Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Harpin Points 4 : Tackle safety, Celtic Cup and rebranding subs

We tend to focus on Leinster & Ireland matches so in our new Harpin Points feature we widen the lens a bit and offer at least two cents' worth on a range of different rugby topics


What a terrible tragedy it was that befell the game over the weekend.

It has been great to see the rugby family rally in support, like with this Kickstarter-type campaign for his family.

You could say it's too soon to be asking about details concerning what actually happened, and I would understand this view, not only out of respect for his immediate family and friends, but also for those directly involved in the incident in question, like the player who actually made the tackle and those who were responsible for his medical supervision immediately afterwards.  No doubt there will be a full inquiry as soon as possible.

For this reason, we saw the following series of vague reports in the media of what happened within 24 hours...

"...after being stunned in a tackle."
"...following a heavy tackle."
"...after falling victim to a heavy tackle"
"...picked up an injury during the game and needed to be substituted."
"The centre was substituted in the 60th minute after a tackle..."

Naturally we'd be curious as to the actual nature of the tackle in question, yet after this report following the autopsy...

"On Monday, the prosecution indicates that the autopsy did not reveal the cause of his death."

It wasn't until today that we learned actual specifics...
The match referee, Jeremy Rozier, told Midi Olympique that Fajfrowski was running at low speed when he received the ball. He was hit "at the level of the breast-sternum area" by a Rodez backrower, running at full speed.
 "The impact made a big noise, but there was nothing wrong," Rozier said.
So apparently it wasn't a direct head collision as I would have originally assumed.  These leaves us with several different possibilities...maybe he had already received a head knock in a previous challenge, maybe he had a pre-existing condition of which he was unaware, maybe this challenge in and of itself was enough to cause concussion, and no doubt there are several other scenarios that those much more qualified than I can suggest.

The Harpin Point I want to stress here is that it is very important that we're not afraid to have these discussions at any time.  I remember about a year ago there was a debate over 'banning tackles from schools rugby'.  I wasn't comfortable with that framing of the issue because it seemed to have an extreme action as its starting point which left little or no room for discussion of the grey areas in between, like perhaps looking more closely at different types of tackles which can be allowed at different levels of the sport.

And for me, the media helped with this extreme framing.  For example this article from the Guardian, shared in the Irish Times, said in its tagline that "Father of Ben Robinson – who died on the pitch aged 14 – says tackling is not the issue" when in actual fact the tweet being referenced is one where he said “Banning tackling at schools not the answer. Mismanagement of concussion is the greatest risk in the game.” which is very different.  Tackling IS an issue, it's just not the only one and doesn't necessarily need to be ruled out altogether.

We have to be able to discuss this rationally without being too afraid of the full extent of the consequences.  If the consequence of being 'zero tolerance' over tackle height is more stoppages in the game, so be it.  If the consequence of discovering certain pre-existing conditions aren't suited to certain people is that they shouldn't take up the sport, so be it.  IMO a lot of us have to accept that no matter how we remember the sport being played in years gone by, there's a strong possibility that changes will have to be made for the sake of player safety.

I have tried to imagine what I would do if I were attending that Aurillac v Rodez match and saw what happened; would I use these pages or social media to actually describe the tackle in question?  I think I would.  It's too important a debate to shy away from and hopefully a sensible safe solution can be found as soon as possible.


On to less weighty is coming back to D4 this week - woo hoo!  Can. Not. Wait.  Newcastle Falcons will be the visitors to Donnybrook Stadium Energia Park and this annual preseason event at "Old HQ" never disappoints.

I noticed over the years that the English clubs have been quite innovative at this time of year and I wonder if this is something Leinster could be looking at for the future.  The Premiership 7s has been a great example of this...they have had to tweak the format several times over the years but they always seem to be enjoyable occasions and I'm sure an  equivalent day out for the provinces would prove popular.

Then we had the Falcons who played Nottingham last weekend - instead of the traditional 80 minutes of rugby the two teams played three periods of 30, which no doubt helped the coaches try out different formations.  And speaking of which, one thing I notice Premiership clubs doing for preseason matches over here is naming a different starting XV for each half...that helps the spectators follow what's going on instead of numbering the players beyond 30 on the programme without using the corresponding numbers on the jerseys.

When it comes to a 'left field' solution, I remember stumbling across TV coverage of a preseason Italian soccer match years ago, it actually involved THREE clubs, of which I only remember Juventus were one.  Basically each team played one half against another, and I reckon this might be worth a try for rugby?

Say this Friday at Energia Park we not only had Leinster and Newcastle, but also, say, Munster as well.  Our southern cousins could play the English club first for 40 minutes, then the Falcons could switch ends and play us, then for the finale we'd switch ends to face the 'old enemy'.  A token trophy for the team that scores most points on the night, plus the Falcons could slip away early for their flight home if necessary.

As you can see, no idea is too wacky for Harpin Points!!!!  😜  Anyway, whatever the format, I'm very excited to watch the boys in blue take to the field again and hopefully I'll be able to keep you all posted by way of a liveblog.


The British & Irish Cup had a decent run, but let's face it, there never was really a whole lot of enthusiasm for it, was there?  Even for us Leinster fans...sure, we backed the boys every year and there were decent turnouts for the home matches, but there were an awful lot of mismatches along the way and with so many tonkings you'd wonder just how beneficial it was for the fringe players in question.

Also there was the very serious issue of the effect the competition was having on the All Ireland League, with coaches even in the top division finding it impossible to put out anything close settled lineups as the provincial setup would require up to 50 players on so many weekends scattered throughout the calendar.

So do you ditch the concept altogether or do you try something else?  This year they're going for option B.  With the English Championship sides having lost interest and the Scots not ready to rejoin, it is now left to the Irish provinces and Welsh regions to come together for some A-level rugby and with the new Celtic Cup being run over consecutive weekends right to a finish (something I have said for years ALL rugby tournaments should do), it should improve the player pools at club level at the business end of the campaign.

The format of the competition is simple conference for each nation with every team playing six matches, four against the other conference and two within its own.  The top team on each 'ladder' reaches the final.

Below you see Leinster A's Celtic Cup schedule - the full list can be found here.

September 7   Ulster v Leinster, Malone RFC, KO 17.00
September 15   Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Energia Park, KO 14.00
September 22     Scarlets v Leinster, Parc Y Scarlets, KO 14.30
September 28   Leinster v Ospreys, Energia Park, KO 19.30
October 6   Dragons v Leinster, CCSE Ystrad Mynach, KO 14.30
October 12,13,14   Leinster v Munster TBC


Oh no, I'm not starting to agree with Stephen Jones in my old age, am I???  Maybe I can put this one down to the saying which says "even a broken clock is right twice a day"???

Basically when you frequently have articles written about your own articles, you have to admire an author just a little bit, but only in the same way I 'have to' admire Donald Trump a little bit for making it to the White House despite being a, well, insert your own expletive...

When it comes to the so-called 'Rugby Championship', perhaps labelling it as a "second division" might be a tad extreme, but the man does have a valid point.  When we watch our favourite sports at the highest level it's usually for enjoyment, yet when we watch actual tournaments, we'd like to think that before they kickoff there are at least a couple of teams in serious contention.

In southern hemisphere rugby right now, there are only the All Blacks and the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.  Nobody else comes close.  The Rugby Championship may not be quite a 'Second Division' but when it comes to competitive value, it is a division where the real race is for second place.

A ball is yet to be kicked in anger, yet I can categorically tell you that the All Blacks are going to win.  OK, maybe I'm saying that to tempt the rugby gods a little bit and if I'm proven wrong I'll be delighted, but it's not going to happen and I'm not going to be delighted.  Yes, that was more god-tempting.  Let's see if it works.  Which it won't.


So the Harlequins called them 'Game changers'??? So bloody what???

In case you missed the uproar from last weekend, the Quins had a preseason friendly against the Jersey Reds, and there was a massive bru ha ha on social media over the way they dared to use the words 'game changers' in the match programme instead of 'substitutes'.

To be fair, these online exchanges can be fun, like when Blood and Mud kickstarted the hunt for more humorous alternatives...

Yet among all the light hearted reactions there was a good deal of 'harrumph-ery' among the keyboard warriors and I'd like to push back a little bit.

Michael Cheika comes right out and calls them 'finishers' in interviews like it's a sport-wide accepted phrase and you know what, I actually like it because it properly describes their job.  'Substitutes' implies players who are only there in case the starters don't perform, yet these days, the players wearing jerseys 16-23 are normally chosen with a view to achieving a result just as much as the others.

If we want to discuss how we present starting lineups on a programme, how about actually listing the numbers from 1 to 23 across the board?  Whatever the original reasons for doing the backs backwards and the forwards forwards, why don't we just make it easier for those new to the game, given the actual rules are complicated enough as they are?

And as for the starting front row being 1,2,3 yet the subs/finishers/whatever being 17,16,18...what's that about?  (I know how that happened but it would be an easy fix to simplify it).  While I'm at it, hey South Africa - how about you get with the rest of the world and number your flankers like the rest of us???

Wow, I didn't realise I felt so strongly about this issue...that point went from a brief ramble into a full on rant, best do some finishing of my own before I go even further off the deep end!!!

These have been Harpin Points, we'll have more next Wednesday.  In the meantime stay tuned to this site plus all of our usual social media haunts where we'll be keeping close tabs on Leinster's preseason clash with Newcastle right from the naming of the team through to our Monday match writeup. JLP


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