Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
Last weekend’s Guinness Pro12 matches were both back-and-forth cliffhangers and this weekend’s HSBC Women’s Sevens Series tournament in Japan promises two days filled with thrilling action.
Which means that right now is the ideal time to spend a single dollar per week to get some of the most entertaining rugby on the planet. Subscribe Now to The Rugby Channel and you’ll get to see it all, either LIVE or on VOD at your leisure.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the four Irish teams going at it LIVE on Saturday, you have two options. You can click on the game links below and luxuriate in all 80+ minutes of each contest, or you can watch TRC Report #47 and just enjoy the highlights.
Ulster got off to a great start in this one as captain Rory Best drove over the line at the back of a maul in the third minute of play. The excitement of the Men in White was short-lived however as Munster responded almost immediately with a quality five pointer of their own.
The lead changed hands repeatedly throughout this encounter and the fans of both sides were treated to multiple high and low moments. The outcome was in full doubt until the very last second as Ulster flyhalf Paddy Jackson missed his long-range extra-time drop goal that would have secured a vital win for the Ulstermen.
Ulster let themselves down in a couple of key areas in Limerick. At crucial times their normally sure tackling left something to be desired and their lineout suffered after hooker Best was forced off for a HIA in the fiftieth minute.
Munster will feel fortunate to have escaped with a victory that guaranteed them a playoff berth and essentially earned them a home semifinal. Both matches this season against Ulster were tight affairs but Munster just barely managed to squeak out two wins and eight competition points while Ulster had to settle for just two points of the losing bonus variety.
Munster has a European Cup semifinal next week against Saracens but right after that it’s back to finishing up the Guinness Pro12 with matches against Benetton Treviso away and Connacht at home. All they need to do to cement a semifinal in front of their supporters is to earn a total of two more points. Benetton is attempting to finish strong after recent wins over Ospreys and Edinburgh but seem an unlikely candidate to prevent Munster from booking their playoff fixture at Thomond Park.
Ulster have a much more difficult task ahead. Their next two matches are against Ospreys in Swansea and Leinster in Belfast. Currently sitting on 64 points in fifth position, a win over fourth place Ospreys next week would at least allow them to control their own destiny in Round 22. That match, of course, will be LIVE on The Rugby Channel on Saturday, April 29 at 10:00 am Eastern Time and I can’t wait!
Connacht proved on Saturday that they aren’t quite ready to stop fighting even though they have been eliminated from playoff contention. Against the top-ranked team in the competition they played some outstanding rugby and were well in the match with a little more than ten minutes to go.
They did, however, have only themselves to blame for not pulling off the upset for their faithful fans at the Sportsground, giving away a total of fourteen points on a cheap intercept try early and a kick through breakaway in the late-going. It’s been a snakebit season for Connacht but they still play hard every week and scare even the best sides on a regular basis.
If you happen to watch the full match, make sure you do so from the very beginning as you won’t want to miss Connacht Captain John Muldoon run on for his 300th appearance for the province. Three hundred games for the same side is a rare feat in the professional era and Muldoon is well-loved by Connacht fans so it was an emotional moment that he shared with his family and teammates.
Leinster admittedly did not start their best team in Galway but there was still plenty of talent wearing their very yellow jerseys and they had to work hard to eventually overcome the home side. As they rested a number of starters and built toward their own European Cup and Guinness Pro12 semifinals, they probably got a little more than they bargained for on Saturday.
Leinster is now definitely going to play at home in May in the playoffs but they haven’t yet clinched table-topping honors. They have 79 points to Munster’s 76 and will have to take on Glasgow and Ulster in the final two rounds.
The match against Glasgow will be LIVE on The Rugby Channel on Friday, April 28 at 2:45 pm Eastern. Glasgow has yet to be officially eliminated so they will have everything to play for at the RDS which means Leinster will have to put in another quality performance versus a pretty good team.
Another very entertaining episode from the New Zealand club scene that featured good rugby, interesting places, and even a famous player. The highlight for me was watching the interview with All Black Captain Kieran Reid as he turned out for his club University for the first time in nearly a decade following an injury layoff.
You could tell from his demeanor and words that he was thoroughly enjoying his moment in the sun with his old club, a rare occurrence these days in professional rugby. I can’t think of another sport where one of the most prominent players in the world mixes it up with amateurs and talks about giving his best for the lads and fitting into the team.
Baseball sometimes sends veteran players to the minors on injury rehab assignments to get back to fitness but even then they are in a fully professional environment that’s tightly controlled. The equivalent would be if LeBron James needed a little extra work after a medical absence so he went down to a local gym to play pickup shirts and skins games or if Tom Brady found an adult football league near his house and took snaps with them at a local park for four quarters. Gotta love rugby and this show!
The United States women will kick off the tournament in their first Pool C match against Spain at 9:30 pm ET. Their next clash will be against England at 12:14 am and they will wrap up the preliminaries versus rivals Canada at 3:20 am. All matches from the first to the last will be LIVE on The Rugby Channel. I can’t wait to see them in action in Japan and will definitely stay up late to watch it all.
After a disappointing outing in Dubai, the USA team shocked everyone by nearly winning it all in Sydney versus Canada and then coming up just short against New Zealand in the Cup Semifinal in Vegas.
The USA are in sixth position in the series with 34 points, 32 of which they’ve earned in the last two events, losing a Championship Final in Sydney and a Bronze Final in Las Vegas. Russia and Fiji are just above them on the ladder with 34 and 36 points, so another good outing in Kitakyushu could see the Eagles vault into fourth or even third place.
The Eagles 12-woman squad will feature veterans and newcomers as they look to win a title in Japan. The talent on board is not in question and offensive capability is obviously high but questions remain about defensive cohesion.
Some countries have found ways to strategically exploit the USA out wide but I’m sure Coach Richie Walker has been working diligently with his charges to eliminate those weaknesses heading into this fourth round tourney.
The knockout rounds also begin at 9:30 pm ET and are sure to be packed with lightning attacks and ferocious defending. Most of the top teams will have faced each other at some point in the previous three rounds and there will be losses to avenge and/or victory streaks to extend on Saturday.
Go Eagles, bring home some gold!
As we get closer to the Eagles tests this June, now is the perfect time to become an annual subscriber to The Rugby Channel.
Why? Because if you start spending your buck a week beginning now, over the next six weeks you’ll be able to watch the end of the Guinness Pro12 regular season, both semifinals, and the final on May 27, and then before you know it, the Eagles Test season will be upon us.
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