Heineken Champions Cup: Munster Rugby 36 – 22 Gloucester Rugby

Munster secure bonus point win

Munster Rugby secured their first pool win in this European Cup campaign with a bonus point try victory over a determined and resilient Gloucester Rugby outfit. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action at the Limerick venue. 

Munster team cohesion still lacking

The opening period exchanges were keenly contested. Gloucester Rugby you would have to say were on the front foot as they took advantage of a sloppy start from the hosts. This was evident in the opening kick off, the kick was let bounce by the Munster Rugby players, allowing Gloucester Rugby to easily win possession. 

Further sloppy issues in the basic fundamentals surfaced for Munster Rugby in the line out. Were Munster Rugby spooked by the fact that former Munster Rugby player Gerbrandt Grobler was in the Gloucester Rugby ranks because the line out execution was poor, indecisive calls and execution. The video analysis on the line out set piece will need to be scrutinized on Monday morning for sure. 

Gloucester for their promising start were not hurting Munster Rugby. Running lines were static, passing back and forth through the attacking line with little success. Munster Rugby were able to finally able to secure a platform after Tom Savage was given a yellow card for a shoulder charge on Dan Goggin at the breakdown, an initial key moment in this contest. 

The ten minutes of the sin yielded a 5-3 score for Munster Rugby. The hosts opening their account as a solid line out was then moved down the line through Carbery, Conway for the full back Mike Haley to cross in the corner. O’Mahony from the restart was pinged on the ground and Danny Ciprani slotted home an excellent long range penalty. Cue the key event of the fixture. 

Ciprani sees red 

The key event of this contest. Rory Scannell collected a pass on the halfway and aimed for Ciprani whose shoulder was extremely high. The initial reaction was that it warranted a card but what color would it be? TMO and match officials reviewed it and a red card was issued. A devastating blow for Gloucester and ultimately the contest. Munster Rugby were now in the ascendancy. The directive is now clear, anything high is going to penalized with a card but the officiating consistency issue reared its head soon after as Billy Twelvetrees high tackle was only a penalty. 

Munster turn the screw

Immediately after Twelvestree’s penalty concession, Munster Rugby bagged their second try of the afternoon. A solid line out resulting in a compact maul which Gloucester Rugby could not stop. Rhys Marshall on hand to crash over. The fact that the line out went to Peter O’Mahony spoke volumes on the issues experienced by the hosts in the set piece. Possession guaranteed with the back row player and the score was required. 15-3. 

Dominant Munster Rugby third quarter

Two tries in the bag and Munster Rugby looked to secure the bonus point in double quick time. The scrum was a source of comfort for the hosts throughout and after two dominant scrums, Carbery received the ball and with options out wide decided to cross himself. 22-3. 

The bonus point try point was secured soon after and it was a highlight reel moment with Carbery’s pass to Sweetnam. The ball was quickly distributed from the ruck and credit Sammy Arnold for a superbly timed running line to score the fourth try. 29-3. 

Despite a Gloucester Rugby try from Grobler,  Munster Rugby promptly scored a fifth try from Andrew Conway with a sharp running line after a deft Carbery pass. 35-10. 

Gloucester fight hard in final quarter

You have to credit the work rate and fight of Gloucester Rugby today. Plenty of sides faced with the prospect of playing with fourteen players for fifty minutes would have given up the ghost but the side fought hard until the final whistle and deservedly score two further tries from Matt Banahan and Ben Morgan. Both tries setup by good pack work and an ever increasing penalty count from the hosts. Gloucester Rugby will be disappointed with the loss but the fight and spirit means that Ackermann and coaching staff can take solace from the fixture. 

Munster Indiscipline

The last quarter was blighted by Munster Rugby indiscipline. The Stephen Archer and Sammy Arnold incidents highlighted this; lack of composure in the ranks defensively were exposed. Archer was lucky not to receive a red card, the tackle was high on Ben Morgan. Plenty of scope to improve for Munster Rugby but perhaps the fixture last weekend at Sandy Park was a contributory factor. In any case, the discipline and penalty count in the second half needs to be looked at. 

Injury Front

A mixed bag for Munster Rugby performance wise and the injury count increased with the ankle injury sustained by Tommy O’Donnell and a serious looking knee injury to Dan Goggin at the death. Rhys Marshall also sustained a knock which saw Kevin O’Byrne enter the fray. Tommy O’Donnell injury nightmare continues. 

Munster Performance 

Mixed bag. There is a definite disconnect in the game plan execution at present. The 1-10 cohesion looks strong but the game plan ethos to the back line is a work in progress. The basic skill set of this side needs to be upgraded in a hurry and the three quarter threat with ball in hand looks sporadic at best. Mike Haley potentially is a quality full back with ball in hand but no supporting runners were available for offloads. Mathewson’s ability to distribute at ruck time saw some good improvement but there was too much stationary ball carriers during the eighty minutes; a sign that players are unsure of the game plan and line calls. Crowd was not energized and the performance on the pitch dictated as much. Munster Rugby are top of the pool but they will know that significant improvement is required for the December series of games in this competition against Castres who beat Exeter Chiefs today. 

Man Of The Match

Munster Rugby’s performance was a mixed bag but the display from Mike Haley was a standout. The full back was solid in the aerial exchanges and his ability with ball in hand provided bright moments for the side. Haley scored Munster Rugby’s opening try which was a decisive try. Carbery was a close second. 

European Cup: Irish Provinces Round Two Preview

Tough road trips the order of the day

After a superb opening weekend for the Irish provinces last week (three wins and one draw), things went tougher in round two where all teams except for Munster Rugby are on their opening European Cup road trip. A weekend which should indicate plenty on how the season in Europe should pan out. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action. 

Leinster Rugby good form to continue?

Sexton on fire

No disrespect to Wasps but Leinster Rugby’s first real test in Europe will be this weekend. A trip to Toulouse is always a challenge but given how Leinster Rugby are playing currently, it is a trip which the Irish province will look with confidence. 

Leinster Rugby team news is minimal to say the least. Rob Kearney misses out due to injury so Joe Tomane slots onto the wing while Jordan Larmour if provided sufficient time and space could destroy Toulouse from full back. It is as you were for the rest of the side which comprehensively routed Wasps 52-3 last weekend. 

Toulouse won at Bath Rugby last weekend on the road. Yes, they were let off the hook by Freddy Burns’ late horror show and Toulouse will be the first to admit that they got out of jail. The weather in the South-West of France in recent weeks has being horrendous; rain aplenty which should slow the pitch down significantly.

The pack platform is going to be vital and Toulouse’s disciplinary issues after last weekend could come back to haunt them. Kaino is such a big loss, imposing back row whose tackle count and ball carrying are sensational. If Leinster Rugby are patient here, they will see joy in the third quarter particularly as Toulouse start to tire and give away penalties. 

Leinster Rugby will be asked questions out wide with the likes of Medard in the ranks but Leinster Rugby have the ability to beat you in the loose, set piece or out wide. Leinster Rugby to go away here by ten points after an opening period arm wrestle. 

Verdict: Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby look to kick on 

Grobler on the bench for Gloucester Rugby

Saturday lunchtime kickoff at Thomond Park. An opening European Cup rugby home fixture in Limerick and the venue will be buzzing. After a good draw on the road to Exeter Chiefs last weekend in stormy Sandy Park, Munster Rugby need to kick on and get their campaign fully up and running with a full eighty minute performance against Gloucester Rugby. 

The team news is interesting. Munster Rugby have made four personnel changes for the clash. A brand new front row is a shrewd move and reward for the likes of James Cronin and John Ryan on their cameos last week. Tommy O’Donnell as well gets the nod in the back row, his ball carrying was on point last week and setup Stander’s try. 

Gloucester Rugby make two changes to the side that beat Castres at home last weekend. Grobler must make do with a place on the bench and is replaced by Ed Slater. Matt Banahan replaces Charlie Sharples. The side showed good attacking cameos last weekend with Tom Marshall prominent. 

The key point here is the pack and who creates the platform. Munster Rugby have to start at a high tempo to allow Carbery to orchestrate his three quarters. A big game is required from Dan Goggin who needs to unleash his wide men at regular intervals. Gloucester Rugby were vulnerable on the flanks defensively against Castres last weekend at times. 

A fixture which Munster Rugby know that a win is required; a bonus point is attainable provided that the home side’s basic skill set is up to standard. Gloucester Rugby will look to bed in and try to stay in the contest until the third quarter; hoping that Danny Ciprani produces moments of brilliance. 

Verdict: Munster Rugby (BP Win)

Ulster Rugby face daunting challenge 

Daunting road trip

A trip to Racing 92 and the Arena beckons for Ulster Rugby this weekend. It was a good morale boosting win over Leicester Tigers last weekend but the level of competition this weekend is a significant upgrade. 

Racing 92 will look to impose their will on Ulster Rugby in the pack battle; the set piece battle has prompted Marty Moore’s introduction to the side. Kieran Treadwell comes into the lineup at the expense of Alan O’Connor. 

The worry is the absence of John Cooney at nine. The scrum-half has being outstanding again this season. No disrespect to David Shanahan but he will put under the cosh from the first whistle, struggling to see where Ulster Rugby create in the half-back channels and Racing 92 will look to create gain line breaks at will too. 

Racing 92 back line arsenal is vast. Finn Russell should see game time and then you have the likes of Simon Zebo lurking with intent. Ulster Rugby have to be completely switched on here from minute one; tempo will be sky high and the game will be uptempo given the closed roof and pitch. 

The Parisian side for me are one of the sides which could seriously put it up to Leinster Rugby this season in Europe. A statement of intent unfortunately may be issued at home and Ulster Rugby could feel the full force despite a positive opening period. Squad depth issues will be exposed for the Irish province.  

Verdict: Racing 92 (potential BP win)

Youth and Experience from Connacht Rugby

Interesting team lineup from Andy Friend

An interesting team lineup from Connacht Rugby. The term ‘youth and experience’ abound from this team sheet. A momentous day for Fitzgerald (ten) and De Buitlear (wing) who make their starting debuts for the province. Buckley, O’Halloran and Farrell return to the side to provide experience as well. 

This is such a key fixture in the context of Sale and Connacht’s aspirations for European Challenge Cup glory. With the French sides in this pool not genuinely interested in the competition, it is a two horse race to secure top spot in the pool. 

Sale Sharks have shown their intention loud and clear with a very strong team selection. McGuigan, O’Connor, Ashton and De Klerk will provide massive attacking threat. Rob Webber and Josh Beaumont will lead by example in the pack. 

Hopefully, the rookies in the Connacht Rugby side have good afternoons but this is a tough assignment given the selection of Sale Sharks. If Connacht Rugby can get a loser bonus point, then would be a good outcome. 

Verdict: Sale Sharks 

Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Pool 2

Munster under pressure

An interesting pool awaits in pool two with intense pack battles the order of the day with Munster Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester Rugby and Castres in the mix. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the pool and has genuine concerns about Munster Rugby this season. 

Munster Rugby vulnerable?

When you consider Munster Rugby’s season so far, it reads played six; won three (all at home), lost three (all away). The road trip performances have seen the Irish province leak thirty plus points and there is no quick fix in terms of the defensive issues seen so far. The scrum half injury crisis could be a decisive blow as well with star player Conor Murray not in contention to play in the competition’s first two rounds at least. The home form will need to be on point to progress but nothing will be taken for granted. 

Exeter Chiefs look best equipped to take advantage of Munster Rugby vulnerability. Their imposing pack has being their foundation and their ability to turn penalty count to tries using their marauding maul is a source of great concern for their pool opponents. Exeter Chiefs under Rob Baxter have also evolved their game plan with Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Alex Cuthbert resulting in some very impressive score tallies. The home form in Sandy Park will be strong; question mark on the road trip form which did lag last season so an interesting subplot. 

Gloucester Rugby make a welcome return to the competition; an incredible rugby town and knowledgeable rugby support. The Shed will be hopping for this tournament. Gloucester Rugby are evolving into a very competitive side; their expansive play seen to full effect last season and with their acquisition of Danny Ciprani, the attacking options are endless with an extremely pacy back three (Marshall, Trinder, Sharples). A team which has recruited well in the pack with a strong South African influence. Grobler at lock has all the attributes to be a sensational signing. A team to be feared and their home opener against Castres will gauge morale and confidence of pool progression here. 

Castres. The great enigma of European Cup competition. When they are interested (more than likely at home), they can cause massive issues for travelling teams but their policy of fielding below strength sides on the road will mean that the French Top 14 kingpins will languish in the mid-pack. An opportunity perhaps for the other pool teams to secure five points in their home games? 

Verdict:

The hope is that we will see some exciting contests but who am I kidding, the arm wrestle games will be a key theme and start with the Exeter Chiefs home opener against Munster Rugby. Potentially two teams to advance from this group given that Castres may travel light on the road. Munster Rugby look vulnerable here and suspect a last round miracle may be required to advance as a pool runner up. Exeter Chiefs for me look the form side in this pool. Plenty of twists and turns in this pool. 

Connacht Rugby Woe

28-33. Connacht Rugby dreams of ending John Muldoon’s playing career with the Irish province with a European Rugby Challenge Cup were dashed as Gloucester Rugby retained their 100% record against Connacht Rugby with a deserved victory and a home semi-final. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and the performance was unerringly familiar from the Westerners.

I do believe we’re a little bit naive as a team still. From my perspective we have an issue allowing teams into scoring areas. We know what’s going on, but unfortunately we slip up at times – Kieran Keane

This is a statement that will drive many Connacht Rugby fans cuckoo. Kieran Keane was magnanimous in his assessment of the team’s performance post-game but the points raised have being predominant for the whole season and there appear little progressive to address these chronic issues.

The game had started so well for Connacht Rugby. The opening exchanges won conclusively by the hosts as Gloucester Rugby yet again started a game ponderously. An excellent opening three minutes, a scrum penalty won and then a line out steal but the management of the line out steal again raises serious questions of team communication and organization.

Credit to Quinn Roux for the line out steal, an excellent play. He tipped the ball back on the Connacht side but the ball was directed in no man’s land. The nearest players to the ball were Denis Buckley and Matt Healy. The bounce of the ball cruelly reaching Hanson who with no defensive cover to contend with strode unopposed to the try line. Healy exposed for being too deep. Buckley not fast enough to deal with the passage of play.

A disastrous start from a promising opening. Gloucester Rugby you would have thought would have settled into the contest but there were continuing to attract the attention of Poite with their late arrival to line outs. Six penalties amassed when Ben Morgan was sinned bin for a high tackle on Tom Farrell.

The ten minute spell did yield a foothold for Connacht and it was a sweeping attacking move, full of pace and expansive threat that resulted in Marmion crossing over. A superb try where McCartney and Aki were prominent. The conversion was missed by Carty but the hosts were in the game. Aki then followed with a typically abrasive effort.

However, the defensive frailties and lapses in concentration were then seen to full effect by the hosts at the end of the half. Tom McCartney’s knock on after Gloucester Rugby blotched a throw to the back of the line out was critical. The resultant scrum setting up Marshall to score with ease; easy gain line yards created by the multiple Gloucester ball carriers before that score.

The Trinder try just before the interval emphasized the lack of defensive nous required in a key European fixture from Connacht Rugby. Trinder identified the mismatch against Roux and his pace was too much for the Irish international second row. Connacht’s defensive coach has to ask questions of how the side reacted to this line break. The back three in particular not providing any coverage. Soft score again to concede.

The one aspect of play which was exposed in the Sportsground was the lack of quality kicking option off the tee for Connacht Rugby. While Owen Williams was lights out with his kicking both out of hand and off the tee, Jack Carty was struggling with his kicking with the tee. Kick-able points were lost and when Williams hit a monster effort just after the break, it really emphasized the fact. Horowitz’s arrival will increase competition at ten in the province; it is required.

Marmion was left to become the sole creative force in the half-backs. The scrum half was excellent, sniping throughout and his grubber kick for Connacht’s winger Niyi Adeolokun to touchdown was a marvelous score. The conversion was again spurned but a subsequent penalty gave Connacht Rugby hope. 18-20 all to play for. Time to bring defense. Nope.

The manner in which John Afoa scored was embarrassing for Connacht. Defensive misreads and decision making allowing Gloucester to spin the ball out to Afoa with minimal fuss. Afoa could not realize his luck and ran from thirty meters to score the decisive try of the contest. Soul destroying from Connacht. Sensational score from Gloucester. 18-27.

Credit to Connacht Rugby who refused to give up but the defensive lapses which have plagued the season so far had provided its cameo yet again. No way can a side win with such unforced errors defensively. The Healy try was an excellent effort, another opportunity to bring the defense. Nope.

Connacht’s defensive shape exposed by Gloucester Rugby again who spread the ball out wide after a quality period of killing the clock. Connacht sucked in defensively and Jarrod Butler had no option but to deliberately knock on. No communication from Connacht Rugby players out wide to call colleagues over. Twelvetrees duly converted the penalty. 28-33. Game over.

Given the manner in which Gloucester Rugby started proceedings, this is a devastating result for Connacht Rugby. Players failed to deliver, players caved in with the pressure of playoff rugby. It is a surprise given the experience in the ranks. The team defensively were put to the sword, coaching ticket needs to reflect. For all the attacking worth, their defensive on the outside was the like the parting of the Red Sea.

Kieran Keane deserves another season at least to implement his game plan but the defensive side of the ball has being an issue throughout his first season in charge. I remain intrigued to see how the side evolve next season; the talent is there but the naivety has to stop, the hard nosed defensive work of Connacht two seasons ago is a distant memory. Pride in the defensive side of the game is required for this side to proceed.

The officiating in Galway left plenty to be desired. Poite was extremely lenient to Gloucester Rugby in that opening quarter. Sharples was lucky to stay on the pitch when taking a player out in the air. Ludlow on another day could have seen red for the no arms challenge on Marmion in the second half . The penalty count was way too high in that opening period and a better side would have punished Gloucester Rugby.

For Connacht Rugby, the season is up. It has being a season which has offered much but delivered little. Two outstanding home wins to Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby the standouts. There have being too many inconsistent / poor performances to mention and the new recruits coming to the club need to hit the ground running to increase the performance levels of the side.

European Rugby Challenge Cup: Quarter Final Predictions

This is an immense rugby weekend in European professional club rugby circles. This weekend marks the business end of the season where teams will come to the party and seize the opportunity while others will wilt and run out of gas. Several fascinating fixtures on tap in this much maligned competition this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick takes his crystal ball out and tries to predict the winners (not many road wins beckon!).

Highly impressed with Newcastle Falcons this season. Shrewd player recruitment last season has reaped the rewards. Toby Flood has provided experience, game management, leadership and excellent kicking game to complement a youthful Newcastle squad who are challenging for a top six Aviva Premiership finish.

Newcastle Falcons bring in wingers Alex Tait and Zach Kibirige to replace Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti among six starting changes. Sam Stuart comes into the halves, while hooker Scott Lawson, prop Scott Wilson and Ryan Burrows also start.

An interesting lineup but one that Dean Richards trusts to do the job. You are always looking at the French club mindset in this competition. The mindset has being indifferent to this competition at times, not sure where this competition ranks with Brive who have looked vulnerable on the road this season.

If Newcastle Falcons can start on the front foot and players such as Matavesi start to dominate from three quarters, Brive could cave in at a rate of knots. This would be a shock if Newcastle did not win this fixture with something to spare; the reward is a home semi-final as well. Added motivation for the side here and expect them to win going away.

Pau have being the surprise package of this tournament so far. They went 6/6 in their pool phase, beating Gloucester Rugby emphatically home and away. Simon Mannix’s charges will fancy their chances of advancing to the last four; a raucous home crowd support and a Stade Francais side who have being woefully inconsistent on the road this season.

Pau’s pack selection looks pretty decisive in this fixture. Solid operators in the ranks such as Armitage, Domingo and then you add the ex-Munster contingent to the mix who know how to win playoff rugby (Dave Foley, Paudie Butler, Sean McDougall), you get the sense that the side have the nous, game management to win this fixture.

Stade Francais have massive threats as well, expansive back field with Steyn at full back who will happily join the line and create line breaks. Pilsson has great range but yet again can be inconsistent in execution particularly on the road. There are question marks on the pack, questioning the back row ability to win the breakdown. Sergio Parisse on the bench but may be too late for him to make a game winning impression.

Pau have being a breathe of fresh air in this competition this season, would be a shame that they depart the tournament now after taking the pool stages so seriously. Pau for me at home look a solid bet to win over a Stade Francais who will produce a performance of frustration showing the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

The history books are certainly not on Connacht Rugby’s side this weekend. 0/5 against their opposition this weekend. Last weekend’s performance was a mixed bag and the locals around the province will look for a response this weekend.

Gloucester Rugby come in on the back of a bonus point try win over relegation doomed London Irish last weekend. Gloucester’s opening quarter and final quarter performance were poor and gives Connacht Rugby hope of victory. In between, the West Country side were on point in the pack exchanges and produced some excellent line breaks to score several tries. Trinder and Marshall were standouts in the back line. Afoa in the front row solid as always.

How do Connacht Rugby win this contest? Can the front five disrupt Gloucester set piece ball sufficiently? The line out at times for Gloucester has misfired spectacularly. The Pau home loss evidence of this in January; an ambitious line out call to the back of the line towards the end of the opening half when on their five meter line was a knucklehead play. It got the treatment it deserved; Armitage crashed over for a Pau try as the set piece was overthrown.

Connacht Rugby’s expansive style will gel well with Gloucester’s style of play, expect plenty of line breaks. Connacht Rugby need to bring in their defensive line speed and first time tackles to the party. Their exit strategy was poor last weekend. The performance needs to be on point this week. Accuracy is the keyword in all facets of play.

Gloucester Rugby have undeniable quality across the park. The game management at times can be an issue, attempt to run the ball from their own posts. Billy Burns is a work in progress, exciting half-back but inclined to become one dimensional in his attacking play with very little kicking game in open play. Billy Twelvetrees provides the game management closer tag, looks to close out victories for the side off the bench.

It will be interesting to see how the bookies view this contest. Both sides have performance consistency issues; both sides will have defensive lapses. It is about who wins the set piece battle with Romain Poite officiating. The scrum set piece could be the decisive factor here; penalty concessions either side here could be the difference.

Connacht Rugby have the backs against the wall mentality here this weekend. A defeat here and the season is over. Gloucester Rugby can be exposed but it will require an accurate Connacht Rugby effort to execute the game plan to do so.

Training has gone well this week in the camp, lessons of last weekend learned and with a pacy back three too, going for a home win (heart ruling head here).

Gloucester’s back three also poses a serious threat. Good weather conditions, expect line breaks and tries galore provided Poite lets the game flow. The Clan terrace will be buzzing.

Fascinating contest here. The breakdown battle for me is the key factor to this fixture. Both teams with progressive form entering this contest. Hardie vs. Navidi battle looks epic. Enough said, both are seven specialists and it will be fascinating to see how both negate the other at the breakdown.

Edinburgh Rugby are one of the stories of the Guinness Pro 14 season. Their form in recent months under the guidance of Richard Cockerill has being excellent. Home win against Glasgow Warriors with fourteen players, putting Ulster Rugby to the sword at Kingspan Stadium, a good South African tour. Third place in Conference B consolidated in recent weeks so can focus on this tournament with interest.

Solid squad assembled by Edinburgh Rugby. The front five has experience galore. Nel and Gilchrist are massive standouts in the side, set the tone. Hardie is a superb seven. The half back partnership is excellent and then you have Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to come into the fray to close out the contest. Exciting back line with Kinghorn, Fife, Duhan van der Merwe.

They are a team which has an excellent trait; they find a way to win at the death. They refuse to give up on a result and their performances in recent weeks have borne this out. Ulster Rugby road trip was a key victory; the composure to win the contest with the drop goal shows composure, maturity and leadership. A team with massive aspirations this season and going forward!

Cardiff Blues have increased their performance in recent months so much so that they are now in the Conference A playoff hunt putting pressure on the Toyota Cheetahs. An experienced front five with the likes of Rees and Jenkins in the ranks. The eight channel is covered by Nick Williams. Allen in the second row and Navidi in the seven position, pack is solid.

Blues have progressed well in their expansive play. Anscombe is a key cog in terms of game management and with the likes of Lane and Evans playing at a high level, they will travel to Edinburgh with no fear. All the pundits will point to a home victory.

This to me is the closest game of the weekend. Blues pose mobility and breakdown issues for Edinburgh Rugby to address. This game could conceivably go to extra time as I do not think either side will give an inch. Edinburgh to potentially shade it at the death but this will be a game where the fine margins will be minute.

Connacht Rugby vs. Gloucester Rugby Preview

Gloucester Rugby make the trip to Galway looking to secure a European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final berth against a Connacht side who come into this contest with questions aplenty to answer. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action and identifies a couple of pregame talking points.

What Connacht Rugby will turn up?

It has being a very Jekyll and Hyde season for Connacht Rugby. When they have being accurate, excellent performances have ensued, thinking of their home win to Munster Rugby and how close they were to pulling off an elusive road trip win away to Leinster Rugby.

When Connacht Rugby have not being accurate, it has resulted in disastrous cameos particularly at home seen to full effect against the likes of Zebre Rugby and Edinburgh Rugby in recent months. It is a worrying trend for Kieran Keane and management and they have struggled to come up with an answer to this inconsistency.

Restarts, kicking game, defensive breakdown issues all exposed in recent weeks. The loss to Edinburgh and the manner of the loss has to have had an effect; players and management singing off the same hymn sheet. Otherwise, this could be a long afternoon against an expansive, pacy Gloucester Rugby side.

Gloucester Rugby look to start better this week

A road trip win at Madejski Stadium last weekend on first glance looks like a good morale boosting victory ahead of European Challenge Cup action. 29-33 but looking at the game highlights, this was an absolute horror show from Gloucester in the opening period.

Error strewn, penalty guzzling opening quarter performance where London Irish strode out to a 17-0 lead. Suffice to say, a better well equipped side would have kept Gloucester at arms length for the rest of the contest. All credit for the fightback and the ability to win the fixture. Several excellent line breaks from Hanson and Marshall.

Given those circumstances, there is hope for Connacht Rugby if they can start with high tempo and accuracy in the opening exchanges. Can Connacht test the fringes enough to create line breaks? Defensive lapses in both halves of football, something acknowledged by Ackermann in post-game comments.

Decisive Opening Quarter Pack Exchanges

The front five battle looks intriguing in this contest. Gloucester’s pack boasts the likes of John Afoa and Ed Slater in the ranks and their ability to retain the ball in the tight exchanges was seen to full effect last weekend in their comeback win. However at times, the line out can be a little inconsistent. This was seen against Pau at Kingsholm this season where an ambitious throw to the back of the line out was gleefully picked up by Armitage to score.

Connacht are going to have to absorb pressure in the scrum as Gloucester’s front row have impressed this season in this area. It will be up to the likes of Bealham to stem the tide and look to secure a platform. Big onus on Dillane as well to deliver an excellent performance. He needs to put pressure on the line out seening as Hibbert is out of this contest.

The back row exchanges will be abrasive and competitive. Ludlow is an expansive seven who ably supports from a ball carrying perspective in attack. Polledri is potentially could be the replacement for Parisse in the Italian national side and Ackermann is an incredible athlete and physical eight. Ackermann’s duel with Muldoon will be a major talking point.

Considering Romain Poite will be officiating the game, the set piece exchanges in the scrum become even more important. Connacht need to set the tone early. Afoa as prop could be a decisive match winner in this facet of play and penalties could be won for Burns or Twelvetrees to slot over. Connacht are due warned!

Intriguing Game Management

I have watched quite a bit of both sides this season and the one thing that jumps out to me before this contest is game management. Gloucester Rugby have shown the good, the bad and the downright ugly in game management this season; elude back to their road trip loss to Northampton Saints where they decided to play from their own posts instead of protecting their lead and executing an kick exit strategy.

Cue penalty conceded close to their line, penalty try to Saints and Gloucester Rugby had lost the game. Connacht as well were guilty of hapless game management last weekend; need we say anymore on the Fife try and the game winning try by Weir? Hopeless game management of both situations.

Gloucester Rugby will look to run the ball at every opportunity like Connacht Rugby but there needs to be a balanced approach as well. Kicking game will be vital so it is imperative for Jack Carty / Craig Ronaldson and Billy Burns / Billy Twelvetrees to hit good positional kicks to touch at different intervals.

Two sides who like to play the game in the right area but perhaps not in the right areas? Any game management miscalculation on Saturday could prove fatal in either side’s hopes of securing a last four berth. An intriguing clash beckons, hopefully Poite lets the game flow but he will be fussy at the breakdown, offside and line-out which could be at odds to officiating in this competition seen by both sides so far this season.