Tuesday, September 02, 2014

HoR pre-season thoughts - Part 1

380 sleeps.  That’s all we get until 2015 Men’s Rugby World Cup kicks off.

Sure, we love our provincial rugby, our junior rugby, our Six Nations rugby, our Super Rugby, our European Professional Rugby Cup rugby, etc, etc, nobody can dispute that.

But only at RWC time can we say that the best in the game from all around the globe are chasing eggs in the same competition.

So between now and then, every second of action we watch will have to be put in that context.  

Ooh...that was a nasty break, wonder if he’ll be back in time for the World Cup?  Wow, what a performance by that youngster...wonder if he’ll be a bolter?  Hey, who’s this Gavin Henson chap and why don’t I see him in a Welsh jersey?  

They’re all questions we’re bound to be dreaming up during those 380 sleeps.  (OK, maybe not ALL...)

But what we want to do with this series of pre-season previews is look at the actual top-flight rugby we have to look forward to over the coming months.  There are, after all, trophies to be won, and naturally here at HoR Manor we’ll be keen to see Leinster & Ireland win some more of them!

This series will come in four parts and will look at different aspects of the game that interest us…
  1. Changes in the European season
  2. Leinster’s opposition for 2014/15
  3. Ireland's Six Nations defence
  4. Leinster’s prospects v Glasgow this Saturday and beyond
So time to kickoff….gather behind me while I drop-kick it to land just outside the opposition 22...

PART ONE - Our change is as good as the rest

A brand-spanking-new laptop.  A few tweaks to the layout.  The end of HoR2, with all posts now going here on the main site.  A new daily feature called Front 5 where we start your day with the most eye-catching quotes and links from around the ruggersphere.

These are all new things we have at our disposal to help you get into the swing of the new campaign, but you don’t need us to tell you that there are many more changes in the wider game for us to get used to as well.


Hang on...what do you mean, “there’s no changes to the scrum”???  There has to be!  

It’s a new season after all, there surely must be new laws?  You know, like now instead of “Crouch, Bind, Set” the ref can say something more practical like “Look guys I’ll just close my eyes and let me know when ye sort it out because you’re gonna cheat whatever way the laws are”?

Hey don’t get me wrong...I’m glad to see a bit of continuity in this area for once, but let’s not pretend things are sorted by a loooooong stretch.

Removing the hit advantage came at a price because hookers still can’t afford to be wasting time with the traditional hooking motion otherwise the shoving of his seven pack-mates won’t usually be enough against the opposing eight.  This in turn forces the scrum half to feed the ball crooked, even though refs are meant to be looking for this.

So a lot done, a lot more to do, but I suppose it is better overall to maintain the latest status quo for the time being.


Peace has broken out in the valleys...huzzah!  So naturally this means all the bitching and whining on social media will stop forever, right?

Meh...I won’t be holding my breath, that’s for sure.  

Even the very words “Participation Agreement” imply the obvious mutual reluctance to work together both WRU and RRW have displayed.  The rest of us just call it “playing rugby” and get on with it even when we disagree.

I’ll discuss the individual regions in more depth in part 2, but let’s be clear that overall I am of course delighted that the new six-year deal is in place and as any Irish fan will tell you, keeping home players at home whenever possible is always the better option, especially for the national test side.


OK - perhaps the English had a valid point about the Pro12 in that teams in the bottom half of the table could sit there in the latter stages of the season safe in the knowledge that they would never be relegated.

But what their argument also implied was that on account of the whole “qualifying for Europe” and “fear of relegation” thing, the Premiership couldn't possibly have any “shit” teams.  Because as we all know, the likes of Worcester Warriors, Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester have been tearing it up in recent years.

It’s hard to ignore, however, that the addition of Guinness and Sky to the Pro12’s corporate mix has to be a good thing.  Plenty of clout, plenty of extra exposure, and now the Welsh are making nice(r), we can probably argue that more than six teams will give a damn about qualifying for Europe, which on its own will make the league more competitive.

Are the changes enough in of themselves?  I’m not sure.  I can’t see Italian fans being too happy about being 11th and 12th respectively again this season but you’d get short odds on that happening.  I have harped on before about the way a conference format can help  spread the interest more evenly around the four competing nations, but I suppose a prevailing theme of this post must be that sweeping changes can wait until after RWC2015.

One difference is taking place in France, where the only numbers that interest most people are the players’ salaries.  But teams will now also have to “work harder”  to “earn” a losing bonus point, because now only a 5-point margin or less is enough.

I was already a fan of their try-scoring bonus system where it’s not enough to score 4 - you must have at least 3 more than your opponent.  So it could well be a good thing and maybe down the line both can be used throughout the game.

As for the Premiership, well, the PRL throwing their toys out of the pram certainly paid its dividends on the money front, but it remains to be seen whether the Piri Weepus and the Brad Thorns actually raise the standard of the domestic competition itself or will they just help them in the European matches.  

I have a feeling that the wider British public will get a greater appreciation of Pro12 rugby this season, with the only shame being that they will assume it’s only thanks to Sky coverage.  Meanwhile back here in Ireland however, the appreciation may suffer as many are reluctant to watch TG4 or subscribe to Sky.  

Maybe the best change for Ireland on the TV front would be for RTE to  let Joanne Cantwell host “Against The Head” every Monday night throughout the season?  Just a thought.  


Total shambles on the organizational front so far; one of sport’s biggest ironies ever given all the whining that was done about the ERC and their supposed failures.

And certainly the biggest winners in all of this have to be Heineken; I presume they now have a smaller layout than they would if they were the sole corporate sponsors, and since their logo is still associated with the tournament, it will be even harder than expected for fans to shake the name Heineken Cup!

As much as it pains me to say it, however, the reduction to 20 teams will surely make for a better standard of tournament.  And it cannot be stressed enough how much more competitive it makes the pools now that 3 out of 5 runners-up come out of the pools as opposed to 2 out of 6.  The whole “two losses and out” maxim is very much a thing of the past so watch out for some very interesting matchups.

We’ll have to see if there is to be any benefit to moving the final up to the first weekend in May.  Given I would much prefer provincial competitions to be played in blocks the way Super Rugby and the Currie and ITM Cups are, you can appreciate that for now I’m taking it with a pinch of salt.


We did quite a lot of harping on the Women’s World Cup when it was on (before Ireland’s big tournament successes I might add) and the most important thing to take from the competition was that more attention needs to be paid to the women’s game going forward.

And while it's a good time to encourage girls to take up the sport, we must not of course forget the boys and indeed everyone from all the grassroots clubs around the four provinces who give the game its foundation.

For me, if for some reason you can't play sport yourself, one of the pleasures of following a team is the ability to say you saw star players perform back when they were breaking through the ranks and even before.  And this is why we can enhance our enjoyment of rugby even further by making time to go check out some local club or schools' rugby whenever we have the chance.

All of which means we must do what we can to promote these areas of the game and hopefully this too can be a change over the new campaign.


So that's a look at what changes to expect over the coming months that we may not have seen before.

Tomorrow, we start to get into the nitty-gritty of actual rugby competition and have a look at Leinster's opposition in the Pro12, the Rugby Champions' Cup pools and (hopefully!) beyond.  You will of course be more than welcome to join us.  JLP



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