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
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
Gloucester v Leicester Tigers, 7:45pm
Perpignan v Clérmont, 7:45pm
Saturday, November 30
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
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
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.
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
Corinthians v Terenure, 2:30pm
Saracens v Sale Sharks, 3pm
London Irish v London Wasps, 3pm
Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints, 3pm
Bath v Exeter Chiefs, 3:15pm
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
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins, 2:30pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP