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 split...it 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
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
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