Friday, January 24, 2014

The Pagano Preview Jan 24-26

Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond. 

Over the years we Irish rugby fans have gotten used to having at least some provincial action to cheer every weekend throughout the season…with the exception of this one which I call “limbo week” between the end of the HCup pool stages and the start of the Six Nations.

Part of it was one of the busiest news days of the season as on Thursday we learned of things like yet another Irish Lion choosing home over Toulon, while another Welsh Lion doing the exact opposite.  And as for that other Toulon-bound Welshman who put his foot down at the RDS, he got himself a 12-week vacation for his trouble.

What we’re left with this weekend is a patchwork selection of matches, with the Irish highlight being the Wolfhounds’ single outing of the season.  Since they are away in Gloucester, maybe back here we can get ourselves out to a game down at our local club?  Check here to see if there’s an Ulster Bank League game near you.

Elsewhere we have the English and the Welsh continuing their “LV= in” of a competition, while over in France, they put their players through the paces of a round of Top 14 action…all their players except the national squad, that is.


Friday, January 24

Top14

Stade Francais v Castres Olympique, 7:30pm

“Second plays third” makes this one appear interesting when you put it like that, but when looking ahead to a match in this league your first task is to wonder if the away side is going to give a damn, and the percentage answer is “non”. Stade by 14

LV= Cup

Scarlets v Gloucester, 7:30pm

Saturday, January 25

International friendly

England Saxons v Irish Wolfhounds, 5pm

Tommy or Chris for the Irish 7 jumper?

I’m a bit giddy as I prepare to give my opinion on the above question, since for once I am free of the shackles of accusations of provincial bias.  If Seanie is fit, he plays.  He’s not, so we have a Munsterman and an Ulsterman vying for the role, so the only way I could make it look like my blue goggles are welded to me head would be if I suggested Jordi should leap-frog the pair of them!  Don’t worry…I ain’t going there.

If the jumper were to be awarded for position in the “queue”, it would have to be Henry.  But if we’re basing our selections on that, we’d be talking about keeping Donncha O’Callaghan in the squad so he could get himself to 100 caps, because we can’t begrudge him reaching that mark either.

But a test side can’t be selected for that reason.  Particularly this test side.  November was a warm-up…this is the first competitive outing for the Joe Schmidt brand of Irish rugby.  For me, it comes down to a question of do we want TOD’s ball-carrying ability to start or do we want CH’s tackling and for me it’s the former.

That’s not to take anything away from Henry - he was outstanding against Leicester and has been unlucky with injury around test time.  It’s just the phrase “deserves his shot” doesn’t wash with me at this level, and I reckon his use to this team, and the way Joe Schmidt likes to play the game, would be better suited to coming on for the final quarter, when we would hope to have a lead we need to defend.

On the negative side while all 7s not named Ruchie tend to attract attention from refs, I fear Chris  would be more likely of the two to do so (particularly someone like Joubert who we have twice this 6N).  Add to this the fact that I love chucking in at least one newbie every year to throw off the opposition, and Tommy’s my guy.

Having said all of that, I still reckon Joe will go with Chris, and TOD would need a man-of-the-match display at Kingsholm to have an actual shot at starting.  But best of luck to the two of them; it’s great to have such great options at our disposal to keep Seanie’s jersey warm! (Sorry, the blue goggles came back for a moment)

That’s a lot to write about one position, and this match certainly isn’t all about our openside flanker.  How about Ian Madigan at outhalf.  He surely can’t hope to get near the test side unless Sexton comes a cropper in Paris, so he’ll be viewing this as a rare opportunity to start at 10 and he’ll need to take it.

There are also opportunities for Ulstermen to impress…in the pack Rob Herring certainly has shown the ability to get ahead of the Munster duo in the pecking order while at lock, both Henderson and Tuohy have what it takes to play at the top though only one has youth on his side.

Interesting call at 12…Darren Cave?  As much as I hate to go there…talk about your face not fitting?  It will be interesting to see how well he links with Madigan though I suspect it will be on the defensive side of things where he and Henshaw will be tested most.

Skippering the side there is Rhys Ruddock, who despite the recent news of SOB & Jamie staying is clearly seen as a long-term option for Ireland, and he his game has certainly gone up a gear this season.  Also of course we get a look at Munster-bound Robin Copeland in Irish green filling out the back-row, as well as Jordi off the bench.

Always hard to make a forecast is matches like this…there’s the shop-window element plus the fear of bans & injuries…I’m taking this to be a low-scoring affair in which the home side will prevail.  Saxons by 6

Ulster Bank League, Division 1A

The second half of the league campaign gets underway on Saturday and tie of the round has to be Young Munster v Tarf, where the Cookies need a win to stay in touch with the leaders and they are the only side with a realistic shout of preventing the title going to Leinster once more.  At the bottom Garryowen won’t find it easy to notch their first win of the campaign as they face the champions on the Aviva back pitch.  Another match with relegation undertones is at Ballymacarn Park where Hinch will want to make home advantage count against Dolphin.

Ballynahinch v Dolphin, 2:30pm

Cork Constitution v UCD, 2:30pm

Lansdowne v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Old Belvedere v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Clontarf, 2:30pm

Top 14

Racing Métro v Toulouse, 1:55pm

I couldn’t give a damn who wins or loses this game.  It’s only significance for Irish rugby fans is that it is the one match on the calendar where we see the true implications of Sexton’s move to the Top14.  Do we blame him and his agent or the IRFU if something happens to him?  Hard to tell.  But for 80 minutes or at least until ROG can persuade his fellow coaches to take him off (he will try, won’t he? or at least “donner un kick in the hole” if they won’t?) we’ll be watching every bit of contact from behind the sofa.

Biarritz v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Bayonne v Clérmont, 5:30pm

Montpellier v Bordeaux-Begles, 5:30pm

Grenoble v Perpignan, 5:30pm

Brive v Toulon, 7:35pm

Challenge Match

Saracens v Natal Sharks, 2:30pm

It’s a shame to see a northern-hemisphere club rely so heavily on South African players for success.  But enough about Ulster…what about Sarries? ;-)

Only messing…this match has been shoe-horned into the calendar by BT Sports and Nigel “My Wray Or The High-wray” and with the club also having a home match on the Sunday, for me it shows just how stubborn the English clubs can be. 

I really, really, do hope the Sarries fans show more support for the youngsters lining out against Newcastle what a powerful statement that would be.

LV= Cup

Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors, 2pm

NG Dragons v Northampton Saints, 2:30pm

Harlequins v Leicester Tigers, 3pm

London Wasps v London Irish, 3pm

Exeter Chiefs v Ospreys, 3pm

Bath v Cardiff Blues, 3pm

Sunday, January 26

LV= Cup

Saracens v Newcastle Falcons. 3pm


Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP

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