Friday, February 07, 2014

The Pagano Preview Feb 7-9

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


Quite ironic that Warren Gatland would be coming to Ireland around the time we learn that Rob Penney is to leave Munster at the end of the season.

Why is that?  Well, rumour has it that Gattie was turfed out of the Ireland job by Machievellian goings-on behind the scenes, and although nobody is “officially” talking about it, many believe the same to be the case for Penney.

I mean, come on…top of the league and a home Heineken Cup quarter-final - can a head coach possibly have his side in a better position when it’s time to have his contract re-negotiated?  Sure…the province offered him an extension, but it was only for the one year which was an option on his contract anyway.

Am I being paranoid to suggest there was a move against him?  Possibly, but to hear the likes of Keith Wood and even Paul O’Connell back Anthony Foley for the job before the news has properly sunk in does support the theory somewhat.

And to complete the connection to the Gatland situation…lurking in the background we have Eddie O’Sullivan - maybe he won’t get the top job but he is certainly well-poised to join the coaching staff.

Whatever the actual happenings around Thomond Park, one thing is for sure…they support my theory that these contracts shenanigans should be left for the off season where possible.  It’s hardly the headline we want to be seeing before the most important weekend of the season so far.

Let us get on with the previewing shall we.


Click here for TV schedule

Friday, February 7

Women’s Six Nations

Ireland v Wales, 7:30pm

Not so sure the Welsh women are quite as dominant as their male counterparts but still I doubt Philip Doyle’s squad will find things quite as comfortable as they did last week when they fed the Scots a fifty-burger & fries.

U20s Six Nations

Ireland v Wales, 7:30pm

Hopefully the conditions will be better for Mike Ruddock’s charges tonight out in Dubarry Park, though the forecast isn’t looking too good.  If it’s another mud-bath we are likely to see another scrap in the forwards which will give the likes of Sean O’Brien óg and Jack O’Donoghue another chance to shine.

But these Welsh youngsters will be no pushovers…they still retain some of the squad that reached the Junior World final last June including their skipper for this campaign outside centre Steffan Hughes from the Scarlets.

All in all it promises to be an ideal curtain-raiser for this Six Nations weekend, provided of course you’re not travelling to Ashbourne to cheer on the girls!

RaboDirectPRO12

Ulster v Ospreys, 7:35pm

This could well be the strongest team the Ulstermen have ever been able to name on a Six Nations weekend.  And sitting 4th as they do just two points behind their opponents, it couldn’t come at a better time.

James McKinney will have a big task ahead of him at 10 but with the likes of Pienaar, Cave (interestingly again lining out at 12) and Payne around him I can’t see him having too many problems against an Ospreys side much more hurt by international call-ups.

Even in the pack you’re left wondering just how the absentees will be missed, and that’s before you look at a bench that includes Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall and Nick Williams!

I won’t insult the Welsh region by saying a bonus point will be easy for Mark Anscombe to celebrate his new deal, but surely anything less than a comfortable home win will be a disappointment. Ulster by 13

Lansdowne Premiership

Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers, 7:45pm

Sale Sharks v Gloucester, 8pm

Top 14

Bordeaux v Grenoble

Saturday February 8

RBS Six Nations

IRELAND v WALES, 2:30pm

Click here for my Ireland v Wales preview over on the Fantasy5Live blog

SCOTLAND v ENGLAND, 5pm

I wouldn’t have hesitated in dropping a Scotsman or two after their visit to Dublin, but certainly not their captain Kelly Brown, yet axed he was.

Many is the time the dour Edinburgh weather has come to their aid in matches like this one, but I’m not so sure even that can help them against this English pack, particularly one that is bound to be riled up after an unfortunate loss in Paris.

Although I thought England played better when Brown was on the wing, I can appreciate the statement made by Lancaster in selecting an identical XV for this one.  Those English pundits still tipping them for the Championship aren’t just doing so out of bravado…it is definitely do-able for them.

I don’t think this will be a walk in the park for England by any stretch, but a comfortable win nonetheless.  England by 10

RaboDirectPRO12

Benetton Treviso v Scarlets, 2pm

Some interesting positional selections for Treviso, With Brendan Williams on the wing and Mat Berquist at full-back.  Think the home side can get the job done here. Treviso by 7

Munster v Cardiff Blues, 7:15pm

I said enough about Rob Penney’s future in the pre-amble…from here on in we will see just how it affects the remainder of their season.

And despite the fascinating battle between number 8s in this contest, namely James Coughlan against not only the man who pinched his test squad spot but possibly also his provincial one Robin Copeland, I can’t see the Blues offering much resistance here.

In fact there are many on the Munster side who will be keen to show they deserve to be bunking at Carton House like Kilcoyne and Zebo and with the Blues on the road and the regions in general all over the shop, this could be over by half time.  Munster by 16

Lansdowne Premiership

Bath v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm

Saracens v London Irish, 3pm

Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints, 7pm

Top14

Clérmont-Auvergne v Stade Francais, 2:30pm

I’m feelin a bit crazy this weekend.  What say I make my Upset Of The Week a Stade win which brings the Marcel Michelin record crashing down.  No rhyme of reason to the prediction, just for the hell of it.  Stade by 1.

Castres v Oyonnax, 6:30pm

Perpignan v Racing Métro, 6:30pm

Toulon v Biarritz, 6:30pm

Toulouse v Montpellier, 8:35pm

Sunday, February 9

RBS Six Nations

FRANCE v ITALY, 4pm

I’d be more inclined to start with Fofana and Fickou in the centre with Bastareaud ready to come on late in the day, but we all saw the advantages of the PSA way last weekend.

Still, the French were very fortunate, though despite the fact that the Italians put it up to the Welsh in Caridff I can’t see them retaining their Garibaldi Trophy this season.

Sure, we’ll see the usual super-human efforts from Parrisse, some fight from the rest of the pack, and even the odd stand-out moment from relative newcomers like Campagnaro who surely must have made a fantasy team or two this week.

But the fixtures have fallen kindly for the French this season and while they may well make heavy weather of it at times I can see a YouTube moment or two helping them on the way to a handy winning margin.  France by 15

RaboDirectPRO12

NG Dragons v Edinburgh. 1:05pm

If the rumours are true and the Celtic League as we know it is consigned to the history books this season, we certainly look back on it for fixtures like this one!  Still,  a few interesting subplots, like Talei & Rees facing their former employers.  Could surprise many and produce some open rugby, but reckon the home side should pull away and take the spoils.  Dragons by 9

Glasgow Warriors v Connacht, 2pm

Perhaps not the ideal place for Pat Lam to start his recovery from being smashed by Sarries…Glasgow may have a couple of games in hand but will still need every point they can get so will want to rack up some tries in this one.

Jack Carty is trusted with the 10 jumper for Connacht as Ronaldson lines out at centre with Dan Parks on the bench. 

In the pack, the news of Craig Clarke’s concussion won’t have helped the squad much and they will rely heavily on those on the fringes of the national setup like Marmion and Henshaw to step up if they are to get anything out of this one, but unfortunately I can’t see it.  Glasgow by 12

Zebre v Leinster, 5pm

We’re barely into February and already this is to be Leinster’s second five-day turnaround in 2014?   I’m sure if we complained we’d get BUCKETS of sympathy from elsewhere around Europe! ;-)

The fact remains that if Leinster are to push for a top four (never mind top two) spot they have to be making the most of matches like this one - in fact, they play Zebre twice before the season is out and should be looking for a return of at least 9 league points from them.

With that in mind it is a pretty strong squad Matt O’Connor brings to the XXV Aprile, especially considering how many are on Six Nations duty.  Leo Cullen gets a rare start and partners Mike McCarthy in a massive second row.

A few eyebrows were raised at Ian Madigan’s exclusion but I reckon he is being saved for the Dragons’ visit to the RDS on the following Friday - Gopperth assumes the out half duties as Reid and Macken resume their ever-improving centre partnership.

The strong back row trio of McLaughlin, Jennings & Murphy should be enough for us to create a platform…maybe not enough for the try bonus but certainly for the victory.  Leinster by 11

Leinster Schools Senior Cup Quarterfinal

Clongowes v Belvedere, 3pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Harlequins v London Wasps, 1pm

Top League

Panasonic Wild Knights v Suntory Sungoliath, 2pm


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

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