Heineken Cup Round Five

Whiff of Cordite went on its second trip of the season this weekend – a swift eight-hour round trip to Belfast.  It was Leinsterman Palla Ovale’s first proper Ravenhill experience (Ireland A v Tonga doesn’t really count).  Talk about timing – the old ground heaved as Ulster racked up a wonderful four-try victory that keeps them in the hunt.  The highlight was the three fans behind us who with, as typical Nordies, refused to get carried away when Palla began to laud the Ulster display, responding ‘Aye, but Leicester are sh*te!’.  Here’s our Good Week/Bad Week, and where else to start but at Ravenhill.

Good week

Shtand up for the Ul-[whistle]-termen:
The standout performance of the weekend – Ulster absolutely smashed Leicester, dominating the collisions and set-piece and leaving England’s most storied team of the professional era a leaderless rabble by full-time. The tone was set by an immense hit by Fez on Agulla to prevent a Tigers try early on, and the ferocious work never stopped. Once the ball made it to the piano players, they did the business as well – even PedrieWannenbosh had two gorgeous try-making offloads. The pity is that they probably won’t qualify – the lost bonus point in

Welford Road

might prove crucial. True, they will make it if one of Toulouse, Quins, Embra or Cardiff slip up, but that is still odds against. Mind you, stranger things have happened, and better to have one in the hand then to need a win in Galway when you are playing sh!te…

When Eric eats a banana, he turns into…
Bananaman!  If you closed your eyes slightly, you would have though fifteen Erics were playing on Saturday morning. Egg Chaser was enjoying a leisurely lunch with the family when he decided to check the latest score from the Zaffanella on the off-chance there would be a shock. Errr … no. It was 47-0 at half–time. Then the Erics added another 35 in the second half for a grand total of 82 points and 12 tries. Okay, it was only Aironi. But still.  Aironi beat Biarritz last year, and gave Leicester a pretty uncomfortable time of it this year.  They have home wins against Embra, Treviso and Connacht in the AAALeague and gave Cardiff and Ulster some heart-in-mouth moments. Sure, they are bunnies, and they target matches (Munster, 12th of February, watch your backs), but they are improving – they are certainly not an 82-0 team. If Clermont get 4 more tries and win on Saturday, they will likely have a home quarter final, and from there, anything can happen. Ask Eric.
Send Them Homewards tae the Knockout Stages
Scottish rugby has been in the doldrums for so long, you sometimes forget the positives. They have some decent back-row forwards, they should have won the Triple Crown in 2010, and they will soon have HupHupTim Visher. But they have loads of negatives. Glasgow have no history of rugby and struggle to get the deposit back from Partick Thistle Nil and are losing Richie Gray to Sale (Sale!).Embra do well to pack 10% of Murrayfield on a weekly basis. So with those handicaps, its great to see Embra show such bronca – 2 last minute away wins, and a 30 point comeback in this group –its the stuff quarter-finals are made of. If they beat London Samoa at home, they are in. Given they might make it at the expense of Ulster, it’s a stretch to say we will be cheering them on, but no-one could begrudge them, and Scottish rugby, their day in the sun.

Bad Week

Peter Stringer and the Wobbly Kick

There could hardly be much more goodwill towards Peter Stringer – we were in a Bath pub full of travelling Leinster fans who loudly cheered his debut appearance against Ospreys.  What a pity to see his kick charged down, resulting in a Biarritz try on Sunday.  His boot out of play to secure the win also went at a strangely low trajectory – it would have been funny-painful to see Ngwenya catch it on the full and gallop in for a winning try.  Things have gone well for Strings up til now – he’ll put this one behind him.

Biarritz and Leicester – All Pedigree and no Trousers

Pedigree is often argued to be the crucial ingredient in the Heineken Cup – it’s what digs Munster out of tight spots and gets Toulouse through the group stages without breaking a sweat.  Biarritz and Leicester have it in spades, but it will only get you so far.  Both are a pale shadow of fomer sides.  Biarritz were never the most watchable of teams, but the forward power that used to intimidate is no longer there.  Leicester became a rabble on Friday night.  They are admittedly beset by injuries, but they don’t appear particularly strong in any unit.  Castro is no longer the force of old, and the backrow was anonymous on Friday, smashed to pieces at the breakdown.  12×3 had a meltdown, and Ben Youngs is starting to look a bit overrated.  Both these teams will be focussing on domestic affairs for the rest of the season.

Stuart Barnes Has Something to Say

Oooooohhh Barnesy, what a week!  Darren Cave took him on in his Sunday Times interview (questioning his pick of Leicester as among the favourites), and came out on top.  After the Friday debacle, he made an extraordinary admission: that the Rabo Pro12 is better, and quicker, than the Premiership.  The Premiership Sky Hype, the perennial excuse that the powder-puff Rabo gives the Celtic sides an unfair advantage – all gone in a flash.  You half expected the producer to get in his ear and make him recant.

Tour Diary: Bath

Saturday: Morning and Afternoon

Egg, Palla and their better halves made their way across a snowy Belfast to the airport for the first flight to Bristol. In spite of the best efforts of the Hitlers (our clear plastic bags containing toileteries were the wrong size. Seriously) and the “restaurant” (Palla’s sausages were nothing short of vile) we made it across the Irish Sea.


Bags were dropped off at the Linton Travel Tavern Holiday Inn Express and the train to Lahn was merrily boarded. One stop later, twas Beautiful Bath. After a stroll around the Christmas market, collecting 4 currywurst, 1 cheese board and a mental list for Sunday; we chanced upon the Thermae Spa. After enquiring if Barnesy had checked in yet (“Who?”), we joined the beautiful people of Bath in the rooftop pool – a most excellent way to while away 2 hours.


Saturday: Evening and Night

Next stop was the outside of the Pig and Fiddle for the Munster match and a rendez-vous with Egg Spoon, Egg Cup, Miss Egg Cup and Tackle Bag. One Radge masterclass (TM) later, and we retired to the inside of the Pig and Fiddle for Sarries-Ospreys. Well, it was a rugby weekend after all…

By this stage, all were drooling over the prospect of a venison burger at Gascoyne Place – a pang not even copious amounts of wine could sate. After checking if Barnesy was eating (“Errrr, no.”), we discovered venison was off, but steak burgers were wolfed down with gay abandon. Picking up Ou Cacador and Senyoreta Ou Cacador, we headed towards the Westgate (thanks for the recommendation Stephen), sunk some digestifs (2 x double rum & coke + 2 x double vodka & white for £20 – high fives all round) and practised Samoa tackles.

Sunday: Morning

Fuzzy heads abounded in the am, but it was nothing a Bath Pasty and some coffee couldn’t sort out. A leisurely stroll down to the Rec was next – one of the highlights of the trip. Followed by the real highlight – the Rec itself.

What a ground – character, setting, charm – the place has everything. The match itself was fairly bitty – Leinster tried their best to throw it away, but ultimately Bath didn’t know how to win and Barnesy’s new favourite closed it out.

Sunday: Afternoon and Evening

The remaining highlights of Bath were on the agenda for our post-match stroll – the Circus, Queen Square and the Royal Crescent. Despite the increasingly grim weather, you couldn’t but love the place. The observation that there were 30 houses in the Crescent led us to the only logical conclusion – it was where the Bath squad lived. After knocking on number 10 looking for Beaver, it was back down town for some food.

A much more enjoyable than Saturday stroll around a half-empty Christmas market was next, and some gifts were procured – mostly for Mini Egg and Little Palla – lack-of-contact guilt was kicking in. One train, one automobile and one plane later, it was back to an icy Belfast for the final leg – 4 tired and happy campers slept well on Sunday night!

For the next episode, it’s Dublin this Saturday for Beaver in the Aviva.

Oooooooooooooooooohhh Barnesy’s Excited, and so are we!

It’s the first weekend of the Heineken Cup, folks, and that can only mean one thing: Barnesy’s back.  Unless you watch the English Premiership every week (confession time: we find it too dull) it’s only on Heineken Cup weekends that we get a full dose of Stuart ‘Oooooooooooooooohhh!’ Barnes.  Whether extolling Bath’s super-slick running game or conspiring to add to Munster’s disciplinary woes (right, Gerry?), or talking up his latest overhyped bright young thing, we love a bit of Barnesy.  But nothing beats that ‘Oooooooooooooooohhhh!!’ as a shuddering no-arms smash from some Island loose cannon upends a 75kg scrum half.

Here’s some of what we’re looking forward to this weekend:

It’s Barnesy time!

Stop Press! (Except the Online Ones)

It seems unfair to concentrate on the players, what with so many others putting their heart and soul into this World Cup. There’s been demand for Maori chiefs to welcome competitors at airports, astronauts to retrieve Morne Steyn’s kickoffs and Bayonne butchers wondering why Shontayne Hape is wearing their products on his hands.

Spare a thought also for the scribes and TV pundits covering the tournament – they have been forced to undergo an all-expenses-paid trip away from the Trouble and Strife for a month to watch rugby and drink Marlborough Savugnon Blanc. To cheer them up, we have put together a RWC preview of our favourite hacks and Stephen Jones.
 

Matt Williams (Setanta)

Style: Tends to start with a rabbit-on-the-headlights never-been-on-TV look, but then relaxes into matey banter with Franno. His perfect teeth and healthy tan cover a razor-sharp rugby mind, and his snippets of insider knowledge gleaned from his time in D4 and Ravenhill are always interesting.

Likely to say: Paddy Wallace is an amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing playah, reaaaaaaaaaaaaaally underaaaaaaaaaated
Unlikely to say: Let’s refer to New Zealand as the All Blacks

Jeremy Guscott (BBC)
Style: Self-satisfied, smug, paunch-bearing know-it-all. His judgement can best be summed up by his pre Six Nations verdict on Richie Gray – “He looks like he is running through treacle”. Errrr. Egg Chaser and his brother used to e-mail his BBC column with praise of rubbish players to see if he’d agree – our bigging up of Ayoola Erinle was a notable success.

Likely to say: Brian O’Driscoll isn’t a patch on the outside centre the 1997 Lions had
Unlikely to say: Interesting opinion Inverdale, I’ll take that on board

Ryle Nugent (RTE)
Style: Excited, excitable and exciting, roysh. Ryle has the refined voice and fur-lined coat of a man who has never left South Dublin in his life. His vocal range is huge, and one can generally tell how Ireland are doing merely by listening to the tone of his voice – anything mezzosoprano and above is good.

Likely to say: You beauty!!
Unlikely to say: Bring rugby back to the Northside 

Frankie Sheahan (RTE)
Style: Fiercely neutral and fair in his commentary, he rarely allws the origins of a player to dictate his opinion of them. No matter what you think of Frankie, you can’t argue that players from Cork and Limerick don’t get treated equally in his eyes. His day job is acting as agent for, among others, David Wallace and Tomas O’Leary – expect many references to how much they are being missed (truthful ones in Wally’s case).

Likely to say: Mick O’Driscoll is very unfortunate not to be here

Unlikely to say: What a performance from Jonny Sexton!

Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports)
Style: Surprisingly for a Sky commentator, over-enthusiastic and a strong backer of whatever Sky have the rights for at the time. When you push through the bluster, he’s actually a very shrewd and interesting analyst. Provided Whiff of Cordite with their favourite commentary moment last year in the Leicester-Perpignan game, as they discussed the collective noun for Tuilagi’s (winner: a terror of Tuilagi’s). While they talked, both Henry and Alesana took the ball directly into contact and got turned over.

Likely to say: I know Matt Banahan knocked on, but what power!
Unlikely to say: I know Matt Banahan is powerful, but what’s the point if you have hands like soap!

George Hook (RTE)

Style: Committed to saying the first thing that comes into his head, unless that happens to be a criticism of Munster. Specialises in popping some of the over-exuberant balloons inflated by the Irish press, but has morphed into a cynical parody of himself. Struggles to admit when his far-flung predictions turn out entirely incorrect.  The Irish players despise him.

Likely to say: We’ll get destroyed up front and lose
Unlikely to say: Keep the faith Tom

Stephen Jones (Sunday Times)
Style: Pointless curmudgeon who persists in his outrageously biased nonsense. To be fair, he makes great copy, and we don’t know if it’s us getting older or him getting more mellow, but we have found ourselves in agreement more than is healthy of late.

Likely to say: McCaw is running scared of the intensity of Edgely Park and Sixways by staying with the Crusaders
Unlikely to say: James Hook needs to improve his decision-making on the field

Gerry Thornley (Irish Times)

Style: Torn between Southside chic and Indie cool (Ms Ovale admits to a minor crush), Gerry can often be seen puffing on a Marlboro Light outside O’Donoghues. Favours the stubble, sunglasses and scarf look. Used to be Head Boy at St Deccie’s but has been usurped in favour of Fanning, despite fervent support for the regime. In fact, fervent support of pretty much everything Irish can be guaranteed.

Likely to say: I had to restrain Dave Pearson from licking Wilkinson’s boots roysh
Unlikely to say: Rugby is now a 22 man game, and Deccie needs to learn that

Lets hope the poor dears survive their tourism – Palla will be keeping a beedy eye out for photo ops, especially with Barnesy.

Needless to say, this blog also has a deep connection to Gerry, and we will watch with interest the reaction to his demotion – will he knuckle down and praise the junta more than ever, or actually begin to call the Great Leader out on his mistakes?

Oooooooooooooooooooooooohhh!

Jonah Lomu, discuss.

Only one of the most memorable figures in rugby history. His trampling of the puny Underwoods and Mike Catt in 1995 will live long in the memory, as will Will Carling’s bitter description of a “freak”.

Lomu’s pace and power were frightening, but beneath the physical side lay a cunning rugby brain and highly polished skills. Lomu would not have made the impact he did was he only able to run in straight lines into defenders – even Rog can make himself enough of a speed bump to slow down large Pacific Islanders. No agricultural bosher could have earned 63 NZ caps in the 8 years from 1994, only a talented genius.

However, in an amazingly funny article brought to our attention by blog buddy Matt, ESPN have besmirched the memory of one of the greats by comparing him not only to Oooooooooooooohh Matt Banahan, but to Lesley Vainikolo!

Read through your fingers, its appalling: http://www.espnscrum.com/scrum/rugby/story/144993.html

Whiff of Cordite’s core rugby philosophy is insulted by this nonsense – genuinely talented footballers like George North, Caucau and Alesana Tuilagi belong nowhere near this hall of shame..

Elements of English rugby have continually learned the wrong lesson from their experience of Lomu, and the preponderence of useless and brainless boshers in the Sky Sports love-club (Banahan, Vainikolo, Shontayne Hape, Andy Powell, Jordan Turner-Hall, Sam Tuitupou, the list goes on) bears testament to this. This obsession with power and size has obscured opportunities for proper players like Matthew Tait and Olly Barkley. Ban(ahan) this sick filth!