Heineken Cup Analysis

Heineken Cup Analysis, Toulon, Claremont Auvergne, Rugby 2013, Aviva Stadium

Toulon 16 Clermont Auvergne 15: Did Clermont Auvergne freeze once again in sight of the winning post? That’s the accusation they’ll face as they contrived to lose a match they should have won.

They played the better rugby for most of the game but that’ll be of little consolation as the Heineken Cup will be returning to France with Toulon.

Clermont looked far more dangerous in possession and if they managed to introduce a little more composure and precision, especially in the Toulon 22, might have won this match in a canter.

They will also rue the fact that they gave away too many penalties, failing to react to Alain Rolland’s officiating at ruck time. It cost them possession and position and acted as a safety valve in allowing Toulon to escape from their own 22.

The latter took their chances, or more accurately the one try scoring opportunity that presented itself, and otherwise relied on the boot of their captain Jonny Wilkinson. Toulon, Mathieu Bastareaud was superb in attack and defence, showed grit and character but it shouldn’t have been enough to suffice.

The opening 40 minutes was conducted principally between the two 22-metre lines, a series of collisions where players from both sides sought out each other rather than space. The honourable exceptions were Clermont winger Sitiveni Sivivatu and centre Wesley Fofana, whose footwork, pace and angles of running allowed them to make several line breaks.

Unfortunately their colleagues couldn’t sustain the momentum, sometimes it was handling, on other occasions they fell foul of referee Rolland, who penalised them a handful of times for not releasing after the tackle. Fofana is a pleasure to watch, his gliding acceleration and appreciation of angles a constant threat to the opposition defence.

The closest Clermont came to scoring a try in that period came when Toulon wing Rudi Wulf was turned over by Sivivatu at a ruck on the halfway line. Fofana and Julienn Bonnaire combined to put Brock James scampering up the touchline. The Australian chipped over the top and outpaced Toulon’s Chris Masoe and Juan Fernandez Lobbe but the dead-ball line won the race by a nanosecond as James grounded it on the whitewash.

Toulon huffed and puffed but there was precious little subtlety to their patterns and they chose Wilkinson’s boot as their main attacking gambit.

Clermont scrumhalf Morgan Parra kicked a penalty on three minutes and Wilkinson responded in kind after 12 to provide the only tangible rewards in scoring terms.

Clermont lost a great attacking position following a break by Sivivatu when Lee Byrne was penalised for not releasing, but Mathieu Bastareaud, who made the tackle certainly didn’t release the player, before trying to secure possession. There were two offences, the second one spotted first.

If the first half was sterile on the scoreboard then the second came to life from the opening stanza.

After Fofana had snaffled yardage on one touchline, Clermont moved play to the other side of the pitch. Rougerie fended off Danie Rossouw rather easily and released Napolioni Nalaga. The big Fijian brushed off the tackle of Sebastien Tillous Borde and through another attempt from Armitage to score in the corner; it was a great finish. Parra couldn’t add the conversion, and although Wilkinson reduced the deficit with a penalty, the favourites Clermont crossed for their second try.

Rougerie was again the catalyst, muscling Wilkinson aside as he raced on to a gorgeously weighted chip from James. He rode a weak tackle from Tillous Borde and released the supporting James, who covered the final 20 metres to the try line. Parra added the conversion and at 15-6 Clermont were within touching distance of winning a tournament their rugby merited; and not just this season.

But they continued to transgress at ruck time, the penalty count 5-0 at this stage, and when they were penalised again on 60 minutes, Wilkinson reduced the deficit to six points.

The one question mark that has lingered about this Clermont team is whether they have the mental capacity to keep playing to the final whistle. The game’s pivotal moment arrived on 63 minutes when Lobbe turned over the ball at a ruck after Fofana had been isolated in the tackle.

The Argentinean’s overhead pass to Armitage sent the England international racing clear and he could enjoy a mini-celebration before dotting down. Wilkinson kicked an excellent conversion and Toulon, remarkably, were in front.

It was the first try they have scored in the knock-out stages of this season’s tournament.

Clermont’s resolve was to face an acid test but as Parra, Rougerie and James headed for the sideline, leadership and composure went with them. They did manage to get field position in the dying throes of the contest, twice, but replacement David Skrela bizarrely went into rucks when he should have been dropping into the pocket to attempt a drop goal.

They had the field position inside the Toulon 22 but it wasn’t until they were a little further out that the drop goal was attempted and charged down. The game ended with a forward pass and a handling error on the touchline 10 metres from the Toulon line.

They deserve credit for the manner in which they hung in a game that appeared at various stages of the second half to be disappearing over the horizon.

It offered a reminder that if a team can stay on Clermont’s coat-tails they may be occasionally rewarded. It was a day when the a team rightly considered the best in Europe, could not deliver on that label.

Scoring sequence 3 mins: Parra penalty, 3-0; 12: Wilkinson penalty, 3-3. Half-time: 3-3. 41: Nalaga try, 8-3; 45: Wilkinson penalty, 8-6; 47: James try, conversion, 15-8; 60: Wilkinson penalty, 15-9; 64: Armitage try, Wilkinson conversion, 15-16.

Clermont Auvergne: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; T Domingo, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; N Hines, J Cudmore; J Bonnaire, G Vosloo, D Chouly. Replacements: V Debaty for Domingo 65 mins; Ti Paulo for Bruno 65 mins; J Bardy for Vosloo 67 mins; R King for Rougerie 67 mins; L Radosavijevic for Parra 71 mins; D Skrela for James 73 mins; C Ric for Zirakashvili 73 mins.

Toulon: D Armitage; R Wulf, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, A Palisson; J Wilkinson (capt), S Tilous Borde; A Sheridan, S Bruno, C Hayman; B Botha, N Kennedy; D Rossouw, J Fernandez Lobbe, C Masoe. Replacements: J van Niekerk for Rossouw 50 mins; F Michalak for Tillous Borde 50 mins; JC Orioli for Bruno 50 mins; G Jenkins for Sheridan 61 mins; J Suta for Botha 67 mins; S Armitage for Masoe 67 mins; D Kubriashvili for Hayman 76 mins. Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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Amlin Challenge Cup result

Amlin Challenge Cup result, Leinster rugby win, Stade Francis, RDS, Rugby Ireland, Heineken Cup

Bienvenue à tous les fans de rugby de la France

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Leinster 34 Stade Francais 13: A trophy is a trophy, and the handsome Amlin Challenge Cup was won in the grand manner. For the first time the final was held in Ireland, and for the first time there was an Irish winner, while as an aside Connacht were spared returning to their customary Euro outlet as, for the third year running, Leinster earned them a place in next season’s Heineken Cup.

Stade Francais, themselves in the last chance saloon for their season and their hopes of a Heineken Cup place next season, never went away and showed more spirit than perhaps might have been expected given they were behind from the third minute. Indeed, a graph of the evening’s share of possession and territory would have been hugely in the visitors’ favour, but their accuracy and cutting edge was nothing like Leinster’s. Continue reading

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Heineken Cup Final 2013

 

 

Rugby Ireland, RaboDirect Pro12, Leinster Rugby, Heineken Cup Final 2013, Stade Francais, Brian O’Driscoll, Aviva Stadium Dublin

Double Trouble for Leinster

It may not be quite the double they wanted, and the one they’ve come up a game short of in the last two seasons, but regardless of that another unbroken, unyielding run of end-of-sequence knock-out games is again already underlining how difficult a RaboDirect PRO12/Amlin Challenge Cup double will be for Leinster, even with both finals at the RDS.

In reaching the final of the former before turning their attention to the latter against Stade Francais next Friday, Leinster will spend the next 48 hours or more anxiously patching up their squad after a nerve-jangling, sapping and costly 17-15 semi-final win over Glasgow at the RDS on Saturday.

Gordon D’Arcy is their most acute concern, a nasty looking calf injury possibly ruling him out of both games. “Gordon cramped up pretty badly,” admitted Joe Schmidt. “They think it’s possible there’s a tear there but we’re not going to know until he’s been examined. So we’ll have a look and find out within the next 48 hours.”

As ever when Brian O’Driscoll goes down and reluctantly departs the fray, crowd and medical staff alike would have been immediately fretting like mother hens over the great man’s back injury, though Schmidt did not seem too perturbed.

“Brian just tightened right up and couldn’t really stretch out. He was keen to continue but really, it just wasn’t an option. Against the guys they’ve got, if you’re trying to catch hold of Hogg, Maitland or DTH van der Merwe – I won’t name their whole backline but they’re a handful. I wouldn’t be overly concerned and I’m normally concerned about most things, so hopefully it’s a good sign.”

Richardt Strauss and Fergus McFadden will have to manage knee and shin injuries, while Schmidt was hopeful Seán O’Brien, ruled out with a calf strain here, will come into the equation for the Stade game.

“To be honest I don’t know if we’ll be doing a lot in the front half of the week, we have six guys who are off to the Lions, to London, for the whole of Monday, so our training will be restricted probably to Tuesday and Wednesday.”

 

Medical staff

Asked if this was the week Leinster’s medical staff will come into their own, Schmidt quipped: “They didn’t do too well today! They need to work on their fitness; there were a lot of guys going down. But they do a super job and they’ll have the glue and sticky tape out, and hopefully that will mean we can piece together a team for next week and then the week after, when we’re just delighted we’re not going to be on holiday.”

Verily, though, this was not what the doctors ordered six days before the first of those RDS finals against a rested Stade Francais, an occasion which, alas, will not be illuminated by a last appearance in European rugby by one-time Leinster icon Felipe Contepomi, as Stade have not registered him for the competition. Against that, former Leinster prop Stan Wright may feature.

Such was the ferocity of the collisions and unrelenting tempo of Saturday’s game that players began dropping like flies from the moment O’Driscoll’s back seized up early on, and ultimately eight of the substitutions made by both sides, whether temporary or permanent, were injury-enforced.

Given Stuart Hogg had a conversion to take the sides into extra time, Schmidt was eternally grateful for that small mercy. “Yeah, we were 2-1 down in the try count as well so not only would it have extended the effort of players and furthered the fatigued, but also we have had to win that extra-time because on count back of tries they were up two to one, which is exactly what they did to us last time they were here.”

Leinster, truly with the best of respects, will be relieved to at least see the back of Glasgow. Lamenting Leinster’s exaction, some dropped balls and missed opportunities, Schmidt admitted Glasgow had their chances too.

“A really frustrating night,” admitted Schmidt. “I think we didn’t really have the platform, we missed a few lineouts where if you don’t get those you don’t get access to play off and then you don’t get any sort of momentum.”

He also lamented the poorly-officiated scrums, where Leinster mostly had the edge throughout, and highlighted one attacking five-metre scrum when Mike Ross was pinged even though Ryan Grant was virtually U-shaped.

“I mean, why would we collapse our scrum when we’ve been dominant five metres out from the line?” he asked rhetorically, and with justification.

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Leinster Rugby

 

Leinster Rugby, Irish Rugby, Aviva Stadium

BEST Accommodation Near Aviva Stadium

Joe Schmidt’s phone call was a game-changer for Andrew Goodman. He was working for the Tasman Rugby Union in New Zealand in rugby development and also teaching in Nelson College, his old school, when Schmidt invited him to come to Leinster.

The soon to be Ireland coach may have reshaped the European champions into the number one side at this end of the rugby playing world, but part of his brief is to also know who and what Honda Heat, Nelson College and the Tasman Makos are – and Goodman had played for all of them.

Plucked from obscurity – like Schmidt himself originally and set into the Leinster mould, Goodman’s epic journey from journeyman development officer to back-up centre for Gordon D’Arcy has fallen well. This season he has played 16 times for the team.

The son of teachers, mum Trish and father John, his move on a one-year contract – which has been rolled over for another year – was as much a cultural exchange as a chance to kick-start a fully-fledged professional career at 29 years of age. He’s now 30 and enjoying the ride.

Game time

Injuries along the back line as well as players slipping off for international duty with Ireland gave Goodman enough game time not to be churning over on the bench wondering whether he had made the right choice.

His solid play is quite the foil for the excitable assembly line of Leinster Academy players now punching through into the squad.

“I am coming back for one more year,” he says. “I love the environment here, learning off some of the best players in the world.”

While his role is defined as much by the availability of those around him, Goodman has started several of Leinster’s bigger games this season, including the home and away legs of the Heineken Cup matches against Clermont.

As the players watched analysis clips of the likely Clermont starting team for the first leg, it dawned on him two former All Blacks, Benson Stanley and Regan King, couldn’t make the walk-on side. In France, it was the biggest crowd, at 17,000, he had ever played in front of until the return leg in Aviva, where Leinster fell in front of 50,000 supporters.

“The great thing about Leinster is if you are performing at training and on the field Joe always gives you a chance,” he adds having just heard the name of the incoming coach, Matt O’Connor.

 

Concentrating

“I haven’t had much time to think about it (O’Connor). I suppose at this time of the year we’re just concentrating on semis and finals so we haven’t really talked about it too much,” he says before spreading some optimism.

“I know the incoming coach has a very good reputation, he did a great job over at Leicester, and the Brumbies before that. I’ve heard a couple of the boys say he’s coming very highly rated so I’m looking forward to that next year.”

This weekend, there is little Leinster don’t know. The sides met in the RDS at the end of March, where Ian Madigan scored all of Leinster’s 22 points, including the match -winning try 10 minutes from the end of the match.

Gregor Townsend’s side started the stronger and led at half-time but were unable to get the scoreboard ticking over as quickly as they might, allowing Leinster to stay in contention and finally close them out.

But Glasgow will come on Saturday with an idea of how to deal with the home side’s running game.

“Aw, they’ve been playing some great footie this year,” says Goodman. “Looking at the stats, they’ve scored the most tries in the competition this season, play a very open brand and off-loading a lot. They use their backs so we have to be on the spot to make sure we get past them.”

Low key, easy-going, still enjoying the scenery but no longer just there for the ride.

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Justin Timberlake Phoenix Park

Justin Timberlake, Phoenix Park, Dublin, Wed 10 Jul 2013, 18:00

BEST Accommodation Near Phoenix Park Dublin

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