Saturday, December 29, 2012

Leinster-17 Connacht-0

[update October 23, 2013] Archive time here on HoR…Connacht come to the RDS this weekend and the same fixture last season signalled the beginning of Leinster’s transition from three December defeats to three May trophies…

THE COLD SHOULDER

As the rest of the Leinster faithful were being frozen solid at the RDS on Saturday evening, I was tucking in to a nice dinner at a friend’s wedding reception in downtown Dublin.  We actually managed to avoid the scoreline before we left, only for our taxi driver’s radio to provide us with a “spoiler”.

Watching the match now I see a result and performance that overall we should be happy with, all things considered.  Connacht certainly did not come to Dublin to make up the numbers, we had a patchwork team out on the field, and managed to see out what has been a topsy turvy 2012 with a clean sheet victory that keeps us well in the race for a home semifinal.

Before I look at the action itself, I want to repeat my annual rant about these so-called “festive derby” fixtures.  If ever rugby matches could be described as “mutton dressed as lamb” then matches like this one certainly fit the bill.  Of course I understand all the reasons why the international players are missing and why, for example, Ulster would send their second/third string team to Thomond Park, but whatever the reasons, the net result are contests that don’t do what they say on the tin and leave the spectators a bit short-changed.  Saturday’s double bill of derbies were little more than training exercises compared to some of the equivalent contests in the Premiership and the Top14 where the majority of “marquee” names were on show.

Still, the points were there to be won at the RDS and two squads had been charged with the task of doing that.  And Eric Elwood’s side did everything they could from the opening kickoff to keep us on the back foot.  I’m not sure there was more than a few blades of grass in the Connacht half disturbed in the first quarter, such was their intense pressure on us when we had the ball.  However, tough and all as their defence was, so was ours.  Despite a few clean breaks into our 22 by the likes of Danie Poolman and Robbie Henshaw, we were able to keep them at bay.

That’s one thing about Leinster that has continued to impress me this season, that being our defence.  With the obvious anomalies of our early season trips to Llanelli and Galway, we have generally been as stubborn as ever especially in our own 22 whatever side we have out on the park.  This is why teams feel their best chance of breaking through is to force a turnover and quickly exploit it before we can regroup.  And I don’t think I saw any team more “in our faces” than the men in green were in the first half of this contest.

But despite the fact we had makeshift combinations all over the park, unlike previous contests where we just kept trying the same things offensively over and over even though they weren’t working, this time we found a way to adjust to what was being done against us.  And it certainly wasn’t an easy adjustment, since it came in the area of protecting the ball after the tackle, one which is of course normally a forte of Shane Jennings who was forced to withdraw from the contest before kickoff.

The series of plays that led to our opening try were a joy to watch.  EVERYONE was getting in on the clearing out action.  If Connacht were contesting for the ball with two or three after the tackle, then we had two or three doing something about it.  This awareness and ability to adapt is precisely what I felt has been lacking and if we can bring that ability into our remaining Heineken Cup pool matches, we could have every chance of maximising our return.

I know I have said before about our tendency to go for the tricky option when a simpler one may have been better, but it’s too late for that right now.  We need at least eight tries in two tough Heineken Cup encounters in January so we need to start playing like it.  That’s why I didn’t put my head in my hands when Ian Madigan took the penalty with a quick tap as I may have done a couple of weeks ago.  And sure enough he reaped the reward with an excellent score.

In many ways the second half was a carbon copy of the first, so much so that the second try from Jack McGrath officially came 33 minutes from the start of the period just as Madigan’s had done.  And with Elwood & his coaching staff able to make a few tweaks at half-time, Leinster found themselves with another conundrum that took time to solve, but once again we were able to do it.  In one series of phases Isaac Boss was missing so often from the base of the ruck I wondered if he was being treated for an injury…in actual fact he was getting stuck in with a lot of the clearing out himself!

Could we have gotten to four tries?  Perhaps if referee John Lacey considered going to his pocket more and adding 10 yards to Connacht penalties less, we may have done with an extra man, but we’ll never know.  The visitors certainly put in a good display against us overall (without the ball at least – with it they struggled as Parks hasn’t been in the jolliest Yuletide form) that if repeated should produce more wins than losses in this league.  For example I lost count of the times they forced turnovers from mauls, something we usually excel at ourselves.

When it comes to individual performances, I’m most interested in two areas…out-half and wing.

It was another solid outing from Ian Madigan, though for me the player of these Christmastime interprovincials has been Ian Keatley.  I have to assume that Declan Kidney has nothing else on his mind other than to have Sexton backed up by O’Gara for the upcoming Six Nations campaign, but I will be very interested to see who gets the nod for the 10 jersey when the Wolfhounds meet the Saxons in Galway on January 25.  Given Ulster’s success this season you would think that Paddy Jackson would be front and centre but although I saw little or no reference to this in the press, he was extremely poor against Leinster and surely must be behind Keatley & Madigan in the pecking order right now and will need a stand-out performance or two in the remaining Heineken Cup outings to get back in contention.

For the wing debate we have a three-way contest that between Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden which has been made a lot easier by Tommy Bowe’s injury, though should become even more complicated should Rob Kearney return to action forcing Zebo back to the wing.  But since this is a Leinster writeup I will simply state that with the possible exception of being caught out of position for the that decisive Trimble try at Ravenhill, overall Fergus has been “in the zone” this season with tough tackling coupled with his uncanny ability to gain yards after the tackle when it seems there are no yards to be gained.

Elsewhere on the Leinster side Saturday, it certainly wasn’t the finest outing for Andrew Goodman since he arrived and no doubt he will be keen to play his way back into form.  Credit of course must go to the starting backrow of Ruddock, Ryan and Murphy, all of whom must surely be knocking on the door of the Heineken Cup squad at this stage.  But we should add the name of Ben Marshall to that list as well.  He may be only 22 and only have 5 Leinster caps so far, but he certainly looks at home at this level and with Mike McCarthy on the way, could lead to some tough decisions being made before the season is out.

All in all a good win for Leinster but as I said earlier, hardly a contest to warm the hearts of over 18k shivering fans.  Not sure what can be done about it in the future?  The derbies will still take place at this time, and so they should.  The international player protection will still happen, and so it should, at least as long as the Six Nations takes place in the spring.  And if the crowd levels remain high for these games, then maybe there’s nothing we can do.  But it wouldn’t hurt to see two proud Irish provinces at full strength lock horns more often in 2013, that’s all I’m saying.

Happy new year, folks. JLP

Also this weekend

Cardiff Blues 12 - 10 Dragons

Ospreys 32 - 3 Scarlets

Benetton Treviso 26 - 18 Zebre

Edinburgh 17 - 21 Glasgow

Munster 24 - 10 Ulster

PRO12 TABLE

Fan Appreciation

In his maiden HoR2 rant, Leinster fan Conor Cronin has been disappointed by more than just their results of late…

Leinster-flags-10

I've waited a few days from the event to write this rant. And somehow I'm no less annoyed for having slept on it. In fact I'm pretty sure I'm a bit worse.

I'm a massive Leinster fan. All my friends know this. I'm at every home game, and I really like to get to away games too. I've enjoyed games in the RDS, Thomond, the Rec, and even Twickenham last year. And I have to say, its great to watch the lads when they're winning.

And we all know that it's tough to watch your team lose. No matter the colour of your jersey you have to agree that it hurts to see your team fail.

I was lucky enough that a very thoughtful and wonderful girlfriend bought me tickets to the match in Ravenhill against Ulster. She went to a huge effort, and booked us a hotel for the weekend and on Friday afternoon, with both of us having a day off we headed up.

I love match day, and the atmosphere and the craic with opposition, and Friday was no exception. But it was tough seeing the lads under perform, and come away with nothing from the match.

Sporting my deadly new lion hat, (the other part of my birthday present)  I had taken funny looks all match from the Ulster fans all around me, because, I'll be honest, I'm loud. I like to be heard supporting and I like to think in spite of being so far back the lads could hear me.

I definitely think the standing fans on the terraces could be heard, as they tried to cheer on the team, to start chants of "Leinster" and rounds of "Come on you boys in blue", and "Molly Malone", attempts that I joined in on, but which were so often drowned out by the rowdy home support.

But try we did, all match, to support, to be heard, to let the lads know we were there.

And what did we get in return?

Forget the points, forget the win. All I was looking for at the end of the game was a little acknowledgment. For the lads to come past, and thank us for the effort we had made. In return for our having cheered and applauded theirs.

We got a moment where after applauding the Ulster players in, 3 or four of the lads stepped out, gave two or three claps from the corner and walked back in. While the Ulster supporters stepped out and spent a few minutes thanking fans. And on my way to get a taxi I saw a few doing autographs before their showers.

And it was worse in the Aviva last week, where we didn't even get a few out to say thanks. While the Clermont fans got their team walking out and over to applaud and thank their fans for the effort.

I don't know about anyone else, but between about 50 euro worth of diesel, 38 euro for each ticket, I have no idea what the hotel was even for that night, a couple of beers, this wasn't a cheap trip for me. Even a day in the RDS isn't cheap, whether you account for the cost of an individual ticket, or the share of your season ticket that goes to that particular match, and if you're not drinking, there's still the cost of getting there (bus, or parking etc).

Am I unreasonable to think that the players should acknowledge our support? Is it wrong to think that after spending over 80 minutes shouting for them they could spend 60 seconds making sure we know that even without the result they appreciate it?

If I could have the poor Ulster couple in front of me give out for being so loud, the group behind me tell me I was wasting my time, surely the lads can appreciate that.

If I could stay and keep cheering even after their third try when things look their worst, surely the lads can acknowledge that.

So there it is, my rant. In a nutshell, I spend enough being a supporter, I think it should be acknowledged by the team, especially when we keep cheering in spite of the result.

What response will the fans get on Saturday after the match? Let's hope it's a positive one!

Any thoughts, or comments, please feel free to get me on Twitter, @ccbooms

Conor Cronin is a Leinster fan cursed with a Munster loving father. You'll regularly find him screaming in the north stand in the RDS. When he's not there, try the theatres around Dublin, he might be on stage, or in the off season, Dublin bay on a boat. He likes writing a rant cos in the bio he can talk about himself in the third person without sounding pretentious.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ulster-27 Leinster-19

[Update Apr 30, 2014 - This week our trip to the HoR  archives brings us to Leinster’s last competitive visit to Ravenhill, also known as the lowest point of our 2012/13 season.  To say much has happened since then is quite the understatement.]
 
In Touch May cover
Click photo for latest issue of IRFU digital magazine inTouch, including Leo Cullen tribute by JL Pagano
 

HoR pro logo blueAh, the rugby ball. One of sport's great mysteries.


A physicist will tell you that what happens when it bounces is pre-determined by a set of variable factors.


A seasoned rugby fan, on the other hand, will tell you that what actually happens is magical, as if a spell had been placed on it by Gandalf the Grey himself.

 

To benefit from this magic, you and your team must be playing the wonderful game as it was meant to be played, with fifteen players of varying shapes and sizes working together to guide the oval-shaped object towards the opponents' try line. Fail in any way to do this, and it will work against you.

 

Never has evidence of this been more clear than at Ravenhill on Friday night.

 

Ulster have approached every outing this season with a combination of a deep squad and consummate professionalism. So when Andrew Trimble stretches out an arm to intercept a pass, it deflects off it into the air, only to fall comfortably into his grasp so he can continue on and set up the Nick Williams try which went a long way to deciding the result of this contest.

 

Leinster, on the other hand, have not only had their issues replacing injured key players, but in the opinion of this particular blogger anyway, have more often than not gone for the complicated option when a simpler one would do.

 

So when they win their own lineout around halfway and Ian Madigan actually takes the safer territorial option by placing a kick into the opposition 22, rather than take the expected bounce into touch placing pressure on the home side, it instead continues on and goes dead beyond the try-line bringing play back.

 

I feel I should make it clear that my talk of magic is not tongue in cheek. I'm a firm believer in making your own luck when it comes to sport, and the way these two sides later handled respective situations in their opponents' 22 proved that the way the ball was bouncing was fully deserved.

 

On the 50-minute mark Leinster won a penalty at halfway and after winning the resulting lineout started running their trademark front-foot phases towards the opponent's try-line. Shortly after entering the 22 referee George Clancy extended his arm for a transgression by the home side, not the first time this had happened early in our attack, and much like Clermont had done a week before.

 

Rather than take the penalty, however, the visitors chose to continue with the phases in search of seven points rather than three. Trouble was though, a stubborn home defence kept them at bay for so long that eventually the advantage ran out and a knock-on gave away a scrum that brought a massive cheer from the Ravenhill faithful.

 

Turn the match clock forward twenty minutes...Ulster on the attack, they enter the 22, win a penalty much as Leinster had earlier done, yet with virtually the next phase Ruan Pienaar places an inch perfect cross-field kick which this time Trimble needs no magic to control and the contest is over, if indeed it wasn't already.

 

Yes, Leinster were outplayed in the scrums, and that is an issue that certainly needs looking at, whether it is in fact to do with merely the front row or the combined eight-man effort. But I still believe we could have gotten something from this match with a different mindset, and what makes it most infuriating for me is that we played the first quarter just as I was hoping we would, only to revert back to the high-risk game that has failed us on many different occasions so far this season.

 

Remember...at the end of that first quarter, we led 6-0. Paddy Jackson had already missed a couple of kicks it's true, but we were still deserving of our lead and when we had the ball we were keeping the home side at bay. But when first Jackson and then Pienaar pulled it back to 6-6, we then reverted back to Madigan going for the “super-restart” to Devin Toner, and failing both times, so instead of Ulster receiving possession in their own 22 and being forced to clear, they instead had it on their 10m line and could get themselves into a much more attacking position.

 

In many respects this Leinster performance was a carbon copy of last week's, where we were able to compete from the kickoff but once the opening exchanges were done, we appeared to roll over, only able to wake up and force our way over the opponent's line when the contest was over.

 

Now it's true, in both cases it has been against one of Europe's form teams, but we need to be asking ourselves why we're not ourselves one of Europe's form teams, and I think the excuses goes beyond mere injuries, for it has to be said Ulster have had their fair share of them, too.

 

That's not to say Leinster didn't have a player or two who were below the standard required on the night, like Toner, McLaughlin and Reid. But then again the Ulstermen didn't exactly have a world class outing from their number 10 yet still managed to come out on top.

 

So when I'm looking at the remainder of Leinster's season, I can't help feeling that we need to do a lot more than simply close our eyes and hope the returning O'Driscolls, Kearneys and Fitzgeralds are going to make everything alright. We need a shift in our mentality, one that appreciates that every team we face from here until the end of the season will be studying our last three matches and unless we change things, particularly when we have the ball, more negative results will follow.

 

For me, our focus right now has to be those two Heineken Cup matches in January. Scarlets at home and Exeter away. Emerging from our pool certainly won't be easy, but at very least I want to come out of those contests able to say we gave it a damn good go.

 

Before then, we have two Pro12 matches, Connacht at home and Embra away – we should treat them as a “trial run”. It's not about the players (though of course having the likes of BOD doesn't hurt!), it's about our approach. That ball isn't going to magically bounce in our favour simply because we're Leinster.

 

As for Ulster, well what a start to the season it has been, and saddened as I was by the defeat I certainly don't begrudge them their celebration at being top of the table at Christmas time, we Leinster fans know the feeling well. I do think they need to find a way to deal with Paddy Jackson's handling of big matches, however. I know he's only 20 and is likely to bounce back but no matter how many Pro12 regular season matches Ulster win now, it's the big ones in May that will determine the destination of the trophy - that is also a feeling we Leinster fans know well!

 

One thing is for sure...as 2012 comes to a close, there is a new order in Irish provincial rugby, with the Ulstermen standing proudly up on top. Congratulations to them and their supporters, and a very Happy Christmas & New Year to all HarpinOnRugby readers! May the magical rugby ball bounce in your favour in 2013 ;-) JLP

Also this weekend

The HoR2 Matchday Squad 2012

Doesn’t look like the Mayans had it right, but just in case, I’m going to shut down this blog for the holiers, and should the world as we know it remain intact, will be back up and running on Friday, January 4.

For now I’d like to thank the contributors without whom this HoR2 could not exist, and I have done so by putting together a light-hearted matchday selection.

Click each name to see their latest posts.

2010Xmas-A14smImage

15 Sarah Lennon – safe as houses, Sarah slots in perfectly at full-back as she keeps us fully up-to-date on the women’s game in Ireland every Wednesday.

14 Rich Church-Keen – the Lions Selector panel have been a mainstay of HoR2 every Friday, and its four panellists make up the backline.  On one wing from England we have Rich, from #rugbyunited, doing his best Chris Ashton swallow dive in the process.

13 Mark Jackson – Mark gave his latest Lions selection only this morning and is certainly worthy of Brian O’Driscoll’s position in this team.

12 Hywel Davies – Alongside BOD we have Jamie Roberts, aka Hywel, crashing though all opposition with his hard-hitting opinions & Lions selections straight from the valleys, as well as 606v2.

11 Kirsten Bruce – Making like Tim Visser on the other wing we have Kirsten, ensuring her beloved fellow Scots aren’t ignored in the Lions shake-up.

10 Liam Sinclair – at out-half you need a little bit of the unexpected. Liam put his hand up and took on an unusual topic, the “Non-Irish Pro12” and has certainly made it his own with a string of fine posts.

9 Felix McCabe – with a perfect delivery every time, Felix gets the nod at scrum-half as he keeps us up to date on the English Premiership every week in style.

 

1 Paul Cunnane – no team can be without a solid front row - by the same token rugby union can’t be without the grassroots game.  Paul, Michael & Robert have done a great job keeping us up to date on their respective clubs all season, Paul’s is Claremorris RFC representing Connacht.

2 Michael Cahill – from Naas RFC in Leinster.

3 Robert Ford – from Queen’s RFC in Ulster.

4 Keego – the engine room of the blog is supplied by our two main columnists. Keego has supplied the most posts on HoR2 including the most popular one of all (see list below).  Could easily have his own blog, but don’t tell him that we want him to stay here!

5 Brendan Grehan – at TH lock is Brendan, who was following Leinster rugby when Brian O’Driscoll was learning his multiplication tables.

6 John O'Sullivan – making up the back row we have regular columnists from the Irish provinces that aren’t Leinster!  John is a HoR veteran having written for Roots&All last season and keeps us up to date on Connacht’s progress.

7 Kristian Ross – Kristian has certainly enjoyed his first spell of blogging, seeing how successful his beloved Ulster have been!  And despite being based in Newcastle he does a fine job keeping up with his heroes.

8 Trevor Murphy – You need a number 8 who is willing to stand up and fight, and no better man than Trevor who regularly supplies us with his verdict on Munster’s fortunes.  Fond of the word “shamozzle”.

 

16 Robbie Doyle – helped get the blog off the ground with some great posts about the youth club where he coaches.

17 Stephen Humphreys – another strong choice from the bench, @shumpty77 gave us excellent previews throughout both the SuperRugby and Rugby Championship campaigns.

18 Tim Cronin – They say your first pick is your tight-head and your second pick is your reserve tight head, so Tim gets this honour and with his regular weekly contributions mostly about his beloved All Blacks, is the strongest option off the bench in this selection.

19 @rhubarbsticks – A diehard of HoR’s Google+ page, this massive Leinster fan based in Brussels told us all about the supporters club he has set up over there.

20 Sharon Lovell – This rugby-mad Kiwi based in San Francisco told us all about the history of the famous Golden Gate club in the city.

21 Liz & Ginine Power – haven’t posted here on HoR2 (yet!) but helped me out big time by doing the writeup of the Sale v Leinster preseason clash when I couldn’t make it.

22 Kate McEvoy – gets the “ROG” bench slot, though probably won’t thank me for calling it that! Two excellent posts from her this season so far, with hopefully more on the horizon.

23 The Laighin Pit – Hope to hear more from RK & Z in 2013; their banner has become an icon at Leinster matches (not to mention the main HoR blog!) and their unique posts make for superb reading.

So that’s it from HoR2.  Thank you for stopping by, have a great holiday season and you can be sure there will be more great posts to come in 2013!

Note…there will still be a bit of output on HarpinOnRugby over the next two weeks, like writeups of Leinster matches, the Midweek Quiz playoffs, plus the odd tweet here and there!  JLP

RaboDirectPRO12 Round 11 Preview

After the worst return of European results for the Irish provinces in almost 6 years, they each must pick themselves up for the seasonal derby matches, and tonight in particular we could see the mantle of best of the four formally handed over at Ravenhill.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Cardiff Blues v Scarlets, 19:05
The Blues had a rare does of good news during the week when they locked down Alex Cuthbert to a new contract. With Rhys Priestland out long-term for the Scarlets, this will be a good platform for young Rhys Patchell to show his Six Nations credentials. Cardiff by 6.

Ulster v Leinster, 19:05
This fixture doesn't really need any marketing, but for me anyway the title of “best Irish province of 2012” is firmly on the line. Leinster owned the first half of the year with their wins in Ravenhill and of course Twickenham, but there is no doubt that the Ulstermen have had the better of things this season so far, albeit without meeting the European champions before tonight.
Mark Anscombe has had some injury woes of late, with Tommy Bowe and Dan Tuohy joining club skipper Johann Muller on the treatment table. Despite these set-backs, his starting lineup has a settled look about it, particularly in the back-line, where Paddy Jackson in particular will be keen to put the memories of the Heineken Cup final behind him once and for all.
In Ulster's pack, young Iain Henderson moves over to lock with Robbie Diack coming in at 6 and Chris Henry leading the side out. The home side will certainly have no fears at scrum time with their marquee trio of Court, Best and Afoa lining out.
After two bruising losses to his former employers Clermont, Joe Schmidt has chosen to rest some players and reward some performers who impressed during Leinster “A”s pair of victories of Jersey in the British & Irish Cup. Noel Reid takes over at full-back to allow Ian Madigan to move to out-half while Brendan Macken comes in at outside centre, allowing D'Arcy to return to his more familiar 12 position.
Leinster's forwards have more of an international look about them, with Michael Bent getting his second start for the province and Kevin McLaughlin returning to the blindside and Devin Toner getting a rare start in a big contest.
It's a rare happening that Leinster lose three matches in a row, but with the Ravenhill crowd behind them and a much more settled backline on the park, I can only see the home side finishing the first half of the Pro12 regular season with an unblemished record. Ulster by 12.

Glasgow v Edinburgh, 19:35
It's very important for Scottish rugby that it's fans buy into the 1872 Cup hype, and with new Six Nations head coach (albeit interim) coach Scott Johnson to impress, not to mention the head-to-head matchup of wingers Sean Maitland and Tim Visser, there could be plenty on show to help do just that. Glasgow by 4.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Zebre v Treviso, 14:00
Finally I have a chance to call Zebre's first-ever professional victory and not sound like a lunatic! Zebre by 5.

Connacht v Munster, 17:15
Neither set of fans from these two provinces will thank me for the billing I gave tonight's match in Ravenhill, especially given that Munster sit just behind Leinster on the Pro12 table and Connacht humbled the European Champions already this season.
Eric Elwood's men will be looking for every point possible to climb towards mid-table and will be happy to be on home soil after last Friday's mud-bath in Biarritz. Nathan White makes a welcome return and dons the captain's armband and also back in the pack is George Naoupu who will partner Mike McCarthy.
In the Connacht backline Danie Poolman will be pleased to be back to action and resumes his impressive young centre pairing alongside Dave McSharry. Dan Parks remains at out-half.
On the Munster side of things Ronan O'Gara steps aside to allow Ian Keatley to start at 10 with JJ Hanrahan backing him up on the bench. Peter Stringer makes a rare start at 9 while Daire Hurley and Johne Murphy also return to the starting lineup.
In Rob Penney's pack we James Coghlan captaining the side in the absence of Howlett and Donncha O'Callaghan ready to mix things up with the likes of McCarthy in what should be a tight forward battle.
Munster usually do well in Galway and I feel they'll have enough talent on the park to get the job done yet again. Munster by 8.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Cardiff Blues v Newport-Gwent D'gons, 14:05
Two home wins over the holidays could really propel the Blues into playoff contention and I reckon they'll do it. Cardiff by 20.

Ospreys v Scarlets, 17:30
Very tough one to call, and loathe as I am to predict the Scarlets to lose two derbies over Christmas, I have to go with the champions. Ospreys by 3.

***

That's all from me this week, and indeed this year! I'll be back in two weeks. Be sure and enjoy your rugby AND of course your Christmas & New Year, wherever you are. JLP
 

Lions Selector Panel–4th Round (IRE)

It’s one of the hottest debate topics egg-chasing has to offer.

Given we live in something of a green goldfish bowl on these Irish shores, there’s no harm getting input from elsewhere. And so we have the HarpinOnRugby Lions Selector Panel, made up of one fan from each nation, with even the Irish panellist based abroad.

And it’s that very same Irish panellist Mark Jackson who gives us his final choices for 2012.  I’d like to thank the four of them for their contributions so far this season…many have ridiculed their choices but it takes courage to put your name to your opinion and the panel certainly cannot be faulted on that score.

In the new year we will have the business end of the Heineken Cup plus of course the Six Nations so no doubt the Composite Lions XV will begin to take more shape, but follow this link to see how it stacks up after the 4th round of picks.

British-Irish-Lions-logo-20131

So the autumn internationals are done we are through rounds 3 and 4 and the season is in full swing , with the 6 nations a matter of weeks away the focus for the little trip down under is more and more under the proverbial microscope . The coaching team is in place (with two of the main coaching ticket , Farrell and Howley in place of two others that most of the rugby community were clambering for in their respective positions , Joe Schmidt as Attack coach and Shaun Edwards as defence guru again), so players will need to continue to impress from here on in .

A few changes abound due to some impressive performances namely Eng vs ABs and Ire vs Arg plus some Heino performances too so here’s the current First Class company ..

15. Leigh Halfpenny

14.Tommy Bowe

13. Manu Tuilagi

12. Jonathan Davies

11. Craig Gilroy

10. Jonathan Sexton

9. Ben Youngs

8. Jamie Heaslip

7. Sam Warburton

6. Sean O'Brien

5. Donncha Ryan

4. Nathan Hines

3. Dan Cole

2. Richardt Strauss

1. Andrew Sheridan

16. Rory Best 17. Cian Healy 18 Adam Jones 19 . Joe Launchbury 20 . Tom Wood

21. Mike Philips 22. Freddie Burns 23.George North

Thats my lot for this month see you all in 2013! MJ

Mark Jackson (@markusjacksonus) is an Irishman living in London, a lover of this game we call Rugby along with Gaelic Football and NFL (All Hail The New York Giants), having played it for fun and money in many countries around the globe, am now earning a crust coaching, hopefully inspiring and passing along some knowledge gained to the next generation of players.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Keego on…Losses & Locks

Do Leinster have the right mix in their squad right now? asks Keego…

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And so here we are. 2012 is nearly over and unfortunately the Heineken cup may be over for Leinster.

The game on Saturday was really tough to watch. We just had no answer to the skill, strength and speed of Clermont. I don’t think any of us expected that performance from the French. Especially after the Leinster performance the previous week in the Stade Michelin. We were on fire, confident and very intelligent in our play and we really should have won, but we were just too knackered to bring that to the home game..

But that really means nothing after Saturday. It even looks like a blip now. We have been lacklustre all season, not me being negative just telling the truth. We have been quite a bit off. I am sure you are annoyed with me constantly going on about it, but there really has to be a change that allows academy players more game time. Another point that came up during a conversation in Lansdowne on Saturday is that there is a fairly substantial gap between the age of the first team and the academy. The average age of the lads who started on Saturday was 27. The top academy players are in their late teens / early 20’s. This is a good thing, meaning we will have them coming through in a year or two, but we do not have anyone in the mid 20’s to bridge the gap. It just means we may have a couple of seasons like this one while they get experience. Especially considering that the AIL teams cannot play more than 2 contracted players in any league match.

We got out of jail last year when we brought in the mighty Brad Thorn on loan, seeing as we can’t do that this year we are being found out in our second row. It is a very weak area. Most other parts of the pitch are fine when we have our top players to come back. We are still very light in the second row. Leo played an absolute blinder away to Clermont. Maybe his best game in blue? When he is free of injury he is still great. But he is not getting any younger. There may not be that many miles left in the Cullen tank. With the physicality involved and the amount of time spent in the engine room along with surgeries, it is a miracle he is still so affective. Damian Browne started against the French, but just didn’t appear to fit in. Maybe it will take some time, but he didn’t seem to have the muscle and intensity needed. Devon Toner was brought on but again, he just wasn’t at the races. It is difficult with you are nearly 7 feet tall to get low into the tackle. He is still 6 foot 5 off the ground when he tries to tackle, but doesn’t have the muscle to bulldoze anyone.

So the question is, how do we fix this? Ruddock and Ryan have been starting ‘a’ games lately after injuries. They are both fearsome, intense players. If they can function in the lineout and scrum, which they have both done in the past, they can slip in beside Captain Cullen and bring more menace to the second row. Another option is to offload some of the misfiring players and bring someone in, preferably someone we can use in green as well as blue. People will be up in arms with this just as much as they were with the signing of Michael Bent.

All of this brings us to Friday against Ulster in Ravenhill. The team was named just as I started writing this week’s blog:

  1. Healy – Name on shirt, he scrums as well as he flings berocca

  2. Cronin – Deserves start played well against Clermont

  3. Bent – Should be starting more games, has been very effective in every game played so far..

  4. Cullen – Will be aiming to tear up Ulster

  5. Toner – For me, this is a wrong call. Not the best option at 5.

  6. McLaughlin – great to see him back, we missed him on Saturday

  7. The notorious S O’B – Nuff said, but I would put him at 8

  8. Heaslip – would switch to 7, but always should be on the pitch

  9. Redden – quick ball will be needed against Ulster

  10. Madigan – has played nearly every position this season. We need to pick ‘his’ position and give him game time there.

  11. Fergalicious – name printed on jersey, has been on fire since starting to tape his head.

  12. The Darce – Also been on fire lately. The Darcy haters have been quiet. Tackle machine!

  13. Macken – Games like this will build Macken and players like him.

  14. Conway – has been playing all over the place much like Madigan, needs ‘his’ position to gain confidence.

  15. Reid – Deserves a start.

This is a strong mix of experience and youth. Games like this will help the younger players going forward. I am worried about playing people in different positions every other game. Surely we should have a player in whatever position he is best in? This team is not affected by injuries, with player management and resting players this is fairly close to the team that would take the field even if we had the first team back.

But in closing, cheers to you all for taking the time to read my nonsense, and engage on twitter (@nkeegan) with comments/opinions/debate/abuse. Feel free to continue this over the Christmas season.

Happy Christmas to you and yours, even our Munster readers Winking smile .

Keego (@nkeegan): Newbie blogger, former professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

Naas RFC-update #9

Roots & All is a project where we pick a few teams that don’t normally make the spotlight week in week out and feature them regularly throughout an entire campaign.

Naas RFC banner

Naas 1st Played in the Leinster Senior League Shield last Friday Night against Skerries RFC in bitterly cold windy conditions in Coolmine RFC

Both teams seems to be suffering from nerves in the early stages of this final and the kickers found it difficult to get a handle on the swirling wind with a number of misses by both sides and the only score in the first half going to Skerries with a well worked try under the Naas Posts which was converted leaving the score 7-0 at half time.

Turning around with the wind at the Naas backs (kind of) we thought Naas could do this but Skerries fought hard and defend well and held Naas to just the 2 penalties and in the end came out deserved winners 7-6

The U21s Continue to Lead in JP Fanagan Pennant

Naas Under 21 squad travelled to Belfield on Sunday 9th December for their final competitive game of the year in Phase 2 of the JP Fanagan Pennant where the took on UCD for the second time this season. Having previously beated UCD by a decisive margin of 36-0 this proved a much more competitive encounter with both teams level at the interval on 3 points. UCD extended their lead early in the second period with a short range penalty, however Naas dominated the final quarter and scored two outstanding tries by their impressive wing, Ian Tyrell to eventually win out by 13-6.

Naas u21s will be back in action in the JP Fanagan Pennant early in the New Year

The great cup competition that is the Leinster Provincial Towns Cup starts up it January and here’s a little history taken from the Leinster website

The Provincial Towns Cup trophy is one of the oldest trophies in existence in Irish Rugby. It was purchased in 1892 for £25 from Wests in Grafton Street, Dublin. The Cup bears the title of Leinster Junior Challenge Trophy but it is not as old as the competition itself, which was established in 1889 - CO. KILDARE (NAAS) - 1 win – 1924

The conditions of the competition were changed for the 1926 running of the competition and only Junior Clubs who were located at least 18 miles from the General Post Office in O'Connell Street were eligible to compete. Enniscorthy won the final Leinster Junior Challenge Cup when they defeated Co. Kildare (Naas) by 10 points to 3 points at Lansdowne Road and also won the first Provincial Towns Cup in 1926 when they again defeated Co. Kildare (Naas) by 6 points to nil at Donnybrook. Enniscorthy "three in a row" wins (1925, 1926 and 1927) saw them graded as a Senior Club and they competed in the Senior Cup until 1930-31 season when they were regarded as a Provincial club at their own request.

Naas have appeared in 10 finals loosing 7 untill the firat win in 1995 then 1998 and the last win in 2005

This years Provincial Towns Cup Draw is as follows and the first round will be played on the 27th January.

Co. Carlow v Navan, Kilkenny v Portlaoise, Skerries v Wicklow, Athy v Wexford Wanderers, Mullingar v New Ross, Clane v Ashbourne, Cill Dara v Clondalkin, North Kildare v Longford, Gorey v Dundalk, Portarlington v Naas, Arklow v Edenderry, Rathdrum v Tullow, Roscrea v Boyne

*Tullamore, Newbridge and Enniscorthy (holders) received byes into the 2nd round

Finally The Naas U12’s will have the honor of entertaining the crowds at halftime on the 29th December at the Leinster v Connaught match. Unfortunately we can only play 15 (10 on the field and 5 subs) of our 73 U12’s, but the rest will be there supporting, watch out for the boys in Green and White Hoops!!!

Merry Christmas and hopefully we’ll be back for more Rugby Talk in the New Year!

Click here for the club website

Heineken Cup - the Essence Of Time

Does it matter at what time your final Heineken Cup matches are played? A look at some numbers...

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Yesterday the ERC announced the dates & times for rounds 5 & 6 of the six Heineken Cup pools, both of which will be played in January.

The reason they leave it so late to decide such things is that the TV companies want to see how the six pools look at the end of round four so they can position their coverage of the deciding matches is such a way as to maximise advertising revenue.

And so in the sixth and final round of matches, we see the various pools completed one by one over six different time slots spanning from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

Around the twittersphere yesterday I noticed fans of several different clubs commenting on the latest schedule release, suggesting it either favoured or hindered their particular team.  Can it make a difference?

I certainly think so, and for two reasons :

1) TURNAROUND TIME FROM ROUND 5 TO 6

You often hear coaches use that phrase.  Strength and conditioning is big business in professional rugby union these days, and when the warriors emerge from the battlefield, even if they don’t have any serious injury, the backroom staff have to work to a particular schedule in order to prepare them for the next one.  Throw in the fact that every other week there’s a bout of travelling involved and it’s clear that time is of the essence.  This need comes into direct conflict with the TV companies’ desire to have the matches spread out across a weekend. 

Take Northampton Saints in round one of this season’s Heineken Cup for example.  They played their first match at home to Glasgow on Sunday, October 14, and then had until the following Friday the 19th to prepare for a trip to France to play Castres.  Compare this to the Ospreys, whose first pool game was on Friday the 12th, after which they had the comfort of an 8-day “turnaround” to prepare for their visit to Welford Road.

Even though the Welsh region lost to the Tigers that day, I’m pretty sure most coaching staffs would much rather have a longer turnaround time between matches if they had the choice.

2) KICKOFF TIME COMPARED TO EVERYONE ELSE’S

This impacts two groups differently. 

First, you have the fans, who generally detest a lunchtime kickoff time, myself included.  A rugby matchday for me is one where you have all morning/afternoon to either relax or get stuff done at home, and then once the match is over you have the evening to reflect & socialise.  When kickoff is from 12:45-1:30pm it feels like you’re rolling out of bed and into your seat in the stands, plus you either have to abandon the social element or consider the day spent despite full-time being only around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.

Heineken Cup coaches, particularly ones like Joe Schmidt, Vern Cotter and Guy Noves who would generally plan to be still in the competition when the semifinals come around, will be interested in their round 6 kickoff time for a different reason altogether.  There may be six different pools, but one of the beauties of the Heineken Cup is that it’s not just about how you do in your own pool, it’s also about how your points tally stacks up against everyone else as the four best pool winners get a home quarterfinal. 

All of which means their preference would tend to be a Sunday kickoff time, namely the afternoon one, as all the other pools will have been completed and they will have the best knowledge of what they need to do to progress.  This season, not surprisingly, that honour falls to Pool 2, where two giants of the competition with 6 trophies between them, Leicester and Toulouse, meet at 3pm on Jan 20th while the Ospreys, also likely to still be in contention at that point, will be in Treviso.

***

So…since I have shown that there can be advantages gained by the timing of the matches, the question remains – have teams actually been favoured over the years?  Well I had a quick look at the schedules of the 4 Irish provinces over the past ten competitions (including this year’s), and the results are displayed in the chart below.  Obviously turnaround times are to the left and round 6 kickoff times are to the right.

HCUP RD 5-6 TURNAROUND TIMES & RD 6 KO TIMES FOR IRISH PROVINCES (2003/04-2012/13)

6

7

8

9

FRI EVE

SAT LUN

SAT AFT

SAT EVE

SUN LUN

SUN AFT

2

0

0

0

Connacht Rugby

2

0

0

0

0

0

3

4

3

0

Leinster Rugby

2

2

2

3

0

1

4

4

1

1

Munster Rugby

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

2

6

1

Ulster Rugby

1

2

4

0

2

1

Connacht – this is only their second season in the Heineken Cup, so it’s not surprising that for the second year in a row they get a 6-day turnaround from round 5 to round 6.  If they get back in next season, however (not out of the question as Ulster are serious contenders plus Leinster and/or Munster could be involved in Amlin even if they don’t get out of their pools), their improved record might see them get more respect next time around.

Leinster – Their stats seem to be the most evenly spread over the years.  Their success in recent seasons has seen them tend to be featured in Sky’s “marquee” slot of Saturday evening at 6pm more often.

Munster – the Sunday lunchtime kickoffs may be a bitch, and Munster may have two of them to contend with in rounds 5 & 6, but for the reasons I outlined above I’m not so sure Rob Penney & his staff will mind all that much.  A normal seven-day turnaround from round 5, plus the fact that 16 of the 24 competing clubs will have their pool matches completed when Munster kickoff against Racing at Thomond on Jan 24th, isn’t a bad state of affairs for the two-time champions.  Since their success in the competition came first from an Irish perspective, it’s not surprising that they lead the way in the prime Saturday evening TV slot over the years either.

Ulster – They have certainly had the most advantage amongst the provinces over the ten year span, with as many as six 8-day turnarounds between rounds five and six, plus the most Sunday kickoff times.  Now they have reached a stage where emerging from their pool is expected of them and could be on course for a second final in a row.  Obviously there are many more factors than time that have contributed to this, but it certainly can’t have hurt.

So to summarize…it seems time can be a factor in the deciding rounds of the Heineken Cup, though looking at the trends over the years, with Irish goggles anyway, it seems the “powers-that-be” have done the best they can to make things fair.

Do you agree? JLP

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