Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Harpin posts of 2016

We do quite a bit of "harpin" here as our name suggests, but one thing is for sure...despite all that happened in 2016 you won't find any mentions of Brexit, Trump or celebrity deaths, once you ignore this paragraph of course!

No, it's pretty much all about Leinster & Ireland rugby and as we prepare ourselves to kick off a Lions year, since we can't beat all the other online sources looking back over the 12 months just gone, we decided we might as well join them.

Rather than reviewing, we're simply going to share with you the posts that had the biggest reaction from our readers.

And before we start our big "top ten" countdown, we'll check out the most popular editions of our various weekly features here at Harpin Manor.


Watch 80 minutes of rugby then review it exactly 80 words, that is the challenge.  We haven't done many of these posts in recent months but it remains a popular feature and we hope to do more in 2017.  Top one of 2016 registered in January when one of our top guest posters Kristian Ross reviewed Ulster's dramatic Champions Cup win at Oyonnax.


Taking a festive break from the feature for the past week or so, but for the rest of the year, every morning we scan the ruggersphere for quotes & links we find relevant, interesting or downright hilarious...ideally all three at once.   The edition that received the most hits was on June 20, right after Ireland's 2nd test against the Springboks and before the "Wolfpuppies" faced Argentina in the World Championship semifinal.


Every Thursday we list the upcoming rugby due to appear on Irish screens.  What's interesting about our most-hit edition of 2016 is that it came in a week that didn't even involve a match for Leinster or Ireland!


Before every featured match we offer a preview which includes a score margin prediction that generally assumes Leinster/Ireland are a little below par while our opponents are playing at their very best.  once in a while we even get them right!  Looks like we saved our best until next-to-last in this category as our preview of Munster v Leinster on St Stephen's Day was the most popular.


A relatively new feature on the site...on Sundays we share some of the reactions we noticed on Facebook & Twitter immediately following a Leinster or Ireland match.  Top edition of the year was this one following the second meeting with the All Blacks.


In the sidebar to the right there, you'll see a long list of guest contributors to HarpinOnRugby over the years.  They are in order of number of posts there, though naturally we are grateful to all of them.  Top offering of 2016 was this Lions selection by Mark Jackson posted right after the November internationals.

OK that's it for the so-called "minor categories"....time to start counting down the top 10 posts of 2016.  

We were sad to see Kurt McQuilkin leave after a second spell that was every bit as effective as his first, especially under the circumstances.  The fundraising effort to help out his family was an excellent way to say goodbye, and I think it hit well on HarpinOnRugby because I was in a position to get the press release onto the site almost instantly after I received it.

Ironically next on the list it the response of Leinster fans to the naming of McQuilkin's successor in the Leinster coaching staff.  The reaction was mixed though mostly positive, and surely nobody can argue against his influence being a key part of the province's successes since he settled into the role.

It's not often we get to "break" a story though as I put this post out I assumed it was common knowledge.  I was notified through my account with Virgin that they were no longer to be carrying what was formerly known as "Setanta" (as well as the BT Sport rugby coverage that goes with it) and it was interesting how they deftly danced around the fact that it had been taken over by cable provider rivals Eir.

7.  Leinster-25 Munster-14 : "That Little Bit Higher"

The remainder of the top ten are all match writeups, our main feature here at Harpin Manor.  This was from the visit of Munster to the Aviva back in October.

"We weren’t simply barrelling forward on every carry hoping this would be time we broke through...whether it was carries, grubbers, territory kicks, box kicks, it usually seemed like the right option, if not always with the perfect execution."

6.  IRELAND-9 NEW ZEALAND-21 : "The Bear Pokes Back"

There'd be something wrong if the brace of clashes with the All Blacks didn't make our top 10!  This of course was the least enjoyable to write of the two!

"If some of our own fans don’t know we gave them one hell of a battle for 160 minutes, you can be sure the All Blacks themselves do.  The Lions wouldn’t turn down our results and performances for the first two tests next summer, that’s for sure."

5.  IRELAND-40 NEW ZEALAND-29 : "End Game"

It kind of makes sense that this clash with the All Blacks had more readers than the other one, though I would have thought both would be higher on the list.

"the boys in green played like they were in one of those epic fantasy movies, where an army of what looks like a million soldiers is about to take on an army of what looks like a billion, yet all it takes to motivate them is one charismatic general with sword raised high, riding his horse back and forth, somehow speaking loud enough for all to hear his chest-thumping oratory which ends with words like: 'Not this day!!!'"

4.  Northampton-10 Leinster-37 : "Franklin's Sense"

No matter how poorly Northampton were doing in the Premiership, or how well we did the last time we visited Franklin's Gardens, or even how good Leinster's form was, there was concern over this match among fans (me included) so to come away with a comfortable win was very pleasing indeed.

"In no way did Leinster win this match purely because the home side were down a man for the final quarter.  I’d even go so far as to say we didn’t even need the extra man to get the bonus point, though I’d be willing to hear arguments on that one."

3.  Montpellier-22 Leinster-16 : "What's Left In The Tank"

A loss that felt like a win thanks to a bonus point earned right at the final whistle.  Here's hoping that in a couple of weeks we'll be thanking Isa's late try for a home quarterfinal.

"What made our late reward a deserved one was an overall sense of belief throughout the team, plus an extra pair of fresh legs in the pack thanks to the prior planning, and last but certainly not least individual displays from the likes of Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, Sean Cronin and ultimately Jamison Gibson-Park"

2.  Leinster-24 Connacht-13 : "The Blue Monster"

You might notice something in common with all of these top match writeups...they all come from the 2016/17 campaign.  It's hardly surprising that, for example, Leinster fans would prefer to read about our clash with Connacht  at the end of October instead of the one in May, even though that was a final.

"...there was something about the way our approach evolved throughout the 80 minutes...almost an organic process whereby we were adapting to what they were trying on us and slowly but surely we were able to squeeze the life out of their attack, while at the same time making the most of our visits to their end of the park."

1.  Leinster-33 Castres-15 : "Remembrance"

Not only was this our top post of 2016, it is the most popular post in the 8-year history of HarpinOnRugby.  But naturally, given the subject matter, we were far from celebrating and we didn't mention the milestone at the time.  The entire rugby world was still in shock as we published this post, even though we waited an extra day.

"Of course you feel it on a personal level...he was a father like myself and was a few years younger, which certainly gives you a sense of perspective when it comes to things happening around you.  But ultimately when you can bring yourself to look past the shock, sadness and personal connections to the news, at least you can find some sanctuary in the memories he left behind, and there were many."

So there you have it.  The best of our offerings from 2016.  Thank you all so much for being among the readers that helped create the list, and here's to a successful 2017 for Leinster, Ireland & Lions rugby...I have a feeling in my bones that it could well be the case.  JLP

Friday, December 30, 2016

Preview : Leinster v Ulster

Ruan Pienaar at out-half, you say?  Interesting…

The expectations for these two match selections were pretty much the reverse of what they were for the last round of other words, a virtually full strength Leinster side up against an Ulster one closer to their “Ravens” or reserve team.

The reality, however, for these two match selections was a tiny bit different.  For one thing, you can hardly call that Ulster backline “second string”, particularly from 11 through 15.  That is where they are going to be at their most dangerous.

Like I said, having Pienaar at 10 makes for an intriguing plan for supplying those backs with regular ball.  Sure, he will probably line out at first receiver more often than not, but I reckon he’ll be more like a “nine and a half” and take over from Paul Marshall at the base of rucks when he deems it necessary.

But to do this, of course, there has to be clean ball for him to use, and that is where Leinster’s strengths on the day come into play.  Despite the wealth of talent we enjoy in the back row, we seem to have settled on Messrs O’Brien, van der Flier and Heaslip as our dream combo and with an in-form Jack Conan poised to replace one of them, we’re looking to be strong at the breakdown throughout.

And as for the younger members of the Leinster lineup, I find it interesting that none of the Leinster starters are in single digits in terms of senior caps so they’re all really starting to settle at this level.  Although it’s a strong backline opposite ours, it’s hardly as though Isa is running a creche!  Those around him know what they’re doing.

In my writeup of the Munster defeat I mentioned Gibson-Park finding box-kicking difficult...ironically as he sits on the bench for this one, I’m not so sure if that’s a tactic we want to be deploying too often especially as Piutau is likely to be on the end of most of them.

The smart way to go would seem to be keeping it in the forwards as much as possible and limit using the boot to little dinks forward into definite spaces behind the defensive line.  But the box kick has become such an integral part of the Irish rugby psyche in recent years so if we do use it we’ll need to be accurate otherwise it could be our undoing.

When it comes to the benches, it seems we also have an advantage.  Ulster do have a recognised out-half available in Brett Harron and Chris Henry is certain no slouch around the breakdown himself but overall I think if we can build a lead going into the final half hour we should be able to bring it home.

According to the bookies, we are favoured by 11 points.  I haven’t seen much improvement in our lineout this season so this could keep the scores close but I do think we have enough for the four match points, if not the five.  I’m going to settle on a prediction of 7-9 points though we’ll need to make the areas in which we have the edge count to the fullest as the Ulstermen as always are keen to turn us over in Dublin.

I’m sampling the “Blue Room” suite with a few mates tomorrow so maybe I’ll see you there or around the ground.  Here’s hoping it’s a happy end to 2016 for Leinster!  JLP

Ulster : C Piutau, A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, T Bowe, R Pienaar, P Marshall
A Warwick, R Herring (captain), R Ah You, K Treadwell, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson;
Replacements : J Andrew, C Black, J Simpson, P Browne, C Henry, B Herron, L Ludik, J Stockdale.

Guinness Pro 12 2016/17 Round 12
Saturday, December 31, 2016; Kickoff 3pm
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 58th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy, Joy Neville (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Broadcaster Sky Sports

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Munster-29 Leinster-17 I ignore the match selections of these two teams or not?  Well I guess I’ve already mentioned it haven’t I.  Yeah, let’s explore that.

Leinster fans are well within their rights to be disappointed by the fact that we didn’t field a full choice team against our biggest rivals.  It’s an occasion that stands out on its own and is more than just a regular season Pro12 fixture, which should mean it is treated as such by the selection.

But where I feel a lot of people make mistakes is where they target their blame.  The IRFU for their player protection policy?  Leinster Branch itself for being somehow disrespectful?  We saw much of those two viewpoints from fans and journalists alike since the team was announced last Friday, and I’m not really on board with either of them.

Sorry for harping on this yet again but to adapt a quote from Bill’s the calendar, stupid!!!!  

This particular two-game set of interprovincials saw us travel to Limerick on St Stephen’s Day before welcoming the Ulstermen to the RDS just 5 days later.   And say what you want about the importance of the individual rivalries but that can’t be the only factor taken into account.  Both the Rugby Champions Cup and Six Nations cast long shadows at this time of year, so decisions have to be made and in Leinster’s case, I can’t see how we had a choice but to keep back our best players for the home match.

Just look at what Northampton did with us in our very last outing, leaving about half a dozen household names back at home to get a tonking at the Aviva.  Just six days later, they went full strength before a near sellout crowd of home fans and put Sale to the sword for some valuable Premiership points.

Provided we do bring back the top names for New Year’s Eve and play like a side that wants to quickly erase this Thomond thumping from our memories, I for one can be forgiving, that’s for sure.

But back to the match itself...even if there is a disparity in selection, that doesn’t guarantee the players are going to perform, especially the day after Christmas.  And for the first half at least, it needs to be pointed out that these two sides were giving it everything they had and it was very much the fascinating contest the occasion demanded.

Leinster performed before half time like a good few of the players weren’t so keen on being referred to as “second string”.  There was intensity in the tackling and clearing out which were badly needed as Munster had clearly indulged more on Weetabix than leftover turkey themselves.

Unfortunately in some areas there was accuracy lacking, and for us once more this was in the lineout.  I hate mentioning this every match but when it continues to be a factor, I have to keep mentioning it.  In some ways on this evening it was cancelled out by Munster also having their own issues, but it is still something that needs to be dealt with.

But despite that regular failing, we were still first to strike, mostly because the other main set piece the scrum has been going very well for us.  The ball was well supplied by the forwards and then the backs all played their roles to perfection whether it was passing or decoy running and finally Zane Kirchner arrived on a perfect line to break through and his determination got him past CJ Stander and to the line.

Naturally as this was only the end of the first quarter you could be pretty sure the home side were going to come back and it wasn’t long before it was them pounding our line.  Like I said, our tackling was resilient but not enough to shake Munster’s own determination.  

One look at the tackling stats shows how many punishing phases Rassie’s men were able to recycle.  194 successful Leinster tackles to just 99 by Munster with only our starting back three failing to reach double figures.

A combination of Munster’s never say die attitude, some quick thinking from Simon Zebo in a clutch moment and an unnecessary break from the defensive line from Kirchner helped them to two tries before the break, and despite them both being right in the furthest corner, Tyler Bleyendaal’s boot was on song both times to add the extras.

So it was 14-10 at half time...a bit of a pain for Leinster to have given up the lead but if we could have continued in the same vein from the first half then we were still very much in this contest.  Thing is though...the tough tackling was taking its toll and on top of that (that’s a lot of t words!), it turned out that Munster had another gear to find, and boy did they find it in that third quarter.

Before we look at their third and fourth tries, a word on how we were struggling to get our side of the scoreboard moving.  For me this match was down to the disparity in performance between the two sets of halfbacks.  At 10, Bleyendaal kept the ship steady while for us, Ross Byrne couldn’t quite replicate what led to that opening try.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that Ross shouldn’t go to his boot as often as he does, since he has to develop his own style and if crossfield kicks and what-not are what he feels confident doing then so be it.  It’s just on this occasion it wasn’t happening for him.  But the difference in the starting 10s wasn’t anywhere near as stark as that at 9.

Up to now I have been very impressed with the sporadic appearances of Jamison Gibson-Park and this was a perfect opportunity for him to show a wider audience what he can do.  What was apparent in this match was that for all the positives he brings, he doesn’t seem to be fully on board with the technique required for a box-kicking game, and that is something he’ll surely have to remedy if he is to catch Joe Schmidt’s attention after 3 years.

Opposite him was Conor Murray, with whom Schmidt has worked to create a near perfect template for how the box kick should be executed.  For them, it’s not a case of “just put the ball up and let’s hope for a lucky break when it comes down”.  Instead the philosophy is more “I’m going to put up a kick that’s going to hang in the air for so long and land so perfectly that if we don’t win it back, it’s not my fault.”

Time and time again JGP was attempting them but from his body language it looked as though it was going against everything he had been taught on his way to the professional ranks and they were going way too far handing easy opportunities to Munster.  If he can fix this aspect of his game soon he’ll be doing very well.

And so Munster were pounding our line over and over and we were shipping penalty advantages galore though often they weren’t needed.  Murray was controlling things as though he were a second out half and his kick into the corner should have been Barry Daly’s to catch but instead Tommy O'Donnell got the better of him to get try number three.

So that's two tries from the backs and one from the forwards - with this being Munster, their pack, bolstered these days by the impressive Jaco Taute, was bound to be keen to even up that score.  On a day when Leinster produced their red Axel Foley t-shirts for their warmup, it was also fitting that number 8 on the day CJ Stander was both man-of-the-match and scorer of the bonus point try after mauling over the line.

At that stage, we were clearly broken, much as the Saints had been at the Aviva (they also had a first half lead that night) and it really did look as though a similar scoreline could have resulted.  But much like Leinster fans were disappointed, I’d say their Munster counterparts were equally so that the margin of victory couldn’t be extended even further.

Once again, I’d have to point to the fixture schedule for Munster failing to score in the final quarter.  The five match points in the bag, it’s now time to think about the trip to Galway where they’d surely be keen to cement their lead atop the Pro12 table.  Like I said earlier, rivalry is a thing, but it’s not the only thing.

With that we had the Leinster bench being emptied and we actually got some possession towards the end which saw Richardt Strauss break away from a maul to pull back a score.  This meant that one more try would have earned us what would have been a very handy losing bonus point, but despite getting a fair distance up the field as the clock went red, it wasn’t to be.

I saw many comments disparaging Nigel Owens’ decision making on the night.  What I like about his style, as well as that of Alain Rolland’s before he retired, is that they tend to not only make their decision but give you a concise explanation for how they see a particular contentious call.  You may not agree, but more often than not you are fully aware in real time of how the ref saw things, and I really don’t think we can ask for more.

One Leinster player worthy of mention is Jack Conan - he has been immense since returning from injury and despite our abundance of back row talent already this season he has definitely played his way into our selection headache.  Especially with all of our crocked out halves at the moment it may be worth our while going 6/2 on our bench every week for the time being! Honourable mention goes to Dan Leavy for a team-leading 22 tackles.

So well done to Munster, worthy winners on the night as well as worthy leaders of the Pro12 table at the halfway point of the “regular season”.  For Leinster fans, yes, it’s a disappointing result but it’s a hard one to dwell on too much without first waiting to see how we do against Ulster on the Saturday.

That said, right now a "rematch" Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium to end the season between Leinster and Munster is looking about as good a completion to the European season as we’re likely to get.  Provided both teams will be allowed to field their Lions, of course! JLP

Rugby on TV : Dec 29-Jan 5

Rugby on TV is brought to you by 
the Irish Rugby TV YouTube Channel


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!


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