Thursday, July 31, 2014

All change at Rav…I mean, Kingspan!

Back with his thoughts on Ulster Rugby is @Kristian7Ross

Interested in writing for us next season?  Drop us a line.

Kristian Ross avatar

So here we are. The fixtures have been released. The kits are finally available to buy. Ulster Rugby fans are finally able to start looking towards the first day of the season after an incredibly turbulent few months at the province.

The end of last season spelled the conclusion that Ulster were about to go through a major transitional period in the near future. Many stalwarts of the club were moving onto pastures new or simply hanging up the boots for good, Tom Court to London Irish, Paddy McAllister to Aurillac, John Afoa to Gloucester and the loss of three of the most well known faces in Belfast to retirement. Johann Muller was to return to South Africa, Paddy Wallace to start a new future setting up his rugby academies for children and of course Stephen Ferris, who after a torrid two years, finally had to decide that enough was enough, ending his rugby career at the age of just twenty eight.

Of course, Ulster had prepared themselves and had already started to seek replacements across the board, the capture of three South Africans in the form of Wiehahn Herbst, Franco van der Merwe and Louis Ludik seem promising along with Ruaidhri Murphy, a Dublin native from the Super Rugby side The Brumbies.

Then came the first of two surprises. The name change. Professional sport in the last fifteen years has seen the rise of sponsorship deals for stadium names, but its always something that I personally thought Ulster would shy away from. After the transformation of Ravenhill, it was announced in June that one of Ulster's primary sponsors, Kingspan Group based in County Cavan would have the naming rights in a ten year deal. No concrete number as ever given as to how much the deal was worth, but Ulster chief Shane Logan said the figure was "substantial". It was a move that angered many Ulster fans. The tradition and heritage of a stadium that had stood since 1923 totally wiped out in a single afternoon. Others however argued that the money would be invested back into the club and would contribute massively to new players and facilities.

The dust had settled on one controversy when the next one arrived within a few days.... and it was a big one. David Humphrey's, the household name as Ulster's director of rugby, a man who had been with the club since day one, a man who essentially was part of the furniture at Ravenhill, was to leave Ulster and take up a new position at Gloucester Rugby in the Aviva Premiership. The fans were stunned. I was stunned. It couldn't surely be true that the man who had led the team to European glory in 1999 and had played a huge part in the restructuring of the team and the new stadium was to move on when the job was almost quite finished? It left the fan base reeling and ironically I sat there and thought to myself that it would be just our luck if our head coach was away next!

The end of the month came and the fans were coming to terms with huge change, our director of rugby gone and a new stadium name, but things weren't quite finished yet. There was one last plot twist in the tale and it came on June 30th. Belfast Newsletter journalist Richard Mulligan sent out a tweet that merely stated that Ulster would make an announcement within thirty minutes regarding the future of Mark Anscombe. Social media went wild. The rumours escalated and it looked pretty evident that the man from New Zealand wouldn't be sticking around and with that said, Mulligan followed up with the decisive tweet announcing that Mark Anscombe would leave Ulster with immediate effect.

It was all over, a two year stint that lived long in the memory with some truly remarkable results in that time. As a person, Mark Anscombe always seemed to want was best for Ulster Rugby, but I suppose you never know what goes on behind closed doors and rumours of disharmony weren't far from the lips of many. In credit to Anscombe, he brought on young players leaps and bounds, but his failure to capture silverware was ultimately his downfall. A real pitfall was last seasons Heineken Cup campaign, Ulster topping the pool with a mesmerising six wins from six as well as toppling Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. But failure to reach the semi finals after a defeat against Saracens in which Jared Payne was shown red saw Ulster fail to make the semi finals for the second season in a row. Brian McLaughlin left Ulster Rugby having taken them to a European Cup final. The real question to ask is this. Did Anscombe do a better job than McLaughlin? I'll leave you that one to mull over.

Now that the PRO12 has its new sponsor in Guinness and the inaugural Rugby Champions Cup fixtures have been announced, Ulster must now prepare for the season ahead. Les Kiss stands in as interim coach, a man that has great knowledge of the game and should see the team right until a permanent replacement is found. No doubt this will be a tough year for Ulster and the teams they have to play in this seasons European competition poised possibly the greatest ever challenge on the continent. Old foe Leicester Tigers are included as well as RC Toulon who have of course won the last two Heineken Cup competitions respectively. The PRO12 will as ever boast its recognisable brand of rugby and Ulster will do well again to make the top four with the teams below them becoming more and more competitive every season.

In all, it's been a summer in which Ulster Rugby have had to deal with many setbacks but as always the fan support has never wavered and we are all as hopeful as ever. The start of a new chapter is upon us and it could potentially swing either way. New faces have arrived, old faces have departed, but those posts still remain and the white jerseys are still as imposing as ever to any opposition who steps foot on the hallowed turf at BT6. The season countdown has started and no doubt everyone is looking forward to standing for another year.

SUFTUM.

I'm Kristian. 20. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

Front Five 31.07.14

Five recent links of interest from around the ruggersphere.
the front five_thumb
“It is with deep sadness than Leinster Rugby announces the death of former player Ian Burns, 58.”

RIP - IAN BURNS

Leinster Rugby official site



"I’m an optimistic person. But I’m not a dreamer"

Ireland’s most-capped rugby player Lynne Cantwell is aiming high at the IRB World Cup in France

Johnny Watterson - Irish Times

“...in particular Tonga and Samoa were possible biggest beneficiaries of an opening up of a loophole that could allow players previously cap tied to switch nationality again”
Tier 2 Rugby


“The one thing that we in South Africa haven't got at the moment is a team that plays with a varied attacking game”
ESPN Scrum.com



“That’s going to hurt in the morning”

 

11 Thoughts Every Rugby Player Has During a Game

Dave Nicoll - InTheLoose.com




Feel free to share with us any eye-catching egg-chasing links you spot yourself about t’internet by whatever means you feel necessary…email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon. JLP

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Front Five - 30.07.14

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“The players have funded themselves to play for the national team, they have had to fund-raise to do tours and pre-world cup trips – it’s crazy that an international athlete is paying to play”

Cash flow a major worry for US Eagles (women), but no shortage of ambition and determination

Damien Cullen - Irish Times



Speaking in Paris, International Rugby Board CEO Brett Gosper said the tournament will be a great boost for the Game. "We know that women's Rugby is gaining popularity. It’s grown two or three times since the last World Cup four years ago.”

World Cup launched officially in Paris

Alison Donnelly - Scrumqueens



“I certainly do think about retirement, but I haven’t made any hard and fast decisions, it’s all about how my body feels, and it definitely feels quite good at the moment.”
Off The Ball



“The Crusaders are the only team to have won a Super Rugby grand final outside their home country when they defeated the Brumbies 20-19 in Canberra in 2000.” 
Hugh Adams - Green & Gold Rugby




“Hopefully he won't slate me anyway”

We miss BOD, but he better not slag us off in TV role, says Fergus

Caroline Crawford - Evening Herald


Feel free to share any eye-catching egg-chasing links you spot yourself about t’internet by whatever means you feel necessary…email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon.  JLP

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Super Rugby Semifinals

Welcome to part four of our off-season series of match writeups from “down under” - we have been following the Waratahs in particular, but given that Super Rugby has reached its final four stage we’ll have a look at both semifinals this time around.

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CRUSADERS-38 SHARKS-6          WARATAHS-26 BRUMBIES-8

OUT KICKED

HoR pro logo blueI had been really looking forward to Saturday morning’s double header of Super Rugby semifinals…both promised to be closely-fought classics.

Sadly, I was to be disappointed, and I’d say the Brumbies and Sharks would be kicking themselves were it not for the fact that they would most definitely miss as it was failure when putting boot to ball that largely did for both of them.

Over in Christchurch, Jake White’s Sharks had done their travelling from Durban the previous Monday to make sure jet lag wasn’t an issue when they faced the Crusaders.  Only problem with that well-laid plan was that it assumed that their players would be able to execute the kicking-for-territory game that gotten them to this stage of the competition. 

Normally you’d put your house on Springboks like Francois Steyn and Patrick Lambie to have the level of accuracy needed for such a big occasion but between kicks from play straight into touch and penalties missing it altogether they more or less left the door swinging open and a team like the Crusaders doesn’t need inviting twice.  It was 10-0 by the end of the first quarter and the lead never looked in danger.

Normally if you were facing the Crusaders and you learned that the 7 and 10 jerseys were being worn by players other than Messrs McCaw & Carter you’d feel that was a good thing, but on this occasion they chose to play 6 and 12 respectively, and with Kieran Reid being his usual marauding self at 8 and the power of Nadolo on the wing they were always well poised to take advantage of the Sharks’ mistakes.

Not long after this one ended all attention was on Sydney where a fierce Australian rivalry was to be played out.  Again the final score made it look easy but unlike the first semifinal that wasn’t really the case.

Many times last season Leinster were slated after victories, even by our own fans, because the offensive performance wasn’t quite what was expected.  That could be said for this match as well because although the Brumbies gave it everything they had, the Waratahs defence was strong enough to hold them out for practically the entire 80 minutes…the one blemish being an impressive Henry Speight finish in the corner.

Most impressive on the defensive side of things for me was scrum half Nick Phipps who at one stage made two tackles in one sequence of Brumby phases near the Tah try line, one at either corner!  Not far behind was inspirational openside Michael Hooper.  Meanwhile down the other end of the pitch despite having only 35% of the territory they found it much easier to turn possession into points throughout.

Despite the final margin of victory this was still something of a contest right up until the final ten minutes as the Tahs lead was only 8.  It could have been much less than that however if they could find from within their ranks a reliable goalkicker…Christian Leali’ifano wasn’t up to the task and what’s more the Brumbies knew it from the off, spurning kickable 3s early on which is something away teams rarely do in cup rugby.

One weakness in the Tahs structure seems to be at set-pieces, and no doubt this will be an area where Todd Blackadder’s Crusaders will be keen to exploit - I expect them to at least do everything they can to disrupt them on their own throw.  The Brumbies for their part got some purchase at the scrums but found themselves unable to capitalize on it.

Leinster-bound Kane Douglas had a quiet outing and was replaced in the second half by Will Skelton, who immediately made his presence felt with a suspect high challenge on Brumby 9 Nic White - I reckon ref Jaco Peyper kept his card in his pocket on account of the difference in sizes but a binning would have been understandable as well as very helpful to the visitors at that point.

But having scored tries early in both periods, Michael Cheika’s Tahs were well able to hold on comfortably and the icing on the cake was provided by outhalf Foley who gave excellent support to a piledriving run from Skelton who laid on a perfect long range offload to leave his 10 in for the score.

So there were a couple of decent scores in the two semifinals but neither ended up anywhere close to the gripping contests they promised to be.  We are left with an equally promising final as the Tahs seek their first ever championship when they host the Crusaders next Saturday morning Irish time.  Hopefully both will bring their A games and it will provide a spectacle to match the occasion.

There was other rugby this weekendjust gonme , like in Cardiff where the Welsh regions’ love-in with the Premiership continued as they joined the annual pre-season sevens competition.  I enjoy this event each season and in some ways I was jealous to seeing our Celtic cousins get a piece of the action.  For those keeping score the Blues and Dragons qualified for the finals tournament.

I appreciate the IRFU don’t do men’s sevens and they have their reasons but I still say I’d love to see a round-robin tournament for the provinces become a regular feature of preseason one day, even if it’s “just” involving the academy players.

Of course there has also been the Commonwealth Games….meh.  I hear there was some exciting rugby and the attendances in Glasgow were record-breaking but for some reason I wasn’t inspired to watch, which is saying something for me,given that I’d normally watch two flies chasing an egg up a wall.

This Friday however I will be moving heaven and earth to be near a telly for the Irish women’s team’s awkward 4pm kickoff time in their opening match at the Women’s Rugby World Cup.  As I harped on last week they looked in great nick against the Welsh and this match against the USA is the one they really need to win so best of luck to coach Phillip Doyle, captain Fiona Coughlan and all the girls in green.

We’ll be following the World Cup closely here at HoR as well as the Super Rugby final…when all that is over we’ll be taking a bit of a break from the daily coverage before gearing up for the 2014/15 season with a few tweaks to our set-up which will be unveiled in due course.  Exciting times ahead all round!  We do hope you’ll enjoy it all with us.  JLP

Sunday, July 20, 2014

IRELAND-27 WALES-7

2014-07-20 16.48.39

READY WILLING AND ABLE

If it’s in-depth coverage of the women’s game online that you seek, I would point you in the direction of websites like ScrumQueens or Facebook pages like Show Women’s Rugby Live on TV
 
We’d love to be able to devote more time here at HarpinOnRugby but over the course of the long season, time is generally the one thing we don’t have when it comes to giving the women’s game the coverage it deserves.
 
But please don’t let my glaring honesty scare you off and instead allow me to take this opportunity to explain how simply getting yourself to an occasion like this can convert you from a casual fan to a fully-fledged supporter of the girls in green.
 
Simply put, if you’re a fan of quality rugby there was nothing in this contest to disappoint you.  The reality may have been that this was an uncapped international with no competitive consequences, but if this 80 minutes was anything to go by then the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France is definitely something to look forward to.
 
The Welsh defence was tough to break down in the first half despite the fact Ireland had practically all the possession, and perhaps we telegraphed our backline patterns a bit too much which helped Welsh number 8 Sionad Harries nick an intercept in her own half and run it all the way back herself to give the visitors a surprise 7-0 lead.  I could be wrong in this but I believe that was the only time in the entire 80 minutes they were close to our try-line. 
 
Still, for the remainder of the first half we could not cross the whitewash despite several penalties being turned into attacking lineouts in their 22.  The closest we got was when a break got us to within 5m  right under the posts and as the Welsh scramble D tried to slow down our attack a stray hand in the ruck from winger Adi Taviner was penalised leaving the ref no choice but to send her to the sin bin.
 
Out-half Nora Stapleton converted the penalty from under the posts but we went in at the interval 3-7 down on the scoreboard.  It wasn’t until just before Taviner was due to return to the field in the opening minutes of the second half when we finally made the most of the extra player, and didn’t winger Ashleigh Baxter do it in style.
 
She collected the ball around the half-way line and simply had too much pace for the Welsh tacklers, evading several before touching down.  Stapleton added the conversion and from there the result was only ever going one way.
 
In the lead photo you see tall Irish lock Marie Louise Reilly (ironically from the same village as Devin Toner) take what was one of many clean lineout catches and on this occasion we finally got the maul working when it mattered and it was Grand Slam winning captain Fiona Coughlan who got the touchdown.  Stapleton showed her kicking prowess from the other side of the pitch to add the conversion, 17-7 to Ireland.
 
With one winger and one prop already on the scoresheet, not to be outdone Alison Miller and Ailis Egan added tries 3 & 4 to give the scoreline the look it deserved on the run of play.
 
You have to admire the Irish 23 for the way they stuck to their task…they were posed problems by the visitors early on but eventually sorted them out and they showed great resilience themselves without the ball, forcing choke tackles and turnovers on several occasions. 
 
Other stand out Irish players on the day included Reilly’s lock partner Sophie Spence but it was the overall attitude throughout the squad which impressed most…at pitchside you can hear all the encouragement they give each other during breaks in the action and it was really clear that this was a group of players who were focussed on their objective.
 
That objective is of course the World Cup itself which kicks off on Friday, August 1st, when remarkably the Irish squad should be even stronger when experienced players like Niamh Briggs and Lynn Cantwell return after being rested on this occasion. 
 
We find ourselves in a tough pool along with New Zealand, the USA (who apparently had representatives at this match taking notes) and, surprisingly to women’s rugby newbies like myself, Kazakhstan.  To reach the semifinals we have to either win the pool or be the best runner-up so we’ll need at least two wins from our three matches.
 
Well all I can say is that if you are fan of Irish rugby and you have yet to get behind the girls, I suggest you do so now.  Our World Cup campaign will be screened live on TG4 and of course you can send messages of support through social media to the IRFU, or even directly to the players as most are on twitter.
 
And if you don’t still believe me that women’s rugby is well worth a watch, take it from Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and even Katie Taylor, all of whom were in attendance.
 
I’d like to thank Malahide RFC for putting on a great event, with free admission, ample parking, a barbecue and bouncy castles for what was an excellent family afternoon out.  And despite the other sporting distractions on the day like Dublin v Meath, Rory McIlroy at the British Open and the Tour de France, there was a more than decent turnout.
 
Of course thanks must also go to Philip Doyle, his coaching staff and the entire squad for all the hard work they have clearly put in to prepare for the World Cup - they have certainly built on the the successes of the 2013 Grand Slam and are well poised to make a mark in France.
 
Last but certainly not least I must give a special thanks to Nicholas Thompson and his daughter Nadine who drove all the way from Portarlington - missing kickoffs at matches is a pet peeve of mine and if it wasn’t for their offering me a lift from the bus stop I would have been at least 15 minutes late….they even kindly dropped me back to my stop afterwards!
 
All in all a terrific way for a rugby nut to spend a Sunday afternoon. And like I said, the girls are ready, willing and able to make an impact on the World Cup in France so I hope you’ll join me in being ready, willing and able to give them our full support.  JLP

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A request for Welsh Rugby - Shut Up And Talk!

original

HoR pro logo green

I have no interest in the precise details of the Welsh rugby crisis anymore.  About a year ago, I really did try to get to grips with what was going on from both sides, but now none of it really seems to matter.

Yesterday I read articles which claimed that the possibility of Sam Warburton beginning the season without a club was surely the tipping point that made us want to raise our desperation to “Scream Painting” levels.  But that wasn’t the tipping point for me - that would be Adam Jones being on the brink of going to Bristol.

Of course I get that Warburton is Wales & Lions captain and all, but let’s face it, he’s not the best in the world at his position - heck, you could argue that he’s not even the best in WALES at his position.  Sorry if I’m getting a bit cruel there, but the point I’m trying to make is that when it comes to evaluating the sport’s best tightheads you’ll have to answer to me if at the very least the top 3 doesn’t include the Ospreys’ iconic hair bear.

So if an ongoing spat featuring countless statements, counter-statements,  articles, tweets, retweets, blocks & unblocks actually has AJ playing in the RFU Championship for an entire season then I reckon everyone involved needs to be hanging their heads in shame.

But I’m not here to justify my reasons for flipping out over the crisis; I’m here to call everyone, and I MEAN everyone involved whatever name it takes to make them come to their senses, assuming they have any.  Immature?  Stubborn?  Narrow-Minded? Greedy?  Lacking in cojones? All of the above? Take your pick.

And please, please, please understand that I’m not having a go at the entire Welsh people here.  This isn’t a national thing at all.  Consider me an interested outsider - in fact, given we still have a mutual interest in the Pro12, Irish fans would be less “outsiders” than others (though even at that I certainly don’t speak for all of them either!!!).

Naturally there are those eyebrow-deep in the saga who are reading this rant by an Irish blogger and thinking either (to put it politely; I presume their words would be a tad more colourful) “I’m sorry, old chap, but I hardly think it’s any of your business” or “Oh, but what you don’t seem to realise is that [insert one side or the other’s name here] has done [insert some terrible deed here] and we just cannot bring ourselves to accept that!”

For what it’s worth, and I know it’s probably very little, all I can hear in amongst all that is “blah, blah, blah.”

Whether it’s the WRU, the RRW, David Moffett, the Welsh clubs, the Welsh mainstream media, even the so-called social media “Ultras”, or anyone else who has a vested interest in what’s going on…

Find somewhere to meet, go there, lock yourselves in, close all access to the outside world, and JUST. SORT. IT. OUT.  Before you go in, tell everyone that you won’t see daylight until you can greet it with a functioning Participation Agreement.

I don’t care if it won’t be easy.  There’s plenty of crap out there that’s way more complicated I can tell you, and maybe some people need to be reminded that although everyone in the global rugby community loves the game with a passion, it is, after all, just that, a GAME (everyone’s!).

Do it now! You could have it wrapped up by the weekend.  And despite the fact that between you all you’ve prolonged the crisis for what seems like an eternity, you’d come out of it as heroes, and then the rest of us can get on with looking forward to headlines being inspired by actual rugby from the pitch, particularly if they include Adam Jones playing the likes of Leinster, Northampton and Racing Métro next season like he should be and not trudging back and forth between Moseley and Bedford.   JLP

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reds-3 Waratahs-34

Welcome to part 3 of our off-season series of match writeups where we follow the remainder of the 2014 Super Rugby campaign focusing on the NSW Waratahs, paying particular attention to lock Kane Douglas before he heads to Dublin to join his new Leinster team-mates.

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CHEIKS AND BALANCE

HoR pro logo blueEven though it ended with a trophy, Leinster’s 2013/14 campaign was littered with what I call “ugly” victories, ie ones where you can say that if they reproduced that same form on another day, the result would probably have gone against them.

Off the top of my head I can think of five such wins, against Castres, ConnachtGlasgow, Ulster and Edinburgh, and no doubt there were many more.  Thankfully we saved our best for last and there wasn’t anything ugly about our display in the final which led to us retaining our Pro12 crown.

But although the scoreline in this final Waratahs outing of the regular season was a lot closer to the Pro12 decider than it was to the other matches I link to above, believe it or not I still reckon it was something of an “ugly” win for Michael Cheika’s men which will give him plenty to think about over the next two weeks as he prepares for the semifinals.

As far as the final standings in Super Rugby were concerned, this match didn’t really matter.  The Tahs had first place on the overall ladder well wrapped up and as for the Reds, this has been a campaign to forget for their loyal fans.

But if you know anything about the history of contests with an oval ball between the states of Queensland and New South Wales, you’ll understand that this was an easy match to get pumped up for whatever the consequences.

Unfortunately for the Suncorp crowd, everything about this match highlighted how one team was very much on the up while the other was headed in the opposite direction.  Lady luck was only shining towards one team.

First, there was the injury count.  Already missing nailed on starters like Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Neil Shipperly, they were deprived two more backs in the first 16 minutes as both their starting 10 Ben Lucas and 12 Ben Tapuai were forced off.

Meanwhile on the Tahs side, although Isreal Folau was unable to start and his replacement Jono Lance went off before halftime, Cheika saw his gamble of a 6/2 forwards/backs bench split pay off over the 80 minutes.

And even Lance wasn’t to leave the field without adding his name to the scoresheet; his dot down after some patient phases and a good line break & offload by Kurtley Beale cancelled out an early Reds pen and put his side in the lead for good. 

Even the bounce of the ball was going against the home side.  Tahs scrum half Nick Phipps was a pest on the opponent’s feed and when he legally got his foot to a ball just popped out of a scrum, it sat up perfectly for the Tahs and before long it was Beale this time getting the score.  14-3 to the Tahs and the first quarter not even done.

But while Cheika’s men excelled in broken play and can only get better when the likes of Folau return, it has to be pointed out that in set pieces they were decidedly average on the day. 

From the scoring of that second try all the way to the 55th minute a stronger squad, or even a full strength Reds one for that matter, would have easily clawed their way back into this contest with all the possession they had, not to mention an extra man as Kepu saw yellow on 28 minutes.

On account of the scoreline Reds skipper Horwill kept spurning kickable penalties and opting for the corner when they had the extra man and partly due to a lack of talent and partly due to solid D by the visitors, they were unable to capitalise.

Then in the second half again it was Beale heavily involved as he both started and finished the move which led to try number 3.  His kick forward was retrieved by Adam Ashley-Cooper who looked well offside but the ref let the play run on and when the TMO had a look it, turns out he was behind the kicker and here was even more back luck for the Reds.

Truth was the home side couldn’t buy a score for the remainder of this one and the final insult to all their injuries was the bonus point try which deservedly went to Nick Phipps having been put through by sub winger Naiyaravoro.

As for Leinster-bound Kane Douglas, well he put in a solid 50-minute shift this week, and once more he convinced me that he is well capable of filling at least a decent chunk of the void left by Leo Cullen in the Leinster pack, though the Tahs’ struggles at the lineout will be a serious concern for everyone involved (not entirely his fault by a long stretch it has to be said).

So records tumbling all over the place in this Super Rugby regular season for the Tahs, but perhaps in some ways it’s a good thing for them to have areas to work on for the coming two weeks, it’s a good way for Cheika to keep them focused.

In some ways the Tahs seems to remind me of Germany at the soccer World Cup.  Though they have many quality players, there isn’t one on which they rely more than most and should one get injured, there would appear to be someone well able to step in and do a job in their place.    And we all know how that went for the Germans!

So they have a week off as their semifinal opponents are decided next weekend…if things go to home form, it could well be the Brumbies who visit in the semifinal, but the Chiefs could well have something to say about that!  Some interesting rugby ahead.

We’ll be keeping an eye on that first round of the playoffs but with the Tahs off we’re hoping to be able to provide a match report of Ireland’s warm-up game for the Women’s World Cup against Wales at Malahide RFC next Sunday.

In the meantime, with not even any soccer to fill the hole of missing Leinster rugby, I may have to trawl through some championship-winning DVDs to get my fix.  I could do a lot worse. JLP

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Waratahs-44 Highlanders-16

Welcome to Part 2 in our off-season series of match writeups where we have “adopted” the NSW Waratahs to both keep an eye on Leinster signing Kane Douglas and support Michael Cheika in his bid to become the first coach to win provincial titles in both hemispheres.

[Note - we here at HoR are fully aware that every pun on the word “Tah” has probably been done in the Australian press at this stage but as far as we are concerned all of them are “fair dinkum” on this side of the planet!]

Tah Very Much

TAH VERY MUCH

HoR pro logo blueWe’re all meant to be very excited about the new & improved Rugby Champions Cup here in Europe, but apart from the reduction in qualifiers, the reality is that the tournament is pretty much exactly the same as it was before.

So the fact remains that even if you win all of your pool matches by a considerable margin playing amazing free-flowing rugby to secure a number one seed in knockout stages, not only does that only guarantee you just one further home fixture, you have to wait over two months for it to come around, hoping against hope your best players don’t fall to Six Nations injury in the meantime.

Now I’m not suggesting that Super Rugby is perfect by any stretch, but let’s just say its format makes things a lot easier for Michael Cheika and his Waratahs now than they were for him when he coached Leinster to our first Heineken Cup triumph in 2009.

Nor am I suggesting that their playoff matches themselves will be easy…you can never say that when the seven-time champion Crusaders are still in the mix…but what I am saying is that this has been a record-breaking campaign for the Tahs and they have clinched first place on the overall “ladder” with a game to spare, so they are rightly rewarded by at least knowing all their playoff action will be in Sydney.

And what a show they put on in their final regular-season for that same Sydney crowd.  These Highlanders may not have had as many recognisable international names in their lineup as their hosts but don’t let the scoreline fool you - they were no slouches on the day and even with this loss are still in strong contention for the finals themselves.

Michael Cheika’s task from here on in may not be simple to do but it is definitely simple to define…he needs to keep them focused on the prize between now and their home semifinal in three weeks’ time because if they can replicate this kind of form I doubt anyone can stop them.

The best way I can writeup this match is to go through the starting lineup man for man just in case I leave anyone out…

15 ISRAEL FOLAU - I tend to be sceptical about rugby league converts but this guy has to be an exception.  As he showed in the Lions series last season he has taken to this code like a duck to water and is almost always at the heart of anything good offensively the Tahs do.  Ran a perfect support line for their second try at the start of the second half which in many ways killed the contest.

14 ALOFA ALOFA - Quality winger who can not only finish but also supplied a sublime offload for Kepu on the way to try number 3.  He’s on his way to La Rochelle in the Top 14 next season and that can only be good for the newly-promoted outfit.

13 - ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER - Amazingly AAC has never played in the Super Rugby playoffs before; it is long overdue.  Of course you can’t mention this guy without including a link to his famous Superman double-tackle against the Boks.

12 - KURTLEY BEALE - His career has had its drawbacks, and he may still have some defensive issues but he has definitely found himself where he belongs in the Tahs 12 jersey going by what I have seen over the past couple of weeks.

11 - ROB HORNE - Supplied the finish to what was an amazing team try that went the length of the field.  Much like Leinster wingers, the Tahs’ 11 & 14s are expected to do a lot more than just sit out wide and wait for a chance to come to them.

10 - BERNARD FOLEY - Who says it has to be November to rock a porn stache?  This guy has gone from impressing against the Lions in a midweek match last year to being the top Wallaby 10 making even Ewen McKenzie go “Quade who”?  Lost count of the times he broke the line in this match and for a 10 to lead the side in metres gained with 145 says it all really.

9 - NICK PHIPPS - Foley would probably be the first to tell you that his own success owes a lot to the contributions of Phipps and the 9 earned himself a try of his own when despite a neat set move off the scrum with Kepu he still had work to do to get it over the line and he managed it with ease to earn the Tahs a try bonus.

1 - BENN ROBINSON - Cult loosehead and a deadly finisher from 5 yards out, in other words, very much in the Cian Healy mould.

2 - TATAFU POLOTA-NAU - Kept his front row focused as they demolished the ‘Landers scrum when it mattered in the second half.

3 - SEKOPE KEPU - Forced 3 turnovers, scored try number 3 and provided the final offload for try number 5.  Oh, and the whole “dominant scrum” thing I mentioned above.  Not a bad return for a tighthead!

4 - JACQUES POTGEITER - Just 3 test caps for this Springbok, and given the return of Victor to the arena I’d be surprised if he got much more given he’s 28, but make no mistake he can put himself about and was a powerful presence in this match, including being the grateful recipient of the Kepu offload I mentioned above.

5 - KANE DOUGLAS - Came off at half time with a knock that obviously I’m hoping isn’t too serious.  Kind of fluffed a good attacking position at one point but his overall contribution in the one and a half matches I’ve focused on in the past couple of weeks has been more than good enough for me to know he’ll fit right in at the RDS.

6 - STEPHEN HOILES - Had big boots to fill after club captain Dave Dennis was ruled out for the season but was part of a hungry Tahs back row, though to be fair both sides were strong in this area and at some stages the counter-rucking was as intense as I’ve ever seen it.

7 - MICHAEL HOOPER - Given the intensity I mention above you won’t be surprised that this guy was involved.  Lets his emotions get the better of him sometimes but that’s the kind of passion you want in a 7.  Reckon he could be key to the Wallabies’ hopes in this year’s Bledisloe & Rugby Championship.

8 - WYCLIFF PALU - Involved in moves off the base of the scrum for two tries and made all his tackles.

REPLACEMENTS - Will Skelton is possibly one of the reasons Kane Douglas feels he can seek his fortune in the northern hemisphere, big future ahead for the lad.  Also as if the starting back three wasn’t quality enough for the Tahs, they also have a massive Fijian called Taqele Naiyaravoro who provided a very 7s-like finish at the hooter to provide the icing on the cake for what was a good old-fashioned thrashing of a decent provincial side.

I may have picked the Tahs to focus on because I wanted to run the rule over a particular player coming to Leinster, but after seeing these last two matches they really do look like a team you can get behind…full of quality players, getting solid contributions from 1 to 23, and now they have their playoffs guaranteed at home, they really seem to have a shot at their first title.

Put it this way…securing top spot in the regular season (or as the Aussies call it, the “Minor Premiership”) won’t be near enough to satisfy Michael Cheika at this stage.  He has one more match before the finals next week against the 2011 Champions the Reds in Brisbane - it’s quite likely he’ll take a leaf out of the IRFU’s player protection handbook to make sure his squad is ready.

As for who his side will face, well that’s definitely up for debate.  Don’t rule out them facing these Highlanders again, but their final match is away to the Crusaders who are themselves chasing the bye into the semifinals.  As for Hurricanes although now sit in 5th place, they have played their full set of matches so they need to rely on results elsewhere.

Tie of the round next weekend has to be the Brumbies against the Force - winners probably get a home playoff, losers get to call it a season.  Meanwhile in South Africa it has been a disappointing campaign for everyone except the Sharks who could do with an easy final match in Cape Town, though I doubt the Stormers will be very obliging somehow.

But like I said, they’ll all have their work cut out to catch these Tahs.  It will certainly be fun to watch them try. JLP

Position Team Points
1 Waratahs 53
2 Crusaders 46
3 Sharks 46
4 Highlanders 42
5 Hurricanes 41
6 Brumbies 40
7 Force 40
8 Chiefs 40
9 Blues 36
10 Bulls 33
11 Stormers 32
12 Reds 28
13 Lions 26
14 Cheetahs 24
15 Rebels 21
 
Final series of matches
 
Fri Jul 11
Blues v Chiefs
Brumbies v Force
Bulls v Rebels
 
Sat Jul 12
Crusaders v Highlanders
Reds v Waratahs
Lions v Cheetahs
Stormers v Sharks

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