Posts Tagged ‘ Leo Cullen ’

European Rugby – Munster And Ulster Bow Out

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It’s bad, it really is. Munster and Ulster are out of contention in the European Rugby Champion’s Cup. For Munster this is the campaign that began with Ian Keatley channeling Ronan O’Gara and sealing the opening win with a sumptuous drop goal. For Ulster, it hasn’t looked too good all season but damn it hadn’t once looked this bad. Leinster and Connacht now carry the European hopes for Ireland as north and south must regroup.
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Pro 12 – New Signings Set To Bolster Leinster And Connacht

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Well the European Rugby Champions Cup (I’m informed there’s no apostrophe in there, I still disagree) has kicked off and the world didn’t end. Better yet there was some decent rugby to be seen and it hasn’t in fact turned into an Anglo-Gallic swarm with three Celtic nations well poised to do the business come next spring. But ahead of the November internationals we have to turn our eye back to the domestic league, for some it will be the last chance to put a hand up for Irish selection before the Six Nations.
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Pro 12 – Big Guns Returning For The Provinces

Felix Jones returns to 15 for Munster tonight

Felix Jones returns to 15 for Munster tonight

Firstly, apologies. Yes there was no preview/review of the opening weekend of the Guinness Pro 12 last week, lack of planning and timekeeping are at fault for that one. For what it’s worth, I would’ve predicted every game entirely wrong so that’s something! Normal service can now resume however and we can now look ahead to this weekend’s upcoming fixtures. Continue reading

Rabo Round Up – Leinster See Off Two Greats In Style

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Not perfect, never would have been. Not when the wizard goes off injured after ten minutes. And Leinster haven’t exactly been vintage this season, not by a long shot. But when it mattered, come the final whistle they made sure the scoreboard read digits that are an accurate reflection of the legacy this team has built itself, one that the great Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll were both instrumental in the construction of. Continue reading

Rabo – Last Roll Of The Dice For At Least One Province

MUN_552655kAnd so we come to a close, the regular league season done with Leinster on top and Glasgow at their heels. You could say it’s all becoming a bit repetitive, or you could say it simply is a representation of how far beyond the rest of the league Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Glasgow and (sometimes) Ospreys are year in year out. The Rabo will change dramatically next season, the new importance of qualification fresh in minds from day one, but for now, like its grown up European counterpart, we will see out the last of the current incarnation and see what lies ahead this weekend. Continue reading

Rabo – Final Farewells Kick Off For Leinster

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He has echoed the thought himself, and it is true, Brian O’Driscoll has been retiring for an awful long time at this stage. True enough, hanging up the green jersey with a Six Nations title to go with it and no Heineken Cup left to play for, the biggest flair of his retirement is probably gone. But keep in mind Leinster haven’t exactly a lavish track record with the Pro 12 title and to think it means any less to him or Leinster as a whole just because it is the only remaining prize would be a mistake Continue reading

Bon Voyage, Jonny

JSSo yes it was confirmed by the IRFU last week, Jonathan Sexton will not be playing his club rugby in Ireland for the next two seasons at least. Of course, where he will be playing it remains a mystery as Racing Metro are still maintaining they have not signed him but with French regulations stipulating that transfers and new signings cannot be announced until later in the season, don’t expect any confirmation for a while, though how it will remain a secret until April is a mystery in itself. Still the fact remains that Ireland is losing one of its most talented and influential club players and with that has come extremely mixed reactions. Continue reading

Leinster Smash Multiple Records To Claim A Third Heineken Cup

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s spectacular Heineken Cup final Brian O’Driscoll mentioned that he wants Leinster to create a dynasty. He, and the rest of the squad, want to essentially become the All Blacks (or Blues) of European rugby, the team that all others aspire to and also the team that all others want to beat. Well one would think that they have done a good job of solidifying that notion with one of the most impressive Heineken Cup final displays ever seen. Most tries by one team, join record for most tries in a final, most points score, biggest winning margin and above all else, first team to win three out of four years. Leinster threw all previous competition records out the window with their most complete performance of the season on Saturday. The players will tell you that the job isn’t done until they win next Saturday too and snag that elusive double, but for their fans and further than that, their country, they have done more than enough to prove that this small playing pool has far more to offer the rugby world than the sum of its parts. The national team may not be able to put the country on the rugby map currently, but Leinster and Ulster in fact, are.

The match itself is one that has stirred differing opinions, with some feeling it was anti-climactic due to Ulster allowing Leinster so much through a below par performance. Others feel it was one of the highlights of the season. To me, it really isn’t fair on either team to say that Ulster didn’t “show up” or that they gifted Leinster the win. Yes, they played somewhat shaky for most of the match and at times, particularly whilst Jackson was on the pitch having an absolute nightmare of a game, they looked utterly lost. But let’s not forget that the opening moments of the game was a barrage from Ulster, putting Leinster on the back foot and rewarding Ulster with three points for their trouble. Leinster looked a little shaken. Even after O’Brien, unanimously called Man of the Match in a game where it was near impossible, crossed over for the opening try, 7 – 3 didn’t see the men in white down and out and up for a rout. In fact, up until that try Ulster had enjoyed an average of 80% possession. No the moment where the game shifted and Ulster started to make the truly crucial errors was at the start of the second half. As mentioned above, Paddy Jackson had a day he will want to forget on the pitch at Twickenham and thanks to what appears to be some bad advice from Stephen Ferris, made the worst mistake of the game when he kicked out on the full with a ball Ferris had carried in to the 22, though it looks as though he was advised otherwise in replays. This led to a Leinster lineout and subsequent maul which gave Leinster the 21 – 6 lead through a penalty try. At first it seemed a slightly harsh call from Owens but on subsequent viewings it is clear how Tom Court barges in to collapse the maul and it is indicative of how frustrated Ulster were at their current position in the game. Had it not been for this moment it may still have been game on, particularly given the fact that Ulster’s sixtieth minute try would have had the score 17 – 14 against Ulster with twenty minutes to be played. This moment in the game, the last act Jackson had to perform as it turned out, was where Leinster put a hand on the cup. The ferocity of that maul, coupled with their upper hand at scrum time for the majority and their lineout creaking less than in recent times, let Leinster say “come and get it” to their opposition. By the final twenty minutes, the Leinster players were nearly playing with grins on their faces, yet Jamie Heaslip’s clearly heated pep talk one minute from time shows that the game is never over until the final whistle for these guys.

Ulster may have had a bad day at the races but they will eventually be able to see the small consolation that this season has not been a total right off. They have laid great foundations for next year and though they didn’t complete the goal, for many of their players it will have been a great success to reach the final, to get that agonising defeat along with the hint of glory. It never did any harm to Munster when after all those years of being runners up they finally came good in 2006. No really the most hard done by of everyone here is Brian McLaughlin. His work since joining Ulster has been outstanding and he deserves immense credit for getting him where they are now. The least he could have asked for is to come away from his time there with some silverware, which makes it even worse that they don’t even have a Rabo to play for still. But all that can be done here is for Ulster to press on, McLaughlin too given that the future of the club will be under his tutelage. No team would ever be content with second place, but Ulster have to be content with their improvement so as not to throw away this season. They still showed their particular brand of creativity in the game, and against another opposition the line breaks and manoeuvres they applied would have yielded results. Their only problem was being up against the team they were. Leinster’s defence is one of their biggest points of pride and it did not fail them here, just as it hadn’t in France three weeks before. The ludicrous round the back blind pass from Wannenburg from one of Ulster’s better attacking scrums goes to show how much Leinster’s defence was frustrating them. It was the sort of move O’Driscoll pulls of when all the right Gods smile at the same time, and it was attempted by a forward. Ulster weren’t poor on the day; they were being pushed to their every resource by a superior team.

Speaking of resources, as has been speculated in the run up to this game, Leinster won the battle of the bench on Saturday and the final two scores of the game are proof that this was crucial. Leinster scored twice after Ulster went down to 14 when Terblanche tip tackled Sean Cronin in an offence worthy of a citing, there’s that frustration again, and both tries came from subs. The first was an all sub affair, the ball moving from Madigan, to Cronin, to Van Der Merwe who touched down in the corner. The second was a sweet pop from O’Brien to Cronin who, having secured and unbeaten run in the pools versus Montpellier, was completely deserving of having the honour of sealing off the game with the final score. Stuart Barnes made the point at the end of the game that when a final is one sided, generally speaking the opposition were the wrong team for the final, undeserving if you will, but as he reminded the viewers, Ulster made it here through the “pool of death” and by becoming only the second team ever to win a Heineken Cup game in Thomond Park. Who else in the competition would you have put in their position? Aside from maybe Clermont, no other team could really claim the spot. No the pairing was spot on, Ulster were second best in the competition. As a general Irish rugby fan, it wasn’t an easy game to watch. Seeing the various camera cuts to Ferris and Best looking simply dejected even with ten minutes to go, you couldn’t help but feel a slight sense that they deserved more. But they will have that chance again; there is no doubt about that. For now, this is Leinster’s year, once in which they have had only three defeats, where they have put cricket scores on oppositions and where nearly every game never looked like anything but yet another win. They are a Tour de Force, a champion’s team; they are Leinster. And there’s more to come still.

RaboDirect Preview: O`Driscoll Returns For Leinster

Now that the Six Nations is finished, all eyes in the rugby world shift to the club game. With the Heineken Cup knock outs looming, the RaboDirect Pro 12 takes on added significance in getting players back up to full speed and working the internationals back into the club game.

And this coming weekend is looking to be a great one for the Irish provinces to get a trial by fire. First up is Leinster VS Ospreys at the RDS which is looking to be a massive game for the Rabo. Tonight sees the return of Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll to the pitch after both made remarkable recoveries from injury. Also included alongside Cullen is ex-All Black Brad Thorne on a short term loan. These three alone will spark an amazing atmosphere in the RDS as Leinster welcomes two of its favourite sons back to the stage. Leinster, lest we forget, are unbeaten since the start of the competition and this also include Heineken Cup matches. The statistic is not one to be ignored, it is the reason the All Blacks do what they do with such consistency. Leinster are used to winning. For the Ospreys, they have one weapon to their advantage that Leinster can’t compete with, a successful Six Nations providing plenty of momentum. For the returning Welsh internationals, the Grand Slam will provide major confidence that they will want to carry in to their club game and inspire the rest around them. As was seen in 2009 after the Irish Grand Slam, this is sound logic. Success breeds success. However, there is the issue of the recent form of the Ospreys and no amount of goodwill can change that. Obviously a direct comparison with Leinster is pointless as Leinster are running a stunning unbeaten run that is not all that common, but the Ospreys have been somewhat hit and miss throughout the Rabo, wins coming mostly by a score and some bad losses thrown into the mix. Coupled with their dire Heineken Cup form they do not have much momentum built as a club. That being said, expect them to now eye the Rabo as their only chance in club competition and they do have a precious third place spot to hold on to, a position they have three to four teams breathing down their neck to claim. Expect a good fight from the Ospreys but at home, with three giants entering the lineup, Leinster surely have this one in the bag. Leinster win

The next Irish action is that of Ulster VS Treviso on Saturday. Ulster have arguably been the form Irish province this season, even though they don’t have the winning streak of Leinster. They have constantly been evolving over the last two years and this season have mostly managed to win when it mattered most. They are in the plump position of having not too much or too little expected of them. They have the confidence of the public and their supporters as they should have, but they are not so flawless that they have mounting pressure to always win like a Leinster team does. That being said, and I don’t mean any great insult to them, Treviso are nowhere near adequate opposition for Ulster. Granted, Treviso deserve utmost credit for finding themselves eight in the table and ahead of the likes of Dragons and Edinburgh, but one could imagine that they couldn’t possibly have the strength to overturn this Ulster side. Treviso do however have two advantages that they would hope to exploit. One is the confidence to be gained from their shock win over Ulster in the first round of this fixture. The second is that Ulster are without three talismanic figures in Best, Ferris and Trimble due to Six Nations recovery. Whilst it is not true to say that Ulster are lost without this trio, a trip away to an opponent that previously showed you up at home is not made all that easier when you are down men. A tight enough match is to be expected, maybe one that even comes down to the last kick of the ball, but based on prowess and form (and the fact that Treviso are working on seven straight defeats) Ulster win

Then we top off the Irish activity with a nice little Irish derby of Munster VS Connacht. Connacht are a team that have done nothing but frustrate this season. Their inclusion into the Heineken Cup could instil nothing but hope in fans of Irish rugby and at least one stellar performance from them in the competition would have been thought to have been enough to gain them some respect on the higher stage. Though they eventually provided this against Harlequins in their final game; Connacht saw games slip away from their grasp against Gloucester both rounds and Harlequins in their opening game. It is a feature of their lack of top tier experience that they couldn’t hold onto leads built and couldn’t close out games, but they are still a team that can do much more than the current form they are showing this season. Unfortunately, they are getting a shot at redemption this weekend against a Munster team that looks to finally be getting itself back together. Munster looked somewhat hit and miss at the start of the season, scraping wins in the Heineken Cup through supernatural feats from the boot of Ronan O’Gara, but then against Northampton in the final pool game they managed to find a majestic form that carried into the Rabo for the most part. But they still have that absolute shock defeat to Aironi in their last match that will no doubt still be stinging. What must be asked is whether the Aironi defeat was a blip on an “off day” and are Munster going to come out Saturday with a point to prove? Or are Munster still a yo yo team, in terms of form, that cannot be assumed to get these wins due to a lack of gameplan. Were this match being played in Thomond, these questions would probably not hold as much relevance but at the Sportsground, Connacht have the potential to record a famous win over a European giant. Unfortunately for them however, we must return to Munster’s ability to pluck wins out of thin air and in a head to head of form, regardless of how back and forth Munster have been, they simply have to be favourites for this game. Munster win

Current table top 4:

Leinster          63 pts

Munster         52 pts

Ospreys         49 pts

Glasgow         47 pts

O`Gara Pulls Victory from Jaws of Defeat

A late Ronan O`Gara drop goal sealed a 13-11 win for an injury ravaged Ireland side against Italy in Rome.

The Munster man found the space in the final minute to convert the drop goal, much to the relief of manager Declan Kidney as his unconvincing side seemed destined for a first ever defeat at the hands of Italy in the six nations.

Ireland , who were missing a host of top names , got off to a sluggish start committing error after error. Their opening half performance left a lot to be desired, as they trailed the Italians 6-3 at the break, courtesy of two Mirco Bergamasco penalties to one by Leinster`s Jonathan Sexton.

Immediately after the break Ireland upped their game, with captain Brian O`Driscoll bagging a try just minutes after the restart, which was followed by a Sexton conversion. His conversion drained the confidence from the Italians as a host of handling errors crept their way into the game.

The Italians however were not the only side guilty of bad handling, with Gordon D`Arcy committing his third knock on of the match, with the try line only metres away.     

However, a sin-binning for Denis Leamy late in the second half, was followed by an Italian try courtesy of Luke McLean.Crucialy Bergamasco was unable to put the conversion between the posts, something his side would come to regret. 

O`Gara was sprung from the bench in the second half and provided the winning kick, once again outlining how big of an influence he can be to any Irish team.

After the match a deflated O`Driscoll was relieved at his side getting the win. “They nearly made us pay for our mistakes but we came back and showed just enough charachter. That was sub standard and we have got to expect a lot more from ourselves.

“Thankfully we got the win and that`s the only thing we can take from this performance”, said O`Driscoll , as his thoughts switch to next Sunday`s Dublin date against the French.

Ireland:Luke Fitzgerald,Fergus McFadden,Brian O`Driscoll,Gordon D`Arcy,Keith Earls,Jonathan Sexton,Tomas O`Leary,Cian Healy,Rory Best,Mike Ross,Donncha O`Callaghan,Paul O`Connell,Denis Leamy,David Wallace,Sean O`Brien. 

Replacements:Ronan O`Gara for Sexton,Leo Cullen for Paul O`Connell ,Sean Cronin for Rory Best ,Paddy Wallace for Gordon D`Arcy,Tom Court for Cian Healy,Eoin Reddan for Tomas O`Leary