Category: Rugby Union


By Laurie Fitzgerald

The new Aviva Premiership season got underway last weekend, as rugby fans across the country prepare for another epic and thrilling campaign ahead.

In terms of an introduction to the new season, there could hardly have been a better one; it may have been the first game of the season, but Harlequins and Wasps produced 80 minutes of entertainment that may not be bettered in the following 134 matches.

After enduring the season from hell last time out, Wasps looked to have shaken off the shackles that saw them almost go out of the Premiership and close to administration as their pace and precision tore apart the defending champions.     Continue reading

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By Laurie Fitzgerald

After 22 rounds of intense action, the cream of the crop in English rugby has emerged as Harlequins and Leicester Tigers prepare to battle it out in the Aviva Premiership final this Saturday.

Both teams emerged as the top two during the domestic season, and then came through tough tests in the semi-finals to reach the showpiece event at Twickenham.

Quins needed a late try from Joe Marler to edge out the Northampton Saints at the Stoop, while Leicester gained revenge over Saracens for their defeat at rugby HQ 12 months ago to reach their eighth consecutive final.

For Connor O’Shea’s side, while the trip across the road will not be of great distance, this match will represent a giant leap for a side that have fully overcome the trauma that ‘Bloodgate’ caused and stand just one win away from their first ever Premiership title.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

This Saturday, Twickenham will become centre stage for the biggest match in the European rugby season as the home of English rugby prepares for an all-Irish affair in the 2012 Heineken Cup final.

Both Ulster and Leinster have battled through the cream of the continent to reach the season’s showpiece event, and now stand just a win away from achieving the ultimate crown in club rugby within the Northern Hemisphere.

Leinster go into the match as favourites as they bid to become the first team since Leicester a decade ago to succesfully defend the trophy, and are also seeking their third Heineken triumph in just four years.

However, Ulster have continually defied the odds in this year’s tournament, having overcome an incredibly tough pool and then conquering at one of the toughest venues in the game to gain the opportunity of securing the province’s second European crown.

This year will also mark the first time that the final has been an all-Irish affair, and both will be fiercely determined to ensure that they leave rugby HQ with the spoils.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After 22 pulsating rounds, we now know which are the four teams that have earnt a crack at lifting the Aviva Premiership title and being crowned champions of England in 2012.

Harlequins, Leicester, Saracens and Northampton have emerged as the country’s elite over the past nine months, and this weekend’s semi-finals are finely poised as they battle for a place in the final at Twickenham on the 26th May.

The bookies are backing Leicester to emerge as champions; Richard Cockerill‘s side are looking to reach their eighth consecutive Premiership final, and are the form team going into the knockout stages having beaten the other three semi-finalists away from home in recent months.

But as this season has already shown, we could be set for more twists and turns as we prepare for two titanic tussles as England’s finest prepare to get a shot at the title.     Continue reading

What next for Bath?

By Laurie Fitzgerald

This weekend sees the final round of the 2011/12 Aviva Premiership, and there are still one or two major permutations to be worked out at the top and bottom of the table.

Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens are all battling for a top-two finish and a home semi-final in the play-offs, while Northampton and Exeter will fight it out to get the remaining spot in the shot at the title.

As for Wasps and Newcastle, they will face one another at Adams Park knowing that the Falcons need a 24-point turnaround or a bonus point win otherwise they will finish in bottom spot and potentially face relegation to the Championship.

However, for other teams the season is all but over; Bath are one of those sides, and although they still have an outside chance of a Heineken Cup spot, they will need to go to Leicester and secure a bonus-point win over the form team in the country.

Failure to qualify for a place in European rugby’s elite competition will mark a disappointing season at the Rec, with Sir Ian McGeechan already paying the price for their inconsistencies as he leaves the club following Saturday’s match at Welford Road.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After a pulsating set of quarter-finals, this year’s Heineken Cup has reached the last four with some intriguing possibilities in store.

Edinburgh‘s stunning win over Toulouse at Murrayfield three weeks ago means that Michael Bradley’s side are just one victory away from becoming the first Scottish team to reach the final of European rugby’s showpiece event.

They take on an Ulster side that produced one of the best away performances in the tournament’s history when they conquered fortress Thomond Park and defeated Munster with a clinical display.

In the other semi-final, Leinster are now two victories away from becoming only the second team to successfully defend the trophy following their dismantling of Cardiff Blues in Dublin.

However, they face a tough trip to France to take on a Clermont side that comfortably disposed of Saracens in the last eight, and are in ominous form both domestically and in Europe as they search for their first Heineken crown.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

The Newcastle Falcons‘ quest for the great escape took a dramatic turn last weekend after they pulled off their first away win in over a year to stun Gloucester 29-20 at Kingsholm.

Gary Gold’s side started round 20 of the Aviva Premiership eight points adrift of their nearest rivals London Wasps with just three matches remaining.

But that excellent win in the West Country, along with Wasps’ defeat at leaders Harlequins, means that the gap between the two teams is now four points, with an intriguing match-up between the pair in store on the final day of the season.     Continue reading

What now for Henson?

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Gavin Henson‘s turbulent rugby career took it’s latest twist after he was sacked by Cardiff Blues following his alleged misbehaviour on a team flight back from Glasgow last weekend.

Henson’s dismissal means he is now looking for his third club in just over 12 months as his return to the game following an 18-month sabbatical continues to fail in getting off the ground.

Throughout his career much has been expected of the hugely talented playmaker, from the time he won the IRB young player of the year award as a 19 year-old, to carrying the hopes of the nation in Wales’ Grand Slam success of 2005.

Many felt that triumph would be the making of a major international star for many years to come, but a combination of injuries and off-field distractions have contributed to his inconsistencies on the pitch.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

This weekend sees the return of the biggest club competition in Northern Hemisphere rugby, as the 2011/12 Heineken Cup campaign reaches the knockout stages.

Eight sides remain in the hunt to become champions of Europe, with a nice blend of established names mixed in with some unfamiliar names at this stage of the tournament.

Among the favourites are the Irish Provinces of Munster and Leinster, while four-time winners Toulouse know exactly what it takes to succeed at the business end of the cup.

On Saturday the French giants travel to face one of the suprise packages of the campaign in Edinburgh, who are the first Scottish side to reach the last eight since 2004.

That is followed by the defending champions Leinster facing a Cardiff Blues side whose hopes of silverware seem to be reliant on their trip to the RDS on Saturday evening.

Then on Sunday, Munster try to reach their 10th HC semi-final in 13 seasons when they take on fellow Irish province Ulster in what is arguably the pick of the quarter-final line-up.

Finally, Saracens try and continue to fly the flag for England when they face French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne at Vicarage Road and keep their hopes of an historic double alive.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

During the period dominated by the Six Nations, London Irish announced the return of a former favourite to help reignite their success on the pitch.

After leaving his position as the attack coach for England following a traumatic World Cup, the Australian has returned to the Madjeski as the club’s Director of Rugby.

The 45 year-old will hope to rekindle the winning formula alongside Booth that gained the management duo many admirers during their first spell together between 2005 and 2008.

In that time, Irish reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup where they narrowly lost to Toulouse, while a year on after Smith’s departure to the national set-up they reached the Premiership final, only losing to Leicester Tigers by a solitary point at Twickenham.

However, since reaching the domestic season’s showpiece in 2009 the Berkshire-based club have been unable to build on those foundations, failing to reach the play-offs in the three seasons since and now finding their Heineken Cup status in serious doubt.     Continue reading

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