Sunday, November 30, 2014

Post 500! Leinster could learn from Sam Davies and Connacht!

 How did I ever get to 500 posts!?

The match between Munster and Ulster at Thomond was a thriller, if not always entirely very skilfully played out. You can see the rustiness  of the lay off, and the gaps the big names leave. Munster’s halfbacks were alternatively brilliant and woeful, Kealtey making good ground running, then passing all over the place, and his place kicking was not up to standard, Williams try scoring but throwing a good few wild passes of his own. It was Munster who looked the likelier of the two to run away with it, but they also worked hard to keep Ulster in the game with silly penalties and yellow cards. Ulster meanwhile, look like a team with a new coach and head of rugby. It’s going to take a while for that to all calm down. My MOTM was Robin Copeland, and I though Francois vd Merwe was very good for Ulster.

On Saturday, Leinster’s ordinary run of form continued  with a flat win over the Ospreys. They look out of ideas, Gopperth is playing at about 30-40%, and very few guys are putting their hands up. They have injuries and internationals missing but so did the Ospreys. Showing a bit of form were Douglas, Murphy, and Dave Kearney, who seems to have muscled up a lot. What I’d like to see is Madigan at 10, for a decent run (if he’s not injured) and Gopperth on the bench. Gopperth was getting lessons off Sam Davies, who kicked superbly.

Connacht’s good start to the season continued with a solid win over a game Scarlets side. It was pretty physical – Leinster might want to have a look at how it’s done – a real arm wrestle. It took a moment of brilliance from Matt Healy to seal it for Connacht, the man has some serious gas. Good times at the Sportsground!

In the internationals, both England and Wales got important wins.  And off the two, the Springboks should be the more worried – they only really turned up once, against England, and don’t look the no 2 side in the world.

Guinness PRO12
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons   
Saturday , November 29
Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh
Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys   
Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets   
Friday , November 28
Munster 21 - 20 Ulster   
Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso   
International Match
England 26 - 17 Australia
Wales 12 - 6 South Africa

Friday, November 28, 2014

Can't wait for Munster/Ulster, and time for Leinster to get serious!

 16 December 2013; Leinster's Jordi Murphy during squad training ahead of their Celtic League 2013/14, Round 10, match against Edinburgh on Friday. Leinster Rugby Squad Training & Press Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Friday night kicks off with the mouth watering prospect of Munster v Ulster at Thomond.  There is going to be a titanic battle up front! Munster have gone for size, with Stander and Copeland in the backrow, taking on Nick Williams and Roger Wilson.  Super match ups all over the field, and Munster must have the advantage being at home, but the Ulstermen aren’t going to leave anything on the field, so it should be close. Bit of a South African feel to it, with four for Munster, and three for Ulster.

Leinster have to get back on the horse straight away after a forgettable result and performance in Italy last weekend. They have a decent home record – have they lost at the RDS this season? And the Ospreys don’t have their Welsh internationals. But they gave Ulster a really good game last weekend, so Leinster will have to bring their A game. I’m hoping to see some of the returnees, guys like Jordi Murphy, really put their hands up. And Jimmy Gopperth, if he plays, owes us one! We should do it.

Finally Connacht have to keep up their good run of results – the Scarlets are a team they should beat now, going to be  really tough, but they should sneak it.

As far as the internationals go – I think Wales have the best chance, hope I’m wrong but I can see both results going South.

Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 28
Munster vs Ulster            
Cardiff Blues vs Treviso  
Saturday , November 29
Zebre vs Edinburgh           15:00
Leinster vs Ospreys          17:15
Connacht vs Scarlets        19:30
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors vs Dragons      16:00

International Match
Saturday , November 29
Wales vs South Africa     
England vs Australia

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Don't you wish we were playing the All Blacks next weekend!

Joe Schmidt

Let’s face it, Joe Schmidt is God! We played two of the Southern Hemisphere giants this Autumn, and sent them both away empty handed.  Don’t you just wish we were playing New Zealand this weekend? It wasn’t the cagey close match we were expecting, in the first half anyway, it was helter skelter end to end stuff with us storming into a big lead, throwing it all away, then clawing it back. But at the end it was the basics that saw us through – Foley left more points on the table than Sexton did, and that was the difference in the end.

Schmidt has created tremendous systems and structures, and when we stick to them, they work like a charm. But there is still the freedom to play instinctively – if Tommy Bowe hadn’t trusted his judgement and gone for the intercept, would we have won? When we ignore his systems, don’t follow up on kicks, give needless off loads, it hurts us.  But we have forwards with the hearts of lions now, Best and Ruddock 14 tackles each, POM  and McGrath giving everything, O’Connell gigantic. And backs to run and put their bodies on the line, Zebo, Bowe, Kearney, Murray. And Madigan coming on, tackling the biggest man on the field, Skelton, ripping the ball from a prop for a crucial turnover in our 22, making  a magic pick up and break, and getting the final turnover, winning a penalty.   Are we on a roll or what! And in fairness, whatever the run of results they’ve had this year, Australia are a good, good team.

I also saw Wales come up short against the All Blacks – they put in a 65 minute performance then fell away. The score was a bit cruel in the end. The best Welsh player for me was Biggar , hardly put a foot wrong, and tackled like a tiger. You just can’t ever give the All Blacks an inch can you.

I also saw the Boks scrap with Italia, pulling away in the end in a margin that flattered them. They can’t concentrate unless they rate the other team.

It’s not just the internationals we are winning either, with only Leinster of  the provinces not cleaning up in the Pro 12. We are a force to be reckoned with! Leinster look really out of sorts – there are injuries and we missed the internationals, but still, very average fare from the men in Blue.

Italy 6 - 22 South Africa   
Ireland 26 - 23 Australia   
Wales 16 - 34 New Zealand   
France 13 - 18 Argentina   
England 28 - 9 Samoa   
Romania 18 - 9 Canada   
Scotland 37 - 12 Tonga   

Guinness PRO12

Sunday , November 23
Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster   
Friday , November 21
Dragons 12 - 38 Munster   
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors   
Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Joe We Trust as Ireland take on Australia!

 Rory Best

Saturday is the acid test for the Cult of Joe. We had the oh so nearly against New Zealand, smashed the 6 Nations, then beat the Springboks. Now we have the Wallabies, where due to the recent run of results, we are kind of the favourites. Favourites? That’s a dangerous word in Irish rugby, we always seem to play better when resentment has been allowed to fester – so you don’t give us chance, do you, well, WE’LL show you! And, bitterness and resentment aside, we have a bit of history of going from being underdogs to being overconfident and cocksure. And then getting our arses kicked. This is where In Joe We Trust comes in. Joe Schmidt is a man who exudes quiet confidence. He’s always the least surprised when we win because he has planned and anticipated it. Now of course, he has to deal with the weight of public expectation.

But on the basis of his track record, you’d think a bit of his quiet confidence will have infused itself into the squad, and he’ll have a cunning plan for Australia. And let’s face it, Australia have their problems, but any team that played the All Blacks three times this year, got a draw, and lead them until the final 10 minutes in the last test, can’t be all bad.  We won’t have Payne, but we have Best available to pick, and of course Henry is out for the moment, I really hope it’s nothing serious

The Australians  have Michael Chieka on board, who’s coached half of the Irish Squad, and played against most of the rest, so he has a few insights into the personal attributes of individual players.  The Wobblies have two objectives I’d say – get the win, and stay out of trouble. The Australian press still talk about the exploits of as they call them, the   ‘Dublin 6’, from last year, and  Kurtley ‘Make mine a double’ Beale is now back in the squad.  They have picked monster wing Henry Speight, him and Kurandrani are going to take some stopping. I think it’s going to be Titanic, and we’ll win it by a point!

Apart from that, we have Wales v New Zealand, where Wales are talking the talk…but I think the All Blacks will walk the walk. And France and Argentina, should be great, where the French should have the upper hand.

AND there’s Pro 12, where Leinster have an away match in Treviso, and well welcome back Dave Kearney, Jordi Murphy, Fergus McFadden and Shane Jennings. Enjoy!

Saturday , November 22
Italy vs South Africa    15:00
Scotland vs Tonga    14:30
Ireland vs Australia    16:30
Wales vs New Zealand    17:30
England vs Samoa    19:00
France vs Argentina    21:00

Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 21
Dragons vs Munster    19:30
Scarlets vs Glasgow Warriors    19:35
Connacht vs Zebre    19:35
Ulster vs Ospreys    19:35
Sunday , November 23
Treviso vs Leinster    14:30
Edinburgh vs Cardiff Blues    16:00

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ireland do the job against Georgia!

 Dave Foley
Dave Foley (picture

Ireland waited for 50 minutes to start scoring tries against Georgia, and after that they couldn’t stop, scoring 6 in total. It’s always hard when you have a team made of fringe players, there’s not the cohesion of your main squad. The first half was pretty scrappy, and the Georgians were working a lot of the dark arts at the ruck to keep Ireland’s ball slow. Then when the ref got serious about policing the infractions with yellow cards, the space opened up and the tries came. We had a solid scrum, and some good debutants, with Foley and Ryan playing well. The players who stood out for me were Kilcoyne, Madigan, and Jones. Ay You also played well when he came on, and Tommy O’Donnell will never let you down. Joe Scmidt has moulded the guys really close, and has drawn talent well from the 4 provinces. Job done, now for Australia!

I watched the England match, where the Springboks really seemed to have their measure. The English pack was very good as usual, but apart from Mike Brown, the rest of the backline didn’t seem to have much to add. When the Boks have more sparkle in their backline than you, you have work to do!

Scotland had a great chance to beat the All Blacks, and just came up a little short. Their defence had the New Zealander's scratching their heads, they got the win in the end, but it’s not one they will look on with pride. There’s a big change in Scotland, they just need a little more self confidence and they are going to be really hard to beat.

Finallly, France took out the Walabies in a thriller. That was the best of the French – jaw dropping physicality, and flair and pace to burn in the backs. Australia played well too, but they just couldn’t finish strong enough to win.

International Match
Ireland 49 - 7 Georgia
England 28 - 31 South Africa   
France 29 - 26 Australia
Wales 17 - 13 Fiji   
Scotland 16 - 24 New Zealand

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ireland's front row have chiropractor appointments for after the Georgia match!

Kieran Marmion gets some advice from Isaac Boss.
Marmion (picture

After the heroics of last weekend, Ireland have to attend to Georgia next. They famously nearly beat us a few world Cups ago, so you wouldn’t want to write them off totally. Fortunately for us, Gorgodze is not playing, but they’ll know a fair amount about us from Michael Bradley, who’s part of the Georgian coaching set up. And Georgian head coach Milton Haig is a Kiwi who Joe Schmidt replaced at Bay of Plenty in New Zealand! How big is this gene pool? I’d expect there’ll be a fair amount of changes, keeping a few of the big guns fresh for Australia, and also giving the squad some game time. Popular wisdom is that Marmion and Madiagn will start at half backs, and the front row will be new (and should have appointments with the chiropractor for Monday morning!). Let’s hope we get some dry weather, and that the crowd will be treated to some running rugby. I think Our Joe will have all the plans in place for a good victory over Georgia. Good news for us with Kearney and Bowe both signing up for 3 more years!

Things are a bit better spread out this weekend. My plan for Saturday is England V South Africa first. The Boks have replaced Hougaard, who’s only a part time scrum half for the Bulls, and Pollard, who played in the U20 World Cup this year. In come the Sharks pair of Lambie and Reinhard. If the Boks play to their potential, this will be theirs, but it’s too close to call.

Then I’ll move onto Scotland v the All Blacks. The Scots are unchanged, the All Blacks have only two from last weeks starting 15. So this should be close as well, you’d be brave to bet against New Zealand, but c’mon Scotland!

Finally, I’ll power through the pain barrier of remaining seated for 8 hours in front of the telly,  and catch France Australia. France are unchanged – that sentence hasn’t been written for about 10 years! and Australia are going to be sternly tested.  But I think Australia will come through, then French agents will descend on Australia like locusts!

International Match
Saturday , November 15
Italy vs Argentina    14:00
Wales vs Fiji    14:30
England vs South Africa    14:30
Scotland vs New Zealand    17:30
France vs Australia    20:00
Sunday , November 16
Ireland vs Georgia    14:30

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ireland are living the dream!


Ireland are living the dream now, rolling over the number 2 side in the world in some style!  Is that Ireland’s biggest win over South Africa? They were clearly the best team in the second half, hanging on a bit in the first half while South African rustiness probably should have seen them going in at half time with the lead. Their defence was epic, and their execution was near faultless. Have you ever seen a team drawn so widely from the provinces knit together so tightly?  I thought Poite’s yellow card was a bit harsh, but Ireland made the most of it and basically put the game out of reach. We are going to need to work on our scrum, and our lineout, as we gave too many opportunities away there. Sexton got MOTM, but to me it was all the forwards, tackling their hearts out and never tackling a step back. Joe Schmidt is a genius – every player knows exactly what to do, and does it. Massive step, massive achievement – now we have to do it all over in 2 days time. The belief in the team is so strong, you feel they could do anything right now.

England got close again against the All Blacks, but poor kicking by the New Zealanders kept thme in the match – that was 10 easy points left behind. But the English scrum is looking really solid despite all their injuries, and they’re not afraid to play what’s in front of them. There are a few weaknesses in the All Blacks these days – they look really short at hooker, and Conrad Smith showed his age when Jonny May’s pace blew him away.

Wales couldn’t get past Australia,  I didn’t see the match, but it sounded like a real thriller. They have a few more opportunities in the next few weeks to come right. Finallu, and excellent start to the Cotter era, a victory over an ever improving Argentina side.

International Match
Saturday , November 8
Italy 24 - 13 Samoa   
England 21 - 24 New Zealand   
Romania 17 - 27 USA   
France 40 - 15 Fiji   
Ireland 29 - 15 South Africa   
Scotland 41 - 31 Argentina   
Georgia 9 - 23 Tonga   
Wales 28 - 33 Australia   

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ireland get ready for an out of BODy experience!

 Ireland coach Joe Schmidt looks set to throw a major curve-ball by selecting both Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne to face South Africa. Photo: SPORTSFILE

The build up to the World Cup starts now! Time for the North to test itself against the South, with so many matches you’d need a split screen TV to catch it all! I really don’t understand why there are so many clashes, it must affect TV revenue somewhere along the way.

First up, how is Ireland going to do? We are carrying a few injuries, but have two thirds of the players that won the 6 Nations, with Healy, Best. D’Arcy and Trimble not available, and BOD has left the building.  I guess in the past the aim in the autumn internationals would be to have a good go, and see where we were. This year though, I have no doubt that Joe Schmidt is targeting 3 wins. I’d argue that we have the best coach in the world right now, and that he has spent the whole of the Rugby Championship formulating plans for beating South Africa and Australia, I really can’t see us losing to Georgia. Henshaw and Payne in the centre is a surprise, but would you bet against Joe? I think he may be basing it on both defence – two big strong guys – and future/present attacking potential.

In the past, all you could expect from the Boks was being assaulted  by 15 large gentlemen, simple, brutal but effective. However, they score backline tries these days as well, although the indications are that the expansive game is back in the pocket for the moment. They’ve changed so much they are talking us up before the match! I think Joe has a solution to every threat the Boks pose in attack and defence, and that the 15 men that run out for Ireland have the ability to deliver a win. The problem is, how long will those 15 last, and who is going to take their place? Ross, McGrath and Kearney are coming back from injury, and we are setting up some really unfamiliar combinations if they go off. So I think we’ll get close but the Boks will win.

England will be without some big guns for the All Blacks. England beat the AB’s a few years ago, and came really close the first match on tour this year. I think they’ll be in it to the end, but lack of settled combinations will probably hurt them.  While I rate Lancaster as a coach, in the backline he seems to have a case of the Philippe Saint-AndrĂ©’s, how about him and what about HIM. A year out from the World Cup, I don’ think he knows yet who his starting backline is.

Australia have a new coach, a really good one with a winners pedigree, and while they have problems off field, you could put a lot of their onfield problems and losses down to having to play 3 top top sides in the last two months. They are battle hardened, street wise, and I think Wales are going to struggle.

Scotland have a completely new look for Argentina. It looks a strictly form pick, fair play to Cotter. Great to see Rob Harley starting – you always wonder if there’s two of him playing for Glasgow he has such a high work rate. But I think Argentina will win – they have had the most incredible build up to these matches in the Rugby Championship, and are starting to play better and better.

International Match
Saturday , November 8
Italy vs Samoa    14:00
Wales vs Australia    14:30
England vs New Zealand    14:30
France vs Fiji    16:45
Ireland vs South Africa    17:30
Scotland vs Argentina    17:30

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Leinster and Ulster win, Munster do a bit of robbery while Connacht lose.

Stuart Olding
Stuart Olding ( Picture

Leinster had Edinburgh at home on Friday night. Can I just ask the Scots, would you mind not picking on our foreign stars? Ben Te’O is out for six weeks with a broken arm, and Kane Douglas went off too, although hopefully that’s not that serious. It wasn’t a vintage performance, but they got the job done with a 5 ties and the bonus point. With so many changes, and quite a few players with very little game time, too eager to show their skills, it was very disjointed. Dominic Ryan shone, and I think Michael Bent is coming into his own, able to play on both sides of the scrum, and getting better with regular starts.  I’m also a fan of Mick McGrath, I think he’s going to be a regular starter soon.

Connacht found the Ospreys too much to handle, but still scored a try, and didn’t give away a bonus point, so not too shabby.

Munster came away with a win in Cardiff, fair play to them for hanging on until the end, but CSI Wales have confirmed a robbery took place. The Welshmen were all over the Munster scrum, should have a penalty try, but the win and the loss was all in their hands. Munster really just had to defend a bit and let Cardiff hand over the penalties, and then put in about 5% effort to get the win at the end. Munster suffered from lots of changes to the team, they still have that backbone of steel though that carried them through. Cardiff, with a bit more composure, will start winning soon.

I didn’t see the Ulster match, but they won conformably enough, and their never ending supply of excellent backs keeps rolling, with Olding getting a double, but also picking up a season ending injury.

Finally, the Wallabies Barbarians match was really good, going right down to the wire. Cooper and Genia are not quite up to speed, but it was tries galore, played in a spirit you don’t really see anymore. And Nick ’Badger’ Cummins  got a try!

Guinness PRO12
Saturday , November 1
Cardiff Blues 24 - 28 Munster   
Scarlets 28 - 13 Zebre   
Ulster 23 - 6 Newport Gwent D'gons   
Friday , October 31
Leinster 33 - 8 Edinburgh   
Ospreys 26 - 11 Connacht   
Glasgow 17 - 9 Benetton Treviso