London Irish vs the Saints is the other big match. Neither teams are in great consistent form but The Saints just look hungrier and I’m going for them to spoil Mike Catt’s farewell.

Magners League

In the games that matter, the Ospreys will thump the Dragons, Glasgow could sweat a bit but should sort out the Scarlets, Munster will have to watch out for the red hot Blues but should make it home, and Leinster face the giant banana skin of Edinburgh , and beat them well after the bitter disappointment of lasts weeks result. Connacht and Ulster should be a good dust up too, cruelly I think Connacht are down and out now so Ulster should claim the spoils.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

France 3 Ireland 0 Heineken Cup Amlin Challenge Cup Super 14 Sunday 2nd of May

Heineken Cup

France 2 Ireland 0

Home advantage and superior scrum power told this weekend as both Leinster and Munster fell by the wayside. A lot of the fizz went out of the competition compared to the barnstorming quarter finals as the teams played edgy percentage rugby. Leinster looked competitive for a long time against but the French had another gear to slip into and a far superior bench to fall back on. Leinster would have looked a lot better with Sexton playing as well. And how brave was that camera man? Munster meanwhile seemed to be struggling to get a team on the pitch, and you still felt like they could have snuck home but at the end of the day both French sides were the better team and deserved to win.

Amlin Cup

And yes it’s those bloody French again, beating the Irish as Toulon’s glittering league of nations downed Connacht. The rugby gods don’t do fairy tale endings do they? A couple of Connacht players stood, Gavin Duffy, Sean Cronin and Frank Murphy, for Toulon Juan Martine Fernandez Lobbe was in a class of his own. See what Philippe Saint Andre has done with Toulon, a decent coach should be the first signing for any team. Wasps came a cropper against Cardiff Blues, nothing is going right for them at the moment. I’m not surprised the Cardiff Blues won though, they looked a lot more dynamic and looked like they wanted it so much more.

Super 14

The top of the league is starting to take shape now. The Bulls turned over a spirited Sharks outfit while the Stormers put one foot in the semis as they hammered the Crusaders. The Tahs slipped up badly by going down to the Highlanders, while the big result of the weekend was the Reds being comprehensively outplayed by the Brumbies. The Chiefs put their poor fans through the wringer again, looking good against the Canes before slipping up again. The Reds and Crusaders are clinging on to 3rd and 4th by their finger nails with really tough matches to come.