Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Harpin Points 27 - Zebo. Scotland, Referees & more


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

FROM ZEBO TO HERO

I'd love to move on from analysing what happened at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday but there were a couple of points I left out of my writeup because they annoyed me so much I'd probably devote too many words to them, making them perfect candidates for the latest edition of Harpin Points.

Not surprisingly there was a lot of online consternation at Ireland's performance, particularly given who we were playing.  Chants about chariots never go down well at the best of times but certainly not when the scoreboard isn't to our liking.

But to those who somehow seem to think Simon Zebo would have made a difference I say…..are you kidding me?

Unfortunately in this age where everything gets polarized, before I make my case I have to explain that I have nothing against Zebo as a player. He is definitely quality and brings his own brand of X-factor to the game.

It's just that when it comes to test rugby, he has been unfortunate to have reached his prime in the age of Joe Schmidt.  And no, that's not because one played for Munster and the other coached Leinster...rather Zebo's style simply doesn't suit the type of game Joe likes to play.

All things considered, his move to Racing 92 was by far and away the best decision for everyone involved and from everything I have seen, he has slotted in perfectly to the Parisian set up.

After over a year of unparalleled success for the Irish team, to watch one bad performance and say it's all because of one player missing was absolutely absurd, especially since the same player had no part in that success.

To be fair, IMO it would be better overall if Irish players could go abroad and still get selected.  But I certainly can't blame Joe for wanting to have his entire squad under his control and besides, it's not as though Simon didn't understand the consequences of taking Racing up on their offer.

And to those who say ‘well what about Sexton going to Racing?’ I say this; if you're really trying to suggest that Simon is to wingers what Johnny is to 10s, then we'll just have to agree to disagree. (Unless they said it to my face of course, in which case my language might be a lot more colourful!!! 😉)

The whole ‘Henshaw at 15’ experiment may have backfired to an extent, but to use this defeat to try to settle an argument that was lost many moons ago just doesn't hold water.

And who's to say Zebo's test career is necessarily over anyway?  Even if he doesn't play for Joe again, there's still plenty of time in his career to return to the Irish fold and I wish him every success should that happen.


GREAT SCOTS

Next up for Ireland is a very tricky journey to Murrayfield. Hopefully the buses run on time!!! 🙄

It's fitting that just after harping on Simon Zebo, I turn my attention to the current Scottish setup, since they also allowed a fly half move to Racing while still selecting him for the national team, namely Finn Russell. And it seems to have been working very well so far.

But before we look at individuals in their set up it's important to take a step back and look at how far the game has come up there in recent years.  Glasgow winning the Celtic League. Some impressive test wins over top nations.  And this year, for the first time ever, two representatives in the Champions Cup quarterfinals.

At the risk of sounding patronising on account of being an Irish fan, I still feel it needs to be said that the progress of the game up there has been impressive.  Some might quibble over the inclusion of a lot of ‘project players’ but I really think all nations are living in glass houses on that one so it isn't an issue.  The Scots don't break any existing rules and thus deserve full credit for all the successes.

And going back to the individuals, they have certainly been producing a decent amount of test heavyweights in recent years, not least of which is Stuart Hogg.  What a consistent performer he is, and his ability to read a game has been invaluable to them.

But of course with every superstar in a team like himself or indeed Russell, they need quality backup, and it does look as though in the likes of Blair Kinghorn and Adam Hastings, they do appear to be producing alternatives.

They kicked off their Six Nations campaign with an impressive victory over Italy last weekend, although the final score of 33-20 has the shine taken off of it somewhat when you find out it was 33-3 with ten minutes left.

Sure, they had a man in the bin when the three tries went in down the other end, but that's hardly an excuse because it suggests disciplinary issues as well as defensive ones.  Plenty for Joe Schmidt and Co to consider ahead of this Saturday lunchtime.

But what cannot be forgotten about this upcoming fixture is that it has implications beyond this year's Six Nations Championship as the two sides will meet again in their opening RWC2019 pool match on September 22, so it will double as a fascinating dress rehearsal for what is bound to be a tournament-defining encounter in Yokohama.

One thing is for sure - we will underestimate them at our peril, and I very much doubt we will.


WHISTLE BLAMERS

I did touch on this point a bit in my England writeup but it's worth a bit more scribbling.

Don't ever blame the referee only look at yourself” is a common theme in some quarters of rugby opinion and it always infuriates me, as does any viewpoint that has and unnecessary ‘either or’ baked into it for that matter.

Of course a rugby referee's job is difficult and I doubt anyone who really knows the game will dispute it. But especially when we're talking about test matches between teams ranked in the World's top ten nations, why can't we evaluate the official's performance as much as the players?

Last Saturday many Irish fans were frustrated by a number of decisions by Jérôme Garcès.  He failed to send Itoje to the naughty step despite the fact his challenge on Keith Earls was worse than Curry’s minutes before that did see yellow.  Later after an Irish kick was caught and then contested by players from both sides, he awarded a scrum to England because somehow they were the ‘attacking team’.

And when it comes to that pass ahead of the first Henry Slade try, while I am convinced it was forward (vectors shmectors!) that's not the reason I take issue with the referee.  It would have been bad enough had he not gone to the TMO at all given the importance of the match plus the narrow margin at the time, but while he actually DID consult the video booth, he refused to allow him to go back beyond the kick ahead?  Even the TMO himself couldn't believe it going by the way he asked a subsequent question.

So by drawing attention to all of the above does that mean I absolve the Irish team from all responsibility for the defeat?  Of course not.  Sharing our opinions is IMO the most enjoyable dimension of following these matches and it can't just be the players who fall under the microscope.  Officials, pundits, broadcasters, hey maybe even bloggers, are there to be critiqued as well.

And I can assure you referees do get praise on these pages when I feel it's warranted as well.


BRRRRRRR-EXIT?

It was kind of cold over the weekend, and with kickoff being 4:45pm at the Aviva Stadium, by the time the clock was nearing 80 minutes, it would have been getting even more chilly.

But whatever the weather, my position is and will continue to be that if you pay good money for a ticket to a match (and on the years when England and France are the only Six Nations visitors it's very good money) then I can't understand why anyone would want to leave before the final whistle.

This has been thrashed over again and again…of course there are always legitimate exceptions but for me, the time it takes to get home doesn't really count. The journey in question was always going to be specifically for 80 minutes of rugby - why would anyone bother if they weren't going to stay for all of it?

But the viewing of the rugby is only part of it, there's also the whole element of ‘support’ to be factored in.  The vast majority of spectators on Saturday would call themselves Irish rugby fans, yet if they leave in their droves as early as 15 minutes before the end, they are showing themselves up as having poor support thresholds.  We'll only watch when you're winning, lads, sorry.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm hardly suggesting anyone be MADE to stay.  Free country and all that.  But that same principle applies to my right to go ‘harrumph’ as hundreds if not thousands turn tail and run because the going was getting tough.

I remember Alan Quinlan's rant about supporters not being in their seats for the kickoff - for me, leaving before the end is far, far, worse.  Hopefully we won't see any similar match situations to provide a repeat performance any time soon!!!


X - CHASING

This morning in our daily Front Five post I included news of a brand new format of rugby that had been approved by the game's governing body.

Rugby X is a five-a-side version of rugby that former England and Fiji Sevens coach helped develop.  The games last 10 minutes, with no halftime break taking place, and are played on artificial grass pitches…with uncontested three-prison scrums, throw ins from substitute players and restarts from the try line introduced in an attempt to speed up the game even more.

This raised a lot of questions for me…most of all… WHY BOTHER????  Truth be told, I really think Sevens is played too much at the top level - it's great at junior levels for festivals and such but when the World Sevens circuit can't find room on the calendar to avoid a clash with the opening weekend of the Six Nations, then perhaps World Rugby should be concentrating on the XVs format.

And speaking of roman numerals… Why 'Rugby X' if it's five aside?  Are they counting players from both sides?  Then why is the other one called Sevens and not Fourteens? 🤔 It all just seems unnecessary to me.

It seems the comment-leavers under the article agree for the most part, with my personal favourite contribution being…

what is next? one-a-side rugby held inside a garage?

Good one WynneP2010 😂 😂 😂


Many thanks for sticking with my latest Harpin Points until the end.  As the weekend gets closer we will of course be turning our attention to the big match in Murrayfield.   Do stay tuned!  JLP

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