Edinburgh Weekender Guide

Edinburgh primed for Munster Rugby visit

The end of the Guinness Six Nations tournament which means that the Heineken Champions Cup is not far off. Munster Rugby will travel to Murrayfield to face Edinburgh Rugby in an eagerly anticipated last eight contest. Ahead of the fixture, Hawkeye Sidekick made a trip to Edinburgh to gauge the mood and where to check out for Munster Rugby fans who are travelling over for the weekend.

Transportation:

The easiest way to get to Murrayfield is on the Edinburgh tram service with frequent departures from either Princes Street or Edinburgh Airport; very impressive setup. Good bus service schedule as well last weekend in the city center while over as well. Useful links enclosed below.

http://edinburghtrams.com/plan-a-journey/murrayfield-stadium

https://www.rome2rio.com/s/Edinburgh/Murrayfield-Stadium

Places to Go:

Edinburgh Castle:

Before or after the game at Murrayfield, there is plenty to do and see around Edinburgh. If you are anywhere near the city center, then make sure to visit Edinburgh Castle, the historic landmark which looks out over the city. A compelling story on the site and how it has evolved over time.

Edinburgh Castle

Old Town:

I loved the old town, the royal mile has many shops, bars and restaurants amidst the music of the bag pipers along the stretch. When you add the late night bars in the Cowgate district, then the area is a must visit for the weekend. Check out The Three Sisters bar.

A nice coffee shop that I visited was Zebra Coffee Company on Bank Street, a nice cozy coffee house with plenty to whet the appetite.

Zebra Coffee Company

Princes Street:

The main shopping thoroughfare of the city with plenty of retail stores to browse at the weekend. Bus stops and tram stops aplenty on this street to connect to Murrayfield, Leith et al. Edinburgh Waverley Train Station is situated at the East End of Princes Street. Scott Monument as well as several museums to visit as well on the thoroughfare too.

Rose Street:

There are so many good thoroughfares in the city to enjoy an evening. During my visit last weekend, I spent a couple of good nights down Hanover Street and Rose Street where there are several standout bars and restaurants.

A couple of standouts were Robertsons 37, Auld Hundred (live music), The Kenilworth, The Boozy Cow (quality cocktails) and a quality seafood restaurant called Mussel Inn. If you love your seafood, then go here but word of warning, the restaurant gets quite busy over the weekend so book early!

If you want a nice cozy bar with good banter and hospitality, then check out Thistle Street Pub (39 Thistle Street). The scotch and Belhaven flowed the night that I was there, a warm welcome assured.

Thistle Street Bar; an absolute gem

Scotch Tour:

I am not the biggest scotch fan but I went on the Scotch Whiskey Experience tour on Castle Street. Go for the fifty minute tour to get the rundown on how the refreshment is produced and find out what distinguishes a Lowland from a Highland scotch.

https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Attraction_Review-g186525-d188878-Reviews-The_Scotch_Whisky_Experience-Edinburgh_Scotland.html

Royal Yacht Britannia

A quick bus trip down to the Ocean Terminal will find you at the Royal Yacht Britannia which was in use by the Royals until 1997. An interesting tour on the life and times of the yacht and hear about the famous dignitaries who were on board. A superb insight on how the yacht operated. The decor of the yacht is mirrored in the nearby shopping center adjoining Britannia. I was skeptical on the tour at the start but it was enjoyable. Check out the fudge bar stand on the boat!

Royal Yacht Britannia

A city that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting last weekend; there is so much so to do that I have probably missed numerous other noteworthy attractions but this is a sampler for the Munster Rugby fans who are arriving to the city next weekend. Edinburgh Rugby fans are in buoyant, confident mood ahead of this quarter final and after that exhilarating Scottish second half performance at Twickenham, confidence will be in ample supply amongst the locals.

Guinness Six Nations: Rome and Twickenham Round 5 Preview

Twickenham test match could be interesting

The end of the Guinness Six Nations tournament, gosh that went quick. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the upcoming fixtures on tap for the weekend in Rome and Twickenham where England’s championship destiny will be laid out before them before kickoff.

Battle for the wooden spoon

Italy and France kickoff the action on Saturday with the early test match fixture. A fixture which to be honest is tough to call. What is the mindset of the French side after a shambolic road trip loss to Ireland last weekend? No distinct game plan on show and Brunel has shuffled the team again for a response. Guirado continues in the captaincy role but for how long?

Italy name personnel changes as well, excited to see how Zanon performs at the weekend; a genuine center who has the skill set to impress at world level. Conor O’Shea also gives Polledri and Sisi test match minutes to create a pack platform. The smart money still is for France to win this fixture as despite Italy’s improvements, their attacking field display and defensive back three performance is still glaring. France to win in an open contest.

England primed for another quality cameo

The Scottish back line selection just shows the injury list currently with the side. Maitland is summoned back quickly from injury to slot into the full back berth with McGuigan and Graham forming an inexperienced back three. It is a daunting task for Scotland but the pack fronted by Edinburgh Rugby have the cohesion but whether they have the raw horsepower to compete with an abrasive English pack is a different story.

England oozed physicality and precision in their emphatic victory over Italy last weekend. The squad depth chart gets run yet again with Slade coming back into the starting lineup. Cokanasiga is omitted much to the relief of Scotland. A game where Finn Russell’s game management will be key; kicking game to setup territorial platform will be required but the pack and back line injuries look decisive here.

England will be primed to avenge their loss to Scotland last season and expect Eddie Jones’ side to inflict more misery to Scotland in this test match. Manu Tuilagi looks primed for another keynote performance with ball in hand. England with a bonus point try but whether it will matter given the result at the Principality Stadium remains to be seen.

Pregame Notes: Wales vs. Ireland

Epic encounters awaits in Principality Stadium

This week has felt like a month in anticipation for this test match. Wales are on the cusp of securing a farewell Guinness Six Nations championship, grand slam, and triple crown on Saturday but they face an Ireland side whose performance last weekend indicates that the side are a live threat for Welsh hopes. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the key match ups. D

Will the roof be opened or closed?

A war of words has ensued on whether the Principality Stadium’s roof will be opened or closed. Given the inclement weather forecast, it makes sense for the roof to be closed. The atmosphere in the stadium raises up a few notches when the roof is closed, the humidity in the air increases. Joe Schmidt is fully aware that the home crowd in attendance could play a massive role in this contest, the noise generated could impact set piece calls, communication with or without the ball as well as the support base rallying the Welsh team at times when they will be forced to defend their line. An interesting subplot ahead of this test match.

Beirne Baby Beirne

The introduction of Tadhg Beirne in the Ireland second row is a fascinating pregame note for this test match. Beirne’s stint with the Scarlets was standout and the Welsh rugby public will be all too aware of the skill set that Beirne could potentially bring to the contest. Solid line out operator, mobility and work rate around the fringes and then you throw in his ability at the breakdown and winning turnover ball. The Welsh back row unit is superb but the presence of Beirne adds an additional threat to nullify along with O’Mahony, Ryan, O’Brien and Stander. The breakdown with the likes of Josh Navidi present will be prime-time viewing.

Front Five Battle

This is a test match fixture where early platform from either front five could be potentially game defining. The Welsh front five has impressed throughout this campaign, particularly impressed with Adam Beard’s progression this season. The young, skillful second row has provided quality cameos to complement the assured workmanlike performance of the legend Alun Wyn Jones. The performance against England was immense particularly in the second half where the Welsh front five to a man took the mantle of responsibility. Endless ball carries, endless tackle count, endless work rate which forced England backwards.

Ireland’s front five unit looks potent as well. James Ryan has further enhanced his glowing reputation with assured performances. His maul management is elite at present; his work rate sets the tone for others to follow. It will be interesting to see whether there are any cohesion issues with Beirne early in this test match. Iain Henderson was supreme last weekend and both players gelled extremely well in set piece and all round play.

The scrummaging battle will be interesting given the test match experience in both units. Healy, Best and Furlong facing up against Evans, Owens and Francis. The Exeter Chiefs prop has impressed this season; his set piece execution has been to the fore. All hinges on the officiating of Angus Gardner who is prone not to dwell too much on the scrum resets.

Aerial Battle

The Ireland back three is buoyed by the return of full back Rob Kearney but questions have been raised of Ireland in the back three unit in recent test matches; some unconvincing aerial defensive work last week will be the cue for Wales to execute the aerial bomb onslaught from minute one. Ireland will look to pick their kicking aerial game at opportune times; the mode has been to keep ball in hand but the French test match saw Ireland execute more aerial kicks which exposed Ramos in the full back berth. I am not sure that Liam Williams, George North and Josh Adams are that vulnerable in the aerial kick game so the pressure is on the Ireland back three to get their aerial defensive work right from minute one; otherwise it could be an arduous day for Ireland.

Can Ireland put pressure on Gareth Anscombe?

It is a key question to raise ahead of this test match. Anscombe has progressed nicely in this campaign and has provided Wales with a welcome selection poser at ten. Dan Biggar is a world class performer to close out this contest or rescue the test match for Wales if required on Saturday. Can Ireland’s back row unit create sufficient pressure to create unforced errors from the half back thus disrupting Wales attacking platform. Anscombe has shown resiliency aplenty in this campaign and this weekend will be another acid test of his international test match credentials.

Ireland attacking game variation

Wales will chop tackle Ireland at source so the key question is how Ireland vary their attacking play for this test match? Sean O’Brien inclusion adds abrasive ball carrying but it will require a bit more finesse from Ireland to unlock a resolute Welsh defensive line. Ireland will need to attack the inside channels with pace throughout; look to probe around the ruck area for decisive gain line breaks. Offloading game will also need to be adopted by Ireland at times to unsettle this Welsh side but Ireland’s offload play has been inconsistent at best during this season’s campaign. The drive it up approach simply will not work this weekend from Ireland so invention and creativity will be required from Murray, Sexton, Stockdale and Ringrose to win this test match for Ireland.

Verdict: Wales

Wales were my tip for this championship at the start of the tournament. The schedule setup perfectly and once they negotiated the Parisian trip in round one, they have not looked back. Their awesome performance against England in round three was immense and they safely negotiated the banana skin of Murrayfield in round four. This round is about keeping composure and staying patient. Wales are a side which will be asked serious questions by Ireland at various stages but Ireland’s attacking play for me may not be good enough to breakdown this side. Wales will execute and come away with the victory in the final quarter. An incredible test match beckons!

Guinness Six Nations: Round 4 Preview

Wales and England should secure wins!

With Ireland and France facing off at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Saturday fixture schedule sees two intriguing clashes. Wales travel to Murrayfield with momentum aplenty but will the upheaval in the regions stifle certain player’s performances? England name personnel changes for their home trip over Italy. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Scotland banana skin for Wales?

The Welsh side have been picture perfect in the tournament so far. 3/3 and after a superb second half showing against England are on the cusp of a Grand Slam, Triple Crown and Guinness Six Nations Championship.

Cue this week and the news has not been on the Welsh Rugby National team. It has focused on Project Reset, it has focused on the merger talks between Ospreys and Scarlets, it has focused on the shambolic events that unfolded on those discussions and the uncertainty that kicked up as a result.

For anyone associated with those two clubs, the distress and anxiety for those players involved, the employees at both clubs who support the team was excruciating to watch and view. To say that this week’s shambolic events have not impacted the Welsh preparations would be disingenuous and wide off the mark.

Wales travel to Murrayfield to face a Scottish side who are smarting from two disappointing test match performances. A tame loss to Ireland Rugby in round two was then compounded with an inaccurate performance over France in Paris. Defensively misreads and botched try scoring opportunities the order of the day.

Gregor Townsend has wielded the axe and made the squad take note as Greig Laidlaw is dropped for the test match. Ali Price comes in with the manager looking for fresh impetus and tempo in attacking play. A big opportunity for Price to impress and right the wrongs against Wales after last season.

Nel in the front row is a progressive move. Nel’s performances before injury with club and county have been excellent and will aid stability to a set piece which has creaked in recent weeks. The back three is altered with Darcy Graham coming in for Sean Maitland.

The opening exchanges look intriguing. Can Scotland disrupt Wales and put pressure on Anscombe at ten? Can Scotland’s back row compete at the breakdown where Josh Navidi to me may have a standout day? Can Scotland’s half back pairing of Price and Russell provide sufficient cohesion in attacking play to upset Wales?

I think for Wales, this is an even more complex fixture to negotiate now than compared to last week. Wales may need to answer a few key questions early but suspect that Wales will also look to expose Kinghorn and Graham in the aerial battle.

Wales to win but this is a banana skin fixture where a nervy ending may ensue for Warren Gatland’s side. Wales by seven points.

England hold the aces against Italy

Italy cannot get a break. It is bad enough to face England at Twickenham without England looking to bounce back after their second half showing against Wales when they were unable to respond to Wales’ superior work rate and well organized discipline in all areas of the park.

Eddie Jones was always going to make personnel changes for this test match regardless of the result at the Principality Stadium and so it has proved. Several players getting cameos to impress; the back three threat looks potent and May could seal the top try scorer accolade potentially come Saturday evening.

The pack has several personnel changes. Lawes is injured so Launchbury comes back into the side. George Kruis is named along the Wasps clubman. Ellis Genge gets game time in the front row along with Kyle Sinckler. Both players like to get involved in the verbals; expect no different on Saturday.

Brad Shields as well comes into the starting lineup to complement the outstanding Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola. This is a strong side led by Youngs and Farrell at half back, they will give Italy absolutely nothing.

Italy for their part have three key changes. Ghiraldini is benched for this test match. Parisse and Negri come into the back row. It looks a daunting challenge despite Conor O’Shea stating that they have prepared to win this test match, lofty words indeed!

The Azzuri have shown good progress this year in this championship but when push has come to shove, opposition have been able to create easy scores when required evident in Jacob Stockdale’s try in Rome two weeks ago; a soul destroyer of a score after working so hard to get points themselves immediately before hand.

Expect Cokanasiga to have a field day with ball in hand. Expect May to have a proverbial field day. Expect Italy to chase shadows for long periods. England are out to issue a statement of defiance and intent. England to win by twenty points plus and look to Wales to slip up to potentially snatch the Championship on the last day next weekend!

Guinness Six Nations: Ireland vs. France Preview

Ireland name strong side for French test

When Joe Schmidt arrived at the team selection press conference this afternoon, it was hardly a surprise to anyone present for the vast majority of players selected. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the selection.

Ultimate respect to France

The side named by Joe Schmidt is the strongest selection given the personnel available for selection. The front five sees four changes from the unit that faced Italy in Rome two weeks ago.

Front Five Changes:

Cian Healy, Rory Best, James Ryan and Iain Henderson all come into the front five with Sean Cronin and Quinn Roux missing out on the match day squad altogether due to the well documented line out malfunctions during the Italian test match. 

Back Row Better Balanced:

The back row unit sees CJ Stander return to the eight jersey. It had to happen given the Jordi Murphy experiment two weeks ago at the position failed to get off the ground. O’Mahony and van der Flier looks to have better balance than two weeks ago when the back row personnel struggled to create quick, effective ruck ball for Murray and Sexton to work with.

Half Back Cohesion Required:

The half backs will hope for a better afternoon individually and collectively this weekend. Rome was a frustrating fixture for both players. The hope is that with the back row personnel switch ups that the ruck ball issue will be improved upon. Murray’s box kicking should be far improved and Sexton perhaps will look to create field position with the boot instead of forcing plays on the gain line where he has been prone to a couple of late hits.

Ringrose return a timely boost:

The back line options sees the welcome of Garry Ringrose at thirteen. His speed, skill set will be a boost and with his partnership with Aki whose abrasive ball carrying potentially could create opportunities for Ringrose to impress.

The back three was never going to change for this test match. Kearney is the full back resident and now becomes an even more key fulcrum to this Irish side than the half backs. Kearney’s experience and performance on the big day is too valuable for this side. If the player goes down injured for any extended period, Ireland management will be scrambling for depth chart options that are in truth untested at the test match level.

Sub Bench Impact:

The bench is loaded with immediate impact. Munster front row options in Scannell, Ryan and Kilcoyne will provide mobility and assurance in the set piece. Dillane gets the nod over Roux and with Tadhg Beirne lurking in the background to get into this match day squad, only a big impact from Dillane will suffice. Jack Conan comes back into the squad after missing out against Italy.

It would have been incredibly harsh if John Cooney had lost his place on the bench to Kieran Marmion. Cooney has had insufficient game minutes to impress but the minutes that he has been on, he has been solid with the boot and passing has been good. Carty gets another opportunity to impress off the bench and will hope for more game minutes than the three minutes afforded to the Connacht Rugby star in Rome.

The squad is talented, strong and well organized. The key question is whether Ireland’s confidence is restored sufficiently for an upturn in performance levels in the set piece and with ball in hand. The word cohesion will be duly observed.

France Team Selection Consistency!

France and Jacques Brunel were relieved to get their championship back on track with a bonus point try win over a depleted Scottish side in Paris two weeks ago. The Toulouse back line and half-back fulcrums continue for this test match which will provide cohesion and understanding in these areas of the park.

What to look out for:

The kicking game contest to me is an intriguing facet of Sunday’s contest. Sexton and Murray must establish field position early in this test match; their kicking and exploitation of the French back three defensively needs to be on point to allow Ireland to settle into this contest. Failure to do so and France will have got over one massive obstacle to victory.

The set piece as well will be fascinating viewing. The scrum set piece looks abrasive. Both front row units possess world stars in this area and an early platform from this set piece could be a decisive advantage for either side.

The back row battle and the breakdown looks suited for van der Filer and O’Mahony to impress. The French back row unit is big, physical and abrasive with ball in hand but the breakdown exchanges look poised for Ireland given the increased mobility of the Ireland back row unit.

Verdict: Ireland

A fixture where we will see quite quickly which side has confidence to express themselves on the park and who will look to play conservative and wait for the other team to make a telling mistake. France will look to play with openness while Ireland will look to start with well structured, well organized play calls to provide confidence in the ranks.

Ireland have yet to fully fire in this competition but I think this could change on Sunday. This side is pretty close to performing at a high level for eighty minutes and if the half backs can provide early platform in their game management, expect Ireland to tire the French pack sufficiently to win this contest (creating penalty opportunities) in the third and fourth quarters.

A bonus point try win may be pushing it for Ireland given potential inclement weather conditions in the forecast. The focus is the performance and how Ireland on both sides of the ball have improved since Rome. Ireland by ten points after a closely fought opening thirty minutes.

Guinness Six Nations: Ireland Team Thoughts

Ireland team selections looks intriguing

An interesting couple of days beckon for the Ireland Rugby squad and supporters to see who will start against the French. Jacques Brunel has named an unchanged side (surprise, surprise) for this test match so all focus is on Joe Schmidt and Ireland Rugby management on who gets recalls, who gets another chance to impress. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the potential team selection calls ahead of Friday’s team announcement.

Front Row:

Despite the good performance of Dave Kilcoyne in Rome, Cian Healy will slot back into the front row for this test match. His experience will be required for what looks a tricky opening quarter against a hefty French pack. Healy’s work rate early should set the stage for Kilcoyne to make the required impact off the bench in the third quarter.

Rory Best is locked on to be the hooker this weekend after the mixed performance of his backups in round three. Line out misfires, penalty concessions by both hookers on duty in Rome means that Rory Best will seamlessly return to the side. The question is who will fill the back up hooker sub bench place; it is a toss up between Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin. Scannell may be the solid option for Ireland in the line out execution and may just have the nod.

The other front row position will be filled by Tadhg Furlong. The Wexford man’s performances have been solid in all facets of play and Ireland will hope for the player to impress at scrum time along with Cian Healy. The key question here is the bench and who gets the nod? Andrew Porter or John Ryan are the viable options. It is another 50/50 call for Joe Schmidt to make as both players have played well in recent months.

Second Row:

James Ryan should come back into the test match starting lineup. His work rate, physicality and athletism are sensational. His ability to manage the maul will be required in this test match both from an attacking and defensive perspective.

The big question is who will partner the Leinster Rugby second row for this fixture. Quinn Roux had a mixed day at the office in round three; the malfunctions in the line out means that the door is a jar for Iain Henderson to earn a recall. This is a huge test match fixture for Ireland in the context of RWC 2019 preparations and suspect that Henderson will get the nod given how the line out set piece spiraled out of control in Rome.

Quinn Roux and Sean Cronin in particular from the pack face an anxious wait on whether they are even in the match day squad. Tadhg Beirne’s sensational form with Munster Rugby means that Roux is under pressure to keep his squad berth. Intriguing selection poser for Ireland management on the five position.

Back Row:

It is fair to say that the Jordi Murphy eight experiment failed to get off the ground against Italy in Rome. CJ Stander if fit and raring to go should get the nod. Murphy and Conan potentially have minimal time now to impress Ireland management in the back row given Wales in the last round looks like a titanic tussle already.

The other back row positions should be filled by Peter O’Mahony and potentially Josh van der Flier whose mobility, tackle count and ability to create breakdown opportunities for himself and others could sway the decision. O’Brien as an impact sub in the third quarter looks likely here, need abrasive ball carrying options off the bench to test the French defensive line who have shown vulnerability in the second half of games.

Half Backs:

The usual suspects will get the nod and hope that the players around them assist in providing faster ruck ball in which to work with. The ball presentation for Murray has to improve; the body positions of Ireland players at ruck time has been poor at times thus resulting in Murray having to delay his delivery of pass to Sexton.

Sexton and Murray will look to ask serious questions of the French back three in the kicking game which has been inconsistent in recent rounds. I sense that we will see a far more improved performance from the unit. The bench options are intriguing. Is Joey Carbery fit or not? Contrary reports in recent days. Does Jack Carty get another opportunity off the bench? Quite simply, if Carbery is not 100%, don’t play him and Carty instead.

Three Quarters:

If Bundee Aki passes his HIA return to playing protocols, then he should slot back into the twelve channel to renew his partnership with Garry Ringrose who should return from injury. There is a nice balance in this unit. The abrasiveness of Aki with the subtle movement and skill set of Ringrose. Chris Farrell did little wrong against Italy but Ringrose is fresh and raring to go here and Ireland management will not hesitate to select the Leinster Rugby star.

Back Three:

Familiarity breeds contempt and the back three should be Rob Kearney (full back) with Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale on the wings. Kearney is the trusted, reliable go to for the full back berth and for the French test match, Ireland management will not have had to think much on the full back berth. Kearney is probably one of the first names on the team; his absence exposed in the England loss.

Earls and Stockdale will hope that Ireland can provide quicker ruck ball to impress. Both players have shown flair in attacking play but also shown vulnerabilities in defensive and aerial kicking duties. It is questionable whether France will seriously test these players in the kicking game defensively but they will be asked defensive questions when France are in full flow in the opening period.

Team Selection:

Front Row: Healy, Best, Furlong

Second Row: Ryan, Henderson

Back Row: Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander

Half Backs: Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton

Three Quarters: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose

Wings: Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale

Full Back: Rob Kearney

Bench:

Pack: Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Sean O’Brien,

Half Back / Back Options: John Cooney, Jack Carty and Andrew Conway (if Jordan Larmour is unavailable for selection)

The five key elements for Ireland rugby to beat France at the weekend

Ireland cohesion rests on good fast ruck ball presentation!

In this blog, Hawkeye Sidekick pinpoints the five key elements which Ireland need to execute to beat France in round four of the Guinness Six Nations tournament.

1.Move the French pack around the park;

Very physical and meaty French pack (950kg at the start of the tournament), going to be a long hard slog for Ireland’s pack but if they can ball carry with pace, this French pack will lose discipline and stray offside which will create penalties and ultimately good field position to attack France deep in their own half.

2.Solid set piece

The Ireland set piece needs to be on point this weekend. France at scrum time will look to pose serious questions of our front five early so Ireland’s front five need to front up to the early onslaught. The line out malfunctions against Italy in round three cannot happen this weekend; otherwise France will have a great chance of victory on the road. Solid line out calling will be the order of the day as the weather conditions long range look mixed from Best, Ryan, Henderson and Roux.

3. Cohesion

The keyword coming from Joe Schmidt in recent weeks. Ireland have shown flashes of quality attacking play. The Keith Earls try against Scotland.
The excellent Jacob Stockdale try against Italy. The tournament so far has seen a number of promising attacks halted due to unforced errors; the final pass not going to hand. It is slowly progressing and hopefully should improve for round four of the tournament.

4.Ruck Time

A lot of people have pointed the finger at our half-backs for Ireland’s cohesion issues but not many have pointed to why the half backs have been unable to execute to their ability. The ruck time has been a mess from Ireland and clean, fast ruck ball has been in short supply for Murray and Sexton to work with. I am hoping that the clear out work is much improved from Ireland this weekend, good body positions to allow Murray to get the ball out of the ruck faster. If this happens, expect massive an upturn in Ireland’s attacking play. This French side defensively still look vulnerable and will provide gain line breaks for Ireland but it all comes down to quick ruck ball.

5.Kicking Game

An element of Ireland’s play which was not beyond reproach in the last two years has suddenly come under the microscope. The aerial kicking has being inconsistent and the open play kicking has not exposed opposition back three’s defensive so far. The kicking game was used to good effect by England in their heavy win over France. Owen Farrell consistently having space in behind the French back three to create territorial field position for which England attacked the French line out.

Guinness Pro14: Scarlets 10 – 6 Munster Rugby

Arm wrestle won by Scarlets

Scarlets revived their Conference B playoff hopes with a superb defensive stand to thwart Munster Rugby by four points. The result sees Glasgow Warriors move to the top of the Conference A standings as Munster Rugby were left to rue several try scoring opportunities squandered during the eighty minutes. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Ground Control – We have a problem

This was a fixture that deserved better weather conditions than the swirling wind and rain in Llanelli. The opening exchanges saw Munster Rugby impose their territorial dominance on the contest and an early Bill Johnston penalty gave the visitors an early 0-3 lead, then cue the television feed went down.

As Eir Sports and other providers scrambled to restore coverage, the worse case scenario took place, the only try of the contest was scored while the coverage was down but was reliably informed that good pack play from Scarlets saw the ball spin out to Ioan Nicholas with space to score. Halfpenny slotted the extras and the hosts led 7-3 as the television feed was restored.

Munster Rugby dominance not reflected on scoreboard

The remainder of the opening half was spent by and large in the Scarlets half as Munster Rugby built the phases and the tackle count on their hosts. Several incursions deep into Scarlets territory failed to yield any scores albeit the penalty count for Scarlets was increasing at a rate of knots, something that Mike Adamson did not want any part of.

The key attacking miss from Munster Rugby in that opening period was the line break from full back Mike Haley. An excellent run and with runners to his outside chose to go inside where Scarlets defensive cover was present. A spurned opportunity. The pass out wide would have yielded a try and something that was picked up upon by Shane Williams on the punditry duties.

All the pressure built up by Munster Rugby had a familiar theme. Munster Rugby pack looking to ram their way over from short distance but were met with a wall of Scarlets defensive resistance. With the ball treacherously slippy, any attempt to go expansive ended in knock on’s and surrendering possession.

The half did end with Munster Rugby securing a penalty just on the break. Bill Johnston unerring in his accuracy off the tee amid tricky weather conditions. 7-6 at the break. Munster Rugby doing all the attacking but showing little in terms of the scoreboard. Scarlets sprinted into the dressing rooms with a pep in their step after an excellent defensive display.

Decisive opening ten minutes of second half

Scarlets regrouped at the resumption of the second half and started to pepper Munster Rugby in defense with some astute line running, creating gain line breaks in the process.

A concerted spell of phases saw Scarlets near the Munster Rugby posts which forced the visitors to concede the penalty. The penalty call was to go for the posts, a smart move considering the conditions. Halfpenny slotted home the penalty to make it 10-6.

The rest of the contest was abrasive, an arm wrestle in truth with Munster Rugby looking to hit back with a try. They thought that they scored when Jean Kleyn saw amble space in front of him and crashed over. It looked too good to be true and it was as Rhys Marshall obstructed Hardy in front of Kleyn. The try chalked off by the TMO. It summed up the night perfectly for Munster Rugby. The work rate not in question but the level of precision and composure required to unlock the Scarlets defense was lacking in crucial moments.

Additional Munster Rugby pressure ensued and Arno Botha was held up just short of the line. The red line fever took over Botha who instead of presenting the ball back to colleagues to build more pressure stretched for the line only for the ball to be ripped away.

It effectively spelled the end of the Munster Rugby attacking threat as Rhys Patchell’s introduction saw a more polished kicking game from the Scarlets in comparison to Munster Rugby whose kicking lacked any cohesion or posed any serious questions of the Scarlets back three.

Kevin O’Byrne was introduced and produced a brilliant turnover for Munster Rugby to setup a grand finale but more inaccuracy in possession saw possession spilled. Scarlets ran down the clock and with the likes of Uzair Cassiem absolutely standout with twenty-seven tackles, the hosts won the contest. They deserved the victory based on their determined defensive display throughout and played Mike Adamson superbly at ruck time and the offside line which was not officiated throughout.

Munster Rugby will need to reflect on this performance in relation to the attacking decision making. The blunt pack orientated drive it approach was easily covered by Scarlets throughout and it was only when Haley and Sweetnam had line breaks that their defensive cover was anyway stretched. Edinburgh Rugby will look at how Scarlets’ low tackling style stopped Munster Rugby go forward at source and as a result prevented Mathewson and Johnston half backs from creating any noteworthy breaks.

A couple of weeks to regroup for Munster Rugby. A couple of weeks to remedy the attacking shape error count from this fixture but it has being indicative in recent trips to Wales. A loss will focus the management and squad for the run in; a home game to Zebre Rugby should secure playoff qualification but a top spot in the conference needs to be the target but they have given Glasgow Warriors the opportunity tonight to reclaim.

Scarlets will be hugely buoyed after this win. Their defensive display was on point throughout and when Munster Rugby threatened their try line, they closed ranks and created turnover ball again and again. Scarlets will look to get injured bodies back for the run in and do not discount this side in not making the playoffs. They are the sleeper team in this competition particularly when the pitches start to firm up. A morale boosting victory.

Guinness Pro14: Regular Season Run In

Exciting end to the regular season run in!

We are down to the business end of the Guinness Pro14 regular season. A loss now could have disastrous consequences for a side’s playoff ambitions. In this blog posting, Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the playoff picture in both conferences and pinpoints a couple of key fixtures down the stretch.

Given that Zebre Rugby in Conference A and Dragons / Isuzu Southern Kings in Conference B are out of the playoff picture, they have been excluded in this fixture schedule illustration. Hopefully, these sides can use it as motivation for next season!

Conference A: One playoff berth up for grabs

Conference A: Regular Season Run In

It is fair to say that Munster Rugby and Glasgow Warriors have secured the first two playoff berths in the conference. One more win for either will officially lock them into the post season which means that one from four sides will secure the third playoff berth.

The key question is who will top the conference and significantly secure a home field semi-final playoff fixture. Munster Rugby currently on top right now but they face a very tricky away assignment to Scarlets this evening. If Munster Rugby secured a win here, it would be massive given that Glasgow Warriors have a tricky last three league fixture run with Ulster Rugby, Leinster Rugby and a local derby against Edinburgh Rugby to finish off the season. All to play for in the top spot battle and bonus point try points could be decisive.

The other question is who will join Glasgow Warriors and Munster Rugby in the playoff postseason. Cardiff Blues currently hold sway but a tricky fixture run in beckons with fixtures against playoff rivals in the run in. It could be an extremely nervy run in for the Blues given their inconsistent performances this season.

A key indicator on the Conference A playoff battle could be revealed in Galway later today. Connacht Rugby and Ospreys lock horns in a must win fixture for both sides. Momentum for the victor while the loser will be facing an uphill battle to get back in the playoff race. An intriguing fixture beckons.

Toyota Cheetahs are currently looking from the outside at present after another road trip loss in Ireland. A home stand at the end of the regular season may be too little too late so the South Africans are looking for results to go for them to get in the race.

Conference B: Leinster Rugby in the big dance

Conference B Run In

The Conference B top spot race was officially wrapped up for Leinster Rugby last night during their 19-7 win over Toyota Cheetahs. In truth, this was a done deal since before Christmas such has been the dominance of the side in Conference B fixture play. It will be intriguing to see how Leinster Rugby management play the remainder of the regular season as they face Conference B sides who are vying for playoff berths. Do we look to give game time to squad players or integrate international players into these fixtures at various stages? Selection could be decisive in the fortunes of the sides below them.

Benetton Rugby are currently in second place of the conference. For me, they have been the story of the Guinness Pro14. Their progression started at the end of last season with a good unbeaten run and they have continued that form into this season. A run in which sees the Italians face Edinburgh Rugby, Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby looks tough but it would be great for the tournament organizers to get Benetton Rugby into the big dance. This afternoon’s fixture against Edinburgh Rugby is pivotal, a win at home to Richard Cockerill’s gives them control of their own destiny given their tough fixture run in.

Ulster Rugby have progressively improved since a sticky spell of results just before Christmas. The emergence of Eric O’Sullivan and timely return to form of Marty Moore in the front row providing pack platform in which the back line have flourished. The run in looks really exciting but tough. Any road trip to Scotstoun is a daunting task. The home finale against Leinster Rugby could make or break Ulster Rugby’s season at this point.

Edinburgh Rugby out of the Conference B playoff contenders have the trickiest run in. Fixtures against all their main conference playoff protagonists feature and then there could potential distractions with the Heineken European Cup campaign. The side are loaded with attacking and pack unit threats but this fixture list looks quite daunting and a loss away to Benetton Rugby today could the beginning of the end of their playoff ambitions.

Scarlets are the team lurking in the long grass. Injuries, club departures have exposed the club this season. A key fixture against Munster Rugby beckons today, a win here and they are back in the playoff hunt. The last two fixtures potentially are ten point hauls with Zebre and Dragons on the fixture list. Scarlets have the ability to secure a playoff berth but the fixture today cannot be understated. A loss to Munster Rugby and their playoff hopes are in dire straits.

Predictions:

Conference A:

  1. Munster Rugby (mixed results but should just do enough)
  2. Glasgow Warriors (tough run in decisive in top spot battle)
  3. Connacht Rugby (close with Cardiff Blues; Ospreys fixture key)

Conference B:

  1. Leinster Rugby
  2. Ulster Rugby
  3. Scarlets (to break Benetton Rugby hearts on the last day)

Guinness Pro14: Round 17 Predictions

Key fixtures lined up this weekend

After Leinster Rugby secured their home Guinness Pro14 semi-final playoff berth tonight, the stage is set for several fixtures which could prove decisive in who else joins the Irish province in the post-season. A pivotal day for the likes of Connacht Rugby, Scarlets and Benetton Rugby. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixtures and tries to predict the winners.