Posts Tagged ‘ harlequins ’

European Rugby – New Era, Same Challenges

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As we covered here earlier this week, not much has changed with this all new European Cup. The name, some scheduling and the number of teams. Most of the regulations and seedings remain the same, venues, locations etc. What remains exactly the same is the importance of this tournament, and what it means to those involved.

First of the provinces in action this weekend we have Munster travelling to take on Sale at the early hours of 1pm Saturday. Early kick off and all the talk it has generated aside, Munster are in need of a good start. They haven’t had the worst start to the season of the provinces, that accolade falls to Leinster, but they are yet to grease all the gears. Flyers like Simon Zebo and Gerhard Van Den Heever have been threatening but are yet to put in the displays in the games they’ve been most needed. Continue reading

Heineken Cup – Munster Seek Final Berth

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Sad as it is, the Heineken Cup, that has been such a happy hunting ground for Irish teams through the years, has now got three more days of action to its name. This weekend’s semi finals and the final in May will be the last hurrah these four teams get in a competition that has been the sight of some of their most famous days. None more so of course than Munster. Holding all the remaining Irish hope in their hands, there’s no question over which game is the “must-see” of the weekend. Two giants of the game are set to go head to head, the second French thriller of the year, and the result should be worthy of legend. Continue reading

Heineken Cup – Munster Brilliance Keeps Irish Interest Alive

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Well, that was emotional. Be it the dream of another fairytale for Brian O’Driscoll, the anger and passion that followed Jared Payne’s red card, or the sheer and utter dissection Munster undertook, that was yet another Heineken Cup knock out round that simply had it all. It was yet another reason why the dissolving of this competition next year is little short of a travesty, though at least the new tournament looks set to more closely resemble this one than it could have. Continue reading

Ulster’s Heineken Cup Dream Ends Whilst Mighty Munster Return

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It really is a funny old competition the Heineken Cup. A few months back, Ulster and Harlequins were shoe ins as the top four teams in the tournament, Ulster unbeaten, Quins as good as. Yet here we are with the Quarter Finals played, both teams knocked out in comprehensive losses. In the meantime Leinster showed the Heineken Cup what it is missing in their stunning win over Wasps, in what certainly ranks as one of the best games of the weekend from a spectators perspective.

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Aussie Interest In IRFU’s Kidney Transplant?

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Ok so first things first, Declan Kidney, axe wielder extraordinaire this season, hasn’t been “dropped” just yet. But the announcement from the IRFU that he would be brought in for a discussion on his future just ahead of his final tour for which he is contracted would suggest they at least have him at the edge of the plank. Whether they will push or not remains to be seen, remember these are the same suits who renewed both his and O’Sullivan’s contracts at times that it was clear both coaches had given all they could give to Ireland. Continue reading

Part One Complete For Leinster And Munster

Edinburgh Rugby v Munster - Heineken European Cup Pool OneIt’s a little apt that Heineken’s current television campaign is based on The Great Escape, for that is exactly what Leinster and Munster were attempting this weekend. Both teams needed big wins, and some other good results around them, to stand any chance of still being in contention next weekend. Both got results that will help them in major ways, yet both teams also left a lot behind them on the pitch that could have helped their cases. Ulster too got the required job done and sorted out a qualified spot, but that home quarter final still hangs in the air. And Connacht, well once more nobody predicted a win, but an equal amount didn’t predict the level of that hammering.

Of all four teams in action, it has to be said that Ulster probably looked most complete, baring in mind that they are missing too stars in the shape of Ferris and Bowe. Still, they fielded shooters like Payne, Jackson and the brute force of Nick Williams and more and came away with a solid win. The worrying thing is how they fell off in the third quarter, and it was doubly worrying that they didn’t exactly have the match sewn up at that stage. That they had the ambition for the bonus point too and were so well primed to get it too only for Pienaar to make an extremely uncharacteristic error was unsettling too. The bonus point of course had no bearing on the qualification but it was yet another of those championship moments, and Ulster fell short. Like the argument for Munster qualifying and not doing much with it, Ulster need to fins consistency of brilliance in order to be proper contenders in the knock outs. For now though, with sheer brilliance such as that scintillating run from Darren Cave for his try, this will do. Ulster 23 – 6 Glasgow

Connacht fans were hoping for more, but the hammering they got was truly disheartening. The effect is lessened somewhat by the fact that Quins are simply unstoppable this season and that Connacht were missing Dan Parks. Though he can misfire, for the most part he has guided them exceptionally well this season and his presence was definitely missed. Admittedly there was some questionable refereeing and Connacht leaked two tries that came whilst they were most deflated, at the end of the game and one when they were down to 13 men. A spirited first half saw a smaller margin however and moving on to host Zebre in Galway you would think Elwood’s men are primed for a fine finish to their second, and largely more successful, Heineken Cup campaign. Harlequins 47 – 9 Connacht

Then Saturday came and the calculators were out. After Sale couldn’t do Leinster a favour by beating Montpellier, the bonus point against Scarlets was all the more crucial. Realistically to be any way comfortable in the table Leinster need two bonus point wins in a row. And boy did they know it. From the off Sexton was repeatedly going to the corner. Tries tries and more tries. And thanks to titanic efforts from Healy, Kearney, Fitzgerald and Jennings the job was done shortly after half time. Again, like the Ulster game, Leinster left tries out there, particularly in the first half where infuriating fumbles and communication break downs led to missed chances. For the most part though Leinster looked so much more complete, with the returning wounded of Kearney, O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald adding much needed spark. And staying with Fitzgerald, what a performance from somebody who has in the past taken a few games to get back into a rhythm, yet here he showed up to involved in absolutely every inch of the pitch and got a deserved man of the match award for his troubles. Aside from the Scarlets try, which technically was against 14 men, the Leinster defence looked remarkable too though Exeter may ask more questions of it. Still, part one done and all that. Leinster 33 – 11 Scarlets

Deja vu struck on Sunday when Munster took the field in Scotland, they too were striving for a performance like Leinster’s. What they produced did fall unfortunately short, like Leinster they left a lot of scores out there. It was telling also that the game raised in intensity immensely when Keatley replaced O’Gara. Penney cannot deny it now that Keatley must start against Racing next weekend, which is all the more likely now given that O’Gara will surely be cited for his senseless lashing out at Sean Cox which will surely earn him at least a week off, and if more could see him miss the Six Nations opener in February. He will be missed for many reasons, but Keatley really has to be able to step up at this stage. Edinburgh 17 – 26 Munster

So as for permutations and all of that, the table currently looks like this :

Harlequins 24
Toulon 23
Clermont 23
Ulster 19
Toulouse 18
Saracens 18
Montpellier 18
Leicester 16

What this means is that Leinster and Munster fans will be hoping for losses next week for Leicester and Montpellier, meaning that wins for both provinces will see them qualify in both runner up spots. As for who goes where, Munster would currently occupy seventh place with one try more than Leinster though it has to be said both teams would have nightmare quarter finals away to any two from Clermont/Harlequins/Toulouse. There are other possibilities such as Montpellier gaining a losing bonus point meaning try bonus points and try difference decides which of Leinster or Munster go through. Leicester too could snag a win against Toulouse and coupled with a good result for Montpellier, both provinces would slip into the Amlin if they were to win next week. It’s brain frying stuff, no doubt about it, but both teams can do no more than play the game in front of them. It’s going to be one hell of a weekend of rugby next weekend, make no mistake. Prepare to have your nerves shattered.

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.

2012 Irish Sport Review

kbKieran Behan defied the odds to become the second ever Irish gymnast to qualify for the Olympics despite expectations that he would never walk again.

Connacht recorded their first ever victory in the Heineken Cup with a 9-8 win over Harlequins, but still finished bottom of their group.

Ireland kicked off their Six Nations campaign with a 21-23 defeat to Wales which was followed by a 42-10 victory over Italy.

Irish rugby fans were left stranded in Paris following late cancellation of France vs Ireland in the Six Nations.

Galway native Richard Donovan broke his own world record in Sydney, Australia as he ran seven marathons in the space of four days, 22 hours and four minutes.

The rescheduled Six Nations game against France ended in a 17-17 draw. The remaining fixtures were a 32-14 win over Scotland and finally a disastrous St. Patrick’s Day for the national side as they were beaten 30-9 by England.

Cork landed their third Allianz Football League Division One title in a row with a 2-10 0-11 victory over Mayo.

Irish-born Aussie Rules hall of famer Jim Stynes passed away at the age of 45 after losing his battle with cancer.

Kilkenny hammered Galway 3-26 to 0-10 to land National Hurling League Division One title.

Crusaders won the Setanta Sports Cup following a 5-4 victory on penalties against Derry City. The game was level at 2-2 after extra-time.

Katie Taylor won her fourth consecutive Amateur World Championship, beating Russian opponent Sofya Ochigava who she would later face in an historic sporting occasion.

Leinster landed the Heinken Cup after a 42-14 win over Ulster at Twickenham.

The Republic of Ireland crashed out of the Euro 2012 group stages as they failed to pick up a single point and scored just one goal. They were beaten 3-1 by Croatia, 4-0 by Spain and 2-0 by Italy.

The Airtricity League Premier Division lost another club as Monaghan United drop out due to financial reasons.

Cork, Dublin, Donegal and Mayo won their respective provincial Gaelic football titles

Tipperary, Galway and Antrim won their respective provincial Hurling titles.

Katie Taylor won gold for Ireland at the London Olympics. She recorded impressive victories over Great Britain’s Natasha Jonas and Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva before meeting Ochigava in a tightly contested Final which saw the Bray native triumph by a score of 10-8.ktJohn-Joe Nevin picked up silver while Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes won bronze in boxing at the London Olympics.

Cian O’Connor secured a bronze medal with his horse in the Individual Jumping event.

There was further success in London in the following weeks as the Irish Paralympic team returned home with a tally of 16 medals, their highest total since picking up 42 medals at the 1988 games in Seoul. They won 8 gold medals, 3 silver medals and 5 bronze medals.

jmcDonegal outshone Mayo to win their first All-Ireland title in 20 years. Jim McGuinness’ incredible year as Donegal manager did not go unnoticed abroad and he was handed a role as a performance consultant at Celtic just weeks later.

Kilkenny beat Galway in a replay of the All-Ireland Hurling Final to secure yet another title.

The Republic of Ireland avoided an embarrassing opening to their World Cup Qualifiers Group as they score two late goals to take three points away from Kazakhstan.

Drogheda United won the EA Sports Cup following a 3-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium.

Sligo Rovers won their first League of Ireland title since 1977 after beating fellow title contenders St. Patrick’s Athletic in a dramatic game as Mark Quigley’s 87th minute penalty proved to be the decisive goal.

Limerick were promoted to the top tier of Irish football for the first time in 19 years.

The Republic of Ireland suffered one of its heaviest ever defeats as Germany hammered them 6-1 at the Aviva Stadium. The Boys in Green respond with a 4-1 win away to the Faroe Islands days later.

dcfcDerry City were crowned as the FAI Ford Cup Champions following a 3-2 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic after extra-time.

Gaelic football loses one of its all-time greats as Kerry hero Paidi O’Se passes away aged 57.

By Alan Finn

Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice In Galway For Unlucky Connacht

Ah so close. It was a near clean sweep for the provinces for the weekend in this round of Heineken Cup rugby, only for Connacht to lose out to Harlequins in a match that came so close. The men in green had one win from last season and it was the same opposition so all hoped that fortune would smile on them again but it just didn’t come together for Elwood’s men. An early try from Dave McSharry gave then an early wind and after thirty minutes they held a commanding lead of 19-9. All was well if they could hold to the break but the Quins’ talisman Danny Care put an end to that dream with a brace in the last ten of the first half. Thankfully Connacht showed how evolved they are as a team and didn’t let Quins cross the whitewash again but with a penalty count against them the visitors kicked their way to an eight point victory which meant Connacht couldn’t snag a bonus point. It wasn’t a valiant defeat by any means as Connacht should be holding onto those commanding leads when they get them, just like Treviso should have against Toulouse, but there is comfort in the fact that Quins were unable to run riot and snare a bonus point, especially after the job they did on Biarritz. Connacht now face a tough two weeks in December when they play the French team home an away but hopefully they believe now more than ever that this is theirs to win. Connacht 22 – 30 Harlequins

From a narrow loss we then move to an emphatic win as Munster remembered their place in Thomond on Sundays, taking their time getting there mind you. Munster’s display in their opener against Racing Metro will go down as one of the darkest patches in Munster history as they scuppered a game they had in the palm of their hand. Wrongs had to be righted then in Limerick and nobody would argue that keeping Edinburgh scoreless for their second game on the trot was a good way to do that. That it took Munster all of seventy minutes to get the second wind needed to do the job is a subject of contention, but once they were on form they were unstoppable, the rolling maul that yielded their fourth try looking for all the world like Munster of old, beating opposition into submission and with that valuable bonus point they too now have all to play for in their December fixtures. Here’s to hoping that Racing can now be chalked up to being a random blip and that the Red Army are on the rise to power again. Munster 33 – 0 Edinburgh

Surely the performance of the weekend for the Irish, apart from Munster’s final ten minutes, has to be that of Ulster. On a wet and dreary evening in Scotland it was clear that whichever team managed to hold the ball long enough to cross then white wash would become the victor and the game for the most part looked set to be a battle of the kickers, keeping us all on the edge of our seats. That is until Chris Henry battered over the line with an hour gone and Ulster found themselves, with two penalties coming after, 19-3 up with a match to close out. It was ugly,there’s no denying that, but Ulster came through the conditions the better of the two teams and even with Glasgow’s late consolation of an unconverted try, Ulster still had taken command of a game that could very well have been a banana skin. More of this please and Ulster remain a solid bet for Heineken Cup success this season so far. Glasgow 8 – 19 Ulster

Finally we go to the fourth and, usually, most reliable province Leinster. Yes, the champions have had a rough start to their season, brought on by injuries as well as player control. The win over Exeter required a massive amount of lady luck smiling down on the East and there was clearly lessons learned as Leinster absolute barnstormed Scarlets in the first half on Saturday. After forty minutes it was 11 – 0 in a half that included a beautifully executed cross kick try between Sexton and Nacewa. It looked as though the cobwebs were shook, only for Leinster to revert in the second half. After an absolutely massive drop goal from Sexton, Leinster could do nothing but defend as Scarlets showed the greater intensity in attack. As it happened, a penalty followed by a fantastic solo try from Gareth Maule where he absolutely smoked Brian O’Driscoll, the home side were back writing four points and it was game on. What followed was simply puzzling however as both Priestland and Sexton commenced a trend of missing extremely kickable penalties. For Priestland especially the game was his to take control of but he couldn’t, and Scarlets could have kept their dreams alive with the right boot on the pitch. Thankfully for the visitors Sexton did manage two penalties and with Priestland also woefully kicking a penalty touch finder dead the game wrapped up with Leinster the victors of an admittedly tricky visit. Good and all as two wins are however, there is a massive amount of work to be done before two encounters with Clermont and Leinster will be looking to the Rabo now to make sure they can hold a full match performance together. Scarlets 13 – 20 Leinster

Return To Form Needed For The Champions

The second week of the Heineken Cup generally throws up some of the best games of the Northern Hemisphere rugby season. It does seem a bit odd that this could be possible at this early stage but quite simple, aside from knockouts, this is the most make or break time of the competition for all teams involved. Teams like Munster find themselves in absolute must-win positions having slipped on their first outing, the likes of Connacht and Ulster have pressure on to generate consistency and begin a winning streak and then there is the middle of the road lads, Leinster, who have a serious amount of rust to shake off and amends to make. This is the weekend where teams get to decide whether or not they will have anything to play for in Europe this season, and the fixtures have this lined up to be a cracking weekend of rugby.

First up on Friday evening is Ulster travelling away to Glasgow Warriors for a game that is exceptionally difficult to call after last weekend. Ulster ran riot over Castres, admittedly with a slight lull in the second half, and their performance for the most part was of the calibre only recently seen from Leinster. Where the pressure mounts now is for them to take this form on the road. They will be bolstered by many factors including returning players such as Ruan Pienaar back in the starting fifteen but it is Glasgow that are the hard ones to call for this bout. They held a commanding form against Northampton last week only to let it fall away from them, though Northampton do indeed deserve credit too. Still it was a good performance from the Scots, when it was good, and if they can tap back into that mind set this weekend Ulster will need to keep very wary. Never write the Scots off is the key, and once Anscombe and his men keep that in mind, this should be two from two for the Ulstermen. Simply put they are the better team, they just need to remember that themselves. Ulster win

Next up is Leinster making a difficult trip to Wales to face Scarlets, and in the polar opposite sense to Ulster they need to everything completely differently to how they have performed this season. With games like the 2011 Final, 2012 semi-final and of course their inaugural final win in 2009 under  their belts, Leinster have earned themselves a reputation for being a team that can get out of a jam, that can find that last bit of gas in the tank to overturn a team at the death, or to hold off that final assault. Last Saturday, they got extremely lucky with a missed kick, and earned no points from their attack, rather they just capitalised on some rare Exeter mistakes. Exeter themselves will be looking at a second attempt at a famous win this weekend, with Clermont being notoriously bad travellers. For Leinster though, cohesion is crucial. Too many times last week the tried and true plays and combinations didn’t come off with a result and this is not going to be as forgivable against the Scarlets. Of course even a fully firing Leinster could not be asked to run in a comfortable win in this fixture, and that is why it is so crucial they wake up to their poor performance levels. Here’s hoping the three time champions can overcome this dead period they are sat in and get back to providing the champagne rugby for which they are most famous. Leinster win

Possibly the most intriguing match of the weekend for Irish supporters, especially given that their first game couldn’t be seen, is Connacht’s home game to Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins. Quins are a team deserving of immense praise for getting back to the level they are at, after the “Bloodgate” scandal cause a huge shake up and they left the Heineken Cup. To work their way back, winning the Amlin and the Aviva as well as turning out stellar performances like last week against Biarritz, it’s hard not to feel praise for them. The very same is what has always been said about Connacht however, although they have not been as consistent with their results. Yet they still have that famous victory from last season, where on a rainy night in Galway they were underestimated by Harlequins and Connacht steam rolled their way to victory. Can it be done again? Of course. Is it likely to be done again? Unfortunately, no. Harlequins simply play too fast, too wide and too flowing a style of rugby and on paper it really cannot be said that Connacht have any chance in this game. But still it could happen, the right level of rain to put the Westerners in their element, a possibly sleepy Harlequins and of course all coupled with the fact that Connacht are too an extremely talented team when they don’t let the occasion over bear them. I suppose I need to throw in at least one early wild card and there’s no better game than this one. Connacht win

Munster Munster Munster. It is now becoming slightly puzzling as to why it seems to be the case that a province must make way when another rises to power. Up until 2008, you would not dare say two words wrong about Munster. They were the one faint glimmer of hope that the country had when our national team was imploding in France and a shocking 08 November series. They were bringing back silverware. And then Leinster took the mantle, and with it Munster seemed to slip away into the background. Yes it is true that they are a team in the middle of rebuilding having lost greats like John Hayes, Dennis Leamy, David Wallace and more over the last few years. But the transition has gone on too long. Looking at them last weekend, one would say it has barely started as they looked so lost out on the muddied pitch of Stade De France. If ever there was a game where it appeared that a team was actively trying to lose, this was it. Racing were non-existent for the first half hour, and the old Munster would have annihilated them. Instead there was silly penalties, ridiculous decisions and uncharacteristic frustrations. Munster were looking good in the Rabo, but it looks like they still have work for the Heineken. They do have one blessing this weekend, that is that they are at home in Thomond and they are playing a team that opened their campaign by not scoring a point in a home game. Edinburgh are in serious trouble, and going to Thomond to play a wounded Munster are in for a hiding, regardless of Munster’s current form. But, it has to be said that Munster could be on to a banana skin here. If the loss of O’Gara affects them psychologically in a negative way, and the result last week builds up the pressure too much, Munster could indeed be staring down the barrel by Sunday night. We will see on the day of course, and on paper, for now it has to be Munster win