Sunday, March 31, 2013 competition


Click the grid for a better look.

teetime final grid




(Ross’ winning entry was made on Thursday evening at 9:07pm)

If you’re unsure how these competitions work, follow this link and all will be explained.

The winner receives a golf voucher for 4 at Slieve Russell golf club in Ballyconnell Co. Cavan (valid to 31st July) courtesy of

Who are they? I hear you ask…. is owned and operated by Online TeeTimes Ltd. (OTL). [websiteFacebook page]

OTL is an Irish sales and marketing company that utilizes market leading technology to deliver tee time availability to multiple websites and directly to golfer e-mail inboxes.

OTL believes that it can bridge the gap between golf courses with tee time availability and golfers seeking to play golf. OTL is dedicated to supplying quality information to golfers that will make the process of sourcing and booking golf an altogether easier process.

OTL recognizes that to be truly successful it needs to source the best tee-time slots from the most popular courses in Ireland. To that end, OTL is in the process of implementing online real-time connections to many of its participant clubs. This seamless integration of golf club systems and OTL’s web front-end will result in more times being made available to the golfing public.

Slieve Russell

Click these links for the entries :    Monday  Tuesday   Wednesday   Thursday

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Leinster-18 Ulster-22



I guess if you can't beat em, you may as well join em.

The online opinion down here seems to be that George Clancy was responsible for Ulster getting their first win over Leinster in Dublin since 1999, so that gives me license to go for the pun in my headline.

Thing is though...the Ulster fans are moaning about him just as much, even photoshopping him in a Leinster jersey, so I guess if you had to give him credit for anything it'd be consistency in pissing off both sets of fans.

Sure, his performance deserves to go under the microscope, but to make the report all about that would be unfair to these two sides who combined to provide a thriller of an interpro battle, one that shows this league could well have reached the most competitive level since its inception.

This was a game of two halves, but they weren't separated by the halftime interval.

The first 75 minutes of play followed a very clear pattern. When Leinster had the ball, we couldn't get it into their 22. When Ulster had it, they often got into ours. That the home side had a lead as big as 15-8 with half an hour left was down to what would happen to bring the attacking progress to a halt.

8961_456600317752406_1628606997_nPaddy Jackson just about shaded the battle of the outhalves on the night as he had a part to play in both Ulster tries, and although Madigan was perfect from the tee, it was a rare tryless night for his team at the RDS. Jackson did have a slight advantage though...the biggest weakness in his game, his placekicking, was being done for him while Madigan still can't get to grips with kicking the ball from his hand and this cost his side in several attacking situations.

That wasn't the only reason Leinster shot themselves in the foot going forward...the “greatest hits” were also there with full effect, like knockons and crooked lineout throws. It didn't help that we had to play more than half the match with a completely different centre pairing than the one we named at Friday lunchtime, but a 3-time Heineken Cup winner certainly can't call on that as an excuse.

It would also be unfair not to credit the Ulster defence, which from start to finish was on a par with that which undid Munster in Thomond almost a year to the day before. But while tough tackling and Leinster’s mistakes were big factors in stopping at the 22, so was the concession of penalties, seven of them in all within kicking distance.

When Ulster had the ball, much like Glasgow last week they showed no fear when it came to handling the Leinster defence. Olding and Cave played beyond their combined years in midfield while on the wing Trimble showed some justification for his central contract by outplaying his team-mate Gilroy.

More often than not it was quick thinking that broke the Leinster line and this is how they got both their tries – first Nick Williams spotted a gap between Mike Ross and Devin Toner before a super long pass from Jackson found Diack out wide to go over, then in the second half Ruan Pienaar was quick to spot that Madigan was slow getting into position after emerging from a maul and got it to Henderson it time for him to dive over.

The fact that both Ulster's dot-downs were in the corner shows just how hard they were to come by on the day, though the events for the final 5 minutes of “real” time showed it even more.

That seventh Leinster penalty I spoke of earlier was won thanks to our domination in the the scrum which was much more acute in the second half. Ricky Lutton did a decent enough job early on but when down to their bench props of Black and McCall, Leinster were able to get themselves an edge.

The four-point deficit on the scoreboard gave us a tricky call, but I think we made the right one in opting for the lineout/maul. Attacking ball in their 22 wasn't just scarce it was non-existent and given we're one of the league's leading try-scorers we had to back ourselves to go over in that situation.

And it was from that lineout onwards that Clancy put himself under the spotlight (or threw himself under the bus if you'd prefer). The Ulster fans' beef is that he kept calling penalties against them. You can get into the technicalities about transgressions at the breakdown all day long. The majority of ones that are given by any ref could have been let go, and the same goes vice versa.

But when you remember those seven earlier penalties, for Clancy to then ping the visitors on 76m, 78m AND 81m only to reach for his pocket on instructions of his assistant on 84m makes absolutely no sense. And surely the award for Ironic Referee Moment Of the Season has to go to him for not actually being able to remove the yellow from his wallet to send Payne to the bin. For a minute there I thought he had a GAA ref's set of cards by mistake!

A warning about all the penalties had been issued to the Ulster team early in the second half, and while it would have been harsh to produce a card for the scrum penalty on 75m I really do think the ref bottled it by not doing so for at least the second if not the first penalty in their 22. We will never know whether or not Leinster would have gone over for the winning score with an extra man, but that is kind of the point.

LeinsterOf course George saved his best until last by calling full-time only to then consult the TMO for the last play of the game, but it was at scrum-time where I felt he did himself the fewest favours. Whatever you feel about the new scrum laws, my interpretation of their spirit is to force the refs to make quick decisions and to minimize the amount of resets. Which means if you have a lot of them anyway it shows the ref is bottling it – and this guy is meant to be tier one?

As for Leinster well it's pretty easy to find some silver linings. Twelve months prior it took a home defeat to those pesky Ospreys to snap a Leinster winning streak and it gave us the wake-up call we needed prepare for the big end-of-season battle which saw us get one placekick away from an historic double.

Now although the defeat does knock us back, we still have time to regroup and prepare for the trip to Adams Park next week. Hopefully the Darcys and O'Briens will be back to give us a lineup that will remind our hosts just why we have three stars above our crest.

My biggest worry is in our second row. Quinn Roux got tagged for 3 missed tackles to go on top of the 5 from last week and once more he couldn't last the 80 minutes. I can only assume Cullen and Toner will start against Wasps but I wonder if it would be better to have both Ruddock & McLaughlin on the bench as cover. I wouldn't quite say Roux should be “sent to Coventry”, just Bristol for Leinster A's B&I Cup quarterfinal will do for now.

So congrats to the Ulstermen, the win down here was a long time in coming but it was well earned and it can only be good for Irish rugby overall. There's loads of exciting rugby left in this season, we'll see where the silverware ends up when the fat lady sings. JLP

Also this weekend…

Zebre 7 - 9 Edinburgh

Glasgow 51 - 24 Munster

Dragons 20 - 28 Scarlets

Cardiff Blues 16 - 23 Ospreys

Benetton Treviso P v P Connacht


Friday, March 29, 2013

Heineken invites fans to Get in the Game


Rugby legends and fans gather to kick off the final stages of rugby’s most exciting tournament.


As the Heineken Cup enters the knock-out stages and the journey to the final in Dublin begins in earnest, Heineken has unveiled a new multi-media campaign, encouraging people to Get in the Game. The Get in the Game campaign was launched to a packed house of rugby fans, players and legends in Dublin last night. Designed to bring the Heineken Cup experience from the pitch onto fans’ mobiles, computers and into pubs and homes across the country, Get in the Game offers a range of opportunities between now and May 18th to get involved and be part of the ultimate rugby spectacle. Stars, Shane Byrne, Frankie Sheehan, Alan Quinlan, Bryn Cunningham and pundit Brent Pope registered to play Get in the Game and went head to head against the fans in the Virtual Kick Game.

0242Get in the Game will allow people to seize opportunities and react to a variety of digital and real life games for an enriched Heineken Cup experience – from getting competitive in their local to contributing to the online conversation, fans will be encouraged to be part of Ireland’s Heineken Cup final adventure at every turn. Rugby heartland pubs across the country will be transformed into competitive zones where fans will be presented with Get in the Game challenges at key dates in the lead up to the final. The online conversation will centre around #GETINTHEGAME where there will be opportunities to score points and win Heineken Cup final match tickets.

Fans can get involved with Get in the Game via or by stepping up to challenges featured in pubs throughout Ireland. Arcade-style games such as Conversion Challenge and Catch will be available to online players who will also have their Heineken Cup knowledge tested with quizzes and Match Predictor. It is all linked in one exciting system where the overall winner will receive a once in a lifetime VIP and back stadium experience at the Heineken Cup Final.

Karl Donnelly, Heineken’s Sponsorship Brand Manager, said: “Sports fans are increasingly looking for new and engaging ways to enrich the Heineken Cup experience. We have developed an innovative and multifaceted approach that lives on mobile devices, computers and in pubs. Wherever you are, you can Get in the Game with the aim of scoring points and winning prizes.”

0150As the eyes of the rugby world will be on Dublin in May, so much of this excitement and chatter will be channelled across social media. Heineken Get in the Game will be there to bring this into fans’ real world experience. Europe’s social media rugby conversation in the lead up to the final will be monitored and trends and topics shared via a spectacular real-life visual display on the streets of Dublin during Heineken Cup final weekend.

Karl Donnelly, Heineken’s Sponsorship Brand Manager, said: “Today, so much of the conversation around sports events takes place across social media. Heineken recognises how important this space is. We are utilising this rich conversation and harnessing it with visual animations and projections over the weekend of the Heineken Cup final. A custom built structure for this visual display will also provide an interactive virtual kicking game; fans can literally kick conversions which will, in turn, send tweets in support of various teams. A social sentiment project like this has never been seen before in Ireland.’

The Get in the Game campaign, launched in Dublin on Wednesday 27th March, features new creative for outdoor, print and digital advertising. An exciting new TV advert will be released before the Heineken Cup final which will be played in Dublin on May 18th.

Iveragh RFC : Update #5

Roots & All is a project where we pick a few teams that don’t normally make the spotlight week in week out and feature them regularly throughout an entire campaign.

Iveragh RFC banner

Iveragh seniors travelled to Clonakilty last Sunday in the second round of the j2 Munster cup.  Having gotten away all year with no more than 3 subs at any given match, numbers finally caught up with us as we were down to the bare 15.

With 2 players starting carrying injuries Clon struck for an early try with only 2 minutes on the clock with the ball going through the hands of their speedy backs.  Iveragh scored a try off a quick peno that caught the Clon defence unaware 2 mins later.  Clon scored again through a chip chase and full back Brian O'Leary replied with a peno to make it 12-10 after 20 min of a high tempo game. 

Iveragh’s patched up team was beginning to settle and had total control of the scrum and forward play, but the lightning fast Clon backs were a constant threat and they struck for 2 more tries to leave it 22-10 at half time .iveragh controlled possession in the second half with the maul and pick and go yielding a try ,from flanker Austin Lyne making it 22-17.

With the game now poised to go either way, it was the Clon scrum half who secured the victory with a break off a ruck to leave the final score 29-17 to Clon for a well deserved win. Great facilities, pitches and hospitality down in Clonakilty and best of luck to them in the next round against Kanturk . With the shortage of players and a reshuffled backline, this was one of Iveragh’s best ever performances against all the odds and every player can be proud of his display.

Click here for the club’s Facebook page

The Pagano Preview #8

Time to stick on the green-coloured glasses and look at the weekend's rugby action


We have now officially arrived at the business end of the provincial season, so the rugby should be less about the “Woshkabomy” and more about the “Updajumpa” as each game takes on a cup final feel. Lots of playoff jostling going on this weekend so let's get stuck in to it.


Saturday, March 23


NG Dragons v Scarlets, 2:30pm

Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, 5:15pm

Certainly can't complain when the WRU tries some marketing initiatives and this double header at the Millennium Stadium is worth a shot. It will hardly attract a full house, even with a lot to play for in both matches as it seems the Scarlets and the Ospreys will be scrapping it out for the fourth playoff spot. Smart money has to be on both to win, but with the Dragons coughing up home advantage for the greater good it may afford Simon Easterby's men the chance of a try bonus. Scarlets by 20, Ospreys by 6.

Leinster v Ulster, 6:15pm

Glasgow’s hammering of Munster last night means any kind of win for Leinster this evening puts them top of the table while the Ulstermen need a try bonus plus a hefty winning margin…though I dare say they’d be more than happy grinding out a first win over their provincial rivals in Dublin since 1999 any way they can. 

And what a perfect dress rehearsal this is for Ulster’s Heineken challenge next week…having to travel to a capital city to play a team that went into the weekend in 1st place.  As for Leinster…the “4 from 5” may be long gone but with the form they have shown a unique treble of Pro12, Amlin and BandI Cup is still firmly in their sights.

When the 2013/14 Pro12 fixtures were released last summer, this was the biggest eye-opener for me. Having the Leinster v Munster derby a week before the European quarterfinals seemed to be set in stone but the rise of the Ulstermen has had them thrown into the mix and rightly so.

And talk about the match that has everything!!!  Provincial rivalry, oldest Irish fixture, one point between them on the table, one team on an unbeaten streak playing the last team to beat them...and of course the thing that's going to have the media in a frenzy most of all, the head-to-head between Messrs Madigan and Jackson.  When it comes to that battle of out-halves, there are no predictions that can be made…we simply have to let them get at it and examine their displays afterwards.

But looking at the two starting lineups it could well be in the scrum where this match is decided. Back in December, Leinster were bullied off the ball in the set-piece yet with both Afoa and Fitzpatrick unavailable to Mark Anscombe, things may be very different on Saturday evening. Richardt Strauss returns from injury to restore Leinster's elite front row trio and Jamie Heaslip isn't done being captain this season as Leo Cullen steps back to the bench.

In the back line Brendan Macken is preferred to Eoin O'Malley at outside centre, an interesting move one week before the Wasps fixture...seemingly he has been impressing in training. Rob Kearney lines out at full back to complete a strong back three with his brother Dave and also Isa Nacewa.

Ulster have some returning internationals of their own and will hope to win the back row battle with their trio of Diack, Henry and Williams, not to mention an extra replacement back row on the bench with Henderson and Wilson set to join the fray.

They also have quite the handy back three in Payne. Trimble and Gilroy so it will be all to play for.

The second row battle has something of a “men v boys” look to it as the visitors put captain Muller and Tuohy up against Toner and Quinn Roux. But despite the 6/2 split on the Ulster bench it seems Leinster have the edge when it comes to replacements with Cronin , McGrath, Hagan and Conway all impressing of late.

This has all the hallmarks of a classic derby struggle...but even with my blue goggles off a combination of home advantage, form, Ulster's record against Leinster in Dublin plus the front row & bench matchups has me leaning heavily towards a home win, though it certainly won't be easy. Leinster by 5.

Treviso v Connacht, 7pm

Eric Elwood makes a few changes to his pack with the biggest one being the return to the starting lineup of the Leinster-bound Mike McCarthy.

Adrian Flavin and Ronan Loughney join the front row while Eoin McKeon comes in as openside flaker with George Naoupu at 8.

Connacht had a good run of form snapped by Munster at Musgrave Park last weekend and looking down the Treviso lineup I'm not sure things are going to get much better for them here. As i said last week the Italians are really hitting their stride and if they can carry their open style of rugby through to next season they could well be pushing for the top half of the Pro12 table.

Both sides are clicking into end of season mode with just four games left and no real honours to play for (though after Munster’s defeat in Glasgow the Italians will feel they have a shot at overtaking the 2-time European champions on the Pro12 table)...I expect the Westerners to give a decent enough account of themselves here but the home advantage should win through. Treviso by 9.


Bath v London Welsh, 2:15pm

London Wasps v Saracens, 3pm

Hours before Leinster face Ulster in Ballsbridge, their respective European opponents for next week square off at Adams Park.  I'm tagging this as my “Upset of the Week” as Sarries have enough of a cushion atop the Premiership to take their foot off the gas for their big season-defining quarterfinal at Twickenham. Wasps by 4.

Northampton v Leicester, 3pm

Worcester v Exeter, 3pm

Top 14

Stade Francais v Toulon, 2pm

Bordeaux-Begles v Bayonne, 5:30pm

Clermont-Auvergne v Agen, 5:30pm

You would probably think April Fools Day had come early if I told you this was a contender for my “Upset of the Week” and I fancied a win for relegation-threatened Agen at a ground where nobody but Clermont ever wins.  You’d be right.  Clermont by LOADS.

Mont-de-Marsan v Montpellier, 5:30pm

Perprignan v Castres, 5:30pm

Tie of the round in the Top14 as the 7th-placed USAP must win to stay in touch with the top six while Castres will be aiming for 4th spot and the home playoff that comes with it. Perpignan haven't lost in the league at home since the opening day against Toulon while Castres' road success have only been against clubs at the bottom of the table. Perpignan by 9.

Racing Métro v Toulouse, 7:40pm

Super Rugby

(click here for Stephen Humphreys’ preview)

Brumbies v Bulls, 8:40am

Cheetahs v Rebels, 3:05pm

Stormers v Crusaders, 5:10pm

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

Lansdowne v Clontarf, 2:05pm

There is no doubt that Lansdowne will be worth of their championship crown once it has been mathematically clinched, but for the league as a whole I reckon it's best to bring back the top four playoff. The RTE cameras will be there but there's little or nothing at stake with Clontarf 19 pts behind with a game in hand. I presume if Mike Ruddock's men get the win here that wraps up the title we'll at least get to see them receive the trophy. I'd be inclined to upgrade that “if” to “when”. Lansdowne by 14.

Old Belvedere v St Mary's College, 2:30pm

Sunday, March 24


London Irish v Sale, 2:15pm

Super Rugby

Waratahs v Western Force, 5:05am

RFU Championship

Bristol v Plymouth Albion, 4:05pm

Leinster's B&I Cup QF opponents Bristol had a big win in Jersey last week that put them into the playoff spots but they will still be looking anxiously over their shoulders at Leeds who are just a point behind them with a game in hand. This is their final regular season home game and the Sky cameras are in town so they will want to produce the goods and thus can't hold too much back for the following Sunday.


That's it from me for this sure and enjoy your rugby this Easter weekend wherever you are! JLP

Lions Selector Panel–8th Round (ENG)

It’s one of the hottest debate topics egg-chasing has to offer.

Given we live in something of a green goldfish bowl on these Irish shores, there’s no harm getting input from elsewhere. And so we have the HarpinOnRugby Lions Selector Panel, made up of one fan from each nation, with even the Irish panellist based abroad.

This week it’s the turn of our English panellist, Rich Church-Keen from #rugbyunited blog.


Well, the 6 nations is in the history books and the Welsh may still be suffering the hangovers after the heroic last game thrashing of England that secured the championship for them.

I've seen so many pundits putting up Lions squads of 12 or 13 Welshmen with a token O'Driscoll, Care or Laidlaw thrown in to break up the Welsh monopoly, but i think people forget that Wales only won the championship on points difference and actually only outperformed one team, England, in the manner that would earmark them for the predicted dominance for the starting 15. I for one, don't buy it. There will be a lot of Welsh in the team, but 12 or 13 is going a little overboard!

I spent my last selectors panel blog talking about form, and the last couple of rounds of games saw several potential Lions drop off the radar, form wise. Factoring in the injuries to the likes of Bowe, O'Connell, Ferris and others (all 3 were shoe ins for my lions side) and outsiders such as Simon Zebo and Ben Morgan, the line up may be a little different to how i planned!

Last blog’s Lions were

Halfpenny - Cuthbert - Tuilagi - Barritt- North - Sexton - Care

Healy - Best - Coles - Hamilton - Parling - R Jones - Robshaw (Captain) - Beattie

First up, there is no way I will change the back 3. So the Welsh lads will remain in situ.

In the Centers, Barritt and Tuilagi were abysmal, uncreative and slow in the last 2 games. Tuilagi will be a big part of the tour, but he's not going in my starting line up. He looked totally one dimensional and Italy and Wales stopped him with ease. Barritt gets the blame from a lot of people for not being quick or creative enough. He's a defensive giant, but has huge flaws in his game, and I'd expect him to be replaced with Billy Twelvetrees come the next England squad. As far as the Lions go, I'd pair O'Driscoll and Matt Scott. O'Driscoll due to his inventiveness and guile, Matt Scott for his all action game and line breaking capability. No Davies or Roberts, I hear the Welsh cry. No. Davies had an average tournament by his own high standards, and Roberts before the England game had managed an underwhelming 24 yards gained over 4 matches. One good game (v England) does not make you a lion (for me anyway. Gatland may think different!)

Fly half. I hope its not going to be Jonny Wilkinson. The Lions should be the best of the current home nations, not an excuse for glory from someone who retired from the international game. Another Jonny, for me, is the prime choice. Mr Sexton. His absence undoubtedly was one of the prime reasons that Ireland struggled, he is a class act and HAS to tour if fit! Biggar has vastly improved, Farrell has turned into an angry young man and its affected his game, but i would imagine the 3 of them would all be named for the tour.

Scrum half. Phillips or Laidlaw would get the starting berth for me. Then a toss up with Youngs, Care or Murray taking the 3rd spot. Phillips abrasive nature would be handy, especially with Pocock ruled out, Phillips ability to be almost a 4th back rower could really pressurize the Aussies. Laidlaw (or any of the others mentioned) sniping would be a potent attacking threat, and against tired legs, they could be game changers!

Back Row. A plethora of talent, with potentially 5 Welsh Lions in the back row alone (Warburton, Faletau, Tipuric, R.Jones and Lydiate) but to get the balance spot on, i would pick need O'Brien at 6, Tipuric at 7 and Beattie at 8. There of course should also be mentions of Kelly Brown, Strokosch, Heaslip, Croft, Morgan, Tom Wood amongst others, but i like the balance of O'Brien, Tipuric and Beattie. Bruising, Fast and fantastic scavengers.

Locks. The locks seemed to be nailed on as O'Connell and Gray, but injury and the form of others makes me think that I'd pick Alun Wyn Jones and Jim Hamilton, both great lineout operators, handy in the loose and a great enforcer in Big Jim! Launchbury and Parling seem too lightweight for me and there were not many standouts from elsewhere.

Props. Tough call. Healy, for sure, Cole and Adam Jones will tour, but which will start???? I don't know who I'd pick. Jones started the 6 nations slowly, whereas Cole finished badly in the last 2 games, so the form would nod it to Jones.

Hooker. Rory Best seemed the only likely candidate at one point, but the performances of Hibbard over the past few weeks give him the edge for me. Youngs line out is average, Hartley's temperament is likely to cost you points and Ford seemingly vanishes from games.

My line up for this month would be.....

15 Halfpenny

14 Cuthbert

13 O'Driscoll

12 Scott (controversial!!!)

11 North

10 Sexton

9 Phillips

1 Healy

2 Hibbard

3 Adam Jones

4 AW Jones

5 Hamilton

6 O'Brien

7 Tipuric

8 Beattie

I have literally just noticed not a single Englishman in the team!!!

As my next (and final) Lions blog will be after the squad is announced, I will pick my 40 man squad, to see how close I get!

Full Back : Halfpenny, Kearney, Brown

Wing : Cuthbert, North, Visser, Gilroy

Centre : O'Driscoll, Tuilagi, Scott, Davies

Fly Half : Sexton, Biggar, Farrell

Scrum Half: Phillips, Laidlaw, Care

Back Row : O'Brien, Tipuric, Beattie, Wood, Warburton, Robshaw, Lydiate, Faletau

Lock : Wyn Jones, Hamilton, O'Connell, Launchbury, Parling

Prop : Cross, Adam Jones, Cole, Healy, Jenkins, Ross

Hooker : Hibbard, Best, Youngs, Ford

Until next month!!  RC_K

My name is Richard Church-Keen, born in Coventry, live in Dudley, yet by God's grace, I'm a diehard Gloucester Rugby and also an England rugby fan (and yes, in that order). I'm a rugby mad husband to a rugby mad wife with a rugby mad stepson and indeed, rugby has taken over every facet of my life. I am a chef by day, and #RugbyUnited’s charity director and blogger in chief by night. Oh. And a twitter addict (@RichC_K)!!!

Thanks Rich! Click here to see how his latest selection affects the HoR Composite Lions XV.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

BOX-KIX : Mar 28-Apr 4


[feature to be updated every Thursday and is for Irish TV only]

Times refer to start of broadcast not kickoff

Union in yellowLeague in red













ESPN – 7:15PM







SKY SPORTS 1 – 10:30PM


RTE2 - 2PM









ESPN – 1:45PM







BBC2NI – 1:30PM




NB – This weekly feature needs your help...if you know of any other rugby on telly in the above timeframe please email me! Cheers, JLP

© JL Pagano 2013

The Tipping Point

The uncertainty surrounding the so-called “tip-tackle” needs to be grabbed, lifted and driven into the turf.


One job I had back in the day was as “surveyor” for a gas company. That may sound like a very lucrative technical position, but all it meant was that I was to go round to the houses of people looking to buy a gas fire supposedly to check the dimensions of their fireplace, when in reality I was simply trying to get them to buy more stuff.

I enjoyed it because it had me driving all around Dublin and also I could work my schedule to suit myself. People were quite easy-going about arranging appointments, in fact most would express surprise when I actually showed up on time.

One day my destination address was the (fictional of course for the purposes of this post) “37 Meadowgreen Avenue”. As I drove up the road, which was quite a busy one traffic-wise, I remember cursing the local house-owners for not having numbers displayed on their doors because I couldn't even find a reference point to at least know I was at the right end of the road to find number 37.

By the way, yes, this post is about rugby.

Then I spy a house with a lawn sign in the front garden, a bit like ones you see around election time. To my amazement it had on it, printed in very big characters, “37 (THIRTY-SEVEN) MEADOWGREEN AVENUE”. It really was like some kind of divine intervention and I had to shake my head a few times to make sure I wasn't seeing things.

So I pull into the driveway and go up to ring the doorbell. The lady of the house answered and as she showed me to the fireplace in question I couldn't help but ask her about the sign. The wannabe comedian in me had me wording my query a bit like this : “Your pizzas must always arrive piping hot thanks to that sign!”

A few seconds later, her reply had me eating a very humble pizza pie.

The reason she had the lawn sign was that her 16-year-old son was a quadriplegic and since her neighbours were too conscious of their privacy to have numbers on their front doors, she wanted to be absolutely sure an ambulance could find the house if the need ever arose, and as it turned out it already had a couple of times since the tragedy occurred.

The tragedy in question was her son being injured in a rugby match. I would have assumed it was a scrum, but she definitely said it was a tackle, albeit without specifying what type it was, and I certainly wasn't going to ask for any more information than she was prepared to give me.

This happened back towards the end of the 90s when rugby had begun its slow creaky transition towards professionalism. A decade and a half later, the game is still trying to get to grips with dangerous tackling.

Recently we had an excellent blog-post from Andy McGeady outlining the way scrums are being over-penalised at the highest levels of the game. It certainly seems to be the case that front rows are being targeted by referees and that the game as a spectacle is suffering as a result.

To play devil's advocate for one moment, one of the reasons the IRB is cracking down on front row treachery is that of order to ensure scrums are being conducted properly right down to the lowest junior/amateur levels, they need the elite pros to be setting the right example. And as a loosehead prop I had my face mashed into the turf enough times to know how dangerous it can be.

Still, despite these motives, I feel they are being taken too far and it will remain a bug-bear with fans for a while ... the “zero-tolerance instant penalty on first offence” approach can be just as frustrating to all involved as a seemingly endless series of resets.

But when it comes to the phenomenon known in the game as a “tip-tackle” I would hold a very different view – zero-tolerance is the only way to go.

Last weekend in a Super-Rugby match the Queensland Reds full-back Jonathon Lance was binned for lifting the Bulls' lock Grant Hattingh and taking him “beyond the horizontal” before bringing him down. The card was only produced after TMO review, thanks to new experimental laws being tried out in the SANZAR competition this season.

When watched in real time, the tackle looked quite harmless. In fact, the whistle had blown for a knock-on just prior to it so if anything Lance took the foot off the pedal a bit. So when the ref flashed the card I noticed several comments on twitter that “common sense” needed to be applied to the situation. I respectfully disagree.

With the TMO in the equation we now get a chance to see the Laws of the Game properly tested. It wasn't down to the referee's instinct...the incident would not only be reviewed by an official but also the millions of TV viewers. In the case of a tip-tackle, we need to examine the meaning behind the phrase “beyond the horizontal”.

The trick in composing laws is not only in finding where to draw the line but also in finding words to describe it. I'm no physicist but I'd like to think that when you grab a big chap by his waist or below and lift him up in the air, as you follow through your control over him decreases as he reaches and then passes a position horizontal to the ground. From then on a combination of his initial momentum, his body weight and of course gravity take over...his journey to the turf may not be taken out of your hands literally, but it certainly is figuratively.

And as all rugby fans will know, different players have different “centres of gravity” - the lower yours may be, the harder it is to get you down. But when it comes to composing a law surrounding a tip-tackle, if we were to take centre of gravity into account it really would be going into the realms of the ridiculous. So it makes perfect sense that the line in the sand must be the horizontal position.

But what of the seemingly harmless nature of a tackle that isn't really carried out with any pure force? In the case of Hattingh there was never going to be any serious injury resulting from the tackle on him.

Again we need to appreciate what we're doing with these laws. We're not simply trying to come up with a way of identifying and punishing the offence. We're trying to get into the head of the would-be tackler BEFORE he or she steps on to the pitch. And by strictly applying the laws at the highest level, we're not just getting into the professional's head, we're also trying to influence all the players watching him as well.

So in many ways it is similar to drink driving, where the safety implications are too great not to do everything we can to stop anyone even considering getting behind the wheel after a pint or two.

In a Leinster School Senior Cup semifinal this season, a Blackrock College player, under 18 of course, was red-carded for a tip-tackle, and absolutely rightly so. We must try to prevent it happening at any level, though of course they are even the more dangerous as you go down the through the rugby levels as the players aren't as physically prepared for such contact with the ground as professionals.

That incident actually involved another aspect that needs to be brought into the equation...what do we do when a perpetrator of a tip-tackle is on OUR team?  Like the example above for me, we can certainly all remember individual incidents that involved our players…be it Warburton on Clerc, Ferris on Evans, Tuilagi on Care in the photo, Moriarty on McGrath at Under 20 level, or the one that inspired this piece, De Luca on Grabham…we’ve all seen it done by “our guys”.

We all know about the need to question a ref who rules against at all levels of the game, it's a part of the sport – just last Saturday I was but a few metres away from Nigel Owens shouting “how many is THAT, Nigel?” when he awarded another breakdown penalty against the Glasgow Warriors.

But there are some areas where it is we - the team-mates, coaching staff and fans – who must be the ones showing the “common sense”. When it is clear a tackled player has been brought beyond the horizontal we need to get fully behind the officials – it's for a reason. 

Whatever about the legal technicalities that led to De Luca’s 13-week ban being reduced, it dismayed me.  I’m not saying there shouldn’t have been an appeal but for me a headline reading “Appeal of ban for tip-tackle is rejected” would have been better for the greater good of the game.

Don’t get me wrong…the so-called “bone-crunching” tackles we see on RugbyDump & YouTube are a great feature of the game for sure, we've all seen & enjoyed the highlight reels.

But I may not be a professional rugby player, a law-maker, a spinal surgeon or a physicist...nonetheless, I most certainly am a father. I want nothing more than to see my kids enjoying sports safely, and if Blackrock College playing a match with 14 men, Leinster having a key player banned for several weeks or even Ireland being denied a Grand Slam is the price that must be paid to help ensure that, then so be it. JLP

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All still to play for at Ravenhill

With injuries, lack of confidence and form, it’s all over for Ulster isn’t it? Actually, no, writes Ryan Cullen…


Since breaking their French Heineken Cup duck against Castres in January, Ulster has won just one of their next five fixtures, an easy home game against Pro 12 basement boys Zebre. This, of course, represents a huge downturn in form which threatens the region’s Pro12 playoff chances and their Heineken Cup prospects. But what is to blame?

A quick straw poll at Ravenhill would surely suggest that injuries have been the main reason for Ulster’s stumble. Injuries to players such as Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne would hinder any other side in Europe, save perhaps for a few of the French giants. However it is the sheer number of injuries that Ulster has suffered in key positions that has frustrated Ulster fans. Injuries to both Roger Wilson and Nick Williams, for instance, demonstrates that Ulster haven’t always had the rub of the green when it comes to player fitness.

That all of the injuries occurred whilst the Six Nations was taking place was again unfortunate. Losing talented youngsters like Luke Marshall, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson certainly wasn’t thought likely prior to the championship and has meant Ulster’s squad has been stretched to its limits, retaining players like Stuart Olding instead of releasing them to Irish underage squads on occasion. It has certainly been something of a perfect storm as far as that side of things have been concerned.

Yet it would be far too basic to suggest that injuries have been the only reason Ulster haven’t quite hit the heights of earlier in the season. Firstly we must consider the team’s confidence, or lack thereof. Whilst the defeat by Northampton in December appeared to be shaken off fairly quickly, the defeat by the Ospreys seems to have taken a greater toll. Whilst they defeated a terrible Zebre side after that, the defeat in Glasgow and the draw at home with Treviso told a tale of a side struggling to do the basics efficiently and simply struggling for conviction in their own decisions.

Victory away to Edinburgh, this season’s surprise strugglers would have been a boost then ahead of two of the most important weeks of Ulster’s season to date. With a trip to the RDS upcoming this weekend and then a trip to Twickenham to take on Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens the week after in the Heineken Cup QF, any victory against Edinburgh would have been greatly received. Despite the poor performance it is fair to say this was within Ulster’s grasp if Paddy Jackson had brought his kicking boots. Failure to get over the winning line when it was in sight once again certainly won’t boost anybody’s confidence for the weeks ahead.

Loss of form has also been an issue. Ruan Pienaar, everybody’s go to player as Ulster’s most important cog, hasn’t shown the same level of form he demonstrated in the previous 18 months. Tom Court was pulling up trees at the start of the season but has gone backwards in recent weeks. Players like Mike McComish, Paul Marshall and Ricky Andrew were probably playing slightly above themselves before Christmas. Youngsters like Michael Allen, Connor Joyce and Stuart Olding have come in and done some good things, but the bar for judging them is always going to be slightly lower than others.

Injuries, lack of confidence and loss of form, it’s all over isn’t it? Well actually, no. Despite recent struggles, Ulster has not become a bad team in just a few weeks. The return of a sizeable number of injured and international players for the game with Leinster should see them turn in a much improved performance. The extra experience and know-how they will bring should also have a big impact on the younger players in the squad. Ulster fans will certainly hope Anscombe releases some of the pressure building on Paddy Jackson by hand the kicking duties over to Ruan Pienaar. This should lead to a more reliable return from penalty and conversion attempts.

Of course, a trip to the RDS to take on an in-form Leinster side certainly wouldn’t be the fixture you would choose to try and arrest the current run but it also provides the team with something of a free shot too. Confidence isn’t just developed through victories, matching what is still one of the best teams in Europe closely will certainly boost morale ahead of the trip to London. Certainly a close defeat at the RDS would do as much for big game confidence as an easy home victory over one of the Pro12’s bottom clubs. Of course you risk the possibility of being routed but it is surely much better preparation for the game against Saracens than the latter.

Turning to that game at Twickenham, we also have to ask how good are Saracens? Do Ulster have anything to fear? Despite being on a terrific run lately, they don’t play a hugely expansive game and Ulster would certainly be disappointed if they were dominated up front when the majority of their front line squad comes back into the First XV. Having routed a fairly highly touted Northampton side earlier in the season, Ulster will know the levels of performance they can reach if they get things right. At their best they are certainly a match for a strong but limited Saracens team. That over 20,000 Ulstermen will likely be standing up in Twickenham on the 6th of April certainly can’t do the cause any harm either.

In rugby, as in any sport, it is very easy to let the doom and gloom of a bad run of form blur the facts of a situation. The facts for Ulster show they are quality side who have just been performing badly. Whilst this certainly isn’t how Mark Anscombe would have hoped to be entering this stage of the season, no damage has been done yet. A successful fortnight will give Ulster the chance to achieve all those goals that seemed tantalisingly close a few months ago. All is still to play for.

My name is Ryan Cullen and I am a 25 year old Ulster season ticket holder. I was introduced to the game around 15 years ago and have loved it ever since. I have an interest in pretty much all sports though so don’t be surprised to see a few football (Liverpool), Golfing and Racing interests (to name but a few) thrown in from time to time.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019