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Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

…Huge TV Audiences For Ireland And Munster…First Texaco Award For O’Gara…Fernandez Lobbe ‘Thrilled’ To Captain Pumas…Say What?…Numbers Game…

HUGE TV AUDIENCES FOR IRELAND AND MUNSTER: The sheer growth in popularity of rugby in this country was backed up this week by the viewing figures for the Ireland v New Zealand and Munster v New Zealand games.

RTE Two’s live coverage of Ireland’s GUINNESS Series 2008 encounter with the All Blacks on Saturday saw an audience peak of 726,000 during the second half.

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The average audience for the game was 686,000 with an average audience share of 51%.

But that was trumped by Munster’s nail-biting defeat to Graham Henry’s men at Thomond Park Stadium on Tuesday.

The live broadcast of the game on RTE Two gained entry into the top 10 rated programmes of the year, with an incredible audience peak of 1.03 million coming towards full-time.

According to the AGB Nielsen Media figues, the game gained an average audience of 794,000 (a 47% share of the available TV audience).

RTE’s Group Head of Sport Glen Killane said: “As the national broadcaster, we were delighted to bring this truly historic game to viewers in addition to our coverage of the GUINNESS Series 2008.

“It was one of those occasions that lived up to and in fact exceeded expectations, and we’re delighted that viewers around the country enjoyed this game in such numbers.”

RTE Two will be broadcasting more live coverage of the GUINNESS Series. Their coverage of the Ireland v Argentina match at Croke Park will begin at 2.30pm.

FIRST TEXACO AWARD FOR O’GARA: Following up on his recent Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year award, Munster and Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara scooped his first Texaco Sportstar of the Year award this week.

The Corkman was unfortunately unable to attend the gala awards dinner in Dublin on Wednesday where An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD presented some of Ireland’s leading sportspeople with their awards.

The awards blurb said this of O’Gara: “To define Ronan O’Gara by numbers would alight on things like he is Ireland’s most-capped out-half, that he requires 21 more points to reach 1000 points in the Heineken Cup, that on three occasions he has been voted the Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year…or maybe even that he was the first Irishman to score a try at Croke Park.

“Those statistics only touch the surface of the qualities he has brought to Presentation College Cork, Cork Constitution, UCC, Munster, Ireland and the Lions in a wonderful career with hopefully a few more chapters to pen, despite his decision to write an autobiography without a fleck of grey in his hair.

“This year he stood alone in Irish rugby for many reasons, primarily his role in Munster’s Heineken Cup march which was crowned with 11 of the 16 points in the final against Toulouse.

“Equally important, though, was his guiding influence throughout the series, in particular the two games against Wasps and the away match in Llanelli. And if further confirmation of an outstanding year is required, well, just ask Munster’s ‘Red Army’.”

FERNANDEZ LOBBE ‘THRILLED’ TO CAPTAIN PUMAS: Versatile back rower Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will relish the chance to captain his country this weekend when he leads Argentina out for their Croke Park Test against Ireland.

An infection to a cut on his right hand has ruled Leinster’s Felipe Contepomi out of the game, forcing the Pumas new coach Santiago Phelan to select a stand-in captain.

Fernandez Lobbe, who turned 27 on Wednesday, is the man he has turned to and was taken aback to be chosen for the skipper’s role.

“I was surprised by the nomination but I am very happy and it is a great honour for me,” he said.

“I take it with the responsibility it carries, but I am aware that Felipe is the captain of the team and I will only take his place for this match.

“Being the team captain will not change my play nor what I do on the field. I play alongside a very good group with very good leaders.”

Fernandez Lobbe is in his first season captaining Sale Sharks and played against Munster last month in the Heineken Cup.

He has never finished on the losing side against Ireland – he played in the two summer tour matches in 2007 and in the Rugby World Cup pool match in Paris last year – but knows just how big a challenge it will be for his men this weekend.

“Ireland are very tough opponents. They have very good players and combinations in the side. We must be very focused on our job if we want to secure a good result.

“We want to win. That’s our main goal. I hope we can achieve it,” he added.


“Twelve months ago we were convincingly beaten by Argentina at the World Cup and this Saturday is a chance to get back up on the horse and to see how far we have come.

“Argentina are a very good side and came close to beating France on their home turf two weeks ago. We will have to be better and smarter than we were last Saturday if we are to win.

“As a squad we are desperate to show all the hard work put in by everyone this autumn with a good performance and a good result.”

– Scrum half Eoin Reddan reflects the mood of the Ireland squad as he looks ahead to Saturday’s crunch clash with the fourth-ranked Pumas

“Felipe is a great player, very important for the team and the key will be trying to play well so his absence is not felt so much.

“I am glad that Juan was named captain. We will all back him and I hope we can play well enough to win and dedicate the victory to Felipe.”

– Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma talks about what effect the injury-enforced absence of Felipe Contepomi will have on the team and how the players will row in behind stand-in captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe

“There’s always pressure when you lose a game as you don’t want to lose two games in-a-row.

“There are World Cup ranking points on offer and I think we’re a better team than what we showed against New Zealand.

“Hopefully we can prove that this weekend. We need to bounce back.

“Argentina are a very strong side and have been one of our rivals over the years. Hopefully we can bounce back from the All Blacks defeat.”

– Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan speaks about the need to ‘bounce back’ from the loss to the All Blacks and beat Argentina in what is a must-win game at Croke Park


18 – Just over 18 years ago, Ireland first met Argentina in the Test arena when they visited Lansdowne Road. Despite the best efforts of the great Hugo Porta, who finished the afternoon with 14 points, Ireland emerged as 20-18 victors. Interestingly, starting for Ireland that day were current international referee Alain Rolland (at scrum half) and prop Des Fitzgerald, the son of current Ireland centre Luke Fitzgerald

 9 – Ireland’s biggest winning margin against Argentina in ten Test matches has been nine points. That was the 16-7 win at Lansdowne Road in November 2002, when Girvan Dempsey scored a try and Ronan O’Gara kicked 11 points (3 penalties and a conversion)

16 – Argentina’s biggest winning margin in the series came in June 2007 when an understrength Ireland side lost 16-0 at the Velez Sarsfield Stadium in Buenos Aires. Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris are the only starters from that day who are in Saturday’s team to face the Pumas