Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Pagano Preview Aug 16-18

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

 

Ah, this is what I like to see.  A near-full programme of top-level weekend rugby matches to look forward to.

 

Sure, I had to bulk it out by adding the ITM & Currie Cup fixtures but hey, a lot of them are live on the telly so why not include them...they can provide some entertaining rugby and give us a taste of what kind of talent is coming down the pipeline in the southern hemisphere.

 

Meanwhile back in Europe, the Top14 kicks off a week before Leinster begin their preseason! 


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Friday, August 16


Top14

Montpellier v Toulon, 7:45pm


Had to laugh at the front page splash photo on the Montpellier-Hérault Rugby website this morning...it pretty much sums up how the game is going over in the Top14.

 

Toulon's lineup as expected isn't short of stars with Wilkinson as skipper, both Armitage brothers and Matt Giteau among the starters.  Another name that jumps off the team sheet is Martin Castrogiovanni, particularly as he is down in the 23 jumper...seems like rather than keep the forwards and backs together on the bench they just decided to hand the extra number to the extra prop.

 

MHR for their part have some familiar names like Trinh-Duc and captain Ouedraogo as well as some new additions of their own like Scots lock Jim Hamilton.

 

All in all this is the sort of fixture you'd settle down to of a Friday evening even if you weren't starved of regular telly rugby over the summer.  And although I reckon the home-side might be exaggerating the gulf between them a tad, I doubt they'll be able to upset the reigning European champions. Toulon by 7.


Currie Cup

Natal Sharks v Golden Lions, 4:05pm

Former Leinster prop CJ van der Linde is on the bench for the Lions.

Blue Bulls v Griquas, 6:10pm


Saturday, August 17


Preseason

Connacht v London Wasps, Sportsground, 5pm

Leinster aren't the only province with a new coach, new jersey and new talent to show off, and Connacht get to do it first in what should be a super evening's entertainment in Galway.  The Premiership outfit are bringing some familiar names like Goode, Varnell and Masi.


Rugby Championship

Australia v New Zealand, 11:05am

Before this week I wouldn't have thought there was a tougher start for a new test coach than a match against the All Blacks, but Ewan McKenzie has found it...TWO matches against the All Blacks!

 

However...if he has any kind of savvy and I'm pretty sure that he does, he'll know that in many ways this is the best possible start for him.  He has taken over a side that just had it's arse handed to it by the Lions who were led by a Kiwi.  The Wallabies haven't had custody of the Bledisloe for a decade.  There really can't be many commentators, myself included, who think they have a hope in hell for either of these two matches.

 

So to all intents and purposes,  he has nothing to lose between this week and the next, for although two defeats won't exactly warm the hearts of an Aussie sporting public still smarting from the Ashes, there has to be an element of understanding for the hand he has been dealt.

 

"Link" has already had one big decision to make, that of his out-half.  Few would have batted an eyelid if he brought Quade Cooper back from international wilderness straight into the starting jumper, but that would have been hard on Matt Toomua who played a major role in the Brumbies' march to the Super Rugby final and deserves a shot.

 

Elsewhere James O'Connor should find himself a bit more at home on the wing while another impressive Brumby Jesse Mogg will have the chance to see exactly where he stands as a test fullback as he lines up opposite Israel Dagg.

 

As for the All Blacks, you have to feel for Matt Todd who lines out in ITM Cup rugby while Richie McCaw who decided to take a break from the game parachutes not only into the competitive starting role but also his captain's one.  Not sure how I feel about that to be honest, but if I were Aaron Cruden I'd get the feeling that no matter what I did in the next six months or so I'm bound to see Dan Carter doing something similar after his break.

 

There's a lot of talent in this Wallaby side, and the change at the helm is just the thing they needed.  But looking at this All Black lineup I just can't see the home side keeping the intensity for 80 minutes in order to produce and upset.  All Blacks by 12


South Africa v Argentina, 4pm

Felipe Contepomi at least gets to do this year what he was denied last...to start The Rugby Championship for his country.  He lines out at outside centre as the Pumas attempt to improve on their one draw in the inaugural tournament last time around.

I honestly can't see them doing that here against a Springbok side which comfortably dispatched Italy, Scotland and Samoa in June...this will no doubt be a tad trickier but given it's in Bloemfontein they should have little trouble.

New Leinster signing Zane Kirchner was named to the wider Springbok squad and thus could notjoin his new team-mates for pre-season training, but he is left out of the matchday 23.  Ulster fans on the other hand will be sweating on Ruan Pienaar who gets the start at 9.
Morné Steyn gets the nod at 10 for the home side and opposite him will be Nicolas Sanchez who himself has been released by his Top14 club Bordeaux.

I don't expect the Boks to have everything their own way - it will be interesting to see if the new scrum laws have an impact on proceedings - but they still have more than enough firepower around the park to get the job done.  Best the visitors can hope for is a display to give them confidence for the return fixture on their own patch next week.  South Africa by 14


Top14

Biarritz v Clérmont, 2pm

Bayonne v US Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse, 5:30pm

Racing Métro v Brive, 5:30pm

Leinster fans have been in something of denial since the news broke of Jonny Sexton's departure - this fixture will make it real, and Setanta Ireland have decided to beam it into our living rooms.


This will be a big test for the new regime at Racing...interesting that the official lineup lists the "Entraineurs" as "Labit-O'Gara-Travers"; seems like our ROG might be playing a bigger role at the club than we first thought?  Either way, the coaching staff have to turn the quality of players their sugar daddy has bought them into a winning unit on the pitch and they will be expected to get off to a good start here.


Sexton teams up with French international Machenaud who has been challenging Morgan Parra for the test 9 jumper.  Jamie Roberts hasn't made it for the season opener but another Lion has...Dan Lydiate starts at 6 and will be keen to get stuck in to the new campaign.


The bookies have a lot of faith in Jonny's new team, offering them by a 17 point margin.  I don't see much in their lineup that makes me think they will overturn that spread completely but given it's the start of the season they should at least beat it. Racing by 12

Grenoble v Stade Francais, 5:30pm

Perpignan v Castres, 7:35pm

Shows just how strong the Top14 is...the reigning champions are tipped by the bookies to lose to the team who finished 7th last time around.


This match will also be of interest to Leinster fans as Castres are in their Heineken Cup pool.  They have the key players who helped them to the title in June like league top points scorer Rory Kockott and marauding number 8 Antoine Claasen.  They have also added to their squad in the form of Scots giant lock Richie Gray.


On the USAP it seems James Hook is playing at 15 this weather, while the Catalans have some Scots influence of their own with Alasdair Strokosch at 6.  There's more former Pro12 talent on the bench for them in the form of Lifemi Mafi and Tommaso Benvenuti.


Paddy Power has the home side by 4 but I'm going against them here...this Castres side have shown they can cause upsets and though it should be tight I reckon they'll come out on top.  Castres by 3


ITM Cup

Hawke's Bay v Manawatu, 3:35am

Southland v Tasman Makos, 6:35am

Waikato v Northland, 8:35am


Currie Cup

Western Provice v Free State Cheetahs, 6:15pm


Sunday, August 18


ITM Cup

Auckland v North Harbour, 3:35am

Otago v Bay of Plenty, 5:35pm


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

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