Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Rugby Champions Cup - more tweaked than revamped


This entity we now call the Rugby Champions Cup is what it is now after all the wrangling.  So in a way, I can see the attraction of pretending any negatives are not there, since to make any more alterations could be seen as farcical.

But as we move forward, I hope we never forget exactly what the competition is in its current form; for despite the shiny coat of paint, what lies underneath has a vast amount of the flaws that were there before.

For one thing, it shouldn’t be surprising that an Irish fan has qualms, given how the whole public kerfuffle over the format transpired, plus the PR disaster after PR disaster that has befallen the EPCR since its inception. (Heineken only sponsor, demonizing ERC yet retaining its staff, and now the “buy a ticket to watch the best 2 teams in England and get to see the best 2 teams in Europe free” offer)

Still - if we are to really look at the supposed improvements to the competition, we need to be honest about what exactly happened (or effectively didn’t) with the change.

The top argument put forward by PRL with the French & Welsh clubs standing squarely behind them was that it was unfair how the Pro12 clubs found it so easy to qualify while Premiership & Top 14 ones had the dreaded sword of relegation hanging over them.

I never saw a problem with that per se, and I have to say the race for 6th in this season’s Pro12 has been a boost to the league and taken away a lot of “dead rubbers” in the final weeks of the regular season.

However...let us examine this perceived “unfairness” for a moment.  The assumption behind these cries of injustice would seem to be that whatever way the rules affect clubs from one country should also be applied to another, right?

OK - then why are countries allowed to set their own salary caps, for example?

Because the French and the English have their own domestic league and the caps are set for those competitions - yes, I know.  But - this pan-European competition is meant to be more prestigious than any other, right?  So was “easy qualification” really the biggest inequality that needed fixing?

Then we have the calendar.  In previous years, the HCup final was played a week before the domestic ones (never ideal, especially when Leinster were involved in so many of them!).  Now we have an almost perfectly ironic scenario whereby the inaugural ERCC decider, moved to the beginning of May (agreed by PRL to placate the Top 14), will involve two French clubs in what is threatening to be a half-empty English stadium.

For me, there is only one weekend on the European calendar which is ideal for a European final - the last one.

But the staging of the final isn’t the only problem with timing IMO.  While so many in rugby circles love to remind folks “This Is Not Soccer” to use Nigel Owens’ immortal words, the structure of our pan-European competition was always built on a foundation close to that of UEFA’s Champions League, with the premise that you have to qualify for next year’s competition from this year’s domestic one.

If I had to explain the system to a fan of American sports, I’d compare it to staging the Super Bowl playoffs in the middle of the following regular season.  Sounds crazy from an NFL perspective, but it is the expected norm in European sport.

Now...before anyone scoffs at the notion that we copy what the Americans do, that’s not what I’m suggesting at all; in fact, there’s a lot to be said for the status quo because it gives more weight to the domestic league as opposed to making it seem more like a preliminary round for Europe.

However, a major flaw in the current Euro format cannot be ignored...when you sprinkle the RCC/HCup matches throughout the season, you force coaches and players to choose between competitions.  

There is so much money involved in merely qualifying for Europe that some clubs may be forced to prioritize domestic fixtures so they can be sure of a slice of the telly pie the following season.  And for me, this is wrong.  In an ideal world the schedule should be such that the hierarchy of importance is Test > Europe > Domestic, with no exceptions.

But like I say, it is merely an ideal.  It is a feature of world rugby that national unions are given a huge amount of scope to do things their own way (as we saw with the ARU’s new “Giteau rule”) so it’s safe to say a level playing field when those unions face each other isn’t exactly a top priority in the game.  

And as for my reservations on the Euro format, not to mention my disappointment at my beloved Leinster falling just short in our semifinal, I should make it clear that I am still very much looking forward to this weekend’s finals.  

Once there's top flight rugby on, I'll be watching when I can.  I just hope the current model is sustainable with a view to growing the game across the continent over the years.

No surprises that my support will be with Clérmont and their amazing fans for the big clash at Twickenham; as for the Challenge Cup final, since Brendan Macken didn’t make Gloucester’s matchday 23, Come On You Embra!!!!  JLP

Pro12 Perplexity

Is having a pre-determined host city for the Pro12 Final a good idea for the league? asks Emma McGarry...

Kingspan Stadium.jpg

Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium in Belfast was selected by the Pro12 organisers to host the 2015 final. Announcing the decision, John Feehan CEO of Pro12 Rugby said; “Belfast is an inspiring host city and the new Kingspan Stadium is a state-of-the-art venue for the Guinness Pro12 Final.” And he’s not wrong but the decision to name the venue of the final ahead of the game is one that bemuses me. It removes the advantage of finishing top of the table and earning a home final. Surely that should be the reward for a team clearly deserving of the title of champions? But I don’t see how they have any advantage now. 

It does look like Ulster could very well be there for the final. But what happens next time when we have, for example, a Leinster v Munster final and the host venue selected is in Italy? I would imagine each of the participating countries would be given the opportunity to host it and that would make it extremely difficult for supporters to go to matches that are generally already hard to get tickets to. Times in Ireland still aren’t great for lots of people and to ask them to fork out even more money to support the team they love surely isn’t right. We deserve to see our team at home if they make it to a final! Bottom line is it simply isn’t fair to the table topping team or their supporters. 

Here’s what the Guinness Pro12 organisers had to say on the matter:

“Our competition is truly unique. 12 Clubs, 4 Unions, 1 Trophy – we are delighted to be able to work with our partners to promote the variety of fantastic international destinations that the Guinness PRO12 has to offer.

“We look forward to working with all our partners in staging a festival of rugby where fans from all four of our countries will enjoy a memorable Final and a great weekend in Belfast.”

Sounds like a good idea in theory, promoting venues, but I think I speak for quite a few people when I say that you would be hard pushed to fill said venues if the teams playing in the final are foreign to the hosting country’s club. Rugby is not just a sport for the “middle class” (at least not anymore) and I’m extremely frustrated about the decision.

As Gerry Thornley said in the Irish Times this week, “if organisers are going to meddle in tournaments, they could at least make their tournament better. Otherwise, they should leave well enough alone.”

Emma McGarry - Hugely interested in all aspects of rugby. Supporter of Irish and Leinster Rugby. "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad" - Brian O'Driscoll

*****
Want to see your own rugby opinions on the web?
Click "Write for us" in the sidebar to find out how.

Rugby on TV : Apr 30-May 7


Date
Time
Show
Competition
Channel
Thu Apr 30
7:30 pm
HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS V LEEDS RHINOS
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 2
10:00 pm
THE FOOTY SHOW
NRL
SETANTA 1
10:15 pm
ST HELENS V WIGAN WARRIORS (REPEAT)
SUPER LEAGUE 2000
SKY SPORTS 2
Fri May 1
8:30 am
HIGHLANDERS V SHARKS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS 2
10:00 am
AUSTRALIA V NEW ZEALAND
RUGBY LEAGUE
SETANTA 1
10:30 am
BRUMBIES V WARATAHS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS 2
6:30 pm
RUGBY TONIGHT
BT SPORT 2
7:30 pm
WIGAN WARRIORS V HULL KR
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 3
7:30 pm
EDINBURGH V GLOUCESTER
CHALLENGE CUP FINAL
BT SPORT 2 / SKY SPORTS 1
Sat May 2
6:25 am
BLUES V WESTERN FORCE
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS 3
7:30 am
FIJI V PAPUA NEW GUINEA
RUGBY LEAGUE
SETANTA 1
8:30 am
HURRICANES V CRUSADERS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS 3
9:30 am
SAMOA V TONGA
RUGBY LEAGUE
SETANTA 1
10:30 am
MELBOURNE REBELS V CHIEFS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS 3
1:25 pm
BRISTOL V ROTHERHAM TITANS
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFFS
SKY SPORTS 3
4:00 pm
CLÉRMONT V TOULON
CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL
BT SPORT 1 / SKY SPORTS 3
4:05 pm
CHEETAHS V STORMERS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS RED BUTTON
6:10 pm
BULLS V LIONS
SUPER RUGBY
SKY SPORTS RED BUTTON
9:30 pm
HIGHLIGHTS
CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL
S4C
10:20 pm
HIGHLIGHTS
CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL
TG4
Sun May 3
7:00 am
CITY V COUNTRY
RUGBY LEAGUE
SETANTA 1
11:30 am
WORLD RUGBY
TV3
12:45 pm
YSTRAIDGYNLAIS V CAMBRIAN WARFARE
SWALEC BOWL FINAL
S4C
3:00 pm
NEWCASTLE EMLYN V YSTRAD RHONDDA
SWALEC PLATE FINAL
S4C
5:15 pm
PONTYPRIDD V BRIDGEND
SWALEC CUP FINAL
S4C
Mon May 4
8:00 am
RABBITOHS V RAIDERS (REPEAT)
NRL
SETANTA 1
10:30 pm
FULLTIME
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 3
Tue May 5
10:00 am
FULLTIME
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 3
11:30 pm
FULLTIME
NRL
SETANTA 1
Wed May 6
6:00 pm
BOOTS 'N ALL
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 1
10:30 pm
SECOND CAPTAINS LIVE
RTE2
Thu May 7
7:30 pm
HULL K R V WAKEFIELD WILDCATS
SUPER LEAGUE
SKY SPORTS 3
10:00 pm
THE FOOTY SHOW
NRL
SETANTA 1

Times generally refer to beginning of broadcast not kickoff

Check local listings for repeat showings
Feel free to let us know if something is missing! paganoblog@gmail.com

Isa's return confirmed

from Leinster Rugby...


Leinster Rugby Head Coach Matt O'Connor has this morning confirmed the signing of Isa Nacewa who will join Leinster for the start of pre-season training ahead of the 2015/16 campaign. O'Connor also confirmed that Nacewa would be returning in a playing capacity only.

32-year-old Nacewa, is of course a former Leinster player and made a try scoring debut in September 2008 in a 16-16 draw away to the Cardiff Blues. In five seasons with Leinster Rugby the Fijian international made 126 appearances, scoring 24 tries and winning three Heineken Cup titles and a PRO12 title.

His last game was the 2012/13 PRO12 Final in the RDS against Ulster which Leinster won 18-24 in front of over 19,000 supporters.

Welcoming the announcement, Matt O'Connor also gave some background to the decision while also confirming that Nacewa would be at Leinster in time for pre-season.

"Isa will have an opportunity to speak for himself in due course but as soon as we became aware that he was keen on a return it was something that we have worked hard to get over the line.

"We mentioned last week how our resources will be tested during the World Cup window and to be able to bring in a top quality player who we know will contribute massively to the environment when the more experienced lads are away, is huge for us. When those guys are back, he'll drive it even more. To have Isa return on the back of the news that Johnny is also coming back and Mick Kearney signing, it's been a huge few weeks for us as we look to build for next season.”

O'Connor also addressed concerns around his lack of minutes on the field since retiring at the end of the 2012/13 season.

"He hasn't played in a bit but he hasn't been alien to a rugby environment either working with the Auckland Blues as a mental skills coach and he has really enjoyed his time there. He has kept himself in good shape and was always in regular contact with some of the lads here like Leo. But there is obviously still a feeling that he has unfinished business on the pitch and we are just delighted that he feels that it is with us.”

Isa Nacewa also spoke to www.leinsterrugby.ie and said, "I'm very excited to be going back to Leinster. I spent five brilliant seasons there both on and off the pitch and while the decision to leave was right at the time, I also feel now that at 32 years I've still got something to give. If I didn't grab this opportunity, there will always be a sense of 'what if'.

"I am very grateful to John Kirwan and everyone at the Blues for the opportunity of working with them over the last two seasons. It's not a decision Simone and I came to lightly, but we can't wait to get back there and see what comes of it.

"I've had a number of chats with Matt obviously around my role but ultimately I just can't wait to get back onto the pitch, training and playing and of course running out at a full RDS.”

Leinster Rugby will not be commenting any further on the details of Nacewa's contract but O'Connor did confirm that they hoped to be in a position to confirm further renewals in the coming weeks.

"There is still a huge amount of work to be done off the pitch to ensure that we are best placed to challenge over the course of a full season next year. Over the next few weeks we hope to confirm the final players for next season and we hope to have news of possibly one or two more players coming in.”

Front Five - 30.04.15

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

IMG_1598

'If he wants to play on but not for Ireland, it might open the door to other opportunities'

Toulon chasing O'Connell and the European dream XV

Raf Diallo - Newstalk Off The Ball


The Kiwi had not played since joining the province after suffering a serious neck injury when playing for Canterbury in August, but made his belated bow at Naas RFC.

Bleyendaal comeback a boost for Reds

Ruairidh O'Connor - Irish Independent


Aileen Richards, executive vice-president and vice-president of people and organisation for multi-national company Mars, will fill one of two new independent non-executive director roles
ESPN.co.uk


The goal is to start with 6-12 franchises based in US cities with current NFL teams, and for the franchises to use those stadia during the gridiron offseason.
NRFL & Alex Shaw


The Guardian’s team features an inevitable array of interesting inclusions and omissions.

7 Irish players make The Guardian’s European best XV of the past 20 years

Paul Fennessy - The 42.ie


Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Smashed! Drop-kick skills at age 6


Check out the awesome technique by 6-year-old Oran Finlay in the above clip!!!!  And I don't just mean the celebration...the drop goal is pretty awesome too ;-)

Imagine if Oran had been in the pocket for that late attempt in Marseille - Leinster could be planning for Twickers this weekend!!!

Thanks to Odhran McIntyre for sending this in...feel free to pass on any more examples of super skills you'd like to see shared on HoR.

Blog Archive