With that a long summer of roundball is over. A long summer of diving, bad sportsmanship and an insane amount of coverage is over and we get our game back. A game of combat, of skill and of proper sportsmanship (or is I sports-personship).
Rugby is back!
After a preseason of mixed results, many a beating was doled out and received by the irish provinces the opening weekend of the Guinnes Pro 14 (soon to be 16) arrived. Eir sport have stepped up and completed the task of providing a service where every single pro14 game is aired. They aren’t sponsoring this post, I am just thankful that the admin work that is usually needed to find a game (S4C have a red button for English comms) is finished.
So lets look at how the provinces fared.
Coming off a preseason where new blood was started and finishing the preseason on the receiving end of a pasting from Newcastle Leinster began with an away trip in Cardiff. A team with most of their internationals in place and looking to take a champion scalp on the first day. It was a high scoring game with 4 tries a piece. Looking at the other stats, Leinster ran for nearly 100 more metres at 448. Had near 50 more runs at 160 for 62% total possession. All looks good so far doesn’t it? Leinster missed 20 tackles whereas the home side missed only 14, that is why the game was close. The starting team was a continuation of the new blood policy. A policy that has brought in players like Leavy, Larmour (as in armour) et al but the feedback is that playing a B team is not good for the league? I would suggest that is from teams and supporters with a tiny squad and no ambition of contending for titles. Leo has a history if this practice and it will continue to make Leinster money going forward. The game finished with a final drive for an away win by 1 point. A stabilising game for the new players, a strong finish where a game plan was executed and a good start for the team with improvements to come.
There isn’t really much to write about here, 38-0 against the Cheetahs with 52% possession. 47 tackles missed from the homeside so it isn’t all good news. Hanrahan started at 10 and had his best game in a while in that position. Carberry came on and showed his class, but against the Cheetahs this was a glorified training session. Munster did their job well, but not a lot of analysis coming out from it.
Ulster played the always great to watch Scarlets and after a tough preseason it was expected that they would fight but ultimately succumb to the melted galaxy bar smooth rugby of the Scarlets. But that didn’t happen, there is not one stat where Ulster where below their visitors. 59% possession for 59% territory, only giving away 10 penalites and completed 93% of their tackles. It was great to watch and in Cooney they have a general. They have someone with a pass a kick and some beef to get over the try line when needed. With the ‘group of death’ awaiting them in Europe this may be Cooneys year again, if the roll he is on continues, he has to be in the squad in green. Delighted that the season started well for out nordy neighbours.
Connacht are back, well nearly. They played like they had no shackles on them as they welcomed a full strength Glasgow side to the sunny west side! Fantastic to watch and very quick to see how Andy Friend has gotten amongst everyone since his arrival. Both sides missed a lot of tackles but the Glasgow experience got them over the line by 1 point. Even taking into account the cheeky Hogg trick at the end of the game that should have resulted in an attacking scrum. A strong start for Connacht here, an unfortunate loss and while there where scorelines like this last season (losing by small margins) the way they played was completely different. Shoring up the defence, much like Leinster, will lead to far more wins than losses this year.
A strong start to the season from the irish provinces, positivity all around which needs to continue. Next week Leinster go to the Scarlets (massive massive game) , Munster go to Glasgow, Ulster welcome Edinburgh and Connacht welcome Zebre. Look for improvements from all and a first clean sweep of the season.
Until next time….