Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 5 (MUN)

Last for 2013, but certainly not least, the latest selection in our Irish team project from our Munster contributor Kate McEvoy…

Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Ulster, Leinster & Connacht.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL HARPINONRUGBY READERS!

LTSHTF avatar

The last time I had to do this was in the aftermath of the “Fixture That Will Not Be Named”. Even though it was still some time away I decided to pick the starting team for our opening 6 Nations fixture against the Scots. I'm sticking with that plan, leaving out players that are currently injured. I'm not going to hypothetically assume an injured player will be recovered, fit enough and in form to warrant selection. You know what they say about assuming. Plus it feels oddly like tempting fate.

However, I'm confident the Young Turks will be impressive in the next two rounds of the Heineken Cup and force some revisions on both my and Joe Schmidt's part come the time for the squad announcement.

  1. Jack McGrath – Over the Christmas break I watched the Lions Raw documentary on this summer's antipodean adventures. On the whole I found it largely disappointing as, although well shot with great game footage, it was largely shorn of personality and intimate moments that make something a documentary rather than a highlight real. One of the few exceptions to this was Cian Healy's soliloquy into the camera as he lay injured on his hotel bed, waiting to fly home. As someone who could have been a star of the tour it was both heart-breaking and heartening to see his chin up attitude and desire for his teammates to triumph in his absence. With O'Brien now ruled out for 6 to 8 weeks, it's a race against time to have Ireland's other key ball carrier return from ankle surgery carried out earlier in December. HOWEVER (as you'll see I wrote that in big letters), not willing to break my injury criteria at the first hurdle, I'm going to go for Leinster's bright young thing to start, pending on Proper Church's recovery. Either way, McGrath is more than capable as his provincial performances and blooding at international level this autumn show. With McGrath to start in this scenario, I've gone for Fitzpatrick ahead of young James Cronin on the bench, who has impressively pulled ahead of Kilcoyne at Munster this season.
  2. Sean Cronin – Although heartening to see he's committed to Ulster until 2016, Rory Best is another who's in a race against the clock to be available for selection in February. Even fully fit he'd have a serious fight on his hands to wrench the green jersey back from Leinster's dynamo. Although we're a bit thin on the ground with Richardt Strauss and Mike Sherry on the long term injured list, Cronin's performances in 2013 have been a serious bright spot. However, he can fall down on his darts and the ever-increasingly important striking against the head so the perhaps more traditional aspects of his game do need work to complement his industry around the park and great lines he runs.

  3. Mike Ross – Marty Moore has arguably out performed Ross this season but the big man seems to have turned a corner form wise and offers a wealth of experience to balance to still green McGrath. There's still plenty of time in January for Moore to further stake his claim to start but the baby calf could have one hell of an impact off the bench.

  4. Paul O'Connell – Would like to see Henderson in the mix here and certainly in the training squad but not at O'Connell's expense. And now to explain why O'Connell should be start... actually no. You know this already. Moving on

  5. Dan Tuohy– As is so frequently the case, it's harsh on Toner after a great season so far and also on the Ulsterman himself who's left out in the cold so much he must come to Ireland squad sessions with Arctic training gear. The reason for this is although I've left him in at 5, it's only due to recently emerged concerns about Donnacha Ryan's swollen knee. Currently unavailable for Ulster and possibly not fit for the trip to Gloucester, this is a real blow for Ryan's recovery. However, I'm a big fan of the Nenagh man's work rate and attitude and of course, his angry face, which is without peer. So Tuohy for now but Ryan moving fast/limping slowly up the inside.

  6. Peter O'Mahony – Jamie Heaslip has heroically taken up the mantle as the Irish back row everyone has an opinion on this week but fear not O'Mahony will no doubt start so we can all fall out over whether he is actually any good and whether he should be going around smashing people over the head with a crowbar or whatever it is a “real” hardman is supposed to do. Meanwhile POM will go about his business and use his athleticism and great footballing brain to full effect. He may not deserve every man on the match he gets from Frankie but that doesn't mean he hasn't fully earned his spot.

  7. Sean Dougall – The undoubted low-light in a pretty grotty Leinster/Ulster encounter at the RDS was Sean O'Brien dislocating his shoulder. As the main source of go-forward ball with his province and country this is a huge blow. I have to stop talking about it now because I'm too upset. I've gone for Munster's MVP of the season so far (yes, including JJ) but with Chris Henry due to return for Ulster to challenge the men in red this week, as well as last season's favourite Tommy O'Donnell returning from concussion,and Rhys Ruddock performing solidly at Leinster to earn a spot on the bench, this is currently a hot potato position. O'Brien as an individual is irreplaceable. That's not to say there aren't other options with their own qualities to bring to the openside slot.

  8. Jamie Heaslip – Courtesy of Heaslip, I have now engaged in one of these illustrious “Twitter spats” (TM Daily Mail) with George Hook. It's a proud moment for my parents I assure you. As I've previously stated to my increasing bafflement, Heaslip for all his achievements is largely underrated and much maligned. It also seems to have escaped notice that he is largely indestructible, like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. Whether he stays or goes, which is the subject for a different article, he's still my starting number 8. And, sorry Darren Cave, but he's better than Roger Wilson. He just is. Praise where it's due, his young provincial understudy Jordi Murphy is well on his way to big things

  9. Kieran Marmion – With Conor Murray, still the best scrum half in Ireland by some distance, definitely ruled out for this week's provincial derby and in doubt for the next Heineken Cup clash, it's time to cap Connacht's impressive half-Welsh wizard, with the increasingly high-profile James Hart at Grenoble not far behind. However I would opt for experience on the bench with Eoin Reddan ahead of Paul Marshall. Should Murray be proven fit he starts with Marmion on the bench

  10. Jonny Sexton Although still in it's first act, the Johnny Sexton to Racing Metro could certainly not yet be considered a roaring success. In fact it's being somewhat prematurely heralded as a cautionary tale as Heaslip et al consider a move abroad. The complete capitulation to Harlequins in the Heineken Cup was symptomatic of an attitude problem that seems to exist within the squad. The same could not be said of Sexton himself but his kicking game has come under scrutiny in the French press. However, with all the eager young kickers nipping at his heels, Sexton is still the best outhalf we have and his selection should reflect that. Once he doesn't collapse from overwork of course. The bench spot is hotly contested but for me, Jackson's consistency this season shades it over his provincial rivals

  11. Keith Earls – Wings remain a tough call. With Simon Zebo due back shortly and McFadden hopefully recovered from his hand injury, as well as Gilroy, Trimble, Luke Fitzgerald and Bowe all in the mix, there's a lot to chose from. As it stands I've gone for the pace and finishing of Earls with the on-form Dave Kearney at 14. This was a tricky one and I'm sure there are people who will be surprised I didn't chose Bowe to start but I honestly feel that he's become somewhat of an automatic selection despite the fact he has not been playing to the best of his not-inconsiderable talents for quite some time. More on Luke Fitzgerald in our centre category.

  12. Gordon Darcy – This is a tough call for me as I would plump for Ulster's Luke Marshall ahead of the sometimes startling but often inconsistent D'arcy but Marshall was once again helped from the pitch with a concussion in Ulster's clash with Leinster. As per reports today, he's due to be eligible for selection for Ulster's next game with Munster but this is in many ways has been the rugby story of 2013. How seriously do we take concussion? The answer still seems to be not serious enough. Ideally I want to see Luke Marshall start in this Six Nations but not at the expense of his long term health

  13. Brian O'Driscoll – Another man to have taken more blows to the head (and everywhere else) than is healthy. This is to be BOD's final 6 Nations and there's no one who has given more. In terms of the always vexing question of succession to the king, Fitzgerald has edged ahead of Henshaw and onto the bench for me. He could of course also start at wing but his ability to cover multiple positions has him as our backline cover in my selection. It's great to see his return to form and long may he stay injury free. Payne will also be in the mix both here and at full back when he's Irish qualified later this year

  14. Dave Kearney

  15. Rob Kearney – Here's hoping his renaissance season in green will continue. His leadership is increasingly impressive and in keeping with his fine form, he's the main man at fullback. Henshaw and Payne are the closest challengers.

 

  1. Jack McGrath

  2. Sean Cronin

  3. Mike Ross

  4. Paul O'Connell

  5. Dan Tuohy

  6. Peter O'Mahony

  7. Sean Dougall

  8. Jamie Heaslip

  9. Kieran Marmion

  10. Johnny Sexton

  11. Keith Earls

  12. Gordon Darcy

  13. Brian O'Driscoll

  14. Dave Kearney

  15. Rob Kearney


  16. Damien Varley

  17. Martin Moore

  18. Declan Fitzpatrick

  19. Devin Toner

  20. Rhys Ruddock

  21. Eoin Reddan

  22. Paddy Jackson

  23. Luke Fitzgerald

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

The blueprint

Tear it apart and build it up, a possible structure for European rugby by @edserburke

Fancy a go at online rugby writing yourself? Click here to learn about contributing to HoR2

Rugby Opinion

Okay, as a starting point, it’s worthwhile considering what people want from their rugby across the various countries involved.

I hope it’s not too simplistic to say that the Rabo teams are open to pretty much anything in terms of a structure, given how bleak the future is looking for them at present. The English have a slightly longer league history but not by much. Leaving us with the French, who have a domestic league for longer than any of us can remember. There will always be a French league because of this and French champions will have to be crowned each season. More on that later.

My proposal is for a 32 team, NFL style, European rugby championship, cut into 2 halves with the British and Irish on one side (North) and the French and Italians on the other side (South). These halves would, in turn, be cut into 2 halves again, making 4 quarters (North-West, North-East, South-East and South-West).
North East is effectively the English premiership, comprised of their top 8 teams.

North West is comprised of 3 Irish teams, 3 Welsh teams and 2 Scottish teams.

South West is made up of French teams from the North and Southwest of that country.

South East is comprised of 6 French teams from that area of the country and 2 Italian teams.

So it may look like something like this:
North-East: Saracens, Leicester, Northampton, Bath, Harlequins, Wasps, Exeter, Sale.
North-West: Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons, Glasgow, Edinburgh.
South-West: Racing Metro, Stade Francais, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Bayonne, Clermont, Oyonnax, Brive.
South-East: Grenoble, Toulouse, Castres, Montpellier, Toulon, Perpignan, Treviso, Zebre.

Now for the fixtures. Excluding June test window, and July & August for rest, there are 39 weeks in the domestic calendar. The Rabo teams currently play 28-33 games per year (excluding Welsh), The English (& Welsh) play 31-38 games per year and the French play 32-38 games per year.

On this basis, a fixture list of 30-35 games should be manageable if no other competitions are played, also allowing for 2 off weeks during the November internationals and 3 during the 6 nations. So 30 standard league games for all, as follows:

Each team plays the other 7 in their quarter home and away, generating 14 matches and lots of traditional derbies. They also play the remaining 8 teams in their half (north or south) once, 4 of them at home and 4 of them away, so another 8, coming to 22 in total. Finally, they can play one set of 8 teams in the other half of the competition on the same basis, 4 home and 4 away. This could be rotated on an annual basis, so that you play the other 8 the following year. 30 matches in total.

Upon completion of this ‘regular season’, the 2 top teams in the south can play off for what will effectively be the French championship (unless there is a drastic change in the fortunes of Italian rugby) and the British and Irish can do like-wise. These matches would not have any impact on the play offs coming after, but may alleviate the French need to crown their national champions. These matches would be played in isolation the week immediately following the regular season.

My proposal then for the play offs would involve the top 3 in each division. As the 4 table toppers have played a final the week before, they get a bye the first week, straight into the quarter finals with home advantage. The 2nd and 3rd placed teams then play off to qualify for the quarter finals, followed by semis and a final obviously.

So what happens to everyone one else who doesn’t make this pan-European competition?

Next tier down we can do the same again, without the crossover matches. So a 12 team British and Irish 2nd tier, comprised of say: Connacht, Cardiff, 2 more Welsh teams, 2 Scottish teams, a fifth Irish team (exiles maybe), and another 6 English teams. Same on the other side of the draw, but each just play the other 11 in their own league home and away, with maybe a crossover cup competition to fill any blank dates. Promotion on each side on a 1 up, 1 down basis. You can drop down to a 3rd tier if required and bring in developing countries and also have a way for teams to get from domestic competitions proper (AIL) into the bottom rung of the system. After all, meritocracy is of great importance.


Governance and TV deals I’ll leave for someone else because it’s boring. Let me know what you think!

@edserburke : “He really seems to like rugby for someone who was so crap at it!”

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Leinster-19 Ulster-6

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JORDI SURE

Our season ticket at the RDS has us in the Grandstand right on the 22 at the South Stand end, very near the front. 

The position has seen us witness first hand some iconic Leinster moments over the years, such as Shaggy’s cheeky offload to BOD against Brive and of course the man himself doing it all on his own v Wasps the season before.

But the realm of in-stadium positioning can be one of swings and roundabouts and on Saturday evening that end of the pitch from the 22 to the dead ball line saw nary a blade of grass being disturbed, save for a couple of good takes by Zane Kirchner in the first half and a shocking spill by Jared Payne in the second.

It’s true, that Payne blunder led to the scrum from which the home side won the penalty that provided the game’s final score, but all the action which defined this match happened down the other end, which must have made for an even more disappointing evening’s viewing for the bulk of the travelling support who were as usual in the North Stand.

I can only assume that Ulster’s poor display was part of a wider “Christmas two-match strategy” by Mark Anscombe which would have seen him targeting the visit of Munster to Ravenhill next Friday as his priority.  But surely that strategy included getting at the very least a losing bonus from this fixture and if they played the first 78 minutes with a fraction of the intensity they showed in the last 2, they may have gotten it.

Leinster for their part could only deal with what was before them and although things were hardly rosy in our garden either, I was impressed by the way our defence held firm, by the way our offence was able to adapt to what the visitors were doing and most of all, by the display of so many of our “next generation” players.

Top of the list from this batch of up and coming stars was Jordi Murphy, who was an easy choice as man of the match as he got the only try of the night but despite conceding the game’s first pen early on, he impressed throughout both with and without the ball.  With all the talk circulating about Jamie Heaslip’s future, it was definitely a timely display for the former Leinster Schools Senior Cup-winning skipper, but those who have followed the Blues closely for the past while will know it’s a standard he is well capable of.

Hopefully the contributions of others on the night won’t have gone unnoticed, such as Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan, who had a good cameo after Sean O’Brien suffered another unfortunate injury dislocating his shoulder after a seemingly innocuous challenge by Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble.

Props Jack O’Connell, Martin Moore and (right at the death) Jack McGrath were also involved in key turnovers to deny the Ulstermen, while special mention must go to both starting centres Noel Reid and Brendan Macken for holding firm in an area where I thought we may struggle.

Although he missed a couple of makeable placekicks and failed to find touch with a routine pen in the second half, Jimmy Gopperth outplayed his opposite number Paddy Jackson on the night and was much more adept at finding ways to crack what was a stubborn defence by the visitors.

Now, when I say “stubborn”, I mean not strictly legal, but not in a way as to suggest there was out and out cheating going on, more that they were willing to dip more than a toe in the grey areas of the breakdown laws.  Thankfully for the home side ref John Lacey was willing to penalise them, perhaps not with as many cards as they may have earned (particularly Tuohy’s dropped shoulder on Leo Cullen), but at least enough to keep our scoreboard ticking over.

And as it happened it took a spell with an extra man to help provide the space for the Murphy try shortly before the interval, though Luke Fitzgerald’s opportunistic burst and almost Shaggy-esque offload played a large part as well.

All in all a good night at the office for Matt O’Connor’s Leinster, a much needed victory after the disappointments from the pervious two matches, and they end the calendar year second in the Pro12 and top of their Heineken Cup pool, which is a better position than that faced by Joe Schmidt at the same time last season.

With all the uncertainty around these days from the future of Leinster stars to the very makeup of European rugby itself, I’m not so sure I’m in the mood for much more of a writeup on this match, or indeed one of those “review of the year” posts we always see at this time of year. 

Instead I’ll just raise a glass to my readers wishing you all a happy transition to 2014 and we can only hope the powers that be all across the continent can keep the game’s best interests at heart over the coming months. JLP

Click here for the post-match reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page

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Also this weekend

Scarlets 6 - 10 Ospreys

Edinburgh 16 - 20 Glasgow

Dragons 22 - 16 Cardiff Blues

Munster 22 - 16 Connacht

Benetton Treviso 20 - 15 Zebre

TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 11 43 10 91 22 250 12
2 LEINSTER 11 36 7 60 23 247 7
3 OSPREYS 11 35 7 72 25 276 10
4 GLASGOW 10 33 8 27 15 169 8
5 ULSTER 11 33 7 64 20 215 9
6 NG DRAGONS 11 24 5 7 14 196 -1
7 EDINBURGH 11 22 5 -53 18 202 -9
8 SCARLETS 11 22 4 -22 16 187 -4
9 TREVISO 10 18 3 -17 15 186 -7
10 CARDIFF BLUES 11 18 3 -42 14 219 -9
11 CONNACHT 11 12 2 -99 13 157 -9
12 ZEBRE 11 10 1 -88 17 182 -7

stats on table are presented left to right from “PTS” in order of priority

Next Matches

Wed Jan 1

Cardiff Blues v Dragons, 2:05pm

Glasgow v Edinburgh, 6:05pm

Fri Jan 3

Ospreys v Scarlets, 7pm

Ulster v Munster, 7:05pm

Sat Jan 4

Zebre v Benetton Treviso, 2pm

Connacht v Leinster, 7:15pm

Friday, December 20, 2013

Edinburgh-11 Leinster-6

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NOLLAIG AND VOID

HoR pro logo blueAs you can probably tell, I enjoy watching rugby. 

I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to ask that if I pick out four live matches from a particular weekend to watch, I will find at least one that I won’t mind harping on.  It doesn’t even have to be the Leinster match.

Well on this final weekend before Christmas, I was served up a set of stinkers, and all three of the top European competitions were represented, so it wasn’t as though any of them were putting their hands up as being superior to the rest. 

And although the compositions of the various teams were different depending on the league (Pro12 having players rested after the Heineken Cup, English & French having players thrown back out into action regardless of what they did last week or plan to do next) the net result was still the same…a desperate scramble to put two or three decent passages of attacking play together, way more often than not ending in mind-numbing errors.

So between Sarries v Leicester (which I’ll admit had tries but was still too one-sided and horribly reffed by Wayne Barnes), Brive v Racing Métro (superb final kick by Sexton but still, a 9-9 draw? Yawn) and Munster v Scarlets (wonderful Christmas present by the visitors who seemed to go out of their way to concede late penalties and squander their deserved lead), I had no consolation from this Friday night offering which I will try to make interesting enough to be the subject of this post.

Talk about suffering for your “art”!!!  But when it comes to suffering nothing that happened to me this weekend could match those amazing Leinster fans who made the trip and wore the ponchos and stood in the rain and waved the flags and made themselves heard back home…yet another super effort guys, well done.

I suppose if I wanted to keep the blue goggles on I could ask why Dominic Ryan was judged to have knocked on when the ball fell lateral and bounced backwards at the death in Murrayfield, when earlier on referee Peter Fitzgibbon clearly shouted “backwards!” after Edinburgh full-back Jack Cuthbert saw a dropped high ball fall lateral and bounce forwards.

But that would in no way define how this match went…in fact, Tony Ward provided the most perfectly prophetic words early on when it was clear the teeming Edinburgh rain & chopped-up Murrayfield pitch were going to be main factors :

You cut your cloth according to the conditions, and the team that does it better usually comes out on top

Shortly after Tony said that, a Greig Laidlaw break into the Leinster 22, followed by an error-free series of phases by the home pack, followed by a simple screen move out wide, all led to the game’s only try by Dougie Fife.  Nothing wrong with the cloth-cutting there.

Meanwhile when Leinster were going forward, the cloth wasn’t so much being cut as it was hacked to pieces with no particular pattern.

Although the DVD sessions will no doubt find fault with the Edinburgh try, overall the Leinster defence was pretty solid…restricting any home side to just 11 points is pretty good going even if the pitch is pretty poor going.

It’s just when we had the ball, not for the first time this season, we seemed to go out of our way to find different ways to either hand possession back to the home side or just lose needless territory. 

Senseless penalties, knockon gremlins, and what seemed to be a record amount of clearing kicks out on the full (both sides were guilty of this but one of ours was after failing to hear the ref say “carried back”), I’ll give it to the lads - the errors were at least creative.

But despite the fact that Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh side have recovered well from a poor start to the season and are starting to string some results together, the match was totally winnable for Leinster and this time we even made the change at outhalf I was screaming for last week but to no avail.

From the start it didn’t seem like we were going to allow for the conditions at all.  On our first attack Madigan went on one of his trademark bursts followed by an offload which was knocked on. 

With the wind and the rain it seemed the best option was to kick and force mistakes, but not just any kicks….as it turned out most players were ok under the infinite ping-pong of garryowens and it was only when the ball was kicked into space where it could bounce that anyone was finding traction.

And given that fact, the most frustrating option we took was when Madigan kicked crossfield to Luke Fitzgerald, when the bounce got the better of him.  The succession of low-percentage options made for an extremely frustrating evening’s viewing.

Not that Edinburgh were much better, but like I said, they at least managed to finish once.  All Leinster could manage was two (admittedly well-taken by Mads) placekick penalties and that is seldom going to be enough.

I’m not even sure where to point the finger for this abject performance…sure, it was a completely new pack from the previous week, but remember the team in that Aviva disappointment was a carbon copy from the week before and they were also rendered tryless.

One thing’s for sure, Brian O’Driscoll won’t have too many fond memories of either of his final two visits to Murrayfield!

I won’t go as far to say that Leinster have cancelled out the impressive win at Franklin’s Gardens with the two losses that came afterwards, but what they have done is given Matt O’Connor an extremely challenging few weeks ahead.

The clash with Ulster next Saturday will be a 2nd v 3rd cup final…Mark Anscombe’s men may have done the regular-season double over us last season but that “home” Pro12 final is the one that really counted so they’ll be out for revenge. 

Then it’s off to Galway where Pat Lam’s men will be keen to topple another multiple European champion. 

THEN there’s the small matter of rounds 5 & 6 of the Heineken with a trip to France followed a dreaded 5-day turnaround.

All I know is that one thing is definitely cut out for Matt O’Connor over the Christmas period…his workload.  We all know he has the personnel to turn things around, but it’s a job that still has to be done and there won’t be any “honeymoon period” to fall back on so Leinster’s performances will need to drastically improve.

But I reckon that’s enough harpin’ on rugby for the time being.  What say we wrap things up for now and enjoy the festivities?  Many thanks for all the feedback and post-sharing over the season so far, have a super Christmas and I’ll see y’all back here on the other side. JLP

 Click here for the post-match reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page

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ALSO THIS WEEKEND

Cardiff Blues 19 - 22 Ospreys

Ulster 13 - 6 Zebre

Glasgow P v P Benetton Treviso

Connacht 14 - 11 Dragons

Munster 16 - 10 Scarlets

TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
1 MUNSTER 10 39 9 85 21 228 12
2 ULSTER 10 33 7 77 20 209 10
3 LEINSTER 10 32 6 47 22 228 6
4 OSPREYS 10 31 6 68 24 266 9
5 GLASGOW 9 29 7 23 14 149 8
6 EDINBURGH 10 21 5 -49 17 186 -9
7 SCARLETS 10 21 4 -18 16 181 -3
8 NG DRAGONS 10 20 4 1 13 174 -1
9 CARDIFF BLUES 10 17 3 -36 13 203 -9
10 TREVISO 9 14 2 -22 -7 166 -7
11 CONNACHT 10 11 2 -93 12 141 -9
12 ZEBRE 10 9 1 -83 15 167 -7

stats are presented from left to right in order of priority from “PTS”

Thu Dec 26 

Scarlets v Ospreys

Edinburgh v Glasgow

NG Dragons v Cardiff Blues

Fri Dec 27

Munster v Connacht

Sat Dec 28

Benetton Treviso v Zebre

Leinster v Ulster

The Heineken Rugby Show 2 – Part 1

Group Shot

A little early Christmas treat is ready & available for you today courtesy of Heineken, the HEINEKEN RUGBY SHOW is back!

The Show’s host Will Carling along with the inimitable Scott Quinnell return to the Cabbage Patch Pub in Twickenham, this time with Special Guest Host former Saracens and Bath Prop, David Flatman.

This second episode of the Heineken Rugby Show features Scott’s breathless 30 Second Round Up of all the Heineken Cup action from Rounds 3 and 4, a certain someone’s SPOTY nomination is revisited and all three host’s tackle questions from fans on Twitter and in the audience.

 

Parts 2 & 3 will follow in January ahead of Round’s 5 and 6 of the Heineken Cup.

You can follow @Heineken_UK on Twitter to join the conversation using #HeinekenRugby.

The Pagano Preview Dec 20-22

Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend’s action for the Irish provinces and beyond.

Isn’t it great to be able to make yourself a Christmas present to the tune of £60,000?  This is effectively what PRL did when they plunged their greedy mitts into the Northampton Saints’ coffers for the heinous crime of allowing George North play for his country.

That being said, as much as I take delight at having a pop at Mark McCafferty and his fellow stooges, I wonder are they entirely to blame.  I’m looking at you, IRB.

Just what it the point of designating a period of time as an “international window” if you’re not going to impose sanctions on unions for staging test matches outside them?

Well that’s just one of the crazy things about the European rugby calendar and I reckon I harp on that topic enough.

Perhaps I should put paid to my preamble and proceed to my pre-Christmas previews via a paragraph that’s packed with a pulsating plethora of p-words.


Friday, December 20

RaboDirectPRO12

Ulster v Zebre, 7:05pm

According to the weather forecast it’s to be an old-school Friday night of rainy rugby at Ravenhill.  All the more reason for the visiting Zebre, Mark Anscombe’s fourth Italian opponents in as many weeks, to play like they don’t want to be there.

Naturally a relatively easy match like this is a good opportunity to get the next crop of talent some senior game time, and there will be much interest in James McKinney at outhalf.

Still should be a cricket score, though.  Ulster by a billion

Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, 7:05pm

Tis the season for the regions to to test their true relevance by playing each other a few times…well, the playing staff seems to be near to full strength for both these sides, but how many actually show up to watch will remain to be seen.  Ospreys need the win to keep up with the top four and I reckon they’ll get it.  Ospreys by 4

Edinburgh v Leinster, 7:35pm

No doubt of the two new coaches Matt O’Connor is having the better season but going by the adage “you’re only as good as your last match”, it must be advantage Alan Solomons at Murrayfield.

This time of year sees Leinster’s HCup & B&I Cup sides folded together so we see Brian O’Driscoll put with Noel Reid in the centre, while Leo Cullen and Tom Denton pair up at lock.

Embra have been boosted by the contract extension of David Denton, while on the Leinster side of things, as Connacht, Munster & Ulster deals are announced every other day, we must away their traditional “block revelation”, probably in the new year and hopefully including a certain brace of back-rowers.

Should those back-rowers not be retained however we get a taste in this match of who we will need to replace them.  Rhys Ruddock gets a much deserved breather while it’s the turn of Jordi Murphy (who Starts) and Dom Ryan (bench) to show they can step up to the big time if needed.

Much like our visit to Murrayfield last season, Leinster need to make a statement with this fixture, namely that last weekend’s flat display was a blip.  with canny operators like Greig Laidlaw on the park it won’t be easy but I think we should have enough to get the win.  Leinster by 6

Glasgow Warriors v Benetton Treviso, 7:35pm

If ever there was a club that badly needed a home match v Italian opposition it’s Glasgow this week.  I always said their unbeaten start came with a caveat that their try-scoring needed to improve and since it hasn’t the loss column has begun to tick over.  With two matches against Embra to come Gregor Townsend needs to make the most of the Christmas period to get things back on track.  Glasgow by 9

Premiership

Sale Sharks v London Irish, 7:45pm

Top 14

Stade Francais v Grenoble, 7:45pm

Saturday, December 21

RaboDirectPRO12

Connacht v Newport-Gwent Dragons, 5pm

Munster v Scarlets, 7:15pm

Premiership

Exater Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm

Bath v Harlequins, 3pm

London Wasps v Northampton Saints, 3pm

Saracens v Leicester Tigers, 3:15pm

Top14

Toulon v Montpellier, 1:55pm

Brive v Racing Métro 92, 5:30pm

Oyonnax v Bayonne, 5:30pm

Clérmont v Biarritz, 5:30pm

Castres v Perpignan, 5:30pm

Toulouse v Bordeaux, 7:35pm

Top League

Yamaha Jubilo v NEC Green Rockets, 4am

Sunday, December 22

Premiership

Gloucester v Worcester, 2pm

Top League

Kobelco Steelers v Canon Eagles, 4am

Suntory Sungoliath v Toyota Verblitz, 4am

Panasonic Wild Knights v Toshiba Brave Lupus, 4am


Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend, and of course your holiday season wherever you are. JLP

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 5 (LEIN)


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The latest of our provincial bloggers to name their best current Ireland team is our Leinster representative Iain O’Connor.

When we started the project back at the beginning of the season, the idea was to select a team available to play next weekend, but now we’re in round 5 it’s only fair to give the selectors a bit more leeway so from here on in we will leave it to them to decide.

Click this link for his last selection and these for the latest from Ulster, Munster & Connacht.

LTSHTF avatar

So this Christmas, and what have you done?

Well if you are reading this as a member of the Irish rugby team the answer to that is quite a lot. In the last year Irish rugby has gone through some (almost) dizzying highs and some subterranean lows. The loss to the All Blacks, although it is still a loss, is the best I think I have ever seen an Ireland team play. If you put this alongside Ireland V Italy from the 6 Nations it is like watching the New Park under 13 D’s in comparison to a well drilled, although not perfect, International side.

Right, I contemplated doing a kind of team of the year but there will be plenty of that around in the next few weeks so instead I give you my team for a game to be played on Christmas Day. Think 1914 Football in the trenches with less war and more importantly less soccer.

With a good showing against Toulouse I am ashamed to not get more Con players in but they are pushing hard for more representation if they keep pulling out results and performances.

1. Jack McGrath – Has come on in leaps and bounds and with Cian Healy being sidelined he is the number 1 number 1.

2. Sean Cronin – Last time out I dropped Rory Best and took a fair bit of flack. He subsequently scored a try and broke his arm. I am still unchanged in my thinking that Cronin is the future and I think that with a lot of game time he will only get better. I do wish Rory a speedy recovery and hopefully he can take the backup number 2 shirt soon.

3. Mike Ross – For me hasn’t really impressed but gets in due to lack of other options. Martin Moore in reserve with the youngster looking good for a prop of his age.

4. Paul O’Connell – After the disaster against Australia he plucked himself up and had a good game against New Zealand. Would like to see him used more sparingly but when he needs to he can still hit the heights he used to.

5. Devin Toner – My player of the year. Great tour performance in the USA, cemented his place in the Leinster set up and getting good game time for Ireland. Anyone who refers to him as awkward and a liability clearly hasn’t watched him in a while.

6. Peter O’Mahony/Rhys Ruddock – Peter O’Mahony gets the first half with Ruddock coming on at half time. The 2 games against Northampton have finally announced Ruddocks arrival in the big time with 2 great performances (second game less so but he looked good in a bad bunch)

7. Sean O’Brien – Is he injured? Is he in France? Is he under the stairs? If he is fit he plays if not it is Shane Jennings.

8. Jamie Heaslip – For me he is quickly becoming the complete number 8. Clever, strong and a leader on the park. I am still taken aback by how divisive his selection can be but as far as I am concerned he is top dog at 8.

9. Conor Murray – Signed a new 2 year deal, I could have sworn he only used to work in threes, and gets the nod ahead of Redden, just. I will never understand why he kicks so much ball away and he owes me a new tv remote after I threw mine across the room when he kicked away in the closing stages of the New Zealand match. Still has a lot of flaws but the best we have for now.

10. Ian Madigan – In ahead of Jackson this time round but I will probably change my mind again in a few weeks. Showed a new maturity against Northampton first time round. J10 is back in when he is good and ready.

11. Luke Fitzgerald – He’s back baby! Well hopefully. Finally Luke is looking like Luke of old. If the rugby gods have any decency he will get an injury free period to really flourish.

12. Luke Marshall – It is a toss up between him and a rejuvenated Darcy. Maybe a half each but would like to see Marshall get more game time, hopefully concussion free.

13. Brian O’Driscoll – I am beginning to wonder if playing him is in his own benefit health wise, but if he is fit he can play. On a side note, very nice to see him agree with the doc’s decision to not let him play the last few mins against the Kiwis.

14. Fergus McFadden – Coming to the top in a position where we are overloaded with suitable players. Between him, Bowe, Trimble, Zebo, Gilroy, Carr, Henshaw, Dave Kearney etc. we have injury dependant options.

15. Rob Kearney – Used to be known for his high ball. Now known for not even wanting to take half time off.

1. Jack McGrath
2. Sean Cronin
3. Mike Ross
4. Paul O’Connell
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip
9. Conor Murray
10. Ian Madigan
11. Luke Fitzgerald
12. Luke Marshall
13. Brian O’Driscoll
14. Fergus Mc Fadden
15. Rob Kearney

16. Martin Moore
17. Damian Varley
18. James Cronin
19. Mike McCarthy
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Eoin Redden
22. Dave Kearney
23. Robbie Henshaw

Iain O’Connor (@iain_not_ian) is a Leinster fan who should have retired from playing bad standard rugby years ago. Part time stand up comedian and full time radio person he is the presenter and creator of Heave, a schools rugby show on Dublin South FM. He also likes rugby league and names Alisona Taumalolo as his hero.

Another 2013 trophy for Leinster

Belvo & Rock played major roles in Leinster Women’s Interpro success, writes Sarah Lennon…

Women's Rugby column

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The schedulers had organised it correctly and Munster took on Leinster in Thomond Park in a winner takes all finale to this season’s Interprovincial series.

In the lead up to this match Leinster had secured a 36-0 win over Connacht and a 41-7 win over Ulster with thirteen tries scored for the concession of just the one. Likewise, Munster had two victories coming into the match with a 31-7 win over Connacht and a close fought match against Ulster winning 15-7.

On the face of it there was little to choose between the teams. Munster are the reigning interprovincial champions and were looking to defend that title on their home patch. Leinster’s first two matches in the series had been very convincing and when they secured the Interpro title 2 season’s ago it was on Munster soil.

One hint as to the form of the teams was to be found in the AIL Division 1 table. The league stage had suggested that a shift away from the traditional Munster team’s stronghold has begun. UL Bohemian from Limerick have traditionally been the ladies team par excellence but an unprecedented hattrick of defeats saw them finish the league stage in fourth. Highfield in Cork do retain their seemingly perennial runners up position but it is the results of Old Belvedere who contributed 12 players to the Leinster panel and the resurgence of Blackrock ladies saw nine representatives in the squad that have caught the eye.

The team to face Munster had an entire Old Belvo & Blackrock backline and 5 of the 8 in the pack were from Old Belvedere. Munster on the other hand had representatives from 7 different clubs. When Munster were dominating this series they relied heavily on UL Bohs for players and it was the familiarity and cohesion that made them as strong as they were. Leinster were hoping that the club form translated into the Provincial team.

As would have been expected, the match was a very close affair in the first half, with the weather playing its part. Both teams were cheered on by a sizeable crowd and Leinster have attracted a dedicated away following this season as they had two matches on the road. The reliable boot of Ger Rea of Highfield had struck two penalties to capitalise on Munster’s territorial dominance but the Belvo’ pair of Maz Reilly with a try and Nora Stapleton with a conversion secured a 7-6 lead for the ladies in blue.

As has been the trend in the series so far, Leinster went for the jugular in the 2nd half and Paula Fitzpatrick and Nora Stapleton crossed the white line for two converted tries and an insurmountable 21-6 lead. Maz Reilly, the Leinster captain for the second season in succession lifted aloft the Interprovincial trophy.

Leinster have blended an exciting combination of fresh, new players this season with the more experienced heads and we will be looking forward to seeing a number of these ladies in green come the 6 Nations.

Click here for match highlights from Munster v Leinster

Sarah Lennon (@sarahlennon08) is passionate about all things rugby. A Leinster Season Ticket holder since the Donnybrook days, a supporter of the Irish teams home and abroad and can regularly be seen cheering on Junior Rugby at Stillorgan RFC (a labour of love). As well as spectating, she dabbles in playing a bit and is a member of Old Belvedere RFC and fully paid up member of the front row union.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What I’ll miss most about the Heineken Cup

What other sporting competition creates the excitement that the Heineken Cup raises? asks BallHandling Hooker

BHHooker logo

HCup

photo by deek ay [creative commons license]

Before you start, this isn't another article about the blame game that is ongoing in European rugby circles. There will be no mention of splits in revenues, qualifying by merits, governance or power grabbing.

When the competition gets going, in it's current format it's close to perfect. Close to, because really with all the outside fuss about it, it can't really be called perfect can it? I believe that reducing the number of teams from 24 to 20 will compromise the excitement of the pool stages.

What other sporting competition in the world keeps every fan of every team on the lookout for every result, while attempting to calculate every permutation?

Two things give the Heineken Cup as it is this selling point. Firstly, the fact that not every 2nd place team qualifies for the quarter finals. This gives every team the emphasis to keep pushing and ensure they secure first place in their pool, while at the same time giving second place teams the incentive to try and get as many points as possible to be one of the lucky two. In no other competition are bonus points as treasured as in the Heineken Cup, and it really works.

Even for first placed teams, the quarter final draws gives further incentives to collect as many points as possible to ensure a home draw, and an "easy" as possible draw. I say "easy" because with all 6 countries participating, there are no "easy" games in Europe anymore.

There is no resting of players like in soccer's equivalent the Champions League once you are qualified after Round 4. Every fan looks at every game, in every round, and every bonus point.

Already in round 4, I'm mentally ruing bonus points that got away, or delighted that bonus points for other teams never arrived. I know that this mental calculations will be ongoing until the final whistle of the last game in Round 6. It's only then that everything is known.

Why lose this excitement?

Follow BallHandling Hooker on Twitter and Facebook

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Leinster-9 Northampton-18

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…AND THE SAINTS TAKETH AWAY

HoR pro logo bluePity I used the “Where’s Waldouck?” headline for last week’s writeup because it would have probably been even more appropriate for this match considering who was at 13 for Northampton, but never mind - I see my role here as not to write clever headlines but rather to provide some context which the mainstream media seems to have overlooked.

Why they have overlooked it is for another day’s debate, though my first suggestion would be out of delight that Leinster have proven themselves to be mortal in this competition after last week’s display because if they continued at that level there would be precious few who could stay with them.

I have attempted to break it down into five headings.

1. NORTHAMPTON - FROM POOR TO GOOD

“Not only do the dogs in the street know Northampton are going to go for it this weekend, so do the fleas on the dogs in the street. The only question is how.” 

In my preview I pointed out that the Saints were going to have to do something different, and after shifting Samu Manoa to number 8 and George North to 13 I wonder should Mallinder be praised for making the switches or questioned for not doing it last week.

Either way, on Saturday the Saints had a powerful centre who was able to finish when there was a sniff of the line, as well as extra aggression in the back row which, no offence to Shane Jennings, more than tipped the scales in the visitor’s favour when Sean O’Brien was ruled out.

Side note on North - if he goes on to succeed for Wales at 13, particularly in the 2014 Six Nations, it will always be Mallinder who should take the credit as he could have easily been tried there in November and Mr Gatland will have more question marks over him concerning an outside centre ;-)

Anyway…the context I provide here is to haul back the Sky-perbole from Messrs Harrison & Barnes who made it out as though this was some sort of epic display.  What Northampton did was raise their levels up and beyond where they should have been last week, and although they did make several errors themselves, their biggest achievement, which was thwarting Leinster’s offence by fair means or foul, is what got them the victory.

For the record I felt the Saints’ biggest error was by Kahn Fotuali’i - with less than two minutes left on the clock and a penalty advantage in his favour, his decision to take a drop goal was pure madness…if he deliberately kicked it wide it would have been genius, but since the pen was under the posts they could have wasted a ton of gameclock with the easy placekick and as things turned out it very nearly cost them.

2. LEINSTER - FROM AWESOME TO AVERAGE

In the whole “Mads or Gopps” debate among Leinster fans, gun to my head I’m on Team Madigan, but that doesn’t mean that he should get a free ride.  Leinster scored 6 tries last week and could have had a few more, with Ian a big part of that display.

But when it gets past the 60th minute and we have been denied again and again going forward in a crucial Heineken Cup fixture, it isn’t the time to be thinking about who is getting gametime to prepare for test matches which are two months away.  The Saints had made the correct adjustments to their defence, so we needed to do something different, yet we kept doing the same things expecting them to click.

Plus, though I will deal with the referee more closely in the next point, we need to be able to cope with an official who is allowing so little time for the tackled player to present the ball - Garces (for the first 70 minutes anyway) approached this area much the same as it was when we played Connacht back in October, when it was also Madigan starting and we also found it hard to get going offensively.

This isn’t a Leinster failing that is peculiar to Matt O’Connor, by the way, but since we’re focusing on this match I reckon it was screaming for Gopperth to be brought on - sure, it wouldn’t have been great for Madigan’s confidence but the way I see it winning the match comes first, especially in this competition.

As for the pack, we were bossed at the breakdown and sadly I have to look at Shane Jennings.  He had been on flying form ahead of his injury but I wonder was he ready for what needed to be a massive 60-minute shift.  I’m thinking Dominic Ryan & Jordi Murphy should be getting some serious game time over Christmas with a view to having them challenging for the January fixtures.

Last but not least, Cian Healy’s absence didn’t hurt us because of Jack McGrath replacing him, rather it did because it meant Michael Bent was needed for a 20-minute stint at a level I don’t think he’s able for.

But anyway…the point is, I want to make it clear before I deal with the refereeing that I am well aware that Leinster were way below the standards that put the three stars on their jersey.  And as an aside, Madigan’s tackle of North was quality and deserves a mention…my points above were on his general quarterbacking.

3. THE REFEREEING

Good Lord - where do I begin?  Please remember before I go on that I have made it clear that Northampton deserved the win, but the fact remains there were several glaring inconsistencies that played a part in thwarting the offence almost as much as the visitors did.

Reddan pinged

Worst call of the night was in the above screengrab.  Garces is blowing for a penalty and says it is for “not releasing after the tackle”.  What is interesting about this is that it was actually Brian O’Driscoll who made the tackle, and as you can see he has long since released Saints number 7 Tom Wood - it is Eoin Reddan who gets pinged even though he is on his feet - the reason he ignored Garces’ call of “release!” was because he knew he wasn’t the tackler.

For the first 70 minutes of the match Garces penalised both sides if they held the ball for a fraction of a second after being tackled.  Therefore this should have been a pen to Leinster.

But the inconsistencies did not begin nor end there.  At the start of the second half a Lee Dickson fumble from the kickoff saw Leinster pummelling the Saints line.  Garces found penalty after penalty as the visitors did everything they could, both legal and illegal, to stop us but all we got out of it was a three-pointer - not so much as a warning afterwards to skipper Dylan Hartley.

To be fair in a way, in the passage of play leading to the Fotuali’i drop goal, the ref didn’t warn us either after finding several penalties on our part, but how he didn’t see one in that final frantic spell as the clock went red, I will never know.  All the greatest hits were there - in from the side, hands on the ball, beyond the last foot, even not releasing after the tackle.

Again, there are no guarantees we would have gotten the match-winning try had a penalty been called.  BUT - we absolutely must NOT fault Jamie Heaslip for dropping the ball when he did.  It was his quick tap and charge down the pitch which was reminiscent of his Grand Slam 2009 form that set up the chance in the first place. 

The fact remains, the series of phases should not have gone that far and we should have at the very least had the option of going for a penalty try, assuming the ref had actually left his cards back in France.

4. THE BOOING

Stu Barnes suggested Dylan Hartley was substituted because he had given everything.  He didn’t have a bad game alright, but I reckon he was taken off before he got himself sent to the line.  He had just conceded a blatant pen as we had good attacking ball and if the ref had issued a warning earlier as I mentioned, we could have had a man advantage for that last spell.

The reason I mention that here is that the booing started when Hartley’s not-so-pretty mug appeared on the big screen just as Stephen Myler was lining up a penalty kick.  Sadly when we have a crowd as big as this one there are those who just don’t “get” the game of rugby and while those who booed the sight of Hartley may have stopped, others misunderstood it and carried it on through the kick, which is of course inexcusable. 

But to those who used that incident to take a pop at Leinster fans in particular, a resounding boo to you.  It is has been a blight right throughout the sport since it went pro and anyone who says they never hear it at their own ground is either selectively deaf or blatantly lying.  At smaller grounds it is easier to stamp out, but it still happens and in this age of spiralling wages we unfortunately need every 40k+ crowd we can get.

What can we do about it?  Short of pro-active “please respect the kicker” announcements at the beginning of every half, I’m not so sure.  But on behalf of the tens of thousands of genuine Leinster rugby fans, apologies to the Saints for that particular incident.

5. HOW POOL ONE STANDS

One year ago we got a late try that pinched a losing bonus against Clérmont  - this time around, we had it taken away by Elliot’s opportunist sprint down the field.  We may have played below our usual standards, but we did not deserve that.

Still…does this mean it’s armageddon in Pool One for Leinster?  Absolutely not.  Not only would we have taken a 5-4 match point win in this back-to-back series when the draw was made, we would have offered a couple of limbs to go into round 5 with a 4 point lead atop the pool.

But since the media are so keen to remind us that the Saints did to us what they did to Ulster last season, maybe I should offer another Northampton stat for reference…in the 2010/11 campaign, they won all their pool games which meant nothing in that second half in Cardiff, so losing a pool match, even one at home, is not the end of the road for Leinster.

So don’t go ruling us out just yet.  JLP

Click here for post-match reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page

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Also this weekend

Heineken Cup

Glasgow 7 - 9 Cardiff Blues

Ospreys 21 - 12 Castres

Benetton Treviso 3 - 35 Ulster

Toulon 32 - 20 Exeter Chiefs

Saracens 64 - 3 Zebre

Perpignan 17 - 18 Munster

Scarlets 13 - 31 Clermont Auvergne

Connacht 9 - 37 Toulouse

Harlequins 17 - 3 Racing Metro

Gloucester Rugby 10 - 16 Edinburgh

Montpellier 14 - 15 Leicester Tigers

POOL ONE PLD W D L F A BP PTS
LEINSTER 4 3 0 1 87 41 1 13
NORTHAMPTON 4 2 0 2 65 64 1 9
CASTRES 4 2 0 2 53 63 0 8
OSPREYS 4 1 0 3 55 73 1 5

British & Irish Cup

Cross Keys 14 - 30 Leinster A

POOL ONE PLD W D L F A BP PTS
LEINSTER A 4 4 0 0 134 44 3 19
CROSS KEYS 4 2 0 2 58 92 1 9
MOSELEY 4 1 0 3 84 75 3 7
EALING TRAILFINDERS 4 1 0 3 54 119 0 4

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