Posts Tagged ‘ Castres ’

European Rugby – Leinster Look To Lead

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One round left and relatively little change from Matt O’Connor. When your team has demolished Castres a week previous, why tinker with the formula I suppose. The other provinces aren’t quite as lucky, all three listing worrying injuries, but unfortunately only one of the three from south, north and west have any role potentially beyond this weekend in Europe. Continue reading

European Rugby – Time To Separate The Men From The Boys

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Round two of the European Rugby Champion’s Cup and already we’re looking at a whole new playing field. Ulster VS Toulon, Munster VS Saracens, Leinster VS Castres and Connacht VS Exeter. Certainly far more fitting and mouth watering challenges for the provinces, and though it may be true that you don’t lose any competition in the first round, the second is where those short fallings and mistakes can be made that haunt you for the rest of the season.

Munster VS Saracens this evening is a fixture that has never failed to thrill. Through the year these sides have fought some of the closest matches in rugby history and one could argue that Saracens have the closest thing to a Munster-esque legacy in England, their embrace of brand establishment and of course they have thrown up some results to justify all of it. Kelly Brown, Billy Vunipola, David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Brad Barrit. It doesn’t need to be emphasised what pedigree Munster find themselves up against this evening. Continue reading

Rabo – The Table Doesn’t Lie As Leinster Progress

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First and second placed teams in the final, who’d have thought it? Not that it looked likely for the majority of both semi finals mind you. Still, the results are in and Leinster will welcome Glasgow to the RDS in two weeks for the closing game in this Celtic League chapter before a raft of changes in attitude arrive next season. Continue reading

Heineken Cup – Scramble For The Quarter Finals

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So it’s here, the final weekend of the 2014 Heineken Cup pools stages, Brian O’Driscoll’s final European bow in the RDS, and who knows what other finals this could wind up being as the European rugby situation still sits in utter turmoil. But enough of that, for now there’s a serious amount of permutations and predictions to get through.
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Heineken Cup – Another Clean Sweep For The Provinces

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Not bad, not bad at all. Not perfect, not by any means, but there is a certain sense of pride to be taken from the Irish teams all sweeping the board in this Round 5 weekend. Not something to get boastful, or big headed about, but evidence of how strong the Irish presence is in this competition and that no bonus points were obtained shows how fiercely competitive this tournament still is, and long may it continue.
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Heineken Cup – Big Business Ahead For Leinster And Connacht

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So here it is, months of permutations, battles over the future of this wonderful competition and injuries and upsets to boot. It all comes down to the next two weeks. The 13/14 Heineken Cup has seen somewhat of a return to form for Leinster and Ulster, though Edinburgh and Northampton Mk2 would best be forgotten, whilst Ulster and Connacht have continued their relative progression towards being true contenders on their respective levels. In all, from an Irish perspective at the very least, it’s been a glowing highlight of exactly why the Heineken Cup needs to stay alive.
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Leinster Bow Out At The Hands Of Electric Munster

Heinekin-CupSlim but doable, points and tries left behind, what could have been. All of these thoughts now race through the minds of Leinster fans, but were it not for a fantastic display from Munster how things could have been the opposite way around. All in all it’s done now, Leinster have slipped into the Amlin Challenge Cup where they are sure to cause havoc and Munster have progressed as second runners up. It was a thrilling weekend of rugby and there’s a lot to discuss! Continue reading

One Last Chance For Leinster And Munster

JSFor two Irish provinces there is nothing but pride and a solidifying of a home knock out to play for. For Munster and Leinster though, there is a real chance that with the required effort they could find themselves qualifying, against all odds. Munster arguably have the sweeter position, as the last team in action they will know exactly what is required of them. For Leinster, they can do no more than try as hard as they can to win and hopefully do so with a bonus point. What they will have is the Toulon/Montpellier result in mind, letting them know if they are fighting for one of two or just the one qualifying position.

Munster have a second advantage in that they will surely have the weaker of the two oppositions. Racing are out of the equation and now have a Top 14 to play for, all in all meaning that Munster are most likely to be facing a second string side with little or no interest in the competition. Then again in their first game of the competition they faced an extremely similar side, equally not bothered, but Munster could not do anything with them. Basically what I’m trying to say is that too much focus is sitting on Munster having the easy enemy, and nearly all focus has shifted from the fact that Munster have misfired constantly in this competition this season. Against Edinburgh it took them all eighty minutes to gain a fourth try at home, the return fixture last week was sloppy and infuriating. Really they have only come to life against Saracens this year.

That other lost team though, Leinster, are working in the opposite direction. Leinster have had a disastrous season by all accounts when put up against the last three or four. They do look like they would be slightly more primed and able to get out and grab four tries however, were it not for the rock solid brick opposition that is Exeter. Unlike the Munster game, the argument for the oppositions quality is far more valid in this game. Exeter have been hockeyed in this tournament twice by Clermont and will also feel they had Leinster for the taking in the first game and let it slip. They will field a much stronger team and by in large Leinster will find it hard to get the scores needed. The shining light for them is that they are a team with a greater try scoring ability than Munster. The other two games of Irish interest do not have rankings in the mix, though Ulster still have a home quarter to nail down. The news that Nick Williams is out through injury certainly won’t help there case but a Castres team that are out of contention you would think may arrive to the ground a little disinterested, much like Racing. For Connacht they have a chance to snag a fantastic three wins after last year’s sole victory. A great result for a team still lurking on the fringes, unfairly, and a fitting send off for Elwood from European competition.

Oh and there is of course the slight issue of that Sexton fella supposedly leaving for French pastures. Somehow I feel compelled to say worry not Irish rugby fans. As much as I think it would be a great personal move for him and probably his last chance to do so, the most recent reports from the Racing camp are that he has, as most do, merely been using the French as a bargaining tool with the IRFU and will most likely stay in Ireland. Everything should become clear after the Heineken Cup games this weekend when surely the IRFU will open the cheque book and nail him down for a 3 year contract. Hopefully….

What The Provinces Need To Do This Weekend (And How To Do It!)

Ulster v Glasgow Warriors - Celtic LeagueSomehow, for Irish fans, the Heineken Cup all of a sudden looks a little glum. New coaches North and South, an impeccable run of form in the East and a feeling that greatness was coming from the West has all boiled down to one team all but gone, two clinging on for dear life and one that soared through on Friday night with a game to spare. So let’s try and put our minds at ease here, that’s right, time for some maths.

Connacht have by all accounts had a fantastic time of it in Europe, though their losses to Biarritz and Harlequins were arguably within their power to control. Still a massive home win over Biarritz and an opening away win against Zebre sees them with double the wins already this season. Still though these two losses may haunt them as had they even managed a bonus point in both they could still be on the hunt for Amlin qualification. As it stands however, with their eight points seeing them behind teams like Montpellier and Ospreys one would think their European campaign will end next weekend. Still though there stands a good chance against Zebre in Galway to end on a fluttering high and of course you can’t completely write them off against Quins either. All in all this should still stand as a great outing for Elwood in his final season in charge and the pressure will be on new coach Pat Lam to make sure Connacht continue the form and look like serious contenders for qualification next season.

The biggest doom and gloom causer of the competition at the minute is surely Leinster and Munster’s situations, where results from other pools as well as try bonus points will be watched intently for them to ensure qualifying. For Leinster, their job is arguably easier after a solid display against Connacht last week where players like O’Brien rediscovered form of old and the returning trio of Kearney, O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald survived above all else and should have plenty more to give on Saturday. For them to qualify though they are realistically looking at a need for two bonus point wins, as well as some bad results for teams such as Toulouse/Leicester and unfortunately, Munster. Yes on paper there is a possibility that qualification for either Leinster or Munster could come at the expense of one or the other, depending on how the points fall next weekend. It’s all a little strange given how promising the season looked over the summer, but this is sport after all and predictable behaviour is not what it’s made for. On the to the Munster men who, like Leinster, are going to rely on some favours to progress, as well as some displays from themselves like that which they turned in against Northampton last season. The problem with Munster is that as unpredictable as they have been they could find themselves qualified with nowhere to go, just like Edinburgh last season. So far they have flip flopped between a new energetic style of rugby, and the old bruiser up the jumper rugby Munster achieved so much playing. But should they find themselves faced by an extremely hungry Clermont or Ulster team in the Quarters, qualification will be irrelevant should they not bring their new game. Key to this is the relegation of Ronan O’Gara to the bench. Now I don’t say this in my usual O’Gara bashing form of late, the simple fact is that he is an older generation and plays the older game. Keatley is always improving and desperately needs this pressure to drive him on, alas Penney has gone with the tried and trusted but I would worry Munster will regret it.

Lastly then we have Ulster, who it must be said are in fantastic form and being truthful, stood to exit the competition only as a result of a dramatic loss of form and extreme bad luck. However a 23-6 win over Glasgow has put them through to the final eight. It is now key that they play like winners, for again the knock outs are no good to a team if they don’t know what to do with them. Ulster should now realise how great an opportunity they have and how over the last few years they have been destined to be the team they are today. The win over Glasgow, has given them the momentum to give Castres a serious go and hopefully secure a home quarter final. They are the elite of Ireland at the minute and it is no less than justice for their effort and work rate. So to summarise, what we need is this: Connacht have to be readily aware that they are playing for reputation, that their fans will quickly tire or one off performances and that they owe their lives to their coach who is deserving of a big win send off. Leinster need to rise up through their returning war horses and find that majestic form they are so capable of, they are counting on miracles but have had many through the years. Munster must look to the future, if the chips are down tomorrow regrssion will be their downfall. As for Ulster, more of the same of the majority of their season and they can do no wrong. It’s not over yet, not by a long shot.

Mixed Weekend For The Provinces As The Heineken Cup Returns

Well it’s back and as expected, it’s kicked off with a bang. Ulster showing up this season as the main force in Ireland, Connacht eyeing improvement in their second year, Leinster looking shaky in these early stages and Munster still very much a team in transition, trying to find their perfect comfort zone. As it happened this is mostly how the results turned out as well, with Irish rugby supporters having a very mixed weekend of rugby at their disposal as the provinces hit the European stage.   First up was Ulster bringing the challenge to Castres in Belfast. Ahead of the game most did give it to Ulster, but nobody could have predicted they would turn out the best Irish performance of the weekend, at times hitting the dizzying heights of Leinster’s patented brand. Ulster have long despised their labelling as Ireland’s 3rd best team, especially considering the fact that they first won the European cup for the Emerald Isle way back in ’99. Well after the display on Friday night there really can be no question that Ulster lead the way in terms of class and skill not only in Ireland, but in the entire competition after this opening weekend. It was Paul Marshall who shone as the guiding light for the Ulstermen, claiming two tries for himself, and one of them is hot favourite for try of the weekend. His presence round the field was generally excellent however and his two tries coming after Trimble’s fine score early in the game saw Ulster leading 31-10 after fifty minutes. Here the chance was there’s to get the lucrative bonus point however, but they did appear to shut down. It is the one blemish on their performance that the remaining thirty minutes of the game saw Ulster concede a try and make a series of uncharacteristic errors that looked to deny them the bonus point. It would be one little spark of magic, two minutes over the eighty, from Luke Marshall and Ruan Pienaar that would seen them clear and see them earn all five points in a pool where it could prove absolutely crucial. Aside from their slight lull, this was a fantastic opening performance to Ulster’s Heineken Cup campaign and if they are to keep this standard up, they have themselves as very serious contenders for silverware in Europe this season. Ulster 41 – 17 Castres

Saturday morning saw two polar opposite performances simultaneously as Munster took on Racing Metro in Paris and Connacht travelled to meet Zebre in Italy. We’ll get to the unfortunately un televised Connacht game in a minute, but the implosion of Munster must be discussed firstly. The worst thing about Munster’s shock loss on Saturday is how little Racing seemed to care for the first half hour of the game, and just how well Munster were showing their new found flair and form. 10 points unanswered in France and then with one disastrous pass from Ronan O’Gara which Doug Howlett never stood a chance of collecting, Racing followed up brilliantly and they never let up after. It was painful truth be told, for as mentioned already, Racing only seemed to come alive when it looked as though this famous scalp would fall into their lap, which it did. Conor Murray can count himself lucky for escaping his two blatant yellow card offences, dragging a Racing player down off the ball and potentially preventing a try in the process, then later in the game committing a blatant and ignorant block on a chasing attacker. The home fans were incensed and rightly so. Watching this game after Ulster’s performance the night before, the stark contrast between the teams and particular the individuals such as Murray VS Marshall, it is clear as day that Munster’s transition is not by any means going smoothly and their reign of power now starts from scratch again. Racing Metro 22 – Munster 17

We unfortunately couldn’t flick over to it during the droll from Munster but Connacht too of course kicked off their European campaign midday Saturday as well, and by all accounts represented themselves fantastically. Reports from those lucky enough to attend mostly remarked that Connacht did in fact leave too many try scoring chances on the pitch, but if nothing else they managed to make the chances Zebre may be new but they have shown so far in the Rabo that they are no push overs or new guys. By all accounts though, Connacht have started their Heineken Cup campaign with the same attitude. It doesn’t appear to have been easy, nor was it perfect, but Connacht have their first away win in Europe, they’ve started their European season with a win, and they welcome their only previous win to Galway next week, Harlequins. Quins may have done a relatively clinical job against Biarritz this weekend, but in a packed Sportsground, with fans fired up for a repeat of last season’s famous win, Quins will have a very tough day out West. What a season it would be for Elwood to finish with were Connacht to leap in the space of a year from being a struggling team hoping for a win, to a more competent outfit striving for consecutive ones. Zebre 10 – 19 Connacht

With the good unfortunately comes the bad, and it didn’t get worse then the reigning champions Leinster showing on Saturday evening that their early nervous performances this season are possibly a more deep seeded problem than returning players and shaking off rust. To be fair to Exeter they were brilliant in their resilience, not allowing Leinster any quarter and nullifying their style of play. But this team has a huge amount expected of them, and any team that can pull off what they did in Cardiff last year should. When the Blue Army get in a jam, they find their way out. This is what the fans expect, it is what the team should expect of themselves too. Is it belief and a lack of it that’s the problem then? Possibly. Whatever the issue, Leinster need it fixed quickly. With the line out failing miserably, Madigan insisted on constant kicks for territory. At one point late in the game with Leinster holding the final score of mine points to six, Leo Cullen received from a ruck and for all the world looked as though he was contemplating a kick. The O’Driscoll / Sexton axis repeatedly failed during the brightest sparks of the game. And worst of all, Leinster didn’t even possess the clinical smarts they usually do to close out the game through possession as they defended their slender lead after a miraculous turnover, Eoin Reddan spending most of the final moments throwing his arms in protest rather than working to protect the ball. In all it was far too incomplete a performance from one of the highest calibre teams in the competition and it looks from the outside as though there may be an issue bubbling under the surface within the Leinster camp, though this is hopefully not true. Leinster 9 – 6 Exeter