Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Harpin Points 26 - Six Nations baby!!!!


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

6N - THE BEST OF TIMES

Before I began scribbling this post I spent a few minutes switching the look of this site plus all my social media avatars from blue to green, and since I'm doing that towards the end of January that can mean only one thing… SIX NATIONS BABY!!!!

So this week most of my Harpin Points are going to focus on “Rugby's Greatest Championship” (excellent riposte to the rebranding of the Trí Nations BTW) and what it means to me.

I have been following this tournament for more years than I care to remember, so long in fact that I knew it as Five Nations as a young lad.  I saw good times for Ireland and very bad ones too, but it has never been as good as it is right now.

Hopefully as Irish fans we haven't become so parochial as to be comparing Grand Slam wins...that pesky Leinster/Munster thing offers an all too easy path for some to argue over Declan Kidney's or Joe Schmidt's was the better achievement.

Well I really don't think it can be argued that Schmidt has had the better time of it overall.  And before anyone attacks me for saying that simply because I am a Leinster fan, I suggest they go back and look at all the defence I gave on these pages for Kidney before his departure from the job.

But when it comes to Joe it is not all about our success in last year's competition.  There were also two other titles.  There have been wins over all of the top southern hemisphere sides, including the ticking of that elusive All Black box. Twice. Plus a series win Down Under.  Plus enough consistency to reach number 2 in the world rankings.

And yes, don't worry, I haven't forgotten the one blot on the ledger, namely RWC2015.  But even there it's hard to deny that our biggest falling from that campaign, namely squad depth, has been greatly improved upon in the 2019 cycle, and judging by some of his squad selections for this 6N, he still has designs on making his pool even deeper still.

Naturally we are going to be favourites for this year's competition, but that by no means guarantees an easy path.  First, we host the English, on whom I will harp in a different point.  Then it's on to Murrayfield where it is very possible the Scots will be bouyed by a victory the previous week.  And should we still be in contention for a big prize going into the final week, sure we only have to play in Cardiff.

But the one thing I will say about this particular version of the 6N is that no matter how much we may love it, the shadow of the World Cup stretches back over it all the way from next September.  Of course all the contenders will be vying to do their best but should one or two get off to a bad start it will be interesting to see how it affects their selections going into the final rounds.

Let the games begin!!!


6N - FRIDAY NIGHT...SHITE?

Speaking of letting the games begin, the controversial Friday night kickoffs are back this year, this time in Paris where the Welsh come to town.

For me personally, this is great…I love having a game to look forward to at the end of a week, but that's because it is usually on the telly, and even if it's Leinster I have little difficulty in getting myself to the RDS.

When there is air travel involved however, it can be a very different story, and this is often why many complain about such timing.

One of my biggest bugbears about European rugby has always been the clunkiness of its calendar, and in an ideal world, for me anyway, the Six Nations, being easily the biggest prize on offer, should be played at the end of the season.

But I can also appreciate the desire to keep it in the springtime as it has been since the days of yore, though I might have a suggestion that could help avoid the Friday fixture.

The competition is played over 7 weeks anyway which means every team has two off weekends.  Instead of having three matches at a time, how about just two every Saturday all the way up to week 7 which would involve a ‘Super Saturday’ finale?

For example, this year's schedule could go…

Week 1 : FRAvWAL SCOv ITA
Week 2 : IREvENG ITAvWAL
Week 3 : SCOvIRE ENGvFRA
Week 4 : FRAvSCO WALvENG
Week 5 : ITAvIRE SCOvWAL
Week 6 : ENGvITA IREvFRA
Week 7 : WALvIRE ITAvFRA ENGvSCO

This way, we as fans get action every weekend, which in turn means sponsors get exposure at the same time.  Yes, I know the schedule of domestic competitions would be affected, but I'm sure they could adjust and besides, test and club matches often take place the same weekend anyway.

Just throwing it out there!


6N - ENGLAND

So we deny them a Grand Slam one year, then win one ourselves the next on their patch.  And with it being England and all, let's just say we Irish fans take that extra little bit of pleasure out of results like those.  Who among us has not at some stage suggested where they stick their chariot? 😜

And all that before even mentioning the name Eddie Jones.  Whether or not we needed more motivation to beat the English, he provides it every time he opens his gob!

It has to be frustrating for all involved in English rugby to see us doing so well; I very much doubt their back to back Six Nations titles look too favourably against our record, plus their RWC2015 was a lot more of a failure so the pressure to produce in Japan would be that much greater.

And over three or four years I'm not so sure they have ever really been able to settle on a best XV - naturally a lot of that has to do with injuries but also in key positions like scrum half and all along the back row they have had to use several different options which is far from ideal when you're aiming for some consistency.

But despite those difficulties, we can be sure of one thing; those recent results against us will mean our perennial motivation to beat the English will be matched by them when they get to Dublin, and it promises to be an epic struggle.  We will be favourites, but I believe every word when Jones says he has his lot focused on this match and nothing beyond.

I'll be devoting further Harpin Points to Ireland's upcoming opponents as the competition moves forward.


6N - WOMEN'S & U20S

While I do like the way the Six Nations organisers have raised the profile of both the Women's and Under 20s competitions in recent years, with television coverage throw in for good measure, I still wonder if the two groups, particularly the women, are getting the maximum exposure this way.

Does the Women's World Cup take place at the same time as the men?  No, and for good reason.  I wonder if the Six Nations could follow suit and stage their version at a different portion of the season?

And an even more radical suggestion; does it even need to be in the exact same format as the men?  Instead of one big round robin pool, how about a mini-World Cup style with two pools of three leading to semis and a final in a host nation that rotates every season?

Yeah I know I'm all about the maverick ideas this week, forgive me.  But that's kind of what these weekly rambles are for!!!

Anyway; best of luck to both the Irish Women's league and U20s squads over the coming weeks.  I'd love to have more time to cover them yet harp exclusively on the men I must for the time being.


CAN'T CATCH 22

OK the final Harpin Point this week isn't about the Six Nations, rather it's something that happened at the end of the first half in a Guinness Pro14 clash between Glasgow and Ospreys last weekend.

It looked like a horrible night at Scotstoun, with strong wind and driving rain throughout the match.  the Welsh region had it behind them in the first period, yet because they have relied heavily on a territory kicking game this season, they could only squeeze a 3-0 lead out of the advantage.

So when Warriors full back Ruairidh Jackson was preparing to take a 22 drop out in the 40th minute, he was much more interested in letting the clock run down than he was in restarting the match.

Of course, that makes sense. His team was going to have the wind behind them in the second half, and indeed as things turned out they finished ahead by 9-3.  But what interested me was the actual sequence of events before John Lacey blew the half time whistle.

First the Warriors tried to waste time by chucking the ball around to different would-be takers of the 22 drop out, before Lacey implored them to get on with it.  Then Jackson, rather than aim to take the kick long like one normally would in this situation, chose instead to faint at a little grubber forward, while never actually releasing the ball.

The result was the clock going red, him forcing an end to the half with the ball going out of play off an Osprey, and a mini-shammozle ensuing, To call it farcical would be an understatement - did Lacey handle it right?

It says quite clearly in Law 9 (Foul Play) that “A player must not…waste time Sanction : Free-kick”. There can be little doubt that's what Jackson was doing and since another aim of his was to avoid the opponents getting the ball, for them to have it via a scrum or a tap at the 22 would be a decent punishment.

The problem here stems from the 22 drop out itself. Is it me or are we seeing them less frequently as time goes on?   But anyway, the whole rigmarole of passing it around and second-guessing the opposition might be something the game can do without no matter what the clock might read, as it can get ridiculously messy. 

I haven't thought this through enough to have a list of possible solutions just yet, though maybe one would be get rid of the drop kick altogether and replace it with a scrum? 🤔


Many thanks for sticking with my latest Harpin Points until the end.   As the weekend gets closer we will of course be turning our focus towards Saturday's big match at the Aviva...stay tuned!!!  JLP

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