Apologies one and all for the lack of blog activity in recent days, the day job (which is not this) has been a bit oh, a bit ah feck in recent days but fear not a couple of thoughts in this blog on the weekend action and stories from this week.
Edinburgh Rugby blew their golden opportunity
The bottom line from Murrayfield is that Edinburgh Rugby blew a massive golden opportunity to advance to the last four of the Heineken Champions Cup. For a side to dominate play as much as Edinburgh Rugby did in this encounter and still come up four points short, it must be hugely disappointing for the management, players and backroom staff of the club.
Munster Rugby were there for the taking particularly in that opening period. No genuine advantage for Edinburgh when Tadhg Beirne was sin binned early doors; lack of composure and patience to work the phases to create the pivotal gap. The lack of discipline and concentration encompassed with Keith Earl’s quick thinking and tap which led to the opening Munster Rugby try.
The pivotal Tadhg Beirne penalty at the death was controversial but the manner in which Edinburgh Rugby defensively managed the subsequent play was pivotal ultimately; the misalignment of forward players allowing the overlap for Earls to touchdown. Individual and collective lapses contributed to this Edinburgh Rugby loss; blame the officials all they want, it was down to team errors on the pitch.
Munster Rugby got out of jail. A similar performance against Saracens and it could be a long arduous afternoon. The lack of platform in the opening period was stark and the concession of territory in that half should have seen a bigger deficit in the opening period. To get in at the break only three points was an escape of Alcatraz proportions.
Richard Cockerill is doing a superb job in Edinburgh Rugby but his comments on the game were disappointing at best; his side showed indecision at vital times in the contest, similar to their playoff loss to Munster Rugby last season at Thomond Park. Time to reflect, time to stay quiet and correct the wrongs from last weekend for Edinburgh Rugby in the coming weeks; otherwise European Challenge Cup is the destination next season and a potential trip to Ensei STM!
Toulouse gamble pays off
Incredible contest between Toulouse and Racing 92. I just love Toulouse when they play off the cuff like they did in the opening period last weekend; it was sensational. The precision in their passing was out of this world. Medard’s running lines from full back a joy to watch. Their resiliency to get going despite down to fourteen players for so long was a testament to the team’s refusal not to be denied. Dupont and Ntamack were top class in the key moments. Racing 92 exposed for their ultra expansive game plan; reap what you sow. The side offer points to opposition and no better side than Toulouse to secure the road trip win — was my tip of the weekend by the way if you were on my Facebook site!
Leinster Rugby get the job done (just)
Credit to Ulster Rugby, the side performs to a level not seen in many a season. When you consider their performances this time last year, it has been a massive transformation under Dan McFarland. The Ulster Rugby line speed defensively was superb and they matched Leinster Rugby for long periods. Jacob Stockdale’s try blooper was crucial but even more so was the conversion miss from John Cooney when the game was tied at eighteen. A pivotal miss and it let Leinster Rugby off the hook completely. To go in front at this stage would have cranked up the pressure on Leinster Rugby at the death; no ease feat to secure a score in those conditions.
Leinster Rugby have received their reality call. The opening period was a touch off and Ulster Rugby grew into the contest with each passing minute. Dan Leavy’s injury is devastating; a key Ireland back row resource gone for RWC 2019 and Joe Schmidt will need to look at the depth chart to make an impact with both sides of the ball that Leavy provides for club and country. Ross Byrne’s character and leadership came to the fore; his decision to go for the posts despite suffering cramps showed massive balls and his kick was outstanding. It was fitting to win any contest. Toulouse in a couple of weeks but Leinster Rugby will be pleased with the resiliency, determination and composure to seal the win late; incredible set of phases to close out the contest.
Saracens rampage through the Warriors!
No surprise to be honest, thought Saracens pack had too much beef, physicality and skill set for Glasgow Warriors counterparts and so it proved. Glasgow Warriors showed their uptempo, open play but Saracens exposed Glasgow Warriors repeatedly with their indecisive line speed and breakdown work. Quick ball for Goode to launch his back line and Liam Williams had the proverbial field day.
It was an eye-catching performance from Saracens. The performance oozed quality but despite Warriors struggles, they managed to put 20+ points on the board which is a source of optimism for Munster Rugby. Can Munster Rugby address the issues that plagued their performance against Saracens two years ago? Can the pack and front eight provide the platform to work the scoreboard? If it goes the other way early, the result is up for the Irish province.
Saracens are playing with confidence. Saracens are looking solid in the squad depth chart. Saracens will be favorites in the semi-final but Munster Rugby will relish the underdog tag. Munster Rugby have to turn up on a semi-final fixture and perform to their full potential. It has not happened in recent seasons; this group of players have to deliver at this stage of the competition. I am expecting fireworks aplenty in the Ricoh!
Jack McGrath moves to Ulster Rugby
A key personnel signing for Ulster Rugby next season. They are getting a player who is keen to prove a point, a player who wants to secure quality first team minutes, a proven British & Irish Lions player. Jack McGrath if he can stay injury free is a superb asset for Ulster Rugby next season and more evidence that the province continues to impress in their squad depth chart particularly in the troublesome front row.
Cara Cup (snooze)
I am sorry but I am not seeing the lure of this Cara Cup; a disjointed tournament as Munster Rugby and Leinster Rugby arrive to Boston, MA. Given the domestic club game and pivotal fixtures in the UBL, feeling for clubs who are missing key players in their relegation and promotion key fixtures. What is the benefit of this tournament? I am not seeing it and if someone can enlighten me, please do. Munster Rugby’s squad was noteworthy with the inclusion of James Hart and Duncan Williams. Does this mean that both players are entering the final stages of their Munster Rugby career?
Darren Cave announces retirement
The announcement this morning from Darren Cave of his retirement at the end of the season spoke volumes; an open letter to the Ulster Rugby supporters to break the news is indicative of the relationship that Cave has with the support base. Tight knit relationship. A solid three quarters who has served his province so well for so many seasons. A player who could have gone elsewhere but showed loyalty to his home province throughout. He owes nothing to Ulster Rugby. Best wishes Darren on your retirement!