Munster win the Magners in a thrilling weekend of sport.
Barcelona v Manchester United
The dust has settled on a thrilling weekend of sports. Although none of the teams I was up for won, all the eventual winners were well and truly deserved. Barcelona showed Manchester United how football should be played. I have heard numerous comments from sport pundits stating that it was great to see a classy team win the Champions League.
There is truth in this. Barcelona play a very stylish, fluid passing game. They are fantastic to watch and extremely hard to beat as United will testify. They appear to be a very tight squad of players led by the Barca legend, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is a gentleman. He is a stylish man in how he dresses and in how he conducts himself and his team. It was wonderful to see Barcelona captain, Carlos Puyol pass the captain’s armband to his team mate Eric Abidal to give him the honour of lifting the Champions League trophy. Abidal has battled back from surgery on a liver tumour he underwent on March 17th. It is a great testament to the man that was back to lift the much sought after European trophy and a great testament to his teammates that they should recognize his very personal battle. Barcelona are deserved Champions of Europe.
Saracens v Leicester Tigers
Saracens are the Aviva Premiership Champions. Sarries overcame former champions Leicester Tigers in a thrilling match in Twickenham yesterday. Referee, Wayne Barnes saw fit to play 9 minutes of extra time in which Tigers had over 30 phases of play in their attempt to score a winning try. Saracens held Leicester Tigers at bay and celebrated only their second trophy in their history. With the squad of players coaches Venter and McCall have at their disposal, one guesses there may be more trophies heading to Vicarage road over the next few seasons. Saracens hooker Schalk Brits continued his great run of form yesterday. He was very impressive in his lineout throwing, his scrummaging and particularly his loose play, setting up a try for winger, Short.
No matter how good a hooker is in the loose, he needs to score a very high percentage in the accuracy of his throwing. Hookers are almost expected to have the dynamism of back row players these days but they must get their basic jobs of throwing and hooking done effectively. Brits did that yesterday and that may have been the difference between the two sides. Leicester Tigers struggled to get their usually dominant lineout functioning properly, largely thanks to the defensive work of Sarries captain, Steve Borthwick. For large parts of the game yesterday, Saracens also had the upper hand on Tigers in the scrums. If you can disrupt a team’s set piece, i.e. scrums and lineouts, you can effectively starve the opposition back line of decent ball from which to attack. This is one themes of yesterday’s final and a very influential one at that. Saracens are deserved Champions of England.
Munster v Leinster
Munster beat Leinster yesterday and in doing so became the Magner League Champions 2011. With all the focus on Leinster’s successes in recent times it is good to see Munster still possess the fiery will and determination which has made them one of Europe’s top rugby sides. There is a never say die attitude within the province and is was on display yesterday. Munster are undefeated at home this season. One could argue that last week’s epic Heineken Cup Final took it’s toll on Leinster who did seem fatigued, but that is taking nothing away from the men in red.
Munster had not scored a try against their provincial neighbours in over 400 minutes of rugby before yesterday. Tries from Howlett and Earls plus their warranted penalty try ensured that record would not continue. Munster did not have it all their own way and played the game a man down for 10 minutes while O’Callaghan was in the sin bin. The flash of the yellow card can be the making or breaking of teams. Being a man short in the forwards can increase the awareness and work rate of the 7 remaining players and it did just that for Munster yesterday who courageously defended their own try line. Mentally, this can be a massive boost for a team and cause the attacking team to question themselves.
Munster hooker, Varley will feel disappointed with the way the lineouts went as will Leo Cullen of Leinster. It is peculiar to see the touch judge move away from the lineout before the ball is thrown as was the case on numerous occasions yesterday. The touch judge is meant to keep an eye out for crooked throws by standing right behind the hooker as he throws the ball into the lineout. For some reason yesterday the touch judges seemed more keen to give the hooker his mark before scrambling off for a good view of the ensuing play. This may have saved the Munster hooker from a number of crooked throws being called against him.
Normally Varley’s throwing is dependable. There is nothing more frustrating for a hooker than to throw below par. One presumes he will get a chance to redeem himself, should he be part of Ireland’s preparations for the upcoming world cup. Leinster’s lineout did not function as well as they did the previous week. O’Connell would have studied countless hours of video containing clips of Leinster’s lineouts over the past few weeks. As a result, Munster’s defensive lineout was very effective. As a hooker, it can be terrifying throwing against a defensive lineout that consistently gets a man up in the air. It puts a lot of pressure of the hooker to ensure that his throws are very accurate. Psychologically it can be draining and damaging. Neither teams seemed to trust their lineout yesterday.
The men in red finished at the top of the league before the semi finals. A sure sign that Munster are deserved Magners League Champions 2011.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy