Saturday, June 29, 2013

Emerald Rugby Magazine Competition

WHEN YOU ENTER A HoR COMPETITION IT IS ASSUMED YOU HAVE BOTH READ & UNDERSTOOD BOTH THE FORMAT AND RULES!

CLICK THE GRID FOR A BETTER LOOK

ERM COMP FINAL GRID

FINAL SCORE : WALLABIES-16 LIONS-41

WINNING SQUARE : W 6 L 1

COMPETITION WINNER : EMMET NEALON

(qualified Tuesday 12:03pm)

***

There’s just one more big match left in the 2013/2014 season, and you don’t need me to tell you how much is at stake.


Well, now there’s even more.

To celebrate their Summer Issue, the good folks at Emerald Rugby Magazine have offered HoR readers a one year subscription as prize for our final “unriggable raffle” of the season.

All you have to do to qualify for the latest grid is follow the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page and be sure and tune in throughout the week for special posts…follow the instructions in time and you’ll be in with a shout!

The fixture which will provide the winning square for this week’s competition is the Lions’ third test match against Australia on Saturday, July 6.

If you’re unsure as to how the “unriggable raffles” work, click here.

Check the table below for the days & times the qualification windows will open.
DAY TIME NO. OF QUALIFIERS
MONDAY
9AM
40
TUESDAY
12NOON
30
WEDNESDAY
3PM
20
THURSDAY
6PM
10

The following rules are unfortunate but necessary.
  • the competition winner must provide an Ireland or UK address.
  • only one entry per Facebook account is allowed each day, but it’s ok to enter once on each of the four days
  • each window closes 3 hours after posting – if all the spots are not taken, the extra ones will be allocated in a fifth window which will open on Friday at a time yet to be determined.
  • when you are asked to leave an “exact phrase” this means you can use the phrase with OR without the quotes; also, since speed is a factor in the competition we will make allowances for typos once it is clear a decent attempt has been made to repeat the phrase
  • for transparency purposes your qualifying comment must remain on the Facebook post until Friday 9pm at the latest, ie when the grid is officially made public.
  • be aware that Facebook have been known to display comments in a random order on the web; the competition organisers will do all we can to ensure the timeline is properly followed in each window.
  • entrants’ positions on the grid are set and not open for discussion, nor are any other final decisions made by the competition organiser
If you have any questions about the competition and/or its format, feel free to email we'd be happy to explain.

Be sure and have a go and best of luck! JLP

QUALIFIERS : MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY

AUSTRALIA-16 LIONS-15

Win a 1-year subscription to Emerald Rugby magazine in the latest HarpinOnRugby “unriggable raffle” click here for details

LIONS MUST TRY AGAIN

If rugby union was a simple game we could blame Leigh Halfpenny for this result and prepare for the decider in Sydney next Saturday.

But however awesome his boot has been on this tour, his kick at the death which, though straight, still fell short is not the reason the Lions lost this contest.

And if you delved a little deeper into the way the match transpired, you’d probably then point to the way the Wallabies scored the only 5-pointer of the match and say that is how the result came about.

It was a try that was finished by a good line by Adam Ashley-Cooper, who seems to have a knack for scoring at the Etihad Stadium, but a Lions’ share of the blame would have to go to the two starting centres for the tourists.

The Wallabies were applying such pressure on the stubborn opposition defence at that late stage because not for the first time we handed possession back to them.  On this occasion we had Jonathan Davies fumbling the ball at midfield, to be briefly rescued by O’Driscoll who had the right idea in punting it long but given he was heading towards his own 22, even he couldn’t force a good result from his kick and it gave the home side the very open field broken play opportunity the craved all day.

Eventually, after several attempts, their phase play created the millimetre of space they needed in the back line and after almost 160 minutes of a pretty watertight channel the O’Driscoll/Davies axis cracked to allow AAC through.

But however much I can point my finger at the seldom used centre pairing for that try, I STILL don’t feel that is the reason the Lions lost this second test.

For me, restricting a SANZAR nation to just 16 points on their home patch is a pretty decent achievement for any test side, and when your defence does that, it’s up to you to put enough points on the board to make it count.

Sure, there were a couple of occasions when the Wallabies’ own defence did well…O’Connor kicked a monster of a clearance from behind his own tryline at one point and at another, skipper James Horwill (who possibly shouldn’t have been playing in the first place according to the IRB) did some excellent work to force a turnover after a Lions lineout/maul.

But more often than not, Warren Gatland’s charges were masters of their own failures when it came to racking up points, and there was plenty of blame to go around the side.

Johnny Sexton had a poor first quarter by his standards.  He was able to dig deep and recover later, unleashing a stunning series of bombs in open play which landed on a sixpence outside the Aussie 22 each time, but for me it was absolutely vital for these Lions to establish a lead early, and with first a rushed kick into touch on the full and then missing touch altogether with a routine penalty, he certainly played a part in our wrong-doing.

Of course it wasn’t just him by a long stretch; throughout the match we had the rest of the starting XV taking their turns to foil momentum…much was made of Vunipola’s problems at scrum time but there were also some issues with lineouts from Tom Youngs, basic handling & grubber errors from Davies and poor timing by Lydiate getting himself caught offside, that gave the Australians either relief or scoring opportunities.

But it wasn’t even the individual errors that were doing for us overall – a lot of it came down to risky decisions that were made that just simply didn’t pay off.

I for one certainly can’t fault a coach who sticks to his guns, and Warren Gatland has done that on this tour in many areas, not least of which was a persistence with Sam Warburton.  And for the most part, in this decision his faith was rewarded as I reckon the Cardiff Blue put himself about the pitch extremely well.

But elsewhere the decisions weren’t doing so well…like Vunipola in the scrum.  When the margins are so tight, just how many times does a prop have to be pinged before he gets the hook?  We might as well ignore the rights and wrongs of the individual calls…the whistle was in the hands of Craig Joubert and whether it was genuine or thanks to pressure from the Aussie media, he had Mako’s number and there was a strong case for Ryan Grant to be sent on to at least try and fix the set-piece.

Still, for me, the biggest decision we got wrong came around the 7th minute.  We had already won a kickable penalty yet chose to go for the lineout/maul.  The sight of Brian O’Driscoll in the line let us know a famous Warren 15-man-job was on the cards.  It didn’t quite pay off, though we not only won another pen but Horwill was warned for successive maul-collapses and a yellow card wasn’t far away.

In the wild, should a lion ever have a wallaby wounded for real, it would most certainly go straight for the kill.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out why, having already shown an attacking intent, we then chose to play it safe.  The placekick may have been successful and gotten the scoreboard moving, but it also gave Horwill the chance to re-gather his troops and just 10 minutes later they had worked their way into a lead.

People have criticised the coach’s tactics on this tour but if I were him I wouldn’t change them overall…they were what won him the job and for such a honoured one-off position why should he stray too far from his comfort zone? 

But if “Gatland-ball” is to work, not only does the scoring have to come early & often, but also the right amount of beef is required to make the necessary gainline breaks.  As well as replacing his injured skipper, Warren will have to make some changes to his lineup for Sydney.

Some may say replacing Warburton will be his most interesting choice, but I reckon he’s got himself a dilemma at scrum-half.  His instincts will have him going back to Mike Phillips.  Ben Youngs earned his starting place but is more suited to a bench role for this particular series.  And Conor Murray’s cameo made a more than decent case for starting all three tests with different 9s.  Personally though, I think he should go with the one he knows and show Phillips some faith similar to that he did in his tour captain.

As for the back row, Lydiate may have tackled his heart out but this would be more useful in the final quarter.  My ideal trio for Sydney would be O’Brien, Tipuric & Heaslip with Farmer Dan & Tom Croft on the bench.  The Wallabies can only get better at the breakdown after Melbourne and this blend should at least match them as well as bringing the bash.

In the centre, since it seems O’Driscoll is going to be captain the question is…do we go with Davies again if Roberts doesn’t make it?  I reckon Sexton needs stronger lines coming down that channel.  Sadly, in this squad, outside of Roberts he’s actually a decent candidate for the 12 jumper himself but that would be too unorthodox for such a vital game. 

Manu?  Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?  I dunno.  One minute I say “hell, yeah” the next I say “meh…”  Anyway, hopefully Dr JR will make it.

My apologies for sailing into next week’s waters when I’m still writing up Saturday’s match but I can’t look at the second test without asking myself how we can win the third.

Among the other starters to impress, Tommy Bowe justified his fast-tracking into the side, while although Paul O’Connell was conspicuous by his absence as expected, Parling came very close to pinching a few lineouts and more often than not the Aussies were taking big risks throwing the ball to his part of the lineout.

Returning to Halfpenny’s kicking for a moment, I reckon that last-gasp effort was just on the limits of his range and to be honest I never thought he’d make it.  His success has been based on a strict regime but I feel the closed roof played its part…his last kick wasn’t a million miles away from where he took his first which just hit the wrong side of the crossbar and there was no gust of wind to give it a hand either way.

Still…could an argument be made that a tap and go option would have been better for that penalty situation? Could we have trusted ourselves to avail of the extra ten metres and more to work our way into drop goal territory?  I think so, but it would most definitely have been a brave call.  And while we’re on the subject of placekicks, it has to be said that Christian Leali’ifano was superb from the tee on what was virtually his test debut , particularly with what turned out to be the winning conversion.

One other incident I can’t ignore was the George North “He Ain’t Heavy” moment when he charged through Israel Folau’s attempted tackle.  The YouTube clip went viral so there’s not much more I can add about that BUT I will say that had it not happened, RugbyDump could well be featuring that bit of the match anyway because I can’t believe nobody is talking about BOD’s pass through his own legs that got the ball to North in the first place!

So for the second week in a row we had one team losing a match as opposed to the other winning it.  Sure, the Aussies did some good things, but when you’re outplayed at such key positions as 6,7,8 and 10 you shouldn’t win too often at test level.

For me, this series is a classic even without all the trips down memory lane provided by the folks at Sky.  It’s the perfect matchup of contrasting styles…for the tourists you have the well-drilled organisation while for the home side, even though Robbie Deans went to such trouble keeping Quade Cooper out of the equation, his charges are still forced to instinctively making the most out of what chinks in the armour they can find, which more often than not is leading to their own mistakes.

Absolutely every millisecond will count in Sydney.  Assuming the Lions defence can stay resolute for the 80 minutes, I reckon we need to be aiming for around the 24-point mark to put an historic series win within reach, so since I can’t see us getting 8 kicking opportunities, we MUST breach the Wallaby line.

But I reckon we can do it.  And all with BOD as skipper no less.  It seems to be writing itself doesn’t it.  I’d better stop now before I jinx things. JLP

My ideal Gatlandball lineup for Sydney, with injury cover in brackets…

Halfpenny, Bowe, O’Driscoll, Roberts (Manu), North, Sexton, Phillips.  Corbisero (Grant), T Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Parling, O’Brien, Tipuric, Heaslip.  BENCH – Hibbard, Vunipola, Cole, Croft, Lydiate, B Youngs, Farrell, Cuthbert.

PS – Major kudos to the Irish Womens 7s team for their top 8 finish at the World Cup in Moscow, which not only earns them a place in the World Series, but also is a big step for Olympic qualification.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Pagano Preview #15

This normally features on the main HoR page but we keep a copy over here for archive purposes.

Fordham logo

Next Monday is a day I call “Rugby New Year’s Day”. 

July 1st is generally the date new Northern Hemisphere contracts come into effect – for example, Matt O’Connor should be officially taking the reins at Leinster then, though no doubt he has already begun behind the scenes.

Of course with this being a Lions year however, the previous season is still going on with the test series still in the balance.  So what say we have a look at how I see things panning out.

***

Friday, June 28

Super Rugby

Chiefs v Hurricanes, 8:35am

Saturday, June 29

Lions Tour

Australia v Lions, 11:05am

Forming conspiracy theories is always a dangerous practice, because you leave yourself open to people questioning your sanity!

But as I look ahead to this Melbourne encounter I can’t help but focus on the constant reminders I see everywhere about just how important this tour is to rugby union in Australia. 

The game is fighting a losing battle with the league code and Aussie Rules for the public’s attention…the mindset appears to be similar to that in the USA where people aren’t that pushed to see their nation compete against the rest of the world and are instead more than content to witness city v city contests within their own borders.

So with this in mind, a series defeat against the travelling Lions would do the 15-man version absolutely no favours.

Now before you call the men in the white coats…no, I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Lions are going to “throw” the series for the sake of selling a few more Super Rugby season tickets!

Still though…when it comes to this second test, I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world from the ARU’s standpoint for them to at least have an even series going into the third one so they could make full use of the media hype before what would be the Sydney decider kicks off.

All I’m saying is that it will be very interesting to see how this game is handled by the two sides and officials.  Brian O’Driscoll said in a midweek interview that it was crucial to the Lions that they wrap up the series in two, here’s hoping that is the case.

Not that the Wallabies don’t have the ability to win this match fair and square of course!  Even with the absentees from the Brisbane test.

One player who has been passed fit is Christian Leali’ifano.  On purely medical grounds, I have my suspicions as to his readiness for this match…a blow to the head that has you stretchered off in the first minute doesn’t sound like something you can fully recover from in a week.  But assuming he’s fine, he will be crucial to Robbie Deans’ plans and I’d say one of the reasons James O’Connor remains at 10 is that they haven’t had the chance to run the game plan they prepared yet.

Of course there were some enforced changes but they were in the back three and despite his slipups we still got a sense of what Kurtley Beale can bring to the table and the Lions will know that poor kicking from the hand will cost them dearly.

The tourists had to make some alterations themselves but the most interesting difference was at scrum-half where it seems Mike Phillips has been tossed overboard despite being an integral part of Warren’s original plans.  This move really surprised me; not that he deserved to retain his place after Brisbane, I just thought the coach would keep faith with him.  I guess I have to remind myself that it’s not Declan Kidney!

Ben Youngs is of course a different type of 9 but his attitude has impressed me on this tour and I think he can link up will with Sexton to get the Lions’ gainline breakers where they need to be.  Plus, much like his opposite number, he has a good eye for a quick tap and go.

Elsewhere in the backline Tommy Bowe’s recovery sees him placed straight back into a starting role…with his try last week Alex Cuthbert may feel aggrieved but it’s the right call in my opinion.  The Welsh winger can provide some bash off the bench in the closing stages against a weary home defence while Bowe is better defensively.

Now, to the forwards, and the biggest talking point has to be Horwill.  I am still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt re: his intentions, but still the IRB have made a mockery of the whole affair by wading in and “appealing” the citing commissioner’s decision.  What if the appeal is upheld and he is found guilty?  That would call his presence in this second test into question and would be worse if he played a key role in a triumph for the home side.

Anyway despite the controversy Wallaby pack lineup remains the same, while there have been a few pieces moved around the board on the Lions side.  The loss of Paul O’Connell will be most felt, especially as I reckon his quick thinking & experience on our own line helped win us the first test.

His absence sees Geoff Parling join the starting XV…he will add pressure to the Wallaby lineout but it also means we will need a full 80 minutes from Alun-Wyn Jones.  Tom Croft is officially second row cover but I’m sure Gatland would rather have him as a back-row option.

And speaking of back-row options…Sean O’Brien makes the bench!  Of course I feel he should start but I reckon Lydiate/Warburton/Heaslip is as close as Gatland can get to his “ideal” 678 combo without courting accusations of Welsh bias.  Still, he will certainly be chomping at the bit to get on and overall the Lions bench has much more of a “game changer” look to it than last week.

Basically this contest boils down to the ability of the Lions to respond when they are taken out of their comfort zone.  A lot of prep work has been done by the coaches and they seem well drilled in set plays…but the Aussies are most likely to strike when things are more broken and it is here where we will be tested most.

So I suppose what I’m saying is that we need to keep those broken play opportunities to a minimum, and one of the best ways we can do that is to avoid getting on the wrong side of the ref as we did with Chris Pollock.  I’m not as inclined to blame him as many are…he reffed the first test as he saw things and we could have been better prepared.  If Joubert isn’t going to allow us contest for the ball, then we need to be able to adjust our approach accordingly, and fast.

Which brings me to my prediction.  The bookies are shading it for the tourists much like last week, but this time I’m not inclined to agree.  Whether it’s to keep the series alive for the public’s perception or whether it’s because the Lions were lucky last week and will be caught out this time around I’m not sure….let’s say I’m 70% in favour of the latter.  Australia by 4

Women’s Rugby World Cup 7s

As far as I can make out, only Ireland’s third pool match is on the “main pitch” and thus will be covered by the IRB’s live streaming…the only problem there is that most people will be watching the closing stages of the 2nd Lions test at that point!

But don’t forget the girls and I’m sure there will be regular updates via twitter (@IRBwomens) for their opening fixtures earlier that morning. 

Whatever they achieve in Moscow, their mere presence at the event is crucial for Irish rugby as we prepare for Rio in 2016 and as Cian Aherne says in his post on The Touchline blog, hopefully there is still time for a men’s team to be formed by then as well.

South Africa v Ireland, 7:06am

Australia v Ireland, 9:40am

Ireland v China, 12:58pm

Super Rugby

Highlanders v Crusaders, 8:35am

Sharks v Blues, 1:50pm

Bulls v Southern Kings, 4:05pm

Stormers v Cheetahs, 6:15pm

***

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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Return of Super Rugby

Who are the remaining Super Rugby contenders? asks BallHandling Hooker…

BHH blog

click above to view BallHandling Hooker’s blog

Super Rugby returns this weekend, with the New Zealand and South Africans teams making up for the extra rounds that the Australians have had to accommodate some Northern Hemisphere visitors.

Super Rugby is a hugely entertaining competition, where pace and skill is emphasized. So far we've seen massive hits, scorching tries and baffling interviews.

In New Zealand, the Blues have massively improved on last season's dismal outing, but the Highlanders are faring even worse. The Cheetahs are entertaining anyone who watches them in South Africa, and with Willie le Roux and co on form, they are winning games in the process. The Kings are winning admirers for their brand of rugby in their first season, while the Brumbies are quietly going about their business at the top of the Australian conference.

With 3 rounds left before the playoffs, there is still a few things left to sort out. In Super Rugby, each of the top teams in each country qualifies for the playoffs, with the next 3 teams receiving wildcard entries based on match points. The top two teams in the tournament get a bye, with the 3rd champion of the 3rd country entering into quarter finals with the other wildcard teams.

Given that Australian teams only have one game left, I'll start there.

Australian Conference

Team (Overall)                                                                     Pts

  1. Brumbies (1)                                                               59

  2. Reds (4)                                                                     54

  3. Waratahs (7)                                                               44

  4. Rebels (12)                                                                 32

  5. Force (13)                                                                 27  

The Brumbies have been by far the best team in Australia consistently this season. Led by new Wallaby caps Christian Leali'ifano and Ben Mowen, they play a smart game, while still playing an entertaining brand of rugby. Jake White is getting the most out of his players, as can be seen in their recent win over the aforementioned Northern visitors.

The only way they can be denied top spot in the Australia conference is if the Reds win with a bonus point at the Waratahs in 3 weeks, and they fail to get a losing bonus point at the Force. Neither of those scenarios appears likely.

Both the Force and the Rebels have improved this season, and both are losing admirably. At this stage of the season, neither are threatening the playoffs. The Reds in 4th have the best chance to qualify, with only 3 other teams outside of the playoffs able to climb ahead of their tally of 54 points already. More of this later.

Likely scenario:

Brumbies beat Force with no bonus point thus finishing first in Australia with 63 points.

South African Conference

Team (Overall)                                                                   Pts

  1. Bulls (3)                                                                      54

  2. Cheetahs (5)                                                               46

  3. Sharks (10)                                                                  38

  4. Stormers (11)                                                              38

  5. Kings (14)                                                                    24

The South Africa conference is a little unusual, as we have the prospect of the first ever relegation.

With the new entry of the Southern Kings, the last-placed South African team in this year's Super Rugby competition will play a two-legged tie against the Lions to determine who participates in next year's event.

The Kings have done fantastically well in their first competition, winning 3 more games than most people thought they would, and apart from 2 games, were a lot more competitive, than I, and anyone else, thought they would. Their remaining games are all in South Africa, which helps, but the most points they can get is 39, while both the Sharks and the Stormers have to have no match points from here on in three games.

Up at the top, the Cheetahs can still technically catch the Bulls, but the recent defeat to them before the break probably stopped that from happening. The Bulls have a favourable draw, having to play the 3 other South African teams, while the Cheetahs face the Stormers and the fellow playoff chasing Blues.

Likely scenario:

Bulls take 13 of 15 possible points from the next games to finish 1st in South Africa on 67 points.

Kings get at most 3 losing bonus points, and face the Lions in the relegation match.

New Zealand Conference

Team (Overall)                                                                   Pts

  1. Chiefs (3)                                                                  56

  2. Crusaders (5)                                                             46

  3. Blues (10)                                                                  43

  4. Hurricanes (11)                                                           39

  5. Highlanders (14)                                                          22

At this stage, only the Highlanders, who have had a terrible season, have no chance of the playoff.

The Chiefs have a commanding ten point lead, and while both the Blues and the Crusaders can catch them, it's still unlikely. The Chiefs have the hardest run in out of the conference leaders, but have the biggest lead. They play both the Blues and the Crusaders and the Hurricanes who have still have an outside mathematical chance of qualification.

The Blues have been much improved, and with young guns Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua making a big name for themselves.

Likely scenario:

I think the Chiefs will take 10 points from a possible 15 of their remaining games, finishing first in New Zealand with 66 points.

This leaves the conference leaders as; 1. Bulls (67), 2. Chiefs (66), 3. Brumbies (63), with the Brumbies facing one of the wildcards.

Wildcards:

Those still in contention (mathematically) are:

4. Reds (54)

5. Cheetahs (46)

6. Crusaders (46)

7. Waratahs (44)

8. Blues (43)

9. Hurricanes (39)

10. Sharks (38)

11. Stormers (38)

First, it shows a lot about the strength of the competition that with 3 rounds left, 11 teams are still mathematically in with a chance of qualifying, and that in 10th and 11th place are two of last year's semi-finalists.

Secondly, while the Hurricanes, the Stormers and the Sharks can still qualify, they need a lot of things to go their way, with the most either of them can achieve is 54 points, and I don't think that tally will be enough to qualify.

For this reason, I am also discounting the Waratahs, as the max they can finish with is 49.

This leaves 4 teams battling for 3 places, with the Reds, the Cheetahs, the Crusaders and the Blues. The Cheetahs are the only team in the competition that have a bye left, which means that they will finish with 50 points at least.

The way I see the season panning out is, the Crusaders, the Blues and the Cheetahs all win this weekend against the Highlanders, the Sharks and the Stormers respectively.

The following weekend is set for a titanic battle as the Blues face the Cheetahs in what initially appears to be a huge game, while the Crusaders face the Chiefs. I think the Crusaders will beat the Chiefs, who should be safe as 1st by this stage, while the Blues put more pressure on the Cheetahs with a narrow win. This leaves the Cheetahs with 55 points (after the bye), the Crusaders with 55, the Reds still with 54 and the Blues with 52. All to play for.

At this point, if the Reds lose to the Waratahs with a losing bonus point, the Cheetahs and the Crusaders would finish ahead of them based on the higher number of wins they have.

The final weekend sees the Blues play the Chiefs in a huge game, knowing that a win would guarantee them a place in the playoffs. This would be a huge achievement for a team that was all at seas last year, recording only 4 wins. Unfortunately I don't think they will have enough, and the teams will finish like this;

4. Crusaders (60)

5. Reds (58)

6. Cheetahs (55)

7. Blues (53)

This leaves:

(1) Bulls vs ((3) Brumbies vs Cheetahs (6))

(2) Chiefs vs ((4) Crusaders vs Reds (5))

My tip is for the Chiefs to retain their crown against a tough Brumbies side in a fantastic final.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Melbourne Rebels-0 Lions-35

Win a private movie screening for you and up to 30 of your friends courtesy of Denzille Private Cinema in the latest HoR “unriggable raffle”, click here for details.

THE 24TH LION

Sean O’Brien strikes me as the sort of bloke who is never happy with second best.  For example if I had a restaurant I certainly wouldn’t offer him a €30 steak if my menu had one that was worth 40.

Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that there’s a single player on this Lions tour that doesn’t want to be on the test team, but you can’t watch the Tullow Tank without being impressed by just how much it would mean to him for this not to be his last appearance of the season. 

And that’s not just my blue/green goggles talking either…the commentary teams hailing from both England and Australia constantly remarked on it throughout this match at the “Melbourne Rectangular Stadium”.  From the kickoff until his substitution on the 55th minute he was larger than life on the pitch and he fully deserved his try shortly before he took the bench.

But the question remains…does he fully deserve a spot in the matchday 23 in the Etihad next Saturday?  Well you know what my personal opinion is, but when you look at it objectively and consider what has happened on the tour and who’s in charge, it’s not so simple.

First we need to look at his try more closely.  Sure, there was no stopping him once he got the ball but let’s not forget how it got to him…first Faletau safely took the lineout then after Richie Gray shipped it on to Lydiate the skipper for the day displayed the quick hands that have been a trademark of this touring side to get it to O’Brien.

My point is that for all his obvious desire, the Leinster man is trapped in an equation that just doesn’t seem to be working out for him.  And while you’d never wish a player an injury, if you’ll forgive the term he doesn’t seem able to “catch a break” since for all the players dropping like flies on this tour, all the back rowers remain healthy AND for the most part aren’t putting a foot wrong.

So even though Stu Barnes did his best to talk him up as he left the field and despite all the good will being projected towards Melbourne from back home, I’m still preparing myself to see his name left out of the squad for the second test.  It’s just easier that way for me.

Overall this wasn’t a great contest as the home side showed some fight to befit their nickname but were never really in it.  In the final series of plays I was even rooting for them to get the “silver doughnut” (classic Aussie commentator term) off the scoreboard but they couldn’t manage it.  Gareth Delve in particular was impressive for them, and of course the former Welsh international had plenty of motivation.

But at least it was good to see the breakdown become a contest again as referee Glen Jackson re-introduced the “holding after the tackle” call which Chris Pollock seemed to have forgotten last Saturday.

Although O’Brien stood out, you could see that to a man this Lions team was focused on impressing the coaching ticket…and this eagerness produced mixed results.  On the one hand we had the superb second try finished by Sean Maitland but superbly created thanks to a break by Tuilagi and several slick offloads. 

On the other hand we had the ball going to ground at the worst possible moment more than once; the Lions were just fortunate in that this week they were up against a young franchise that couldn’t capitalise.

Throughout the Lions 23 you had performances that had much good tempered with a little not-so-good…but in each case the players can be forgiven the transgressions considering what was at stake.  Owen Farrell was excellent from the kicking tee and appears to have come out of himself in open play, something that no doubt Stuart Lancaster will be quick to fix when he gets him back!

Of the rest of the Irish contingent, Conor Murray showed a nice pirouette for his try but in the end was outdone by his replacement Ben Youngs who’s late 5-pointer should keep him his bench spot.  Although Phillips was poor in Brisbane I can’t see Gatland denying him a second chance at starting.

Rob Kearney did his best to get himself into the action but it just wasn’t happening for him.  Barring injury I’d say his tour is done.  Forgive me, but I’d be glad if that’s the case – it would be good for both Matt O’Connor and Joe Schmidt to have him fit to start the new season.

Simon Zebo is another one with the X-factor to make a case for test inclusion though I reckon he’s four years too soon to get his wish…with Tommy Bowe back in the mix for Saturday I can’t see the Munster man climbing the pecking order…perhaps their fans feel the same way about it as I do re : Kearney?

The Ulster front rowers on the bench had some good involvement towards the end…let me be sure and make it clear that the Ben Youngs try came from a pinpoint long dart from Rory Best!  And Tom Court may have his Australian roots to thank in part for his call-up but certainly didn’t look out of place when he came on.

One more thing about that Youngs score…I hear Lachlan Mitchell has copped a 1-game ban for his dangerous tackle on Zebo, well perhaps the Rebel full-back Jason Woodward’s high shot on the Leicester & England scrum-half as he scored could have been looked at as well.

The one score I haven’t mentioned was the penalty try which was earned after it took the Lions pack a few goes to perfect the lineout/maul setpiece and sub Jordy Reid tore up the rulebook to manhandle Rory Best from the wrong angle and saw yellow as well for his trouble.

So…what do we now know about Saturday?  Well, I for one couldn’t blame a coach for being reluctant to alter his gameplan especially since it is one he would have been working on for months prior to being able to so much as test it on the training ground.  So apart from replacing injured players and accepting back those who probably would have started anyway, I can’t see him altering that much.

If Tommy Bowe does come back into the fold, given both starting wingers scored last week, it would most likely be to the bench, thus ousting Sean Maitland, who I must admit has gotten better as the tour progressed.

Should this happen, it will be interesting to see who gets the bench lock position.  Evans and Gray both did well against the Rebels, but on overall form for the tour I’d be inclined to pick the Welshman for the bench.  Is that the only factor though? 

Assuming Maitland will be left out, will Gray get the nod because of his nationality, even though nobody would ever admit it?  We’ll have to see, though that “token Scot” argument could be moot as Ryan Grant is likely to make the bench as the Last Loosehead Standing should something happen to Vunipola.

And so the midweek matches come to an end, as does the tour for around half the group.  We’ll see tomorrow morning where Gatland & co landed on the Sean O’Brien dilemma. 

I reckon I’m right to christen him the 24th Lion, but let’s just say I’m glad there’s a 24-hour flight time between the two of us as I do. JLP

Saturday, June 22, 2013

AUSTRALIA-21 LIONS-23

Win a private movie screening for you and up to 30 of your friends courtesy of Denzille Private Cinema in the latest HoR “unriggable raffle”, click here for details.

GENIA & THE BOTTLE

The Wallaby game plan was so shrouded in secrecy before this opening battle that even the Aussie TV commentators didn’t know who was nominated to take their placekicks until James O’Connor was handed the tee in the 3rd minute.

Even before we made that discovery, however, a sizeable chunk of that plan had to be torn up as Test debutante Christian Leali’ifano was stretchered off after a cruelly unlucky collision with Jonathan Davies in his opening challenge and he was replaced by the more defensive-minded Pat McCabe.

What we proceeded to see from the Wallabies was an even mix of the Good the Bad and the Ugly which wasn’t enough.  But only just.

The leadup to the game’s opening try reminded me of a scene from a different flick…namely Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy shoots the guy who is expertly brandishing a sword before him.

The Lions had just gotten their first series of front-foot ball in the Wallaby 22, and Johnny Sexton set about manoeuvring his offence towards their try line as no doubt they had been painstakingly preparing all throughout the tour.  Thing was though, the hosts would have been preparing for it too and for the most part held them out, though referee Chris Pollock’s determination to favour the attacking team did win the Lions a penalty which they chose to ignore.

I will deal with the rights and wrongs of the referee’s interpretations of the breakdown laws later…in this case he chose to ping Brian O’Driscoll for the third time in the opening thirteen minutes just moments after deeming the Lions’ advantage to be over.  So after a series of phases forged on the training ground designed to slice through the opposition had failed, the home side proceeded to take a much more direct route courtesy of a quick tap & go by their inspirational skipper Will Genia.

His run which took him from just inside his own 22 to just outside the Lions’ was literally mesmerizing, for his opposite number Mike Phillips first, and then for left winger George North who did his best to cover his man but eventually got drawn in to a challenge leaving union rookie Israel Folau free to receive a clever little grubber from his captain and stroll over for the opening score of the series.

Despite all the smoke and mirrors surrounding Deans’ strategy, that superbly taken 5-pointer had pretty much all the hallmarks we were expecting, and it was game on.

Not that this was going to rattle an offence led by Jonathan Sexton, however.  One of the trademarks of his success with Leinster has been his ability to respond quickly to opposition scores and he and George North combined for an absolutely crucial choke tackle thwarting a Wallaby attack shortly after that opening score and off the resulting scrum they marched down the field before Leigh Halfpenny got his first crack at the posts.

Once the Lions’ side of the scoreboard got moving it was their turn to take full advantage of a mistake from the opposition.  To be fair, it was only the high standards of such an epic contest as this that made Berrick Barnes’ slightly over-cooked garryowen a “mistake”.

With all the success the Wallabies have enjoyed over the Welsh in recent years, I’m not so sure their fans would have been too worried to see George North receive the ball in open play as he did when he received the kick.  A few moments later as he (needlessly I thought) gestured to Genia while crossing the try line, they all knew just how worried they need to be.

It was a finish of the highest order, beating four despairing tackles along the way (an “old fashioned” winger would have probably fallen to O’Connor’s ankle tap but not this giant of a number 11) and as it turned out, put the tourists in the lead for good – the home side were in front for just 13 minutes and to say it was a sign of bad luck for them was a major understatement.

Next it was the Lions’ turn to attack the opposition 22 shortly after a try, and this time North was denied another by a millisecond as his elbow grazed the touchline just before he got the ball down.  Credit must go to Genia for catching him this time, just.  Luckily there was still an advantage for his side and Halfpenny stretched the lead to six.

Then it was time for more magic from Folau.  Ironically I had just sent a text to a mate saying : “Sexton having a blinder you wouldn’t know it by Sky tho” when he found himself facing the winger on the edge of his 22.  For a split second, there seemed to be no danger.  But again, the standards here were so high that even the brief amount of time it took the Lion outhalf to consider his covering options was too much and with a quick plant of the right foot, Folau was by him.

That brought the Wallabies to within a point, and by rights they should have gone ahead but O’Connor missed his third placekick of the first half.  How he can go from someone with the bottle to beat the All Blacks to someone who couldn’t kick snow off a rope only he could know…maybe it was the weight of the pressure heaped on him by his coach when he chose to reject Quade Cooper as 10?  The youngster is a quality footballer who was practically silent in this contest and perhaps would have been better suited in the back three.

Still, as it turned out, he wasn’t the only Aussie kicker to bottle it, but for all that has been written & joked about regarding that last second slip, there was still a lot left to happen in this match that influenced the result every bit as much.

The Lions may have been dropping like flies on this tour but after the way this first test went I doubt they will get much sympathy from their hosts.  Having already lost probable starters in their backrow long before the visitors’ plane touched down, to lose both of your starting centres AND the replacement as well as your full back over the 80 minutes is just downright rotten luck.

And you can’t say the Lions saw no benefit on the scoreboard either.  In my preview I said watch out for Alex Cuthbert if a Wallaby was to find the sin bin.  Though Pollock didn’t appear to have his cards with him, when substitute Pat McCabe went off meaning openside flanker Hooper had to cover the centre position, in many ways it was as good as having an extra man, and the visitors took full advantage on the first set play.

Did O’Driscoll throw an illegal block on O’Connor to help provide the space?  Perhaps, but if so it was borderline and since the officials were apparently favouring the attacking team on such calls, it was only right that the TMO allowed Cuthbert the try.

This put the Lions 20-12 in front but there were only 49 minutes on the clock so even though the home side needed two scores there was plenty of time to get them.  And now is a good time to talk about Mr Pollock and his interpretation of the breakdown.

It is ironic that it took a rugby league convert to provide the tries for the Wallabies because when you go to great lengths to discourage the defending team from competing for the ball, you are bringing the 15-man code very close to its 13-man rival.

Chris Pollock hails from New Zealand and thus will never have officiated Richie McCaw at test level.  Any non-All Black rugby fan will tell you that the great number 7 was given the benefit of the doubt countless times simply because of who he is.  Maybe, just maybe, Brian O’Driscoll’s achievements in the game deserved similar treatment in the opening minutes? 

If you strictly apply the laws then sure, it’s extremely difficult even for the great BOD to 100% support his own body weight over a tackled player.  But to ping it so freely is to suggest that all this time O’Driscoll has been cheating.  And if he has, then McCaw has. That’s all I’m saying.

So you could say Pollock favoured the home side in that they knew from the get go how to handle the breakdown area, but did he form this view the night before the test? I think not. The refs were announced well in advance so maybe, just maybe, Gatland’s men could have been better prepared.  And when it came to favouring the attacking side, the officials seemed pretty consistent throughout the match.

And as it turned out, it took a clever use of Pollock’s interpretation by another legendary Irish ex-Lions captain that played a huge part in preventing the Wallabies from getting what could have been a decisive third try.

A scintillating open field break from Kurtley Beale brought his side to within inches of our line.  Meanwhile, in Brady’s in Terenure, I was shouting “somebody foul! somebody foul!” – the only thing that was going to protect our try line was a deliberate pen, and given the Aussies did just that right before half time with no card as a result, it was only right that we should as well, and thankfully Paul O’Connell was bang wide to it.  You would have feared for the furniture in Brady’s had Paulie seen yellow for that.

But he didn’t and the home side had to be content with a two point deficit.  They had two more chances to put their noses in front, but as we all know Beale wasn’t up to the task.  I have to admit that looking over the match a second time I did feel sorry for him after the slip…though there was a certain amount of irony that it was on a patch of turf very close to that which forced the pen in the first place.

So it was victory for the Lions, but it didn’t come without its worries.  And I don’t just mean the loss of O’Connell to injury either, though that truly is a cruel blow.

What concerns me most is that Gatland’s side did a pretty good job of executing their gameplan throughout this match.  With the exception of a couple of scrums towards the end (both of which I am tempted to pin on Hibbard) the set pieces were fine.  For the most part the offence seemed to achieve what it set out though it was faced by a stubborn “D” more often than not.  Also, we proved ourselves able to create broken play opportunities much like our hosts.

Most disappointing performance from a red jersey was definitely Mike Phillips.  Had one break but didn’t bring anywhere near the overall game we expected.  I have a feeling Gatland will stick with him though.

Yet despite all that gameplan success, we won by just the two points thanks to a last second slip.  Will we be that lucky over the next two weeks?  I’m not so sure.

This writeup has gone wayyyy longer than I intended, but I have covered the good from Genia & Folau and the bad from Beale & O’Connor…what about the ugly, or should I say the hideous, from Horwill?

After this test match was over I went to see Man of Steel.  I reckoned it was good, but nowhere near the same league as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series.

That’s kind of the way I felt about this stamp from the Wallaby skipper when I compared it to the incidents involving Tana Umaga and Schalk Burger from tours gone by.  Sure, there are elements of this that you can use to make comparisons, but there are also several where you most certainly cannot.

I have already made a case in this article that senior players should be afforded the benefit of the doubt when it comes to cheating.  For the good of the game of rugby, we have to believe that Horwill’s first reaction when he saw Alun-Wyn Jones’ head at the base of that ruck (assuming he saw him at all) was NOT to drive his studs into the Welsh lock’s face.  Otherwise he should be banned for life.  So my call – not guilty.  My apologies to Brian Moore who saw it a tad differently.

On to Melbourne, where Gatland has to change things or this series could turn on its head quickly.  If tests 2 & 3 serve up half the tension and entertainment that we saw in Brisbane, whether your hats are made of yellow plastic or fake lion fur, hold on to them. JLP

Denzille Private Cinema Competition

WHEN YOU ENTER A HoR COMPETITION IT IS ASSUMED YOU HAVE BOTH READ & UNDERSTOOD BOTH THE FORMAT AND RULES!

DPC COMP FINAL GRID
CLICK GRID FOR A BETTER LOOK

Final score : Wallabies - 16 Lions -  15

WINNING SQUARE : W 6 L 5

Competition winner - Niall McDonough

Entry recorded Thursday 9pm

The first prize in our latest competition which will run throughout the coming week is an evening for you and your friends in the superb Denzille Private Cinema close to Merrion Square in downtown Dublin.
A little more about the Denzille Private Cinema
“An exclusive 30 seater cinema located in the heart of Dublin! This stylish & elegant private venue offers a superb intimate location for business or pleasure and offers a complete movie theatre cinema experience with full surround sound, HD picture quality & flip down theatre seating for that real cinema feel! There is also a function area at the venue to allow for that all important socialising before or after the movie! The Denzille Private Cinema is a completely private venue. During your hire time, the venue is exclusively for your use, and not open to the public.”

If you’re unsure as to how the “unriggable raffles” work, click here.

The fixture which will provide the winning square for this week’s competition is the Lions’ second test match against Australia on Saturday, June 29.
The rules you see below are unfortunate but necessary –
  • PRIZE DETAILS : 2.5 hours of exclusive access to your very own cinema. Have a party, watch a movie with up to 30 of your friends.
    The offer can be used Mon – Fri, between the hours of 9-8pm. You can bring your own food/refreshments. We have a library of movies to choose from or you can bring your own. DVD or Bluray is the format required.
    This prize is valid for 3 months from Sat 29/06/13
  • only one entry per Facebook account is allowed each day, but it’s ok to enter once on each of the four days
  • each window closes 3 hours after posting – if all the spots are not taken, the extra ones will be allocated in a fifth window which will open on Friday at a time yet to be determined.
  • when you are asked to leave an “exact phrase” this means you can use the phrase with OR without the quotes; also, since speed is a factor in the competition we will make allowances for typos once it is clear a decent attempt has been made to repeat the phrase
  • for transparency purposes your qualifying comment must remain on the Facebook post until Friday 9pm at the latest, ie when the grid is officially made public.
  • be aware that Facebook have been known to display comments in a random order on the web; the competition organisers will do all we can to ensure the timeline is properly followed in each window.
  • entrants’ positions on the grid are set and not open for discussion, nor are any other final decisions made by the competition organiser
If you have any questions about the competition and/or its format, feel free to email we'd be happy to explain.

BEST OF LUCK!!! JLP
QUALIFIERS :  MONDAY  TUESDAY  WEDNESDAY  THURSDAY

How international rugby is encouraging participation at grassroots

youth rugby

International rugby players aren’t just inspiring when they are on the pitch, doing what they do best, they also work at getting young people involved in the sport. Without the younger generation being influenced by the game or being encouraged to participate at grassroots level then the game would suffer at a professional level. The Welsh Rugby Union recognises this and has given a massive £27million in order to boost the grassroots projects in Wales. Therefore, the goal of international rugby off the pitch is to make the game available to everyone.

How international rugby helps

Many children watch the international rugby matches and dream of the day when they will get to pull on their country’s rugby shirt and join the field to the cheers of the audience. The flood of young, new, talented players coming to the game brings with it a renewed enthusiasm for children to dedicate their time to becoming a professional rugby player. In a move to increase participation, many local rugby clubs receive support from international rugby stars who come along and help coach and take drills on a semi-regular basis.

Improving the grassroots

When most people picture grassroots rugby they often think of a scraggly pitch with old wooden posts and barely visible line markings. International rugby sponsors such as HSBC, RugbyForce and SWALEC are working to change this image through corporate sponsorship of local rugby clubs. This sponsorship gives them more finances to purchase equipment, tend the pitches and even allow the club’s rugby kit to be sold at a discounted price. The WRU has directly employed over 50 people with the sole purpose of helping community rugby take place and recognise specific areas where more funding is needed. Many of the rugby sponsors see what they are doing as an investment in the future, as they know that without grassroots rugby there would be no professional sport.

Having the right tools for the future

Rugby shirts take a real battering; tough tackles, mud, grass stains, soaked with sweat, blood and tears. This typically means that there is a time span on how long these shirts will last, however some clubs are unable to replace or update their team’s rugby shirts to their detriment. Think about how much the kit has changed in the last 5 years, moving from loose-fitting cotton jerseys to skin-tight Lycra material. Without the vital funding from international rugby many clubs would still be sporting the older versions of the rugby jersey, which disadvantages them in games against more privileged clubs. Through sponsorship, local clubs have been able to boost grassroots participation by: improving the standards of their pitch, introducing floodlights, purchasing line marking machines, sprucing up or building clubhouses, purchasing training equipment and paying for coaches.

Transparent funding streams in Wales

The Welsh Rugby Union is at the forefront of the sport when it comes to potential sources of funding for grassroots programmes. In the last five years over 310 local rugby clubs in Wales have received £27 million in funding through the WRU, with amounts ranging from £100 to £250k. The funding is designed to help anybody access rugby, from helping clubs gain access to discounted equipment to purchasing land to be used as a community rugby pitch in areas where there are no nearby facilities.

Written by

image

http://www.rugbyclearance.co.uk/

photo by Murky1 via Flickr (creative commons license)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Lions Selector Panel – Epilogue Pt2

Our Welsh panellist Hywel Davies looks back over the HoR Selector project…

British-Irish-Lions-logo-20131_thumb[1]

Well, it's been a ball. All last season I was part of the Lions Selector panel on HOR2. Four of us representing the home nations gave our predictions for the first test line up.

This was the first composite team:

Pre season
15 LEIGH HALFPENNY (WALES)
14 ALEX CUTHBERT (WALES)
13 BRIAN O’DRISCOLL (IRELAND)
12 JAMIE ROBERTS (WALES)
11 GEORGE NORTH (WALES)
10 JONATHAN SEXTON (IRELAND)
9 MIKE PHILLIPS (WALES)
1 CIAN HEALY (IRELAND)
2 RICHARD HIBBARD (WALES)
3 ADAM JONES (WALES)
4 ALUN-WYN JONES (WALES)
5 JIM HAMILTON (SCOTLAND)
6 SAM WARBURTON (WALES)
7 JUSTIN TIPURIC (WALES)
8 SEAN O’BRIEN (IRELAND)


It's interesting to note that it's only an injury to Roberts which has robbed us of total accuracy in the backs. The forwards however are a dogs dinner. 3 out of 8, and one of them out of position! The only place injuries save our blushes are at loose head.

More interesting though is what this tells us about Home Nations rugby. Big backs are in vogue, and it is mightily impressive as such that O'(AP)Driscoll has made it to the test side. (Don't all cue up to berate me for that, I will be delighted if the old man shows the Aussies a thing or two)

Having the luxury of watching the season unfold the composite team changed to being...erm...equally inaccurate:

Post season
15 LEIGH HALFPENNY (WALES)
14 ALEX CUTHBERT (WALES)
13 MANU TUILAGI (ENGLAND)
12 BRIAN O'DRISCOLL (IRELAND)
11 GEORGE NORTH (WALES)
10 JONATHAN SEXTON (IRELAND)
9 MIKE PHILLIPS (WALES)
1 CIAN HEALY (IRELAND)
2 RICHARD HIBBARD (WALES)
3 ADAM JONES (WALES)
4 ALUN-WYN JONES (WALES)
5 JIM HAMILTON (SCOTLAND)
6 SAM WARBURTON (WALES)
7 JUSTIN TIPURIC (WALES)
8 JOHNNIE BEATTIE (SCOTLAND)

However I defy anybody outside fanatical Leicester or Leinster fans to have had Croft, Youngs or Heaslip as nailed on starters. O Connell of course was just playing with us, as a cat would, with a mutilated mouse.

Whereas Gatland's backs have his name written all over them, the type of forward selected is more of a surprise. Youngs may just be there for his throwing in, but Croft and Heaslip are not what we've come to think of as Gatland's type of men. They are bold calls, a nod to the Aussies, the pitch, and even Lions of the past. Who'd have thought it?

One thing was always certain though; It will be a blast.

1st Test team:
15 Halfpenny
14 Cuthbert
13 O'Driscoll
12 Davies
11 North
10 Sexton
9 Phillips
1 Corbisiero
2 Youngs
3 Jones
4 Jones
5 O'Connell
6 Croft
8 Heaslip
7 Warburton (c)

Hywel (@HywelV2) is head Rugby writer on the v2 Journal. A bundle of contradictions, he is a Solicitor and Farmer, a Scarlets supporter and a "conservative, forward orientated typical blydi prop".

Keego on…Replays & Reports (part 2)

Click here for Part 1

Keego logo

So here we go, the second half is about to kick off. It is 16-6 to Leinster and I have just come back from the kitchen with a full fresh pot (FRESH POTS!), lets gitter done!

Leinster kicking off playing towards the Southside (which as we all know is the best side). Best with a lineout, no fear as he throws to the front. Ulster gets the ball to Williams who is stopped by 3 Leinster players. The game is still being played at a ferocious pace. Less that 2 minutes in Ulster give away yet another penalty. Play stopped because of a knock to Madigan. I think he has appeared weaker since changing his hair to a more civilian style, I do not think he knows the story of Samson. The realization that Ulster pressure is still yielding zero points must be getting to them at this stage.

Leinster full of running, Cullen even putting the wheels in gear, two advantages. The indiscipline from Ulster is becoming a joke. Finally a card is show to Ulster as Diack is given a yellow for going off his feet AGAIN! If this keeps up they may not have enough players on the pitch to finish the game.

Penalty to Leinster, more booing from Ulster fans which is again deplorable! Sexton puts the preds on the ball and increases the lead to 19-6. It looks like an insurmountable climb for Ulster at this stage. Boss has been epic in the opening minutes of the second half. Ulster look rattled, almost as if they are lucking their way through. Jackson has an awesome run and is held back by his throat by Isa Nacewa in his last Leinster game. It was a desperate tackle from Isa, and it may be the beginning of a momentum shift. Fair play to Jackson, he scared the Leinster defense to death there. Ulster takes the 3 points from Piennar.

19-9 to Leinster.

Ulster have nothing to lose here, they need to just go for it. Play on instinct. Leinster lose a lineout, Piennar boots it down the pitch aimlessly. Another Leinster lineout, nearly stolen by Ulster. Ulster looks like a different tea in the last few minutes. Conway collects a high ball and momentum shifts again. If I had hair I would be pulling it out at this stage, I do not so I am pulling……..The blue army are in full voice, Drico runs n head first and the ball is turned over. Madigan is caught by Bowe, momentum really shifting. Bowe has been immense for Ulster all day. Piennar steps up for another penalty, 19-12 and there is one score in it. Madigan was made to look like a little boy by Bowe in the last play.

Another long kickoff results in Piennar putting the boots to the ball and gaining a huge amount of ground. Strange call from Leinster for the second time in the half. Ulster looking likes a different team in the 52nd minute. Looking more robust. But they cannot stop Healy getting over the gain line. Ulster turn over, the luck appears to be going their way just before the 55th minute. A Goodman slip leads to an Ulster lineout in the Leinster 22 area. The Leinster give away a penalty for playing on the ground, this really is battle stations for Leinster. Piennar steps up to take the kick, they do not feel the need for a lineout, and they probably have no trust in it at this stage. It is now the Ulster fans who are singing, for the first time all day. Death, taxes and Piennar. He has the radar working today. The score creeps up to 19-15 to Leinster.

Nacewa back on at 55:35. Another long kick off from Sexton. ANOTHER return kick from Piennar into the exact same spot as previously. Ulster are aiming at the Leinster lineout. The Leinster lineout has creaked but once today. Ulster couldn’t even contend for it. Jennings must have had spinach at half time; he is still rattling forward and smashing through tackles. Leinster looking like they have a bit more energy now. Running the ball with calm, while the Ulster defense works well. Sexton nearly breaks through with a cheeky little dummy. Ulster appear to be glassy eyed, not knowing how to stop Leinster.

That last passage of play shows how much Sexton will be missed for the next two years.

Dear IRFU, you couldn’t run a bath, let alone a provincial team.

The rds sounds absolutely massive in the 58th minute. Blue army definitely winning that battle. The ref has been consistent all day with the breakdown and the scrum, nothing either team can complain about as we approach the hour mark.

Boss has been eating Williams’ shoelaces all day. There have been no weak performances from Leinster today. Everyone has been immense and very disciplined. Whereas Ulster just can’t stop giving away penalties. The nerves should have worn off by this stage.

Sexton aiming at the sidelines instead of kicking at goal. Confidence is growing on the blue side. The preds of Sexton get every single inch out of the kick, lineout nearly on the Ulster try line. 61 minutes gone. The captain calls the lineout on himself, Ulster disrupt the maul but they cannot stop the church. Frightening tackling on the Ulster try line. You really feel that Leinster must score; it looks like Heaslip sneaks over. We go to the TMO.

The heart beats a bit faster, ‘is there any reason I cannot afford the try’, Heaslip and Toner pushed through three Ulster defenders and the TMO awards the try. A huge point in the match. Leinster withstood the Ulster onslaught; Ulster didn’t have the balls to try the lineout when they needed the points. That is the difference between the two sides, the size of their genitals.

Sexton is up for the conversion, from nearly the entrance way on to the pitch. Sexton pulls a tough kick left. That kick may have put the game beyond Ulster, but they are not out of it yet. Henderson on for Diack, who has been the reason for a lot of Leinster points today.

A big tired scrum in the 64th minute results in a knackered looking Ulster trying to spread the ball wide. The Leinster line is being lead by O’Driscoll and the attack is stopped fairly easily. Leinster have the put in on their 22. The ref looks like he is about to jump into the scrum. Heaslip runs the resulting penalty given against Ulster. Still some ferocious hits going in and we are nearing 70 minutes gone. Leinster rolling forward through some bruising forward running. Absolutely no fear on either team. Ulster wins a penalty at the breakdown, maybe their first at the breakdown all day.

Piennar calls for the ball; they feel that there is enough time left to win the game. Just inside the Leinster half, by my reckoning it is a kick of 15 miles. Healy giving Piennar the evils while he lines up the kick. RDS falls silent and the white side of the stadium erupts. That was some kick! With that kick Piennar has destroyed Paddy Jacksons chances of playing 10 for Ireland.

24-18 to Leinster. Another long kickoff and ANOTHER long kick back from Piennar to the EXACT same spot for a Leinster lineout. What is the definition of insanity again????

The Leinster lineout has only lost one today. Jennings breaking through tackles and Leinster are looking like champions here. Still running as if it is the first minute. Amazing to see players this big run this hard for this long. Ulster given a penalty, Piennar ready to put the boots on it, fires the ball just up to the Leinster 22. We are in the final ten minutes. I have only seen one player take a knee with fatigue. This is an insane showing of fitness from both teams. Williams lines up the whole Leinster team and flattens them all, Ulster up to the Leinster 22. A knock on causes Ulster another penalty. How many penalties have they coughed up today? It really is the sign of a team worried, they have been all day. No team should be this indisciplined in a final.

Quinn Roux and his lovely hair come on for Toner, who has been immense in the business end of the season.

Not a cloud in the sky as we have 7 minutes left. (While watching this my cat is getting sick on the floor, I am busy so the wife can clean it up). Ulster wins a scrum from a knock-on in the middle of the pitch. Anscombe is off his chair and looking worried. Ross replaced by Jamie Hagan, another player who failed to live up to potential this year, but has finished strongly. Too late unfortunately. It shouldn’t take a move away to get you playing well.

The time is ticking on, just over 5 minutes left. A strong blue scrum and some fierce fighting on the ground result. Ulster hangs on to possession and win a penalty. They cannot kick the 3 points, surely? He is going for the corner, fortune favours the brave. That is a ballsy decision. Fair play to them for making it. They know the lineout is horrible; it is down to Rory Best.

Awesome shift by Healy, McGrath on for the church.

Best with ball in hand, you can see him defecating on himself with nerves. Call mix up twice. They win the line out, barely. Williams given the ball, he is taken down, this is insane. Blue line intact until Jared Payne skips 2 tackles. Ulster looking ominous here. O’Driscoll makes a tackle he shouldn’t make and Ulster cough up another penalty. 77:42 gone, Ulster just do not have the ability to work under pressure.

The Ulster fans boo, but there really isn’t anything to boo about. Sexton kicks the ball to the half way and the blue army is starting to celebrate with 90 seconds left. This is an amazing game of rugby. McLaughlin wins the line out; you assume that Leinster will keep the ball at the back of the maul for 60 seconds. They are trucking forward. Amazing energy levels here. The forwards are demoralizing Ulster here. They are trucking forward and breaking tackles.

20 seconds left. Ulster just cannot get near the ball.

10 seconds left, ball still on the Leinster side

5 seconds left. Leinster have the win. They just need to get rid of the ball and O’Driscoll boots the ball into the bus depot in Ballsbridge and the game is over!

JAYSUS THAT WAS SOME GAME!

Ulster where great all season, they just appear to struggle when the pressure is on. This could really scar them for the future. Every pressure game in 5 years have been too much for them.

As for Leinster. What can be said? Every player that took the pitch played to near their max. They played like champions and on that performance, they would have beaten the two French sides in the Heineken final that took place the next day.

So there you have it, that is the end of the season for me. It is down to the Irish players starting for the Lions on Saturday to keep me interested.

As usual, if you want to debate/abuse/discuss this post with me, then tweet me @nkeegan and for more of the same why not roll over to www.thedailyclothesline.com

I hope you are all getting sunburnt as I type this.

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.

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