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Previewpilez: The Heineken Cup Final – Leinster v Northampton Saints May 21, 2011

Once the celebrations start to die down after the Amlin Challenge Cup Final, Cardiff has to start bracing itself for The Big One as Leinster and Northampton Saints go head to head at the Millennium Stadium for the Heineken Cup, which basically means they win Europe. All of it. Even Belgium.

After the disappointment suffered at Welford Road in their Aviva Premiership Semi Final, Northampton Saints will be coming into this game with their honour on the line. As with Stade Francais on Friday, the Saints have a tendency to come into their own when there is a whiff of that test match atmosphere in the air as it will be here, and with a wound to nurse, they’re going to be on the attack.

Leinster have a massive fortnight coming up, not only have they made it to this final, but the following week they meet arch-rivals Munster to compete for the Magners League trophy.  As such Leinster have gone into this game as such hot favourites that one bookmaker has apparently already started paying out on bets made for Leinster to win earlier in the competition (though that bookmaker is, ahem, a bit Irish). However, with the world seemingly at their feet, and with some players who are moving on almost expecting to go out in a high, we could see a Leinster that are so cock sure as to underestimate the opposition.

What will be interesting, is if this takes on an air of the grudge match, with some of England’s Six Nations orchestrators coming face to face with some of the Irishmen who broke their Grand Slam dream back in March. The interesting battles on the field will largely be based in the backs section, especially with golden boy Ash the Splash (who is possibly still concussed from Manugate) having the ‘talismanic’ (yawn) BOD (who may or may not still be nursing a niggle) to contend with mid field. Although there is also the prospect of Courtney Lawes taking on Scot-Aussie Nathan Hines in the second row to keep pack animals entertained.

Our gut says Leinster will probably lift the trophy for the second time in three years, but our head knows you should never underestimate the Saints…

One to Watch: Chris Ashton. Well, you never quite know when he’s going to let out a bit of genius, do you?

One to perv on during Stoppage time: Nathan Hines. Last chance to take in his form on British soil before he joins the exodous to France…

Words by Lauren

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Previewpilez : The Amlin Challenge Cup Final – Harlequins v Stade Francais May 18, 2011

And now, the end is near, and so we face the final questions…

Harlequins or Stade Francais?

Leinster or Northampton?

Leinster or Munster?

Leicester or Saracens?

And so begins the first of our looks ahead to the show pieces of  what has already been an exciting, unpredictable and entertaining rugby season.  Well, unless you count the Aviva Premiership final being a direct repeat of last year…

This Friday sees the final of the Amlin Challenge cup, where Harlequins and Stade Francais will both be running out onto the Cardiff City Stadium pitch to prove pretty much the same point: their season hasn’t been all that bad.

With both star-studded  teams having finished in the bottom half of their leagues, and records that can only be described as hit and miss, it’s difficult to tell which way this will go. On the one hand, Harlequins beat Magners League dominating Munster to get to this final, which is no mean feat in itself, but with their away record in particular this season looking a little grim, there’s a bit of a sense of that wonderful ‘it depends which Quins turn up on the day’ cliché we all brought out for France in the Six Nations. Add this to the fact that the moments where Harlequins have shone this year have been when the pressure has been highest, it’s very tempting to put Quins as favourites to lift the trophy.

Stade Francais, on the other hand, are a different animal altogether. With some massive international names on their books and a budget the size of the entire economy of Lichtenstein, it’s hard to understand why they have missed the mark so often this season, finishing a lowly 11th in the Top 14. However, with so many internationals, there is a strong test-match mentality which has saw them through the tournament so far.

Despite this second-string meeting playing second fiddle to Saturday’s Heineken Cup final, some fantastic head to head battles on the field have the potential to make this the more interesting fixture. One of the most interesting oppositions will lie at the back row, as Chris Robshaw, Nick Easter and Will Skinner for Quins up against Antoine Burban, James Haskell and Sergio Parisse, while at scrum half, the occasionally controversial Julien Dupuy will test his mettle against the ever energetic Danny Care.

What is certain, is that Leckwith is not going to know what’s hit it with two particularly voiciferous and passionate sets of fans baying for glory.  We’re particularly looking forward to hearing how loud the chants of ‘Uuuuuugooo!’ will be if Mr Monye works some magic.

Ones to watch:

Nick Easter, sometime England captain and cheeky cockney geezer is never a man to be afraid of putting his body on the line to create a chance.

Sergio Parisse, always. In fact, we’ll give you a tenner* if you can find a rugby player, writer or pundit that can say a bad thing about his play.

One to drool over during stoppage time: We know you lot love a bit of Danny Care action, but we’re going to go Mirco Bergamasco, mainly because Anna goes all gooey when he’s around.

*We wont

Words by Lauren

 

Belated Newspilez: Here’s our Graham (or Lauren) With a Quick Recap… April 8, 2011

Hey, look  we didn’t die of anti-climax from the last weekend of the Six Nations! An anti climax so severe it managed to leave everyone but Ireland lower in the table than they’d seemed to be heading and lead to the silverware being dished out in what looked like a cupboard.

With every one of the Six Nations returning to base camp with their tails between their legs, there seems to have been something of a resurgence in the domestic game. Though the Magners League and Aviva Premierships rattled on really rather nicely during the competition, the wounded internationals appear to have returned purely to prove their mettle and so the race to the respective playoffs has become mightily interesting over the last few weeks.

In particular, the Aviva Premiership felt like a cup final weekend last week, and that was no more felt than at The Stoop, where visitor Leicester Tigers beat Harlequins in one of the most closely and fiercely fought clashes we’ve seen all year. Punches, failed scrums, contentious tries, yellow & red cards and at one point, boots, were flying all over the place. It was messy, but boy was it exciting as both teams played their skins off.

The Citing commissioner had a mightily busy weekend all of his own and as well as Quins’ Joe Marler and Tigers’ Marcos Ayerzer’s bans for their fisticuffs towards the end of the match, Mark Cueto found himself in trouble after getting a little too far up in the grill of Northampton Second Rower Christian Day. The wait till Cuets’ hearing will be a particularly long one for England fans, as ‘contact with the eye or eye area’ can attract a ban of as much as two years.

In the Magners league, things weren’t quite so fraught but that’s not to say they were any less exciting. With the leaderboard painfully close and just three weekends left to go, the competition is massively hotting up and Munster v Leinster in particular had supporters in fever pitch, only for Munster to scrape past their visitors with a 24-23 victory. Meanwhile, the South Wales Derby of Ospreys v Blues ended in a draw after both teams defended their actual bottoms off to end 21-21 without a single try being scored.

Both leagues are having an off-week this week to allow for the excitement that is Heineken and Amlin Quarter Finals which means the madness has descended. ..

  • Saracens, now without the media whirlwinds of Brendan Ventner and Gavin Henson have caused a stir this week by spending their week off training with the Miami Dolphins and taunting members of rival teams via social networks. Expect a lot of forward passes at Vicarage Road in the coming weeks as they try and secure their place in the Home Playoff zone
  • Ben Youngs, fresh from thrown-out-ball-gate, has become Leicester’s Karl Pilkington after a mystery member of the Tigers squad has started a twitter account @stuffbensaid. So far it has featured such gems as : “ME: I heard you’re doing a session with Kyren Bracken Every Fortnight Lendrid: I am, but not every fortnight, he’s only up twice a month”. Tom Croft has also managed to convince Ben that they could breed salmon ready stuffed with cream cheese.  No, really.
  • The Ospreys have sadly had to lose two players to enforced retirement on medical grounds in the space of a week. Firstly Ben Lewis was taken away from the Liberty Stadium by a nasty neck injury sustained early in the season, and young lock Conor McInerny has succumbed to a persistent knee injury. We wish them both all the best of luck for the future.
  • Gavin Henson scored his first try for Toulon. The media have dubbed him The Best Player In The Universe again. We’re going to give him a few weeks before we pass judgement.

Closer to home, you’ll hopefully be pleased to hear that during our absence we’ve been away plotting for more great stuff for the next few weeks, and you know what, you’re going to love it. Not that we’re blowing our own trumpet or owt. We’ve lined up some cracking interviews  over the next few weeks to fuel your excitement as the season comes to a head.

First to get a grilling will be winner of your favourite nudey picture, Harlequins scrum half Danny Care, then we’ll be  heading west to bother Bath prop David Flatman and finally over the border to annoy Ospreys prop Cai Griffiths and referee Nigel Owens. And we’ve even got lovely lady rugbyist Jemma Cooper from Quins’ Ladies giving us her twopenneth. Blimey.  As ever, because we’re lovely,  if there’s anything you’re dying to know, get in touch with us in the usual ways.

This week we’ll be down at the Stoop for the Amlin Cup Quarter final clash between Quins and Wasps, so if you see us, say hello!

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez: 10th November 2010 November 10, 2010

Hopefully you’ve noticed that we’ve been away for, er, ages… but now that life and technology are not barring our path to bringing you our unique perspective on the latest Rugby news… and the stuff we missed… we’re back!

Saracens have won the most headlines during our absence, not only did they put everyone out of their misery and sign up twinkletoes from the Ospreys and have their coach Brendan Vetner hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons *again* by getting charged for misconduct, but they also pulled off one of the most bizarre publicity stunts ever in rugby. And we’re talking about a sport that in the last year has had five of Bath in a bed with a bevy of teddy bears, Cappucino-making-bin-collecting Ospreys and, well, Stade Francais. Earlier today Britain’s rugby press were summoned to Suburban London’s Mill Hill to be told that from next season, the boys in black with red smudges will be playing in what will be the only Premiership venue with an honest-to-goodness Tube Station serving it… on a pretend pitch.

Further reports have suggested that despite the media circus called the likelyhood of this actually happening is slim, no planning permission has been granted to make the Barnet Copthall Stadium Premiership-ready and as the London Borough Of Barnet are not the most sympathetic council in the world, topped with the fact that the same space has been denied planning permissio due to neighbour pressure before – it’s not looking all that promising. Though we suspect the fallout will be entertaining to say the least.

Over in Bath, the Blue Black & Whites have been having a bit of a rocky season so far, with some fantastic wins among a spate of gutting losses but with the LV= finally up and running they seem to be getting back on track.

Across the border in Wales, our beloved Ospreys haven’t been doing much better after getting out of the traps a lot slower than the rest of their Magners league colleagues due to injury and the fall-out of Summer International duty, they seem to have fallen foul to a horrible repeat of last year’s season start in which they have played fabulously… for about fifteen minutes a week. Here’s hoping they get back on track once the Magners League kicks in again at the end of November and they can climb back up from their currently depressing 8th position on the League table.

But they did beat London Irish in the first round of the Heiniken cup, so we know their winning ways are in there somewhere…

Their neighbours over the bridge in Llanelli, however have been this season’s surprise. After a disappointing 09-10 season, the Scarlets are currently nestling at 2nd in the table with a measly 4 points separating them from perennial leaders Munster.

Of course, the most compelling stories at the moment are coming from the Autumn Internationals which kicked off in fine style last weekend with a colder, damper version of Super Saturday. Sadly, all thre ehome nations fell short of beating their visitors by margins so similar as to make us wonder if 10 points is a fully accurate indicator of how much better the Southern Hemisphere is currently performing against the North. England, Ireland and Wales all put in valliant efforts and in some areas were clearly the better teams (need we even bring up the paucity of the Australian scrum?) but one thing is for sure, all the respective skippers and coaches need to be taking some serious lessons from this round of internationals if we want to see any of our beloved home nations anywhere near the Webb Ellis cup next year.

Sadly though, it’s not been the standard of play, the champs and chumps, overuse of the term ‘strength in depth’, the citings or even Movember progress that’s been taking up the most column inches this time around as the attendances/ticket pricing debate has been the issue that’s stolen everyone’s attention. Twickenham had 10,000 empty seats, The Millenium Stadium an almost unheard of 20,000 which already captured people’s attention, but it was Ireland who stole the show, no-show wise, with their brand spanking new home stadium opening with around a third of the tickets languishing in the box office. Clearly the respective unions and venues have gotten something (and by something we mean the sheer amount of cold hard cash requred to get through the turnstile)  wrong in these recession scarred times, either that or it’s just too bloody cold but it’s clear something needs to be done to rally the troups and get bottoms rising from seats as the Northern Hemisphere get their proverbial act in gear. Too optimistic? Probably.

In more hormonal news, it’s calander (sic) season so let us know which you’re buying and which you’ll be hiding down the back of the sofa if you find it in your stocking come December. Here’s some sneak previews:

Courtesy of Uncle Gigi

Courtesy of the Laura Crane Trust

Catherine Tates keeps her clothes whilst all around her ar losing theirs in aid of Youth Cancer Charity the Laura Crane Trust

 

Rawr Data – Team Profile: Racing Metro September 22, 2010

After taking on Magners newcomers Aironi in the last profile, Anna shows Heineken Cup hopefuls Racing Metro some Manpilez love.
Racing Metro 92

Now, I shan’t lie to you; my concern for Racing Metro doesn’t stretch far beyond two very important factors: Juan Martin Hernandez and Mirco Bergamasco. Much as I would like this profile to consist entirely of photographs of these two delightful boys, I’d be doing you, your mother and your neighbour’s dog and injustice because the Sky and White are having a pretty good run in the Top 14 right now, sitting at the head of the table for the first time in twenty years at the time of writing. All in all, they’re worth more than a mere quirk of the eyebrow from the likes of me.

Racing Metro first set up shop in the 1800s, where we like to imagine that plus fours and bowler hats were de riguer on the pitch…

 

 

Movember, 1882

 

They sealed their place in French rugby history by playing in and winning the first ever French rugby championship against their Parisien counterparts Stade Francais. While Stades Francais and Bordelais went on to pretty much boss the championship in coming years, Racing racked up five victories at sporadic intervals and settled as runners-up six times.

Skip forward to the modern day and while Stade Francais were getting a Guazzini makeover and setting about becoming giants of French rugby in the 1990s, Racing were relegated to the second division. The tide started to turn when they got their own Italian entrepreneur chairman, Jacky Lorenzetti, in 2006. While there may have been far fewer bells and whistles (and fireworks and Gloria Gaynor), the intention was similar: to get Racing back on form, back in the Top 14 and into the H-Cup. Done, done and done.

Let’s have a look at some of the big hitters:

Lionel Nallet and Sebastien Chabal
They don’t hit much harder than these two. Nallet and Chabal both signed up in 2009 when, having reinstated Racing back in the Top 14, Lorenzetti was keen to silence the cynics. Landing this powerhouse duo was a good way of setting about his goal. Lock Nallet took on skipper duties last season and number 8 Chabal is… Sebastien Chabal. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

Chabal & Steyn: give good strut

 

Francois Steyn
South African Steyn signed in 2009 for a two-year stint at Yves-du-Manoir. He’s been making waves since his Boks debut at the tender age of 19 and now, at 23, he and his foot have made quite an impression in France. He remains one to watch, with the added bonus of being incredibly easy on the eye.

Juan Martin Hernandez and Mirco Bergamasco
These two aforementioned lovelies are new signings for the 2010/11 season. Both Stade Francais alumni, their arrival at Racing sees a return to French rugby for Juan after one season with Natal Sharks and that rarest of things for Mirco: playing on a team without his brother. JMH isn’t quite fighting fit right now, not only still recovering from a back injury from last season but also pulling out of last week’s game against La Rochelle with a dodgy thigh. As for baby Bergamasco, he’ll get a chance to seek revenge on big brother Mauro for any childhood woes when Racing take on Stade in December.

 

 

Mirco Bergamasco: sans curls, avec kick-ass

 

Racing have been unfortunate enough to draw Leinster in their H-Cup pool and will take them on in a home game in January, but if they maintain the form they’ve been exhibiting in the Top 14, the task might not seem so daunting. Allez les ciel et blanc!

Words by Anna, pictures by various

 

Rawr Data – Team Profile: Aironi September 7, 2010

It’s time to cast an eye over the contenders in this year’s Magners and Heineken leagues and what better place to start than the most unexpected… that’s right, Aironi. Who? AIRONI.

Once more with feeling

“Shall I tackle Aironi?” I jokingly asked when Lauren suggested we profile the Magners and Heineken League teams. Of course she said yes, on the grounds that “No one knows anything about them”. I was hoping that this might mean I could spin some convincing lies about the squad for whom the word “underdog” might have been invented. They’ve got a mute fly half. A lock with royal parentage. Their kits were sewn by six young virgins in a moonlit glade. One too far?

Your first lesson is a simple one: “aironi” is Italian for “heron”. Got that? Good. It gets a hell of a lot more perplexing from here on in. 

Not to be confused with popular beat combo Aironi

Aironi are a new squad, enough so that they probably smell of MDF and emulsion. There’s a horrible air of marketing cynicism surrounding them, especially when the Director of Celtic Rugby states that the inclusion of Italian teams in the league will “dramatically broaden the appeal of our product”, not to mention the numerous financial motivations and alibis surrounding the whole baffling business (Aironi is, ostensibly, a franchise). That spiel aside, it is nice to see Italian teams getting the chance to experience some international club tournaments and to anticipate a winter trend for Irish cider on the Med.

If you’ve checked out The Pilez to Watch in 2010/11, you’ll have seen that Lauren was riding the crest of a particularly optimistic wave by giving Aironi a nod. While their first game in the Magners League saw them fall to Munster in a 33-17 defeat, it wasn’t as easy a win for the Musgrave Park boys as most would have anticipated and it will be interesting to see if Aironi can keep up the pace as the tournament progresses…

Words by Anna, photos by Aironi and Aironi (scroll over for details)