Tuesday 18 December 2012

Heineken Cup Round 4: An Irish Perspective

I don't think there as been a worse weekend from an Irish rugby's point of view.

Not only for results, but some key injuries, and what these results mean from this tournament, and subsequent tournaments.

Let's start off with Connacht. I don't know what to think of them. Just as I dismiss them as nobodies, they go and put in a terrific 80 minutes performance and end up beating someone like Biarritz. Comfortably.

I have to say, I'm excited about the future over there. They have some fantastic young Irish backs coming through; Henshaw, O'Hallorhan, McSharry and Marmion in particular, as well as some good young forwards too.

It's all well and good that these "tyros" are playing week in week out, and in a high standard of the H Cup; but if they are developing a habit of losing, or being so inconsistent that performances only occur once in a season, then that can't be good for their development.

Eric Elwood has done a fantastic job, and whoever takes over has to kick on. They need to be finishing more mid table in the Rabo, and nearer to the top then the bottom of the table. Realistically, they have good players, and there is no reason why they can't. They are better than the Italian, Scottish and one or two of the Welsh teams.

Leinster were beaten up at the weekend. I'm never seen a more lacklustre performance from them. Never mind about the gift of a bonus point, they aren't getting through.

Admittedly there are a lot of injuries, but they have a lot of depth in some talented youngsters that need to start stepping up.

Strauss will be a blow for the next 4 weeks. I have to say I thought it could be worse at the time.

On the positive side; Eoin O'Malley and Luke Fitzgerald are back soon. Both need a good long run in the team, injury free and hopefully both will show the talent that they have promised for so long.

Ulster are the least worst off of the provinces. Yes the record is gone, but that might prove to be a good thing. Less pressure, and they should still go through with probably a home quarter-final.

Tommy Bowe looks like he could be a big loss. I think this will put his Lions tour in doubt. Hopefully Gilroy will establish himself, and play consistently. They also have young Chris Cochrane and Peter Nelson who could possibly get some more gametime as a result.

Munster played well on Sunday. Not well enough to win unfortunately. But they aren't the side of past glories. They do have some key injuries, but it's hard to see what's happening for the future with so many injuries.

Ronan O'Gara showed how much they will struggle without him, and I don't think that Keatley is up to much. JJ Hanrahan needs to decide his best position - 10 or 12 and just go with it. He could be something special.

Zebo admittedly had a great game, surprised me, and hinted that he might have more potential and something about him than I thought.

Ulster will be the only Irish team to go through to the knockout stages. I do think either Leinster or Munster will make the Amlin. Which might be good for me, because I've tickets to the final of both.

For future tournaments, with the English and French throwing the toys out of the pram, them winning 11 out of 12 matchs this weekend was not a good thing. It shows that the competition is reliant on them, and that the Welsh and Irish sides need to improve.

The Heineken Cup is a fantastic tournament, all the permutations between different pools make each round exciting. This needs to be kept as much as possible going forward.

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