Friday, October 04, 2013

The Pagano Preview Oct 4-6

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

It’s the time of year when we hear about all the households where the mum is from Limerick and the dad is from Ballsbridge so they have the house decked top to bottom in carefully-checked equal amounts of red and blue for the weekend.

Screw that I say.  Shout for your team and don’t be ashamed to say you want them to win!

And let’s not forget that the clash at Thomond isn’t the only big match this weekend…there’s a Heineken Cup final rerun, a Rugby Championship decider and much more to look forward to so let’s geton with the previewing!

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Friday, October 4

RaboDirectPRO12

Ospreys v Ulster, 7:05pm

Every bit a mouth-watering contest as that happening in Limerick 24 hours later. 

Ulster have won two on the bounce and will definitely be looking to leave Swansea with something.  Mark Anscombe has made an interesting choice or two. For example Jared Payne returns to outside centre with Craig Gilroy reverting to full-back.

In the pack, Iain Henderson is left on the bench once more and will no doubt be called on for the last half hour or so along with Roger Wilson in what should be a tight scrap in the forwards.  Newly re-signed Nick Williams will face off against Joe Bearman at number 8 in what should be quite the tussle.

At out-half, I say this more or less every week about the lad, but it really is another opportunity for Paddy Jackson to demonstrate his readiness for the big occasion.  I read reports that his team-mates are with him 100% and that he is cool under pressure and that’s all well and good, but they need that bit more out of him by way of an 80-minute performance.

The Ospreys will see this as the perfect preparation for the following week’s visit of Leinster and field a virtually full-strength side.  AW Jones and Evans will provide the beef in the forwards while Tipuric provides the guile.

Dan Biggar will no doubt punish any silly penalties and it’s not as though the Ulstermen aren’t prone to conceding them.  They also have the talents of Eli Walker at their disposal on the wing though Andrew Trimble should be more than able for him.

Bookies have a 5 point spread towards the home side, I reckon the Welshmen will just about beat that though Ulster will scrape a vital bonus.  Ospreys by 7

NG Dragons v Zebre, 7:15pm

The true injustice of the Rabo Heineken Cup qualification is there for all to see at Rodney Parade.  The Italians couldn’t buy a win last season yet are rewarded next week with a HCup opener at the home of the four-time champions Toulouse.  The Dragons, for their “sins”, are preparing to welcome the mighty Mogliano in the Amlin.  I reckon the home side will make that injustice all the more obvious tonight.  Dragons by 16

Benetton Treviso v Connacht, 7:30pm

The honeymoon period is over for Pat Lam.  In fact it may have been over sooner as he arrived in Galway before last season was even over.  He needs results and beating the bookies’ 10-point spread tonight would be a perfect start.

Treviso may have seen off Munster in round 3 but their record is still almost identical to the Westerners so even though it’s away from home, this is one of those matches where Connacht will have to stop talking about “building processes” and actually get some end product from the likes of imports like Dan Parks, Danie Poolman and Craig Clarke.

It certainly won’t be easy for them but if they can stay there or thereabouts going into the final quarter Lam has a strong bench with Marmion, White and Muldoon ready to join the fray.

Of course I can’t break with HoR tradition so I must predict a home win but I’d be confident that Connacht can at least beat the spread and keep this competitive to the end and come away with a point.  Treviso by 4

Aviva Premiership

Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby, 7:45pm

Top14

Biarritz v Perpignan, 7:45pm

Currie Cup

Blue Bulls v Natal Sharks, 6:10pm

Saturday, October 5

RaboDirectPRO12

Scarlets v Glasgow, 6:30pm

Last season losing Pro12 semifinalists go head-to-head in Llanelli, although only the visitors seem to have carried their form through to this season so far.  Says quite a lot about the Warriors that they go four out of four in September before giving first starts of the campaign to the likes of Duncan Weir and Niko Matawalu, the latter of whom finds himself on the wing today.  Gone are the days when the only term we associate with the Glasgow team is “Killer B’s”; ironically one of them lines out for the Scarlets in John Barclay.  Can’t see the 100% start ending, but it won’t be easy. Glasgow by 4

Munster v Leinster, 6:45pm

There was many a Leinster fan’s head scratched when news of the short-term arrival of Lote Tuquiri came to light.  As it turns out, we should see on Saturday the full implications of the move.

Some may say that although he has played union at the highest level before, his more recent exploits in the Telstra Premiership make it a risky move.  For me, that can actually be spun as a plus when it comes to playing for Leinster.

As a side which puts so much emphasis on defence, Lote’s rugby league background gives him an advantage when it comes to learning our systems quickly.  And with Brian O’Driscoll not being risked due to a calf strain, he gets thrown in to the deep end by putting on the hallowed blue 13 jumper at Thomond Park.

He certainly couldn’t have a much better partner than Dorce inside, and I see this as an extremely defence-minded centre pairing.  When we have the ball it will be down to the likes of McFadden, Healy, Cronin and the much-welcome Sean O’Brien to make the hard yards.

Same goes for our second row.  Munster’s pairing of Ryan and O’Connell will probably face the All Blacks in November, so McCarthy and Toner will need to be at their very best to keep them at bay, and both have shown flashes of form in September.

At out-half, many felt during the week that Jimmy Gopperth would get the nod but Matt O’Connor has gone for Ian Madigan, which I feel is the right move.  With Luke Fitzgerald on the bench, the entire back three is covered and with the centres likely to be left out of attacking moves, Madigan’s ability to fire torpedoes missing two or more along the line will be vital.

Opposite him there will be Ian Keatley, who clearly emerged victorious from Rob Penney’s X-Factor rotation trials in September.  If Joe Schmidt is to select the Ireland squad on current form, Paddy Jackson’s spot in the pecking order has to be under threat and here is a chance for Keatley to put up his hand.

And then we have Monsieur Poite.  Not the Munster fans’ favourite ref by a long chalk, but to be honest we can’t really determine which way he is going to lean on the night and we can only pray he won’t play a factor in the result.  Though with Messrs Reddan & Cronin hardly lighting up the league at scrum time to date, I wouldn’t bet on it.

This should, as always, be a tight tussle throughout.  If so, it seems that Munster have the stronger bench and I have them to defy the spread and emerge on top for their first victory over their blue cousins in five attempts.  Munster by 4

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

Clontarf v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Cork Constitution v Lansdowne, 2:30pm

UCD v Old Belvedere, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm

Aviva Premiership

Saracens v London Wasps, 3pm

London Irish v Harlequins, 3pm

Worcester Warriors v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm

Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints, 3:15pm

Top 14

Toulon v Clérmont, 1:55pm

You’d like to think Les Jaunards would find it in themselves to defy the French tradition of away apathy given what happened in Dublin last May, but the bookies still fancy the reigning champions by ten points even though they rest their prize asset Wilkinson on the bench.  (Resting players before the Heineken Cup?  Surely not!)  Matt Giteau starts at 10 instead but it’s in the pack where sparks should fly with Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams at lock for Toulon and Vosloo starting for the visitors with Hines ready to join the fray late on.  Every one of these so-called mouth-watering Top14 clashes has been a disappointment so far this season, and I don’t see why this should be any different. Toulon by 14

Montpellier v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Bordeaux v Bayonne, 5:30pm

Brive v Castres, 5:30pm

Racing Métro v Grenoble, 5:30pm

What better way to prepare for Munster v Leinster than by watching Johnny Sexton & Ronan O’Gara face Bernard Jackman and Mike Prendergast?  Shows we can all get along after all.  But to be honest, there is a better way to prepare - watch the Boks and the All Blacks instead if you can because I only see a low scoring home win on the cards here. Racing by 9

Toulouse v Stade Francais, 7:40pm

Rugby Championship

South Africa v New Zealand, 4pm

Clash of the titans in Ellis Park with the Championship on the line.  I can see the Boks winning alright, but not with four tries and and 8+ point margin as they must to take the title.  Penalty counts will be key and this should be tight to the end but although the All Blacks appear unbeatable this is the one place they could come unstuck. South Africa by 3

Argentina v Australia, 11:40pm

I really don’t think I could watch this if I were an Aussie.  Bookies shade it to them by a point so technically this is my Upset of the Week because I firmly believe McKenzie will see these boys right but he needs the winter break (summer for them!) to get it done.  In the meantime, there is nowhere to hide, and people like James O’Connor aren’t helping. Argentina by 5

ITM Cup

Bay of Plenty v Waikato, 2:35am

North Harbour v Otago, 5:35am

Wellington v Auckland, 7:35am

Currie Cup

Griquas v Free State Cheetahs, 1pm

Western Province v Golden Lions, 1pm

Sunday, October 6

RaboDirectPRO12

Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh, 2:05pm

Two struggling franchises…Embra have done well in Cardiff in the past but even with Visser I reckon they will struggle against a Blues side who look like they may give a damn this year despite some poor results.  Gethin Jenkins and Bradley Davies returning to the pack should give them the edge.  Cardiff by 10

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

Dolphin v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Aviva Premiership

Gloucester v Exeter Chiefs, 2pm

ITM Cup

Canterbury v Counties Manukau, 2:35am

Taranaki v Tasman Makos, 4:35am

Wednesday, October 9

ITM Cup

Northland v Otago, 7:35am

Thursday, October 10

ITM Cup

Hawke’s Bay v Wellington, 7:35am

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

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