Wednesday, July 31, 2013


OK…you know the way we said we were taking a break?  Well Kristian Ross got this post in under the wire, just…

Kristian Ross avatar

For all those who missed it, yesterday as an Ulster fan you were probably at work, or looking after the kids, maybe in the back garden, or even on your holidays.

The day started off very slowly on Twitter regarding Ulster Rugby news. Like the rest of summer so far, nothing much seemed to be occurring. But early afternoon saw possibly the best antics from the lads we have ever seen via social networking sites.

Ulster Rugby released a video with Mark Anscombe giving the fans the lowdown. The challenge was simple. All of the Ulster lads had to make it to the team meeting in Donegal on Tuesday night by 8pm. But they had to do so with a difference. No team bus. Just simply make your own way there.

Hilarious. The lads will split in to teams of three, that then met up to pair with another team to form teams of six with various tasks ahead of them. These included shopping, calling in at BOI branches (an Ulster team sponsor) and travelling via Ulster Bus.

Nick Williams, Craig Gilroy and Iain Henderson to name a few all sported some rather nice women’s clothing with pictures of the antics being posted frequently including shots of budgie smugglers being worn by Sean Doyle and Ricky Lutton on top of Lavery’s in Belfast. Roger Wilson, Callum Black and Declan Fitzpatrick posted numerous tweets of the escapades going on with conditioning coach Jonny Davis explaining that tweets by the players and challenges completed would earn points. Stephen Ferris in Dominoes in Lisburn, various players larking about at Lough Erne, Darren Cave pulling pints in what only can be describe as him wearing very little material with Michael Allen missing in action for a while and not mention James McKinney’s imaginary run in with a bus that lead to the hashtag #prayformckinney.

All of the days proceedings were followed with #suftumnation and #fleefly that eventually lead to the events of the afternoon trending UK wide. In the end it was Team’s 6 and 13 that arrived in Bundoran ahead of everyone else.

A hearty congratulations to Paddy McAllister, Alan O’Connor and Chris Cochrane, as well as Johnny Murphy, Paddy Jackson and Andrew Trimble. It certainly brought a smile to everyone’s faces that I know of yesterday, and will be remembered for years to come (the videos and photos will make sure of that).

All in all, if you are an Ulster fan and you weren't on Twitter yesterday, you missed one a cracker. But don't fret, as Jonny Davis said at the end of the challenge yesterday... ‘’Stayed tuned over the next few days #freefly2 ‘’. Ulster Rugby : Kings of the PRO12 banter department.

I'm Kristian. 19. 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.

Going dark

feet up

We’ve been toning things down a bit recently here at HoR Manor what with the off-season and all, but from now until after the bank holiday weekend, we’ll be switching off altogether. 

All you’ll see from us is the regular morning tweet from the HoR Times which features tweets from Irish rugby clubs, plus the odd link from the IRFU and Leinster Rugby sites.

When we return we’ll spend the month of August introducing you to some of the new features for the 2013/14 season, and there is an exciting announcement or two to make about the site as well.

In the meantime, be sure and enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP

Premiership club-by-club preview

On his HoR2 debut Thomas Davies looks at the runners & riders in the new Premiership campaign…

aviva prem

In little under a month the new Aviva Premiership season begins and old rivalries renew. While there are many changes - not least of which is a new lead broadcaster, it is Leicester Tigers, reigning champions, who again start as favourites to lift their 11th league title.

Leicester are renowned as a force to be reckoned with. Following their record 10th league title they appear to have recruited well, bringing in experienced European campaigners in the lively playmaker David Mele and first line scrummager Jerome Schuster. Though manic talisman Martin Castrogiovanni will be missed, Geordan Murphy's loss will not be as sorely felt. He remains coaching the Tiger's back division. DOR Richard Cockerill could not have dropped his new coach further in at the deep end though, taking a severe wrap on the knuckles for abusing match officials the last season's final. Murphy alongside Paul Burke will be responsible for all match day matters during Cocker's ban.

Beaten finalists Northampton's recruitment of George North has signalled a change in approach on previous seasons. A portion of Dorian West's slice of the salary cap has been re-allocated to new backs coach Alex King, giving saints' a huge increase in power out wide. Ospreys’ Kahn Fotuali'i has been recruited to liven up the whole back line in a way not managed by Shane Geraghty or latterly Ryan Lamb, and support rather than attempt to dethrone their marmite fly half Steven Myler. Saints have yet to announce their captain for the coming season, with Dylan Hartley potentially out of favour following his misdemeanour in last season's finale. Saints appear though to have a ready made replacement in Tom Wood, who lead England on their second string tour of South America.

Saracens need no reminder of the way their season ended at the hands of The Saints last term. The recruitment of more big physical forwards should add the bulk Saracens themselves have cited as missing from their first string when compared with other top European sides. Players such as Mako Vunipola and Owen Farrell can only have benefitted from their Lions experience and will slot into a side with unrivalled depth at premiership level. Only the loss of promising flanker Andy Saull will have troubled the Sarries fans. However, he felt the need to embrace a less tactically prescriptive game in order to further his own ambitions, and this may worry the Sarries faithful. Despite the lack of involvement from Brendan Venter, Sarries have to be massively odds - on to remain a top four side this term,

Harlequins showed little sign of doing any transfer business in the off season, only replacing the Enormous James Johnston (one of Sarries' new recruits) with England's Paul Doran Jones. In Nick Kennedy though, fresh off the plane from Toulon, Quins have found themselves a proper rough diamond. He is an angry, bustling warhorse of a second row who'll add some arguably needed edge to their forward pack. Quins also still have one of the best 10's around and if they have a couple more in their academy like no. 8 Jack Clifford they will take a lot of stopping in all three competitions this season.

Gloucester have looked to some specialist coaching in the form of former Olympic gold medalist Marlon Devonish in order to add further pace to their explosive back line. Nigel Davies has brought a Welsh model of fierce attacking rugby to Kingsholme and he continues to recruit exciting talent. One time heir to the Wales scrum half jersey Tavis Knoyle joins to add to an already sharp back line, while Matt Kvesic looks to be one of the better English open side prospects in recent years.

Exeter's steady rise towards the middle of the English pile has been much admired by many. Outside of their solid base they've 'discovered' several excellent players who've made Exeter a considerable attacking force. This year has seen them again lose key players to the highest bidder, but the core of their workmanlike squad remains. Head coach Rob Baxter will look to get the best out of Welsh duo Tom James and Ceri Sweeney and if he succeeds Sandy park could impressively remain as a Heineken cup venue for a third consecutive season.

Bath remain an enigma. Their wonderful training campus, in contrast to their ageing and decrepit ground was expected by millionaire local backer Bruce Craig to produce a little better than 7th pace last season. Their recruitment has appeared to have taken a step forward with the capture of some of the more exciting talents in English Rugby; Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Matt Garvey all with big futures expected. Hopefully this excitement transfers onto the pitch, and replaces the over reliance on brutal physicality that reaped few rewards last term. This remains to be seen, though, as anyone who's seen CCTV from the Pig and Fiddle pub will testify, bath's payers still have an appetite for the more bruising encounters.

Former premiership winners Newcastle return following an unbeaten season in the English Championship. Dean Richards assisted capably by John Wells will bring a resolute fighting spirit to the premiership that will make horrible winter trips up to the north east even more tortuous. They have brought in some good quality experienced players and will turn Kingston park into a fortress. Good teams will go there and lose this season, and clashes with Richard's former clubs will not result in the routs many would expect. Andy Saull and Rory Clegg will be key to them having their future in their own hands by the back of the 6 nations.

Worcester are another club who's recruitment off the field has impressed. Dean Ryan makes his return to the sidelines full time, and he's set about re-allocating funds spent by Richard Hill, investing mainly in dynamic, match winning imports from all corners of the globe. Paul Warwick and Ignacio Mieres will look to manipulate the action in midfield, but Worcester possess the skeleton of a seriously good side, with players like Schofield, Matavesi, Euan Murray and Paul Hodgson all match winners on their day.

London Wasps are everyone's second team. There wasn't a single rugby fan in England who didn't marvel at one of Wasps brilliant backs moves or one of Christan Wade's superhuman solo efforts out wide. Were Dai Young presented with a chequebook that matched his ambition Wasps would certainly be a top 4 side. Competition up front this season will be fierce, and they will need the likes of James Haskell to stand up and be counted, as well as the new front row forwards to be worth their weight in gold. If their forwards an gain parity in most of their games Wasps have a very decent chance of a Heineken cup spot.

This time last year saw Steve Diamond busy telling all who'd listen how Sale would be transformed into a northern super club. They spent big on a team to fill their lovely new Salford home. However they failed to deliver and Diamond cut a lowly figure as head coach /DoR/ chief exec by the end of the season. Sale have lost Richie Gray, Andy Powell and Cameron Shepherd and with little balancing their loss this could prove to be a difficult season for the sharks.

Lastly we have London Irish. They have lost their best players season after season and this years loss of lions prop Corbisiero as well as outstanding prospects Jonathan Joseph and Matt Garvey continues that vein. Coach Peter Richards has had the players in since the 3rd of June (over a month before the last lions test) in pursuit of a strong start. If this isn't achieved Irish face an 11month fight that may still end up as a lost cause.

With the quality of players currently playing in the home nations, plus those who arrive into the premiership, this season's championship looks tighter and more ferocious than ever. It will provide genuinely competitive, compelling viewing and will doubtless be one of the best yet.

Thomas Davies (@Thom87) - Part time rugby nut. Follows Wales and has a season ticket at local club Northampton Saints. Enjoys writing, drinking, travelling, and going to gigs. Will watch all manner of rugby but has a keen interest in English, Celtic and French leagues.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dublin Fire Brigade Pump Push 2013

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For further information see the Facebook page

pump push

Event: Dublin Firefighters set off from Swords on their cross border Charity Pump Push from Dublin to Belfast in aid of CanTeen Ireland, IMNDA and SOS Suicide or Survive.

Date and time: Wednesday 31st July, 2013 at 10pm

Venue: Wrights Café Bar, Swords

A large contingent of Dublin firefighters are doing a cross border charity relay run from Dublin to Belfast on 31st July / 1st Aug 2013 to coincide with the opening of the World Police & Fire Games. They will be pushing a portable pump (weighing ½ tonne) the 105 miles to Belfast where they will then be participating in the opening ceremony of the Games. There’s a long record breaking history of Pump Pushing within DFB over the years, the most recent in 2002 when firefighters ran to Galway carrying Breathing Apparatus.

This event is a huge fundraiser for charity and the firefighters have been collecting for three main charities CanTeen Ireland (CanTeen is a nationwide support group for young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years who have or have had cancer), IMNDA ( primary support organisation in Ireland providing care for people with Motor Neurone Disease) and SOS Suicide or Survive (an organization whose aim is to challenge stigma in relation to mental health and suicide and to provide a range of educational and therapeutic programmes to communities nationwide).

Cllr Kieran Dennison, Mayor of Fingal, will send them on their way.

The Pump will be pushed through: Swords, Balbriggan, Drougheda, Dunleer, Castlebellingham, Dubdalk, Newry, Scarva, Banbridge, Moira, Lisburn, Belfast.

There’s a long record breaking history of Pump Pushing within DFB over the years, the most recent in 2002 when Firefighters ran to Galway carrying Breathing Apparatus in an attempt to break their own record set in 1987 of pushing a pump 223 miles in 24 hours. The three charities benefitting from this Pump Push are:

CanTeen Ireland

CanTeen Ireland is a nation-wide support group for young people who have or have had cancer, and for their brothers, sisters and friends. CanTeen Ireland was set up in 1990 by a group of dedicated health professionals and is associated with the Irish Cancer Society. See


The Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA) is the primary support organisation in Ireland providing care for people with Motor Neurone Disease, their families, friends and carers. See

SOS Suicide or Survive:

Suicide or Survive Ltd (SOS) provides services and supports aimed at suicide prevention in Ireland. Their aim is to challenge stigma in relation to mental health and suicide and to provide a range of educational and therapeutic programmes to communities nationwide). See

Decisions, decisions…

The Crusaders & Bulls were punished for poor game management, writes new HoR2 contributor Manus McMichael

Rugby Opinion

I suppose we've all seen it before. The main playmakers of a fantastic team with a glorious record boasting hundreds of caps, falter at the decision making side of a huge game. This weekends Super Rugby semi-finals were a glaring example of players failing to make the correct red-zone calls and being punished with extreme prejudice by their opponents.

As Morne Steyn turned down his opportunities to kick for goal and then backtracked on this decision with a failed drop kick, Dan Carter probably watched with his head in his hands, as it was somewhat similar for him in the corresponding fixture. In the first Semi-final, The Crusaders had the bit between their teeth, marching up the field for a crucial lineout in Chiefs territory. Any form of score would do - but the decision to have a drop at goal off the first phase of clean lineout ball has got to be criticised for its downright hastiness. Carter (arguably the best outhalf of his generation and many to come) did not realise right away that this had been a blunder of epic proportions, after all the Crusaders would get the ball back from the restart and could have another pop. Wrong.

The Chiefs punished the Crusaders for this mistake, as you must at the top level, as the Christchurch side should have to their Hamilton based opponents when Cruden kicked his restart out on the full and missed his shot at goal.

The Brumbies have already come out and said that the Bulls decisions helped them stay in, and ultimately, win the second Semi-final. Steyn turned down two run-of-the-mill shots that would have stretched the South African's lead and in all likelihood strangled the Australian Conference winners, restricting them to hoping for a try and eliminating the threat of Leali'ifano's boot in the middle of the park, which would have been a lot easier to defend. But, alas, it was not to be as the Brumbies scored a cracking try at the death.

If last Friday you were to pick two teams to make those painfully obvious mistakes out of the semi-finals, such experienced teams as the Crusaders and the Bulls would probably be your last choice, especially them both together. It's not often we see Steyn, Carter, Potgeiter and Read come up short in any department, and in fairness to the two captains, Potgeiter has accepted the burden of the criticism and Read was visibly disgusted with himself in the post-match interview.

As much as games come down to skill, preparation and executing a gameplan, it is hard to prepare for situations where the correct decision needs to be made within a split second or everyone goes home. The best players in the world fall short at this hurdle when the crunch is on very often. It's to do with a mindset that players need to be engrossed in, for example Craig Clarke for the Chiefs, who was wonderfully underhand in some of his play but he could not be faulted by anyone. It is these moments at the top level that win and lose championships, make heroes and villains of honest players.

Any campaign in professional rugby will only have one or two teams with this engrained in them, if even that. It is easily lost - as the beaten semi-finalists can attest to and it is very hard to gain. We'll only see about 10 great teams in our life time, such is the way. The Brumbies were so criminally let off I believe they have already taken a step above their station. One of those great teams though is the 2012/2013 Chiefs, and it is fully expected that they will beat their opponents in the final comfortably in the Waikato.

Manus McMichael (@The_Dange) : One-time Irish exile living on the border.

What Peyton Hillis could do for the Buccaneers

This latest in our series of articles on US Sports has been penned by Irishman Conor Philpott…

harpin on usa

Peyton Hillis is a bit of a divisive figure. After a superb 2010 season, where he ran for over 1100 yards and had 13 total Touchdowns Hillis has struggled. The former Madden Cover star has had his fair share of injuries and a lengthy contract dispute with the Cleveland Browns. That dispute saw him anger former teammate Joe Thomas, who derided Hillis for putting himself above the team. Some of his “injuries” were questioned by media, fans and teammates as Hillis worked to try and up the Browns offer for a new deal following the 2010 season, I think it would be fair to say that Hillis’ head was all over the place in the 2011 season, maybe he believed in some of his own hype but there was no doubt the guy had issues.

His most noticeable and strange event was probably the CIA story. Yes Hillis apparently contemplated retiring from the NFL and working for the CIA. Hillis became a free agent for the 2012 season and signed with the Chiefs for a year. You could argue the media gave him something of a raw deal and possibly made too much of some of his shenanigans but I think some of the reaction from his teammates probably says more than I could. Perhaps this has changed during his time in Kansas as Hillis was a backup with Jamaal Charles taking most of the carries and doing it incredibly well. Adrian Peterson’s superhuman performances off the back of his ACL/MCL injury deservedly took the plaudits but Charles’ season on the way back from an ACL tear was also incredibly good. He finished the season with over 1500 yards rushing and 236 yards receiving. Hillis’ injury record and abrasive style is likely to see him negated to a backup role for the rest of his career but the best NFL teams have depth at every position with running back depth being key. Last year the Bucs were heavily reliant on Doug Martin with perhaps a lack of trust and faith in LeGarette Blount and DJ Ware not offering much in the rushing department. If the team want Doug Martin to be a top player for years to come then they need to give him some rest. They drafted Mike James from Miami and signed Brian Leonard, a similar player to Hillis to help out Martin. I can’t see both Hillis and Leonard surviving to make the 53.

Anyway on to Hillis, I’ve looked at some youtube clips of some Hillis runs, it’s probably a bit clichéd at this point to liken him to former Buccaneer great Mike Alstott but he would remind me very much of Alstott. If you can get him to the second level then watch out! Not many defensive backs will want to tackle him or even be able to tackle him! While Hillis is of course powerful I was impressed by some of his nimbleness and athleticism. He seems to have decent hands and much like Blount he has shown the ability to hurdle! What people expect with a lot of big power type runners like Hillis is for them to more or less run exclusively “up the gut” mainly between the A or B gaps between the guards and the centres. Hillis is capable of doing that and does it very well but what I found interesting is that the Browns also tried to use him outside a lot too (I will give credit where it’s due, the superb NFL twitter account NFLosophy spotted this first and that thought gave me the idea to look into some of Hillis’ works,  an account certainly worth a follow! I’m going to look at a few Hillis runs from his time with the Browns and Chiefs  and try  do a brief evaluation of him (I will note that this is my first time having a go at something like this, and I have never played American football so if you want to pull me up on something go ahead you’re more than likely correct!)

The Browns line up with the 3 WRs and a sole RB in the backfield (Hillis). On the line they have the usual suspects (LT,LG,C,RG,RT) along with a TE outside the right tackles. The lines indicate who each person is blocking. The left tackle is taking the right defensive end, the left guard is taking a linebacker, the centre has a defensive tackle, the right guard is taking the other inside linebacker with the tackle taking a defensive end and the Tight End takes an Outside linebacker. The Browns blocking is extremely effective and they create a massive role for Hillis to run into. Much like Alstott, Hillis is dangerous when he gets to the second level,Hillis is given a sizable gap courtesy of his right guard and centre and he goes through, the linebackers are taken care of and he will pick up a decent gain.  He goes 12 yards before hurdling a defender and picking up about a 15 yard gain. That small play confirmed the fact that Hillis can do a lot when he has some space and I also think it proves how crucial a role blocking has in making him look good. He is in a bit like Blount in that regard if you can give him that initial bit of space he will make something of it but the offensive line will need to be consistently winning in the trenches in order for him to have a productive day.

The next image is from a Thursday Night football game last season when Hillis was with the Chiefs. I’m going to put particular focus on the left side of the offensive line (in this case the centre, left guard and left tackle). Shaun Phillips of the Chargers, (circled in green) lines up opposite the left tackle, however he rushes inside trying to cause confusion between the Guard and centre. The guard is initially set up to block Aubrayo Franklin with the centre taking linebacker Butler. However Phillips’ rush  inside works. Left tackle Branden Albert perhaps caught off guard by the move is unable to deal with Phillips, causing the guard to try and stop Phillips in his tracks. The centre is still going to block middle linebacker Donald Butler, which leaves Arubayo Franklin unblocked. In the next shot, circled in orange is Phillips (with the guard trying to block him) and circled in black is Franklin with his path to Hillis and Hillis’ intended running spot is also highlighted.

As expected Franklin has pretty much a clean shot at Hillis. I think we see some of the potential of Hillis in this play however. He is hit initially three yards behind the line of scrimmage by Franklin but manages to rumble on.

Eric Weddle and others come in to haul the big guy down. The play only gained a yard, but it shows that Hillis is definitely a guy who doesn’t give up on the play and will stand as long as he can. He showed nice desire and hunger to get as far as he can and nice vision to try and adjust after the initial gap was closed.

A quick snap here to show you another way of how Hillis can be used. The Browns liked to get him running outside the tackles quite a bit. For that to be effective, the blocking must be very good but Hillis will cause guys problems if he gets to the 2nd level. Hillis is out of shot in the photo as the Browns line up with a tight end and a full back. The Browns run a sweep play to the left. They get a good initial release to spring Hillis to the left and the right guard and tackle are able to slow down the linebackers enough to allow Hillis pick up some steam and get about a 6 or 7 yard gain. I believe he can be used outside the tackles too. The left hand side of the Buccaneers offensive line is quite nasty with Penn and Nicks I see no reason why the Bucs can’t run a similar play.

The Browns run a similar play with two tight ends outside the right tackle against the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

The Browns run a sweep to the outside with the QB pitching to Hillis, his left tackle and guard run outside. The centre take a DT while the right guard takes an incoming linebacker and the two TEs take the left end. I’ve circled an uncovered linebacker for the Saints. In the next shot the left guard deals with him very well. Hillis gets to the outside and his two linemen seal the perimeter well with his left tackle getting to the edge preventing the cornerback from touching him while the guard deals with the linebacker. Hillis sees the hole and bursts through evading the clutches of Roman Harper to go into the endzone

I think this final run will remind Bucs fans a bit of Alstott and also of LeGarette Blount to a degree. Hillis has quite a few similarities to the man who was traded to the Patriots this off season. However in some facets I would say that he is an upgrade over the former Duck. Blount wasn’t great at converting over short distances he would get “happy feet” and often spend far too long searching for a hole instead of trying to plough through guys. Hillis isn’t afraid to try and barrel through guys as that last bit shows. I’m going to look at another small bit from a Browns game against the Rams in the 2010 preseason. The Browns line up with 2 tight ends alongside the usual suspects. The first image shows who the linemen go to block along with what I believe is Hillis’ initial intended running path. You will notice the strongside backer for the Rams is circled as he is unblocked (the tight end on the right goes for a man out of shot).

Hillis’ intended path isn’t wide enough for him to squeeze through (black circle), he shows good vision and quick thinking to adjust and go for the gap between the right tackle and the tight end. He moves his feet quickly to get there and adjust. He seems to have a good feel for letting his blocks develop and adjusting which is a good sign. As the image shows the SLB is waiting to take him down or so you would think. He breaks the initial tackle as well as several others for a nine yard gain. Not too shabby!

Hillis is a good weapon in the passing game too. His 2010 season saw him haul in 61 catches for 477 yards and two touchdowns while he has hauled in 32 in the last two seasons. I think it is an area where he is an upgrade over Blount and should he be required to he can step up. His pass protection must be decent enough if the Browns and to a lesser extent the Chiefs trusted him enough to be involved in the passing game to such an extent. I believe his talents could be of use to the Buccaneers in a variety of roles. It’s quite possible we will see him involved in a lot of the short yardage situations his power and willingness to bludgeon opponents will certainly be of use there. Doug Martin’s fantasy stats may take a hit in that department however!

Hope you enjoyed reading!

Conor Philpott (@cphilpott95) is a proud Corkonian, and a massive sports fan with rugby being his sport of choice. Be it Munster, his club Highfield, the Lions or Ireland, Conor will probably be watching rugby in some shape or form

Sevens Heaven

Fordham Sports
I normally don’t get too excited about Premiership rugby - though I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just there’s usually enough going on in the Pro12 to keep me occupied on domestic weekends during the season.
But one major exception is the wonderfully-named JP Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby 7s tournament, because it is has become the official curtain-raiser to the new season.
This year’s version has a couple of new features…first, unlike previous season where the different rounds take place on successive weeks, this time the preliminaries are held on successive nights.
But the biggest twist comes in the TV coverage.  Much has been made about BT Sport’s entry into the telly market, and most of that has to do with their investment in soccer.
Well the new channel kicks off this Thursday August 1 with some quality egg-chasing, and I for one can’t wait.
When it comes to receiving BT Sport, it seems the Skys and the UPCs have been drip-feeding information as to exactly how Irish viewers can receive them, but from what I can gather the new channels will be received free in the early days regardless, so this particular competition should be available to all.
Warning though…apparently Chris Ashton is togging out for Saracens in the 7s…more space for him to do his stupid dive!
Thursday, August 1

(Group A – Kingsholm)
Bath v Gloucester, 7:15pm
Exeter v Worcester, 7:40pm
Exeter v Bath, 8:10pm
Gloucester v Worcester, 8:35pm
Bath v Worcester, 9:05pm
Exeter v Gloucester, 9:30pm
Friday, August 2

(Group B – Franklin’s Gardens)
Newcastle v Northampton, 7:15pm
Leicester v Sale, 7:40pm
Leicester v Newcastle, 8:10pm
Northampton v Sale, 8:35pm
Newcastle v Sale, 9:05pm
Leicester v Northampton, 9:30pm
Saturday, August 3

(Group C – Allianz Park)
London Irish v Saracens, 7:15pm
Harlequins v London Wasps, 7:40pm
Harlequins v London Irish, 8:10pm
Saracens v London Wasps, 8:35pm
London Irish v London Wasps, 9:05pm
Harlequins v Saracens, 9:30pm

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Can 49ers avoid Dreaded Superbowl Hangover?

I hope you won’t mind if I indulge myself now and again by posting some articles about US sports that I find on the interweb.

Warning…they will tend to be about my favourite teams the Oakland Athletics (baseball), San Francisco 49ers (football), San Jose Sharks (hockey) and the Golden State Warriors (basketball).


harpin on usa

This upcoming season the San Francisco 49ers will try to do something that only the 1972 Dolphins were able to accomplish.  That is to win the Superbowl following a loss the year before.  Reaching the Superbowl in no easy task, but because so many teams have struggled the following year after reaching the big game, the media and fans have identified the problem as being a hangover from the sucess of the previous year.

There are exceptions to the rule of course.  The New England Patriots had a great season last year (a year after loosing to the Giants in Superbowl XLII) and managed to reach the AFC title game.  As far as the 49er chances are concerned, you have to go back to the 1993 Buffalo Bills as the last team to reach a Superbowl a year after loosing it.

There are many factors that prevent sustained excellence in the NFL.  Free agency, injuries, and mental fatigue are the more common reasons but the schedule also plays an important role.  All-Pro Linebacker Patrick Willis recently described their upcoming schedule as being “no joke.”  With games against Green Bay, Houston, Atlanta and two against Seattle, reaching the same level of success as last year will be a difficult task.

But these 49ers are more than capable.  These 49ers under Jim Harbaugh have put in a system and a culture that is fueled by hard work and being physical.  Even with the loss of Dashon Goldson, the niner defense will still be a top five defense in the league.  One of the most important things that a football team must do in order to win is control both lines of scrimmage, something that the 49ers have done well over the past couple of seasons.  Last year the 49ers were one of two teams (Washington) to be in the top five in both running the football and stopping the run.

This brings us to the best offensive line in the NFL and the continued success of the running game.  Last year in three playoff games, the 49ers averaged 218 yards on the ground and with the emergence of young LeMichael James, Frank Gore will have less of a load to carry and improve his durability for whole season.

The biggest reason why the 49ers are poised to make another Superbowl run is Colin Kaepernick.  After a fantastic season and an even better playoffs, Kaepernick will look show the league that he is ready to become an elite quarterback.  Not only does is he one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL, but the loss to the Ravens has made him even more hungry.

The 49ers are one of the most complete teams in the NFL, stacked with talent and proven veterans that know what it takes to win football games.  The organization is now at a point were anything less than a Superbowl victory is a failure and everybody on the roster knows that and is ready for the challenge.

Be sure to check out other great articles at isportsweb.

One to watch for Ulster

Olding by name, young and promising by nature, writes Kristian Ross…

Kristian Ross avatar

The season ended. The runners up medals were collected. Players were left disappointed. Ulster Rugby had very narrowly missed out on becoming PRO12 champions. It was of course hard to take. But over the course of the year their had been many positives, and one of those positives was a young player called Stuart Olding.

Olding had played in the Ulster Ravens squad but has established himself as a first team player this year in what has been a whirlwind twelve months for the twenty year old. His early season appearances saw him play at fly half but it was clear from his pace and attacking flair that he was more suited at the inside centre position. Needless to say he has excelled in that role and scored domestic tries against Glasgow, Connacht, Cardiff Blues and a memorable score against Benetton Treviso that certainly has put him on the radar.

With many experienced Ireland players coming to the end of their careers it has to be said that youth has to be nurtured and that players like Olding must be found. He won his first Ireland cap in the victory of the United States in Houston this summer and it has shown the catalyst of what is to come. On the announcement of Olding being included in that match day squad, interim coach Les Kiss said "Stuart has come home like a train this season, he had a fantastic end to the season and is deserving of the opportunity’’.

Sometimes you look at a player and you know that he is that something special on a rugby field.... I think he may just be one of those.


I'm Kristian. 19. 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.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Social Media in Rugby

What happens on tour, goes on Facebook and Twitter, says Ginine Power…

Rugby Opinion

Social Media has been great for me connecting with fellow rugby fans, I’ve made so many friends through twitter and our mutual love of the game. I also love that social media allow us to interact with the players, for example last 29th February I asked Rob Kearney to marry me on twitter. I got a good laugh from his reply asking if he could think about it. ( Still waiting for an answer Rob)


While Social Media is great for the fans, unfortunately it is not always the case for the players. There are a few incidents at the moment that would have been unnoticed were it not for Social Media.

I'm sure by now you've all heard about the threesome involving 2 Irish rugby players. Basically a girl told her friend via private mail on facebook about a threesome she had with these 2 players. This conversation was then screengrabbed and of course went viral. This was then added to by a whatsapp screengrab which seems to back up the story and apparently there is a video circulating too. The poor girl felt the need to leave the country. 

If this had happened in the days before social media (remember them, when it took 2 hours to connect to the internet and when you finally got on, your mother had to use the phone) no one would have any idea that this had happened. I have discussed this with some friends who are or were part of rugby clubs and apparently this sort of stuff is not uncommon and it's just a funny story for the dressing room. These guys need to realise that unfortunately they are in the public eye and these type of stories are now easily shared and spread like wildfire.

Another story is going around now about one of those players breaking car antennas off and getting into a fight with a US Marine because of it.  I’m sure the player thought America would be a great place for a holiday as they would be anonymous over there but a picture of the incident was put on facebook (assuming by an Irish person who recognized him) and once again it went viral. So trying to hide out in another country (I’m not saying that’s what he was doing, as far as I can tell this was just a conveniently scheduled holiday) is also not an option anymore.

It's not just the Irish feeling the social media wrath though. I'm sure there are many people out there who would love to punch Gavin Henson in the face and one of them is obviously his new team mate Carl Fearnes* as a video of him doing just that is circulating around the internet currently.  I'm sure a punch up in a pub is common as muck in rugby clubs (and we all know there is a lot of muck involved in rugby) however nowadays we have youtube so that it can't just be kept among those involved. These players were then punished by their club because they had to be seen to be doing something about it. I’m sure had this not be videoed and put on youtube, nobody in the club would have batted an eyelid.

It's also not just other people getting players in trouble, sometimes they manage it all by themselves. Jordi Murphy's instagram account came under scrutiny when the hash tag #I'mnotafaggot was used under a photo. Jordi has said that a friend used his phone to post the photo and has apologised but it just goes to show that the players really have to think before they post.

The Lions official twitter page seemed to adapt that “think before you post” mantra just before the tour kicked off. However it was too late for those of us that were following months in advance and witnessed some very offensive tweets from the account. The first of which came on team announcement day when they questioned how players would be feeling waiting for the call. One of the suggestions was that they may be feeling suicidal. Imagine Alan Quinlan reading that. He has been very open about the fact that losing his Lions place did make him feel suicidal and here is the official Lions page making a joke about it.

So what I am trying to say is that while in the past these things may have been common and gone unnoticed unfortunately any little mistake that players make now will be on the internet in 5 minutes. I’d like for our players to hold on to their clean, gentleman reputation and that the phrase “Football is a sport for Gentlemen and played by thugs. Rugby is a sport for thugs and played by gentlemen” doesn’t become outdated and untrue. As Nigel Owens famously said “ This is not soccer”

*I can’t find any confirmation that the player involved was definitely Carl Fearnes so apologies if this information is not correct.

My name is Ginine (@neenyP) I'm a 26 year old Leinster and Ireland loving lady. You'll mostly find me in the RDS with my mum (@gizmopuddy) who got me into the sport and feeds my obsession. When I'm not obsessing about rugby, I like to obsess about Audrey Hepburn and How I Met Your Mother.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Canterbury Unveils New Leinster 2013/14 Shirt and brand campaign ‘We Are Leinster’


Canterbury, the world’s largest dedicated rugby brand, today unveiled the new Leinster home and alternate shirt for the 2013/14 season.

Canterbury has worked hard with three-time European champions Leinster, to design a shirt that reflects the long-standing heritage of one of the most successful clubs in Irish rugby, with a motif that emphasises the strength of the club.

The four harp strings represented on the shirt signify Leinster, with the pattern then dividing into 12 to signify the 12 counties of the province and the strength they project when all the people of the province come together.

Canterbury has worked closely with Leinster to develop the ‘We are Leinster’ campaign for the upcoming 2013-14 season. Following an online competition, eight lucky fans were chosen to feature within the campaign and stand alongside the elite players wearing the new shirts and training garments.

Canterbury continues to push the boundaries of innovation in their rugby kit and has incorporated revolutionary design elements into the shirt to maximise performance.

The new Leinster shirt is engineered using Canterbury’s newest high performance fabric. A high performance 100% polyester elastane, the fabric delivers optimum strength and effective moisture management, making the shirt lightweight and comfortable. The elastane also delivers stretch, allowing a tight fit which doesn’t restrict movement whilst allowing players to avoid tackles. The shirt features an evolution of Canterbury’s signature power-band looped neckline, adding strength and reducing the chance of tears during the game.

The heritage feel of the shirt is heightened by the fabric’s cotton-like outer feel which heralds memories of traditional rugby shirts, whilst delivering the modern benefits of a high-performance polyester.

Leinster will wear the new home shirt in match action for the first time at home on Friday 30th August, when they come up against Northampton Saints in a friendly at the Donnybrook Stadium.

Leinster Coach Matt O'Connor said:

“Both the Leinster and Canterbury brands are steeped in rugby heritage and the new shirt not only represents the strength of our club, but draws on the sense of community and togetherness from the people of the province coming together. These are the same qualities you see in rugby and the players will be proud to wear the new shirt for the upcoming season.”

Chris Stephenson, CEO of Canterbury, added:

“We are immensely proud to unveil the new Leinster home and alternate shirts, which represents their club’s strength and the importance of community around the 12 counties. The iconic harp strings shown on the shirt are a subtle way of representing the clubs qualities, while incorporating the cutting-edge fabric technologies that people have come to expect from the Canterbury brand.”

Click here for the official Leinster rugby store

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Canterbury launches a ‘boot for every position’

With the new Leinster jersey released tomorrow, leading international rugby brand Canterbury has unveiled a new boot range ahead of the 2013-14 season


Channelling the experience that comes with making rugby kit for over 100 years, the collection combines Canterbury’s knowledge of the game with its innovative approach to producing top quality sports apparel.

The range features a number of boots that have been tailored to the needs of different rugby positions, demonstrating the depth of Canterbury’s understanding of the small but important details that make each individual player tick. This attention to detail can be seen across the four styles that make up the range.

For the backs of the team there are the customised Control and Speed boots. The Control boot caters for the kicker with its narrow fit and lightweight feel. The six-stud design delivers good flexibility towards the toe, without compromising on stability in the mid-foot and heel. The supple material ensures excellent comfort and improves overall kicking power and accuracy.

Ideal for wingers, the six-studded Speed boot offers enhanced support in the mid-foot, ensuring durability and stability whilst maintaining flexibility in the toe. Lightweight throughout, including nylon-aluminium composite studs, the boot is ideal for quicker take-offs, acceleration and fluid movement.

For the forwards of the team, Canterbury has designed the Phoenix and Stampede boots. Intended for second rows and loose forwards, the Phoenix is a relatively lightweight boot that provides extra cushioning in key areas to provide enhanced support, especially when landing in the line-out. A durable boot, the Phoenix offers excellent support and traction for a forwards style of play.

The Stampede is a robust alternative, able to withstand high impact, physical situations that occur on the field. This tough, eight-stud boot provides excellent traction in the scrum, perfect for front row forwards. The soft synthetic fabric enhances the fit and comfort of the boot, while strong rear and heel support ensures additional protection in the contact situation.

The varying requirements across the positions have been reflected within the accompanying ‘Make The Team’ campaign, for which Canterbury worked with South West London side Old Reigations, also highlighting the brands commitment and support of grassroots rugby. The team was put forward by their local Canterbury representative and feature in Canterbury’s promotional video for the campaign, highlighting how the boots suit the individual players. The video can be viewed here:


Canterbury has also worked hard on the aesthetics of each boot, developing modernised graphics and logos to characterise the styles and offer a technical, movement inspired update to the range.

The range is available in a variety of colours available to purchase online at:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chuckles for Charlie

Please lend your support for this gala evening in aid of Temple Street Hospital, writes @ccbooms


Last year Ireland's Six Nations wasn't great. We all know it, we all kind of accept it at this stage. And lots of people have come up with lots of reasons why. One I heard was that the team just didn't do enough.

But in spite of that we cheered and encouraged that team and we appreciate the work they did and support them in spite of it.

I know of one team that does do enough, day in and day out, for hundreds of people and that's the team at Temple Street Hospital.

This Friday night, there's a comedy night being held in the Noggin Inn in Sallynoggin. It's in honor of Charlie Breen, who, at only 9 months old, passed from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (S.I.D.S.).

Temple Street Childrens Hospital helped Charlie's family more than they could comprehend at the time, and they would like to thank them by helping them help others in similar situations.

Lots of comedians are giving their time to this and there's an incredible list of take and auction prizes on the night.

But one auction prize that might interest you, and this is my reason for posting, is an Ireland rugby jersey, signed by the Six Nations squad from last season. And it's available to be bid on right now!

If anyone is interested, it can be viewed right now on and if you'd like to get your hands on it, just pm a bid to them or text Tanya or Damian now on 085 8891122 or 087 9981056

And sure if you're at a loose end on Friday it might not be a bad way to spend an evening!

Conor Cronin (@ccbooms) is a Leinster fan cursed with a Munster loving father. You'll regularly find him screaming in the north stand in the RDS.

Ulster’s 2013/14 campaign

With the season more or less mapped out, Kristian Ross looks at Ulster’s road ahead…

Kristian Ross avatar

Ulster Rugby will now have their weekends planned out for the next twelve months as the Heineken Cup and RaboPRO12 fixtures were both released within the space of a week.

The Ulstermen will start off with a tricky an away trip to Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade in what many fans believe should be the perfect springboard to the opening start of the season before the first competitive game at the newly refurbished Ravenhill takes place the week following against last year’s beaten PRO12 semi finalists Glasgow Warriors.

The European campaign is something that every Ulster fan looks forward to, but it’s a tricky start for the men in white as they’ll take on English champions Leicester Tigers on October 11th, and then an away trip to Top 14 side Montepllier Herault on the 19th.

Ulster will also have to finish the group against the Tigers away at Welford Road and will have to contend with tough matches against Benetton Treviso in-between in Europe’s premier competition who themselves have proved in the last few years they are simply no pushover.

Ulster’s PRO12 season will also end with some very difficult fixtures in what could be the final battle for those illustrious playoff places with Ulster having to play Connacht and Glasgow in April and then a final game at Ravenhill against last year’s champions Leinster with a match to finish of the regular rounds against provincial rivals Munster.

It’s certainly going to be hard going in the group stage of the Heineken Cup with some quality opposition in Pool 5, however if Ulster do open up with a win against Leicester Tigers they will set the precedent for a great Heineken journey.

Mark Anscombe’s men will know that they will be the team to beat after finishing top last time around in the PRO12, but should they play to their potential and keep a relatively injury free squad, Ulster will most certainly be up there in that top four and should challenge at the summit with ease with the quality that the boast both in youth and experience.

The clock ticks down to the start of the season and we’re getting closer to doing a whole load of SUFTUMing indeed....

I'm Kristian. 19. 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.

Re-formatting rugby

UPDATE NOVEMBER 28, 2013 - Below is a post I wrote last summer about the possibility of changing the European/World rugby calendar to make a bit more sense. 
Having seen this piece in the Guardian as well as this blog by BallHandling Hooker yesterday, it seems that more are of the same idea, so here is hoping it will happen one day.
On most levels it really bugged me that the English clubs were throwing their toys out of the pram about qualification for the Heineken Cup. Hopefully you can appreciate how as a Leinster fan I wouldn't be crazy about the suggestion that our three titles in four years were somehow tainted.
But since change of some sort seems inevitable, all I can do is pray that the talks proceed to fix all that is wrong with the European rugby calendar, and with a chief architect of those 3 Heineken triumphs Jonathan Sexton backing calls for change, I may just be thanking the Premiership clubs for their whining after all should it come about. So what exactly is wrong with the way things are structured right now?
Referee Nigel Owens became a YouTube sensation when he reprimanded the actions of a Treviso player by telling him "this is not soccer".  It tapped into a common mindset among rugby fans that our sport with its oval ball is vastly superior to that of the round one.  And in many ways, this is true.
That doesn't stop rugby's powers-that-be borrowing many of the structures of the game from the association code, however, and we as fans don't seem to mind.  For me, if we really want to claim that this is not soccer, we need to get away from this way of thinking and restructure the game here in such a way that suits our own sport.
Just to give some examples of the assumptions we make that are based on soccer that are up for debate :
  • A competition should run the entire length of a season
  • In a round robin tournament everyone must play everyone else home and away
  • The Six Nations must be in February/March
Now I'm not saying that all of this needs to be scrapped, but what I am saying is that if we are to have a proper discussion about how to move forward we have to look at many of the things we previous considered untouchable.  The game's amateur status was once
untouchable, let's not forget.  But right or wrong, the decision was made, and now that it's approaching two decades since it was, the game should start making the proper adjustments.
Back in the day the "real" rugby season in Europe was the Six Nations, in other words, the spring.  This meant that the club game "had" to grow around it, and now we have a situation where the season starts at the beginning of September and runs until the end of May.  That's fine, but why do we assume that the competitions need to be stretched across that time period? 
Look at Ulster last season.  Of course I'm personally delighted my Leinster prevailed in the Pro12 final, but Mark Anscombe's men were in a hell of a groove in the opening portion of the season and had nothing to show for it.  Given it is such a long season, and given that every club is in two competitions, why not split the season in two and play each to a finish?
This, for me anyway, would provide much more of a level playing field than tinkering with the qualification for Europe ever could.  If the Heineken Cup were played on successive weeks, there would be no need for coaches to cherry-pick matches for their players, and a squad that hit a rich vein of form at the correct time would stand a greater chance of being properly rewarded.
Next we have the round robin thing.  Of course, everyone playing each other home and away is an ideal way to produce a champion.  But with the "top four" playoff system, we have abandoned this ideal.  So why not settle on an amount of fixtures that makes sense for the calendar and leave it at that, no matter how many teams are in the league?  If it turns out a particular team reached the playoffs because of a more favourable schedule, they will be found out in the knockout phase. it is with the Pro12, the fact that the regular season stretches nine months means that there is absolutely no sense of parity in the schedule.  For example, last season playing the Scarlets in September was a completely different proposition to facing them during the Six Nations.
That's another thing.  Domestic matches during international weekends?  Can we get rid of those please?  If there should be any matches coinciding with the test fixtures it should be local club rugby, giving them a chance to get people to their ground in the hope of tempting them into the clubhouse to watch the big match and drop a few quid in the process.
But back to the home-and-away debate.  Ideally I'd like to take round robin matches from the Pro12/Premiership/Top14 and give them to the Heineken Cup.  At the moment the European competition has only 6 qualifying matches while the domestic leagues have 22 or in the French case, as many as 26. 
For me, that's way, way too uneven.  If it were down to me I'd have just 16 domestic fixtures but at a push I'd say 18.  Of course the teams that are big rivals would be guaranteed to play each other home and away but for me it wouldn't be the end of the world if, say, Leinster played the likes of Zebre just the once in the season.
Now on that point I know there are several loyal travelling fans who enjoy the trip to Italy once a year and wouldn't like to see it gone from the calendar, but my take is that there is a greater good that is the reward here and for that there needs to be sacrifices.
In fact, I may even go so far as to have extra "local derbies" on the calendar.  Once you break free from the home-and-away format who's to say, for example, you couldn't have an extra round of inter-provincial Irish clashes?  That would make for half of our domestic schedule and would probably lead to bigger attendances at those games.  In Scotland, the two sides could meet each other four times instead of two.
Those matches taken from the domestic leagues can be earned back by larger Heineken Cup pools, with teams playing 8 to 10 matches to qualify for the knockouts instead of 6. 
Then we have the bedrock of European rugby, the Six Nations.  I believe it should round off the season, as the Rugby Championship does in the southern hemisphere.  Sure, it would be extremely weird for it not to be in the spring.  But it wouldn't take long to get used to?  And so what if it clashes with the FA Cup final or the Champions League?  They don't have to be played at precisely the same time as those games?
Irish women's rugby seems to have the right idea.  Their season starts with the club competition, then there's the inter-provincials, then it's Six Nations time.  That makes for a sensible schedule whereby coaches can assess the form and gather together the correct players in time for the tournament that matters most. 
In an ideal world, for me anyway, our season would go – domestic leagues to a finish first, Heineken Cup second (why not have qualification in the same season instead of for the following season like soccer?), and finally the Six Nations.  Don't worry, I know this will never, ever happen.
Assuming the Six Nations is immovable, an alternative could be starting the season with the HCup to a finish, then have the Six Nations, and end the season with the domestic leagues played to a finish in May/June (here, Euro qualification for the following season would make sense).
One further bit of tinkering I would make to the Six Nations...since it runs over seven weeks, I would stagger the fixtures at two matches a week until the final weekend when there would be three.  This ensures every team has two "bye" weeks but also that there is action every weekend. 
And on the subject of a "global season", I sincerely hope that if changes are made it is not just the European calendar that has to budge.  It should all be done in conjunction with SANZAR so as to avoid ridiculous scenarios like we had last season when Felipe Contepomi was forced to miss the Pumas' historic debut in annual top-flight competition.
Hey...I could ramble all day on this topic so I'll stop here.  I'm not saying my suggestions are cast-iron certainties to work, but my main point is that if changes are to be made, they need to be the right ones, and as much as I hate the cliché, some outside-the-box thinking is required.
All I'm hoping is that with the willingness for change in the air, a situation that doesn't often come about in rugby union, this great opportunity isn't missed.  JLP

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Racingmen’s ambition

Racing-Metro 92: Signing top quality European players to finally compete at Europe’s top table by Illtud Dafydd


Jonathan Wisniewski, image by Siren-Com

With a Lions tour well and truly done and dusted for another four years, the squad’s victorious members are finally resting after a long season, three of the test series’ players will report back to pre-season at a new club, in a new country to play in a new domestic league. The Celtic triad of Johnny Sexton, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts are heading to Colombes, a suburb in the north-west of Paris to join up with the sky-blue and whites of Racing Metro 92 in France’s Top 14.

To understand the Racingmen’s ambition that has fuelled their recent and astonishingly quick rise within French rugby, one must look back to the days of the creation of the off-field rugby brand by their ex-player Jack Mesnel which was nurtured by his team-mates practical jokes seen on French rugby fields in the 1980s and early 1990s and also more recently and importantly the funding of the club by Jacky Lorenzetti (the owner of the property group Foncia, founded in 1972) who bought the club in 2006 who has invested millions in taking les Racingmen from the ProD2 to the Heineken Cup in two seasons.

Last season’s performance didn’t sit well with Monsieur Lorenzetti and his coaches’ (in Gonzalo Quesada and Patricio Noriega) contracts weren’t renewed with Castres Olympique coaches Laurent Labit (a former full-back) and Laurent Travers (a former hooker) brought in to replace the Argentine duo who have announced their move across the capital city to head-up Stade Francais’ coaching set-up. Labit and Travers had announced, as early as October that they wouldn’t renew their contracts at Stade Pierre-Antoine and Lorenzetti jumped at the chance to sign both up.

Both had been at Castres for 4 seasons, having taken les tarnais from being an outfit with minor ambitions and keeping their position in the Championnat as their priority to French league Champions by beating Clermont and Toulon on successive weekends to lift the Bouclier de Brennus in June. With this new coaching set-up announced in early 2013, the ex-Montauban coaches began and seemed to have finished recruiting for the coming season with Travers saying “we have re-built a team to handle two competitions simultaneously” during his first interview as Racing Metro’s forwards coach. In the back-room they have added ex-Irish international Ronan O’Gara as a kicking coach and have let go of 18 players by recruiting 14 players in their place.

The two Laurent’s have signed three players with European final pedigree in Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga’uhia from Northampton Saints (2011 Heineken Cup) and Jamie Roberts from Cardiff Blues (Amlin Challenge Cup Winner in 2010) and three players who have been members of a Heineken Cup winning squad with Benjamin Lapeyre and Laurent Magnaval from RC Toulon’s Dublin victorious final last year, but their true ace in the 14-man recruitment pack is three-time European Cup and one-time European Challenge Cup winner with Leinster, Johnny Sexton.

The 28 year-old, 36-time capped Irish international outside-half is rumoured to have a signed a €700,000 annual contract and will be directly coached by the 128-time capped ex-Irish fly-half in Ronan O’Gara. Towards the end of the ex-Munster out-half’s playing career, they were rivals for the Irish number 10 berth, their rugby relationship will take on another dimension at Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir and it could prove to be a pivotal relationship in Racing-Metro’s European plans. Labit and Travers’ recruitment has been helped by them not renewing many of Racing’s players from last season and replaced the mediocre departures with quality arrivals.

Olly Barkley has left Paris, after joining from Bath last season as a medical jokers, to Grenoble and has been replaced by the afore mentioned, 3-test Lion Sexton; the ‘Fijian Flyer’ Sireli Bobo has left for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan and Marc Andreu and Benjamin Lapeyre have been brought instead. The legendary Italian record cap holder loose-head prop Andrea Lo Cicero (103 caps for the Azzuri in 13 years) by the Tongan Soane Tonga’uhia and the Georgian prop Davit Khinchagishvili who has 6 years of Top 14 experience and finally Santiago Dellape (62 Italian Caps) with ex-Northampton Saints lock Juandre Kruger who has 11 caps for the Springboks since his debut for the Bokke in 2012.

Jacky Lornezetti’s long-term ambition is underlined by his plans for ARENA92, a 40,000 all-seater stadium which has an estimated cost of €350 million and is due to be ready by 2016 and he has mirrored the former Stade Français president, Max Guazzini by delocalising his club’s home games, with confirmation yesterday that Racing’s first home game of the season on August the 17th against Brive will be played at La Rochelle Stade Marcel Deflandre this trend, present in French rugby for a few years now, seems to be continuing.

It is to be a testing season for Labit and Travers, and with their unrivalled summer recruitment, expectations on both Frenchmen’s shoulders is similar to that of RC Toulon’s expectations by fans, media and a not-so-shy president. With a difficult European pool including last year’s runner-up in Clermont Auvergne, the Harlequins and the Llanelli Scarlets, Lorenzetti’s long-term gamble will be tested in the spring of 2014 when his two new Welsh signings could quite possibly be returning home to claim the pinnacle of Northern Hemisphere at the Millennium Stadium on May 24th.

Illtud Dafydd, French & International Politics Student at Aberystwyth University. Le rugby français par un rugbyman gallois" suffice? (french bit means, French rugby by a Welsh rugbyman)

The Pagano Preview #17

Fordham SportsEvery Friday from 12noon I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
I have nothing against Rugby League as a sport, but for some reason I just can't get into it when union is in off-season.
Even though it's not played at the highest level on Irish shores, there's plenty on the tellybox, with at least half a dozen games to choose from Thursday to Monday every week between Sky & Setanta.
There's plenty to enjoy for egg-chasing fans,plenty of running, passing, tackling...the strategy may be slightly different with the lack of breakdown action, but you can't deny the enthusiasm of the crowds & commentators, especially down under.
Still, for some reason I find my attention drawn elsewhere when there is no union on...for example this weekend there's the Ashes & the British Open, and down the line there's the rare occurrence of the Dubs chasing All-Ireland glory on two fronts.
And to top it all I have my steady diet of Major League Baseball which I can watch at my leisure (usually 3 innings at a time) as the result is normally easy to avoid even on the web.
But my aversion to the league code has nothing to do with the reasons for the original comes more from a frustration that in this world of intense competition for attention among all the popular team sports, rugby could be that much better if the talent pool could be combined into just the one game.  Never gonna happen I know, but a shame nonetheless.
Anyways...there are a couple of big game on t'other side of the planet to watch should you be up early either weekend morning, so let's have a look-see at them shall we.
Saturday, July 20
Super Rugby
Crusaders v Reds, 8:35am
As happy as I was for Joe Schmidt to be named Ireland coach, the timing of his appointment annoyed me a bit, as Leinster still had a serious involvement in three competitions. T
urns out I needn't have worried, because they won all three anyway.  I know you know that, I just like saying it. :-)
Ewan McKenzie finds himself in a similar situation. Not only is he replacing a national coach who had some success but could only take them so far, but he must also first see out his season with his club.
But even though Schmidt had three times the amount of silverware to chase (oops I said it again) with all due respect to the clubs Leinster defeated on the way I reckon his task was immeasurably easier than that facing "Link" as he leads his Reds into Christchurch tomorrow morning.
The fixture is dripping with irony...first of all, the Crusaders is where Robbie Deans made his name on the top stage.  Then, there is the whole Bledisloe context...and there's no doubting McKenzie has a bastism of fire ahead of him with his first two Wallaby contests being against the All Blacks so what better way to prepare.
Then of course there is a certain Mr Q Cooper.  Would the Lions series have gone differently had he been included?  We'll never know.  But one thing is for sure...he can make a massive statement with a good display here.
And it's not as though the Crusaders despite their successful past have set Super Rugby alight this season, at least by their standards.  But although they failed to win the New Zealand conference title, many are touting them as favourites, and I suppose having Richie McCaw back in their matchday 23 won't hurt.
Elsewhere the squad has its usual quota of Whitelocks, Dan Carter at 10 and Israel Dagg at 15.  Let's just say if the Reds win this one, they'll have earned it.
But it's not like the Queenslanders don't have the ability.  This is of course a repeat of the 2011 final which they won.  And Cooper has a few wounded Wallabies in the side with him looking for an outlet to show their talents once more, not least Will Genia and James Horwill.
Much like the Lions series, the Australian side will probably have to rely on broken play to make this a contest, and what's more, it will have to happen early.  I don't see that happening...which is unfortunate as the Reds are my fav Super Rugby team.  I guess I'll have to make do with just the 3 trophies for my favourite teams in 2013.  Damn...did I mention it AGAIN?  Crusaders by 12
Sunday, July 21
Super Rugby
Brumbies v Cheetahs, 7:10am
When Super Rugby 2013 kicked off many tipped the Tahs to make the final six but I reckon they had Michael Chieka's ones from Sydney in mind.  Think Newport Dragons reaching the Heineken Cup quarterfinals and you probably have a fair idea of the surprise package the Free State side have been this time around.
But perhaps their fans aren't so shocked as there is a decent amount of talent there.  Richardt Strauss' cousin Adriaan Strauss is their skipper and has done well with the Springboks at hooker.  In the backline there is much pace & skill particularly on the wings with Raymond Rhule and Willie Le Roux.
I have only seen a few of their round robin matches but from what I could make out, if anything the Cheetahs could be disappointed they didn't get themselves higher up the ladder as they seemed to suffer from the odd dose of white line fever.
And they're not exactly strangers to winning on Aussie soil either...they recorded wins against both the "other Tahs" and the Western Force as part of a 3-game win streak on the road which helped them get to this stage.
But I fear they may find this a trip too far for them.  Jake White for one certainly won't show them any national sympathy, that's for sure.  I have no doubt he has the Brumbies best interests at heart but if there were any dingos in the street they'd know he wanted the Wallaby job and he'll be keen to take his Canberra outfit deep into the playoffs to show the ARU they made a mistake.
Their march to the Australian Conference title wasn't exactly perfect...for example unlike the Cheetahs they actually lost in Sydney & Perth and the draw in Canberra to the Southern Kings doesn't exactly bolster a resumé...but knocking over the Lions is the one thing everyone will remember and you can't deny White knows how to get a result when he needs one.
Peter Kimlin will be a key player for them and he impressed in that win over the tourists - he will have his work cut out however with Heinrich Brussow opposite.  George Smith and Ben Mowen join him in the back row.
It's in the backline where White has made an interesting call, with Clyde Rathbone preferred to Joe Tomane on the wing, and as always, watch out for Jesse Mogg at 15 to get himself involved in pretty much everything that turns into Brumby points.
It would take a brave man to predict even one away win from this week's contests.  So I guess I'm a coward!  Brumbies by 6
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019