Saturday, November 30, 2013

Leinster-36 Scarlets-19

Leinster Rugby Launch International Competition to Fly Followers Home for Northampton Game click here for details

Christmas In The Aviva

Leinster v Scarlets Nov 2013

BACK INTO FOCUS

“Well, what did you make of last Sunday?”

How many times were you asked that last week?  I lost count by Monday afternoon.  It does show just how many people watched that epic contest as most of those who posed the question wouldn’t normally follow the rugby.

But hey…it’s time to put all that behind us and thankfully we had rugby back at the RDS to help take our minds off of things, and with a monumental back-to-back Heineken Cup series around the corner, we needed to get back into focus quickly.

We could have scarcely picked a better time to face the Scarlets - it was our sixth meeting with the Llanelli outfit in just fifteen months, and between injuries and outside-test-window call-ups they were bound to be there for the taking, and sure enough Leinster took them pretty handily.

After all that went on last week I’m not going to harp on how we let our opposition in for three second half tries … well - I may use the last one to help make one particular point later on in the writeup, but overall when we had a thoroughly-deserved 22-0 cushion going into the break surely the lads can be forgiven for having physical-damage-limitation on their minds to see it home.

That lead was built on a solid foundation of rugged red zone defence in the opening minutes as the visitors, who to their credit played to the fullest from start to finish, pummelled our line for 27 phases before we forced a knock-on.

Then the gulf between the two sides was shown when we started making our way into their 22 - a Jennings break led to a penalty to give us the lead, then the first sign of gaps out wide led to Brendan Macken making one of his characteristic bursts for the tryline to make it 8-0.

I watched this match back with the red-button English-language commentary provided by S4C (any fear TG4 doing that?) and from the moment our first try went over both Welshmen in the box began spelling out all the reasons why this Leinster matchday 23 was bound to be miles better than their opposition…the test in Cardiff, the quality of our Academy, our glut of trophies in recent seasons…I think they even compared us to the All Blacks at one point!  Clearly they felt a storm of tries was a-comin.

Well we may not have quite made it to the landmark “fifty-burger” as we have with other Welsh regions in the past, but then again we didn’t really need to on the night so I certainly won’t have many complaints on that score.

The second try came from sheer domination in the scrum, but first we had a taste of exactly what Zane Kirchner can bring to our lineup.  We put in a commanding performance throughout, and his little dummy-pop-pass was my highlight of the match, even if it didn’t directly lead to a try as he himself was held up as he got it over the line.

But courtesy of Martin Moore’s owning his opposite prop and Jordi Murphy’s skill at holding the ball in at the base, we forced a penalty try and given our opponents were clad in scarlet not black, I reckon the three-score cushion at the end of the first quarter was safe enough.

The forwards weren’t done quite yet however and a series of pick and goes on 25m got us over for try number 3 courtesy of Jack McGrath, who during the week was linked with a move to Ulster (shame if it happens but definitely a good move for him, the northerners AND Ireland).  Credit to Eoin Reddan in that move as well for stealing back the ball after we almost lost it in the series of phases.

I wonder if Leo Cullen’s yellow for three successive penalties were him just wanting an early half-time breather on his first outing of the season?  We’ll probably never know, though if repeated penalties were considered card-able I’m wondering why the Scarlets scrum didn’t get an early warning or two.

Ironically it was a scrum on our line which finally got the visitors on the board, but Shane Jennings had actually pinched it from them only to hand it back via a knockon and the Scarlets’ scrum-half best player on the night IMO Gareth Davies who did well to finish.

The game rather fizzled out from there…and to be honest our biggest worry was always going to be in the injury department, and on that score there was plenty for us to worry about for today’s squad update.  Moore went off early on, D’Arcy was set to go off with what looked like a wrist injury just as the Scarlets made an impressive break down the field for Maule to go over and reduce the gap to 10 points, and Jennings needed to go off towards the end.  Hopefully there’s nothing too serious in that lot. [EDIT 2:30pm - very happy to see the words “no major injury concerns” in the squad update!]

Thankfully Leinster were still able to go back up a gear and it was the introduction of Sean Cronin’s pace which helped us go straight back into their 22 for eventually man-of-the-match Eoin Reddan to go over for the bonus point try.

Darcy going off meant Jimmy Gopperth was brought on to out-half and Ian Madigan put to 12.  The “Mad-Dog’s” body-language didn’t suggest he was happy with the move as the Kiwi jogged into position but when the two are on the park it is probably the best alignment to have them in.

The fifth try was finished by Kirchner after good quick runs & passes by both Tuqiri and Gopperth put him through.  In that final five minutes on Saturday I reckon we got a good taste of the best and the worst of Lote - he was as impressive going forward as he had been the previous week in Treviso, but I feared his chasing & tackling aren’t up to scratch, at least for the standard Matt O’Connor is trying to set at Leinster.  The way Scarlets centre Adam Warren bounced off of him for the try to end the match makes me feel his contract, which was up on Sunday, wasn’t really worth renewing.

On Madigan’s display, the out-of-hand kicking still wasn’t ideal overall, but then again Gopperth has had issues on that score as well.  We certainly can’t fault his boot off the tee, however as he nailed two second-half beauties from the touchline.  I’d be inclined to start with Ian against the Saints though I wouldn’t bat an eyelid nor be overly concerned for the result if O’Connor goes with Jimmy.

Overall it was a good night to be a Leinster fan, and an even better one to be a Leinster blogger, as us online-types were kindly invited for a tour behind the scenes before the match as well as a spot up in the press box - many thanks again to Peter Breen, Pearce Corcoran and all who were involved in making that happen.  It was also great to finally meet the people behind such awesome sites as Whiff of Cordite, Action81, TNT24.ie and many others.

Now Matt & the lads must get to work and with the help of the returning internationals, come up with a plan to get the maximum return possible from two massive clashes with the Northampton Saints.  It will be by no means an easy task, but with them sitting first in the pool and second on the Pro12 table, there is every reason to feel like they can maintain their focus over there.  JLP

There’s a year’s subscription to Emerald Rugby Magazine up for grabs in the latest HarpinOnRugby “unriggable raffle” click here for details

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Also this weekend

Ospreys 16 - 28 Glasgow

Dragons 14 - 18 Munster

Edinburgh 43 - 10 Connacht

Zebre 11 - 19 Ulster

Benetton Treviso 26 - 26 Cardiff Blues

TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 9 35 8 79 20 212 12
2 LEINSTER 9 31 6 52 22 222 7
3 GLASGOW 9 29 7 23 14 149 8
4 ULSTER 9 29 6 70 19 196 9
5 OSPREYS 9 27 5 77 22 228 11
6 SCARLETS 9 20 4 -12 15 171 -3
7 NG DRAGONS 9 19 4 4 12 163 -1
8 EDINBURGH 9 17 4 -54 16 175 -10
9 CARDIFF BLUES 9 16 3 -33 12 184 -9
10 TREVISO 9 14 2 -22 -7 166 -7
11 ZEBRE 9 8 1 -76 15 161 -6
12 CONNACHT 9 7 1 -96 11 127 -9

NB - after “matches played”, stats on the table are listed from left to right in order of priority

Next Pro12 matches

Fri 20, Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, Cardiff Arms Park, 19:05

Fri 20, Ulster v Zebre, Ravenhill, Belfast, 19:05

Fri 20, Edinburgh v Leinster, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, 19:35

Fri 20, Glasgow v Benetton Treviso, Scotstoun Stadium, 19:35

Sat 21, Connacht v Dragons, Galway Sportsground, 17:00

Sat 21, Munster v Scarlets, Musgrave Park, Cork, 19:15

ERM Dec 2013 Competition

We’re on a hot streak with the weekly “unriggable raffles” here at HoR…this will be our 10th in a row
ERM LOGO

Final score  Northampton 7 Leinster 40

Winning square N 7 L 0

Competition winner : Audrey Jude Waugh 

Once again we are grateful to Emerald Rugby magazine for offering a year’s subscription to the winner of our latest “unriggable raffle” competition.
This week’s version, however, has a little bit of a twist.
Monday-Wednesday will proceed as normal but on Thursday, instead of a phrase to repeat as your comment, you will be asked to answer a question.  The answer will be something reported on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page during the week.
The first 10 to leave the correct answer as a comment will qualify for the competition.  Sure…you could always wait for someone else to get it right for you and copy them, but is it worth the risk?  That’s for you to decide.
Not sure how our “unriggable raffles” work? Click here to find out.
Check the grid below to see details on when the competition windows will be open.
 
DAY
TIME
NO. OF QUALIFIERS
MONDAY
9PM
40
TUESDAY
9PM
30
WEDNESDAY
9PM
20
THURSDAY
9PM
10
The match that will provide the winning square for this week’s competition will be Leinster’s Heineken Cup clash with the Northampton Saints on Saturday, December 7th, kickoff 6pm.

The following extra rules are unfortunate but necessary.
 
  • The winner must provide an address on the island of Ireland
  • 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.

    BE SURE AND HAVE A GO AND BEST OF LUCK!!! JLP

    Friday, November 29, 2013

    O'Brien urges Ireland to 'Grow up'

    SOB article

    Sean O'Brien has accused Ireland of lacking maturity after throwing away a famous win against New Zealand, but does believe they can enjoy a successful 2014 Six Nations.

    Joe Schmidt's team looked set to end the All Blacks' winning run as they stormed into a 22-7 half-time lead in Sunday's clash in Dublin.

    However, New Zealand showed fans who watch live rugby online why they are world champions in the second half. They reduced the deficit to five points before a converted injury-time try gave them a 24-22 victory, their 14th of a perfect year.

    "I think it's time the lads grew up and know what's expected when they put on an Irish jersey," said O'Brien.
    Last weekend's defeat brought back painful memories of Ireland's 22-19 loss in Christchurch in June 2012. On that occasion, Dan Carter slotted over a last-gasp drop goal to deny Ireland a hard-earned draw.

    New Zealand surprised the online betting by claiming a 60-0 victory the following week and Ireland have not enjoyed many days on the field since. They won their first match of the 2013 Six Nations in Wales, only to go on to fail to win any of their next four games.

    That is the frustration for O'Brien. Ireland have shown they can mix it with the heavyweights of the world game but have either failed to get the job done or have not backed it up with another good performance in the next match. The Leinster openside wants that to change.

    "If we bring that intensity and work rate that we had at the start of the game into the Six Nations, then we'll be in a good place," added O'Brien.

    "We've set standards in the past and this is one of those, but we've to make sure we kick on from there and make sure that's there every day in the Six Nations."








    Keego on…Hakas & Haikus

    In this week’s column, Keego is a poet and didn’t, ahem, realise it…

    Keego logo

    So proud of the lads.

    Still incredibly gutted. 

    Nothing more to say.

    Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, former professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

    The Pagano Preview Nov 29-Dec 1

    Every Friday lunchtime I look ahead to the weekend rugby action for the Irish provinces & beyond

    The Heineken Cup is saved - HUZZAH!

    But on reading Thorinho’s article right the way through, I’m wondering if it has been granted a full pardon or simply a stay of execution. 

    From what I can make out it looks like unless a decision is made soon on the 2015/16 and beyond we could well be in the same boat this time next year with all the claims and counter-claims and confusion.

    SORT IT OUT LADS FFS!!!

    One suggestion I haven’t heard bandied about as yet would be to merge ERC with the already existing FIRA-AER and create a proper governing body for European Rugby along the lines of UEFA.  I’m not so sure the SIx Nations unions would warm to that idea, however.

    Anywho…why don’t we let the likes of McCafferty (who is increasingly reminding me of Monty Python’s Black Knight) and Camou work away on it and get on with this weekend’s previews?


    Friday, November 29

    RaboDirectPRO12

    Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors, 7:05pm

    The feelgood factor is strong around Gregor Townsend’s Warriors these days, and that is mostly warranted, but if i were them I’d be concerned about the try-scoring, or should I say lack thereof.  Only Cardiff and Connacht have crossed fewer times this season and even with 6 wins out of 8 they will definitely want better production when it comes to playoff time.  The Pro12 schedule has been kind to them however, with their trip to Swansea falling on “bonus Welsh international” weekend.  Still, of all the Welsh regions the Ospreys tend to be best equipped to cope with absentees so although I think Glasgow will do it, they will need to score early & defend well in the process. Glasgow by 6

    Newport-Gwent Dragons v Munster, 7:15pm

    Top of the table or no, Rob Penney will be fully aware of the task his men will face at “Dave” Parade tonight.  It’s so daunting they even can’t afford to rest Paul O’Connell after his big Test outings in recent weeks.

    Young Gerhard van den Heever makes his debut for the province and we may get to see why his team-mates at the Bulls nick-named him “Shadow”.  Elsewhere in the team Munster start with the Williams-Keatley halfback pairing when they seem to have gotten more production from Sherdian-Hanrahan in recent times.

    The Dragons will no doubt look to their 8-9-10 of Talei-Rees-Tovey for points on the night so the Munster defence will need to be strong, particularly in the centre where Keith Earls continues his challenge at 13 alongside James Downey.

    Munster should win matches like these if they are to remain in the top two for the length of the campaign, but I’m going to tag this as my Upset of the Week on account of the Dragons form plus the timing o a defeat could be good for Penney & co to provide focus before the double-header with Perpignan.  Dragons by 3

    Edinburgh v Connacht, 7:45pm

    With Toulouse on their radar for the next couple of weeks, Connacht have to be targeting this for some kind of result to snap them out of their funk and somehow claw their way out of the Pro12 cellar.

    At least it is as close to a full-strength squad as Pat Lam can muster with Robbie Henshaw back into the starting lineup after his November adventures in Carton House.  And this could be one of the strongest benches the Westerners have ever assembled with Swift, Muldoon and Duffy all ready to take the field.

    Hopefully they will be able to mix it up with an Embra side who started well in Ravenhill last week but then became simply awful.  As always, my prediction will go against Connacht but I reckon this is as good a chance at an away win as they’ll have all season.  Edinburgh by 2

    Premiership

    Gloucester v Leicester Tigers, 7:45pm

    Top14

    Perpignan v Clérmont, 7:45pm

    Saturday, November 30

    Autumn Internationals

    Barbarians v Fiji, 2:30pm

    Here’s an idea…you know the way the All Blacks & Springboks have been miles ahead of the rest of the world over the calendar year?

    Well what say we put together what is essentially a combined team, with Steve Hansen at the helm, and play them against Fiji.  Harlem Globetrotters anyone?

    Still it should be a great day at Twickers, not least for the Munster legend that is Mick O’Driscoll who fills in at lock for the BaaBaas when he surely must have thought his playing future was nothing but Legends clashes.

    You don’t really expect me to predict a scoreline here do you?  Oh alright.  Baa-baas by a cricket score

    Wales v Australia, 5pm

    I suppose if the Welsh fans aren’t that pushed about the domestic competitions we can’t really blame the WRU for squeezing another international out of the calendar.

    The ironic thing about it is that it hurts all the regions as they prepare for the crucial European back-to-back series and thus could serve to make the fans even less interested!

    Anyway…this promises to be an epic…maybe not on Ireland v NZ proportions, but only because few expected THAT to be such an epic.

    The Wallabies who transgressed in Dublin are back subject to a breathalyser fitness test, and for their last match of the season they go with probably their strongest available lineup.

    On the Welsh side they have an awesome back five in the scrum with yet more awesomeness to come off the bench in Ryan Jones and Justin Tipuric.  It is here where the battle may be won as the Aussies will do well to stay with them for 80 minutes.

    In the backs it will be a big test for Owen Williams who must somehow find a way past Adam Ashley-Cooper one of the best tacklers in the game.

    Way too close to call, but somehow I have managed to swallow all my anti-Gatland bitterness from last summer and I reckon his boys will prove they don’t actually need help from the other “home” nations to beat SH teams after all.  Wales by 3

    RaboDirectPRO12

    Zebre v Ulster, 2pm

    Four successive weeks of Italian opposition lie in wait for the Ulstermen before they seek revenge at the RDS on December 28. 

    And between the two competitions, surely anything less than 18 pool points from those matches will be considered a disappointment.

    It’s quite a strong lineup Mark Anscombe sends to Parma, with Craig Gilroy no doubt keen to show Joe Schmidt he deserves to be foremost in his Six Nations plans after a fine outing against Edinburgh last week.

    The Stripeys have broken their win duck this season, but not in front of their own fans so that will remain a target for them but they will know that there will be much better chances for them over the remainder of the season.

    This should be well wrapped up by halftime.  Ulster by 14

    Benetton Treviso v Cardiff Blues, 4pm

    Have the bookies made a gaffe giving the Cardiff Blues A side a 10-point spread away to Treviso who should have beaten the league champions last weekend?  I really think so.  Mat Berquist to make the most of all penalty chances and Brendan Williams to work some magic and a home win, if only just.  Treviso by 3

    Leinster v Scarlets, 7:15pm

    On Wednesday evening I posed a simple question to readers of the HoR Facebook page…Gopps or Mads?

    The responses, not surprisingly, were overwhelmingly in favour of Ian Madigan, mostly with due respect to the Kiwi for his displays so far this season.  Perhaps it’s a bit unfair on the young Irishman to have so much pressure on to perform tonight ahead of the back-to-back series with the Saints, but then again it will be good to see how he does under such scrutiny.

    We have gotten well used to playing these Scarlets of late, this being our sixth meeting in just fifteen months.  Traditionally they run us close at the RDS in the Pro12 but with that extra Welsh international on the same day the bookies don’t really fancy them this time around.

    You would imagine Simon Easterby might figure that in Aaron Shingler and John Barclay he might have a pair of flankers to do well despite the absentees but then again they are up against last week’s skipper/man-of-the match Rhys Ruddock and this week’s skipper Shane Jennings.

    Speaking of skipper, this match marks the return of Leo Cullen to the starting lineup, though I’m wondering Jenno leading out the side is because of the need for a late fitness test.

    Elsewhere in the side, Gordon D’Arcy will look to help out Brendan Macken’s defensive shortcomings in the centre, while there are a couple who will consider themselves unfortunate to be on the bench after good outings in Treviso last time out, namely Dom Ryan and Darragh Fanning.

    Another name on the bench which stands out is Luke McGrath - no doubt he is slated to get at least 20m to stake a claim for starting the B&I Cup clash with Cross Keys next weekend.

    I expect this to go the way of many similar clashes in the past…Scarlets will start brightly and take the lead while Leinster will claw their way back and get the win though people will mostly focus on the negative afterwards. Leinster by 12

    Women’s Interprovincials

    Connacht v Munster, 2pm

    Ulster v Leinster, 2:30pm

    Ulster Bank League

    Mary’s really put the cat amongst the pigeons last week with their win at Belfield…looks like this season’s AIL title could go down to the wire, even though there’s two-thirds of the campaign left to play.  Tie of the round this week has to be at Castle Avenue where leaders Tarf host 3rd place Young Munster.

    Or at least that’s the tie of the round in Div1A…the division below has a mouth-watering clash in store as Terenure College go west to play Corinthians - both sides have 6 wins out of 6 so today’s result could go a long way to deciding the title and automatic promotion.

    Div 1A

    Clontarf v Young Munster, 2:30pm

    Dolphin v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm

    Garryowen v Lansdowne, 2:30pm

    St Mary’s v Old Belvedere, 2:30pm

    UCD v Cork Constitution, 2:30pm

    Div 1B

    Corinthians v Terenure, 2:30pm

    Premiership

    Saracens v Sale Sharks, 3pm

    London Irish v London Wasps, 3pm

    Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints, 3pm

    Bath v Exeter Chiefs, 3:15pm

    Top14

    Stade Francais v Toulon, 1:55pm

    Oyonnax v Brive, 5:30pm

    Racing Métro v Montpellier, 5:30pm

    Castres v Bayonne, 5:30pm

    Biarritz v Bordeaux, 5:30pm

    Grenoble v Toulouse, 7:35pm

    Sunday, December 1

    Premiership

    Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins, 2:30pm


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

    Thursday, November 28, 2013

    Blueprint for the future

    Ireland should forget the heartbreak from Sunday and remember the lessons, says Ryan Cullen

    Ryan Cullen logo

    Normally I start the pieces I write here on Sunday evening, allowing me a chance to watch the majority of the weekend’s action and pull together some kind of plan for the piece. As I write this though it’s Tuesday morning… it’s been a difficult few days as an Ireland fan.

    As a sports fan I have had my fair share of disappointments; Liverpool’s defeat in the 2007 Champions League final and Ulster losing to Leinster in the H Cup final in 2012 chief amongst them, but never have I felt such disappointment after any other game. I can only imagine how the players must feel.

    Undoubtedly it will take some time for the dust to settle for many of the players, but when it does, they must see Sunday’s performance as the beginning of something – not the end. This was the way we all want to see Ireland play and they have now shown us the standards that can be reached.

    The contrast between Sunday’s performance and the previous week’s against Australia could not have been more stark. Passive in defence, univentive in attack and lacking intensity in all facets of their play, the performance against Australia was Ireland’s nadir of the past decade.

    To go from that low to the high, in performance terms at least, of Sunday undoubtedly speaks well of all in the coaching setup but too often Ireland need to be backed into a corner before they come out wit the necessary vim and vigour for test match rugby. If Joe Schmidt can find a way of getting the players back to this intensity for the majority of their future tests, he will go a long way to ensuring his tenure is a succesful one.

    On Sunday Ireland played the way all of the good Irish sides I have seen have. Hitting rucks in numbers, coming on to the ball at pace and offloading when possible Ireland made the most of their line breaks and didn’t die with the ball. They were willing to go wide if the chance was on and Jonathan Sexton mixed the game up wonderfully, showcasing his full range of skills.

    The setpiece must also be praised. After a particularly suspect performance against the much maligned Australia pack, many expected Ireland to struggle up front against the ABs. That they were able to secure the majority of their own ball is of great credit to all involved.

    Going forward the, somewhat understandable, reduction in defensive line aggression and the inability to kill the game off in the last ten minutes must be examined for lessons. Like all other tests, mistakes were made. Analysis and highlighting of these are key if Ireland are to improve.

    That being said, if Ireland can take this form and level of performance into the first game of the Six Nations they should not fear anybody. In terms of levels, this was the best performance of the Autumn from any of the NH nations.

    Sunday’s gameplan utilised the particular skillset of the Irish players perfectly. Ireland cannot play like England or France, they simply do not have the bulk and power in key positions, nor do they have the natural flair of the Australians.

    The aggressive, fast-flowing pattern that formed the basis of Sunday’s gameplan was an excellent match to the skillset of the players available to Joe Schmidt. Irish players tend to be much better all-rounders than many of their NH cousins.

    New Zealand is the prime example of just what level teams with exceptional basics can achieve. A broad base of high functioning skills underpins their entire rugby system. Whilst we aren’t quite at that level, Irish players have shown both internationally and domestically that they are well skilled too. They must use that to their advantage.

    It was quite clear what the fans at Aviva on Sunday thought about this approach too. Fans want to see more performances like Sunday. That’s what puts bums on seats from minute 1 to 80 and that can’t be underestimated in the increasingly difficult economic times.

    Often success breeds success – it certainly does for New Zealand. Sometimes though, success can be achieved from different origins. Ireland must forget the heartbreak of Sunday but remember the lessons. That is the only way to ensure this team fulfils its potential.

    February and the Six Nations can’t come soon enough!

    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.

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    The Future Is Green

    What did we learn from Sunday’s ups and downs? asks Kristian Ross…

    Aviva Haka

    24/11/13. Fifteen men in green were twenty seconds away from a team in All Black. Touching distance of the greatest victory ever seen at Lansdowne Road past or present. Ireland was on it’s feet. New Zealand’s perfect calendar year was about to be obliterated at the final hurdle. 80 minutes had passed. Time had elapsed. Then the world’s greatest did what they do best. Covering ground with grace and ease. Towards the Irish line they went. The ball finds it’s way into Ryan Crotty’s hands…. and the rest is history.

    Described as easily the greatest performance ever seen. Ireland were agonisingly off guard just when it mattered most on Sunday afternoon. But what did we learn? We learnt that in the space of just three games that Joe Schmidt has changed the way of thinking amongst the select group of players that wear the green jersey.

    I for one have criticised some of the decisions that Schmidt has made when it’s came to selection of the squad. And yes, we should still be picking and nurturing our youth, but for now it has to be said, after the weekend there wasn't much to be said for any ageing player that took to the field at the Aviva. So many aspects of the game were simply faultless.

    Where to start? Gordon D’Arcy rolled back the years with some deft running and creative line breaks. Rory Best had the best fifteen minutes of his career until he was very upsettingly taken off due to injury. Sean O’Brien once again proved he was world class. Conor Murray displayed his Lions worth, and was a major threat from the breakdown. Then came Rob Kearney. Injury problems. Criticised by many. Not quite at his best any more. On Sunday afternoon he proved why he is still easily one of the world’s best fullbacks with a display of clear aptitude in every area not to mention a try that will never ever forget. A barnstorming run of eight metres plus and giving Ireland a 19-0 lead.

    It was evident where we went wrong though. The fantastic disciplined display from the first half wasn't mirrored in the second period and as penalties went against us, New Zealand took full advantage. Next up was the points tally. Last year saw Ireland play South Africa in the Autumn Internationals, trailing going into the break but not far behind, but like that match in the second half, we failed to register a single point and against the world’s best that was simply there way back into the match. Johnny Sexton will remember that miss for the rest of his life, but sure enough one kick can not take away from the fact Ireland rarely looked threatening if at all in the second period.

    Despite this, what we saw was exactly what we wanted. Ireland responded to the critics. The pride was restored. Lansdowne Road lifted off. Grown men sat in the Aviva and were no doubt close to tears as possible the greatest scalp in Irish sporting history was narrowly taken away. From 1 to 23, every single player stepped out and proved to themselves, a nation and every single rugby fan worldwide that Ireland are good enough. That we can challenge. That the next few years may just give us something magical and that every single kick, try, tackle, lineout and scrum is something to look forward to. Remember the 24th of November 2013. The day that we almost beat the All Blacks. But perhaps the day that Irish Rugby may change for better. Less than 70 days until the Six Nations. The future is green. Bring it on.

    I'm Kristian. 19. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 4 (MUN)


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    We are extremely grateful to Kate McEvoy for bravely taking up the reins for Munster on this project at probably the last time any Irish fan would want to pick a team…

    Click these links for the most recent selections from Connacht, Ulster & Leinster.

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    So this is an unexpectedly painful exercise to undertake. That and I don't actually have a fixture to pick for. The next one up is Scotland on February 2 in our 6 Nations opener but there's a lot of rugby to be played twixt this and then. I have no idea what the form and injury list for our potential squad will be, ditto the opposition.

    In my fragile mental state, do I pick the best Ireland team in recent memory in its entirety, while weeping copiously? Do I put together something that's a bit abstract, with players we all think are great but haven't darkened a rugby pitch for quite some time – Stephen Ferris, saviour of the Irish back row for instance? 

    Do I throw together a squad composed entirely of callow youths to try and mutter something about building for 2015? I think I'm just going to attempt to out together a starting squad for the 6 Nations. If someone has a long term injury they're out. Other than that it's a bit of a lottery really. Please don't yell at me. I, and the rest of the rugby-loving nation are fragile right now. So let's bond together and get through this difficult time.
    1. Cian Healy – Jack McGrath is at the head of the pack of hungry even-younger props snapping at Healy's heels. Kilcoyne's progress seems to have slowed somewhat and James Cronin is another hugely exciting prospect who looks set to overhaul him at provincial level. However Church is a nailed on starter for me if fit. Solid in the scrum and fantastic in the loose this weekend, he's one of the premier looseheads out there right now and he's still only 26 so will hopefully be around for a long time to come, certainly still for the next World Cup. To be honest, I'd put him in there for this alone. Poetry.
    2. Sean Cronin – Rory Best was desperately unfortunate on Saturday. After a strong start including bagging a try against the Kiwis for the scrapbook he was forced off with a broken arm. It remains to be seen whether he'll be fit for the 6 Nations, and if so, how much rugby he'll have played up until that point. So best wishes for a speedy recovery but it's Nugget who starts at hooker. The front row who thinks he's a centre brings great lines and pace in the loose but his throwing is often his achilles heel. He was solid with the darts on Saturday but if I had my way he and every hooker in Ireland would be relentlessly drilled until February because it's unacceptable that the key skill in a hooker's arsenal is often shaky from Irish proponents of the position. I'm enjoying the return of hooking under the new scrum laws and hope to see more of it as the season continues.
    3. Marty Moore – This is a tough call on Ross as he was as good as I've seen him in years. However I'm dying to see Moore get tested at this level and despite a fantastic day at the office, Ross seems to have struggled under the new scrum laws and has frankly, been ploughing a playing trough this season, up until this weekend. Declan Fitzpatrick kept the ship steady on his introduction but he's injury prone and not a selection with future building in mind. Plus if I'm totally wrong and it all goes tits up Mike Ross is on the bench to steady the ship. Hopefully this weekend was a sign he's cracked these new scrum laws!
    4. Paul O'Connell – I think he can call too much ball on himself for a relatively poor return but he is, quite simply, a test-match animal. His work rate and leadership are peerless and those Pinergy ads are hilarious. Word on the street is he was an absolute beast in training this week and we saw the results on the pitch. He dominated the set pieces and showed utter commitment. Henderson is the up and comer for this position and will have a long and hopefully fruitful career with Ireland, if he can remain injury free after tweaking a hamstring on his return from injury for Ulster over the weekend. However I'm not ready for the king to leave the building just yet.
    5. Dan Tuohy – Toner certainly left Lansdowne Road with his reputation greatly enhanced and I'm delighted for him and I think he's a player who's often judging with unnecessary harshness. However he did fumble one or two restarts and I still do find his carrying occasionally unconvincing for a man of his size, even for taking account his unusual proportions, which must be a nightmare to shop for. This is a bit of a selfish selection to be honest but I really want to see Tuohy get a crack. He's played out of his skin in the past without selection and I admire his ferocity and his carrying. McCarthy has looked unfit for Leinster, like he's carrying a few extra kilos that don't suit him. That will hopefully change by February, and Donnacha Ryan will hopefully be back in the mix as he is due to return from his knee injury by Christmas but as I am not in possession of a crystal ball this is what I'm going with.
    6. Peter O'Mahony – For a man who keeps a regularly low personal media profile he's all anyone ever seems to talk about. The main complaint is that he's a faux-hardman with puzzles me a bit. Last time I checked it's not ideal to have a player in your squad who goes around throwing haymakers and getting sent off. So do we want him decking people? The world has enough Jamie Cudmores (one is plenty). He's a tough player who gets in his opponents' faces, largely without getting penalized. How is this not a good thing? He evidently has leadership qualities which are needed among the new generation and he's a quality footballer. I dislike Frankie “my client” Sheahan's attitude to pushing his players as much as the next guy but he's good and he's staying. Moving on
    7. Sean O'Brien – There are not enough superlatives for how good he was against New Zealand. The IRFU should move heaven and earth to keep him in the country. I will start a fund if people are willing to chip in. I'd be open to moving O'Brien to 6 with Henry starting at 7. However, there's Henry's hamstring injury to consider as well as my own personal views on backrow selection, which I had a minor raw with my father about during a prematch brunch. I don't think a traditional back row selection is automatically the best option for any team. It depends on the options you have. O'Brien may have not started out as your typical ground hog style 7 but his jackling and breakdown work is superb. He dominated one of the best opensides of all time at the weekend. Some call our backrow unbalanced. I'd rather go for nontraditional. That doesn't make it bad or wrong it just means using the resources you have to best effect rather than moaning about genuine opensides, which is a phrase that I would happily never hear again. Looking forward to Tommy O'Donnell returning from injury and in the mix too. But O'Brien for president
    8. Jamie Heaslip – Heaslip is another player who gets a lot of flak – particularly from supporters in red – which is to say Munster, to my chagrin, and the Welsh. Unlike O'Mahony, he does have a high media profile and this seems to rub people up the wrong way. Which is frankly ridiculous because he consistently performs to a high level, is remarkably durable on the injury front and Bear does delicious steaks. He also donated €50 to Daddy's Mc's Movember effort last year which doesn't seem like the actions of “an absolute knob” (© Conor George) to me. To sum up, he gets a great deal of unfair character assassination and is often surprisingly underrated as a player with such a huge list of achievements. He's my number 8
    9. Conor Murray – In the heat of the moment, I did threaten to leave the upper east stand and go pitchside to break Murray's ankle if he box kicked the ball again. However, on mature reflection, the tactic was largely successful, albeit frustrating for the spectator and was clearly part of Schmidt's game-plan. I'm not interested in giving out to a player for doing what he was told. That aside, Murray had a great game and Reddan, previously his closest competitor for the spot, didn't do himself any favours against the Wallabies. Then again, who did? Hard to believe it was a mere 8 days before the performance that followed. I'm sure Reddan would have upped his game and he and Boss have an incredible degree of experience but I'd like to see the administration looking at Marmion for the bench spot, who urgently needs to be capped lest the Welsh swoop in. Paul Marshall is of course also in the mix.
    10. Jonny Sexton Overworked, overpaid and over there? Only two out of those three are true. His body has been put through the mill in a high impact season with Racing where he's already played an awful lot of rugby. I've seen an awful lot of Sexton-bashing since the match and his missed kick but that is incredibly unfair. Of any player out there, Sexton will be harder on himself than anyone could imagine and he is our best outhalf. It remains to be seen how he'll come back from this both physically and psychologically. I would have Paddy Jackson as my reserve. Madigan didn't do a lot wrong when he came on, even though he did miss a tackle against Crotty for that decisive try, but Jackson has been the form of the two so far this season and has certainly proven the naysayers wrong both against Samoa and with Ulster.
    11. Craig Gilroy – Wings are tricky. With Keith Earls and Simon Zebo both due back by Christmas and McFadden hopefully recovered from his hand injury, I hope to have a competitive pool of fit and in form wingers to chose from come February. Gilroy is still somewhat short on game time but with two tries on his debut and a lack of fit competitors I've slotted him in. I would very much like to see more of the Belfast-born speedster in green.
    12. Luke Marshall – Darcy was immense at the weekend but it did have the feel of a one off performance and I find him frustratingly inconsistent for a player of his experience. Marshall still has a long way to go in my opinion but deserves the slot. Although he was the main source of line breaks against the Wallabies he seems a little short on ideas when he makes a break and more often than not runs into the man in front of him rather than looking to pass or step. Partially inexperience, partially due to lack of support. He's currently the the frame at 12 but I'd like to see more of Munster's Ivan Dineen at Heineken Cup level as I think he's one to consider for the future of the position. Extremely tough on Stuart Olding to be ruled out with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament as he would have certainly challenged among the the young guns.
    13. Brian O'Driscoll – Part of me would love to drop O'Driscoll for his own personal safety. How many knocks to the head can one man take without serious long term medical consequences? I also feel slightly less anxious about the future of 13 after Luke Fitzgerald's strong display, but of course, that would depend on him being injury free for more than one game at a time! My understanding is that Jared Payne will be Irish qualified in 2014 but not until alter in the year. Robbie Henshaw is undoubtedly a real talent but has looked somewhat out of his depth at this level so far. Brian's still the man to don the jersey he's made his own, despite not having been as his sparkling best this season but no one could accuse him of not putting his body as well as his heart and soul on the line for Ireland.
    14. Dave Kearney – Again, he'll certainly be challenged by the Munster duo upon their return to fitness but Kearney the younger has done more than enough to oust Bowe from his starting spot at this point. It may seem like sacrilege to drop the Monaghan man, one of Ireland's greatest ever finishers but he was anonymous against both Samoa and Australia and hasn't convinced me he deserves to stay as the nailed on starter he's been for so long. Kearney bragged a brace on his debut and has played out of his skin to deserve his place in the squad on his own merits. Tiernan O'Halloran also worth keeping an eye on.
    15. Rob Kearney – Utterly majestic this weekend, looking like he's stepped straight out of 2009. Madigan or Henshaw could certainly challenge him but right now it looks like boys against the main man. Hoping this is the start of a renaissance for the IRUPA chairman. His communication with the players around him was excellent and he really stepped forward to take on media duties at what must have surely been a low ebb. A real leader on the team
     
    1. Cian Healy
    2. Sean Cronin
    3. Martin Moore
    4. Paul O'Connell
    5. Dan Tuohy
    6. Peter O'Mahony
    7. Sean O'Brien
    8. Jamie Heaslip
    9. Conor Murray
    10. Johnny Sexton
    11. Craig Gilroy
    12. Luke Marshall
    13. Brian O'Driscoll
    14. Dave Kearney
    15. Rob Kearney
    16. Mike Sherry
    17. Mike Ross
    18. Jack McGrath
    19. Devin Toner
    20. Kevin McLaughlin
    21. Kieran Marmion
    22. Paddy Jackson
    23. Luke Fitzgerald

    So that's it. If one thing comes out of this weekend I hope it's that we build towards the 6 Nations and are no longer a team of glorious, backs-against-the-wall once-offs and aim for a consistent future.

    Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24th2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc

    Sunday, November 24, 2013

    Treviso-20 Leinster-21

    Click here to watch back on the match via TG4 player

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    SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT

    Granted it’s a bit of a stretch comparing this match to what went on at the Aviva at the same time, but hear me out - a club well used to success was playing at the home of a team wearing green who ended up on the losing side not for the first time but will feel like they should have won?

    OK…maybe it’s more than a bit of a stretch but hopefully I can be forgiven for still having that heart-breaking-yet-epic test match on my mind!

    But we’re not here to talk about that; whatever about the insanity of the scheduling, there were Pro12 points to be won at the Stadio di Monigo and Leinster got away with four of them…just.  I am sure you’re in no mood for another long writeup so I have tried to cut my opinions down to some key headings.

    THE TRIES

    There were four on the day, and none of them were pretty to look at especially if you’re a defensive coach.

    Leinster raced into a 12-point lead after just 15 minutes - Lote Tuqiri providing the finish after some good work from Ruddock, Reid and Hudson though it has to be said Treviso full-back Brendan Williams’ attempt to stop our winger going over was flimsy at best.

    The defence got worse for the second try..more good work from Ruddock and Dominic Ryan at the breakdown won us the ball in a good position and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the Italian midfield were thinking as Noel Reid literally strolled through to touch down.

    Williams made up for things somewhat with a run from his own 22 to hand off to Nitoglia who scored but the Worst Attempted Tackles Of the Day award sadly must go to both John Cooney and Noel Reid as they did so.

    The best try was saved until last and it was much more conventional phase play that created the space for Esposito to bring the home side level in the second half but even in this case there were question marks over Tuqiri’s coverage.

    SPEAKING OF LOTE…

    Word has it an extension is being mooted for Tuqiri with Leinster.  Would that help Leinster?  For me, the answer to that question lies in whether or not we would play him in the Heineken Cup.  The Aussie made some very good runs with the ball during this match, that cannot be denied.  But his coverage and tackling was well off the way I saw it.  Twice in the first half he fluffed tackles after chasing down our own restart.  Even with McFadden injured, Lote would not only be behind D Kearney and Luke as wing options, but also At Mary’s duo Fanning and Hudson for that 23 jumper.  Fanning’s catch of a high ball shortly after having his head accidentally smashed did it for me and would provide with more value for money.

    WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT JIMMY

    The headlines read “Gopperth penalty wins match for Leinster”.  Some of the previews I read before Sunday suggested he has been “superb” for us so far this season.  I disagree…he has done some superb things, and he did some more in Treviso, but on the day he was out-played by Mat Berquist and made a few errors throughout the match, as he has done at other times when we were fortunate to come out on top.  I’m not saying we should be rid of him by a long, long chalk, and I’m not pro-Madigan on account of his nationality, but I do feel Ian needs to start this weekend AND put in a full 80 if possible to see if he can be in the frame to face Northampton.

    THE LEINSTER BACK ROW 2.0

    Of course I am praying like everyone else that Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip don’t follow Sexton to France.  What I will say however is that in Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan and Jordi Murphy we may very well have the best second string back row on the continent.  For me, they won us this match, and I would give Man of the Match to Rhys, though Ryan forced several key turnovers and Jordi though a sub, won the penalty which actually put us ahead for good.

    ELSEWHERE IN THE PACK

    More often than not the scrum was a good platform, though I’m dead set against this practise of rolling the ball in and hoping our shove will bring the ball back…hook the bloody thing!  Roux seems to be coming on as a lineout option, and can I take this opportunity to congratulate Martin Moore for an extremely well-deserved Player of the Month award.

    TACTICS

    As the wins keep coming it gets harder to question Matt O’Connor but having gotten two early tries in broken play thanks to defensive frailties in the Treviso backline, I have to wonder why we reverted to the bashing every time we got the ball in more controlled circumstances.  At least test the back line first?  Our repeated failure to get over the line (though granted we got damn close a few times) helped give the home side the confidence to first claw back from 12 pts down to 2, then from 8 down to a 2-pt lead.

    ***

    We seemed to do everything we could to give the Italians the chance to pinch this one at the end, and the same can be said for other occasions we have won this season. 

    But hey - all things considered, seven wins and one draw from ten matches is a pretty damn good record for Matt O’Connor  to lead off with…here’s hoping he can keep up the pace. JLP

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    Also this weekend…

    Ulster 41 - 17 Edinburgh

    Glasgow 8 - 23 Dragons

    Ospreys 30 - 20 Zebre

    Connacht 21 - 24 Scarlets

    Cardiff Blues 10 - 31 Munster

    TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
    1 MUNSTER 8 31 7 75 20 194 13
    2 OSPREYS 8 27 5 77 22 228 11
    3 LEINSTER 8 26 5 35 17 186 5
    4 GLASGOW 8 25 6 11 11 121 6
    5 ULSTER 8 25 5 62 18 177 9
    6 SCARLETS 8 20 4 5 12 152 -1
    7 NG DRAGONS 8 18 4 8 11 149 -2
    8 CARDIFF BLUES 8 14 3 -33 10 158 -9
    9 EDINBURGH 8 12 3 -87 12 132 -13
    10 TREVISO 8 12 2 -22 11 140 -7
    11 ZEBRE 8 8 1 -68 14 150 -6
    12 CONNACHT 8 7 1 -63 10 117 -6
     
    NB - after “matches played”, stats on the table are listed from left to right in order of priority
     
    Next matches

    Fri 29 Ospreys v Glasgow, Liberty Stadium 19:00

    Fri 29 Dragons v Munster, Rodney Parade 19:15

    Fri 29 Edinburgh v Connacht, Murrayfield 19:45

    Sat 30 Zebre v Ulster, Stadio XXV Aprile 14:00

    Sat 30 Benetton Treviso v Cardiff Blues, Stadio Comunale di Monigo 16:00

    Sat 30 Leinster v Scarlets, Royal Dublin Society 19:15

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