Stop Smoking, Join A Gym, Kick Between Posts

Ah, the festive season! Turkey, toy fights, rum & coke and Barnesy’s autobiography in the stocking – we all know the drill. Oh, and interprovincial rugby.

The twitching corpse of tradition lives on in Irish rugby with the October/December/April series, and there is nothing more seasonal than a few glasses of Pimms at the RDS, a few pints of Guinness at Thomond, a few thumps of the Bible at Ravenhill, or a few lost souls at the Sportsground.

So, how did they go for each of the provinces? We rate the Christmas gifts bestowed by Father IRFU.

Ulster – L Leinster 42-13 W Munster 33-17
On Stephen’s Day, the kids went to RDS and didn’t disgrace themselves by any stretch of the imagination. They looked well-drilled and composed, and were down just 8 points after 60 mins before the predictable onslaught began. After that, they filleted Munster up front and looked very threatening with ball in hand – you had a recollection of last season when a stuttering first half of the season was turned around in the New Year. Ruan Pienaar is now back and with most of the rest of the playoff contenders down key men while Ulster welcome them back, is there a possibility of simliar run to last season? They will look for a semi-final not against Leinster, and hope Andrew Trimble is on to the right man upstairs when they go to the Marcel Michelin.
New Year’s Resolution for 2012: Put together a run of wins.  Ulster are seven points off the playoffs and an extended run is required to propel them up the table.

Munster – W Connacht 24-9, L Ulster 33-17
Something of a curates egg for Munster – a very poor Connacht were easily swatted aside in a game they learned little about themselves in, but they were bossed around in Ravenhill in a game reminiscent of a different era. The scrum was bullied, Duncan Williams was awful, and Ian Keatley looked what he really is – a 10 who is still learning his trade. On a brighter note, Earls was back – and showed beautiful hands for set up one of the tries in the Connacht match. However, judging by some of the performances by the other outside backs, they need three of him. And he is still defensively suspect in a key position. It’s an important few weeks for Munster – falter in the HEC (by which we mean 5 points or less in 2 games) and a trip to Toulouse or Clermont beckons. So, just the right time to have your most dangerous finisher missing tackles in the midfield, eh!
New Year’s Resolution for 2012: Develop an attack.  Their pack have manned up well so far, but their back play is still clueless.  They’ll need to get some coherence for the sharp end of the season.

Leinster – W Ulster 42-13, W Connacht 15-13
In general, Leinster are motoring so well at the moment that even Gerry is conceding they are “almost Toulouse-like”. However, despite the wins, this wasn’t the most satisfactory Christmas in D4 – a very experienced front 8 took far too long to subdue the Ravens, and the main worries (replacing Hines, BOD and Shaggy) are still leaving a too-much-turkey feeling in the stomach. But that’s a measure of the sky-high expectations. They will be hoping Leo Cullen recovers the form of May and not December 2011, and that talk of a double does not get too far out of hand. In truth, Joe could do with expectations being dampened, so he might be a little happier after the Great Escape of Galway. And to be more truthful, if it’s going to be a HEC semi-final trip to Toulouse or Clermont (or Wembley to meet Saracens), they will need their A game, and even that may not suffice in France.
New Year’s Resolution for 2012: Tighten up on D.  Leinster’s two wins showcased their superior squad depth, but they have leaked more tries this season than last.  If they are to achieve back-to-back HEC’s, there’ll be no place for soft tries.

Connacht – L Munster 24-9, L Leinster 15-13
Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. A shockingly poor display against Munster (it was almost as if they felt it would be impolite to ruin The Bull’s swansong by trying) was followed by a tough and gutsy one against Leinster … with exactly the same outcome – another defeat. Elwood is all optimism but when the focus isn’t there, they are rubbish. The attacking patterns are appalling and they really look drained – the losing sequence is taking it out of them. Given the size and make-up of the squad, Eric was probably hoping for 6 to 7 league wins to bank at this stage. Instead, they have just 3, and despite the fact they won’t lose (m)any players during the 6N, it’s hard to see what will be the catalyst for a turnaround. If Aironi get their freak on, it could be Connacht returning to familiar barrel-scraping territory in April.
New Year’s Resolution for 2012: Where to begin?  Connacht just have to get a win from somewhere to break the losing streak.  Improved place kicking would help.  They travel to Aironi next – lose that and they’re in trouble.

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