Posts Tagged ‘ Ravenhill ’

Rabo – The Table Doesn’t Lie As Leinster Progress

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First and second placed teams in the final, who’d have thought it? Not that it looked likely for the majority of both semi finals mind you. Still, the results are in and Leinster will welcome Glasgow to the RDS in two weeks for the closing game in this Celtic League chapter before a raft of changes in attitude arrive next season. 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

Rabo – Connacht Fight For European Qualification

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Ah yes the news has finally officially come, the Heineken Cup is no more. Next year it will be replaced with the European Rugby Champion’s Cup (or, ERCC, hmmmm) and as well as having a second tier challenge cup there will also be a third tier competition. Arguably this is the best news of the entire deal, and that the ERC could never pull it off maybe justifies their exit from proceedings. The biggest news from this announcement however is that Connacht now know for certain that the final leg of the Rabo is crucial for their European dreams. 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

Heineken Cup – Connacht Mesmerizing In Italy, Four From Four For The Provinces

Gopperth has settled into his new club seamlessly.

Gopperth has settled into his new club seamlessly.

 

Zebre 6 – 33 Connacht

What can i say about this game, to put simply Connacht were unbelievable. They showed hunger, desire and their dynamic type off the play was incredible. They showed real intent and urgency and blew the Italians out of the way, Full credit to Mr Pat Lam for what he is doing with this side. The game started with both sides trading early penalties and Connacht leading 6 – 3 after the early exchanges.  A try by Connacht’s George Naoupa from a quickly taken short line-out resulted in the Continue reading

Leinster And Ulster Fight For An All Irish Final…Again – Rabo Semi Finals Preview

©Peter J Dean
Leinster will want to avoid sights like this

So here we are again, but something is different. Yes once more Leinster and Ulster are fighting for the opportunity to face each other in a tournament final, but against both camps wishes it isn’t the Heineken Cup this time around, rather the Rabo Direct Pro 12 is at stake for the two Heineken Cup rivals of 2012. No it isn’t ideal, both sides would rather be in the Aviva on the Saturday but to be fair, the Rabo is a far cry from the Magners League that preceded it and miles away from the Celtic League that came before. As the European competitions have grown and grown, so too has the significance of the domestic end of things. It has turned into more than a training ground, the addition of the Italian sides making a massive difference in a way they won’t be too happy to hear. You see once upon a time the tournament was seen as the lesser affair and it arguably still is to a degree but with the fledgling Italians entering the fray, the Welsh, Scots and Irish now have an example before them of teams who take the competition very seriously. They also regrettably have their fixtures against these sides to serve as the “easy” games to use as testing grounds and the grand scheme of the competition has taken a more intense position. It is telling that for all of the competition’s “insignificance”, the reigning European champions of three in the last four years, Leinster, haven’t held the league title since 2008. Or since they won their first Heineken Cup to be exact. In 2010 Ospreys spoiled the party winning the last Magners title (and first grand final), Munster took the consolation of domestic silverware in 2011 after they bowed out of Europe early and then last year Ospreys once again spoiled the part with a one point win over Leinster. Watch back any of those three finals and try find the point where it’s apparent that the trophy seems irrelevant to the victors, you won’t find it. With that bit of Rabo justification out of the way, let’s look at who’s likely to contest it. Continue reading

Irish Rugby-A Glorious State Of Affairs

It’s a funny thing, the shift that has occurred in the last two years with regard to the size of Irish rugby’s fan base. With Munster’s double Heineken Cup success followed by Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years, who could blame anyone for hopping on the bandwagon? At a time when there was little or nothing to be happy about in this country, our rugby players were lifting spirits with their exploits. What also happened is that interest in provincial rugby increased tenfold. This was due in a large part to Munster informing the greater population of this island that the Heineken Cup existed and also due to people’s desire to have a constant fix of rugby between internationals. Many took this to be a bad thing, stadia would now fill with the “prawn sandwich brigade” and rugby would grow to be even more of a commercial commodity than it had already become. But of course the reality is that rugby is a professional sport, and professionals need money. So the rise in popularity amongst lay folk in the country paved the way for other great achievements such as Munster VS Leinster in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final in Croke Park producing the highest ever club rugby attendance, a record that will be extremely difficult to break. There was also another far more encouraging sign which was the full house in the magnificent Aviva stadium in December 2010 for Leinster’s crunch match with Clermont Auvergne. Neither of these and many more milestones as well could have been achieved were it not for the massive interest that rugby has gained in the last three years on this island. And now, in the thick of the 2011/12 Heineken Cup season, we are looking at exactly what this now found fan base has produced, three Irish provinces sitting comfortably at the top of the league table.

Am I suggesting that this is all to do with how the numbers have increased in Irish rugby supporters recently? Well no, of course not. But it has had a profound effect. Let’s go back to the topic of money. The eternally feared teams in European rugby are all from the one region, France. Whereas the rest of the rugby nations can provide teams in given years that instil fear, it is France who can do it year in year out. The primary reason for this is that they have more money than sense. French clubs can pump more and more money into their teams as they so choose and as a result can buy in players for the positions they are lacking talent in and so will always have pure class from one to fifteen. Irish clubs, to the IRFU’s credit, are not entirely free to do this and, not so much to the IRFU’s credit, will be all but disallowed from even thinking such thoughts very soon. But what Irish clubs can do is front up the cash to keep our stars. When Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton came out of contract not too long ago, fears abounded that maybe their French interest wasn’t just a bargaining chip. You can rest assured that some hefty, and deserved, figures were drummed up in order to make them stay. And then there is the money spent on coaching. Declan Kidney was famously attacked by George Hook for spending a fortune on his coaching team only for Ireland to perform abysmally in the November 2008 tests. Well, we all know what happened the following spring.

So with money in mind, it is easy to see how the masses who have hopped on the bandwagon are really helping to turn Ireland into the rugby nation it can be. The added numbers to the country’s fan base means we can be more assured of full houses, of numbers attending Connacht matches reaching thousands, of Connacht themselves feeding off the other three provinces successes and furthering themselves in European competition. Most importantly, in harsh times such as those the country is currently experiencing, sport takes on an entirely new level of importance. It is an escape from reality for many, myself included. There was no recession in my house in 2009, simply due to an unbeaten run for the Irish team coupled with a Grand Slam and a Heineken Cup. Sport is becoming more and more a number one commodity for the country and long may it continue. Talk has even turned recently to the possibility of Ireland hosting a World Cup; would such an expensive undertaking even be considered in another field? I doubt it. The day is soon approaching when Ireland, like New Zealand, will become the small country that shocks all of the other nations by consistently providing the highest level of rugby there is, taking the mantle from France and becoming the feared country, the country that has cauldrons instead of stadia, the country that has beasts, not players; the country that has consistency and reputation to uphold. Many may disagree and say that Ireland already has many rugby achievements under its belt and many more will say we have more than would have been expected from this small bankrupt island. But what I am putting to you is that the day will come when an Irish team, provincial or national, will take to the pitch in the Aviva or Thomond, Ravenhill or the Sportsground and say to themselves beforehand that they are looking for another win. There will come a time when facing the All Blacks will no longer be merely “putting up a better fight than last time” as I have heard so many people remark. The All Blacks may have a system that is unrivalled by other rugby nations and likely to stay that way, but it is not beyond us that we could also reach such levels of rugby. Nothing proved this more than the World Cup match last September that will go down in history, when Ireland believed more than an Australian team who looked for all the world to have given up on themselves. Believe. Believe Ireland can achieve the status of rugby elite. Believe that as a country Ireland can become one of the most feared and most influential rugby nation there is. Believe.

Many would be quick to call me nothing but crazy after reading this article but I think if every rugby fan thinks hard enough they will see that I am not speaking all that fancifully. For starters, every sports fan dreams that their team will reach these levels of perfection, why not be confident that it will happen? There once was a time that Leinster would not be expected to win every match they play, they just might have been given the slightly better odds. Now however, a Leinster loss is a catastrophe, even if it were to be at the hands of the number one team in Europe, which is of course themselves right now, and by only a single point. There is simply an air of invincibility about Leinster, Munster and Ulster at the moment, with Connacht taking the crown once possessed by the other three, that of the underdog capable of a great upset, as Harlequins found out all too clearly last Friday. Quite simply, Irish teams now have the position of being unpredictable to the opposition. There is soon going to be expectation on Irish teams, much like there is on the All Blacks, that they will win, and anything less will be unacceptable. This is how it always should be but has not been the case for many Irish fans for quite some time. Now is the time that a proper change is coming and the road ahead for Irish rugby looks set to be littered with silverware.

 By Niall Hetherington