Y’know, Rugby Matches and That

What’s all this, then?  Actual rugby matches between provincial and club sides throughout Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Italy and France?  Sounds like an intriguing prospect.  This lark might even catch on.  Northampton vs. Leinster?  Perpignan vs. Munster?!  This sounds bloody fantastic.  We want MORE of this sort of thing.  Certainly not less of it anyway.  Or some diluted version involving the Portuguese team (‘Except you Julian Bardy, the only player anyone has heard of, you have to play for Clermont’) making up the numbers.

It’ll be a merciful relief to get back to the reliably invigorating business of the Heineken Cup.  The preliminary rounds seem so long ago at this stage, with the November series and the endless wranglings in the interim, it almost requires an effort to remember exactly how it’s all poised.  Did Munster really lose in Edinburgh?  Good Lord, they did!  And what a result from Ulster to sack Montpellier on their own turf.  Leinster find themselves two-from-two and Connacht have a win over Zebre and ran Saracens to the last play in their first game, prompting a hilarious tweet from Stephen Jones trying to convince everyone – including himself, presumably – that it was a comfortable win for Globo Gym against the ‘non-elite’ Connacht.  How quaint all that posturing seems now.

All of which brings us to the glorious double headers, often the highpoint of the calendar.  Is there any fresh way to say they often decide the outcome of the pool?  Probably not, but who cares – they do.  You can cough up a cheap loss in the first two rounds, but only if you atone for it here.  The good people at ERC, or Sky, or wherever these things are decided by tend to orchestrate the schedule so the two big boys in each pool cross paths in the back-to-backs, so winning both legs isn’t always a requirement, and simply coming out on top in match points is often enough.

That’s certainly the case with Leinster, who have had a curious season so far.  Having won in Ospreys, they made heavy weather of Castres at home but the pool qualifier will come from this match-up in any case.  A bonus point on the road will be enough to keep Leinster in the hunt, providing they can win at home.  Northampton can be odd, though.  Last year they surrendered meekly at home to Ulster, apparently sealing their fate, before improbably turning the tables in Ravenhill of all places.  Ben Foden’s injured though, and he provides their creative spark.  Over to you, Courtney Lawes, to inflict the damage.

Munster have a different set of parameters.  They arguably need to win both games, having lost to Edinburgh in a disastrous opening match.  They have the home leg first in what has come to be known as – thanks Gerry – the Sunday mass slot.  It’s often lamented, but we have few memories of them playing particularly badly in it and they should have the goods to beat Perpignan in Thomond Park with a bit to spare.  The acid test will be trying to go down to the Aime Geral and getting a win.  It’s a daunting stadium, but Perpignan themselves don’t intimidate too many teams these days; they currently lie 9th in the Top 14 and Munster are certainly capable of winning there.  Last time they went there nobody fancied them at all, but they were rampant.  Tomas O’Leary was on fire and Donnacha Ryan came off the bench to announce his talent on the big stage. Perpignan have a monstrous pack and a wonderfully creative outhalf, but, of all the French teams in the HEC, they are probably the one you would want.

Ulster have the easier part of their assignment.  They’re in a great position after beating Montpellier, and should be looking for nine points as a minimum return against a Treviso side that hasn’t really picked up where they left off last season. The natty Italians have a habit of making life awkward for Ulster, but got spanked in Ravers earlier this year – Ulster will be pretty confident of snagging 5 points on Saturday, and should have the momentum to grind out a win away. Those 9 points should more or less wrap up a home quarter-final … assuming no flakes like last season’s home loss to the Saints.

And don’t forget Connacht, who play Toulouse, who aren’t quite the – yaswnsville – ‘aristocrats of Europe’ these days, although they did win away to Saracens, which has seen them installed as favourites to win their group.  Connacht will struggle in the away tie, but will certainly be targeting a rousing performance at the Sportsground.  It’ll be Toulouse’s second visit to the dog track, but the hope that the less than salubrious surroundings will put the Toulousains off their stride proved hopelessly wide of the mark on their first, and Connact – enduring a pretty hopeless season and rock bottom of the Pro12 as it stands – will be in need of some sort of miracle to come out with a win.

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26 Comments

  1. I know what you mean, about Courtney Lawes “doing the damage”. I thought those two tackles he put into Toby Flood in last seasons Premiership final were atrocious, as they were both clearly late and his intention, which was clear for the world to see, was to take Leicester’s playmaker out. Richard Cockerill was incandescent and rightly so. I hope very much, that the match officials this time don’t let Lawes or Hartley get away with any of their gurrier tricks. Our back row will hopefully be able to nip any attempts to take out our number 10 – who according to Peter O’Reilly via Twitter is going to be Ian Madigan (yippee!!) – in the bud. My ideal solution would be a huge hit by Jenno, Jamie or Seanie on Lawes, which forces him to leave the pitch and gives him some of his own medicine.

    • Courtney Lawe was also the thug who slid along the wet ground into that Argentinian forward, (was it Lobes, or Albecete?) deliberately used his sliding knee to make contact with the man’s head. Absolutely despicable piece of skulduggery IMO, very dangerous, entirely cynical and deliberate. He should have been banned for a year at least. Total scumbag I reckon.
      As if the game’s not already dangerous enough for God’s sake…

      • Paddy o

         /  December 5, 2013

        Sorry lads, wouldn’t agree with that perception of Lawes which is out and about. In my opinion he isn’t a malicious player, but is one of those who lives close to the line and has had to do a bit of learning about where that line is. In fairness the line has been more of a dot on the horizon in the rear view mirror at times, but I do think his attempts are more to put on a big (legal) hit, rather than bite/ gouge/ break an arm at the bottom of a ruck. I’d argue he is a more genuine hard man than some of the faux, pseudo hard men whom Leinster may face this weekend. I know I might be in danger of buying the hype about him, but just putting it out there.

        Although no doubt someone will post up his montage and I’m guessing it wouldn’t look too pretty to be honest!

        • Paddy o

           /  December 5, 2013

          Arranq, the one you are on about was on Ledesma in the World Cup. It was a bad one alright, hard to defend it to be honest.

        • Stevo

           /  December 6, 2013

          “I do think his attempts are more to put on a big (legal) hit, rather than bite/ gouge/ break an arm at the bottom of a ruck.”

          True, Northampton have Callum Clark to do that.

  2. Perpignan also riddled with injuries. With the home game up first, Munster should be targeting 8 points.

    Leinster will need 5 points. Far from straightforward, despite us having a cleaner bill of health. You’d always prefer to be home, then away, rather than vice-versa. For all the talk of MOC focusing on defense, we have leaked more tries than any of the top 5 sides in the Pro12…and – last weekend excepting – tries have been hard to come by. That means a losing bonus away and basic win at home is probably what we should aim for. These are the same players by and large though, with ex-sideshow looking as good as I expected, so maybe more is possible.

    Ulster should be gunning for 9 points.

    A win would be great for Connacht but at what cost for the Pro12?

    • Riddled with injuries, suspensions and indiscipline for Perpignan, I meant.

    • Two things: (1) How could Connacht beating Toulouse be bad for the Pro12? and (2) unfortunately this is pretty much an academic question anyhoo.

      • curates_egg

         /  December 5, 2013

        Sorry, poorly phrased sentence. It wouldn’t be bad for the Pro12 at all. What I meant was that, if Connacht throws everything at Toulouse, what would be the cost for them in the Pro12? Would it further compromise and already compromised squad coming into a tough series of games over Christmas and the New Year? I.e. is it worth wasting any energy on Toulouse at all?

        • I get you now. We have 2 games against Toulouse while Dragons are playing Bordeaux A, then after Dragons we have Munster and Leinster. For this w/e earning some pride back after the Murrayfield debacle would do for a start, not looking beyond that.

  3. According to Ken Pisi in today’s Indo, the Saints are aiming to put some of Leinster’s “main players … in the ground”. Bring it on, loudmouth!!!!

    • So unbecoming of a team like Northampton! I see Franno has a piece in the Herald today describing how much he hates them.

      • Does that mean I have to start liking them? Jeez….

        • The money quote from Franno’s Herald article, which I wholeheartedly endorse:
          “If Lawes blindsides or late tackles any Leinster player, there has to be four or five Leinster players all over him before he gets back off the ground and he will have to be dealt with.”

          • Cian

             /  December 5, 2013

            That sort of talk from Neil Francis, of all people, is hard to stomach.

  4. Len

     /  December 5, 2013

    While this year has been a struggle so far for anything approaching the kind of form we showed under Joe we are still winning and winning away matches as well. I think a back to full power squad should be able to do for Saints. Hopefully we won’t knacker ourselves in the first leg like last year (granted we had a lot of injuries then). Shot in the dark here but does anyone know where you can watch matches in Prague?

    • curates_egg

       /  December 5, 2013

      There are loads of Irish pubs. One of them is bound to show it. The Dubliner – near the Old Town Square – would be worth a punt.

      • Or you go online and watch on a live stream e.g. myp2p, oleoletv, frontrowsports.

        • curates_egg

           /  December 5, 2013

          That is definitely a last straw option (for when you are really in the middle of nowhere or – in my case – stuck babysitting with no Irish or English PPV TV). Watching on a big screen without a dodgy low res stream and multiple pop-ups is always preferable.

          WOC might mask the addresses you have up there too…in case they get shut down and have to change…again.

          • paddy

             /  December 5, 2013

            Get adblocker for your browser, takes care of most popups

  5. Peat

     /  December 5, 2013

    9 points would be nice, but I’ve been more confident given the injury list.

  6. Yossarian

     /  December 5, 2013

    Hibbard joining the welsh exodus. We should reintroduce a trophy for the inter provincial match ups.majority of Rabo games will be of a second tier nature next year so maybe add some spice to those games.(ensure all provinces have full international contingent to pick from the week they play etc)
    Also English reiterated their plan to leave h cup. No idea what the welsh and English clubs are at.

  7. Yossarian

     /  December 5, 2013

    Also Darren cave must be a fan “my face doesn’t fit”(or was that on demented mole?)

  8. Ciano

     /  December 5, 2013

    Speaking of Gerry: has he not heard of Tadhg Furlong or Steph(v?)en Archer?

    He said this week that “Moore is the only tighthead coming through” and not just in reference to Leinster; but to Ireland!

  9. Alex

     /  December 7, 2013

    Aw, Gerry’s having a proper love in with the pair of you now.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/provinces-face-into-critical-back-to-back-weekends-1.1619976

    Group hug.

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