Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Harpin Points 25 - Euro Round 6, #BrexitBowl & more


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

PUN - DRAWS & QUARTERS

Going into the final matches of Round 6 last weekend it looked very possible that three of the four quarterfinals would be repeat fixtures from the pool stages - Sarries v Glasgow, Racing v Ulster and Leinster v Toulouse.

In a tweet Brian O’Driscoll opined that perhaps having a seeded draw for the final eight would take away this possibility, and that would make sense, but I wonder if that's the only issue with round 6 that requires addressing.

So Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton were both injured, eh?  Hmmm. So that means we won't see either for the upcoming massive Six Nations kickoff match in the Aviva?  Come on.

My point is that the Champions Cup is meant to be pretty much on a par with test rugby, and IN turn Round 6 is meant to be the most important from the pool phase as it is where the quarterfinal lineups are actually confirmed.

For all of the above reasons, there should be no excuse other than genuine injury for teams neglecting to field their strongest available lineups.

And in my reasons above, I left out what I feel is the most important one; fans have shelled out big bucks for both tickets and premium TV channels.  Perhaps we can't expect Farrell to tog out for Sarries and Sexton for Leinster every week of the season, but surely the above money is spent expecting to see them in round 6 of the pool stage.

Yet with the Six Nations starting just a couple of weeks later, and this year's schedule being a mirror image of that from 2018, we can hardly blame Eddie & Joe if indeed they did have a hand in their respective omissions.

And spare a thought as well for the eight sets of coaches who succeeded in getting their squads out of their pools.  Every year having navigated the six-match stage they must then resort to some type of prayer in hope their players make it through the Six Nations.

But going back to BOD's suggestion, I have an even better reason for switching to a seeded quarterfinal draw.  For me, teams meeting each other for a third time isn't the end of the world and besides, by cutting the amount of pools down to 5 from 6, the alickadoos only went and made it more likely.

No what I think should make us switch to draws is what happened at the Stade Ernst Wallon on Sunday.  Perhaps they will deny this but my ‘hot take’ on Toulouse's display against Bath is that they took their foot off the pedal when they led with just two tries on the board because had they gotten four, it meant they played Leinster in the Aviva and you can't blame them for preferring their chances in Paris against fellow Top 14 outfit Racing.

In the end, it almost cost them as Bath pegged them back to just a 3-point margin at full time, but my contention is that they shouldn't be allowed the luxury of picking and choosing who they play.  If the last eight pairings were drawn out of a hat, they could have relaxed and gone for the fourth try, and I doubt their fans would have objected too much.

So the answer would appear to be switch to a quarterfinal draw, hold it right after the final whistle at the end of Round 6 (the sponsors and broadcasters would LOVE that) and if you must, keep teams from the same pool apart.

How about two-legged semifinals? Meh, maybe I should leave that for another Wednesday's Harpin Points…


MY POSITION ON POSITIONS - SUMMARY

Over the past 15 weeks I have gone through the various positions to work out what kind of options Joe Schmidt has going into the Six Nations and RWC2019.  Here's a look back at the players I reckoned were at the forefront now, with a quote from the relevant post thrown in.

15 - ROB 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.

14 - KEITH EARLS - At the start of Joe's reign I got the impression that Earlsy was reluctant to drink the Kool Aid. But now it seems their two approaches have somehow merged, meaning Earls is playing the rugby of his life and demands selection when fit.

13 - GARRY RINGROSE - The scariest thing about Garry is that for all his natural rugby talent, I haven't seen a performance by either Leinster or Ireland that looks as though he is the focal point of the attacking strategy…imagine the kind of output we'll get from him if and when the day comes that he IS?

12 - ROBBIE HENSHAW - Off set-pieces, lineouts in particular, Joe Schmidt wants, nay DEMANDS that his team finds themselves on the front foot as soon as possible...Henshaw is perfectly suited to this role, and often his crashes get him all the way over the try line.

11 - JACOB STOCKDALE - Stockdale is still relatively a newbie, yet I reckon this has been used by Joe to his advantage by taking the Ulsterman's size, speed and talent to mould into exactly the kind of winger he wants.

10 - JOHNNY SEXTON - Sexton gets the job done by doing his own thing, not what he thinks a coach would want him to do, and part of Leinster & Ireland's “secret sauce” came from Joe leaving him to it.

9 - CONOR MURRAY - You can argue all you like about the Aaron Smiths and the Faf de Klerks about which is the best at the position from the standpoint of the world game, but nobody is better suited to Schmidt-ball than Conor.

1 - CIAN HEALY -  There's a perfect mix of cockiness and competitiveness to match his talents - to put it simply, when fit he's just the guy you want on the pitch for you for that position.

2 - RORY BEST - He is our captain, and rightly so, because he leads by example, he's good at his role, and he is good at fighting his side's corner with the ref.

3 - TADHG FURLONG - 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.

4 - DEVIN TONER - working both with POC and Joe Schmidt in particular helped him raise his game the final few rungs and today his work rate around the pitch is phenomenal

5 - JAMES RYAN - 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.

6 - PETER O'MAHONY - He'll carry.  He'll clear out.  He'll force a turnover. He'll pinch a lineout...He is as complete a player as you can have in this sport and has made himself undroppable.

7 - JOSH VAN DER FLIER - ...when it comes to the more traditional, breakdown-patrolling, turnover-seeking missile 7s, Leinster have unearthed two absolute gems in recent years in Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy.

8 - CJ STANDER - ...there's no better man for finding the hard yards. Despite the dearth of back row talent at Joe Schmidt's disposal, I reckon it would take a lot to shift him from his ideal World Cup XV

16 SEAN CRONIN
17 JACK MCGRATH
18 ANDREW PORTER
19 TADHG BEIRNE
20 SEAN O'BRIEN
21 LUKE MCGRATH
22 JOEY CARBERY
23. JORDAN LARMOUR


SAFFER, SO GOOD?

As we prepared for the Round 6 weekend of the Champions and Challenge Cups, down in Port Elizabeth there was actually some action in the Guinness Pro 14 as the two South African franchises went head to head.

I made a point of watching the full match, and offered an 80-word review of it here.  I also noticed an error in the advertising hoarding beside the pitch at the Madibaz Stadium, and made an observation here.

But the overall occasion had me wondering just how much of an addition these two teams have been to the league?  First of all, the crowd, which was reported as over 3k and to be fair looked it when the cameras panned around, seemed to be having a good time.

Neither team is making much headway in the conferences this time around, although the Cheetahs did make the playoffs at the first attempt, something the Italians are yet to manage.

And its not like they are short of decent playing personnel - while this match was a bit of an error-fest, there was some quality with Max Banda and Tian Schoeman respectively impressing while unlocking the opposition D.

But as I have said before, their presence in the competition is not only a benefit when it comes to providing opposition. It also provides cold hard cash for the Celtic Nations’ clubs.

And in the South Africans’ case, while these two teams are far from their best, should the SARU feel the experiment is working there's every possibility they could move all their clubs into té European season, which might make for a lot of changes but for me that wouldn't be such a bad thing once its done right.

So I say by all means keep these two teams in the competition for the time being.  Although both are still to play Leinster this season, maybe if they win I'll feel differently? 🤔


#BREXITBOWL

Because I tend to focus on matters egg-chasing when it comes to following the news, I have used that as a perfect excuse to look the other way whenever presented with anything to do Brexit.

When presented with ‘customs union’ I'd think ‘rugby union’.  When presented with ‘hard border’, I'd think ‘soft shoulder’. When presented with ‘backstop’, I'd see ‘backline’.  When presented with Theresa May, I'd think Johnny May…hang on this is starting to get weird maybe I'd better leave the analogies there…

Anyway the rugby gods have decided to bring the two topics together for me in the same weekend at the end of March, when the whole new border arrangement is actually meant to happen and the Ulstermen are due to trek down the M1 to face Leinster at the Aviva, in a match I call the #BrexitBowl.

Will there be confusion and chaos at the border on the day?   I sincerely hope not, especially since we have so long to prepare for said event.  The way I look at it is…whatever about Remainers v Leavers, Leinster v Ulster is the oldest fixture in Irish rugby and we've had so many goes at it that this one shouldn't be any different.

Hopefully I'm right in predicting that all will go swimmingly on the day.


KINGS-BANNED STADIUM

Staying with Ulster Rugby, bravo to them for making such an example of the moron who was hurling racial abuse at Simon Zebo during Racing's recent visit.  I spoke of this last week…

What do we do if we're fan watching a game and someone near us is hurling offensive remarks at a player, or indeed annoying others around him?

It seems some Ulstermen have stood up for decent rugby fans and pointed out the individual who has since been banned from the Belfast venue.  Proper order.  Here's hoping that it serves as a lesson to others that there's no place in our game, or any game for that matter, for that kind of disgusting behaviour.

When I say I've never heard anything like that at the RDS I don't mean that I feel Leinster fans are any way better, I'm just stating a fact.  And I'd hope an assume that if it did happen and attention were drawn to it, the branch would act accordingly

Call it political correctness all you want - the vast majority of fans don't go to hear personal insults.  And yes, I'm including the ref in that as well.  Disagree all you want, but always know the limitations in showing it.


Many thanks for sticking with our Harpin Points to the end.  From tomorrow we'll turn our attention to the visit of the Scarlets to the RDS.  JLP

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