All posts for the month May, 2011
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 30, 2011
As the season rumbled to a close, Whiff of Cordite managed the miracle of being in two places at one time (well, there are two of us I suppose) to get a view of all the action. Some things we noticed:
Munster deserved the Cup. They have struggled on the big occasion this season, but their consistency in the league is admirable. They played the final with an intensity Leinster couldn’t dredge up after their heroics last week. McGahan deserves some credit for switching his selecion policy mid-season to putting faith in youth, and a number of gems have been unearthed. Top of the class is Conor Murray, who, it could be argued, should not only travel to New Zealand, but be Ireland’s starting 9.
John Hayes is going to the World Cup. Munster’s scrum has improved beyond all recognition in the last couple of months, and the big Bruff man has surely seen off the non-challenge of Tony Buckley for a spot on the RWC plane. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the somewhat rejuventaed Marcus Horan could join him – swallow dive and off-the-ball hit notwithstanding.
The Flying Fattie still has it. Rupeni Caucaunibuca is one player we really hope to see in the World Cup. Spare tyre or otherwise, the sight of this huge man running the length of the pitch in the final moments of Toulouse’s semi-final win was surely the moment of the weekend. A shout-out to rugby genius Maxime Medard is also in order.
Thank heavens for Schalk Brits. Amid the Premiership drudge-fests at least there’s Schalk to keep up the fun-quotient. Saracens’ ridiculously dynamic hooker put in a man-of-the-match performance to swing an otherwise drab final for his side. He lit the place up, and his try-saving tackle on Alesana Tuilagi was the stuff of greatenss. South Africa are missing a trick if both he and Richardt Strauss are sitting at home this September, as is likely.
As for Montpellier‘s fairytale adventure, we’ll be having a closer look at just how the second-favourites for relegation at the start of the season have found themselves in the Top 14 Final a little later in the week.
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 29, 2011
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 27, 2011
- In the opening game of the 2009 6 Nations, Nick Mallet picked openside flanker Mauro Bergamasco at scrum half against England. Not Mallett’s finest hour, it must be said. Frankly crazy, didn’t work, and unfair on a great player.
- Lesley Vainikolo. After just 9 games of union and 6 tries (5 of them against Leeds), the Sunday Times unleashed a double page spread by the reliably lunatic Stephen Jones (Headline: “Next Big Thing”). Sure enough, he was railroaded into the England team. Toe-curlingly awful – he could barely catch or pass and seemed unfamiliar with the rules.
- Clive Woodward on NZ Lions tour 05 – Woodward went a bit mad on the Lions tour, recruiting Alistair Campbell, posting Power of Four wristbands to the players and, of course, picking the entire England team of ’03. And Charlie Hodgson.
- Ceri Sweeney overlooked for Gav Henson on the Welsh bench at Lansdowne Road in 2006. Cue Stephen Jones injury, while playing beautifully, and a man who could barely run a club game from 10. Dire.
- We were going to laugh at the time Lievremont picked Sea-bass Chabal at 7, but we thought we had better broaden it to any time Lievremont picked Chabal. Or is it the sponsors picking him?
- Remember RWC11, when Uncle Deccie brought John Hayes? Utterly unfair on the man, he got caned against Russia. A sad way for a great career to end.
What other coaching lunacy have we missed?
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 26, 2011
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 25, 2011
Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we? Here’s our Heineken Cup XV of the season.
If Leinster dominate the selections, then it’s probably no surprise. Toulouse lacked a little of their usual pizazz, Perpignan ran out of juice in the semi-final and Munster weren’t their usual selves. Leinster overcame the toughest group with a game to spare, securing a home QF in the process, beat two heavyweights in the knockouts, before winning in memorable style in the final against a hard-nosed Northampton team.
15 Isa Nacewa (Leinster) – The key to Leinster’s counter-attacking game. Not the quickest full back but is a visionary player in how he exploits the space in front of him. Try against Leicester was unforgettable.
Honourable mention: Ben Foden (Northampton).
14 Shane Horgan (Leinster) – No longer in demand at international level, but Shaggy had his best season in years for Leinster. Ability at restarts particularly impressive.
Honourable mention: Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), Andrew Trimble (Ulster).
Dishonourable mention: Matt “4 tries against Aironi” Banahan (Oooooooooohhh Bath) – what were Planet Rugby thinking?
13 Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster) – Few things left to say about the great one at this stage, but his ability to come up with the goods when his team needs it are unparalleled. Witness match-winning try against Toulouse.
Honourable mention: Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)
12 Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse) – Dismissed by Matty Williams as a poor selection for Toulouse’s visit to the palindrome (and of course by Lievremont for RWC11), he proved the doubters wrong. Can be flakey, but has magic in his hands and feet.
Honourable mention: Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), Ooooooooooohhh James Downey (Northampton)
11. Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester) – Oooooooooooooh, that’s a whole lot of Tuilagi. Rescued Leicester when they alsmost lost to Treviso in the opening round, and should have scored when he flattened BOD in Lansdowne Road.
Honourable mention: Vincent Clerc (Toulouse)
10. Jonny Sexton (Leinster) – Haul of five tries and phenomenal kicking percentage was one thing; that performance in the final was another. Looks a player set for the world stage.
Honourable mention: Ian Humphries (Ulster), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – A classy footballer who brought a winning mentality to Ulster. Distinctly un-South African in that he can pass and run as well as boot the ball into the air.
Honourable mention: Lee Dickson (Northampton), Dmitri Yachvili (Biarritz)
1. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton) – Raw power helped the Northampton scrum become one of the most feared in the competition. His first half in the final was simply astonishing.
Honourable mention: Perry Freshwater (Perpignan)
2. Richardt Strauss (Leinster) – His throwing and scrummaging were good enough to get in, but his open field play secured the position – how many times was he right on the shoulder of the ball carrier?
Honourable mention: William Servat (Toulouse), Dylan Hartley (Northampton)
3. Mike Ross (Leinster) – Europe’s premier tight-head right now, his intelligence and tactical nous put him a class apart. Hard to believe that he (or Strauss) couldn’t get a game last year.
Honourable mention: Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Brian Mujati (Northampton)
4. Courtney Lawes (Northampton) – Phenomenally athletic young lock who packs a serious punch. His patrolling of the ruck against Ulster got Northampton out of a sticky patch.
Honourable mention: Leo Cullen (Leinster)
5. Nathan Hines (Leinster) – Absolutely everywhere this seaseon. Line-outs, rucking, carrying ball, and scoring in the final. Knits the Leinster team together.
Honourable mention: Jerome Thion (Toulouse)
6. Sean O’Brien (Leinster) – Man of the match 3 times in the group stages and his barrelling ball carrying ensured Leinster had go-forward ball all-season. The 40 metre run in the final with defenders hanging off him will live long in the memory.
Honourable mention: Tom Wood (Northampton)
7. Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse) – Classy operator who appears to make a tackle every 2 minutes. Toulouse’s leader, he chipped in with 4 tries.
Honourable mention: Phil Dowson (Northampton)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) – Gets the nod for his latter performances after a patchy and injury-affected group stage.The stand out player in the knock-out stages.
Honourable mention: Joe van Niekerk (Toulon), Roger Wilson (Northampton)
And finally, a nod to our top 3 players in the Amlin Vase, or whatever its called. He might be regarded by some as an honest journeyman, but the performances of Chris Robshaw in the knock-out stages, especially at Thomond Park, were of the highest quality. We also doff our caps to Nick Evans and Sergio Parisse – class is permanent in both cases.
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 25, 2011
With one half of Whiff of Cordite manfully running the show from home, the other was on a crucial research trip in Cardiff, Bristol and (ooooooooooohhh!) Bath this weekend. The following memo details our findings:
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 23, 2011
Although Whiff of Cordite is physically split between Dublin and (Ooooh) Bath, one day out from THE game, we are of one mind on our musings:
The half-time turnaround is obviously the key – what happened? We think Dylan Hartley’s injury had a huge effect on the Northampton team. We can envisage a half-time dressing room of few words and few stepping forward to plan a close-out of a match all-but-won as Hartley received treatment. This is in contrast to the Leinster dressing room, where BOD himself alluded to the leadership being shown by Jonny Sexton, no doubt in addition to O’Driscoll himself, plus Cullen, Heaslip, Horgan and Reddan, amongst others. The Saints looked unsure of themselves from from the start of the second half.
As soon as Leinster got the first score, you got a sense the tide had turned irrevocably. From the 41st minute on, it was the Saints who were falling off tackles, whose set-piece was crumbling, and with none of the bloody resistance that had done for Ulster. Perhaps the inevitability was felt by the Northampton players as well – they themselves were on the other end of an eerily similar game just 2 weeks ago – how the Leeds players must have felt is an interesting question.
The Leinster selection was wrong. All year, Joe has picked on form, not reputation, and has reaped the benefits, building a much deeper squad throughout the season. Fitzgerald was again poor yesterday, falling off several tackles (notably against Foden in the 67th minute) and not showing much in attack – McFadden should have started. The McLaughlin/Jennings call was more marginal, and form was less of a factor – but with Jennings in place, the back-row looked much better balanced. Also, Locky’s first-half scrummaging was poor – Mike Ross will not have been amused with his detachment. In the second half, the Leinster 8 got the shove on straight away, helped by everyone muscling in.
Whiff Of Cordite had a huge amount of respect for Northampton as a club and a team before this game, and has even more after it. The daring nature of the Northampton gameplan was uber-refreshing, and the team literally gave it all. The post-match actions of the team, led by captain and coach, of staying on the field for as long as Leinster did showed huge respect, and will hopefully give these guys the hunger to scale the peak themselves. The experience of yesterday will stand to this team, and we suspect there will be many more titanic battles between these 2 sides in the near future.
And finally, the referee was excellent. Romain Poite has received a fair degree of heat from the Irish media, but Whiff of Cordite has only praise for his display. The stronger team in the scrum was consistently rewarded with penalties, and his positioning for the Dorce non-try was perfect, as was his reversion upstairs just in case. One very slght caveat – Barnesy made an argument in commentary for a possible penalty try for a bat-down with 3 outside during the advantage being played for Dowson’s yellow, but he went back for the original offence. Maybe WoC’s hero in Tara Street will give him the, eh, credit he is due.
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 22, 2011
As Palla Ovale is busy collecting 4-leaf clovers, rabbits feet, horseshoes and wishbones for Cardiff tomorrow, I will take it upon myself to educate him a little on the finer points of the big match, though not in the usual Northampton-have-a-good-scrum-and-don’t-kick-to-Nacewa way.
Weaknesses: This one is a bit more easy. In a powder-puff pool consisting of Castres, Edinburgh and Cardiff, the Saints only scored 16 tries; the same as the Scarlets, who finished 3rd in a pool with Leicester, Perpignan and Treviso; and 1 less than Munster, whose campaign was nothing short of disastrous. In last weeks Premiership semi-final, the Saints never looked likely to score a try. If your close-in defence holds firm and you track the runs of their dangerous back 3, you can be relatively confident of holding them out. If the scrum/ruck penalties do not accumulate for Northampton, how are they going to score enough points to win?
Strengths: If you consider the 10 teams dispatched by Leinster and Northampton so far, there is a pretty coherent argument that the best 5 have all been beaten by Leinster. Toulouse, Leicester, Clermont and Racing Metro are most defintely the best 4 sides of the 10, and the next is a toss-up between Sarries, Ulster and Perpignan. Looking at this on a more granular level, Northampton’s toughest game was against Ulster, who Leinster routinely whack and bag without getting out of third gear. Northampton will need to play better than they have to date against a side far better than anyone they have met to date in order to win. Its a seriously tall order.
Weaknesses: Leinster have huge trust in their defensive system, possibly sometimes too much. In the 2 HEC knock-out games to date, both were still in the melting pot after 80 minutes, despite Leinster being the better side in both cases. Ditto against Ulster in the Magners semi-final, Leinster were not out of sight until Fitzy snuck in with a few minutes to go. Some day, they will be soaking up pressure, buckle, and find themselves with too much to do and not enough time to do it.
There is only one person in the world who could convey how excited we are, so lets leave the final word to Barnesy:
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 20, 2011
The thinking goes that van der Merwe is the stronger scrummaging prop, and after his phenomenal half hour against Toulouse, could be the better option to nullify the scrum, generally accepted to be Northampton’s strongest weapon. That said, witness Daan Human’s comments regarding Healy’s improvement at the coalface. We expect Healy’s dynamism around the park to swing it for him.
Verdict: Healy to start, vd Merwe to finish
Arguably the toughest call of the lot, and one that rather depends on where Joe decides to fight his battles. Locky gives a tail lineout option and is a hard, abrasive player, whereas Jennings does his best work on the ground and is a key leader, especially in defence. We feel the backrow is more balanced with Jenno in the team, and his presence allows the Tullow Tank to cut loose with ball in hand. A sub-plot is that Northampton’s own lineout-tail backrow, Tom Wood, is out, but it’s hard to know which player’s cause that helps.
Verdict: Almost too tough to call, but Jenno may just get the call.
Two curates eggs go head-to-head for the 9 jumper. Joe has tended to use Reddan at home and Boss away. So what about a neutral ground? Reddan remains frustratingly inconsistent, and played poorly against Toulouse, but looked sharp when he came on against Ulster. Boss’ physicality has given Leinster a great option, but we expect Reddan’s zippier pass (when he’s on song!) to get him the nod. Boss is also carrying a niggle, which may just tip the scales in Reddan’s favour.
Verdict: Reddan to start, but Boss to play at least 20 if fit
Another tough call. Luke is still nowhere near his best, and his performance against Ulster was headed for 3/10 until his superb try reminded us of what he can do. Fergus, on the other hand, appears to be willing to run through walls to show Joe he deserves to be a starter. Phenomenal in contact and showing plenty of gas, not to mention his place kicking, he is looking increasingly hard to leave out. However, Fitz remains the greater gambreaking threat and we suspect Joe may persevere with him one more time in the hope that he eventually comes right.
Verdict: Fitz to get the nod, but can consider himself a fortunate starter
The team will be announced at noon on friday. In Joe we trust.
Posted by whiffofcordite on May 18, 2011