Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Harpin Points 23 -Leinster's conveyor belt, Lunchtime kickoffs & more


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

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES 

When I started these Harpin Points posts on Wednesdays I thought one per week might be a bit much but after taking a couple of weeks off over Christmas I actually missed doing them so I guess that means I enjoy the midweek rants!

I'll begin this 23rd instalment by expanding on a theme I touched on to begin my Ulster writeup.  Basically I was harping on the fact that Leinster's current levels of domination of the Irish rugby scene continue indefinitely simply because a large percentage of the raw talent emerging from academies seems to stem from these parts nowadays.

One reason for this of course is success.  That spell of three Euro titles in four seasons must have served as an inspiration to a whole generation of players who may have had chances to plump for other team sports, plus it meant we could attract a range of quality coaches to come in and learn their trade all the way down to schools level.

This meant that by the time Leo Cullen took the reins, despite a very shaky start in the Champions Cup, he was able to bring a host of names into the line like Ringrose, van der Flier and Leavy that seemed to arrive at the highest level totally match ready.

Of course it doesn't hurt that the area known as Leinster includes easily the greatest population density among the four provinces either, but I think overall it has been the culture of success which goes right down through the levels that has contributed the most.

Sure, there was a bit of a lean spell that many would attribute to a combination of Johnny Sexton's absence and Matt O’Connor's presence, but the sheer volume of quality that was blossoming around 2015 was such that it was able to push through to where we are now.

This uneven spread of talent will naturally pose many dilemmas for the overall Irish rugby set up.  Would it be better overall for the players to be spread around the academies?  From the outside looking in that definitely appears to make sense, but if it were your son that had a chance to make his name at Leinster, would you agree to him being shipped elsewhere for the sake of the greater good?  Hence the dilemma.

But as always there's an opposite side to that coin. Pretty much every time news comes through that a Leinster player is leaving it is met with some consternation on forums about the ruggersphere from fans, and when they go on to have success at other clubs, this is held up as though it somehow proves they should not have been let go.

I'm not so sure about that. For example, would Tadhg Beirne have definitely become the player he is now if he had stayed?  Or John Cooney for that matter?  You have to factor in the quality and depth that we had in their respective positions at the time they left.

We also have to consider the random elements involved.  Sometimes a player has rotten luck with injury especially with relation to timing. That also applies when it comes to poor form…maybe an opportunity presents itself for some senior game time but it just doesn't happen for them on that particular day.  In those cases should they go somewhere else and do well then it is more a success story on their part than it is a failure on ours.

With the conveyor belt steadily rolling along at Leinster by the looks of things, this dilemma look set to continue for the foreseeable future.  Whether players choose to stay or go will have to be managed sensibly and once player, province and the IRFU are happy in each case then I reckon things are pretty much OK the way we've been handling them so far.


MY POSITION ON POSITIONS - 14

I'm almost at the end of my series looking at the 15 Irish jerseys and who should be filling them.  For the wingers I used part 11 to look at those I feel are in pole position to start for at least the Six Nations, namely Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale. Now it's time scan the backup candidates.

Of course it was a shame that Simon Zebo felt he had to take the opportunity of a move to the Top 14 but I really do feel that was the best outcome for all involved.  He really is a quality winger who belongs at the highest level, but when it comes to test rugby he was unfortunate to be in his prime during the Joe Schmidt era, not because of anything personal, rather because of the type of winger he is.

Zebo is definitely much better suited to a club like Racing where he will always be able to play a lot freer than you see wide men performing in Ireland.  Two classic examples of, pardon the word but I really think it fits, “generic” Schmidt wingers are Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden.

Please remember, I'm not trying to say here that the Leinster players are ‘better’ than Zebo by any stretch - that's a debate for another day.  I'm simply saying that Dave & Ferg work better within the often rigid structures put in place by the current coaching setup, whereas Simon does best when allowed to react to what he sees before him.

You could also argue that Zebo has the ability to cover all back three positions and that is true, but in recent seasons Joe has been able to find other options for that as well like Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour.

With Darren Sweetnam also apparently making the cut going by recent selections, it seems that constitutes the overall range of options he currently has should Keith and or Jacob become unavailable or experience a dip in form.

And all this with players like Adam Byrne and Cian Kelleher waiting in the wings.  Matt Healy over in Connacht has also been amazing over the years but could also fall into that ‘more traditional type of winger’ category.  Plus I've yet to mention Barry Daly who was actually the Pro14's top try scorer last season!

It seems that the wing is yet another position where we have options aplenty, which for me makes it easy for Joe to go for exactly the type of player he wants to fit in his overall system.


WHAT THEY TALKING ABOUT, WILLIS? 

You're really showing your age (and mine for that matter) if you get the reference from my heading, though to be fair this looks like a quite serious matter…

Hat-tip to Diarmuid Tempany for bringing this to my attention, namely an article in the Irish Times about a statement released by Sale Sharks about an ongoing court case involving former Leinster scrum half Cillian Willis:

The club would like to comment on the recent media reports concerning litigation between former player, Cillian Willis, and Sale Sharks.

Whilst it is correct that Mr Willis did commence a legal action against the club in 2016. Mr Willis subsequently discontinued that claim in March 2018, without any payment of compensation being made by Sale Sharks.

Sale Sharks have an exemplary record with regards to player welfare and wellbeing, the club would like to wish Cillian success in the future.

According to the IT, “Next month Willis enters court proceedings in Manchester with a medic who treated him during the same LV Cup match against Saracens”.

To be honest there's not a whole lot more I can add to this point other than the above quotes, only that it really does look to be an interesting case that could have serious implications on the sport as a whole.

Rugby has definitely made efforts to get ahead of the area of concussion in recent seasons, but it was probably only a matter of time before their procedures were properly tested in the courts.  Also, since this incident occurred back in 2013, they could argue that the structures have been improved since then, but still it will be interesting to see what verdict is reached and if other players who had to retire respond as a result.

Over the next weeks I will try to look into this further and should I have more info I'll come back to it in future Harpin Points, and naturally I join Sale Sharks in wishing Cillian all the best in the future.


LUNCHTIME SPECIAL

Leinster v Toulouse.  No matter what way Pool 1 looks right now, this was always going to be a match that jumped off the fixture list for Round 5 of the Champions Cup.  Four titles each, plus some epic meetings between them over the years.

So surely this qualifies for a ‘marquee’ billing this weekend? Not so much.  We've been stuck with the dreaded lunchtime slot, and on Saturday no less. Blech.

On the plus side, it means the ‘mouth-watering’ meeting can be shown live on terrestrial TV, because that is the slot reserved for Channel 4 and here in Ireland, The Channel Formerly Known as TV3.

Sidenote…as if it wasn't confusing enough that there exist two separate channels called ‘RTÉ 1 plus 1” and ‘RTÉ 2’, it can't have been easy for an entity known as‘TV3’ to rebrand as ‘VM1”!!! 

Anyway…while I realise that lunchtime kickoffs are a necessary evil for the Champions Cup and it's only fair that every team should have to endure them at some stage, I really do think this timing is all wrong.  Not that I intend to blame it should Leinster lose, I hope you understand, I just value my Saturday morning lie in!!!


BRACE YOURSELF FOR A HUMBLE REF!

Noticed an interesting ‘ref mic’ moment from Leinster v Ulster last weekend…

There was a scrum in the Leinster 22 and it certainly wasn't the only time the boys in blue forced home their advantage in the front row; it was moving forward before it began turning around so referee Andrew Brace blew his whistle for a penalty.

A perfect chance for Leinster to clear their lines, you might think, but our number 8 Max Deegan had other ideas…

Could we not have had advantage there?

And once he thought about it for a sec the ref replied with : “Fair point.

Kudos to a young number 8 looking for recognition of his skill in keeping the ball alive at the back of a moving scrum, and with it turning he must have seen it as an opportunity to break away himself and he would have had Barry Daly in support.

But even more kudos to Brace for acknowledging his error in such a polite fashion. Overall a classic example of the whole “hooligans game played by gentlemen" adage!


Thanks for sticking with my Harpin Points to the end.  Time to start focusing on another massive weekend of European action, we will of course be all over it especially that lunchtime special!  JLP

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