Well firstly, i will apologise for not doing a couple of blogs over the last 2 months and i will try to keep up to date with these entries from now on. With the last blog entry coming back at the end of October time, we`ll try to make up for lost time and cast our minds back to when Christmas wasn`t in the fore front of people`s minds at that period and we look back to the early stages of November.
Over the last two months in Rugby Union we`ve saw the European Champions Cup reaching its conclusion to the group stages and saw some interesting couple of rounds in the tournament too. On the International side of things, we saw the traditional Autumn Internationals taking place, where the Northern hemisphere sides face the best of the Southern hemisphere and where there was a few eyebrows raised from those games.
Changing from the Oval ball to the Round ball variety and on that front the Champions League threw up a couple of entertaining game towards the end and in the Barclays Premiership the League is starting to take some shape now as we embark on a New Year.
Cricket wise saw a sombre month for all concerned in November time and also saw England travelling out to Sri Lanka for a Seven ODI`s as both side warmed up for the Cricket World Cup upcoming next year in 2015.
Ice Hockey has seen it become virtually a foregone conclusion to the English Premier League championship (EPL), but we`ll look back it and see how the league has gone.
The European Champions Cup continues on and has seen its fair share of good games in the competition this term. Round 3 saw the English Aviva Premiership sides all come out on top against foreign opposition, with Bath and Wasps winning in France beating Montpellier and Castres with both hitting the thirty points barrier in their respective matches.
The two stand out results in the round came in the shape of Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, as ‘Quins’ defeated the Pro 12 League champions in Leinster Rugby 24-19 at the Twickenham Stoop, while up in the East Midlands Leicester welcomed the powerhouse of French Rugby and the current European holders in Toulon to Welford Road.
Owen Williams roared in the match up and in turn earned his stripes for the Tigers, with him kicking Six Successful penalties and kept their hopes of qualification ongoing as they came out 25-21 victors. Ulster kept their slim hopes alive of going through too, with a 24-9 win at Kingspan Stadium over the Scarlets as they ran in 4 tries with Darren Cave, Ruan Pienaar and Irish Internationals Tommy Bowe and Rory Best going over as well.
In the return games from Round 4, it saw Bath once again triumph over Montpellier with England international Matt Banahan scoring a Hat Trick of tries to see his side to a 32-12 win.
Glasgow failed to capitalise on Toulouse conceding a fair few penalties in their reverse fixture, as Finn Russell missed a trio of kicks while his opposite number Sebastian Bezy, he made Four kicks to see the French side steal victory 12-9 in Glasgow. English champions the Northampton Saints welcomed Italians Treviso to Franklins Gardens and saw them absolutely destroyed by the Saints, with the home side romping to an 11 Try victory in which Ken Pisi and Samu Manoa both picked up Hat Tricks in the demolition of the Italian team, as the hosts shut out Treviso 67-0.
Leinster got revenge back in Dublin on Harlequins, as they won 14-13 as a penalty by Ian Madigan proved crucial in the final ten minute to see the Irish side claim victory. Toulon returned the favour to Leicester as they beat the Tigers 23-8, with Leigh Halfpenny slotting over three penalties, along with his side scoring two tries in the win. Sale Sharks was unable to keep it closer in their return game with Saracens, with the home side prevailing 28-15 after penalty trouble was their downfall in the meeting at Allianz Park.
NORTH V SOUTH
November also saw the traditional Autumn International series taking place over the month, in which it pits the European Nations against the force of the Southern hemisphere sides and as i mentioned saw some eyebrow raising games.
England faced without doubt their toughest task of all the games in the month with the daunting visit of the World Champions in the All Blacks to Twickenham. However it started well for the home team, with Johnny May scoring an early try. Dan Cruden replied back for New Zealand and had Owen Farrell kicking a couple of penalties to make sure England just stayed in front of their foes at the break going in 14-11. New Zealand dominated the second half of proceedings, with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw on his 100th appearance for his side and saw him leading from the front, as he crashed over for a try in the opening minute and also saw Charlie Faumuina go over to see the visitors lead 24-14. England got a Penalty try and conversion, but it was too late for a comeback and lost their opening game of the autumn 24-21.
Wales and Australia played out a thriller at the Millennium Stadium with the lead swapping four times in the game, as neither side gave an inch to one another ahead of their World Cup meeting this upcoming year in Cardiff. Rhys Webb put the Welsh in front early on, that was before two tries by Christian Folau put the Aussies in front at 14-7. Alex Cuthbert then went over and with Halfpenny adding the extras for the home side, it was all square again. Kuridrani then scored for the Wallabies to move back out to 7 point lead, but back came Wales and Alun Wynn-Jones who gave the Aussies back line in the British Lions series of 2013 a tough time, and was doing so again as he went over to see the sides level at 21 a piece at the break. Folau then kicked over two penalties and a deciding Drop Goal Seven minutes from time, which just gave the Australians just enough of a lead to take victory 30-28.
Scotland and Argentina played out a 41-31 score line, in which saw the Scots victors after tries by Richie and Jonny Gray, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour helped the hosts hold out to a win. Despite a valiant fightback by the Pumas, it wasn`t enough to deny the home side after Argentina battled back from 31-10, to get it down to a Ten point loss. Tries by Javier Desio Ortega, Tomas Cubelli and a Penalty try saw Argentina making it a game of it in the end and earned them a lot of plaudits.
The Six Nations champions in Ireland pulled off a great win at the Aviva Stadium, as they defeated South Africa 29-15 after tries by Tommy Bowe and Rhys Ruddock gave the Irish the lead. The Springboks replied through Marcell Coetzee and JP Pietersen at the end of the game, However the difference was the kicking in the match with Ireland`s Jonny Sexton slotting over 13 points with the boot and a saw a sole Ian Madigan kick proving the vital aspect in the game.
The Following week saw Wales labour to victory over Fiji with a 17-13 win, as George North and Alex Cuthbert scored tries for the Welsh along with a Penalty try for the hosts, while Nemani Nadolo scored a try for the tourists and kicked two penalties in the loss.
Scotland loss to New Zealand up at Murrayfield, as a heartbreaking late try by Jeremy Thrush overcame a battling Scottish side. Victor Vito gave the All Blacks the lead in the contest, till Tommy Seymour responded for the Scots. It became a kicking duel between Greig Laidlaw of Scotland and Dan Carter for the All Black, in which saw them match each other kick for kick, till the late try by Thrush to nick the win.
France scored a big win over Australia at the Stade de France, where as they defeated the Wallabies 29-26 with Camille Lopez being ‘Les Bleus’ hero with Four successful penalties from the boot, while Christian Folau struck four penalties and two conversions for the Aussies. Quade Cooper and Australian Captain Adam Ashley-Cooper went over for the Gold shirts, but Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Teddy Thomas scored for the hosts in the thriller and edged the out of form Australians to victory.
England`s autumn of discontent continued on, as the visit of South Africa to Twickenham saw the Springboks exposing frailties in the hosts line up and that was shown clearly, when a poor pass by Danny Care was intercepted by Jan Serfontein and he ran it back the full length for a try. Cobus Reinach then scored another for South Africa and put the hosts in deep trouble. Victor Matfield then committed a blatant foul during a maul in which saw his actions earn him a yellow card and saw David Wilson and Ben Morgan score tries to see England close the gap with the man extra, but the two tries papered over the cracks in truth. Schalk Burger scored a third try for the Springboks and England had the last word with Brad Barritt going over a minute from time to see the hosts lose two successive games in a row on home soil in a 31-28 loss.
England`s next game saw them face Samoa and it was seen as gimme by some but it was far from that. The sporting media was saying nothing less than hitting the 50 points barrier would be good, England though never remotely looked close to getting that at all. Johnny May scored a brace with his first coming midway through the first and in then grabbed his second sandwiched in between a Mike Brown effort. Stuart Lancaster gave a start to Bath`s George Ford, after Owen Farrell was moved elsewhere in the line up to accommodate Ford. Ford in the rain did himself no disgrace at all, with three kicks and two conversions in the 28-9 win. After the game England and Samoa players came together to unite in the middle of the pitch with the Samoans, as the Samoans have had a lot of serious problems from within their own Rugby federation over a number of disputes still ongoing now.
Wales faced the All Blacks and saw them torn apart by the World Champions in the final ten minutes of the game, to lose 16-34 as the New Zealand side ran in three late tries with Beauden Barritt scoring twice and Kieran Read as well in what was disappointing ending to the game for the Welsh, as they looked on course to overcome their hoodoo of the Championship sides.
Ireland rounded off their year with another massive scalp of Australia as they edged it 26-23 at the Aviva Stadium. It started off fantastic for the Irish in the opening quarter of the game, with tries for Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo seeing them lead 17-0 and that was when the Aussies came back with a vengeance. It saw Three straight tries for the Aussies, with Nick Phipps going over the white wash twice and a Bernard Foley effort to saw the Wallabies level at 17 all. Foley then gave the Aussies a 20-17 lead with a penalty he converted on, but three penalties by Jonny Sexton in the second half, saw Ireland overcome their opponents and defend their lead for a major boost ahead of next year`s World Cup.
Scotland defeated Tonga 37-12 with the Scots grabbing five tries in the victory, as efforts by Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Geoff Cross and Blair Cowan saw them all going over the white wash, while Greig Laidlaw kicked 12 points in the win.
The final Internationals of 2014 saw Wales FINALLY defeat a serious Southern Hemisphere side after 22 previous unsuccessful efforts and also 15 years since their last win over the Springboks, to win 12-6 in a tough contest that came down to a kicking duel between Pat Lambie and Leigh Halfpenny. It saw the Welshman come out on top with four kicks to three over his opposite number in the gritty Eighty-minutes of the contest.
England had one last chance to pick up a confidence boosting victory heading into an important 2015 for the side. England faced their old enemy in Australia and saw Bernard Foley kick the Aussies in front, till two penalties by George Ford put the hosts in front and had Ben Morgan grab a try for England to see them lead at the break. Foley then scored for the Australians before Morgan claimed his second try of the game, till Will Skelton replied three minutes later to see the home side lead lead cut to 20-17. Ford then kicked over a penalty to move 23-17 ahead and saw Brad Barritt go for repairs as his White shirt was stained with claret as he gave Blood, sweat and tears of joy for his team in the game. The last word came to the hosts, as with Australia pushing for last gasp win score they instead conceded a penalty and Ford drilled it over for a 26-17 win and maybe a psychological boost ahead of the sides meeting later in the year in the Group phrase of the World Cup in 2015.
ONE HORSE RACE, MAYBE??
At the time of typing this, Chelsea lead the way in the Premiership after 19 games gone in the league as the West London side have kind of gone about their business quietly, but Jose Mourinho has always been on hand to remind people that Chelsea are still about. The Blues have dealt rather easily with their games this year though, despite a couple of slip ups along the way that has kept the league mildly interesting, a 2-1 loss to Newcastle up on Tyneside and a goalless draw in Sunderland saw them not enjoying their travels up the North East much this year. But with a trio of 2-0 wins, that run was halted the other day by Southampton as the Saints held them a 1-1 draw at St. Mary`s with Southampton playing out the end of the match with just 10 men.
For Manchester City, it`s been a weird season for them as they have relied on certain players and they have then gone to pick up injures soon after. Vincent Kompany and David Silva have had lay-offs this season with Ankle and Leg injuries, they have also had Sergio Aguero being their saviour so far as he has scored a majority of the goals for the Champions. Fellow strikers Edin Dzeko and Stefan Jovetic have struggled to find the back of the net all season so far and keeping fit too, so with City trying to keep pace with Chelsea, it saw a disastrous incident in their match against Everton in the which the early embers of the game saw Aguero injured his ligaments stretching for a ball and has been sidelined ever since.
This has seen City playing James Milner in a ‘False 9’ position and been asked to go up front for the Blues as they have played with no recognised striker in their line up due to injuries to them all. City though have come together and battled through it all like champions and with wins at Leicester and West Brom. They recorded home victories against Everton and Crystal Palace, before their last game against Burnley saw them a great chance to cut the gap to one point. City being City then managed to implode after going 2-0 up and came mighty close to losing the game altogether, as Burnley took a point in 2-2 draw and were unlucky not to take all 3 as well.
Meanwhile across the City, United have seen them gain some form of late, as they have remained unbeaten since losing the derby to City back in November. Despite a dull 0-0 draw with Tottenham on the road last game, Injuries have hampered their season too, with Falcao not playing much with a troublesome knee problem. Robin Van Persie hasn`t really played anything like he has done over the past few seasons and has seen Wayne Rooney seemingly dragging his team mates through the bumpy parts of the season.
They`ve took some points off their rivals this season too, with wins over Southampton and Arsenal and also took a late draw against Chelsea in the middle of October. There biggest highlight has been the thrashing of long-time bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, in a 3-0 win that will have delighted their fans for sure.
Liverpool have had a torrid season so far and looked a big shadow of their former selves, as the loss of Luis Suarez has been a hole not filled at all. Liverpool brought in some good players to try and make up for the loss, but no one has fired at all for the club all season and that includes Steve Gerrard too.
Looking towards the bottom end of the table and in some ways is far more interesting than the summit normally, it`s a case of 12th place to 20th being separated by just a meagre 8 points. Leicester City occupy bottom of the table currently and haven`t won a game since beating Man Utd 5-3 a few months back, Burnley are gaining some form of late and sees them level on 16 points with Crystal Palace and Hull City. West Brom and QPR are always going to be hovering above the trap door, Sunderland are 7 points from the relegation places and you can bet they`ll be doing their damndest to try and chase down their local rivals in Newcastle who sit in 10th spot just 6 points from them. It`s fair to say also that the league will become a more exciting one, once we hit March Madness time and when the business end then arrives and sees sides scraping for their Premier league survival.
Tragedy and England ODI woes
The back end of the 2014 was not a happy one for all concerned in the Cricketing family, as Australian test batsman Philip Hughes tragically died at the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) when playing for South Australia, when the Test batsman took a blow to the back of the neck when trying to avoid a bouncer from Sean Abbott of New South Wales. The blow caused him to collapse at the crease and had all players rushing to get treatment quickly and saw that particular game abandoned due to the incident.
The Bad news broke 2 days later, that Hughes had lost his life just three days before he was due to celebrate his 26th Birthday and saw Australia as a country grieve over the shocking news and the hardest person to deal with the shock death, was not that in his family, but that of Abbott. The fast bowler will have the unfortunate claim, that it was his delivery that killed a friend and is one bowling claim that no one should have against them.
Hughes`s family told the media down under, that no blame should be attached to him at all over the incident and that it was fluke incident that took place. At the funeral it`s self, Abbott was given a warm hug by the family of Hughes as it was a distressing time for both him and the Hughes family over the event.
Australia retired the number 64 in memory of Hughes and also adjusted his final innings to read ‘Not Out’ instead of ‘Retired Hurt’. It saw Australia put their 1st Test versus India back a bit and so when they played the opening Test at the Gabba in Brisbane, he was listed as 13th Man in the squad as special reminder and also had players on both sets of teams wearing P.H on black armbands and his Test number of 408 being painted on the field too.
Back onto the on field action, and England was hammered unsurprisingly when they travelled out to Sri Lanka to face them in a 7 game series and saw the Sri Lankan`s take the series 5 games to 2. Prior to the series taking part, questions were asked about Alastair Cook and his captaincy in the One Day format as if his poor performances back home in the summer against India wasn`t enough to say he was the wrong man to lead England to the World Cup, then this proved without a shadow of a doubt he was clearly not up to the job of doing it, with him lacking any ideas or field placing It didn`t help matter either when the Captain was unable to field and contribute to the Batting, after the series Cook was sacked by the ECB and replaced with Eoin Morgan as Captain.
TIGERS ROARING AWAY & CUP UP FOR GRABS
The English Premier League title seems pretty much done and dusted for this season now, as the Big spending Telford Tigers are sweeping all before them and i won`t get in business of how they have gone about their business this season, as that would go one for a long time. Telford currently leads the league by 13 points ahead of nearest ‘challenger’ the Peterborough Phantoms in second spot and have won 22 out of 27 games, with 3 losses in regulation and 2 in overtime or a shootout.
If you take the Tigers out of the running, then the rest of the league is pretty darn exciting to watch. As from 2nd place to 8th it is all separated by just 9 points in the table and can see Milton Keynes Lightning in the final playoff spot easily go on a winning streak and could soon find themselves into second place, that is how tight the league is this year, with the exception of Telford.
Swindon Wildcats and Peterborough have been the shocks of the EPL this year, with them finally breaking the top normal 4 sides and giving everyone a run for their money too. The Wildcats are currently on a 9 game winning streak and have surprised all in the league and have even blanked the Tigers twice this season, once on the road and once at home and if you can do it twice, it isn`t a fluke and that is a mark of a good side. Joe I’m sure will wax lyrical about his ‘Cats’ when he posts his new blog entry, but for me Swindon have gone the right way about things, without really needing to throw money and pay over the odds for players on big wages.
Manchester have been a big disappointment for me this season, as being a Phoenix fan myself the team have frustrated and flattered to deceived at time. They have took ages to gel or even get some cohesion within the side going. Imports Michal Psurny, Frankie Bakrlik and Robin Kovar have shown flashes of their form last year, but have all been pretty average so far. New Import signing Johan Burlin has been the most disappointing Import in the league by far, as his positioning has been awful and gets caught out far too easily and would be interesting to see his +/- on the season, as i feel it will be deep in the minus part.
Thank you reading this far down and hope to make it not so long Next time!!