Sunday, August 31, 2014

Racing triumph over Toulon at home!


The only match I caught this weekend was Racing Metro Paris beating Toulon 17 – 10. The Racing pack was most impressive, more than standing their own against the monsters of Toulon. I guess it’s the same with most teams, take them on at their strength, and you have a chance. Francois Van der Merwe and Casey Lualua were most impressive for Racing, as was James O’Connor for Toulon.

Really, though, the sooner that Jonny Sexton gets out of there the better. He was getting knocked around all over the place there, the late hit on the fly half is par for the course, and even a big 6 foot 1 guy like him takes a hammering. He went off early with injuries to his arm and face. In Ireland, he probably wouldn’t have made an appearance until the end of September, would be given regular breaks during the season, and not be yanked back to the Top 14 mid 6 nations.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Everything you ever wanted to know about new signings in the Guinness Pro 12 but were afraid to ask!


This is just a quick look and the comings and goings in the off season. Starting off with Leinster, who welcome a rake of academy players to the senior side. The academy is an important part of Leinster’s success over the last few years, and I’d pick out  adhg Furlong and Luke McGrathas the ones to watch. The big signing is lock Kane Douglas (Waratahs) who will give a badly needed boost to the second row reserves. The interesting signing is from rugby league, destined for the midfield, Ben Te'o (South Sydney Rabbitohs). There’s a bit of coals to Newcastle getting a new midfield player – at worst, he’ll only last a few months like Benji Marshall at the Auckland Blues, at best, we could have the next Israel Folau! In the departures, legends both in BOD and Leo, and sorry to see Conor Gilsenan gone so soon.

Munster have two big signings, Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues) – bit of coals to Newcastle there too, as Munster have loose forwards to burn, and Tyler Bleyendaal (Crusaders)   who should be very useful in the midfield. Their biggest loss is James Coughlan, for his play and leadership.

Ulster welcome RuaidhrĂ­ Murphy (Brumbies), and two quality South Africans,  Franco van der Merwe (Lions),  and Louis Ludik (SU Agen). Franco is a great lock, and Louis a very useful full back/utility back. Quite a lot of departures for Ulster (not including coach and director of rugby!) John Afoa is the biggest, and the retirements of Johann Muller, Paddy Wallace, and Stephen Ferris.

Connacht get Quinn Roux and John Cooney (both Leinster, loan), hot property in New Zealand centre Bundee Aki and classy former All Black Mils Muliaina (both Chiefs). They have two big losses, Dan Parks (retired), and Eoin Griffin (London Irish) – I think Eoin should have stuck it out at Connacht for a little longer.

Cardiff Blues welcome Jarrad Hoeata (Highlanders), Gareth Anscombe (Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys), great players all

The Dragons have Aled Brew (Biarritz Olympique), Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne) with them and back in Wales, which evens up the outgoings to France a bit.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The rest of the world are catching the All Blacks at the rate of Continental drift!

With a wet start last weekend, the Rugby Championship  flamed into action  on Saturday. After a pretty average day at the office, the All Blacks confirmed against Australia that the rest of the world is catching New Zealand at round about the rate of continental drift – about 1cm every hundred years. They completely blew Australia away, boom! running up their highest total ever against the Wallabies, although probably not their biggest win, as the Australians picked up a few late tries. The speed at which they play is amazing to watch, even with Richie McCaw finally having a ref put a few manners on him didn’t slow them down. The Wallabies aren’t the worst team either, although how much  better did they look with Foley and Phipps and the NSW backline? Their best player was Toomua, and I think McKenzie wants him on, which is why Beale is playing 10. Anyway, you’d be brave or foolish to bet against NZ racking up another Rugby Companionship.

In Salta, the Springboks proved how cruel sport can be, picking the pockets of the Pumas, and getting a win they scarcely deserved. Argentina’s scrum was way on top, probably not always done fairly, but anyway, and their ball retention and kick chases were superb. They scored 3 tries, and butchered a few more, and if there was any justice theyd have got a bonus point win. The Springboks waited until the last 20 minutes to get their act together, finally played in the right areas, and found the Argentinian defence wanting. South Africa’s defence out wide was abysmal, their scrum is ailing and they  can’t afford to give Pollard  more chances until he matures. Having said that, they found a way to win.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
New Zealand 51 - 20 Australia 
Argentina 31 - 33 South Africa

Friday, August 22, 2014

This weekend, it'll be the All Blacks and Springboks!

 (Just give me the ball, and don't take it again)

So two massive matches coming up this weekend!

First up is Blesidloe 2, at Eden Park where the All Blacks haven’t lost for 20 years. New Zealand have a few injury enforced changes, with  Kaino out for quite a while. In come Messam, and Crotty with his run on debut. The All Blacks need to find their traditional mojo, as displayed in the first 20 minutes last week, then they need to keep it going for 80 minutes, so they can continue the 20 year tradition of ‘bringing the pain’. I don’t think they are in any real danger of losing this, as while Australia, in horrible, horrible weather, managed to shut down the All Black game, they didn’t really show a style or rhythm of play. Last week the Wallabies kept the dam intact, this week, I’d say it’s going to break, as the AB’s impose their game, and go on to keep their 20 year record.

Meanwhile, In Salta in Argentina, the Pumas will be fancying their chances of recording their first win in the Rugby Championship. In a boost to their hopes, the Springboks have persisted with the side that put the clunk into clunky last week, apart from the inclusion of Juan Smith. In fairness, their mid field was a mess, JDV hasn’t played for ages, not ever or often with Pollard, not ever with de Allende, who’s a 12, and Pollard and Pienaar wouldn’t have played much together either.  But they have a week’s experience under their belt, and they probably won’t play in a monsoon this week. The Pumas too had a thrown together backline, but it’s their forwards that are the real threat.  On paper, the Springboks, between their run on team and the bench, have too much for Argentina. If their scrum mans up, they will take this no problem. Otherwise, it could be close.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
New Zealand vs Australia 
Argentina vs South Africa

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ireland get 4th spot, and a damp start to the Rugby Championship!

 Niamh Briggs in action during this year's 6 Nations against France.

Lots and lots of great rugby this weekend!

The Rugby Championship kicked off in the rain – a nuisance in Australia, a mini monsoon in South Africa. It’s obvious too, that the teams are not up to speed yet interms of handling and focus, how would be when they last played in June.

Bledisloe 1 was a real thriller. The All Blacks looked much more focused and coherent at the start, then gradually lost their way as the match went on, while Australia grew as the match went on. It was interesting to see where the reffing emphasis is this year. Scrum engagement was keenly watched – with the new engagement laws, it’s a critical moment, and defence in the 2 was under the spotlight. This resulted in a lot of penalties against the All Blacks – who could never be accused of a cynical bending of the rules. Two yellow cards for professional fouls in and around the 22 kept the match pretty well balanced. The Wallabies seem to be focused on a team ethic, with no big plays, while the All Blacks looked as deadly as ever on the break, but seemed to do more kicking as the match went on.  The Wallabies look like they need more impactful loose forwards – apart from Hooper. It’s going to be all to play for next weekend, with the draw favouring the Springboks most.

Meanwhile, in Pretoria, the most exciting play happened in the first minute, as Pienaar finished off a great break away try. After that, it was armwestle, drop, niggle, and the point was a result for the Pumas – who could of got, and nearly deserved a draw. Pollard has been thrust a bit too far, a bit too fast, in that match it should have been all territory and keenly contested up and unders. The Boks have a lot of work to do in their scrums – and while their lineouts were wonly, they came good when the ref policed the line out gap. The Springboks look good on the break, but need to tighten up their handling. The Pumas need to start playing a style of their own, at the moment, it’s trying to disrupt the other team, and do things on the break – if they are going to get that elusive first win, we need to see more from them.

In the World Cup, Ireland played out a hard fought 18-25  loss against France. That was as intense as anything they’d played the whole tournament, with the score swing backwards and forwards the whole match. Great individual try from Grace Davitt, with a smart chip and recover. If France had had only an average scrum, Ireland would have taken it at a canter, but as it was, Irish no 8 Heather O’Brien was working a bit of wizardry to get the ball out of a scrum going backwards at a rate. Spence had a massive game, I’d love to see the stats on her carries. France ende with a try that give the scoreline a flattering look, but although we could have won, but, Get in! 4th! Great result all in all,  the ladies have done us proud, and really put the ladies game on the map in Ireland. Looking forward to seeing them in action again in the 6N.

Finally, I saw Jonny Sexton do some great things, as Racing Metro ground out a great win over Montpellier. Some match!

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 16
Australia 12 - 12 New Zealand 
South Africa 13 - 6 Argentina 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Irish ladies in line for a 3/4 finish, and the Rugby Championship starts!

 Fiona Coghlan, Lynne Cantwell, Marie Louise Reilly and Gillian Bourke are all included.

Things went pretty pear shaped for Ireland on Tuesday at the Stade Jean Bouin, the home stadium of Stade Français, as they fell to heavy defeat to England, after opening the scoring. Not having watched the match, but picking up scraps on social media and the radio, it sounds like our scrum came under massive pressure, as did our midfield defence. History was against us – we’ve only beaten England once now in 22 attempts. It still means we can’t finish worse than 4th, which is not too shabby at all. But when you look at what they’ve done for women’s rugby in Ireland, putting it on the front page and on the TV, when you look at the great role models and ambassadors that they are for Ireland, I don’t see too much defeat here. Sure it would have been unbelievable to win the World Cup, but hey, that’ll be in four years’ time! When you look at the self-sacrifice of these amateurs-playing-like-professionals, taking time off work to participate, putting themselves in real physical danger, no wonder they’ve inspired the country. They get to play France on Sunday for 3rd place, I’d say bronze medals all round would have been more palatable, but still the chance for a bit more success. 
In the other semi, Canada squeezed past France in front a big, partisan crowd, to set up a rematch of their pool encounter.

Also this weekend is the little matter of the clunkily named Rugby Championship. Top class rugby with B- grade branding. The biggest of the two matches is the Bledisloe 1 in Sydney, where the Wallabies hope that the ‘Tahs Super Rugby form carries on into this tournament.  It’s pretty well the Australian team that thrashed France earlier in the year, but the only curveball the selection of Kurtley Beal at 10. I would have gone with Foley and Phipps myself, but maybe Ewan McKenzie can see something we can’t. They are really weak at hooker too. The only surprise for the All Blacks is the inclusion of Ben Smith at 15 for Dagg, I suppose they are not overburdened with hooker resources themselves. Are they both up for this? Are they ever. Hard to look past the Blacks, but the Wallabies aren’t going to die wondering, so it should be pretty close. And the All Black aura in the 7’s, Junior and Women’s game has slipped a bit.

In the other match, South Africa are experimenting a bit with Pollard at 10 and Damien de Allende at 13. This is the Springboks, the backs probably won’t get the ball too much, so not a massive gamble. But if they feel this a match to experiment in, I’d have loved to see Sharks 9 Cobus Reinach given a shot. Much as I respect Pienaar, and know what Hougaard bring to the party, neither of them brings the tempo that du Preez does, or has his crisp accurate passing. The Pumas haven’t pulled too many surprises. They haven’t played together much this year, so I think the Boks will notch this one up.

13 Aug 2014
13/08 - 14:00 South Africa  25 - 24  Samoa
13/08 - 15:45 New Zealand  63 - 7  Wales Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 16:15 Spain  18 - 5  Kazakhstan
13/08 - 18:00 Ireland  7 - 40  England Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 18:30 Australia  20 - 23  USA
13/08 - 20:45 France  16 - 18  Canada Stade Jean Bouin

17 Aug 2014
17/08 - 12:00 Samoa   -   Kazakhstan 
17/08 - 14:00 South Africa   -   Spain
17/08 - 14:15 USA   -   New Zealand Stade Jean Bouin
17/08 - 16:00 Australia   -   Wales
17/08 - 16:30 Ireland   -   France Stade Jean Bouin
17/08 - 18:45 England   -   Canada Stade Jean Bouin

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 16
Australia vs New Zealand 11:05
South Africa vs Argentina 16:05

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Irish ladies are playing a blinder!


Ireland got going on Saturday with the first match of the day, against Kazakhstan. A simple win would have been enough to get into the semis. With 10 changes from the team that did heroics against New Zealand, there wasn’t going to be the fluidity that we’d seen in the first two matches. And after starting like a house on fire, they lost their way a bit, conceded a try and scraped through at the end of the first half with a lead and work to do. Even in the first 20 minutes of the first half, they weren’t looking too flash, until a few subs added the quality and the organisation so they ran away with a good victory in the end. Jackie Shiels and Sharon Lynch were the stand out players for me. Fair play to the Ladies from Kazakhstan for hanging in to the end, some achievement to be there at all. Another fab post match interview from Lynn Cantwell too, these ladies are playing a blinder!
So at that stage, a 3rd place finish looked on the cards.

But there more surprises on the way – England and Canada drew, which meant they both finished below Ireland, eliminating the Black Ferns in the process. And in the final match, a tough gritty affair, France eliminated the Australians. So next up for the final is Ireland England , France Canada. Any team can win it now, and quietly confident, the Irish ladies are honest enough to say they can win it. In the top two after the pools, not too shabby!

09 Aug 2014
09/08 - 13:00 Ireland  40 - 5  Kazakhstan FFR HQ
09/08 - 15:00 Spain  41 - 5  Samoa FFR HQ
09/08 - 15:45 England  13 - 13  Canada FFR HQ
09/08 - 17:00 Wales  35 - 3  South Africa FFR HQ
09/08 - 18:00 New Zealand  34 - 3  USA FFR HQ
09/08 - 20:45 Australia  3 - 17  France FFR HQ

13 Aug 2014
13/08 - 14:00 South Africa   -   Samoa FFR HQ
13/08 - 15:45 New Zealand   -   Wales Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 16:15 Spain   -   Kazakhstan FFR HQ
13/08 - 18:00 Ireland   -   England Stade Jean Bouin
13/08 - 18:30 Australia   -   USA FFR HQ
13/08 - 20:45 France   -   Canada Stade Jean Bouin

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ladies first - Ireland beat the Black Ferns!

 Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter, Vikki McGinn and Lynne Cantwell celebrate after their Women’s Rugby World Cup victory over New Zealand last night.  Photo: Inpho

Ireland’s biggest triumph over New Zealand in rugby ever, and I didn’t even get to watch it! The ladies powered home on Tuesday – I didn’t see it, but followed it online and through radio reports. The picture I got was of a dominant Irish perfromance – turning down several penalty opportunities to go for lineouts and scrums early on in the match, being a tad unlucky not to get a penalty try, going behind against the run of play, but scoring a deserved try in the first half to bring it close again. But then keeping the pressure on in the second half, getting another try, kicking the penalties, and closing out a tight match with defence and discipline. I thought in the USA match that their set piece work, with lineouts and driving mauls was excellent, and their scrumming in this match must have been top notch too. And their phase play is great, topped off by a good kicker in Niamh Briggs, why wouldn’t they have won? Brilliant to see the support they got from all over Ireland in the wake of their famous victory! Fiona Coghlan gave great post match interviews – self belief was the key, a good game plan and fitness. Get in there the ladies!

They face Kazakhstan next on Saturday, who have suffered two heavy defeats, and Ireland should get the bonus point win with relative ease, while being able to rest a few players from this punishing turnaround of matches. The big matches will be England/Canada, New Zealand/USA – (squeaky bum time for the Black Ferns) and Australia/France.  After this, the seeding will be decided for the final matches.  I reckon the seedings will look like this, if NZ get a bonus point, otherwise Canada will be 4th, which means Ireland could face the formidable French team next. ‘Mon the ladies!
1 England 2 France 3 Ireland 4 New Zealand

And for all the Munsterites and other rugby fans, details of the Limerick 7’s here:

09/08 - 13:00 Ireland   -   Kazakhstan
09/08 - 15:00 Spain   -   Samoa
09/08 - 15:45 England   -   Canada
09/08 - 17:00 Wales   -   South Africa
09/08 - 18:00 New Zealand   -   USA
09/08 - 20:45 Australia   -   France

Pool A
Team         P  W   D    L   PF    PA    TF TA  BP  PTS
England    2    2    0    0    110    8    16    1    2    10
Canada     2    2    0    0    73    12    10    2    2    10
Spain       2    0    0    2    10     76     2    10    0    0
Samoa      2    0    0    2    10    107   1    16    0    0

Pool B
Team                 P   W  D    L    PF    PA  TF   TA  BP  PTS
Ireland              2    2    0    0    40    31    4       3    0    8
New Zealand    2    1    0    1    93    22    14    3     2    6
USA                 2    1    0    1    64    30    10    3     2    6
Kazakhstan      2    0    0    2    12    126    2    21    0    0

Pool C
Team                P    W  D    L   PF   PA  TF  TA BP  PTS
France              2    2    0    0    81    3    13    0    2    10
Australia          2    2    0    0    51    6    6      0    0    8
Wales               2    0    0    2    3    51    0      7    0    0
South Africa    2    0    0    2    6    81    0    12    0    0

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ireland's ladies get off to a flyer,and the Waratahs finally get their name on the Cup!


I got to watch two tense, close matches this weekend, result! First up Was the Irish ladies team taking on the USA. The USA sit one point above Ireland in the World Rankings, in 5th, so it was likely to be a close affair. And what a good match! Both teams played to their strengths, and the match had a good tempo. Ireland have a really well drilled side – scrumming isn’t their forte, and the Americans had the upper hand there, but they have just about an unstoppable maul. And they’re good at holding on to the ball, going through the phases, and keeping the pressure on. I thought Mary Louise Reilly at 4 was outstanding for Ireland, safe hands at the line out, and busy all round the park. After closing out a tense match, they play the All Blacks on Tuesday, who had little more than a training run against Kazakhstan.

Then on Saturday, it was the Waratahs welcoming the Crusaders to Sydney. This was the third time they’d met in the final, with the Saders winning the first two. No exaggeration to say that’s one of the best matches I’ve watched, played at frantic speed. This was no cagey conservative match, this was full blooded rugby, with both teams prepared to spread the ball wide and gamble. Adam Ashley Copper always amazes me, he’s had a great career, he might not be the most skilled out, but he knows where the try line is, and crossed twice this match. The ‘Tahs came out of the blocks at a million miles an hour, and were 14-0 up in no time. Full credit to the Crusaders for never lying down, and hanging in there, right until the end, with the lead changing hands twice in the last 5 minutes. Nick Phipps was the MOTM for me, great crisp passing and game management, and game saving cover tackling. Foley excelled, the ‘Tahs loose trio was epic, and Folau ruled the airways. For the Crusaders, Todd was everywhere, Nadolo was impressive, but let’s face it, every starting player and every sub for both sides put their hand up. Great to see a new name on the cup, good news for the Rugby Championship too as they will surely invigorate the Wallabies.

Super Rugby
Saturday , August 2
Waratahs 33 - 32 Crusaders   

01/08 - 13:00    New Zealand    79 - 5    Kazakhstan   
01/08 - 15:00    Canada        31 - 5    Spain   
01/08 - 15:45    Australia    26 - 3    South Africa   
01/08 - 17:00    USA        17 - 23    Ireland   
01/08 - 18:00    England        65 - 3    Samoa   
01/08 - 20:45    France        26 - 0    Wales