Friday, February 21, 2014

The Pagano Preview Feb 20-23

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Just to be certain, I asked a few dogs in the street if they knew that Anthony Foley would be appointed to the Munster job and sure enough they did.

But I certainly wouldn’t begrudge him the promotion; it is clearly something he has worked towards in his career and naturally it is good to see Irish coaches rising to the top, much like Bernard Jackman has done over in Grenoble.

I just wonder though if there’s a sense of “careful what you wish for” about this appointment.  Let’s face it…the day he is announced Munster sit atop the Pro12 and with a home quarterfinal in the Heineken Cup.  Since it’s a results-based business, when we get to the same date next year there will be comparisons made.

And before you say that I’m trying to make mischief because I’m a Leinster fan, let me make it clear that although I would consider Munster “the enemy”, it is only in a sporting banter way and having seen the way Scottish soccer has gone since the demise of Rangers I am well aware just how important it is to Leinster rugby to have strong rivals in all of the other three provinces where possible.

I still think my concerns are genuine and that Munster don’t need another year of transition and he will need to hit the ground running.  We shall see.

Speaking of hitting the ground running, much is expected of Joe Schmidt & his charges this weekend, let’s look ahead…


Thursday, February 20

RaboDirectPRO12

Cardiff Blues v Leinster, 8:05

I see much “harrumph”-ery on the twitter machine by Cardiff fans about the Thursday kickoff; to be honest it doesn’t bother me once it doesn’t happen more than once or twice a season. In fact if anything the match gives me the perfect sporting banquet for the evening with my Spurs providing the roundy-ball appetizer at 6pm.

With Matt O’Connor’s men on a decent run since the turn of the year which includes 14 Pro12 points out of a possible 15 despite a flurry of 5- and 6-day turnarounds, the side are bound to be confident heading over to Cardiff Arms Park.  I’m wondering if the generous 7-point spread to the away side is justified?

Sure, we’re sending over a decent backline…Noel Reid and Brendan Macken are given the chance to develop their centre pairing further and even if Luke Fitzgerald’s luck gets even worse making him unable to start, Sam Coghlan-Murray is in good form this season and deserves a run in the senior side.

But it’s in the pack where I have my concerns.  Kevin McLaughlin skippers the side and Richardt Strauss gets a welcome start, but they represent the sum total of the seniority in our tight eight and we will be relying heavily on youngsters like Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan to settle quickly alongside the likes of Dominic Ryan and Quinn Roux, hardly veterans themselves.

With the Blues also decimated by Six Nations they will no doubt be looking to their backrow to get an edge on the Pro12 champions with Navidi and of course Robin Copeland well able to do damage.

It’s not often my prediction goes against Leinster but I have a funny feeling the Blues may put points on the board early against this makeshift lineup and it could be hard for us to claw our way back.  Cardiff by 3

Friday, February 21

RBS Six Nations

WALES v FRANCE, 8pm

If you take into account all the stereotypes surrounding this fixture, the result can go only one way. 

Warrenball post-embarrassing defeat playing in front of a fired up Millennium Stadium crowd with the roof closed, against the French who, unlike Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, tend to stick to their own style regardless of what the opposition are doing, not to mention their drop in form when they travel.

So I suppose the challenge is to see if there is anything in the two lineups that could upset that predictable applecart, and frankly I don’t.  Gatland made a couple of bold yet seemingly-correct moves in dropping Phillips and moving George North into the centre (btw if it works the credit should go to Jim Mallinder).

Meanwhile PSA has also shunned a Grand Slam-winning scrum-half in Morgan Parra, and although having Bastereaud opposite North promises collisions in the 13 channel which could allow us to capture on film what could only be known as the “BOD particle”™, I’d much rather see Fofana and Fickou paired in the centre as I reckon they could do a much better job at breaking up the Welsh defence.

But given the stubbornness of the two coaches involved I reckon the home one will prevail. Wales by 7

Super Rugby

Crusaders v Chiefs

Cheetahs v Bulls

Saturday, February 22

RBS Six Nations

ITALY v SCOTLAND, 2:30pm

In RTE’s promo for their Six Nations coverage this weekend, this clash in Rome appears in the graphic but doesn’t even get as much as a mention in the voice-over.  Says it all, really.

Much has been made of Scotland’s woes over the past two weeks, and rightly so as a home whitewash is embarrassing at any level.  One can only assume that whatever the tactical ineptitude of Scott Johnson, there’s enough determination and quality within the squad of players itself to raise their game for this one.

Of course they will have to overcome an Italian side which has shown a few sparks in its opening matches and given both defeats were away from home must surely be at a higher level morale-wise.

It’s the sort of game where Parrisse can run riot, and since the Scots seem to think they can do without David Denton opposite him even though I thought he did well in the Calcutta Cup, we could see even more knives drawn with Johnson’s name on them after this one.  Italy by 8

ENGLAND v IRELAND, 4pm

Click here for my preview on the Fantasy5Live blog

Women’s Six Nations

England v Ireland, 6:20pm

I fully expect a large quantity of travelling Irish fans to stick around and watch the girls in green try to get themselves another Triple Crown, and once again fair play to RTE for listening to the public and screening it live on the “real telly”.  I couldn’t possibly do justice to a preview so I will leave you with this link from the ever-excellent Scrumqueens.

RaboDirectPRO12

Scarlets v Edinburgh, 2:30pm

If the proposed new format for the Rugby Heineken Champions BTSport/Sky Cup comes to pass, this match will be crucial as both clubs will consider themselves to be in the hunt for 6th place on the table, which would probably be the final qualifying spot for the new comp.  I’m with the bookies on this one. Scarlets by 10

Lansdowne Premiership

Gloucester v Harlequins, 2pm

Bath v London Wasps, 2pm

Worcester Warriors v Sale Sharks, 2pm

Top 14

Clérmont v Montpellier, 2:30pm

I still have that feeling in my bones that Clérmont’s home record is going to fall soon so once more I’m making this my Upset Of The Week.  Montpellier by 3

Bordeaux-Begles v Racing Métro, 6:30pm

Grenoble v Biarritz, 6:30pm

Stade Francais v Oyonnax, 6:30pm

Perpignan v Brive, 6:30pm

Castres v Toulouse, 8:35pm

Super Rugby

Highlanders v Blues

Brumbies v Reds

Sharks v Hurricanes, 5:05pm

Lions v Stormers, 7:10pm

Sunday, February 23

RaboDirectPRO12

Benetton Treviso v Ulster, 3pm

After what Irish provinces have done lately in the Pro12 even without their internationals, I honestly can’t bring myself to be too analytical over this series of Sunday matches, with the possible exception of the clash at Liberty Stadium.  Should be yet another bonus-point victory for Ulster, with little or no to be learned about those pushing for test places. Ulster by 20

NG Dragons v Glasgow Warriors, 2:30pm

The Warriors may be lacking in the “tries scored” column but they are definitely making up for it in the “win” one.  The Dragons will be ready for this one after a gutsy yet ill disciplined showing at the RDS but I still fancy the Scots to take the spoils. Glasgow by 3

Ospreys v Munster, 4pm

Bookies giving this one to Munster by 4 and they certainly are sending over a strong squad, if anything better than last week with the return from Six Nations duty of Tommy O’Donnell.

But I’m not so sure these Ospreys can be judged in a manner similar to the rest of the non-Irish teams in the league.  Though there are many on the Munster team who can do damage, there are also those for the Welsh region, even on the bench with former test captain Ryan Jones ready to join the fray.

I’m expecting a tight battle here which the home side could well nick late in the day. Ospreys by 2

Zebre v Connacht, 6:30pm

Wooden spoon 10-pointer? Definitely.  I don’t expect the Italians to roll over, but still I’m only making my prediction based on this blog’s tradition. Zebre by 1

Lansdowne Premiership

London Irish v Leicester Tigers, 1pm

Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints, 3pm

Saracens v Exeter Chiefs, 3:15pm

Top 14

Bayonne v Toulon, 5:05pm

Super Rugby

Waratahs v Western Force, 4:05pm


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

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