Friday, April 12, 2013

The Pagano Preview #10

Time to stick on the green-coloured glasses and look at the weekend's rugby action

Two Irish provinces won on English soil last weekend, no doubt stoking the fire the Premiership clubs have kept burning about the vagaries of the Heineken Cup format.

Let them bitch and moan all they want...we get to savour one of the top domestic fixtures in the entire European calendar, clearly the highlight of the weekend but certainly not the only contest with much at stake.

So why am I still pre-ambling??? Time to get down to the pre-viewing...

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Saturday, April 13

RaboDirectPRO12

Cardiff Blues v Zebre, 2:30pm

The presence of the names Halfpenny, Warburton & Roberts in the Blues lineup tells me this can only go one way. Blues by 24.

Munster v Leinster, 6:30pm

[If you haven’t already, please follow this link and use the buttons provided to share my article on msn about Paul O’Connell. Thanks!]

Truth be told, neither of these great clubs are having the best of seasons by their own lofty standards.  Finishing 8th and 9th respectively in the Heineken Cup pool seedings wouldn’t have been on either coach’s wish list back in September.

Leinster have managed to dig deep and find a run of form and results to drag themselves right back into contention for some silverware – they were just one further Clancy cockup away from remaining unbeaten since just after Christmas.  In the meantime, Munster’s Pro12 form went from mediocre to awful culminating in a horrendous drubbing in Glasgow.

So for Leinster fans it’s more than a bit grating that with just one decent display from the men in red at the Stoop, everything that went before it got washed away and now all the headlines are about them!  Well, as you can see from my msn article linked above, this one hasn’t let it get to him too much! ;-)

All of which means that this contest has even more bite to it than usual, as if it needed it.  Joe Schmidt’s side not only need the Pro12 points to get above the Warriors and put their quest for a home semifinal back in their own hands, they also want to show just who is the form team on the island at the minute, particularly after both Ulster and Connacht scored impressive victories last night.

And to cap off the list of ironies, the two players who have been iconic with this fixtures in recent years, Ronan O’Gara and Jonathan Sexton, are left out of the matchday squads altogether, so we’re set to get a taste of what the future has to hold as the “two Ians” go head-to-head.

That’s not to say there isn’t an “old school” presence.  On the Munster side Paul O’Connell will hope to continue his Superman-esque form and he is partnered by his old lock buddy Donncha O’Callaghan.  They will be joined by a back row of O’Mahony O’Donnell and Coughlan which is becoming more of a force with every game, though they will be surely tested at the breakdown by Messrs O’Brien, Jennings & Heaslip.

On the visitor’s side the most eye-catching selection is that of Quinn Roux in the second row…a good choice for the player as he badly needs a run of games, but a strange one as well in that he has hardly set the world alight since his return from injury.  To my knowledge he is yet to complete an 80 minutes of senior rugby anywhere so I hope he’s up to the challenge.

In the backline things are very close to full strength – Boss and Dave Kearney would probably cede their spots to Reddan & McFadden if fit but they are more than able replacements.  Leinster have named Andrew Goodman to wear the 22 jumper so it will be interesting to see who slots in at outhalf should Madigan come off…the former Tasman skipper can certainly do it but there is also the option of Isa while putting Conway on the wing.

The referee is Nigel Owens…normally he’s a good man to have in charge though I wasn’t wild about how he handled this corresponding fixture last season.  It’s possible to pay a big occasion too much respect so hopefully he will call things as they are rather than with a mind to keeingp things on an even keel.

When it comes to the two benches I think Leinster have the edge, which is saying a lot when you consider Michael Bent is there!  But still I have a feeling that Blues are going to find try-scoring difficult – Rob Penney will need to use this as a preparation for the yellow onslaught that awaits him in Montpellier so it will be all hands to the pumps defensively and with the home crowd behind them I reckon they will just about hold us out as Ulster did.  Munster by 3.

Ospreys v Treviso, 6:30pm

The Scarlets laid down the gauntlet last night with victory over a disappointing Glasgow side though I would fully expect a near full-strength Ospreys side to pick it up at home to Treviso, impressive though the Italians have been of late.  Any kind of victory moves the home side up into fourth on the table by virtue of a vastly superior points difference.  They should get it handily enough. Ospreys by 11.

Aviva Premiership

Harlequins v Bath, 2:15pm

Exeter v London Irish, 3pm

Top 14

Montpellier v Toulouse, 2pm

Bayonne v Grenoble, 5:30pm

Agen v Stade Francais, 5:30pm

Mont-de-Marsan v Racing Métro, 7:40pm

Super Rugby

Every week you'll find a great Super Rugby preview on PinkRugby.com courtesy of Stephen Humphreys, a friend of HoR.

Blues v Hurricanes, 8:35am

Rebels v Kings, 10:40am

Western Force v Crusaders, 12:45pm

Stormers v Sharks, 4:05pm

Bulls v Cheetahs, 6:10pm

Ulster Bank League Div 1A

Clontarf v Cork Constitution, 2:30pm

Dolphin v Garryowen, 2:30pm

UL Bohemians v St Marys College, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Shannon, 2:30pm

Sunday, April 14

Aviva Premiership

London Welsh v Northampton, 3pm

Saracens v Worcester, 3pm

Leicester v London Wasps, 3:45pm

I’m tagging this as my “Upset of the Week”.  Wasps were good last week against Leinster, just not good enough.  By starting Vunipola, something they should have done last week I reckon, they may have enough to cause a rare Welford Road upset. Wasps by 2.

Top14

Perpignan v Biarritz, 1:15pm

Toulon v Clérmont, 3:10pm

Hopefully for Irish fans Sunday's Top 14 fixtures won't be previews of the two European finals, but they could well be. And you can be sure that none of the teams will be holding anything back for these domestic contests!

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Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are! JLP

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