Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Harpin Points 24 - Pointless Decisions, Ross OCK wannabes and more

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


It was 2015, England were down by three on home soil in a crucial World Cup pool encounter with Wales and the clock was ticking closer to 80 minutes. On winning a penalty, skipper Chris Robshaw chose to go for the try for a win than the three for a draw, and the gamble failed - he later conceded he should have done differently,

This year in the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks were down by just two points with the clock going red against the Springboks, who were down to 14 men at the time.  When it seemed to be an easy option to go for the relatively simple drop goal to win, they chose instead to roll through the phases for the try.  They too failed and lost.

Of course it's very easy for me sitting here to second guess those decisions. Not only are the Robshaws and the Reads of this world infinitely more qualified than I, but when I'm considering the dilemma I haven't just spent the last 80 minutes adding more layers of bruises to the ones I already had.

But still, making the right call in situations like those can have profound implications, particularly under the modern bonus point system we have in rugby, and I reckon Ulster found themselves in one on Saturday which sparked a very interesting debate afterwards.

When Ulster won a penalty in the closing minutes, they led Racing 92 by 1 point, even though last season's finalists had scored 4 tries to the home side's three.  This made the spread of match points at that moment 4-2 to the provincial side.

So this gave them a big decision to make.  Do we take the relatively easy three to run down the clock and secure the win, or do we press for a try that would not only give us an extra match point, could also take one away from the Parisians should we convert it?

My personal philosophy makes it an easy decision…go for the try.  Yes, I know both England and New Zealand lived to regret doing that, but still I reckon when you weigh up all the factors, the reward of the extra match points (four point swing all going well) outweighs the risk of it going wrong.

I put my opinion on Twitter afterwards to a mixed response, with even Ulster fans landing on different sites.  The one person I'd love to ask about how he felt was Jarred Payne.  If you spurn the attempt at a try because you'd fear that if it went wrong then Racing could somehow get to halfway and earn a pen or even go all the way and score a try, you're basically saying you have little faith in your own defence.

One of the main reasons behind my own opinion is that at the professional level of the game, particularly at home in Europe, you have to trust your ability to make hay when the odds are in your favour,  A uality side Racing may be, but even were the short lineout to fail it would have taken a monumental effort for them to pull victory out of the bag from there IMO.

That said, Ulster have had absolutely catastrophic luck over the years, particularly in the area of personnel.  Keeping the same group of players together for three months at a time has been a challenge, let alone a whole season.  Given they only qualified for this season's Champions Cup at the last minute, I can appreciate the opinion that they were simply happy to get the win on the day, although they didn't help themselves by failing to let the clock go red before taking the kick!!!

Anyway, the best thing about the situation was that it gave us rugby nerds plenty to harp on after the final whistle, and that's never a bad thing once everything is kept civil, which it was.

It wasn't the craziest such dilemma I have ever seen, however.  One year when Treviso visited the RDS they were going through phase after phase on the Leinster line with the clock in or around the 75th minute.  We were tackling like demons to keep them out, which in 99.9 percent of cases is a good thing yet here, we had only three tries on the board and I was thinking it would actually be to our advantage to part the blue sea and let them score to give us a fighting chance of getting the fourth try!!!  Not many agreed with me if memory serves…


We have finally reached the conclusion of my series looking at the fifteen Irish jumpers and who I think should fill them for RWC2019, at least based on current form.

Number 15 is of course full back and that only means one name - Robert Kearney.  I reckon Urban Dictionary should just use his picture under ‘a safe pair of hands’... He's so reliable I bet even those who don't know rugby will understand.

And I really don't think there can be much doubt that of all the qualities in the best full backs, reliability is paramount for Joe Schmidt's Ireland.  When the bulk of your approach is built on methods and systems works perfectly, should anything go wrong you want to be sure you have the best on hand to clean things up.

Obviously his frequent injuries have been a hindrance, and over the years we have had to find alternatives many times for big matches. Right now, it would seem that Jordan Larmour, Will Addison and Andrew Conway are next down the totem pole, and all can definitely do a good job for us, though their strengths might lean a bit more towards the attacking side of things.

But you could say that it's Rob's experience that makes the frequent absences bearable.  Joe knows that no matter how long he has been out, once he's fit he can parachute into any matchday 23 and you can be sure he'll be up to speed in no time.

One quality player who has been very unlucky over the years is Connacht's Tiernan O’Halloran.  He rarely has a bad game yet while he has some Irish caps, even when Joe chose Henshaw and Payne, both of whom played a lot of 15, to be his post-Darce/Drico starting centres, his chances here limited and since others have emerged to go ahead of him, probably because they also offer options as wingers.

But just to say it one last time in case I haven't already made it clear,,,if Rob is fit when the World Cup rolls around, he should be our man. 

Next week I'll have one final look back through the fifteen part series and put together a starting lineup that should do well for Ireland as the Six Nations draws near.


Another Harpin Point to come from the Ulster v Racing clash had to do with Simon Zebo's treatment by what had to be a very small section of fans at the Kingspan.

It all harks back to a stupid thing t former Munster winger did on the way to scoring a try in the teams’ previous meeting in Paris back in October.  He taunted young Ulster fullback Michael Lowry as he cantered to the line, and Nigel Owens called him on it as did a number of Lowry's teammates.  He apologize both on the pitch and afterwards, which should have really ended the matter.

When it comes to actual booing, I'm actually a bit torn.  The whole ‘you did something on us in a previous match so we're going to boo you this time’ thing is definitely very ‘football-y’, yet still if done right can be seen as simply a bit of banter, something that should never be lost from sport.

However…according to a tweet from Zebo after the match, there was a lot more than just banterful booing directed at him.  What a say above about banter comes with a caveat, namely that everyone taking part knows the lines that should not be crossed.   Apparently a few, and I'm assuming it was only a few, went way over the line and into full on racism with their taunts.

Now we're in a whole new realm.  What do we do if we're fans watching a game and someone near us is hurling offensive remarks a player's, or indeed annoying others around them?  The obvious answer would be to try and get them removed from the ground, but that can be easier said than done and many would be afraid of repercussions for taking such actions.

Whatever the answer, it's definitely something that needs to be looked at because the overwhelming majority of spectators at these matches go with the aim of doing so peacefully so they shouldn't have to put up with this nonsense any more than the players themselves.

Hopefully there are no further incidents like that at rugby matches, but if there are those responsible need to be quickly shown they are no longer welcome.


Dave Kearney's try at the RDS on Saturday was something else, wasn't it?  And I had a perfect opportunity to get a great photo of it…I was seated in the Anglesea Stand and had my phone ready as we were rolling through the phases in anticipation of capturing a big moment like that.

The only problem was, when Ross Byrne went to his boot, something in my brain held me back from taking a shot.  Like I didn't believe anything would happen.  So what I would have gotten if I chose to hit the button was a photo of not only Kearney diving over the line, but also an angle which included Byrne looking on after his accurate assist. Oh well…

Luckily there were actual professional photographers on hand to get the job done!  The next day I found one by Sportsfile's Stephen McCarthy on Instagram, while Paul Walsh later shared his multi-shot set of the entire sequence from catch to try.

And I don't think these guys get near enough credit for the work they do.  Some may scoff that because the digital age has made it a whole lot easier for them, but I'd like to see them try to deal with all that equipment and get it to work at just the right moments in a sport that has 31 men running around a pitch getting in each other's way all the time.  Not to mention to much, much tighter deadlines they have to face on account of said digital age!

Kudos to the likes of Stephen, Paul, Dan Sheridan and all the rugby photographers out there - their work is every bit as integral to our enjoyment of the sport as anything us scribblers can contribute!

Did this get sent to you via WhatsApp over the weekend?

My initial response :

“Oh. My. Gawd. Those goys are toe-tally nothing loike typical Leinster fans…for one thing, you'd ever see us with only ONE BT bag cos their stuff is to DOY for!!!”  😉

Ross OCK references aside, even as a Leinster fan I have to admit that was a funny meme that pretty much fits the stereotype whether it's accurate or not.  Thing is though, I dare say that even if neither of those guys could be you or me, we all know someone who fits the bill.

That's not to say the stereotype wasn't ever annoying, of course.  We all painfully remember the ‘ladyboys’ taunts from back in the day.  Funny thing how accumulating four stars on your crest tends to make those go away though, isn't it? 😜

Thanks for sticking with us through another set of Harpin Points, we'll be back with more next Wednesday.  JLP


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