Mild Concern

Ahead of this weekend, we were feeling pretty good about the Irish provinces re the Heineken Cup (RIP). Ulster and Munster had home draws, which is such a huge factor in the competition, and Leinster, while facing a seriously daunting trip to Toulon, had won the Six Nations the week before. So Rob Penney said anyway.

But now, we aren’t feeling so hot. Maybe it’s natural caution now that the quarter-finals are basically on top of us, maybe it’s the freak dust storm that dumped what looked like Rodney Parade on Egg’s car, or maybe it was the performances of the three major provinces on Saturday night. Before the games, we would have said Ulster are very likely to win (vs Globo Gym), Munster will probably win (vs boring bosh merchants Toulouse) and Leinster will be competitive (vs giants Toulon, who surely should walk out to this).  It’s hard to ever be too confident of winning away from home in the knockout matches.

Starting with Ulster (and why not, given I’m from Ulster, wearing an Ulster shirt and having recurring dreams about Fez driving Chris Ashton ten foot under Ravers), there is simply no excuse for losing to Cardiff. Sure, Matthew Rees was back, and, sure, they had a point to prove. But they were placed lower than all sides but Treviso and the Zebras, and are so rubbish, they aren’t going to get into Europe next season. Conceding 22 unanswered points in 30 minutes with virtually your first choice pack is just unforgivable. Now, we don’t doubt Ulster are going to turn up on Saturday – with the new Ravers being launched and with Saracens as your opponents, you will never lack for motivation – but playing so poorly and losing to such a poor team a week out is sloppy at best. Confidence dented.

Next to Munster. Back after the group stages, we thought Munster would be able for Toulouse, but now we aren’t so sure. There isn’t much doubt they will up the ante for the HEC, but nearly three months of strolls in the park for this team seem to have knocked their base intensity levels. With just two of Saturday’s team involved for Ireland (and based on Saturday, none of those left out can have many complaints – Killer incurred Elaine’s ire, Tommy O’Donnell was comprehensively outplayed by Shane Jennings and Simon Zebo, while threatening going forward, wasn’t exactly Donncha O’Callaghan at ruck time or Jonny Wilkinson in defence), the collective couldn’t cope when Leinster pushed on in the third quarter.

Toulouse, playing in the Top14, won’t lack for high-level preparation, and, if their domestic away form is woeful, they had a big away win against Globo Gym in the pool stages. However, the biggest concern is how Munster are going to score tries. For all their technical excellence, they won’t be mauling Louis Picamoles and co all over the Debt Star; BJ Botha will find Gurthro Steenkamp slightly less accomodating than Michael Bent; and a 10-12 of Keatley and Hurley just isn’t going to get anything going (and if it isn’t going to be Hurley at 12, why play him there a week before?). Watching the clunky attempts to get the ball to Zebo and Keith Earls, we wish Munster would just take a punt on JJ Hanrahan – he really can’t do any worse at either position than the incumbents. Munster are crying out for a centre who can pass the ball more than a few metres.  They have lethally dangerous runners out wide, but their best opportunities to run were given too them by Leinster’s kicking game gave rather than the Munster centres.  Perhaps Toulouse won’t be so generous.

As for Leinster, they have the benefit of so many of them being involved with Ireland – the teamwork didn’t look as clunky as it usually does coming out of international windows, and the confidence levels were high. Still, if they kick as poorly as they did to Munster when their opponents will include in their number Drew Mitchell, Felon Armitage and Matt Giteau, they can forget any notions of a third HEC in four years. And if DJ Church isn’t fit, well, forget any notions of a third HEC in four years. Toulon’s squad is just so talented and deep, Leinster’s best hope is to play the kind of heads-up, accurate, opportunistic rugger that Joe Schmidt espouses, then hope the stars align elsewhere (i.e. Toulon players remember they hate each other) – they’ll need to be hyper-accurate. And three of the linchpins of their recent hyper-accuracy are either sitting with their feet up in BNZ, tending the farm in Carlow, or crying themselves to sleep in Paris. Leinster will need to be a whole lot better than they were on Saturday to derail the Toulon Express.

So, to be blunt, we are worried. Very worried.  Worry, worry, worry.

[Please note that Egg Chaser is an Ulsterman, and therefore always worries, no matter how positive the picture.]

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70 Comments

  1. Barry

     /  March 31, 2014

    Did you bother watching Connacht on Sunday

    Please please please watch the try Robbie Henshaw sets up, with time up, to earn a losing BP. Its on Rabodirect website.

    BOD himself would be proud of it – he’s 20, 15 stone, 6’2 and has pace

    • Great try, thanks for directing us to it. Link here for anyone who wants.
      http://www.rabodirectpro12.com/matchcentre/reports.php

      Try to keep the tone up though, Barry, and remember that we are not a newspaper with obligations to report on every province; just two rugby fans who write a blog for no financial gain. We have families, other commitments etc. and don’t always have the priviliege of being able to sit down and watch 7th vs. 6th in the Pro12 on a sunday afternoon.

      • Fair point. Whiff forgets to mention (in his own defence) that it was Mother’s Day; I’m a Connacht season ticketholder who has attended every single home match this year, and even I didn’t watch the game.

  2. Barry

     /  March 31, 2014

    And to respond to your blog, I’m sure the teeth will be bared for HEC – the players know to leave it all on the field for this comp

  3. Enjoyable piece, Mr. Egg. I would say, however, that there is surely no prospect of Hanrahan starting at 12 for Munster. When both he and Keatley have been on the pitch at the same time, JJ has been at 10 and Keats at 12. We’ve also played our best attacking rugby with them both on the pitch. The (eminently reasonable) worry is presumably that that 10-12 channel would be very fallible in defence. I’d expect one of Hurley or Downey to start at 12, Munster to try to grind Toulouse down in the scrum and the maul enabled by some smart positional kicking from Keatley, before trying to open the game up toward the end.

    • Thanks thoughtless; yes, we’re with you. Both Hanrahan and Keatley have played 12 and if they were paired together I wouldn’t be that fussed which of them lined up at 10 and which was at 12. I expect it could be fairly fluid, but as you say irt would most likely be 10 Hanrahan 12 Keatley. Keatley would almost certainly line up at 12 on D, for reasons you outline. Would the definsive line be that fallible? Keatley has always struck me as a pretty good tackler.

      Either way, I don’t see it happening either.

      • I’ve thought same thing all year. Laulala looks threatening but really only eats up the space out wide for the wingers. With a 12 who could throw a skip pass all the way past the next man there’d be a helluva lot more space for the speedsters outside.
        However if Earls is the heir apparent after Laulala leaves, that becomes an exceedingly light 10-12-13 axis next year of JJ, Keatley and Earls. Might that be the reason for trying Hurley at 12 ahead of an eventual return to centre for Earls?

        • Neither Keatley nor Hanrahan are particularly poor defenders, but neither are exactly robust either, and Keatley in particular is prone to an occasional flap; check out this lamentable effort on Ashley Beck from a month or so ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr8xRfyZh5w

          Earls is almost certainly going to fill the 13 jersey next season if he can stay fit, and the Hurley to 12 experiment seems to be becoming more and more serious, so they do look a likely midfield pairing for next season, with JJ and Keatley an option for when games start to break up. Penney’s wide-wide gameplan has only really worked with both of them on the pitch moving the ball to space at high speed, so Hurley will need to work very hard on his distribution if he’s to make a success of his conversion to centre, at least if Foley persists with an ambitious game plan that looks to consistently get our back three into space in the wide channels. Alternatively, if Keatley could firm up his defence, he could be a long-term option for 12 with a big lad like Dineen or an NIQ 13 outside him. It was very interesting to note that he came on for the Wolfhounds at 12, which suggests that Foley and maybe the national set-up see potential for him to offer that second five-eighth option, something we haven’t really had since Paddy Wallace’s slow fading from the international scene.

          The complete unknown at this stage is whether we can make a big signing in midfield, which is almost certainly what we’re aiming to do (Quinlan averred to it in his column last week). There have been some rumours to the effect that we’re interested in Tamati Ellison (nephew of Rhys), which would be brilliant, but nothing remotely firm at this stage. Fingers crossed, because as of now, I’d say Munster’s midfield is possibly the worst left in the HEC.

      • Sound Steve

         /  March 31, 2014

        I could only see a very lateral back line becoming even more lateral with Keatley and Hanrahan both starting. I think if Munster pick a lump at 12 they should use them to generate some quick ball!

        • It’s been tried numerous times and Munster have, by and large, played better attacking rugby with both on the pitch. We’re not talking about a hypothetical scenario here.

  4. Excellent, as always, look forward to Monday morning because of your blogs

  5. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  March 31, 2014

    Yeah, as another Ulster worrier, I am desperately looking for some positives following the horror show against Cardiff. The straw I am clinging to is in the corresponding fixture before the HEC QF last year, Ulster went to the RDS and beat Leinster well. Could that have been a factor in the damp squib against Saracens at Twickenham a week later? Overconfidence maybe? They sure as hell won’t be overconfident following the Cardiff game so hopefully the fear of being beaten up in front of your home crowd will kick some arses.

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  March 31, 2014

      Also in the Valium before tea camp this week: agree with you that it might work in our favour. Anscombe’s comments as reported in the IT seemed this side of fury: we’ll have to hope we use the week wisely (ie only feeding Ferris red meat and telling him Owen Farrell said nasty things about mummy Ferris).

  6. abitofshoepie

     /  March 31, 2014

    Globo Gym will be licking their collective lips after watching the tape of Ulster being mauled from the halfway line to within 5 metres of their own chalk on Saturday night. Front 5 didn’t turn up in the first half and our hooker was awful until subbed in the second half. Upsides are that PJ is kicking well and that Ulster patiently built a score in the second half by going back to basics.

    I think Ulster might just edge it, Munster will not have enough for Toulouse and Ireland will win again in France…

    • Funny enough I’d be most confident of Munster winning, less so of the other two. Munster may be a bit lateral but Toulouse have a major mobility issue; constantly shifting the ball wide should be all that’s required to beat them.

    • connachtexile

       /  March 31, 2014

      Everytime I’ve seen a team Maul against Ulster it’s led to either a try or a penalty for that team. For a province that does nearly everything else right they seem to have a serious weakness in defending mauls. With a pack like Saracens it could be a nasty afternoon if they get it going against the Ulster boys.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 31, 2014

        The key to defending mauls is, to not. simply stand off and let them maul into you and you will gain a penalty for offside. Why more teams dont do this is beyond me.

        • Paddy

           /  March 31, 2014

          The Ireland did against England this year in Twickenham?

          • Xyz

             /  March 31, 2014

            @Paddy, they did. Can someone explain why the ref called that as he did? (My recollection was that he motioned England to continue forward, or something to indicate that there was nothing awry.)

          • If the defending team even so much as gesture toward making a tackle, the referee will usually favour the attacking side, and it can be quite hard to avoid doing that given how congested with players the lineout area is. You’re very much gambling on the referee agreeing that you didn’t tackle the player when he landed if you adopt that tactic. Effective at times, though.

          • Xyz

             /  March 31, 2014

            @thoughtless – thanks, that helps a lot. Sounds like a lottery ticket ploy.

        • connachtexile

           /  March 31, 2014

          I agree with you but it would be too much of a gamble close to the try line for a team to do it. Ulster need to work on something though for their own sake.

  7. Sound Steve

     /  March 31, 2014

    I was left very confused by some of Rolland’s calls at the scrum. In particular, one where Ross, having retreated a couple of metres, was neatly folded in two and Kilcoyne, in the power position, moving forward, was pinged after going to ground. I’m no expert but having played some loosehead in school I know that if your oppo TH has his head below his hips and going backwards there is very little that can be done to stop you going to ground. Kilcoyne impressed in the scrum it has be said but his yellow was very silly.

    Also, the issue with the Munster backline doesn’t seem to be handling in the centres but a lack of directness there. There seems to be no appreciation of the old maxim of having to earn the right to go wide for the team in general. Laulala seems to think he’s playing tip half the time. I think Hurley’s game is more nuanced than Downey’s and he could well work out there but the issue, as it has been over the last two years, seems to be philosophical.

    Leinster looked handy to me with Jennings having a stormer. Also, Toner has become a real physical presence. We don’t specialise in producing these! I’m yet to see any evidence that Ian Madigan, Hollywood passes and running game aside, has any real game management skills. I think this has to be a major concern ahead of a big away game. I’d run with Gopperth to start with Madigan a decent game-chasing option off the bench.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 31, 2014

      I dont get Munster fans disdain of Lualala, he’s been your best back by a mile all season, the guy is quality, he always has time on the ball, and Sat aside, when he was outshone(marginally) by Earls, was no different,. How Munster fans can have an affinity with a carthorse like Hurley and think he has a viable future in anything other then a glue factory is beyond me, yet a thoroughbred like Lualala is treated with suspicion or disdain. You will be crying out for him next season after a few weeks of Earls at 13.

      • Laulala kills our back play nearly every week. I could understand how a Leinster fan who only occasionally watches Munster games might think he’s good, especially one who seems to prize the flair plays he can occasionally pull off (offloads out the back door, goose steps, etc) over literally every other aspect of rugby, but he routinely eats up all the space outside him. This is a massive problem for a 13, especially when the players outside him are, by and large, better strike runners. On top of all that, even in terms of the supposed greatest strength of his game, his offloading, when he takes the ball on himself, it’s almost impossible to run a supporting line off his shouylder because he never takes a direct line, instead stepping every which way before taking contact. Then when he (rarely) decides to pass, his distribution is pretty average.

        He showed up very well in our quarter and semi last year, and if he hits that level again, great, but by and large, he’s been poor for Munster, and I won’t be sad to see him leave. Especially because it means we’re more likely to see Earls at 13.

      • Sound Steve

         /  March 31, 2014

        Not actually a Munster fan but I’ll offer my two cents anyway! As thoughtless pointed out, despite his many obvious talents I regard him a frustrating player. Like Munster in general, I think he looks much better when he plays a more simple, direct game. I thought he looked great at times, e.g. against Harlequins last year, as when he runs hard lines he does have the offloading game to hurt teams. I really, really hope Earls isn’t stuck in 13 next year out of a lack of alternatives. He’s an excellent winger but lacks the physical attributes and distribution skills to be a top class 13 IMO.

        Also, I think Hurley is unfairly derided. Yes, he lacks outright pace to be a winger but I think he could easily find his home at 12. He’s very solid in defence, good distribution skills (particularly in the offload), physical presence and a decent kicking game. He certainly held his own on Saturday.

        • He’s a curious player alright, I can understand why some people think he’s terrific and others don’t. He’s really great at some things and not so great at others. His footwork is really fantastic, and he does have a great offloading game when others get on his wavelength. As the guys above point out, though, he can take way too much out of the ball at other times.

    • Ah come off it. The scrum was a total mess. Rolland didn’t have a clue what was going and hence just made it up as he went along but Kilcoyne and Botha were scrummaging totally illegally. Whether Botha was boring in or Kilcoyne/Varley were pincering Ross or Kilcoyne was literally tugging Ross down to the ground, it was terrible shennanigans. Bent was very shaky too, so I am not saying the Leinster scrum was good. However, those who thought Munster’s scrum was dominant (including some in the meeja) are very selective in their viewing. Another ref might have sinbinned a Munster front row for scrum offences.

      Looking forward to this weekend though and, although the Toulon scrum is currently weaker than usual (missing Bakies and Sheridan), Leinster will still struggle to get parity without a full hand in the front row.

  8. jacothelad

     /  March 31, 2014

    There were very few positives that could be taken from Ulster’s dire, dire performance. Penalty after stupid penalty simply handed the game to the Blues. Since the last Heineken Cup game, Ulster have been circling the drain and just getting out of the swirl by the skin of their teeth. It escaped them this time because Bowe didn’t pass to Trimble with the line at his mercy, because Payne fumbled Trimble’s pass to blow another run in, because Luke Marshall wasn’t seen to ground the ball, because Diack went for his man when the ball landed at his opponent’s feet and missed a simple touch down and because a fumble in attack after a great piece of aggressive defence allowed Cardiff to break up field for Munster’s new No8 – in – waiting to score. Losing to a formless rabble spoilt the rest of the weekend. If I was a Sarries fan I’d be pretty confident.

    Two bright spots. Trimble was the best player on the field again. Warwick came on and did well but it was against a poor scrum. Still, it was a bright start for him. It makes me wonder why Chris Taylor isn’t in the Ulster Academy……Anyone know why?

    Several dark clouds. Afoa hasn’t been half the player he was when he arrived. He has had a difficult year with a series of personal tragedies, a wife who doesn’t like where he lives necessitating the accrual of more air miles than Captain Kirk racked up.

    Ulster desperately need a scrum half. Paul Marshall hit a peak about two years ago and has been in decline since. There are times when you think he couldn’t pass water. Way back when Pienaar was in the offing, he wasn’t getting a new contract but Boss took the low road to success and Marshall was saved.
    Young Heaney just doesn’t cut it at this level. He was poor again. I wonder would Monsieur Hart be amenable to trouser a huge bung and discover the joys of the Ulster Fry and Cappuccinos on the Lisburn Road.

    There is also the mystery of the Ravens. Ulster’s squad depth is – well – not enough to wet a Kleenex. Finding the Holy Grail is almost as easy as finding out anything about them. They don’t play very often and their game info. is hidden. When they do escape into the daylight, they are awful. They never play together, they look as if they’ve never met before kick off so the back up players don’t get any realistic, high level rugby to hone their skills. We have hardly any players in the higher reaches of the AIL. No wonder the 2nd stringers are mince.

    At least Ulster are cutting out some of the less nourished wood. It seems weird that of all the teams, Ulster are the only ones who release players who aren’t good enough and then take them back a year or so later when they still aren’t good enough. Some are close but no cigar. Heaney, Porter, NOC, McComish, McKinney – (sadly) and McIlwaine for example. Then we are losing some good prospects in Macklin and Annette and maybe McAllister though I’ve also heard that he is maybe staying and moving sides after all.

    • flypanam

       /  March 31, 2014

      Re your comments about Heaney, I’m sorry to say your spot on. I was into minds about watching the game on Saturday (S4C really does make me want to smoke crack – thanks Beck) I just couldn’t believe the slowness to get the ball away, it was like watching an aerobics class for the over 85’s two steps this way two steps that. The other issue was across the park the handling was awful. Still PJ seems to hitting real form and was unlucky not to wrest his arm free. Still, I think there is enough there to raise the game for Saturday.

  9. I think the Leinster – Munster game is awful a week out before the Heineken. Not sure either team prepared for it any meaningful way and after listening to B Jackmans comments how little analysis French teams do I’d wager but toulon and toulouse coaches will do a lot based on Saturday so it is probably prudent that Munster or Leinster showed anything like their full hand last Saturday.

  10. Leinsterlion

     /  March 31, 2014

    I never understood the optimism, or rather, less pessimism, that you guys, press and a lot of Munster fans have displayed about Munsters chances v Leinsters against French opposition. Toulouse and Toulon are the best sides in France, look at their respective team sheets and their best games, that is their level. I have seen Leinster turn it on twice this season(most notably against the Saints) but have not seen a Munster performance even come close to that. Maybe after the Zebre and Leinster games the analysis will turn and it wont be ” limited,unfit, aging, flaky french bottlers against pride passhun and fury inc….” For the record I think both teams will lose, but Leinster will give a better account of themselves, I cant see anything other than a brave performance in Thomand for Munster.

    • osheaf01

       /  March 31, 2014

      Toulouse regressed from the “best team in Europe” to only “one of the best sides in France”? What’s caused this rowback? They’ve even won an away game since you called them the Best Team in Europe, you know?
      Toulouse can win away to Sarries and lose at home to Connacht, who then had 60 plus points put on them by Sarries (!). So who knows which version will turn up next Saturday? They also just lost by 4 away to Toulon, mirroring Munster’s result. I think Munster got a lesson in breakdown play and continuity on Saturday night that will stand them in good stead next weekend.
      Leinster are the better team but have much the tougher task – as Tigers will also discover, you just don’t win away to Toulon or Clermont.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 31, 2014

        Injuries caused the row back, without McAllister and Dusatoir, they lose a lot of shape and leadership, they still are a quality side(only eight points of the top in Le Top Quatorze), contrary to the accepted view of them as an aging soft side.

    • Nah, we’ll beat them I’d say. We ran Clermont close in France last season, if we can hit our straps that big Toulouse team won’t be able to live with the pace of our game. Leinster are the more likely of the two teams to go down with a brave performance.

    • Bobby T

       /  March 31, 2014

      Have to say I think LL is overestimating Toulouse massively. Their pool form was poor at best. They scraped a 1 point win in Wembley v Sarries in a pathetic display by both sides and they lost to Connacht at home (no offense to Connacht as they have been playing great at times this season and could be in 6th in the Rabo if they hadn’t leaked some bad tries yesterday, but that is a shocking result).
      Im still not massivley confident of a Munster win (as despite being a Munster fan, haven’t been impressed yet this season) but I would back them by a hair at this stage.
      I also reckon Leinster will pull it off in Toulon, but again that is totally 50-50, and is probably the match up of the two best sides.
      Ulster Sarries are quite evenly matched but I am hoping the hurt from last year will see Ulster through this one at home.

      • More shocking that the result was the manner of it. Toulouse were spared a spanking by a questionable TMO decision which would have left the score at 23-7 going into the last quarter; in any case after bringing the gap back to 2 points they couldn’t get out of their half for the last 15 minutes, such was their disorganisation and lack of conditioning.

        I’d be shocked if Toulouse got within 10 points of Munster.

        • Think you’re analysing Toulouse by reputation there Leinsterlion. They beat Saracens away this year, which was a big result, but they haven’t looked unplayably brilliant in years at this stage. Connacht beat them, for Gawd’s sake.

          • connachtexile

             /  March 31, 2014

            “Connacht beat them, for Gawd’s sake.” – You must tired right now so we’ll let that one go.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  March 31, 2014

            Toulouse have turned it on a few times this season, admittedly at home and in the Top14, cant remember what games tbh, still better then anything I have seen from Munster. this chap uploads Toulouse games, https://www.youtube.com/user/ofildesessais browse at your leisure.

          • Toulouse have won away 3 times this year – one excellent performance against Saracens, one good performance against a flu-ridden Connacht, and once against the absolutely useless Biarritz. They very nearly lost to away to Zebre, and were smashed out of sight away by Racing.

            Toulouse have yet to secure a top 6 position in the Top 14. I’m not saying Munster are particularly good, but I see no reason why they won’t have this wrapped up by half-time.

      • osheaf01

         /  March 31, 2014

        Munster aren’t that good, and are extremely likely to go out to the winners of Toulon v Leinster, should they get through. But I don’t think they’ve any real reason to be afraid of playing Toulouse at home; respect yes, fear no.
        There’s usually 3 home wins and one away win in the quarter finals, but it’s hard to call which away win it’ll be, should one transpire, bar Clermont v Tigers, which I simply can’t see Tigers surviving.

  11. You’d have to hope that Ulster have gotten a wake up call. Sarries are going to feel pretty ok about coming to Ravers based on last weekend. Still think Munster will do it, expecially if POM plays. Leinster have it all to do, but did I hear Tulon have loads of injuries?

  12. Yossarian

     /  March 31, 2014

    I thought the performances of Jennings,Fitzgerald,McGlaughlin and Macarthy were excellent on Saturday. With all the talk about the Munster gripes about team selection its easy forget that those are guys who have been involved in the past for Ireland but were overlooked in the 6 nations. They had their own statement to make. Schmidt selection looked fairly justified after Saturdays match.

    • Bobby T

       /  March 31, 2014

      Was McLaughlins performance of the ‘unseen’ variety rather than ‘anonymous’ then? Because I saw absolutely nothing from him. Jennings and Fitzgerald were excellent.

      • Anonymous for my money. He’s having a very spotty season, and I expect Rhys Ruddock to play 6 next weekend if fit.

        • Yossarian

           /  March 31, 2014

          Fair enough on McLaughlin but the other 3 all had good games. McLaughlin has gone from finishing the game against the all blacks to a reserve backrow option at leinster.hard to put the finger on why he has dropped standard.

          • Len

             /  March 31, 2014

            Injury kept him out. That and Ruddock stepping up in a big way this season. Have to agree with Whiffs assessment I thought he was anonymous on Saturday and the previous Friday.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  March 31, 2014

            In fairness Jennings form had also been on the wane after injury, this has been his most influential game since returning. Still time for Locky to pull it together, I think the international ship has sailed though, too much depth at six.

  13. zdm

     /  March 31, 2014

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Ulster who have taken the time since the 6N to not talk about Saracens – they’ve given banner headline space over to 2 new signings and Fez’s desire to play for Ulster.
    If the last 3 seasons have taught us nothing, its that Ulster don’t respond to mind games and they seem to be ignoring all attempts by Globo Gym to unsettle them.
    I’m not bothered by Ulster loosing to Cardiff because I believe our overwhelming focus is on winning the HC and we should have more than enough to see off Owen Farrel XV.

    • Paddy o

       /  March 31, 2014

      Agreed zdm. It was an away match, on a surface they ain’t used to, in a game with little riding on it. It was a game which was purely about getting through without injury ahead of the primary target the following week and also fez getting more minutes under his belt. True, you’d want a bit more of a performance, but would have to expect it will be night and day compared to how ravers will be this weekend. It should be a great atmosphere and the way they’ve done the design with terracing down at the front….I think it promises to be a pretty intimidating venue. I’m thinking three wins. Toulon will suit Leinster’s game, although that is predicated on o’connor letting his team play their game. I don’t see that toulouse are so deserving of fear or over-respect, but Munster do need to be playing well to beat them. The confused Munster attack which rears it’s head now and again wouldn’t beat anyone to be frank. A good Munster performance and they’ll win.

      Ps: Rodney’s parade on the car….chortle.

  14. Adam White

     /  March 31, 2014

    While accurate “Leinster to win 3rd H cup in four years” I think 4th in 6 years is more reflective of their recent success. claremont being the only team to trouble them in 6 years. 2010 and last years pool stages.

    • You’re drastically misremembering 2009-2010. Leinster couldn’t beat London Irish in two pool games, losing at home and drawing away, and lost to Toulouse in the semi-final after Clermont really should have beaten them in the quarter (Brock James couldn’t kick snow off a rope that day). Leinster also lost to Wasps and Castres on their way to their first title in 2009, of course. Fourth in six years is still perfectly accurate, of course, but Clermont are certainly not the only team to trouble Leinster in six years.

      • The London Irish loss was a bit of an outlier (Leinster troubled themselves rather than the other way around) and the draw in the last match was a dead rubber. As far as I recall Leinster only needed a losing bonus point to get a home quarter and never really started firing in that match. Fair to say Clermont were the main problem for 2012 and 2013 though.

  15. Bobby T

     /  March 31, 2014

    Kilcoyne definitely deserved his yellow for utter stupidity at the break-down, but does anyone else think he was hard done by at scrum time? He was absolutely destroying Ross yet the collapses were invariably called against him. I’m sure Rolland saw some logic but I cant see it. Also Bent completely showed Ross up when he moved to tight-head. Admittedly against a different loosey but Cronin and Kilcoyne are a very similar standard.

    • B

       /  March 31, 2014

      I don’t think Rolland has the best grasp of the scrum so some of the calls will always be questionable but I think he was penalising Kilcoyne on the basis of Kil losing his bind before the collapse.
      The best way I’ve seen the scrum issues dealt with has been when refs force the hookers to put their lead foot beside one another so that they are basically bound as they lower into position. Some refs do it more than others. I’m not sure what effect it has on the ability to challenge for the ball but it seems to prevent collapses 90% of the time.

    • No. I think Kilcoyne was very lucky and that another ref might have binned him for his shennanigans in the scrum.

      Rolland didn’t have a clue what was going and hence just made it up as he went along but Kilcoyne and Botha were scrummaging totally illegally. Whether Botha was boring in or Kilcoyne/Varley were pincering Ross or Kilcoyne was literally tugging Ross down to the ground, it was terrible shennanigans.

      The Leinster scrum wasn’t great but another ref will not let the Munster front row get away with so much gamesmanship.

      • Cian

         /  April 1, 2014

        Just because you keep saying this doesn’t make it true. The vast majority of scrums that managed to stay square and steady until the feed ended up with Leinster going backwards, and doing so relatively evenly on both sides. Bearing this in mind, and accepting that all four props are always going to be trying various legal and illegal moves to discomfort their opponents, the motivation to drop lay squarely with Ross and not Kilcoyne. Even more so as it became apparent that Rolland had no idea who was at fault for any collapse and was just going to penalise alternately and then produce cards.

        Leinster were better in most facets of the game at the weekend, but not the scrum, and saying otherwise is one-eyed.

        • curates_egg

           /  April 1, 2014

          Straw man alert! I emphatically did not say Leinster were not better in the scrum!

          What I said was that Kilcoyne (and Botha) were scrummaging illegally at alternate scrums (until Rolland finally gave Ross and Kilcoyne a yellow warning). Whether shoving early, pincering (by Kilcoyne and Varley), boring (by Botha and Kilcoyne) or literally tugging Ross down (by Kilcoyne)…it was illegal and another ref that understands the scrum better could easily have binned one of them. It was immaterial to the outcome but anyone that thinks Munster were dominant in the scrum, either does not understand this or is wilfully missing this important qualifier.

          That said, they played Rollers well, in that at least two of the kickable scrum penalties they got could easily have gone the other way. For that, they should be commended. All I am saying is that another ref would have seen it differently.

          It was actually very similar to the same fixture in Landsdowne last year.

        • curates_egg

           /  April 1, 2014

          Too many nots! What I mean is that Leinster were not better in the scrum 😉

  16. I think all three Irish teams had their minds primarily on the Heino encounter. I would therefore put Ulster’s blip against Cardiff down to that and imagine that they will be motivated enough to want revenge – at home – for last year’s thrashing at the hands of Sarries. Munster’s pack and the home support should be able to win them the game against Toulouse. Their backline play has been poor all season – too lateral – but they still managed to eke out the results – see the two dubious tries against Treviso. Leinster have their work cut out for them. If our team/squad fires on all pistons I think they have the ability and strength to scrape out a win in Toulon – similar to how we beat Clermont in Bordeaux two years ago. I am worried too though. Currently we have three teams in the HEC quarter-finals. Come Sunday evening we might have not one in the semis. Fingers crossed!!!!!

    • osheaf01

       /  March 31, 2014

      If anyone can win in Toulon, it’s Leinster (and, believe me, that is high praise – I don’t think Munster or Ulster would have a prayer of winning there)…but Toulon simply never lose at home. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet one cent on it happening.

      • Osheaofo1, I know, where you’re coming from, and your pessimism is more than justified. One particular thing however gives me hope: the majority of the Leinster players, who will be lining out on Sunday, have this season already beaten Castres in Castres and France in Paris. From that point of view I would hope they won’t be too intimidated in the Stade Mayol.

  17. Len

     /  March 31, 2014

    Best quote I heard about Saturdays match was “who does Jenno have to hump to get a MOM award.” Thought he was brilliant on Saturday and will need to be as good against Toulon.

  18. Toulouse injury list is mounting. No Picamoles now, in addition to Dusautoir. Could be an easy one for Munster.

    Am traveling to Toulon with a very limited ration of hope. Parity in the set piece, intensity at the breakdown and tempo on the ball, clever kicking, no kickabe penalties. These are the foundations on which a win will be built. Not that much to ask eh? Hopefully the bouillabasse is good at least.

  19. Yossarian

     /  April 1, 2014

    Listening to Bernard Jackman on newstalk last night.He reckons Toulouse just want to win the Brennus again and that is their priority.With them just hovering around the top 6 finish it sounds like they will have an eye on top14 games. With injuries and maybe a few ref calls going against them early you could well get a France in Wales type performance.

  20. OneSizeFitsAll

     /  April 3, 2014

    The Great Ulster scrum half dilemma rumbles on. p is clearly never ever going to be a professional rugby player, it’s either a miracle or the true extent of the problem that he is in his 8th or 9th season as one & has a further 2/3 years on his existing contract.
    Twice this wee man has agreed to join English clubs – albeit in one case he changed his mind 30 minutes after signing a contract – however the sad truth is that his time with Ulster climaxed weakly with a run of games before the return of the blessed one in October 2012.

    It is a source of continuing bewilderment that one so poor has not had to seek “a real job” before now.

    As for Heaney, the young man must have been licking his lips, a near full strength pack to play behind but nobody had told him they weren’t going to bother their Croziers & he would have as much as no protection in Caaaaaaaaadiff. That he was an abysmal mirror image of p was only partly his fault but lets be honest, good scrum halves have put in blinding performances behind crap packs – he didn’t.

    Back to the Heiny, caution is advised but as one who is invariably a “glass half empy” man I am feeling rather uncharacteristically that their is no good reason not to expect 2 semi-finals at the Aviva.

    Well I say that, but of course that overlooks the fact that Munster have looked considerably worse than their results all year & Ulster have been consistently poor since 19th January in Leicester.

    The portents for Munster are goodish, they have Toulouse a great club by any standards but with a man running the gig who has said it all a thousand times & no one currently appears to be listening. The powers that be appear content that Toulouse would implode “Man Utd” style should the longest serving coach in rugby be given his P45.

    More importantly they have Nigel, the man who reffed their 3 knock out matches in 2008 in their last HC winning year.

    Ulster, well we know they are a very very good team, stronger man for man than Saracens, with home advantage and hopefully a less shambolic approach this year to the quarter-final. Question is, can they simply go from dismal league form to HC form just because Rory, Restart Roger, & crucially Ruan are back – they are, trust me – with a 6:2 bench with considerable impact? I’m less than 100% confident & they certainly don;t want to slip behind as they did at Welford Road. Saracens are a good team, even by wretched Boshiership standards.

    The Mexicans, have to say I fancy them to humiliate the cartoon network & Toulon.

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