Saturday, May 31, 2014

Leinster will win for BOD Almighty!

 BOD Almighty (picture

THIS IS IT! Finals day all over Europe, for a season that got going in August!
Leinster can sign off in style by beating Glasgow tonight…or they can end their season with a question mark with a loss. This is a sum of Mark O’Connor’s first season.  There’s no doubt that the scrum has seen a huge improvement, with Leinster’s starting and bench front rows basically no 1 and 2 for Ireland as well. And the defense is as good as ever, able to contain most attacks. It’s the backline play that has gone into decline, Leinster’s attack used to have rythym, they could push the button at the right time and just destroy teams. Apart from Saints away, we haven’t really seen that this year.  And Madigan is still on the bench for tonight, so I don’t think we’ll see pyrotechnics from them tonight either.

Glasgow have a good all round team, superb defense, and real game breakers on the bench. They also have momentum, and a win today would cap two good seasons. But…Leinster have home advantage, and they are alos saying goodbye to two massive players, BOD Almighty, and Leo Cullen.  It’s hard to put into words the impact BOD has had on Leinster over years, helping turn them from competitors into Kings of Europe, with crucial breaks, turnovers and tackles. Leo too, brought an edge to the pack that helped take them to another level. This is their sign off, the Leinster crowd is going to fanatical in their support. If the final was in Glasgow, I’d be going with Glasgow, but at home, saying goodbye to BOD, I’m saying Leinster with a good win.

Elsewhere, I fancy Northampton to take Saracens out, the Saints are on a roll, and Saracens loss to Toulon took a lot out of them, physically and mentally.

And finally, I’m going with Castres, don’t know why but I think that they just have steely nerve in finals that gets them over the line.

Saturday , May 31
Leinster vs Glasgow 
Toulon vs Castres 
Saracens vs Northampton 
Sunday , June 1
England vs Barbarians 15:00

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Toulon sweep all aside for back to back Heineken Cups


The big one of the weekend was Saracens v Toulon. For once this season, Saracens came up against a team where their physicality didn’t count. Big players for them like Burger and Britz just didn’t feature, Toulon had size on the pitch, and size on the bench, and they murdered Saracens at the breakdown. And playmakers for Touolon  like Giteau, Basteraud, Mitchell, Fernandez and Smith combined to make tries that overcame the stout Saracens defense. Saracens are really good team, but Toulon are a class above – they need to develop a more rounded game to have a plan B for when they don’t dominate physically.

Toulon are the modern team of all nations, but Saracens aren’t far behind. There were a huge number of South Africans on the pitch – Burden, Botha, Rousssow , Smith, Claassens and Habana for Toulon, and Britz, Hargreaves, De Cock, Stevens, Botha and Barett for Saracens (OK, some of them are English now!). And even some English and French players! Jonny Wilkinson is a total professional, and a regular down to earth guy too, one of the best players of all time. But unlike Sky commentator Stuart Barnes, I wouldn’t bear his babies without anesthetic. A word too for Alain Rolland, signing off on a high , one of the greats of the game.

Northampton v Bath wasn’t quite the free flowing event it might have been, but it was decent contest for most of the match. Bath took their chances well in the first half, but just couldn’t live with Northampton’s power in the second half, as the Saints claimed their first cup of the season.

Wasps made hay against a flaky Stade Francaise team, who pressed the panic button way too early in the match, and at the end handed the win and the final spot in the new European on a plate to Wasps. There’s a lot of quality in that Wasps team, my man of the match was Joe Simpson, who ran the show superbly from scrum half.

Finally Leinster  A retained the British and Irish Cup with a 44 – 17 wins over Leeds Carnegie.

Heineken Cup
Saturday , May 24
Stade Francais 6 - 20 Wasps 
Toulon 23 - 6 Saracens 
Amlin Challenge Cup
Friday , May 23
Bath 16 - 30 Northampton

Friday, May 23, 2014

Amlin and Heinken...Bath, Stade and Toulon...

 Heineken Cup logo
 With the Rabo taking a break this weekend, there’s a few top matches to catch across in Europe.

The final of the Amlin Challenge Cup takes place tonight, an all English affair between Bath and Northampton.  Bath had a pretty decent season this year, just missing out on a playoff spot for the Premiership, but they can still end their season on a high tonight. Northampton, meanwhile, are in the Premiership final already, and did that with 14 men for a good chunk of the match. Just to spread the wins around, I’ll be supporting Bath, even though I reckon Northampton will win. I’m not against the Saints, I hope they win the Premiership. I’m hoping for an open match, there’s not the pressure you get from playing in a HC final.

Wasps travel to Paris to take on Stade Francaise, after taking the home leg of the tie, for the last spot in the imaginatively named European Cup. They did well, because Stade have a much better season than of late, although there is always the brutal away form of French clubs to think of. They start with a great line up, as do Wasps, but Stade have 4 internationals on the bench, so over the 80 minutes I reckon that will tell, and I expect Stade to be in Europe next year.

Finally, it’s the big one, Saracens v Toulon in the final of the last ever Heineken Cup, also notable for last European appearance of Mr. J.Wilkinson. And no doubt his kicking prowess, while not what it used to be, will have a big say in the final outcome. The packs will be like two panzer divisions facing off, and the breakdown is going to be lethal, as 6 of the best loose forwards in the world get stuck in. Toulon’s edge is in the backs, with just an edge in power and skill, and they have a better bench. It’ll probably only be a few points either way, but the right side I think for Toulon.

Heineken Cup
Saturday , May 24
Toulon vs Saracens 
Stade Francais vs Wasps 
Amlin Challenge Cup
Friday , May 23
Bath vs Northampton 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Glasgow triumph, while Leinster turn in the sleepiest win of the season.

 Leo Cullen and Johann Muller lead the sides at the RDS, kick-off 4.45
 ( picture

Munster’s season closed up on Friday night with a hard fought loss in Glasgow. It was an eye wateringly physical match, where defense was king. Both sides really struggled to make line breaks - it was kitchen sink stuff for 80 minutes. Munster’s disallowed try was a pivotal point in the match – you could have seen them kicking on from there, but it was Glasgow who got stronger as the match wore on. The Fijian substitutes of Nakarawa and  Matawalu made a big difference for Glasgow, Munster just didn’t have the quality to bring on and up their intensity. The result leaves Munster with nothing to show for the season, and potentially a tricky year next year – a new untested coach, and a few players leaving. If they could pick up where they left after the Toulon match however, things good be very bright indeed though. And Glasgow have been the form team last year and this, and look to be favourites for the final.

However Munster might feel about luck, decisions etc, Ulster must feel even unluckier, the cards never seem to fall their way. Leading up until the 60th minute 9-0, only to lose it 13-12. Leinster turned in the sleepiest sloppiest win of the season, kept in the game by a massive defensive effort. And it was the old heads that were giving away the dumb penalties too, Kearney and D’Arcy, hang your heads. Again, in a strange way, it was O’Driscoll that sparked them into life, not by his play, but the realistation when he went off that they were sending him off with a loss. How sweet for Madigan to finish the job too, time to back him and let him do his thing. It must be frustrating to bits for Ulster, they have it all, but not that extra 5% killer instinct to finish the job. Best moment was the laughter between Mullet and Cullen after the match, both retiring, a little bit of what rugby’s about.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , May 17
Leinster 13 - 9 Ulster 
Friday , May 16
Glasgow 16 - 15 Munster 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Glasgow and Leinster...

 Ruan Pienaar of Ulster
 ( Picture

So this is it, no more messing around, there’s two teams going man down, Brown, this weekend, so who’s it going to be?

First up is Munster’s trip to Glasgow. The Scots are heavily tipped to go all the way this year, while Munster have been a bit erratic these last few weeks.  If they play like they did in the second half v Toulon, they’ll win no problem, but if they play like they did last weekend, that’s the end of the season for them. Both have formidable starting line ups – although Stuart Hogg is notable by his absence. But it’s quite unusual to see Glasgow with more capped internationals on the bench than Munster, and I think that could tell in the second half when Munster start to tire. Home advantage is massive for Glasgow, I think Munster would have won at home, but his weekend I think the Scots will prevail.

On Saturday, Leinster get to lock horns with Ulster. After winning the HCup two years  (against Ulster), and last year winning the RaboDirect (also against Ulster) and the lesser spotted (but still worth having Amlin Cup), really this year the SweetEffAll season is looming. There will be goodbyes for Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen the next time they lose. Despite topping the Rabo table, Leinster have looked pretty ordinary for the last half of the season, which probably peaked with their away win at Northampton. Ulster have Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar back, which is a massive boost. I kind of think that Leinster will scrape though this one, while ref Leighton Hodges sweats and brandishes cards.

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , May 16
Glasgow vs Munster 
Saturday , May 17
Leinster vs Ulster

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Glasgow with it all to play for!


So 22 games, all finished up this weekend, looking very healthy for Irish rugby with 3 out of four semi finalists. It’s a bit sobering for Wales not even having a finalist, but good to see a Scottish side on the rise, mainly due to Gregor Townsend I think.

I watched the Leinster Edinburgh match. Apart from a few purple patches, it was prey ordinary stuff from Leinster, Edinburgh are not exactly Clermont Auvergne, but they seemed to be able to cope pretty easily with what Leinster threw at them, and make some good breaks of their own. There was some individual class that set Leinster apart, Rob Kearney gets better and better, and BOD is worth his weight in gold at the break down.  But they’ll have to play so much better than to win the Pro 12. Lot’s of big goodbyes in the wings, as both BOD and Leo get ready to bow out.

I didn’t watch the Munster Ulster match, but that was some result for an inexperienced Ulster team. It’ll be different when Munster have their full team, and get into knockout rugby mode, but they are going to have their work cut out in Glasgow. Ulster will be brimming with confidence ahead of their trip to Dublin.

Connacht signed off with a loss, which sees them end in 10th, level on points with the Dragons. Last year they were 8th, but it must be tough to be continuously losing your best players.
Treviso, meanwhile, got the point they needed to get into the European cup next year,

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , May 16
Glasgow vs Munster 19:35
Saturday , May 17
Leinster vs Ulster 19:00
Saturday , May 10
Munster 17 - 19 Ulster 
Scarlets 27 - 15 Cardiff Blues 
Leinster 15 - 13 Edinburgh 
Glasgow 54 - 0 Zebre 
Newport Gwent D'gons 20 - 19 Benetton Treviso 
Ospreys 45 - 20 Connacht 

Team P W D L F A PD B Pts
1 Leinster 22 17 1 4 554 352 202 12 82
2 Glasgow Warriors 22 18 0 4 484 309 175 7 79
3 Munster 22 16 0 6 538 339 199 10 74
4 Ulster 22 15 0 7 470 319 151 10 70
5 Ospreys 22 13 1 8 571 388 183 12 66
6 Scarlets 22 11 1 10 435 438 -3 9 55
7 Cardiff Blues 22 8 1 13 425 538 -113 7 41
8 Edinburgh 22 7 0 15 397 526 -129 10 38
9 Dragons 22 7 1 14 392 492 -100 5 35
10 Connacht 22 6 0 16 371 509 -138 11 35
11 Treviso 22 5 1 16 376 591 -215 8 30
12 Zebre 22 5 2 15 347 559 -212 5 29

Friday, May 9, 2014

It's the last weekend of the PRO 12, wins for Leinster and Munster!

 2 December 2013; Leinster's Sean O'Brien arrives for squad training ahead of their Heineken Cup 2013/14, Pool 1 Round 3, game against Northampton on Saturday. Leinster Rugby Squad Training & Press Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

This is the final round of the Pro12 this weekend, the final places are pretty well decided, but there should still be some good matches.

Glasgow should thump Zebre first up, although as it stands, Zebre will take the Italian place in the European cup next year,  so they’ll be trying at all costs to get something out of the game.

Zebre will be hoping that the Dragons do them a favour, by beating a Treviso and denying them any points. Both sides have been pretty poor this year, but a place in Europe will probably give Treviso the focus they need to at least get a losing bonus point.

The Ospreys don’t need to beat Connacht to get into Europe, but if they get a bonus point win, they might get into the Rabo play offs, and Connacht would love to end  8th and match their best finish ever.  So that could mean the match will be closer than expected, don’t think Connacht will win but they might come close.

Leinster have Edinburgh to entertain at the  RDS. By entertain, I mean knock 7 colours of poo out of. What a pleasure to see Sean O’Brien back in the strting 15, and Fergus McFadden adds extra depth and variety. I think Leinster will win, probably not look to flash, but get the win to pave the way for a home semi, and final if they get there.

I think Cardiff will take care of the Scarlets, and that just leaves the match of the weekend, Munster v Ulster. Potentially, the table will stay at is, so the result won’t affect anything, but it’s not impossible that Ulster might lose their top four spot to the Ospreys, so it’s surprising their team isn’t a bit stronger.  Their pack looks up to the job, but the backline is inexperienced. Munster have put out a strong side, so they’ll win, but I hope that Ulster manage to get the point they need to guarantee their place in the play offs.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , May 10
Glasgow vs Zebre 
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Benetton Treviso 
Ospreys vs Connacht 
Leinster vs Edinburgh 
Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues 
Munster vs Ulster 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ulster are not the luckiest team in Ireland are they?

 Paddy Jackson

Ulster v Leinster had it all on Friday night, a red card for Tom Court in a challenge that was clumsy rather than malicious, and two yellows for Leinster. Bloody hell we’re a dirty bunch! There was lots of entertaining, intense rugby too, and what a pity the red was given, because it went down to the wire even with that. Ulster totally started playing better when they were down to 14, (they’ve been practicing) and played with real intent. Leinster, meanwhile, got the job done, they started better, took their chances – Shane Jennings won’t score and easier try - but don’t look anywhere near their best. I think this flyhalf story is partially to blame, Matt O’Connor should make one first choice and leave it at that. Paddy Jackson, meanwhile, underlined his status as the clear no 2 fly half for Ireland. And the new Ravenhill looksa awesome.

Munster racked up a big win against a poor Edinburgh. Munster took a bit of time to break Edinburgh down, but they their relentless attack is back, and Edinburgh really didn’t have any answers. The basic skills of the Scots was appalling, they won’t get anywhere until they sort it out.

Finally, Connacht couldn’t quite get the win in Cardiff, though at least they managed a losing bonus point.  At one stage it looked like they might challenge for the last European cup place, but that’s faded after the results of the last few weeks.

RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , May 3
Connacht 15 - 22 Cardiff Blues 
Edinburgh 12 - 55 Munster 
Friday , May 2
Benetton Treviso 16 - 38 Glasgow 
Scarlets 34 - 23 Newport Gwent D'gons 
Ulster 20 - 22 Leinster 
Thursday , May 1
Zebre 30 - 27 Ospreys 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ulster v Leinster is more than living up to the billing!

 Court has been called in to provide the Lions with cover
 ( picture

Well, Ulster v Leinster, the opening match of the weekend , the official opening of Ravenhill, what’s not to like? This is the last minute preview, the as it happens preview. So far There’s been a red card for Ulster (bit Harsh I thought) and two yellows for  Leinster. And lot of lots of rugby, enough for a whole match I think. Neither side is going to die wondering. It’s a pity that’s it’s 14-15 because Ulster don’t need any further handicaps, they’ve been totally up against it the last few weeks. You’d have to favour Leinster at this stage, but Ulster are so up for it.

I was good to see last night there are still teams in the Pro12 to which winning isn’t everything. Well, it must be like that because otherwise how di d the Ospreys lose to Zebre?
Munster shouldn’t have too many problems at Edinburgh, they did themselves proud ;last week, and will just want to get back on the horse with a win.

The Connacht match should be really good, I’m back them to sort out Cardiff and climb the table again!

RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , May 2
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow 
Scarlets vs Newport Gwent D'gons 
Ulster vs Leinster 
Saturday , May 3
Edinburgh vs Munster 
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues