Sunday, June 28, 2009

Springboks-28 LIONS-25

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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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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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

LIONS-20 Southern Kings-8

lions southern kings

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ 

This match was SO boring, Sky’s highlight package was shorter than its ad break.

SO boring, the only thing that caught my eye while watching was the graphic on the screen when the home side made a particular substitution : “Off:Human On:Stick”.

SO boring, I can only bring myself to show you a picture of Ewan Murray receiving treatment rather than so-called action.

Can you tell I’m a tad bitter because I took time off work to watch it live?

Only one thing injects interest into this contest – mathematics.

With 36 left in the overall squad and 22 involved at Port Elizabeth, that meant at least one player on the day would definitely start in Durban next Saturday.

If I had to choose that one player on form alone from yesterday, I guess it would have to be  Simon Shaw to partner POC in the second row, but even that may not determine the final makeup of Geech’s XV.

The injury to Murray puts the coach under a bit of pressure to prove his team selection is based purely on merit rather than politics.  The Northampton prop’s form was good enough not only to make the Test team on merit, but he also worked just fine as the “token Scot”.  Now he’s out, there could be a problem.

Having said that, although Nathan Hines played at 6 yesterday, there could be a case for his leapfrogging both Shaw and Jones into the second row, since surely the Lions will need a bit of raw aggression to match what the Springbok pack has in store for them.  And noone can deny that Hines has just that in spades.

But maybe in the end McGeechan will just have to count himself as the token Scot!!!

Now, to ROG.  It was a good outing for him yesterday, if not a great one.  He nailed some tough place kicks, his kick into the corner for the opening try was nigh-on perfect, even if Monye & Turner did behave more like Laurel & Hardy on the other end of it…

But O’Gara’s overall game is suffering from a lack of real challenge for his Number 10 jumper with both province and country over the years.  Both teams, great though they may be, have been built around him, and in South Africa he finds himself having to adapt more to the rest of the players, and unfortunately he just hasn’t had enough time to do so.

That’s why I have to assume Stephen “steady as she goes” Jones will more than likely start in Durban, though don’t rule out O’Gara being called upon to take some crucial late place-kicks throughout the series, and there’s no better man…

One more thing that annoys me about this match is the way so many from the squad, ROG included, have been whining about the way the home side conducted themselves on the pitch. 

What are ye, a bunch of sissies lads?  “Mammy, mammy, they were pulling my hair!!!”  Get out of it…I wonder if the great squad of ‘74 I keep hearing about would have moaned like that or would they have just reminded us that they won and got on with the job at hand?

So as you can see, I don’t have much good to say about what I saw yesterday lunchtime, and I can only hope that the Lions have done enough in preparation to face what looks like a really formidable Springbok XV.

One can only hope…

Saturday, June 13, 2009

LIONS-26 Western Province-23

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BY HOOK OR BY CROOK

Over the course of 80 minutes yesterday we saw both what could win the upcoming test series for the Lions AND what could leave it out of their reach altogether.

Were you to see the highlights of this match you might be forgiven for thinking it was a good performance as Geech’s men scored three very impressive tries, together with an almighty thump of a penalty conversion near the end by James Hook.

But of course the scoreline would tell you a different story, and a series of senseless penalties brought the Currie Cup side (who to be fair are the competition’s answer to Man United) very close to getting something from this match, so there’s no need to outline what the Springboks themselves would make of such gifts from their opposition.

I’ve read that Jones’ lacklustre display could bring ROG back into contention. I have a feeling that is very much wishful thinking. If anything, I would hand the number 10 jumper to Hook right now for that winning kick alone. Clearly he is up to the pressure, and it makes him in my eyes anyway the best of a very average set of out-halves.

And wasn’t Tommy Bowe sublime at 14. When watching Sky’s coverage, you have to try and ignore Stu Barnes’ assessment…for the Monye score he was beaming about how the London Irish winger dove early for the line before mentioning the deft little toss from the Ulsterman into his breadbasket which let him in.

Elsewhere it seemed the makeup of the Test starting XV was becoming more clear. Flutey didn’t do nearly enough to challenge Jamie Roberts for 12, while Andy Powell (aka the Big LePOWski) clearly has a lot of fight but seems too much of a liability for yellow cards and penalties to oust Heaslip at 8.

And who would have thought that Shane Williams would be so far removed from the reckoning for a spot on the team? With Bowe a certainty, naturally I would plump for Luke on the other side, and I really don’t think it’s green goggles I’m using either, Monye just didn‘t do it for me with his all round game.

All that is left in the forwards seems to be who will partner POC in the second row – I haven’t seen anything from his countryman DOC to have him leapfrogging Shaw or Jones, and then there’s the battle for 7 which surely must be Geech’s toughest call – both Williams and Wallace are worthy candidates, and perhaps Sky’s Ieuen Evans has a point that BOTH could get in at the expense of Croft?

Next up is the last warmup game before the big First test in Durban next Saturday, with the newly-formed franchise the Southern Kings providing the opposition in Port Elizabeth. I sincerely hope Gordon D’Arcy gets a full game, otherwise it was hardly worth his while cancelling his holidays. Not that he shouldn’t have been in the squad in the first place, mind you…

Here’s my Test XV based on what I’ve seen so far – as you can see, it’s pretty much set…capitals means a definite, brackets means there’s a near challenger for the position and a backslash means a headache for Geech. What do you think?

    1. JENKINS
    2. MEARS
    3. MURRAY
    4. Shaw/AW Jones
    5. O’CONNELL
    6. CROFT
    7. M Williams /Wallace
    8. HEASLIP
    9. PHILLIPS
    10. Hook (S Jones)
    11. Fitzgerald (Monye)
    12. ROBERTS
    13. O’DRISCOLL
    14. BOWE
    15. BYRNE

Thursday, June 11, 2009

LIONS-39 Sharks-3

drico luke lions

THE LEINSTER LIONS ARE BACK

We tried out the nickname for a season and it didn’t really catch on – maybe it’s time to bring it back.

I’m in the lucky position of being 100% partisan unlike the real Irish journalists covering this tour, so I can come out and say it – the Leinster contingent are definitely the stars  so far, while our countrymen to the south and north are experiencing a combination of poor form and even worse luck.

First, my commiserations to poor Stephen Ferris.  He was having a stellar tour to date, and as George Hook pointed out, his injury in training shows just how much effort he was putting into every aspect of the tour.

This match in Durban was a chance for Paul O’Connell to assert his authority on the pitch with his charges, and he tried to do so Munster-style from the kick-off, and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, he failed. 

Stu Barnes even suggested POC’s own place on the Test XV may be in jeopardy, but I think that’s going too far.

Even though the Sharks were missing 9 internationals, making this halfway between their first and second XVs, as determined as this pack (which at kickoff seemed very close to the Test starting one) played, it just could not break down the home defences for love nor money, coming short at least five times by my count.

If we can’t force our way over in the first twenty minutes against a depleted Super14 squad, just how will we fare over 80 minutes against the might of the World Cup winning pack?

I can only report what I see, and it really doesn’t look like POC has the will of this team behind him.  And what’s more, there are only two more warm-up matches left, and surely he’ll be rested for one of them.

It’s a different story in the backline.  Hopefully Roberts’ shoulder injury will heal quickly, since he and Drico make a dream centre combo. 

And as for Luke Fitzgerald…I was delighted he got a start on the wing, and he didn’t let me down, as he absolutely outplayed his team-mate on the far side of the line, who if memory serves me right was once World Player of the Year?

The two Leinster boys combined for the evening’s best score, outlined in the above snap – BOD showed every inch of his experience releasing his offload at just the right time for Luke to cross…if I had to find a criticism I’d say the winger could have easily scampered under the posts from there, but that’s being picky.

Then there’s ROG.  Ah, poor aul’ Ronan. 

His placekicking was impressive, but alas, he tried too hard in open play.  I think he was a bit too aware of his shortcomings (ie tackling & line breaking) and on the most part compensated by either attempting to prove detractors wrong or resorting to elaborate through kicks which weren’t really on.

What a Test-level out-half SHOULD do, in my book anyway, is make the right play according to a given situation, and forget the critics.  This is why I feel O’Gara is now third in the squad’s pecking order. Of course it doesn’t help his cause that both the other Number10’s are the same nationality as the shoo-in starter at scrum-half Mike Phillips, who had another good showing.

I suggested in a previous post that Messrs Fitzgerald and Heaslip may be overlooked on account of their youth, but after last night I’m starting to feel differently.  Jamie was a powerhouse at 8, so much so that I’d wonder just how genuine are Powell’s claims of an injured hand.

So here’s my revised Test XV…I demoted Jenkins despite Jonathan Kaplan’s inability to determine the sinned against from the sinning between he and du Plessis, and in case you think I have it in for all Munstermen, I feel Wallace played himself last night into a tie with Williams in the running for the 7 jumper.

  1. Sheridan (Jenkins)
  2. MEARS
  3. Murray (Vickery)
  4. SHAW
  5. O’CONNELL
  6. CROFT
  7. M Williams /Wallace
  8. HEASLIP
  9. PHILLIPS
  10. S Jones (Hook)
  11. Fitzgerald (S Williams)
  12. ROBERTS
  13. O’DRISCOLL
  14. BOWE
  15. BYRNE

Sunday, June 07, 2009

LIONS-26 Cheetahs-24

POC cheetahs

COMING TO GRIPS

We may have ended up with more points that than our opponents, but still I call this a “virtual defeat”.

By that I mean that only due to something out of our control, ie the quality of the Cheetahs’ goal-kicking, the tourists could be smarting from a double-digit defeat on Sunday morning.

Now, let’s see…the Lions struggle in games one and three, yet canter home in game two. Could this have something to do with the ability of the captains? Would that be an overly-partisan question for this Leinster fan to ask?

Well, possibily so, but I certainly wouldn’t put it down to the inexperienced midfield selected for the match at Bloemfontein. They rarely got the ball in open play, with Messrs Hook, Worsley, Powell and Ferris taking the – er - lion’s share of possession from the base of the rucks and scrums.

It was a shame that Luke Fitzgerald wasn’t given more of a chance to show what he can do, and only for an unlucky bounce of the ball the try that Keith Earls scored could have been his.

Now according to Stephen Ferris, the Cheetahs were by and large Cheaters. That’s an interesting assertion from the one player to actually be sin-binned on the day, especially since that ten-minute spell is where the home side got their first try and started to believe they could get back into it.

At the start, it seemed to be a continuation of our dominance from midweek, with two quick tries, but little did we know they were to be our only ones.

Now maybe it is true that the Super14 outfit, some of whom appear to have had a point to prove for not being selected for representative squads, might have taken a few liberties when Wayne Barnes wasn’t looking.

But isn’t that all part and parcel of the game? Surely it’s not the done thing to whine about it afterwards?

Can we be quite clear on who our opponents were yesterday. Here’s the Cheetahs’ record in the Super14 for the past four seasons…

2006 – 10th 2007 – 11th 2008 – 13th 2009 – 14th (which is of course rock bottom)

In other words, they are to South African rugby what Connacht are to Ireland.

So despite the Geech’s optimism in his post-match interview, I really don’t know if there is a way you can spin this performance in a positive light for the tour as a whole, especially when the tourists have so few warm-up games to prepare for the Test series.

You have to wonder if our next opponents who have a much better Super14 pedigree, the Sharks, can sense blood in the water…

With only James Hook really impressing on the day, here’s my revised notion of how I see Geech’s First Test XV shaping up. Definites in capitals, otherwise the probables with challengers in brackets.

  1. Jenkins (Sheridan)
  2. MEARS
  3. Murray (Vickery)
  4. SHAW
  5. O’CONNELL
  6. CROFT
  7. M Williams (Worsley)
  8. Powell (Heaslip)
  9. Phillips (Ellis)
  10. Hook (O’Gara)
  11. S WILLIAMS
  12. Roberts (D’Arcy)
  13. O’DRISCOLL
  14. BOWE
  15. BYRNE

Thursday, June 04, 2009

LIONS-74 Golden Lions-10

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ROARING AHEAD

Would it be cheeky of me to point out that the Lions only began playing winning rugby once the Leinster players got involved?

They did, after all, only pull ahead of their opponents last Saturday after Jamie Heaslip took the field and with him, Drico and Kearney starting last night, they had the result beyond doubt after ten minutes.

Yeah, maybe it IS a bit cheeky, but this is a Leinster blog, so I don’t actually care!

Of course, Ulster deserves a mention as well, since Tommy Bowe must have surely nailed down the No14 jumper having scored two AND set up another two, plus there was the excellent scamper down the park by Stephen Ferris to ensure the action lasted the entire 80 minutes.

And in case you think I’m deliberately avoiding the Southerners, well, they only had Wallace on the park last night and he didn’t do much, but I will say that Stephen Jones made enough boo-boos to at least make it a tie between himself and ROG for the Test fly-half spot.

But overall, it would seem McGeechan’s selection policy is simple. Pick Ireland’s grand slam XV, then whenever a non-Irish squad member seems to be playing well at all, find a way to get him in to make the balance more respectable.

I have a feeling Kearney, Ferris, Heaslip and Fitzgerald will be the biggest casualties of this, with Lee Byrne’s flawless display at the weekend plus Tom Croft’s electrifying pace on the hard ground surely winning them the nod. Jamie and Luke could well get overlooked simply because, barring injury, this will surely not be their last tour.

And despite the rather selective observations by Stu Barnes at Sky, I saw enough from Ugo Monye to see he doesn’t deserve the 11 shirt – he first try was totally down to a brilliant spin pass on the run by Bowe…Barnes chose to see it as Monye “taking a pass that was a bit too high extremely well” (paraphrase) – unbelievable!

So after last night’s hammering, here’s how I see the test squad shaping up so far…the cast-iron certainties in my book are in capitals, contenders in brackets.

BYRNE, BOWE, O’DRISCOLL, Roberts (Flutey), S Williams (Fitzgerald), S Jones (O’Gara), PHILLIPS.

Jenkins (Sheridan), Mears (Ford), Murray (Vickery), SHAW, O’CONNELL, CROFT, M Williams (Wallace), Powell (Heaslip).

And on a final note, muchos congrats to Gordon D’Arcy for his belated call-up, even though he’d be hard pressed to make the team ahead of Messrs Flutey and Roberts who have had a head start with the squad. JLP

Monday, June 01, 2009

LIONS-37 Royal XV-25

lee byrne lions

Also…

(Super 14 final) BULLS-61 CHIEFS-17

(Int friendly) USA-10 IRELAND-27

Well you would’ve thought the Heineken Cup Final would have meant the END of the rugby season, wouldn’t you?

Not at all. Truth be told, the rugby season NEVER ENDS.

Take this weekend just gone, for example. With the sun splitting the skies here in the aul’ sod, my DVR was on overdrive so I could be sure and catch all the big rugger action. And there were indeed some interesting encounters to behold.

For me, the most significant result for the touring Lions squad didn’t come from Rustenberg where Paul O’Connell’s men laboured to victory with a few late scores. It was instead over at Loftus Verstveld Stadium in Pretoria.

It would seem the Bulls are to South African rugby what the Ospreys are to the Welsh, in that they comprise the bulk of the national team. And my word, did they put the Chiefs to the sword on Saturday, killing the showpiece Super14 final before even the halftime hooter sounded.

Matfield, Botha, Steyn, Habana and particularly scrum half du Preez are just some of the names we’ll be getting more used to when the tests come round at the end of June, and if the Lions are going to find it hard to beat a group of players from the 3rd tear of the Springbok system, things could indeed get ugly for the tourists.

As for the performance itself by the Lions, only Lee Byrne stood out and he surely must have nailed down the Test No15 shirt for himself with that display alone. The rest of the display was a litany of mistakes which the Geech will want eradicated immediately.

But not to worry, you Lions fans. Don’t forget, the bulk of the Leinster contingent was not involved, and once Jamie Heaslip took the field, things began to turn for the boys in red.

Meanwhile, over in the US of A, there was a match for the ludicrously-named “Setanta Sports Challenge Cup”. I mean, come on…are you for real??? You think anyone who knows anything about rugby really gives a toss about a trophy for a game like this? Well, I guess it was a way to get yankee bums on seats, and it seems to have worked, albeit in a tiny college football stadium.

Kidney’s team of nearly men didn’t fare much better than the Lions did, either. In fact, you wonder what how much closer the scoreline would be had the Americans been allowed to collapse the maul as they would have one week earlier.

And as for Keatley’s place kicking, if that’s what you call it – TAKE QUICKER KICKS SON!!!! For me, the longer you take to prepare your kick the more you’d damn well better make it! And he didn’t make many on the day. I very much doubt Messrs Sexton and O’Gara will be losing any sleep.

Here’s hoping the second batch of Lions captained by Drico on Wednesday can show they mean business – otherwise we’re going to see three very long, boring tests in a few week’s time.

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