Focussed Ireland can set up Grand Slam
The fourth leg of the Grand Slam comes up on Saturday at The Aviva and while I am expecting another tight game, it’s a match that Ireland are well capable of winning if they approach it in the correct frame of mind.
It says something about the strength of the panel available to Joe Schmidt that we can lose players like Tadgh Furlong, Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell and Jared Payne and still have replacements that are just as good. There were many that were fearful that the loss of Robbie Henshaw would be too much given his brilliance in recent years, but Chris Farrell stepped up to the plate against Wales and produced a brilliant ‘man of the match’ display. Now he is injured and the door is open for Garry Ringrose who is another top class replacement.
But Ireland will be dependent again on Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray to engineer a win. Sexton had a poor day with the boot against Wales but he will be determined to put that right on Saturday.
Murray is now probably the best scrum-half in the world and is the first name on the Ireland team sheet. But Scotland are dangerous, and they come full of confidence after a great win against England. It was hard to believe that this was the same team that were humiliated by Wales.
If Ireland are in any way complacent or cannot match the intensity which Scotland showed against England then it will be a defeat and that would be a disaster. But the carrot is great, a Grand Slam decider against England at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day. Ireland should win it after a struggle and then we can dare to dream.
Normal service resumes this weekend
Thankfully the snow is gone and sport can return to normal this coming weekend. Roscommon will eventually get to Ennis to play the locals on Sunday. The Banner men have suffered in recent weeks with suspensions and injuries but despite that they will be tough to beat at Cusack Park. A win will put Roscommon in a great position with regard to promotion. I think that Kevin McStay’s men will win it.
The postponements last weekend mean that there is a full round of hurling league matches this weekend as well, which will make for a real glut of fixtures. One can only hope that there is no further disruption as we are running out of Sundays already and it’s only early March.
This weekend there are a number of club league games down for decision in the county and this round was one where the county players were supposed to be allowed to play for their clubs. I can’t see that happening. Will Kevin McStay allow his players to play a league game on Saturday with a National Football League game the following day? I think there will be a few postponements!
It is one of the problems that we face with the new fixtures set-up and the pile-up that we are facing now. I think the powers that be will have to sit down again and re-think the whole calendar but it means that the losers (once again) are the clubs and the club players. It’s not the fault of Roscommon County Board but we are just two and a half months into this new regime and there is huge uncertainty already.
The sad passing of Roger Bannister
It was sad to hear of the passing at the weekend of Sir Roger Bannister the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. I watched a documentary on his life a few years ago and he came across as a lovely, modest man. His achievement was considered impossible at that time and it is remarkable to note that the record for the mile is now 3.43.13. It is even more remarkable to note that the record has not been beaten since 1999.
Roger Bannister’s record in May of 1954 lasted only six weeks but it was achieved without the aid or steroids, dieticians, mind gurus and all the other things that we associate with top level athletics on the world stage. Regardless of what happens in the future, the achievement of Roger Bannister will always be one of the greatest ever sporting achievements.
Mickelson back amongst the winners
The golf season is hotting up and a lot of fans were delighted to see Phil Mickelson return to the winner’s enclosure at the weekend. It is five years since he won and he is back playing as good as ever. It is a timely win with The Masters coming up in just a month’s time.
Tiger Woods is playing over the next two weeks and it will be interesting to see if Mickelson’s win is an inspiration to him. Mickelson is one of the most popular players on the circuit for the past 25 years and he is not finished yet.
The biggest festival of them all
The biggest racing festival of them all, Cheltenham, is upon us once again and by the time we are out next week, two days will have been completed. Our racing correspondent Tom Red provides a preview in his column but the meeting has been huge for Irish raiders in recent years.
In 2017, Irish trained horses won an incredible nineteen races and it is probably far too much to hope that can be repeated but anything over ten will be a great return.
Willie Mullins has a great chance in the opener with Getabird in the Supreme Novices Hurdle and he could repeat the dose in the second race with the hugely talented Footpad. It looks like the Champion Hurdle will be going to the hot favourite Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade could be another short price Irish winner on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Gordon Elliot will take centre stage when his star Samcro will be hard to oppose. The English have a banker in the unbeaten Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. In the Champion Bumper, Joseph O’Brien’s Rhinestone looks good value each-way at 10/1. It’s marvellous TV and a cut about any other racing that is on during the year. Enjoy!
Fred Perry’s legend preceded him
I didn’t know Fred Perry but his legend preceded him and he was much loved and respected in Boyle and in golfing circles throughout the country over many decades. To his family and friends I extend my deepest sympathies. May he Rest In Peace.
Can United restrict Pool’s front three?
With Manchester City continuing their march to the Premier League title, breaking several records in the process, the battle for second place will come into sharp focus at the weekend when old rivals Manchester United and Liverpool meet at Old Trafford.
It will be interesting to see what approach Jose Mourinho takes to the game. History shows that he favours a very conservative approach, and a nil-nil draw could be the best bet. Liverpool’s front three are on fire and Mourinho will be trying to restrict them. Although on the evidence of Selhurst Park on Monday night, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will need lots of help. Yes, United did win at Palace, but the London outfit were short eleven first team players and it took a magical strike from Nemanja Matic to save United on the night.
In addition, Sanchez, who is the highest paid player in the league gave away the ball an astonishing 27 times in an abject display, and £95 million Paul Pogba hardly got a kick. It was just as well that Rashford and Mata were on the bench and that De Gea was in goal (again).
United are staying second at the moment but they are just about getting through their games. If they play against Liverpool the way they played against Palace then they will not be taking any points. However, the rivalry means that it’s always worth a look.