Every Friday lunchtime I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
I harp on this every season, and I don’t really expect anyone to listen to little old me, but whatever the reasons may be for Ireland v New Zealand to overlap Treviso v Leinster, they can’t be good enough for it to make any sense whatsoever.
Since there were no Rabo matches last week, why couldn’t Round 8 be played mid-week? Or if the Italians MUST play their home matches on a Sunday, then how’s about making sure their home matches don’t fall on international weekends?
Anyway…no point ranting much more…we have to endure it and at least this time we have TG4 offering deferred coverage.
Time to get my predictin’ on.
Friday, November 22
Wales v Tonga, 7:30pm
The biggest test for Wales will definitely be Australia next week. A victory will put to bed once and for all allegations that Gatland can only beat southern hemisphere giants with (albeit only a little) help from the other home nations. Hook at 10 is a very interesting selection, though i wonder how well he’ll have to do here to keep the shirt for next week. Wales by 25
Ulster v Edinburgh, 7:05pm
It’s not often you’ll say Ulster fans would be unhappy to see names like Iain Henderson, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble & Craig Gilroy in their starting lineup but all would be able to make a decent case for being involved in Dublin on Sunday.
Having said that, if results go as expected and Ireland get tonked by the All Blacks while the Ulstermen put another 5points in their Rabo account, then it won’t be such a bad thing.
Even their bench is insanely strong, especially in the pack. This one really should be done & dusted by halftime. Ulster by 20
Glasgow Warriors v NG Dragons, 7:35pm
Richie Rees & Jason Tovey showed against Leinster they have no fear of the top teams in this league, but still you can’t see beyond a very strong Glasgow lineup that includes the returning Stuart Hogg. Should be a handy home win but the Warriors have struggled in the try-scoring department so th bonus may be beyond them. Glasgow by 10
Ulster Bank League Div 1A
Clontarf dragged UCD back into the chasing pack in the last round, and now Div 1A is nicely poised…7 of the 10 clubs are separated by four points, aka one victory. Tarf will learn just how tough it is at the top this weekend as they must travel to Cork Con while the students host Marys in one of the two Friday Night Lights Dublin derbies, so it could be all change again come Saturday evening.
Lansdowne v Old Belvedere, 7:30pm
UCD v St Mary’s College, 7:30pm
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors, 7:45pm
Toulon v Perpignan, 7:45pm
Saturday, November 23
Georgia v Samoa, 12:30
Italy v Argentina, 2pm
The bookies are running scared from this one, giving the visitors only a point. Personally I think the Italians should be disappointed if they don’t make home advantage count against the weary end-of-season Pumas. Much rests on the young shoulders of Perpignan fly-half Tommy Allan who is the latest specimen in the Great Italian 10 Experiment, but I still think they will do it. Italy by 7
Russia v USA, 3pm
Portugal v Canada, 3pm
Scotland v Australia, 6pm
Doesn’t matter who the opposition may be, getting blanked at home sure ain’t pretty. Hopefully if nothing else, Ireland can avoid that on Sunday. Can the Scots bounce back against the Wallabies? Meh - not so sure. the visitors will no doubt have the Welsh in their sights but they will definitely be up for making a statement in Edinburgh and could do just that by beating the spread. Australia by 18
France v South Africa, 8pm
Tie of the weekend by a country mile. The Springboks are all kinds of awesome these days, and would be world number 1s if only the ABs weren’t so uber-awesome. the French will stay with them and Fofana & Frtiz should cause JDV & Fourie some problems, but will it be enough? Nah. But it could be close. South Africa by 3
Slovakia v Turkey
Andorra v Denmark
REMAINING PRO12 PREVIEWS WILL PUBLISH SATURDAY MORNING 9AM
Ospreys v Zebre, 2:30pm
Connacht v Scarlets, 5pm
Cardiff Blues v Munster, 6:30pm
Ulster Bank League Div 1A
Ballynahinch v Garryown, 2:30pm
Cork Con v Clontarf, 2:30pm
Young Munster v Dolphin, 2:30pm
Leicester Tigers v London Irish, 3pm
Harlequins v Gloucester, 3pm
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens, 3pm
Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons, 3:15pm
Bordeaux v Stade Francais, 1:15pm
Toulouse v Oyonnax, 1:15pm
Bayonne v Grenoble, 1:15pm
Brive v Biarritz, 1:15pm
Montpellier v Castres, 1:15pm
Clérmont v Racing Métro, 1:30pm
Sunday, November 23
Ireland v New Zealand, 2pm
Sure, Joe Schmidt and his coaching team are trying to introduce a new culture of playing the game in pretty much every aspect, and that will take some getting used to.
And sure, these All Blacks could well be the greatest team to play the game - they certainly have to be in the professional era.
But whatever 23 players pull on those green jerseys on Sunday, they have to put a great distance between their own mindset and that of pretty much everyone else in the game who has them written off before a ball is kicked.
It really is a Leinster-heavy selection Joe has picked, which if nothing else proves he is focused on the job rather than what he reckons critics will think of his job. Besides, is that job to make sure all four provinces are represented in every match or is it to pick a team he thinks can win?
You do realise we have a chance of winning, don’t you? It’s slim, of course, but it’s there.
It’s all about that first quarter. Hopefully they are confident that Sexton’s leg will get him through the full 80 minutes and if it does, he has every opportunity to show exactly why he is considered the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere.
The All Blacks show a degree of technical brilliance that is unfathomable. Take their offloading last week against England.
Offloading can be a bit like rock-paper-scissors in that for your pass to be effective it must work against the type of tackle that is being inflicted on you. Steve Hansen’s men usually seem to know what’s coming every time and it is incredibly difficult to defend against, as Kieran Read and Ma’a Nonu showed with their out-of-this-world assists.
But it’s not impossible. Nothing ever is truly so. And the ABs will make mistakes on the day, we just need to be sure to punish them when they do.
More than anything else I want to see in our style that we have actually come up with something we reckon is going to unsettle our visitors.
Perhaps we’ll play a “high-line” defence against them. Or maybe it will be some attempted shenanigans in the scrum. Or even, God forbid, the short “hooker/number 1/hooker” lineout move I have been craving from any pro Irish team for years.
It just needs to be something. When your opposition can hurt you in so many different ways, you can either play 80 minutes of damage limitation, or you can come out and give it a go by sticking a fly or two in their ointment and see how they go.
BOD may go his entire career without beating the All Blacks and it certainly won’t be much of a blemish on his achievements in the game, given he won’t be alone.
But for the love of all that’s holy, I want him to go out fighting and hopefully he and Paulie and get the lads behind them to do just that.
I say we put last week behind us and shave close to a converted try off that spread. New Zealand by 14
Benetton Treviso v Leinster, 2pm
London Wasps v Bath, 2pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are, whatever the result for your team! JLP