Sunday, July 20, 2014
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I have no interest in the precise details of the Welsh rugby crisis anymore. About a year ago, I really did try to get to grips with what was going on from both sides, but now none of it really seems to matter.
Yesterday I read articles which claimed that the possibility of Sam Warburton beginning the season without a club was surely the tipping point that made us want to raise our desperation to “Scream Painting” levels. But that wasn’t the tipping point for me - that would be Adam Jones being on the brink of going to Bristol.
Of course I get that Warburton is Wales & Lions captain and all, but let’s face it, he’s not the best in the world at his position - heck, you could argue that he’s not even the best in WALES at his position. Sorry if I’m getting a bit cruel there, but the point I’m trying to make is that when it comes to evaluating the sport’s best tightheads you’ll have to answer to me if at the very least the top 3 doesn’t include the Ospreys’ iconic hair bear.
So if an ongoing spat featuring countless statements, counter-statements, articles, tweets, retweets, blocks & unblocks actually has AJ playing in the RFU Championship for an entire season then I reckon everyone involved needs to be hanging their heads in shame.
But I’m not here to justify my reasons for flipping out over the crisis; I’m here to call everyone, and I MEAN everyone involved whatever name it takes to make them come to their senses, assuming they have any. Immature? Stubborn? Narrow-Minded? Greedy? Lacking in cojones? All of the above? Take your pick.
And please, please, please understand that I’m not having a go at the entire Welsh people here. This isn’t a national thing at all. Consider me an interested outsider - in fact, given we still have a mutual interest in the Pro12, Irish fans would be less “outsiders” than others (though even at that I certainly don’t speak for all of them either!!!).
Naturally there are those eyebrow-deep in the saga who are reading this rant by an Irish blogger and thinking either (to put it politely; I presume their words would be a tad more colourful) “I’m sorry, old chap, but I hardly think it’s any of your business” or “Oh, but what you don’t seem to realise is that [insert one side or the other’s name here] has done [insert some terrible deed here] and we just cannot bring ourselves to accept that!”
For what it’s worth, and I know it’s probably very little, all I can hear in amongst all that is “blah, blah, blah.”
Whether it’s the WRU, the RRW, David Moffett, the Welsh clubs, the Welsh mainstream media, even the so-called social media “Ultras”, or anyone else who has a vested interest in what’s going on…
Find somewhere to meet, go there, lock yourselves in, close all access to the outside world, and JUST. SORT. IT. OUT. Before you go in, tell everyone that you won’t see daylight until you can greet it with a functioning Participation Agreement.
I don’t care if it won’t be easy. There’s plenty of crap out there that’s way more complicated I can tell you, and maybe some people need to be reminded that although everyone in the global rugby community loves the game with a passion, it is, after all, just that, a GAME (everyone’s!).
Do it now! You could have it wrapped up by the weekend. And despite the fact that between you all you’ve prolonged the crisis for what seems like an eternity, you’d come out of it as heroes, and then the rest of us can get on with looking forward to headlines being inspired by actual rugby from the pitch, particularly if they include Adam Jones playing the likes of Leinster, Northampton and Racing Métro next season like he should be and not trudging back and forth between Moseley and Bedford. JLP
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Welcome to part 3 of our off-season series of match writeups where we follow the remainder of the 2014 Super Rugby campaign focusing on the NSW Waratahs, paying particular attention to lock Kane Douglas before he heads to Dublin to join his new Leinster team-mates.
Even though it ended with a trophy, Leinster’s 2013/14 campaign was littered with what I call “ugly” victories, ie ones where you can say that if they reproduced that same form on another day, the result would probably have gone against them.
Off the top of my head I can think of five such wins, against Castres, Connacht, Glasgow, Ulster and Edinburgh, and no doubt there were many more. Thankfully we saved our best for last and there wasn’t anything ugly about our display in the final which led to us retaining our Pro12 crown.
But although the scoreline in this final Waratahs outing of the regular season was a lot closer to the Pro12 decider than it was to the other matches I link to above, believe it or not I still reckon it was something of an “ugly” win for Michael Cheika’s men which will give him plenty to think about over the next two weeks as he prepares for the semifinals.
As far as the final standings in Super Rugby were concerned, this match didn’t really matter. The Tahs had first place on the overall ladder well wrapped up and as for the Reds, this has been a campaign to forget for their loyal fans.
But if you know anything about the history of contests with an oval ball between the states of Queensland and New South Wales, you’ll understand that this was an easy match to get pumped up for whatever the consequences.
Unfortunately for the Suncorp crowd, everything about this match highlighted how one team was very much on the up while the other was headed in the opposite direction. Lady luck was only shining towards one team.
First, there was the injury count. Already missing nailed on starters like Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Neil Shipperly, they were deprived two more backs in the first 16 minutes as both their starting 10 Ben Lucas and 12 Ben Tapuai were forced off.
Meanwhile on the Tahs side, although Isreal Folau was unable to start and his replacement Jono Lance went off before halftime, Cheika saw his gamble of a 6/2 forwards/backs bench split pay off over the 80 minutes.
And even Lance wasn’t to leave the field without adding his name to the scoresheet; his dot down after some patient phases and a good line break & offload by Kurtley Beale cancelled out an early Reds pen and put his side in the lead for good.
Even the bounce of the ball was going against the home side. Tahs scrum half Nick Phipps was a pest on the opponent’s feed and when he legally got his foot to a ball just popped out of a scrum, it sat up perfectly for the Tahs and before long it was Beale this time getting the score. 14-3 to the Tahs and the first quarter not even done.
But while Cheika’s men excelled in broken play and can only get better when the likes of Folau return, it has to be pointed out that in set pieces they were decidedly average on the day.
From the scoring of that second try all the way to the 55th minute a stronger squad, or even a full strength Reds one for that matter, would have easily clawed their way back into this contest with all the possession they had, not to mention an extra man as Kepu saw yellow on 28 minutes.
On account of the scoreline Reds skipper Horwill kept spurning kickable penalties and opting for the corner when they had the extra man and partly due to a lack of talent and partly due to solid D by the visitors, they were unable to capitalise.
Then in the second half again it was Beale heavily involved as he both started and finished the move which led to try number 3. His kick forward was retrieved by Adam Ashley-Cooper who looked well offside but the ref let the play run on and when the TMO had a look it, turns out he was behind the kicker and here was even more back luck for the Reds.
Truth was the home side couldn’t buy a score for the remainder of this one and the final insult to all their injuries was the bonus point try which deservedly went to Nick Phipps having been put through by sub winger Naiyaravoro.
As for Leinster-bound Kane Douglas, well he put in a solid 50-minute shift this week, and once more he convinced me that he is well capable of filling at least a decent chunk of the void left by Leo Cullen in the Leinster pack, though the Tahs’ struggles at the lineout will be a serious concern for everyone involved (not entirely his fault by a long stretch it has to be said).
So records tumbling all over the place in this Super Rugby regular season for the Tahs, but perhaps in some ways it’s a good thing for them to have areas to work on for the coming two weeks, it’s a good way for Cheika to keep them focused.
In some ways the Tahs seems to remind me of Germany at the soccer World Cup. Though they have many quality players, there isn’t one on which they rely more than most and should one get injured, there would appear to be someone well able to step in and do a job in their place. And we all know how that went for the Germans!
So they have a week off as their semifinal opponents are decided next weekend…if things go to home form, it could well be the Brumbies who visit in the semifinal, but the Chiefs could well have something to say about that! Some interesting rugby ahead.
We’ll be keeping an eye on that first round of the playoffs but with the Tahs off we’re hoping to be able to provide a match report of Ireland’s warm-up game for the Women’s World Cup against Wales at Malahide RFC next Sunday.
In the meantime, with not even any soccer to fill the hole of missing Leinster rugby, I may have to trawl through some championship-winning DVDs to get my fix. I could do a lot worse. JLP
Sunday, July 06, 2014
Welcome to Part 2 in our off-season series of match writeups where we have “adopted” the NSW Waratahs to both keep an eye on Leinster signing Kane Douglas and support Michael Cheika in his bid to become the first coach to win provincial titles in both hemispheres.
[Note - we here at HoR are fully aware that every pun on the word “Tah” has probably been done in the Australian press at this stage but as far as we are concerned all of them are “fair dinkum” on this side of the planet!]
We’re all meant to be very excited about the new & improved Rugby Champions Cup here in Europe, but apart from the reduction in qualifiers, the reality is that the tournament is pretty much exactly the same as it was before.
So the fact remains that even if you win all of your pool matches by a considerable margin playing amazing free-flowing rugby to secure a number one seed in knockout stages, not only does that only guarantee you just one further home fixture, you have to wait over two months for it to come around, hoping against hope your best players don’t fall to Six Nations injury in the meantime.
Now I’m not suggesting that Super Rugby is perfect by any stretch, but let’s just say its format makes things a lot easier for Michael Cheika and his Waratahs now than they were for him when he coached Leinster to our first Heineken Cup triumph in 2009.
Nor am I suggesting that their playoff matches themselves will be easy…you can never say that when the seven-time champion Crusaders are still in the mix…but what I am saying is that this has been a record-breaking campaign for the Tahs and they have clinched first place on the overall “ladder” with a game to spare, so they are rightly rewarded by at least knowing all their playoff action will be in Sydney.
And what a show they put on in their final regular-season for that same Sydney crowd. These Highlanders may not have had as many recognisable international names in their lineup as their hosts but don’t let the scoreline fool you - they were no slouches on the day and even with this loss are still in strong contention for the finals themselves.
Michael Cheika’s task from here on in may not be simple to do but it is definitely simple to define…he needs to keep them focused on the prize between now and their home semifinal in three weeks’ time because if they can replicate this kind of form I doubt anyone can stop them.
The best way I can writeup this match is to go through the starting lineup man for man just in case I leave anyone out…
15 ISRAEL FOLAU - I tend to be sceptical about rugby league converts but this guy has to be an exception. As he showed in the Lions series last season he has taken to this code like a duck to water and is almost always at the heart of anything good offensively the Tahs do. Ran a perfect support line for their second try at the start of the second half which in many ways killed the contest.
14 ALOFA ALOFA - Quality winger who can not only finish but also supplied a sublime offload for Kepu on the way to try number 3. He’s on his way to La Rochelle in the Top 14 next season and that can only be good for the newly-promoted outfit.
13 - ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER - Amazingly AAC has never played in the Super Rugby playoffs before; it is long overdue. Of course you can’t mention this guy without including a link to his famous Superman double-tackle against the Boks.
12 - KURTLEY BEALE - His career has had its drawbacks, and he may still have some defensive issues but he has definitely found himself where he belongs in the Tahs 12 jersey going by what I have seen over the past couple of weeks.
11 - ROB HORNE - Supplied the finish to what was an amazing team try that went the length of the field. Much like Leinster wingers, the Tahs’ 11 & 14s are expected to do a lot more than just sit out wide and wait for a chance to come to them.
10 - BERNARD FOLEY - Who says it has to be November to rock a porn stache? This guy has gone from impressing against the Lions in a midweek match last year to being the top Wallaby 10 making even Ewen McKenzie go “Quade who”? Lost count of the times he broke the line in this match and for a 10 to lead the side in metres gained with 145 says it all really.
9 - NICK PHIPPS - Foley would probably be the first to tell you that his own success owes a lot to the contributions of Phipps and the 9 earned himself a try of his own when despite a neat set move off the scrum with Kepu he still had work to do to get it over the line and he managed it with ease to earn the Tahs a try bonus.
1 - BENN ROBINSON - Cult loosehead and a deadly finisher from 5 yards out, in other words, very much in the Cian Healy mould.
2 - TATAFU POLOTA-NAU - Kept his front row focused as they demolished the ‘Landers scrum when it mattered in the second half.
3 - SEKOPE KEPU - Forced 3 turnovers, scored try number 3 and provided the final offload for try number 5. Oh, and the whole “dominant scrum” thing I mentioned above. Not a bad return for a tighthead!
4 - JACQUES POTGEITER - Just 3 test caps for this Springbok, and given the return of Victor to the arena I’d be surprised if he got much more given he’s 28, but make no mistake he can put himself about and was a powerful presence in this match, including being the grateful recipient of the Kepu offload I mentioned above.
5 - KANE DOUGLAS - Came off at half time with a knock that obviously I’m hoping isn’t too serious. Kind of fluffed a good attacking position at one point but his overall contribution in the one and a half matches I’ve focused on in the past couple of weeks has been more than good enough for me to know he’ll fit right in at the RDS.
6 - STEPHEN HOILES - Had big boots to fill after club captain Dave Dennis was ruled out for the season but was part of a hungry Tahs back row, though to be fair both sides were strong in this area and at some stages the counter-rucking was as intense as I’ve ever seen it.
7 - MICHAEL HOOPER - Given the intensity I mention above you won’t be surprised that this guy was involved. Lets his emotions get the better of him sometimes but that’s the kind of passion you want in a 7. Reckon he could be key to the Wallabies’ hopes in this year’s Bledisloe & Rugby Championship.
8 - WYCLIFF PALU - Involved in moves off the base of the scrum for two tries and made all his tackles.
REPLACEMENTS - Will Skelton is possibly one of the reasons Kane Douglas feels he can seek his fortune in the northern hemisphere, big future ahead for the lad. Also as if the starting back three wasn’t quality enough for the Tahs, they also have a massive Fijian called Taqele Naiyaravoro who provided a very 7s-like finish at the hooter to provide the icing on the cake for what was a good old-fashioned thrashing of a decent provincial side.
I may have picked the Tahs to focus on because I wanted to run the rule over a particular player coming to Leinster, but after seeing these last two matches they really do look like a team you can get behind…full of quality players, getting solid contributions from 1 to 23, and now they have their playoffs guaranteed at home, they really seem to have a shot at their first title.
Put it this way…securing top spot in the regular season (or as the Aussies call it, the “Minor Premiership”) won’t be near enough to satisfy Michael Cheika at this stage. He has one more match before the finals next week against the 2011 Champions the Reds in Brisbane - it’s quite likely he’ll take a leaf out of the IRFU’s player protection handbook to make sure his squad is ready.
As for who his side will face, well that’s definitely up for debate. Don’t rule out them facing these Highlanders again, but their final match is away to the Crusaders who are themselves chasing the bye into the semifinals. As for Hurricanes although now sit in 5th place, they have played their full set of matches so they need to rely on results elsewhere.
Tie of the round next weekend has to be the Brumbies against the Force - winners probably get a home playoff, losers get to call it a season. Meanwhile in South Africa it has been a disappointing campaign for everyone except the Sharks who could do with an easy final match in Cape Town, though I doubt the Stormers will be very obliging somehow.
But like I said, they’ll all have their work cut out to catch these Tahs. It will certainly be fun to watch them try. JLP
Saturday, June 28, 2014
Just to set out the stall for these “match writeups” over the coming weeks - I can’t claim to know enough about Super Rugby to be able to give them nearly as close coverage as I do Leinster & Ireland throughout the season.
So if you’re a big fan of the competition and want some expert analysis on this particular match you’ve probably come to the wrong place…what I plan to do instead is give a northern hemisphere fan’s perspective on what I have seen, of course paying particular attention to players like Kane Douglas and Ruaridh Murphy who will be joining Irish provinces next season.
In fact those weren’t the only Irish connections you could make for this fixture…with this rivalry arguably the nearest the Aussies have to Leinster v Munster, there were none other than Michael Chieka and Laurie Fisher in opposing coaching booths.
Still…while I obviously can’t show as much dedication to the Waratahs as the potentially treasonous chap in the lead photo, I am more than happy to follow them through to the end of their 2014 Super Rugby campaign and I have to say I was mostly impressed with their display on Saturday and they certainly seem to have what it takes to go all the way and give coach Cheika a very unique double.
I mean…what’s not to like about their lineup? Izzy Folau, Kurley Beale, current Wallaby fly-half complete with porn stache Bernard Foley, and in the pack as well as Kane Douglas there’s Will Skelton, a name we are bound to be hearing very often in the near future as he has buckets of talent and impressed when the Lions played in Sydney 1 year ago.
Now, to be fair to the Brumbies, they have a horrendous injury list which deprived them of names they would certainly be relying on for a derby this late in the season…you can’t do without the likes of Stephen Moore, Pat McCabe, Matt Toomua & David Pocock and expect to compete. Losing another centre early in this one as Kurindrani had to leave with suspected concussion can’t have helped either, though of course it was good to see the laws being correctly applied.
And not only were the big personalities missing but also they had a winger playing at centre, a centre playing at 10 and most crucially, Ulster-bound (and Dublin-born) prop Ruaridh Murphy playing at hooker. Whether he just wasn’t good enough or the build-up got to him was hard to tell, but with several missed darts and a missed strike or two at scrum-time I doubt Messrs Best & Herring have much to worry about next season at Kingspan Stadium. (First time I’ve used that name in a reference. Very weird!)
So the odds were heavily stacked in favour of the home side from the off and in what I must say was a very Leinster-like fashion, it took the Tahs a while to assert that dominance. The Brumbies were doing all they could to thwart the home side’s front foot ball and it took 15 minutes for them to cross the line, with loosehead and Cian Healy-type cult hero Benn Robinson crashing over.
Then minutes later as the Brumbies tried to put it through the hands it was intercepted by winger Alofa Alofa who then said Aloha Aloha to his opposition as he sprinted more than half the length of the pitch to bring the score to 14-0.
But the injury problems were not all on one side and the Tahs lost their captain and key lineout-caller Dave Dennis to an ACL tear in the first half which sadly has ruled him out for the rest of the season…it seems veteran flanker Stephen Hoiles is favourite to replace him as skipper.
The Brumbies to their credit did what they could and were able to pull a try back before half time as a crossfield kick right into the corner of the try area was brilliantly caught and put down by Jesse Mogg at the expense of the man way ahead of him in the running for the Wallaby 15 jumper, Israel Folau.
But at the breakdown the visitors were finding it more and more difficult to compete and as much as Steve Walsh tried to resist going to his pocket (at one stage telling an ironically-frowning Jordan Smiler “That was silly mate!”) he eventually had to give in and gave Smiler’s replacement Aleua a 10-minute rest as the game ticked into the final quarter.
From the resulting penalty Kane Douglas took one of many clean lineout catches and a superb maul brought them to the line where Foley sold a dummy when he didn’t even need to and sauntered over for try number three.
The vital bonus point in the Tahs’ hunt for home finals advantage came on 68 minutes when Alofa Alofa got his second, this time thanks to superbly timed passes by Beale and Folau.
Like I said at the start I was paying particular attention to new Leinster signing Kane Douglas, to see how he’d get on in our neck of the woods. I have to assume the Tahs will face much stiffer challenges before this campaign is over, but he most certainly looks the part…heavily involved in the lineouts, happy to get stuck in at the breakdown, and even when I wondered if he was tiring at the end of an 80-minute shift, up he pops over in the corner to ship the final pass for Palu to dot down as icing on the cake.
Let’s just say that going by this display, he’ll fit in just fine at the RDS.
So as you can see from the table, with this comfortable victory the Waratahs now top the overall Super Rugby “ladder” though to clinch 1st place and the home advantage that goes with it only victories over the Highlanders (also chasing playoffs) and the Reds (who have flopped this season though they won their last two) will do.
Although it wasn’t quite enough to fill the void left by the Leinster & Ireland off-season, this match was still an enjoyable one to focus on, particularly with the legendary Aussie commentary by the likes of Phil Kearns.
Stay tuned to HarpinOnRugby over the coming weeks and we’ll see if these Tahs can go one better than their teams of 2005 & 2008, both of whom fell to the Crusaders at the final hurdle. JLP