Friday, February 28, 2014

The Pagano Preview Feb 28-Mar 2

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So two weeks for Morgan Parra, eh

Wow…what a convenient coincidence in that it allows him to rest next week AND be available for France in what could be a Six Nations championship decider in Paris!!!

I have read some opinion to the tune of “well, we have benefitted from controlling our own discipline in the past (eg Cian Healy) so we can’t really complain”.  For me, if we continue in that mindset then what is clearly a broken system will rumble on.

Obviously we want to look after our own.  If parents get the dreaded call from a school that their child has been getting into trouble, they’d much rather dole out the punishment themselves.  But that’s not always possible.

Much has been said about the slow progression of rugby’s powers-that-be in many areas, and discipline has to be one of the biggest of them, if not THE biggest.  And it all has to do with my biggest pet peeve about the game, the “top tier” unions’ cartel which allows them to effectively run the game as they see fit within their own jurisdictions.

An independent & accountable IRB certainly will have its problems, all beaurocracies do.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed, particularly in areas where justice isn’t just needed to be done, but also SEEN to be done. 

So even if the Parra ruling ticked all the boxes required by the Laws of the Game, there should not have been a Frenchman anywhere near the process.

Oh…and another thing…Phillipe St Andre’s moral stance re : Louis Picamoles was indeed noble, but it reminds me of Ewan Mackenzie’s supposed “zero tolerance” reaction to his players’ drinking in Dublin.  In both cases the players were able to rest against Scotland so they could play against Ireland.  We’ll know for sure when PSA names his squad for Paris.

Allow me to hop down off my high horse and make some predictions for a busy weekend of domestic action…


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Friday, February 28

RaboDirectPRO12

Ulster v Newport-Gwent Dragons, 7:05pm

The Dragons put in a fighting display at the RDS a couple of weeks ago, but sadly for them I can see this one going a similar way for them.

Still though, they did upset the Warriors last week so confidence will be high plus they have the Scarlets in their sights for what could be a crucial sixth-place finish so if I were Mark Anscombe I wouldn’t let the bookies’ 16-point spread go to my head.

But you can’t ignore the return to action of Tommy Bowe.  He & Sean O’Brien are the two names I would absolutely want for Ireland in Paris regardless of gametime and Tommy certainly knows how to score tries in Paris so it’s great to see him back.

Plus with news of Sexton’s thumb injury it’s a chance for Paddy Jackson to show Joe Schmidt he could have had a little more confidence in him back at Twickers.

Add to that the numerous other Ulstermen knocking on the door of the test XV like Henderson and Marshall, and not to mention the quality of Messrs Pienaar & Payne, the Ravenhill fans would be entitled to be disappointed if that spread isn’t at least reached.  Ulster by 18

Edinburgh v Ospreys, 7:35pm

From “Maggotfield” to “Meggetland” is the way the media are spinning Embra’s move away from the evil nematodes at Murrayfield to the home of Boroguhmuir RFC. 

I know nothing about the place but surely if it’s anywhere near the feel of Scotstoun they should look for a permanent move there as playing at the national HQ was nothing short of an embarrassment.

And if the new Euro qualifying rules happen they’ll need a win here to stay in touch with 6th…sadly for them the Ospreys come to town with Mr Tipuric who I reckon will prove the difference.  Ospreys by 6

Lansdowne Premiership

Bath v Saracens, 7:45pm

I have a confession to make.  I ALMOST considered watching this match live instead of Ulster v Dragons!  In fact, should the match at Ravenhill go as expected and be done as a contest early on many Ulster fans may switch over as well to see how their HCup opponents are looking.  What’s more, this is a key battle as Bath are actually good this year and need a win to stay in touch with the top two. 

There’s more Irish interest here as well with Peter Stringer starting for Bath and former Leinster lock Eoin Sherriff on the Sarries bench.  Very close one to call, I’ll go for the home side even if they do have Henson in their 23. Bath by 1

Top 14

Montpellier v Stade Francais, 7:45pm

Super Rugby

Stormers v Hurricanes, 5:10pm

Saturday, March 1

RaboDirectPRO12

Zebre v Cardiff Blues, 3pm

Hard one the call, this.  It shouldn’t be, really, with the minor Italian franchise rock bottom of the table and the Blues just off a spirited performance against a far superior Leinster squad.  But a win for Zebre means they do the double over the Welsh capital this season.  Something about that makes me feel this could be the Upset Of The Week, so I’m going for it. Zebre by 3

Connacht v Benetton Treviso, 5pm

Apparently there are people who check back on these previews to see how I did with my predictions…always good to know I’m being kept on my toes!  One thing though…hopefully they know about this site’s superstitious tradition of always predicting Connacht to lose!

Though they are weakened in the pack these days, their back line appears to be about as full strength as they can have it with Robbie Henshaw back in the 15 jumper.  That plus the momentum arising from successive victories means my prediction really is based on nothing but superstition. Treviso by 1

Scarlets v Munster, 6:30pm

For the sake of this league’s future, I really, really hope the Scarlets are up for this fixture.

Normally you’d think the visit of a 2-time Heineken Cup winner and current league leaders would be enough for interest, but Edinburgh’s victory over Ospreys last night heats up competition for what could be a crucial 6th place, where the Llanelli-based region now sit.

Of course all Munster need for motivation is Leinster breathing down their necks at the top of the table, and it’s a powerful matchday 23 they’re sending across the Irish Sea.

The most interesting selection is Simon Zebo at full-back, possibly a necessity for Rob Penney but also to further demonstrate to Joe Schmidt the value and versatility of the player.

Bookies have the visitors to win by 4 points…sadly I don’t share their optimism that the Scarlets can get that close, even with what is a fascinating centre pairing of Olly Barkley and Jonathan Davies.  Munster by 9

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, 8:30pm

Back at the beginning of the season it seemed Leinster’s selection policy included Luke Fitzgerald at outside centre when needed, together with Fergus McFadden being always on the wing.  Now that policy seems to have been totally reversed and makes this match fascinating.

Of course the fixture has enough about it to get our interest, what with it being two of the leading contenders for the title, not to mention a rematch of their semifinal last season which the Warriors came close to pinching.

And after defeat to the Dragons last week, Gregor Townsend will know he will need his squad to go one better tonight if they are to make the most of the Ospreys’ slipup at Edinburgh last night.

McFadden partners Noel Reid in the Leinster midfield, and normally it is on defence where Leinster’s 12 & 13 would be most needed to perform.  I’m not so sure that is the case against these Warriors.

In 13 league matches this season the Warriors have conceded a mere 12 tries.  While Leinster for their part have scored over 2 per game themselves and are on the back of three bonus point wins in a row, they certainly won’t have been tested by a defence such as this one.

Ian Madigan gets the nod at outhalf and if he can find ways to crack open the Glasgow resistance tonight, it surely must catch the eye of Joe Schmidt who may need both him and Paddy Jackson next weekend.

Meanwhile in the Leinster pack the most amazing thing about it is that based on form this season, the weakest link is actually skipper Leo Cullen! 

I don’t share the bookies’ optimism of a 12-point win for the reigning champs but I do reckon we’ll do enough to get the four points in a low-scoring contest. Leinster by 6

Ulster Bank League Div 1A

It’s Round 12 of 18for the AIL title and the focus will be on the two-horse races at both top and bottom of the table.  Ballynahinch will certainly feel they have a chance to pull away from Garryowen as they host Marys while the Limerick outfit travel to UCD.  meanwhile at the top Tarf host mid-table Dolphin while Belvedere face an testing trip to face Cork Con who could drag themselves back into contention with a victory.  Much to play for, though I still feel a return to the top-four playoff system would be better for the league.

Ballynahinch v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Clontarf v Dolphin, 2:30pm

Cork Constitution v Old Belvedere, 2:30pm

UCD v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Young Munster v Lansdowne, 2:30pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Exeter Chiefs v London Irish, 3pm

Harlequins v Worcester Warriors, 3pm

London Wasps v Sale Sharks, 3pm

Northampton Saints v Gloucester, 3:15pm

Top 14

Bordeaux-Begles v Clérmont, 1:55pm

Brive v Grenoble, 5:30pm

Racing Métro v Castres, 5:30pm

Toulon v Oyonnax, 5:30pm

Toulouse v Perpignan, 7:35pm

Super Rugby

Waratahs v Reds, 8:40am

Western Force v Brumbies, 11am

Bulls v Lions, 3:05pm

Sunday, March 2

Leinster Schools Senior Cup Semifinal

Newbridge v Blackrock, 3pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers, 2pm

Top 14

Biarritz v Bayonne, 2pm


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

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