Everyone Thinks They Have the Most Beautiful Wife at Home

After last week’s HEC action, everyone is banging on about how the AAABankPro’s contingent did themselves proud – and 9 wins from 12 is not to be sniffed at, especially when some Sky-hyped Premiership sides were downed in the process. Even our favourite corpulent ego-merchant has been giving his tuppence, making the not entirely ridiculous point that if the top 4 in England, France and Celt-land played each other, it would mostly be even between all 3 leagues.

Of course, the uncomfortable point for Barnesy and Miles among all this is that when Edinburgh (8th last season) beat London Samoan Irish (6th last season), its is the equivalent of Exeter beating Cardiff – something we can’t see happening too regularly.

Anyway, less Premiership-bashing, its not that bad to be fair, and is a sight better than Dragons-Connacht on a mucky Friday night. Let us do what nerds do and present a scientific analysis of which league is stronger. What we are going to do is take the top 6 in each league and look at their performances against one another in the following season’s HEC, for the last 3 European Cups. This controls for standard on the pitch – no-one cares about how much Sarries can stuff Treviso, if they can’t beat Munster (their equivalent this year as domestic champions in 2011).

We should acknowledge that the group stages are the most representative as teams play home and away. We will take knock-out stages into consideration as well, but they are less easy to extrapolate from, as one-off occasions.

So, our sample contains:

2009 HEC:
Celtic League: Leinster, Cardiff, Munster, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Scarlets
Premiership: Gloucester, Wasps, Ooooooooooooooohh Bath, Leicester, Sale Sharks, Harlequins
Top 14: Clermont, Toulouse, Stade Francais, Perpignan, Castres, Biarritz

2010 HEC:
Celtic League: Munster, Leinster, Edinburgh, Ospreys, Scarlets, Cardiff
Premiership: Leicester, Harlequins, London Irish, Ooooooooooooooohh Bath, Sale Sharks, Gloucester
Top 14: Perpignan, Toulouse, Clermont, Stade Francais, Biarritz, Brive

2011 HEC:
Celtic League: Leinster, Ospreys, Glasgow, Munster, Cardiff, Edinburgh
Premiership: Leicester, Northampton, Wasps, Ooooooooooooooohh Bath, London Irish, Saracens
Top 14: Perpignan, Toulon, Clermont, Toulouse, Castres, Racing Metro

2009:

Group Stages:


P

W

D

L

BP

Tot

Premiership

24

14

1

9

9

67

Celtic League

24

13

0

11

13

65

Top 14

24

8

1

15

7

41

Knock-out Stages:
Cardiff (CL) 9-6 Toulouse (T14)
Harleqiuns (AP) 5-6 Leinster (CL)
Cardiff (CL) 26-26 Leicester (AP)
Leinster (CL) 19-16 Leicester (AP)

Verdict: The Premiership shaded the regular season, but the Celts hit back with 2 wins and a draw against English opponents in the knock-out stages, both in neutral and English grounds. We think this makes up the 2 point differential so the Celtic League wins. Top 14 nowhere.

2010:

Group Stages:


P

W

D

L

BP

Tot

Celtic League

24

16

2

6

7

75

Top 14

24

11

0

13

11

55

Premiership

24

7

2

15

10

42

Knock-out Stages:
Leinster (CL) 29-28 Clermont (T14)
Biarritz (T14) 29-28 Ospreys (CL)
Toulouse (T14) 26-16 Leinster (CL)
Biarritz (T14) 18-7 Munster (CL)

Verdict: Although the Top 14 was soundly beaten in the regular season (not helped by Brive going 0-6), they won 3 of their 4 games at the business end (and the one they lost was one that got away). The best teams in the tournament were undoubtedly from France. Still, this is about the season as a whole and the Top 14 had 20 points less in the groups stages – so the Celtic League wins this one as well. The Premiership were laggards.

2011:

Group Stages:


P

W

D

L

BP

Tot

Top 14

26

14

1

11

8

66

Celtic League

26

12

0

14

12

60

Premiership

24

11

1

12

7

53

Knock-out Stages:

Leinster (CL) 17-10 Leicester (AP)
Leinster (CL) 32-23 Toulouse (T14)
Northampton (AP) 23-7 Perpignan (T14)
Leinster (CL) 33-22 Northampton (AP)

Verdict: The Celtic League was just behind the Top 14 on regular season (note the Celtic and French teams played extra games against one another due to vagaries of the draw). In terms of points per game, the Premiership (2.2) still lagged the Celts (2.3). In the knock-out stages, Leinster won the one game between the 2 leagues, albeit it home.. We still have to award this one to the Top 14. The Premiership once again is lagging behind, but not as much as in a grim 2010.

What do we think then? Undoubtedly, the League formerly known as Magners is the most consistent. The Top 14 seems to swing from the sublime to the ridiculous, and we should note that the occasional French team is not too bothered, so the overall standard is maybe higher than it looks. As for the Premiership – work to do. The best teams are as good as anyone, but the quality tapers off pretty quickly – teams like Bath and London Irish have a propensity to lose at home, something the French, Welsh and Irish do not make a habit of.

Of what use it this analysis? Well, when we meet Barnesy on our WoC away trip to Bath in December, we can blitz him with numbers. Then ask him about Matt Banahan. Altogether now: Oooooooooooooooohhh!!!

Magners Playoffs: Not Quite Top 14

The playoffs (and Treviso) have rescued the Magners League this season. They have prolonged a dull and stratified league season that would have been finished by April, but there is still a strange sense of bathos surrounding the whole concept. Last year’s final at the RDS was a soulless affair, as the organisers employed London PR gurus to strip the heart out of the RDS in an effort to ‘neutralise’ the venue and the match. So there were no D4TRESS posters, no Leo the Lion, an English announcer and a lame attempt at razzle-dazzle before kick off. In the end, Ospreys deservedly ran off with the cup, but the occasion was flat and lifeless.
This year, semi-final attendances were disappointing – Leinster and Munster season ticket holders baulked at the notion of having to fork out for another match that was not included in the original package, both content to wait for the final they seemed certain to reach.
Well, reach it they did, and Magners have got their wish, a Munster v Leinster final and a shot at redemption for the organisers. This one has sold out, of course, and Leinster winning the HEC means it couldn’t be any better set up. Let’s just hope the league have learned from last year and let Munster put on their impressive pre-match palaver – giant stags, Stand up and Fight and all that. Early indications aren’t good though – Leinster won’t be subjected to the usual wait on their own for a good two minutes before the Munster team come out – the teams will emerge from the tunnel together.
No such trouble in the Premiership where the playoffs are well established. Twickenham is all but sold out for the Premiership final, a repeat of last year’s classic. The only quirk is that Sky don’t have the rights to the final. Only ESPN subscribers will be able to tune in. No Barnesy assuring Miles and us all that it’s a classic as Owen Farrell thwacks the leather off the ball for the 715th time? What’s the point in even watching?!
And the Top 14 remains the most exciting and glamorous competition at the business end of the season. In an inspired move, both semi-finals are being brought to the 60,000 seat Stade Velodrome in Marseille, the spiritual home of French rugby.
Friday night’s contest between Toulouse and Clermont should be the game of the weekend. The match-up between two hugely physical packs will be wince-inducing, but let’s hope there’s at least some space out there amid the fatties for the likes of Medard, Clerc and Malzieu to flaunt their genius. Then on Saturday, we will find out if the magic Montpellier roundabout will roll on, or if Racing Metro can advance to what they see as their rightful place in the Top 14 final.

Sweet Sixteen

The Ospreys were given 400 tickets by Munster for the ML semi-final, and shifted …. 16 (Videprinter: SIXTEEN). The number itself doesn’t need any comment, but the reasons behind it do. Is this what regional Welsh rugby has become? That the best team (statistically that is, the Scarlets are the best team in reality) can attract less spectators than players for their most important game this season? Although, having seen the fayre dished up, perhaps the other 384 were the smart ones.

Down where the weather is nice, the Lions, led by the impressive young Elton Jantjes, broke a 16-year winless run in Australia with a storming win over the rudderless Brumbies, the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to the Ospreys. The same day, the Cheetahs beat the Crusaders to win their 3rd Super Rugby game in a row for the first time ever (ever!). SARU have promised that the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings will get a Super Rugby franchise for 2013, and its likely to be the Lions or Cheetahs making way – wouldn’t it be great if last year’s bottom two turned into front runners next year, and gave SARU a headache?

Le jenue de BOD

Well, we had a marvellous post full of pre-match jousting between the Leinsterman and the Ulsterman that make up Whiff of Cordite, but technical gremlins (i.e. Blogger breaking down for 24 hours) wouldn’t allow us to put it up.

Never mind, in the end Leinster ran out comfortable 18-3 winners, content to play out the second half with most of the bench emptied. In truth Ulster never really fired a shot, and Leinster were far more threatening thoughout, with Jamie Heaslip and Fergus McFadden outstanding.

Whether the use of the bench was by design or not we’re not quite sure, and none of Mike Ross, Richardt Strauss or Brian O’Driscoll looked particularly comfortable leaving the pitch. Joe Schmidt appeared most concerned about BOD’s knee, but expects the rest to be fine, though an anxious wait lies in store.

Leinster in the HEC without BOD is an unthinkably awful scenario, and here at Whiff of Cordite our lady friends have kindly offered to rub BOD’s knee all week if required.

Don’t walk away Ruan-nee

Rumours are circulating that Ruan Pienaar, Ulster’s favourite of their many South African sons, will be heading back home with a view to playing out-half in the World Cup (and presumably the Tri-Nations as well). It seems there’s a bit of a crisis at 10 for the Bokke, as management have finally realised that being an international playmaker requires more than simply kicking the ball really high into the air, which is bad news for Morne Steyn.

If the rumours are true, we’ll be pretty upset here at Cordite Towers. Pienaar’s canny game management and slick distribution have helped spark a young Ulster backline, and his last-minute match-winning penalties have propelled his team to the Magners League playoffs. Indeed, he was honoured with the ML Player of the Year Award this week.

But we can see why chief headbanger Pieter de Villiers would have his beady eye on Pienaar, because none of the alternatives are really braai-ing our biltong. We would think about throwing in Patrick Lambie, a young player of huge quality, but it is maybe a year too early, and PdV is not known for his enterprising selections. Peter Grant is having huge difficulty sparking the Stormers stellar backline (de Villiers-Fourie-Habana) into action, and the less said about the Naas Olivier’s of this world the better.

Don’t break our hearts Ruan, and give us another year.

Top of the Flops

All the silverware is still up for grabs, but for a bunch of teams, the season is already at an end. No shame in the performances of the likes of Treviso, who achieved their aim of respect at home in the Magners, or Exeter, who stayed well clear of relegation in the Premiership, but a bunch of teams will be taking home a sorry looking report card to their parents…

Glasgow Warriors
11th in Magners, 3rd in group in HEC
Having been fired to third in last season’s ML by Dan Parks’ boot and the exuberant Killer B’s, this was a depressing reversion to type. Thom Evans was badly missed, Kelly Brown left for Saracens, and injuries hampered the campaign. Little wonder Max Evans is off to Castres. The misery was compounded by Andy Robinson withdrawing several key players, including Richie Gray, from the last few rounds of the ML.

Ospreys
4th in Magners, 3rd in group in HEC
Whiff of Cordite has a confession to make. Following last season’s finale when Ospreys won in Thomond Park and clinched the title in the RDS, we erroneously thought Ospreys had located their cojones and would pose a significant threat in Europe this year. How wrong could we be? Weak-willed and negative in Europe, they blew their chance against a desperately out of sorts London Irish. In the ML, they were no better, but somehow fell over the line into fourth in spite of looking like they don’t really care. Never mind, Munster will beat them. Decline could be permanent, with Mike Philipps, Lee Byrne, James Hook and Jerry Collins off to pastures new. How long until Bowe bolts for the exit?

Stade Francais
11th in Top Catorze, Amlin finalists
Ok, they can still win the Amlin, but 11th in the Top 14 is a shameful performance for such an illustrious club. No longer the moneybags they used to be, but with the like of Parisse, Basteraud and Beauxis on the books, nobody should be looking for excuses. Primed for a clearout this summer, with a new side built in the manager’s image hopefully emerging. But, one has to wonder, has the power balance in the French capital shifted to Racing Metro?

Toulon
8th in Top 14, QF in HEC
A decent showing in their first season in Europe, but given their vast resources and extraordinary playing roster, they should be challenging for the Bouclier. The suspicion remains that their team of expensive mercenaries lack heart, and it was a pleasure to see unheralded Montpellier pip them to the playoff spot this weekend. Oh, and their brand of 10-man rugby is borderline unwatchable.

Wasps

9th in Premiership, QF in Amlin
Two words: Andy Powell.