Friday, March 14, 2014

The Pagano Preview Mar 14-17

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

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Munster players harshly treated” says a headline in the Irish Independent the day before Ireland’s biggest test match since the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal.

Those facts on their own don’t surprise me, and since it is so obviously “click-bait” I would normally shy away from offering a link to the article, but this hasn’t been written by provocative journos like Hugh Farrelly or Conor George.

This has actually been put forward by none other than Denis Leamy, member of the 2009 Grand Slam winning squad. 

I know players aren’t meant to read the press close to match day, but I wonder how he would have felt if he read a piece like that the day before facing Wales in Cardiff 5 years ago written by someone he used to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with?

Whether he has a point or not is irrelevant, at least not to this mini-rant.  I must admit I have raised an eyebrow or two of Joe’s selections during this campaign, but only because I could imagine the reactions of those online fans who have bitched and moaned about his supposed pro-Leinster bias before he had even chosen his first training squad.

But the significance of his contributing this at this time cannot be under-stated.  At a time when we need our fans to be united behind the green jersey, he draws a line in the sand to potentially divide us more than ever before.

And then there’s the wording : “I expect Ireland to win it”.  But do you WANT them to, Denis?

Best leave it at that and come back to it at a later date.  Massive weekend ahead and I for one am fully behind the boys in green now every bit as much as I was back in 2009. JLP


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Friday, March 14

Women’s Six Nations

France v Ireland, 5:45pm

There’s still a mathematical chance that Philip Doyle’s girls can win the championship, though home advantage plus the prospect of a Grand Slam for the French could make that difficult.  Still though, loads to play for with the World Cup on the horizon, also being held in France.  Plus the match represents a BOD-like farewell to another legendary Irish 13, Lynn Cantwell (for the Six Nations anyway…she still plans to be involved in the World Cup).  It’s live on RTE2 by the way, a perfect start to the rugby weekend.

U20’s Six Nations

France v Ireland, 7:55pm

Results haven’t been great this time around for Mike Ruddock’s charges but this particular competition of course varies from year to year as the squads or so vastly different.  Much like the ladies, they have a world championship around the corner, in fact it’s a lot sooner so there are places on the plane to play for.  Also on d’ telly.

RaboDirectPRO12

Ulster v Scarlets, 7:05pm

With all the attention on the Six Nations this weekend, there is a lot at stake for both these sides in the Pro12.  Glasgow will have two games in hand on Ulster after this one so Mark Anscombe’s men will be keen to stretch their lead over the Scots beyond the 7pts.

Meanwhile the Scarlets are in possession of what could be a vital 6th position on the table if the rumours of next season’s Heineken Cup are to be believed, and although they are much more hurt by international callups than their opposition, they should have some confidence about them after the hard-fought victory over Munster in the last round.

Still though, home advantage plus a near-full strength squad must make ulster firm favourites to take at least four points tonight.  And how good it is to see the name S Ferris on the team-sheet again, here’s hoping he gets a good shift in off the bench and is back in full flow soon.  Ulster by 12

Top 14

Biarritz v Oyonnax, 7:45pm

Saturday, March 15

RBS Six Nations

ITALY v ENGLAND, 12:30pm

Interesting Test match this one.  Despite prevailing over Ireland at Twickenham, Ireland’s big margins of victory in other matches means that Stuart Lancaster will be forced out of his “comfort zone” today.

Against both Ireland and Wales in particular, his players showed an ability to “bring home” a fourth quarter lead which, although one that Joe Schmidt’s team may need in Paris, is not what is required today.

What they need is tries, and buckets of them.  And I’m not so sure they can afford to replicate Ireland’s patience from last Saturday and expect to nick three or four towards the end.  Not only is Parisse back for this one, it’s in Rome so surely they will be looking to end the campaign with a flourish and not as whipping boys.

Still, England put out the same starting XV, with the one change that could possibly lead to something being the addition of Manu Tuilagi to the bench.  Obviously the thinking is that if the Italians find themselves on the end of another 200+ tackle shift, the gaps in their defence will appear late on. 

We shall see, but I have to say I’d be surprised, not to mention very impressed, if the visitors get anywhere near the margin of victory they require to force Ireland beyond needing a 1-point win in paris for the title.  England by 20

WALES v SCOTLAND, 2:45pm

Dead rubber walking!!!

Sadly I cannot make it to Paris as long-term babysitters are few and far between.  Instead we have to plan our day with a view to taking in the English match at home, bringing Junior to the inlaws, and heading into town for France v Ireland.

Principal casualty of these plans was the first half of Wales v Scotland.  And as much as I enjoy watching Six Nations rugby, I am quite happy with missing a chunk of this one, at least the early stages.  If we get to the pub in the second half and Scotland are winning, well and good, we’ll enjoy the ending even if the Welsh fight back.

But if, as expected, the result is a done deal for the home side by then, we can happily let the proceedings carry on in the background.  Shaun Edwards said during the week that a win for Wales would mean it was a good campaign for them given that would have won all their home games.  Nice bit of turd-polishing, that!

The Scots under Scott Johnson have been positively awful this year, and hopefully there’s enough there to work with when Vern Cotter takes over.

As for Wales, with Leigh Halfpenny out I just cannot fathom why Gatland has gone for Liam Williams to start ahead of James Hook, whatever the relevance of this contest.  Not the decision of someone I’d like to have picking the Lions in 2017, that’s for sure.  Yeah, I’m still bitter, sue me. Wales by loads

FRANCE v IRELAND, 5pm

CLICK HERE FOR MY PREVIEW ON THE FANTASY5LIVE BLOG

Super Rugby

Hurricanes v Cheetahs, 3:35pm

Highlanders v Western Force, 6:35am

Brumbies v Waratahs, 8:40am

Lions v Blues, 1pm

Sharks v Reds, 3:05pm

Sunday, March 16

Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final

Blackrock College v Clongowes, 2pm

With HoR being a “pro” site this season I haven’t had any time to follow the Schools Cup, not even on TV.  That has to change next season because I really enjoyed last season’s campaign, and not just because my alma mater won it!  With yet another potential Leinster back rower Nick Timoney leading the sides the Rock have to be fancied for number 68 but on the day you can just never know.

LV= Cup Final

Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs, 3pm

Never forget this fact - for all the English clubs’ moaning about the Pro12 clubs putting out having easy paths into Europe and fielding weakened teams, this match at Sandy Park, for which the Saints are forced to field a reserve XV what with the Six Nations, has a Heineken Cup place as a prize for the victors.

Monday, March 17

Munster Schools Senior Cup Final

Crescent v Ads Scoil Rís, 3pm

Ulster Schools Senior Cup Final

Methodist College v Sullivan Upper School, 3pm


Be sure and enjoy your St Patrick's Day weekend rugby wherever you are. JLP

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