Thursday 28 May 2009
Perhaps more so than in Australia or New Zealand the Lions have a special relationship with South Africa. The Lions have enjoyed their most famous (1974) and recent (1997) success in Springbok country and I guess this must breed a certain desire for revenge amongst the South African team/public.
I read a recent interview (I think it was i the Irish Times) with John Smit, the world cup winning Saffer captain, and he was quoted as saying that the Lions tour meant as much to his team if not more than the world cup. Because the Lions were special, a once in a career opportunity. South Africa has waited 12 years for this chance to avenge the team of 1997, who were also world cup champions and firm favourites.
The video below is from the successful Lions tour to Afrique du Sud in 1974. Determined to match the Springbok's legendary 'tenacity' at the breakdown Lions captain Willie John McBride decided to (literally) beat the Boks at their own game. Whenever a Lions player was in trouble, the call of '99' would be the signal for all 15 Lions players to throw themselves at the nearest Springbok. The idea being that the referee couldn't send them all off.
Wednesday 27 May 2009
For anyone interested in US or Irish history, this a wonderful quote from ol' Abe. In a few words Lincoln managed to capture the inherent problem is US society on the brink of the Civil War. Political divide between Republicans in the north, Democrats in the south. Social schism over the slavery issue, Free States in the north versus slave states in the south. Urban versus rural, industry versus plantations. Two completely contradictory attitudes and ways of life existing under the same banner, something had to give.
Monday 25 May 2009
This has been loooooong overdue. The years of bottling, the era spent in the shadow of Munster, the abuse from the media, hasn't been easy to play for Leinster. Great things are expected, especially when your closest rivals become perennial qualifiers to the knock-out stages
That being said this win is a perfect reward for the team's patience and perseverance over the years. Grounding out the quarter-final win in London showed a self-belief and grit up front, especially in the tight five that Leinster have lacked in the past. Healy and Wright provided a solid base at scrum time along with Mal and Culen in the second row.
They were nicely complimented by the rampaging Elsom at 6, I guarantee every Leinster fan is praying for a return of that ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY! chant next year. Along with O'Driscoll the big Aussie (literally) carried Leinster into contact, through the other side and several yards onwards.
Smashing Munster at Croker felt like sweet sweet revenge for the thumping dealt out to Leinster at the same stage at Lansdowne a few years ago. If anything it was an even more emphatic whalloping than the one Munster delivered, it showed just how far Cheika has brought this team on.
The final is something of a drunken blur... but from what I remember we went pretty well
Whether or not Elsom decides to stay will have massive implications for Leinster's title defence next year. Losing Wright, Contepomi and Whitaker too, one could be forgiven for thinking Leinster somewhat screwed but as we found this year there are plenty of talent coming up through ze academy; Healy, Sexton, Toner, McFadden, O'Brien, Fitzgerald. With new signings Redden, Ross etc Leinster already look a good bet for next year
ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!
Thursday 21 May 2009
Saturday 9 May 2009
Having a LOT of free time on my hands these days has given me the opportunity to catch up on the pile of books that I have bought but never read (or only skimmed through) over the years as well as revisit some old favourites. A joint degree in history and classics never really left much time for non-academic reading and has left me with a slight disdain for any literary source that I feel will teach me very little to nothing. Much better to learn than simply read as a distraction for a few hours
The above quote from Cicero actually continues to 'and by literature I mean the works which give us an opportunity to understand the world in which we ourselves live, its sky, land and sea'. A noble attitude indeed.
Thursday 7 May 2009
From the victorious 1997 Lions tour to Sud Afrika, Scotsman Jim Telfer takes offence to some enthusiastic forward play from the Boks and gets himself embroiled in a verbal exchange with some of the Saffer fans.
Chelski 1-1 Barcelona, Barca go through on away goal rule
92nd minutes... 91 minutes without even a shot on target... god dammit. Iniesta you schvine! Reports on this game seem to be written by those who had witnessed a footballing occasion so enthralling that it should be reserved in historical annals along side the moon landing and the collapse of the Berlin wall.
Barca were small, skillful, Chelski big, powerful. El Spicolos spent the game playing most of the football after Essien's wonder strike in the first half but whilst their short passing game is very pretty to look at when one is trying to negotiate the veritable human wall that is the Chelsea defence a change in tactics may be in order.
Except the lack of height in the Barca camp is somewhat galling. On the (incredibly) rare occasion that Alves was able to whip in a half decent cross the fight for the ball amounted to a crowd of hobbits milling around a bemused defence battling feebly for possession.
Chelski didn't deserve to win, I've never liked the whole 'grab a goal and then defend for our lives' approach and they gave away a frankly ridiculous amount of ball (possession stats were at 75-25 in favour of Barca at one point). Barca for their part should feel quite relieved that the ref never saw fit to award Chelsea at least one penalty from the myriad of claims that were thrown at him in the second period. Don't think they'll beat United in Rome though
Also, that crap the Chelsea players pulled at the end of the game was disgraceful, bunch of saps... especially you Drogba
Wednesday 6 May 2009
Tuesday 5 May 2009
Weirdest end to a game I have ever seen. The game ended 26-26 after Cardiff managed to score two tries out wide in the last ten minutes of regular time which Ben Blair converted to send the match into extra-time. With no further scores after the additional 20 minutes and the teams tied on try count the game was decided by penalty kicks. Best of 5 in front of the posts from the 22 metre line.
Down with this sort of thing.
Incident from the Leinster game on Saturday which could (should) keep Alan Quinlan out of the Lions this summer. Probably between Ryan Jones of Wales and Tom Croft of England as regards who will replace the Munster flanker
Leinster 25-6 Munster
I don't think anybody could have seen this coming. The odds would have been quite long for Leinster to even scrape a win in Croke Park never mind win comfortably. After Gordon D'Arcy's try but the blue man group in front 11-6 at the half hour mark in the first half I was counting the minutes until the full-time whistle.
Only when the man revered as BOD picked off an O'Gara pass at the Leinster 22 and went the length of the pitch to score did I allow myself to celebrate. The monkey was off the back, daemons exorcised etc etc. Saturday was on upset of a scale only rivalled by Leinster's victory over Toulouse in southern France a few years ago.
In front of a packed Croker (this time with a more 60-40 split in favour of Munster) Leinster smashed the Munster pack about the historic stadium for the full 80 minutes. The fields of Athenry enjoyed a rather nervous early rendition in the first half before Molly Malone drowned out a shell-shocked 'Red Army' for the remainder of the tie.
The win was forged in the work upfront by a tireless Leinster pack. Healy and Wright contested well at scrum time, Cullen and O'Kelly easily matched Lions O'Connel and O'Callaghan whilst the Leinster back three of Jennings, Elsom and Heaslip outplayed their counterparts in every facet of the game.
The backs too had a good day at the office. The Mafi-Earls points machine was marshaled well in midfield by the Leinster backs, only one clean break allowed in the entire match. Jonny Sexton filled in admirably for the injured Contepomi and Isa Nacewa was an inspired choice by Leinster coach Michael Cheika at full-back performing much better under the high ball then expected and cutting a vicious line through the Munster defence to set up the opening score.
A commanding performance from a Leinster team that showed what they can do when not overawed by the occasion, their opponents for the final are the Leicester Tigers who will be making a bid for their third title in recent memory.
Saturday 2 May 2009
Not being interested in rugby at the time of the last Lions tour to Afrique du Sud has left me and undoubtedly a considerable amount of my friends with somewhat jaded views on this exhibition outfit. I caught snippets of the 2-1 series loss in Australia back in 2001 and watched every single game played by Woddward's doomed party in New Zealand in 2005 (no doubt to the detriment of my final exams). So whilst I do enjoy the legacy and prestige associated with the Lions I'm still not convinced such an enterprise can be successful in the professional era.
Which is a shame, the concept of taking the best players from the four home unions on tour is the last remaining throwback to the great touring tradition. Anyone that watched the Munster - All Blacks game back in Autumn can attest to the spectacle of provincial sides tackling international opposition.
Coming together every four years makes Lions selection special for the players but considering that the tour alternates every time between SA, Oz and the Blackness means that the locals only get to see (or more importantly play against) the Lions every 12 years. So on the flipside, a chance to play against the Lions is potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity.
On the back of an arguably below par six nations tings aren't looking particularly hopeful for the tourists this year with the Boks newly crowned world champions. Pundits already have the Boks beating the Lions for talent at nearly every position; bigger, faster, stronger, more skillful, better coached, organised and better team spirit.
Though apparently they were saying something similar in '97...
It can be incredibly frustrating to support Leinster sometimes, periods of success are usually wiped from the memory by unparalleled bottling at crucial moments in every season. Consistency is a word that is passed about only to be dropped like a hot potato when it really matters. Whilst playing arguably some of the most attractive rugby in Europe the boys in blue suffer from an unfortunate dose of the 'All Blacks', symptoms present in an unwillingness to fulfil potential resulting in a tendency to exit major tournaments early.
And then there is the gargantuan shadow thrown across the east coast by the insufferable Munster. Ever-present in the knock-out stages, annoyingly efficient at getting themselves out of sticky situations and showing an infuriating cockroach like ability to survive every conceivable punishment one could throw at the swine Munster are (unfortunately) the benchmark by which Leinster short-comings are so starkingly measured up to.
With this semi-final looming large on the horizon, what hope have Leinster of upsetting the status quo? Well, as I'm sure any Munster-man will happily point out the men from the bad side of Ireland have already beaten our cowering petals twice this, conceding one try... ONE try, 5 points, in the process. In the quarter-finals Munster absolutely smashed an Ospreys unit that could easily be painted red and used as the Welsh national team such was the amount of international talent on show while Leinster eked out a 6-5 win over Harlequins in London.
So with history and current form firmly in favour of Munster (never mind the fact that they had 8 of their squad selected to the Lions) the prospect of a Leinster upset look depressingly dim.
Yet... words cannot describe how badly I would love to see a Leinster win. For the bragging rights, to bask in the satisfaction of supporting the best team in the country, for Contepomi to have a decent game, for BOD to do a number on (that incredibly average) Keith Earls, Rrrrrrocky to run amok and Isa Nacewa to... well anything constructive from him would be a bonus.