Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The November Ulstermen

How many Ulstermen will make it into Joe Schmidt’s Autumn 23? asks Ryan Cullen…

Ryan Cullen logo

After a shaky start which saw them lose both of their first two fixtures, Ulster has bounced back strongly, stringing together six straight wins ahead of this weekend’s difficult trip to Parc Y Scarlets.

Whilst the remaining squad will undoubtedly be focussing on the Scarlets, the rest of us are now starting to look forward to the several weeks that follow when we will see the first international action of the European season.

With the new Irish coaching team now firmly ensconced, the question on the lips of many Ulster fans is how many Ulstermen will make it into Joe Schmidt’s Autumn 23?

In the eyes of many Ulster fans Declan Kidney was a harsher judge of Ulster players than their Leinster and Munster counterparts throughout his reign. Whilst I believe this it was more his nature to resort to the tried and tested when times got tough rather than anything else, the belief that being an Ulster player was a disadvantage when it came to Irish selection was certainly a widely held one.

So ahead of this November’s Guinness Series I am going to take this opportunity to examine exactly what claims Ulster players have to make that matchday squad.

Front Row

Players selected: Rory Best, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick

Starting with Best, injury aside he will be the starting hooker come the Australia & New Zealand games. Sean Cronin’s ability round the park has impressed so far this season but his basics are still not of the standard needed to be a first choice international. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cronin start against Samoa, but would expect the Ulsterman to return for the major challenges towards the end of the series.

Mike Ross appears to have now regained full fitness and thus it would be a major shock to see anybody other than the Leinsterman starting against the Wallabies and ABs. Declan Fitzpatrick has played well so far this season, anchoring Ulster’s scrum in both their major victories against Leicester and Montpellier. Whilst it certainly wasn’t plain sailing in either of those games, Fitzpatrick showed an ability to adapt and overcome early issues and looks fitter than at any previous stage. He should fill a place on the bench this autumn with perhaps even a start against Samoa a reward for his early season form.

It’s rare I feel sorry for sportsmen but Tom Court is undoubtedly one who deserves a bit of sympathy. Since he was thrown to the wolves at tighthead against England a few years back, he has been typecast as just another powderpuff Irish prop. This combined with the fact he doesn’t possess the, exceptionally rare, open field prowess of Cian Healy has meant he is often overlooked.

Yet Court has been one of the lynchpin’s of Ulster’s rise to prominence over the past few years and certainly (to these eyes) is the standout replacement for Healy. When deployed as a loosehead he is the equal of any scrummager in the country. He carries well enough, defends well for a prop and is an excellent lineout lifter.

In short he is a very able deputy. We will have to wait and see if his excellent H Cup performances have been enough to force his way back into Schmidt’s thinking after he was left out of the first training squad of the Kiwi’s reign.

Second row:

Players Selected: Dan Tuohy

Ulster’s representation in this area has undoubtedly been reduced by the withdrawal of Iain Henderson. Henderson has been one of the standout performers for Ulster this season and would have been likely to have at least made the bench come test time given his versatility.

That leaves Dan Tuohy as the sole Ulster representative at lock. Tuohy is amongst those who have benefitted most from working with Mark Anscombe. Whilst always capable of carrying well and getting stuck in, under the Kiwi’s leadership Tuohy has developed a good offloading game and is much more reliable come scrum and lineout time.

With Donnacha Ryan out injured, I believe now is the time to give Tuohy a crack of the international whip. Whilst Mike McCarthy undoubtedly gave heart and soul for the cause last year I don’t believe he offers anything over and above Tuohy at this stage. Devin Toner obviously provides a terrific lineout option but must be more of a replacement for O’Connell rather than starting alongside. Again we wait to see how Schmidt sees the makeup of his new squad but Tuohy deserves a chance given his form of the past 15 months.

Back row

Players selected: Chris Henry, Roger Wilson

The back row is quite a straightforward selection for Joe Schmidt I would imagine. O’Mahony, O’Brien & Heaslip will start if fit. The only other questions are who might be blooded against Samoa and who will fill the bench?

The latter should be answered with the name Chris Henry. An all-rounder who can cover all backrow positions, Henry is the perfect bench replacement. His outstanding form over the past few weeks also strengthens his claims and Schmidt will know that he is an able replacement should any of his frontliners injure themselves.

Wilson’s chances must surely be slimmer. Only called up as cover due to injuries to others, Wilson may get some game time against Samoa but will carry the drinks otherwise. Harsh on a man who forced his way into the Ulster first team ahead of potential superstar Iain Henderson, but sadly I think the dye has already been cast on Wilson’s international career.

Half back

Players selected: Paddy Jackson

The omission of Paul Marshall caused some consternation amongst Ulster fans but I’m not sure what else we could have expected. Marshall is not a regular starter for Ulster and the constant comparison with Ruan Pienaar shows him in a fairly negative light. There is no doubt Marshall possesses quality but the improvement in Ulster’s performance against Leicester brought about by the introduction of Ryan Pienaar was perhaps the death knell for Marshall’s current international ambitions.

That Kieran Marmion hasn’t made it into the squad either is arguably a much greater surprise than Marshall’s omission. Marmion has been excellent for Connacht so far this season and is sure to be an international in the near future. Given the disciplinary proceedings hanging over the head of Connor Murray (at time of writing) I would be disappointed if the young Connacht scrum half wasn’t added to the squad in the event Murray isn’t available.

For Paddy Jackson it has been a terrific start to the season. Improving week on week, Jackson has been central to Ulster’s early season successes. That the general trend of his place kicking is a positive one is also a reason for cheer. Yet it is still not of the level Ian Madigan has attained so far this season so there is still work to be done.

Surely though Schmidt must have other requirements of his outhalves than just the ability to kick goals. He must question if Madigan manages the game as well as Jackson currently? Jackson’s performance against Leicester was one of the most complete I have seen from him in an Ulster shirt and he backed that up the very next week in Montpellier. He is full of confidence and his passing game is in fine fettle. Madigan, on the other hand, has frequently started from the bench for Leinster and hasn’t shown last season’s form so far this season.

Whilst Madigan is undoubtedly talented, can a player not starting for his province be selected at in such a pivotal position? Time will tell but I think Jackson’s form should earn him a spot amongst the replacements.


Players selected: Luke Marshall

Still no Darren Cave I hear many Ulster fans shout. The versatility of other squad members (such as Earls and McFadden) is perhaps the reason for this but it does seem Cave must do something which Irish coaches plainly don’t like. It would be churlish to suggest that Cave should be starting for Ireland but I am surprised he hasn’t been given a bit more of a chance.

Luke Marshall should reasonably expect to start all of the tests this autumn. Gordon D’Arcy has been a terrific servant to Irish rugby but it is difficult to see how he will be the first choice 12 come the next world cup. Marshall has performed well so far this season and is the future. Defensively excellent and growing as an attacking threat, Marshall needs international exposure to ensure he is ready come 2015. Any minutes the young Ballymena man can spent alongside Brian O’Driscoll will also be of benefit.

Back three

Players selected: Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble

Trimble’s inclusion mirrors that of Roger Wilson so discussion is fairly pointless at this stage. Conjecture over Tommy Bowe is also a zero sum game given he is a certainty to start. A two time Lion and confirmed world class performer, Bowe will be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Craig Gilroy will undoubtedly reflect that his current injury problems have arrived at an inopportune moment given the injury to Simon Zebo also. Gilroy would surely have been the next name on the list if he was fully fit.

To my mind then, Ulster should have four names on Joe Schmidt’s first XV teamsheet, but in reality I reckon it’s perhaps more likely to be three with four Ulstermen taking up a place amongst the replacements. Whilst this seems like very few starters for the best team on the island so far this season, it is hard to argue that there should be any others included currently, given fitness issues in particular.

Ulster fans also need to remember that three or four of Ulster’s five most influential players aren’t Irish qualified. Naturally this is going to mean fewer international representatives. The sooner Jared Payne’s naturalisation period ends the better for all concerned in that area.

So Ulster fans should be wary of getting on Joe Schmidt’s back too early. Whilst plenty of Ulster players have performed exceptionally well so far this season, so have many others. Schmidt has chosen the majority of Ulster’s form players. Now it’s up to them to ensure they can’t be left out.

My name is Ryan Cullen and I am a 25 year old Ulster season ticket holder. I was introduced to the game around 15 years ago and have loved it ever since. I have an interest in pretty much all sports though so don’t be surprised to see a few football (Liverpool), Golfing and Racing interests (to name but a few) thrown in from time to time.

Women’s AIL Div 1 - round 6 preview

It’s Belvo’s title to lose as the Women’s AIL reaches its business end

Belvo ladies

We all remember the Irish women won the Slam last season, right?   Grand.

Amid all the column inches and speculation about the new coaching setup in the men’s ranks it’s a fact worth repeating that Phillip Doyle & co are gearing up for the defence of their crown in the spring.

And also, amid all the palaver about the structure of the men’s competitions, it is also worth noting that when it comes to the girls, although there may not be an equivalent of the Heineken Cup just yet to muck things up, the format of their season shows the boys how it’s done when it comes to making sense.

The season kicks off with the club game and the All-Ireland league, which has two rounds left to play.  Then we have the best players from around the country coming together for the interprovincials, and from here Doyle can get an idea of his best matchday squad for both the Six Nations AND the 2014 World Cup, where he learned this morning that his girls will face New Zealand, USA and Kazakhstan in their pool.

When it comes to the club scene, there’s no doubt who the form side is…Old Belvedere.  In the photo above you see them celebrating their Paul Flood triumph at the end of last season and this time around they have kicked off their AIL campaign with 5 wins out of 5.

And since two of those victories came against both of the teams nearest to them on the table (Highfield and Blackrock, who still must play each other), everything would seem to point to their becoming the first team other than UL Bohemian to win the national title.  They must first overcome St Marys and Tralee over the next two weekends.

[UPDATE - many thanks to @NoraStapleton on twitter for informing us that this season there is a “top four” playoff in the Women’s AIL, all of us here at HoR Manor apologize.  Turns out Highfield, Rock and even champions UL Bohs are still right up there in the mix!  Luckily for you readers, our regular women’s rugby columnist Sarah Lennon will be back soon with all the right info!]

Belvo’s success has been rewarded with as many of 11 of their players being named in Leinster’s interprovincial squad, including lock & Grand Slam hero Mary Louise Reilly who has been installed as captain “Leo Cullen style” ahead of Fiona Coughlan.

All of the league’s games kickoff at 1pm this coming Sunday…check the IRFU site for more details and follow this twitter list for score updates on the day.  JLP

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Open Letter to Mike Phillips

This was posted by @Poupimali today in French, I have done my best to translate the gist of it…

Original text here

Rugby Opinion

William Michael, we need to talk.

How can a player as brilliant and as talented as you be such an asshole?

How old are you - 20 or less? You're not an English player throwing dwarves in a New Zealand bar during the biggest competition in the world rugby, are you?

You're in the Basque Country since 2011.  As you well know, it is a beautiful place for rugby. And you're in luck, because for Bayonne, rugby is more than a sport, it is a philosophy. We always forgive one who made ​​amends.

You're known as the white wolf and  persona non grata in some bars and restaurants in  Bayonne.  We were all convinced that after your 10-day suspension in September 2012 (following a victory too against Stade Toulousain), you had learned your lesson.

Well, no.

But you know what? I believe that the greatest tragedy of this story is that you're sick. You have a serious problem with alcohol.

In France, it is even recognized as a disease. You're an alcoholic. If you're not able to come to work without being drunk then you need help.

Friday, October 11, after the victory over Grenoble in the Amlin (37-6), you arrived at a video session with two friends / coworkers (Dwayne Haare and Stephen Brett) in a state of intoxication after a sleepless night. You really have no excuse.

In 2011, you got excluded from the national team because you were so drunk and angry in McDonalds a security guard had to sit on you to calm down . This is not new.

Either you're an idiot or you have a problem.

Since you learned your dismissal for serious misconduct in the newspaper, we can conclude that the communication department of your former future president can not do its job properly.  

But make no mistake - as all persons suffering from addiction, you're in denial. Whether it’s etting drunk at work when you win a championship or when the situation is complicated, the conclusion is the same : a drinking problem.

Seeing your recurring antics, it seems that nobody else has tried to accept your illness. It was probably considered that you were a "party animal."

As is customary in France, "drink a little bit, it's nice!" Alcoholism is a disease that probably has the most victims because drinking too much is socially acceptable.

Your club through these leaders are also at fault for not helping you to become aware of your problem, because you think boozing is probably very funny, but when you have too strong a taste for the parties, it probably means you’re an alcoholic.

Others before you have accepted their problem and are treated as if they were helped a bit mothered by their club or federation.

International three-quarter Australian Kurtley Beale, 24, was suspended by his club Melbourne Rebels for hitting teammates, and for continuing to drink alcohol despite its commitments. He pledged to seek treatment in a private clinic. The Australian Federation (ARU) will be positioned on the future depending on the success of the treatment.

Zac Guildford, All Blacks winger and Crusaders, had to give up the 2013 season to undergo treatment for removing alcohol / drug treatment.

Today, you lose your job in completely stupid and extremely mismanaged by your club circumstances. You lose your dignity and probably the respect of many. You would follow the same path as Gavin Henson?

Seriously Mike, you need help. Make yourself heal. And you know, I do not even talk to your career, but also for your health. Dying of liver disease is something you surely don’t want.

@Poupimali - Passionnée de balle ovale. Community manager d'un Stade. Adore l'insolite et les post-it. Ne voyage jamais tranquillement. J'adore ce que vous faites.

The Heineken Rugby Show #1

Starring Will Carling, Matt Dawson & Scott Quinnell and filmed at the world famous Cabbage Patch Pub, the first of a regular 4-show feature hosted by Heineken discussing all the hot topics of the 2013/14 Heineken Cup is now live.


Ep 1 - See how many Heineken Cup matches Scott can review in 30 seconds & why he brought a tear to Matt's eye.

Ep 2 - Find out why a certain Yellow Card really frustrated Matt & where was Scott so surprised to find Will?

Ep 3 - Which famous friend will Matt be calling? The clue is Ben Cohen & Will tackles your twitter questions.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Leinster-16 Connacht-13

HotBotts no URL

Leinster v Connacht pen try

One of the things about rugby union most often said to distinguish it from other sports is the way it involves people of all shapes and sizes coming together, united in a common cause.  And this doesn’t just involve the players on the pitch…the differing roles go much wider.

For example, we have Leinster Rugby.  As the professional era has evolved, their role, and indeed that of all top clubs around the continent, has been to promote the game around their catchment area and make matchdays a spectacle for everyone.  This function was more evident than usual on Saturday with a Halloween theme around the RDS for kids, a half-time minis session that involved teams from special needs clubs around the province like the Westmanstown Taggers, and they even allowed some extremely grateful bloggers to view the proceedings from the press box to feel part of the media glitterati.

Then we have the referee.  On this particular occasion it was David Wilkinson.  I’m naming him before I name any actual players involved in the contest because he certainly didn’t seem to be a believer in the need for an official to be seen and not heard.  Below you see a breakdown of the penalties he awarded on the night…there’s no prizes for spotting that the game was ultimately won in the scrum, but it was the offence stats where he really put his mark on this match when he didn’t need to…

Pens conceded

There were barely 30 seconds on the clock when Michael Bent was pinged for going off his feet on Leinster’s opening possession.  In actual fact, he didn’t technically go off his feet…he wasn’t technically supporting his own body weight so technically the ref was correct.  When you have to use the word “technically” that many times, you know the man in the middle is being a stickler, which isn’t technically the word I’d like to use.

But as you can see by the table, at least he was consistent with his calls and didn’t favour either team - it was just frustrating to see attack after attack thwarted on the night when if only he could have made his “gate” just a fraction wider, we could have had more of a contest we wanted to see from this Interprovincial matchup.

One other area of the game where you’re meant to know your place is at scrum-time, where the new laws have made the lines of  communication between scrum-half and hooker crucial.

With Richardt Strauss out and Rory Best leaving early at Ravenhill the night before, Sean Cronin would appear to be front-runner for Joe Schmidt’s bow as Ireland coach.  Well his open play is as strong as ever, but another couple of crooked lineout throws won’t have helped and most of all he really needs to come to grips with these scrum laws, or at least have a better rapport with Conor Murray than he does with Eoin Reddan.

On the ten-minute mark an attempted clearance by Ian Madigan was blocked by Craig Ronaldson and the ever-tenacious Connacht defence put on the squeeze to force a 5-metre scrum.  Then the visitors’ number eight George Naoupu contrived to hand possession back to the home side, and now having the put-in Leinster should have been able to at least clear their lines.

The way it’s supposed to work is that the scrum half hits the hooker’s hand with the ball (though it used to be the hooker himself giving the signal by raising his hand) and then puts it in…and the whole point of the signal is so that the hooker can time his sweeping motion correctly to put the ball back for his side.  Not only was Reddan’s put-in crooked, it sat there for what seemed like an age before any attempt to hook it back.  A decent shove by the Connacht pack eventually put Heaslip under pressure and he scooped it back to Reddan.

Brainfart time.  All the scrum half had to do was fall on the ball and there was a chance of it being cleared.  Instead Reddan tried a similar through the legs scoop that Noel Reid couldn’t have known was coming.  Suddenly there was the ball over the tryline waiting to be touched down, Kieran Marmion was the fastest to react and hey presto it was 3-13 to Pat Lam’s men.

With just 12 minutes on the clock, the visitors knew they still had their work cut out to hold the lead, but I bet they didn’t even consider that they wouldn’t score again for the remainder of the contest!

If there is one aspect of any sport where you most certainly shouldn’t “know your place” it’s when you are facing an opponent who would be heavily favoured to beat you.  The best way to slay Goliath is to approach with a gameplan, stick to it, and then be sure and hammer home every little advantage you get.

After falling 10 points behind Leinster gradually took control of the first half but were thwarted partly by the ref’s pickiness but more from knockon gremlins and solid Connacht defence.  Still, they managed a couple of penalties to make the halftime deficit a seemingly easily-surmountable four.

But early in the second term Jack McGrath was pinged for holding after the tackle and this signalled the beginning of a purple patch for Connacht.  Their offence seemed to come to life, with Parks pulling off a crossfield kick to O’Halloran after which they won a seemingly easy three points on a rare call against the Leinster defence. 

Bravely they backed themselves and kicked for the corner and after an impressive maul Leinster got themselves pinged for a second time as Kevin McLaughlin went off his feet as they attacked the line. 

Perhaps only Michael Swift knows why having kicked for the corner before, now on the Leinster line they instead chose to take the three.  At that stage they had no reason not to trust their scrum but even if they didn't, the lineout would have been fine, and what’s more a pen would probably have led to a Leinster yellow.  Maybe it was the ref and his eagerness to penalise the offence?

Whatever the reason, the rugby gods chose not to smile on Connacht this time as a loud “ping!” off the upright met Parks’ goal attempt and although Marmion recovered he got a ping of his own for holding after the tackle and the chance was gone.  The sun was certainly (metaphorically) shining, but no hay was made and as it turned out, the Leinster 22 was to remain unspoiled for the remainder of the evening.

But with the referee on the night there were certainly no guarantees that the home side were ever going to touch down over the line, and in actual fact they didn’t.  Instead they needed to impose themselves as Goliath and force that advantage of resources home.  The ability to bring on such quality from the bench as Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth and Zane Kirchner certainly highlighted that advantage, but not for the first time this season it was Martin Moore who stood out from the replacements.

First, Leinster had to get into the visiting 22.  The first half strategy of persisting through the phases and more often than not charging back into a pack of forwards was getting them nowhere.  There were a few impressive bursts from the likes of Noel Reid and my personal choice as man-of-the-match Fergus McFadden but they were never able to make anything meaningful from breaking the gain line before getting smothered by either the defence or the ref’s whistle.

It took an uncharacteristic drop from Gavin Duffy for the home side to find a weak spot and if you look back at the table of penalties above, all six of the scrum pens that went against Connacht happened after that moment, and all were in their 22.  It didn’t help their cause that a probably-knackered Rodney Ah You had to come back on after Ronan Loughney saw yellow for offside (he had Robbie Henshaw’s first half pings to thank for that), but mostly it was Martin Moore’s ability to lock down the scrum that made the difference.

A series of scrums, penalties, warnings and even a second yellow this time to Marmion for jumping the gun made the penalty try that won the match nigh-on inevitable…if you REALLY wanted to be a stickler there could have been a third yellow flashed with the score but I doubt anyone in the ground wanted that.

[Meanwhile, up in the press-box, a blogger who should have known his own place was shouting at the ref to award the penalty try and clapped vigorously when it was awarded, only to receive flaming daggers from the Connacht-supporting Irish Times columnist seated beside him!  Oops…hopefully the citing commissioner will look kindly on him…]

Former Sportsground favourite Mike McCarthy seemed to do his best to help his old mates out with a couple of late knockons but they were able to press home the advantage. With much irony it was a scrum penalty against Connacht on their own put-in that ended the match.

But when all was said and done, although it certainly wasn’t a match for the neutrals(whether they were those who wanted to see Goliath slain or just to see some classy tries from open attacking rugby) it has to be said that over the 80 minutes the better side won.  Just. 

Hopefully Connacht won’t feel their proper place is at the foot of the Pro12 table because it most certainly isn’t.  Leinster for their part will feel they have much work to do (particularly in the try-scoring department…they haven’t had the ref to blame every week) but with the three teams they have failed to beat  this season occupying the top three places on the table, there is plenty of scope to pick up points against those below them.

There is certainly no harm in being given a fright in a match labelled your “Halloween Thriller”, but this was a little too close for comfort!  Best place for it now is in the history books so we can hopefully look forward to more exciting contests ahead. JLP

Also this weekend

1 MUNSTER 6 22 5 48 16 151 10
2 OSPREYS 6 22 4 73 20 192 11
3 GLASGOW 6 21 5 19 9 94 6
4 ULSTER 6 20 4 46 13 127 8
5 LEINSTER 6 18 3 30 13 142 4
6 NG DRAGONS 6 13 3 -3 8 107 -2
7 SCARLETS 6 12 2 -6 8 111 -3
8 CARDIFF BLUES 6 10 2 -16 7 131 -7
9 TREVISO 6 10 2 -17 8 107 -6
10 EDINBURGH 6 8 2 -65 6 90 -12
11 ZEBRE 6 7 1 -56 10 107 -5
12 CONNACHT 6 5 1 -53 8 84 -4

Next up (all times GMT)
Fri Nov 1
Dragons v Leinster, Rodney Parade, Newport, 19:05

Fri Nov 1
Edinburgh v Zebre, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, 19:45

Sat Nov 2
Cardiff Blues v Benetton Treviso, Cardiff Arms Park, 14:30
Sat Nov 2
Connacht v Glasgow, Galway Sportsground, 17:00
Sat Nov 2
Scarlets v Ulster, Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli, 18:30
Sat Nov 2
Munster v Ospreys, Thomond Park, Limerick, 19:15

* = stats are unoffical - I took note of them myself on re-watching the match

SOR Photo Competition

Our next “unriggable raffle” prize is certainly one you’ll want to “snap” up…

Stay tuned to HoR for details of next week’s competition
Thanks to all who had a go!

With thanks to Shane O’Regan Photography we get to bring you yet another HarpinOnRugby “unriggable raffle”. 

First prize in our competition this time around is a a free sitting at their studio in Tullamore, Co Offaly & a 20x16 Canvas image of your choice, not a bad freebie to have with that holiday I refuse to mention just yet around the corner, ahem.

All you have to do is follow the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page during the week and follow the instructions when the competition posts are published.

Check the grid below to see when the qualifying windows will be open…

The match which will provide the winning square for this competition is the Pro12 clash between the Newport-Gwent Dragons and Leinster on Friday, November 1, kickoff 7:05pm.

The following extra rules are unfortunate but necessary.

  • the competition winner will only be contacted via the social media account they used to qualify
  • only one entry per separate Facebook account is allowed each day, but it’s ok to enter once on each of the four days
  • each window closes 3 hours after posting – if all the spots are not taken, the extra ones will be allocated in a manner to be determined by the competition organisers.
  • when you are asked to leave an “exact phrase” this means you can use the phrase with OR without the quotes; also, since speed is a factor in the competition we will make allowances for typos once it is clear a decent attempt has been made to repeat the phrase
  • for transparency purposes your qualifying comment must remain on the social media post until Friday 9pm at the latest, ie when the grid is officially made public.
  • be aware that Facebook have been known to display comments in a random order on the web; as competition organisers we will do all we can to ensure the timeline is properly followed in each window.
  • entrants’ positions on the grid are set and not open for discussion, nor are any other final decisions made by the competition organisers.

    If you have any questions about the competition and/or its format,feel free to email we'd be happy to explain.

  • The Pagano Preview Oct 25-27

    Sky Bet logo

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

    Well that certainly was a “fast news week” wasn’t it?

    O’Connor to Irish, Phillips away from Bayonne, some white smoke from the ERC talks…there has been loads to fill the column inches this week.

    For me the biggest news was the announcement of Joe Schmidt’s first Ireland panel, or more to the point, the reaction to it.

    We may have changed our coach, but it seems our opinions have remained locked in their parochial dungeons where they have always been.  Rather than giving Joe & his coaching ticket even ONE match to show us what he plans to bring to the table, many are already labelling him as Leinster-biased at worst, no better than Kidney at best.

    He can only put 15 men out on the park at a time.  He has a baptism of fire to navigate against three southern hemisphere nations, ALL of whom are ranked above Ireland as he takes the reins.

    I don’t know about you, but I think that earns the man a bit of slack and this blogger is willing to give him some until we’re into the 2014 Six Nations.   The reason for that is, I actually want him to do well given that I’m an Ireland supporter.

    Anyway…that’s enough pre-ambling for now - domestic action is back this weekend, let’s see how it’s looking.


    Friday, October 25


    Zebre v Scarlets, 6:30pm

    With internationals around the corner, there shouldn’t be much pressure on this round of Pro12 matches, but if the Scarlets are to have any hope of repeating last year’s top 4 finish they need a win here.  They start with a Six-Nations winning centre partnership of Scott Williams & Jonathan Davies and with Priestland on the bench should get it done. Scarlets by 16

    Ulster v Cardiff Blues, 7:05pm

    After an indifferent start Mark Anscombe’s men have come roaring back and are arguably the form team in Europe right now.  I say arguably because their visitors are just after turning over the reigning HCup champions, so this one promises to be interesting.

    There doesn’t seem to be much let-up in the selection department, with both sides at near to full strength.  Stuart Olding is given the full-back role as Jared Payne continues his BOD-succession quest at 13.

    In the pack, Roger Wilson is a more-than-able replacement for Nick Williams at 8 and squares up against Dubliner Robin Copeland, who got the nod as man-of-the-match against Toulon.

    But if this one looks even throughout the starting XVs, where the home side draw even more advantage than the Ravenhill Roar is in their bench.  Afoa, Paul Marshall, Cave and an in-form Mike Allen are all on hand to pitch in if required.  I’m not even sure they will be. Ulster by 12

    Ospreys v NG Dragons, 7:05pm

    You can never rule out those pesky birds but it really does appear that their HCup goose is cooked after two defeats in the Pool of Death.  This of course means they will most likely regroup and come storming back in the Rabo.  Having said that the Dragons have been no push-overs this season and could be good for a losing bonus at least.  Ospreys by 4

    Glasgow Warriors v Munster, 7:35pm

    Tie of the round on paper as it’s first v second, but will it be on the pitch?

    It’s a fascinating lineup that Rob Penney has brought to Scotstoun, with Andrew Conway finally getting a start and Conor Murray acting as out-half backup to JJ Hanrahan.

    Up front the DOC/POC duo will lead the pack with both starting props Cronin and Archer looking to show their promise in a contest which is bound to have a Heineken Cup intensity to it.

    Glasgow for their part had a disappointing start in Europe but thanks to Cardiff’s win are right back in their pool - still though, they will certainly want to come away from this fixture still unbeaten in the Rabo if they are to crack on from last season.

    They will rely heavily on Josh Strauss in the forwards tonight and should the penalty chances come about they have Duncan Weir on hand to rack up the points.

    With the “weegie from Fiji” Niko Matawalu and Ruairidh Jackson on the bench I reckon the home side should come out comfortably on top to maintain their 100% start in this competition.  Glasgow by 10

    Edinburgh v Benetton Treviso, 7:45pm

    I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst strategy for new Embra coach Alan Solomons to target their home Heineken matches and if that is the case it has been mission accomplished so far.  Still, they’d want to improve on last season’s dismal Rabo showing and given that they are fully “Vissered” up for this one a minimum four-point haul is a must.  Edinburgh by 14

    Aviva Premiership

    Bath v Gloucester, 7:45pm

    Top 14

    Bayonne v Montpellier, 7:45pm

    Saturday, October 26


    Leinster v Connacht, 6:45pm

    Some fascinating battles in store for the RDS crowd on Saturday evening, not least in the centre.

    Who in their right minds would have envisaged Noel Reid & Luke Fitzgerald vs Craig Ronaldson & Robbie Henshaw in a full-blown interprovincial derby?  Not me, anyway.

    The matchup may not tell us an awful lot about the future of the Irish 12 jersey, but it could speak volumes about the 13.  Sure - the likes of Cave, Payne and yes, even Earls are well in the mix but with Luke’s impressive cameo last weekend plus the promise of young Henshaw we certainly have lots of options.

    We’ll also have our first Dublin taste of one, possibly two stalwarts of Super Rugby, with Craig Clarke starting for the visitors and Zane Kirchner set to make his debut off the bench for Leinster.

    Clarke is joined in the second row by Michael Swift and the pairing will no doubt do all they can to dominate the forwards against Toner and Roux.

    Overall it is a strong lineup for Matt O’Connor, with McLoughlin, O’Brien & Heaslip remaining as the first string back row and the “Ferg & the Kearney Bros” show in the back three.

    But at out-half, the coach has gone for Ian Madigan, who will have every motivation to prove himself, if indeed that is the right choice of words.  I still think he could have made things a lot easier for us last weekend, now it’s up to him to show why.

    Connacht are always a danger in these derbies, we know this full well.  But looking at the bench where Leinster not only have Kirchner but also former Sportsground hero McCarthy, Boss, Gopperth and the returning Shane Jennings, the home crowd will have to be disappointed with anything less than victory.  Leinster by 12

    Ulster Bank League Division 1A

    Cork Con, Dolphin, Young Munster & UCD avoid each other once again in round 3 and so all have the chance to improve on their 100% starts to the campaign.  Champions Lansdowne, who host the Cookies on the Aviva back pitch, are attempting to register their first win.

    Dolphin v Clontarf, 2:30pm

    Garryowen v UCD, 2:30pm

    Lansdowne v Young Munster, 2:30pm

    Old Belvedere v Cork Constitution, 2:30pm

    St Mary’s College v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm

    Aviva Premiership

    Harlequins v Sale Sharks, 3pm

    Exeter Chiefs v Worcester Warriors, 3pm

    Northampton Saints v Saracens, 3:15pm

    Amid all the Heineken Cup palaver, the Premiership has a perfect opportunity to show us just how wonderful it is as Sarries put their 100% record on the line at Franklins Gardens.  The Saints on the other hand will be tested over the coming weeks because while they will no doubt feel they can challenge for top spot on the table at home, with a back-to-back series to come against Leinster they must surely feel the 3pt-deficit in Pool 1 is within their reach as well.  And on top of all of that, they also have epic LV Cup battles with Gloucester and London Irish on the horizon.  Perhaps I'm being sarcastic with that last bit.  I fancy them to come out on top today. Saints by 5

    Top 14

    Toulouse v Toulon, 1:55pm

    What a match in prospect…2nd v 3rd, 4-time HCup champs v reigning champs, both with lineups which are a who’s who of world rugby.  If only we could be sure both sides would actually give a damn on the day!  As always the Top14 has gotten off to a start where we’re just 9 to 10 games in and nobody is taking the lead…Montpellier top the table on Saturday morning with as many wins & losses as Racing who are EIGHTH.  So if Toulon come to play, it could be interesting.  But with internationals around the corner, it could also be the sort of match where there could be a YouTube moment or two while as an 80-minute contest being blah. Hopefully it’s the former but I don’t hold out much hope. Toulouse by 10

    Clérmont v Brive, 5:30pm

    Castres v Biarritz, 5:30pm

    Perpignan v Bordeaux, 5:30pm

    Grenoble v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

    Racing Métro v Stade Francais, 7:35pm


    ITM Cup Final

    Wellington v Canterbury, 7:35am

    Currie Cup Final

    Western Province v Natal Sharks, 4:30pm

    Sunday, October 27

    Aviva Premiership

    London Wasps v Leicester Tigers, 2pm

    Newcastle Falcons v London Irish, 3pm


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

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    If new HEC format was used for 2013/14

    These would be the qualifiers..


    Racing Métro

    Glasgow (could have finished 7 places lower & still qualified)
    Treviso (could have finished 4 places lower & still qualified)

    Bath v Perpignan
    Cardiff Blues


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