Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Marseille and Me

The story of a Munster fan’s overall experience of the last-ever Heineken Cup semifinal, by Michelle Tobin

toulon munster tickets

Monday 28 April

Waking up this morning, it felt like I’d had the strangest dream, with an ending that just didn’t feel right. When I looked around and saw my Munster jersey on the wash basket and my passport on the floor beside my bag, it all came rushing back. Alas it wasn’t a dream.

If you’ve started reading this expecting a critical or passionate match review I’m sorry to disappoint you. There are hundreds of articles on the game already, and to be honest, until I can bring myself to watch it back I’m in no position to write properly about the game, it’s true that you never see it fully when you’re in the stadium. I’ll get back to the stadium later, as this post is about the experience, the trip, the invasion of Marseille.

At times of big games, the reminder that I live in Dublin, and not in my native Munster comes loud and clear. The pictures of Limerick and Cork, of Shannon airport all highlight that I’m missing out on a little something. My “choice” of course but there’s always a “wish I was there” feeling..though of course this time I was going to be where it mattered on game day, in Stade Velodrome with thousands of other Munster fans. Still, as I arrived at and departed from Dublin airport, it was a little disappointing that on a weekend when at least 5 dedicated flights departed to Marseille, there wasn’t even a sign. More disappointing was that the sole comment on our Aer Lingus flight was “as a Leinster supporter, I’m delighted to see so many Toulon fans on board today”. Humour from the captain, sadly never followed by a good luck message.

Having considered the packages for the weekend and day trip charters, the lovely @Cathreonine and I had opted for a day trip taking flights put on by Aer Lingus for the occasion. There are pluses and minuses for doing the independent trip versus the guaranteed transfers etc but in this case it worked well. A bus into the central station and public transport from there, easily done. A lovely touch as we boarded the metro, an announcement over the tannoy “We would like to welcome all the Munster fans travelling with us today”. It appears we had to go to France to get such a welcome.

With about four hours to kick off, we opted to go to the MRSC (Munster Rugby Supporters Club) meeting point pub closest to the stadium, O’Brady’s pub. En route we had to walk through hordes of Toulon fans, be passed by their open top bus, see the businesses decked out in the black and red, all of a sudden, the realisation of what it must be like to be a visiting fan in Thomond, hit home. We would be a minority, a vocal and passionate one but for all the talk of invading Marseille, we were never going to rival Toulon, just thirty minutes down the road. And so, arriving in O’Brady’s was a much needed respite. 95% of the crowd sported Munster jerseys, new and old, red and navy and a couple of other former alternates. Bank of Ireland was clearly outnumbered by Toyota, the older the jersey the bigger the credit in many quarters.

Here in O’Brady’s we passed a few hours, had a few social beverages and shared the craic, and our journey stories with so many wonderful Munster fans, we laughed and chatted and the time just flew. The Toulon open topped bus had the pub as a stop and with each arrival the cries of “Munster, Munster” and renditions of the Fields rang out and indicated that we had a small fortress in a narrow street in Marseille, far from Munster.

We had been invited, through the MRSC, to share this bus and travel with the Toulon Fans to the stadium but with no evidence of it sticking to the every 15 minutes schedule we decided to walk to the stadium, about 20 minutes up the road. Getting to the stadium wasn’t a problem, getting to right entrance….now that was a different matter.

It reminded me of following the route signs at the Aviva to the purple entrance, the signs say one direction but to be honest, you’d get there in half the time if you went the other way. Though in the Aviva’s favour, at least there are signs. Some kindly gendarmes directed a group of Toulon and Munster fans to the best way to Ganay Tribune, our entrance. I suppose it’s a big ask to have permanent signs for a stadium that’s largely under construction but a few temporary signs would have gone a long way, like the long long walk we had before we finally found the dusty track leading to the stadium.

I was surprised at how close we got to the stadium before tickets were checked, just one check point at the entrance, nothing on the approaches, testament probably to the stadium not being finished. Did I mention the dusty track? Shoes will never be the same! Lots and lots of steps and we were finally in our section. Thanks to the kindly people in our row who recognised that we had friends further down the row and offered to move into our seats so that we could all sit together. Still it was a Munster block and we were among friends. Having been isolated at the recent Rabo game in the Aviva, it was amazing to be part of a Munster section, united in voice, though totally outnumbered in the stadium.

Stade Velodrome will be an amazing stadium when it’s finished, here’s hoping they pay more attention to location of match clocks and scoreboards at that time, their visibility wasn’t great and we were dependent on the video screen for this info. The atmosphere, the acoustics, the design, are something special, it will be one of the great stadia. Maybe we’ll be back in future years when it’s completed, who knows.

The stadium was a sea of red, though mostly red and black. Thanks to the MRSC there were thousands of Munster flags in among them, again mostly in blocks, there’s safety in numbers after all. With ten minutes to go, Cara O’Sullivan took to the pitch and led the Munster fans in our adopted anthem “Stand Up and Fight”. We didn’t want it to end; we all sang our hearts out, full of hope and belief.

The game happened. We shouted, we sang, we cheered, we hugged, we clapped, and in the end we cried. We asked a lot of our players and they really gave their all, the heartbreak was evident in their faces and bodies too, this was a game that we could have won, despite all the pundits writing us off, we were so close but fell at the final hurdle. It almost felt harder to take than sitting in Twickenham in 2000 when we lost that awful final to Northampton, we could have done it.

The vast majority of Toulon fans we met after the game were wonderful. Hugs, kisses, appreciation for the performance, sympathy for our hurt. My message to them all, please beat Saracens in the final. That would make it all just a little bit easier to bear. Of course there were a few who wanted to gloat but even then it was in a friendly way.

Rather than pass an hour of post mortem back in O’Brady’s it was back to the airport, another time a teleporter would have come in handy. Tired, and drained, physically and emotionally, this was a journey that would have been nice to fast forward. And in a way it was. Arriving at the security area in the airport we went to go through the general section and were redirected to the VIP fast track security, a beautiful touch from Marseille airport to anyone travelling for the match. I almost cried, again.

The final heartbreak was seeing the players in the departure lounge as they waited for their delayed flight home. They sat around in small groups, looking dazed, and disappointed and despondent. We all felt their pain. Sitting on our own flight, the contrast with the jovial, lively atmosphere of the morning flight was huge. Quiet, tired, disappointed, you’d hardly believe it was largely the same people…and a Rabbi. I guess he was lucky we’d lost, I’m not sure he would have enjoyed a plane full of partying Munster fans!

With a delayed departure (though nowhere near the four hour delay suffered by those heading to Cork) it was 1am by the time we landed it Dublin. A long day, a special day, an expensive day, a tough day but a day I’m glad to have spent, to have been there. Thanks to everyone who made it special, the people we met, the players who tried, and all the people back home that sent good wishes to the team. As a committed Twitter user, I was blown away by the messages I got from fans of other provinces over the weekend. Particularly memorable was the Leinster fan who asked if they could borrow my blue Munster jersey should we make it to the final, oh how I would have loved to have handed it to her ;)

Munster will be back, there’s silverware left to fight for this season, the final bell is yet to toll. May the best team win!

PS…Toilets! Yes I have to mention them because it was a day of strange experiences. From walking in on a guy in the ladies in Marseille airport, to the long unisex queue for the loos in O’Brady’s, I might have seen what was about to happen but no. Sports stadia never have enough ladies loos right? Stade Velodrome is the only major sports or arts venue where I’ve seen massive queues for the gents, none for the ladies, and the lads unashamedly ducking into the ladies rather than get caught short. Wonders will never cease!


Paulie_thumb[1]Bio: Michelle (@corkseashell) is a passionate rugby fan, and far too prolific tweeter.

A Munster gal living in Dublin with a mountain of half-written blog posts languishing on her desktop, there simply are not enough hours in the day.

She no longer looks like her picture but cannot let go of #ThomondThursday

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 9 (ULS)

Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23 for a test match to take place the following weekend (so current injury status must be taken into account).

This week it’s the turn of Ulster fan Laura Johnston to look ahead for the Six Nations champions.

Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Leinster, Connacht & Munster.

LTSHTF avatar

Since my last blog, we have had both the Heineken cup Quarter finals and Semi-finals and a few key games in the Pro 12.

From an Ulster point of view I thought the boys played valiantly against Heineken cup finalists Saracens, although they did pick up injuries to key players and the subsequent ban for Jared Payne’s red card has left them weakened. They put in a good shift against our Western cousins Connacht.

Unfortunately they lost to Glasgow and other results really haven’t gone their way. They now face two tough games against Leinster (in front of a full Ravenhill and Mullers last home game) and Munster in Limerick. Now is the time for the likes of Herring, P.Marshall etc to step up and fill the boots of Best, Pienaar etc.

Leinster lost to Heineken cup finalists and current European champions Toulon in France. Unfortunately Munster faced the same fate in sunny Marseille in the Semi-finals. Both played really well, especially Munster who hung in there to the very end, but alas neither could beat the stars of Toulon.

Due to Rory Best picking up an ankle injury against Saracens, I have made two changes to my front row and replacements. Sean Cronin gets promoted to the first team and Munster captain at the weekend Damien Varley comes onto the bench. Strauss and Herring both miss out, but are playing well for their provinces.

  1. Cian Healy

  2. Sean Cronin

  3. Mike Ross

16. Damien Varley

17. Jack McGrath

18. Marty Moore.

Dan Tuohy broke his hand against Saracens, ruling him out for selection. I have kept Toner and O’Connell as my locks and have brought Mike McCarthy on to the bench

  1. Devin Toner

  2. Paul O’Connell

19. Mike McCarthy

 

Due to Peter O’Mahony, Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien being injured, and CJ Stander not being Irish qualified (I’m impressed by him), I have brought Iain Henderson into the no 6 jersey. Tommy O’Donnell is my replacement

  1. Iain Henderson

  2. Chris Henry

  3. Jamie Heaslip

20. Tommy O’Donnell

 

My half back partnership is again unchanged and my replacements are Eoin Reddan and Paddy Jackson.

  1. Conor Murray

  2. Jonny Sexton

21, Eoin Reddan

22. Paddy Jackson.

I am sticking with Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney as my wingers. As much as I would love to bring in Tommy Bowe, I just don’t have the heart to demote Kearney to the bench. So I have put Bowe on the bench, as it’s good to have an experienced winger to come off the bench and add a calm head to the game. Injuries to Fitzgerald and McFadden have ruled them out of selection.

My centre partnership is Gordan D’arcy and Darren Cave. Cave has continued to impress and with the prospect of Jared Payne maybe playing 13 for Ireland next season, I’m sure Darren will try everything in his power to show Schmidt why he should be the heir to O’Driscoll’s shirt. Rob Kearney is still my first choice Ireland full-back.

  1. Dave Kearney

  2. Gordon D’Arcy

  3. Darren Cave

  4. Andrew Trimble

  5. Rob Kearney.

23. Tommy Bowe

 

Ireland team for “test” next weekend

  1. Cian Healy

  2. Sean Cronin

  3. Mike Ross

  4. Devin Toner

  5. Paul O’Connell

  6. Iain Henderson

  7. Chris Henry

  8. Jamie Heaslip

  9. Conor Murray

  10. Jonny Sexton

  11. Dave Kearney

  12. Gordon D’Arcy

  13. Darren Cave

  14. Andrew Trimble

  15. Rob Kearney


  16. Damien Varley

  17. Jack McGrath

  18. Marty Moore

  19. Mike McCarthy

  20. Tommy O’Donnell

  21. Eoin Reddan

  22. Paddy Jackson

  23. Tommy Bowe

 

@LauraJ2803 is a Ulster rugby season ticket holder and has been for the past 7 years, she has been there through the highs and the lows and is hoping there are plenty more highs to come


NEXT WEEK ON LET THE SCHMIDT HIT THE FAN…OUR BLOGGERS MAKE THEIR FINAL SELECTIONS OF THE SEASON, COMPARING THEM TO THEIR MATCHDAY 23 FROM BACK IN AUGUST

Saturday, April 26, 2014

RugbyPuns.com Competition

Time for another “unriggable raffle” competition you say?  Happy to oblige…

Rugby Puns

We are grateful to the lads at RugbyPuns.com for offering a choice of t-shirt from their range to the winner of our latest “unriggable raffle” competition!


RugbyPuns comp final grid

CLICK THE GRID FOR A BETTER LOOK

FINAL SCORE

ULSTER - 20 LEINSTER - 22

WINNING SQUARE : U 0 L 2

COMPETITION WINNER

NIAMH DALY McGRATH

CONGRATS NIAMH! CONTACT US VIA FACEBOOK MESSAGE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE!


About RugbyPuns.com

Our rugby passion stems from Irish & Munster Rugby and we're hell bent on spreading the rugby love to the world!

We use RedBubble to print and deliver all of our standard products. All T-shirts are available in €EUR, £STG, $USD and other major currencies. Various colour options are available for each t-shirt design.

http://rugbypuns.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RugbyPuns

https://twitter.com/rugbypuns


HOW TO PLAY

To qualify you will have to stay tuned to the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page throughout the coming week and follow the instructions when the posts are published.  Below you will see the times and number of qualifiers for each post.

Click here for a more detailed explanation of how the “unriggable raffle” works.

DAY

TIME

NO. OF QUALIFIERS

MONDAY

9PM

40

TUESDAY

9PM

30

WEDNESDAY

9PM

20

THURSDAY

9PM

10

The rugby match which will provide the winner for the competition will be Leinster’s RaboDirectPRO12 clash with Ulster on May 2, 2014, kickoff 7:30pm.

The following extra rules are unfortunate but necessary.


 

  • the winner must provide an address on the island of Ireland

  • the competition winner will only be contacted via the social media account they used to qualify and they MUST respond within 48 hours of the final whistle in the rugby match otherwise the prize could be put back on offer to other entrants in a manner to be determined by the organisers

  • only one entry per separate Facebook account is allowed each day, but it’s ok to enter once on each of the four days

  • each window closes 3 hours after posting – if all of the spots are not taken, the extra ones will be allocated in a manner to be determined by the competition organisers.

  • when you are asked to leave an “exact phrase” this means you can use the phrase with OR without the quotes; also, since speed is a factor in the competition we will make allowances for typos once it is clear a decent attempt has been made to repeat the phrase

  • for some windows “edited” Facebook comments will not be permitted as entries…this will be outlined as part of the post where it applies

  • for transparency purposes your qualifying comment must remain on the social media post until at least two hours after completion of the rugby match that is to determine the competition winner.

  • be aware that Facebook have been known to display comments in a random order on the web; as competition organisers we will do all we can to ensure the timeline is properly followed in each window.

  • entrants’ positions on the grid are set and not open for discussion, nor are any other final decisions made by the competition organisers.


    If you have any questions about the competition and/or its format or indeed would like to sponsor one down the line, feel free to email we'd be happy to help.

     

    BE SURE AND HAVE A GO AND BEST OF LUCK!!! JLP

  • This Game Of Ours

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    No game last weekend for (first team) Leinster, which could put me in a real bind for my “Monday match writeup”, but with a bit of outside the box thinking I have instead chosen for a medley of mini-writeups from four matches which caught my eye over the weekend, with all of them providing examples for my final heading on the general state of  rugby union at the moment. So off we go...

    PONTY 22-22 LEINSTER A

    Not easy to write about a match I didn't see I know, but the way the British & Irish Cup semifinal was presented to me was quite amusing I found, especially right at the end.

    I had to follow the excellent “ClubLiveApp” for updates as the Sarries/Clermont game was kicking off on the TV, yet despite all the early controversy which was happening at Twickers I couldn't take my eyes off my tablet for what looked like an absolute thriller of an ending at Sardis Park!

    Jack Conan saw yellow on 67 minutes and when Ponty got a pen a few minutes later to stretch their lead to 7, it looked as though that was that for us, but I still kept refreshing the browser because our A team have made a habit of late fightbacks in this B&I Cup competition over the years. Then this update popped up...

    “Stoppage time being played. Dippy Ryan charges down a kick and Leinster have a scrum Ponty 5m line, (82')”

    Cue 5 minutes of me hitting “refresh”, with nothing new added. Surely the match is over.

    “Try – Andrew Boyle (87')”

    WOO-HOO!!! Hang on...where was the try scored? Is it an easy conversion? What's happening? Refresh, refresh.

    “Cathal Marsh needs to slot over the conversion to take us to extratime potentially... (87')”

    Nice bit of suspense, but where is the kick being taken from? Refresh, refresh...

    “Conversion – Cathal Marsh (88')”

    Get in!!! 22-all and extra time to come!!! This match is very much on!!! And with that, multiple refreshes later, it turns out we won on a countback of tries after neither team could add to their score in 20 minutes of extra time.

    I am in no doubt that there would be a decent viewership for this match had it been televised. My suspicions are that BBC Wales were worried about the possibility of the “Get Roger Lewis Out” brigade using the fixture as a platform to make their protestations known to a wider audience, but I could be wrong.

    Still, it sounds like it was a gritty performance by both sides and clearly Ponty did themselves proud and having gone to Cornish Pirates and won in the quarterfinal, there is no doubt they are a quality outfit and I wish them all the best as they look to win the Welsh Premiership.

    As for Leinster A, it's yet another final in this competition for us and with it to be played in Dublin I have begun a “campaign” for the competition to be renamed for what could possibly be it's last ever match.

    The opposition will be known next week when Bristol play Leeds, and if it's the former who we must face that will make for an interesting occasion for Darren Hudson and Jack O'Connell, both of whom are Bristol-bound when the season is done!

    SARACENS 46-6 CLERMONT

    An outstanding result for a semifinal it has to be said. But for Brian Moore to go on the offensive against anyone who dares to criticize Sarries today was nothing short of pathetic.

    Say what you like, Brian, but first of all, Jared Payne's red card was not a 100% certainty and definitely affected their win in Belfast. Please note – I'm not saying it was never a red, just never a definite one as the English media have suggested since it happened.

    Then we have a series of fortunate occurrences for Sarries in the first half of which these are just three examples...

    1. Yellow card for Brock James? All the way. Penalty Try? No way. Simple as. Nigel got that wrong.

    2. If preventing a certain try was such a no-no by Nigel's interpretation then Schalk Brits should have seen yellow for the penalty he conceded as Clermont were camped on the Sarries line later on.  Again I can say “simple as”.

    3. This one wasn't Nigel's fault...the interpretation of the laws for Farrell's try was correct and the ball did strike his knee. But did he mean for it to hit his knee? Absolutely not. He didn't exactly go out of his way to take his arms away from the ball as it came near him and it was nothing but dumb luck that things went as they did.

    Just to be clear...Clérmont were a shadow of their normal selves and seem to be winding down as the Cotter era comes to a close. But they did have some serious breaks go against them and deserved more points on the board than 6, especially after their purple patch in the second quarter.  But I doubt there are many sides who wouldn’t have had the heart knocked out of them by that lucky Farrell try.

    My overall point is that on the evidence of Saracens' path to the final thus far, the jury must certainly be out on them being a great European side. I will be very interested to see who is chosen to referee the final...I have a sneaky suspicion it will be Alain Rolland, and if so, we'll see how Lady Luck looks on Nigel Wray & co.

    GLASGOW 37-34 EDINBURGH

    Didn't see this match either, but I found the timeline of the scoring extremely interesting, and being a blogger who regularly follows the Pro12 I feel I am well placed to make some observations.

    First, let's look at what Scottish rugby needed from this fixture...entertainment for the fans, maximum points for Glasgow as they push for a top four spot, but without a blow-out victory margin as surely season tickets for 2014/15 are going on sale around now for Edinburgh as well.

    Well will you look at that...not only do Glasgow have the try bonus point wrapped up in a neat little bow by the 48th minute, Edinburgh's Tim Visser runs in for not one but TWO tries in the 78th and 79th minutes respectively to pinch two bonus points (and respectability) for his side.

    To put all that in context, both sides had earned just the one try bonus each in their 19 matches during this Pro12 season prior to Saturday.

    Am I saying there was collusion or even cheating going on? Well, maybe it's implied, but I will fall short of actually saying it; I'll just lay out the facts and let you make up your own mind. But if I were Munster, Ulster or the Ospreys, those most affected by the score, I would definitely raise an eyebrow or two.

    Having said that...even if it was a manufactured outcome, given the circumstances, could you blame them? More on that in my final heading.

    TOULON 24-16 MUNSTER

    I don't want to dwell too much on this one...if Munster fans are half as devastated as I was when Toulon beat Leinster they surely won't want to read too many of my opinions on it.

    But although there were several costly errors made by Rob Penney's men, I was impressed by their attitude literally from the opening kickoff and I really do believe Wayne Barnes' awarding of a penalty to Toulon when they were under immense pressure in that first scrum in their own 22 set the tone for this match and meant that Munster were up against it for the duration.

    Did the better team win on the day? Probably. And having been critical of Simon Zebo in the past I have to note that he did play well and not just for his try, but sadly I have also heaped a lot of praise on Keith Earls this season and this was not to be one of his better days.

    Much is made of Toulon and their money and it is true, it is quite the squad of Galacticos they have. But by all accounts they also seem to have Galacticos when it comes to fans and I would definitely not begrudge them a second title when it comes to May.

    RUGBY UNION – A GAME OF THRONES

    A couple of weeks ago I penned an opinion piece titled “It's The Calendar, Stupid” where I suggested the new European Cup format didn't exactly fix all that is currently ailing the game on the continent.

    I still stand by my contention that the calendar needs to be re-done, but on top of that I feel the four matches I have covered in this post point to a wider problem affecting the game, and it is also one I have continuously harped on over the years.

    The game may be called rugby “union”, but that word is misleading. Let's face it – the sport is not being governed by any kind of unifying concept. Sure, the name is justified by the fact that each nation has it's own “union”, but in terms of the game as a whole, each union operates more like a kingdom, with nigh-on total sway over its own affairs.

    As long as this continues, the organisation of competitions between teams from those unions, from underage level right the way up to test, can never be on something we can call a level playing field.

    Look at the way the four clubs who reached this year's Heineken Cup semifinals (the same four as last year in fact) were put together...each in contrasting ways based on differing factors like needs of home union or whims of rich chairmen.

    Then we had the other two matches I have looked at from last weekend which further highlighted the challenges encountered by the Celtic nations...fear of fan revolt in Wales, fear of fan apathy in Scotland, and even here in Ireland there are those not willing to hang around in the hope of progression from the A team due to the promise of more money and game time abroad.

    And don't be fooled that this is just a northern hemisphere problem either...the SANZAR nations are all virtual kingdoms as well.

    A governing body which actually oversees the professional game with a sense of real fairness and union would no doubt produce it's own problems. But until one is agreed upon, the problems we all see week in week out anyway are bound to continue and in my humble opinion, we will never know just how much better this great game of ours can truly become. JLP

    Click here for post-match Toulon v Munster reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page

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    Friday, April 25, 2014

    The Pagano Preview Apr 25-27

    Rugby Puns

    Really, really strange weekend coming up for Leinster fans.  We have gotten used to having a semifinal to look forward to at this time of year, and even though we actually do, unless we’re able to travel to Pontypridd there’s no way we get to see it.

    I don’t expect Irish TV to show it and given the situation in Welsh rugby it may be overly contentious for either BBC Wales or S4C to give the club fans a platform to continue their “Get Roger Lewis” crusade.

    So…we instead become Munster fans for the weekend and prepare to watch them stand up and fight in Marseille on Sunday.  We can do that, right?


    Click here for TV listings

    Friday, April 25

    Amlin Cup Semifinal

    Northampton Saints v Harlequins, 8pm

    Recently I did a post saying how crazy the rugby calendar is, and the way the Amlin Cup is left helps me make my point even more. 

    It may be the junior European competition but as Leinster showed last season it’s still worth winning, though three of the four Lansdowne Premiership club left in this year’s edition are still in playoff contention domestically.  So what should they do…go for every match like a cup final or focus on one or the other? 

    Then of course we have the fact that the English clubs aren’t supposed to care about ERC-run tournaments, which means they should really just give up on the Amlin and let Leinster keep the trophy for ever.  ;-) 

    I’m going to go with the Saints wanting this more on account of it being at home. Northampton by 7

    Super Rugby

    Sharks v Highlanders, 6:10pm

    Super Rugby 2014 has been quietly moving along in the background…well, maybe not as far as its fans are concerned but when you run a Leinster & Ireland website it’s hard to keep close tabs on such things at the business end of the season!

    It’s a competition which used the conference system, one I feel the Pro12 could do well with employing.  Maybe the Welsh fans would have more interest in their regions if they were not only playing each other more often but also found themselves alone on their own league table?  The Irish provinces could also have their own conference with the the Scots & Italians in what could be called an “International” one.  But I digress.

    The Brumbies and the Chiefs lead in the Aussie & New Zealand conferences respectively going into ANZAC Day weekend but it’s the Sharks from Natal with players like Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis have the best record in the competition at the halfway stage and will be expected to make full use of home advantage against the visiting Highlanders from Otago.  Sharks by 14

    Saturday, April 26

    British & Irish Cup Semifinal

    Pontypridd v Leinster A, 2:30pm

    What exactly do we know about Ponty?

       
    • The “pridd” part of their name rhymes a lot more with “speed” than it does with “skid”, as the Leinster announcer at Donnybrook found out to his cost when they played there in January 2013!
    • With one regular season match left to play they are 6 points clear atop the Welsh Premiership and are easily the top scorers in the division having amassed over 100 points more than the next highest.
    • Their passionate fans won’t thank me for mentioning that they are officially in the Cardiff Blues region. 
    • They were in Leinster A’s pool last season…we won that Donnybrook encounter 21-9 but on our last visit to Sardis Park they ran out 25-23 winners prompting their fans to rejoice on social media for weeks, conveniently neglecting to point out that it was an A side they beat not the reigning European Champions.
    • When it comes to their actual players, I can tell you nothing.  But given their lofty position in Welsh club rugby you’d have to assume that in terms of standards they are about as close to a 5th region as you’ll get.  Add to that their fans who will no doubt generate an intimidating atmosphere of Toulon-esque proportions and this is quite the challenge for the cup holders.

    But despite the fact that the full Leinster team are off this weekend, Girvan Dempsey is pretty much sticking with the same matchday 23 which has won all 7 of their matches in the defence of their title, most of them comfortably.

    Central to this progress has been the halfback pairing of Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh.  The former showed last week he is more than capable of stepping up to play at least teams in the lower half of the Pro12, but I’d go as far to say that both can go even higher.  This semifinal will be a massive test for them to show what they can do far from the welcoming atmosphere of Donnybrook Stadium.

    Of course they aren’t the only talents in the side…Noel Reid has been scoring tries for fun in the Pro12 and skipper Dominic Ryan will be extra keen to impress as due to injury he has fallen way behind Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock in the pecking order.

    Even the Leinster bench is strong…hooker Bryan Byrne will consider himself unlucky not to start as he had a superb cameo against Munster A in the quarterfinal while I have no stats to prove this but I’d say Leo Auva’a has to be one of the, if not the, top try-scorers in the competition history.

    It all appears to boil down to how Leinster can handle the pressure on the day.  And whatever the result, it will be an experience that will stand to them.  I’ll tip them to do it, just. Leinster A by 4

    Heineken Cup Semifinal

    Saracens v Clérmont, 3:40pm

    The English media are of course airbrushing that quarterfinal controversy out of history, but I’m pretty sure the Sarries players & fans will know just how lucky they are to be at this stage of the competition.

    Not that I don’t think they have a chance at Twickers today, mind you…there are plenty of England caps out there for them so despite it being away from Allianz Park they will feel right at home, plus with 18 wins out of 20 they are well deserving of their top spot in the Premiership.

    But this is the thing…just exactly how does the English club comp rank against the Top14?

    Even though Clérmont are a club in decline, plus the fact that they are a French club playing away from home, you have to believe that they really want this match.  It’s effectively the same squad which came so close in both 2012 and 2013 and surely they’ll be up for a chance to make it third time lucky.

    You have to assume that Sarries won’t have another 75-minute spell with an extra man, so they will need to rely on their own discipline as well as their stingy defence to keep the scoreline low.

    I believe their task is similar to Munster’s in that if they can keep their opposition’s score under 20 they will have every chance.  I also believe that Sarries will fail in this task. Clérmont by 9

    RaboDirectPRO12

    Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, 7:05pm

    A massive game for Scottish Rugby in virtually every aspect.

    On the superficial level, there is a trophy up for grabs, the 1872 Cup.  Glasgow won the first encounter by 4 points so the aggregate score will determine its destination.

    Plus although Vern Cotter will be otherwise occupied down in Twickenham, he will have to have some interest in this match as it represents a good chance to view the bulk of the Scotland squad he is inheriting in the next while.

    But in real terms, this match represents Glasgow’s match in hand and any kind of victory will catapult them into second place on the table and make a home semifinal a distinct possibility given they just have the two Italian sides left to face.

    Edinburgh for their part are still mathematically in the hunt for a European spot but the fixture calendar hasn’t been so kind to them, with Munster and Leinster left for them.

    Let’s face it…even though Edinburgh have Tim Visser and Greig Laidlaw back in their ranks, you can’t see far beyond a home win.

    The only question worth asking is…should we be suspiscious if the Warriors coast to an easy bonus point win given they have only gotten the four tries once in their 15 victories so far this season?  Glasgow by 12

    Sunday, April 27

    Heineken Cup Semifinal

    Toulon v Munster, 3:30pm

    Two questions that need answering here : (1) just how “overwhelming” favourites are Toulon and (2) do this Munster team have an historic victory in them?

    To answer (1), take your pick.  Reigning Heineken Cup champions, it may not be their actual home but they recently showed when they played Toulouse there that they can still whip their rugby-mad following into a frenzy, plus as expected they have played the media card.  Their pack are no doubt going to lay into Munster from the get go, and the seeds of doubt over ref Wayne Barnes have not only been sown but there have been several green shoots.

    This is all before we even begin to look at their squad, where despite fitness doubts Wilkinson starts and even if he can’t last the 80, we all know what Matt Giteau can do in his stead.

    Then we have the addition of Bryan Habana to the team that faced Leinster.  I mean look at that…Toulon beat the 3-time champions without the involvement of Habana. 

    So given all of that, Munster don’t have a hope, right?  WRONG!

    I don’t think I’m overstating the case that Munster find themselves this weekend in a position similar to that Leinster were in Croke Park back in 2009.  You may think I’m being a divil bringing up that match but in all honestly I believe it is a justifiable comparison.

    With the obvious exception of Paulie, Rob Penney’s men are at least equalled in every position on the park, but as we all know, you can’t win a rugby match with individuals.  It’s how they come together which counts.

    And I believe that with their front row and their maul, Munster can do enough to get the job done this Sunday.

    It will take discipline, it will take 80 minutes of tough tackling, it will take performances from players which will need to surpass anything they have ever done before at the highest level.

    But if Munster can get a foothold with at least their own set-pieces in the first quarter, then Toulon’s Galacticos can get frustrated and with every ten-minute block where the score remains close, the away side’s confidence will grow.

    Like I said about Sarries, I believe that Munster need to keep their French opponents’ side of the scoreboard under 20 to prevail.

    I would also like to make a bold prediction for this match that there will be an interception try at some stage…thing is, I’m not altogether sure which side will get it, but whichever one does will probably be heading for Cardiff in May.

    Hang the bookies and the form book.  I think Munster will do it, and although in some ways it should, it won’t bother me one bit.  Munster by 3

    Amlin Cup Semifinal

    London Wasps v Bath, 1pm


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

    Thursday, April 24, 2014

    Heineken launches ‘Heineken Deeper’

    Heineken Deeper, the new interactive Heineken Cup game that offers exclusive prizes for rugby fans with an eye for detail

    Heineken The Kick Image 3

    HeinoGetInTheGameHeineken has been keeping a secret for over a year. Hidden within the hugely successful Heineken Cup TV advert, The Kick, which follows a rugby ball around the streets of a southern French town, are a number of references to Heineken Cup teams. Now, if fans find them, they can win exclusive prizes - including a trip to the 2014 Heineken Cup final in Cardiff!

    To help people discover the hidden references, Heineken has created a brand new interactive game called ‘Heineken Deeper’. Fans can play ‘Heineken Deeper’ by downloading the GET IN THE GAME app from the iTune App Store or Google Play. Alternatively fans can Shazam the popular music accompanying the TV ad when watching the advert online or on television.

    When creating ‘The Kick’ TV advert, launched in 2013, Heineken included deeper Heineken Cup team references that now, one year on, are surfacing as the central component for this innovative new game. For over a year, Heineken has been sitting on this secret…even the most eagle-eyed fans won’t have spotted all hidden references first-time around. Knowing your Munsters from your Clermonts is one thing - trying to spot if they’re hidden within the advert is quite another!

    Karl Donnelly, Senior Sponsorship Manager, Heineken, said; “When creating our TV ad, we wanted to include intrigue which could live across two seasons of the Heineken Cup. Heineken rugby fans are interested in technology and gaming and this simple but slick game encourages fans to look deeper and have some fun discovering another layer to the Heineken Cup. We love rewarding fans in this way, helping to bring the competition to life in unexpected and challenging ways.”

    The GET IN THE GAME app can be downloaded via the iTunes App Store or Google Play. To find out more, visit: www.heineken.ie/game.

    Heineken The Kick Image 2

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    Let The Schmidt Hit The Fan - Rd 9 (MUN)

    Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23 for a test match to take place the following weekend (so current injury status must be taken into account).

    This week it’s the turn of Munster fan Kate McEvoy to look ahead for the Six Nations champions.

    Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Leinster, Connacht & Ulster.

    LTSHTF avatar

    So since we last spoke (if you're lucky) focus shifted away from the afterglow of our glorious 6 Nations triumph and back to the oft-described “business end” of Europe's last Heineken Cup. Ulster struggled manfully to almost overcome the most nightmarish of starts against Saracens but to no avail. Munster pulled together a strong team performance to put Toulouse to the sword as the competition's most decorated team also appeared to be on their last legs. Finally Leinster, despite an initial spirited scramble defense, were overwhelmed by a frankly scary looking Toulon, who now await the remaining Irish side in the competition in Sunday's Marseille semi final.

    Given my nerves are going to steadily ratchet up to unbearable levels by this weekend, this is possibly the last possible moment I can focus on the bigger picture, which is still looking ahead to the summer tour. There's not a whole lot of movement from last month's selection. I still believe that, despite Cian Healy's protestations to the contrary, that this summer tour needs to be about taking youth on the road, both to make sure we've depth coming into the world cup year but also because it's been a very long season. In fact it's pretty much been two seasons run into one and senior players seem in need of a rest, particularly in within Leinster, who provided the bulk of the Irish squad

    Having said that there were multiple reasons for that, not least the plethora of young talent on show in the RDS. Remember when we closed out a one score game in Paris to win the 6 Nations? With Leinster's second choice front row? Good times. Not nerve-racking in the slightest. Pack your bags lads, you're off to Argentina.

    1. Jack McGrath

    2. Sean Cronin

    3. Marty Moore

    I have concerns about the lineout permutations with this one but I'd be happy to bring to engine room animals with a point to prove and gas in the tank on tour. Toner's stock was at an all-time high post 6 Nations but he's looked a bit worn out since so he's dropped to the bench.

    1. Dan Tuohy

    2. Donnacha Ryan

    Tommy O'Donnell will have to play the game of his career so far to keep a lid on Toulon at the breakdown on Sunday but he currently starts at openside as I keep everything crossed. Jordi bagged the opening try in Good Friday's rout of Treviso and looks the the biggest challenge to Heaslip's dominance at number 8 in both the blue and green jersey thus far. Henderson was competent but not spectacular in his 6 Nations appearances but deserves a more prolonged period in the shirt in which to make an impact.

    1. Iain Henderson

    2. Tommy O'Donnell

    3. Jordi Murphy

    The great Madigan debate is not going anywhere but as it stands he remains on the bench with his Ulster counterpart starting. Besides, apparently Conor Murray is the great white hope at outhalf so sure, we might just leave him at home altogether.

    1. Conor Murray

    2. Paddy Jackson

    I was very impressed with the workrate of the Munster wingers in the quarter final, particularly in regards to their defense and at rucktime. It looks like the gospel of Joe is spreading. Zebo keeps his starting place, partnered by the newly-engaged Tommy Bowe i(Mazel Tov!) in the other wing berth. Earls replaces Fitzgerald on the bench given, despite the constant reports he's training, another week went by without Luke gracing the pitch. Ulster's centre partnership is kept intact for the South America trip, with yet another 13 option, hot property Robbie Henshaw, at fullback. He's signed to Connacht till 2016 so if we could shelve the transfer talk that would be delightful

    1. Simon Zebo

    2. Luke Marshall

    3. Darren Cave

    4. Tommy Bowe

    5. Robbie Henshaw

    The bench is as discussed above plus medical miracle Richardt Strauss joins Munster's two members of the front row union, together with the dependable but still surprisingly young Ruddock and Connacht's needs to be capped petit général. And on that note, back to the march on Marseille…

    1. Richardt Strauss

    2. Stephen Archer

    3. Dave Kilcoyne

    4. Devin Toner

    5. Rhys Ruddock

    6. Kieran Marmion

    7. Ian Madigan

    8. Keith Earls

    Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24, 2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc


    NEXT WEEK ON LET THE SCHMIDT HIT THE FAN…

    OUR ULSTER BLOGGER LAURA JOHNSTON GIVES HER LATEST SELECTION

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Leinster-62 Treviso-7

    Reid All About It

    REID ALL ABOUT IT

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    It may have come against an opposition which had the stuffing long since knocked out of them, but still Leinster saved the best of their nine tries until last in this one-sided affair.

    The move began from a Treviso scrum inside the Leinster 22 – not the first time the Italians had been there by a long chalk despite the lop-sided scoreline, but with just the 7 points on the scoreboard they surely wanted to play to the end to at least get into double-digits.

    One major problem for them was that after two disappointing away defeats in a row, this was a Leinster side determined to make a statement that their season was far from over. With the clock ticking past 79 the home pack put on a good shove to win the scrum against the head before Jamie Heaslip popped it up to sub scrum-half Luke McGrath, both of whom had crossed the line themselves in the previous five minutes.

    The ball then got flung out wide to the far wing, as had been the norm for the Leinster offence on the day, where the recipient was Darragh Fanning, the nominated man-of-the-match (curiously I thought but more on that later). More phases followed but we were still operating on or around our own 22.

    It took a neat “Gidley-style” offload from Jimmy Gopperth in the tackle to put Noel Reid into space and with his skipper Jamie Heaslip in support he showed the composure to both pass and keep up with the play to get the ball back and before long he was sauntering over the line as you see in the lead photo to provide the cherry on the icing on the cake for Leinster.

    You could forgive me for going into similar detail on the other eight tries which would produce a writeup of a decent enough length but I'm not sure that would properly capture the atmosphere at the RDS on Good Friday.

    This certainly wasn't a match for analysing the stat sheet. Besides...if you did, you'd be horribly let down by ESPN's Scrum.com because not for the first time they have published a completely inaccurate set of figures...I'm not sure why they bother if there are to be such mistakes as Gopperth being given 100% placekicking when he missed two and the possession numbers looking like they were made up.

    No, this was a match and indeed an occasion for the Leinster fans in attendance to enjoy, and hopefully the vast majority of them did. Not only was there a comfortable home victory but it was a beautiful day, there were eggs hidden everywhere for the kids, and even kegs forbidden elsewhere for the grown-ups.

    It was also one of the last remaining chances to appreciate the presence of Brian O'Driscoll gracing a professional rugby pitch, though sadly his best contribution of a superbly-weighted pass on the run to Noel Reid didn't result in one of the nine tries. In fact, it was a rare BOD boo-boo that later led to the only Treviso score but if you don't tell anyone I won't!

    OK – let's face it, the visitors weren't exactly up to scratch. This has been their fourth season in the league, and the result hardly shows that they have progressed much, though that would be a tad unfair because Leinster's standards have improved themselves greatly in that same period of time.

    Plus whatever gameplan they may have had going into this contest would have gone out the window when their inside centre Christian Loamanu, who had shown some good early touches, fell badly after colliding with Zane Kirchner in mid-air and had to be stretchered off for what looked like a serious injury, though a tweet from the club the next day showed he was ok.

    All of this meant that Leinster could only play what was in front of them and with much bigger challenges left in the season, though there would still have been a few things to be named & shamed in the DVD sessions, you'd really want to be a grumpy sod to find negatives in this result.

    You may have worked out from my headline that I reckon Noel Reid should have been man-of-the-match. Here are my reasons : 1. two tries including the pick of the bunch 2. on the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf it has been a fairytale weekend for his club Clontarf RFC so why not help the celebrations along (plus Brian Boru died on Good Friday) and 3. though Reid was accredited with 3 missed tackles, he did force a key turnover at one stage and don't forget we can ignore the tackling stats given the source!

    Not that Fanning hasn't had a fine season and I have noted him several times throughout, but if you're going to pick someone who didn't get on the scoresheet they really would want to have played out of their skins and I reckon he was solid but there were other displays more notable out there, particularly young Luke McGrath off the bench who along with Kieran Marmion over in Galway is helping to create quite a bottleneck in the queue for the Irish 9 jumper.

    All this means that with two matches left, I make it that Leinster just need 5 points to clinch first place on the table, which in turn means we can “afford” to lose up in Ravenhill in two weeks unless Edinburgh can upset the form book at the RDS.

    That knowledge won't make this upcoming weekend any easier for us, mind you, as we are used to being involved in some kind of European semifinal.

    But we are in a British & Irish one don’t forget, and Leinster A can take another step on the road to retaining the Cup as they head to Sardis Park on Saturday to play before what is likely to be a far more passionate home Welsh crowd than the one which showed up for “Judgement Day”.

    So as you can see, though we may have thought our 2013/14 season was dead before Good Friday, there's plenty of reasons to believe it can rise again before the campaign is out. Well with the weekend that was in it you couldn't let me get through the writeup without at least one biblical reference, could you? JLP

    Click here for post-match reaction on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page

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    Also this weekend

    Glasgow 27 - 9 Ulster

    Zebre 26 - 13 Edinburgh

    Connacht 23 - 32 Munster

    Cardiff Blues 17 - 13 Scarlets

    Dragons 10 - 20 Ospreys

     

    TEAM PLD PTS W PD T PF TD
    1 LEINSTER 20 74 15 198 54 517 26
    2 MUNSTER 20 68 15 158 47 466 23
    3 ULSTER 20 65 14 151 43 431 20
    4 GLASGOW 19 64 15 96 36 355 19
    5 OSPREYS 20 60 12 161 50 499 24
    6 SCARLETS 20 46 9 -26 36 374 -5
    7 CARDIFF BLUES 20 37 7 -108 27 388 -23
    8 EDINBURGH 19 35 7 -81 31 338 -12
    9 CONNACHT 20 34 6 -106 37 336 -8
    10 NG DRAGONS 20 31 6 -90 30 349 -10
    11 TREVISO 20 29 5 -192 28 341 -38
    12 ZEBRE 20 25 4 -161 32 317 -16
     
    Next fixtures
     
    Saturday, April 26
     
    Glasgow v Edinburgh, 7:05pm
     
    Thursday, May 1
     
    Zebre v Ospreys, 5pm
     
    Friday, May 2
     
    Benetton Treviso v Glasgow, 7pm
     
    Scarlets v NG Dragons, 7:05pm
     
    Ulster v Leinster, 7:30pm
     
    Saturday, May 3
     
    Connacht v Cardiff Blues, 5pm
     
    Edinburgh v Munster, 5pm

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