Who Is The Greatest Winger Of Them All?

26 02 2010

Dougie Howlett is staying at Munster and what a class winger he has been over the years. But who is the best of all time.. Brian Habana? Campese? Jeff Wilson? Rocokoko? Chesta Williams? Shane Williams? Simo Geoghegan (honourable mention!)? But lest we forget this 6’6 inch, 20 stone, 100 metres in 10 seconds machine?? Feast on this beast…


Champions League 25/02/10

25 02 2010

We are at the half way point of the last 16 of the Champions League and who do we fancy? Most of the usual suspects are still lurking aside from Liverpool and one or two others. Man United came from the San Siro with a stirring win and scoring 3 goals. However this result does not mask United’s frailties. Firstly their defence is leaking badly. They won the league last year on the back of 13 clean sheets kept by Ferdinand and Vidic at centre back. The duo have hardly seen each other this year. Ferdinand’s persistent back problems make you question Capello’s decision to hand him the national captaincy while Vidic has also struggled with injury and you get the feeling that he will not be around come August. United scored three in the San Siro but could have conceded 7. Secondly, whatever way you line up the United midfield, is it good enough to win the CL? Let’s say Valencia, Fletcher, Carrick/Scholes, Giggs/Park depending on the system. When you think of what Xavi and Iniesta did to them last year, I’m not so sure.. Anderson is out for the season (although based on current form that seems no great loss) and the lack of return date for Hargreaves is ominous. Thirdly, they rely on Rooney too much. United’s second highest goalscorer this season is own goals. Berbatov shines in flashes and his link play can be excellent but too often he drifts in and out of games and his languid style doesn’t endear himslef to the United fans. He has yet to put in 90 minutes of class in a big game. Rooney has developed into one of the top three players in the world. Simply, he seems to have everything. He has filled the void of Ronaldo in terms of goals but are United better equipped to win the CL this season? I don’t think so. What would United and England do if anything happened to Rooney?!

Milan’s loss at home to United surely rules them out of contention. They are an aging side and while Pato and Ronaldinho can be brilliant, it would have to be something really special to overturn this deficit in Old Trafford. CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos, Bordeaux, Sevilla, Porto and Stuttgart would all have to be outsiders at this stage. Although a goal down from the first leg, Madrid should to do the business at the Bernabau against Lyon with the class at their disposal. The Inter v Chelsea encounter is just too tight to call. It is all set up for an epic. Mourinho back to the Bridge makes the tie all the sweeter. Both teams have flaws but both teams could also win the competition outright. Chelsea can usually pull out the goods at home and you would fancy them to sneak it. Although, Sneijder has been a great signing for Inter and they actually look a better side without Ibrahimovic and with Eto’o and Sneider in. He has provided them with that elusive link between midfield and attack. What has Mourinho really achieved at Inter though? They had won the league a couple of years in a row before he arrived and essentially he was brought in to win the Champions League. According to opta stats, during his time at Inter, they have won just two of seven matches at home in the Champions League, losing once. This wouldn’t inspire a winning run to the final.

Barcelona are sensibly the bookies favourite at around 7/2 and it is difficult to look past them again this year. They conceivably have three of the best players in the world in the team in Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. However, they haven’t been at their best for much of the season and their back four is penetrable if you can get the ball off them! Real Madrid and Arsenal would both pose a threat but the loss of Van Persie for the gunners is crucial. Their reliance of Fabregas is similar to that of Rooney to United. With Ronaldo, Kaka, Higuain, Benzama etc. in the ranks, Madrid could pull off any result but you wouldn’t fancy them to go through 6 more games without conceding a fair few goals..

Bayern could be a decent ouside bet at 16/1 but you get the feeling that a Spanish or English side will have the final say. Roll on the next phase.. Here are some of the best CL goals to wet the appetite.

6 Nations Preview England v Ireland

25 02 2010

So, the two teams have been announced with vastly differing approaches for Martin Johnson and Declan Kidney. Johnson names an unchanged side from the one which stuttered to victory over the Italians while Kidney makes several changes, both forced and tactical. The injury to Kearney at full-back forces Kidney to re-jig the back three, opting for the class and experience of Geordan Murphy rather than the raw but talented Keith Earls. Kidney has just about got the back three right in my book by taking some pressure off Earls in playing him on the wing as he does not want to knock the confidence of this potentially explosive broken field runner. He can be prone to a mistake and we can be sure with Jonny Wilkinson starting at 10 an aerial bombardment awaits. This allows Geordon Murphy to slot in at 15- a player who oozes class and confidence and knows the English game like the back of his hand. The concern with Murphy would be his lack of game time, with only 32 minutes of game time under his belt prior to last weekends game for Leicester. In truth it was that very game that swayed Kidney, with a classy 80 minute shift put in by Murphy in a try scoring performance. Tommy Bowe was the obvious choice for the right wing berth although Shane Horgan should count himself unlucky to not make the bench given his form for Leinster this season.

Up front, the Irish team lines out as expected with the only surprise for me being Donncha O’Callaghan in for Leo Cullen. The Munster lock does offer more around the pitch but Cullen’s lineout performances in the first couple of games have been a highlight for Ireland. Either way, it had to have been a tight call. The Bull Hayes is someone who has come in for a lot of criticism for his scrummaging but as he approaches his 100th cap, you can only admire the man. A warrior in the truest sense and a real servant to Irish rugby. Well done Bull! Another test awaits for the Irish scrum with the hugely exciting prospect Dan Cole no doubt frothing at the mouth.. Where is Ireland’s production line of tight heads? Flannery’s citing gives Rory Best his chance and I doubt he will let anyone down, particularly at set piece time. On that, Flannery is appealing the severity of his ban and his case will be heard next Wednesday. Good luck pal!

The big selection call of the Irish side is undoubtedly at 10. Jonny Sexton gets the nod ahead of O’Gara in a tight call. O’Gara did not have his best game in Paris, albeit behind a beaten pack, and you get the feeling that Sexton’s superior physicality particularly in defence won out for him in the end. I still think that O’Gara has the edge in distribution and tactical nous but Sexton gives Ireland an extra dimension in attack and defence. Due to his fondness of a dart himself, it means the English defence cannot afford to just slide onto DArcy and O’Driscoll. At 9, Tomas O’Leary’s physicality around the base surely gave him the advantage over Reddan although he will have to improve his speed at base of ruck. Overall- right call.

England have not really played well yet, especially in Rome. Yet, the six nations is all about momentum and with two wins under their belt and the champions coming to their back yard, they will prove a seriously tough prospect. This, coupled with the fact that this is the best team selection, in my view, that big Johnno has put forward. Their pack is strong and there is genuine threats across the backline. The centre partnership of Flutey and Tait is potentially devastating. Could Flutey be playing his rugby in Munster next year? With De Villiers voyaging back to his homeland, what a signing that would be! Armitage is quality at full-back and Ugo Monye and Cueto are genuine finishers. Although anyone who has watched Monye recently will recognise that there are aspects of his game that he should improve, particularly his link play. All the talk in the last couple of weeks has been English tens- one hero under fire and one pretender jumping ship. Wilkinson has copped a lot of criticism for his performance in Italy but I think he still has a touch of class and would not be priming Toby Flood for battle just yet. Whilst Danny Cipriani has had enough of Johnno’s cold shoulder and is venturing to sunnier climates in the form of the new Super 14 franchise in Melbourne. It might actually be a decent move for a player who clearly has the talent but is not developing the way he should be in England. A couple of years playing high intensity, heads up rugby might be just what England need. Question marks still remain of the English captaincy but who do you give it to?

Two teams looking for a performance, but most of all a win may not make for the most pulsating game of rugby but it will enthrall us nonetheless. Ireland have just about got the  edge in the back row which could be pivotal. Heaslip and Ferris in particular have the potential to turn this game with their athleticism and physicality respectively. Quick ball will be the key and the gain line. England will want to emulate the French pack and do a number on t heir Irish counterparts and the Irish will want to get their lineout functioning as before and get their strike runners into the game.A really tough, physical, tight game awaits. Ireland to win….just.