Extreme Passion

BT Sport featuring montage of Chris Ashton swan diving in Premiership games: The inaugural ERC is back, and with form-lines only stretching back two games, it’s extremely hard to predict how teams will adapt to this brand new competition

Sky featuring footage of HEC finals ending with a close-up of RADGE: The storied European Rugby competition is back for the first leg of another classic head-to-head double featuring some of the most decorated players in rugby history.

It’s back, indeed. And, rather befitting the BT Sport version of events, the Irish aren’t smugly looking down at our English and French cousins and preaching about culture and passion, but are looking over their shoulder in worrisome fashion at what might be bad news down the track.  Wahtever the format, division of incomes, or broadcasters, the December double headers reliably bring European rugby to a crescendo.

In the blue corner, it’s a more Irish version of London Irish – the current iteration of Leinster are booting the ball really far down the pitch in an aimless fashion, making mistake after mistake and causing dissention among the frappuccino and rosemary focaccia scoffing denizens of D4 roysh. The gimme of a pool draw they got has now been flipped on its head – how embarrassing would it be rosyh, if we didn’t even get a home quarter final.

Eight points in this double header (for it’s rather fanciful to expect four tries after the eye-bleeding display against Hairsprays B’s the other night) would likely suffice for that goal. However, it speaks volumes for current confidence levels that winning twice over the ninth-best team in England is not considered a formality, but only a possibility based on current performance levels. If Leinster get over the hurdle that is the Stoop, that home quarter-final is a probability, but the stylish whack-job you could expect in the Schmidt days is unlikely.  Leinster will be looking to revive the spirit of the Stoop when they improbably won 6-5 back in April 2009 in what history will record as perhaps their most important ever match, and another scrap in a similar vein, if not quite so bloody – wink, wink – seems likely.  Quins have dropped off a level or two since they won the Premiership but they are better than their ninth position in the league suggests.  They’ve won precisely one game fewer than Saracens in the league, and beat Wasps away from home in this pool.  Danny Care must surely be hungry after a difficult November, and this is the very platform for him to make his point.  A win is not beyond Leinster, but on current form they may have to make do with a bonus point and look for revenge next week.

Up north, praying fervently in the white corner, it’s the proud, upstanding God-fearing Ulstermen, featuring predictability and cloth-eared stupidity from Nick Williams. What a pity this is virtually a dead rubber.  Ulster lost in “Tomond” last week with an error-strewn and direction-less performance – the pack looks devoid of all discipline, the backrow samey and badly missing Chris Henry, and the backline unable to create anything. The return of Dan Tuohy and Ruan Pienaar will help, but even to beat this ocassionally impressive Scarlets side will need an upswing in performance. They will need 19 points from their next 4 games to even think about sneaking into the knock-outs, and will target 10 points from this double header. Based on current form, that’s pretty unlikely. We bet on a Pienaar-inspired improvement, but only 8 match ponts garnered.

Finally, the big ‘un.  In the brave and faithful corner, we have the extreme passion of Munster, who face the toughest assignment of all – a double header with mental strength’s Clermont Auvergne, the first leg being at “Tomond”. Donncha O’Callaghan is suspended and we’re reliably informed he was this close to unseating Billy Holland from the bench.  A cruel, cruel blow.  But despite that, Munster, against all pre-season expectations, are the best of the Irish provinces right now, with technical excellence from their forwards supplemented by a rich vein of form from Conor Murray, currently Europe’s best scrummie, and Ian Keatley, in the form of his career, some poor execution against Ulster aside. Certain email indiscretions are receding from memory, and Ivan Dineen and Johne Murphy don’t feature much these days anyway.

Clermont might have broken their Ireland hoodoo in the Palindrome against Leinster two years ago, but this is still aside that struggles away from its citadel – losing in Toulon is no disgrace, but losing in Bayonne, Oyannax and Bordeaux – well, it isn’t great.  It’s hard to have too much confidence in them when they go on the road.

Still, this is an imposing and excellent squad – we expect a fight as opposed to the supine lie-down performed by Toulouse last year. The scrum will give Munster plenty of problems, where BJ Botha is a diminished presence and neither Kilcoyne nor Casey are scrummaging powerhouses. A midfield of Lopez and Fofana is likely to pose many more questions than iHumph and McCloskey, but this sort of European game is new territory for Lopez, and his credentials will be tested. And, speaking of iHumph, now that the silence for the kicker policy has been officially abandoned, psyching out of the opposition kicker a la Owen Farrell, is less likely than in previous years. We expect two home wins, but Clermont to get a bonus point in Limerick and perhaps to squeeze out on top in match points. In a tight three-way dogfight, every point counts.  Using a baseline of nineteen points as we outlined earlier this season, Saracens’ bonus point win over Clermont looked to have them on +1, but their failure to take anything from Thomond Park brought them back to scratch.  Five points is the pass-mark for Munster over these two games, and limiting Clermont to no more than five is just as important.  It’s the match-up of this, and next, week, a potential European classic.

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39 Comments

  1. YET AGAIN NO MENTION OF CONNACHT’S TWO GAMES AGAINST FRE…. sorry, can’t even feign righteous indignation, we don’t give a fiddler’s about the “European Professional Rugby Challenge Cup (sponsored by Toilet Duck)” either. Will that be 6 tries or 7 against the sans espoirs sir? I hope you enjoy the opposed training session!

    • Yeah, ‘fraid we can’t get too enthused about it either. Connacht are making waves in the Pro12 though, and we’ll be talking about them over the coming seasonal interpros.

      • Hanji

         /  December 4, 2014

        I wonder if a sort of cup run woulden’t help us build a bit of squad depth? Everything going good now but we’re really one Muldoon or Marmion away from disaster in reality.

        • There’s no doubt if we wanted to we’re one of (maybe) 4 sides who could have a proper go at winning this cup. But with one of those other sides also in our group, and more importantly no place in the “elite” competition for the winners, it’s very much a secondary concern. We’ll put out half the first team this week and half next week with a view to going after Leinster.

  2. Andrew097

     /  December 4, 2014

    The only idiots I hear chatting about D4 being the centre of Leinster rugby are always Munster fools who don’t realise that rugby is played in every town through the glourious 12 counties. That’s probably because they have never played rugby in Leinster with wonderful rugby days away to , well every town . Never even mind the towns cup which is a beast of a pot to win. No I never hear the Ulstermen or the lads from Connacht bleating on about D4 only those idiots from the south where rugby is played in two cities and two Grammer schools and until recently the odd garrison town.
    I,m sure they will be shocked to hear Joe learnt it all in Mullingar RFC but we in Leinster already knew that but then again knowing the truth would not sit well with the emotional stupidity that Monster rugby sometimes is.

    • Munstermicko

       /  December 4, 2014

      I have ye known that from castletown Bear to Cashel Munster young fellas are practicing passing milk churns as soon as they can walk and chop tackling stray bullocks before they can shave.

      Them Yellow lads will need gas masks in Limerick on saturday the air will be so thick with pashun.

      I see nothing less than 5 points on saturday and a dramatic narrow 4 points the week after after the forwards, 4 points shy of a lead bundle themselves over the line after a maul from the halway line at 81 minutes leaving a trail of prostate yellow jerseys in the dirt and a slipstream of blood and Man tears

    • ruckinhell

       /  December 4, 2014

      Some bizarre consistency in your post: you are correct to criticise those who fallaciously equate Leinster rugby with D4 rugby and ignore the contribution of the rest of Leinster. Yet why then throw in a very stupid comment about Munster rugby being two cities and two grammar schools? The likely starting squad is going to see a shot of guys from Tipperary (Foley, TOD, Butler) and Kerry (JJ Hanrahan) as well as the traditional strongholds of Cork and Limerick. And you’re ignore the service given to Munster rugby by guys from “non-traditional” rugby areas like Moss Keane, John Hayes and Alan Quinlan (to name only three of many).

      But yeah, let’s try not to continue with the moronic “My province X is a top top spot and province Y is crapz, lolbantz” line of internet posting. It’s bloody tiresome.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  December 4, 2014

      Great to have somebody stand up against the petty provincial ‘beggar thy neighbour. mind-set that exists in Munster. Hope we never see such stereotyping animosity from Leinster fans eh?
      Was talking to a guy from Lesinster branch at a meeting last week who said that Mullingar RFC are out on their own within Leinster in terms on their youth development based on having been first to place sufficient emphasis & resources behind mini rugby. Looking forward to getting down there to have a look when I get the chance.

      • Yossarian

         /  December 4, 2014

        Clondalkin rugby club is growing every year!massive underage numbers. not exactly D4 but that doesn’t suit many narratives about Leinster rugby. Carlow around since 1870’s and one of the oldest clubs in the country doesn’t fit either.
        Thankfully the continuing success of the Irish side has diminished some of the inter provincial bickering. Much bigger competitions to enjoy being contenders in so we don’t need to focus on local one up man ship.

    • Riocard O Tiarnaigh

       /  December 4, 2014

      Hear! Hear! As a Dub from de Nordsyed like BO’D, DJ Church and – dare I say it – Ian Keatley, I do get a bit tired of the characterisation of the typical Leinster fan as an bidet-using rootless cosmopolitan. Out with the tired cliches. Let’s hear it for the 12 county army. And while were at it, a bit of de ol’ “pashun” wouldn’t go amiss for the Blues on the occasion of this weekend’s visit to the Stoop.

    • Stevo

       /  December 4, 2014

      Get up the yard Andrew, the references to frapuccino and rosemary focaccia are no more serious than those to the fervent prayer of the God-fearing Ulstermen or the extreme pashun of the brave and faithful Munstermen. In future instead of being upset by chip-on-the-shoulder Southwesterners I suggest you rise above it, safe in the knowledge that by accident of birth life has already declared you the winner.

    • Amiga500

       /  December 4, 2014

      Ye know the two lads that write this are from Belfast and Dublin right?

      [erm, right?]

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 4, 2014

        Banter detection is sadly on the wane these days. Heaven forbid someone bringing a bit of levity, there is a recession don’t you know?

        • Amiga500

           /  December 4, 2014

          Recession? Thats soooo 2009…

          • Fergal

             /  December 4, 2014

            Yaw, mon, loike, house proices are racing ahead here in D4. What could possibly go wrong?

          • Leinsterlion

             /  December 4, 2014

            Are we not entering another recession europe-wide, I guess you could call it a “recession comeback” mirroring the likes of Take that, s club seven et all where people like them ironically, so I can reference the original recession, because its basically meta-irony(in light of the new recession)? Or is that forced irony, so not irony at all, and thus unhip??

            @Fergal, house prices racing, credit rules tightening, tough to have a bubble with no buyers….

          • osheaf01

             /  December 4, 2014

            @LL “house prices racing, credit rules tightening, tough to have a bubble with no buyers”
            Let’s hope we saved the Systemic Bank, Anglo-Irish, then – as economic life was (and is) impossible without it?
            Yes, that’s meta-irony.

  3. ruckinhell

     /  December 4, 2014

    Think you’re underestimating Munster’s scrum actually, they’ve been consistently good in this area over the last couple of years and have been racking up a rather impressive amount of scrum penalty tries. BJ Botha is aging quite a bit but he’s still a wily operator (once he doesn’t fall foul of the ref).

    If Munster play a gameplan akin to Ireland’s against SA I think we’ll win. Contestable kicks allied to a manic kick chase and smash the breakdown at every opportunity. If this game goes free flowing we’ll be blown away by that Clermont team. Davies and Fofana against Pat Howard and Denis Hurley is not something that bears thinking about!

  4. @Completebore

     /  December 4, 2014

    Frappuccino and foccacia? Is it 2008 again? Surely its all cold brewed coffee and artisan sourdough these days?

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 4, 2014

      Bulletproof coffee? or is that just for the crossfit hipsters(an oxymoron,everyone who does crossfit is a hipster) therefore not actually in at all…

    • You might well be right, Completebore. And I bloody love sourdough too Kate. The chicken with lemon stuffing on sourdough in Oxmantown is one of the best sandwiches going these days.

      Any rugby happening this weekend? Any at all?

      • Sure there’s always something. The season’s so long these days it’s just hard to keep interested, you know?

        I’m eating a honey & yoghurt bread right now. Tastes like Christmas

        • It’s hard to keep up alright, but I know one thing: this face off between Ulster and Scarlets is going to be season-defining.

          147 deli for lunch today. Truly a great eatery. Not so much sourdough, but they do include the obligatory pulled-pork.

  5. Lop12

     /  December 4, 2014

    Fancy Munster to at least breakeven on the head to head points with Clermont. Very tight to call it but if I was to have a bet, Id back Munster to get 5 points and Clermont 4 over the next two weekends.

    • Munstermicko

       /  December 4, 2014

      I agree. I just hope the lads buck tradition get the business done early as I’ll have to leave at the end of the first half so I have enough time to hitchhike, canoe and ponytrek my way to Massive Central for next week’s fixture.

  6. Cian

     /  December 4, 2014

    What on earth is going on in this comments section? Andrew097 has at least managed to walk the line between troll and genuinely-wound-up fan so well that I haven’t a clue how to place him, but everyone else seems to have wandered off towards the economy and bread. On second thoughts, well done everyone for not taking the bait and getting trapped in a miserable Leinster v Munster slagging match.

    I reckon Leinster will beat Quins well, Munster will scrape by against Clermont, and Ulster will lose to free-running Scarlets after trying to force things.

    • Munstermicko

       /  December 5, 2014

      Quinns and ladies is hard to call.

      As for Munster Clermont and Munster its a given. The pashun runs through the teams veinds like red diesel dothrough their private cars.

      5 points this week and we’ll take another 4 when we go over to the Staypuffed Mashmallow Man Stadium next week

  7. Andrew097

     /  December 5, 2014

    Could not believe some of the comments from MOC (long ball) today in the Indo with reference to minding the ball in European Rugby I just seem to remember Leinster kicking it away against Toulon.
    But the use of the L word to discribe rugby in recent years is just too much for me and others that bleed blueblood, at this stage I would be happy to see Dempsey take over as MOC is a bluffer who talks a much better game then he coaches.

  8. Jaybee985

     /  December 5, 2014

    Conor O’Shea auditioning for MOC’s job this weekend and next, perhaps?

  9. Roundy

     /  December 5, 2014

    “losing in Bayonne, Oyannax and Bordeaux”.. Bordeaux are playing some great rugby at the moment and loosing there is no shame. Still think Munster can beat Clermont in Thomond but will struggle away. Leinster? God I dunno. Usually against premiership sides I would be confident but its hard to know now. Just hope! Ulster v Sacarlets will probably be a great game to watch but doubt either have a realistic chance of progressing. Would love to be in the sportsground this weekend for the Bayonne match or better still go to Bayonne next week, lovely place. Anyway heres hopin for success for all Irish teams this weekend (incl.the ‘A’ side in the B&I).

  10. Where has the notion that Casey is a poor scrummager come from?! Genuinely curious. I have no way of determining if a hooker is a good or bad scrummager aside from sort of… intuiting it from his consistent presence in a good scrum over years and years, like Varley or Best.

    Also, the Little Green Bench on Montague Street is the clear winner for Dublin’s best sandwiches (and, unfortunately, longest queues).

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