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Archive for the ‘Rugby Union’ Category

Breaking Down The Northern Bias

In Rugby Union on April 17, 2010 at 12:32 am

So after a thrilling quartet of Heineken Cup games this weekend, which featured more free flowing action than Jay Z and Nas on a white water rafting trip, will some Northern Hemisphere pundits be retracting their complaints over the new laws at the breakdown?

As the (somewhat romanticised) story goes, rugby was invented by William Webb Ellis when he picked up the ball during a football match and ran with it rather than simply kick it away. True or not, it doesn’t matter. The point is, the essence of the sport is running with the ball, and kicking it should not be the primary option. Something was rotten in the state of Rome this February, for instance, when England and Italy played out a one try eyesore featuring 84 kicks from hand in the starring role. That’s 61% of possession kicked by the Azzuri, and 54% from England. Not even the English and Italian fans would have enjoyed watching that.

The problem was that players had become so adept at forcing turnovers at the breakdown, that no-one would take the risk of running the ball anymore. Better to just kick it away. So it is to the eternal credit of the IRB that they took positive action so promptly. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Review: Part 2

In Rugby Union on April 1, 2010 at 12:19 am

We continue our tournament review with a look back at the key moments that made the 2010 Championshp, and a recap of some of the best and worst. Plus, a bonus ‘Team of the Tournament’…

Best Performance:

France 33-10 Ireland


Grand Slam champs, unbeaten in a year and conquerors of South Africa, Ireland came into this game with more confidence than Tiger Woods at a crazy golf tournament. They left with questions being asked about how they were going to compete with rugby’s elite. How quickly things turn in the world of rugby.

As always, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions from 80 minutes, as Ireland are still where most sane observers would have put them before the game – in the second tier of rugby nations. Ireland can’t compete with the resources available to South Africa and New Zealand, and need to play at their optimum level to take a victory against either the Aussies or the French. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Review: Part 1

In Rugby Union on April 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

To kick off our 6 Nations Tournament review, here’s a breakdown of the six teams involved, how they fared and why, what went right, and what didn’t…

Ireland

Final placing: 2nd

Grade: D

A disappointing tournament for Declan Kidney’s team. Coming off the back of a Grand Slam and an unbeaten year, they should have been looking for four wins at the very least. Losing to France in Paris is par for the course, but the manner of defeat was very disappointing. They were overrun and badly beaten by a team that looked far superior in every facet of play

I wrote in my preview that a loss in the Stade de France could derail Ireland’s tournament, so it was to their immense credit that they were able to bounce back and beat the English in Twickenham next time out. A good win over Wales followed, but the team’s set piece travails and multitude of handling errors in the Scottish loss gave us all a pertinent reminder of where their weaknesses lie

Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Review

In Rugby Union on February 15, 2010 at 10:31 pm

The second weekend of Six Nations action gave us a comeback for the ages, a statement from the French and a dogfight in Rome.

Yannick Jauzion crosses for a French try

We’ll start in Paris, where a focussed French XV made a mockery of Ireland’s 15 month unbeaten run. Losing at St Denis is no cause for shame, but the manner in which Ireland were broken down was very discouraging.

For the first quarter, they were right in the game. It looked as though we might be headed for classic 80 minutes as the two favourites duked it out. Alas, it was not to be. Irish indiscipline handed the keys to the home side, and they didn’t take their foot off the gas until the game was won.

There were a few key plays in the opening period which Ireland never recovered from. It’s far too simplistic to say ‘everything went against them’, because a lot of the damage was self inflicted. The bounce of the ball as D’Arcy zeroed in on the line was definitely just ‘one of those things’, but it was a poor chase which opened the door for the opening score of the game.

It was Tommy Bowe this time who opted for a predictable up and under, but when he was beaten to the ball by a soaring Harinordoquy, the back rower was presented with an acre of open field. A French counter attack is one of rugby’s most inspiring sights – unless you’re on the other end of it. This one ended badly for Cian Healy, who couldn’t resist tugging a French arm off the ball for a deserved yellow card.

Morgan Parra made no mistake with the penalty, but Ireland had the chance to level matters just a few minutes later. Or rather, they would have, had it not been for a moment of madness from hooker Jerry Flannery. He scythed down Alexis Palisson to sound the death knell for the winger’s afternoon, and posibly his own Six Nations. The resulting penalty put France in a great position to capitalise. They duly did so after a series of crushing scrums near the Ireland line. 10-0 down after 25 minutes was exactly where Ireland did not want to be. But it was indiscipline that got them there. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Round-Up

In Rugby Union on February 11, 2010 at 4:03 pm

As expected, Ireland got their 6 Nations campaign off to a winning start on Saturday. But it wasn’t pretty. It rarely is against Italy, but with just over half an hour on the clock and the scoreline reading 23-3 to the home side, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a few more tries and some padding for the points differential.

Instead, Italy managed to win the remainder of the game 8-6, as the Irish performance sank in a morass of negative play. The stats say that they kicked 61% of possession, but it must have been closer to 80% in a soul-sapping second half that highlighted all that is wrong with rugby these days.

Italy had huge problems in the lineout

Despite referee Roman Poite having a reasonable day with the whistle, confusion still reigned at the breakdown. Ireland received one penalty straight from a kick-off which could have gone either way with O’Connell and Del Fava both wrestling for a ball on the deck, and on another occasion Ireland were awarded a highly dubious scrum deep in Italian territory almost before Luke McLean had hit the deck. These quirks discourage teams from running the ball from anywhere in their own half, and lead to prolonged bouts of aerial phony warfare which seem to make up the majority of games these days. Read the rest of this entry »

Super 14 Preview

In Rugby Union on February 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm

The Southern Hemisphere’s premier club competition kicks off this Friday, with South Africa’s Blue Bulls again looking like the team to beat. Here’s a rundown of all 14 teams

Bulls

We start with last year’s champions the Bulls of Pretoria. They have retained the nucleus of their team for this year’s competition, but they have lost their star winger Bryan Habana to the Stormers. Their main strengths are in the forward pack and at half-back. The second-row combination of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha should ensure a steady stream of line-out possession, and a solid front row featuring the giant Gurthro Steenkamp and new signing Gary Botha at hooker will anchor the scrum.

This solid set-piece base will give the half back pairing of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn the perfect platform to control the game. They also have beef in the centre in the form of De Wet Barry and flyers like Zane Kirchner and prolific youngster Gerhard van den Heever out wide.

A friendly schedule sees them starting out against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before a 4 game home stand sets them up for an Australasian tour and three more dates in Loftus Versfeld.

With their experience, they will be major factors in this year’s competition, and should be certainties for the semi finals. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Preview

In Rugby Union on February 3, 2010 at 6:53 pm

The 2010 Six Nations kicks off this weekend with Ireland looking to regain their Grand Slam crown. They should face some stiff competition though, with France, Wales and England all out for revenge and the Scots and Italians well capable of causing havoc. Here’s a look ahead to this year’s tournament:

Ireland

Last year’s Grand Slam winners will enter this year’s tournament as favourites, and rightfully so. Dealing with expectation is just one more thing that this team has had to adapt to in the last few years.

Before Kidney took over in mid-2008, question marks remained over the make-up of the squad. The team was still struggling to blend, as Leinster’s sometimes thrilling back play had yet to be successfully grafted on to Munster’s grinding pack. Eddie O’Sullivan’s overly conservative style had failed, and tension remained between the two sets of players.

It didn’t take long for Kidney to show his worth, as the cagey Cork man managed the situation expertly. A clear the air meeting was held among the squad, where grievances were aired and hatchets were buried. The players emerged with a sense of togetherness and purpose, and they’ve done a fantastic job of realising their potential ever since.

Last year’s performances were a sea change from the 2008 Championship, where they laboured to home wins over Italy and Scotland, and the result was the side’s first Grand Slam since 1948. They followed that up with an unbeaten November series to finish the calendar year undefeated and earn Kidney the IRB Coach of the Year award. Read the rest of this entry »

Burned In Munster

In Rugby Union on December 11, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Munster 24-23 Perpignan

Well, that was close.

Munster turned in a disjointed and erratic performance in Thomond Park on Friday evening, but managed to escape with a one point win over a game and gutsy Perpignan side. Ronan O’Gara earned the man of the match award with his 24 points, but it could so easily have been a very different story.

The men in red looked to have laid down a marker early on when they set up camp in the Perpignan 22 after a series of forward drives, which resulted in O’Gara opening his account with a straight-forward penalty. It looked as though they would dispose of an under-strength French outfit with minimum fuss, and thoughts of a bonus point were already beginning to take shape in the minds of the ever optimistic Thomond faithful.

Man of the match Ronan O'Gara lands a crucial drop goal

Something obviously distracted their team too though, as some sloppy work at a lineout allowed flanker Vivalda to burst onto a loose ball and canter to the line without anyone laying a finger on him. Ok, a minor blip, we thought, and began to relax once more when O’Gara slotted another penalty to put his side back in the lead.

But with just 12 minutes on the clock, lightning struck for a second time as Munster were burned by a simple pick and go which released scrum half Durand up the sideline. He left Dougie Howlett for dead with a simple jink inside, and brows were furrowed all over Limerick. Read the rest of this entry »