Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Front Five - 31.07.18

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

ICYMI click here for our preseason
look at Leinster's 2018/19 squad

...it is sure to be a busy day for sport in the city as the Scottish Cup final is also scheduled to be played at Hampden Park.

Ben Blake - The42.ie

...the Lions have adopted a different approach by finalising preparations in Johannesburg and adjusting their sleeping patterns accordingly. 


Steve Brown, the RFU’s chief executive, said. “...I don’t want to predict failure. I’d rather predict success but that’s not in blind faith.

The Guardian

The match fee for the women's players is vastly lower than that received by their male counterparts, which can be explained by a variety of factors

BBC Rugby

From a Belgian perspective, their greatest-ever victory will most likely be forgotten by the many, and remain a tarnished memory for the few.

Rugby World

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP

Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Monday, July 30, 2018

Leinster's 2018/19 chances - preseason edition

Around this time last year I did a post that looked at Leinster's chances for the upcoming season...given how things turned out I guess I'd better keep this new annual tradition going, hadn't I?

First I must ask the question that needs to be asked before any other by Leinster fans...just how on earth can we possibly top that 2017/18 campaign?????

"By doing it all again!!!!  Duh!!!!"

Yeah, yeah I know.  The double has always been the dream since we put that first star on our jersey, and now we have actually done it, it's hard not to make it the standard for us.  But let's be honest...are we really going to say that all we'll accept in the upcoming campaign is a repeat???

Personally I don't think it's unreasonable to take those demands down a notch, though only the one.  Yes, I want us to keep to the same standards.  And yes, I want the younger players filtering into the squad to improve.  And yes, I want the gaping holes left by great players retiring or leaving to be adequately filled.

But I've been doing this 'sport-following' lark for long enough to know that the biggest downside of a virtually perfect season is that the target on your back becomes that much bigger when you try to do it all again, not to mention the fact that there's every possibility that more than one team around both league and continent will significantly improve their own performance levels.

So to summarise, while of course another double would be marvellous, to make it an expectation would be as unrealistic as it would be arrogant.  That said, should we get to next May without adding to the trophy cabinet I would probably feel like we fell short so that only leaves one option...just the one piece of silverware will do me, lads, for what it's worth.  No pressure then!!!

Right, so now to get on with the actual task at hand, namely looking at our squad and come up with an ideal starting XV before a ball is kicked.  The format for this post is exactly like last year's in that the squad info is taken from the unofficial Leinster fan message board Babbling Brook, courtesy of a poster with the ironic handle 'mildlyinterested'.

Obviously the 'ideal XV' is based on the entire squad being fit on a given match day, with the 'Rule 'em out at your peril XV' being meant to resemble the kind of lineup we'll be seeing in early September and during test windows.  So here goes...

LH Prop
Cian Healy (30) - Signed central 3yr contract in 2016
Jack McGrath (28) - Signed central 3yr contract in 2016
Ed Byrne (24) - Signed 2yr contract in 2017
Peter Dooley (24) - Signed contract in 2018

Any team in Europe would love to see the kind of competition Leinster have for pretty much every position, and it starts literally at the number one jersey.  This time last year, Jack McGrath was deservedly in possession of pole position, but Church didn't take that lying down and a string of fine displays put him back on top.  Would it be unfair to say that Jack's form dipped a bit as well?  Perhaps, though putting it as a question rather than a statement definitely gives me some wiggle room!  When it comes to further down the pecking order, while both Byrne brothers had some fine displays in the Pro14 last season, I have always been impressed by Peter Dooley and Lansdowne FC were extremely fortunate to have him available for the Ulster Bank League final...I'd have him next in line behind our test pairing.

TH Prop
Michael Bent (32) - Signed contract in 2018
Tadhg Furlong (25) - Signed central 3yr contract in 2018
Andrew Porter (22) - Signed contract in 2017
Vakh Abdaladze (22) - Signed contact in 2018
Jack Aungier (19) - Academy Yr 2
Michael Milne (18/19) - Academy Yr 1

Again the top two is easy to choose though there can be no disputing the order...when you're a tight head who had a great Lions tour in New Zealand followed by a season when you get man of the match in a Grand Slam decider at Twickenham, you'll be the first name on pretty much anyone's team sheet.  Still though, Andrew Porter has done remarkably well to prove himself at the highest level, fully justifying the faith his coaches all the way up to the top have shown in him when swapping sides in the front row.  Next in line should be Michael Bent, yet while he has certainly been a reliable performer for Leinster in recent times to say the least, I'm wondering if we should be considering giving more game time to the likes of Vakh Abdeladze coming up behind him.

Sean Cronin (32) - Signed contract in 2018
James Tracy (27) - Signed contract in 2018
Bryan Byrne (24) - Signed contract in 2017
Ronan Kelleher (20) - Academy Yr 2

This is a straightfoward pecking order, 1,2,3,4 as you see them above.  Remember this time last year we were all moaning about wayward lineout darts?  If only we knew what was to come.  That's not to say the setpiece stumbles are acceptable and hopefully the lads will have worked on them.  I have a feeling this could be something of a breakthrough season for Bryan Byrne if he gets half a chance.

Scott Fardy (34) - Signed 2 yr contract in 2017
Devin Toner (32) - Signed central 3yr contract in 2017
Ian Nagle (29) - Signed contract in 2017
Mick Kearney (27) - Signed contract in 2017
Ross Molony (24) - Signed contract in 2018
James Ryan (22) - Signed contract in 2017
Oisin Dowling (21) - Academy Yr 2
Jack Dunne(19) - Academy Yr 1
Ryan Baird (18/19) - Academy Yr 1

Now we're getting into the tough choices.  Devin Toner, James Ryan, Scott Fardy.  Only two of them can start in my ideal XV's second row.  That doesn't make any sense!!!!  Unless we get creative?  Unfortunately, I'm going to have to.  Toner and Ryan should be left together, yet you'd have to be insane not to waste Fardy's immense skillset around lineout and breakdown so...even though we're still well stocked in the back row department, and even though there were specific reasons why he came to us as a lock, I'm putting him in my lineup at 6.  Sue me.  Next down the pecking order I think it's time for Ross Molony to step up and catch Joe Schmidt's eye; hopefully he'll be able to take the opportunities when they come for him.

Sean O'Brien (31) - Signed central 3 yr contract in 2016
Rhys Ruddock (27) - Signed contract in 2018
Jack Conan (26) - Signed contract in 2017
Josh Van Der Flier (25) - Signed contract in 2018
Dan Leavy (24) - Signed contract in 2017
Josh Murphy (23) - Signed contract in 2018
Will Connors (22) - Signed contract in 2018
Max Deegan (21) - Signed contract in 2017
Caelan Doris (20) - Signed contract in 2018
Scott Penny (18/19) - Academy Yr 1

First, there has been a lot of talk around t'internet about Sean O'Brien's future.  Of course the hip and shoulder problems seriously limiting his game time don't look good for any player but Seanie in particular is at the point of his career, particularly in his position, when there is bound to be doubt.   But until there is any official announcement, he's definitely up for selection and he not only walks into my ideal XV, he does so as captain.  I have a feeling Johnny Sexton may want that role for himself and if he does, far be it from me to object, but it has always been my view that 10s shouldn't also be captains and if Seanie thinks he has a full season in him, then I'd want him leading the side and I reckon he could do that from the number 8 position.  With Fardy at 6 that leaves just the openside up for grabs and last year I got some stick when I opted for Dan Leavy and I reckon I was vindicated so he stays.  When it comes to back up, since Fardy can also cover lock I'd put two back rowers on the bench and Josh van der Flier only misses out to Messrs Ruddock and Conan because of the cruel timing of his season-ending injury, and despite the fact that he's not in my 23 I'm sure we'll be hearing much from him over the season to come, as we will the likes of Max Deegan, Josh Murphy, and Caelan Doris, who impressed in the Under 20s World Cup despite Ireland's disappointing results.

Jamie Gibson Park (26) - Signed 3 yr contract in 2016
Luke McGrath (25) - Signed contract in 2017
Nick McCarthy (23) - Signed contract in 2017
Hugh O'Sullivan (20) - Academy Yr 2
Patrick Patterson (19/20) - Academy Yr 1

Naturally Luke is easily our first choice.  Next down the line, the blasted 'ANZAC rule' (as I call it) is going to rear it's ugly head again for Leinster unfortunately, and while Jamison Gibson Park went way up in my estimation last season, when forced to pick two out of three for my ideal 23 between himself, Fardy and Lowe, let's just say it's good news for Nick McCarthy.  Although we didn't see a whole lot of Charlie Rock I thought he was well poised to get more game time this season but it seems he hasn't been kept on so for that fourth option we'll have to rely on Hugh O'Sullivan out of the academy.

Jonathan Sexton (33) - Signed central 4 yr contract in 2015
Ross Byrne (23) - Signed contract in 2017
Ciaran Frawley (20) - Academy Yr 2
Harry Byrne (19) - Academy Yr 1

I wasn't exactly dancing in the streets when I heard Joey Carbery was off to Munster, but there was a very big positive for Leinster in that it finally made our outhalf pecking order abundantly clear.  Ciaran Frawley got a bit of game time at ten and should get more opportunities this season and no doubt the media will be chomping at the bit to report on young Harry Byrne coming on to replace his brother Ross at some stage.   But on a serious note, if Leinster are to get anywhere close to matching last season's success, we will need Ross Byrne to up his profile.  That might sound harsh as he has done very well up to this point, but without the Carbery factor, if Ross remains fit he's going to be leading Leinster's backline quite a bit throughout the campaign and any dip in form would be costly.  I reckon he's up to the challenge though.

Joe Tomane (28) - Signed contract in 2018
Noel Reid (28) - Signed contract in 2017
Robbie Henshaw (25) - Signed 3yr contract in 2016
Tom Daly (25) - Signed contract in 2018
Rory O'Loughlin (24) - Signed contract in 2017
Garry Ringrose (23) - Signed contract in 2018
Conor O'Brien (22) - Academy Yr 3
Jimmy O'Brien (21) - Academy Yr 3
Gavin Mullin (20) - Academy Yr 2
Tommy O'Brien (20) - Academy Yr 2

When picking my ideal XV last year I had a rule of thumb that new players automatically got into the starting lineup, as that would serve to refresh the look from the previous season.  Unfortunately in Joe Tomane's case I can't do that, even though he is a most welcome addition to the squad.  The "Henrose" centre pairing is the bedrock of both Leinster and Ireland's future as far as I'm concerned, so if both are fit for big European matches I'm not entirely sure if Joe would feature for us despite his experience (though he could of course be an option on the wing).  Further down the line I wonder how much we'll see of Noel Reid, not so much because of his own abilities, rather the need to bring others on like Tom Daly and Conor O'Brien.  As for the 13 channel, I reckon we could see much of Rory O'Loughlin, also Jordan Larmour can play there, and from the 'next generation' Tommy O'Brien has shown at Under 20 level he has a future in the blue jersey and maybe higher.

Back Three
Rob Kearney (32) - Signed central contract until 2019 WC.
Fergus McFadden (32) - Signed contract in 2018
Dave Kearney (29) - Signed contract in 2018
James Lowe (26) - Signed 3yr contract in 2017
Barry Daly (25) - Signed contract in 2017
Adam Byrne (24) - Signed contract in 2017
Hugo Keenan (22) - Academy Yr 3
Jordan Larmour (21) - Signed contract in 2018
Jack Kelly (20) - Academy Yr 3
Michaels Silvester (20) - Academy Yr 1
Aaron O'Sullivan (18) - Academy Yr 1

Once again I must apologise to Rob Kearney for leaving him out of my ideal lineup last season.  I just hope I'm not jinxing him by naming him this time around!!!  As for the wings, I'm going for two fellow JLs.  Lowe gets in because of his x-factor.  Both Leinster and Ireland have built their immense success over the years based on very structured rugby yet I have always felt that team sports, especially this one that has as many as fifteen on the park at a time, you always need at least one who is willing to 'have a cut' based on what he sees before him and Lowe fits that bill perfectly.  As for Larmour, although his future may well be at 13 or 15, I think a full season on the wing would be good for his game.  He has shown he can be a game breaker and nobody is disputing that, but I reckon a spell out wide, particularly under the current crop of Irish coaches, should improve his decision making.  Ferg's experience earns a spot on my bench though Barry Daly's ability to find the try line made him tough to leave out, and I'm assuming Adam Byrne will be keen to put his name back up in contention as well.

Right, there you have it.  Of course all of the above is based on how I observed form from last season...no doubt the coaching staff will have much different ideas based on what they're seeing on the training pitches, and it won't be long before we get to see the boys in blue ourselves in preseason action.  By then you can be sure pretty much everything I said above will be made null and void 😝

One thing's for sure, as much as I needed the break, it great to be back harping on rugby again and I'm sure you're just like me in wanting the season to start for real...bring it on!  JLP

2018/19 HarpinOnRugby Leinster Ideal Preseason Matchday 23
[assuming full fitness of course!]

Rob Kearney, James Lowe, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (v capt), Jordan Larmour, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath
Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy (v capt), Dan Leavy, Sean O’Brien (capt)
James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, Jamison Gobson-Park, Ross Byrne, Fergus McFadden

note - captaincy choices are also mine

The “Rule ‘em out at your peril” XV

Dave Kearney, Barry Daly, Rory O’Loughlin, Joe Tomane, Adam Byrne, Ciaran Frawley, Nick McCarthy
Peter Dooley, Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Mick Kearney, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan

Front Five - 30.07.18

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

Our daily feature is back
Four years to the day since

Lions are ranked 9-1 outsiders with some bookmakers and it's not only the betting odds that appear to be stacked against them.

Sky Sports Rugby

The Premiership champions won the inaugural edition of the 7s competition in 2010 and...outplayed Wasps with a 33-12 margin in (this year's) final.

Talking Rugby Union

“You’re quick but not that quick.”
With a smile, he countered: “I’m pretty quick, mind.”

Nigel Owens - WalesOnline

Under the record deal, announced on the final day of competition at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, HSBC will also become Official Banking Partner of World Rugby.


After just two minutes of a pre-season clash with Brazil, the 28-year-old gathered an offload inside his own half and ran almost the full length of the pitch to power over the try-line

Sinead Farrell - The42.ie

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, 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, July 25, 2018

Harpin Points 1 : Leinster jersey, Super Rugby, Pro14 fixtures


Hi and welcome to a new feature I'm road testing called Harpin Points...over recent seasons I have only really had time to focus on Leinster and Ireland matches so this gives me the chance do a bit of harping on matters involving the other provinces and beyond.

It's an easy format in that I just scatter a few headings down the page and bang out a paragraph or three on each based on how I see it.  As you can see by the graphic these posts are meant to convey my opinions and hot takes so expect me to have my tin foil hat nearby at all times!!!  The plan is to post every Wednesday and further down the line look at making it a video offering rather than a written one.


Fair play to those of you who sent a message asking if I was ok after shutting down content production for a few weeks...normally I put up a 'gone on holidays' post but this time I didn't, probably because last season was so amazing for Leinster & Ireland rugby I was afraid to bring it to an official close!!!

Anyway after a spell without watching any egg chasing, I chose last weekend to get 'back on the horse' and take in all four quarterfinals from the southern hemisphere's premier club competition.  And it was only a matter of seconds before something interesting happened...I was yet to see Damien Mackenzie play flyhalf for the Chiefs and his first act against the Hurricanes was to throw an interception that was sent back the other way for a try!

But for this Harpin point I don't want to focus on the four matches themselves, rather the ongoing debate over the Super Rugby format.  There are still a lot of complaints over the 'conference' structure, especially as four of the New Zealand franchises were in the top five of the overall table.  Many think it unfair that both the Chiefs and Highlanders had away quarterfinals while the Waratahs had a worse record yet got to play at home because they were the best in the Aussie conference.

Yes, there is definitely an element of unfairness in that alright.  However, it's not like they do it for no reason.  With this structure, you are guaranteed that at least three media markets will host playoff matches, and as far as I'm concerned, attendances in the competition are bad enough as it is without making it worse.

Sure, the Tahs' amazing comeback win over the Highlanders might not have happened were the venue reversed, but it's certainly better for the competition as a whole to keep the interest going in as many places as possible for as long as possible.

Also, a shout out to the Jaguares for reaching the quarterfinals...they didn't have enough to overcome the Lions but they definitely gave their hosts something to think about.  And if we're talking about unfairness, what about the Argentinians being allowed have just the one team, which would by definition be very close to the Pumas?  If we can accept that, we can accept the conferences, surely?


I think it's safe to say that the Irish Rugby 7s programme has been steadily going from strength to strength and considering how much of a head start we gave the rest of the world, for the men to finish 9th in last weekend's World Cup (winning the Challenge Trophy in the process) and the women 6th was an amazing achievement.

Unfortunately the only action I was able to watch was the men's trophy final victory over Australia (as if we hadn't beaten them enough this summer!) but that in itself was a very impressive performance by the boys in green.  Having come within a whisker of qualifying for the World Series last time out, we surely can't be far off both getting and staying there soon.


Today is the day the first of the new Adidas Leinster training gear gets shipped to those who pre-ordered.  Normally I'm positive for jersey launches because every time I put a picture on the site of a new design there's always reactions from people like 'Muck' and you can tell they would have said that regardless of the design.

But my only problem with the current range is that no matter how much you squint your eyes and tilt your head sideways, it looks like a blue photoshopped version of the Munster gear.  Had both been released at the same time, I may have felt differently, but our southern cousins have been in the three stripes for a while now so it's hard not to see it that way.

All that said, I'm dying to get a jersey on me with the four stars so there's no doubting I'll be making a purchase of some description soon!  It has been a while since I bought an alternate version so I might go for that this time around.


They're out at last!  I had a rant all ready to go in this slot had they not been published by now...anyway, time for a few first impressions.

When the competition switched to the new format last year I thought the make up of the conferences would change every season, but as it turned out they decided to do it every two years instead, which, in fairness, does bring an air of symmetry about the schedule in that the teams we played only once last year will have the venue reversed this time around.

Leinster's schedule is a bit lopsided, and I don't just mean that we have 11 home and 10 away contests either.  Our first two matches are away to the most successful Welsh regions from last season, and all in all 6 of our first 10 matches are 'on the road'.  Of course there's a flip side in that 7 of our final 11 will be at the RDS and besides, I doubt the reigning double champions getting a whole lot of sympathy from anyone on anything like fixtures!!!  What's that you say?  You think I wrote this whole paragraph just so I could use the phrase "double champions"?  Well, so what if I did?  πŸ˜€


OK I'll leave it at that for starters...like I say this was just a trial run and hopefully the feature will evolve over the coming weeks.

The daily 'Front Five' feature will return on July 30, exactly four years since we started it, and then the other regular posts will gradually come back into the fold as the new season draws near.  And speaking of anniversaries, this site will officially be ten years old towards the end of August, nothing planned as yet by way of celebration but I'm sure I'll think of something!!!!  JLP

Monday, July 02, 2018

10 out of 11 : The tale of Ireland's 2017/18 campaign told in Harpin writeups

A few weeks ago we posted a timeline of our Leinster writeups from the season just gone, so seeing how the Irish test squad was every bit as successful, it makes sense to give our Grand Slam heroes the same treatment.

For us here at Harpin Manor, the season both began and ended for Ireland against Australia.  That's because the Women's World Cup being not only here in Ireland, but also in the month August, meant we could give it the women's team kind of coverage we'd love to be able to offer throughout the season.  

So we'll start our timeline there, here we go...

August 9 : #WRWC2017 : IRELAND-19 AUSTRALIA-17

"One thing the Irish players both present and past have made clear is that they don’t want their performances treated with kid gloves.  If they play badly, then it needs to be pointed out, unlike your son’s under 10s match on a Sunday morning when everyone is a winner.

I am fully behind this approach and I am determined to hold the girls' feet to the fire whenever I deem it necessary - though I would add a note of caution that it is possible to go too far in this regard.  Still, this display from Tom Tierney’s side was nowhere near ideal."

writeup - 'UP FOR THE CUP'

August 13 : #WRWC2017 : IRELAND-24 JAPAN-14

"Of course in an ideal world we’d love for Ireland to have not only world class players at every position, but more to back them up.  But we’re not drawing on the same player pool nor are we professionals like England, and we don’t have teeny tiny rugby balls for blood cells like they do in New Zealand.  We have to do everything we can to make the most out of everything we can and the net results have been amazing for the Irish programme over the years.

 With just four days between matches in a pool that was never going to be easy even with home advantage, Tom Tierney & co have had to make some tough decisions.  Of course we’d love to see them play our best matchday 23 each time but that’s not doable.  Sacrifices have to be made.  Priorities need to be sorted out."

writeup - 'BENCH IMPRESS'

August 17 : #WRWC2017 : IRELAND-5 FRANCE-21

"In some ways it's ironic that our tournament ended against France because our Six Nations clash with them in 2012 is what highlighted the deficiencies of the support the women's outfit were getting from the IRFU at the time.  They probably would have been better off hitchhiking to Pau as I recall.

Since then, however, the support has improved drastically, and the results on the pitch have been amazing.  Grand Slam 2013, World Cup semifinal 2014, Six Nations champions 2015.  That is most certainly "not nothing".  So why now do we see this gulf in class?"

writeup - 'WHERE WE ARE'

[note - we did 80-word reviews for Ireland's matches in the minor playoffs, the links are below as well as the one for the 7th/8th place decider against Wales]

August 22 : #WRWC2017 : IRELAND-24 AUSTRALIA-36

August 26 : #WRWC2017 : IRELAND-17 WALES-27

"Yet more disappointment for the Irish in Belfast...much like recent defeats to France and Australia we did some good things with the ball yet when basic errors turned over possession we were unable to stop the opposition attacking even from their own half.  Irish women’s rugby has improved since 2014 but not as much as at least seven other nations and this needs addressing soon otherwise the gap will be much wider in 2021.  Perhaps a Genesis-type report is needed?"

And so we move on to November, and the start of the new campaign for the Irish men.   

Before we start with the season's writeups, I'd like to share a couple of articles we posted ahead of the Autumn Internationals to give a sense of where we were as a team before we played the Springboks.

"Whatever changes the governing body were to make (to the project player rules), those who had already committed to a three-year plan found themselves unaffected.  That really should go without saying.  So to lie in the long grass and wait until just before one such player's debut to bring it all up again is...well, what is it?

...if we claim to be a nation that offers a hundred thousand welcomes to people who come to see the Book of Kells and kiss the Blarney Stone, then surely we can muster at least one to a rugby player who agreed to the rules as they were at the time, moved half way round the world and had great success in over three years at Connacht?"

"As for Joe Schmidt, I reckon it's the 2019 edition of the (World Cup) that is most occupying his thoughts these days, and his preparation windows are running out.  Guinness Series 2017 and 2018, Six Nations 2018 and 2019, a 3-match series in Oz and I'm assuming a few warmup games.   That might seem like a lot, but that opening date with the Scots on 22/09/19 will be on us before you know it.

What seems to be the biggest focus [and rightly so] is increasing his pool of not only available players, but also reliable ones and this selection really looks like a mix between what we'd arguably call his 'untouchable XV' from 2015 and a host of worthy candidates given the chance to hold up their hands."

November 11 : IRELAND-38 SOUTH AFRICA-3

"Perhaps 'asphalt' isn't the most inspiring choice of name for a colour, though I actually don't think our latest alternate jersey looks too bad.  But before you start accusing me of shilling for a manufacturing company, I have one important caveat...it doesn't look too bad on it's own.

On Saturday it pretty much failed at what was the essence of it's job, namely to provide an alternative colour when our more traditional one clashes with that of our opponents.  Having said that, the way this particular match panned out, the two sets of players could have all been wearing the same kit and you could still tell them apart."

writeup - 'BOKS KICKING'

NOTE - In between the Springbok and Fiji matches, we learned Ireland's fate on our RWC2023 bid...

November 18 : IRELAND-23 FIJI-20

"After my tweet at full-time was mostly negative I got a reply of 'Play new players everyone says, Joe does and Ireland win and ye still aren't happy 😒😒😒'.  I take the point, I really do.  But for all the caveats and narratives in the world, I still have to classify this as a poor 80-minute display from Ireland, and I just have to hope that people realise that I mean that in a constructive way rather than a curmudgeonly one.

The reason I say it's poor is that I know that Joe plays to a particular style and from start to finish we struggled to comply; areas of the game where we should have been comfortable were anything but. "

writeup - 'XIII'

November 25 : IRELAND-28 ARGENTINA-19

"The goal is to ensure that should we be forced to play a big World Cup knockout game without a significant number of 'recognised starters', there are enough replacements who can not only fill the shirts but also get the job done.

And I think over the past three weeks we have done that.  Andrew Conway, Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell, Adam Byrne, James Ryan, Kieran Treadwell [I've included each province there, right?] are among those who got their chance and all have done well in varying degrees but there is no doubt about who has stood out the most.

For while most of the 'newbies' have more established players to stand ahead of them in the pecking order, in the case of young Jacob Stockdale I reckon we might just have someone who is ready to play an even bigger role for Ireland."

writeup - 'JACOB'S LADDER'

...and so we arrived at the 2018 Six Nations.  Again I'll include a quote from my preview ahead of the first match to give an idea of my expectation levels at the time.

"Of course I make no assumptions about our chances.  England are going for three titles in a row and will be the team to beat.  Wales and Scotland will be equally dangerous for the rest of the tournament no matter who wins their battle tomorrow.  France are as unpredictable as ever.  Even Italy can't be taken for granted as their coach is well used to big occasions in D4 and he's not afraid to throw the odd tactical curveball.

But what I have come to realise about this current Irish set up is this...once we start a match with the right focus, nobody can ever feel comfortable playing us.  Would you have it any other way?"

February 3 : FRANCE-13 IRELAND-15

"Forget the kick itself for the moment if you can.  Just think of where Johnny's head was at when he decided to retreat into the pocket and give the call to his scrum half.  The match had been going mostly to plan before he misses an easy penalty to virtually secure a win.  Then came the try and the farce of the Belleau substitution.

All of that would make mush of my decision-making, that's for sure - I'd be running on fumes.  Yet he was able to somehow recall a similar situation against Treviso for Leinster and based on this, plus the fact that he knew his forwards were probably shattered, PLUS the fact that he seemed to be suffering from cramp moments before, he backed himself to nail it, which he did despite the improbable distance."

writeup - 'WHERE'S YOUR HEAD AT?'

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February 10 : IRELAND-56 ITALY-19

"Loads of Irish online comments were negative at full time, but I'm wondering how much of that was down to the fact that our second half, and thus the most recent in the memory, was far inferior to the first.  Yet even that forty minutes was won 28-19 with a bonus point won even not counting any scores from the first half.

But when taken in isolation, I'm not sure we could possibly hope for a better demonstration of the way Joe Schmidt wants test rugby played than minutes one through forty.  Fine, maybe the opposition wasn't exactly world beating, but do I really have to dig up the phrase 'you can only play what's in front of you'?  I guess I do.

...Two wins out of two and nine match points out of ten is exactly where we want to be.  And I really don't know what to say to those who look at our displays against France and Italy and say 'Well you wouldn't want to do that against Wales or England' because the simple fact of the matter is that we'll be set up differently on those days."

writeup - 'PROS AND CONS'

February 24 : IRELAND-37 WALES-27

"...eventually it got to a stage where they felt their only option was for Gareth Anscombe to force a long high pass into the wide channel...we all know what happened next but I'll say it anyway - Jacob Stockdale plucked it out of the air to continue his amazing sequence of multiple-try outings for Ireland.

That match-clinching score wasn't luck.  And it wasn't the Welsh handing it to us out of nowhere either.  It was the result of a well-drilled defence reaping a reward which more than justified any risks involved.  Of course Joe himself wasn't happy with the manner in which the tries were conceded, but that's because his job is to strive for perfection - IMO being a fan should give you more latitude for finding the silver linings.

...As for the actual championship itself, well the maths are so much in our favour it's actually scary and again I'm too superstitious to harp on it here - maybe another day."


March 10 : IRELAND-28 SCOTLAND-8

"...for now, I'm going to take all the negativity from the four matches to date - ['what about the Thomas try???' 'what about Italy's three tries?' 'what about the Welsh getting so close?' 'what about Scotland, er, scoring first?'], and stick them in a box.  Don't worry, it won't be far away, just on that shelf over there, and we can get back to it later.

This has been a tournament where the Irish squad under Joe Schmidt  has continued to evolve even further, something even I didn't think was possible after how far they had gone already.  We're like a snake that keeps shedding its skin only to get stronger, an analogy I actually chose before remembering the boys in green will be leaving the country for a very important event on St Patrick's Day.

...the most ironic thing of all for Joe Schmidt to be happy about selection-wise is that after having the replacement of BOD as his first big challenge when he took this job in 2013, he has managed to win his third championship in five years with a host of different names excelling in the role - Payne, Henshaw, Farrell and now Ringrose."

writeup - 'FOUR DOWN...'

"I doubt you'll find a team in world rugby right now that's better at squeezing every last drop of juice out of a half of rugby as this 2018 Irish vintage. 

...while most visiting sides would have been delighted to safely usher a 14-5 lead to the interval [especially with their superstar ten off the field], this lot was having none of it and when there was a fraction of space to be found up Jacob Stockdale's wing, he kicked one into the 22, made contact with it at the tryline, and got to it just before it reached the dead ball line [which Eddie Jones had extended...Sidenote of the Tournament?] to touch down.

Of course the TMO had to get involved, but again on first look I showed no fear 'IT'S OFF HIS KNEE! THAT'S A TRY! DEFINITELY OFF HIS KNEE! THAT'S A TRY!' I bellowed."

So that was that, Grand Slam won at Twickenham, possibly the best St Patrick's Day present ever.  Any rugby fan would be forgiven for thinking 'stick a fork in me, I'm done' with that but then we had Connacht saying goodbye to a legend by thumping Leinster, Ulster making the Champions Cup despite a disappointing season, Munster reaching another European semifinal and as for Leinster...ok, ok, I won't rub that in anymore.  At least not here 😜

Last but not least in this season for Ireland was a three-match series in Australia.  There was much debate amongst fans as to how Joe Schmiudt should view the trip, but we know enough about the Kiwi at this stage to appreciate he's gonna do what he's gonna do regardless of the so-called 'popular opinion'.  So how did that turn out?

"Every summer when these three-match jaunts to the southern hemisphere come around we always ask ourselves 'what we want from the tour'.  It's a fair question and one I have asked many times myself, yet when you think about it, it's approaching the series from something of a defeatist position.

This is sport we're talking about.  Ireland are slated to play three test matches.  What else could we possibly want short of three wins?  So if we're asking the question "what do we want", I have to assume we're looking ahead for silver linings on the assumption that we're going to lose a match or two, or three?

Naturally I'm being a bit facetious there.  I get the whole 'need to blood squad players' thing as much as anyone, but what I want to point out in this preview is that there has to come a time when we take a step back from the micromanaging and start asking questions like - "Hang on, we just won a Grand Slam and deservedly so.  Who's to say we can't go to Oz and keep that winning streak going?"."


"Confidence could not possibly be higher for the squad.  Even the bookies, who could have easily gone with home advantage in their pre-match odds, thought we were going to shade it.

So what went wrong?  For me it boils down to something very simple.  The type of rugby that got us this far is one that demands levels of skill and accuracy that might be at phenomenal levels, yet are still ones that you should expect if you're meant to be the second best team on the planet.

Of course it's a risk to expect a virtuoso display from Joey Carbery when he knows Sexton is waiting in the wings.  Or to expect your kick chasers to deal with Israel Folau under a high ball.  Or to expect your forwards to protect ball carriers when the likes of David Pocock and Michael Hooper are on the pitch.  Or to expect your centres to shoot out of the defensive line and avoid being hoodwinked by the footwork treachery of Kurtley Beale."

writeup - 'HIGH RISK RUGBY'


"Tadhg Furlong...was definitely deserving of (man of the match) award, for the try, for the early scrum success, for a monster clearout on Pocock, and even for having the stones to try a long pass after a break deep into the 22 when most props would have kept their head down and recycled.  He is definitely raising the standards and expectations associated with his position to previously unheard of levels.

...Now I know the match went right down to the final play when the Wallabies could have pinched it, but after watching a second time, I really do think the match was over at this stage, even before Sexton added an extra three points stretching the lead to 12.

We were in one of those zones where you just know you can pull out the play you need at any given moment.  Even the try from 'Tongan Thor' getting them within 5 didn't seem to really rattle us.  The Wallabies were making a lot of mistakes it's true and they certainly regressed from the previous week, but in many ways we were imposing the ineptitude on them."
writeup - 'SECOND BEST'


"more than anything else, you have to look at this series as more than the sum of its parts.  Somebody added up the scores from the three matches and it came out to an even 55-55, which might suggest an overall equality, though that is not what actually happened IMO.

...Another fact many like to point out is that it's our first series win there since 1979.  Again, that's some nice trivia but again, it doesn't tell the story.  Back then, for us to pull off a win like that was akin to Accrington Stanley pinching a 1-0 win over Man United on a muddy January afternoon in the FA Cup.

Now, things are very, very different.  We're not some scrappy upstarts hoping to take down bigger opposition...we ARE the bigger opposition."

writeup - 'NEW WORLD ORDER'

And now the timeline has caught up with us again.  What an amazing season it was.  Ten wins out of eleven, and I know I'm not the only Irish fan with a hint of regret we didn't manage the eleventh.  And as I have said before, that's not from arrogance...it's from watching the confidence and sense of expectation exude from the boys in green whenever they take the field this weather.

If they believe they can go even further than they already have, why shouldn't we?  Enjoy your summer folks, we'll be back harping on rugby regularly here soon.  JLP


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