Tag Archives: Chris Ashton

Heineken Cup Round 6 Previews

Connacht vs. Harlequins @ The Sportsground

Friday 20th January (20.00) Sky Sports 1

Danny Care has been involved in off-the-field controversy recently but starts at 9 for Harlequins. (c) Vincent Cornelius.

Connacht make just one change from the team that went down bravely against Toulouse last weekend. Ronan Loughney comes back in at tighthead meaning Dylan Rogers drops to the bench. Connacht’s injury list is crippling at the moment so Elwood doesn’t really have the option to change much else. He will expect a similar effort to last week and hope that Connacht can take the chances they create. Several try-scoring opportunities were left behind in Toulouse.

Harlequins also make a single change to their starting team. Wing Tom Williams has stayed in England with his first child on the way. Sam Smith is his replacement. Fullback Mike Brown was recently named Aviva Premiership Player of the Month for December and will have to be watched closely. Matt Hopper is a livewire at 13. Chris Robshaw captains the side at openside flanker.

Connacht will hope to go out of the Heineken Cup with a bang tonight. Harlequins come to Galway still in the hunt for a quarter-final spot so it would be massively surprising to see Eric Elwood’s men end their losing streak. However, Connacht will give everything to the cause in search of a first Heineken Cup win. The Sportsground is a sell-out as Connacht fans hope to see another performance like that against Toulouse last week. A Connacht win would be mean Ulster definitely going through to the quarter-finals, as one of the best placed runners-up. Here’s hoping!

Verdict: Harlequins, just.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Paul O’Donohoe, 1 Brett Wilkinson, 2 Adrian Flavin, 3 Ronan Loughney, 4 Michael Swift, 5 Mike McCarthy, 6 John Muldoon, 7 Ray Ofisa, 8 George Naoupu.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Dennis Buckley, 18 Dylan Rogers, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Henry Fa’afili.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ugo Monye, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 1 Joe Marler, 2 Chris Brooker, 3 James Johnston, 4 Tomas Vallejos, 5 George Robson, 6 Maurie Faasavalu, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt.), 8 Nick Easter.
Subs: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Ollie Kohn, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Casson.

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Leinster vs. Montpellier @ The RDS

Saturday 21st January (13.30) Sky Sports 1

Leinster are hoping for fireworks on Saturday. (c) Art Widak.

Joe Schmidt has made several changes to the team that secured a quarter-final spot with a 23-16 win in Glasgow last weekend. After being left out of the Ireland set-up, Jamie Hagan comes in for Mike Ross as tighthead. Damien Browne replaces Devin Toner in the second-row while Richardt Strauss is in for Sean Cronin at hooker. Rhys Ruddock is at blindside flanker, with Shane Jennings dropping to the bench.

In the backs, Isaac Boss is preferred to Eoin Reddan at scrumhalf this time around. Jonathan Sexton continues at 10 despite picking up an ankle injury last weekend. In the centre, Gordon D’Arcy is partnered by Eoin O’Malley this week, with Fergus McFadden moving to the right wing. David Kearney drops out of the squad completely.

Despite already being out of the tournament, Montpellier have named their strongest available side. They have included French international half-back pairing Julien Tomas and Francois Trinh-Duc. In the back row, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Mamuka Gorgodze are key men. Ex-Ulster man Timoci Nagusa starts on the right wing.

A  bonus-point win for Leinster would guarantee them a home quarter-final and that should certainly be their target. A normal 4 point win would secure that home QF spot too, unless Ulster get a bonus-point win in Clermont. Although Montpellier have surprisingly named a full-strength team, Leinster have more than enough to comfortably overcome the French side.

Verdict: Bonus-point win for Leinster.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Eoin O’Malley, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Damian Browne, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke Van der Merwe, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fionn Carr.

Montpellier: 15 Lucas Amorosino, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Yoan Audrin, 12 Paul Bosch, 11 Martin Bustos Moyano, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Julien Tomas, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Mickael Demarco, 4 Drickus Hancke, 3 George Jgenti, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Na’ama Leleimalefaga.
Subs: 16 Rassie van Vuuren, 17 Juan Figallo, 18 Maximiliano Bustos, 19 Joe Tuineau, 20 Vassili Bost, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Santiago Fernandez, 23 Geoffrey Doumayrou.

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Clermont vs. Ulster @ Stade Marcel Michelin

Saturday 21st January (15.40) Sky Sports 1

Clermont are unbeaten at home in over two years. (c) Chris Brown.

This could be the game of the weekend. Two in-form teams, some world-class players, a sold-out 18,000 crowd,  and the winner goes through to the quarter-finals. What more could you want?

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made just one chance to the team that hammered Leicester last weekend. Darren Cave has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a foot injury sustained in that win. Ian Whitten is his replacement. Elsewhere it’s as you were. Johann Muller captains the side from the second-row once again.

The Clermont team looks incredibly strong on paper. Welshman Lee Byrne is at fullback. Sitiveni Sivivatu and Julien Malzieu make up a potent-looking back-three. Aurelien Rougerie and the supremely talented Wesley Fofana start in midfield. Half-backs Morgan Parra and David Skrela make up a strong back-line. Up front, there’s six more internationals including Julien Bonnaire at No.8 and Nathan Hines in the second-row.

A win for Ulster would most likely get them a home quarter-final. And a win is certainly possible, especially if the northern province can recreate the performance of last weekend. Clermont are unbeaten in the Stade Marcel Michelin since November 2009. In the last 36 games there, only seven of the visiting teams have picked up losing bonus points. Even if they lose, Ulster can still top the group if – 1) they prevent Clermont getting a try-scoring bonus point 2) get a losing bonus point themselves and 3) either score more tries than Clermont in the game or lose by less than five points.  Whatever happens, this one will be well worth watching.

Verdict: Clermont by 2 or 3 points, so Ulster to go through.

Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 David Skrela, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire (capt.), 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Lionel Faure.                                                        Subs: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Coetzee, 19 Jamie Cudmore, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Kevin Senio, 22 Brock James, 23 Regan King.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt.), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.                                                            Subs: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Nevin Spence, 23 Adam D’Arcy.

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Northampton vs. Munster @ stadium:mk

Saturday 21st January (18.00) Sky Sports 1

Munster look to make it six wins from six in Pool 1. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Another massive game in the final round of Heineken Cup pool games. Munster secured a quarter-final spot by beating Castres last weekend but will be hoping for the win that would guarantee them a vital home QF. Northampton are out of this tournament but still have a chance of dropping into the Amlin. Revenge will be on the cards for them too after Ronan O’Gara’s late drop-goal in Thomond Park derailed their season.

Munster have been forced into making one change from last week. Niall Ronan’s season is over, with the openside set for surgery on his cruciate injury. Donncha O’Callaghan replace Ronan, meaning Donnacha Ryan moves back to the blindside. Peter O’Mahony switches to openside. David O’Callaghan comes onto the bench for the first time in Heineken Cup.

The Saints have dropped Chris Ashton after he announced his decision to join Saracens next summer. Jamie Elliot takes his place on the wing. Ryan Lamb is back at outhalf after Steven Myler started against the Scarlets last weekend. Lee Dickson returns at scrumhalf while James Downey starts at inside centre.

There’s a temptation to write off Munster for this one. They have been winning games all season but their performances have been far from complete, by their own admission. Northampton will be desperate to get one over on Munster and do have something to play for in terms of Amlin qualification. But writing Munster off is always a dangerous game. They may not be playing the best rugby in the tournament but it hasn’t prevented them from winning yet. A tough one to call.

Verdict: Northampton by 5 points.

Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Vasily Artemyev, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (capt.), 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.

Subs: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Christian Day, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Scott Armstrong.

Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Mick O’Driscoll, 20 Dave O’Callaghan, 21 Tomas O’Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.

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Photos courtesy:  Vincent Cornelius, Art Widak, Chris Brown, Ivan O’Riordan.

O’Gara Drop Goal Drama

Match Report

Munster 23-21 Northampton

Saturday 12th November @ Thomond Park

O'Gara's drop goal won it for Munster

O'Gara the drop goal hero. Photo via H. Southgate

Northampton bravely put in the tackles, out on their feet by now. Mafi came onto the ball. Surely Munster would knock on? Leamy’s carry was followed yet again by Ronan. Murphy, Varley, O’Leary all bravely took turns to carry. O’Connell came forward, the 30th phase by now! This had to end with a spilled ball… Murphy powered into contact, Munster edged closer to Northampton’s 22. Hayes, the Heineken Cup centurion, took his turn. Leamy again. O’Gara was in the pocket now, middle of the pitch, on the ten-metre line. O’Connell played scrumhalf and threw the ball back to O’Gara…

But no, under pressure O’Gara moved the ball to Howlett, who broke through a tired tackle and for a moment looked as if he might go all the way. Next, Mafi was smashed out on the right hand side. O’Connell carried, then Leamy went forward. O’Gara, still up in the line, jinked and hit the inside runner, the 40th phase! Munster won the ruck. Leamy stood over the ball. O’Gara in the pocket. Leamy spun a perfect pass to O’Gara, standing on the ten-metre line. This time, O’Gara had the space to strike. The ball flew high into the Limerick night air, the will of every Munster fan behind it. Seemingly in slow motion, it flew straight and true. O’Gara punched the air and for a second it felt like Munster had won the Heineken Cup, rather than simply securing a home win in their first pool match.

A fitting end to a thrilling Heineken Cup encounter, showcasing once again just how exciting this competition can be. The match started explosively after Munster won a lineout five metres from Northampton’s line. Man of the Match Peter O’Mahony set his stall out by putting pressure on Ashton and then Foden, forcing them into conceding the lineout. Varley hit Ryan in the middle and a dynamic shove led to Varley touching down at the back of the maul. O’Gara added the conversion to put Munster into a 7-0 lead after only 3 minutes.

Ryan Lamb fell just short with his first penalty effort in the 7th minute. Northampton then gave a counter attacking master class. From a Murray clearance down the line, Artemyev carried with pace from his own half and offloaded to Ashton who released Foden on the other side of the pitch. Foden drew Howlett as Ashton worked hard to get to his fullback’s outside shoulder. Foden sent his England teammate over in the corner, a magnificent example of a back three countering as a unit. Lamb converted well from the touchline.

The Saints lead was extended soon after when Munster dragged down a maul and Lamb put the penalty over. Lamb was successful with another penalty in the 20th minute after Varley went off his feet at ruck-time. Northampton led 13-7 and were more than matching Munster up front. Jim Mallinder’s side looked to put width on their attack, moving the ball into wider channels at every opportunity. A bad pass from Lawes led to one particularly promising passage of play breaking down.

Munster continued to play their rugby in Northampton’s half. After Tongauiha was penalised for driving in and up at a scrum, O’Gara did the honours to narrow the gap. Munster then went over for a crucial try right on the stroke of half time. Lamb kicked aimlessly and O’Mahony carried back well. Murray then broke and offloaded out of the tackle to Barnes. After recycling the ball, Howlett found himself at first receiver and managed to slip through a gap in the Saints defence. He stepped the despairing tackle of Foden and dived over to the right of the posts. O’Gara made no mistake with the convert leaving Munster with a 17-13 half time lead.

Immediately after the break, O’Gara was back over the tee. This time he slotted a penalty when Nigel Owens pinged the Saints for offside after an Artemyev knock on. Munster were punished for the same offence minutes later and Lamb knocked over the penalty, 20-16 to Munster.

In the 56th minute, Northampton retook the lead. After Wilson had trucked it up the middle, the Saints broke back down the blind side and former Munster centre James Downey powered over. Lamb pulled his conversion to the left of the posts, leaving his side with a one point lead, 21-20.

Ten minutes later, Northampton had a gilt-edged opportunity to take the game from Munster’s reach. After Downey had put them on the front foot, a flat pass from Lamb sent Ashton down the touchline. Artemyev kicked Ashton’s offload ahead and then with the line at his mercy he knocked on his attempted pick up. Relief for Munster.

As wholesale changes were made on both sides, Munster started to get on top. Lamb was now happy to kick deep back to Munster, anything to relieve the pressure in the Saints half. O’Gara missed a penalty effort with ten minutes to go. But Munster never stopped believing. With time running out and Northampton still leading, the stage was set for the breathless finale.

Photo courtesy: Henry Southgate