Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

First up, sorry to blog twice in a day, but i meant to write my blog last night and couldn’t find the inspiration, whereas today, i appear to have the bug!

I had a couple of ideas for a blog this week, 1 was my opinion on how Ireland can dominate the Euro club scene, yet come up short against the big nations, the second was to be my review of the various home nations tours this summer, so in short, i will ramble on both. 

IRELAND.

I wrote a little a couple of weeks ago about my misgivings over the general strength of the RABO12 and mainly, the guarantee’d Heineken Cup places that take a lot of the competitiveness out of the league games and also encourages the coaches to ‘rest’ or ‘rotate’ the key international players.

This, in my view is partially what is to blame for why Ireland can’t carry the club form into international games. The players aren’t used to playing 3 high tempo, full blooded games in back to back weeks For example, these are the line ups for Leinsters first two RABO12 games last season (when the side was disrupted by RWC duties)

Round 1http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=158904

round 2 :http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=158906

some of the mid-season games, when the side SHOULD be full strength

Round 12 http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=158965

Round 13 http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=158974

and for the final 2 rounds of the season 

Semi http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=159564

Final http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/2648.php?section=lineups&fixid=159566

You can see the quality differences in the team. Obviously the early season was affected by the World Cup call ups, but the mid season and end season teams vastly differ in quality. Partially this is down to injury/suspension/unavailability but its also down to the sides keeping players fresh for Heineken Cup and Irish duty. 

The players simply aren’t geared up to play competitive games back to back. 

Thats my theory anyway. I could go more in depth, but i’m not going to!!! 🙂

 

The Summer Tours

England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland all headed south for their summer tours, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific isles, respectively.

England took a pretty young, inexperienced team down to SA for a 3 test tour, the first test was a 22-17 South African victory,followed by the ‘midweek side’ taking a 54-26 win over the SA southern Barbarians.

The second week of the tour, and the second test, which was again a Springbok victory, 36-27, when a tweaked England side switched off in a dreadful first half before almost pulling it out of the fire before JP Pieterson scored a cracker to seal the game, the midweek game vs the SA Northern Barbarians was another midweek side victory 51-37

The final test was a 14 all draw after Owen Farrell dropped a daisycutter when a clean strike would have clinched a first England victory over SA in 10 attempts.

Final score SA 2- England 0 (1 drawn)

Overall thoughts. A more balanced backrow and a savvy backline could see this England side develop into something special. A lot of under 23’s in the squad, it bodes well for the future, i just wish Mr Lancaster would pick people in their playing positions!!!!

Wales/ Ireland

I only saw highlights of the Welsh/Irish games, so can’t review them in any depth, but the Welsh will see a losing 3-0 total rather than concentrating on the fact they could have won EVERY game.  27-19, last minute heartbreak to lose 25-23 and finally 20-19 in the last test. In my eyes they are very much the best team in Europe, despite the fact they didn’t win a test on tour

Ireland lost 3-0 to New Zealand. Its almost a travesty that they get the same scoreline as the Welsh. The first test was a hammering. 42-10 (i had predicted 42-12 i believe, on #rugbyreckon, cos i’m awesome.) and it could only get better, right…. well, test 2 was a MILE better, if it wasn’t for Dan Carter and a last minute drop goal (take heed, Owen Farrell) they’d have salvaged a magnificent draw, but had to take a 22-19 loss instead, but actually deserved much, much more. 

The third test was simply an annihilation. 60-0 in tier 1 rugby should NOT happen. The Irish players, coaches and fans will not be impressed by the capitulation and there was some call on twitter for Kidney to resign. It was a horrific way to end a below par tour.

Scotland did a seldom done tour and visited Fiji and Samoa stopping en route in Australia and pulling off an absolutely fantastic 9-6 upset victory. (Mssrs Strokosch and Ansbro will have scars to remember the wild celebration at full time!!) They also beat Fiji 37-25 and squeaked passed Samoa 17-16 to complete a magnificent 3-0 test victory

 

Whilst these tours were taking place, there was also the U20’s JWC on as well. South Africa and Wales both beat the Baby Blacks, SA doing it in the final to be the first non NZ team to win the Junior world cup. The final placings were 

Champs: South Africa

Runner up: New Zealand

Third: Wales

Fourth: Argentina

Fifth: Ireland

Sixth: France

Seventh: England

Eighth: Australia

Ninth:Scotland

 Tenth: Samoa

Eleventh: Fiji 

Twelfth: Italy.

 

Enough rambling for one day. my teas ready!!!

 

laters!

RC-K

 

 

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I know, before i even write this blog that parts of it will be controversial, and people won’t agree with it, but this is MY blog to showcase MY opinions, so please respect that if you feel the need to argue or comment negatively on it, you won’t change my mind on what i believe.

So with that in mind……

The threat has been made by the Premiership clubs that they intend on withdrawing from the Heineken Cup unless changes are made to the format of the tournament.

I believe the English and French clubs feel that the qualification should be 6 from the Aviva, 6 from the Top 14 and 6 from the RABO league alongside the defending Heineken champs and the winners of the Amlin cup, making up the 20 best sides in European rugby.

I’ve seen a lot of press coverage going into the reasoning behind the call for change, this is my take on some of the main points i’ve seen.

1: The Italian clubs. Now, in fairness to the Italian sides, they are at the beginning of the steep climb to being competitive. The fact Aironi have already dropped out of the RABO says a lot about how far they have to go. So the fact that Italian sides are guaranteed HC spots at the expense of better teams, both on the pitch, and off, is surely wrong. The last thing sides want mid season is an expensive weekend in Italy to walk over an uncompetitive side. If the 6 sides from each nation rule was bought in, then the Italians would have to finish top 6 to qualify. They’d still have the chance to improve, and they’d still play in the Amlin cup, so their development wouldn’t be compromised.

2: RABO Pro12 league. The way qualification works at the moment, 10 out of the RABO league sides can qualify for the HC. This is a league where there are only really 6 or 7 sides that stand a chance of winning it. Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and possibly Edinburgh, the other sides are NOT Heineken standard. The fact that 8 to 10 of these sides will qualify for the HC takes away the competitiveness of the league, OK, they slog it out for the playoff berths, but one of the highlights of the Aviva premiership season was the battle for the HC spots, which involved 5 clubs fighting for the last 2 spots. The fact that the Provinces can rest players without any real consequences has helped both the Irish and Welsh national sides develop as they always have the best players fresh for big games. This also shows with the attendance of league games, and has affected the Welsh sides especially, which is now showing by the amount of players being released to the French clubs. The Top14 and the Aviva Premiership are far tougher leagues in the respect that you don’t get ‘down’ games, each game is fought for, tooth and nail, the way a league should be. There is relegation places, playoff places and European cup places up for grabs, so each game carries importance. The RABO just doesn’t get that. There is no relegation worries, no realistic Euro worries (the weaker sides will not budget for HC places, so qualification is a bonus) so some games are absolute non entities.

3: Provinces vs Clubs. Is it fair that the provincial sides should play club sides anyway? With English clubs also hamstrung by a salary cap, they simply can’t have a squad with as much talent in it as say Leinster or Ulster. Even the top English clubs are trying to build with a lot more youth, George Ford, Owen Farrell and co are coming through the ranks, whereas the Provincial sides, especially in Ireland, seem to have 3 or 4 internationals in most positions standing between a youngster and a starting spot. The French sides, with no salary cap, can sign who they like, so they are buying up a lot of the talent. The Welsh sides are slightly different as financial restraints have meant they have had to put in youngsters, and its worked tremendously for them as they can play with almost no pressure in a lot of their league games. Also, the fact that these youngsters can be called in from any of the Welsh premiership clubs to the Provinces shows the depth of the talent pools the clubs have. Far more than the Aviva or the French sides.

4: Financial. This is one that i’m not so sure actually has that much of an effect on the English and French clubs, but is the one being touted by a lot of the press. Articles saying that because the English sides went out early this season, that they lost the financial input of the cup. There are three main reasons i don’t agree with this.

1) Heineken prize money isn’t THAT great. its a prestige tournament, but the prize money is better for winning the LV=Cup (or at least it was in the 10/11 season) so the potential for increased gate receipts is the only real bonus on offer, but then take into account, Leicester, Saints, Exeter, Bath and Quins out of next seasons Aviva qualifiers will probably draw sell outs for 90% of home games anyway. 

2)Having a more accessible opponent in the pool stages would allow more revenue for the club from their club travel arrangements. For example, more people would travel from Sale to Cardiff than would travel to Rome. Also you would be more likely to have a local ‘grudge match’ which would increase revenue for the home and away games. 

3)Less travel expenditure for the clubs. for example less air fare, less hotel expenses (as most sides would stay 2 or 3 nights on a long distance away trip, whereas it’d likely only be 1 if it was British Isles opposition) Lets not forget, a side could draw Toulouse and an Italian side in the same pool, thats 2 blooming expensive away trips for fans and club!

 

5: Jealousy?  I saw Dean Ryan claim this as a reason, that the English and French clubs are jealous of Leinsters success. But even after the re-jigged qualifications, Leinster would STILL qualify, so they’d STILL be the team to beat. So again, this isn’t something i agree with.

6: It wouldn’t mean any extra English clubs would qualify anyway.It was only the top 6 from this season (Quins, Tigers, Sarries, Saints, Exeter and Sale) that are in the tournament, but there would be 7 French clubs (Clermont, Toulouse,Montpellier, Castres,Metro, Stade and Biarritz as Amlin champs) and 7 from the RABO12 (Ospreys, Munster, Glasgow,Scarlets, Ulster, Blues and Leinster as HC champs) So no Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre or Connacht. Now Edinburgh had a good cup run this season, but seriously, could ANY of those sides win the tournament?And for the record….. Zebre? Who? Did they win a place in the cup in a raffle? (3 of the teams that wouldn’t qualify under the proposed qualification criteria are in the same group in the cup draw, the 4th team, Harlequins…. again proof that its not being suggested to make it easier on the English clubs!)

If the Heineken were to be boycotted by the French and English, it wouldn’t be the greatest thing to happen to Northern Hemisphere rugby, but you can bet there’s a contingency plan in place for an Anglo-French competition, maybe involving the second tier sides as well,but obviously it wouldn’t be the same as the Heineken cup, but i honestly think there is a point to be made, so i agree with the respective parties that something needs to happen.

The English and French are trying to make the competition elitist, which i agree 100% it should be the elite clubs. If they were trying to devalue the competition, i could understand some of the criticism i have read, but this is an attempt to give the best sides a chance to prove their mettle.

I can see the reasoning behind the Italian involvement, they are trying to improve the profile of the sport, it gives another market share for TV revenue, etc, but really, Aironi are NOT better than Toulon or Biarritz, yet they were both in the Amlin last season. Same with Connacht, they are a smashing side, and a great bunch of fans, but the reaction to beating Quins should say a lot about their chances. It was greeted like they’d won the Heineken cup, and without checking my facts, i think it was their only tournament win this season. They KNOW they are huge underdogs. And even though it was a great thing for their fans, surely competing, and beating, the minnows in the Amlin would provide just as much enjoyment for the fans. As a long-suffering Gloucester fan, i can assure you that winning the LV cup in a crowd 20k is JUST as satisfying as winning the Powergen cup as part of 80k!

 

As i said at the top. This is only my opinion, so feel free to disagree, but if people are going to get abusive or argumentative i’ll just block/ignore you. All comments are pre approved before appearing anyway

 

Anyway. its 2 am and i was going to bed an hour ago, but i got bit by the urge to blog, so as i have work in the morning, i’d best skidaddle!!

 

take it easy, chickens!

RC_K

As the 6 Nations draws itself to an end, i find myself wondering what we have learnt about the competing teams over the last couple of months….

 

1) Owen Farrell ain’t bad is he?

When the EPS squad was announced, there was mass groans of ‘he’s only there cos his dads the coach’, well, he’s proved people wrong. His size was one of the ‘issues’ people had with him, but originally at centre, and latterly at 10, he’s been impressive in his defence. Look at the hit he made at the end of the France game on Harinordoquy. Fantastic. 

2) Stuart Lancaster wasn’t out of his depth after all!

Not much to expand on, but despite some turgid, kick and chase performances, its the first time in several years that England have won all 3 away games, IF England beat Ireland tomorrow, we will be left to rue Courtney Lawes sloppy ball handling against Wales…. a Grand Slam potentially given away! So can we take supporting a side that wins ugly?

3) Wales are the real deal.

After some impressive displays during the world cup, some people wondered if the Welsh could keep developing, and yes, they have, North, Cuthbert and Halfpenny could be one of the best back 3’s in the game before long. Size, strength, speed and most importantly, youth is on their side. The forwards are beginning to find there stride, though the strength in depth of the pack is somewhat questionable. 

Pre tournament, i had Wales winning, but not doing a slam, a’la England last year, but Gat’s boys have really stepped up and with England and Wales seemingly headed towards very young teams, 2015 and 2019 could be very interesting world cups for the home nations!

4) Scotland. 

Well. What can you say about the Scots? So much promise, again, gone down the pan as they again face a wooden spoon shoot out with Italy. Patience must be wearing thin with Andy Robinson. I think Scotland have something like 1 win in their previous 12 or 13 games, its not good enough!

The seemingly early retirement of Dan Parks forced Scotland to add more youth to the ranks, Ruaridh Jackson needs to step his game up, as does Greg Laidlaw, but add them to guys like Stuart Hogg, Lee Jones, Duncan Weir etc and the emergence of Richie Gray as a genuine talent and David Denton and Ross Rennies very promising (and aliterative) back row partnership and also several players to return from injury and maybe they are a year away from being competitive.

 

5) France.contradictoire

France constantly amaze and disappoint. Phillippe Saint Andre was supposed to be the glue that added steel to the flair, and it hasn’t worked, They are blessed with some amazing players, but never seem to show up for an entire tournament. Fofana with 4 tries in 4 games looks like one to watch, but key players in Servat and Bonnaire are retiring after the 6 nations and they will need to replace them ASAP

 

6) Italy. la stessa vecchia Italia

I know Italy have improved. BUT. They are not competitive, they have tried several combinations in most positions over the years, but its not clicking. The Bergamasco’s and Parrisse are not getting any younger and as soon as these guys go, its hard to see where the future lies for Italian Rugby. Is it time for Georgia or Russia to have a chance? Personally i’d like to see the bottom side in the 6N, which seems to annually be Scotland or Italy’s private battle, should play off with the winner of the European Championship (or Tier 2 6 nations) with the winner playing in the 6 nations, and the losers having to fight to get back in. 

 

7) Ireland

No BO’D, PO’C injured, Sexton never looking comfortable, RO’G sat on the bench…. it didn’t look good. but Donncha Ryan, Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris et al have been frequently great performers and add in to that the phenomenal Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney and also Sexton proving people wrong by holding off the challenge of Ronan O’Gara and its actually been a moderately good 6 nations for Ireland in everything but the results. A loss to Wales and a draw with France won’t be enjoyable, sneaking past spirited Scotland and destroying feckless Italy leaves Ireland in position to jump into 2nd place if they can beat England at Twickenham, with it also being St Patricks day, that game could well be an epic encounter!

 

8) Overview

Its been an odd tournament. All 6 sides are trying to rebuild, whether on the pitch, or in the coaching department (and in Englands case, both!) and mostly they all seem to be pushing for young guys to emerge and make the positions their own, its truly been a proving ground. 

The player of the tournament shortlist is utterly ridiculous, for the record. 

Malzieu, Maestri and Harinodoquy of France, Denton and Rennie from Scotland, Phillips, Lydiate, Warburton and Cuthbert of Wales, Parisse of Italy and Sexton and Ryan from Ireland.

Basically, the men of the match from the first 4 rounds. I don’t understand how that can find a player of the tournament! For example, Harinordoquy got MOM v England, but i think everyone outside of France felt Tom Croft far more deserving, but the award was chosen by French TV. Thats a really unfair system.

So. With a round to go, i will give my personal 6 players of the tournament, 1 from each side.

England :- Owen Farrell. (honorable mentions, Croft for consistency and Tuilagi for his gamebreaking ability)

France :- Wesley Fofana (Honorable mention to Harinordoquy, he’s a beast.)

Italy :- Sergio Parisse. (Honorable mention to Mirco Bergamasco)

Ireland :- Tommy Bowe (Honourable mention to Ferris, who is a silent assassin!)

Scotland :- Richie Gray (Honourable mention to Ross Rennie)

Wales :- Leigh Halfpenny (Honourable mentions to…. well, just about everyone else!)

 

So the 6 Nations are bearing down upon us, and i genuinely think that 5 out of the 6 nations will fancy their chances. Wales were arguably the Northern Hemisphere’s best team at the World Cup, but France made the final and ran oh so close to toppling the All Blacks, so take your pick for a favourite to win the tournament. Here’s my take on the squads and who I think will take the crown.

 

England.

Interim manager, a changing of the guard player wise, several key injuries, there is really no reason why England should have a chance…. BUT. 

Owen Farrell, Charlie Sharples, Brad Barritt, Henry Trinder (as injury cover) add these to an already  dangerous backline and England could really fly through the 6 nations this season. My biggest problem with the squad is Charlie Hodgson. i think he’s going to be used as the key fly half and he plays boring rugby. I keep getting told he’s a great passer, a great rugby brain, but whenever i watch him, he kicks almost everything and has a massive tendency to go wandering and dissapear from big games. 

Also question marks loom over several more untested quantities, Botha, Clark, Morgan, Dowson in the pack could well be breakout stars, Lee Dickson at scrum half is also the Premierships form player at that position.

Joe Marler has widely been condemned as a weakness, great in the loose, technically inept at scrummaging, Dick Best has said that Nick Wood should be there, yet he can’t even get on the Saxons bench!!

I honestly think England have a shot, but it may prove a year or 2 too soon for this squad.

Key Man:- Owen Farrell if he can reproduce his form for Saracens in an England shirt, he really could be one of the biggest players to emerge for England since Jonny.

Hard to guess at a starting XV as some key injuries to the likes of Flood, Lawes, Tuilagi will surely hamper selection.

France 

Which France will turn up? The France that stumbled through the world cup, or the one that fought so hard against the Kiwis in the final.

Who knows? New coach Phillipe Saint Andre could really motivate the team that fell out with the previous coach, Marc Lievremont and with the likes of Clerc and Medard in the backs and Harinordoquy and Dusautoir in the pack, this is a very dangerous French side.If they can get their act together, they could well take the tournament.

Key Man:- Morgan Parra. links the backs and goalkicks, could be vital.

Italy

Well, Italy will be feeding off of scraps again. They are seemingly the only candidate for the wooden spoon again.

The development we all hoped for Italy when they joined the 6 Nations simply hasn’t happened, apart from Parisse, the Bergamasco’s and Castrogiavanni, this is not a good squad. 

 

Key Man :- Parisse, who else. This guy could easily walk into most international squads

 

Ireland

How can Ireland cope without their best player? BO’D is out of the tournament, can Keith Earls may well have the nod at 13, but can he provide that win at all costs spark that BO’D does? I doubt it.

Ireland pack doesn’t rebuild, it constantly develops and they have an absolute embarrassment of riches in the back row, if these guys get their own way, they will roll over any pack in the 6 Nations. O’Gara and Sexton trying to outdo each other at 10 may well provide a catalyst for the rest of the squad.

Key man :- Sean O’Brien. the best backrower in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Scotland

Can Andy Robinsons side kick up a gear as they have threatened to for years? Scotland simply have to dominate in the forwards, the backline have some solid runners, Ansbro (when he’s fit again), Danielli et al, but without a platform, these guys may struggle. 

Kelly Brown being injured is another huge blow, he was the likely captain of the side and a fantastic talisman, but Ross Ford taking over the captaincy could be a masterstroke, in my opinion the best hooker in the 6 nations, and boy does he lead by example!!

Key Man:- Ruaridh Jackson, been around the squad for a while now, can he finally come of age?

 

Wales.

The young guns get another chance to shine, but have lost the scoring prowess of Shane Williams to international retirement, however George North and Leigh Halfpenny are more than equipped to take over that mantel. 

The front row is one of the best balanced in world rugby, the second row can dominate in the loose and in Warburton, Lydiate and Faletau the back row is pretty handy, to say the least, and the Welsh have an absolute plethora of stars and stars in the making, in the backline. Including Gavin Henson. Yes the human Wotsit and reality TV star is back playing rugby. Well at least til he gets bored again. 

After the ultimate disappointment of the World cup, can the Welsh get a grand slam? we’ll see…

Key Man :- George North. He’s got some big, little boots to fill now Shanes gone. 

 

Here’s my predictions….

Week 1

France to beat Italy

Ireland to beat Wales

England to beat Scotland

Week 2

England to beat Italy

France to beat Ireland

Wales to beat Scotland

Week 3

Ireland to beat Italy

Wales to beat England

France to beat Scotland

Week 4

Wales to beat Italy

Ireland to beat Scotland

France to beat England

Week 5

Scotland to beat Italy

Wales to beat France

Ireland to beat England

So my final placings…

Wales

France

Ireland

England

Scotland

Italy

Wales to be the champs, but NO grand slam. Thats my call….

 

Whoever you support and whatever the outcomes, it should be a great tournament, with all the rebuilding in place, it should be entertaining!