Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Harpin Points 13 : BOD documentary, Irish locks & more

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


One of the reasons I enjoy harpin’ on rugby this way rather than by podcast or video is that I often find my American accent, which has endured despite my calling Ireland home for over 40 years, can get in the way of making my point.  Let's face it, when it comes to rugby union, a ‘Yank twang’ can add an air of ‘he hasn't a clue what he's talking about’ to a rant so I'd much rather let the actual words give you that impression all on their own 😉.

However, when it comes to the subject matter covered by Brian O’Driscoll's ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ documentary on BT Sport last weekend, I have to admit that I had lot to learn.  While I was here in Dublin during much of the Troubles and would have experienced them in a very similar fashion to Brian, the situation was as new to the rest of my immediate family as it was to me so I didn't have any folklore to bolster my appreciation of what was going on.

Yet it was always a subject in which I was fascinated.  For my Leaving Cert History paper the essay I had all ready to spill on the page from the word go was one on Unionism...not because I admired it per se, rather I wanted to learn as much as I could about their side of the whole situation.

So naturally when it came to a time when I was running a website that covered both Leinster and Ireland rugby, the way the IRFU managed to knit the four provinces together over the years, particularly Ulster, was always going to be a topic of interest, and up to this point I felt it was considered something a taboo subject until BOD & BT Sport took it head on.

Overall, the show gets a thumbs up from me, not just for the subject matter, but also I felt he gave the right amount of time to all the flash points in history from before the Troubles all the way up to the modern times.

There were a couple of statements that I bumped on, like towards the end when he suggested that every Irish rugby fan was on board with the use of “Ireland's Call” before matches.  While I have no problem with it personally because I appreciate the reasoning behind its existence, my experience in moderating rugby opinion over the years has taught me that there are a considerable number of Irish rugby fans who disapprove.  But having said that, it has to be remembered that this was a production mostly aimed at a British audience so a few generalisations had to be made.

What struck me most about the piece was the level of emotion from interviewees when they recalled various incidents, some moving like when former England centre David Duckham spoke of how Willie John Mc Bride implored him to make sure his side fulfilled their Five Nations fixture in Dublin, and some shocking like David Irwin's harrowing experience on a drive down to Dublin.

Basically, if you haven't seen the production, I strongly recommend that you should.  BOD does a decent job getting across the fact that he is learning virtually as much new information as the viewer.


In part 4 of my series of looking at Irish options for various positions ahead of RWC2019, I'm going to do things a bit differently than before.

We have reached the second row, and in the normal sequence of events I would be looking at jumper number four, and it is true that over the years there has always been a distinct difference between the two lock positions.

Having been a humble prop in my day, I'll leave it to Martin Bayfield to offer an explanation as to the difference...

The second row that wears the number four shirt often jumps second in the line-out and is usually slightly shorter and is probably the bulkier of the pair.

The number four is more likely to be the tight-head lock.

Most of the pressure from the scrum comes through this side, you need your cornerstone on the tight-head side.

He locks out the scrum, he's the cornerstone and will usually be pretty stationary while applying a lot of the pressure.

While many of those positional norms still hold, in the modern game you need to be a lot more versatile than in days gone by.  For example, last Friday for Leinster, Devin Toner wore 4 and James Ryan 5, while the last time the pair togged out for Ireland in Sydney last June, their numbers were reversed.

So instead what I'm going to do is look at our top three lock options this week while poring over the alternatives next.

‘Big Dev’ stands head and shoulders above all the rest in this position.  And no, I can't promise that will be the last ‘he's very tall’ joke I'll make before this Harpin Point is done but we'll see how we get on.

He was just finding his way into the Leinster setup when I began this site and it has to be said it took him a while to ‘grow into himself’ both physically and technically.  Being that height was only an advantage if he could learn to use it wisely...when carrying he was often an easy mark for jacklers to isolate and even in lineouts it has been possible for opposition jumpers & lifters to negate his presence.

Besides...when he was arriving on the professional scene it was the age of POC & DOC.  There was no shifting them from Ireland's starting XV, nor should there have been. But eventually around the time Paulie assumed the captaincy, Dev was breaking through and I reckon working both with him and Joe Schmidt in particular helped him raise his game the final few rungs and today his work rate around the pitch is phenomenal, with last Friday at the RDS being a very recent example.

James Ryan's progress has been very different...he is one of the ‘Cullen's Cubs’ generation who arrived at senior level pretty much good to go.  I remember a match in the Junior World Championships when he was Irish captain and we got off to a horrible start against Wales going 17-0 down but on our restart following the third try, he led by example as he poleaxed the guy who received the kick and from that moment on his team rallied around him to not only come back and win, but go on to reach the final.

His rise since then has been meteoric.  He went on Ireland's tour to USA & Japan in 2017 and got capped before lining out for the senior Leinster side.  He enjoyed an early unbeaten start to his pro career similar to that of Maro Itoje for England and so far I'm pretty sure his only blemish was the first Test in Australia...superstition prevents me from researching exactly how many Leinster matches it has been to date.

You can hardly deny his varied skill set - a reliable lineout catcher, good around the breakdown, but it's in the loose where he gets the most attention.  Hard yards are no bother to him but if he gets a whiff of a gap, he can both sail through it and link up with a support runner with relative ease, and often lately it has been his fellow St Michaels alumnus Luke McGrath doing just that.

Last in this category, but certainly not least, is Iain Henderson.  He's another who arrived at the top level ready to go but a series of injuries have held him back.  You're just going to have to believe me that it's Toner & Ryan's week-in week-out familiarity that has me preferring them as starters for Ireland as opposed to the colour of their jerseys, but I have always been a fan of big Iain.

What I always liked most about him was his attitude.  Often when his side appears to be getting bogged down in an endless series of phases around the try line he has been the one to knuckle down and bring it the rest of the way.  He's not shy about making a tackle or twelve either. Basically if there's as much of a sniff of a dip in form from either Toner or Ryan, Henderson should be brought up to the starting XV immediately.

These are three who featured for us last season during the Grand week, I'll have a look at those looking for a way to surpass them in Joe's pecking order.


Ah, poor Freddie Burns.  Hard not to feel for him.

Even just taken on its own it's an awful thing to happen (although if it happened to someone like Chris Ashton I wouldn't mind so much 😜), but when you add it to what went before it gets even worse.  Yes, he did finish a good try himself in the first half, but particularly in front of his home crowd, that he missed one, two and then three very ‘gettable’ penalties leading up to this incident goes a long way to explaining his mindset as anyone’s worst rugby nightmare came true.

I'm probably scuppering my chances of getting on the Burns family Christmas card list by describing what happened again, but I probably should in case you missed it...with his Bath side down by two points and just five minutes left on the clock, he was coasting over the line and under the posts where all he had to do was dot it down....only he didn't.

But like I said, the relief for having supposedly cost his side 9 points before that moment was not only written all over his face, but it also made him forget his surroundings.  It's like when I watch my 9-year old playing Fortnite...when he takes down an opponent he loves to do one of the many ‘victory dances’ that are part of the game but in doing so he forgets that there are still dozen of players still active and he invariably pays the price.

And before we go too far down the road of punishing Burns, let us not forget the part played by Maxime Médard.  I have always been a fan of his and many players watching an opponent cross the line at that moment would have been too busy thinking “Merde!” for conceding the match-winning score.  But his experience kept his focus enough to know that batting the full-back’s hand, not the ball, would legally prevent the score. And the rest, sadly for Bath fans, is history.

Should he have been substituted shortly afterwards?  Well it did seem a bit cruel as he left the pitch, but then again he was visibly shaken by the mistake and you have to allow for a coach's ability to read his body language.  That said, if it was for that reason, my suggestion would be for him to go straight to the dressing room, not sit in a chair and watch the final few minutes unfold because that had to be pure torture for him, especially the way things transpired.

As you can see by the picture below, Bath should have had one final chance to spare Freddie's blushes.  Toulouse winger Cheslin Kolbe, who had a great match otherwise, made a blunder of his own right at the end and the ball clearly goes into touch before the clock hits 80.  But as I have lamented in Harpin Points gone by, European rugby doesn't employ a “hooter” and referee Andrew Brace refused to check the TMO and the lineout never took place.

Let's just hope as Leinster fans that Freddie doesn't take our December date with Bath as an opportunity to make amends!


There's no doubt the British & Irish Cup needed a re-vamp.  Much has been said about the way it created (further) tensions between provinces and clubs, but from a fan's perspective I can't believe it ran for so many years without some company or other being willing to throw a few quid at it to get their name involved.

And with this new format of separate Irish & Welsh conferences but more importantly a calendar that runs for seven straight weeks from start to finish, it really does look like they have found something that will work for all involved.  Which of course probably means that they'll change it all again for next year!!!! 😉 

So after six pool wins from six Leinster A have themselves in another final, against their Scarlets counterparts.  After all the bru ha ha over their having to travel to Dublin twice for knockout games last season, I think it's fair enough that this decider will take place in Llanelli this Saturday.  Best of luck to the boys in blue...we can never have too much silverware in a calendar year!!!


Hopefully Munster fans will know me well enough to appreciate that I'm not making this week's final Harpin Point to have a pop at the province itself, though considering the common belief is that Ben Whitehouse missed a lot last weekend, I sincerely hope they can agree with me on this anyway.

I mean,  come on...charging down a conversion kicker is definitely something I want to stay in the game, but if a player does so and ends up clattering into on earth can there be no sanction???????  It matters not a jot that he didn't mean to hit Steenson, and I don't think he did.  But that was a yellow card, end of.  Just sayin'.  

Right, that's it for this week's Harpin Points, thanks for sticking with me to the end!  JLP


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