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Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ireland set tone for World Cup

The Autumn Internationals may mean nothing on paper but in reality they can mean everything to a team, and Ireland have shown that over the course of these three games.

Todays win over Australia saw Ireland round off the Autumn series with three wins out of three and most importantly two victories over Southern hemisphere sides, proving that Ireland can compete with the best in the business.

Coming into the first game against South Africa, little was expected of the Irish squad, South Africa had been strong in the Rugby Championship and Ireland were missing some key players including Gordon Darcy, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien but nevertheless they came out on top after a bone crunching game where Ireland’s forwards showed they are capable of facing up to any pack in world rugby.

The likes of Devin Toner really stepped up in that game and a score-line of 29-15 was much deserved for a brilliant Ireland side on the day even trying out a new and potentially fruitful centre partnership between Rob Henshaw and Jared Payne. Was the result not satisfactory enough for the Irish, South African bounced back the following week to beat the self proclaimed top Northern Hemisphere side England 31-28.

Following on from the South Africa game, Ireland welcomed Georgia to the Aviva Stadium in a game where the fringe players were given a chance and they did not disappoint.  Ireland came out with an expected win by 49 points to 7. Regardless of the opponents there were some particularly impressive performances for Joe Schmidt, Leinster man Ian Madigan was superb from his goal kicking to in field kicks it was hard to find flaws in his game. Lock, Dave Foley was another notable performer being credited with the Man of the Match award and putting him in the frame for a more central role in Joe Schmidt’s plans.

The Autumn Series up to the Australia game was filled with positives and todays win against Australia will do nothing but increase the optimism amongst the Irish camp and supporters as we edge ever closer to the World Cup. In what was one of the most thrilling games of International rugby in recent times Ireland came away with a 26-23 win.

The game was thrilling from start to finish, after opening up a 17 point lead in the first seventeen minutes Ireland found themselves level fifteen minutes later after a remarkable and somewhat controversial comeback from the Wallabies. Having shown there defensive qualities against the Boks, it was the backs turn to show their quality and they didn’t disappoint, a Simon Zebo try thanks to a brilliant diagonal kick from Jonny Sexton and a fantastic individual try from Tommy Bowe, intercepting the ball in his own twenty two and racing all the way to the line, showed Ireland’s qualities from open play.

One worry for Joe Schmidt and his coaches will be the amount of missed tackles for two of Australia’s tries. After such a high scoring first half Ireland looked to shut up shop in the second half and so they did with a heroic Paul O’Connell performance inspiring them over the line.

Jonny Sexton continues to become more assured in his goal-kicking and his reading of the game, his kick over the top for Zebo’s try was particularly impressive. Unfortunately for Jared Payne injury dealt his chances of cementing a place in Irelands centre a blow but his potential partner Rob Henshaw looked the perfect man to take up the massive hole left in the centre following Brian O’Driscoll's retirement.

After replacing Australia at third place in the world rankings, Ireland have certainly lived up to the hype and are now looking more than ready to defend their Six Nations title. Joe Schmidt has instilled a ruthless mentality amongst the players and getting two wins over Southern Hemisphere sides could not have come at a better time with the World Cup only around the corner. Should Ireland keep this form up in the New Year they will have to be considered major contenders for the World Cup.

Friday, 21 November 2014

3 things to watch this Premier League weekend

Can Arsenal overcome United?
The game of the week-end sees Manchester United visit the Emirates in the Saturday evening kick-off. The game comes with only one point separating the sides in the table as they both struggle to find consistent form in the league.

Wenger’s side will be expecting to win this game if they are to have any aspirations of challenging for the title that Chelsea seem to have a firm grasp on at this moment in time. Van Gaal and United will similarly see this as a game which they need to gain something but will more than likely see it as a game they cant lose rather than one they must win.

United’s injury problems at the back continue with Rojo, Jones and Evans all ruled out, Shaw and Rafael are both doubtful. A serious knee injury for Daley Blind on International duty could not have come at a worse time for Van Gaal’s side.

Arsenal will be expected to take the game to United and Sanchez and Welbeck will thrive on playing against what is likely to be a second string United back four. In what promises to be an exciting game, one would expect Arsenal to come out on top but based on their recent form Wenger’s side may crumble and open the door for Di Maria and Rooney to dictate the game and possibly sneak all three points.

Will Liverpool’s descent continue?
After receiving the blow that Daniel Sturridge, the man they hoped could turn things around, will be out until the New Year it will be interesting to see how Liverpool respond when they visit Selhurst Park, the game that ultimately ended their challenge last year in an epic 3-3 draw.

After losing two games in a row Rodgers will see this as the perfect game to turn things around but Neil Warnock and his Crystal Palace side will have other ideas and will see a Liverpool side struggling to find form  the perfect opportunity to kick start their season.

Balotelli, if fit, will more than likely lead the line and with Sturridge missing for the foreseeable future he is going to have to start performing. Another loss for Liverpool could be on the cards and it could put Rodgers under serious pressure and fans may begin to turn on the man who almost brought Liverpool their first Premier League title.

Can Southampton keep it going?
Every week-end the same question is asked: Can Southampton keep this extraordinary run of form going? and thus far they have answered that question with a yes week after week. On Monday they travel to Villa Park to face maybe the most unpredictable side in the Premier League, Aston Villa.

Should Southampton conquer this next challenge they will have to be considered a serious threat togain a top 4 place but challenging for the title is surely too much to ask of the over-achieving side. Tadic and Pelle will be hoping to continue their individual form while Long will be looking to build on his two goals last time out.

Ronald Koeman has to this date taken the Premier League in his stride and if they continue to play as they have the sky is the limit for this Saints side.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Moyes’ new venture

David Moyes is back and this time he is in Spain. It’s been big news in the past week since he was appointed but how much do people really know about the task he has inherited. He said himself that taking the Real Sociedad job is the biggest challenge of his career, that’s a big statement considering he was the man who took over the reigns when Alex Ferguson left United.

For the many people that thought seen as Real Sociedad were in the Champions League last year (they even came up against Moyes’ United) that they would be a strong side in La Liga, you were misinformed.

Sociedad currently sit in 15th place with a total of 9 points from 11 games, not European chasing stats by any means, a big drop from last season in which they couldn’t regain their Champions League spot but finished 7th and qualified for this seasons Europa League.

In terms of the team he is inheriting its not all bad, despite their poor league position, in their last league game they managed to defeat Atletico Madrid by two goals to one while manager-less.

Key players include Carlos Vela, who most will remember from his time at Arsenal and his exerts for Mexico, centre back Inigo Martinez, midfielders, Xabi Prieto and Estaban Granero, formally of QPR and Real Madrid. Gonzalo Castro, Sergio Canales and Imanol Agirretxe also add quality to the struggling side.

As you can see from this list Sociedad are not lacking in quality and David Moyes’ main challenge will be to get the players playing as a team and he will hope the performances and victories will begin to roll in.

There is no doubt the departure of main man Antoine Griezmann to Atletico Madrid during the summer had a big effect on the side as the talismanic young Frenchman had chipped in with a total of 16 league goals last season on par with teammate Carlos Vela who has not hit the heights of last season without Griezmann.

Moyes begins his management against Deportivo this weekend and will be hoping to get off to a good start. Although Real Sociedad are currently 15th they are 15 points behind 4th placed Atletico Madrid after eleven games so there is still plenty of time to turn things around.

Many would see this job as similar to Moyes’ job at Everton. Sociedad are no table toppers but will expect European football on a regular basis and unlike at United, Moyes will be dealing with a lesser calibre of player which may suit him more. All eyes will be on Moyes for the first few months and he will be hoping this time around he lasts longer than a season at a new job.

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