Every Friday lunchtime I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
It’s not often you get the Irish rugby, football and cricket teams all playing the same weekend…the cricketers got things off to a good start with a 32-run victory over Namibia.
As for the footballers, they kicked off the new “MONKEANO” era (I know that term rolls off the tongue better, but I was intrigued by the notion of the Republic of Ireland being ruled by a MON-RKy) last night with a 3-0 win over Latvia (hmm…I wonder why we chose to play them & Poland this week? Curious) before the Aviva Stadium pitch-marking-changing crew began their busiest spell ever as they must transform from soccer to rugby back to soccer again in the space of a few days.
Of course I wish those other squads all the best, but naturally my focus has to be on the Autumn Internationals, with Dublin hosting arguably the hardest contest to call of the weekend.
Time to put my head on the block with some predictions…
Friday, November 15
Ospreys v Cardiff Blues, 7:30pm
Harlequins v Sale Sharks, 7:45pm
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers, 7:45pm
Saturday, November 16
Italy v Fiji, 2pm
The Italians were smart with their scheduling this year in that they got their pasting out of the way early and they will hope to finish on a high with wins over Fiji and a knackered Argentina … now they have to go out and do it. The Fijians as always have some threats in their backline with Nalaga and Nagusa on the wings and Glasgow Warrior Niko Matawalu on the bench. Still, you’d have to fancy the home back row of Zanni, Mauro B and Parisse to get a hold of this game early. They should just about beat the 7-point spread. Italy by 9
England v New Zealand, 2:30pm
Even after last season’s upset the bookies still fancy the All Blacks by 14 points and they probably have that right. Whatever success Stuart Lancaster can muster from this squad of players derives from clinical precision and detailed organization…while not only do New Zealand have a host of individuals who can win a match all on their own, should they get injured there are at least two who can replace him. Add this to their desire to reverse that result and you can see that chariot swinging extra low on Saturday. There may well be a YouTube moment or two from the English but not as many as those going against them. All Blacks by 17
Wales v Argentina, 2:30pm
The rugby’s blazers obviously think they are wonderful by allowing Argentina join the elite nations but results so far suggest they are still not ready. This isn’t helped by the fact that unlike the other Six Nation/SANZAR group members they still don’t have any pro teams to help develop depth in their test squad. Even though the Welsh are doing a bit of experimenting with this selection, I reckon they should easily roll over the Pumas today. Wales by 14
France v Tonga, 5pm
Revenge for RWC2011 will be firmly on the minds of the French so don’t expect to let up even if the result is beyond doubt at half time. I’d be particularly interested to see how the Fofana/Fickou centre pairing does together because it promises to be an electric one. I don’t expect the Tongans to roll over, but there will probably be penalties towards the end of the first quarter, yellow cards towards the end of the second, and French tries throughout the second half. France by 27
IRELAND v AUSTRALIA, 5:45pm
I told myself I wouldn’t mention Declan Kidney during November, but alas this team selection leaves me no choice.
Having read many a reaction to the matchday 23 Joe Schmidt announced yesterday, I have to say I was surprised at the reaction to Eoin Reddan’s naming as the starting scrum-half.
That’s not to say I agreed with it entirely, as I felt that although Murray was far from perfect last weekend, Reddan’s impact may be better felt from the bench.
But one phrase I haven’t seen once in the response to this team was “provincial pairing”, which is strange, since it’s ALL we ever heard about during the Kidney days when he not only insisted on playing Murray with Sexton, but also would replace them with Reddan and O’Gara.
Jonny10 may be playing elsewhere these days but it surely won’t take him long to fall back in line with his trusty number 9 and clearly Schmidt sees as necessary when it comes to overcoming the Wallabies.
In fact all of the changes seem to be more about winning this particular match and/or preparing for RWC2015 than they do responding to last week’s performance, and I reckon that’s a good thing. Perhaps Dave Kearney won’t, but you wouldn’t expect any less from a pro athlete.
Hopefully we’ll be able to come at Australia from the off and build up a lead that we can bring home thanks to our defence. And although that can be a risky strategy, once we’re smart with possession and don’t allow their wildcards like Cooper and Folau too many - scratch that - ANY broken play opportunities, I reckon this could well be the 23 who can get that done.
So I for one would choose to ignore suggestions that D’Arcy, Jackson & Kearney the Younger have been “dropped”, and I’d be confident that the coaching setup would have made this known to the players themselves as well.
During the week Mattie Williams said that the Wallabies performance will depend a lot on the weather and they will struggle if it rains. As he himself has been known to say about fellow pundits, he’s “almost 100% right”.
Though it looks like the forecast won’t be doing us any favours, at least we’re not the side we were 20 years ago, meaning one that would be doomed if the heavens didn’t open on the matchday morning.
Quite the contrary…nowadays we have a good core of top-class players, some impressive talent coming through the ranks and most of all, a coaching staff all of whom know about success and so far anyway, appear to have the full support for all around them.
Ireland will no doubt be fully tested in every phase of the game (yes, even the scrum) but once our tackling & jackling can fall in line with ref Chris Pollock’s interpretations from the early stages, I reckon we can do it. But it should be close. Ireland by 4
Georgia v USA
Romania v Canada
Uruguay v Spain
Moldova v Germany
Czech Republic v Ukraine
Switzerland v Netherlands
Namibia v Kenya
French Barbarians v Samoa
Newport-Gwent Dragons v London Wasps, 12pm
Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons, 4:30pm
Sunday, November 17
Scotland v South Africa, 3:30pm
Call me crazy but I reckon the Scots could pinch this. It will of course take everything they’ve got and then some, but skipper Greig Laidlaw has been there to see off Goliaths before and he knows every blade of grass in Murrayfield intimately. Of course it will take an almighty effort from the home side and an almighty off-day from the Springboks and their uber-strong bench, but still I’m tipping this as my Upset Of The Week. Scotland by 2
Bath v Exeter Chiefs, 1pm
London Irish v Northampton Saints, 3pm
Saracens v Scarlets, 3pm
Be sure to enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP