Friday, May 31, 2013

Keego on…Trophies & Trips

An interesting summer lies ahead for Leinster & Ireland, writes Keego…

Keego logo

So here we are. The season is finally over. What are we going to do for the summer? Go outside? Interact with people outside of twitter and facebook? Surely there is more to life…….

The season finished with a double bang! The Amlin was safely tucked away into the trophy cabinet after a mammoth performance against Stade Francais in the rds. This was the first trophy I have seen Leinster win and it was very classy for the players to allow Sexton and Isa to lift the trophy. It was equally as classy for them to turn to the team while raising the trophy. That sort of team spirit is in short supply in rugby.

Then it came to the big one. The Rabo Direct super pro Magners 12 league final against Ulster. This was the one we wanted. After being beaten twice already this season by Ulster we really needed to show them what champions are made of.

Then my amazing inability to read a calendar and organize my life meant that I was in the studio recording music, while you were all in the RDS screaming your faces off. I was in the middle of recording a guitar track when I got the text from 10 people at the same time. Leinster had won. I am not too macho to admit that I shed a tear mid take. Even thought I wasn’t there it was very emotional because I had been there for 2 losing finals. I knew what it meant to the team and to the blue army.

I have since watched the game and you guys were amazing again. Ulster on the other hand is starting to get a touch of the Clermont’s. They appear to not be built for the big occasion. They wilted against ‘Quins in the Heineken Cup this year, along with wilting against Leinster in the Heineken final last year. They did try to come back this year in fairness to them, they were allowed back into the game, but as Omar from the wire says ‘When you come at the kings, you best not miss’ and Ulster missed 2 opportunities to bring them back into the match but they bottled it. On top of that the amount of pressure that has been put on Paddy Jackson this season has been far too much. He is retreating in every single pressure game in the white and green jersey. The summer holidays and tour will be great for him. He is a class player, but needs time. The leaders in the Ulster team need to step up.

So what is on the horizon for next year? New coach, a lot of players exiting the d4tress. Some players are leaving after not being able to live up to their potential, while others are leaving for family reasons and one is leaving because of short sighted mismanagement of the highest order. Matt O’Connor will bring new ideas from Leicester, a winning Leicester team. He will also need to bring in some players in the off season. The academy players eventually stepped up this season when there where leaders on the pitch, they may be better for it, but Leinster still need some enforcers and some experience.

It will be an interesting summer for the blue army.

As we near the end of this week’s blog, I would like to say cheers to King Joe for the years at Leinster. He has been more than immense and has taken a great team and turned it into an elite team. His affect was such that our greatest player is staying for a year. Well, it was Joe and us screaming at him. You know how annoying it is when your wife shouts at you to take out the bins, imagine 18,900 people screaming at you.

Cheers to Jonathan Sexton for his service in blue. This is a strange one as we all know he wanted to stay. He was put in a position where he had to stand up for himself. That is the Leinster spirit. We will welcome him back in a couple of years.

And finally, ISA ISA ISA ISA. What a man. What a legend, and what a stalwart of Leinster rugby. I have seen him take down players that outweigh him by stones, I have seen him side step younger and quicker players. And I have seen him raise the Amlin trophy. There will always be a pint waiting at the bar for Isa.

Enough of the sappy stuff. It is on to the Lions. The first tour I watched properly was 2009 against the ‘Boks. It was great to watch. I hope some of you will be able to give me some knowledge so I can say it to people as if it is my own. The first team has been named, and it looks like we will have a lot of Irish in the test side. Heaslip, Healy and Sexton (who will always get game time) are in the squad with Paul O’Connell as captain. I think they will have to change it to the Irish and some British Lions.

As usual, feel free to debate/abuse/discuss this post with me on twitter @nkeegan. For more of the same then roll over to www.thedailyclothesline.com and to hear the tunes inspired by the Leinster victory last Saturday then try www.soundcloud.com/DiabloDC

Until next week??

Keego (@nkeegan): 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.

The Pagano Preview #11

NOTE – This feature is based on a fixed page on the main HoR site but I keep a copy here for posterity.
 
Fordham Sports

Every Friday from 12noon I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.

The time for celebrations are over - Leinster fans however happy with their lot in the past two weeks must pack away the blue bunting and get behind the cream of the Irish crop who are scattered around the globe in as many as four different touring squads.

  • LIONS - We have all seen the various Instagram shots of the Lions boys getting on like a house on fire, though it remains to be seen how they get along on the pitch, first in Hong Kong to appease the sponsors, then to Oz.
  • IRELAND - Les Kiss is supposedly leading the tour to US & Canada but we all know it's Joe Schmidt's first chance to get to know his new squad, with many established players keen to play while the Lions are away, as well as a host of uncapped youngsters aching to break through.
  • EMERGING - Nice to see this tour happening.  Rhys Ruddock is the skipper and only he, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent (ahem) and Ian Keatley have caps as this "Emerging" Ireland squad takes part in a four-team tournament known as the Tblisi Cup that includes Georgia, Uruguay and a SA President's XV.
  • WOLFPUPPIES - With all of the above you'd almost forget about the Under 20s, and their "reward" for finishing 5th last year is a stinker of a pool that includes the Baby Blacks, Australia and Fiji.
With the bulk of the tour matches on d'telly we should go into the off season with a decent idea of the tools Joe Schmidt will have at his disposal as he plans to make his formal debut in his role in November.  Exciting times ahead as always!
 
* * *
(All times Irish)
Saturday, June 1

2013 Lions Tour

Barbarians v Lions, 12:30pm

Reminder - if you qualified for the Ladbrokes competition, the result of this match will determine the winning square on the "unriggable raffle" grid.

I'm not altogether sure how much we can read into Warren Gatland's first selection, with so many from his squad involved in last weekend's domestic finals.

Besides, this occasion is more of a spectacle than anything else as both sides feature star players from different nations thrown together and expected to gel after a couple of weeks.

My biggest personal concern stems from reports of the heat & humidity in Hong Kong this week and the toll it might take on a squad which has its first match as soon as the following Wednesday in Perth.  I say give them twenty drinks breaks throughout the match if they are needed.

You certainly can't complain about the array of top talent on show.  Sergio Parisse leads the BaaBaas but it's their back three of Ngwenya, Rokacoko and Payne who who benefit most from the traditional playing style of the black and white hoops.

As for the Lions, the all-Welsh backrow is probably the most interesting feature especially when you consider squad captain Sam Warburton isn't one of them.  Both Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip will have their work cut out to make the test team, that's for sure.

Owen Farrell gets the nod at out-half...a commenter on the HoR Facebook made a good point about this match being an opportunity to try Stuart Hogg there but I have a feeling the sponsors HSBC may have insisted that Sexton was involved somehow as the match is on their turf.

Paul O'Connell will hold the famous BIL mascot in a throwback to 2009 and with a good showing alongside Richie Gray could well see the test lock pairing nailed down.

For me, Warren Gatland's biggest challenge will be finding a way to fit English players into his test XV...every time I try to pick it myself I seem to struggle to name one that stands out.  In this matchday selection, perhaps Tom Youngs could do his chances the most favours but would need more than a quarter's action from the bench.

Given how the Barbarians capitulated last week plus the fact that this match represents an end to the season for most of their squad while the Lions are playing for test places, I can only see the actual result going one way but hopefully the scoring will be high by both sides.  Lions by 18

Top 14 Final

Toulon v Castres, 3:30pm
PREVIEW WILL PUBLISH SATURDAY MORNING

Super Rugby
Highlanders v Blues, 8:35am
Reds v Melbourne Rebels, 10:40am
Stormers v Southern Kings, 4:05pm
Cheetahs v Bulls, 6:10pm

Click here for Stephen Humphrey's Super Rugby previews on PinkRugby.com

National Competition of Excellence Final

Cavalieri Prato v Mogliano, 3pm
Italy's wonderfully-named answer to the Ulster Bank League reaches a conclusion.  I have no idea of the standard but I have a feeling the Treviso academy team would win this tournament at a canter.
 
Sunday, May 26

CONSUR XV v England, 7:30pm

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fine Ulster campaign ends in heartbreak

…but you can be sure they will be even stronger next season, writes Kristian Ross…

Kristian Ross avatar

Ulster Rugby's campaign for the title of PRO12 champions came to a disappointing end at the RDS on Saturday as Joe Schmidt completed successive double for Leinster.

Their lack of discipline was their ultimate downfall. Within just seven minutes Leinster had racked up ten points, a Shane Jennings try capped off with a lovely conversion by the departing Johnny Sexton, and he added a penalty as Ulster started to concede ground time after time via the referees whistle.

The Ulstermen knew the task was already mammoth and launched an attack on the Leinster line, numerous scrums leading to nothing as Isaac Boss scrambled the ball from Nick Williams and Leinster cleared.

Robbie Diack looked like he almost added yet another to his collection as Ulster started to play with fluidity, but his attempt was adjudged to have been held up, and again the PRO12 table toppers came away with nothing.

However Leinster did finally give Ulster an opportunity for some points, a penalty conceded in front of the posts and Ruan Pienaar reduced the deficit to seven. Sexton had the opportunity to restore the advantage a few minutes later, but he skewed his effort wide, and Anscombe's side breathed a sigh of relief.

The referee again had to penalise Ulster this time from the scrum, as the penalty count grew and grew, and this time Sexton didn't disappoint for the boys in blue with a good kick from range. And moments later it was Ulster who got the chance for a shot at goal and Ruan Pienaar again gave Ulster something to smile about with another three.

But Ulster fans were left fuming as a Leinster attack ended up with another converted Sexton penalty, but it could clearly be seen that John Afoa was being impeded, something that no officials picked up on, and Leinster who started the half with a ten point advantage would go into half time with just that.

It had hardly been a half for any Ulster fan to be positive about, and even with the wind behind their back in the second half, Mark Anscombe's men knew the task they faced was going to be a huge uphill struggle.

Things didn't get off to best possible start for Ulster either, Robbie Diack sent to the bin, adjudged to have been of his feet. Sexton's resulting penalty was clipped over, and Leinster now had one hand on the trophy at 19-6.

Never say never had been an attitude of the Ulstermen this season though, and a super Paddy Jackson run almost saw him get the first try for the men from Belfast, as Isa Nacewa was sent to the bin and both teams were reduced to fourteen men. Ulster opted for the posts and Pienaar easily got the points.

And minutes after Pienaar again added yet another penalty for Ulster with a great kick, as Ulster were within a just converted score of levelling proceedings. Ruan had once again shown just how reliable he was, and on fifty five minutes bent a superb penalty inside the posts, and amazingly Ulster were just within four.

With a unlikely comeback still on the cards, Ulster knew they couldn't afford any more slip ups, but with eighteen minutes to go and a penalty advantage already coming, Leinster scored their second try through Jamie Heaslip via the TMO, and despite Sexton missing the conversion, Leinster had opened a nine point advantage.

It proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Ulster, despite what was in my opinion the kick of the season from Ruan Pienaar, just inside his own half from the most difficult of angles and some good attacking intent but as the final whistle blew it was Leinster Rugby who had finally put behind their PRO12 demons, as the Ulstermen fell at the final hurdle.

In the end, a heart-breaking way for Ulster to lose the PRO12 crown, an ill disciplined display in the first half took it's toll, and the task was very hard from the moment Leinster opened a ten point lead.

Mark Anscombe will be disappointed, but it's fair to say aside from the Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens this season, the Kiwi has done a fantastic result at his first season in Belfast, Ulster finishing top of the league and playing some brilliant free flowing rugby that has led to try after try and some huge wins. Seven defeats in nine months tell it's story. Ulster have been incredibly tough to break down and have shown not just the PRO12, but the whole of Europe just what a force they have become.

Ulster may not have clinched glory on the final day of the year, but they certainly showed the positivity and passion throughout the season that was a tribute to Nevin Spence who showed exactly the same characteristics whenever he pulled on a jersey.

Next season will bring with it a huge challenge, the task of going one more and bringing some silverware to Ravenhill. A new Ravenhill at that. A new start. Likely to see some new players to. But one thing is for sure. Still the same brilliant fans, still the same brilliant Ulster Rugby. It has been a rollercoaster of season, and despite defeat on the final day, I've loved every single second. Forget the season is over. Start counting down the days til all starts again. Sad and disappointed are words I won't use to describe the end of the campaign. The word I will use... Proud.

Stand Up For The Ulstermen.

And as a further footnote, well done to Rory Best who has travelled to Australia to take place in the British and Irish Lions tour. A huge accolade and so very well deserved.

I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Irish summer tours: a youthful gamble

Have Ireland brought the right mix of youth and experience with them this summer? asks @curates_egg…

Curates Egg

The Irish rugby summer tours (to North America and Georgia) come at the perfect point in the Rugby World Cup cycle. It is a new page for Irish rugby - in every sense - and a blank canvas for the management.

With 10 frontline Irish test players away with the Lions (and a couple injured or rested), it provides a perfect opportunity for the new management to start preparing its squad for the Rugby World Cup in 2015. Whilst Les Kiss is leading the tour, there can be no doubting Joe Schmidt will be taking a mightily keen interest at the very least. With 53 players, if you have missed out on selection in the two squads, you can be pretty sure you are not in the management's reckoning for 2015 right now.

As an Irish rugby fan, I am really excited about the Irish summer tours (certainly a lot more than the unwanted distraction of the Lions). The announced squads are a very stark indication that this is a new management team with a desire to take very little baggage with it - and an eye firmly on 2015.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

The decks have been cleared and both touring squads are loaded with young and up-coming players. Whilst this is definitely exciting, the squads look a tad callow.

The flip-side of loading a squad with young and upcoming players is that you are sacrificing experience. Not only is a good balance of youth and experience important for winning games, it is also important for young international players coming through to have experienced players to learn off.

With Rory Best's overdue and merited call-up to the Lions, there are only 2 players in the squad capped before 2009 - Isaac Boss and Andrew Trimble - neither of them frontline internationals anymore. Boss is clearly there as an old head to mentor the two rookie outhalves on the tour. With Conor Murray selected for the Lions and Eoin Reddan injured, the selection makes sense.

Past it?

Excited as I am to see all these new players given a shot, there is the nagging question of whether a bit more experience might have been in the general interest - for the reasons outlined above. Which surplus-to-requirements but seasoned internationals might have brought something to the party?

A lot of Munster fans have expressed disgruntlement at the omission of James Coughlan. For me, his omission makes total sense, despite his having had two outstanding seasons at Munster. Unfortunately for him, he is too late in his career development. He will be almost 35 at the next Rugby World Cup: why give a player a first international cap on the key development tour for the world cup squad when it is as good as certain he will not be in that squad? He will certainly not bring any international experience to help integrate younger squad players, having never been capped (rightly or wrongly).

The result is that we will likely see Peter O'Mahony starting at 8 for Ireland. Ireland will clearly need options at 8 in the world cup and there seems to be a general consensus that O'Mahony could be well suited to the role. So Coughlan's omission is O'Mahony's, Munster's and Ireland's gain - and in all of their long term interest. You could definitely question the wisdom of making 23 year old O'Mahony tour captain. Surely he would be better served by trying to focus on playing at number 8 (where he has limited gametime for Munster). However, it is hard to pick an alternative captain in the squad who is guaranteed a starting place - apart from Mike McCarthy.

Other notable absentees include 94 times capped Donncha O'Callaghan, who enjoyed one of his best ever seasons and clearly would have brought frontline international experience to the tour. Given the freakish age bracket applied to second rows, neither he nor Leo Cullen (another Irish second row who also had a fantastic second half of the season), could automatically be ruled out of the next world cup squad. With Paul O'Connell and Donncha Ryan also not touring, these two must surely have been considered? Cullen's form, leadership and motivation has been overlooked so often, it is hard to get surprised but O'Callaghan may have been worth bringing.

In reality, the four touring second rows seem to have a good balance of experience (international and age). The front-line duo of Mike McCarthy (31; 10 caps) and Iain Henderson (21; 5 caps) has a nice youth-experience combo and is a great alternative to groom for the likely starting pair of O'Connell and Ryan. Devin Toner (26; 5 caps) finished the season with a bang, while he and Dan Tuohy (27; 10 caps) still have plenty who believe they have what it takes to contribute at the top level.

Apart from Coughlan, a couple of other players must surely have been considered for backrow. Shane Jennings (31; 13 caps) has had an outstanding season. He is one of those rarities in Irish rugby - as a true openside - and is also a true leader but he never really took the chances he got for Ireland.  There were high hopes for Roger Wilson (31; 1 cap) after his decision to return to Ulster from Northampton but it hasn't happened for the number 8, with successive injuries and other players taking their chances above him in the pecking order (none more so than South African Robbie Diack - who is now Irish qualified but not in the main squad - and Pro12 player of the year Nick Williams - who could try and claim Irish qualification after his 3rd season in Ireland, having played for the Junior All Blacks).

With the retirements of Ronan O'Gara and Geordan Murphy, injuries ruling out Keith Earls, Gordon D'Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald (and Paddy Wallace), and the Lions tour, there can be no quibbles from 10-15.

In the balance

Weighing up all the options above, it is hard to make a convincing case for any of the more experienced excluded international players to have travelled, with a view to giving some experience to a bright-eyed squad. Either way, the slate has truly been wiped clean and those with provincial chips on their shoulders who are already trying to find a chink in the armour of the new management are really scraping the barrel. The path to Twickenham will start on this summer tour.

@curates_egg : Expat Irish rugby fan living on the continent but regularly travelling to Leinster and Ireland rugby matches. Strong believer in rugby as a family game and a fair sport.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ulster-18 Leinster-24

Every Wednesday over the offseason we have been re-posting writeups from Leinster’s 2012/13 campaign, and we wrap things up nicely with the Pro12 final.  It was an odd season for the boys in blue…one that seemed over by the end of February with us falling short in the Heineken Cup and Ireland imploding in the Six Nations.  But luckily we managed something the Ospreys had become good at, ie turning things around at the business end of the season and what’s more, we did it better.

This archive feature will resume to normal from next Wednesday with a look back at a previous encounter with Leinster or Ireland’s next opponents.

BEST AWAY MATCH EVER!

I have a running joke with the wife…around Tuesday I’d gently remind her that Leinster has a home game that weekend, to which she’d say “I know…they ALWAYS have a home game!”, to which I’d say, “of course they don’t, over the season it works out that they have just as many home as they do away”.  Or words to that effect.

Which means the final five weekends of the 2013/14 campaign, all of which have seen Leinster playing at the RDS, left me asking : “what are the odds?”.  This in turn presented me with a challenge, so for posterity I tried to work them out…

  1. Apr 27 – Biarritz – This was home because of a draw that was made, but when you consider Leinster may not have even been in the tournament let alone having reached the semifinals, I’d put the chances of us having a home game that weekend at around 35%.
  2. May 3 – Ospreys – Final regular season game, easy to calculate the odds of it being at home – 50%
  3. May 11 – Glasgow – this was home because Leinster finished in the Pro12’s top two, something they are used to doing so should be a high percentage, but given where they were at Christmas I’d leave it around the 60% mark
  4. May 17 – Stade Français – The odds of Leinster dropping from the Heineken into the Amlin and reaching the final in a year when the final HAPPENED to be at the RDS? I’m being generous saying 10%
  5. May 25 – Ulster – You couldn’t make this one up if you tried.  Ulster finish first on the Pro12 table yet have to move the fixture to the RDS because of capacity limitations at Ravenhill.  Factor in Stuart Hogg’s missed conversion in the semifinal and I’m being EXTREMELY generous putting the odds of Leinster playing in Ballsbridge this weekend at 1%.

All of that puts the odds of five RDS games in a row for Leinster at around 0.01% at best.  Yet it happened.  Well at least I was able to bring the missus to Saturday’s match so she could see for herself!

And what an occasion it was, even before a ball was kicked.  There was of course all the pomp & ceremony you’d expect before a final…people brandishing flags, flames shooting into the air, topless blokes with drawn-on tattoos banging drums.

But the real atmosphere that was worth remembering at this RaboDirectPRO12 final was created by the bright sunshine and the crowd. 

The blue sky overhead which had some scattered cotton-white clouds contrasted perfectly with the sea of blue flags at one end of the ground which went up against the white ones at the other. 

original (23)For my personal view of the game (see pic right), in the Anglesea Stand directly above the tunnel where the players emerge, I have the Blue Magic website to thank, bravo.

So all those words above are enough pomp and ceremony from me…how about the action itself?

You could make a strong case that this match was settled in the first ten minutes.  In my preview, I laid out what I felt both sides would be using to get an advantage…

Set pieces will be absolutely vital.  Leinster have relied heavily on lineouts & mauls for scoring of late, while Ulster have done likewise with their scrums…

It was a bit of a frenzied start that was made even more confusing by the late, late withdrawal of Rob Kearney, but eventually we saw referee John Lacey setting out his stall at the first breakdown by awarding a penalty to Leinster for not rolling away.  A good wind-assisted punt from Sexton meant that we had a lineout deep in their 22.

Anyone who watched Leinster in the second half of the season would know how dangerous we were at this set-piece.  So in the first few minutes of a major final I was very surprised to see the Ulster lineout leave such a massive gap for man-of-the-match Shane Jennings and his mauling support to crash through, with Sexton converting for a 7-0 lead.

But it was Ulster’s inability to establish their own set-piece of choice that really did for them in the opening minutes.

Another “not rolling away” call allowed Sexton to stretch the lead to ten, and we had a ten-point cushion similar to that we enjoyed against the Ospreys back in early November.  Every Leinster fan knows how that turned out, not to mention a couple of earlier Celtic League finals against the same opposition, so you can be sure there were no chickens being counted by anyone wearing blue.

Yet while I totally understand the need for Leinster to keep a quick tempo going to make full use of the wind at their backs in the first half, when we had a lineout on our own 22 shortly after going 10-0 ahead, that was definitely NOT the time for Isaac Boss to take a quick throw. 

I’m loathe to criticise the former Ulster player since he has played a massive role in our run-in but here he was at fault…at least he was able to tidy up though it meant the “home” side had a five yard scrum and a perfect chance to get right back into it.  Luckily for us, they butchered it.

For me, the spirit of the “penalty try” rule is that it’s a reward for a team who is legitimately going for a score and then is illegally denied by the opposition.  But what seemed to work against the Ulstermen here was that rather than going for the try and letting the ref make the call if needed, they were actively looking for it, even before the ball was put in to the first scrum.

You could argue that Lacey might have awarded a penalty try when he pinged us the second time, but I’m not so sure Ulster had the shove on to take it over the line.  So on the 4th scrum of the sequence, for Nick Williams to then start looking at the ref  instead of the ball when it’s at his feet was criminal in my view…and in the end it was a very grateful Isaac Boss who was able to pounce allowing Leinster to clear.

This meant Leinster held that 10-point cushion until the 23rd minute, so with Ulster winning the final three quarters 18-14, it seems it was our coming out the gate quicker that got us over the line.

Not that there weren’t several other key moments & trends throughout the match…

  • Diack’s botched try – another reason the lead was 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.  I had the five points racked up in my head because from my angle I couldn’t see the Ulster flanker’s totally unnecessary spin into Sexton’s tackle which allowed him to be pulled down on top of the Lions outhalf forcing a “held up” call.
  • Diack’s yellow card – not so much for that itself but for the fact that it came as late as the 43rd minute.  Whether you agree with Lacey’s early penalty calls against Ulster or not, he did give captain Muller a warning in the opening stages so why the card didn’t come out, if not for the pen on 24m then certainly the one coughed up on the Ulster  try-line at the end of the first half, is beyond me.
  • Isa’s yellow card – I dare anyone to suggest this wasn’t properly dealt with by the officials.  Go on, I dare you.  Still, it was a key moment, though given how the Leinster defence deals with assaults on their line you couldn’t say a try was certain.
  • Williams negated – Kevin McLaughlin was credited for just six tackles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them were achieved by chopping Ulster’s tank of a number 8 at the ankles.  They needed Williams in the loose and at the back of their scrums yet he was unable to produce in either phase of play.
  • Tone-overs – He snatched a lineout and was superb in the air at restarts, but Devin Toner has work to do on his carrying into contact in the off season if he is to retain the starting 5 jumper when Mike McCarthy arrives.  Ulster successfully targeted his carries several times.  But we also coughed it up other ways with knockons and un-necessary offloads, with Healy often being the culprit.  Still, despite this point and the last one, Ulster were unable to get a try.
  • Heaslip’s try – Yet another time Ulster dodged a yellow was when Henry stripped the ball from McFadden when he was well off his feet as the game ticked into the final quarter and the margin was at it’s tightest, only four points.  Sexton managed to get the ball into the corner (couldn’t get a decent angle off the telly to be certain it hadn’t gone dead but assistant Peter Fitzgibbon seemed sure) and although Ulster were able to fix their maul defence, it stretched them out wide and Jamie was able to crash over.
  • Heaslip over Henderson – Six points down and awarded a kickable penalty with 5 minutes left, I suppose it was the right decision for Ulster to go for the lineout, though Pienaar was flawless with the boot throughout, if anything getting better with each of his six goals.  But save for the odd break from Bowe, Jackson and Olding their backline offered, or at least were only allowed to offer, little.  Still, Jared Payne got them into the 22 and it took a solid bit of jackling from Jamie to force the “holding after tackle” call (fair enough as Lacey had been calling it for both sides all evening) that virtually settled the contest.  Sorry Jenno, but I’d have been inclined to give our number 8 (can we read anything into his being allowed accept the trophy?) the nod as MotM.

So the clock ticked down, the blue half of the crowd let BOD know it had gone red, and he gleefully kicked in into the Grandstand to draw the final whistle and the celebrations could begin.

It has been a remarkable season for Ulster Rugby.  Mark Anscombe can be proud, and in fact so can Brian McLaughlin and David Humphreys for teeing things up for him.  Sure, they were deserving of some silverware, and I have said many’s a time how ridiculous the European club rugby calendar is, stretching as it does for nine months yet only awarding prizes for form in May.

Sadly though, them’s the rules and everybody knows them when the season kicks off, and whoever’s “DS” the Ballsbridge ground was on Saturday, there can’t be much argument that the better side won.

Of course the post-match celebrations were laced with sadness, as Leinster said goodbye to many who were off away to other things…Messrs Schmidt, Sexton and Isa were all crucial to our success in recent years.  And we mustn’t forget the contributions of Andrew Conway, Jamie Hagan and Heinke van der Merwe and may they thrive (perhaps not TOO much in Conway’s case!) in their new roles.

But how can you be too sad at the end of a campaign that promised nothing in December yet after a string of 21 wins and 1 draw in 23 matches (A side included) produced THREE trophies for Leinster to see off the boys in style.  Maybe there could be an asterisk beside the achievement for all the home matches at the end, but the results still had to be gotten.
 
Once again I come to the end of a season wishing to thank Leinster Rugby for making my season ticket, plus all the playoff ones, worth every single penny.
 
And despite all the departures, here’s a lineup Leinster could put out next season; I reckon it’s not exactly the worst you’ll see in Europe…
 
R Kearney, McFadden, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, D Kearney, Madigan, Reddan.
Healy, Strauss, Ross, Cullen, McCarthy, McLaughlin, O’Brien, Heaslip.
BENCH : Cronin, McGrath, Bent, Toner, Jennings, Boss, Gopperth, Kirchner.
 
It’s all yours, Mr O’Connor.  Hopefully it won’t be too hard for you managing a team that had as many as six Lions and won its domestic championship despite finishing second in the regular season standings! Oh, wait… JLP
 
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Also this weekend…

Aviva Premiership Final

Leicester Tigers 37 - 17 Northampton Saints

Top 14 semifinals

Toulon 24 - 9 Toulouse

Clermont Auvergne 9 - 25 Castres

In The Event of a Rabo Tie…

Here are the extra-time/shootout procedures as per the official Rabo site, don’t say you weren’t prepared…

Rabo Direct PRO12 logo

3.9. In the event of a tie at full time in a RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Off match or the RaboDirect PRO12 Final then extra-time will be played, consisting of two periods, each of ten minutes. If the score is still tied after extra-time, the Team that has scored the most tries in the match will be deemed the winner. If the Teams are still tied on points and tries at the end of extra-time then the winner will be determined by a Place Kick Competition.

3.10. In the event that a Place Kick Competition is required, each Team will nominate three goal kickers who will take six place kicks between them from different positions along the twenty-two metre and ten metre lines. The Team with the most place kicks scored will be the winner. If the Teams are tied at the end of their six kicks, then sudden death will apply.

3.11. Only players in the playing area at the final whistle of extra-time may be nominated for the Place Kick Competition. No substituted players or players who have been shown a red card may take part at any time including any player who has received a yellow card and who remains in the sin bin at the time of the final whistle of extra-time.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ladbrokes competition

LADBROKES FINAL GRID

*CLICK THE GRID FOR A BETTER LOOK*

FINAL SCORE : BARBARIANS-8 LIONS-59

WINNING SQUARE : B 8 L 9

COMPETITION WINNER : LEAH TOWNLEY

GRID QUALIFIERS : MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY

PS – Don’t despair if you don’t make it on this week’s grid; there are more unriggable raffles to come over the next couple of weeks, brought to you by the Irish Rugby Supporters Club no less!

Keego on…Finals & (yet another) Final

Could the inexperience in Ulster’s backline prove the difference? asks Keego…

Keego logo

Last weekend was a rollercoaster of emotions.

With thanks to @jameschew14 (give him a follow) I was sitting in the south stand in the RDS a row in front of big Mal watching Leinster decimate Stade Francais. This was how we thought the game would go. As soon as Mad-dog scored after 3 minutes after a move that cut the opposition to shreds we all knew how this was going to go. I could see the heads drop on the Stade players, well all the players bar Sergio Parisse. If Stade want to compete at the highest level of European rugby they will need to close their 8. He was trying to single handedly hold out Leinster. It was very impressive to watch, but ultimately futile.

When the Stade players heads dropped Leinster heads went even further …..Up. There was a 5 minute spell where the foot was taken off the gas, but it was a dominant performance from the second best team in Europe. The place was so packed, that some former players weren’t able to get tickets. I was surprised to see Mal in the south stand with us commoners.

The selection for this game was brave. I think we all picked a team close to the one I wrote about last week. The one positive about the injuries that faced Leinster in the early part of the season is that 52 players in total have played in blue this season. This meant that they could step into a final situation with minimal pressure and perform at a high level.

It was great to see Isa and Sexton raise the trophy; it was even greater to see them raise it to their team mates before turning to face the crowd. It is quite obvious that Sexto doesn’t want to go anywhere. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier though ….

Then it was into the final in Lansdowne. 4 rows from the pitch had me close enough to hear the collisions. It was absolutely insane. I would not run at Bastaraud if I was in my jeep. He is a big lump of humanity that moves like a lightweight boxer. I did pick Toulon from the outset, I had said previously said that I think Clérmont had let things get to their head. They were rattled by a lacklustre, but brave, Munster team in the semi final, and if Toulon could stick with them for 40-50 minutes I thought that they would win. The second half was a great spectacle. The longer it went on, the more I wished that the blue team was in the game.

Now we move on to this Saturday and the Rabo Super Direct Cider 12 final in the RDS. Ulster is coming to the 4tress. Ulster is quite similar to Clermont in that they have not been able to handle any sort of pressure in 2 years. In the Heineken cup semi final against Edinburgh they looked horrible; they collapsed in the final against Leinster. They did the exact same thing against Saracens this year in the Heineken Cup. It will be interesting to see how they manage the game. Afoa is a doubt with a hamstring injury; if he is gone they may as well hand over the medals ahead of time. Ulster have some great young players, Olding looks to be absolute class. But with every Olding they have a Gilroy or a Jackson, who seem to get rattled in the big occasion. That may be because they are both 14 years of age! There is a huge amount of pressure being put on the younger players; this may well turn out to be Ulster’s downfall. Ulster sending back 500 tickets during the week may also mean that some supporters feel the same way.

Whatever happens this will hopefully be a cracking game to finish off the season. Leinster to win in the last 20 minutes.

In closing, just a quick message to Warren Gatland (we all know he reads HoR), please refrain from ruling out Leinster players without consulting the team doctor. He has been having a higher dose than usual of the crazy juice.

I hope you all have a ticket for Saturday. It should be a good one.

Until next week…

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Keego (@nkeegan): 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.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Street Rugby mobile game

International rugby star Sean O’Brien launched Street Rugby at the Hampton Hotel in Dublin.

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The Tullow RFC, Leinster and Ireland player and tourist with the 2013 British & Irish Lions is the central character in the new mobile game.

Imobile’s Street Rugby allows the game player to control Sean O’Brien as he tackles and side-steps his way around the real streets of Dublin from The Spire on O’Connell Street to Lansdowne Road, collecting caps and power-ups along the way.

Speaking at the launch, Sean said:

“The life of a professional rugby player sees you spend a lot of time travelling to and from matches. A lot of my time is spent on buses, at airports, on flights and in hotels and you end up flicking through your phone playing games! When I heard the Imobile lads were looking to get me involved in Street Rugby I was very keen to find out more. I’ve got long flights to Hong Kong and Australia coming up so I was looking for something to pass the time on those as well!”

Imobile is an award winning mobile application developer who have a strong track record in working with sporting clients such as Leinster Rugby, Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen and Aviva Premiership. Street Rugby represents the company’s first time branching out into the fast growing mobile gaming market.

Padraig Shanley co-founder of Imobile said:

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with a leading sports star and get the game the coverage it deserves. It’s fitting that in such a great time for rugby in Ireland we can launch the game which features a real map of Dublin that we went out and modelled ourselves. We’ve spent a lot of time researching and developing this game so it’s great to get it in front of people”

The app is availble in the iTunes Appstore from today here https://itunes.apple.com/ie/app/street-rugby/id604869072?mt=8 with an Android launch to follow

street rugby 3street rugby 2

Finals Saturday promises plenty

The midfield battle could prove key at the RDS on Saturday, writes Ryan Cullen…

Ryan Cullen logo

The British and Irish season comes to an end this weekend with two games of genuine unpredictability and intrigue. The combatants in the game at the RDS were considerably more predictable than the one due to take place at Twickenham, yet all results still seem possible given the quality of semi-final performances we witnessed from all four clubs. The nerves that come with playing in finals will certainly play their part as well.

We witnessed just how affecting those ‘inner demons’ can be to those afflicted by them at the Aviva on Saturday. To be plain, Clermont should be European champions. In a game which was always likely to be tight, Clermont controlled the shape of the game, played with greater fluidity and dominated both possession and territory. They also established what seemed to be a solid lead with a quick double score after half time, at which point it was difficult to see how Toulon would get themselves back into the game.

Toulon, though, are a high quality team themselves and although there was an element of fortune regarding the decisive score by the classless Delon Armitage, their defence in the last 15 minutes was outstanding. Any team that wins the H Cup ultimately deserves it but there was an element of sadness about the men from the Auvergne getting so close and failing. Beware the rest of Europe next year I think.

At Twickenham on Saturday we will see an East Midlands clash that not many would have predicted two weeks ago let alone two months ago. Leicester’s presence is far from a surprise of course. The Welford Road outfit has become the byword for English rugby consistency and justifiably go into the weekend’s decider as strong favourites. Their routing of Northampton at Franklins Gardens in March also suggests they will have too much for Jim Mallinder’s men.

Northampton, though, are considerably improved since the teams’ last encounter. Their set piece is once again strong enough to compete at the top level whilst their rolling maul is again a thing of ferocious beauty. Whilst their backline doesn’t quite pose the same threat as the pack, it may not have to for Northampton to become champions. As we have seen in the past, finals are often tight, forward orientated contests and if Northampton can outmuscle Leicester up front they may just be able to get their hands on the Premiership trophy.

That said, I still wouldn’t back against Leicester this weekend. Whilst I don’t think the gap between the sides is as big as some would have you believe, Leicester are a much better balanced side and I would be surprised if they aren’t crowned champions. It would certainly be deserved.

The game at the RDS on Saturday evening is certainly a much more difficult game to call than the one in London. Leinster go into the game boosted by securing another European trophy. Whilst the Amlin competition is undoubtedly the poor relation of the H Cup, a trophy and winners medal is still a pleasant fillip for any player heading into an important game.

To fill the club’s trophy cabinet further, though, it’s hard to think Leinster won’t have to improve. The performance against a plucky but limited Stade Français was an exercise in clinical efficiency, seizing upon the Parisian’s numerous mistakes to move out of sight by half time. Ulster will be a much greater challenge one would think.

The return of Brian O’Driscoll and several other front-liners suggests that Leinster will certainly be capable of rising to that challenge though. As we have seen over the past few seasons, there are few clubs more capable of preparing themselves mentally for big games than Leinster. They have the knack of winning finals and know that there will be still be an element of nervousness amongst the Ulster players following last season’s H Cup final, despite Ulster’s two league victories over the Dubliners this season.

It is unfortunate for Ulster that the best option for a stadium switch just happened to be the home ground of their final opponents. Ravenhill is a genuine rugby fortress these days and has a special atmosphere which lifts the players that extra 5%. Giving that up certainly isn’t ideal but Ulster’s progress this season suggests they are still fully capable of travelling to Dublin and taking the trophy. The 50/50 ticket split will certainly help there as well.

After a packed season, the fortnight break will have been a welcome one for Ulster’s players. That it has allowed John Afoa enough time to get back to something approaching full fitness is another major boost. Ulster is likely to try and pressurize Leinster up front and the Kiwi will be key to that effort.

The midfield battle is likely to be where the game is won and lost though. Whilst the likes of Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson have come on leaps and bounds this season, this is undoubtedly their biggest challenge of the year. Taking on the Lions out half Jonathan Sexton, the living legend Brian O’Driscoll and the Leinster wunderkind Ian Madigan would prove a test for any midfield, never mind a young, inexperienced trio. But Mark Anscombe believes in them and that has been quite a recommendation so far this year.

Elsewhere, the battle between Jamie Heaslip and Nick Williams is mouth-watering, whilst Rob Kearney’s battle with Jared Payne should be a terrific guide to the future international potential of the former Auckland Blue. In truth, all the ingredients are there for a terrific final to cap the best year of Pro12 rugby we have seen to date.

The biggest question, of course, is who will be spraying the champagne come 7 o’clock on Saturday evening? Realistically all results are possible given the quality of both sides. Although Leinster are justified favourites, I suspect the Ulstermen will just edge this one.

Spurred on by a dearth of silverware in recent years and the humbling defeat in last season’s H Cup final, I believe the men from Ravenhill will produce a performance akin to their effort at Franklins Gardens earlier in the season which will get them over the line. Set piece will be crucial and as long as the Ulster pack keeps their composure I think they may just bring the Celtic League title back to Belfast for the second time.

P.S. Having seen the seedings for the H Cup next year, it looks like being the best most competitive year of the competition ever! All four groups contain teams of genuine quality which bodes well for fans. Here’s hoping some heads can be knocked together over the summer and the risk to the crown jewel of club rugby disappears.

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My name is Ryan Cullen and I am a 25 year old Ulster season ticket holder. I was introduced to the game around 15 years ago and have loved it ever since. I have an interest in pretty much all sports though so don’t be surprised to see a few football (Liverpool), Golfing and Racing interests (to name but a few) thrown in from time to time.

Hooked & Tagged Rugby Beach Festival

Fancy some beach tag rugby this summer plus a bit o craic?  Then check out the @hookedandtagged festival…

H and T lead

H and T 3Hooked & Tagged is a social Tag Rugby Day on the beautiful Hook Peninsula. We have used two beaches so far – Grange & Carnivan. Two of the best beaches in Wexford. 2013 will be our 3rd year and our emphasis is on the social aspect of Tag Rugby and over-participation is frowned upon.

In our first year we were not very lucky with the weather and the biggest cheer of the day was when the organiser called all team captains to discuss whether to continue or call it a day to adjourn to watch the Ireland France World Cup warm up game. It was agreed that the final should be between one of the Carlow teams (they send 3 every year) and one of the Kilkenny teams.

Carlow were victorious and the losers’ forfeit was to have an early sea bath!!

2012 was far more successful with the same amount of teams but from different locations. We had 2 teams from Lansdowne and a local team along with the Carlow crew joined by second timers Genzyme from Waterford who have also been twice.

The sun was shining all day from early morning and the fact that we had secured sponsorship from Corona Light made sure that we were all well “hydrated” for the day. We also had a BBQ and DJ on the beach which added to a real party atmosphere.

Since the pitch was still playable for the final (our pitch becomes unplayable when the tide comes in!) Lansdowne took on last years champs Carlow in the final. It turned out to be an exciting affair with The Slayas taking the honours.

Everyone then adjourned to Neville’s Pub & Restaurant for refreshments and prize giving ceremony. We have kept the tournament small on purpose to advocate the social ethos of the day. We may expand a little this year but hope to keep it small and sociable!!! The date for your diary this year is 20th July. Teams can register by emailing Hooktagrugby@gmail.com

H and T 1It costs €100 per team (panel of 10). For this we have many local businesses on board to sponsor prizes such as Monkey’s Rock Surf Shop (without who's help last years comp would have been in jeopardy!), free tours of Hook Lighthouse and Loftus Hall and also breakfast vouchers in the Wheelhouse Café & Lily’s Pizzeria and The Village Kitchen.

Camping is free with all facilities but there are also houses readily available to rent for the weekend. Contact Hook Tourism.com and finally our motto is #coolbeer

Hooked & Tagged can be found on Twitter & Facebook.

 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Introducing…InTheLoose.com

intheloose screengrab

Hi guys,

Just wanted to take a minute to introduce our new rugby blog In The Loose. We are currently a mix of young aspiring writers and seasoned rugby fans with an opinion to share about the great game. At the moment the site is currently opinion pieces about various aspects of rugby from whether transfers are starting to have an impact on the game through to who the biggest villains in world rugby are. We’re hoping to start extending our offering in the not too distant future so that we become a great resource for rugby fans whether you’re looking to find out more about training and positions or just to catch up on the latest news and rumours surrounding the game.

We already have well recognised figures in the game such as School of Hard Knocks coach Chris Chudleigh as well as some exclusive interviews with players in the game lined-up. We’re always open to suggestions about how we can improve the site so please do let us know and we’ll see what we can do and if you fancy getting involved and doing some blogging for us then fire us over a message as we want to get as many people as possible involved. We do try to cover as much as possible from top internationals through to amateur games but it’s always good to get some alternative points of view.

Other than that it would be great if you could check out the site In The Loose and give us a follow on Twitter and Facebook.

If you would like to introduce your site on HoR2 email us at paganoblog@gmail.com

Eighty minutes from glory

A long, mostly successful season for the Ulstermen boils down to one game in Dublin, writes Kristian Ross…

Kristian Ross avatar

So here we are. Counting down. The hotly anticipated RaboPRO12 final between Ulster Rugby and Leinster Rugby is just days away, and both Irish provinces will look to cap off a fine season with domestic success come Saturday.

The Ulstermen despite a blip at the start of the year have been in scintillating form since round one of this year’s competition, seventeen wins, a draw vs Treviso and just four defeats has seen Ulster Rugby score sixty two tries and concede thirty three in the process. Mark Anscombe’s first season in charge of the province has been a whirlwind of tries, points, and some wonderful free flowing rugby that has left many pundits in awe. Not to mention the introduction of young talent such as Stuart Olding, as well as seeing players starting to mature, Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson having both been rewarded with Ireland caps earlier in the year after impressing in PRO12 games.

Then we have Leinster. Not the greatest start to the season under Joe Schmidt, but as always come the end of the year, the boys from Ballsbridge have been so clinical. A win for the Leinster A side in the B&I Cup and the huge success of yet another European trophy last week as they battered Stade Francais on home soil. Schmidt is of course aiming to leave the province with a double before he departs for the Ireland job come summer. Not to mention that Johnny Sexton will also for domestic success before his move to France. Leinster will be simply desperate to get their hands on this trophy, having been runners up for the last two season running. Schmidt has seen his side play in three European finals in a row, and on the last two occasions they have taken their toll, to name one Ospreys snatching the win at the RDS last year.

The form books are looking pretty impressive too. Ulster started to wane earlier on the year, but have came back strong, four wins in the last five meant they guaranteed that top spot in style, the win over Cardiff Blues on the final day of the season simply too easy, and the semi final tie against Scarlets didn’t prove that much of a test either. Meanwhile looking into how Leinster have played over the last few rounds it makes for pretty good reading indeed. Five wins in the last five, Leinster have not lost since they were beaten at home by the Ulstermen in April. Maybe that will be a physiological blow for the boys in blue, they haven’t beat Ulster yet this season, both home and away fixtures having ended in defeat.

The venue is certainly one that may not exactly give Ulster home advantage, the redevelopment of Ravenhill coming to early, as the Royal Dublin Society Arena was chosen by the Belfast side as their preference to hold the final. But with numerous posts on social networking about how it will be ‘’Our DS’’ I don’t think many Ulster fans will feel too worried, especially after the superb fan support at Twickenham this season.

Ulster players and fans alike believe this really is their year. The death of brave Nevin Spence has touched so many not just within Ireland, but the rugby community, and it seems fitting that the Ulstermen have made it to the final, a superb tribute to his memory, and no doubt the win will be dedicated to his memory should Ulster come out victorious on Saturday evening.

These old foes are now ready to do battle in what could will be the best match we will see this season. Both teams are ready, and both teams know that it will separate these two fierce rivals, not just for the PRO12, but for the bragging rights themselves. It’s been a year with ups and downs for both teams, but in what will be an epic encounter there can only be one winner.

It’s a season that no one has been able to take their eyes off, and from the kick off to the final whistle this weekend, both teams know that they have done themselves proud no matter what this season.

Good luck to Leinster on their quest for glory this weekend, but for me, it’s Ulster Rugby who I want to see crowned PRO12 champions on Saturday, and it is without doubt that this saying has never probably meant as much come the final.

Stand Up For The Ulstermen.

I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The “A” is for “After Extra Time”….

Newcastle Falcons fan Kristian Ross bravely gives his account of the British & Irish Cup final…

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Leinster Rugby’s A side completed a wonderful night for the club and the province after an epic extra time win in the British and Irish Cup over Newcastle Falcons on Friday night. Leinster went to Kingston Park knowing the Falcons would be a tough nut to crack; the team from the North East had not lost in the competition all season.

It was the Falcons who started well, an early penalty saw Joel Hodgson put Newcastle ahead 3-0. The Falcons pressed on and good solid attacking finally paid off when Rory Lawson went over the line, and when Hodgson converted and made it 10-0, the faithful around Kingston Park started to dream.

Leinster’s young out half Noel Reid missed his first shot at the posts, but Leinster started to come into their own, and things looked brighter for the boys in blue when Ollie Stedman was binned for Dean Richards’s side, as the Falcons were reduced to fourteen men.

And when Brendan Macken scored an impressive try for the Irish province, Leinster knew they were right back into it, Noel Reid adding the conversion as the Falcons lead was reduced to just three.

Joel Hodgson had the prime opportunity the send the Falcons 13-7 ahead just before half time, but subsequently missed his penalty and it remained at 10-7 going into the interval.

A tense scrappy second half followed with both teams vying for field position, and it was Leinster who looked the more likely. Another two misses via the boot from Hodgson mean Leinster still had a chance, and some great last ditch tackles from a nervy Falcons defence kept them from winning late on. But indiscipline would be the factor, and a penalty award to the team from Dublin saw Noel Reid level the score late on before an audacious 60+ yard penalty to try and win it failed.

Leinster had finally taken their golden chance to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and as the match entered extra time the Falcons were dealt two crushing blows, first the binning of Taiasina Tu’ifua and then a fantastic try following a great run by full back Fionn Carr who put Leinster ahead 15-10 as Noel Reid failed to convert.

Welsh referee Neil Hennessy brought the curtain down on the first period of extra time with the Falcons dramatically needing a try in the second period. An as the home side were roared on following some great attacking play, it looked like it was going to be a fairytale ending when James Fitzpatrick offloaded to Zach Kibirige and he splashed down for what looked to be the game changing try. The ground fell silent as Joel Hodgson converted and the Falcons looked to have stolen it.

But it was in fact the Leinster team who were out to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but when a mix up in the Falcons defence saw Leinster get good field position and win a scrum, the driving mass of the Leinster forwards saw a penalty won right at the end for the Irish club, and Noel Reid converted, the vital score, making it a double trophy win on the night for Leinster Rugby as the senior side won in Dublin.

A disappointing night for the Falcons, who had worked incredibly hard over the season to reach the final, and with the RFU Championship playoff final first leg against Bedford getting closer, the Falcons will look to make sure that complacency doesn’t creep in. In the end though a fantastic win for the Leinster side who did look the better in the latter stages. Some impressive players such as Brendan Macken and Cathal Marsh standing out. The Falcons know now that promotion is the main item on the agenda, but as for Leinster it was another night of success and another trophy.

Final score : Newcastle Falcons 17-18 Leinster Rugby

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I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

Kristian will be back later in the week wearing his Ulster hat looking ahead to the RaboPRO12 final.

We’ll always have Cardiff

A legend of Irish rugby retires, now it’s time to pay tribute.

The big news in Irish rugby last weekend, well Friday anyway, was the fact that Leinster won two international trophies.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m a fan of the province myself; it would surely be the headline story in any country for one if it’s senior teams to have so much success in one season, let alone one night.

But there was another major scoop inserted into the media cycle around the same time…the appointment of Ronan O’Gara as Racing Métro’s assistant coach for next season.

I suppose we’ll never know exactly what the motivation was for the news to be announced as Jonathan Sexton, apparently unaware of the move, was preparing for the big RDS occasion…the more ideal time would surely have been today Tuesday, when Leinster’s celebrations had died down and the build-up to next weekend’s RaboDirectPRO12 Grand Final in Dublin was only gathering momentum.

Because the real news isn’t just the coaching appointment…it’s more the fact that the European rugby stage is to feature ROG no more; most definitely big news that deserves it’s own place in the sporting headlines.

When O’Gara first arrived on the scene, I was just reaching a point where I felt safe sharing my views about Irish rugby in public.  I wasn’t blogging at the time, mind you…didn’t begin that until about 2005.  But when he was playing in Heineken Cup finals and vying with David Humphreys for the Irish 10 jersey, he was, along with Brian O’Driscoll of course, one of the biggest rising stars in Irish sport as rugby’s professionalism plodded along through its infancy on this shores.

And here is something that may surprise you…from the very first time he stepped onto the national stage, I was a fan, and in many ways, I still am.

Of course the evolution of the Leinster/Munster rivalry, with its recent Sexton/ROG subplot, has muddied the waters over the years.  But no rugby fan with any common sense (and maturity) could possibly deny his immense contribution to the development of the Irish game.

Sure, it hasn’t been all great, as anyone who saw the 2nd Lions test in 2009 will agree, but any annoyance I personally have regarding the player doesn’t stem from that, or indeed anything he has done on the pitch.

There can be no contest as to my most enjoyable O’Gara moment.  His drop goal in the Millennium Stadium on March 21st, 2009 had to be up there with the best 40th birthday presents anyone has ever received.

And let’s be clear…I was cheering on him and his team-mates in all four of Munster’s Heineken Cup finals in the noughties – a win for an Irish province is a win for Ireland after all.  Of course I have been cheering a little louder since Murrayfield 2009, but I can hardly be punished for that!

I see an article in today’s Indo where his wife is complaining about the way he was treated by Declan Kidney and the IRFU towards the end of his test career.  I have to tread carefully here, but I think that’s an opinion that could have been kept for a book down the line.  No, I’m not being all “women should know their place” about it.  It’s more like I’m being “it’s not all about him” and however justified the viewpoint, there are many more players who can feel aggrieved by their treatment at the highest level.

Can we not just take this time to remember the good things? 

His integral role in the Munster & Ireland game plan was of course the biggest feature of his career….the ability to land a rugby ball on a sixpence is cherished and he had it in spades.  Kicking to touch is something that casual rugby observers have issues about, but if there was a YouTube compilation put together with a string of his finest punts from the hand I for one would definitely appreciate it, even if many of them were against Leinster.

And we cannot ignore the points scoring.  1,083 in 128 tests?  That’s almost double the nearest man to him on the Irish scoring charts, ironically  Humphreys.  And Sexton will probably have to play until he’s 37 (and hope he hasn’t been upstaged by some upstart like Ian Madigan) to come near that total. 

But of all the skills required for the aggressive sport of rugby union, coolness under pressure is one that is most prized as it can so often prove the difference between victory and defeat. 

So to be able to find the mental fortitude to assume the right position, steady yourself, receive a pass in both hands, hold it at the right angle, ignore the pair of Joneses hurtling toward you with arms raised, ignore the 74,000 screaming fans, ignore the 61 years of hurt for Irish fans, and let the ball hit the turf as you strike it in such a way that it sails through the uprights is stuff of pure (yes I’ll go there) LIGIND.

Of course that wasn’t the only time he turned a game at that stage in that way (100,000 phases springs to mind), but it’s the stand out moment for me.

For the rest of this week I will be devoting my attention to a couple of departing Leinster legends, but for now I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the career of one of Test rugby’s finest players.  And I wish him all the best in his future endeavours. JLP

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Heineken Cup Twitter frenzy puts RC Toulon on top again!

Jonny Wilkinson dominates the Heineken Cup final Twitter explosion

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The 18th edition of the Heineken Cup final was arguably the most entertaining. Thousands of French fans filled Aviva Stadium with colour and noise while both teams produced a nail biting eighty minutes of Heineken Cup rugby.

All week Heineken’s Social Tracker measured the surge in social media excitement and captured the monumental Twitter frenzy over the course of the match itself. The data collected, paints a detailed picture of how fans and players reacted to the highs and lows of the encounter and illustrates how both teams enjoyed almost equal support across the social network.

Amongst the 120,000 tweets measured over a six-day period, 27,253 were attributed to RC Toulon, the new Heineken Cup champions, and 26,349 to Clermont Auvergne. Not surprisingly 91% of Toulon’s tweets were positive while the heart-breaking manner of Clermont Auvergne’s defeat meant that only 17% of their tweets were negative.

Three of the top five most tweeted players hail from the winning team with Toulon’s Jonny Wilkinson topping the list with 6,289 tweets. All five of the most tweeted players are non-French speaking and while the volume of tweets for Wilkinson are positive, the same cannot be said for his team-mate Delon Armitage (@delonarmitage). The majority of the 3,312 tweets using @delonarmitage were negative after the English full back’s unconventional celebration on the way to scoring what proved to be RC Toulon’s match winning try.

Australian Matt Giteau (@giteau_rugby) again proved a popular figure as his photo, holding the Heineken Cup in the team dressing room, was almost immediately re-tweeted 518 times.

Social Tracker is just one of Heineken's many Get in the Game activities which has seen fans engage with Heineken Cup rugby online, on their mobiles and in pubs and venues around the country. There have been over 85,000 game plays of Get in the Game to date with fans around the country engaging via their mobiles, computers and in pubs and homes with the online game. Stay in touch via #GETINTHEGAME or www.facebook.com/heineken


Saturday, May 18, 2013

HSBC cubs put Lions through their paces

168935637TD003_HSBC_Cubs_Li

Twenty-three youngsters from around the British Isles, the HSBC cubs, were awarded with the opportunity during the week (16 May) to train with The British & Irish Lions in an exclusive training session at The Lions pre-departure training camp, courtesy of Principal Partner HSBC.

The Cubs, from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were selected for this once in a lifetime opportunity by referees at regional mini-rugby festivals, supported by HSBC, in the build-up to the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia.

168935637TD004_HSBC_Cubs_LiWith just over two weeks until The Lions first game of the Tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, the aspiring rugby players were rewarded for demonstrating the core values of rugby; teamwork, courage, fair play and integrity at the mini rugby festivals and were invited to meet and train with their rugby idols.

The lucky children, aged between seven and 13, spent the morning with their heroes at their training base outside Cardiff. They learnt about what it means to play for The Lions and what it takes to make it as a professional rugby player, before showing off their skills and putting the squad through their paces.

Seven year old Florence Jeffcock, the youngest HSBC Cub, who took part in the Cambridge RUFC mini-rugby festival in April said: “I never in my life imagined I would have the chance to play with The Lions. It has been an amazing day, one that I will never forget. I was so nervous before meeting them but we got right into the rugby and then I just enjoyed myself.”

HSBC Cubs train with British&Irish Lions 16 May 2013 (6)Stuart Hogg, himself the youngest player making the trip to Hong Kong and Australia at just 20, commented: “It’s great to be able to take time out from our preparations for The Tour to meet these boys and girls. We had a good run-around with them and I think we were all impressed by the skills on display. It’s great to be able to support the grassroots of the sport, they are the future and I hope they all went away from today with fond memories and encouragement to carry on playing rugby.”

As part of their sponsorship of The British & Irish Lions, HSBC is partnering with youth rugby festivals across the British Isles in support of grassroots rugby. The HSBC Cubs represent the culmination of HSBC’s pre-tour grassroots support of rugby across the British Isles that has seen over 8,000 children involved in festivals and coaching days supported in all four nations.

HSBC Cubs train with British&Irish Lions 16 May 2013 (5)

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