3 Talking Points from the Opening Weekend of the Guinness Pro 14

  1. Leinster start off well

Leinster started off their season well with an emphatic bonus point 39-16 victory against the Dragons. They managed to score five tries even whilst missing several of their key, international players such as Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton. Is this a sign of things to come? Can Leinster compete for the title again this year? Only time will tell but still it is a good start from last year’s runners up.

2. Glasgow boss wins battle of the new boys

Both Glasgow and Connacht boasted new coaches when they went head to head at the Sportsgrounds on Saturday. It was the Glasgow boss Dave Rennie who won this battle of the new boys, getting one over on his former assistant, Kieran Keane. Rennie’s Glasgow team beat Keane’s Connacht 18-12 in a close game with Ali Price and Lee Jones going over for the Scottish team. Both teams looked promising and both coaches should be proud of their team’s efforts but missed chances cost them both and the reuslt could have been so much different.

3. South African teams will have to adjust quickly

Both the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings were beaten comfortably over the weekend. The Kings were thrashed by the defending champions Scarlets 57-10, conceding eight tires in the process whilst the Cheetahs lost out 42-19 at Ravenhill. Both of these teams will need to adjust quickly and bounce back if they are to stand a chance of doing well in this competition. The heavy defeats will undoubtedly raise questions from people as to whether the competition chiefs were right to include the two South African teams. However, it is just the opening weekend so we should probably hold back judgement for a while.

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5 Sporting Events to Look Forward To….

  1. Manchester City vs Liverpool

This will undoubtedly be the fixture of the weekend between two of last season’s top four. Both have had decent starts to the season, only having dropped two points in their three games and will be eyeing up another three against one of their closest rivals. All eyes will be on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after his deadline day move to Liverpool from Arsenal to see how he will fit in. The Liverpool defence will undoubtedly come under a bit of scrutiny with City boasting one of the best attacks in the League. Manchester City vs Liverpool is on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 12.30 on Saturday.

2. Leinster vs Cardiff Blues

After an emphatic bonus point victory against the Dragons on Saturday, Leinster return home to the RDS to face another Welsh side in the Cardiff Blues. Leinster will be favourites for the game having made it to the semi finals last season whereas the Blues ended in seventh place. The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 22-21 victory for Leo Cullen’s men back in March. From a Carlow perspective, Sean O’Brien and Tom Daly are still injured and will not therefore feature but Bryan and Ed Byrne will look to force their way into Leo Cullen’s plans for the game. Leinster vs Cardiff Blues will be on TG4 from 7.20 on Friday evening.

3. All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final

This year’s All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final is a repeat of last year’s final as Kilkenny take on Cork in Croke Park on Sunday. Kilkenny beat Dublin to get to the final whilst Cork beat Galway. Kilkenny will be the slight favourites being the defending champions but as recent times have shown, anything can happen. Kilkenny vs Cork is on RTE Two from 1.30.

4. The NFL returns

The Road to the 2018 Superbowl begins this weekend and is always of interest to sports fans. After several months away from our screens, there will be many looking forward to seeing who makes it to one of the most watched sporting events in the world. The opening weekend’s fixtures include the defending champions New England Patriots taking on the Kansas City Chiefs and beaten finalists Atlanta Falcons taking on the Chicago Bears. The Patriots vs Chiefs game will be on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 00.30 on Friday night.

5. England vs West Indies 3rd Test

After an emphatic comeback victory from the West Indies in the Second Test last week, the two teams go to the Home of Cricket, Lords, on Thursday with a series on the line. Both will have eyes on winning this series for different reasons. England will be looking to gain some momentum ahead of an Ashes trip to Australia in November whilst the West Indies will be looking to show that they are on the rise again after some internal turmoil in recent years. Can the West Indies build on their shock victory from last week and come back to win the series or will England recover from a blip to win it? Find out from 10.00 on Thursday on Sky Sports Cricket and stay tuned throughout the weekend.

Relentless Irish Defence Earns them Draw in Tblisi

Ireland 1

Georgia 1

Georgia were probably unlucky to not win to this game but thanks to some ferocious defending, Ireland escaped with a point in Tbilisi this evening. An early goal from Shane Duffy gave Ireland but that was cancelled out by Kazaishvilli just before half time. 

Ireland had an early chance to test the Georgian defence after Navalovski fouled Jonathan Walters just over the halfway line. Cyrus Christie took the resulting free kick from the right hand side, swinging it into the box and onto the head of Shane Duffy who headered it past Makaridje in the Georgian goal after he came out to palm the ball away. It looked as if Ireland would go on to put more pressure on the Georgians and dominate the game but it was just not to be as the home side slowly got into the game and started dominating possession. 

Ireland couldn’t seem to get hold of the ball at all as the Georgians launched attack after attack but were frustrated by a resilient Irish defence. They looked closest to getting the next goal but just couldn’t seem to find a way in and were instead left to half chances. Navalovski gave away another free kick on twelve minutes when he fouled Shane Long just outside the penalty area. However, Robbie Brady over kicked it and it went past the goalkeeper. 

The Georgians continued to dominate and the Irish couldn’t seem to get the ball at all as the home side continued to launch attack after attack on the Irish defence. This was evident in the possession stats which showed the Georgians had 78% of the ball after just twenty munutes. 

When the Irish did get manage to get the ball, they gave it away easily. McClean had an opportunity to double the lead when Walters swung a cross into the box but he could only drive it to the left of the goal. Twenty minutes before half time, Ireland spun together a few passes but McClean crossed the ball into the box with nobody there to meet it. Shane Long had a half attempt minutes later after McClean had done well to keep it in but again, it went nowhere. 

Georgia got their reward for all their possession just three minutes later after Anandidze picked up Kazaishvilli who found a way past the Irish defence and squared it past Randolph in goal from the left hand side to deservedly equalise.

Ireland got the ball back just before half time but couldn’t string a series of passes together, instead trying to unsuccessfully hoof it up to Shane Long up front.  

With Georgia finding it hard to find a way past the Irish defence, Kvekveskiri tried a long range effort which hit off Shane Duffy and Randolph is able to hang on and clear it. Ireland won a corner on the brink of half time with Duffy once again going close with a header going wide to go into half time all level.

You would wonder what was said in the Irish dressing room at half time as the home side started off the second half the way they ended the first, with intensity and ambition. Ireland managed to string a few passes together early on but as was typical in this game, the ball was once again over hit into nowhere. Shortly after, Ananidze went close for the hosts with amother long range attempt but went to the right of the post. 

The introduction of Aidan McGeady for Harry Arter did little to change things but the Georgians did look like they were tiring. Cyrus Christie swung in a cross for Shane Long but he could only head it over. McGeady had an attempt blocked before Robbie Brady tried to score from the rebound, forcing Makaridje into a save. 

Just before the end, McClean tried his best to get onto a cross from Long from the left hand side but was blocked once again by the goalkeeper. The home team replied with a chance of their own just before the final whistle was blown as Merebashvili cuts inside Stephen Ward only to drive the ball wide.  

As the final whistle was blown on what was a very disappointing game for both sides, questions have to be asked of Ireland’s midfield and their inability to string together a series of passes. Credit has to go the defence though who were able to keep out a strong Georgian attack. However, they will need to improve massively if they are to stand a chance against Serbia on Tuesday.

5 Key Questions to be Answered ahead of the New Guinness Pro 14 Season

1. How will the new format work?

The twelve team tournament we have come to love has been expanded toa fourteen team tournament with the addition of South African teams Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings. This means there will now be two conferences of seven teams with each team in the tournament playing each other once in addition to an extra game against the teams in their conference and an extra three derby games against their nearest rivals. The top team in each conference goes straight through to a Semi Final with the next two highest placed teams fighting it out against each other in a Quarter Final to meet the top placed team in the semis. The two Semi-Final winners then meet in the final as usual.

2. Can Leinster get back to winning ways?

For many years, Leinster were a force to be reckoned with in this tournament, winning it several times. However, in recent years, they have fallen short and many fans will be hoping that they can get back to winning ways this season. With several of their young players having matured recent years, there will be high hopes for Leo Cullen’s men.

3. How will Connacht fare?

Two seasons ago, we saw Connacht shock the rugby world and win the Pro 12 from nowhere. However, last year they failed to make inroads and finished a measly eighth, 42 points adrift of eventual champions, Scarlets. How will they do this season? Can they channel the energy of two years ago and be able to challenge once again? With a new coaching team in place after Pat Lam left to take up a coaching role with Bristol, new ideas and new philosophies may help them get back to their best.

4. How will Glasgow fare post Gregor Townsend?

With Gregor Townsend having gone to work with the Scottish national team, this weekend will see a new era begin at Scotstoun. Townsend, who was coach since 2012, was a key part of the teams success since the Celtic League was rebranded into the Pro 12 back in 2011. With the exception of last season, the club has been in the play off stage every season since. With Townsend gone, how will the club fare? Will the new ideologies of the new coaching team help boost the players, having not reached the playoffs last season or will it undo all of Townsend’s hard work?

5. Will the addition of the South African teams make any difference?

The addition of South African teams, Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings will prove controversial to say the least. They struggled in the last Super 12 season, finishing in 11th and 13th place overall. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing over in Europe more regularly and whether they can perform. The idea to include them was to  help the Northern Hemisphere international teams get used to playing against Southern Hemisphere teams as up until very recently there was a huge gap between the two hemispheres with Northern Hemisphere teams finding it difficult to beat their southern rivals. Whether this step will make a difference or not remains to be seen.

5 Highlights from a Summer of Sport

As schools start back up again and we move into September,  it’s time to look at some of the highlights from what was an incredible summer of sport! From Carlow’s run in the Football to the Lions spectacularly pulling off a draw against the All-Blacks to Roger Federer’s record eighth Wimbledon title, it’s fair to say this summer has seen some great sports action.

1. Carlow’s run in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship 

If you had told Carlow manager, Turlough O’Brien and the Carlow players at the start of the summer that they would get to round 4 of the All-Ireland Football Championship Qualifiers and only be a round away from a Quarter Final place as well as putting in an impressive performance against Dublin in the Leinster Championship, they probably would have laughed at you. They beat the likes of London, Leitrim and Wexford on their way to facing Monaghan in Round 4 of the Qualifiers and were only five points,  all conceded in the last ten minutes, away from a Quarter Final. And in their Leinster Championship game against the reigning All-Ireland Champion’s, Dublin, earlier in the summer, they held the Dubs to only a three point margin going into Half Time and then managed to hold on without conceding a goal. A very impressive summer from Carlow and probably many people’s highlight of the summer. 

2. The British and Irish Lions draw series against New Zealand 

Not many would have given The British and Irish Lions a hope when they travelled over to New Zealand to take on the reining world champions and the number one team in the world but somehow they emerged from the series with a draw. After the first test which ended in a 30-15 defeat for the Northern Hemis7phere side, everybody expected the All-Black’s to go on to take the series comfortably. However, missed kicks came back to haunt the Southern Hemisphere giants as the Lions took the second test. The third test ended honours even with several Irish players involved, meaning the series ended in a 1-1 draw.

3. Roger Federer wins Wimbledon for the Eighth time

Earlier this summer, Roger Federer cruised to yet another Wimbledon title. He won without having had to face any of his rivals with Rafael Nadal being beaten in the early stages of the competition and Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic nursing injuries. This was Federer’s eighth title and it meant that he became the first man to win eight Wimbledon titles, one more than the likes of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. 

4. Heartbreak for Bolt and Farah

This summer saw us say goodbye to two of our favourite sports stars as they retired from their respective fields in Athletics. Usain Bolt and Mo Farah had their swansong at this year’s World Athletics Championship but there was heartbreak for both in their final races. Bolt was beaten in the 100m final by the American Justin Gatlin much to the crowd’s disappointment and pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 4x100m relay final. Mo Farah cruised to victory in the 10,000m final but had to settle for silver in the 5,000m final.

5. Ireland get awarded Test Cricket status 

Earlier this summer , Ireland and Afghanistan were made full members of the ICC, the international Cricket governing body. This means that both will be allowed to play Test Cricket, the five day form of the game, for the first time. This will be a massive boost to Cricket in Ireland. Their first test is likely to be against England in 2019.

5 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Premier League

  1. Should Sterling have been sent off?

    Raheem Sterling was sent off for Manchester City on Saturday afternoon for celebrating his last minute goal by running into the crowd sparking off the debate about whether he should have been sent off for the incident. Former strikerAlan Shearer certainly didn’t think so on Saturday’s Match of the Day. He told host Gary Lineker to ‘do me a favour’, explaining that having been in a similar situation in the past himself, that he could totally understand what Sterling did given the heightened emotions that come with scoring a last minute winner. Lineker replied simply telling Shearer that it was the letter of the law. The question is though should rules be rules with no exceptions or should there be a little bit of leeway and understanding given to the players? It is a question that will undoubtedly be debated for a long time yet. 

    2. West Ham in trouble?

    Despite buying well during the summer, adding the likes of Joe Hart, Marco Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez, all seasoned Premier League players, to their ranks, after three games, West Ham find themselves rooted to the foot of the table. Speaking after their 3-0 defeat against Newcastle, Slaven Billic, the West Ham manager blamed their fortunes on the fact that they are missing key players through injury. However, fans will be a little disappointed with that response and will argue that their transfer business was good and that those players should be capable of performing. The results have led to speculation in the media that Billic is set to have crunch talks with the owners and is on the verge of losing his job.

    3. Manchester United have strength in depth

    Manchester United have had six different goalscorers over the course of their three games so far this season showing the strength and depth that Jose Mourinho has to call on.  Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly,  Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini have all found the back of the net for the Red Devils, something which will be crucial to any title charge the club hopes to have this season. 

    4. Spurs Wembley woes continue

    Tottenham have only won once at their new home at Wembley since they started playing home games there last season, a victory against CSKA Moscow in the Champion’s League last season. This is becoming an issue for them that they will will want to get sorted out pretty quickly if they are ti harbour any league title ambitions as the English National Stadium is their home for the season whilst their permanent home of White Hart Lane is being rebuilt. So far this season they have lost 2-1 there to Chelsea and drawn 1-1 with Burnley. Speaking after the Burnley game, captain Hugo Lloris did say that it would take them a while to adjust to the new stadium.

    5. Arsenal were shocking 

    Arsenal simply sat deep and failed to provide any midfield control, lost the ball in the final third and could not seem to challenge the Liverpool defence at all when the two teams went head to head at Anfield yesterday.  The 4-0 defeat will come with several questions that Arsene Wenger will need to answer including whether or not they need to buy any new players before the transfer window closes on Thursday!

    Wayne Rooney, Could he have been better?

    As one of the all-time England greats retires from international football this week, the question must be asked, could he have been even better than he was for England? On looking at his statistics overall you would probably say no. He retires in second place in the all-time England appearance list, just six behind Peter Shilton and in first place in the all-time goalscorer list, four ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton. You would think that that would make him one of the all-time greats and suggests a pretty successful career. However, if you look carefully at his figures, you will find that out of the 53 goals he scored in his thirteen years with England, only seven of those came at a major tournament (Euro’s or World Cup) and just one at a World Cup.

    Having been called up to the England squad in 2003 at the age of 17, Rooney became the youngest ever player to play for England. He also became the youngest ever player to score for England when he equalised against Macedonia in that same year. It is no secret that Rooney has had discipline problems in the past  evident in the fact that he jointly holds the record for the most red cards with David Beckham.

    The timing of Rooney’s announcement will seem strange to many. We are less than a year out from a World Cup which will seem strange to many as England are halfway through a qualifying process for the tournament which takes place in Russia next summer. There will be many who would argue that will argue that he should have retired at the end of Euro 2016 and therefore allowed his manager time to rebuild without him.

    Rooney has also just moved to Everton from Manchester United in an effort to play regularly. This will have been contrived by many to have been an attempt to reignite his England career. So far this season, Rooney has scored two goals in two games and was on the verge of a recall to the England squad. With the likes of Kane, Sturridge, Rashford and Welbeck all yet to score this season, he would have been many people’s favourite to start up front in the qualifying games against Malta and Slovakia next week.

    Overall however whilst many will analyse Rooney’s career and say how he could have done better and that he did not achieve what he could have achieved, it has to be said that he is England’s greatest ever striker. He may not have performed well enough at major tournaments against top nations but what he was good at was putting away some of the lesser nations in qualifying for these major tournaments. With 53 goals, he is England’s leading goalscorer and should be recognised for what he has achieved in his career to date.

    Five Sporting Events to Look Forward to in the Coming Week

    1. McGregor vs Mayweather Fight- It’s finally here. The most anticipated, the most talked about fight this century will be hitting our screens this weekend. Whatever you think of the idea of the fight itself, there is no denying that this will be an epic fight between two of the greatest fighters of this generation. The consequences of losing are huge for Mayweather. He has a perfect record to protect, having never been beaten in a professional fight before and if beaten by Conor McGregor, UFC star, he will be utterly humiliated having been beaten by someone who doesn’t box for a living. McGregor on the other hand has not got much to lose apart from his pride. Having agreed to fight Mayweather, he may look like a fool if he loses. So if you have a spare €25 lying around somewhere, it certainly will be well worth a watch. McGregor vs Mayweather is available to buy from Sky Box Office or Virgin Media from today.
    2. All-Ireland Semi Finals- Having drawn their first encounter at Croke Park on Sunday, Kerry and Mayo have to do it all again on Saturday. The first game was a thriller and both sides will fancy their chances in the rematch on Saturday. The main talking point will be about whether Mayo put Aidan O’Shea man marking Kieran Donaghy again or not. This caused huge debate as Mayo’s best player was miles away from the goal trying to mark just one of Kerry’s top players. On Sunday, the reigning champions, Dublin, take on Tyrone in the second semi-final. Dublin are undoubtedly the strongest team in the country and have been for years. They have won the last two championships and will be the favorites to win another one this year. However, Tyrone will have something to say about that. Tyrone have struggled the past few seasons and have been in a rebuilding phase. However, this year they seem back to their best, having already destroyed Armagh in their quarter final encouter. Both games will undoubtedly be on RTE over the coarse of the weekend.
    3. England vs West Indies Second Test- After cruising to a comfortable innings and 209 run victory inside three days in the first test, England will undoubtedly be the favourites when the two sides meet again at Headingley on Friday. West Indies Cricket is in a phase of rebuilding with many of their star cricketers refusing to play Test Cricket and instead preferring to focus on earning themselves a bit of money playing in T20 franchise tournaments across the world. However, after such a heavy defeat, they will surely be looking to come back stronger. Other things to look out for across the five days include Jimmy Anderson’s quest to become the first English bowler to 500 test wickets, he needs just eight more wickets to complete this feat, as well as Joe Root’s attempt to overtake Sir Ian Botham and enter into the top 20 English run scorers of all time, he needs just nine more runs to reach that milestone. England vs West Indies takes place from Friday at 10.00 on Sky Sports Cricket.
    4. Liverpool vs Arsenal- This weeks ‘Super Sunday’ clash comes from Anfield. It is a meeting of two teams who are struggling in defence at the moment. Both teams have great attacking prowess with Liverpool boasting the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson and Arsenal the likes of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Metsut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud. That is what this game will undoubtedly come down to. Expect a high scoring game with plenty of chances. Both of these teams have enjoyed a mixed start to their season with Liverpool drawing 3-3 against Watford and beating Crystal Palace 2-0 whereas Arsenal enjoyed a 4-3 victory over Leicester on the opening day of the season and a 1-0 defeat at Stoke this weekend.
    5. Belgian Grand Prix- Formula 1 returns to our screens this weekend with Belgium being the host location. The battle that has been gripping fans all season so far between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton looks set to continue. Both have won this race twice before and both will be looking to add a third to their locker. The two are neck and neck in the current standings with Vettel leading in first place with 202 points and Hamilton on his coattails with 188. Vettel is the favourite with most bookies.

    Five Talking Points from this weekends Premier League action

    No.1- Money does the talking for United

    Over the past few seasons, Manchester United have forked out millions on overhauling their attack. They have bought the likes of Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Martial and Lukaku. They seem to be the ones making the difference at the moment in that Manchester United team. Martial has two goals in two games and an assist, Lukaku three, Pogba two goals and an assist and Mkhitaryan four assists, which incidentally is one less than Phillippe Coutinho of Liverpool got all season last season. There is an old saying which says that money doesn’t buy you success but that doesn’t seem to have stopped United to romping to six points and a goal difference of +8 after just two games.

    No.2- Huddersfield are looking strong

    Huddersfield are the surprise package of the season so far. Having pulled off a 3-0 victory against Crystal Palace in their first ever Premier League game last week, fans will have been hoping that they could put in a repeat performance against a Newcastle side who finished five places above them in the Championship last season. The result was a 1-0 victory for Huddersfield thanks to a goal from Aaron Mooy, who was bought by Manchester City last season, only to never play a game. So far so good then from Huddersfield. Two wins from two and a healthy start to their Premier League career.

    No.3- Harry Kane still cannot perform in the early stages of the Premier League season

    We all know Harry Kane is a quality player. He has won the Golden Boot award twice in the past two seasons and there are many tipping him to go on and become even better but he just cannot seem to perform in the early stages of the season. Two games in and he has yet to score. This seems to be a common theme as it usually takes him a few games to settle into the season. Last season, he did not score a goal until September 10 and the previous season, he did not get off the mark until September 26th. Is it a psychological thing or is it simply a fitness thing in that he takes a few weeks to reach full fitness? We simply do not know. You would imagine it is a mixture of the two.

    No.4- Arsenal’s defensive problems are starting to show again

    Arsenal have had defensive problems the past few seasons. Gone are the glory days when the likes of Tony Adams, Ashley Cole, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell were lining out in the defence and Arsenal were nigh on impossible to break down. The current back three contains Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac and seems to be struggling. They will undoubtedly get found out more and more as the season goes on. They are another team who have a great attack but seem to be lacking in the defensive areas.

    No.5- Frank de Boer needs more time to inflict his philosophy on Palace

    Crystal Palace have bought well this summer and boast a fairly talented squad containing the likes of Ruben Loftus Cheek, Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jeffrey Schlupp, Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon amongst others. However, they have struggled so far this season, losing both of their opening games against Liverpool and Huddersfield. Whilst fans will start to be concerned at the start they have had with the talent that they have in the squad. However, they forget that they have a new manager in Frank de Boer who is trying to change the style of football that is played by the London side from an aggressive, fast paced game to a slower, freer, rhythmic type of game. That will take time and they may have to suffer a few defeats  along the way but in the long run, it will help transform this team who are never far from relegation.