Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Get your 6 Nations groove on, baby!

To get things going on the 6 Nations trail, let’s look at the form ahead of the opening weekend, starting with Ireland. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster the last 12 months – a so so 6 Nations, a tour to New Zealand that nearly produced a great result, but also a through thrashing, and then a decent enough November series, finishing with a good victory over Argentina. We have our injuries - O’Connell, Ferris Bowe, we’re not a 100% sure of the coach (there is a Kidney clock counting down his contract somewhere online) and some of our troops are getting long in the tooth. Then the moneybags French have stolen our Sexton! We’ve also got some good young talent (Zebo and Gilroy) and the perfect opportunity to get things firmly back on track this 6N.

Wales are our opposition – Grand Slam champs last year, but wins have been few are far between since then, including a pretty humiliating defeat to Samoa. Warren Gatland has hobbled back into action, but where to next for Wales, apart from a massive talent drain to France, is a mystery to me. They have all the talent, but making it work as a unit – that’s much harder. What about Saturday? After having victory so cruelly snatched from us last year in the last minute, is it our turn to be cruel this year? We’ll be aching for revenge, and if Samoa can do it, we can do it too, so I’m going with a win to get us up and running.

Scotland enter this competiton with pretty modest expectations – after cleaning up in their summer tour , including victory over Australia, they went back to losing ways in the November tests, and both their Heineken Cup teams played 12 matches without a win between them. I’d expect the normal wooden spoon tussle with Italy.

England are a bit of a dark horse, underperforming on the whole, except for one dramatic and deserved win over the All Blacks, the end of which we’re not likely to hear of soon. This could be their year- there is plenty to admire in the team – Fodden, Robshaw, and a few cocky bruisers not to admire- Ashton, Hartley, they are the nearly men at the moment, and I don’t think this is quite their year yet, as their young players mature, but they should beat Scotland.

France are battling it out with England in the under achiever stakes, you feel like you could get Toulouse and Clermont, and alone out of those teams get a team which could beat anybody, anytime.  The French players seem to be keeping their powder dry for their club game at the moment, but having said all that, I’m backing the unfathomable French to use Phillipe Saint Andres’ experience to guide them home this year, to the trophy if not the slam.

Italy wlll bring up the rear again, a few close calls for visiting teams, and a mighty battle with Scotland is likely to sum up their season, and France will be too much for them in the opening game.

Sat - 2nd Feb 13
13:30  RBS Six Nations  Wales  vs Ireland    
 16:00  RBS Six Nations  England  vs Scotland    
Sun - 3rd Feb 13
15:00  RBS Six Nations  Italy  vs France    
Sat - 9th Feb 13
 14:30  RBS Six Nations  Scotland  vs Italy    
 17:00  RBS Six Nations  France  vs Wales    
Sun - 10th Feb 13
 15:00  RBS Six Nations  Ireland  vs England    
Sat - 23rd Feb 13
 14:30  RBS Six Nations  Italy  vs Wales    
 17:00  RBS Six Nations  England  vs France    
Sun - 24th Feb 13
 14:00  RBS Six Nations  Scotland  vs Ireland    
Sat - 9th Mar 13
 14:30  RBS Six Nations  Scotland  vs Wales    
 17:00  RBS Six Nations  Ireland  vs France    
Sun - 10th Mar 13
 15:00  RBS Six Nations  England  vs Italy    
Sat - 16th Mar 13
 14:30  RBS Six Nations  Italy  vs Ireland    
 17:00  RBS Six Nations  Wales  vs England    
 20:00  RBS Six Nations  France  vs Scotland 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Wolfhounds get put in the dogbox, and Sexton- the verdict!

Ireland Wolfhounds 10-14 England Saxons

Right. So an experienced and talented Wolfhound team was going to take out the talented but inexperienced Saxons in Galway.? It all went to plan in the first half, albeit with a massive hand from the ref, as the Saxons should have had a scrum penalty try for all money. We went in 10-0 up, but in the second half, it all turned to ashes, as the Saxons came not exactly storming back but made less mistakes and took their trys. The root of our problems, IMHO, was at lock. Michael Bent was getting all the flak – feckin Kiwis, coming over and taking our jobs – but I think you could have had the incredible hulk in our front row, but with a couple of toothpicks in lock pushing the front row, this was always going to happen. We have no locks at Leinster, we have no locks in Ireland. It was pretty frustrating to watch, but wholly likely when you throw a team together in a week. The Saxons looked only marginally better.

The big news of the day, overshadowing the match, was the defection of Sexton to Racing Metro. This is my two cents worth. This is the man that stepped into the breach left by Contipome’s injury and delivered Leinster’s first Heineken Cup. This is the man that turned it around in the dressing room at half time against Northampton, to give us the second HC. This is the man who was an absolutely key in delivering our 3rd HC. This is the man that’s been playing at way below his market value for the last two years. So I say good luck to him! He’s going to learn some new tricks, and he can still play for Ireland. Racing Metro currently have four fly halfs on their Books, Juan Martin Hernandez, Jonathan Wisniewski ,Benjamin Dambielle and Olly Barkley. 3 internationals, although is Barkley leaving? He’s moving right out of his comfort zone, he’s the main man at Leinster, but could be used in rotation or not all at Racing. He also has to move to a new country, and his partner has to adapt to that too. So good luck to him, I hope he does well, and if it doesn’t work out, he’ll always be welcome back.And Ian Madigan, this is your big chance.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Who? Who? Who? etc- The Wolfhounds take on the Saxons

I really like the look of this Wolfhounds team. It’s a strong team, with several full internationals, and a few who will/should be regular internationals in the future. Jackson and Marshall as half backs is a great combination – Marshall is knocking on the door harder than Jackson for playing/starting for Ireland, if he can just sort out a few discipline issues. I’m pleased to see McSharry in the backs, and him and Cave –is that  future Ireland pairing? Then in the pack the increasingly impressive Dave Kilcoyne gets a start, as does Lewis Stevenson, who’s been putting in Trojan shifts for Ulster. Tommy O’Donnell is one of the up and coming stars of Irish rugby, and James Coughlin as captain is spot on – always leads from the front.
Madigan is possibly unlucky not to be starting, but with him and Keatley on the bench they have lots of options. They should get a good partisan crowd in Galway too!

The Saxons are a younger looking side. George Ford has lot of potential, and Christian Wade should be in the main England squad. Turner Hall is a classy player, as is Wigglesworth, but I’m going with the Hounds here!

15 - Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
14 - Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster/49)
13 - Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster/3)
12 - Dave McSharry (UCD/Connacht/)*
11 - Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster/23)
10 - Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)*
9 - Paul Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster/)*
1 - David Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster/2)
2 - Mike Sherry (Garryowen/Munster)*
3 - Michael Bent (Dublin University/Leinster/2)
4 - Lewis Stevenson (Malone/Ulster)*
5 - Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster/3)
6 - Kevin McLaughlin (St.Mary's College/Leinster/5)
7 - Tommy O'Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster)*
8 - James Coughlin (Dolphin/Munster)* Captain
16 - Damien Varley (Garryowen/Munster/2)
17 - Tom Court (Malone/Ulster/29)
18 - Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon /Ulster/2)
19 - Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster/2)
20 - Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary's College/Leinster/1)
21 - Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster/15)
22 - Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)*
23 - Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster/2)
N.B. *denotes uncapped player

England Saxons: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 George Ford, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jordan Crane (capt), 7 Will Fraser, 6 George Kruis, 5 George Robson, 4 Graham Kitchener, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 George Lowe, 23 Kyle Eastmond
Date: Friday, January 25
Kick-off: 19:35
Venue: The Sportsground

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No pressure Munster i'm expecting big things after you knocked Leinster out!

Quins got the victory, but no BP, still a massive result to go and win at Biarritz.

Ulster beat Castres, as I said,  but Glasgow did really well in knocking over Saints.
Leinster did their job, and got the 5 point victory, which most people said they wouldn’t do! Clermont triumphed, but then Toulon, totally stuffed it up, they’ve only gone and spent a billion euro on their squad, but still no joy over Montpellier!

Then I got the result of Saracens, who finished on 23, but Munster got the bonus point, which I didn’t see coming, to finish on 20.

This how it all pans out  below then. Two Irish sides in the HC, and Leinster playing Wasps in the Amlin, with the carrot of a home semi and final if they win. It would be a bit like losing a sixpence and finding a penny, but an Amlin  Cup would still go down well. Leinster are only now starting to play anything like a decent game, they should have beaten Clermont once, and got more BP’s out of Scarlets and Exiles, and then they wouldn’t have been relying on Toulon and Munster to do them favours. No pressure now Munster, you knocked Leinster out, make sure you do Ireland proud :)

Heineken Cup quarter-final line-up:
(Fixtures to be played on April 5-7)
Harlequins v Munster
Clermont v Montpellier
Toulon v Leicester
Saracens v Ulster
Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final line-up:
(Fixtures to be played on April 5-7)
Bath v Stade Francais
Gloucester v Biarritz
Perpignan v Toulouse
Wasps v Leinster
Heineken Cup
Sunday , January 20
Saracens 40 - 7 Edinburgh 
Munster 29 - 6 Racing Metro 92 
Benetton Treviso 17 - 14 Ospreys 
Leicester 9 - 5 Toulouse 
Saturday , January 19
Glasgow 27 - 20 Northampton 
Castres 8 - 9 Ulster 
Montpellier 23 - 3 Toulon 
Exeter 20 - 29 Leinster 
Scarlets 0 - 29 Clermont Auvergne 
Cardiff Blues 26 - 14 Sale 
Biarritz 9 - 16 Harlequins 
Connacht 25 - 20 Zebre 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Heineken Cup predictions - Paul the Octopus has nothing on me!

Given that I predicted 4 from 4 last week – zero is from 4 probably definitely on the cards!

This is my pool by pool analysis:

Pool  one Saracens to beat Edinburgh, finish on 23, Munster to beat Racing metro, no bonus point though, so that gives them 19.
Pool 2 Toulouse to beat Tigers, by four points so 22 for them in total. Tigers stay on 16
Pool 3 Quins to beat Biarritz but no bonus point, Quins will have 28 points
Pool 4 Ulster to beat Castres, and Saints to beat Glasgow, so Ulster will have 24 and Saints 19
Pool 5 Claremont to beat Scarlets with bonus point 28 , Leinster to beat Exeter with bonus point – take that you doubters - 20!
Pool 6 Toulon to beat Montpellier, with bonus point, Toulon have 28 Montpellier to stay on 18.
So that will be:

Claremont 28
Toulon 28
Quins 28
Ulster 24
Sarecens 23
Toulouse 22
Leinster 20
Munster or Saints 19
Who knows really, could be Munster and Leinster going through. Keep your eyes glued to the set!

Heineken Cup
Friday , January 18
Connacht vs Zebre 20:00
Biarritz vs Harlequins 20:00
Saturday , January 19
Castres vs Ulster 13:35
Glasgow vs Northampton 13:35
Exeter vs Leinster 18:00
Scarlets vs Clermont Auvergne 18:00
Cardiff Blues vs Sale 15:40
Montpellier vs Toulon 15:40
Sunday , January 20
Munster vs Racing Metro 92 12:45
Saracens vs Edinburgh 12:45

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leinster Ulster and Munster profit, while the cards don't fall for Connacht

I got that prickly feeling in my neck when I realized that I’d called all the four Irish provinces results! How’s that for a dramatic start!

I was at the Leinster match for a change, great to see the lads up close. They have woken up to the fact that they are in last chance saloon, and played with a determination and purpose that’s been missing for large parts of the season. Whenever they got close to the Scarlet’s try line, it looked like a try was on the way, and often it was. Kearney is looking sharp, and Sexton is playing better than ever, so flat on attack and so quick with his hands. They defended everything the Scarlet’s could throw at them, and only conceded the try when they had a man down injured. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, Leinster are hanging in there.

Ulster had a bit of a wobble mid match, and then eased their way to a good victory over Edinburgh. They have fantastic options at scrum half, with the potential to bring on Marshall if they ever need to up the tempo. Tom Court is growing in skill and confidence, and they look like they have their groove back, qualified now and hunting down the home semi.

It was yellow cards a go go as Connacht got fairly well thrashed by Quins. It was 14 v 12 for Conacht at one stage. No budget, no big names, and the ref still has to tie their hands behind their backs to get the job done. McSharry was again impressive, as was Jonny Concrete, and for Quins Mike Brown and Ugo Monye were in top form.

Didn’t watch the Munster Edinburgh match, but at least Munster got the win if not the bonus point. They are still a work in progress, and while they could still be alive in the HC, hard to see major honours for them this season.

Heineken Cup
Sunday , January 13
Edinburgh 17 - 26 Munster 
Ospreys 15 - 15 Leicester 
Toulouse 35 - 14 Benetton Treviso
Saturday , January 12
Racing Metro 92 28 - 37 Saracens 
Harlequins 47 - 8 Connacht 
Zebre 6 - 32 Biarritz 
Toulon 45 - 25 Cardiff Blues 
Clermont Auvergne 46 - 3 Exeter 
Leinster 33 - 14 Scarlets 
Friday , January 11
Northampton 18 - 12 Castres 
Sale 6 - 27 Montpellier 
Ulster 23 - 6 Glasgow 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

300 blog posts up! And Leinster to hammer the Scarlets!

Welcome to the sharp end of the Heineken cup campaign! No more talking, analysis, results are what’s needed now. Leinster need a win, a bonus point win, with their pride more at stake than anything else. They’ve got the firepower back with O’Driscoll, Kearney and Fitzgerald – and then add in probably Nacewa and Strauss, and they are looking pretty potent.  It’ll be Interesting to see who gets to partner Cullen as it’s the remaining weak link in the team. I’m going to be there – Yeeehaaa! And see a good win from Leinster I think.

Ulster can get back on track and start hunting down a home semi against Glasgow. They still have a few big names missing, like Muller, Bowe and Ferris, but against Glasgow, at home it should be easy enough.
Connacht have the unenviable task of travelling to London to take on Quins. I don’t think Quins will have it all their own way, as Connacht’s defense is awesome, but hard to see anything else but a convincing Quins win.

Munster travel away to play Edinburgh. Can the real Munster team stand up please? The only notable absentee is now Paul O’connell. They have great forwards, they have great backs, but getting each to function as a unit, and then work together, seems elusive this season. If they get a good away win, they are still possibly looking at a HC spot – they have a better chance in theory than Leinster, as they could 21 points, and we can only get 20.. I think they can get the Bonus point this weekend, then let’s see after that.
Elsewhere, Exeter could do us a massive favour by beating Clermont – can’t see that happening – and Saracens Racing Metro, and Ospreys Leicester should be good dust ups. Oh, and the 300 is for 300 blog posts up, for my sins! And that’s my new Leinster shirt

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

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An off the wrist review of Leinsters triumph and everything else

Right, so I sat down on Saturday and watched the Leinster match, not sure of what they were going to bring away to Edinburgh, but I had medium expectations. That’s Leinster now, you think they are going to play poorly really. Surprise! OK, I suppose there are still a few rough edges to knock off, but what a difference! Our scrum looked solid and pushed Edinburgh around, Heaslip and O’Brien ran with menace and intent, and we have a backline again who know how to find space and run around the opposition instead of trying to run them over like 90% of the other teams in the world. O’Driscoll made a massive difference as did Kearney, we look like we can do things again. Didn’t notice Fitzgerald as much but the wings didn’t get the ball much. Fair play to Fionn Carr for being tackled by Timbo Visser and he came off second best! And we remembered how to score tries!

Elsewhere, Ulster thumped the Scarlets, and Connacht put away the Dragons with some ease. They are chasing down Edinburgh in the table. So it was all going tickeyboo for Ireland, until the Munster match. Now, in fairness I only caught the first 20 minutes or so, where it was pretty evenly matched, and I think the Blues were up by 3 points. It looked like Munster were going to work on the game and come out with the win. Lads, do I have to watch everything you do? A big disappointment for Munster fans. But at the end of the day, they still have enough time to pick up the pieces in the Rabo, and this is the kind of kick in the pants they need to really focus them for the HC.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , January 5
Connacht 30 - 11 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Munster 6 - 17 Cardiff Blues 
Friday , January 4
Ulster 47 - 17 Scarlets 
Ospreys 16 - 15 Zebre 
Glasgow 41 - 7 Benetton Treviso 
Edinburgh 16 - 31 Leinster 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

All the big names turn out for Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht

He's back (picture

This weekend is an excellent opportunity to fine tune your game before the Heineken Cup. 

Leinster’s HC campaign may be in tatters, but at least there is good news this weekend, with the return of O’Driscoll, Fitzgerald and Kearney.They may be a bit rusty, but at least they're back! Probably, the best we can hope for now is a spot in the Amlin Cup, but there is still a mathematical chance of better. A trip to Edinburgh is a handy place to go and hone your skills, we always find it hard to play there. And apart from anything else, we could do with some Rabo points at the moment. So I’m going with a Leinster win.

Ulster have named a strong squad for their game with the Scarlets – it’s first takes on second, but it feels like there is a wider gap than that between the teams. Dan Tuohy is back in the frame after injury, and all the internationals are back, and home advantage should see Ulster home comfortably.

Munster have a strong team out too, with ROG winning an incredible 234th cap! Unbelievable! I can’t see Cardiff putting any dents in this team! CJ Stander is back on the bench, Munster have 6-7 good loose forwards and only 3 free spots, a great position to be in!

Finally, Connacht entertain the Dragons, and if they play half as well as they did against Leinster last weekend, they should wrap that one up no problem.
RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , January 4
Ospreys vs Zebre 
Ulster vs Scarlets 
Glasgow vs Benetton Treviso 
Edinburgh vs Leinster 
Saturday , January 5
Connacht vs Newport Gwent D'gons 17:00
Munster vs Cardiff Blues 19:30