Munster v Leinster Preview

30 03 2010

The dust has barely settled on the Six Nations and we are blessed with having such a mouth watering game in Munster v Leinster so soon after the Championship. A great Friday awaits. There are so many sub plots to this game that it almost easy to lose focus on the main event. There is no doubt which one will dominate the headlines though- the Sexton/O’Gara debate rumbles on. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Sexton is afforded after O’Gara’s name was booed prior to kick off in the RDS in October. Expect the opposite in Thomond Park on Friday but as Peter O’Reilly said in the Sunday Times: the silence for Sexton’s first kick will be venomous. In these situations, the deathly silence can nearly be more intimidating for a kicker. In the same interview, Sexton admitted to a previous frostiness with O’Gara after his ‘in your face’ gesture when D’Arcy went over in that Heineken Cup semi-final. All is apparently rosy now but both fly halves would undoubtedly want to get one over on the other. Sexton will have a cut at O’Gara for sure early on but the Munster back row will be lurking for Sexton and will be looking to ruffle his feathers. From a supporters point of view, it is a real treat to have the two Irish out halves lining up opposite each other so soon after a roller coaster six nations for the pair. They both enjoyed moments in the sun in the Six Nations and similarly both had moments they will want to forget. Sexton’s creativeness and dynamism against England is a highlight, making two tries but his goal kicking was poor and he will not have enjoyed being replaced to an almighty cheer by O’Gara with 30 to go in the final match. O’Gara would have been hurt losing his place to Sexton especially as he has traditionally been a leader of this team but he fought back and who knows who would have started had there been another match in the Championship. The prospective battle between the pair is extremely exciting. If Sexton misses a couple of early place kicks, a nasty night could await. Alternatively, how he would love give O’Gara the run-around on his home patch.

Elsewhere, this fixture promises to be as ferocious as ever. Jerry Flannery will be no doubt frothing at the mouth at the prospect of getting stuck into the Leinster pack after his enforced absence during the Six Nations. Hayes v Healy will be another one to keep an eye on, spiced by Hayes’ uncharacteristic stamp in September. The scrum will be intriging to say the least. The battle of the second rows is just as spicy with neither of the quartet of O’Connell/O’Callaghan/Cullen/Hines likely to take a backward step. The battle up front should decide this match with the pack who gets on top likely to on the winning side. Leinster will be bitterly disappointed to be without Brian O’Driscoll as he usually reerves a special performance for games such as this. But this represents a great chance for the likely incumbent Fergus McFadden. No matter if he faces De Villiers, Earls or Mafi, a stern test awaits. It would be a great aid to him if D’Arcy is fighting fit and playing inside him. Rob Kearney will be looking to put that Six Nations behind him and continue his return to form in Thomond Park. Alternatively, Keith Earls will be looking to continue his electric Championship form.

After the humiliation of the RDS in October, Munster will be up for this one and might just shade it considering Leinster are missing their talisman. They will not have enjoyed headlines like the one Neil Francis conjured up after that game in October- ‘Ladyboys in Red.’ They have been waiting for this one for a while and the Thomond factor will also come into play. Any simmering hostilities from the Six Nations will become fairly transparent early on. The party line is always that everyone gets on famously but don’t buy into that; one of the reasons this rivalry has become so intense is because of the fiery nature between the two sets of players. A ferocious encounter is in store, with the pain of that 30-0 defeat potentially giving  Munster the edge and driving them to victory in a tight contest.

Here are the highlights of that game in October (Munster fans look away now)


Messi = Maradonna?

26 03 2010

There has been some debate this season as to who the best footballer in the world is. Rooney’s form has been outstanding and his goals have carried United to plains thay couldn’t have dreamed of without him. Ronaldo’s form has been prolific with Madrid as a whole but one man has been simply incredible, particulaly in the past few weeks, and that is Lionel Messi. He current form is pushing him dangerously close to being touted as one of the best ever. The similarities between himself and his Argentinian compatriot (and frequent nutter) Maradonna are uncanny. In terms of playing ability, Messi is now reaching the heights of Maradonna at his prime and that is a scary thought considering he is just 22. Does Messi have to win a world cup for Argentiana, like Maradonna in ’86, to be considered one of the best ever? Messi himself doesn’t enjoy the comparisons with the great one declaring:

“Even after millions of years pass, I will not be even close to Maradona. And I do not want to approach him. He is the greatest of all time,” he is quoted as saying  by AS.

“I don’t compare myself to Maradona, I want to make my own history for something I have done.”

Messi says he will never be as good as the Diego but with a more level head and at such a young age, does he have the potential to be even better than him? The world cup can’t come soon enough. Maradonna vs Messi video:

6 Nations Team of Tournament; Winners & Losers

23 03 2010

As the dust settles on the 2010 Six Nations Championship, it is time to look back at the big winners, losers and nutters (Andy Powell).

Team of Tournament?

1. Domingo

2. Servat

3. Mas

4. Nallet                                                                     

5. O’Connell

6. Ferris

7. Barclay

8. Harinordoquy               


10. Parks

11. S. Williams

12. Jauzion

13. Basteraud

14. Bowe

15. Poitrenaud

Unlucky to miss out:  Simon Shaw, Dusatoir, Trinh-doc, Heaslip.

Tournament Winners:

Basteraud– Triumphant comeback after a controversial summer.

Lievremont– Just when we were all about to write him off as a complete nutter, he only goes and wins a bloody grand slam!

S. Williams– The better half of the Williams Twisters returns with a bang.

Harinordoquy– Majestic, powerful, athletic and brilliant.

John Hayes/ Brian O’Driscoll– Centurions; Tá Fair play lads.

Tournament Losers:

Alun Wyn Jones– That trip that cost Wales 17 points in 10 minutes. Oh dear.

Andy Powell– Arrested at 6am on the M4 driving a golf buggy whilst drunk. Brilliant.

Jonny Wilkinson– Just doesn’t look the same player he used to be. Dropped for Toby Flood for final game.

John Hayes– A true warrior but under constant pressure in scrum now.

Best Match: Wales 31 Scotland 24

Worst Match: Italy 12 England 17

Best Try: Tommy Bowe scooting over in Twickenham.

Ireland v Scotland Review

21 03 2010

The 2010 Six Nations finished yesterday with the French deservedly claiming the grand slam and Ireland going out with a whimper against Dan Parks, I mean Scotland. From an Irish perspective, a season that promised so much ended with the most disappointing result in years. The bottom line is that we didn’t pay Scotland enough respect and they looked the hungrier on the day and made far less errors. In fact, Ireland made double the amount of errors than their Gaelic counterparts with 14-7. This was a strangely uncharacteristic performance with many of their perceived strengths becoming their biggest weaknesses. Case in point was the lineout which was an unmitigated disaster. With an average scrum, Ireland rely heavily on their usually excellent lineout to get them on the front foot and bring in strike runners like Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls into the game. This was not the case yesterday and Sean Cronin must be wondering what would have to happen in order for him to get on the pitch. Rory Best is just one cog in the lineout machine but he was clearly off his throwing game yesterday with overthrows and crooked balls common place. Why have Cronin there if not for a situation like this? Kidney had no problem getting O’Gara on the pitch to change things up, why not Cronin or Cullen? Unbelievably Ireland lost seven, yes SEVEN, of their own lineouts.

Similarly, the usually solid Irish defence was leaky and even the hitman Stephen Ferris slipped off a tackle or two. It was almost as surprising to see Gordon Darcy miss a couple. Perhaps he wasn’t fully fit as he looked a little hesitant. John Barclay should also have been stopped for his try.

Inevitably in this Six Nations the debate will rage back to Sexton/O’Gara. The manner in which O’Gara waited for Sexton to take the kick before coming on was unfortunate but surely not intentional. The almighty cheer O’Gara got when entering the fray must still be ringing in Sexton’s ears. The young pretender does give Ireland more in defence and attack but O’Gara’s game management is better and his distribution looks to have more zing to it. It must hurt Sexton though that when Ireland are playing poorly that it is him who will be sacrificed as if the root of all Irelands problems. Unfortunately, playing at 10, that is the nature of the beast. In all honesty, if Sexton wants to cement his place as Ireland’s outhalf, his goal kicking strike rate will have to improve. It sits around 30% at them moment and he will know that’s not good enough. Yesterday was a real eye-opener for this Irish side and if they genuinely want to have an impact at next years world cup, there are some issues that need addressing. Gert Small was talking up Tony Buckley’s potential recently. If he is to be our tight head next year, he needs to start playing now.. Surely John Hayes will not be there.The back line has a relatively settled look to it but it will be all about getting the combinations right. Earls, Fitzgerald, Bowe, Kearney will all be in the mix for the back three so tough decisions lie ahead. O’Driscoll and Earls in the centre? The biggest disappointment for Ireland on Saturday was the manner in which they lost; it was an error ridden display and a frustrating one. This team still has the players to be a top quality side but the Scots have provided us with a reality check in terms of where we are actually at. The Scots could have feasibly won four out of five games in this Championship and are not a bad side. Unfortunately, Ireland’s final game at Croke Park was reminiscent of their first there but there have been some memorable occasions and performances in between.

Great Rivalries Never Die

17 03 2010

Things threatened to get ugly this week between two of  the tennis greats of the modern generation. No, not Federer and Nadal (although playing in the same match) but but the wily old souls of Agassi and Sampras. In a charity event for Haiti no less!It just shows that the great rivalries live on forever.. In my opinion, Agassi is the one to lower the tone though! WR3PWFCWHXTY

Cheltenham 2010 Preview and Tips by Quel Esprit part-owner

15 03 2010

About this time every year, a strange malady attacks a large part of the population. It causes the sufferers to come down with a dose of tics and shrugs, and even more nods and winks. Those under the influence express their symptoms with phrases like “hows the going” or “whats Willie’s best in the bumper?” or “if Dunguib loses I’m completely bollixed”.

It is of course Cheltenham fever, and it is caused by the annual National Hunt racing festival in Cheltenham in March each year. When I first went to Cheltenham over 20 years ago, I thought I was going to a small picturesque village in the southwest of England with a racecourse attached. It is in fact a substantial thriving town about the size of Galway. It is a handsome town, with some very fine architecture, and it is set in one of the most beautiful parts of England, among the flowing hills and dales of the Cotswolds. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous, very Irishlike, and is dotted with very pretty traditional English villages, with a village green, lovely old houses often thatched, and pubs called The Duck and Garter, or The Pig and Whistle.

But in the month of March every year, its all about the horses. There are 4 days of racing, Tuesday to Friday,26 races in total, of which 10 are Championship races. It is the Olympics of Jump Racing and it happens every year! There is also a massive friendly rivalry between the Irish and English horses each year. It is considered a good year if we come home with 6 or 7 winners, especially if we carry off some of the big prizes like The Gold Cup or The Champion Hurdle.

The excitement starts on Tuesday at 1.30, and the first race is the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the start of which is greeted by a roar which wouldn’t be out of place after a Grand Slam winning try in Croke Park. The Irish Banker runs here, a horse called Dunguib, who has won all his races so far with ridiculous ease. He is an odds on chance, but his hurdling has been sketchy, and has yet to be proven at the highest level. If he loses, there will be a new recession in Ireland, and the Bookies will all be off to Barbados in April. I’d prefer to have a little tickle each way on Blackstairmountain, from Willie Mullins. The big race on the first day is The Champion Hurdle. The leading Irish contender here is Go Native, trained by Noel Meade. This horse is on a million pound bonus if he wins, having won the first two legs of a triple crown of hurdles. Everyone in Meade’s yard is walking on eggshells, but he has a decent chance. He won the Supreme Novices here last year, beating another talking horse, Cousin Vinny.

I like last year’s Champion, Punjabi, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty. All three are in excellent form, and I think Punjabi is very good value each way at around 10/1. In the Arkle Chase, there are two very good Irish prospects. Captain Cee Bee is a very fast horse, but his jumping is a bit dodgy, and Sizing Europe is a very sound jumper but lacks the zing in pace. Take your pick ! Both are about 3/1 to 4/1.

On Wednesday, the big race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Master Minded, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by the great Ruby, has won it for the past 2 years, and will be odds on favourite again. For a bit of value, I’m going to have a few bob each way on Forpadydeplasterer at about 10/1. He won the Arkle here last year, and I watched him on the gallops at Leopardstown last Sunday week, and he looked in very good form. And what a name ! The last race on Wednesday, the Bumper, is always a cracker, and Willie Mullins has dominated it over the past 10 years. This year I don’t his crew is as strong, and my one for this race is Shot from the Hip. He won his last race at Leopardstown in great style, and he is a real flier. The only disadvantage is that he is being ridden by an amateur, Mr J P Magnier. If Ruby was riding, I think he’d be favourite. I think he is great each way value at about 10/1.

Thursday has the least interesting racecard. A trip to the public house is recommended. You will have plenty of bookie’s money to buy your buds a bud, and if not, you can spend the time studying the form for Friday, and rely on the generosity of others. Have a little sentimental each way bet on the great War of Attrition, the former Gold Cup winner, in his final race before his retirement. I think he has a nice each way chance at a nice price.

The Big One is on Friday – The Gold Cup. It conjures up wonderful memories of Arkle and Dawn Run and Best Mate. The present champion, Kauto Star, is one of the all time greats and is in great form this year again and going for his hat trick. His stable companion Denman, ridden this year by AP McCoy, may have something to say about that.

It is a fascinating plot: the two best Chasers of their generation ridden by the two greatest jump jockeys of their generation. What a prospect ! I’m just going to get as near to the course as I can and watch it; I don’t want my enjoyment of the occasion spoiled by having to cheer on my bet. Irish interest here is in the shape of Willie Mullins’ Cooldine, who could sneak in if anything happened to the big two. There are two Irish horses with decent chances on Friday: Carlito Brigante in the Triumph Hurdle at 1.30 and Enterprise Park in the 3 mile novice hurdle at 2.40.

I’m sustained by adrenaline as I wait for the Roar at 1.30 on Tuesday. My nap of the week is Quel Esprit, trained by Willie Mullins, ridden by Ruby Walsh, and owned by a grand bunch of fellas, whose best days are behind them, and who are sustained by the promise of a good horse.

Ireland v Wales Postmortem

15 03 2010

In the end, it was fairly comfortable for Ireland and a fifth Triple Crown in seven years now awaits. The Welsh did have periods of assurgency but ultimately they could not breach the solid Irish defence. Jamie Heaslip was particularly powerful in defence, with his last gasp tackle on Jamie Roberts a pivotal moment. The Welsh were once again victims of their own mistakes with Lee Byrne having an Alun Wyn Jones moment in the first half and promptly getting sin binned for his efforts. They were made to pay in those ten minutes and were playing catch up ever since. The French encounter aside, this Irish side is proving to be exceptionally clinical and taking their chances when they fall their way. On a day when their captain and centurion was slightly off his game, it was two young bright sparks from Munster who gave Ireland their cutting edge. This was arguably Tomás O’Leary’s best performance in a green shirt and looked electric going forward. He was a massive threat at the base of the ruck and consistently got Ireland moving forward. He was lambasted for his quick tap and go under the French posts three weeks ago. On Saturday, he was heralded for his quick thinking and dynamism. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Even his pass looked sharper. Richie Rees is a decent player but how Wales would have liked Mike Phillips on the pitch.

Keith Earls was the other jewel in Ireland’s potential Triple Crown, having now officially arrived as top quality outside back. His finishing was outstanding and he looked very comfortable in the outside centre role. This will not be the last we see of him in this position. He has genuine pace and will be a potent weapon for Ireland for many years to come. It will just be interesting to see what position he ends up in. If D’Arcy doesn’t make the Scottish game, Earls has a massive opportunity to stake a claim for that centre berth. Another big performance on the day came from David Wallace at openside. So often labelled a ball carrying flanker, it was his work on the ground here that really caught the eye. He scored a number of turnovers and a couple of them crucial. He is still the man for the job and you know when you outplay Martin Williams at the breakdown, you are doing something right.

A talking point, with the Scots in mind, will once again be the outhalf slot. Sexton will be criticised for converting three kicks from seven especially as a couple of them were very kickable. He will have nightmares about one of them in particular. However, he didn’t let this effect his all round game and his general play was agin of a very high calibre. He constantly looks to put people into holes both inside and outside of him and began to kick a few nice corners as the game wore on. Yes, his goal kicking will have to improve. And yes, he is still the right man for the job. As for the Welsh, Gatland will come under pressure after this Championship and will lament ill-discipline. He will also be looking to get some of front line players back from injury in a hurry.

Scotland will come to town feeling aggrieved with this six nations as a whole. They were close to looking like a decent side a couple of times but ultimately have only a draw against a struggling English side to their name. Ireland will have too much for them on Saturday and a triple crown surely awaits. As for all you eternal optimists out there who think England could cause a massive upset in Paris and swing the Championship in our favour, don’t hold your breath for you will definitely die!