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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

 

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)