Friday, December 21, 2012

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

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