Saturday, August 31, 2013

Things That Need to Change in the NFL

In this latest HarpinOnUSA offering a Steelers fan reckons gridiron can learn a bit from rugby…

harpin on usa

As yet another season of exciting NFL action bears down on us, (and the drive for ring number seven begins anew for our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers), I thought I would take a minute and touch on a few things not to like about the NFL.

Not to reduce our fervor and love for the game, but to remind ourselves that the game is not perfect, and things can always be improved.

1. Instant Replay

The instant replay system is a joke. I hate it. I hate that coaches have to do something to ensure calls are right. The refs (and the NFL) should want the calls right. I hate that coaches can lose time outs based on a bad call by a ref.

And I find it abhorrent that Major League Baseball is adopting a similar system.

People say, “Well, the refs on the field have to make the call.” Why? Why does that particular guy have to walk over to a booth and make the call.?

Several years ago I was living in England and happened to turn on a rugby game. Although I understood not one thing about the game, I saw something that I found very insightful.

They had an official, a trained replay official, in the booth who would review every scoring play automatically. Additionally, he had control of the scoreboard, so if he thought a play was questionable, he could signal the refs on the field that he wanted to review the play.

He would review the play, and then post his determination of the outcome on the scoreboard. Apparently, they have a scoring play called a “try,” so when the home team scored, the word “TRY” appeared on the screen and the crowd went nuts.

At the speed of the NFL, and how hard it is to make calls on the field, why can we not do this? Why does the coach have to tell the refs they messed something up?

Thankfully, the NFL has made all turnovers and scoring plays automatically reviewed, but why have anything in the hands of the coaches?

The good news is that the NFL is slowly moving towards taking this responsibility out of the coaches’ hands. We should all be thankful for that.

2. Pre-season

Honestly, what is the point of this? I really don’t know. People tell me it’s to get in “football shape” and evaluate the players who are on the fringes of making the team.

Fair enough, but four games? That seems very excessive. (And to think they used to play six of these games every year!)

On top of the pointlessness of the pre-season, how many players suffer season ending injuries in the pre-season? (Our own rookie RB Le’veon Bell may be out for 6-8 weeks because of an injury sustained during a pre-season game.)

The thing about the pre-season is that it is a money grab for the owners, plain and simple. If you want to buy season tickets for a team, you are forced to buy not eight, but 10 tickets, two of which are for pre-season games, at regular season ticket prices!

The owners are making billions of dollars and the still want more..

I heard on local sports talk radio recently that the coaches need four games to pick their 53-man teams. Really? Is it that close that two games wouldn’t do it? You need what amounts to another quarter of a football season to determine who your third string linebacker is going to be?

One can only hope that in the next collective bargaining agreement, the players will succeed in getting this abomination killed off for good.

(As an aside, if we are going to have the pre-season, why do teams kick field goals in the pre-season that are shorter than thirty yards? Couldn’t your offense use that extra down to practice plays inside the opponent’s 20? Does your kicking team really need to practice chip-shot field goals? Who cares if you win or lose the game? It’s a freaking pre-season game! Practice the things you really need to practice, coaches!)

3. The Pro Bowl

What a piece of crap this game has become. It is far and away the worst “All Star Game” of the four major sports in this country.

All the boredom of the second half of a pre-season game, and all the effort of a bunch of guys not wanting to get hurt.

Let’s be clear, I totally understand why the players don’t actually play during the Pro Bowl, but that raises the question, why bother? I’m starting to think the game would actually be more entertaining if they played 7-on-7 flag football.

As the NFL has proven time and again, if there is any way they can keep the attention on them, they have done and will do it.

I say have the Pro Bowl selections and leave it at that. Don’t even bother playing the game.

4. Legislating the game

Football is a dangerous game. Men running at other men as fast as they can is not a natural act.

It’s not that I’m against protecting the players, but at some point don’t we have to tell the people making the rules, “If you want to have this game, you need to understand that the game is inherently dangerous and players could be hurt, possibly severely”?

Where is it going to end? I mean, quarterbacks are protected almost to the point that if you look at them cross-eyed, you can be flagged. (Except if their name is Ben Roethlisberger, seemingly).

I’m not crass enough to say that the only reason the game is popular is because of the brutality of it, but that has to play a part, doesn’t it? Isn’t it the same reason boxing was popular in the past and MMA is popular now?

Moreover, at the speeds at which these guys are moving, it is nearly impossible to not hurt each other on occasion.

If there is one thing we can learn from the government, it’s that having more laws rarely makes a situation better.

5. Overtime

I have to say that the way it is now is better than it was. It was a virtual certainty that if you won the coin toss, you won the game. Now, at least you have a fighting chance if you lose the toss.

But, why can they not just play another set amount of time, say eight minutes. Play eight more minutes. Whomever is in the lead at the end of that eight minutes wins. Then, go to something like what they have now. If the other team wins the coin toss, elects to receive, and puts an eight minute drive on you to win the game, you deserve to lose.

I would much rather have the entire team determine the outcome of a game than some random drop of a coin or an odd bounce of a ball.

6. Personal seat licences

I can’t begin to imagine why people pay this. And, I can’t figure out what is more horrifying: That someone thought people would fall for this, or that people actually have.

Basically, a PSL is a fee you pay that entitles you buy season tickets for your favorite team.

I’m not kidding! You have a pay to have the right to buy season tickets! This is far and away one of the most egregious, arrogant, obscene things it has ever been my sorry privilege to witness.

Talk about a money grab! Why not simply charge double for the season tickets and admit you are fleecing your fans?!

The fact that anyone would not have a problem with this is a testament to how much we love this damn game and are willing to bend over and take it up the behind to attend it.

This is my personal plea to anyone within the sound of my voice who has the power to abolish this disgusting practice, please do so immediately.

7. Bye week before the Super Bowl

Again, this is a ploy by the NFL to keep football in the public eye as long as possible and it quite possibly one of the most aggravating things about the Super Bowl.

Having to wait an extra week, while you listen to a barrage of talking heads debate everything about the upcoming big game is just so very irritating! By the time the game finally rolls around, I’ve gotten so tired of listening to people talk about it that I practically stopped watching TV just to escape the cacophony.

The only thing I can think of that is more tedious is how ESPN devotes every minute of programming from the moment the Super Bowl Ends until the middle of June to basketball. I’m a simple kid from Western PA. I don’t care about basketball and I really never did. To watch wall to wall coverage of basketball while sports like hockey and baseball are virtually ignored is just sad. It is for this reason that I do not watch or listen to ESPN for that four-month span. There’s just no point. They are not showing anything I care about.

Back on the subject of the Super Bowl bye week, Commissioner Goodell, please do us all a favor and play the damn game the Sunday after the conference championship games.

8. Joe Namath

Haven’t we had enough of this clown? He’s about 40 years past relevant, and even 40 years ago, he wasn’t that relevant.

When he’s not drunk and hitting on sideline reporters, he’s offering his “insight” on the game, a game which he has not played or coached in several decades!

Namath is famous for one thing. He guaranteed a Super Bowl win and then his team won. He really didn’t contribute anything to the win. His defense held an 18-point favorite in the Baltimore Colts to seven points. Namath was an afterthought, really, but somehow rode a 17-for-28, 205 passing yard performance to a Super Bowl MVP and a Hall of Fame induction.

Look up Namath’s stats once. Is he really deserving of the adulation heaped on him? He is the only quarterback in the Hall with more interceptions than touchdowns. He has an abysmal career completion percentage of 50.1%, and he only played in 140 games (or what, today, would be about nine seasons). By way of comparison, Tony Romo has played in 121 games, has a completion percentage of 64.7, and 177 touchdowns against 91 picks. Is Romo a Hall of Famer? Hardly, but I would take Romo over Namath in his prime.

I hate to bang on a fellow Western Pennsylvanian, but Namath used up his 15 minutes of fame getting into the Hall of Fame. He shouldn’t be there, and he certainly shouldn’t be someone we are interested in now.

To quote the hilarious Pittsburgher, Dennis Miller, “Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

Author : Matt Pappas

Check out other great articles at SteelerAddicts - Pittsburgh Steelers News, Forum, Blog, & Fan Site.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Leinster-13 Northampton-21


[update Dec 11, 2013] Not often our archive feature looks back on such a recent contest, but the evolution of Matt O’Connor’s Leinster since the last time Northampton came to Dublin has been noticeable.  Not that anyone will be taking them for granted this Saturday, mind…


Rugby occasions in Donnybrook Stadium always fill me with nostalgia…the Leinster Schools Senior Cup matches, pretending to shove my mates out onto the Morehampton Road en route to the ground, piling into the Spar for Tayto crisps and Curly-Wurlys before the match, wolf-whistling at the girls who make excuses to walk back and forth in front of the stand during halftime…

…but enough about what I got up to last spring on the way to Blackrock College’s 67th cup victory…my job here is to tell you about Friday night’s experience so I’d better get on with it!

On paper this was a re-creation of the 2011 Heineken Cup final.  On the pitch it one team’s British & Irish Cup side against another’s full Aviva Premiership one.  It certainly was a strange feeling to be a Leinster fan watching your team play at home knowing you were the underdogs.

I reckon we got a first taste of Matt O’Connor’s ability to motivate the dressing room on Friday night.  When your team is bettered for ability & experience at virtually every position on the pitch (even Shane Jennings had his match opposite him in Phil Dowson) the best thing you can do is rally your troops and get them focused to hit their opponents right from the kickoff.

Goodness knows how many times we as Leinster fans have seen that done to us - we’re favoured by more than a try going into a contest and even though we eventually match or even better that spread by full-time, it’s often the visitors who open the scoring.  This is precisely what happened at Donnybrook last Friday.

I’d wager that you’d raise more than an eyebrow in the Northampton Saints camp if you told them that our starting scrumhalf on the night Luke McGrath was technically our fourth choice in that position.  Right from the off he was leading the way with speed in both hands and decision-making and after just five minutes Martin Moore was crashing over the line for the opening score after a series of well-orchestrated phases & mauls.

Then the few pre-match pints I had savoured in McCloskeys gave me the arrogance to show off to the people with me (and in turn no doubt to the annoyance of those around me) that I had been at Ravenhill the previous week and that Jimmy Gopperth was flawless from the kicking tee.  Cue the Kiwi putting his conversion wide.

And it was no surprise that the visitors were to come roaring back at us when they had a decent spell of possession themselves…again, we Leinster fans are used to the boot being on the other foot.

But there was something they may not have been counting on…the fifteen-headed blue monster that is the Leinster defence.

No matter how much success Joe Schmidt had at the RDS, you couldn’t expect Matt O’Connor or indeed anyone to arrive and just throw his hands up and say “well it ain’t broke, why fix it”.  Having played in the centre himself and been a successful backs coach at senior level you’d be surprised if he didn’t want to put his own stamp on the attacking side of things.

When the opposition have the ball, however, you can forgive him for letting the existing culture at the province prevail, and his charges showed on Friday that all seems to be well on that front.  The organisation, the resilience, the tough tackling, all still there even with third and sometimes fourth string players involved. 

You would think that if George North can throw Israel Folau over his shoulder then he would no doubt make light work of Darragh Fanning but the former Connacht player who himself spent time playing down in Oz was more than up for the challenge and as hard as the Saints tried to bring the former Scarlet into the action, he was snuffed out every time.

Then at one stage as the Saints were exerting pressure on the Leinster line it was great to see a fully-pumped Shane Jennings motivating his front row before the bind.  Martin Moore was up against another Lion in Alex Corbiseiro and Jenno suggested to the assistant ref that there was some jiggery-pokery going on…at the next scrum a pen was awarded to Leinster and Moore had his hair ruffled by half a dozen team-mates.  Altogether great news for everyone involved at the province going into the new season, with the possible exception of Michael Bent!

No doubt the Saints’ first Premiership opposition the Exeter Chiefs had a spy or two on hand and will have noted how hard Jim Mallinder’s side had to work for their scores.

Yet score they did and on 18 minutes it was the other tight-head prop Gareth Delman who went over, but that touch-down was to provide the visitors’ with their only first half points as Steven Myler missed the conversion and the Saints were thwarted for the rest of the period.  Gopperth popped over a pen to put the home side in the lead at half-time.

Then came the break, and the minis poured on to the pitch for their moments of glory, while the fans poured into the Bective and Wesley bars for their moments of refreshment. 

When the second half began, we had the visitors resuming their all-out assault, but it still took them a good ten minutes to break through as USA international Samu Manoa got the touchdown to put them in the lead for good.  This time Myler’s conversion was good and he added a pen shortly afterwards to make it 8-15. 

Now it was time to thoroughly confuse everyone watching.  I’m not sure it would have been a logistic nightmare for the two sides to number their jerseys up to 30 or so to ensure we had a notion who was on the pitch at different stages…instead we had Leinster players with no number at all while the Saints chose to just give subs a jersey with the same number as the guy who was on before him (for example my pint intake plus my failing eyesight meant it took a while to notice the number 11 was no longer North).

But thankfully the action was to last right to the very end for us at the Bective end of the grandstand as Leinster advanced down the field as the clock ticked down before young flanker Dan Leavy stretched out for a consolation try. 

Though he didn’t have the best outing as Gopperth’s replacement, fair play to Cathal Marsh for having the 7s-savvy to go for a quick drop-goal conversion - had it gone over there would have been a minute left with just six points in it, but sadly it didn’t and that was all she wrote.

People I know who don’t follow rugby that closely asked me over the weekend “what went wrong with Leinster” based merely on the result.  I honestly couldn’t tell them anything.  It was a highly entertaining evening in Donnybrook and I very much doubt anyone went home disappointed.

I’m pretty sure everyone involved with the Northampton Saints knows full well that Leinster will be an entirely different proposition when they face each other back-to-back in December when it counts. 

Let’s face it - the kids are back in school, the Dubs are in the All-Ireland final and Leinster rugby is cranking up for another promising season.  Not sure I have ever looked forward to a September more. JLP

The Pagano Preview Aug 30-Sep 1

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

This weekend’s rugby sees a relative calm before the storm that is the domestic European rugby season.

Though the Top14 sees round three played out with a fourth to come midweek, the other two major leagues have another week to prepare for competitive action by means of some friendlies, while in the southern hempisphere the Rugby Championship nations take a breather to allow for the distances they must travel.

So for the second week in a row there’s really only need for me to preview the match I’m actually going to, but don’t worry…from next week on there will be full previews for all four Irish provinces plus the other matches that catch my eye over the weekend.

***

Friday, August 30

Preseason friendly

Leinster v Northampton Saints, Donnybrook, 7pm

You won’t find fixtures in the northern hemisphere which highlight the difference between the Celtic League and the Aviva Premiership more than the ones in Dublin & Cork tonight.

If the Northampton Saints don’t come close to replicating the preseason drubbing they inflicted on Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens this time last year, either they have serious concerns going into the new season or Matt O’Connor will look set to get his squad off to a flyer.

Actually Leinster fans are being given a reminder of all three Heineken Cup triumphs during this preseason…last week it was our 2012 opponents Ulster, this week brings us back to 2011 while all the time our new coach finds his feet having been a backs coach for the Leicester Tigers for our first victory in 2009.

Although the Pro12 Champions are playing in their spiritual home at Donnybrook Stadium tonight, the IRFU/Lions cloak of invisibility has been wrapped around the bulk of their internationals once more, so the side is quite similar to that which lined out at Ravenhill last week.

Just to be clear, I don’t think that is a bad thing.  The Brendan Mackens and the Quinn Rouxs of the Leinster squad definitely need game time, and this near-full strength Saints lineup will definitely give them a solid test.

And boy, is Jim Mallinder’s side near to full strength!  There’s no rest for the wicked, nor is there for Lions Alex Corbiseiro and George North who both start, plus there’s a meaty second row challenge facing Roux and Tom Denton as they square up against USA international Samu Manoa and card magnet Courtney Lawes.

Now it’s not all rookies on the Leinster side; Shane Jennings leads them out and there’s Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden, Dave Kearney and a clearly fit again Eoin Reddan on the bench.

But even with their inclusion, it is clear from the two selections just how differently a preseason game like this one is approached either side of the water and I can’t see it finishing any way close on the scoreboard.

Not that this bothers me…I can’t wait to settle back into my weekend pre-match ritual which involves a trip on the 18 bus and a few pre-match beverages!  Hope to see you there.  I also hope this is the last time I feel the need to make a prediction like this for my Leinster this season.  I wonder if wearing my Cardiff 2011 memorial t-shirt will help me should it come true.  Saints by 14

Munster v London Irish, Musgrave Park, 7pm

Top 14

Stade Francais v Biarritz, 7:50pm

Currie Cup

Golden Lions v Western Province, 6:10pm

Saturday, August 31

Top 14

Clérmont v Toulouse, 2pm

Bordeaux v Castres, 5:30pm

Montpellier v Brive, 5:30pm

Racing Métro v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Bayonne v Perpignan, 7:30pm

Grenoble v Toulon, 7:35pm

ITM Cup

Auckland v Bay of Plenty, 3:35am

North Harbour v Northland, 6:35am

Southland v Taranaki, 8:35am

Currie Cup

Free State Cheetahs v Griquas, 2pm

Natal Sharks v Blue Bulls, 4:05pm

***

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Next for the Celtic League?

We’d like to welcome Brendan Grehan back to HoR2 as he gives his take on Rabo’s early withdrawal from the Pro12…

Rugby Opinion

LAST Week it was interesting to see the positive spin being put on the news that RaboDirect are pulling the plug on their sponsorship of the Celtic League.

I always thought it was curious why the Dutch company chose to sponsor the league in the first place given that they only have a presence in Ireland and not in the three other member countries. In a curious parallel with German sportswear firm, Puma, who exited from their gear deal from the IRFU one year early, RaboDirect are also returning to the land of canals, dykes and jazz cigarettes 12 months ahead of schedule.

Though the Celtic League has always been the European Cup's ugly sister, it has established itself as a competition of note.

And Ireland is the market where it has flourished. All those inter-provincial rivalries over the last decade has left their mark on the competition. One thinks in particular of all those Leinster-Munster match ups in Lansdowne, the RDS and Thomond.

To be honest it made sense for RaboDirect to bid adieu to the Celtic League given that the bank’s market is Ireland.

In a statement, Tim Bicknell, General Manager at RaboDirect said "key business objectives have been achieved".

He added: “The partnership with the PRO12 has helped us achieve key business objectives and has been extremely beneficial, especially in terms of developing and communicating our brand values, connecting with rugby fans and giving us a platform to reward our customers.Our commitment to the PRO12 will be the same this season, and we will continue to push the boundaries, innovate and bring our energy and expertise to the competition through a strong programme of activity."

As the domestic rugby season starts to wheeze up again, RaboDirect could be the perfect partner for the game on these shores.

It will be interesting to see what sporting activities the Dutch will choose to sponsor.

And what will become of the Celtic League. Will Sky swoop down like a deus ex machina and come to the rescue given that they are due to screen 33 matches a season in a four-year deal from next season.

With all the kerfuffle about the alcohol sponsorship, the drinks companies may choose to keep their distance from the oval ball.

So it will probably be a big financial institution. You can't beat the old reliables.

Brendan Grehan is a Journalist.

twitter: @brendanxavier

Facebook: Brendan Grehan

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The early Leinster years…continued

Part two of Catherine Kavanagh’s trip down memory lane for Leinster fans…

[click here for last week’s part one]

Catherine Kavanagh avatar

Background

2003 had been a particularly challenging year for Leinster’s European aspirations. Leinster had the unprecedented gift of a home quarter, home semi and home final. Those were the days when the GAA stadia were off limits, and when the concept of stadium-sharing was alien to us. We’d moved from Donnybrook down to Lansdowne Road in what seems like a logical step to all these days, but was a bold new departure back in the early 00s. Unfortunately to keep a theme adopted by the national side chasing a Grand Slam against England that year, a nightmare slowly unfolded in spring 2003 at Lansdowne Road in front of one of the biggest home crowds the European Cup competition had seen in its 6 year history.

In April 2003 Biarritz arrived in numbers for a quarter final & were dispatched in a largely unconvincing display at Lansdowne Road. A near capacity crowd shuffled its collective feet, bought chips for the children to keep them entertained and murmured about summer holiday plans for much of the second half. Then came Perpignan in a blaze of rhubarb- &- custard striped socks a few weeks later for our “home” semi final. A Leinster team with bigger issues to address off the field were sent packing by a Perpignan team who couldn’t quite believe their luck. Toulouse and Trevor Brennan duly took the honours that year and brought a new level of professionalism to the sport in doing so. Matt Williams left Leinster and Ireland amidst rumours of dissent and unhappiness. He was replaced by one of the legendary Ella brothers from Australia, a young man with fresh ideas and a gentle manner. A new season was born later that summer. A new era beckoned.

In January 2004 the fledgling travelling support had begun to mobilise in earnest. We targeted 2 away fixtures to get us over the relentless gloom of that morbid rugby Limbo which sits between Christmas & Six Nations. This was a much more exciting competition than it had been in previous years. The Bonus Point system had been devised to encourage tight finishes and running rugby.

On a filthy grey January Sunday, a growing rabble with more tricolours than blue flags descended on a determinedly closed-for-business-til -Noon Manchester. Taxis were ordered out to our designated meeting point – the Royal Oak pub in Sale. Edgeley Park, a little-known pin point on the ERC map, was hosting us that day. Amidst the general introductions and the wow-factor of getting change (from a tenner! Aren’t we robbed at home!) for 2 pints, we chatted about Ben Gissing’s citing and subsequent clearing. Most agreed that D’arce at 13 was an inspired choice by Gary Ella. A few doubted the ability of the team to withstand a Sale force with the wind at their backs after claiming our scalp a few weeks previously in Lansdowne Road.

But We did. One abiding memory remains from that grey, numbingly-cold January that Northern England does so well, with malicious drizzle seeping down through your layers and hands so frozen that you can’t find your unfamiliar sterling change in your pockets (All this change! From a day out!). Coyler and D’Arce, filthy and victorious, grabbing a Tricolour from a group of lads who had been marooned at the far side of the ground, and running towards the main body of the Leinster contingent who had gathered at pitchside. The staff in the clubhouse with its oak panelling and plush carpets, a nod to the football-loving Brian Kennedy, welcomed us with that bemused look that was slowly becoming familiar. Suddenly we were back in the game.

Biarritz lay in wait on the last day of January. Suddenly there were a flurry of conversations online and via email round-robin (Bloody January will it ever end – sure we get paid next week don’t we), and there was a sniff of a quarter-final in the air. On Saturday January 31 the team brought our flags on their flight with their baggage to get around that nasty acquisitive habit we’d noticed last time out with Airport Security and their fondness for the plastic flag holders. We arrived in the South West of France to a balmy Saturday morning in a beautiful seaside resort, and poured into Pascal Ondarts’ bar in the town centre. Pascal himself greeted us with the effusive bear hug that only a prop from the amateur era can muster. Six of us left his bar in the back of his Renault Espace that day – all strapped in like grinning overgrown children. Pascal’s cachet remains such that the gates opened smartly and we were deposited almost to our seats by the efficient stewards in the Parc des Sports d’Aguilera. God knows we needed the assistance on the way up all the steps. We certainly needed it when poor John McWeeney bounced the rugby ball down over our line like it was a grid-iron match, and with the bounce went our chances. We went down 35-21 that sunny afternoon in the Basque Country.

Aftermatch & Aftermath

Pascal’s bar remains festooned with Leinster memorabilia from that visit. We wobbled our way into the team marquee where the French players linked arms with the Leinster fans and gracefully put up with our gauche inability to hold our jar/ hold a note. A talented but underachieving Leinster team moved into the realms of the Celtic League and did themselves little justice. The terrace at Donnybrook returned to the rabble. Another Australian Coach left Dublin that summer.

However, those of us who suffered through that stunted season remember it with misty pride. It was the year Gordon D’arcy came of age, winning the IRB Player of the Year award in 2004. His elevation to the midfield was nothing short of inspired. It made him as a player and set us on a path upwards. Not all things from that year ended sourly for us.

Til Next Week.

CK

Catherine [@KavanaghCK] is a Dubliner with a strong sense of outrage and blind loyalty to all things Blue. She attributes these faults sorry qualities to her role as the instigator of the Leinster Supporters' movement. Serious Family involvement in Irish Rugby over the generations and being the son her father never had, has left her with Oval-Ball dementia. This is an incurable condition.

When Catherine isn't at the RDS supporting Leinster she works in London & enjoys visits to Rosslyn Park RFC where she is a non-playing member. These afternoons remind her of the amateur days, when the beer was cheap & the talk was cheaper.

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 1 (LEIN)

Time to introduce our next provincial blogger who will select their best Irish team throughout the season…this week, Leinster!

Click here for more on the feature, but basically the idea is to select an Ireland matchday 23 for a test to be played the following Saturday.

If you missed last week's opening selection from Connacht, click here.

LTSHTF avatar

Pick an Ireland team in August? Madness. But hey as girls in Eddie Rockets say to international duos “I will give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen?”

If you look back on last season, I wouldn’t recommend it so I will do it for you, it is clear that change is needed. Is getting rid of Declan “Van Wilder” Kidney enough? Some say yes. I say no.

Last season was a catastrophe. Worst season we have seen since the Celtic Tiger made us good at the rugger but it is unfair to blame it all on Kidney. The vast majority of it was his doing or a knock on effect of years of mismanagement but some blame still has to fall at the feet of the players.

If we were a bigger nation I would gleefully have 14 or 15 brand new names below, primed and ready to start handing out whoopins in the 6 Nations. But we aren’t. So I don’t. Fact remains that ever since we drifted away from the supercontinent Pangea we were doomed for the life of a minnow, who can’t afford to make massive, sweeping wholesale changes. Either way I have wielded the axe slightly. A light pruning if you will.
  1. Cian Healy – No-brainer (the choice not the player). Our only stand out player last season in the 6 Nations, could have been the Lion of the tour if injury hadn’t gotten in the way. Always gives 100% although the red mist does descend the odd time. Deserving of the shirt.
  2. Sean Cronin – The worst thing that happened to Rory Best last season was Dylan Hartley getting sent off for being quite rude. If he hadn’t gone on the Lions tour he could have taken the trip to the Americas as time to regain form away from the spotlight, instead he had some royal cock ups stage centre. It pains me to say it as he has been a titan for Ireland and off the field he seems like one of the nicest men you will ever come across but I think his international career could be done/should be done. Some blame it on temporary form but last season had been coming for a while.
    Cronin deserves his run. Although not nailing down the Leinster spot full time I think that is in the post and I think he is our long term hooker. I don’t think Strauss is a healthy option long run so would keep him out of the starting team to let others develop.
    Before the Munster people start Mike Sherry can be there too. Filling water bottles or whatever.
  3. Mike Ross - The biggest tragedy in modern rugby is that Mike Ross didn’t get a Lions call and Tom Court did. I know his was opportunistic and what not, but a tragedy none the less. Enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. We all know Ross is the only real choice and we all know that means we are in trouble in a few seasons when he retires. As for prop subs, both sides, I still don’t understand what is going on with Michael Bent (is he a player or part of the Gathering?). Hagen looks like he is coming along nicely as does Kilcoyne. I would give them halves this season. Court as back up to the backups backup.
  4. Paul O’Connell – Can you drop him? No. At this stage I think it is fair that Paulie goes when Paulie wants. No more of that kicking people in the head mind you.
  5. Donnacha Ryan – He is a workhorse and every team needs one. With the way modern scrums have gone, more crouch, cuddle, lean that crouch touch engage, we could be better off with top quality line out workers or a more mobile pack but for now Ryan has been solid.
    As for subs in the 2nd row, I think the revelation of the summer tour was big Devin Toner. He was immense at set piece and somehow didn’t seem as awkward as usual. Would like to see him used more and tested in the 6 Nations later this year. Mike McCarthy is an ever present “stable replacement”, aka not really going to set the world on fire but can cover two spots, and Dan Tuohy can do some damage too.
  6. Sean O’Brien – This could be the season when he goes from good to god. Could be. Tommy O’Donnell is doing well and deserves a bench place behind him but I don’t see him putting pressure on for his spot.
  7. Peter O’Mahony – The gritty end of the team (aka can throw a sly dig). Is always competent and has the most worried game face of any Irish international. Can get in and do the angry stuff but falls short of being a great as I don’t think he will ever be known for his pace or hands. Everybody needs some angry though. If Fez ever gets fit, and I have spent many a night praying he does, than he is right back in there. I won’t hold my breath on that though so I would have Chris Henry as a deserved back up.
  8. Jamie Heaslip – I have first-hand knowledge of Heaslip, he once ran over me in a Junior Plate final. Since then he has developed into one of the best 8s out there and I have developed a love for cheesecake. On a serious note, a lot of people argue over his position in the squad, visible or invisible work and all that, but he is by far the best 8 in the land and I would keep him on as captain. Had a good tour with the Lions but was visibly tired by the end of it. Was good to see O’Mahony get a couple of games at 8 in the States as a just in case.
  9. Conor Murray – Murray is our number one number 9. Just. I think he had a solid Lions tour, nothing more. I am well aware I am probably the only man in the room to think this but I just feel he was the least bad of the Lions scrummys. He has matured vastly over the past few years but I still think he decision making takes about as long as the Countdown Conundrum. If he improves that, he nails down a spot. If he doesn’t, Paul Marshall come on down. The Ulsterman is young, quick, exciting and has vast potential. Will he fulfil it? Probably not but how about we dream a little? Would like to see him getting more game time as he offers a different style to Murray.
    As for the Leinster duo? Boss and Reddan are now at 33 each, practically, and I think it is time we moved on. Great to have for a crisis but no real longevity.
  10. Jonny Sexton – There is a reason Racing pay him the GDP of a small African nation. At Leinster Madigan could really take off this year and if he does could press Jonny all the way. Paddy Jackson was kind of the Patsy for last year’s mess so I would like to see him get a run to show what he is about.
  11. Simon Zebo – If Tommy Bowe was fit he would be dropping to the bench with Gilroy moving to the left. Needs to pull up his socks. Literally. It’s not the Nemo Rangers junior B’s he is playing for. Good all round and worth a shot but I still think there are hungrier lads around him pushing for his jumper. Would like to see perma crocks Luke and Felix Jones get back to fitness and challenge. As for Trimble I think he needs to prove form in the Rabo but could feature at some point.
  12. Luke Marshall – Again didn’t get a fair crack last year when he stepped into a crumbling system but in my opinion is well worth a crack. Showed he can play ball on the big stage but could probably do with investing in some head gear. Fergus McFadden is always an option and has the benefit of being a relief kicker if one is needed. As for the Darce? The day has come to go out to stud I think. Again, could be good if there is an injury crisis but previous experience would suggest that he will probably be injured at the time.
  13. Brian O’Driscoll – This is the one more year. For the good of the team next year, he really needs to only play halves to blood someone else. Darren Cave being that someone. Playing 13 when God hangs up his boots is going to be a tougher job than sorting out the whole middle east thing so let’s at least get the lad a couple of caps before throwing him to the lions. Could also see McFadden move out to 13 but think Cave may be a more exciting prospect to have in a bit more space.
  14. Craig Gilroy – A winger who likes a thump, just ask Leigh Halfpenny. I get the feeling that we have yet to see the best from him but I also think that for the way he plays injuries may become a problem. Hope I am wrong. I explained my subs at 11.
  15. Rob Kearney – After his summer trip to Australia he is nothing if not rested. Good news for him as I think a lot of Lions are going to look pretty tired in a few months. The bad news is while he was watching Halfpenny put on a master class, Robbie Henshaw was in good form in America. At Connaught he has managed to look good in a backline run by Dan Parks which is an achievement in itself. He can’t claim a ball as well as Kearney but in time who knows, worth a bench spot.
So to summarize, here is Iain’s matchday 23 :
  1. Cian Healy
  2. Sean Cronin
  3. Mike Ross
  4. Paul O’Connell
  5. Donnacha Ryan
  6. Sean O’Brien
  7. Peter O’Mahony
  8. Jamie Heaslip
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Jonny Sexton
  11. Simon Zebo
  12. Luke Marshall
  13. Brian O’Driscoll
  14. Craig Gilroy
  15. Rob Kearney
  16. Dave Kilcoyne
  17. Richardt Strauss
  18. Jamie Hagan
  19. Devin Toner
  20. Chris Henry
  21. Ian Maddigan
  22. Fergus McFadden
  23. Robbie Henshaw
Iain O’Connor (@iain_not_ian) is a Leinster fan who should have retired from playing bad standard rugby years ago. Part time stand up comedian and full time radio person he is the presenter and creator of Heave, a schools rugby show on Dublin South FM. He also likes rugby league and names Alisona Taumalolo as his hero.

Tune in next week when we'll meet our blogger from Munster.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Takeaways from Niners vs. Vikings

NFL regular season draws closer and Robert White looks at the 49ers’ latest outing…

harpin on usa

Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers’ defense continue to shine as they beat the Minnesota Vikings 34-14 in week 3 of the preseason.  Kaepernick started a bit slow but ended his night going a perfect six for six on an eleven play drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Patton.  The 49ers defense looked as stingy as ever creating a fumble on the Vikings’ first offensive possession and allowing only 214 total yards, granted that Adrian Peterson only played a couple snaps and had zero carries.   The third game of the preseason is usually the one where the starters get the most reps and the fans and media get a more detailed sense of who is going to make the team of the guys that are on the bubble.

Colt McCoy works better under pressure:

McCoy struggled mightily in the first couple of of games so the 49ers signed veteran Seneca Wallace to compete for the backup role earlier in the week.  McCoy responding by having his best game going 11-15 for 109 yards and one interception.  McCoy also orchestrated a 10 play drive that resulted in a touchdown for the 49ers.  After the game Jim Harbaugh told reporters that he would be comfortable with McCoy being the backup quarterback.

Baldwin acquisition already paying off:

Jon Baldwin, the newest wide receiver for the 49ers (who was acquired in exchange for A. J. Jenkins) has already doubled Jenkins’ level of production this preseason with his first two catches in a niners uniform including a 19 yard grab.  It may not seem like anything spectacular but considering what Jenkins has done or not done, Baldwin’s good star is a positive.

Defense dominates:

Rookie safety, Eric Reid was tested immediately in his first start with a play-action pass play to Greg Jennings.  Although the pass was a bit overthrown, Reid was with Jennings step by step providing excellent coverage.  After the game, coach Harbaugh said that Reid is someone who continues to get better.

Justin Smith continues to dominate the line of scrimmage for the 49ers pressuring Christian Ponder on seemingly every play.  Smith also contributed with an impressive tackle for loss in the Viking backfield.

Linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks created havoc on the opening drive teaming up for to create and recover a fumble.  The secondary also created a turnover with a Tramaine Brock interception.

You can go from being praised to being yelled out relatively fast:

The highlight of the night belong to Lavelle Hawkins who returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.  He was later flagged a couple of times for taunting when he pointed the ball at one of the opposing players while he was running toward the end zone and for taking his helmet off after he scored.  Harbaugh chewed him out instantly.  Although Hawkins is probably embarrassed, the entire ordeal was pretty fun to watch.

Be sure to check out other great articles at isportsweb.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Third Pro12 Season will be RaboDirect's Last



This season’s PRO12 (2013/14) will be RaboDirect’s last as title sponsor after the straight-talking savings bank decided it won’t be renewing its three-year partnership beyond May 2014.

“The partnership with the PRO12 has helped us achieve key business objectives and has been extremely beneficial, especially in terms of developing and communicating our brand values, connecting with rugby fans and giving us a platform to reward our customers,” said Tim Bicknell, General Manager at RaboDirect.

Bicknell added: “Our commitment to the PRO12 will be the same this season, and we will continue to push the boundaries, innovate and bring our energy and expertise to the competition through a strong programme of activity.

“We are developing our business strategy for the next five years and the excellent results of this partnership has helped inform and influence our strategy for potential future partnerships.”

Chief Executive of Celtic Rugby, John Feehan, said:  “Celtic Rugby would like to thank RaboDirect for its investment and support of the competition from the introduction in 2011 until the end of the upcoming season. The competition has grown hugely over the last few years and this season is set to be even better. The launch will kick start what we all expect will be another fascinating campaign.”

RaboDirect has provided over 2,000 rugby fans and customers with the chance to sample the unique PRO12 atmosphere at matches across Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy. RaboDirect will continue to reward fans for creating and sharing great content, as well as giving even more opportunities to win match tickets, signed merchandise, and presenting the man-of-the-match award at matches. Irish rugby legend, Keith Wood, will be back in his role as RaboDirect’s ‘Voice of Rugby’ after extending his relationship until May 2014, giving fans exclusive access and his insights into the competition via RaboDirect’s rugby channel on Twitter @RaboInsider.

The Pagano Preview Aug 23-25

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

I put up a query to readers yesterday, asking if preseason matches could/should be televised.  Most people agreed, though some didn't think the fixtures would be viable for coverage.

My contention is that if marketed properly, there could be some dosh to be made from the preseason series.  For one thing, the matches for all four provinces could be put together and a sponsor found much like the "Guinness Series" in November.

I understand that these matches to being broadcast "live" would take from ticket sales but I certainly would see a market for "tape delayed" coverage...even the fans who went to the match wouldn't mind watching it again.

If Setanta can show second-tier rugby league and Scandinavian speedway, surely a rematch of last season's Pro12 final which opens a new stand would qualify for coverage at the very least.

Rant over.  Time to look ahead to this weekend's action before I set off for Ravenhill - since I'll be "on the road" I only have time this week to preview the match I'm heading north for!

***

Friday, August 23

Preseason
Ulster v Leinster, Ravenhill,  7:30pm
A lot of youth in the two lineups, but one name jumps off the page - Jared Payne at 13 for Ulster, as well as their skipper for the evening.  The "BOD succession" talk starts before the his "one more year" has properly begun!

But it definitely makes a lot of sense.  The retirement of Eoin O'Malley during the week was of course a tragedy both for him and for Leinster & Ireland rugby, and he was definitely towards the front of the queue when it comes to taking over the outside centre role for Ireland beyond next season.

That leaves the likes of Darren Cave and Luke Marshall among others, all worth contenders,not to mention those who could switch from other positions like Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls (yes, I'm still putting him up there, you never know). 

Still though, whatever you may think about the whole Ireland qualified thing, if Payne puts in a full season at 13 for Ulster including playing through international windows, he could find himself in a perfect position come next season when Joe Schmidt has to start considering test squads without BOD.

Elsewhere on the Ulster team tonight there are some promising youngsters who featured in Ireland's Under 20 World Championship campaign...if Payne is to move to the centre then Peter Nelson will be looking for game time at full back and of all the Wolfpuppies to impress in France last June, winger Rory Scholes was to the fore.

On the Leinster side of things Rhys Ruddock will lead them out and is part of a back rock which is the most experienced unit of Matt O'Connor's first selection, with Dominic Ryan and Leo Auva'a alongside and the likes of Jordi Murphy ready to come on.

My personal "one to watch" this season is Darren Hudson, who gets a start at full back and hopefully has fully recovered from the injury that cut short his campaign last season.  Definitely has the game-breaking ability to succeed even in a squad which already has much talent in the back three.

Lining out at outhalf for the reigning Pro12 champions is new signing Jimmy Gopperth who will be keen to impress his new employers, while at 13 Brendan Macken has a habit of popping up for tries so watch out for his name on the scoresheet.

As with any preseason fixture the teams will look extremely different in the second half to the first so a prediction will be very tough to make...I just can't wait to get up there and see some live rugby regardless.  If forced to make a call on it, I would (light-heartedly) plump for Ulster on the basis that in recent times Leinster only seem up for this fixture when there's a trophy on offer ;-) 
Ulster by 7

Top14
Toulon v Racing Métro, 7:50pm

Currie Cup
Free State Cheetahs v Natal Sharks, 6:10pm

Saturday, August 24 

Preseason

Newcastle Falcons v Connacht, Kingston Park, 3pm
Munster v Gloucester, Thomond Park, 5pm

RWC2015 Qualifier
Canada v USA, 9pm

Rugby Championship
New Zealand v Australia, 8:35am
Argentina v South Africa, 8:10pm

Top14
Oyonnax v Clérmont, 2pm
Biarritz v Montpellier, 5:30pm
Castres v Grenoble, 5:30pm
Perpignan v Stade Francais, 5:30pm
Toulouse v Bayonne, 5:30pm
Brive v Bordeaux, 7:35pm

ITM Cup
Tasman Makos v Canterbury, 3:35am
Northland v Southland, 5:35am

Currie Cup
Griquas v Western Province, 2pm
Blue Bulls v Golden Lions, 4:05pm

Sunday, August 25 

ITM Cup
Bay Of Plenty v Hawke's Bay, 3:35am
Manawatu v Auckland, 5:35am

***

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

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