Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Harpin Points 12 : Rivalries, Tightheads, Contracts


Every Wednesday we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes

IRISH RUGBY's AUL' FIRM

When I started this site in 2008 I set up a dedicated email account for which the address was beatmunster@live.ie.

It was meant to be light-hearted.  It was meant to be banter.  It was meant to be indicative of the kind of mindset your average fan should have...I have my team, I want them to win matches against all the other teams, and especially THAT team.

But to be fair, the fact that it didn't go down well when I was using it to deal with more and more different people, Munster fans in particular of course, was understandable.  For example, I was looking for guest posters from other provinces and it wasn't much of an incentive to ask someone to spend their time writing a post for the site when they had to get it to me using such a combative-looking email address!

So that, plus of course the match from last weekend, leads me to the question...just how should we approach this Leinster/Munster rivalry?

It's all about where you draw the 'line', I guess.  For years on the Harpin Facebook page I have had a thread running after Leinster & Ireland matches which is headed by the words "Feel free to leave your thoughts..." and despite the Internet being known for things like 'rabbit-holes' and 'trolls', the only time I have had anything close to those things have been for Leinster v Munster matches, and only once did I ever have to actually ban someone from the page.

And now I have to be clear...that doesn't mean I'm saying that I think it's only Munster fans who are troublemakers online...though the fact that I have to say that at all is pretty much the overall point.

The tightrope we must walk is one between being 'fair yet boring' on one side, and 'partisan and insulting' on the other.  And in the realm of sports fandom, the way I see it is that if we're not at least prepared to go out on that rope, particularly when it's against our biggest rivals, then there's no point in getting involved in the first place.

Sure, things are very good for Leinster right now.  Ridiculously good in fact.  Double winners, squad packed with at least three viable options at virtually every position...we seem to be unstoppable.  But again I must go back in time to when I began this site in 2008.

Then it was Munster with 2 more European titles than us.  Then it was they who had the super squad.  Then it was they who were the ones that appeared to be gloating when more often than not they were just being happy about their team's success like any fan would be.

Maybe the tide will turn again one day, maybe not.  But that's not the point.  I'd like to think that a level can be found whereby we can enjoy these matches with all the banter that makes them special without turning people away altogether, because that certainly can't be good for the game.

Of course Munster fans should have been pissed off at the referee last weekend.  Of course Leinster fans should have been a lot more drawn to James Lowe's performance as a reason for the result.  That's how it's supposed to work.

But when we present our opinions, if we do it in such a way that the language gets too colourful and the insults too personal, then fans on the fringes of the sport might wind up focusing on more genteel events like Khabib v McGregor...



MY POSITION ON POSITIONS - 3

"First name on your team sheet should be your tight head and your second name should be your reserve tighthead"

I have heard several different names offered as sources for the above paraphrase though according to Lady Google it was former Springbok player and coach 'Doc' Danie Craven.  But we can let the debate over that wait for another day's Harpin Points.

In this latest instalment from our series looking at the contenders for the 15 Irish jerseys at RWC2019, we look at number 3.

Five years ago we thought that Mike Ross would have to be bullied into not  ever retiring because he was Ireland's only conceivable option for the national 3 jersey.

And the longevity wasn't restricted to his career...while most contemporary front rowers start matches knowing they can give it their all because they would be hauled ashore between minutes 50 and 60, Ross could often only do so if the win looked in the bag, otherwise he was kept on in case there were some key scrums in the closing stages.

And nothing illustrated the importance of this position more than the great Twickenham massacre of 2012, which led The Guardian's Rob Kitson to offer this quote :


Short of fielding a front row comprising Patrick Kielty, Graham Norton and Father Ted, Ireland could not have endured a worse scrummaging nightmare than this.

Ross did start the match but he only made it to the 37th minute when he was replaced by Tom Court who did his best but couldn't prevent a disastrous a penalty try, six scrum penalties and three scrums against the head which will always ruin any hopes you might have of victory.

And since it's test not club level we're talking about, it's not like you can simply whip out your chequebook to solve the problem.  If you don't see anyone emerging from the provinces, you might have to get creative, and from this process we got Michael Bent.


Coming originally from the US as I do, as a rule I won't hear a word said about project players or 'granny rule' ones like Bent.  We had a need, the rule was there, the player was willing to come, and thus the decision was made.


That Bent virtually had to run from the airport to the Aviva in his playing gear to make his Ireland debut before he ever played for Leinster is a sign of the position we were in, yet while he has remained at the province and done many a decent job for us on occasion over the years, including last Saturday, he wasn't the long term answer.


Then the rugby gods delivered us Tadhg Furlong.


We would have taken someone arriving at the top level ready to replace Ross at Leinster.  As a bonus we got someone ready to do so for Ireland.  But ready to start all three tests in a thrilling drawn series against the All Blacks?


And I hope Mr Ross won't mind if I describe Furlong as a considerable upgrade, though a lot of that has to do with the exponential advancements in coaching and academy practices in the past decade or so.  Furlong can scrummage, he can carry, he can do pretty much everything that's asked of him around the park, and he has a fiery attitude to boot.


But like that quote back at the top of this point says, the 18 jersey is almost as crucial as the 3, and while we have had some good 'go to' options in Finlay Bealham and John Ryan, Joe had to go to another kind of creativity to get us another one.


I liked what I saw of Andrew Porter around the park for Leinster A and Ireland Under 20, but to switch him to the tight head side at that age was definitely a master-stroke.  It's like Joe saw the props version of the Force was strong in him and got his best Jedi warriors like "Obi-Greg" Feek to train him.


This combination of the right talent coming through the ranks plus the right choices made on the training paddock led to us having the wherewithal not only to go to Twickenham with Tadhg & Andrew to win 7 scrums out of 7, and not only going there and winning, but also doing so to earn an historic Grand Slam in an even-numbered year.


So it would seem that between now and the World Cup the task is to keep that duo fit, give alternatives below them as many opportunities as we can (and hopefully they will include Marty Moore once he has a decent stretch with Ulster) and we should be well stocked in this position as we head for Japan.


MURRAY'S MINTED

News is coming through that Conor Murray has signed to stay with Munster & Ireland until 2022.  That is of course absolutely fantastic news.

On the rumour mill that has been churning for the last few weeks regarding his neck injury, well, I can kind of see both sides.

For one thing, I don't know what you expect from media and fans if you're being frugal with information, especially on such an important player.  Apparently questions had been asked several times about the nature of his neck injury and the details were not very forthcoming.

But does that mean I'm floating a classic Internet conspiracy that in actual fact he was refusing to play until his new deal was signed?  Well what if I was?

No, seriously...the fact of the matter is that the way Irish Rugby is currently set up, negotiations of new contracts for star players in particular is always going to be not only a delicate matter, but also one that is unique with each individual.

We're the reigning Grand Slam champions and ranked #2 in the world with a mathematical chance of reaching #1 in the near future.  Players like Murray who are key factors in that state of affairs coming about are going to be targeted by the big money clubs from England and France, and what's more the agents are going to leverage the approaches in such a way as to suit their client (and rightly so, that's their job) as opposed to the needs & wants of the IRFU.

So with all this bubbling behind the scenes, it must be quite the challenge to keep it away from a news-hungry media, particularly in this online day and age.

In an ideal rugby world, we'd find some windows on the calendar when ALL negotiations can be done in such a way that it hinders a players involvement with the club he's playing for now, which should always be more important than the club he'll be playing for in seasons down the line.

Anyway...once again congrats to Conor and the IRFU, yet another piece of our 2019 puzzle locked into place.



'WORLD LEAGUE' LATEST

Two weeks ago in Harpin Points 10 I looked at the possibility of there being some kind of an annual 'World League' competition between the top 12 nations.  I certainly wasn't dismissive of it, but we definitely needed more detail.  We'll now it seems we have some.

According to an article I shared on today's Front 5, the 12 nations are all going to play each other once in a calendar year, with the top four on the table going into playoffs?  Ya wha'????

Clearly that raises more questions than it answers, but I think it's safe to say that the idea is for Six Nations and Rugby Championship matches to have dual purposes, with the remaining matches organised in the June and November windows, or whatever new months are found in the alterations to the calendar.

With the current top 12 being NZL, IRL, WAL, ENG, RSA, SCO, AUS, FRA, ARG, FIJ, JAP & TON, that would make for a lot of matches that need scheduling.  I'm assuming those not in the major championships will play each other while they're on, but nonetheless it looks like a complicated process.

I'm still keeping an open mind for now...interesting how they're slowly leaking out the whys and the wherefores; I can only assume it's designed to test the wind of rugby opinion.



THE ART OF PLACEKICKING

We've all had a go at slotting an egg between the uprights down the park, haven't we?  With varying degrees of success no doubt.

But after Ross Byrne's perfect day at the Aviva last Saturday, which went most of the way to earn him man of the match, I'm reminded of what exactly these lone figures are doing each time they strike the ball towards the posts.

It's certainly something we can't replicate at the park, unless we first be sure to run around the place, try to tackle other guys running at full tilt and many of them bigger than us, take a few similar hits ourselves, keep in mind the game plan and be sure to be aware of the right situation to execute the right play...

Then 'all' you have to do is forget about all of that, place the ball on the tee at exactly the right angle, and follow your personal routine of a certain amount of steps, hand and head movements in perfect order, all while shutting out the attention of several thousand onlookers.

For these guys to take all that on board and STILL register points on a regular basis...well, all I'm saying is that once in a while we need to be sure not to take it for granted.



Right that's it for this week's Harpin Points, thanks for staying with me, stay tuned for our usual features towards the end of the week.  Hopefully the bad weather on the horizon won't affect the big European kickoff at the weekend.  JLP

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