Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond
It really is true what they say…there ain’t no show like a Joe show.
On Wednesday just gone the Irish Rugby Supporters Club organised a Q&A in the Aviva Stadium with Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss & John Plumtree, a great way to see where the Irish coaching ticket is at ahead of the Six Nations.
I have been to several similar events in different sports and more often than not they are sanitised, overly-corporate affairs but this was most certainly nothing of the sort, and at the centre of it all was Joe Schmidt himself.
Now as I’m sure some non-Leinster-supporting Irish fans will be quick to point out, even with the performance against the All Blacks the jury is still very much out on him & his team, and I would definitely agree. But this was an evening for getting to know the people rather than the results of their professional endeavours.
When Joe finally gives up the coaching thing, hopefully after a long successful stint with Ireland of course, he could do worse with his future than hopping on the after-dinner circuit because he is definitely a natural.
A chuckle-worthy quip was never far away from his answers but still he managed to find a way to respond to even the most hostile of queries from the audience like “Why haven’t ye picked Peter Stringer? Is it politics, Joe?” - there were only a couple like that but he handled them with the same decorum as the more friendly ones.
Let’s just say if Messrs O’Neill & Keane consider themselves as “bad cop, bad bad cop”…these three lads didn’t give much away as to the dynamic within their own coaching set-up. In fact, it was only after the event when I realised that’s the question I wanted to ask.
On actual nuggets of information, well I got the impression that Robin Copeland will start for the Wolfhounds and Fergus McFadden will start for Ireland as soon as he’s fit, but neither was said directly. But overall, it was a very entertaining and educational evening.
In other big news this week, we have of course Sean O’Brien. Obviously I’m over the moon - in today’s climate we could hardly expect more than a 2-year deal so let’s be grateful that he will stay under our umbrella up to RWC2015.
As for Jamie, well in his case I can’t help feeling that I will be happy for him whatever he decides. Apart from the obvious wish to see him still in Leinster blue, the only other major personal joy I’d have for him staying would be that it would stick it to the “anti-Heaslip brigade” who clearly dislike the man as opposed to the player.
Time for less pre-ambling and more pre-viewing methinks.
Friday, January 17
Northampton Saints v Castres, 8pm
If the Saints have any ambition in this competition, they surely have no choice but to go for this, particularly in front of their home crowd. The French champions have interestingly added Kockott & Claasens to their bench so you never know they may be up for a battle - I fancy a home win but perhaps not by the 14-point margin suggested by the bookies. Saints by 8
Leinster v Ospreys, 8pm
It has been a great week to be a Leinster fan…the win in Castres, Sean O’Brien’s signature and now we see the return to action of Richardt Strauss months earlier than expected…also of course a boost to our Six Nations campaign.
Clearly his comeback will provide a challenge to Sean Cronin, who although has provided his usual superb ball-carrying abilities, has also had question marks over areas like darts, discipline and actual hooking in scrums.
But on a more general note re : this match, while on paper you can see where the bookies are getting their 17-point spread from, you can bet your bottom Euro the home fans won’t be taking anything for granted.
With the Ospreys selection their coaching staff are pretty much advertising that they intend to play a 10-man game…while their forwards will use this match to help them prepare for the upcoming Six Nations defence, I see little more than LV= Cup action in the future of those playing from 11 to 15.
Does this mean they don’t have a chance tonight? Hell no, and for three distinct reasons 1) their fondness for spoiling Leinster parties 2) Romain Poite and 3) Dan Biggar.
Chuck in the fact that with the exception of Franklin’s Gardens we have found tries hard to come by this season and if we’re not careful this could be a lot closer than we’d like it to be.
Key position battle among the starters should be at 7, with Justin Tipuric likely to be hell-bent on disrupting Leinster and Shane Jennings likely to be hell-bent on disrupting Justin Tipuric.
So there is bound to be plenty to keep us occupied tonight, the forecasts seem to suggest it will be a crisp but clear evening in Ballsbridge, and I for one can’t wait. I certainly don’t expect a try bonus for us, but hopefully we can do enough to get the win to put us back in the last eight of this great competition. Leinster by 7
British & Irish Cup
Ealing Trailfinders v Leinster A, 7:45pm
Just one point for Leinster A will give us a home quarterfinal by my reckoning, with possible opponents being Rotherham, Plymouth, Leeds and even Munster. With Ealing trying to find a trail away from the foot of the Championship and facing fellow strugglers Moseley next week, I can’t see them taking too many chances in this one.
Ulster Ravens v Cornish Pirates, 7:30pm
No hope of qualification for the Ravens but the Pirates, who love this competition, will be keen to finish the pool as top seeds so this should be a very good outing for the likes of James McKinney so if you will be in the Ravenhill area there are certainly less enjoyable ways to spend your Friday evening!
Grenoble v Bayonne, 6:30pm
Saturday, January 18
PREVIEWS FOR THESE MATCHES WILL APPEAR SATURDAY MORNING
Saracens v Connacht, 1:35pm
Zebre v Toulouse, 1:35pm
Cardiff Blues v Exeter Chiefs, 3:40pm
Glasgow Warriors v Toulon, 3:40pm
Montpellier v Benetton Treviso, 6pm
Leicester Tigers v Ulster, 6pm
British & Irish Cup
Connacht Eagles v Llanelli, 2pm
Stirling County v Munster A, 2pm
Cavalieri Prato v London Irish, 1:30pm
Worcester Warriors v US Oyonnax, 3pm
Biarritz v Sale Sharks, 8pm
Suntory Sungoliath v Yamaha Jubilo, 5:15pm
Sunday, January 19
Munster v Edinburgh, 12:45pm
Perpignan v Gloucester, 12:45pm
Scarlets v Harlequins, 3pm
Clérmont v Racing Métro, 3pm
London Wasps v Viadana, 2pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP