Sunday, January 24, 2010

London Irish-11 Leinster-11


Events at Twickenham proved one thing for sure…to get the luck of the Irish, it’s not enough to merely call yourself Irish.

Poor Chris Malone just had one of those games.  And let’s be honest, we’ve all had them playing sports one time or other.   When no matter how many different ways you look back over it and try to find alternative summaries, you always come back to the simple truth : “If it weren’t for me, we’d be in the last 8”.

Leinster for their part played like a team who wanted to do the bare minimum for fear of injuring any of their 6 Nations stars, and they succeeded in that.  With the exception of Gordon d’Arcy finding some world-class lines, we seemed happy to hold on to possession when we had it without breaking too much sweat.

The “home” team, however, seemed to have their gameplan just right, and set about “out-Leinstering Leinster” from the start, keeping it tight throughout doing their best to thwart us whenever they could.

And their lineout prowess was just as impressive as it had been in the RDS in October, consigning Bernard Jackman to the bench before halftime.

Now call me a biased Leinster fan all you want, and that’d be ok because I definitely am one, but it really did seem that Nigel Owens was giving every 50-50 call to the home side, particularly in the second half, when he and his touch judge missed Mapusua being well in front of the kicker at one stage, and also there was a suspicion of a forward pass right before Malone’s try.

But despite the fact that he got all 11 of his side’s points, Chris Malone will always be remembered for the 17 points – 1 inexplicable conversion, 2 penalties and 3 dropgoals [the fourth miss was only after a loss of sanity by Rob Kearney following the third one] – he failed to get, and you can be sure that right now it REALLY sucks to be a LettinOn Irish fan.

I mean…when the draw was made for this competition and the Irish were drawn with the reigning champions, had a time traveller appeared and told their supporters 3 facts…(a) Leinster won’t beat you, (b) They’ll still win the group AND get a home quarterfinal, and (c) You won’t qualify for ANY form of European quarterfinal, they’d have found that pretty hard to believe, wouldn’t they?

But that’s precisely what happened, and once again it was an almost perfect weekend for the four proud provinces of Ireland, with only poor Ulster being cruelly denied a playoff spot of any description.

And now we know the makeup of the semifinals as well, it seems that all roads to Paris lie through French clubs for our Irish representatives, definitely for Leinster anyway.

Well for sure it won’t be easy, but I’m comforted by one thing…the French clubs will be less likely to play with the approach the Guinness Premiership sides have used against us, and when we’re allowed to play our game, we’re always in the contest. 

But of course as happens every year in the ludicrous stop-start format of the European rugby season, we can’t even begin to analyse the quarterfinals properly until we assess the walking wounded from the Six Nations campaign.

So all we can do right now is ditch our provincial flags, unite under the compromise-IRFU-designed one and cheer Declan Kidney’s men towards a second successive Grand Slam!  Bring it on!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Leinster-27 Brive-10

BOD Brive

SUPER OFFLOAD TAKES A LOAD OFF

There’s a good chance I’m the only Leinster fan on the planet who had negative thoughts about Brian O’Driscoll’s last-gasp try at the RDS.

The reason?  Some urgent though not life-threatening family business required me to forego travelling to the game in person, and the crucial score, preceded as it was by a cracking offload by Shane Horgan, happened right in front of where I would have been sitting (I can even see the faces of two of my mates in the above photo).

But despite that missed opportunity, what a weekend it was for the Irish provinces, and I suppose the best results went to both Connacht and Leinster, with the former booking their place in the quarterfinals and the latter getting a massive favour from the Scarlets yesterday.

I was forced to watch RTE’s highlights package that evening and have to say I was a bit annoyed they weren’t able to show footage from the Showgrounds in Galway.

And I was also bemused by reports that Leinster hadn’t played too well on the night.  Perhaps that is true, but they got the result.  Once in a while it’s ok for us to put a Munster spin on things you know!  If they had played the same way with the same outcome it would no doubt have been a “typical display of southern grit and determination”!

Besides…considering we had Sexton and Jennings back after prolonged spells on the sidelines, AND we had a frustrating couple of postponements over the cold snap while our visitors, albeit with 11 starting changes from their last Top14 match, have shown good form of late in their domestic league so signs of rust in our performance would be understandable.

So the way things stack up now, both Leinster and Munster require any kind of victory in their final matches to ensure a home quarterfinal, and that’s as good a position as any team who lost their first game in this competition can ask for.

I mean no disrespect to Ulster’s chances of progressing in the Heineken Cup when I say this, but with this year’s new format which has three HCup pool runners-up parachuting into the Amlin Challenge Cup, the possibility of having ALL FOUR provinces in the two European finals is a distinct possibility!

Of course that’s a pipedream, but it’s also a reflection of the confidence that is all around in Irish rugby at the moment, and hopefully we’ll get some more good results next weekend so the good vibes can be brought through to the Six Nations!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Ulster-15 Munster-10

ulster v munster

CALLING A SPADE A SHOVEL

No Leinster game to review so I must avert my eyes north to Ravenhill for some rugger blogging this weekend…

I’m closing my eyes and trying to imagine how I’d feel right now if Leinster had lost 6 from their first 14 competitive games in the season, including a 30-0 thrashing at the hands of our nemesis.

Yeah, I’d call that a nightmare of a start to a 2009/2010.

Yet down at Thomond Park they’re not only remaining upbeat, they’re rewarding their coach with a new contract.

Now of COURSE you can never write off Munster. Of COURSE they’re still more than capable of winning both Magners League AND Heineken Cup crowns this season.

But you can say what you like about what can happen in the future; when you consider the standards the two top Irish provinces have set over the years, even Leinster’s return of 4 defeats from 13 contests is disappointing, so that doesn’t say much for what’s happening down south.

The sheer arrogance of the Munster team at Ravenhill was unbelievable. Not only do they send a second string side, but when only 15-0 down with a penalty right under the posts and more than ten minutes left in the FIRST half, they go for the try rather than break the duck-egg.

They DID realise this wasn’t a Barbarians-style exhibition game, right?

The one try they did get was thanks to a Keystone-cops-style series of fumbles after Humphreys was actually able to make a tackle yet proceeded to leave the ball for JDV to pick up and score.

Well at least the home side appreciated the importance of the occassion. I mean no disrespect to Brian McLaughlin’s charges when I criticise their opponents because they were well up for this game and reaped the reward, much like they did when we travelled up there.

Having said that, their leading lights were in the forwards, with Tom Court winning MOTM and Ferris crushing anyone who went near him, and I have to say having seen him play several times this season, The Bearded One just doesn’t seem to have the game to make the step up to the next level yet I’m afraid.

But my point about Munster is this – not only was this a derby match, but they had already lost four out of their previous nine contests and I think that considering they’re reigning champions of this league they could have at least shown some desire NOT to make it a fifth.

And it has to be said, their failure to register a point in the second half says as much for their own attitude as it does for Ulster’s resilience.

I’m sorry, but Munster were very poor! I’d say it if it were Leinster (and I have done this season), so I’m saying it now!

Yet having read some posts since full time on munsterfans, they’re all still mesmerised by doing the double over Perpignan in the Heineken Cup. Yes, they were good results BUT ONLY when you factor in Munster’s poor form before then. How many HCups have the Catalans won again?

I know I sound like a sneering Leinster fan, and maybe in some ways I am, but I can only call it as I see it, and as much as I want my boys in blue to do better than our southern cousins, I’d much rather do it knowing they’re playing the style of rugby that won them so much success, and to be perfectly honest, since Declan Kidney left the big chair down at Thomond, I just haven’t seen it.

Now that I’ve gotten all THAT off my chest of course, they’ll probably go and win every match they play till the season’s out. But joking aside, that’s pretty much what they need to do now to save this season given those that have gone before.

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