Friday, March 28, 2014

The Pagano Preview Mar 28-30

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I thought I couldn’t get more annoyed about this European Cup fiasco.  O how wrong I was.

Partly it was down to the way the new format has been teased out over the past couple of weeks, with countless click bait tweets from mainstream sources telling us how the deal is “about to be revealed”.

The other part was about the way the new deal is being spun in such a way as to suggest the English clubs are “getting everything they wanted”.  That somehow the Irish in particular are disgusted to have to back down and have all these things we don’t want imposed on us.

I have said countless times here that a large portion of the suggestions for format change to our premier European competition were needed.  My biggest objection was the infantile manner in which the PRL went about their campaign, and whether they achieved their objectives or not, I certainly wouldn’t be proud if I were them.

That’s not to say I’m entirely happy with the “about to be announced” new deal, and the biggest beef is over the TV deal. 

Oh, of course it seems to make perfect sense that since Sky & BT were arguing over coverage rights then let’s all just get along and let them BOTH cover the new competition!

Compromise is fine.  Normally I’m all for it.  Unless, of course, it is we the fans who are being compromised. 

Not only are both Sky & BT going to be able to reap megabucks to beam ads at us if we watch the competition on their channels, we’ll also have to pay them both a monthly subscription charge for the privilege, which for the moment works out at around €60 in total, on top of regular cable rates, which means rugby fans get the added “bonus” of such sports as soccer, darts and motocross whether they want them or not.

I’m prepared to accept that there will be something done about that by the TV companies, but let’s just say I won’t be holding my breath.

Anyway…enough of such rants.  There’s some massive games to savour this weekend, involving clubs from all over the rugby world, I might add.  Let’s be having a look at them shall we.


Click here for TV listings

Friday, March 28

RaboDirect PRO12

Glasgow v Ospreys, 7:35pm

This a match-up that not only has massive consequences, but also gives a massive two fingers to everyone who thinks only the Irish care about this league.  Sure, three provinces occupy the top three spots, but nobody, Leinster especially, will relish meeting either of these two in a playoff, even at home.  And with Glasgow just four points behind the Welsh region with 2 home games in hand, this contest has massive implications for two clubs who clearly want to take something meaningful from this season.  Really tough one to call, but something in my bones tells me those pesky birds can sneak it.  Ospreys by 3

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

HarpinOnRugby is primarily a fan site for both the Leinster provincial team and Ireland test teams.  We won’t pretend to offer extensive coverage of anything else because we don’t (yet!) have the time to extend our remit.  So if you want to know more about the massive top-of-the-table clash at Castle Avenue tonight, or other big club rugby happenings this weekend like the semifinals of the Provincial Towns Cup, you’d be best served by the likes of KnockOn.ie.   But if all you want is an overview then Tarf trail Belvo in the league by just 3 points with a game in hand and games are running out so tonight’s clash is crucial.  Almost worth TV coverage, one might say.

Clontarf v Old Belvedere, 7:30pm

UCD v Lansdowne, 7:30pm

Lansdowne Premiership

Bath v Sale Sharks, 7:45pm

Top14

Brive v Clérmont, 7:45pm

Saturday, March 29

RaboDirectPRO12

Zebre v NG Dragons, 3pm

Think this match means nothing?  Think again.  Assuming the proposed new European format happens, the top Italian team in the Rabo will qualify for the new comp.  Even though there are whispers that Zebre will be disbanded, they are just 2 points behind Treviso who may have a game in hand but given that game is away to play-off chasing Glasgow next week I wouldn’t see that as an advantage.  Zebre also have to face the Warriors but that’s in their final match when the Scots very possibly may have already qualified for the final four and thus will no doubt rest players.  Add all that to the fact that Treviso also must still play Leinster at the RDS and you get the nailed-on fact that the italian slot is still very much in play, and what’s more I reckon it still will be after this matchup.  Zebre by 4

Benetton Treviso v Edinburgh, 6pm

See my Zebre preview for the significance of this match for the home side…but the difference in this match is that Embra have their own interests as well.  With two games in hand on the teams ahead of them, plus the fact that those two play each other on Sunday thus at least one will drop points, this match is huge for their chances of finishing sixth.  What could prove the difference, however, is the fact that Greig Laidlaw has been asked by the SRU to take a breather for the remainder of the season.  For that reason I’ll go for a home win but it could require some late heroics similar to italy v Scotland in Rome recently. Treviso by 2

Cardiff Blues v Ulster, 6:30pm

You look at the Cardiff bench and you see the name of Matthew Rees, definitely a welcome sight after all the Welsh Grand Slam hero has been through of late.  But then you look at the Ulster bench and you are dragged back into the current Pro12 reality.

Having Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall and Craig Gilroy to call on is just one of the many advantages enjoyed by Mark Anscombe going into this fixture and with the goings on at the Aviva Stadium giving them a chance to gain some ground, they will surely be immensely disappointed not to come away with at least four points.

The only thing that could hold them back would be having Sarries’ visit to Ravenhill next week to the front of their minds, but that shouldn’t bother them as they are used to having tougher HCup assignments away from home.  Hopefully they will get the job done here with any injuries, though a try bonus may be beyond them. Ulster by 12

Leinster v Munster, 7pm

CLICK HERE FOR MY PREVIEW ON THE FANTASY5LIVE BLOG

Ulster Bank League Div 1A

Cork Constitution v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm

Dolphin v Garryowen, 2:30pm

Young Munster v St Mary’s, 2:30pm

Lansdowne Premiership

London Wasps v Saracens, 3pm

Harlequins v London Irish, 3pm

Exeter Chiefs v Gloucester, 3pm

Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers, 3:15pm

Leinster v Munster isn’t the only big top-of-the-table derby tussle today - these two are also long-standing rivals and they are also in the mix for the playoffs.  However in this case after Sale’s win over Bath last night the points are needed by the Tigers to not only stay ahead of the Sharks but also to move ahead of Bath in 3rd.  Hang on - am I daring to suggest that a game in the Lansdowne Premiership may actually be exciting?  Maybe I need to lie down…  Anyway - I’m going to tag this as my Upset of the Week and go for an away win.  Leicester by 4

Top14

Stade Francais v Racing Métro, 1:55pm

Montpellier v Bayonne, 5:30pm

Oyonnax v Grenoble, 5:30pm

Bordeaux v Perpignan, 5:30pm

Biarritz v Castres, 5:30pm

Toulon v Toulouse, 7:45pm

Super Rugby

Bulls v Chiefs, 1pm

Sharks v Waratahs, 3:05pm

Sunday, March 30

RaboDirectPRO12

Scarlets v Connacht, 2:05pm

This is Connacht’s biggest game of the season.  Yes, I am well aware that they won in Toulouse, but the fact remains that their recent run of form has put them in contention for a seat at next season’s top Euro table, and the Llanelli-based region stand in their way.

Pat Lam gets to name another unchanged side this weekend, something he has struggled to do all season and certainly doesn’t hurt a squad.  Meanwhile the significant portion of Welsh fans looking for another stick to beat WRU chief Roger Lewis with will no doubt be baying for an away win here. “Look - even the 4th best Irish province can beat us, mun!!!”

As always I am bound by the traditions of this blog when I make my prediction but be assured it comes with both a nod AND a wink.  Be sure and catch this one on RTE2 Sunday afternoon if you can, it promises to be a thriller and is every bit as important for Irish rugby as Saturday evening’s goings-on in Dublin. Scarlets by 2

Lansdowne Premiership

Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors, 2pm


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