Monday, 30 April 2012

Ulster & Leinster in the Heineken Cup Final

Heineken semi-finals ended up very well for both teams from Ireland. The games were fierce, at a very high level and definitely worth watching.

Ulster-Edingurgh 22:19

On Saturday, second time in the history of Heineken Cup, Ulster team qualified for the finals. The Irish beat the Scots 22:19. Scottish team playing very ambitious game managed to keep the score close thourughout the game. Despite this fact, the Irish did better. Ulster team made less individual mistakes and proved almost unbeaten in scrums.  That was enough to beat a very demanding opponent. It's worth mentioning that all 11 kicks on posts were successful. The game, some may say, did not abound in spectacular situations, but you could still enjoy it. Both teams played tough and ambitiously which was especially visible in defence and rucks. Congratulations to Ulster and also well done to Edinburgh!

Clermont - Leinster 15:19

Sunday semi-final stirred more emotions than some horror films. From the very beginning the game was close. After 40 minutes the French were winning 12:6. Just after the change of sides and brilliant try set-up by Rob Kearney was followed by the only try by Cian Helay. Drop-goal increased the Irish leading by 4 points 12:16. The French responded with a penalty kick and they were only one point behind. The last 15 minutes were even more dramatic. Firstly, Jonathan Sexton scored an important penalty kick increasing the advantage by 4 points. TMO had to make a decision on the next penalty kick and it turned out it was a missed one. The score remained unchanged. The time was ticking and the French were attacking desperately to score in the last minutes of the game. They were very close to winning, a few moments before the end it seemed that Wesley Fofana would be the one to save the French when he placed the ball behind the try-line. However, the video proved that the points cannot be rewarded. The game in the last minutes was played just 1 meter away from the Irish try-line. The French did not succeed to overwhelm Irish outstanding defence. Leinster won, and at the same time increased the number of successful games to 14 in a row in Heineken Cup. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Heineken Cup seminfinals preview

This coming weekend offers us a lot of excitement. On Saturday, in Heineken Cup semi-final, Ulster will play with Edinburgh. This team has so far been the biggest surprise of the tournament eliminating four-times champion - Stade Toulouse on the way to the semifinals . Edinburgh can already consider this year’s competition a success. They are the first Scottish team which reached the semifinals stage. If they manage to defeat their rivals it will be a historic success not only for the team but for the whole Scottish rugby. In this confrontation, however, Ulster is a big favorite. The Irish have already defeated one of the most dangerous team - Munster, so if they fail to achieve the next phase of the tournament, it will definitely be a missed opportunity.

In Sunday's semifinal, last year's champion Leinster will meet French Clermont Auvergne. Both teams are doing very well in their leagues (Leinster is leading the table and Clermont is currently second), so it looks that we will see the clash of titans. Clermont is weakened by the absence of one of their key players - David Skrela, who hasn’t fully recovered from the injury he picked up during quarter-finals. This fact speaks in favor of Leinster but winning on French soil is never an easy task.

If both Ulster and Leinster win, it will only be the second time in history when two teams from the same country play in the finals. This situation occured in the 2002/2003 season for the first time, when Toulouse and Stade Francais met in the final. Who will be the finalist this year? We will find out in a few days' time.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What happned to rugby shirts?

The decision to enter the professional sports world was undoubtedly one of the most crucial moments in the history of rugby. On the 26th of August 1995 IRB declared the start of new professional era and from this moment there is no way back. Analysis of the consequences of this event is a subject for extensive research work - transformation of amateur rugby into the professional sport has already been described in some interesting books. Today, I will focus on a very specific issue resulting from this change and clearly visible today, namely, the appearance of rugby jerseys. Although the rugby players outfit, as the discipline itself, constantly evolved, changes that occur in the recent years seem to be very radical.

A few years ago a rugby shirt was easily recognizable. Traditional style with a collar and a few buttons became an icon of this sport, associated almost equally with the oval ball and goal posts in the shape of the letter H. Patterns and colors of both clubs and national teams jerseys remained almost completely unchanged over the years. Fans could recognize teams at first glance. The situation has radically changed recently. Many teams opted for a very bold decisions about the players outfit. The leader of the controversial design is a French team Stade Francais which is known for very avant-garde shirts. National teams are also experimenting - a good example is England. RFU decided to appear in black (rugby15) and orange or purple (rugby7).

This revolution is related to two things. First of all, the development of technology enabled the production of match clothing with improved properties. The use of synthetic materials like polyester, which replaced cotton, made products more durable lighter and more resistant to water and sweat absorption. Additionally, new shirts are harder to get hold of in a tackle situation because they are slippery and closely adhere to the body. New production methods have also enabled creation of the shirts in any design and colors.

The second issue involves the financial aspect. Revenue from the sale of  merchandise, replica shirts and any other products purchased by fans are one of the major sources of income in professional clubs. People responsible for marketing and promotions know very well how to build interest in this kind of products. The main strategy is to launch the new product range with the start of every season. Then there are different sets of  rugby shirts for league matches and international tournaments (such as the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup).

Although the modernization of equipment coupled with technological developments can be considered a natural process, which accompanies sports for years and usually affects it favorably, a modern attitude to the appearance of the shirt is not so clear. The fact, that teams change the design of the shirts after every season and constantly surprise fans with new ideas for the jerseys, is becoming more common. The fans, despite the initial shock, started to get used to this situation. In my opinion, however, the tradition is too easily sacrificed in favor of marketing. Instead of constant change, I would rather see a more conservative approach. Even at the highest level it is possible to stick to tradition. The best example is a wide group of U.S. clubs playing football, hockey, basketball or baseball. Their image has stayed very consistent for years. Shirts and logos of teams such as Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers or New York Yankees are recognizable around the world, not only by fans but also by people completely unrelated to sports. Building a professional sports team brand should be strongly based on its history and traditions.
Free approach to the continuous change of colors and patterns is not good for strengthening identity. I hope that those responsible for the appearance of professional rugby teams will soon come to similar conclusions. I hope that rugby shirt will be restored to its due respect, and that it will become something more than just a space for designers’' artistic expression.

Below are some pictures of the most avant-garde outfits which professional rugby players are "forced" to play in.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Win free rugby tickets

Technology makes rugby matches more accessible. Access to games on TV is getting easier and more popular so more fans can follow top level matches. Those who are not able to watch live games, can easily find highlights and sometimes even full games on the Internet. I recommend - on this website you can watch most interesting footage of the latest games.

Despite all the advantages which are inherent to the television broadcast, atmosphere at the stadium can be fully appreciated only if you are there. Rugby game at the highest level is a real celebration for supporters. Nothing can be compared with emotions during a game watched from the stand. I participated in top level clashes such as Six Nations or Aviva Premiership final several times. Every time I come back very happy.

Demand for the big games is always huge, tickets are often sold out to the last seat. Trip to the biggest shows - such as Heineken Cup final should be planned well in advance. As for the big events, however, there is always a chance to get to the game for free. I don't mean to sneak in or jump over the fence but to take part in competitions. If you're lucky enough you can grant yourself unforgettable experience. Official sponsors or big rugby portals always have tickets allocated for the prizes. It is good idea to take part in such competitions. There is no risk and you've got a chance to win tickets for the best rugby events. I watched New Zealand - Barbarians and this year will go to Aviva Premiership final this way.

If you are interested, below are some links that may be useful.            
Tickets for the Aviva Premiership final from Hilton HHonors or ESPN Scrum
Signed Barbarians shirt from Lovell Rugby
Tickets for the Scotland - New Zealand game from Carling
Polo shirt from the Rugby World

Monday, 9 April 2012

Heineken Cup quarter-finals 2012

Heineken Cup quarter-finals are over. The tournament, as every year, proved to be the greatest test for European teams. Teams that stood against each other in 1/8 finals entertained us with top-level rugby. The games were very fierce, played at incredible speed and intensity.

The very first Saturday's game showed what we can expect from the knock-out stage of the competition. Edinburgh made a nice surprise for their fans winning 19:14 with one of the most successful clubs in Europe. The Scots, after dramatic match, defeated Stade Toulouse - a team considered to be a favourite. It is a historical success for the club and Scottish rugby. Scotland will have their team in the semi-finals for the very first time.

In the second Saturday's game Leinster won with Cardiff Blues 34:3. The Irish played as the champions should. I watched this match with a real pleasure, set-piece moves created by Leinster were a real rugby masterpiece. In my opinion, a special attention deserves Brian O'Dricsoll's try scored after excellent team work.

Third match was played between local rivals - Munster hosted Ulster. Both teams played incredibly well in the defence area. Although home team had territorial advantage, visitors were much more efficient in taking their chances. At one point they were leading 0:19. Munster is not a team that gives up easily. The "red army" players were trying their best to change the score line to their advantage, but the opponents withstood the pressure and secured the place in the semi-finals by winning 16:22.

The fourth game was the old good English-French battle. Saracens played against Clermont Auvergne at home. The first half was mainly a kicking contest. Clermont led 3:9 after 40 minutes, all points were scored from penalties. After changing sides match became much more interesting. Despite very ambitious effort of the English team, the guests managed to keep their scoreboard ticking over. Saracens lacked precision and clinical finishing in the key moments. The French took advantage of their chances and sealed the place in the semi-finals winning 3:22.

Semi-finals pairs are: Ulster - Edinburgh and Clermont Auvegne - Leinster. After watching quarter-finals matches I would bet on Irish final Ulster - Leinster. However, competition proved many times, that nothing is granted in the Heineken Cup. I will look forward for the next stage of the tournament, which is scheduled for the 28th and 29th April.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Salford City Stadium - Sale Sharks' new home

The whole North-West have been speaking about it for the last few of days. Sale Sharks are about to move to the new stadium. The information has been officially confirmed at the press conference. After nine years in Stockport, Sale Sharks decided to move to the new place. We will only see two more games at Edgeley Park, new season will start at the Salford City Stadium in Barton. The modern facility, which recently has been put into use, will be shared between two teams - Sale Sharks and rugby league Salford Reds. The decision to move was enthusiastically welcomed. Both experts and majority of fans believe that the new facility will improve the image of the club and help to achieve Steve Diamond's goals.

At the press conference club's CEO once again mentioned the already started Sale Sharks' metamorphosis process. The aim is to build North-West most powerful club. In four years’ time Sale Sharks want to become team fighting for the highest trophies in Aviva Premiership and European rugby. If they achieve this goal, the stadium, which is able to accommodate 20000 fans, will certainly become useful.

The first game at Salford City Stadium is scheduled for August 2012, our opponent is Leinster.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sale Sharks to change name?

My previous unofficial news has been confirmed - Danny Cipriani signed a 3-year contract with Sale Sharks. The team will be also joined by Richie Gray. It's a really good news for Sharks' supporters which shows that Steve Diamond is looking to strengthen the team. After recently lost games, the decision to contract new players can be easily justified. Two weeks ago, Sharks had a chance to qualify for the play-offs. Now we can only hope that they will manage to get into the Heineken Cup.

The club's change has an effect on not only the team, coaches and staff. The process is far more complex with Steve Dimond aiming to create a proffessional rugby team  which the fans from the entire North West can identify with. Attracting new supporters is definitely the right thing to do and the future relocating of the team from Edgeley Park which can hold 10 thousand supporters to the newly built stadium in Salford with 20 thousands seats, despite being controversial, has its good reasons, too.

What has resulted in a heated debate is the idea to change the club's name. The information is unofficial (again) however the roumor exists among people connected to the club.
It's about changing the "Sale" element to something else like "Manchester Sharks" or "North West Sharks". The supporters find it difficult to accept the new marketing idea. Sale FC was created in 1861 and is the fifth oldest club in England. It gave the beginning to a proffessional rugby team Sale Sharks which won the Premiership in 2006 and European Challenge Cup in 2002 and 2005.

150 year is a big piece of history and the current clubs' name has a part in it. Soon, the marketing plan may win with tradition and the supporters song "Saaaaale", which for years accompanied the games, will disappear from the stadiums. What is going to replace it? Is there anything that can replace it? The time will tell..