Twenty20 Vision

It’s that time of year again – the December Heineken Cup double headers when the Irish get to teach the French culture and passion – the magic in the air (thanks, Gerry) of Irish provincial grounds has those renowned philistines in Biarritz and Bayonne setting down their hatchets and hams and asking could they be more like us.

The December pair of games often decide the fates of teams, either by gaining momentum with two quick wins, or edging an opponent out of the race over two legs. The relatively short break between these rounds, and the January games is an important factor too – teams can maintain form better over a few weeks of holidays than a month-long international break, and, conversely, a pair of disappointing results is hard to come back from.

This season’s competition is no different, and the three big Irish provinces face their biggest pool rivals in the crucial double headers, but from drastically different places. If Ulster manage one win and a losing bonus point, they will be on 14 points at Christmas with two eminently winnable games to come and their fate very much in their own hands – they will then have the pool more or less wrapped up (barring any disasters away to Castres), and will be targeting a home quarter final. They will, of course, be looking to win in Franklin’s Gardens, but these Saints have their moments and a losing bonus point would be no disgrace. Still, Ulster are in charge of their pool and have room for manouevre, unlike Leinster and Munster.

Adding up the numbers, it seems Munster and Leinster should be keeping a closer eye on each other than you might think, because of how the other pools are turning out. In Pool 6, Nouveau Riche Toulon are on the verge of disappearing into the distance – a double header with bluffers Sale Sharks and at least 9 points awaits – and the other teams are so rubbish/uninterested [delete as appropriate] they have no chance of scraping together enough points to push for qualification as a best runner-up. Pool 2 is the precise opposite – Toulouse, Leicester and the Ospreys are going to go down to the wire, meaning probably only one team is likley to get through, particularly with Treviso dangerous at home. Pool 3 is one where we will  see the first of the qualifying runners-up  – Harlequins and Biarritz have doubles with Zebre and Connacht respectively and we expect four wins for the bigger boys and both should be sitting pretty over egg nog with Granny.

So if the second runner-up isn’t going to come from Toulon or Ulster’s groups, or the Group of Death, who does that leave? Right! Its Leinster and Munster’s pools! What fun. Could the two Irish giants be on a collision course of sorts, without actually facing each other.  It looks like it.  We have Clermont and Saracens strong favourites in both pools – Clermont have a 2 point lead  and revenge in their sights, and Saracens are 3 points ahead in a pool with 2 rubbish teams in it. So the famously friendly provinces could be scrapping for the final slot in this years knock-out stages.

So how will it pan out?

Leinster are currently on 8 points after 2 games. They will have as their base case scenario:

  • Clermont (a) – 0 points
  • Clermont (h) – 4 points
  • Hard-scrummaging Scarlets (h) – 4 points
  • Exeter (a) – 4 points

A losing bonus point, to be truthful, is a tough ask in the Marcel Michelin, and is odds against, despite their recent record against les Jaunards. Five wins will give them 20 points, with home to the Scarlets being the obvious target for a bonus point to get to 21.  There’s scope to get up to 23 if they can get something this weekend, and perhaps if Exteter are a little punch-drunk in mid-January.

As for Munster, they have 6 after 2 games – 1 win and 2 bonus points. Here’s what they will look for, as a base case:

  • Saracens (h) – 4 points, tears and tales of Keith Wood and John Langford besting Pienaar and co
  • Saracens (a) – 1 point, tears and emotion from Gerry about famous away performances
  • Embra (a) – 4 points
  • Racing Metro (h) – 5 points from the French bunnies, tears, and triumphant recall of famous days past

That’s 20 as well! Rob Penney and his merry men will target pointless (in all senses) Embra as a potential extra bonus point to get to 21 themselves, but it’s hard to see them getting above this without beating Saracens twice, thereby winning the group and making the calculations irrelevant. Wow – isn’t this fun? Now, if they have the same number of points, it goes to tries scored, and Munster currently lead that metric 6-1, but they have less margin for error. Us? We hope it goes to the wire [well, Egg does; Palla just wants Leinster through and for his heart rate to stay below 180 in the process], and wouldn’t it be ironic if Leinster played their final game against Exeter knowing what they had to do – say, score 4 tries and win by 27 points or something unlikely like that? Imagine how miraculous that would be!

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  1. Ideal scenario for Leinster would be:

    LBP this weekend
    4 points in the Aviva
    5 at home to Scarleh’
    4 away to Exeter

    Leaving us with 22.

    LBP this weekend would be huge no matter how you look at it.

    Also think Munster could be pushed very hard this weekend. Sarries are not being given enough credit I think.

    • 22 should be enough to go through. Losing bonus point would be huge this weekend. Not just for the significance of the point itself, but for the foundation it would lay in trying to win the home game. Tht’s certainly how it worked out in 2010.

      We were just discussing how Saracens have a pretty good backline, good players in every position. Shame they don’t use them to play much rugby.

      • I actually think that’s a little unfair on Sarries. They might not score a huge amount in the Aviva, but they still win, and they’ve two more tries than Munster in this group, with some lovely played, particularly in Belgium..

        They may choose to keep it tight on Sat, and who could blame them, but they certainly can and do play a bit.

        On paper, they’ve a better 22 than Munster this weekend. Thomond factor will be big, but Sarries have been gaining experience and nous in the past year or two.

    • Good swatting WOC.

      Am with Shane on the optimistic Leinster scenario. Am off to Clermont myself but not with much hope beyond a bonus point and a decent merguez at the stadium.

      Saw Saracens in Brussels in October and, while they made hard work of it, they did eventually put a totally disinterested Racing side to the sword and strung together some good plays. They seem to have stepped up since then and their England internationals had great games last weekend. If Munster pull off a win on Saturday (missing 4 backrowers), it will be no mean feat and Goebbels’ resulting fan-piece will be justified.

      Seems like Ulster and Connacht are the most likely Irish winners this weekend. Biarritz do not travel well…particularly without Yachvilli.

  2. Excellent but I think a bonus point win in Edinburgh is more likelier then a losing bonus point in London for Munster. Looks unlikely they will qualify tbh.

    I’d nearly fancy Clermont to do the double given Leinsters injury woes. BOD defence and Kearneys performance were key in lasts years win and Clermont have improved a little plus a lot fresher as the French season hasn’t taken its toll yet. All do they haven’t needed to but Leinster haven’t produced one performance this season good enough to Clermont in my opinion home or away.

  3. Jimbob

     /  December 6, 2012

    Very probable scenario’s I reckon, good work lads. There is also the very small possibility (I’m hoping) that Clermont will have a complete brain fart in Llanelli and throw it away. Saracens are effective but they play a very predictable brand of rugby, they also have a few potential card receivers in the team so expect Munster to be well prepared, both physically and verbally. I think Munster, despite being thin at back row, could edge it.

  4. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  December 6, 2012

    This is a great article but scares the sh1t out of me! A losing bonus for Leinster this weekend would be a huge achievement bu it is clermont at home that is arguably more important we simply have to win this game

  5. Jereth127

     /  December 6, 2012

    Guys, I really enjoy reading this blog and think you offer some very interesting and often accurate insights but the constant petty remarks and comments about Munster got very old, very fast. Truth be told, you do yourselves a disservice by continuing in that vain every time they are mentioned.

    Just a simple request to lay off a bit

    • Stevo

       /  December 6, 2012

      What petty remarks about Munster?

    • @Jareth thanks for the feedback. If you’re referring to what we think you’re referring to, those are really a bit of gentle ribbing of the media, and their general perception of there being some scarcely tangible Munster voodoo, as opposed to anything against Munster themselves. I don’t think even Munster fans would go along with much of it. Last night Gerry Thornley described there being ‘magic in the air’ at Thomond Park. I don’t think any other team in any other sport receives such strange, magic-realism analysis. Who needs to even look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team when you can rely on magic?!

      • Ciaran

         /  December 6, 2012

        You’re spot on WoC. That media bullshit does a disservice to the skills of the great Munster teams, putting it all down to passion and magic in the air.

  6. I just think if Leinster can scrape their way out of the group then they have a real chance of three in a row,by the time the quarters come around the likes of BOD,Kearney Fitzgerald as well O’Brien who has been missing up to now should be back at peak fitness(hopefully!). They’d be the last team anyone would want to draw and they dont really need to peak until the spring months anyway.

  7. I think the Leinster pack (and bench) are now well equipped to cope with Clermont in France. Conversely its ironic that the HCup back play this season has been so scratchy.

    I’m sticking to the belief that Leinster can get a lbp this weekend and with a 4 pt win (and no ASM bp) in Dublin, shade it 5 -4.

    • zdm

       /  December 6, 2012

      I agree that Leinster have the pack to deal with them – as Corporal Jones would say, they don’t like it up ’em.

      Clermont are to the HC what the Saffers are to international rugby. They will try to beat you down with raw physicality but if you stick out a team that can go toe-to-toe, they will start to waver and lose belief in themselves.

      Given the injury woes in the Leinster back line, I’d say Big Joe should stick out the bosh merchants and let Sexton boot them home – I could even see Leinster sneaking it by less than a try if they really take it to them.

  8. The home game against Clermont is likely to be the key for Leinster. Win that, and I reckon the other stuff required to qualify will happen – be it collecting bonus points in January or Munster stumbling somewhere along the line.

  9. To be fair to the Whiff it is more taking the piss out of the journalists opposed to Munster but for the life of me why do Munster players like Earls, Murray and Zebo get such a hard time from the other provinces fans? Also I think it is disappointing the inaccurate comments regarding Donnacha O Callaghan recently every game he plays the majority of fans say he played rubbish and make a lot of jibes at him. I think he has performed well enough over the past year, nothing special but there has been a lot worst then O Callaghan in a green shirt in the past year. He should go down as one of our top five second rows ever. I’m not saying O Callaghan should be starting or anything like that but just because he is old and not playing at the same level he used to be don’t have to lose all sense and just abuse him b/c you disagree with his selection.

    • Probably the same reasons Sexton, Heaslip and D’arcy get a similar hard time from ‘other province’s fans’…

      This is way off topic, but unfortunately O’Callaghan has become a vehicle for fans’ frustrations with Kidney. He is obviously not playing to the level he reached in the past but has been retained in the panel – and was even retained in the team last Six Nations ahead of the guy who had taken his shirt at Munster, and who was generally seen to be ripping it up (and has done for Ireland since belatedly breaking through). I don’t think anyone particularly wants to be denigrating a great servant like O’Callaghan has been, but he has come to stand for everything that people find unsatisfactory about the current management. He’s having a decent season for Munster and looks somewhat revitalised, but he was thoroughly abject last year.

    • WhisperingDeath

       /  December 7, 2012

      Top 5? Seriously? Are you on something?

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 7, 2012

      Off the top of my head. 6 recent second rows better then DOC .Johns, Galway, Mal , POC, Cullen, Casey, Brennen…..He was never top class…Servicable due to his work rate and a very good provincial player. It says a lot that no one outside of Ireland ever rated him

      • We agree that Donncha, for all his qualities, obviously isn’t an all-time great. But for his longevity and partnership with POC, I think he outranks Leo Cullen and Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob.

        Going further back: Lenihan, McBride, Anderson, Keane are names that would be in the mix and Davidson of recent times.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 7, 2012

        Ask Leicester/EP fans what they think of Leo?(hes won everywhere hes played,replaced MJ). I recall Nick Kennedy and Bob being the top locks in the premiership for a good while and were integral to LI’s brief peak a few years back.
        You are right though on the longevity/caps aspect(how many caps did he earn due to the overseas rule though?). Im not trying to denigrate the guy. but he will always be known as POC’s sidekick for many. As it stands hes been the 2nd best Munster lock for nearly the past decade and up there with the best Irish locks of the same period. It’d be a tight vote to separate them imo….
        I cant comment on the older guys though, before my time..

  10. Ya I never taught his performances were that bad but I obviously respect your opinion. Fair point about Sexton but I never thought Heaslip got a hard time like the others he was outstanding in his first season and probably didn’t replicate the same performances which was why he had people on his back. I guess all provinces fans can be guilty here in this department. Ya I would ranked O Callaghan right up there with our best.

    On another point i wouldn’t rule out Northampton qualifying for a runners up spot either especially if they can win. They have a fearsome pack and a chance of 10/10 in their last two games.

  11. Given Nick Kennedy is English I doubt he is a contender. Donnacha O Callaghan gone on two Lions tours as well. He was top class people forget quickly. Cullen, Bob, Mal and Brennan all excellent but not as good as O Callaghan in my opinion…..

  12. jojo

     /  December 9, 2012

    Can we comment on how atrocious ROG was in that match against Saracens.
    Keatley needs to be starting for them.
    too many mistakes and very poor in so many facets of that match by Munster.
    i was looking forward to seeing this new breed of rugby from munster,
    but that was an awful match.
    Ulster were the exact opposite and extremely impressive.

    Re: Donncha, I never believed he was that much better than Leo who was unfairly overlooked constantly by the Irish management (?punishment for his stint in England..)
    He has never been really poor, however, his place should never have been so cemented as we now see a breed of impressive second rows. McCarthy now my personally favourite.

  13. jojo

     /  December 9, 2012

    Forgot to mention the pluses for Munster were Howlett and Zebo

  14. Rich

     /  December 9, 2012

    Jojo – agree 100% re Rog – what is it with these little chip kicks – did he always do that and we just never noticed? Munster impressive I thought against a backline that just beat the all blacks (dewi Morris words) – ESP earls – thought he defended well against some good players. Result of the weekend must be connacht tho – superb to see. Northampton have been limp for about a season now so ulster walked that one – noted pre game
    Lawes, Harley, foden tipped with lions call ups……

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