Friday, September 27, 2013

Leinster-34 Cardiff-20

CARBON COPY

I’d like to think the … RDS crowd helped us pressure the Cardiff line in the final quarter and keep the ball when it counted to … finally clinch the 5 … points thanks to Madigan selling the Blues defence a wonderful dummy and surging through the space before him.”

A phrase or two was removed perhaps, but no words were changed in the above passage from my writeup of Leinster’s win over the Blues in September 2010, and it could easily apply to Friday night in the RDS. In fact, if Leigh Halfpenny had been successful with one of the placekicks he missed, even the final score would be exactly the same.

It all stands as a compliment to Matt O'Connor that this Leinster performance bore all the hallmarks of what the RDS fans have gotten used to during the Schmidt era.

That doesn't mean we were perfect by a long chalk, and anyone who reads this blog knows I'm happy to point out when Leinster are below their best, but given how our results went from win to draw to loss over the opening three weeks of this young season, we have to be happy overall with five league points in the bag, given there are trips to Thomond Park and Liberty Stadium around the corner.

Look back over our victories for the past few seasons and you'll lose count of the amount of times we conceded the first score. So when we not only went 3-0 down but also took over 11 minutes to have an attacking phase in the opponents’ half, the home crowd could be forgiven for not being, er, phased. No matter how many points the other guys put on the board, you won't be able to tell what kind of Leinster team is on the park until we have had our first decent spell with the ball, and on Friday once we had it, we scored an outstanding try.

One distinguishing feature of this match was that for the most part the returning Lions really seemed to be up for showing why they were chosen to go on that tour, and noone fit that bill more than Brian O'Driscoll. When you think about it, having been so vocal about his third test disappointment, he pretty much had to come out and show us what he could do, and his offload for Sean Cronin's try was the first of several stand-out contributions – if he continues this form this final year could well be his best ever.

The ball was actually slowed down coming out of the ruck under the Cardiff posts and it looked like the overlap was gone as the defenders got over to cover, but once Ian Madigan let fly one of his torpedoes and BOD threw a few shapes they parted like the Blue Sea for Cronin to high-hurdle a tackler and stroll over the line.

So we knew the tries were there for us, but we were only seven points up at the interval. Thankfully we were able to regain control from the restart and once we were camped on their line with a second try imminent, a dive over the top of the ruck by Filo Paulo earned him a yellow and in the resulting scrums referee Marius Mitrea awarded a penalty try.

According to the “totally unbiased” ScrumV commentary team, both the yellow and the pen try were harsh. I'll admit he could have given a warning instead of the binning, but when you go off your feet so close to your line you run the risk and it has certainly been given against us before. Same goes for the pen try...some refs could have given the weakened scrum a second chance but then again the spirit of the new laws is to avoid resets. Either way, Leinster had well regained control of the possession and territory stats (80% poss for Cardiff after 10m was just 33% at fulltime) at that stage and were deserving of the 14-point cushion.

Then we had another Lion showing us why he was selected. It all happened in a split second. The ball arrived in the hands of Alex Cuthbert, and he looked Rob Kearney in the eye. Both knew there was space outside. It was like the wild west with two gunslingers waiting to draw. The Welshman was just that fraction of a second quicker to pull the trigger and he still had a ton of work to do once past the world-class full-back including avoiding the touchline and cutting a swathe through the scrambling defenders who fell into each other trying to catch up to him. A superb score that spoke more for Cuthbert's brilliance than it did for a suspect defence, though many online went to great lengths to spin it the other way!

Before long we were back over the Blues line again ourselves, only this time McFadden just failed to get the touchdown. Nothing controversial about that decision, but there certainly was moments later when Cuthbert was involved once more.

Cardiff had forced a turnover in midfield and via the ref’s mike you can hear Isaac Boss screaming at O'Driscoll to come away from the breakdown area and cover as there was an overlap. BOD didn't get the message and after a tidy offload from Owen Williams and slick pickup by Todd from Breaking Bad Rhys Patchell, Cuthbert was through again and when he was tackled by both Dave Kearney and Sean Cronin, the ball went forward to be picked up by Harry Robinson who was left with an easy run-in.

However Mitrea called it back for a knock-on in the tackle. On the one hand, the Scrum V team were bemoaning that he didn't at least go to the TMO, while on the other they were saying categorically that it was Cronin who had knocked it out of Cuthbert's grasp. For the rest of the match they basically said it was a legitimate try that wasn't given.

Cuthbert offloadNot sure you can have it both ways really, but perhaps the ref could have gone upstairs to see some more angles...one thing is for sure, there was absolutely nothing conclusive from the one angle we did get and if the officials were confident enough to make the call straight away, we have to assume they saw what happened.

Still, it was a lucky escape for Leinster and they needed a trademark lineout/maul try from Dominic Ryan plus that carbon copy score from three years before by Madigan to not only seal the victory but also the bonus point.

Here I have to credit the Cardiff Blues. I'm not so sure they were the victims of injustice as suggested by BBC Wales, but unlike their previous three visits to Dublin that I was harping on all through the week, they certainly appeared willing to engage us from the kickoff.

Sam Warburton was at his full test level of demonic possession at the breakdown although there were turnovers in contact for both sides throughout as our back row of Ruddock, Ryan and Heaslip held their own. A sloppy pass from Jack McGrath straight to Cory Allen allowed him an all-too-easy late consolation and fair play to the visitors for pushing for the losing bonus right to the end.

Overall a satisfying five points for Leinster, and BOD wasn't the only highlight. That fizzed pass from Madigan is going to be the feature of many a highlight reel this season, and however well Jimmy Gopperth played in the opening weeks, it was made pretty clear what our outhalf pecking order should be.

It wasn't the best night for the Kearney brothers but both made up for forgettable moments with decent contributions. Fergus McFadden had a decent shift but I wonder was he trying too hard to stand out on the wing.

In the forwards, although Devin Toner was pinged a couple of times for silly breakdown pens (he knows everyone can see him right?) I'm delighted to see him getting stuck in and he did force a turnover or two himself in the process and formed a decent lock partnership with young Quinn Roux.

All told, it's the end of September and Leinster find themselves in the playoff places. Matt has to be happy with that position in the Pro12, especially given the tough schedule we had to open the season. Of our remaining 18 matches, 13 are against teams who finished 6th-12th on the table last season so there will be plenty of opportunity to move up.

In the meantime, however, we must gear up for the big one. And yes, the Heineken Cup is still the big one, whatever those loudmouth English club chairmen may have us believe. Normally the first weekend in October sees Munster at the Aviva but it's to Limerick we must go.

For me, we need to focus on four things during the week – defence, defence, scrums and defence. I reckon it was improved on Friday and the two Cardiff scores were opportunistic rather than sloppy on our part but still there is always stuff to work on.

As for the scrums, we can't continue ignoring the new laws and Cronin in particular will have to start actually hooking the ball whether there's an 8-man shove coming at him or not. However, if the ref is going to keep an eye on the straight-ness of the feed, it wouldn't hurt to watch for early defensive shoves either.

Anyway...I'll definitely take a carbon copy of last season's result in Thomond, that's for sure. Without the controversy, of course, ahem. JLP

 submit to reddit

Also this weekend

Zebre 17 - 24 Glasgow

Ulster 32 - 13 Benetton Treviso

Edinburgh 9 - 22 Scarlets

Connacht 26 - 43 Ospreys

Munster 23 - 9 Dragons

 

TEAM

PLD

PTS

W

PD

T

PF

TD

1

GLASGOW

4

16

4

21

7

71

5

2

OSPREYS

4

16

3

56

16

140

9

3

MUNSTER

4

14

3

37

14

119

4

4

LEINSTER

4

13

2

31

12

111

5

5

ULSTER

4

11

2

22

8

70

5

6

SCARLETS

4

9

2

-1

7

83

-1

7

NG DRAGONS

4

9

2

-3

3

60

-2

8

CARDIFF BLUES

4

6

1

-15

3

81

-6

9

TREVISO

4

5

1

-30

5

71

-7

10

CONNACHT

4

4

1

-30

7

68

-2

11

ZEBRE

4

4

1

-33

8

84

-3

12

EDINBURGH

4

4

1

-55

4

58

-11

Next matches - Round 5

Fri 4 Ospreys v Ulster, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 19:05

Fri 4 Dragons v Zebre, Rodney Parade, Newport, 19:15

Fri 4 Benetton Treviso v Connacht, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, 19:30

Sat 5 Scarlets v Glasgow, Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli, 18:30

Sat 5 Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, Limerick, 18:45

Sun 6 Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, Cardiff Arms Park, 13:05

Pro12 Week 4 preview

A look at Round 4 of the Pro12 with a non-Irish slant by Liam Sinclair…

non Irish Pro12

The tedious European wrangling continues and is actually threatening a move on my nerves. A chink of light comes through on the home front to break the monotony! That rarest of rare things! Three cheers for the team who, just last weekend, popped their competitive cherry. Hip Hip! Zebre! Just one part of an unpredictable weekend. Frustrating for the predictors but makes for great watching. Weekend coming, let’s have a look.

Ulster v Treviso; Managed a good win against Munster at the weekend to get their season up and running. Have grown in stature every year they’ve been in this contest and can only be good if they continue on this path. Toughness is a big part of their game which next opponents Ulster can match. It’s going to be a close one but you have to feel Ulster will find their flow. A close game, home victory.

Zebre; At long last! This day has been a long time coming. The day we could take a break from the norm and finally talk about Zebre in a positive way. And away from home and all! So congratulations Zebre it’s good to be able to say good things about you however…….. I think some of the talk has been over the top. One match is not an upsurge or proof of a turn in fortunes. It’s a step alright but it’s just the first. I stated a minimum aim of three wins for the Parmesan upstarts and I stand by this. Great result but let’s not get too excited yet.

Glasgow; Continued their excellent start to the season with victory over champs Leinster. It wasn’t the most stylish of victories but will be taken gleefully. Still 100%, the only team that can claim that. Ringing in the changes for the match upcoming. Ringing the changes for the upcoming game but still a strong team. Will feel they can continue setting the pace.

Match; Glasgow to win a nice, flowing game.

Leinster v Cardiff; Somebody had to be the first team to lose to Zebre. A few close calls did happen but The Blues have taken the spoils. There’s no need for alarm bells just yet, we won’t judge on one performance! The first step on the road to absolution is Dublin. A toughie. Leinster, who did not perform well last weekend welcome back some first teamers and will also be looking to make amends. It’s like a Disney movie. Positive for Cardiff that another Lion comes back in the shape of Captain Sam but, most likely, not enough. Leinster to win fairly comfortably.

Edinburgh; Disappointing if not surprising. Edinburgh have already been on the receiving end of 2 hidings which leaves them bottom. At the risk of repeating myself I think this team have the ability to beat anyone on their day. It’s not a very strong team going out however, a mystical ‘day’ needed even more. Murrayfield is the venue and it really looks an awful place when it’s empty. This can’t be helping the players, must be an alternative?

Scarlets; Loss to the Dragons will have stung. The Pro12 can split into those competing and those not very quickly and if they want to be competitive at the top these are the games they need to be winning. It’s another away trip coming up against a similar team and some serious amends need to be made.

Match; I think I spelt it out pretty well up there. Victory for a determined Scarlets team.

Connacht v Ospreys; So far we’ve seen the Osprey’s team we all know and admire. Playing with style and penetration they are 2nd in the table with the highest amount of points scored. They travel to Galway with an unbeaten record and a renewed reputation. Defence has been decent and I can’t see past them in this match. Victory for the ‘Spreys.

Munster v Dragons; Underestimate the Dragons at your peril! Victory against 2 teams perceived as stronger is a boost for the underachievers. Does kinda compound the disappointment of losing to equals Edinburgh. Instinct still wants to back Munster. Playing well mostly and at home. Musgrave isn’t the fortress that Thomond is but they should still have enough after a good fight.

Here’s hoping for another unpredictable weekend!

Liam Sinclair (@liam_bs) – Guesses, generalisations and clichés.

The Pagano Preview Sep 27-29

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

The Rabo has been with us for three weeks now but as I said in my writeup of Glasgow v Leinster, many of the sides seem to be using the month of September as a kind of extension of the pre-season, which in turn plays into the arguments of the English & French clubs in that confounded HCup saga.

This weekend sees the kickoff of the Ulster Bank League and for the sake of the clubs involved I hope the return of the Lions to the provincial sides will mean they’ll be able to field their best available sides.  Though I doubt somehow Gordon D’Arcy will be togging out for Lansdowne…

It’s a big year for the UBL as it sees the return to the top flight of an Ulster side for the first time in a while, best wishes to all at Ballynahinch RFC.  Check this link for the full list of fixtures across the divisions and try to make it to a match near you. 

In the meantime, allow me to put my head on the block for some of this weekend’s top flight fixtures…

***

Friday, September 27

RaboDirectPRO12

Zebre v Glasgow Warriors, 6:30pm

Two of the Rabo’s in-form teams clash in Parma! Bet you never thought that could be said about a match like this one!  The Warriors may have just defeated the reigning champions but Gregor Townsend will no full well there’s a whopper of a banana skin awaiting his side at the XXV Aprile Stadium.  He welcomes back some key players like Al Kellock and Sean Maitland, plus feisty scrumhalf Niko Matawalu returns to the bench for a potentially fascinating last quarter battle with Brendon Leonard.   I reckon the Scots will make it 4 wins from 4 but they’ll need to kick their goals this week to do it. Glasgow by 6

Ulster v Benetton Treviso, 7:05pm

SEVENTEEN POINTS???  No offence meant to Ulster fans , but the bookies seem to be off their rocker this week offering such a big spread for a side which should have beaten Connacht by at least that much last week and didn’t, against a side that has no qualms about getting a result in Ravenhill.

In fact Treviso completed a rare double Italian success last weekend by overcoming Munster at home, though it came with the help of Mat Berquist’s boot and apparently some favourable calls from the ref.

Now it’s true…Ulster are getting ever closer to full strength with the return of Court, Best, Tuohy and most of all Tommy Bowe to their starting lineup, but after losting their two opening matches Mark Anscombe will need them to hit the ground running tonight.

If that spread is to be made it may have to be in the final quarter, and for this Ulster have Nick Williams primed and ready to spring from the bench so I’m not saying it isn’t do-able, I’m just surprised at the size of the forecast, as Treviso have some beef of their own in reserve in Dean Budd who’s late try brought them within a conversion of victory at the same venue last season.

I’d be inclined to shave at least a converted try off of that spread. Ulster by 10

Leinster v Cardiff Blues, 7:35pm

I like to do these previews with the two starting lineups in front of me.  Thing about that is, as a Leinster fan I can be forgiven for having trust issues.

This business of “last-second-switching” goes back into last season (even the Pro12 final wasn’t sacred) and it makes me wonder just what is the point of naming a team in the media at all during the week?  I mean I understand that things can happen in the warmup but when it happens so often you wonder if players should be named if there is any doubt surrounding their inclusion.  Fans often buy tickets based on players they think will be appearing so perhaps it would be better to say nothing rather than something that will probably change.

Rant over - or at least on that topic. Next one is…will Cardiff actually come to play in Dublin this time?  Between Dec 2011, Apr 2012 and Oct 2012 Leinster have emerged from these “capital v capital” clashes victorious with a combined score of 145-34.   And one of those was a Heineken quarterfinal.

And it’s not as though the Blues have sent the much-maligned “weakened” Celtic League squads across the water either - they have usually had their “elite” players like Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny on show, as they do tonight.

All of which makes it nigh-on impossible to predict the outcome, though the bookies seem to think we’ll win by a similar margin to Ulster.  You’d think that their history here plus a home defeat to Zebre last week would light a fire under them, but with these Welsh regions you simply never know.

On the Leinster side of things, eight Pro12 points is decent haul when compared to past Septembers but Matt O’Connor will know that performances have been on the decline over those three weeks and whatever resistance the visitors put up tonight, he will need a strong 80-minute outing from his squad.

We’re not without elite players of our own, with Brian O’Driscoll formally launching his “One More Year” tour and Jamie Heaslip taking the captain’s armband from the luckless Shane Jennings.  Fergus McFadden also makes a welcome return, though while many would rather see him at 12, the back three injury crisis necessitates him going to the wing.

This means the Blues may see our inside centre Noel Reid as something of a tender spot in the Leinster defence and it will be interesting to see how he stands up to the challenge.

The biggest change in the home lineup is the return of Ian Madigan to outhalf.  I joked on twitter during the week that he’d be good on University Challenge. This is just the kind of match he will want to seize by the scruff of the neck, and he will provide a stern challenge to young Rhys Patchell opposite him.

Provided the starting fifteen named on Thursday’s teamsheet can survive at very least the first half hour of play, I reckon Leinster should be good for a win.  But with Brendan Macken named at 23, probably to replace BOD around the 50 minute mark, one nasty knock in the back line could throw us into complete disarray.

Finally we must be sure and keep an eye on Dominic “Dippy” Ryan at 7 - he has been waiting a long time for a decent run in the side and he won’t get a much better test than tonight with the Lions skipper opposite.  Leinster by 9

Edinburgh v Scarlets, 7:45pm

The turf accountants make this too close to call.  I’m not so sure.  A very close to full-strength Scarlets side could well make mincemeat of a Visser-less Embra still finding its feet under a new regime.  Both home fans might celebrate a losing bonus but I’m not sure there’s one forthcoming - there’s plenty of Williams in the visitors’ lineup to do damage. Scarlets by 8

Aviva Premiership

Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks, 7:45pm

Top 14

Stade Francais v Montpellier, 7:45pm

Second plays third in the Top14; the temptation is to apply the French Away Apathy Rule but I have always found Montpellier to be the exception to such rules so I’m tapping M Trinh-Duc & co as my latest Upset of the Week and they will overturn the bookies’ spread.  Montpellier by 7

Currie Cup

Free State Cheetahs v Western Province, 4:05pm

MTN Golden Lions v Natal Sharks, 6:10pm

Saturday, September 28

PREVIEWS WILL PUBLISH SATURDAY MORNING

RaboDirectPRO12

Connacht v Ospreys, 5pm

Munster v Newport-Gwent Dragons, 6:45pm

Ulster Bank League - Division 1A

Ballynahinch v Cork Constitution, Ballymacarn Park, 2:30pm

Garryowen v Dolphin, Dooradoyle, 2:30pm

Lansdowne v UCD, Aviva Stadium, 2:30pm

Old Belvedere v Clontarf, 2:30pm

St Mary’s v Young Munster, 2:30pm

Aviva Premiership

Bath v London Irish, 3pm

London Wasps v Worcester Warriors, 3pm

Harlequins v Saracens, 3:15pm

Top 14

Oyonnax v Toulon, 1:55pm

Bayonne v Biarritz, 5:30pm

Castres v Racing Métro, 5:30pm

Grenoble v Brive, 5:30pm

Perpignan v Toulouse, 7:35pm

Rugby Championship

South Africa v Australia, 4pm

Argentina v New Zealand, 11:40pm

ITM Cup

Otago v Southland, 3:35am

Manawatu v Taranaki, 6:35am

Auckland v Canterbury, 8:35am

Currie Cup

Griquas v Blue Bulls, 1pm

Sunday, September 29

Aviva Premiership

Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers, 2pm

Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester, 3pm

Top 14

Clérmont v Bordeaux, 11:30am

ITM Cup

Hawke’s Bay v North Harbour, 2:35am

Bay of Plenty v Counties Manukau, 4:35am

Wednesday, October 2

ITM Cup

Tasman Makos v Waikato, 7:35am

Thursday, October 3

Southland v Hawke’s Bay, 7:35am

***

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 2 (LEIN)

As the new Ireland coaching staff gets to know their squad, here’s the latest thoughts from our Leinster-leaning selector…

Click these links to find the most recent selections from Connacht, Munster & Ulster.

LTSHTF avatar

Right so here we go for round 2. It is September and each team is now acting accordingly and has forgotten how to play rugby, possibly with the exception of Ulster.

To be honest, if there was a big test tomorrow I would probably just pick my last month’s team with a few tiny exceptions, so instead what I have done is picked a team I would like to see get a run out together for one of the weaker November internationals. So hey this is what I would be lashing out against the mighty Samoa if that was this weekend.

I have gone for a mix of inexperience and form, although finding an Irish player on form in September is like trying to find a sober Dublin footballer in the next 3 weeks.

I have also held back from converting Michael Darragh McCauley and including him in the back row as that may annoy the traditionalists.

Next month it is down to business. Promise!

  1. Cian Healy – Church is still unchallenged

  2. Sean Cronin – In my opinion our long term future at hooker

  3. Mike Ross – Ross is still our best option and completes an all Leinster front row

  4. Iain Henderson – Man of the Match for Ulster against Con. Personally I had written him off and I am willing to hold my hands up. Deserves a shot

  5. Donnacha Ryan – Has done enough not to get dropped

  6. Sean O’Brien – Still to make a comeback since the Lions but at 50% still our best back row

  7. Peter O’Mahony – For me he is still keeping Ferris’ spot warm and doing a mighty fine job of it too.

  8. Jamie Heaslip – For me still captain and still unchallenged

  9. Paul Marshall – Had a good half for Ulster in their win last week. Is definitely our back up 9 but I think can challenge Murray. Quicker distribution and can surprise a defence. Has the x factor. You now have permission to slap me for using the term “x factor”.

  10. Paddy Jackson – I know it is early in the season but has been impressive. 13 or 18 points on the weekend was enough for me to give him a bash. Worth a start against someone weaker but not gonna challenge Jonny for a while yet. Needs to not do any more youtube videos mind you, Nizlopi has run its course.

  11. Simon Zebo – As I said earlier this is for a game against a weaker team. I would put Zebo in purely to give him a chance to prove form. Like Jackson he could do with making less videos for the internet. Both the injunction kind and the others.

  12. Luke Marshall – Still my 12. Needs international game time.

  13. Darren Cave – Needs game time if he is going to replace BOD next season. There is all sorts of talk about BOD playing every game to get records and what not but that needs to take a back seat to blooding his replacement.

  14. Fergus McFadden – Would be worth a shot on the wing with 2 inexperienced centres. Can fill in in the middle if times get tough and is a pretty established winger.

  15. Robbie Henshaw - Get this guy blooded as quickly as possible. Can fill in anywhere around the backline but I like him at 15.

  1. Cian Healy

  2. Sean Cronin

  3. Mike Ross

  4. Iain Henderson

  5. Donnacha Ryan

  6. Sean O’Brien

  7. Peter O’Mahony

  8. Jamie Heaslip

  9. Paul Marshall

  10. Paddy Jackson

  11. Simon Zebo

  12. Luke Marshall

  13. Darren Cave

  14. Fergus McFadden

  15. Robbie Henshaw

  16. Dave Kilcoyne

  17. Richardt Strauss

  18. Jamie Hagan

  19. Devin Toner

  20. Chris Henry

  21. Conor Murray

  22. Jonny Sexton

  23. Rob Kearney

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.

49ers face mounting issues

It hasn’t been the start for the 49ers we were expecting to say the very least…

harpin on usa

Author : Adrian Glover

For the San Francisco 49ers, it was all good two weeks ago after they pummeled the Green Bay Packers.  Their feel-good aura has changed with the quickness now that  they are staring at a 1-2 record and a growing list of internal issues.

On Sunday the Indianapolis Colts dealt them what felt like a surprising 27-7 loss.

It was the second consecutive thrashing in a row at the hands of a quality team.

Pass rushing specialist Aldon Smith has been a distraction with his personal issues which may have impacted the locker room.

Moments after the game, the team announced that Smith will be taking an indefinite leave of absence.

From the football perspective, Smith’s exodus does nothing but hurt a team that relies on him for the bulk of their pass rush.

His mounting incidents that always include either drugs and/or alcohol as a primary charge, have caught up to him and subsequently the team’s imposing defense.

After Sunday’s shellacking, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that running back Frank Gore is angry with coach Jim Harbaugh for the lack of attention that he was shown on Sunday’s gameplan.

Gore only received 13 total touches yet was only one of the few 49ers that showed up to play with over 100 yards in total production.

Did Harbaugh and his staff drop the ball?

Harbaugh is a quarterbacks guru that has pushed his team in the direction of slinging the ball around in lieu of the ground attack that has been their staple for some times.

Colin Kapernick is a much more exciting signal caller than Alex Smith ever will be.

However, at some point a team needs to shift into another gear if a certain style of play if things are not working out for them.

My suspicion is that it meant a lot to Harbaugh to beat his former pupil Andrew Luck with Kaepernick firmly at the helm.

If that is the case, ego paved the way for this defeat as it very well may have against the Seahawks during their Week 2 loss to his college/pro adversary Pete Carroll.

After the game, Harbaugh gave the media which included the San Francisco Gate, a very pointed and direct answer as to what they team must do to fix their current state of affairs.

“We have no choice,” Harbaugh said. “No choice but to find our way.”

Harbaugh has the challenge of a lifetime on his hands as he loses both momentum and key players with each passing contest.

Starting wideout Michael Crabtree is currently out. Tight end Vernon Davis did not play on Sunday. Defensive captain/middle linebacker Patrick Willis left Sunday’s game with a groin injury.

It seems like a good time for the 49ers to take a step back, run the ball and try to chew up as much clock as possible on Thursday when they face the St. Louis Rams who are another talented team on a skid.

Harbaugh definitely needs to tweak his master plan.

The post San Francisco 49ers face mounting issues as Frank Gore takes on Jim Harbaugh appeared first on Players View.

 

Check out other great articles at Players View.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Glasgow-12 Leinster-6

THE PRO-AM 12

As this ridiculous media war rages on over the Heineken Cup I reckon it's important for the Celtic & Italian clubs to at least try and find some moral high ground.

The best way to do that is to first look at their own product critically before putting forward a defence against the onslaught of information about this new Franco-English tournament, which I swear will have its opening fixtures before this Christmas the way they're carrying on.

It all depends on how we choose to spin it...we could look at the table and say “hey...Glasgow are in first place and Zebre not only got their first win this weekend but it was also on foreign soil...things can't be that bad for the Scots & Italians?”, but anyone who has followed the Celtic/Magners/Rabo over the years would surely know that is far from the real picture.

I'd be more inclined to point out that although two of them were victorious, all four teams that made the Pro12 playoffs last season were well below par last weekend and if we insist on being in denial of that, then we may find ourselves without a leg to stand on if and when actual meaningful discussions take place over the future of pan-European rugby.

When I suggested by way of a tweet on Saturday evening that Ulster were poor in their victory against Connacht I took a bit of stick, but I still stand by it. Same goes for Glasgow...they celebrated their win over Leinster almost as much as the Scots did after their triumph in Newcastle over the Wallabies (all that was missing was the head clash).

Sure, it was a victory over the three-time European and reigning Pro12 champions, definitely not a bad achievement on paper. But my point is that if we want to consider ourselves as equals to the Toulons and the Clérmonts, even though we can't match them for salaries, we can at least expect a certain standard, and in my opinion last weekend's fare fell well below it.

Maybe it looks like I'm avoiding criticising my Leinster lads for the way we played? Far from it. Plenty of time for that in this writeup.

Actually it's the fact that we were so poor that makes my point for me. On 79 minutes in Scotstoun, despite allowing the hosts to practically walk into our 22 at least half a dozen times in the final quarter alone, we actually had a decent chance to snatch this game just as the Warriors had done to Ulster a week before. That, for me anyway, says it all.

But as it turned out justice was done and somehow Aaron Dundon failed to find Devin Toner with his lineout throw and the chance, our only decent one in the entire second half I might add, was gone.

To go back to Glasgow for a moment, please don't get me wrong, they were worthy winners on Friday and deserve to sit atop the league as they have been the best team over the three rounds. All I'm saying is that while I can see why Woody Harrelson Gregor Townsend would be singing the praises of his team to Warriors TV right after the match, he must surely have some questions to answer during the week.

At the very least, he has to wonder how he let Leinster away with a bonus point, one that could be significant come season's end. For that he must look at his side's dismal place-kicking, with Hogg, Bennett and Jackson combining for a 1 for 7 haul. And from what I have seen, it seems to be a pattern, what with last season's try bonus v Ulster with the minimum 20pts plus that last-gasp conversion miss against us in May.

But if the standards I'm talking about are to be attained, they must also look at those numerous appearances in Leinster's 22 and ask themselves why they didn't at least give themselves a shot at the try bonus on the night.

Anyway, enough about Glasgow. Time to reluctantly look at my lot.

This stat speaks volumes...our top tackler was Dominic Ryan, who although managed a whopping 16 in a little over a half, was the guy who let sub prop Yanuyanutawa get away from him for what turned out to be the game-winning try.

If you showed me this match and pixelated over the player's faces, I'd have sworn blind that it wasn't Leinster, right from the very off. On our first decent possession from a lineout Shane Jennings of all people hacks the ball forward when he could easily have set up some early attacking phases. I'm not necessarily saying that's a stupid tactic, it's just not something Leinster do, and he apologised for it afterwards as it went harmlessly over the Warriors tryline.

But it was on defence where we struggled most. The organisation that has become a trademark over the years under Cheika and Schmidt, and even has been visible at times under O'Connor, was left back in Dublin. It was as though that memory-wiping stick from the Men In Black movies was flashed in our dressing room before kickoff and we had no idea what was meant by pillar, post or the importance of the first-hit tackler.

Sometimes it seemed as though the Warriors players stopped and looked at each other to see if the wide open gaps before them were because of the referee's whistle before they sailed through for yet another gain. And maybe we did improve the closer the home team got to our line (with the exception of Ryan that one time and Mike Ross in the lead up the first try from Fusaro) but again I point to the standards...they should not have gotten there so easily in the first place.

Now it's not as though there weren't mitigating factors for the Pro12 champions...just once this season I'd like to see the XV that is named during the week to still be on the pitch after half an hour..is that too much to ask? We have become masters of the last-minute change over the last year or two. And when we already have a shortage of back-three players, for first Fanning to pull out and then his replacement Lote Tuqiri to do a hammer, it really looks like our luck is out.

And that injury to the rugby league convert must have been most frustrating to Ian Madigan. Although he started at full-back, the presence of Rob Kearney on the bench must have meant he was scheduled to move to out-half early in the second period, yet that option was taken away. And given that the core of the side has been very much the same over the three weeks and we had a six-day turnaround, I'm sure Matt O'Connor had fixed plans to use his bench in the second half which were scuppered.

Of course it didn't help much that our skipper Jennings had another dose of misfortune in doing what seemed to be his wrist just after his thoroughly-deserved callup back into the Ireland squad.

Then there was the scrums. Oh, dear Lord, Peter Fitzgibbon what on earth were you doing? Don't worry...this isn't to get Leinster off the hook...he was equally shambolic in calling it for both sides. I don't like dissing the ref but it really seemed as though Fitzgibbon was missing the point about these new scrum laws. Instead of calling early penalties with a view to having proper scrums by the end, we had a lottery at each and every put in. Not sure it influenced the result that much on the night, but it's something he'll have to look at for the future.

But allow me to be clear...I am in no way making excuses. If Glasgow and Ulster were below par, Leinster were lower again, and although 8 points is a decent Pro12 haul for us after 3 rounds given Septembers past, the trend of our performances is going in the wrong direction and the coming week will be the first real test of Matt O'Connor's stewardship.

For the visit of the Cardiff Blues this coming Friday we need a few things...
  • a fair amount of changes to the lineup, whether it's bringing back Lions, players returning from injury or even a light sprinkling of academy players.
  • Root-and-branch examination of the defensive structures. A DVD session with much singling people out (no matter who they are) is in order, complete with a vocabulary more likely to be found on the Sopranos than on Songs of Praise.
  • Finally although this of course isn't in our control, we'll need a squad from the Welsh capital that is prepared to come to Dublin and actually engage, something that hasn't happened in a while either in domestic or European competition. Maybe the Zebre experience will be a wake up call for them.
Look...as poor and all a display as this was, I'm not going to let it get me down, at least not now. With Dublin winning the All-Ireland, my Oakland A's clinching the AL West and Spurs second in the Premier League after yet another clean sheet on Sunday, I'm a lot more glass-half-full now than I was last Friday night.

We came away from a tough place to go with a losing bonus. Let's be thankful for that. And let's get our issues sorted quickly because Munster, Ospreys and Castres aren't likely to let us away with similar in October.

As for the league itself, despite my dislike for the McCafferty's of this world, based on what I saw last weekend they do have a point, especially when it comes to resting players. No disrespect to either the Dragons or Zebre for their successes this season indeed fair play to them, but the top perennial Pro12 finishers seem to view September as a continuation of the pre-season and never mind how unfair that is on the French and English clubs, the fans who pay just as much for the tickets now as they do in April deserve better. JLP

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Also this weekend



TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 GLASGOW 3 12 3 14 4 47 4
2 OSPREYS 3 11 2 39 10 97 5
3 MUNSTER 3 10 2 23 12 96 6
4 NG DRAGONS 3 9 2 11 3 51 0
5 LEINSTER 3 8 1 17 8 77 3
6 ULSTER 3 6 1 3 3 38 1
7 CARDIFF BLUES 3 6 1 -1 1 61 -4
8 TREVISO 3 5 1 -11 4 58 -3
9 SCARLETS 3 5 1 -14 4 61 -4
10 CONNACHT 3 4 1 -13 5 42 2
11 ZEBRE 3 4 1 -26 6 67 -2
12 EDINBURGH 3 4 1 -42 4 49 -8

Next fixtures - Round 4

Friday, September 27

Zebre v Glasgow, Stadio XXV Aprile, 6:30pm
Ulster v Benetton Treviso, Ravenhill, 7:05pm
Edinburgh v Scarlets, Murrayfield, 7:35pm
Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Royal Dublin Society, 7:35pm

Saturday, September 28

Connacht v Ospreys, Galway Sportsground, 5pm
Munster v Dragons, Musgrave Park, 6:45pm

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