Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Harpin Points 28 - Carbery, O'Brien. late tackles & more

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


When you win a load of games in a row that include a Grand Slam and a second-ever defeat of the All Blacks, the rest of the rugby world is bound to take notice. And you don't need to be a deep-dive expert of the game to know that much of Ireland's success was down to our world-class halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.

So with that in mind, while it's never fun for us to watch them so obviously targeted by late hits in matches, it's perfectly understandable that other teams see no other option than to go down this route in order to knock us off of our game - in fact, in a kind of perverse way it's something of a compliment.

First thing to make clear when discussing this issue - we all know that many non-Irish fans will deny that such targeting happens at all, that it's all part of the rough and tumble of the game and if you complain about it you're just whining for the sake of it. We'll let's just say I'm happy to let people think that, or at least say that they think that. As far as I'm concerned, we all know it is a real thing whether we say so or not.

If that's true, then can anything be done about it? Can the game's ‘late hit’ laws be tweaked to such an extent that there can be extra sanctions in a referee's arsenal to get rid of this ‘targeting’ once and for all?

For me the only way out would be to go a similar route to what was done for high tackles, namely ‘zero tolerance’.  So if you charge at a player and tackle him without the ball, since you claim to have been aiming to get him with it, how about you get automatically pinged for failing to do so.

Much like the high tackle policy, the purpose is to put it in the mind of the would be tackler that they have to be accurate otherwise it will hurt their team.  Yes, it will lead to a lot of penalty calls at first that look harsh, but the hope would be over time that the tactic would be taken out of the game for good.

All of that said, even if there was a chance that the game would go for this idea, even I wouldn't want them to do it before RWC2019.  Not only is it way too close to the tournament to be making drastic changes to referee guidelines, this one in particular would have all the appearance of one specifically designed to benefit the Irish.

So I fear that whatever happens between now and September, Joe and his coaching ticket will have to find other ways to protect his 9 & 10.  Both are made of tough stuff, and as we saw last Saturday we can still come out on top regardless of the unwanted attention, but still I really hope it doesn't end up hurting our chances in the autumn.


Reports are mixed on the effectiveness of Joey Carbery against Scotland last weekend.  Perhaps he threw an incredible pass on the run to Keith Earls for a decisive score, yet it was mostly because two Scottish tacklers took each other out of the equation allowing him through first.

And perhaps he did throw a costly interception pass shortly after his premature introduction, but we still went on to win the match and it was hardly in spite of him.

I reckon his role in our squad these days is both crucial and complex in equal measure.  To understand it, we must first appreciate how it came about.

No doubt Paddy Jackson would be keen to see his name left out of these discussions as he tries to put his career back together, but for this topic I'm afraid he deserves a mention, because without that whole business (not bringing the rights and wrongs into this just the fact that it happened), he would be our presumptive backup 10 right now.

And given the way Ireland play under Joe Schmidt, Paddy was a good option to have after Sexton - a strong, dependable out half who knew the systems and who was more than capable of taking over when required.

But when he was no longer available, it meant Joe had to settle on an alternative quickly and when it was decided, apparently with the help of Graham Henry, that it should be the young Carbery, it meant he had to be brought up to speed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Well, we all know what has happened since then. Virtually unlimited success for him, Leinster and Ireland and the only thing he was missing was the ability to get more game time, particularly as starter, which the move to Thomond Park took care of with one fell swoop.

So that's all well and good but where it gets a little complicated for me is that he's a different type of 10 to both Jackson and Sexton.  He seems to be much more of a ‘I'll know what I'm doing when I'm about to do it’ player which means he often needs to rein in those instincts when he slots in to a Schmidt XV.

This means that the three scenarios of starting him, having him come on for the final 15-20 minutes, and having him come on after the first quarter like he did on Saturday, could all require different approaches not only for himself, but also for those around him.

For me it wasn't much of a surprise that a few passes went to ground in Murrayfield.  When Sexton is set to start then we can be sure that from the previous Tuesday the entire squad has sent time syncing themselves up to his rigid patterns of play, which means a sudden change could definitely throw this out of sync.

Does this mean I think he should be left out altogether?  Absolutely not.  We definitely need to keep the likes of Ross Byrne, Billy Burns and Jack Carty in the picture should the worst happen injury-wise. I just think we need to be mindful of over reliance on such a structured approach because even when the unexpected happens in a match, we still have plenty of talent to make things right again, only it's important that we do it quickly.

I still think Joey's Edinburgh experience will stand to him in the long run.


News of Seán O’Brien's impending move to London Irish was sad to hear as a Leinster fan of course.  His value to province, country and the Lions has been immense over the years.

But for his position in particular the amount of injuries he has suffered over that time meant many of us were wondering if he had much of a future to plan at all.

I'm never a fan of announcements like his being made at this stage of the season when all of the major competitions are in play for his current province, no matter how professional the player in question might be.  I suspect doing it now might have something to do with season ticket renewals for London Irish being around the corner.

But the most important aspect of this news is that, fitness permitting of course, he can still be involved for Ireland at RWC2019, since the particulars of the rugby calendars allow or some wiggle room in these cases for the ‘home based player only’ rule.

Hopefully he does stay healthy right the way through and the amount of game time he is bound to see in the coming months doesn't put him in a similar situation to Paul O'Connell who unfortunately was unable to play for Toulon.


We are precisely two thirds of the way through the regular season of the 2018/19 Guinness Pro 14, so with the competition resuming next weekend, it seems like a good time to step back and see how the standings are shaping up.

Given I am known to harp on Leinster's progress quite a bit on these pages, the almost embarrassing nature of our current Pro14 position doesn't need much explaining, though I will anyway just because I can 😉.  In Conference B we now hold a whopping 21 point lead over our nearest rivals.

Just to put that into context; we could lose our next four matches, all by more than seven points, and still be in pole position.  And while I know I'm seriously tempting the rugby gods here, that seems unlikely especially when you consider that both of our next two opponents currently occupy bottom place in their respective conferences.

Speaking of our ‘nearest rivals’ it is definitely worth noting that right now that means Benetton.  Sure, they only have a one point edge on Edinburgh below them and two over Scarlets and Ulster so there is a whole lot to play for, but given all he complaints about the legitimacy of having Italians sides in the competition at all, to have one in playoff contention at this stage of the campaign is no mean feat.

Things are a lot more interesting on the other table.  Zebre are almost as out of sight at the bottom of their conference as we are at the top of ours, but all of the other six clubs can definitely consider themselves to be in the playoff picture.

It seems to be a straight fight between Munster and Glasgow for the top spot and the guaranteed home semifinal that comes with it, and while they won't face each other again in the run in, both have a few tricky hurdles like van Graan's men who must travel to Ospreys and Scarlets in quick succession.

Assuming they should finish in the top two, that leaves Ospreys, Connacht, Cardiff and the Cheetahs scrapping for the final playoff spot, which will certainly lead to many crucial matches like Connacht v Cheetahs at the Sports ground this Saturday.

When you factor in the element of Heineken Champions Cup qualification (and if you don't mind I won't go that far in this post because the permutations might give me a headache) then it's clear to see the competition is well poised for the weeks ahead, with very few matches that can be classified as ‘dead rubbers’.  It's definitely a case in favour of the Conference format IMO, which probably mean they'll scrap it for next season 😉.


Can Ireland still win the 2019 Six Nations? Of course we can.

Both England and Wales looked pretty much invincible in their opening two matches, but of their four combined victories, only the one in Dublin (which hopefully I'll be able to stop referencing very soon) looks in any way impressive. 

Neither France nor Italy appear to have brought much to the table this year, so while I'm hoping that priority is being given to squad development for the World Cup, our chances of racking up wins in our next two outings are very strong indeed.

This means that if we are to remain in championship contention going into our final fixture at the Millennium Stadium on March 16, we have to hope our Welsh cousins do us a favour by knocking the ‘duck egg’ from England's loss column at the same venue on Saturday week.

With our own third match in Rome the following day, our approach will most likely hinge on what happens in Cardiff.  Basically any kind of Welsh victory will give us a fighting chance, though given we missed out on bonus points in both of our matches so far while England did not, I doubt anything short of maximum hauls against both the Italians and French will do for us.

So as far as I'm concerned, while of course I'd be infinitely happier had we won in Round 1 (there I go mentioning it again), the way things stand right now can be seen as a good thing.  If Wales beat England, we can knuckle down and have a go at keeping our chances alive in our final matches.  But if Eddie Jones’ men prevail, we can instead turn our attention to getting the wider squad ready for Japan.

So there you are fellow Irish fans, I have now found a way for you to cheer for England getting beaten a week from Saturday!  Because you definitely needed one, right? 😜

Many thanks for sticking with our latest Harpin Points until the end.  We'll have more next Wednesday - in the meantime we'll be turning our attention to Leinster's weekend trip to Viadana.  Stay tuned!  JLP


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