Warmups

Friday, March 27, 2015

Preview : Leinster v Glasgow

 

Much has been written about the way Paul O'Connell motivated the Irish squad to help them both get over the disappointment in Cardiff and prepare them for their task in Edinburgh.   And of course we all know about the famous "Enfield accord" back in December 2008 when the topic of provincial cliques was aired out among the squad.

The thing about air-clearing sessions like that is you probably only hear about them when they produce results...both of those I mentioned above produced Six Nations titles.

I wonder if there was any chance of there being a similar type intervention happening behind the scenes after Leinster's well-below-par series of matches in February & March?  If not, they most certainly needed one.  For at a time when we probably had the strongest squad available for that time of year, we came out of it with just 8 out of the 20 points on offer, a pace that certainly won't get us anywhere near the top four.

Well, going by the media appearances this week, the approach would appear to be "business as usual" in the Leinster camp, and the quotes from Matt O'Connor about dissatisfaction with the player protection system certainly don't bode well about the overall mood.

All of which makes tonight's Ireland v Scotland matchup the polar opposite of last Saturday's test at Murrayfield.

For although the bookies are backing Leinster to make their home advantage count tonight with a 6-point victory, I wish I could be as sure.

It's not as though we don't have the talent throughout the squad...but as the saying goes "you're only as good as your last match" and there was plenty of talent on show against the Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets not too long ago, and the performances simply did not match it.

Plus there is the fact that I am disappointed, if not surprised, that once again Jimmy Gopperth has been selected at out-half.  I have nothing against him as a player, and I don't necessarily hold with the view that he has been "over worked" by Leinster this season, but I just feel that our biggest problems this season have come from an inability to adapt our offensive strategy to suit the team we're facing, and more often than not he has been the creative general.

Instead, the coach has gone with him at 10 and Ian Madigan at 12, which would seem to be the formation he is looking to field against Bath next week also.

Now I'm not saying this lineup cannot work.  Of course we can't rule out their clicking tonight.  But based on the evidence we have seen this season, they have struggled to keep the required standards going for 80 minutes and tonight more than any other we have Pro12 opposition who will make the most of any shortcomings.

You can be sure that if we succumb once more to what I call the "knock-on gremilns", Gregor Townsend's side, featuring a lot more bodies from last weekend than our does it has to be said, are likely to forego the scrum where they can and make maximum hay out of the sunshine from our transition to defensive mode.  Basically if we struggle with the ball as we have done in recent outings it could result in at least a 10-point swing to the Warriors, and good luck with our chasing that!

Look...I'm sorry for all the doom and gloom.  Those last few displays took a big chunk of my optimism from me, but it is not all gone.

If ball-carrying prowess is the way we wish to go tonight, then we certainly have plenty of it.  Conan, Murphy, Te'o, Madigan, & McFadden are all known for breaking the gainline while in reserve we have the likes of Cronin, Healy and Fitzgerald.

Then we have set-pieces...one positive area in that 4-game spell has been our scrum so if we're to have any hope of getting things going with the ball tonight we'll need that and our lineout to function.

Finally there's the x factor which the likes of Dave Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald can bring.  Because as tight-knit a group as the Warriors may be, they too are bound to make the odd mistake and we certainly have the ability in our ranks to take advantage.  So please don't think I have written us off altogether tonight.  

But it really is becoming a "last-chance saloon" for us in the Pro12, for with no disrespect to the opponents (particularly Connacht) of the teams around us on the table chasing top four positions, defeat tonight could leave us with a six-point gap to close just to get into the top four, something that will not be easy to do in  four remaining matches, three of them away.  So in many ways, tonight's clash is every bit as much a knockout contest as the one at the Aviva next week.

That do-or-die aspect gives me hope, enough to just about predict a Leinster victory, though I can't go further than a one or two point margin.  

One thing is for sure...we can't do it without the full backing of the RDS faithful, so let's be sure to give them all the support we can out there tonight.  See you there!

If you can't make it to the RDS tonight, tune in here to HarpinOnRugby where we'll be live-blogging the match starting at 7pm.

#COYBIB JLP

GLASGOW : 15. Stuart Hogg 14. Tommy Seymour 13. Mark Bennett 12. Peter Horne 11. DTH van der Merwe 10. Finn Russell 9. Niko Matawalu
1. Alex Allan 2. Fraser Brown 3. Zander Fagerson 4.Tim Swinson 5. Al Kellock (Captain) 6. Rob Harley 7. Chris Fusaro 8. Josh Strauss
Replacements: 16. Pat MacArthur 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa 18. Mike Cusack 19. Jonny Gray 20. Adam Ashe 21. Henry Pyrgos 22. Connor Braid 23. Richie Vernon

Guinness PRO12 2014/15 - Round 18
At RDS Arena, 7.35pm. 
Live on TG4 and BBC Scotland 
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 121st competition game)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Barry Kieran (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Seamus Fannery (IRFU)

Front Five - 27.03.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Later today on HarpinOnRugby...

Our Leinster v Glasgow preview

plus we'll be liveblogging the match from 7pm


IMG_1598

 
“If we’re talking about competing with the bigger Leagues in Europe, in relation to the Top 14 and the Premiership and the ability to maximise the commercial potential of those, we need to look at how often the very best marquee players are playing PRO12 rugby for Leinster.”
 

Leinster rugby coach Matt O’Connor hits out at the non-availability of stars for crunch clash

 
Brendan O'Brien - Irish Examiner
 
 

 
While McGrath, Healy, Ross and Moore are certainties to be in the World Cup squad, it likely leaves a spot each for a tight-head and a loose-head to make it in.
 

Six Nations form shows that Irish scrum has bright future

 
Neil Treacy - SportsJOE.ie
 

 
Con are fourth in the standings...but just five points separate them and ninth-placed St Mary's.
 
 
Daragh Small - Irish Independent
 

 
...there will be no play-offs for the 2016-17 Champions Cup with the 20th place in the tournament going to the winner of the 2016 Challenge Cup if not already qualified.
 
 
Rugby Week
 

 
A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesman said: "We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. He realises his mistake."
 

Referee Nigel Owens meets man who sent homophobic tweet

 
BBC News
 

 
Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
 
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What a day of rugby!

An actual angry bird, soot on the walls, some spilt curry...nothing was going to distract Kevin O'Brien from that Six Nations finale...

Someday we will win a 6 Nations Championship or a Grand Slam without half the country going into cardiac arrest. But you know what, where is the fun in that? Days like last Saturday are ones that will stay in the memory. For fans and players alike they are the sweetest of victories. The destination of the championship not decided until the very last second. Like Stephen Jones drop goal for the Grand Slam  in ’09 or the last minute forward pass in Paris last year this was a truly nerve jangling but ultimately magnificent occasion. Ireland, back to back 6 nation’s champions. It sounds so good.

The championship kicked off for me with a new Irish jersey which I was given as a present. It was the pro tighter fitting one which I was told would be an ‘ahem’ a slimmer fit. On the morning of the Italian game I got up stuck the jersey on looked at the match which in truth was a bit of a damp squib. We did what was needed no more no less. After the game I decided to hang the jersey back in the closet without washing it. Washing it you see might affect the mojo. Now I’m not superstitious but I didn’t want to chance it all the same. 

The following week PSA’s French giants were in town. A home win was perhaps expected especially now that Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien were back. The same routine was followed as the previous week. The first thing I did when I got up was the stick on the (unwashed) jersey. As expected the French were not the French of old displaying none of the old flair. They didn’t really threaten until the last 15 minutes or so when they brought on Parra to up tempo and attacking threat. Ireland’s excellent defence and greater efficiency was enough to see the win. To keep the routine going the jersey came off and was hung back in the wardrobe straight after the game. I had to hide it away in the back of the press to make sure my wife didn’t find it and decided it needed a wash. She wasn’t party to my paranoia. 

The next week brought the ‘would be’ grand slam champions, England, to town. They had a very strong win against Wales in Cardiff followed by a less convincing performance against the Scots where they fluffed several scoring chances. How costly that would be. Anyhow my routine was established at this stage and had to be followed. First job of the day was to put the now admittedly slightly musty smelling jersey. I had planned to watch the game in the pub as my favourite footy team Tottenham were also playing Chelsea in the Coca Cola, Littlewoods, Carling League Cup final. A good day out to be had. The pints were flowing. The rugby was good. Henshaws try was great. A victory over England was greater. It was a superb performance in my mind with a master class in half back control from messers Sexton & Murray. We were all worried about Ross v Marler in the scrum. Oh ye of little faith (me included). Ross did what Ross does, quietly going about the business of keeping the scrum together. All in all a comprehensive & impressive win. Little did I know  that disaster was to strike.

On my way home from the pub I had ordered a curry. It was a glorious curry. One of the best I had ever eaten I recall telling my wife on numerous occasions. When I stepped up from the table I noticed a great big blob of curry on my lucky unwashed jersey. A wee bit of panic was setting in as I realised the consequences of my sloppiness. The jersey had to be washed.

I was uneasy all week in the lead up to the Welsh game. The mood was not helped by the fact that the provinces had all lost on welsh soil the previous week. The Welsh were in bullish mood.  I was not. I mean my lucky jersey had been washed. The less said about ‘Flora- gate’ the better. Though it was good to see Mr. Francis squirm, when his words came back to bite him on the behind. Desperately Hoping I hadn’t ruined the mojo I followed the same routine. Got up put on the jersey etc but it just didn’t feel right. The game was a disappointing from an Irish perspective. The Welsh had the measure of us and raced into a lead they never relinquished. We did come back at them in the second half and could have snatched a draw but for an iffy penalty call right at the death. In truth Wales deserved the win and our performance was a few notches below previous  weeks. It was hard to take and for the record it was not Wayne Barnes fault. It was the curry’s!

The final day arrived with three teams in the shake up for the title. What a day it turned out to be. I had a feeling it would be the Welsh’s day as they were playing a limited Italian team with no Parisse. They would definitely put up a big score. Given our record in Scotland I just could not see us coming out on top. In a desperate act of hope I decided to give the jersey routine one last chance. After all it hadn’t been washed after the Welsh game. 

As we know now the final day was a monumental day of rugby. Last Saturday had absolutely everything a rugby fan, indeed a sports fan could want.  Drama, high octane exhilarating play, big hits, try’s galore & last minute tackles (thank you Mr Heaslip). To say it was gripping was an understatement. Seven hours of pure unexpected rugby heaven and let’s be honest if we hadn’t come out on top, well I for one would still be sick as a parrot. The jersey would have been in the bin.

And so the action finally kicked off in Rome. As the first half played out I was confident that the Welsh were out of the equation. But then they had that explosive second have. Tackling was optional but the Welsh put on a display and a huge score none the less. The Zen like calmness I was experiencing in the first half was replaced by well a bit of panic. My seventh cup of coffee wasn’t helping! We will never claw back that deficit. Then out of nowhere Sarto scores a try and Orquera perhaps unexpectedly nailed a touchline penalty. A glimmer of hope. 

I was reasonably confident of the win in Edinburgh but would we win by the required 21 points? Fear not Paulie was on the case early crashing over after 5 minutes. The performance levels were raised significantly from Cardiff the previous week. How good was it to see Sean O’Brien at his rampaging best? How good was it to see Healy put on a show of his awesome power? How good was it to see line breaks more attacking intent?  Twenty six points? Surely England would never beat the French by more. I was calmed by the words of Brent Pope saying it wouldn’t happen but then Conor O’Shea said an English win by such a big victory was possible. The nerves were off again.

 The English got off to a blistering start but once the French went into a 15-7 lead I decided it was to be our day. I mean the English would never do this now? Just after Nakaitaci’s try my wife asked me to light a fire to warm up the house. I argued I was already in a sweat due to the rugby but it was to no avail. Whilst keeping an eye on the game I set and lit the fire. The flames were lighting up nicely when I noticed two eyes looking at me from the back of the stove. A bird had flown down the chimney as the cowl blew off earlier in the week. Quick as a flash I reached in and lifted the bird out of the flames but it escaped my clutches. It’s soot covered body hit the freshly painted the sitting room wall in a hundred spots while my wife ran screaming from the room.

By now England had scored another try. I was cursing at the bird, who was flying around the room with me chasing it and the English for putting in such a performance. It was pandemonium. By the time I got rid of the bird England were 27-22 up. My twitter timeline was follow of Englishmen proclaiming ‘it's on, it's on.’ Oh me nerves. The sitting room was destroyed with soot marks but that was no matter a championship was on the line and looked like it could slip from us. 

It was a hell of a game. England continued to push for tries to reduce the points differential and the French kept reeling them back. Haskell goes to the bin and Debaty scores soon after and I start to feel like it’s going to be our day. Then Vunipola scores & it’s in the melting pot again. In keeping with the game Kayser stumbles over the line. Surely now this kills off the English? Nope, as Nowell goes over with five minutes left. They were five of the longest minutes of my life. And there still the sitting room walls to wash.

I will never forget the surreal feeling when Huget took the tap penalty. All I could hear was the words of the bauld George Hamilton saying ‘Danger here!’ It was 30 seconds of sheer blind panic. I still look back at that moment and wonder was it real. And then the sheer relief when sanity prevailed and Kockott kicked the ball out. Ireland were back to back champions. It was another glorious performance from a glorious group of players. A win and a manner of victory that will stay with us forever. My lucky unwashed jersey was lucky again. 

Upon reflection it was another strong showing from Ireland. Those complaining about the lack of style in the earlier rounds need to look at the fact that Championships don’t come around too often in these parts. And as for 2 in a row? Sure our performance levels dipped a bit in Wales but we have to remember too that that Wales side is also a very fine team who are very well coached. Just look at the disappointment of the Welsh & English players in missing out and the reaction of sections of their media. Perhaps in the England player’s case their moaning might be a bit understandable. Well they have come so close so often! From our point of view we won the championship with the best defence. We nursed long-term injured players back to form during the tournament. More importantly the squad continues to grow to the point where Joe will have a real headache picking a World Cup squad. We are in a really good place. Roll on September. As for my team of the tournament? Well quite simply it was Ireland.

The biggest message I have taken from the 2015 6 Nations however is not to eat curry whilst wearing the unwashed lucky jersey!!!

Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.

*****

 

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