Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rugby,clamping, and blundering Sharks

Thanks a lot!

Well, there’s no two ways about it, I’ve been neglecting Leinster.  I had my head turned by the World Cup, and poor old Leinster have been pining away, waiting for my return. Or not. They seem to have been just fine, thank you very much, without my support. I’d vowed to turn over a new leaf, and had made all the plans to get home and watch the match. That was before the abomination of the streets of Dublin, a dastardly vicious vile clamper had his evil way with my car on Friday evening. By the time that was all sorted out, the match was gone, and I had all the good humour of the antichrist. Pity because it sounded like a good match with lots of tries, and Jonny Sexton on hand to guide the visitors home.

Ronan O’Gara claimed all the points as Munster took out Aironi, while Connacht and Ulster lost out to Welsh opposition. The  big result of the weekend I guess was Glasgows upset of the Ospreys.

I finally got a bit of time to sit down in front of the TV to catch the Currie Cup final, and see if the Sharks could cure those clamper blues. And did they make me happy? No, they made me more peed off than ever, as they adopted the Springbok model and looked for people to run into all afternoon. Do you think they woke up in the morning and thought ‘I’m going to run over people all day long!’.  All you have to do with the Sharks is tackle and wait for them to make a mistake. The backline are mere bystanders, Lambie and Michalak only seemed to get the ball when the Lions kicked it to them.  In fairness, even as a Sharks supporter, it’s good to see the Lions do well again, it’ll be interesting to see if they can carry this form into the S15. And look what happens when you get a decent coach!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011- The Awards

‘Best Beard’ Canada’s Adam Kleeberger – you can see why he grew the beard

The ‘Black is Beautiful’ Award – the All Blacks. After being the best team in the world for most of the last 24 years, they get finally get the title to go with the fact.

The ‘I could have been a contender’ Award: Samoa, who’s chance of making it big were scuppered by unequal treatment from the IRB. (Them and all the other little countries)

The ‘Bring on the clowns’ Award – England! Dwarfgate, Boobgate, Ballgate, and they left their A game at home.

The ‘Most farcical performance in a major tournament’ Award France. Lose two, stagger out of the pools, get to the final on a wing and a prayer

‘Performance of the Tournament’ Award: France in the final

‘The Little team that could’ Award – Ireland, who could beat Australia, helped a Northern Hemisphere team into the final, but couldn’t beat Wales…

The ‘You’ve made your point, now STFU’ award: Samoan Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Making the smaller teams play games every three days is unfair – but not in the same league as killing 6 million people. The IRB is not likely to face a crimes against humanity tribunal.

The ‘Move to the top of the class’ award – Wales. Sucker punched by Fiji four years ago, they looked like they could go all the way at one time.

The ‘Multiplicity’ Award: Jerome Kaino - was there only one of him on the pitch at a time? He seemed to be everywhere

The ‘My kicking went brilliant in the warm up, honest’ Award: Piri Weepu

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rugby world Cup final 2011 - Black is the new black

Deserved champs (Picture )

So 7 weeks and umpteen matches later, we get a final that, even until the last minute, the last play of the match, could have gone either way. New Zealand brushed off 24 years of pain to finally double their haul of World Cups. And France make the startling discovery that (cover the screen so no one else gets to see this) if you want to beat the All Blacks – you have to play better than them. That’s what France did for 64 minutes of the match, but the All Blacks won it with fifteen minutes of excellent play in the first half, and one minute of good play in the second half. C’est la vie.

Everything that could have gone wrong for the All Blacks, did. First of all, the French surrender monkeys that had been booked for the final failed to turn up, and instead we got 15 lean mean hungry Frenchmen who had the skills and the nous to go nearly all the way. The All Black line out was pretty shambolic, their scrum creaked, and then there was the kicking. Rugby coaching 101 states the first thing you do is pick a good kicker. The second thing you do is pick another good kicker. If I had somebody kicking for my life, Piri Weepu wouldn’t be top of the list – Piri Weepu wouldn’t even be on the list. Let’s be kind and say his radar was a little off. Then there was the  fly half merry go round. Dan Carter is the best  fly half in the world. When he was injured, his replacement, Colin Slade, is possibly in the top 15 in the world. His replacement, Aaron Crudden might make the top 30 on a good day. When Crudden was injured, on ran Stephen Donald who knows fly havles in the top fifty in the world. Graham Henry could see the apocalypse unfolding in front of him, the tactic was – don’t let him touch the ball! Or do anything! The second someone passed him the ball, Henry’s  eyes glazed over and he sent the word for his head to brought on a plate. And for two valium.

But it was the All Blacks day, Donald did what Weepu couldn’t and banged the ball over when he had to, and they just about held their nerve to kept the French out. I couldn’t think of another team that would have beaten France in the final, and it’s no more than they deserve. For France, their loose trio was immense, Bonnaire, Dusautoir and Harinordoquy were all outstanding, in fact their whole pack was – let’s face it, 1-15 they played out of their skins.

Now it’s all over things can go back to normal in the world of rugby, the All Blacks can carry on beating everyone, the French can go back to concentrate on the T14, and maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll find a coach without a mustache to make them into world beaters.

French journalists pay homage to that tache

In the other match, Australia outplayed game Wales to claim third. It was the Hook and Jones disaster series again for the Welsh I’m afraid.

Finally, this is a big shout for avid rugby fans Ciaran Kelly and his friend Alan Burnell who are heading to Zambia next June to help with Brent Pope's Rugby Legends Foundation as they build homes for the Habitat for Humanity project.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Lethal Weapon, Johnny Logan, the All Blacks and the French - it's a dodgy 80's remix

The last time France and New Zealand met in the world Cup final was in June1987. Johnny Logan wanted to hold you now, Whitney Heuston wanted to dance with somebody, Lethal Weapon was big at the box office, 'Aertel' teletext service debuted on RTÉ Television and Charlie Haughey was back in the house. And this little guy was practicing stealing balls out of the playpen. 

Well, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then, or however the saying goes, can the All Blacks get what they’ve been waiting 24 years to claim back? And have the double satisfaction of winning the World Cup AND beat the French who’ve been their nemesis twice since the. In a word, yes. They comprehensively dismantled the number two side in the world last week, pulled them apart, danced on the bits and blew raspberries at what was left. They made the French look pathetique when they met in the pool stages, and there would be many ( four million Welshmen for a start)   that would argue that France don’t deserve to be there, especially after having lost twice already.

After having been knocked out by the French last year, you’d think that the All Blacks would never underestimate them again, and I’m just about sure they’re not although they wouldn’t have seen much to scare them so far. The French have got a few rays of hope – I reckon their front row is going to give the AB’s a torrid time, and the All Blacks attack better than they defend – Ioane ran through nearly their whole team last week. It’s going to come to patience, discipline and composure and consistency, and even their most ardent supporters are going to have to admit that France don’t have the last two. What I’m hoping for is a great match, and for the French to display even half of their potential. So the all Blacks by 2 or three then.

On Friday,  the Wallabies and Wales fight it out to decide who’s the third best team in the tournament. Has a really nice ring about it doesn’t it, third best.  You’ve narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, or been robbed, depending on your nationality, and now you face the potential indignity of losing twice in two weeks and being called the fourth best team. The last time they met in a 3rd 4th paly off was - 1987! They should do like the boxers do and just give everybody a bronze medal. For the record, I’d say Australia are going to shade it, but it could be a really entertatining match, and bad luck Wales I’ll be shouting for you again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Composure and World Cup Rugby

Alain Rolland (Picture )

Australia 6 - 20 New Zealand
Wales 8 - 9 France

This weekend was all about composure – if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs – you’re probably not French, Welsh or Australian.

I was really looking forward to the French Wales, two teams giving it welly, a feast of running rugby, a try fest, spy vs spy unlocking each others defenses.  Well, we didn’t get was on the tin on Saturday. The Welsh will all be sticking pins in their Alain Roland dolls, while the French confound us again, doing barely enough to scrape through.  The low point of the match was Warburtons sending off, after that, the French thought, ‘Ne problemme pas,  this one’s in the bag’, and the Welsh could only do so much with 14 men. The incident was a 50 50 call, judged on the real time view of the officials,  and could easily have been a yellow as well. Now if you were a Welsh conspiracy theorist, you’d be going into overdrive. What nationality is Alain Rolland? Irish. And who did Wales  beat last week? Ireland. And who did Wales controversially beat in the 6 Nations with a dodgy refereeing decision? Ireland. And who was the ref that day, and  touch judge today who could well have helped  the decision on the sending off? Jonathan Kaplan. It all comes together…

Leaving that aside though, Wales left 11 points you’d think they should have got on the table, and so really they should of won this anyway, with a magnificent effort from the 14 left on the field. If you ever wondered why Gatland  has been starting Priestland, Hook and Jones were there to provide the answer.  Where was the drop goal when they needed it? I was disappointed there was so much kicking by both teams, and Wales’ unloading game deserted them. So the French straggle into the final, well thye still have a lot in reserve because they didn’t use any of it this weekend. Their man of the match for me was Yashvili, who just kept the game ticking over nicely. I knew Wales wouldn’t thank me for shouting for them.

The first 20 minutes of Sundays match were as good as you’ll see anywhere anytime. The All Blacks put maximum effort into breaking the Australians, which they did successfully, and then went into containment mode. Australia got into the match a bit after that but never looked like they were going win. The All Blacks had that composure I was on about , sorely lacking for them last week, but the Australians never had composure, Quade Cooper had a mare, they really missed Beale, and didn’t have anyone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag themselves into back into it. Even Sonny Bill Williams long overdue union yellow card for a shoulder charge didn't dampen their spirit. The All Blacks do all the simple things really well, and then have that X Factor – not the Louis Walsh type (Although I’m sure Gary Barlow has it in him to throw a dwarf) – players like Dagg and Jane that can turn the game on it’s head in a flash.

The win meant the world to them, their whole scrum started punching the air and giving each other high fives when they won a scrum penalty near the end – steady on lads, it’s only Australia – but they rightfully claim their place in the final.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wales carry the burden of their reponsibility for beating Ireland into their France match, and the Wobblies get to grips with teetering All Blacks

Aaron Crudden - no pressure mate (Picture )

Saturday , October 15 Wales vs France
Sunday , October 16 Australia vs New Zealand

First up is Wales and France. Now Wales, occupying as they do the spot rightly belonging to Ireland, have a massive responsibility to beat France, since they denied us that opportunity. You broke the heart of a small nation that’s been through a lot lately, and when light appeared at the end of the tunnel in the shape of a best ever world cup result, you built more tunnel for us. All of that lovey dovey post match celtic bonhomie might disappear in a flash if Wales make like England and go all pathetic in front of the French.

Meanwhile  it’s Gallic smirks all round in France at the thought of kicking Les Rosbifs out of the World Cup, but they need to now nail down another performance now, two in a row, oooo tricky. Wales are bursting with self confidence, but how do  they stop that from going over into cocky? For France, there is disheartening harmony between Lievremont and his players at the moment, they seem to work best off the friction of mutual loathing. The French coach has persisted with Parra at fly half, which worked abysmally against the All Blacks and Tonga, but seemed to reasonably do the trick against England.  Because Parra at fly half makes no sense to me, it’s probably absolutely the best thing for the French to do.

Performance vs performance, I think Ireland were better than England, so on that basis Wales put in a better swowing than France, and they sustained that form for the whole match.  It’s going to be a fairy tale for Wales if they win this – but I kind of think French experience should kick in to see them clinch a win. I wouldn’t be too disheartened  though Wales fans ,with my record, my tip for success for France is the probably the death knell for them.

Then on Sunday we have the match that could easily have been the final, if magnificent Ireland hadn’t saved the Northern Hemisphere by bumping the Wobblies into the path of the All Blacks. 8 weeks ago, at home, this would have been good night nurse for the Aussies. But a lot has changed in the last two months, the AB’s are now done to third choice fly half, with Aaron Crudden now in the hot seat attempting to fill the size 15 boot sized gap left by Dan Carter. He’s got 5 caps for New Zealand, but has never played a whole match for them. It would the stuff of legends if this cancer survivor could guide the All Blacks home. The other pillar of the team, Captain Fantastic McCaw has a crocked foot and is below par on his admittedly stellar standards.

How about those Australians, not too consistent, but they are a cunning bunch, living off scraps last weekend to pick the pockets of the Springboks. It’s every New Zealanders worst nightmare, a bunch of jeering Aussies leaving the land of the long white cloud waving the World Cup in the tear stained faces of the Kiwis. Australia have a fairly sorry excuse for a scrum at the moment, but enough firepower behind them to trouble most defenses. The All Blacks have a far superior scrum, and even Carterless are a match for the Australian backline. That equals an All Black win. But the New Zealanders are all over the place at the moment, they look like nervous wrecks, and I’m afraid that this could be the end of the road for the Blacks again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The music dies for Ireland in New Zealand

I feel like that too if it's any consolation (picture )

New Zealand 33 - 10 Argentina 
Ireland 10 - 22 Wales 
England 12 - 19 France
Australia 11 South Africa 9

I woke up on Saturday morning with a funny feeling in my stomach about the Ireland match, and it wasn’t just that curry I had on Friday night (although that may have had something to do with it). It was the day the music died for the Irish in New Zealand. There’s no point in beating about the bush – Wales were just better on the day, sharper, hungrier, faster more physical, better sums it up pretty well. We looked like we had a chance when we got it back to 10 all early in the second half, but then Wales stepped up a gear.  They had all the answers to the questions we asked of their defense, and they wore us down until the two trys they scored in the second half were pretty well inevitable.  They were given away way too easily, but you can only defend for so long against that sort of attack until the cracks start to appear. Wales can go far now if they can just keep hold of themselves.

 There weren’t too many Irish players that had fantastic matches, not that they played badly, just that they were shaded all over the field by the rampant Welsh. Now’s not the time to knock the team though, they gave it everything they had, but came up short.  Players O’Connell, O’Driscoll O’Gara have been unbelievable for Ireland, and it must be very hard for them to take that they didn’t manage to push Ireland on to their best ever world cup finish.  A sad ending for some of the greats of their generation BUT things are looking up in the long run – we stopped at the pool stages last world cup, got the quarters this time, that means we’ll make the semis in 2015 and the final in 2019! Keep the faith!

France finally decided it was time to stop messing and play some rugby, and they had England caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Johnson had made a few dodgy selections, Flood at center for instancewas always going to have the potential to go wrong, he should have taken the bull by the horns and dropped Wilkinson. And what was he thinking picking Easter when the man’s clearly in the advanced stages of pregnancy – aren’t there health and safety regulations about that anyway? On the bright side, Dan Cole, will be releasing a limited edition miniature garden statue of himself after the tournament.  England looked leaden and devoid of ideas – they peaked just before their match against Ireland in the six nations. France will be reveling in the superlatives coming their way, they played some sublime rugby, and should they chose to turn it on again, could go all the way.

After Ireland were knocked out, I threw my weight behind my ‘B’ team, the Springboks. Big mistake. Ireland were at least beaten by a better team on the day, whereas the Springboks  absolutely butchered a perfectly winnable match against a below par Australia. All they know about is running in to people as hard as they can – you wouldn’t want to pass or your mates might think you were a sissy. Australia rode their luck, they used up lives 4 to 9 in this match. It’s enough to make you weep. Anyway, good luck to the Aussies, there are no prizes for trying really hard and doing everything but winning, as the Springboks have discovered.

Finally Argentina got their shot at being the first team apart from Australia and France to knock the All Blacks out of a World Cup. They made a fairly good fist of it for the first half hour, and even had the lead for a while, but they ran out of steam eventually. The All Blacks look fairly out of sorts – Slade, trying to fill the massive boots of Dan Carter, looked unsure of himself, and the giant hook removed him from the field at the 30 minute mark just after the Argentinean try. They got the win, but they look eminently beatable, and it’s those jammy Wallabies who get a shot at them next.

So that's a shocking one from four right for me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's going to be Ireland, England, South Africa, New Zealand

All the warmth and compassion of Kim Il Jung (picture )

Saturday , October 8
Ireland vs Wales 06:00
England vs France 08:30
Sunday , October 9 South Africa vs Australia 06:00
New Zealand vs Argentina 08:30

The action this weekend kicks off at the indecent hour of 6.00am with a mouth watering contest between Ireland and Wales. Mouth watering because they are arguably the two form Northern Hemisphere teams, and are evenly matched in strengths. They both have  ultra competitive tight fives, young talented and mobile loose forwards, and exciting dynamic backs. Could it come down to coaching then?

 Both Gatland and Kidney have coached Ireland, both are not entirely comfortable in media interviews, but that’s about where the similarities end. Kidney is a kindly self effacing man who comes across like everybody’s favorite uncle.  Gatland has a less friendly demeanor and has been said (not by me I might add) to exude all the warmth and compassion of Kim Il Jung. Kidney comes across as somebody who really doesn’t like the attention, and who’d prefer not to be there. Gatland’s media tactics are constant ham fisted attempts to wind the opposition up. He should really save his breath as based on his previous utterances, the biggest motivation for the Irish team, never mind progressing to the semis for the first time, never mind the pinnacle of careers in the offing, no the biggest single motivator for them will be spoiling his day on Saturday.

Kidney is a good man manager, developing players and bringing out the best in them, and getting the Grand Slam for Ireland in 2009. He makes tough decisions easily though, if he made decisions based on sentiment he would have brought Stringer and O’Leary along with him. Gatland has brought the Welsh along in fits and starts, they got the Grand Slam in 2008, but in the meantime he’s dropped his captain Ryan Jones and had to discipline various players for off field drinking offences.In fairness he’s brought a young keen team to this Cup.

It’s going to be a tight tight match, but I’m backing Irish experience and Declan Kidney to take them through to the next round.

England France Neither team is much burdened by the weight of expectations for this fixture. England have the better form but have looked pretty lackluster so far. Paper thin wins over Argentina and Scotland hardly mark them out as tournament favourites at the moment. They are certainly not playing to their potential, which saw them claim the 6 Nations title and score a shed load of tries in the process. They’ve been disappointing so far to me anyway, pre tournament I thought they possibly had the best chance in the NH of doing something this World Cup. Speaking of disappointing, France’s campaign has degenerated into the same sort of farce that their soccer team put up last year. Marc Lièvremont is the new Raymond Domenech. He hates the players, the players hate him. France have the talent to win the whole thing, but barring a French style miracle they’ll be on the plane home on Sunday.

Australia South Africa. This should be the most competitive match after the Ireland Wales match, as the two Southern Hemisphere giants lock horns. Australia’s form has been moderate, king of the Southern Hemisphere teams they may be, but when they came up against a quality side like Ireland, then we saw what they made of. They really seem to have their tails between their legs now. The Boks have also been in so so form, scraping past Wales, and not looking too flash against Samoa either. Confidence seems high in the Bok camp, and I think they’re going to bully their way past a talented but erratic Australian side.

New Zealand Argentina. Now I’m expecting the AB’s to win this one. But then me, them, the whole world expected them to thump France in the last World Cup. This is just the sort of block they tend to stumble on in the World Cup and theyno Carter to steady the ship. Plus the field is going to going to be full of white and blue missiles on Sunday as Argentina, in fairly literal terms, lay their lives down for their country. There’s a Latin drama about everything they do. But the Men in Black are big enough, bad enough and street wise enough this time not to make the mistake of previous cups and underestimate the men for the land of the Pampas, so I’m expecting a close match, but a win for New Zealand.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sometimes it just feels good to be Irish...

Dan Carter - desperate luck ( picture )

The action started on Friday with the South Africans edging past Samoa in a brutal encounter. Samoa will feel they were hard done by this tournament, and they were.

Australia started the games on Saturday by banking 5 points against Russia, and topped the pool for the moment. Then it was France’s turn to show us what they had. Or not. There is a sublime French team at the World Cup, but they are still waiting to make their first appearance. Instead we get the tragicomic French team, hammered by the All Blacks last week, and sinking further in to the mire with an abysmal performance against Tonga. Serious World Cup contenders? Non. They still manage to get through in second spot though.

In the last match on saturday it was Scotland’s chance to try and put England to the sword. All the plaudits are for the Scots, but plaudits don’t count for anything when you lose and exit the World Cup. England continue with their ruse that they are a really good team pretending to be average, scraping through two tight matches to lull all the other teams into a sense of false security. They are certainly making a good fist of being average as half the team went missing in action against the Scots. I reckon, Haskell, Croft, and Tualagi had good matches for England, and that was it. Jonny Wilkingson’s metronomic kicking has deserted him – metronomy is not the first word that springs to mind when he kicks now. So if he can’t kick anymore, you have to question his place in the team, and his injury may sort that problem out for England. The Scottish front row were epic, the whole team gave it their all, but for all that effort they never really looked like scoring a try. With this run of form in the pools, England vs France is bound to be a stormer.

Very early on Saturday, Argentina booked their place in the last eight with an easy win over Georgia. New Zealand went through an elaborate training exercise with Canada – they must have score a hundred tries by now. But a successful pool stage has been soured by the loss for the rest of the tournament of the best 10 in the world, Dan Carter. The AB’s don’t have an experienced back up – and that could be them fecked again. It’s very cruel for Carter. Wales ran riot against Fiji to seal 2nd place behind the Boks and go into the next round with some serious momentum.

Finally, it was left for Ireland and Italy to tussle it out for the last place in the pool. Sometimes it just feels good to be Irish, and Sunday was a day like that. Ireland survived a tense first half to come roaring out in the second and batter the Italians.  There’s form all over the place suddenly in the Irish team – Bowe, Heaslip, O’Brien, Ferris, Healy – and that doesn’t do justice to everyone else as there were no weak links. Murray is settling into a first choice role and Kearney and D’Arcy are threatening again. Scoring tries doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore, we got three and deserved another two.

I was a bit disappointed in the Italian tactics, though, it was very niggly with lots of off the ball stuff going on. They were trying to keep it tight and physical, and look for a yellow card for Ireland. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe Italian hooker Ghiraldini was just trying to clear a bit of grass out of Cian Healy’s eye – and you know what it’s like when you try to help someone and they just take it all the wrong way. Those Irish can be so touchy! Well, it’s ciao to the Italians, as we look forward to a date with the Welsh. It’s the first World Cup we’ve topped our pool.

South Africa  13 - 5  Samoa    
 France  14 - 19  Tonga    
 England  16 - 12  Scotland    
 Australia  68 - 22  Russia

Argentina 25 - 7 Georgia 
New Zealand 79 - 15 Canada 
Ireland 36 - 6 Italy 
Wales 66 - 0 Fiji