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    Italian teams HC pools a joke



    State of Italian rugby a major concern.
    <DIV =LeadPara>On Rugby: As Paul O'Connell said in the aftermath of Munster's win away to Cardiff on Sunday, the back-to-back rounds of the Heineken European Cup in December are the least glamorous stage of the competition. The opening two rounds come with all the hype and hope associated with the start of any new tournament, while the fifth and sixth rounds serve up the dramatic last-ditch attempts at qualification which Munster, as much as anyone, have revelled in. </DIV>
    <DIV =LeadPara>It is also, of course, quite difficult to achieve a double inside two weekends against the same opponents. A total of 46 of the 84 consecutive head-to-heads have yielded double wins. But for last season's unusually high tally of nine and sadly, it has to be said, the presence of Italian teams, that figure would dip below 50 per cent </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>To add to the whiff of cordite arising from close defeats or personal animosities generated in the first meetings, beaten teams often have a point to prove to themselves, all the more so on home soil, and one ventures that the likes of Llanelli, London Irish and Leinster will discover this in Toulouse, Ulster and Agen next weekend. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>For example, Ulster players and management will have surely noted the beaming pleasure London Irish extracted from their win over them on Saturday, and in particular Mike Catt being shown on camera in the home post-match huddle informing his players: "Let's go over and enjoy beating them in Ulster next week." </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Furthermore, in the post-match fall-out at the Madejski Stadium, "Irish" coach Brian Smith revealed that "it was pretty lively between the two teams on the field at the Madejski and it was a bit lively at half-time in the tunnel between the two management teams." </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Although Mark McCall and captain Simon Best conceded qualification was now beyond them, this may not necessarily be the case, as defeats for Llanelli in Toulouse on Saturday and in Ravenhill on January 13th would mean that all the contenders in Pool Six would have two defeats. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Leinster's trek to Agen is laden with pitfalls and now looks the crunch match of their campaign, given that still infuriating, largely self-inflicted defeat in Edinburgh has left them with little further margin for error. At least their dramatic bonus point try in the fifth minute of injury-time against Agen means they would finish above Agen if the two finish on the same points unless the French side take a 5-0 haul of the points in the Stade Armandie - where they have lost only once this season to Perpignan - on Saturday. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Last-ditch dramatics like that are normally the preserve of Munster, but Leinster achieved their fourth try true to their own inimitable style; the combined running, offloading and vision of Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey, Reggie Corrigan and Malcolm O'Kelly taking the breath away. Not for the first time, O'Kelly's vision has been called into question, with the suggestion - even in-house - that his skip pass to the touchline hugging O'Driscoll was intended for Jamie Heaslip. O'Kelly, lest it be forgotten, also served up the first of O'Driscoll's more celebrated hat-trick in Paris almost seven years ago (crikey!) with the deftest of left-to-right skip passes. That's the class of Mal. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Leinster are again freely picking up bonus points, but they need to keep winning and top the pool because four wins and a truckload of bonus points might not secure them one of the best runners-up spots this time; or at any rate would probably send them to San Sebastian and a date with those men on a mission from Biarritz. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>
    Seas suas agus troid!

    #2


    The reason why Italian teams play so poorly in the Heineken Cup and so well in the Six Nations is because nearly all the Italian players play their club rugby outside Italy

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