Posts Tagged ‘ Exeter ’

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

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

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