Saturday, February 24, 2018

Front Five - 24.02.18

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

ICYMI click here for our
Ireland v Wales preview

Captain Rory Best later allayed fears that the Paris match-winner was a doubt

Ruaidhri O'Connor - Irish Independent

Despite the fact that Leinster came into this clash without a host of players who are on Six Nations duty with Ireland, they were still far too classy for a Kings team that remains utterly inept on defence.

Craig Lewis -

Tries from Niall Scannell and James Cronin saw Munster close the gap on the Conference A leaders

Declan Rooney - The Scotsman

There will be sterner tests to come for Bastareaud but today’s outing will give him plenty of confidence going forward.

Billy Keenan - Pundit Arena

Having moved onto the right wing for this match, O'Brien did the damage straight up the middle and at blistering pace.

Patrick McCarry -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP

Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Friday, February 23, 2018

Preview - Ireland v Wales

I think I may have used up all my sporting optimism this weekend already in my preview for Leinster v Southern Kings...I thought I'd have no problem psyching myself up for this match but when I saw the bookies were predicting an eight-point Irish win my instinct had me let out an audible 'Wha????'

We all know how important it is for Joe to have a look at alternatives to his ideal starting XV ahead of the next World Cup given what happened at the last, but we also know how important it is to do well in the Six Nations - each match is a cup final in itself and when the Welsh come to town there's always an extra edge to say the very least.

And with three Lions falling out of our player pool as three rejoin Warren Gatland's, a task which was never going to be easy anyway got that much harder, especially when you consider our recent difficulties with this particular opponent.

The key would seem to lie with Joe Schmidt's demand for structure...when it works it can be a thing a pure beauty to watch for any rugby fan but if it takes us a while to get into our stride and start registering scores, what comes next can be unpredictable.

We have to assume that Gatland, AWJ and co have something up their sleeve to get our noses out of the playbook - maybe not as violent as 'targeting' our half backs, but more likely something  subtle, but the point is that we'll have to be both ready and able to respond.

Literally at the centre of our plans are Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell.  In my writeup of the Italy match I suggested Keith Earls for the 13 role but that's not to say I'm against Farrell he has played with Aki before and has spent plenty of time at Carton House to get to know the Schmidt way.  For me, I'm happy once they stay on top of defence and keep our power plays on the front foot.  A few line breaks would be awesome of course, but I'd accept a zero in our column if the Welsh were the same.

The breakdown battle will be interesting.  Joe has put a lot of emphasis in keeping the penalty count down so we'll have to find the right balance between staying competitive and being able to front up with the likes of Aaron Shingler and having Tipuric on the bench means it's going to be an eighty minute battle. 

Will Iain Henderson be missed?  Definitely a quality senior player and with all due respect to Quinn Roux I have a feeling James Ryan and Devin Toner may be slated for full shifts but both are well able for it and when it comes to lineouts we've shown enough variety in calls with O'Mahony, Stander, and even sometimes Conor Murray providing decent options.

So as you can probably tell I'm expecting this one to be closer than the bookies have it.  That said, while I talk about the Welsh having a plan to undermine us that's not to say it will be enough to counter whatever Joe & Johnny have in store.  The only thing I know for sure is that we won't be able to take our eyes off this one for a second.

I still think we'll finish on top, but it may take another rollercoaster ride of emotions up near the levels from Paris to get there.  I'm saying Ireland by 1 to 3.  Get yourself ready folks!  JLP

PS Great comeback by the Under 20s last night, unlucky to fall of luck to the Women on Sunday!

Wales : 15. Leigh Halfpenny 14 Liam Williams 13 Scott Williams 12 Hadleigh Parkes 11 Steff Evans 10 Dan Biggar 9 Gareth Davies
1 Rob Evans 2 Ken Owens 3 Samson Lee 4 Cory Hill 5 Alun Wyn Jones > CAPT 6 Aaron Shingler 7 Josh Navidi 8 Ross Moriarty
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee 17 Wyn Jones 18 Tomas Francis 19 Bradley Davies 20 Justin Tipuric 21 Aled Davies 22 Gareth Anscombe 23 George North.

Natwest Six Nations 2018 - Round 3
Saturday, February 17, 2018
KO 2:15pm
Aviva Stadium

Referee - Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant 1 - Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant 2 - Matthew Carley (England)
TMO - Rowan Kitt (England)

Preview : Leinster v Southern Kings

So if you're wondering what I'm doing this evening I'll be sitting in the press box at the RDS watching Leinster play Southern Kings live, with Ireland v Wales Under 20s on my laptop and France v Italy on my phone.  Munster v Glasgow will have to let me know what's happening by way of 'dings' from my Flashscore app.

I harp on European rugby's crazy calendar a lot I know, but when it gets this ridiculous I have no problem doing it again.  It's not just that there's too much good rugby on at the same time; even having them the same weekend makes it difficult for the hungry viewing public to keep up.  If you'll allow me to quote my own writeup from the last time Leinster played these same Southern Kings...
Do we get sellout crowds at Ireland's women's and Under-20 Six Nations matches when we schedule them on the same weekends as the senior men's team? ... There does exist a saturation point at which fans are prepared to part with not only their cash, but almost more importantly, their time.
Right enough about that - now to tonight's match at the RDS.  In recent weeks Italian clubs in the Pro14 have done really well - both won away last weekend while Treviso are on a five-game winning streak. Long may that continue [or at least until they both visit D4 in April] but we all remember when they along with the now-defunct Aironi were considered whipping boys of the league.

Even with that assumption, I always approached my previews to matches against them with caution for fear of tempting the rugby gods.  Such fear does not exist tonight.

When we played the Port Elizabeth-based franchise back in September it was just our third match of the season so their standing in the league was far from clear.  Now they have played fifteen times and their record speaks for itself....fifteen defeats, only twice have they come within seven points of their opponents and on average they concede a whopping forty points per match.

Nothing in sports is a done deal based on previous a Spurs fan who recently saw his team draw 2-2 with a recent Champions League finalist AND the bottom club in the third tier of English football withing a matter of days.  Yet for tonight's match, I have to say it's imperative that Leinster at least beat the bookies' spread of 35pts and actually I'd go as far as to say they should smash it, especially with so many proven try-scorers like Lowe, Daly and Deegan lining out.

Such a result is important because it will heap a mountain of pressure on the Scarlets who host Ulster tomorrow night ahead of our own trip to Llanelli next week, plus we need it ourselves after a bit of a shaky start to the Six Nations block, at least by the standards we had set ourselves in the season up to the end of January.

And do we have a lineup capable of posting such an eye-catching margin?  Well first look at who is playing centre.  It is with an almost perfect mixture of joy and trepidation that I see the names Nacewa and Ringrose on the team sheet.  Joy because they definitely need game time together ahead of Saracens and Garry may well not be available again before then.  The fear of course is that either may get injured so you can be sure as I'm indulging in my feast of rugby tonight I will have fingers, eyes and toes all crossed for them in particular.

But there's another interesting name in our backline tonight - Ciarán Frawley has impressed for Leinster A and in his senior debut last weekend he also acquitted himself well.  Now it goes to the next level, probably knowing all week he'll be wearing the ten jersey so we wish him all the best [as well as my personal apologies for heaping such pressure to produce a massive winning margin!].

In the pack, this week the Great Leinster Back Row One-Arm Bandit has thrown up a trio of Josh Murphy, Will Connors and Max Deegan.  Josh and Max have done extremely well with their senior pitch time this season and as for Will he was part of the pre-season team v Bath that inspired this from my writeup : 
...all I could see at every breakdown were blue jerseys adorned with 6, 7 or 8 heavily involved in all that was positive for Leinster.
One other name that I noticed when researching those past matches against English and South African opponents was Ed Byrne who impressed me both times AND had a good shift last weekend as well.  If he keeps going like that he might be better known than the comedian of the same name who once said 'Hey Alanis Morrissette - rain on your wedding day isn't ironic, that's just unfortunate!'

If I must put a number on a predicted winning margin for tonight, I'll say 36 to challenge the lads to at least beat the bookies' spread.  But I definitely want at least fifty on our side of the scoreboard - there, I said it.

Hope to see you there...I have a sneaky suspicion that a combination of all the other rugby plus the opposition could lead to Leinster's lowest ever RDS attendance tonight...why not play your part in proving me wrong???  JLP


Southern Kings : 15 Yaw Penxe, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Anthony Volmink
10 Martin Du Toit, 9 Rowan Gouws,
8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Eital Bredenkamp, 5 Arthur de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Substitutes: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Lindokuhle Welemu, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Juan-Philip Smith, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Jacques Nel

Guinness Pro14 2017/18 - Round 16
Friday, February 23, 2018
KO 7:35pm 
RDS Arena

Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
AR1: Rhys Thomas (WRU)
AR2: Ken Imbusch (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
TG4: 19:20
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