Return of the Magners League

Following the first round of the Magners League at the weekend, it gives me great pleasure to welcome back our Magners League reporter, all the way from Wales, Denis Brennan.

Welcome back to the new season and let’s hope (well at least I hope, I can’t speak for the readers) that I can keep up the pace in 2009-10. After all the drama, nail-biting, highs and lows of the Lions’ tour the new season kicked off with Rugby perhaps under a cloud and expecting some extra scrutiny.

My personal view on Bloodgate and associated “scandals” is that the media have over-hyped things, as usual. The performance of Harlequins (and I stress the name of the club) in that infamous Heineken Cup game was, of course, disgraceful and I don’t have a very high opinion of the ERC panel or panels that have judged and pronounced sentence over the incident. Rather like a blood-capsule must do, it leaves a nasty taste – but no-one was maimed or even injured, it’s not the end of the world as we know it, so let’s move on. I was rather more vexed by the mixed messages coming from various sentences over eye-gouging and similar potentially career-threatening illegal on-the-field behaviour over the summer.

Anyhow, let’s move on to the Magners League and the last season before the Italians arrive. Most teams rested their Lions, the sole exceptions (I think) being Mike Phillips and James Hook who played in Connacht for the Ospreys and Leigh Halfpenny who turned out for Cardiff Blues at home to Edinburgh. The results, wins for the Scarlets, Glasgow, Edinburgh the Ospreys and the Dragons were not what most would have predicted.

The biggest surprise was probably Cardiff Blues going down at home to Edinburgh and looking somewhat lost for most of the game, not least due to the lack of direction at 10 where the ex-Waratah (actually mostly a full back), Sam Norton-Knight had a “Knightmare”! This performance was thrown into even sharper relief by his predecessor Nicky Robinson’s man-of-the-match performance for his new club Gloucester just over the Severn. Is it too early to say that the Blues may be regretting that bit of business?

The Scarlets’ win against European champions, Leinster brought much needed relief and encouragement to Parc y Scarlets. The Irish province without their Lions stars still fielded a strong XV and dominated the game for long periods as the Scarlets own ten persisted in kicking away possession, returning it to the dangerous Leinster backline. There was a definite lack of direction about the Scarlets midfield and they owe their win to a very impressive defensive performance and an all-round top-class display from new recruit Sean Lamont together with another stormer from Aussie David Lyons.

The heavy defeat of defending champions Munster at Glasgow reinforced the feeling that the Scottish clubs are growing in strength year by year and may also reflect the relative lack of depth of the Munster squad shorn of their Lions. We shall see – I expect them to bounce back. This was probably the second major surprise of the round.

The Ospreys, against the backdrop of another Gavin Henson story (he’s now on indeterminate leave from the region) were not over-impressive out in the west of Ireland where they overcame a dogged Connacht perfomance. Much is expected of the Ospreys this season, yet again, and particularly with the arrival of the charismatic Scott Johnson as coach. Watch this space.

Finally, the Dragons beat Ulster convincingly and you may feel already that these two may prop up the table.

This season also sees the introduction of play-offs, so every win is precious to maintain position in the table. Barring injuries, I would already guess at Munster and Leinster being in the play-offs but it’s difficult to decide who will accompany them. It should be the Ospreys and the Blues, based upon their “star” count and the money they have spent but I think Edinburgh will be there or thereabouts and, just possibly, the Scarlets who appear to be destined to play rugby like Ossie Ardiles’ famous Tottenham football philosophy – backing themselves to out-attack the opposition – but can they win ball to set up the platform? Early days for an end-of-season prediction but maybe it will get you all to contribute your views!

One thought on “Return of the Magners League

  1. Keep up the good work Dennis -nice tto get bak to the rugby after this summer.

    Two losses now for the Blues too early for a crises yet but pressure mounts lets say.On the Bluesv Edinburgh game the Blues record against them is not good . Munster were always going to win and deserved to do so but the Munster crowd effect sure gets to those referees probably robbing the Blues of a bonus point .Dai Young has been linked with a coaching role at Harlequins so Bloodgate continues to ripple out but I’d guess he’s going nowhere just yet.

    Munster for the play-offs certainly , Ospreys should walk into them too with their squad but who knows with them as we are still waiting for lift off and the jury is still out on Scott Johnson ,well with this particular juror anyway .I think the Blues are going to have to sacrifice somewhere and if they have designs on Europe the Magners might well be the one to be lowered in their priorities -a repeat of last year there.

    Similarily I have a feeling that Leinester as defending Heineken Champions are going to get caught up in the defence of their crown and that they may not make the play offs for this reason alone.

    Edinburgh and Glasgow will be there or thereabouts and I would expect one of them to make it , Edinburgh at a guess -they were second last year and have started with an away win.

    Personally I thought I saw an inkling of something in the Dragons last week against an Ulster side that performed quite well in the pre season friendlies ,there is certainly a team spirit there and Colin Charvis in his new guise as defence coach brings a wealth of experience. Play offs may be beyond them but sticking my neck out I’ll say that they will not be the bottom Welsh region. The acid test may start at Leinster this weekend.

    Scarlets got a win against the run of play last week good for morale that , they are obliged to give youth a chance to a large extent which I view as a plus but may result in a bit of a roller-coaster year hence I think they will be below the Dragons.

    So the play-offs are the Ospreys, Munster and Edinburgh in my view and one other , might the Scots sneak two in ?

    Probably all wrong and I’ll no doubt change my mind in a couple of weeeks.

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