Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Harpin Points 15 : From rugby chat online to pointless TV gimmicks

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


Shout outs for Harpin On Rugby are always appreciated, so I'm more than happy to return the favour for former contributor to these pages and now host of the excellent weekly vidcast “Three Blokes, A Ball and BOD” Joe Sheppard (aka Big Joe Shep) who mentioned us in his show last Thursday.

The subject matter was online rugby blogs and forums and he had a couple of guests on who run their own sites.  It was an interesting conversation and for me it illustrated the different formats available for producing online rugby content.

Some like to run a ‘messageboard’ style which involves offering topics and allowing members to get a discussion going by way of posts, many of which are effectively well crafted essays that would make excellent articles in their own right.

Here at HoR we've always used the blog format, with the central focus being match writeups for both Leinster and Ireland's men's teams.  I would love to be able to cover a wider scope, and if someone chooses to pay me I may very well one day ha ha.  But for now I only really feel entitled to write about the teams I actually want to follow, and I'm of course very grateful to all the support I have gotten from readers, commenters, contributors and of course sponsors.

Another thing Joe's show touched on was the whole area of ‘trolls’ and ‘wind up merchants’.  We have had a few of them over the years at HoR but thankfully not too many. Only once have I ever actually banned someone and even then it was reluctantly.  I know it has to be done but it annoys me when such a small minority is allowed to define the overall online discourse.

But back to the positive, as well as wishing to be able to harp on more than just Leinster & Ireland, I also wish I could be involved in more different sites.  I used to try to stay in touch, as well as becoming attached to several WhatsApp groups and prediction games, yet sadly the demands of this site meant I had to back away.

That's just me though… For the majority of rugby nuts who don't get involved in the admin side of this world, it only makes your enjoyment all the greater to keep up with as much of the quality content out there as you can, and if you haven't sampled Joe's show already, I strongly recommend you rectify that situation ASAP. Once I can organise myself a quiet spot from which to broadcast I hope to join him on his show at some point.


Speaking of shout-outs, this week's look at contenders for various Irish test jerseys looks at number 6, and it gives me an excuse to show off bring up a question I put to Brent Pope about 5 years ago, one that impressed him as you can see by his video response.

When dealing with the Irish second rows I pointed out that despite the functional differences at scrum time, the numbers 4 and 5 were pretty much interchangeable, yet this is infinitely more so when comes to what the French call ‘la troisième ligne’.

It was always the case that forwards were meant to do much more work around the pitch than that described by the name of their position, which relates to their role in the scrum.  But the truth is that this versatility has become much more widespread throughout the game since it went pro and now we have coaches using different types of players at different times.

The 6 is meant to be the ‘blindside flanker’ or as I knew it as a kid, ‘wing forward’.  They were essentially extra tacklers who are meant to spring off the scrum to thwart the planned attack of the opposition when defending, or be a viable carrying option while attacking.

Peter O’Mahony does all of the above but that only scratches the surface of what he offers to both Munster & Ireland.  He'll carry. He'll clear out. He'll force a turnover. He'll pinch a lineout. And most of all, whether he's captain or not, he'll both lead by example and stick up for his side with the ref.  He is as complete a player as you can have in this sport and has made himself undroppable.

But what of Sean O'Brien? He's well able to do all of the above. With him, it has only been injury holding him back.  When he was winning European Player of the Year the jersey was his without question but as he has been dipping in and out of the game, POM is not the only one to put his name forward.  Still, a fully fit Tullow Tank is hard to ignore and if he continues to get game time he could force his way into contention at any of the back row positions.

Then there's Rhys Ruddock.  He'd be well on course for 100 caps with most other rugby nations. He comes across as unassuming personality wise but on the pitch he gets every bit out of his size and as I mentioned last week, can also pitch in at lock when required, the kind of versatility that is invaluable in the modern game.  And as if all of that isn't enough, he has been a captain at this level for a long time and could well lead Ireland this coming weekend.

Like I said, many different players can feature at 6 for Ireland.  Much like the way Australia solved their Hooper/Pocock dilemma by starting both as flankers, both Leinster and Ireland have done this with the two dynamic young stars Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy.  But I'll harp some more on them next week.

And while there are several more quality options out there these days, when it comes to 6 I can't see too far beyond those named above for Ireland with RWC less than a year away.


I touched on this in my writeup of Benetton v Leinster at the weekend so here is a good place to elaborate.  For me it's very important to have a term like this for what is a definite phenomenon in rugby in general but Irish rugby in particular.

What I mean by the term (though it's pretty much self-explanatory) is the tendency of some fans to single out foreign players when the side is playing badly.  But I have to make it clear that especially in today’s highly charged political climate, I do not equate this with being ‘racist’ or anything remotely similar.

In fairness, it seems more like a natural tendency that's linked to things like name recognition.  Take mine for example.  If you didn't know me and were shown headlines of articles on Irish rugby by three different authors, one with my surname Pagano and the other two with Irish names, which would you think was more credible?  I know I'd lean toward the other two.

And in the case of Joe Tomane who has been the most recent target of criticism at Leinster Rugby, he's up against more than his ‘forgein-ness’ when it comes to winning over Irish fans.  It doesn't help his cause that he comes into the squad just as arguably the most popular provincial import Irish rugby has ever known, Isa Nacewa, has just left.

But from my standpoint, there's another factor to consider.  Joe actually hasn't done all that well so far.  He hasn't been poor by a long stretch, but on more than one occasion what seemed like a promising Leinster move has broken down when it came to him.  I just think we need to be able to point this out in a sensible manner like suggesting he needs time to get fully up to speed with Leinster's intricate systems, before effectively ruling him out altogether.

And it's not like every import has been a winner in the past.  Steven Sykes is one that springs to mind, but there have been a few. But what we as fans need to do is try to give all of the boys in blue an equal chance and keep the criticism as constructive as we possibly can.


The Ospreys used to be the dominant force in Welsh regional rugby, yet in recent seasons they have regressed somewhat allowed the Scarlets to assume that mantle.  This season the Swansea-based outfit, thanks in part to some decent acquisitions like Dan Lydiate and George North, are getting back to their best, and I look forward to seeing them play at the RDS at the end of November.

But their current improvement highlights for me something about European rugby that bugs me....ok, alright, just one of the many things.  And let me be clear that I see Ospreys as just one example of this Harpin Point.

The region's poor form last season saw them fail to qualify for the Champions Cup, albeit at the very last hurdle of a playoff in Belfast in May.  But the way we structure things, in some ways they actually get som reward from this failure.

Let's be honest…nobody is really all that pushed about the Challenge Cup.  Sure, winning it brings qualification for the big prize the following year, but it's status is one that has teams more falling into the knockout stages rather than pushing too hard for them.

So with the Ospreys in that lesser tournament, it means they can put more focus on the Pro14.  And for me, this goes against much of what sport is meant to be about.  Why should having a bad record one season effectively make your life easier the next?

I suppose what bugs me most about this is that we're copying a model used in soccer, and both Arsenal and Chelsea are currently enjoying similar seasons to that of the Ospreys.  I don't mind the round ball game, but I certainly don't believe we need to copy them at every turn no matter how much more popular and lucrative it may be.

Were it down to me, domestic and European competitions would be played in blocks at opposite ends of the season, with the former offering immediate qualification for the latter.   I know this is probably never going to happen, but I guess that's what makes my take a 'hot' one?


IMO the mid-half interviews with coaches are a waste of time anyway but surely they shouldn't break away from the actual rugby when they do it? 🙄🏉📺 👎

16 Likes, 1 Comments - HarpinOnRugby (@harpinonrugby) on Instagram: "IMO the mid-half interviews with coaches are a waste of time anyway but surely they shouldn't break..."

The above Instagram post pretty much says it all about how I feel about this phenomenon. I understand that TV networks feel the need to add something different to their coverage, but they also have to realise that often they get something wrong. 

Chatting to a coach while a game is actually in progress seems positively bonkers to me.  Some of the head coaches like Dai Young and Rob Baxter are happy to do it, but I can totally understand why most of them delegate it to their assistants, and even they don't seem to happy. 

The way I see it, the type of fan who would be interested enough to know what a coach is thinking at the midway point of a half is also one who appreciates that the last thing he wants to be doing is taking his eyes off the action because every second could offer some information that he'll want to pass n to his players. 

Wrap it up lads.  I really don't think there will be any petitions to bring it back. 

That's all the Harpin Points for this week. Thanks for sticking with me until the end.  There's a big weekend coming up with both Leinster and Ireland in action so stay tuned!  JLP


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