Monday, December 28, 2009

Leinster-15 Ulster-3

heaslip try

COLD TURKEY

Armed with all the usual seasonal puns for this post, and given our demolishing of the Scarlets, I was expecting this to be a Christmas cracker in which we’d knock the stuffing out of our visitors.  Instead we were served up something more resembling cold turkey.

Setanta’s commentators seemed to spot an entertaining quality in this contest from their booth that I just couldn’t see from my seat in the Grandstand.  I reckon the fact that the score at 45 minutes was the same as it was at fulltime says it all.

Of course it has to be said that Leinster will have an elephant in their room for the next few weeks with the crucial Heineken Cup pool match in Reading on the horizon, so despite the fact that we had our best lineup on the park while the northeners were without Ferris, Trimble, Wallace and for the first half Humphreys, there are blessings to be counted in four league points and no injuries.

In fact you have to wonder if the LettinOn Irish will take heart from Ulster’s performance.  They clearly came to Dublin with a mentality similar to Mick McCarthy’s Wolves when they played at Old Trafford a few weeks ago…and they very nearly earned themselves a bonus point for their defensive trouble.

Leinster’s success has been built around their prowess when their opponents have the ball…but it seems they struggle when opponents give them a taste of their own medicine.

The two tries we did get on the day needed strokes of luck and genius respectively for their execution…D’Arcy’s offload to Kearney was clearly forward for the first try, while Rob was clearly back to his high-kicking best as he caught his own Garryowen and quickly offloaded to Heaslip who steamed down the touchline to be able to give his Sheareresque salute before touching down.

But you can’t fault Cheika’s men for hanging in there in the Magners League…to be second at the halfway stage is just fine and with Connacht away on Saturday and current table-toppers Glasgow to follow, we’ll have every opportunity to improve on that before the bigger contests come around.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leinster-39 Scarlets-7

Rob-try-Scarlets-RDS-09

AWESOME v AWFUL

I can’t decide whether Leinster’s second bonus-point hammering of the Scarlets in as many weeks was a result of us being awesome or them being awful, so I guess I’ll have to go with a combination of both.

Sure, the visitors started brightly enough, yet despite being in our half for most of the first twenty minutes, they still found themselves ten-nil down.

And even though Rob Kearney had his worst outing at 15 this season, he still helped himself to two tries.

The backs got all the glory in the scoring department, with two more each from both Drico and Darce plus a post-interception sprint the length of the pitch for Shaggy.

As for detractors of Shaun Berne, well there were still some rumblings of discontent around where I was shivering/sitting in the new stand but the way I saw it, he had a big part to play in at least three of the seven tries and deserves as much credit for this outing as he did last week.

In fact there’s not much more you can say about this team performance in that they carried on where they left off at halftime in Parc y Scarlets, and got the job done.

Maybe the crucial difference between the two sides was the respective home support. Both squads had a few injuries, but Leinster were more than able to allow for them, and having full houses every week helps give you the financial clout to do it. Can’t say the same for the Welsh regions I’m afraid!

Out of respect to our vanquished opposition yesterday, I’ll keep this post short and include a picture from the one try they did score via Rhys Priestland, in the hope that they can bounce back and take some group points off the LettinOn Irish in the next round.

Anything to make our job easier at the Madjeski Stadium, where this Pool is bound to be decided.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scarlequins-7 Leinster-32

leinster_1542542c

PREPARE. BELIEVE. DELIVER. (Part II)

What a way to cap off a Grand Slam weekend by the four proud provinces of Ireland! But I’ll let bloggers from outside the Pale rave about their own results if you don’t mind…

Hmmm…Leinster win a crucial Heineken Cup contest in convincing fashion with an out-half who didn’t exactly have the fans’ full confidence. Don’t know about you, but I’m getting déjà vu from Croker in May!

That’s not the only reason I’m using the same heading for this post as I did for that momentus semifinal. For yet again we were treated to a performance which was clearly the culmination of a long process of preparation for which the bulk of the credit must go to head coach Michael Cheika.

After the Autumn International series everyone was ‘Sexton this’, ‘Sexton that’ and rightly so. He showed us what he could do in the green jersey against the world’s best, and it was awesome.

But then came the injury. Not too serious for Ireland’s sake, but at the time we Leinster fans were crestfallen because we thought we had no backup for our Heineken Cup double header with Kthlnethli.

Was there justification for our doubt? Sure there was. Shaun Berne had hardly set the world alight in either the Magners League OR the B&I Cup this season, so it seemed we had a gaping hole at a pivotal position.

What did Cheika do? First, he used the new “Top 4” system in the Magners League and sent a team of babies over to Newport. They got hockeyed, but his key players remained fit and we’re still well in contention when that competition reaches its business end.

Then it came time to announce the squad. We were all : “Who’s gonna be outhalf? Nacewa or Berne?” Debate was rife amongst the Babbling Brook forum, with the consensus seeming to be that while Isa would be better at the position, since he wasn’t much of a place kicker AND he was needed in the back three, we'd have to settle for Shaun.

Coach Cheika agreed with the choice of Number 10, but in his press conference, he not only spelled out different reasons, he made it clear to everyone…

The first person that I would have told that we were having a look (at Matt Giteau) was Shaun. He, like us, understands that the more quality players we have available the better chance we have of winning any game. So it's not just a matter of this week, there are other weeks to go after this. So if we take another injury in the backline - we're missing Luke Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton - you're starting to lose a good chunk in the backline. It's about having the playing resources for the big games, not for the development games when you try different things. These are games that we have to win.

So instead of letting the debate rage on before the makeup of the XV was formalized as would normally happen, he dealt with the Giteau thing AND publicly gave his replacement out-half his full backing.

From the kickoff at the Parc y Scarlets, the boys in blue showed that their gaffer’s confidence was more than justified. From Cian Healy at 1 to Rob Kearney at 15, the team produced a display that showed that even with no Sexton, no Jennings, no Fitzgerald (and of course no Elsom), we’re very much a force to be reckoned with in this tournament again.

And Berne himself was in my book every bit as impressive as Ronan O’Gara had been the night before.

What’s that? You don’t want read my descriptions of our four tries, you’d rather see them again yourself? No problem…just check these clips > Shaggy, Darce, Berne, SOB.

All clear evidence that the preparation had been spot-on, so full credit to the coaching staff. It’s clear the Aussie has this whole European rugby calendar with its long layoffs down to a T.

Not that this result means we’re a cert for the quarterfinals, by a long chalk. Having done the sums, I see that even if we get a maximum ten-point haul from our next two home matches in this Pool, chances are we’ll still be required to get a result at the Madjeski Stadium to finish top.

At least we know we’ve the right man at the helm to get us ready for the challenge.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

NG Dragons-30 Leinster-14


No disrespect to the Dragons, but it has to be said; on most rugby weekends Leinster’s loss in Newport would look a lot worse on paper than did Munster’s in Swansea to the Ospreys.

This week, however, there’s a levelling factor…the teams the two Irish provinces sent to Wales.

I sounded like an owl when I read Leinster’s team-sheet…after every name saying “Who?” but it was clear what Michael Cheika’s motives were – having lost Jonny Ten for the crucial home-and-away series with the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup, he saw the points at Rodney Parade as expendable so he could wrap the rest of his first team in several layers of cotton wool.

So there’s no real point in getting technical about the gaping holes in Leinster’s defence in the first half of this encounter…not only had they not played competitively together before, they are unlikely to do so again anytime soon, even for the ‘A’ side, so we can chalk this game in the ‘experience gained’ column and take refuge in that we’re the only Irish team in the top four so we can focus on the Heineken Cup knowing we still have some eggs in the Magners basket for later in the year.

Not a whole lot you can say about the actual performance of the lads…I sat through the whole thing and I think everyone made mistakes even the seniors like Jackman and O’Kelly, but at least they won the second half 8-6 I suppose!

But the eating that will prove this pudding that Cheika has created won’t come till next week when we see how our strong 1st XV perform at Parc y Scarlets. Should be quite the contest, and hopefully our weakness at backup outhalf won’t be cruelly exposed.

LEINSTER:
15: Niall Morris (Ian Madigan, 48)
14: David Kearney
13: Eoin O'Malley
12: Fergus McFadden
11: Simon Keogh
10: Ian McKinley (Michael Keating, 70)
9: Chris Keane (Paul O'Donohoe, 59)
1: Ronan McCormack (Mike Ross, 48)
2: Bernard Jackman CAPTAIN
3: CJ van der Linde (Ronan McCormack, 73)
4: Devin Toner
5: Malcolm O'Kelly (Trevor Hogan, 67)
6: Rhys Ruddock
7: Dominic Ryan (Paul Ryan, 56)
8: Stephen Keogh

REPLACEMENT NOT USED: Richardt Strauss

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ireland-15 South Africa-10

RK vs Boks


Original Video- More videos at TinyPic

In the above video file you’ll see the final episode of HarpinOnRugby – The Vidcast. Contained within will be my analysis of the South Africa game plus my reasons for wrapping up the show. Thanks again to everyone who tuned in (both of you haha) and hopefully normal blogging service will resume next weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ireland-41 Fiji-6

JonathanSextonIrelandVFiji

THE RISE OF JONNY TEN

During the week I heard Brian O'Driscoll being interviewed and he referred to his Leinster team-mate Jonathan Sexton as "Sexto" and I thought : "OK, hang on...we can't accept this as his nickname, can we?"

And surely it's not homophobic of hot-blooded male Leinster fans to be reluctant to use any derivative of his surname to refer to him as "sexy"?

So via Twitter I set about coming up with something we could call this guy to set him apart from his peers, for if this debut performance is anything to go by, he's gonna need one in the years to come, and since he seems to be a master of his chosen position and wouldn't really fit in anywhere else on the park, "Jonny Ten" would seem to be the way to go.

Now before we all get TOO caught up in the hysteria and arrive at Declan Kidney's door DEMANDING the St Mary's lad start against the Springboks next week, I think we need to look at a few facts.

First, we must remember how much we should respect Kidney's ability to use his squad wisely. The trophies in his cupboard will more than attest to that.

Then, we must remember the wiggle room he has before basing too much faith in JT on this one performance. Don't forget...he was in very familiar surroundings with his Leinster buddies all around him not to mention it being in the RDS.

And finally, we must remember O'Gara's vast experience in "cup final" matches, which next weekend's clash with the Springboks certainly is. With Jonny Ten snapping at his heels for his jersey, it can only give him extra incentive, which can only be good for the squad.

Another reason I feel Kidney is going to plump for the Munster man is that D'Arcy didn't exactly have his finest outing in a green jersey at the RDS, which probably means that Paddy Wallace will wear 12 at Croker, which in turn would have the coach wanting Ronan passing it to him as he has done since their junior international days.

So let's not get TOO hysterical about Jonny Ten just yet, ok? Let's back the boys in green as they have a wonderful chance to go the entire calendar year unbeaten unlike any other major rugby nation.

But it certainly WAS a five-star debut for the lad, there's no denying it. Had a feeling he would've made kicks blindfolded from out on Anglesea Road, he was that good!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ireland-20 Australia-20

[Update Nov 13, 2013] Archive time here on HoR…the last time the Wallabies played Dublin was our first full post-Grand Slam outing.  This was the only rugby match Ireland failed to win in 2009, and it was also Cian Healy’s debut.  Australia went on to lose 8-9 in Murrayfield the following weekend.

BOI SME comp

RUST ISSUES

Is it really enough that we drew at Croke Park yesterday?

Is it really enough to use the excuse that we were “rusty”?

This was a match played in early November…can we use the same excuse when our first World Cup match kicks off on September 11, 2011 against (probably) Eddie O’Sullivan’s USA?

Of COURSE I was over the moon when Drico touched down under the posts to virtually guarantee a draw from this contest. But that can’t mean I can just forget what had gone before and not mention it.

And here’s the irony…when I’m writing posts like this I’m often giving out that we played it safe when we could have been adventurous. Well at the risk of being accused of never being happy, I think the opposite applied yesterday.

There’s a time and a place for adventure, and that time presented itself when we fell behind by seven points against the Wallabies. That time was NOT after winning our own lineout right outside our own 22 running the risk of putting the ball in a place where it could be intercepted.

That was an unnecessary gamble that had us seven points behind before we could have even gotten into our stride.

From there we steadied the ship somewhat and got the score to 6-10, and we’re awarded a penalty in front on the posts.

Again, not the time for a hopeful kick to Tommy Bowe, ROG! Take the easy three, get to within a point.

I calculate that those two decisions were crucial and resulted in a ten-point swing against us which if avoided could have us celebrating a victory today.

So let’s say that if anything was rusty on the day, it was our decision-making.

Now…to the good stuff. The Wallaby pack began strongly, but with no changes to our front five we were able to claw them back enough to be able to secure the ball which led to the equalising score at the death.

Of course nobody in said front five stood out more than the debutante, the magnificent Cian Healy.

And the Wallabies can’t use the excuse that they didn’t know the playbook on him, since their captain spent a good portion of last season with his face very close to the Clontarf-born prop’s backside in the Leinster scrum!!!

Also there was much to applaud in the back line, with even Paddy Wallace catching my attention for once.

Overall it was a good way to kick off the international season for Declan Kidney’s men, and although it could be better, I didn’t see too much that makes me doubt they’ll be ready to defend their Grand Slam title in the new year. JLP

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Leinster-23 Cardiff Blues-6

Horgan-group-celebrate

SHAGADELIC

This match was a battle between one team who wanted to entertain and one that wanted to thwart, and since the home side failed to get the bonus point I suppose you could say the latter came out on top.

Though as hard as I find it to understand, there’s actually a thread over on Babbling Brook which suggests Leinster were wrong to go on the attack so early in the contest, one poster even suggesting that it was their determination to go for the bonus point that ultimately cost them one.

What absolute, utter, complete bollocks. These detractors clearly went to the Eamonn Dunphy School of Punditry, where to get your diploma you have to find as many clouds in you can in some silver lining.

Leinster Rugby had been plugging this match for weeks, as the “Halloween Thriller”, no less. Clearly it was an attempt to swell the crowd by using the fact that the game fell on Halloween night. Fans were encouraged to come in fancy dress, and there was other entertainment billed for the night.

And since it was all over the papers that Warren Gatland insisted the Welsh internationals stayed at home, plus the fact that Leinster had one of their strongest starting XVs of the season so far taking the field, why on earth WOULDN’T they try to give the crowd their money’s worth?

We had two penalty chances in the first few minutes that Johnny Sexton could have gotten in his sleep, but instead we kicked for touch and went for the try. Apparently the fact that we didn’t get them proves we should never have gone for them? I respectfully disagree.

Sure, Cardiff weren’t at full strength, but it was hardly a schoolboy XV they had on the park. They were still full-time professionals, and their goal was clearly damage limitation. They took every opportunity to eat up some clock, most notably deep in second half when we had some momentum and they chose to substitute their left winger Chris Czekaj who was furthest from the touchline.

They lined up in such a way that it made them hard to break down, and though the destination of the four points was rarely in doubt, they at least succeeded in preventing us getting the fifth, and they deserve credit for that.

But credit must also go to the home side, not only for their early statement of intent, but also their opening try by Shane “Shaggy” Horgan. I think my message to twitter right after it claimed it wasn’t merely “champagne rugby” it was Dom Perignon! Have a look at the YouTube clip of the sweeping move from one end of the field to the other yourself if you don’t believe me.

So at least the Halloween crowd was treated to a moment of rugby greatness, and my son for one thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of the RDS and is hungry for more.

And with results elsewhere going perfectly for us, we are left top of the Magners League going into the Autumn Internationals, and surely even the Babbling Brook boo-boys can’t find a way to moan about that!!!

Back to Sexton, who yet again was my man of the match, I repeat my call for him to be given the Number 10 jersey for the internationals against Australia and Fiji. We’ll see if Mr Kidney will answer the call.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ulster-16 Leinster-14

09102401

SHOWING US WHO’S BOSS

Maybe it was karma because I slagged Isaac Boss’ hair-do in the vidcast.

Maybe it was that the players were distracted by Cheika’s hands-on involvement in objecting to the Jennings rulings.

Maybe it was the fact that we chose not to have Jonny Sexton on the park when we needed a reliable placekicker.

But all of those reasons do Ulster a major dis-service, since the fact remains that both teams have to play the conditions at kickoff and to put it quite simply the home side made a lot more use of possession when they had it and thoroughly deserved their victory.

And it doesn’t hurt Irish rugby either that they sit atop the Magners League for a while since fans to the east and south of the island tend to think it’s all about them these days anyway.

Of course I’m not happy with the defeat, and if we play like this when we have the ball for the rest of the season results like this will keep happening, but I think we can call this a blip and hopefully we can put things right before the Cardiff Blues come to town next Saturday and we can go into the Autumn International break on a high-note, and who knows…maybe Munster can do us a favour and find their form to beat the Ulstermen and help us back to the summit in the process.

Not much more I can say about this match, except that on the evidence of their displays I’m wondering if we’re wasting two valuable NIQ berths having Messrs Berne and van der Linde in the squad. Perhaps I’m being hard on the latter on account of his injury woes but the jury is still out on him in my book.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brive-13 Leinster-36

0002ae77-642

NOT QUITE GOODE ENOUGH

Can you guess who I’m referring to with my title?

Could it be the home side, particularly perennial bad-boy Andy Goode?

Or could it be Leinster themselves, not getting the bonus point?

Or maybe it’s George Hook, who still seems to think Ronan O’Gara is the front-runner for the Ireland number 10 jersey?

In actual fact it’s directed at Welsh referee James Jones. Since he went to so much trouble to make sure we heard his voice throughout the 80 minutes of this match, I’d like to make this post all about him.

Here’s a breakdown (pun fully intended) of the the game, with particular attention to the numerous Brive penalty infractions last Saturday.

4:42 not rolling away

7:39 off feet after the tackle

19:40 in at the side of the ruck

22:30 front row violation

32:00 not releasing after tackle

34:03 tackling man without the ball

38:47 not rolling away

40:22 in at the side of the ruck

41:18 in at the side of the ruck…HERE is where Mr Jones chooses to mention to the Brive players that perhaps they're thwarting their visiotrs a bit more than they should.

46:02 front row violation…this time Mr Jones is very keen to give Yashvilli the opportunity to stay on the pitch. Those were his actual words!!!

48:22 Hi tackle from Nacewa is definite penalty but 50/50 yellow card at best and despite he constant refusal to go to his pocket for everything gone before, Jones takes the linesman’s advice (remember, he doesn’t have to) and makes Isa take a seat for 10mins.

51:14 yet another front row violation from Brive…THIS time, Jones decides to give another talking to. Why? Cos it’s not Yashvilli this time. We are beyond the realms of bullshit at this stage.

57:01 you guessed it, YET ANOTHER scrum violation from the home side.

71:00 having scored a second try and JUST enough time left for two more, yet another Brive infraction in our 22 gives us a penalty but Jones denies Sexton the quick tap and he must burn up time by kicking for touch.

73:00 Brive get a penalty in their own 22 and, yes, Jones lets them take a quick tap.

79:00 Andy “Up To No” Goode sees a banana boot at the base of a ruck, slowly grinds his studs down into the leg that wears them, BOD takes exception to this and though we get penalty, all Goode gets is a talking to. I suppose after all that went (or should I say didn’t go) before it would’ve been a poetic injustice for a card to be produced then.

It can be safely said that Brive were so poor and our backline looked so up for this game that had we been afforded a 10-minute spell with an extra man in the first half, a bonus point haul was well within our grasp. And it doesn’t help the games credibility that the nationality of the ref who was partly responsible for this was the same as a team which benefits from this failure.

As for our individual performances on the day, there were many good ones, particularly Sexton, who was not only flawless from the kicking tee yet again, but also showed great awareness on the field, and surely in my opinion MUST be handed the Ireland jersey against both Australia AND Fiji in November.

On the down side, well, Shaggy has had better days, and as for Malcom O’Kelly, well, I took a lot of stick on the Babbling Brook forum for suggesting he be made captain if Cullen couldn’t play, and now I know just how wrong I was. He should drop in the 2nd row pecking order behind Toner after yet more acts of carelessness.

But all in all we would’ve taken four points from the French trip before kickoff, and with the Scarlets showing that the LettinOn Irish can be beaten at home, it throws this Pool wide open and gives us every opportunity to seize control again with home-and-away matches against Llanelli in December.

Why do I have a feeling, however, that the refs for both those games will be English?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leinster-9 LettinOn Irish-12

Nacewa-Hodgson

SILENCED BY THE LAMB

This match was decided by two moments of questionable interpretation right at the death.

First, the referee ruled that there was no high tackle on Jonny Sexton. Then, Eoin Reddan thought he had one arm raised instead of two and chipped a through ball assuming we’d still have the chance to kick the equalising 3-pointer, but instead he was kicking away valuable group points.

Let’s have a look at the high tackle. Of COURSE I thought it was a foul, but don't take my word for it...let’s look at the reaction of Mr Stuart Barnes in the Sky commentary box. Right after the tackle he let out a “WHOAAA!” but once it was clear the ref wasn’t giving it, he kept his gob shut and the incident wasn't even so much as mentioned until the players had left the pitch.

My interpretation of all that? They’ve thought “Lads, we’ve gotten away with one here, better say nothing though so we’re sure to get out of here alive!!!”

But once we accept that the ref had made up his mind, what then followed has to be Reddan’s bad. Hoards of Munster fans sprung to Ronan O’Gara’s defence at the end of the 2nd Lions test over the summer after his last minute howler, and in a way I’m glad it’s a Leinster boy this time so I can make my point.

Surely what separates the good from the great in ANY professional sport is how they deal with pressure in a tight game right at the death? It’s at times like these when training ground routines are forgotten, when all the chalkboards in the world can’t prepare you for the situation at hand.

ROG should have enough experience to have kept his head at a time when giving away a penalty was the last thing his team needed. By the same token, Reddan shouldn’t have chipped the ball through unless he was ABSOLUTELY certain there was a penalty coming for his team.

Of course, there was the small matter of 79 minutes of action before that last gasp drama.

At the kickoff, we charged right down to their line and got a deserved 3-point lead. Then shortly after that, we got similar good possession yet Sexton fancied himself for a Murrayfield-esque drop goal when no doubt the smarter move would have been to send it out the line again and keep the visitors on the back foot.

I feel this error of judgement by Sexton allowed the LettinOn Irish to regroup and start into their gameplan, which turned out to be both well prepared and well executed.

We’ve heard this expression several times about another province, but in this case, the Irish definitely “out-Leinstered Leinster”.

They absolutely OWNED the lineout, thanks mainly to Messrs Casey and Kennedy, and they had a lions share of the breakdown as well. Clearly their mission was to keep things tight, and as good as we are at doing that to others, we didn’t look so hot when the boot was on the other foot.

And of course you can’t fail to mention the two impressive pressure kicks from Ryan Lamb which ultimately won the contest on the scoreboard, so don’t get me wrong…I am well aware that they thoroughly deserved to go back to London-sorry, I mean Reading-with something, it’s just that in this Leinster fan’s opinion, if the ref were different or Eoin Reddan had gone to SpecSavers, the result could have been oh so different.

What now for our Heineken Cup campaign? We now need at least ten group points from our three away matches, that’s what, starting with a trip to the south of France next Saturday, which is never easy.

Still, if there was a squad of players in this tournament you’d back to pull off something like that, you wouldn’t look much further than Michael Cheika’s, so rule us out at your peril.

Elsewhere in the competition…

Talking about keeping your head in last-gasp situations…it’s the last minute and you need a try to get a result. You have a penalty under the opposition’s posts. What do you do? Oh – wait – I forgot one crucial bit of info…YOU’RE MUNSTER. What do you do? Well, I would’ve said “take the scrum” but instead they ran it and the Saints’ defence held out for a famous victory.

Our nemesis did get a Heineken Cup break this weekend, with the improbable result from Treviso where the home side overcame Perpignan 9-8.

Congrats also to both Ulster and Connacht for fine opening round European victories.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Leinster-30 Munster-0

BLUE MAGIC

The hangover’s gone, the head is now clear, and, well, fancy that…the scoreline’s still the same!!!

And although we couldn’t get the fourth try, we still got a bonus in that the Hairsprays managed to overcome Edinburgh to leave us sitting proudly atop the Magners League going into the first break for Heineken Cup action.

Superlatives which befit this Leinster performance are hard to come by. I’m not sure if many international teams would have been able to break through our defence the way they played, and the big difference on the night was that going forward, things are beginning to click as well.

Remember folks…this was MUNSTER we beat. All due respect to the following teams I’m about to mention, but these weren’t Connacht, they weren’t the Dragons, they weren’t Calvisano. These were the guys whose fans once called us the “Ladyboys”.

Well I sincerely home that moniker is put to bed once and for all, for if we’re ladyboys, what does that make a team which hasn’t crossed our line for 166 minutes of rugby? (Fogarty got one in 74th min back on April 5).

And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d be able to write…WE OWNED THEM IN THE FORWARDS. Even when their strong bench took the field. Be it the scrum, be it the rolling maul, be it the line out, be it turning the ball over in the ruck, we were a step ahead of them at every turn.

Now...on the subject of John Hayes...yes, Cian Healy was making mischief at the base of the maul but in NO WAY was Ireland's highest-capped player justified in what he did in return. And just what the hell do phrases like "Oh, that's not like him" and "It's not in his character" have to do with anything???? The same was said of Alan Quinlan at Croke Park.

All I can say is...if we're getting the Munster boys to do things like that out of what is clearly sheer frustration, we must be doing something right.

Back to actual rugby matters, there was also the tackling. The marker was laid down in the first few minutes when Jean de Villiers made his first attempt to crash through and instead was sent crashing to the turf by Jamie Heaslip. And it didn’t let up, right to the 80th minute, with Nacewa stopping Williams in his tracks one of many big hits by the men in blue.

Going into last night’s encounter, the LettinOn Irish were clear favourites for our big Heineken Cup showdown next Friday. Once the final whistle blew, it was a whole different story. If we can play like this, we can beat anybody, and that’s a cast iron fact.

Happiest man in world rugby right now has to be Michael Cheika, who will be more than willing to put up with the headaches he’s bound to have to get the right 22 for the RDS.

Hopefully the Leinster faithful will be equally chuffed come fulltime on Friday.

Congratulations again lads, that night alone made the purchase of the season ticket worthwhile. JLP

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Edinburgh-22 19 Leinster-21


I don't have a whole lot of time for blogging and vidcasting and what-not this weekend so you'll see what I have to say about this performance in Episode 5 Part 2 of the Vidcast which you'll find here if it's not there in the top corner of this page anymore.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ospreys-11 Leinster-18

00029b3b-642


Not often does one picture perfectly sum up how a sporting contest went, so take in the one above from rte.ie because it does just that.

In it you see one of the Ospreys’ several Lions on display, James Hook, trying to break through the Leinster line, only to be thwarted by Messrs D’Arcy & Jennings.

One thing you don’t see in the picture is bums on seats in the stadium. And this was taken before the home “faithful” headed towards the exit with their team only seven points down and plenty of time to score a try.

This performance by the Welsh region, who don’t forget have won this league twice not to mention the Anglo-Welsh Cup once in the past, was so poor, so one-dimensional, that I had to check the internet afterwards to make sure Eddie O’Sullivan hadn’t been drafted onto their coaching staff.

In fact it can safely be said that if Leinster had made even half the mistakes they did on the night (eg Sexton, O’Kelly knockons, Kearney offside ahead of the kicker to name but a few) then I’d be reporting on a cricket score right now and we’d have come away from the Liberty Stadium with a bonus point victory no question.

But I’m not writing this post to rue missed chances. I’d have taken your arm off if you had offered me this scoreline before kickoff in Swansea, so overall I’m more than happy.

Setanta’s so-called “experts” gave the man-of-the-match award to Sexton, but this was an extremely lazy decision if you ask me. Sure, he nailed five kicks, some of them from tough angles and all of them under pressure from the very low yet very unsportingly vocal Osprey crowd.

The TV panel also decried our taking of a drop goal when we did. Were they not watching the same match as I was? We'd been on their line several times to no avail - and that was the one time we needed points on the board. Nacewa was absolutely spot-on in both decision and execution in my book.

But the key to this victory was defence. There wasn’t a single point racked up by the home side that we didn’t gift them, and when we focused on getting men behind the ball, it was the first time this season I was reminded of the stingy defensive Leinster which did so well towards the end of the last one.

In case you don’t recall I call it “The Gandalf defence” as it sends out the clear message : “You shall not pass!!!”

It appears that despite the conspicuous absence of Elsom and Heaslip, we had a 6,7,8 combo on the field who were more than capable of competing in this league’s standard and higher, and it would be from here that I’d take our man-of-the-match, with perhaps Jennings getting the nod even if there were question marks over his captaincy towards the end.

It got to the stage where although I was afraid to say it out loud for fear of cursing the lads, with fifteen minutes to go I was pretty much certain there was no way they were crossing our line.

And considering they finished up with such names as Wyn-Jones, Phillips, Byrne and Williams on the park, all we Leinster fans can hope for is that our own stars aren’t as slow kicking off their season when they (surely!!!) return to the side for the big clash with 100% Edinburgh next weekend.

Meanwhile, having seen similar swathes of empty seats at the Dragons and Scarlets this season, it has to be said something is seriously wrong with Welsh rugby right now. JLP

Monday, September 14, 2009

Leinster-23 NG Dragons-14

nacewa v dragons

AMATEUR HOUR

I had a great time on Saturday night at Leinster’s competitive home opener, that’s for sure, but in my book the only thing about the occasion which could be considered “top flight” was the attendance, which was the largest of the 10 Magners League games so far this season.

The officiating, for starters, was abysmal.  Forward passes missed, the ref getting buried by a lineout, a clearance kick claimed not to have been taken from inside 22 when it clearly was, and finally the Dragons try being scored after a blatant obstruction of Gordon D’Arcy.

Then there was the poor judgement of the visiting side.  Down by six and with the clock having run down, they had a penalty in their own 22 and merely had to put the ball out of play to secure a bonus point at the home of the European Champions, yet they seemed to think they were somehow capable of scoring a try against one of the continent’s stingiest defences and it ending up sending them home with nothing thanks to Berne’s drop goal.

Even Setanta were screwing up, as I discovered on re-watching the game the following day.  Their clock said only 78 minutes had elapsed when the referee blew for full time, and their commentator was getting player’s names wrong all over the place.

Add to all that the absence of most of Leinster’s vast Lions contingent and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was nothing more than a glorified AIB League matchup.

The one touch of class on the night came immediately after D’Arcy’s introduction, and that really says it all.  First play after he came on, he joined the line from the left wing and his quick pass to Nacewa allowed him to crash over for the score.

Not to say that there weren’t impressive displays about the park by the Leinster men.  It is quite clear that we have an abundance of riches in our squad, particularly in the key positions from 6 through 10.  Sean O’Brien earned his man-of-the-match accolade in the number 8 jersey, while Chris Keane had another impressive outing at scrum half.

One or two concerns I have in the backs…though both Nacewa and McFadden did well I’m concerned that their crash style is a bit too one-dimensional and could be easily thwarted by top Heineken Cup opposition.

And although he’s a cult hero and seems to give his best, I have to be honest and say I’m not a Shaggy fan anymore, at least not as a winger – he’s built more like a flanker if you ask me and I can’t help feeling we’d fare better with someone younger and pacier out there.

But a win is a win I suppose, though there’s little doubt in my mind that if we’d had our best team out in both our matches so far we’d have 10 points in the standings going into two tricky trips to Swansea and Edinburgh.

I just hope that when the Oct3 clash with the Munsters comes around, I’ll be treated to an evening of professional rugby which the price of my season ticket demands.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Scarlets-18 Leinster-16

Kevin-Scarlets

ONE POINT CLEAR OF THE MUNSTERS ALREADY!!!

I think this weekend has woken Irish rugby fans to a new reality…our provinces AREN’T going to win every game they play after all.

Last season, I tended to criticise Leinster even when they had won a game so I think it’s high time I found a silver lining in a defeat, and this match gives me the perfect opportunity.

And I don’t need to “harp on” about the fact that our Lions players were missing either.

There were 3 keys to this defeat. One was the sending off of Thomas that never was. Another was Stan Wright’s inexcusable yellow card when we had a two-man advantage. Finally we had Fogarty’s dire lineout throwing in the second half.

Even with all of that, given a different rub of the green both Nacewa and Jennings would have had tries and I’d be writing about a victory and who knows even a bonus point in this column.

So how about I focus on the many positives to be taken from this display?

In the forwards, Kevin McLaughlin was clearly pumped up by wearing the Leinster number 6 jersey, and from the very first minute made you wonder if Rocky had left some his mojo behind as a parting gift.

Cian Healy seems to have toned down his disciplinary issues and was a powerhouse in the front row which surely must attract Declan Kidney’s attention.

But it was in the backline where I was most impressed.

Chris Keane barely put a foot wrong at 9, and showed that we have an embarrassment of riches there since with Reddan out I personally would have handed the start to Paul O’Donoghue.

Johnny Sexton was the man I was looking for to lead the line, and with 4 kicks outta 4, kicking in play that needs fine tuning but was stilll good and can only get better, and good aggression in the tackle, he didn’t disappoint me at all.

Shaune Berne was solid at 12, but what about Fergus McFadden alongside him? How many times did he carry the ball into a tackle only to pump his legs for another 2-3 meters? You have to ask yourself if there’s a way you can drop him when Messrs O’Driscoll and D’Arcy come back!!!

And finally Isa Nacewa was mercurial under the high ball, so much so you’d swear he had a 15 on his back.

Altogether the backs looked like they had a few early season cobwebs, but you could tell that once they’re gone they’ll raise hell for opposing defences in the weeks to come.

So as you can see, I’m not too put out by this result. We need the Magners League to be competitive, so at the start of a new season you can’t expect to go on the road for your opener and take easy points.

I didn’t see a single thing in this match that told me we won’t be more than capable of stuffing this lot in both our clashes in December.

Roll-on the RDS next Saturday!!!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Glasgow-22 Munster-9

dan parks v munster

With my Leinster still to play their season opener also on the road, it would be silly of me to gloat too much over this result.

Besides, as you will see from my rant in Episode 2 of the vidcast, it’s hard to pass too much judgement over games like this when teams are missing so many star players.  Let’s face it…Irish provinces lost a lot more players to the Lions squad than the Scottish ones…

Still, this match was disappointing for several reasons.  First and foremost was the attendance.  Home opener and the Warriors, one of only two professional clubs in Scotland, can’t even fill the main grandstand?  Whatever the reason, that’s a poor show in my view.

The team, on the other hand, were impressive, particularly when it came to goal-line defence, and they were tested from the very first minute, and did well to keep the visiting Champions scoreless throughout.

For their part, the Munsters were strangely off their game, because surely when your opposition has a kicker of the calibre of Dan Parks the last thing you want to do is concede senseless penalties, but that’s what they did.

The one try was a combined effort between Messrs Ronan and Murphy not to tackle Morrison which afforded him a linebreak which led to Jackson crossing.  But overall it was no more than the home side deserved.  At least have a dozen times the vistors brought their Liverpool-style kit into the Glasgow 22 and each time they were prevented from touching down.

I think this Leinster fan needs to be gracious and mark this down as a blip.

Roll on 6:30pm tonight.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wallabies-25 Springboks-32

fourie vs aus

GIFT WRAPPED

I’m beginning to feel like I’m the kid in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” who actually points out he’s parading around in the nip.

All the headlines this morning talk about these “Unstoppable” Springboks and maybe I don’t know all THAT much about southern hemisphere rugby, but based on what I’ve seen this summer from down there, I just don’t see it.

Of course they outplayed the Lions and they’re four outta four in the Tri Nations with the trophy within their grasp, and you can’t blame them if their opponents keep handing them matches with poor preparation and seemingly unlimited unforced errors.

What we need to see is for them to come up against a side with a canny tactician at the helm, one who is well used to inspiring his charges to get the job done on the day.

I feel Smit & co will face just that very test on November 28 at Croke Park when they come up against Declan Kidney’s Ireland. What a marquee match up that will be. Grand Slam 6 Nations Champs against the (possibly also Grand Slam) Tri Nations Champs. THEN we’ll see just how good the Bokke really are.

If ever there was an indication that a home side was poorly prepared, we had it at the Subiaco Oval yesterday when not only did Richard Brown prove to be the wrong choice of kickoff receiver, but the Wallabies let through two absolutely unforgivable tries within the first ten minutes at home.

The third Springbok try, although created by du Preez’ high bomb of a kick, was a tad fortunate since even if Habana may not be at his World-Player-of-the-Year best, you wouldn’t bet against him to finish when it literally falls into his lap like that. And as for his second touch-down which sealed the bonus point, well, yet again the Boks backline were handed a gap you could drive a Sherman tank through.

I ask you…how many times did the commentators use the phrase “Australia lose the ball going forward”? If it wasn’t a knock-on it was a forward pass or even more senseless illegal play at the breakdown.

And as for the line-outs…well their plan to take quick throws to prevent the visitors spoiling them was all well and good, but that only works if you can guarantee your hooker will deliver a perfect toss every time.

The final score says it all. Despite all their errors, despite all their clear lack of the right kind of preparation, the Aussies STILL got close enough to snag the bonus point.

Maybe Deans should start next week with the same team that finished this one, but whatever he does, he needs to get his players’ heads to a place where they can withstand what we all know the visitors will throw at them and keep next weekend’s game close early on, or it will be déja-vu all over the place in Brisbane.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Leinster-8 LettinOn Irish-24

nacewa v irish

EDINBURGH HANGOVER?

God love me, I actually went and published Episode 1 of my vidcast tonight!!!

The one thing that it does to this blog is that it sets me up to repeat myself as I do a post on Leinster’s matches having already given my views on the vidcast.

So now you know what I thought of Leinster’s performance and why I call the visitors the LettinOn Irish, what more can I say?

Well, despite the result it was an enjoyable evening, and fair play to the visitors for sending such a strong squad…I seem to remember this time last year the corresponding match was against the Queensland Reds’ 4th string Junior Academy 3rd XV…and as always it brought back memories (most of them pleasant) of my days as a Blackrock College schoolboy cheering the Rock Senior Cup Team to one of their twenty million Leinster Senior Schools Cup truimphs.

Next week, it’s for real and we play the Scarlets who of course hail from Llanelli, a word that’s much more enjoyable to write than to say, but more of that in Episode 2 of the vidcast…

Sunday, July 05, 2009

LIONS-28 Springboks-9

3rd test

PRIDE OVER JUSTICE

You know, it’s really hard to play rugby when you have a bee in your scrum cap.

Justice my arse!!! How could they even consider going on their little crusade when the IRB virtually legitimized their eye-gouging???

I mean, I was more than happy to put all that behind me until I saw their pathetic little armband protest, and while before the game I would have had at least a measure of respect for the home side had they completed the whitewash, by kickoff I was praying the tourists could come out on top.

And weren’t they just three of the best tries you’ll ever see in a Test match?

One player I was looking for from a performance standpoint on the day was Jamie Heaslip, since he had been relatively quiet in the first two games, possibly overshadowed by his gargantuan opposite number Pierre Spies (who, by the way, also had a hand in Burger’s misdemeanour, check out the evidence…).

The Leinster Number 8 certainly didn’t let me down, and while predictably the Sky Sports commentators were wetting themselves over the fact that Shane Williams scored the first try, they conveniently ignored the fact that it was Heaslip who made the break and slipped an unbelievable offload into the Welshman’s arms.

And apart from conceding the odd unnecessary penalty, the Newbridge lad was impressive all over the park, no more so than when he went down in a tackle in the second half then got into what can only be described as a “crab position” and scooted along for another ten meters!!!

But if his offload for the first try was “unbelievable”, then the English language doesn’t have a word for Riki Flutey’s shortly afterwards. He was always something of a misfit on this tour, wasn’t he? Everyone’s favourite for the 12 jumper before the squad headed south, a combination of injury and Roberts’ sparkling form sent him tumbling down the pecking order.

Though I was annoyed D’Arcy didn’t make the 22, in some ways it was fitting for Flutey to at least have some part in the series’ highlight reel and his lightning quick hands certainly earned him that. Again S Williams got the touchdown, but again it was a gift.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the “Monye-mental” third try which sealed the deal. Messrs Harrison & Barnes called it “vindication”. I call it opportunism. If this guy is going to score a memorable try for you, this is about the only way he’ll do it. Snag an interception and fire up the rockets. “There’ll be no catching him”, I said as soon I realised there was no infringement. I’m sorry, but I still don’t rate the guy any higher than Premiership standard.

Which leads me to the burning question – who was my player of the series? Well, my heart of course has to go with Rob Kearney, who at least emulated if not surpassed his achievements from Pretoria yesterday. But since he wasn’t picked to start in the first Test, if I was forced to go with someone who began all three, I would have to go with Mike Phillips.

He’s not the world’s most technically gifted scrum-half by any means, but in a Test series like this one where the opponents were going to be physical, he was certainly the right man for the job, as you can see from the above pic. I know I’ll be accused of donning my Leinster cap when I say this, but I honestly don’t think an O’Leary/O’Gara half-back line would have done any better than the two Welshmen did over the three matches.

Plus the Ospreys No 9 was able to spurn the amorous advances of Bakkies Botha who seemingly was hypnotized by his “sexy blue eyes”. That surely must have been tough for him to ignore, so I’ll give him the nod, if for no other reason than to avoid being considered a “one-eyed Irishman”!!!

So that’s it, the series and the tour is over for another four years. FINALLY we can bring the curtain down on the Northern Hemisphere’s season, and thank God it ended on a high note so we won’t be subjected to Sky’s doom and gloom which was trying to make us over on this side of the Irish Sea forget all the amazing things that happened this year.

We also mustn't forget that although South Africa won the series when it came to actual match victories, we can at least claim SOME bragging rights in that we scored more points, more tries, AND had fewer players banned, so THERE!!!

And with the Geech announcing this tour as his swansong, I'd say few could argue if I put the name Declan Kidney forward as presumptive coach of the 2013 tour Down Under...

Though as we all know, from a world standpoint, the rugby season NEVER actually ends, and in just two weeks the Tri-Nations kicks off in Auckland with the first Bledisloe Cup encounter. In previous years I have cheered for the Saffers in this tournament…I think it’s high time I switched allegiance to the Wallabies. That’s what I call justice ;-)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Springboks-28 LIONS-25

Fordham logo

DEAR OH DEAR OH DEAR

It would be very easy for a Leinster blogger to blame Ronan O’Gara for this loss, wouldn’t it?

Well, the facts are there…the score was tied 25-25, and if he had only allowed du Preez to try and catch the ball unimpeded, the chances are the Springboks wouldn’t have been able to get close enough for an easy drop goal in the remaining 90 seconds. But he didn’t.

So we’ve established that ultimately his boo-boo caused the defeat, and as you can see by the pic above, he knows all about it himself.

But let’s look at what else went against us on the day, for we surely can’t point the finger at ROG for the fact that we let a 19-8 advantage slip in the last 20 minutes.

For the entire week between the First and Second Tests, debate was raging about what went wrong and how we should fix it, and the general consensus was simple – fix the front row, and with a tighter more disciplined scrum, we could surely count on our backs to score some points, particularly our powerful centre duo of BOD and Roberts.

So what happens? First, just 5 mins into the second period, we lose BOTH props to injury. And then the killer blow – BOD and Roberts BOTH succumb to injury within a matter of minutes.

And the Lions are left with a completely patchwork formation to try and hold the lead going into the last quarter, as if dealing with the altitude wasn’t going to be enough for them anyway.

O’Gara was actually playing centre. Ronan O’Gara. Centre. Not his fault he was there, but he was there. And what’s more, he had been flat on his back moments Fourie scored his try towards the end so was hardly in a position to make a tackle. So even with a makeshift defence virtually minus a centre, it took an incredible outstretched touchdown right in the corner coupled with an out-of-this world place kick to drag the home side back into this match.

My point is, there’s plenty of reasons for the Lions to feel proud about their display on the day, and I’d better not hear anyone trying to dampen the Irish contribution because despite the slip at the end there was plenty for us to shout about.

Most of all, what about Rob Kearney? Bloody hell, he’d have caught the damn ball if it was on fire and STILL ran for ten/twenty metres afterwards! Not to mention the strength he showed in crossing for our only try! It was a full-back’s performance that had us going “Who was wearing number 15 last week again?” The only reason we didn’t hear so much from him in the second half was that the Boks finally worked out that kicking to him wasn’t such a good idea.

And spare a thought as well for Paul O’Connell. “Was he playing?” you may ask. Well he most certainly was, and Sky’s commentators didn’t give him a single iota of credit for the hard work he was doing. He had clearly made up his mind to forget the ball and police the breakdown himself, making sure South African hands weren’t doing anything they shouldn’t.

Not that he could have stopped Burger’s “cite for sore eyes” on Luke Fitzgerald in the first minute. Should it have been a sending-off? If the ref had the benefit of a replay, absolutely.  I’d even consider throwing the book at Pierre Spies because it looks like he’s holding Luke’s hand down while it’s happening.  Just what is it about these tours and incidents like this from the home side?

So that’s it, folks. Another defeat for this composite touring side, and I wonder what that means for the future of these occasions.

Just one thing I ask of the press coverage of the Lions between now and next week … PLEASE don’t give in to the temptation to use the worn-out pun “Playing For Pride” (I used it way back before the tour even started!)……

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

LIONS-13 Emerging Springboks-13



Much like the Ireland A performance last Sunday, these young Springboks gave their home fans a lot to look forward to in the future.

They thoroughly deserved their late try and outstanding conversion to draw level with the tourists, who can have no complaints. Well done to the young Paduans indeed.

For those of us more concerned with the Lions, however, I think we would have learned more about the squad’s ability to bounce back from the 1st Test if the players stood in a line across the pitch and performed Riverdance.

First, can we discount this notion that we were hampered by the conditions. Two points knocking that on the head – one, it was the same for both sides, and two, remember we’re the British and Irish Lions. With the possible exception of Messrs Hines and Flutey, these guys grew up in a place where it rains in the womb!

As for Ronan O’Gara, I’m afraid that when we take off our green-coloured glasses while reviewing his performance, we see he didn’t really do enough to show he can contribute to the last two tests.

Yes, he put in some good kicks, but remember – he was the captain, so the preparation and playbook would have been designed around him, which are conditions he is used to for both club and country. We couldn’t really expect things to work that way in Pretoria next Saturday.

In fact, though it angers me to agree with Stu Barnes, he does have a point when he says that there’s a serious argument for leaving ROG out altogether and having Hook on the bench, for the Welsh factor, the fact that he’s proven on tour he can nail pressure kicks, but most of all because he brings a different style of offence should the Geech need to mix things up late on.

I mean look at O’Gara’s outing. For all his kicking into corners and what have you, how many tries did we actually score? One. And how did that come about? From an “E-Bok” kicking straight into the arms of Martyn Williams.

But things were not totally bleak for the Irish. DOC did more than enough to keep his spot on the bench, if not actually start. Heaslip will hardly be troubled by Powell, who since losing the goatee looks about two stone heavier, by the way.

And as for the conundrum of the left wing…while Monye’s late appearance yesterday hopefully means he’ll be excluded next Saturday, one could see some optimism in Luke Fitzgerald’s being withdrawn early, though it has to be said Shane Williams finally looked up for it, and surely the coaching staff would look for any excuse going to pick him over the Leinster star.

Also Barnes did piss me off at one point when Luke missed a tackle and he said “Oh, now THAT’S a mark against Fitzgerald”. Bloody hell, man – how many marks have been against Monye even BEFORE he got picked to start in Durban?

So…how do I see things going on Saturday? Hmmm. Not too well I’m afraid.

My head is telling me it will be a series whitewash, while my heart is still clinging onto the hope that we can make the right tweaks to the scrum to keep the scoring low, which will give our backs enough time to exhaust their playbook and not only create openings, but exploit them.

One “if” too many in that fictional scenario, I fear.

And as Hooky suggested in his video blog at the weekend, if there is another whitewash, will some of these Emerging Springboks will be involved in a Lions tour in 12 years time or is the concept itself headed for the emergency ward? JLP

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ireland A-49 England Saxons-22

ireland churchill

THE KIDNEY PUNCH

Naturally the Sunday papers were jam-packed with exhaustive analysis trying to work out why the Lions fell short in the First Test in Durban, but I put it to you that not one of them got to the crux of the tourist’s problems.

It wasn’t so much about anything anyone did who IS in involved in the squad, more about someone who ISN’T.

Put Declan Kidney on a plane to South Africa, get him on the coaching staff, and hey presto, tests number 2 & 3 are in the bag. It’s that simple.

I mean, since when have you seen anyone have such an instant midas touch with a squad of players in any sport?

When his influence was just at Munster, sure all he did was bring home a couple of Heineken Cups. But as soon as he sat in the big chair of Irish rugby, well, let’s see…Grand Slam, Magners League, Heineken Cup, Lions captain/over one-third of the squad, and now this.

What IS “this”, you may ask? Some might say the Churchill Cup an end-of-season piss-up for nearly-men to the USA which doesn’t really matter in the Grand Scheme of World Rugby. And it could be argued that perhaps that’s exactly how the England Saxons approached the final in Denver.

But not so the Irish, not one of whom was involved in the Six Nations campaign, but who put in an all-round display of rugby union which even surely the All Blacks would have to admire.

I suppose I should credit the Leinster contingent first, and the biggest contribution there came from Fergus McFadden, who took “tournament MVP” honours. But there were also sterling displays from Sexton, nigh-on flawless with the boot when it mattered, Healy and Toner.

And I have to tell you about Felix Jones at full-back. What is it about Irish Number 15’s? This guy is world-class! AND we’re letting him go to Munster!!! I have a feeling that could come back to haunt us. He was the integral part in the game’s best try (though there were many contenders) when on his own ten metre line he leapt high in the air for a catch, took it, hit the ground running, surged forward a good 50m before a perfectly-timed offload which eventually led to Johne Murphy crossing for the decisive score.

I think I safely speak for every Irish rugby fan out there when I extend my thanks to Declan Kidney and his team for what has been an absolutely unbelievable season of rugby union football right at a time when the country needs something to shout about.

The only question remaining is – how much further can the man bring us? Dare I mention New Zealand 2011???

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Springboks-26 LIONS-21

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Fordham logo

JUST SHORT

This match, though billed as springbok vs lion, was almost a classic tale of hare vs tortoise.

Rugby Union is a deeply technical game, especially in the forwards. Those guys aren’t just brutes who grab onto each other whenever they get the chance; they need to know each other’s game and have an instinctive awareness where their teammates are going to be and what they’re going to do.

And as George Hook rightly pointed out as the tour began (forgive me!), this Lions squad has had fewer games to prepare for the Test series than any of its predecessors.

As for their hosts, well they only play either with or against each other every week in the Super14. They’ve only grown up together right through the vast South African academy system. They’re only the bloody World Champions!

Paul O’Connell walked straight off the pitch after fulltime and told the first interviewer that his pack would have been more competitive had they a better idea what the ref was looking for. Clearly asking him on the way to the dressing room at halftime didn’t do the trick, since the Boks came out after the break and drove us back half the length of the pitch for what proved to be the decisive score.

So as the Springboks pulled further and further ahead on the scoreboard, all of us back here in the northern hemisphere who gave a damn were cringing at the thought that the hare was so far ahead of its opponent that the game would have been worth stopping ten to fifteen minutes early to show some semblance of mercy.

But as much as the older generation like to hark back to the squads of ‘74 and ‘97 ad nauseum, the game today is oh so very different. To succeed in modern day world rugby you must have 22 players ready to give maximum effort for the full 80 minutes.

So don’t let the South African press fool you into thinking about the “folly” of de Villiers & co making substitutions too early. The Lions had subs on as well from even the first half and they applied themselves extremely well (not least Rob Kearney) so if the Boks have a weak bench then that’s their lookout.

And as time crept on, the red-clad tortoises crept ever closer to their quarry and we’re left looking back over all the missed opportunities throughout the afternoon which should make us realise that we were more than capable of winning despite all the hometown bravado (surely I’m not alone in wishing the likes of du Plessis and Botha to get taken down a peg or six?).

In the backs, I am far more concerned with Monye’s two missed tries than I am of Jones’ missed place-kicks, though of course ROG would have probably done much better as well. Luke Fitzgerald would have DEFINITELY converted one if not both chances Ugo spurned. Also why did Mike Phillips feel compelled to stretch for the try line from so far out when clearly there were more phases to be gotten from the situation to get them nearer?

As for these so-called perils of playing at altitude for the next two matches, I think they’re absolute nonsense. We are talking about a full-time professional outfit here so they have plenty of time to make sure the squad gets themselves fully acclimatized and it can’t be used as an excuse in my book.

But when it comes to the team selection, that’s another story. Clearly Vickery must and will be replaced by Adam “Hair Bear” Jones to face “The Beast” next week. But will Geech make the other changes that need to be made?

ROG for Jones and Fitzgerald for Monye are obvious moves not only to Irish supporters but also to anyone else who makes a point of reviewing form rather than birthplace. I won’t hold my breath for these to happen, though.

Still, despite the way the scoreline transpired, this series is far from over. We seem to have infinite backline moves with the world-class combo of BOD & Roberts to make try-production always possible - don't forget we out-tried the Boks 3-2 on the day.

And as this game plus the two-Test series between the All Blacks and France (the second Test yesterday morning was easily the most entertaining, intense game of rugby I have seen in a long time, and that INCLUDES Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign) showed, the gap between the north and south hemispheres is closing by the day, which can only be good for the world game.

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