Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Irish Pro 12 action, and Wales and Australia.

We salute you (picture )
Pro 12 Preview

Ulster take on the Scarlets at home. Last week they played Glasgow, who are always an awkward side to play against, in admittedly poor weather, but they still took ‘dire’ to a whole new level. I hope they can turn themselves around, and with Scarlets wealth of international players, they should be facing a weakened squad, hopefully featuring an orange peeler or two. No excuses this weekend!

Connacht are going to find it tough enough against Treviso, but this is the type of game they really have to start winning if they want to go places. I think they’ll win.

Leinster have the Blues to contend with this weekend. And no, it’s not the Dublin GAA, it’s the Cardiff Blues this time.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 David Kearney, 13 Eoin O'Malley, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Sean O'Brien, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Nathan White, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Damian Browne, 20 Leo Auva'a, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 Rob Kearney.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Richard Mustoe, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito (capt), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Taufaao Filise, 2 Ryan Tyrrell, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Dafydd Hewitt.

That’s a strong team for Leinster, with big names on the bench as well. The Blues have a lost a few players to the Aussie match – bet the centers are pleased not to have to tackle Jamie Roberts!No sign of Henson yet, but the combination of orange and baby blue holds little appeal anyway. At home, with a decent away win last weekend, I’m going with Leinster.

Munster have to play the Ospreys away from home, but if you’re going to play a Welsh side, this is the weekend. All their internationals have made a massive impact on their return from the World Cup, but they are going to leave big holes again.  So I kind of fancy Munster in this one.
Wales Australia

This the rematch, Wales were handed 4th spot at the World Cup following their defeat to the Aussies, and this time…it’s at the Millennium Stadium!

Wales have lost a few of their heroes from the World Cup, Phillips and Charteris being their main losses IMO. It’s the swansong for legend Shane Williams, and I hope he goes out on a high. Wales have stated they are targeting the Aussie midfield, and I’ve seen some less than impressive tackling from O’Connor too. The Aussie scrum is still suspect, but more than anything Wales need to bring speed and confidence in attack.

The Australians meanwhile, need to move the ball themselves. Without Beale and Cooper they don’t have the potency they could, but Ioane and O’Connor are the danger men on attack. Rookie scrum half Lloyd Williams can expect to get the treatment, and the Aussies will probably win or lose by how effectively they get to Williams. Wales to take it on with home advantage though.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Alex Cuthbert.

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Ben Tapuai, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.

Exiles and Saracens looks like an excellent match, but a losing point would be a good result for Irish.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , December 2
Ulster vs Scarlets 19:05
Connacht vs Benetton Treviso 19:30
Edinburgh vs Aironi Rugby 19:30
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues 20:05
Saturday , December 3
Ospreys vs Munster 18:30
Sunday , December 4
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow
Saturday , December 3
Wales vs Australia 14.30
Sunday , December 4
Saracens vs London Irish 14.00

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quarter of the story

Happy on the ship (picture )

England weren’t the only team to exit at the quarter final stage, how have the other 3 teams have fared since then?

Brian O’Driscoll is still captain( if they can patch him back together again), Declan Kidney is still coach, and pretty safe unless Ireland have a disastrous 6 Nations. World Cup? What World Cup?

South Africa
South Africans did what all passionate fans do when their team exits at the QF stage – they blamed the ref. Never mind aging players, dodgy tactics and even dodgier coaching, no Bryce Lawrence is the man who’s afraid to visit the Republic now, whose Facebook page ‘Petition to stop Bryce Lawrence ever reffing again’ has 84000 fans. The Boks has a bit of boozy night out of their own, but their fans kept it simple and blamed the ref. Pieter de Villiers kind of resigned but is reapplying for his old job

I googled ‘Argentina rugby world cup dwarves’ and nothing noteworthy came out, so the Argentineans had a quiet world Cup, and no aftermath.

The world cup is a distant memory now for three of the losing quarter finalists, except for one. Dwarfgate, boobgate, ballgate, chambermaidgate, ferrygate, twikileaks, fines, expulsions, resignations, outcries – England’s rugby world cup campaign morphed smoothly into an episode of Eastenders. Moody is gone, Johnson is gone, Tindall was gone – but now he’s back! and RFU members are defecting like rats leaving a sinking ship, with the notable exception of Rob Andrew – he quite likes the ship. He may the only man left to pick a new England coach. Now, as an Irish fan, I should be sticking up for Andrews. Keep up the good work Rob! Director of Elite Rugby for life! But beating England when they’re crap is not much fun.

I’m no fan of some the England players, but I’m tired of all of this now. Apart from chambermaidgate which is completely disgraceful, they behaved like idiots, but so what? They were still putting their bodies on the line for their country, and they got beaten in the end frankly by a more talented French side. All I want now is for Andrews to be fired, the admin to be put into the hands of administrators, and for England to hire a decent coach. The next and only time I want to hear about English rugby is for their success or failure on the field. From the perspective of the other three teams, it’s time to move on.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Champagne rugby from Leinster and Munster, 2l value cider rugby from Ulster

Leinster played Treviso Stadio di Monigo   in a entertaining match. OK, I would say that because Leinster won and won well, and did it with a good portion of the front line players absent. And a lot of fringe players put their hands up and staked their claim for a first team spot. Fionn Carr goes from strength to strength, Jamie Hagan played well as did Rhys Ruddock , and Johnny hard to say second name at 8 had a stormer. And in the back line, O’Malley, McFadden and Madigan all looked the business. Treviso played well as well, handling was good, and with a bit of luck they could have won this match. They had good home support, and their fans had something to shout about.

Now if the Leinster match was champagne rugby, drunk from crystal wine glasses, then the Blues/Treviso and Glasgow/Ulster matches were 2 litre bottles of Tesco value cider, drunk straight from the bottle on a canal bench with only the swans for company. Ugly, painful rugby, abysmal skill levels, that had you wondering why even the handful of spectators had bothered to make the effort.  The Blues at least eventually managed the four point bonus try, but Ulster – Jesus wept. They’ve got Darcy, Cave, Spence and Trimble in the backline and they should have been making merry with the ball. Instead of standing around like interested bystanders while Humphries kicked. At a minimum, they should have been going for a bonus point out of the match, but in fairness, they way they played they didn’t deserve anything. Connacht also lost out to Connacht. Wed I watched AC Milan/Barcelona, Thursday the Blues, Fri Ulster – I’m going to go over to the dark side and start watching soccer just now.

I also watched bit and pieces of the Munster match and it’s obvious there is a gulf in class between high flying Leinster and Munster, and the ghetto of Ulster and Connacht. Munster’s young guns showed us what they had, with Barnes, Zebo , Archer , Keatley, Holland and O’Dea all showing they are ready to step up. They could work on their defence a little, as the Scots crossed for a few easy enough trys.
London Irish put in a good win against Wasps, which I didn’t see, and the last match I saw the Ba Ba’s get thrashed by the Aussies. Poor Ba Ba’s rather than excellent Aussies, but they could only play what was in front of them. O’Connor did well at fly half, and Victor Matfield, as always, shone in his final outing, a giant amongst giants.

Benetton Treviso 20 - 30 Leinster 
Connacht 6 - 17 Ospreys 
Munster 34 - 17 Edinburgh
Scarlets 22 - 12 Newport-Gwent D'gons 
Glasgow 17 - 9 Ulster
Cardiff Blues 38 - 0 Aironi Rugby
London Irish 21 - 17 Wasps
Barbarians 11 - 60 Australia

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Leinster in Italy, and the Ba Ba's take on Australia

James O'Connor (Picture )

Leinster head off to Italy to take on Treviso this weekend – a few years ago the main concern would have agonising over the right trainers to pull the  signoras, after having thumped the Italians. Things are different these days though, and Leinster are not going to be arriving with a B team if they want to win. Fergus McFadden is apparently back in the frame, which would be great, and Damian Brown could return as well. I’m still expecting Leinster to beat Treviso, but bearing in mind that they drew with the Ospreys in the HC cup last week, they will need to play about 60% as well as they did in the first half, for 90% of the match to win. A win then.

Ulster should have enough firepower to take out the Warriors, even at Firhill, while I’d expect there to be unhappy hunting for Connacht against a still classy Ospreys side. Munster are going to have their hands full against Edinburgh, who’ve had a new lease of life with Irish coach Michael Bradley, who’ll obviously have an inside track on the men in red. But if Munster can beat Castre away, they’ll beat the Scots at home.
Scarlets and Dragons, with the current form of the Welsh, could be the match of the Pro12 weekend.

The Exiles take on Wasps at the Madjeski in a London derby, with Irish hoping to put behind their Heineken cup disappointments. I’m backing them to win.

Barbarians vs Australia

This is a decent looking Ba-Ba’s side, where I’m particularly interested to see Robbie Fruean show his stuff, alongside Mortlock who could really still have something to offer Australia. Hope Stringer has a good match as well. The Aussie side is out, with Pocock as captain, good move, and James O’Connor is going to be playing ten. The Ausiies had a fairly disappointing WC by their standards, so hopefully we get to see what they could have done on Saturday.

Barbarians: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Sam Tomkins, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Stirling Mortlock, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Eusebio Guinazu.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Jason White, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Nemia Kenatale, 21 Richard Kahui, 22 Seru Rabeni.

Wallabies team

15. Adam Ashley-Cooper , 14. Lachie Turner , 13. Rob Horne , 12. Berrick Barnes , 11. Digby Ioane , 10. James O'Connor , 9. Will Genia , 8. Ben McCalman , 7. David Pocock (captain) 6. Scott Higginbotham , 5. Nathan Sharpe , 4. Rob Simmons , 3. Salesi Ma'afu , 2. Tatafu Polota Nau , 1. James Slipper ,
Replacements:16. Stephen Moore , 17. Ben Alexander , 18. James Horwill , 19. Dave Dennis , 20. Matt Hodgson , 21. Nick Phipps , 22. Ben Tapuai

Thu 24 Nov 19:30 Blues   v   Aironi Cardiff City Stadium  
Fri 25 Nov 19:05 Scarlets   v   Dragons Parc y Scarlets BBCw
Fri 25 Nov 19:35 Warriors   v   Ulster Firhill Stadium ALBA/ni/RTE
Sat 26 Nov 15:00 Treviso   v   Leinster Stadio di Monigo  
Sat 26 Nov 18:30 Connacht   v   Ospreys Sportsground S4C/TG4
Sat 26 Nov 20:30 Munster   v   Edinburgh Thomond Park Stadium TG4/ALBA

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can he kick it? Yes he can! ROG boots Munster home, while Leinster get a bonus point win.

ROG (picture )

This week I did get to watch the Leinster match, as they  put away Glasgow in a bonus point performance. And they scored two tries while Toner was in the bin! Not taking anything away from Toner, but they definitely played better without him. Heaslip had a good match, O’Briens all round game is fab and his ball handling skills are sublime. Nacewa is in a class of his own, and O’Malley and Madigan all put in good performances. In fairness Glasgow weren’t great, they have a competitive scrum but not much behind it – they should get the cash from selling Richie Gray and buy one decent back.

Munster had everyone reaching for the superlatives again, as that man ROG drop kicked them another win. His prowess sits on the foundation of some awesome work done by the pack, O’Mahoney, Ryan and O’Connell all really shone. Competition for places in the Irish scrum is going to be very healthy indeed. There’s life in the old dog yet!

Ulster played some really good rugby but still came away empty handed at Welford Road. They should really have got a least a point, and the Tigers are looking pretty ragged round the edges, hanging on for dear life for a while there.  I thought Tuohy was outstanding, as were Trimble, Ferris and Muller.

Connacht were fairly well thumped by Toulouse, but that’s no disgrace, it’s happened to teamas far more august than them.

London Irish faltered again, but considering they played most of the match with 14, they were good value for their losing bonus point.

The result of the weekend was Scarlets win at Franklin Gardens.  The Saints last minute loss last weekend, and the departure of Fodden before the match, really knocked the stuffing out of them. They’re not my favourite team, Hartley leads from the front with a brash in your face style that doesn’t endear him to most. There is a lot to admire about their brutally efficient style though, but they sure missed Fodden, and looked a bit blunt and clueless without him. Scarlets are growing with each match, Priestland North Davies are all top performers, and Morgan at 8 was awesome.

I also watched Bath hang on for dear life against Montpellier. Did you know that fly halves Trin Duc and Donald played for France and New Zealand in te World Cup final? Well, you would have if you’d watched the match, because the commentators only mentioned it about a 100 times. Montpellier are going to be a handful at home for Leinster, while Bath need a bit more x-factor if they want to really succeed.

Wales 2 ½ /3
Scotland 1 /2
Ireland 2/4
England 3 / 6
France 3/ 6
Italy ½ / 2

Edinburgh 48 - 47 Racing Metro 92 
Cardiff Blues 24 - 18 London Irish 
Clermont Auvergne 54 - 3 Aironi Rugby 
Northampton 23 - 28 Scarlets
Benetton Treviso 26 - 26 Ospreys 
Biarritz 15 - 10 Saracens 
Gloucester 9 - 28 Harlequins 
Connacht 10 - 36 Toulouse 
Leicester 20 - 9 Ulster 
Castres 24 - 27 Munster
Sunday , November 20
Leinster 38 - 13 Glasgow 
Bath 16 - 13 Montpellier

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peter de Villiers for the England job, and Leinster and Munster to prosper this weekend

My tip for the new England Manager

Leinster face a tricky task at the RDS of subduing a resurgent Glasgow side. Edinburgh are the Scottish side that normally have the irritating habit of pooping Leinster party, but the Glaswegians will be on to keen to emulate them. Before last weekend, I would have put the men in a blue (which is apparently  VERY similar to that of a team in another unnamed code) way favourites against the Scots,  but given the turnout last weekend, I’d say Jonny Sextons boot is going to come in very handy again. BOD and Hines leave massive shoes to fill, hope the fillers are found soon. Leinster should win at home though.

I’m backing Munster to sort out Castres, their attack may not have the penetration of some of the other teams, but their defence is as tight as a ducks bottom.  Connacht proved against Quins that they are no walkover, but Toulouse are an altogether different proposition. However manky French form is away from home, and however vociferous the capacity home crowd is going to be, you’d still back Toulouse.  Ulster Leicester is likely to be the most competitive Irish tie, to me it’s the story of a team on the rise meeting a team in decline. At home the Tigers should still have the edge, but it likely to be a full blooded and bloody match.

London Irish are going to struggle against the Blues you’d think, I had high hopes for them – but you can’t lose at home. Pity Delon Armitage can’t take some time out from his busy suspension schedule and play some rugby.

Elsewhere, I fancy Gloucester/Quins could be a real humdinger.

New England Manager

Johno is no more, they may never find someone else to replace his magnificent scowling abilities, but can they get a decent coach? Front runner is Jim Mallinder, and why not, he’s on the up at the Saints. He’s won Parker Pen Shields, LV Cups and European Challenge Cups, and is most likely on the cusp of something great at the Saints. Other leading candidates are Graham Henry and Nick Mallet, and Conor O’Shea has had a mention. Eddie O’Sullivan is also on the market, may not be to eveyone’s taste, but how often did England beat Ireland when he was in charge? My favourite for the position is Peter De Villiers, just for the craic. With some of the English players acting like clowns, his insight into this area could come in handy. I’m going to go leftfield with my choice for the job though. Times have changed, the position has a media spotlight on it now, and the players are pretty well paid, and can misbehave and act like divas. I’d emulate English soccer and go outside the fold, with Toulouse coach Guy Nov├Ęs as a man that can handle the circus better than most.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Bath v Montpellier, Pl3, 15:00
Leinster v Glasgow, Pl3, 12:45
Biarritz v Saracens, Pl5, 13:30
Castres v Munster, Pl1, 15:40
Clermont Auvergne v Aironi, Pl4, 20:00
Connacht v Toulouse, Pl6, 18:00
Gloucester v Harlequins, Pl6, 15:40
Leicester v Ulster, Pl4, 18:00
Treviso v Ospreys, Pl5, 13:30
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Cardiff Blues v London Irish, Pl2, 20:00
Edinburgh v Racing Metro 92, Pl2, 20:00
Northampton v Scarlets, Pl1, 20:00
Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Heineken Cup - top marks for Wales and Scotland, Ireland could do better, England scrape through, France and Italy fail

Best hair of Round 1 - Joe Marler (picture )

Wales 3/3
Scotland 2/2
Ireland 2 ½ /4
England 3/6
France1 ½ /6
Italy 0/2

I had an epic fail as a Leinster supporter this weekend. I Sky+ the match as I was working – then chose the wrong match to delete just as I was about to watch... But I knew the result anyway, and it didn’t sound like a classic. I thought they were going to win, but a draw away from home will do as well. I’ll make it up to Leinster  next weekend. Andato add insult to injury I caught a bit of each of the other Irish matches, but not my team!

First up was Connacht – what a match from the Galwegians! First in the premiership , at home,takes on on 9th in the Rabowhatever, it didn’t sound like it was going to be pretty. But as it turnedout , from a Quins point of view, it wasn’t pretty or comfortable, as they clung on for the win. And that was despite some pretty generous refereeing which saw Quins nonchalantly belly flopping in to loose mauls at wiil, and Robshaw spending most of the time on Connachts side of the maul. John Muldoon was the standout Connacht player for me, and I though Jordan Turner Hall was excellent for Quins.

Then I caught some of the Ulster match, who put in a fantastic win against Clemont. The Ulster scrum is first class now, packed with imports, but it’s Ferris and Best that stand out. Behind the scrum though, things are not so rosy, and it took a moment of magic from Adam D’Arcy, on a sub, to turn the tide for Ulster. They’ve got talent in midfield, but no incision, and they need to try and fix that to really go places. Clermont – that was just about France, so awesome win.

Munster/Northampton was a classic, where the home crowd, massive patience, and Ronan O’Gara saw the home team through. It was not a night for the faint hearted, an absolutely colossal forward battle, but plenty of attractive running rugby as well. Ben Fodden is awesome, fast skilfull and tough and Munster had their hands full containing him. The four players that really stood out for Munster were the loose trio of James Coughlan, Niall Ronan, Peter O'Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, and of course, Dougie Howlett. The first four are only going to get better, and the team is starting to look really balanced again, but they need Earls and Jones back in a hurry, to give them a threat behind the scrum.

Elsewhere- the rise and rise of the Rabo Protexyexy Super 12 – five out of five for Scotalnd and Wales, how about that! England scrape a pass, and the French are abysmal. Gut wrenching loss for Irish.
Racing Metro 92 20 - 26 Cardiff Blues 
Harlequins 25 - 17 Connacht
 Aironi Rugby 12 - 28 Leicester 
London Irish 19 - 20 Edinburgh 
Scarlets 31 - 23 Castres 
Montpellier 16 - 16 Leinster 
Ulster 16 - 11 Clermont Auvergne 
Munster 23 - 21 Northampton 
Ospreys 28 - 21 Biarritz
Glasgow 26-21 Bath
Toulouse 21 - 17 Gloucester 
Saracens 42 - 17 Benetton

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hide the batteries for the remote - it's Heineken Cup time!

Heineken Cup Preview

Pool 1 Castres Munster  Saints Scarlets

Northampton are the 400 pound gorilla in Munster’s group, Castres  sre the other big team,  they may be3rd in the T14 but their HC form has been merde forever. Players like Fodden and Ashton lift the Saints above fairly predictable premiership fare. I want to see the next generation of Munsterites like Murray, Jones and Barnes shine, and they’ll need to get Munster out of this group. They’ll just about pip the Saints at home this week. Saints to top the group and Munster to come out second. The Scarlets will keep them all honest.

Pool 2 Blues Edinburgh London Irish Racing Metro

In this pool I think Irish can do the business, The Blues don’t often perform at this level, Metro are to nouveau riche, and Edinburgh don’t have the consistency so Irish it is.

Pool 3 Bath Leinster Glasgow Montpellier

 Leinster are The Champs©! But without O CAPTAIN! my Captain! BOD it’s going to long and winding road for Leinster. He’ll be back but…    I think Nathan Hines is a big loss as well. But it’s not all doom and gloom, Leinster should make it out of this group fairly easily, Bath are a mid table outfit and Montpelier are 3rd from bottom in the T14, while Glasgow don’t have the resources. And if Leinster make it out of the pool as they should do, pick up a few players and a bit of form, anything could happen. I’m going for an away win for them this weekend agsinsdt Montpellier.

Pool 4 Aironi Clermont Tigers Ulster

Ulster are still the Man City of the Irish provinces, with big name signings two a penny. Not having Pienaar is going to hurt them, and some of that imported beef has been aged well past its prime. This is a challenging group, where I’m picking Clermont to win and Ulster to come out second. Tigers – I think they’ve turned a corner, but not in a good way, and need to rebuild a bit.

Pool 5 Treviso Biarritz Ospreys Saracens

This is another tough as old boots pool. The Ospreys have to be hurt by the loss of their big names, so it’s down to Saracens or Biarritz, and you have to back Biarritz with their experience.

Pool  6 Connacht Harlequins Gloucester Toulouse

Connacht make their debut in the HCup, and face Quins in the first match of the tournament. It’s going to be a learning experience for the Galwegians, they look well enough drilled to pull off a few surprises, and they have the advantage that they are going to be way underestimated. Toulouse are going through IMO, and Gloucester might make it tough for them, or compete for a runners up spot.

I picked 5 out of 8 last year but not Leinster making it out of their pool (cough)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

We Won! We Won! We bad! We Bad! Even handed look at Leinster's win over Munster

Stand up for Stefan!( Picture )

Starting off with Leinster Munster in Dublin, as a Leinster supporter you’d have to say it was very satisfying result, it would have been horrible to have lost three in a row to Munster. It wasn’t really a classic – it was impressively intense, but skill levels and discipline were nothing to write home about. Leinster were better for the first 60 minutes, and Munster for the last 20. Can we not add a bit of unpredictability to this fixture, or is it always going be Munsters forwards against Leinster’s back?

Leinsters scrum was underwhelming – I think we are going to miss the out and out grunt and aggression Nathan Hines provided. Devin Toner adds a lot, but why are we getting pushed around by Munster? McFadden, Fitzgerald, and Kearney all look shook sharp and inventive and broke the line with relative ease.
Munster still bring an immensely physical presence in the pack, but are fairly devoid of ideas in their back line. Mafi always seems to look for contact, and it’s very seldom that he runs over anyone. The one time he took the gap and offloaded they made about 30m. Barnes looks like he has a lot to offer, but they are really going to miss Earls while he’s out. I would just love to plug someone like Conrad Smith in there and see what he could do.

So we have the bragging rights until we meet again at Thomond, where I suspect it’s going to be a might tougher for Leinster.

I also caught the first half hour of the Ulster/Connacht match – the wrong half hour I think. Ulster have got some great names playing for them now, but God what they could do with a few simple basics like catching the ball. This match put Ulster back on track, and with a little more patience they could do well. Stefan Terrblanche is really handy player to sign, pretty similar to Paul Warwick in versatility and composure.

Connacht don’t look half bad either, they attack well, but then lose concentration, and their kicking was atrocious. Pretty difficult when half your stars disappear every year though.

I also caught a smidgen of the Irish/Tigers match – come on Irish! Great result against a major team like Leicester – Richard Cockerill must be having their guts for garters.

RaboDirect PRO12
Aironi Rugby 6 - 18 Glasgow 
Ulster 22 - 3 Connacht 
Ospreys 9 - 9 Scarlets 
Benetton Treviso 11 - 22 Edinburgh
Leinster 24 - 19 Munster

Aviva Premiership
Newcastle 16 - 16 Worcester
Bath 13 - 26 Harlequins 
Exeter 19 - 24 Gloucester 
Leicester 24 - 24 London Irish
Wasps 13 - 24 Northampton 
Saracens 23 - 10 Sale

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Munster will be the cannon fodder on the Dodder!

Here’s an amazing fact I gleaned from uber Leinster blogger Harpin on rugby – more people are going to watch Leinster and Munster at the Aviva stadium than all the Pro 12 matches last weekend put together! Irish fans are putting their money where their mouths are.

There’s a lot of good looking derbies this weekend,  with Dragons/Blues and Ospreys/Scarlets also likely to be fiery affairs with the high Welsh rugby is on at the moment.

For Leinster and Munster, it’s time to put aside the disappointments and triumphs of the world cup, and get ready to knock lumps out of each other.  There’s nothing like it the satisfactions stakes compared to putting in a really good hit on an erstwhile Ireland team mate. The ladyboys of Leinster were the perennial  whipping boys for Munster, up until a few seasons ago. Then, the unthinkable happened, they grew a pair, and for a good few years it was Munster who couldn’t buy a win. Now it’s sitting somewhere in middle , tilted a little on the Munster side, with 2 from 3 last year, and the Magners league to go with it.  This’d be the most keenly contested derby match outside of the Gaelic fixtures , and it’s a stereotypical town versus country match as well. Although players like the Tullow Tank, Sean O’Brien,  Dublin boys like Felix Jones, and international stars like Dougie Howlett and Isa Nacewa  don’t quite fit into that mould.

Munsters team from last week was as follows, and as they are sticking with the same squad  I’d expect O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan and Mafi to start this week. Pretty damn strong so.

15 Johne Murphy, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Peter O'Mahony, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 John Hayes, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Niall Ronan, 21 Tomas O'Leary, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Lifeimi Mafi.

This was Leinster’s team from last week, and I’d hope to see O’Brien, Heaslip , Nacewa and O’Driscoll back, and strauss to start. Oh, and it’d be great to have Healy back as well. So what’s it going to be?   I have to back Leinster, with home support, and to me Sexton is the man who’s going to make the difference.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Eoin O'Malley, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fionn Carr

Fri 4 Nov
Rodney Parade

Fri 4 Nov
AVIVA Stadium
Sat 5 Nov
Stadio Zaffanella

Sat 5 Nov
Stadio di Monigo

Sat 5 Nov
Sat 5 Nov
Liberty Stadium