Having had 3 weeks of rest and recovery after the Rugby World Cup, it was good to get back into some live viewing of that Northern Hemisphere rugby gem, the Heineken Cup.
Munster’s monster finish secured the win over a very physical Northampton – with time up, the score at 21-20 to Northampton and Munster completed their 40th phase to set up a successful drop goal by none other than Ronan O’Gara. It was an example of great ball control and exploited the full benefits of a law that enables teams who are skilled enough to retain possession indefinitely. It appears that attacking infringements at the breakdown – such as Ramping, Bridging, Sealing —are in the too hard basket of the IRB and have become a thing of the past.
Of course, it is still illegal to commit these actions but at least there is normally a consistency in interpretation by officials. I will endeavour in weeks to come to offer up some discussion points on how this area of the game can be tidied up because at the moment we are back to early 2000’s when the same problem of uncontestable ball at the “post tackle” was the bane of the game.
This is not to belittle the game between Munster and Northampton. The ferocity of the defending through the match was inspirational. Tackling is one of the truly ”Attitudinal” aspects of Rugby.
The Munster mauling off lineout drives was irrepressible in most instances while surprisingly the Northampton scrum regularly demolished the opposition – surprising because the packs seemed well matched in size and Northampton did not appear to be TOO illegal in their technique.
The lineout drives raise the coaching question of whether and where/when to combat a lineout “drive”. Depending on the field position of the lineout, should a pod or an individual contest possession, and should the defenders stay on the ground and respond to where the ball is thrown (which opens up the risk of countering a “split drive”)?
The skilled and hard work necessary to perfect these techniques is a large part of a modern team’s preparations. It is an area of play that the Rugby Site will be dealing with in the coming weeks.
Other Points noted from the weekend’s matches:
- The Good weather generally enabled styles of play to seem to be more “free flowing” with a much quicker re-cycling of ball.
- General trend post RWC for teams to be more expansive in style.
- Crowds, particularly in Ireland, are sporting and respect All KICKERS whilst preparing for kicks at goal.
- High numbers of “League-ies” converting very successfully to Rugby—the Tide has turned fully.
- Large numbers of Southern Hemispherians (more than 45 by my count) playing across the Heineken Cup (great attraction to encourage us SH viewers to watch the competition ensuring it is a really great international tournament.
- 12 games yielded 41 tries and 77 successful penalties.
- An introduction of many fine prospects. Murray, Barnes, O’Mahoney, for Munster and Russian RWC performer, Artemyev. Nice to see an almost hairless Douggie Howlett still showing his skills and flair.
- Connacht’s excellent passing and flowing back play with long and accurate passing although there might be a need for some deceptive change of angles from the support players.
- Liked the look of Quins no 1 Joe Marler despite the hair mangling! His scrummaging at loose head was excellent and his mobility, ball carrying and work rate must put him in contention for a spot in his national squad. With Andy Sheridan’s injury situation and the experiment of playing Matt Stevens at loose head at RWC not a success(great tight head though he is), Marler looks a shoo-in.
- Good to see our old North Harbour export Nick Evans having such an influence on the game with his all round brilliance.
This weekend I am particularly looking forward to the clash of Pool 4 leaders Leicester and Ulster.
My Picks for Round 2 are.
CLERMONT A over AIRONI
NORTHAMPTON over SCARLETS
RACING METRO over EDINBURGH
LONDON IRISH over CARDIFF BLUES
BIARRITZ over SARACENS
OSPREYS over BENETTON
MUNSTER over CASTRES
GLOUCESTER over QUINS
LEICESTER over ULSTER
TOULOUSE over CONNACHT
LEINSTER over GLASGOW
MONTPELLIER over BATH