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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

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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.

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