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Posts Tagged ‘ European ’

European Rugby – Leinster Look To Lead

LeinstervWaspsOct14_large

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

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Rabo – O’Driscoll & Cullen Hoping To Sign Off With Silverware

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors - Celtic League 2012/13 Round 18

Given that the latest squad update has him training in full, Brian O’Driscoll will almost certainly be donning the 13 jersey one last time when Matt O’Connor names his 23 later today. There has been many farewells for this great champion and ambassador of the sport over the last 9 months, but this is it. Tomorrow at 6pm, Brian O’Driscoll will take to the field for his final ever game of professional rugby. Do you want any more reason to make this one a must-watch? Continue reading

Rabo: Leinster Overcome Munster On A Bad Weekend For Ulster And Connacht

Brian O'Driscoll returns to the score sheet

Brian O’Driscoll returns to the score sheet

Fever in the Aviva indeed, as Munster and Leinster tore strips off each other once more in the Heineken Cup warm up to beat all others. As has been the case many times in recent years, kicks were the order of the day in the Aviva. Madigan and Keatley both put up good representations of themselves and should both now have eyes on the starting XV next weekend. Ulster and Connacht joined Munster in a deflating weekend, both coming up short in their respective fixtures. For Connacht in particular, things are not looking too good for European qualification as a result, but for the fifth week in a row they have produced an acceptable level of performance.  Continue reading

Heineken Cup Semi Finals Preview: Ulster Return To Lansdowne & Leinster Return To Scene Of Their Last Fall

As we near the end of the Heineken Cup, it is hard to argue that we are looking at two of the most intriguing and exciting semi-finals in the tournament’s history. As recently as three years ago, Leinster would not have been given a hope travelling to France for a semi, and Ulster wouldn’t be given much hope in a semi full stop. Fast forward and we find both teams, on form at least, the favourites in their respective games. Ulster have been electrifying throughout the competition, not least in their epic battle with Munster, and Leinster are currently 13 matches unbeaten in European rugby. But it could all end this weekend, this is the nature of sport and the essence of rugby, whoever wants it more on the day will come away with it.

Much is being made of Ulster’s lack of depth and it has to be said that this is just about the only Achilles’ heel on show for them ahead of Saturday. By comparison to Edinburgh, their opponents, they have had a much tougher run to this stage having come up against Clermont, Leicester and Munster along the way, as opposed to Edinburgh who had the relatively easier ride with only the floundering competition non-performers Racing Metro in their pool and a slack Toulouse in the Quarter Final. That is not to say that Edinburgh had it easy per say, or that they didn’t play out of their skin to beat the French, but it is fair to say that Ulster have probably had to earn this semi through tougher means. But we cannot ignore the fact that one of those wins, the clash against Munster, was done without the use of a single substitution, something I’d never had the privilege of seeing before. It is definitely a worry that they cannot seem to do without the golden 15 and the inevitable worst case scenario is that they progress and have half their players incapacitated through injury for the final. Putting that aside for now however, Ulster do have what it takes to beat the Scots on Saturday, their bench included. Without the comfort of home, and more importantly with the discomfort of a near packed Aviva with bare bones travelling support, Edinburgh are not likely to pull out a performance equal to that of the one against Toulouse. In apprehension of this game Bradley rested his entire first choice team against Cardiff last week and a depth issue of their own showed as Cardiff handed them a spanking in a 38 – 13 defeat. Then again Edinburgh’s Rabo form has by no means bean a measure of Heineken this year, but all the same Ulster are not by any means up against the conveyer belt of Scottish rugby here either. Ultimately the only thing that can prevent this match from being a well-controlled display from Ulster is if they don’t settle and let factors like the occasion and the stadium creep into their heads. If they manage to keep the intensity they had in Thomond then there is really no other possible outcome except Ulster win

Then we move to one of the years most anticipated and exciting fixtures. Schmidt and his history as Clermont backs coach, Leinster and their returning of the favour to the French outfit in the pools in 2010, Ireland’s wake up call to French rugby in the Six Nations, the fact that Clermont are the last team to have beaten Leinster in Heineken Cup rugby; there is any number of reasons to be absolutely giddy with excitement ahead of this game. From one to fifteen too, regardless of team selection, there is a mouth-watering battle to be found between each position. Thorne up against Hines is a likely one and will prove titanic. Heaslip VS Bonnaire or Rougerie VS O’Driscoll or of course Sexton VS James. Or is that Sexton VS Parra? The current state Clermont find themselves in is that David Skrela is a confirmed absentee for Sunday and as a result Brock James once again is likely to have an entire game ahead of him much like the Sarries game. Who takes kicking duties however will be an interesting call. Sexton VS James is actually more worrying than most would imagine though for, apart from that nightmare game two years ago against the same opposition in a Quarter Final, when he performs he is one of the best technical players around. It is entirely mental strength that gets in the way of him achieving full potential. Playing at home, at least from his team’s perspective, there is a chance of him achieving the required mental strength and proving to be quite a nuisance to Leinster. Most opinion seems to be that Leinster need to front up early and attack Clermont hard from the get go in order to unsettle them and I can’t help but think back to the World Cup warm up game against France in the Aviva last year. Ireland burst in to the game and within 10 – 15 minutes Healy had plowed over the line for a well-earned try. France looked terrified. Now admittedly France went on to win that game, but the fashion in which Ireland began is just how Leinster have to take the game on Sunday. It’s an obvious point to make given that every team ideally wants to start every match with an opening ten minutes try, but Leinster nearly have to do this. An opening penalty or two from Sexton won’t be enough to cut it with the combined kicking ability of James and Parra against them. Think back to the 2011 Six Nations tie against France where Ireland hammered France physically, outscored them three tries to one, and still lost. Parra in particular, is a monotonous kicking machine who can kick from anywhere under any pressure when given the opportunity. This one is near impossible to call, Leinster are the better team but have to travel, which makes them about even really. Then again Leinster haven’t lost on the road this season yet. If in doubt, go with the gut. Leinster win

In other Leinster news, Isa Nacewa has thankfully signed an extension to his contract up to 2013, giving the IRFU a year to think of an excuse to keep him within their new non-Irish rules. It was never really in doubt that the IRFU would make sure Nacewa stayed, but it was getting more and more insulting the longer it ran on that a man such as himself who has given so much to Irish rugby wouldn’t be a shoe in for an extension. Luke Fitzgerald on the other hand is still languishing in limbo with his own negotiations although murmurs from the camp are that he is nearing signing on the dotted line.

Rabo Round Up: Magnificent Leinster Send A Message

Even when Fergus McFadden has one of his worst ever days with the boot and Leinster field a “B” team, they show the class that makes them the best Northern Hemisphere rugby team at the moment. Yes, that’s correct, Leinster could beat Ireland. Whilst not wanting to turn this into the endless debate over why Leinster are so good when Ireland are struggling so much, but there’s no point ignoring it completely. Leinster went out last week and failed to perform to a full eighty minutes. All any pundit asked for was that they rectified this, everything else was fine. Lo and behold they took to the pitch on Friday and did just that, performed for a full eighty and reaped the benefits of eight tries versus the previous week’s four. Schmidt surprised many by only retaining 3 of the starting fifteen from the Blues game, although such is the squad depth with Leinster that the selection didn’t cause alarm. What he has now is a major headache in terms of selection as the players from Friday’s game were 1 to 23 electric, even the recently fledgling D’Arcy played a solid role, more so than he has in recent months. With eight tries from eight different players, Leinster once again showed that they possess threats across the field. Edinburgh on the other hand fielded nearly the same line up as they did against Toulouse and were unable to keep up with the home side. They were in the game for all of twenty minutes, even once holding a two point lead but the blitz attack from Leinster put them away and, had McFadden been better from the tee Leinster would have been safely away at half time. As it happened however, five more tries came courtesy of the hosts in the second half which the Scots could only match with two penalties and come the end of the game, Edinburgh were begging for the changing room. What it all means for both teams Heineken Cup semi-finals is vastly different for each of them. First of all, Edinburgh have travelled over to the back garden of the Aviva, with a nothing to lose game, and were obliterated. Ulster’s game is not all that dissimilar to Leinster’s that they can’t expect the same treatment come April 28th. For Leinster travelling to Clermont, they look in good stead with the fine display of their squad depth in this game, and they will happy that they were able to continue to turn the screw, but they cannot let it slip their mind either that by the hour mark, this match was theirs to just run in as many tries as possible and Edinburgh had all but given up. Leinster 54 – Edinburgh 13

Ulster hit a serious stumbling block in their run in to the Rabo final with a shock loss to Connacht after their Heineken Cup heroics. In an example of a team with the exact opposite squad stats to Leinster, Ulster were unable to use any subs in their defeat of Ulster, such is the prowess of their starting XV and the inexperience of their bench. So when McLaughlin named such a changed side for this fixture it seemed slightly off, Connacht are never a walkover at home and one would have thought that some more experience on the field would have benefited Ulster. As it stood on Saturday, Connacht were the ones to gain the early upper hand with Nikora controlling the game for the hosts and doing so in style with an early try and penalty putting them 8 nil in front. Even when Connacht then went down to 14 men, the best Ulster could respond with was two penalties, and when the full complement returned Connacht simply started again with another try, this time from Gavin Duffy. With ulster returning the favour, the half time score saw the visitors lead by three, but another Connacht try coupled with more points from Nikora’s boot saw the hosts close out to win and Ulster are now left in a slight state of disarray in the league table. Due to Connacht showing the kind of mettle that Edinburgh couldn’t, Ulster now sit just outside the top four still and with a mountain to climb in the form of Leinster at home and Munster away, essentially both must win games, in order to stand a chance of play offs. Munster may not hold as much dominance after the Heineken but Leinster are looking as dangerous as ever and next week stands to be one of the more important of Ulster’s season. As for Connacht it is encouraging that they were able to carry over their form from two weeks ago that saw them beat Dragons. With a home match against Aironi next they can hopefully record a nice win over the departing Italians and set themselves up to maybe help Ulster’s qualification chances with a win over Glasgow away for their final fixture. For now though they will be more than happy with a rare win in a derby match. Connacht 26 – Ulster 21

The other great white hope for Ulster’s chances of qualification was of course Munster’s performance against Glasgow who sat neck and neck with Ulster and it was crucial for Ulster that Munster keep them at bay. This they did with a somewhat more pleasing performance than recent outings from Munster in front of a warm crowd in Musgrave Park but by allowing Glasgow a bonus point they have assuredly kept Ulster out of the top spot, and put Glasgow in a position to pass them out with a four point win next week against Treviso, whereas Munster have to beat Scarlets away to stay ahead of them. The match itself was definitely more impressive than previous Munster outings with the hosts seemingly trying to adapt more to the game at hand rather than the traditional Munster method of sticking to tried and tested formulas regardless of the flow of the game. This paid off as is obvious in them reaping more tries in the game than they have in many weeks but the backline still needs further spark. Also worrying is Keatley’s seemingly unsure nature from the tee and lack of total control in the 10 channel. Thomas O’Leary once again showed why he has to leave, never before have I seen a totally outclassed scrum half completely ignore experience and insist on pick and goes rather than feeding out wide. Clearly this is where Murray gets it from. It’s hard not to write about Munster in an aggravated tone these days because even when they put up a score of 35 – 29 on a team they do so with a very incomplete game. The greatest example of their current lapses is the last try from Hogg. The run from Glasgow that, I can’t say parted, more so waved goodbye to the Munster defence was a telling example of what is wrong with their game. In order to stand any hope of redeeming their former glory they cannot leak tries in such a fashion. Still though, a return to winning ways is all that was needed just now, a more refined performance against Scarlets next is crucial though. Munster 35 – Glasgow 29

More news of suspensions this week as John Afoa of Ulster was handed a four week ban for his tip tackle on Felix Jones. It was fully deserved and he is lucky to get away with four weeks given how much this type of offence has hit the spotlight recently. His absence will be felt however, especially as he will miss the Heineken Cup semi-final and Tom Court showed in Twickenham that he isn’t “ambipropsterous” as seems to be the common opinion. A lot of pressure will now rest on Macklin’s 21 year old shoulders and there has never been a more genuine trial by fire offered up to a player than this.

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