Celtic League – Scarlets A Big Challenge
Leinster Lions are really roaring at last – but coach Gary Ella is looking for another step up when the Llanelli Scarlets run out at Donnybrook on Friday night.
The Lions, after losing their first four Celtic League fixtures, made it three on the trot when they triumphed 31-10 at Glasgow Rugby last Friday. But the Scarlets are on an identical winning streak and former Wallaby centre Ella is wary of what he calls the most experienced and stable team in the tournament at the moment. They are a very good side with bucket loads of experience.
Of course we will take the three wins and, while I have not been disappointed with the performances, I know we can still play better.
It will be good to get our leading players back when I will expect us to produce good, consistent rugby.
But the wins certainly make it a lot easier for everyone – faces are cheerful, it increases the confidence of the players and they are also willing to put in those extra few yards in training.
We have been looking at tapes of the Scarlets, and some of our guys know their players quite well, but it is going to be a tough one.
While the Lions edge their way up the Celtic League table and the Scarlets stay hot in pursuit of leaders Ulster, it would take a brave man to put money on the eventual winners come mid-May. There have been an five different leaders in the first seven weeks and the topsy-turvy nature of the tournament is providing one of the highlights of the season, with the new bonus-points system adding extra spice, interest and excitement.
The League’s first leaders were the Celtic Warriors, who lasted two weeks before handing the baton to the Llanelli Scarlets. The Stradey Park team’s reign at the top lasted barely seven days before Edinburgh Rugby took over. The Scottish side were immediately replaced by the Neath-Swansea Ospreys who in turn were overtaken by Ulster for the past two weeks.
The burden of the leadership has been tough on some teams. The Warriors have gone from first to sixth in five weeks, while Edinburgh have gone from No 1 to No 9 in only three weeks.
The Borders have been in the bottom two for the entire tournament, but 2001-02 champions Leinster are sneaking their way up the board, going from last to eighth on the back of three consecutive wins.
Bonus points aren’t guaranteeing high places on the table. The only two teams to secure four bonus points – the Warriors and Munster – are sixth and seventh, respectively, while the second-placed Scarlets have only one extra point.
The other statistic to catch the eye is the lack of draws in Celtic League rugby. In the first two seasons of the tournament, the 112 matches provided just two draws, while the 42 games so far this season have yet to produce a tied result.
Celtic League – Friday 7th November.
Cardiff Blues v Gwent Dragons
Venue: Arms Park
Referee: Gregg Davies (S)
Celtic Warriors v Glasgow Rugby
Venue: Brewery Field
Referee: Tony Redmond (I)
The Borders v N-S Ospreys
Referee: Simon McDowell (I)
Edinburgh Rugby v Munster
Referee: Hugh Watkins (W)
Leinster Lions v Llanelli Scarlets
Referee: Rob Dickson (S)
Celtic League – Saturday 8th November
Connacht v Ulster
Referee: Phil Fear (W)
Leinster: Gordan D’Arcy; John McWeeney, Christian Warner, David Quinlan, Gary Brown; Matthew Leek,
Brian O’Meara; Emmett Byrne, Gavin Hickie, Niall Treston; Aidan Kearney, Ben Gissing; Niall Breslin, Shane Jennings capt> Des Dillon.Replacements: Peter Coyle,
David Blaney, Ciaran Potts, Niall Ronan, Shane Whelan, Peter McKenna, Daragh O’Shea.
Connacht: Mark McHugh; Matt Mostyn, Darren Yapp, Tim Allnutt, Conor McPhillips; Eric Elwood, Mick Walls; Rory Hogan, Bernard Jackman, Adrian Clarke; Matt McCarthy, Andy Farley; Michael Swift, Paul Neville, John O’Sullivan.Replacements: John Fogarty, Fabien Boiroux, Damien Browne, Tom Carter, Conor O’Loughlin, Dave Hewitt, Wayne Munn.
Munster: Dominic Crotty; Martin McPhail,
Mike Mullins, Conrad O’Sullivan, Mossie Lawler; Jason Holland,
Eoin Reddan; Simon Kerr, Andy Long, Frank Roche; Trevor Hogan, Stephen Keogh; Denis Leamy, Colm McMahon, Jim Williams cap. Replacements: Eugene McGovern, James Blaney, Donal Sheehan, Tom Hayes, Frank Murphy, Keith Matthews, Clem Casey.
Ulster:Bryn Cunningham; James Topping, Ryan Constable, Shane Stewart, Scott Young; Adam Larkin, Kieran Campbell; Bryan Young, Matt Sexton, Rod Moore; Matt Mustchin, Matt McCullough; Andy Ward capt, Neil Best, Tony McWhirter.Replacemnents:Paul Shields, Ronan McCormack, Rowan Frost, Roger Wilson, Reece Spee, Paul Steinmetz, Seamus Mallon