Sunday, December 30, 2012

Teeth shaking stuff as Munster and Leinster come out on top!

Dave McSharry (picture http://bit.ly/W9rRbH)

Another weekend of derbies, good teeth shaking stuff!

Saturday started off for the Irish provinces, with a seriously weakened Ulster team taking on a strong Munster  side. Ulster had way the better of the first part of the game, pegging Munster back and enjoying a lot of possession. It was pretty well even stevens until Paul Marshall was sinbinned for dumb rucking after the whistle had gone. I really like Marshall, and would like to see him play for Ireland, but he’s got to watch his discipline. After that, Munster got a penalty try, Zebo sauntered through for another , then O’Mahony blasted over for the try that put the game to bed. Keatley put in a good break, and played pretty well, but there’s no doubting ROG’s class as he steered the ship home with pin point accurate kicking. Munster’s starting loose trio, and bench loose forwards are just awesome.  They should really have got a bonus point try, but even a 2nd string Ulster side is top class these days. For Ulster, Luke Marshall is shouting loud and clear he’s ready for regular Ireland duty.  I was also impressed by McComb and Stevenson, who put in a mountain of work. It’s as well for Ulster to get that unbeaten run monkey off their backs anyway.

Then it was a lightweight Leinster side, taking on Connacht. Connacht are ultra well drilled, their defense is absolutely top class, and their set moves very impressive, they just need a little something, luck even, to realize some of their potential. Nothing much happened for about the first 30 minutes, as Park’s kicking and an impressive line speed kept Leinster at bay. I like the way Leinster adapted their play, the holes were round the ruck, which they used to good effect, and Madigan dropped deeper to give him space. It was Madigan who opened the scoring, and it was pretty well all Leinster after that. McGrath played well and added another try, and although Leinster didn’t quite impose themselves like you’d expect, but there were lots of changes to the team. Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock are growing into their roles, and Andrew Goodman showed some good touches. Fergus McFadden was as outstanding as ever. For Connacht Dave McSharry is a busy physical player, and Kieran Marmion looks like he could go a long way.

I saw London Irish do enough to beat Quins, but they don’t have any luck these days and the game ran away from them. Wake up lads, you’re going down!

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , December 29
Benetton Treviso 26 - 18 Zebre 
Edinburgh 17 - 21 Glasgow 
Munster 24 - 10 Ulster 
Leinster 17 - 0 Connacht 
Monday , December 31
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys 16:15

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Leinster attempt to beat Connacht, and I'm going with Munster!

Bring more cards! (picture http://bit.ly/12Ry95t)

Time to roll my way over from the dinner table to the couch, and get ready for the weekends rugby.
Leinster face Connacht on Saturday, and while this match in the past would have been a foregone
conclusion, it is now in the realms of must win match. Everybody is sniffing around the bloodied body of the once great Leinster, like a flock of vultures, sensing weakness. Bur this could also be the glorious return for Leinster, the phoenix rising from the ashes, smashing Connacht and starting a winning run that last…until the end of December anyway! Let’s hope so, and I’d imagine Connacht are going to feel the backlash of a lot of frustration.

In the big clash of the weekend, Ulster travel to Munster, still unbeaten, and surely fancying collecting another big scalp. Are they going to monster Munster like they did Leinster?  The way that people perceive you certainly has an effect on how they play you – I think now that Ulster are being afforded the respect they deserve, it is going to get harder for them to remain unbeaten, as other teams really focus in on the match against them. This is also two new New Zealand coaches going to toe to toe.  I was surprised that Ulster weren’t more affected by their injuries, especially to Muller and Tuohy, but the replacements stepped up ably. The scrum will be a titanic contest (sorry) and it’s going to physical of note! Munster have only hit their straps briefly this season, but that could change..and I think it will, so Munster to be the first to stop Ulster in the Pro 12.

I watched a bit of Ospreys/Scarlets, with Nigel Owens waving cards around like a signal man at the airport. Great to see such a passionate derby, with everyone as focused on knocking lumps out of each other as on the rugby!

RaboDirect PRO12
Wednesday, December 26
Cardiff Blues 12 - 10 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Ospreys 32 - 3 Scarlets
Saturday , December 29
Benetton Treviso vs Zebre 14:00
Edinburgh vs Glasgow 
Munster vs Ulster 17:30
Leinster vs Connacht 19:45
Monday , December 31
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys 16:15

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A third defeat in 3 weeks for Leinster - I may start watching soccer...

Where does ice cream come from?

So I slightly underperformed in my predictions this week, with a below par 0 from 2. First of all, it was Leinster haven seven colours of poo being beaten out of them by Ulster, Three weeks, three defeats – I may take up watching soccer… no, I’ll be there until the better end, even when Connacht are signing all our best players, which can’t be too far away now. Ulster were good, and we weren’t. It was errors on our part that handed the advantage to Ulster, carrying over for a five yard scrum, and throwing a loose pass in our own 22. And watching our scrums buckling and disintegrating… bet you Tom Court has a fat grin on his face when he watches the replays! Leinster have lost their touch for the moment – add back Sexton, O’Driscoll, Kearney Ross and Nacewa and we would have been a lot more competitive. But in fairness, Ulster are missing Tuohy, Muller, Ferris and Bowe. Back to the drawing board.

I watched a fair amount of the Connacht match, tuning in when Vainikolo was sprinting off for a try. He was caught by the Munster number 10, who at that stage I thought was O’Gara, and I was like Respect! for the old guy. I was no less impressed when I found it was Kearney, because Vainikolo is fast! That should really have been a try, and then Nauopu couldn’t finish in the second half. That match was there for the taking, but Connacht just couldn’t close it out and win. Good match though, in appalling conditions.

Finally, more to the point, Happy Christmas everyone!

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , December 22
Zebre 3 - 10 Benetton Treviso 
Connacht 12 - 16 Munster 
Friday , December 21
Ulster 27 - 19 Leinster 
Cardiff Blues 6 - 9 Scarlets 

Friday, December 21, 2012

This weekend - I'm going Leinster and Connacht!


Well it’s nearly Christmas, but still a fair amount of rugby to cram in the next few weeks. Leinster kick things off tonight with a daunting trip to Ulster. I might be wrong – but after the start of the Pro 12,  the Autumn internationals and two defeats in a row to Clermont – I’m sure all they want to do is go on the tear and forget about rugby for a couple of weeks. And now they have to travel to Ravenhill, to face an awesome Ulster side, unbeaten in the PRO 12 (until now!). Leinster have big time injuries, Sexton is rested, while Ulster are short at lock and will miss Tommy Bowe. Interesting game, Ulster are not very confident either after losing to the Saints, but both will want to bounce back quickly. I’m going with Leinster, as they’ll be more desperate for a win. I think!

ULSTER – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; I Henderson, N McComb; R Diack, C Henry (capt) N Williams. Reps: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, A O'Connor, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Wallace, A D'Arcy.
LEINSTER – N Reid; A Conway, B Macken, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: A Dundon, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, T Denton, R Ruddock, I Boss, A Goodman, A Byrne.

In the other domestic double header, Munster go to Connacht. Connacht have put in some awesome performances in the last few weeks, if they can beat Biarritz at home, they can beat Munster, and I’m going with Connacht!

Two against what most people think, let’s see how I do!
RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , December 21
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets 
Ulster vs Leinster 
Glasgow vs Edinburgh 
Saturday , December 22
Zebre vs Benetton Treviso 14:00
Connacht vs Munster 17:15

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Leinster cancel Christmas, and other cheerful news from the Irish HC campaign.

Eoin McKeon (picture http://bit.ly/Ry53GY)

Last weekend, it was Leinster bringing up the rear for Ireland, this week there was no rear, it was all rear!

First up, Connacht put in a pretty awesome display of underwater hockey in France, and came off second best, but boy did they make Biarritz fight for that win! Eoin McKeon really caught my eye, he’s one to watch.

Then it was Leinster’s turn to be put to the sword as Clermont exacted revenge for numerous defeats over the years. Leinster looked asleep, lacking in leadership, and lacking in cutting edge. Not many players put their hand up – Sexton tried hard, and there were lots of workmanlike performances, but not much of this Blue Magic we get to hear about. We couldn’t stop Clermont on the gainline, , and it was nearly impossible to break their defense. In fairness Clermont were superb and absolutely deserved that victory. Mike Ross had a tough day at the office, and we really need depth at 4 and 5. There’s still the possibility of a runners up spot, but for all intents and purposes this is the end of the HC for Leinster. We’ve had our injury problems, and we could have done with a big name signing at lock. Be that as it may, we could have at least brought the intensity we shoed last week.

I was then looking forward to the Ulster match to pick my mood up – big mistake. Ulster, the current best thing since sliced bread in Irish rugby, looked a shadow of the team that thrashed the Saints last week. They lost Muller last week, and Bowe this week. You’d still back them to win the group, but it’s taken a bit of the gloss off their season so far. Marshall was the player who really caught my eye – is he the fastest player Ulster have? Tommy Bowe was certainly struggling to keep up with him. They came really close to snatching victory at the end, but couldn’t quite force the opportunity.

Finally, it was Munster’s turn to round off a dismal weekend for Irish rugby, losing away to Saracens. They faltered again, I think they had the winning of that match, but couln’t breach the defensive line of Saracens. When you saw how O’Gara opened them up with that chip kick for Zebo – you wonder why they didn’t vary their play more. And they miss the out and out brute force of O’Connell.

Elsewhere, the Ospreys played well to beat Toulouse at home.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , December 16
Castres 10 - 8 Glasgow 
Saracens 19 - 13 Munster 
Toulon 62 - 0 Sale 
Saturday , December 15
Ulster 9 - 10 Northampton 
Harlequins 53 - 5 Zebre 
Benetton Treviso 13 - 14 Leicester 
Ospreys 17 - 6 Toulouse 
Montpellier 34 - 21 Cardiff Blues 
Leinster 21 - 28 Clermont Auvergne 
Exeter 30 - 20 Scarlets 
Friday , December 14
Edinburgh 3 - 15 Racing Metro 92 
Biarritz 17 - 0 Connacht

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Make more excuses, it's back to back Heineken Cup action!

Andrew Goodman (picture http://bit.ly/XYiyBr)

These back to back matches in the HC are great, it’s a chance for instant revenge, and even if your team can’t do anything  in the competition anymore, it’s always great to give them bruise to remember you by.

After predicting 4 from 4 for Ireland last week, although not on the level of the Mayan end of the world prophecy – I’m still feeling the pressure this week…

There’s lots of big matches but none so season defining as the one between Leinster and Clermont. When you’ve won two HC’s on the trot, not getting on out of the pools will be seen as a failure for Leinster. And really, they have to beat Cermont, with a bonus point, and concede no bonus points, to keep control of their own destiny. Otherwise you’d be relying on Exeter or Scarlets to beat Clermont for you, and good luck with that. Have Leinster got enough in the tank to do that? Without O’Driscoll and Kearney, it’s going to be very hard. Andrew Goodman had a good game in centre, but O’Driscoll has magic of his own, alongside an amazing understanding with the players around him. And at the back, Madigan is doing a good job, but his best position is centre. Is it right we can’t move Nacewa to fullback because he was signed at wing? Nacewa at full back would be a big help. An we’re still a bit short at lock. Clermont meanwhile, don’t know who to leave out. I’m going with a Leinster win, but with no bonus point for either team.

Ulster Northampton should be closer than the match last weekend, but Ulster for the win all the way.
Biarritz’s coaches were sacked after their loss to Connacht – but even coachless, Biarritz should win at home this weekend.

Finally, Munster travel to Saracens, where Sarries will want to make amends for a pretty blunt performance last week. Owen Farell got the kicking heeby jeebies, and the lots of other big names went AWOL. Munster meanwhile, put them away pretty easily, but had a few nerves of their own in closing out the match. I’m going to be bold and go Munster again.

I’ll try and catch the Ospreys match and see if they can turn it around against Toulouse. Probably not, but should be good.

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 14
Edinburgh vs Racing Metro 92 20:00
Biarritz vs Connacht 20:00
Saturday , December 15
Benetton Treviso vs Leicester 13:35
Ospreys vs Toulouse 13:35
Harlequins vs Zebre 15:00
Ulster vs Northampton 18:00
Leinster vs Clermont Auvergne 15:40
Exeter vs Scarlets 15:40
Montpellier vs Cardiff Blues 18:00
Sunday , December 16
Saracens vs Munster 15:00
Castres vs Glasgow 12:45
Toulon vs Sale 15:00

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three from four for the Irish provinces - #Leinster, where's your excuse note?


Watching the Ulster match, and reading my preview, I feel like a prophet. I said Northampton didn’t have big match temperament  and that Ulster would win.  Well, Northampton were comprehensively outplayed in the history of  comprehensively outplayment! There are names on the Northampton team, Woods, Lawes, Hartley, Fodden,  Mujati, Tongahuia, but you didn’t hear or see those names at all. There was a sweeping white wave casting all asunder on the way to a four try bonus point win. In defence, and especially on attack, Ulster were special. Jarred Payne was awesome, Rory Best was unbelievable, Cave, Wallace Trimble, Henderson, you could go on and on. Paddy Jackson had his ‘None shall pass’ sign up. Trimble and Wallace were imperious – hard to see who’s going to stop them this year.

And while Ulster were knocking 7 shades of poo out of the Saints, Connacht were doing exactly the same to Biarritz! What a night for the West and North, what night for Ireland.

On Saturday it was Munster’s turn to make the Galacticos of the Premiership look very ordinary indeed. Munster sucked them down into an arm wrestle, with predictable consequences. It was a feisty affair, with fights all over the place, DOC yellow carded – well I never, with Rhys Gill,  for an off the ball scrap. Munster are getting to grips with a new style, they need to get a bit of patience back, but they are starting to hum nicely. I thought James Coughlan and Dave O’Callaghan were outstanding, and being tackled by Doug Howlett is like running into a brick wall. Big names like Goode, Ashton and Farrell weren’t mentioned often. The Fortress Thomond is backup and running!

So it was left to Leinster to make for 4 from 4 for the Irish teams…which they couldn’t quite do. They got really close though, playing intelligent, skilful rugby. They kept the ball in hand, played well in the tight, and had Clermont’s defence guessing  out wide. Damian Browne is growing every match, but where they really need some magic now is in their line out, as they butchered at least three good opportunities to score some points with fumbled lineouts. Tacking scrum penalties off Clermont though, that is some achievement! The pack all played well, and in the backs McFadden was outstanding, with kick chases,ferocious tackling, and a handful in attack. Clermont are a team of stars, but even then Bonnaire shone, and Fofana is such a dangerous runner. At least we can bank the point, and hope for one better next week.

Otherwise, I saw the Ospreys giving Toulouse a reasonable game – really like Tupiric, and Kahn Fotuali'I was man of the match for me. Sale made life awkward for Toulon in the next match, where James Gaskell put in a hugely impressive performance.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , December 9
Leicester 33 - 25 Benetton Treviso 
Clermont Auvergne 15 - 12 Leinster 
Cardiff Blues 24 - 35 Montpellier 
Saturday , December 8
Racing Metro 92 19 - 9 Edinburgh 
Munster 15 - 9 Saracens 
Scarlets 16 - 22 Exeter
Zebre 14 - 57 Harlequins 
Sale 6 - 17 Toulon 
Toulouse 30 - 14 Ospreys 
Friday , December 7
Glasgow 6 - 9 Castres 
Connacht  22 - 14  Biarritz    
 Glasgow  6 - 9  Castres    
 Northampton  6 - 25  Ulster 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hide the remote, and make your excuses, the Heineken Cup is back!


Just when you thought the Autumn internationals had set the bar really high for quality rugby…along comes the Heineken Cup! And for the Irish clubs, there’s a set of season defining matches coming up in the next two weeks.

Starting off with Leinster, who have had a fairly uneven season so far by their standards. They are third in the Rabo, and 2nd in their pool behind Clermont in the HC. And it’s the French colossus they face away and home in the next two weeks. Leinster could lose away and still make it through…but only just, and they’d a few results to go their way, so this is a must win match. Just to make the mountain they have to climb a little higher, Clermont haven’t lost at home in 3 years. Gulp! Apart from O’Driscoll and Kearney, Leinster have a full squad to pick from.  Clermont may be missing a few, but their bench is likely to feature several leading internationals.  I think Leinster can cover for their losses in the back line, to me it’s how the pack is going to play, and whether we can compete with only one top quality lock. It’s going to be full bodied high intensity rugby. I have to say I’m expecting Clermont to win, but here’s hoping.

Connacht are going to be lucky to pinch anything of Biarritz, but the Frenchmen are pretty uneven, especially away, it’s not impossible, and I kind of fancy Connacht here.

Northampton Ulster is a heavyweight clash of note. Saints must hate the sight of Irish teams, now is it Ulster’s turn to bring the pain? From where I’m sitting, yes, I think that even though Saints are 3rd in the Premiership, they don’t have the BMT to match the way Ulster are rolling. Northampton have just found out that they are losing Mujati and Tongahuia – which must be brilliant news for the rest of the Premiership props! – but that’s the sort of thing that can unsettle a team. So I’m going with Bowe, Pienaar and co to come up with an away win.

Finally for the Irish provinces, Munster entertain Saracens in another top, top quality clash. Saracens have a healthy quota of English players, who will be still in the stratosphere from beating the All Blacks last weekend. CJ Stander is a loss after his storming showing against Glasgow, Romain Poite, who’s also injured, probably not as much!  Saracens are going to be trying to bring their size in to play, and bash Munster down. I hope they do, because that’s Munster’s game, and it’s not often Munster get Munstered. I going with the home team at Thomond.

Toulouse Ospreys, could be good as well, but I hope the Ospreys don’t play like Wales!

Heineken Cup
Friday , December 7
Connacht vs Biarritz 20:00
Glasgow vs Castres 
Northampton vs Ulster 20:00
Saturday , December 8
Munster vs Saracens 18:00
Racing Metro 92 vs Edinburgh 18:00
Toulouse vs Ospreys 13:35
Zebre vs Harlequins 13:35
Scarlets vs Exeter 13:35
Sale vs Toulon 15:40
Sunday , December 9
Leicester vs Benetton Treviso 15:00
Clermont Auvergne vs Leinster 15:00
Cardiff Blues vs Montpellier 12:45

Sunday, December 2, 2012

England crush, Wales falter (again!) and Leinster, Ulster and Munster look good

CJ Stander (picture http://bit.ly/SEGbKm)

So I called one Northern Hemisphere win, but I got the wrong one… I put Wales/Australia on Sky+ and I have to say was blown away by England, and especially by their forwards. Their front row was epic, the locks majestic, and the lose trio hungry and aggressive. Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Joe Launchbury, Tom Woods – not fair on the players I left out, but they really stood out. The back line came to the party too, Ben Youngs had his best match in a white jersey, Owen Farell did everything he was asked, and Manu Tualagi came of age in the center. There’s been a touch of arrogance about the All Blacks this tour, and it came back to haunt them on Saturday. Of course, some of the English players got arrogant before the end of the match, Ashton with his swan dive, and Tulagi sauntering in for his try. They should both have been touching down and running over to forwards to thank them for all the hard work. Several AB’s went missing – was Messam even playing? DC was invisible, Aaron Smith was woeful, the front row only featured in England scrum penalties, and Conrad Smith was at his worst and best. Fair play for Lancaster for emptying his bench early, and giving his whole squad a taste for beating the All Blacks. And fair play to the England ladies for their 3-0 shutout of the Black ferns.

After that I watched the Wales Australia match, which like drinking Tesco value cider after Veuve Clicquot. Wales should have won that match, and only finally butchered it in the last two minutes. Neither side was firing much, Leigh Halfpenny is a perennial performer for Wales, Warburton was good, and Cuthbert was willing and able. But the Welsh line out was shocking, and I don’t know what’s happened to their attack but they don’t look capable of scoring a try at the moment. Australia did the basics Ok, tackled, hung in there and got a barely deserved win.

Pretty well straight after that I went into the Leinster match, and saw them fecking a round a bit before they settled into their rhythm and got the scoreline moving.  Sexton is a in a class of his own right now, he’s just oozing with confidence, Mc Fads is such a consistent performer for Leinster, and D’Arce is revelation at 13. Bent looked dead handy too. Bring on Clermont!

I missed the Munster match, which was pity because it sounded like a stormer, and a great home debut for CJ Stander.  Connacht nearly cracked Edinburgh, and missed by a whisker.

Finally, I caught the Scarlets /Ulster match, played in atrocious conditions in front of just about nobody. What is it with Welsh teams and their crowds. Could they not do deals for schoolboys to at least get some bums on seats? For the record, Ulster put in another good performance, playing at theright end of the field, and grinding out the win. Great to see Rory Best back, and Roger Wilson had a decent outing.

International Match
Saturday , December 1
England 38 - 21 New Zealand 
Wales 12 - 14 Australia
RaboDirect PRO12
Sunday , December 2
Scarlets 12 - 19 Ulster 
Saturday , December 1
Benetton Treviso 32 - 13 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Connacht 23 - 24 Edinburgh 
Leinster 37 - 7 Zebre 
Munster 31 - 3 Glasgow 
Friday , November 30
Ospreys 33 - 12 Cardiff Blues

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'm going New Zealand, Wales, and Leinster to scrape by Zebre


Starting off with the internationals –one game is going to brought to me by the wonders of Sky+, one last chance for the heavyweights of the south to bully the North :)

England New Zealand is the match I’m going to watch. I’d love to see England give the AB’s a good game, and it could be a lot closer than people think. I reckon the NZ front row is going to be under pressure, and as England haven’t lived up to their potential this Autumn, the AB’s are going to be taking this pretty lightly.  England’s success or failure to me is going to depend on their loose trio – probably to be Morgan, Robshaw and Wood. Theway they carry the ball up, make a nuisance of themselves at the breakdown, and provide covering tackles for the English backline is going to determine the gap between the teams. With Flood out – I don’t really think Farrell or Burns are ready yet for the big time, hard to see an England win. But if England can get in New Zealand’s faces, disrupt their fast ball, smash them in the tackle, make a mess of the scrums, they could pull off a shocker. The awesome England women’s team play the Black Ferns after the men’s match, having already wrapped up the series 2-0.

Wales Australia is also a great match to look forward to. Wales have kind of sleep walked into this Autumn series, thinking their reputation and talent was going to see them through. A good warm up against Argentina and Samoa to test a few weaknesses, before the big boys arrived. O-3 doesn’t make pretty reading, and it won’t get any easier against the Aussies, probably the most astute of the SH teams at playing the right game for the right team. My reading of Wales is that they need to up their physicality big big time, and get their forwards to make some space until they even think about giving the ball to their backs. And their backs needs to stop trying to run over people, and look for offloads, running angles, chip kicks to make ground. Australia are there for the taking, France showed that, and with Welsh desperation at record levels, I’m going with a home victory.

In the Rabo Pro 12, Leinster take on Zebre in what should be an easy win. SOB continues his comeback, and add in all the returning internationals (including Michael Bent and Heinke VDM) and it could be some more festival rugby. Connacht have a touch encounter with Edinburgh – sure Dan Parks will  want to make his mark there, Munster have Glasgow, and should bounce back well, with their internationals, from a shock defeat to the Scarlets. Finally, Ulster travel to the Scarlets where I fancy they will keep their 100% record.
Saturday , December 1
Wales vs Australia 14:30
England vs New Zealand 14:30
RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , November 30
Ospreys vs Cardiff Blues 19:05
Saturday , December 1
Benetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D'gons 14:00
Connacht vs Edinburgh 17:00
Leinster vs Zebre 18:00
Munster vs Glasgow 19:45
Sunday , December 2
Scarlets vs Ulster 16:00

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ireland soar, Scotland stumble, and England and Wales need to man up


Ireland came storming back into form with a handsome victory over Argentina, as handsome my lady readers have told me, as Tommy Bowe.  Craig Gilroy’s dancing feet were the catalyst for this win, as he scored one out of nothing, and made a break which set up Sexton for the next.  But all the Irish players stood up, delivering a feel good performance, with width, skill and pace. Argentina were shell shocked, and turned in their worst performance this year so far. It means Ireland secure a top eight spot, and Argentina drop out, pipped by Samoa at the 15thdecimal place. Declan Kidney must be thinking ‘Hahahahaha, up yours!’ to all his critics. In theory, we can play better than this, with players like O’Driscoll, Kearney, Ferris and O’Brien missing. I wonder if they play like that every time in practice, and then serve up half warm drivel on match day, and Kidney’s thinking to himself, ‘You feckers!’

MOTM was Donncha Ryan, and he did play well, as did Gilroy, and Sexton, who just about didn’t put a foot wrong. This is great win for the team, and sets us up nicely for the 6N.

The same as last week, I watched the Bok match mostly on fast forward, which was no bad thing, as they ground out an ugly low scoring win over England. Willem Alberts scored the jammiest try ever, but he has a habit of being in the right place at the right time, and as Jean de Villiers said in the post match interviews ‘It was a a well worked move, we’ll take it!’ South Africa have one three on the trot on tour, hardly playing any rugby along the way. But I suppose at least with Lambie at fly half they showed they want to do more. England really should be doing better, hard to say what’s going to turn them from side contenders to world beaters, but I don’t know if Stuart Lancaster is the man for the job. I would get someone like Christian Wade and stick him in the team tomorrow, to offer something unusual in attack that they don’t possess now.

Australia scraped by Italy, France sorted out Samoa, but not by much, and Tonga accounted for Scotland
and Andy Robinson.  Fair play to him for taking the responsibility, it was a match they should have won.

Finally, it was the heavyweight clash between Wales and New Zealand, I suppose you could have billed it the kings of the North vs the kings of the south. Unfortunately, Wales don’t look like the kings of anything at the moment. They have zero confidence, and low expectations. I don’t know why, as they are not my team, but they are really pissing me off at the moment, they have so much talent and are using it so badly. I wanted to see Wales absolutely smashing New Zealand in the contact areas, but there was some pretty half hearted stuff going on there, and it all went pear shaped pretty quickly after they lost the collisions and started missing tackles.  Liam Williams stood up to be counted, normally I find him an annoying little shit, but he was the one player not overawed by the situation. The All Blacks had it all, pace power and skill, and also seem to be developing an unfortunate sidleline in cheap shots, with Adrew Hore surely to be cited and  banned.

International Match
Saturday , November 24
Ireland 46 - 24 Argentina 
Italy 19 - 22 Australia 
England 15 - 16 South Africa 
Wales 10 - 33 New Zealand 
France 22 - 14 Samoa 
Scotland 15 - 21 Tonga 

1 NEW ZEALAND - 92.91
2 SOUTH AFRICA - 86.94
3 AUSTRALIA - 86.31
4 FRANCE - 85.07
5 ENGLAND - 81.07
6 IRELAND - 80.22
7 WALES - 78.95
8 SAMOA - 78.71 (78.709236088306938 to 15 decimal places)
9 ARGENTINA - 78.71 (78.708853582562098 to 15 decimal places)
10 ITALY - 76.24
11 TONGA - 76.10
12 SCOTLAND - 75.83

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ireland go Puma hunting, and if you're from the North, avert your eyes now

He's back! (picture http://bit.ly/UVvx0k)

What a mess of scheduling they’ve made of the matches again! You wait three months for a quality international match to come along, then suddenly three come at once.

Ireland go hunting to try and bag a Puma this weekend. Puma concolor is a large cat of the family Felidae native to the Americas – although let’s face it, they seem to have acclimatised to Europe and the fat salaries in France in particular pretty well. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep and Irishmen.  Yes, at critical time their diet definitely includes Irishman.

Over the years, particularly at the World Cup, the Argentineans have made an irritating habit of beating us when it really counted. And they are in a bit of form at the moment, having spent the last couple of months playing Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, not disgracing themselves, and then beating Wales. Ok, they got beaten by France, but if anyone is battle hardened it’s them.

Wales tried to steamroller them and it went pear shaped for them, as they the Pumas don’t give up and can’t really be bullied. We can’t bully them so how are we going to beat them? Declan Kidney obviously feels that wings are key to our success, as half our team seems to be wings now. We have wings on the wings, wings in the centre, and wings at full back. If we get dry weather, and a bit of space, we could score lots of trys. We could get dry weather, but no space from the Pumas, and I hope those wings can catch high balls, as they will get lots of practice. I’m excited to see Gilroy in the team, hope his tackling and catching is on top form, and I’d loved to have seen Marshall or Cave come in at centre.  And the result is going to be… a win for Ireland, but you’ll have to watch through your fingers. Lot’s of passion from us anyway.Actually, I was wondering, do you think Wales could play us instead of Argentina? The Cardiff crowd would be treated to a classic NZ Pumas match, and we’d have a pretty good chance of bagging some points.

South Africa haven’t been in great form this tour, but England are not exactly brimming with form themselves after the Aussies knocked the wind out of their sails. South Africa know only brutal, and England brings out the extra brute in them, so I’m going with the Boks.

Scotland should be Tonga, sorry about that Wales, and France Samoa should be a classic, and another good win for France.

And in the Pro 12, Sean O’Brien is getting a start for Leinster– get in!

International Match
Saturday , November 24
Ireland vs Argentina 14:00
England vs South Africa 14:30
Scotland vs Tonga 15:00
France vs Samoa 17:00
Wales vs New Zealand 17:15
Italy vs Australia 18:00

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wales and England fail, South Africa look like a bear trying to breakdance, and all too easy for Ireland

Craig Gilroy (picture http://bit.ly/T55CUc)

I started the weekend watching the Wales Samoa match, expecting to see Wales back in their groove. Well, if their groove is the inexorable slide to the bottom, they are firmly in position at the moment.  Samoa  are like an uncontrollable force of nature. They seriously need to sort their discipline out, and cut out the shoulder charges, swinging arms and high tackles. What they don’t need to sort out is their commitment, perfectly illustrated in the 73rd minute, just outside the Welsh 22, when the ball came unexpectedly out of a lose mall, and their number 10 Pisi came sprinting in and swan dived to claim the ball, like his life depended on it. Like his life depended on it. How many Welsh players could you say played like that. Samoa’s scrum was epic, how many points did they score from scrum penalties?Wales need to roll their sleeves up and learn to stuck in again – they are not exactly small guys,  but they are playing pretty timidly at the moment.

Next up was the England Wallabies match, where I though Australia were going to be eating humble pie. I think England are the one team the Aussies base their self esteem on- losing to New Zealand is not great, but losing to England is akin to a loss of manhood. So the Aussies played well then, and England basically didn’t. All that sniggering  before the match about the Australian front row was a bit off the mark. England areanother team that need a good kick up the arse. They could so badly do with Ben Fodden back, the one English back who can split defenses at will. Goode and Browne both looked workmanlike, Barrett and Tuilagi tackle well, but where are the offlads, the side steps, the running lines? The Aussie live to fight another day, while England have South Africa and New Zealand coming up. Gulp.

I recorded the Scotland South Africa and watched it with my finger hovering on and off the fast forward button. Let me tell you, that was by far the best way to watch it, for the brief flickers of excitement in between the grunt and toil. Last week, South Africa played badly in the first half, and well in the second. This week they mixed it up a bit, playing well in the first half, and badly in the second. Those crazy Springboks! They only have one game plan, which is 15 rather large gentlemen jumping on your head. They are trying to get a running game going, which at the moment looks like a bear trying to breakdance. Scotland scored one good try, defended well, and just need a bit of luck, and probably a better fly half to kick on and pick up another big scalp.

Ireland’s match was a bit of a letdown – not that we didn’t play well, and not that there weren’t some fine individual performances. Fiji, and their non appearance, was the problem. They looked they had better things to do, better places to be than at Thomond Park on a Saturday afternoon.  The Ulster backline – and Fergus McFadden – unleashed their full bag of tricks, with Gilroy, Marshall, Jackson and McFadden shining. After they ran in a few tries, I was hoping the game was going to settle down and we were going to see what their defence was like, but that never really happened. We could be looking at the bones of the next Ireland backline – but they are going to have to be tested by sterner attacks, and crack tighter defences before you could know that for certain.

Elsewhere, the all Blacks steamrollered the Italians, and probably the match of the weekend, France Argentina was on Setanta so I didn’t get to see it. Boo! Hopefully that Argentina’s loss softened them up nicely for next weekend.

International Match
Saturday , November 17
Italy 10 - 42 New Zealand 
England 14 - 20 Australia 
Scotland 10 - 21 South Africa 
France 39 - 22 Argentina 
Ireland A 53 - 0 Fiji 
Friday , November 16
Wales 19 - 26 Samoa 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

International round up, and Adam Thompson, look away now!

That'll make your eyes water! (picture http://bit.ly/QIiG5O)

There’s a feast of rugby on this weekend, and I’ll start off with Ireland, who will face Fiji at Thomond park in a non cap international. I’m hoping this Irish team is going to have a distinctly Ulster feel to it as they are the form Irish team – I want to see Cave, Tuohy and Henderson on the pitch. Playing a centre in centre is a bit radical, but hey why not give it a shot?  I’ve no idea at all why Tuohy isn’t starting for Ireland, why he didn’t start against the Boks? As Fiji seem to be going through a lean patch, it should be a good confidence building win for Ireland and an ideal warm up for the Pumas.

Wales are taking on Samoa’ looking for a their first win a while now. The size of the Welsh team should see them through, although their confidence isn’t going to very high, but I’d like to think they are going to bounce back and return to winning ways.

In a triumph of TV scheduling, Italy –NZ, Scotland-SA and England –Aus are all on at the same time on Saturday. Italy are going to be trying to take the Kiwis on up front, and should make for some entertaining scrums with Castro giving his all. Should be a big win for the All Blacks. While we’re on the All Blacks, I don’t know what the outcome of Adam Thompson’s case for using his foot to play with Alasdair Strokosch’s head. To me that was Thompson saying ‘Hello, I’m Adam Thompson, I play for a big important team called the All Blacks, and if I want to stand on your head I will’. He was totally arrogant, and basically behaving like a knob. After sober consideration, in true punishment should fit the crime syle, I reckon he should have his goolies ripped off by ninjas, in a ceremony likely to rival the haka for drama. In the same form, JP Pietersen would be made to go bungy jumping using the necktie rope attachment method, for his reckless challenge on Chris Henry. Would they do it again? I don’t think so.

Scotland vs the Springboks should be one for fans of big hits, with Scotland sniffing at a rare Southern Hemisphere victory. They got hammered by the All Blacks, but you can’t argue with the three tries they scored. The Boks have named a better team than last week, with Steenkamp coming in for pensioner van der Linde, and exciting centre De Jong coming in for his first start for a while. I think the Boks will play better than last weekend (they could hardly play worse) and win this.

England entertain the Wobblies, and would have to come into the match as favourites. The Aussies performance stank last weekend, and they’ve hardly done themselves any favours with their pre match hype -  Polota Nau fancies they can take on the English front row – no you can’t, and winger Digby Ioane wants to have a go at England’s  ‘pretty boys’. I’m no expert on male beauty, and while the Tuilagi brothers possess a great number of other virtues, Manu is not what I’d called pretted. Potential to be added to ‘Famous Last words’?  The Aussies will be up for this one, which former colony isn’t, but this isn’t likely to go well for them.

France Argentina could be the match of the weekend. Both teams were in hot form last weekend. And as the Argentineans mostly play in France, they always seem put extra passion into their game when they play France. The whole team is going to be blubbing like Andy Murray at Wimbledon at the anthems, and it could be France doing the blubbing at the end of the match. I’m going with Argentina, don’t know why, but could you rely on the French to be consistent two weeks in a row?

International Match
Friday , November 16
Wales vs Samoa 19:30
Saturday , November 17
Italy vs New Zealand 14:00
Scotland vs South Africa 14:30
England vs Australia 14:30
Ireland A vs Fiji 17:30
France vs Argentina 20:00

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ireland let one slip, Wales were dismal, the French were sublime and Scotland got thumped but had fun.


This was a weekend for the South, with France the only Northern Hemisphere team to buck the trend. How did the North do though, in defeat? The all important world rankings are at the bottom

Starting with Ireland, who came the next closest to getting one over the South. Give me a bit of time while my soap box is set up. It was disappointing to lose, especially going in at half time 9 points in the lead. Ireland did the basics really well in the first half, their defense was solid, they didn’t look scoring a try, but they had a few half breaks, and were easily holding their own against the Boks. The turning point was the sinbinning of JP Pietersen for an idioitic tackle on Chris Henry. Ireland couldn’t turn that 1 man advantage into points. We needed to put our foot on the gas and just didn’t have the tactics to do it. With 15 men on the pitch in the second half, South Africa had Jamie Heaslip sin binned, scored a try and got a penalty and the lead, which they kept and extended.

Good games for Ireland were Mike McCarthy (I hang my head in shame there)the front row, Chris Henry, Sexton and Bowe. Good for SA were Strauss, Vermuelen and Lowe.

All in all, losing by four points to the team ranked third in the world is no shame, and especially as we have several key injuries. The Boks have injuries too, but they have way more depth than us and played together for the 4N which only ended in October, whereas we last played together in June.

As my soap box has arrived, I can now give out properly. Why I’m disappointed is that while our defense is brilliant, our attack seems to have gone AWOL. I can remember some awesome Irish performances, against France in 2009 and the second test against New Zealand this year.  In those games we ferocious in defense, our game had tempo, and our attack was structured and just about unstoppable. What style are we playing now? I think we’re analyzing the opposition and playing a different game plan every week. I want to see that tempo back, which means scrum halves like Reddan and Marshall, and ball players in mid field. Otherwise we are just marking time.

For the record, the Boks were pretty ordinary, and the bad old habits of foul play are creeping back in. The one thing I will applaud them for is picking attacking fly halves and trying to play some rugby.

Elsewhere, Wales get an F for Fail. Argentina have been playing bigger faster stronger teams for weeks on end, so Wales were never going to just run them over. Wales looked lost, not much leadership, and no attacking flair to pick the Argentinean lock instead of trying to bust the door down. What a result for Argentina though!

I was slightly off in predicting a Fijian win as they had their arses kicked. France were the big turn up for the books, playing aggressive, pacy attractive rugby the Aussies had no answer for. The Deans clock is ticking.
Finally, I watched AB thump Scotland. Good day for Scotland though, three tries against the World Champs is something to be proud of. If they can just tighten up that defense a little… Carter is the best 10 in the world, end of, his running alone makes him that. McCaw is awesome too, but it’s laughable how much time he and the rest of the pack spent lying on the Scottish side of the breakdown. I would have had them all hung myself!

Sunday , November 11
Scotland 22 - 51 New Zealand 
Saturday , November 10
Italy 28 - 23 Tonga 
Wales 12 - 26 Argentina 
England 54 - 12 Fiji 
France 33 - 6 Australia 
Ireland 12 - 16 South Africa 

1(1) NEW ZEALAND 92.91
2(2) AUSTRALIA 86.37
3(3) SOUTH AFRICA 84.69
4(4) ENGLAND 83.09
5(5) FRANCE 83.03
6(6) WALES 82.26
7(7) IRELAND 79.85
8(8) ARGENTINA 78.63
9(9) SCOTLAND 77.97
10(10) SAMOA 76.23
11(11) ITALY 76.03
12(12) TONGA 74.79

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bring on the Boks! But with our injuries, if you're going to the match, bring your boots!

Richardt Strauss (picture http://bit.ly/RJ7eDF)

Ireland kick their Autumn internationals off in style with a top clash against the Springboks. This is my favorite match up in all rugby, as I support both teams, but Ireland first.

I’ll start with the Boks, have a look at where they are and what their key weaknesses are.  They had a massive clean out of players due to retirements, loss of players overseas, prison, that sort of thing  They also have a new coach. They still have an absolutely top notch pack, Etzebeth, Kruger and Van der Merwe are all world class locks, their front row is ultra solid, and loose forwards like Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts are forces of nature.  Behind them, they have traditionally had very conservative backline play, based on kicking for territory, kick and chase, and kicking for kicking sakes. However, the golden boy of South African kicking has fallen off his perch, Morne Steyn is in the squad but not first choice anymore.  Youngsters Pat Lambie and Elton Jantjes  are likely to feature, and I hope to see a lot of Lambie with his cool head and attacking flair. If he can set off a backline line with players like Pietersen, Hougaard, and De Villiers – we’ll be in trouble. What we need to do is stand up to their physicality, and run at them – any team struggles to cope with confident ball handlers travelling at speed. For the Boks is that the team played together as recently as October. For Ireland is that the Sprinboks have been playing nearly continuously since February, they often stink on their November tour – and also that they don’t see Ireland as a big threat. This is the team.

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Where are Ireland in comparison? We have a golden generation of stars now in various states of decrepitude. BOD is world class – when he’s fit an playing, which is getting less less frequent. The same goes for POC, O’Gara seems past his best, D’Arcy plays well in fits and starts, and O’Callagahan peaked about 3 years ago. Add to that some our new stars, Ferris, Kearney and SOB all on the phsio table somewhere – it’s looking tough. And add to the that a coach, who’s lost a decent chunk of his public, and you’d wonder how much of his dressing room. He seems intent on levering in players like Murray and Earls into positions they can’t handle.  Munster is not the powerhouse it used to be, and the bulk of the players should be from Leinster and Ulster.

My starting 15 would be
Earls Bowe Cave D’Arcy Trimble Sexton Reddan Heaslip O’Mahony Henry Ryan Tuohy Healy Strauss Ross

I think we’ve got to look to the future now, give the older players game time when they’re fit – but only off the bench. We’re not going to survive any other way. Looking at my team, I love Earls on the wing and at full back, but not in the centre. I’d start with Strauss because this is South Africa – he’ll be so up for this! And he speaks Afrikaans so he can work their line out calls.

With our key injuries, we can still field a strong team, but probably not with enough game time to have the combinations gelling. I don’t want to see Murray and O’Callaghan starting! I think the Boks are going to beat us.

Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Sooo, this is the 15 Declan came up – you and me are going to have words… Earls can’t pass and is a wobbly tackler, which is why I don’t like him at centre. Murray gives the team no tempo, and often passes to isolated players. And Mike McCarthy – is a journeyman lock, I’d rather have seen O’Callaghan in, at least he was once a great lock. We’ll get hockeyed!

Elsewhere – I’m a bit worried for Wales, without Gatland in charge they are not the same time, and the Welsh sides have been pretty dire this year. So I’m going Argentina  after a reasonable showing in the Rugby Championship.

I think the France/ Australia match could be a classic – the Wallabies always manage to punch well above their weight when you look at their player numbers, but France have ridiculous depth at the moment, so I’m going with France.

I’m not too keen on the England team they’ve selected – don’t seem to be taking Fiji too seriously, and the last I saw them play it was draw. Reckon Fiji will win!
Scotland get to tackle the All Blacks. If they get a bit of rain, the Scots area hugely physical team that are hard to put away. And I’d love to see Timbo Visser do some damage! I see a BIG fright for the All Blacks!

Enjoy the rugby!

Saturday , November 10
England vs Fiji 14:30
Wales vs Argentina 14:30
Italy vs Tonga 15:00
Ireland vs South Africa 17:30
France vs Australia 20:00

Sunday , November 11
Scotland vs New Zealand 14:30

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ulster and Connacht fly, Munster scrape and not good enough from Leinster

Jamie Hagan (picture http://bit.ly/YFE5ws)

Things went fairly well to plan this weekend for the Irish sides, well up until Sunday anyway. I watched the Munster match on Friday night, figuring it would be a better match than the Ulster one. Was I right – no, I’d say I made a  bad decision, as it wasn’t the greatest match.  I couldn’t stop watching though, the match held a terrible fascination as Munster labored to overcome a Cardiff teams with no stars and playing only marginally better than they did against Leinster last week. Munster’s pack looks good though, and that’s where they should be keeping the ball, route one. There seemed to be a lot of aimless passing which just moved the team backwards. Felix Jones had some good touches, and Tommy O’Donnell was full value for his two tries. That’s the kind of good old fashioned forward Munster need more of. Meanwhile, Ulster put Edinburgh away to keep topspot and their 100% record.

Connacht bagged a win against Treviso, and it was left to Leinster to complete the clean sweep for Ireland. Or not. They have 10 players away on international duty, and a good few influential injuries. But the Ospreys have their own absences as well, and on paper Leinster were the stronger side. They were the stronger side on the field as well in the first 50 minutes, way on top in the scrum, and narrowly missing out on two trys. Conditions were appalling, but Leinster couldn’t turn them to their advantage, and watched the game slip away in the last 20 minutes. Dave Kearney played really well at 15, Madigan showed brilliant touches but never really controlled the game, Boss did good, and Jamie Hagan was probably Leinster’s best player ( not the babelicious Jamie Hagan I found when I googled his name. You're welcome). Not nearly good enough.

RaboDirect PRO12
Sunday , November 4
Ospreys 19 - 10 Leinster 
Saturday , November 3
Connacht 18 - 3 Benetton Treviso 
Scarlets 22 - 13 Zebre 
Friday , November 2
Cardiff Blues 18 - 24 Munster 
Ulster 45 - 20 Edinburgh 
Glasgow 37 - 6 Newport-Gwent D'gons

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bent in for Leinster? - and It should be an Irish clean sweep

Michael Bent (http://bit.ly/PKS57X)

Ulster get things underway for Ireland in the Pro 12 with what should be an easy win over Edinburgh, especially with the Scots internationals away. Ulster have it all these days, including depth. They have Ferris , Gilroy and Marshall back from the Irish squad as well.

Munster travel to Wales, expecting some sort of backlash from Cardiff’s hammering in Dublin last weekend.  That’s a strong team Munster have put out. I’m hoping Felix Jones continues his injury free run, and builds up game time. I don’t think he’s ready for Ireland yet, but he’s going in the right direction – he could be an option at full back or wing in the future. With the top Welsh players in cryogenic chambers or whatever in Poland, this should be a good outing for the Munster men.

Connacht have the chance to get back to winning ways against Treviso, as they have a full squad to call on, and Treviso would have lost their Italian internationals. Could be a close one, as Treviso are a pretty decent side these days, but home advantage should see Connacht through.

Finally, Leinster  travel to Wales on Sunday on take on the Ospreys. Ulster have the newly famous Michael Bent to call on at prop, fresh from the Canes,  and utility back Andrew Goodman from Tasman. Dave Kearney and Rhys Ruddock are ready to go, and Jordi Murphy is the man I want to see, he seems to get better every time he plays. As the chief Ospreyalians are having their bits frozen off in Poland, I don’t think there’ll be much cheer for Welsh side this weekend.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Leinster tear Cardiff apart limb by limb, and dance on the pieces


Ulster got things underway for the Irish teams by thrashing the Dragons. Would have loved to watch the match – was it on anywhere?

I caught a fair amount of the Munster match, on a cold night at Thomond Park. Commentary of the season came from Jerry Flannery near half time with the scores at 3-3. TG4:"agus Jerry Flannery,cad a cheapainn tu?" Jerry:"well it's very disappointing so far, and I'm freezing my ass off!" Thanks to @CollieMoRugby for that. Penney obviously had a few choice words said to them at half time – any of you planning to play for Ireland? maybe, and the second half was much better for them. Dave Kilcoyne did well, as did Felix Jones and JJ Hanrahan got off to a flyer. He’s not the finished article yet, but he gives Munster some incision they haven’t had for a while.

I wasn’t sure what time the Leinster match was starting, and though I’d missed half the match when I tuned in and they’d already scored two tries. Not, as they had the 4 try bonus point wrapped in 26 minutes, the fastest this season. If the question was, does anybody in Leinster want to play for Ireland, the answer was a loud YES. Leinster took Cardiff apart limb by limb, and danced on the pieces. Players like Roberts,  Cuthberts, Halfpenny, Warburton and Davies will be shellshocked after leaking 9 tries. This is the Leinster that we’ve been waiting for. The forwards stood up, the backs stood up, they fell off a bit at the end, but they mean business again. Jordi Murphy grows game by game, and all the famous names did themselves justice. Good times!

Connacht as expected fell to the Ospreys.

RaboDirect PRO12
Newport-Gwent D'gons 19 - 46 Ulster 
Edinburgh 28 - 29 Scarlets 
Munster 29 - 3 Zebre
Ospreys 26 - 9 Connacht 
Benetton Treviso 13 - 24 Glasgow 
Leinster 59 - 22 Cardiff Blues

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Irish provinces get their Pro 12 groove on again

Iain Henderson - one to watch (picture http://bit.ly/XrKGuI)

So the HC is taking a break, bit of a difference going back to the Pro 12. The next big thing to look forward to is the Autumn internationals – where did October go – where did 2012 go? Ireland have a big matches with South Africa and Argentina to look forward to. Ireland have new potential caps with centre Luke Marshall, forward Iain Henderson, prop David Kilcoyne and hooker Richardt Strauss.

Leinster have Cardiff Blues, which should be a good test for them, and hopefully see them notch another point on their upward curve. Would love to see Kearney back, and failing that, Isa at full back please. Leinster by 10.

Ulster go to visit the Dragons, and although winning in Wales is hard, they’re the form team and they should do this, and keep their 100% record. Pienaar and Marshall should be some combination at 10 and 9.

Connacht won’t beat the Ospreys I don’t think, although the Welshmen will be pretty low after a pummeling in the HC. And Munster should continue their renaissance with a win over Zebre at home.

Enjoy the long weekend if you’re Irish!

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , October 26
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Ulster 
Edinburgh vs Scarlets 
Munster vs Zebre 
Saturday , October 27
Ospreys vs Connacht 14:30
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow 18:05
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues 18:30

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Munster all in fine form


Ulster started the weekend for Ireland in impressive form with an away win at Glasgow. They have to be in the reckoning for another final of the Heineken Cup.

Leinster were away to the Scarlets, out to right the wrongs of their last trip to Wales, where they didn’t leave as happy campers at all. I was expecting a lot from the Scarlets, but this was a bit of a no show from this talented but erratic team. They have players like North and Liam Williams that have a lot of talent, but don’t seem to know how to get them into space. I’m not doing Leinster much justice by saying that though, because they cut down the Scarlets space, and had the control to make their own space when they needed to. The blue forwards rolled their sleeves up and stood up like they haven’t done so far this season.  Impressive stuff from players like Ross and Heaslip, and at the back Sexton, Nacewa and McFadden were always dangerous. Madigan gave me a bit of heart attack at the end, but job done.

Connacht lost to Quins, but it was no disgrace to be within 8 points of one of one of the biggest teams in Europe. I watched a bit of the Exeter/Clermont match, shouting for Exeter of course. Waste of time. If Leinster can beat Clermont – we will make it three in a row. I don’t know though…
Muster beat Edinburgh and got a bonus point. Nuff said. I’m not interested in how they did it, I know they are trying to play a bit more expansively and it’s not quite working. But when your forwards (and scrum half) can score four trys for you, who cares what you are trying to do.

Heineken Cup
Friday , October 19
Glasgow 8 - 19 Ulster 
Castres 21 - 16 Northampton
Heineken Cup
Benetton Treviso 21 - 33 Toulouse 
Scarlets 13 - 20 Leinster 
Saracens 30 - 13 Racing Metro 92 
Exeter 12 - 46 Clermont Auvergne 
Biarritz 38 - 17 Zebre 
Connacht 22 - 30 Harlequins
Munster 33 - 0 Edinburgh 
Cardiff Blues 14 - 22 Toulon

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heineken Cup - I'm picking wins for Ulster, Leinster and Munster, and a fright for Quins!

Jordi Murphy (picture http://bit.ly/R5SHmL)

Ulster get things going this weekend for the Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup with a trip to Glasgow. Ferris and Williams are back in the training squad, and they still have players like Roger Wilson to make their debuts. Should be easy enough for Ulster.

Connacht welcome Quins to the Sports Ground in Galway, hoping history will repeat itself. If they beat them last season, and beat Leinster this season, they can do it. They must be the only town in Ireland praying for rain this weekend…but I think Quins won’t underestimate them this time.

Leinster travel to Wales to take on the Scarlets. They got absolutely spanked there last time, and have point to prove, as well as needing the win. Scarlets are a good team, they don’t seem to have consistency, but they have X-Factor players that can turn a game on it’s head.  Leinster should have Kearney back for this one, as well as D’Arcy. My two cents worth on the team is that they shouldn’t be playing Madigan at full back – put Isa there, and put Madigan on the wing. I also think we need more mobility in the forwards - Kevin McLaughlin has been playing really well, but I’d look at starting Jordi Murphy to help improve our defense. It’s the forwards who need to stand up for this match, and make the space for the backs to do what they do best. I think Leinster will take this.

Munster  have Edinburgh to over on Saturday. I wasn’t surprised when they lost last weekend, but they won’t want any mistakes this Saturday. Edinburgh are a tidy, competitive outfit, and not to be taken lightly. They are without O’Gara, Earls and Du Preez.  O’Gara is the one everyone is talking about, but I think Keatleys up to the job, it depends on what service Murray and the pack give him.  Earls being out means they may start at Downey and Lualua in the centers, which is where I’ve seen Munster play best this season. Murray is the key though. I’m going with a Munster win.

Lot’s of other great ties this weekend, Exeter Clermont should be good – don’t write off Exeter, and Leicester Ospreys and Cardiff Toulon should be the business.

And if that wasn’t enough rugby, the Wallabies have the All Blacks at home on Saturday as well! I don’t think it’s going to be pretty for the Aussies.

Heineken Cup
Friday , October 19
Castres vs Northampton 20:00
Glasgow vs Ulster 20:00
Saturday , October 20
Saracens vs Racing Metro 92 16:40
Benetton Treviso vs Toulouse 13:35
Biarritz vs Zebre 18:00
Connacht vs Harlequins 18:00
Scarlets vs Leinster 13:35
Exeter vs Clermont Auvergne 18:00
Sunday , October 21
Munster vs Edinburgh 12:45
Leicester vs Ospreys 15:00
Cardiff Blues vs Toulon 12:45
Montpellier vs Sale 15:00
International Match
Saturday , October 20
Australia vs New Zealand 11:00

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ulster cruise, Leinster stagger, and Munster...

Missed (picture http://bit.ly/T2ZGQb)

Ulster started the weekend in fine style for the Irish provinces with a bonus point win. Marshall was in fine form at scrum half – hope Declan Kidney was watching –full value for his two tries, and super sub Ruan Pienaar put the cherry on top with a bonus point try after the hooter had sounded.

Next up were Munster, who had to play on a soggy pitch in driving  rain. That would have suited them once, but in fairness, they are trying to play some running rugby, and it didn’t quite come off. The annoying thing is they could have won, but managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and it was all their own doing. This wasn’t just the one that got away, it the one that stopped on the way to wave it’s private parts in your aunties face. I guess like Leinster, they have got to learn to earn the right to go wide first. Impressive first outing from Paulie. I’m ignoring the 6 foot 2inch elephant in the room (Connor Murray) as I’ve said enough about him already.

Leinster looked none to sharp fumbling past Exeter. That doesn’t do justice to how well Exeter played, they are team in serious form. But Leinster are trying to do fancy wrap arounds and what not, before theforwards have tied up the defence and created the space. The lineout is a shambles, they are missing SOB, but to play badly, and still beat a side like Exeter, they doing OK. Die hard Leinster supporters will be pointing to the fact that they looked pretty pooey at the start of their last two triumphant HC campaigns, but it takes a lot of belief to back them at the moment – Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny will be handing them the HCup this year!

Connacht got the win over Zebre, and I watched a fair amount of Quins/Biarritz, and it was impressive how Quins picked themselves up in the second half and put their foot on the accelerator.

Watched a bit of the Leicester/Toulouse match,a nd saw 30mins of hard work by the Tigers undone by one bit of magic from the Frenchmen.

Heineken Cup Ospreys
 38 - 17 Benetton Treviso 
Ulster 41 - 17 Castres
Racing Metro 92 22 - 17 Munster 
Zebre 10 - 19 Connacht 
Leinster 9 - 6 Exeter 
Clermont Auvergne 49 - 16 Scarlets 
Edinburgh 0 - 45 Saracens
 Harlequins 40 - 13 Biarritz
Northampton 24 - 15 Glasgow 
Sale 34 - 33 Cardiff Blues 
Toulon 37 - 16 Montpellier 
Toulouse 23 - 9 Leicester

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's Autumn - your life is not your own because the Heineken Cup is going to take it over!


Sooo, the biggest club rugby competition in Europe (some say the world) is about to kick off. Toulouse have won the competition a record four times, Leinster three times, while Munster, Leicester Tigers and London Wasps have won it twice each. Leicester and Leinster have both won it twice in a row, but it’s never been won three times in a row…UNTIL this season?!

Leinster are the incumbents, and all the challengers have to wrest the cup from their cold dead hands. They have had a moderate start to the season, some would say crappy(me). Their major loss in the off season was Brad Thorne, and they still look a bit light in the lock department. They are carrying a fair amount of injured players, and some of the older guys (D’Arcy and O’Driscoll) are held together by gaffer tape and chewing gum at this stage. But…when you learn how to do something like win the Heineken Cup, you don’t forget in a hurry. They have a tough enough group with Clermont, Scarlets and Exeter . We all know what Clermont can do but Exeter and Scarlets could trip you up just like that. On pedigree though, Leinster should make it out their group, and will have to and should beat Exeter first up.

Munster are in with Edinburgh, Racing Metro and Sarries. Not the worst group really, and if they bring their good running game and their pack stands up, I could see them topping their group, with Sarries the big obstacle.

Ulster have Saints, Glasgow and Castres. In the form they’re in, no problem for them to get out of the group, starting by thumping Castres, with a certain Ruan on the bench.

Connacht have Zebre, Quins and Biarritz. Could they get a second and scrape into the next round? Certainly not impossible, I want to see it! Quins should top this.

Then, out of the final two groups, Toulouse and Toulon should top their groups, with the Tigers scraping out.
Bring it ONNNN! I’ve updated the pool and fixtures HC cup pages on my blog, so peruse at your leisure.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ulster look dead handy, Leinster turn up, and the All Blacks are all powerful.

Damian Brone (picture http://bit.ly/PM7i2T)

I started off the weekend watching Connacht get comprehensively beaten by Ulster. Ulster are in some serious from, Marshall looks really sharp, Bowe did well, but the whole team functions as such a tight unit it’s hard to pick out stand out players. Connacht played well, gutsy is their by word, and it’s a shame Eric Elwood is throw in the towel, because with a bit more support from the IRFU to retain players, they could turn into something really good.

The Leinster/Munster match was way better than I expected, in fact it was a belter. Reddan made a huge impact for me, combined with Sexton, and a pack that stood up. I’d pick Damian Browne out as a top performer, and Jodi Murphy’s work rate is top notch.  I’d like to see more of Fionn Carr, he’s earned his place. As much as I rate Madigan, maybe it’s worth giving Carr a shot at full back? Munster are there, nearly there, they have a counter attacking game now I can’t ever remember them having, and with a few more tweaks they will be awesome. That pack is getting better and better.

It was a black day in Soweto as New Zealand pretty comprehensively dismantled the Bokke, after an impressive start by the home team. Those All Blacks are pretty well invincible at the moment, best team in the world by a country mile. I will say this though, the Springboks are starting to evolve. It’s going to take a while to get from Neanderthal  through Cro-Magnon to Homo Erectus, but they have started on a journey, and when they arrive, they are going to be fearsome.

The Wallabies wrapped up their tournament by beating  Argentina. Great result for a team cobbled together with bits of string, and Argentina are getting their act together, and will be so much better next time around.
RaboDirect PRO12
Ulster  25 - 0  Connacht 
Zebre 16 - 34 Ospreys 
Scarlets 24 - 13 Newport-Gwent D'gons 
Edinburgh 22 - 27 Benetton Treviso
Cardiff Blues 3 - 18 Glasgow 
Leinster 30 - 21 Munster 
Rugby Championship
South Africa 16 - 32 New Zealand
Argentina 19 – 25 Australia

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The big Irish clash this weekend is sure to be a thriller - will Ulster beat Connacht? :) Plus I'm going Boks and Pumas


The big match this weekend, the one we’ve all been waiting for, the big Irish derby, is of course between Connacht and Ulster. But let’s for sentimentalities sake imagine that the little matter of Leinster taking on Munster at the Aviva stadium – with 45000 people watching – is in fact the big Irish match taking place this weekend.  Munster come in of the back of a good beating at the hands of the Ospreys, while Leinster were thrashed by Connacht. Munster have at least put a few performances together this season, looking excellent in patches against the Dragons, and playing well against Ulster even if they lost. Leinster’s form, meanwhile has been – I think the technical term is crappy. Both teams want to use this match to springboard their seasons – I guess Leinster will win in their own back yard, but at this stage it’s hard to see how this will be the start of anything for either of them. Ulster should win their match easily enough I’d say. No good news on the Injury front either with Rob Kearney out  for months. And if we get Boss or Reddan back that would be a huge step forward.

The Rugby Championship has been wrapped up by New Zealand, so the matches left are dead rubbers now.  The All Blacks however are on a 15 match winning streak, and the Springboks always want to beat them, they are their favourite team to beat.  The match is in Soweto, I think the stadium holds 90000 people, and I’m going with the Springboks, notwithstanding the performance the All Blacks put in last weekend. I think the Springboks are going to be absolutely desperate for the win.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies have limped into Argentina with a severely depleted squad.  If you’re an Aussie supporter going to the match, bring your boots.  I think Australia are ripe for the taking, and that Argentina are going to get their first win.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , October 5
Zebre vs Ospreys 
Ulster vs Connacht 19:05
Scarlets vs Newport-Gwent D'gons 19:05
Edinburgh vs Benetton Treviso 19:30
Saturday , October 6
Leinster vs Munster 18:30
Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow 18:30
Rugby Championship
Saturday , October 6
South Africa vs New Zealand 16:30
Argentina vs Australia 20:10

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lurching Leinster, magic Ulster, and wobbling Wallabies


I had to work late on Friday night, so that ruled out watching the Leinster game, then I had it on the hard drive – and, oh no, the kids deleted it so I didn’t get to see them getting pumped by Connacht. Leinster chops and change every week, scrum half is a problem, but lads, sort it out! Fair play to Connacht, even if it was Dan ‘Evil’ Parks, the nemesis of Leinster and Ireland on numerous occasions, who did a lot of the damage. Now, I wish I’d recorded the Ulster match instead – what a result! And that’s without a host of their big names. I watched bits and pieces of the Munster match – they are going two step forwards, one and half steps back at the moment. ROG is not playing great still, and that magic offloading game they had last weekend absent. Result for Treviso, and Zebre did well as well.

I watched the Springboks sort out Australia quite to my satisfaction on Saturday. I was amazed with how easily they did it – I know Australia were shipping injuries like rats leaving a sinking ship, but the Boks were hardly threatened at all. Look at what happens when you pick a fly half who doesn’t kick all the time. Their goal kicking was ordinary to say the least, otherwise it would have been a thumping for Aus. A player at the top of his game is Francois Lowe, his work on the ground, tackling and linking play between forwards and backs is pretty well faultless. Also in superlative form is Bryan Habana, who is a handful all over the pitch. Australia look down and out – they put in a decent 5 minute spell at the 60 minute mark, apart from that, they just didn’t look like they wanted to be there.

The AB’s wrapped up the Championship in fine style by smashing the Pumas in Argentina. The Pumas tried to open things up a bit, and paid the price. They have come on a lot over the last 6 weeks, and will be looking for their first win next weekend against the Aussies. The Al Blacks looked fairly flat in their last two games, but with Carter back in the seat it was business as normal again. Looking forward to that last game against the Springboks!

RaboDirect PRO12
Newport-Gwent D'gons 32 - 12 Edinburgh 
Connacht 34 - 6 Leinster 
Cardiff Blues  19 - 48  Ulster 
Glasgow 22 - 19 Zebre
Benetton Treviso 22 - 20 Scarlets 
Ospreys 30 - 15 Munster
Rugby Championship
Argentina 15 - 54 New Zealand
South Africa 31 - 8 Australia

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bowe's back, and New Zealand/Argentina is going to be a physical onslaught not seen I gave my ma lip all those years ago

Bowe's Back (picture http://bit.ly/V3P3uR)

The two big matches in the RDP12 are Cardiff Blues v Ulster, and Munster’s trip to play the Ospreys. Tommy Bowe gets to line up for Ulster for the first time in his return to the club. A worry for Ulster is their injury list and absentees, with some real star quality missing: Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris, Paddy McAllister, Chris Farrell, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson, Declan Fitzpatrick, Rory Best.  Despite that, it’s going to be an emotional occasion for them, I think they’ll be really fired up and take this one.

Connacht welcome Leinster, who will arrive with Rob Kearney on the field for the first time this season. Madigan gets a start. With Cooney at 9, who’s blowing hot and cold, and a host of changes again from last week, could be a tough day the office for the boys in blue, but they should just about scrape it.

Munster have a tough assignment in the shape of the Ospreys. I had a taste for the Munster scrumming prowess in the burger queue at the Ploughing in Wexford. They are trying Earls and Laulala in centres would should be interesting but.. we’ll see. When are they going to put Murray there like I want them to? Billy Holland seems to be getting more game time under Rob Penney, and is playing well. On the results so far, I’d say Munster could well get an away win.

In the RC, Aus arrive in South Africa with a camp in discord, well as far as I can see from Dublin anyway. Copper is having all sorts of hissy fits, Curtley ‘Make mine a double’ Beale is at fly half. Nathan Sharpe is the only Aussie player not to have played fly half this season. Phipps and Beale at 9 and 10 is going to be challenging for all concerned I’d say. Meanwhile, in hold the press style, Heyneke Meyer has unveiled Johan Goosen at 10. That could be such a step up for SA rugby, their pack is stellar, world beating, and with a bit of attacking flair behind them now, I’m expecting big things from the Boks, with a good win.

In Argentina, the Pumas team is unchanged since their last outing, while Carter is back for the Blacks. I think if the All Blacks get home, it’ll be through old fashioned nous rather than anything else, because I reckon they are going to get slammed by Argentina. It’s going to be a physical onslaught not seen since I gave my ma lip all those years ago. I cannot wait, this is what the game is all about, 80 minutes of barely controlled violence.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , September 28
Newport-Gwent D'gons vs Edinburgh 
Cardiff Blues vs Ulster 
Glasgow vs Zebre 
Connacht vs Leinster 
Ospreys vs Munster 18:30
Saturday , September 29
Benetton Treviso vs Scarlets 18:05
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 29
South Africa vs Australia 17:00
Sunday , September 30
Argentina vs New Zealand 00:10

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Leinster stagger along, and Connor Murray as a center?

Minutes silence for Nevin Spence at the RDS - Picture with kind thanks to @eoinmcdon


Well, I was a bit red faced watching Connacht after writing them off and seeing how well they got on.  That is such a well drilled team, they weren’t making up the numbers against Glasgow, they weren’t going for a point, they were going for a win, and pushed Glasgow all the way. I was impressed by Mathew Jarvis – what do you say we grab him for Ireland, or is he already tied in to Wales?

Leinster’s match, as did all the Pro 12 matches, started with a minutes silence for Nevin Spence, and then the Leinster crowd singing Stand Up For the Ulstermen. I was so impressed they did the minutes silence in England as well. Makes me proud of my sport.

Leinster still look vey rusty, they could easily have been the team in red they were that rusty. We all know Leinster have great backs, but their strength is always based on a rock solid pack, which it isn’t at the moment. They are trying to do all the pretty bits before the hard work is being done, which is why they are only scraping by. Come back Nathan Hines, pleeease. And we need a SOB like you can’t believe.  Scrumhalf is a bit of problem area, I’ve been impressed by John Cooney so far, but his inexperience told, passing to isolated players, kicking to nowhere in particular. It’ll only get better I suppose. I thought Fionn Carr was at the heart of everything did well, he  deserves to be up the pecking order now.

Munster meanwhile were in smashing form against the Dragons. They have fearsome forwards again, loose forwards to burn, and have developed an off loading game from somewhere that is going to take them far. Downey continues to impress. O’Gara doesn’t though, he is a bit out of sorts, which I suppose game time will fix. If I was the Munster coach (which, thankfully for all concerned, is not the case) I’d take Earls out of center and play him at full back. He’s a dangerous runner, but has all the ball handling and passing skills of a prop forward. Then I’d put Murray into the centre, and play a lot more of Kearney at Fly Half. I’m not blown away by Murray at scrum half, never have been, but with his size he’d make a great centre.

RaboDirect PRO12
Scarlets 16 - 23 Ospreys 
Glasgow 27 - 17 Connacht
Leinster 22 - 16 Edinburgh 
Cardiff Blues 34 - 18 Benetton Treviso 
Munster 33 - 13 Newport-Gwent D'gons

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rabo round up


Connacht kick things off for Ireland against Glasgow this weekend, and they’ll struggle to get anything out of that game, that’s for sure.

For Leinster, Rob Kearney and Gordon Darcy are back in contention, potentially joining Kev McLaughlin, Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton who played last week. Leinster always look a s rusty as anything at the start of the season,  and Edinburgh are sure to keep them honest at the RDS. They should win, and well if they put their minds to it.
For Munster, Simon Zebo is expected to be named in the squad as is Niall Ronan. The Dragons will provide an opportunity to bounce back after the defeat to Ulster..but also a potential banana skin as the Dragons can score trys pretty well. Home advantage to see them through though.

The Rugby Championship takes a break this weekend, no more manning up for a four hour rugby marathon on a Saturday morning.

Ulsters match against Zebre has been postponed as a mark of respect for Nevin Spence, and there will be various memorials at all the match’s this weekend. Ulster and the IRFU have opened books of condolences, and Leinster will have one open before the match on Saturday. You can post a message online here too: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/chicagotribune/guestbook.aspx?n=nevin-spence&pid=159949236 Laying your life down trying to save your father and brother, you can’t ask for more than that, can you?