Posts Tagged ‘ Thomond ’

European Rugby – Where Do They All Stand?


Dual blogged on I’m Talkin’ Here

So two rounds down and already some possible contenders have bitten the dust. Two rounds never technically eliminates you from any tournament, but a whole heap of miracles and shock wins are generally required to get you back on track after poor opening games. For the Irish only one of the provinces find themselves facing down this situation, Ulster, whilst the other three are looking fairly solid on the table albeit with much work to do before double-headers in December.
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European Rugby – Time To Separate The Men From The Boys


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

Pro 12 – Kearney King As The Provinces Nab A Clean Sweep

Rob Kearney dots down the firs of his two tries last Saturday

Rob Kearney dots down the first of his two tries last Saturday

Some of it was simply beautiful, some of it down and dirty nitty gritty, and some of it we’ll just never know as Munster V Treviso was inexplicably not televised. But it’s a clean sweep for the provinces, after an opening round that saw just the one – Connacht – team nab any joy. Ulster and Munster didn’t make it easy over what should have been straight forward enough Italian opposition, but they got the job done. Connacht ground out a win at the death that was just completely unrecognisable from their last two seasons, and Leinster came back to something resembling the defending champions they are. A good weekend indeed. Continue reading

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 Direct Preview: Munster & Leinster Ready For Battle

Not a single word can be said about rugby today without first acknowledging the retirement of the legend that is Shane Horgan. As a great example of how school and club is not the be all and end all of a young man’s chances of a professional rugby career, Horgan has a fantastic career of accolades and some wonderful moments of brilliance to look back on from his many years serving Leinster and Ireland. Be it any one of his many moments of nearly psychic communication with O’Driscoll, the mesmeric try scored against England in Croke Park or his match winner in Twickenham in 2006, Horgan served as part of the Irish backbone in so many games, so much so that it is amazing to think that he wasn’t in fact involved in the Grand Slam, one of the only merits he doesn’t have to his name. His career has seen three Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cups, 71 Leinster and 21 Ireland tries, two World Cups and a Lions tour. Though he paves the way for an exciting new bunch of Irish wingers, he will be sorely missed as a figurehead of Irish rugby.

On then to this weekend’s Rabo matches and the first match for our attention is that of Ulster VS Aironi. Unfortunately for the Italians, this one is relatively easy to call. Although Ulster looked like they were on the verge of a shock double defeat to Treviso last week, they showed some character and managed to come away from the match with a last gasp win. This coupled with them returning home to Ravenhill and getting back their internationals means they should be nearly back to their old selves as we saw them in the Heineken Cup pool stages. Ulster have only one home loss this season in the Rabo and one would think that the statistic will remain the same after the weekend. That being said, Aironi have not exactly been the total whipping boys expected, bottom of the table as they may be. They have already this season surpassed their points total of last season and have that famous win over Munster from a few weeks ago to fuel the fire. Still though if Ulster do come out in the form they have showed for most of this season, all of this will stand for nothing to Aironi. Sad but true, any Ulster team that includes Trimble, Ferris and Best losing to the bottom team in the table whilst playing at home? Doubtful. Ulster win

On the flipside of the above prediction for the Irish provinces, Connacht will find themselves in an Aironi like situation of their own this weekend. Really, if we go on statistics alone, Connacht have zero chance of taking anything from this game. Dragons have Faletau and Lydiate returning, as well as only one loss at home this season much like Ulster. Though the knock outs may be all but out of sight for them mathematically, no team plays for anything better than pride and Dragons have plenty of that to go around. On the other hand Connacht can take much heart form the majority of their performance last week against Munster where they did seem to have some form of control of the match, though it must be remembered that seven of their points were to do with Munster being down to fourteen men. Connacht have one away win to their name this season and that was their opener to Treviso. Since then they have barely been able to buy a win, save for one fantastic day against Harlequins in the Heineken, and unfortunately for them it does not look like this weekend will be the one to change their run in the Rabo, Save for an absolutely inspired performance worthy of the history books, or a truly horrendous one from Dragons, the result here is not in Connacht’s favour. Dragons win

Then we move on to Europe’s only unofficial Heineken Cup fixture. Munster VS Leinster, regardless of who is at home, generally tends to serve up the closest matches and most nerve shredding rugby of the season. This particular fixture in Thomond however has always tended to be something special. Be it last year when O’Gara edged Munster to the win with the final kick or the year before when the score was also a one point game, albeit in Leinster’s favour. And of course there was the last ever Magners League final last year. Always this fixture provides great entertainment and this year it seems timelier than ever. Again as noted, this week marks the return of the Six Nations players to the fray, players with major points to prove after a dismal end to the tournament and players who want nothing more than the comfort of their club and its winning ways. Add to this the likes of Zebo, Hurley and Nacewa who have been showing great form for their provinces all season and you have a fantastic combination of experience, players with significant gametime and two teams who are more than up for this battle. Last year, this game was a must win for Munster due to them being out of the Heineken and in need of redeeming some face, which they did so admirably. This time around, Leinster need to get back to winning ways and Munster need to continue them. After all that has happened with Leinster rugby in the last few years, this year is one in which this match can finally be the clash of the titans it should have always been. Last year, Munster were slightly deflated and Leinster had more than one eye on the quarter final. The year before, both teams were underperforming. This year, for once we have both teams arguably at their best in terms of form and should be looking at a great game of rugby. The only area in which this game could possibly sway in favour for either of the two teams is in leadership, and Leinster will win that battle. Where Munster are without O’Connell and only just accepting back O’Gara this week, Leinster get to have week two of Thorn, Cullen and O’Driscoll’s return, as well as Sexton, Kearney, Heaslip, O’Brien and Healy amongst others returning. Though Munster have key figures like Ryan and Earls to welcome back their biggest issue currently is that their greatest strength lies in their younger players and comes at the expense of leaders. Without O’Connell, Munster still look a little worryingly lost. It’s a fickle reason, but the only reason nonetheless that I can see this game swaying in anybody’s favour. Leinster win.

Other rugby news this week sees the troubling revelation that Leinster may not secure Luke Fitzgerald for another contract after negotiations fell through. The current leak is that Fitz would not accept a 30% pay cut and so will be looking elsewhere if his needs are not met. It is in the early years that players need to earn the money that they will live off after retirement and so for this reason Fitzgerald cannot be faulted in my opinion for his stance on the issue. At worst too, a move abroad could in fact help him consistently find the form that has eluded him since 2009.

Another contract deal which was more successful was that of Peter Stringer’s one year extension with Munster following the departure of O’Leary. Stringer is a player who has never really shown any signs of slowing down and Munster showing faith in him is great news as he has some great days ahead of him still, no doubt about that.

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